"Hermione, honestly, this pity party you throw yourself every year is just..."
"Mum, I'm not asking you to cuddle me, just leave me alone."
There was a moment of silence, then two. Hermione put her head against the door, listening for her mother's retreating footsteps. Instead she felt a hard thud as her mother hit her door with her fist. "Hermione I...I'm just so frustrated. Would it kill you to tell me what's going on? For the love of all things Hermione, do you think I'm just going to go, 'Oh, alright then, if you just want to cry alone on your birthday, fine with me, ta!' Why, every birthday, why?"
Hermione let out a long slow breath, closing her eyes against the unreasonable pain in her chest. She could hear her mother breathing loudly in the hallway, could imagine her bright eyes, the flush over her cheeks, her mouth a thin, displeased line. Hermione opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to formulate her thoughts. In the hallway her mother let out a long, low sound, half groan, half growl. Hermione winced as her mother hit her door angrily again. "Whatever Hermione, just...let me know when you are done with your tantrum."
Her mother clopped down the hallway rapidly in her heels. Hermione moved away from her door and slept the rest of the day away, curled into a small ball, ignoring her father's tentative knocks for dinner.
The next morning Hermione came down for breakfast feeling grimy and relieved that it was the weekend still. Her mum was making toast, her dad frying eggs, they were muttering sharply to each other under their breaths, becoming quiet just as she entered the kitchen. They looked significantly at each other as Hermione sat down at the table.
Her mother looked at her a long moment as she sat down and helped herself to some toast. "Any plans today, Hermione?"
Hermione took a slice, nibbling at the corner, avoiding her mum's eyes. "No."
Elizabeth looked down, spreading butter and saying in an overly casual voice, "Oh, well, I was thinking of getting some shopping done today. How would you feel about getting some Autumn clothes?"
Hermione felt drained just thinking of shopping. "No, thank you."
Her mother stared at her, chewing her toast aggressively. Charles let out a long sigh from by the sink.
"Come on, Hermione, what girl turns down free clothes?" Her mother was still trying to sound light, but her hand was clenched tightly.
"Ones that don't want to go shopping right now, Mother." Hermione put down her toast and grabbed her cup, choosing to stare down at the liquid instead of her mother's glare.
"Oh for heaven's sake, Hermione, tell me what's wrong!" Her mother sounded more upset than angry. Hermione felt her insides twist with feeling, she wanted to respond but couldn't think of how, didn't know herself.
Still not looking at her parent's Hermione stood up, "I think I'm going to go back upstairs…"
"The hell you are young lady! What is wrong, just tell us what's wrong! Have you gotten in a fight? Did you fail a class? Did someone hurt you? Is it something we have done? Did something happen to you on your twelfth birthday? You've been a misery every birthday ever since…"
Hermione looked up at her mother, suddenly furious. "Oh, thank you Mother, that will make everything better, keep insulting me..."
Her mother's eyes widened and started to tear, her face flushed with anger, "I'm just trying to understand..."
"You can't understand!" Hermione's voice and pulse rose rapidly. Strangely this seemed to calm her mother down. She looked vaguely amused if still hot around the face.
"Oh, I see, we can't hope to understand you, tragic teenager…"
Hermione slammed her cup down. "Oh on a roll mother, first insult me, then mock me."
Elizabeth blinked rapidly, looking upset again, "Hermione, sweetie, I'm not trying to do either. I-I just don't know what to do, you usually tell us everything, but every year..."
But Hermione wasn't really listening to her. She felt the misery, the sense of loss she had felt since her twelfth birthday, swirl in her stomach and she felt it burn into an anger, coming out of her mouth uncontrolled, like steam. "Shows you what you know then, Mother. I don't tell you everything. You don't know everything. You and Dad go around talking about how close you are with me, what a good girl I am, how mature I am, but you don't know the first thing… The first second I'm not perfect and you fall apart and start being, being such a, such a ... bitch!"
Elizabeth gasped, tears coming to her eyes, her hands shaking.
"Hermione Jean Granger, congratulations, you get your wish, go to your room and don't come out until you are ready to apologize to your mother!" Charles bellowed, his shock quickly changing into anger.
Hermione stared at both of her parents, the sudden fire of her anger gone, making her feel cold and empty inside.
"Now!" Charles jabbed his finger towards the stairs. Hermione turned on her heel and left.
An hour later, Hermione was in her room, pacing, all nerves and guilt. She thought of her mother's shocked face at her words and felt tears slip down her cheeks. There was a soft knock a her door. Hermione wiped her tears away quickly and opened it, her mother was standing on the other side, her face a mess of emotions. She stared at her silently, her posture a little cold.
Hermione hiccupped and threw herself at her mother. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me, but you certainly didn't deserve that."
Her mother sagged in her arms a little, letting out a small laugh. "That's more my Hermione." Her mother pulled away a little, looking into her face. "Apology accepted, though I think, with all that, I deserve some sort of truthful explanation."
Hermione bit her lip, nodding. They sat down on her bed. "I, I wish I understood, but I don't know, I just, I just feel.." Hermione looked into the middle distance, trying to find words that fit. After a few seconds, confused, Hermione found a word that seemed to match her mood. "Loss. I feel a loss. Like I've lost something important." Hermione looked at her mother, frowning, shrugging, "I don't know why."
Hermione's mother looked back at her,concerned. "I, I didn't really start to feel a sense of loss on my birthday until I hit my mid-thirties, it just felt like life was passing me by…"
Hermione shook her head. "It's not like that. I've only just turned sixteen. I don't feel worried about getting older, not yet, anyway."
Elizabeth sighed, taking her hands. "You know, things like this don't always make sense, sometimes things don't become clearer until later. Like my fear of driving, I suppose. It scares me so much to be behind the wheel, but I've never been in an accident, no one I know has ever been in a serious accident, even, but still, I'm so afraid when I drive. Eventually I realized that it's a control thing, driving just hits all of my anxiety buttons. So perhaps, eventually, you will realize what it is you think you are losing every birthday. I just know it helps to talk about it, it won't go away by you working and reworking it in your head, darling."
Hermione nodded, thinking. "Sorry again, Mum, I suppose I just bottle things up sometimes…"
Her mother snorted, reaching over and combing her fingers through her hair. "That's a wee bit of an understatement."
Suddenly Hermione felt herself rocking a little. Startled, she looked around at her still room. She heard her name being yelled from a distance, getting louder and louder. She turned to look back at her mother, but she was gone, the space on her bed next to her empty. Hermione felt her sense of loss grow again, the rocking and the yelling getting more intrusive.
"Hermione! Hermione! I know you've just got to sleep, but wake up, it's Neville. HERMIONE!."
With a jerk Hermione came out of the dream of her memory of her sixteenth birthday. Harry was leaning over her, his eyes tired, holding up a small mirror that had Neville's beaming face in it. "Hermione, I have some good news."
Hermione sat up with a gasp, taking the mirror from Harry. "What did your professor say, Neville?"
"He said that if a talented witch or wizard cast the spell, that the intention of the caster should be part of how the spell unwinds, even after death. So say someone cast a protection charm on a house, or something, with the intention of keeping it secret forever, then when they die, the magic can continue on for quite sometime. But say that they only meant for the magic to be temporary, had every intention to reverse it, then eventually the magic will fade." Neville's hesitated a second, uncertain. "The bad news is that, because the caster is no longer alive, it is hard to tell how long that will take. It won't be all at once, the way it would be if the caster just reversed it themselves."
Hermione had listened with rapt attention, watching Neville so closely that her breath was making fog on the mirror.
"S-So you're saying that, if McGonagall did mean to reverse it, then, then my parent's memories will slowly come back?"
Neville nodded, looking thoughtful. "I suppose good news was too strong of a word, but it certainly could be worse news. Honestly, Hermione, I was fairly certain that it would have been permanent…"
Hermione gave a few shaky nods. "Th-thank you for checking Neville, you've really helped."
Neville smiled kindly at her. "It wasn't a problem at all, Hermione. Flitwick actually was impressed I was asking such a question, so it was good. You should get some sleep, you look half dead." Hermione gave him a tiny smile, wishing him good night.
She stared at the wall, not certain what to think.
Harry took the mirror from her limp hands and started to rub her back, speaking softly. "So, it sounds like they will get their memory back. McGonagall said that she would fix them, eventually. I'm sure it will be weird for them to slowly start to remember you. Of course, we don't know when that might be, we're not sure how long she was thinking…" Harry let out a shaky sigh.
Hermione felt anxiety bubble its way up her stomach. She couldn't seem to think straight, her mind circling on, 'What if she had meant for it to be permanent? What if she didn't believe that we would ever win the war? What if it takes them twenty years to start remembering? What if they get hurt, have an accident, before they remember, and I never see them again? What if…' Suddenly Harry's hand seemed too hot, too heavy on her back. She shrugged it off.
"I'm going to see what I can figure out in the Black library."
"Hermione, you got maybe two hours worth of sleep. We literally just escaped prison, I think you…"
Hermione turned away from him, walking towards the door, her voice sharp. "I know what I need to do in order to relax, Harry, thank you."
"I'm just trying to help…"
Hermione glanced back at him from the doorway. "I don't need your help right now, Harry, I'd just like to be left alone."
Harry frowned at her, giving a hesitant, uncertain nod. "Let me know if you need anything, any help at…"
"Thank you." Hermione spoke over him, closing the door with a click behind her.
Harry felt lost and sickened watching the sobbing man on stage. He wasn't a part of the Order of the Phoenix, so what was this? He glanced over to Hermione, who was watching the the woman in pink, her frown hardening, her eyes calculating.
Charlie Mendacium spoke again. "This is no ordinary member of the Order of the Phoenix either. This man helped the so called, 'Mad-Eye' Moody enter the Ministry to finish out his terrorist attack against us last month." At this the crowd became louder, shuffling to look at the crying man on stage. The fake Order member looked back at Charlie Mendacium, shocked through his tears. He started to shake his head rapidly, his mouth clearly forming the words, 'I didn't, I didn't.'
The women in pick shot a spell at him and his whole body froze, only his eyes moving in wild panic in his head.
Harry felt the air get colder. The crowd around him hushed in a sudden terror, their speculation at the man on stage freezing in their throats. Neville had warned them, he had been counting on it, even, that dementors would show up. He said that they would be there to remind everyone of their place. But Neville hadn't said that they would show up for this purpose.
As they got nearer, the ministry employee and the radio host stepped off of the stage and cast patronuses which walked along the edge of the stage, protecting the crowd from most of the feelings of horror the dementors brought with them.
The dementors glided on stage, three of them. One grabbed the crying man's left arm, the other his right, and the middle leaned down, stroking his cheek almost lovingly.
Harry gripped his wand tighter, glancing across the crowd towards Hermione, who looked back at him with a determined expression. They raised their wands at the same time.
Harry hadn't seen Hermione all day. He had breakfast, he cleaned the kitchen, he sat in the living room staring at the wall, trying and failing not to think of McGonagall still and crumpled on the ground, paced in front of the library door, laid down for an restless nap, and was now sitting in front of the library door in a stupor, wondering what Hermione was doing.
Neville hadn't given a lot of information, but there was nothing he could do about it. The rest were variables; McGonagall's intent, the power of her magic, how long she wanted to keep Hermione's parents in the dark, it was all unknowable.
Harry sighed, resting his chin on his knees. He couldn't help but think of Hermione's notes on her Odd Moments, all those details all color coded. He thought of her meticulous nature. He would bet anything that Hermione kept a compulsively detailed homework planner as a student. He could imagine her putting together a mapped out itinerary for for any trip abroad, her bags packed neatly the week before hand.
Yet, since she met him, her life has been chaos, running from the law, running from murderers and monsters, being homeless. To say she had been a good sport about it was an understatement. Harry wondered if it wasn't the idea of seeing her parents again that had pulled her through all of this so far. He couldn't imagine how the uncertainty around her parent's fate was driving her in miserable circles.
His stomach clenched, his mind reeling in panic as it occurred to him that this might be the final straw, maybe she'd leave him.
He jumped to his feet as the library door opened, revealing Hermione, her eyes red, her hair a halo of frizz. She blinked at him, once, then twice, then moved passed him, walking down the hallway towards the bathroom. Harry stood in the hallway, his heart pounding with stress.
What was she thinking?
Hermione emerged, her face damp, her hair tied back in a large bun and shuffled past him, reaching for the library door, silent.
Harry grabbed her shoulders worried and exasperated. "You can't be serious Hermione, you look dead. Go to sleep." He started to pull her down the hallway but she wiggled out his grasp, her eyes both distant and sharp as she stared at him as though seeing him for the first time.
"No, I need to do more reading. I have to make sure that they'll be okay. I have to. It's all my fault, Harry, I have to make sure…"
Harry reached for Hermione's hand, frustrated. "It's not your fault, it's not your fault at all, why would you think…"
"I let her change their memories, Harry, I watched her do it. I didn't stop her, I just trusted them blindly for no reason and now I need to know that they will be okay. I just trusted that this would finish and that even if she didn't like me should be able to fix it. I need to read…" Hermione tried to move past Harry, but he moved in her way, blocking the library door with his body.
"Hermione, you didn't even know that she was doing a memory charm, what were you suppose to do? And what are you even reading? None of those books can tell you McGonagall's intent." For a second Hermione's face crumpled, grief and worry in every part of her face, but then it changed back to distant and sharp in an instant.
Squaring her shoulders she tried again to move past Harry, but he stayed firm.
"Go to sleep, Hermione."
Harry and Hermione glared at each other, their arms crossed. After a few beats Hermione stomped her foot, letting out a low hiss. "You don't understand you stupid boy."
Harry felt irritation creep it's way up his spine. He thought perhaps he was tired too. "I understand that you need sleep."
Hermione stepped in close to him, her voice dripping with venom, no louder than a whisper. "I don't need to sleep. I need to save my family. You've never had a family, at least not one that cared about you, so no, you don't understand."
Harry looked down at Hermione's face, the dark circle under her eyes, the strange hate sparking there, the harsh line of her usually soft mouth, and felt like he had been kicked in the stomach, then felt nothing at all, an eco-y sort of empty.
Harry moved out of the doorway, still staring at her. Hermione's eyes filled with tears, her mouth opening and closing, all the hate gone from her face, replaced by shock and sadness. "Harry, I'm…"
Harry just shook his head, turned on his heel, and went downstairs.
Neville looked from face to face, frowning at their frowns and stiff posture, their body's pointed away from each other. "You both look beat. I'm sorry to interrupt … whatever it is that's happened now, but I know that you both don't get the post and this is very important."
Harry and Hermione nodded, looking down at him warily.
Neville looked down at the newspaper in his hands, giving a small cough before reading aloud. "'Madness and the Ministry. Known terrorist from the group calling itself the Order of the Phoenix, Alastor Moody, entered the Minister of Magic Tuesday, killing Entrepreneur Lucius Malfoy, three aurors, and destroying the iconic Magic is Might statue in the atrium. Moody entered the Ministry of Magic at nine am by means still being investigated by the Auror department. He made his way unseen until he came across Lucius Malfoy talking with the Minister and killed him instantly with the Death Curse. The use of the Unforgivable set alarms off, immediately calling a team of aurors to the atrium. The subsequent duel between the terrorist, formally an auror himself, and an auror team of eight lasted a reported 15 minutes.'
"'In that fifteen minutes Moody killed three aurors and injured three more. He blew up the iconic Magic is Might statue, making the debris spell out the words 'Whose Blood is Muddy?' on the Atrium ceiling. The Ministry currently has curtains blocking it from view as they work to take it down. Auror John Stevens is credited by team mates and witnesses as being the one who managed to finally end Moody's campaign with a well aimed Severing Charm.'
"'The clearly politically motivated attack reminds us all of the constant underlying threat of Muggles and Muggleborns…' The rest of the article is basically just talking about how dangerous everyone but purebloods are. There are other articles talking about the aurors lost in action and Moody's history and things like that. I've already owled you both a copy…"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other, eyebrows raised. Neville glanced between them nervously, licking his lips. "You...You both were friends of his?"
Harry and Hermione both shook their heads automatically. Neville looked more at ease. "I...I don't like the things that the Ministry does, obviously, but this doesn't seem like the right answer. Those aurors were innocent, I mean, this all wasn't there fault. And why Malfoy and not the Minister who was standing right next to him?"
Harry looked down at Neville feeling strangely angered. "After everything, after all this, I can't really say I'm too broken up about it, Neville. I'm being hunted, Hermione is being hunted, from all sides because of these people. We can't live, anyone like us can't live as we are because of them. And I wouldn't say the auror's are innocent as they are the ones enforcing this fucked up system."
Neville looked back at Harry, his cheeks flushed. "You can't be saying that this was the right way to go about things…"
Harry snorted, his anger mixing with his tiredness, making him vaguely dizzy. "Oh, and what would you have us do, peaceful protest? Write angry letters? These people, some of them are actual monsters…"
Neville's eyes flashed, his face getting redder. "Some of them yes, but not all of them, not random people in the atrium…"
Hermione let out a long sigh and rubbed her head. Harry and Neville looked at her as she spoke softly. "Both of you are right, or wrong, really. Harry's right in one way, Neville. I'm not really feeling too broken up about law enforcers who enforce laws that say I'm subhuman and deserve to die." Neville paled slightly, his eyes looking conflicted. "But Neville is also right, Harry, this isn't the right way to go about things. Morally, but also strategically. You heard Neville. The article made what Moody did something to further justify the Ministry's oppressive actions. All Moody did was worsen the Muggleborn image. He made it so people can feel sympathy for the Ministry. Just look at Neville, who knows better. Even he feels bad for them."
Harry nodded, thinking. Neville looked at them with a slightly abashed expression. "I haven't forgotten what kind of system this is. I'm not suddenly for the Ministry…"
Hermione nodded, giving Neville a small smile. "We understand, Neville."
Harry looked at him, still frowning, and shrugged. "So what should we do, then? Killing people off like that is ineffectual and we obviously can't do any other type of protest…"
Neville frowned into the distance, contemplative, "...The rally. We could do something at the rally…"
"What rally?" Harry asked, his head in his hands.
"There is a rally celebrating the Dark Lord and purebloods every year… It's awful… I think, if we wanted to make a statement, that would be the place to do it."
Hermione looked at him, her eyebrows furrowed. "Make a positive statement, something that would be people rethink muggleborns, something that highlights how awful the Ministry is...You said people don't like them much, right Neville?"
Neville nodded, "People don't like Moody, but you'd be surprised. People aren't as upset as you'd think. There has been a lot of mutters about his 'Whose blood is Muddy?' thing as well…But look, I have to get to class. Easter break is next week, I'll need to spend most of it with my family but I should be able to get away. Perhaps we can get some practice in?"
Hermione smiled at him. "That would be great, Neville, thank you. I think we should all think about this rally too, see if we can come up with something that makes sense..."
Harry and Neville nodded in agreement, everyone waved good bye, the mirror turning dark and then looking ordinary.
The silence was heavy in the room, Harry glanced over at Hermione, swaying as she sat, her face drawn. Harry moved forward, putting his arm across Hermione's chest as he fell against the bed, bringing her down with him. He pulled the blankets next to her around her, pulling them towards him until Hermione was wrapped in them, her arms trapped. "Go to sleep, Hermione." Harry ignored her watery smile, taking off his jeans and shoes and slipping into bed next to her, his back towards her.
Harry felt Hermione shifting behind him, grunting as she untangled herself from the blankets. After a few moments Harry felt her lean against his back, her face in between his shoulder blades, her arm across his stomach. She whispered, muffled against his shirt, "I'm so sorry Harry. I had no reason to say that to you. It went passed mean in to cruel. I-I miss my parent's terribly but I won't offer any excuses, just know I'm truly sorry."
Harry felt tension leave his shoulders, he took Hermione's hand in his own, noticing her small fingers covered in paper cuts. "I don't blame you, really. It wasn't nice, but then, I really expected you to blow up at me ages ago, after all that I've put you through. Honestly, I thought you might leave, so, thank you for staying."
Harry felt Hermione's breathing become shaky on his back. He felt two warm wet spots grow larger on his shirt, Hermione's arm gripping him tighter around the middle. "N-no, you didn't deserve those mean words at all, Harry, I have no excuse, it's not your fault. None of this is your fault. You shouldn't have to take insults like that at all, not from anyone and especially not from me. I'm not going anywhere, so you don't have to take me being awful just because you're worried I'm going to leave."
Harry felt a wave of complex emotion, hard for him to decipher, rise up in his chest, he squeezed Hermione's hand, unable to speak. Behind him Hermione sniffed, tangling her legs with his, and whispered into his back, "I am sorry and I love you."
Harry felt a strange pain in his chest, like an old wound aching before a rain storm. "I love you, too."