Between Then and Now (We Can Only Go Forward)


Summary: Albus Dumbledore once said "[...] death is but the next great adventure," but when a premature death causes her to 'wake up' as Cordelia, Hermione Granger's older Muggle sister before the events of HP canon, she calls BS. What's an SI supposed to do if she's not around Hogwarts to help save the day?

Notes: Based on a Reddit prompt, in which "Hermione's relationship with her family as an inverse of Lily's relationship with her's."

"You knew," said Harry. "You knew I'm a … a wizard?"

"Knew!" shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. "Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that … that school – and came home every holiday with her pockets full of frog-spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was … a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!"

She stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on. It seemed like she had been wanting to say all this for years.

- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, "The Keeper of Keys" (chapter four), 1991

I: Fernweh

'Distance pain': the feeling of wanting to be elsewhere; the infinite longing for some place that isn't where you are now.

It happened suddenly.

Had she been around to watch the ensuring result on the news, the headline would've said something like: "Woman in her late twenties, killed in a freak accident of being crushed to death by a piano while walking underneath scaffolding on a sunny, Tuesday afternoon."

At least it was instantaneous, not that she remembered much other than, "HEY, YOU - WATCH OUT!", looking up, and then seeing nothing but something large, black and shiny, before things went dark.

In retrospect, she felt like she was Wyle E. Coyote in a Looney Tunes cartoon, except, unlike the coyote, she didn't survive the event.

At twenty-eight, she died - violently, quickly, leaving behind a mountain of graduate school debt, no one to feed her exotic, tropical fish, and the anxiety of unfinished grading and course work that would follow her to - what she presumed was - the afterlife.

But it didn't happen like that.

In many other self-insert fanfics or even reincarnation stories, the protagonist wakes up just at the moment of birth or right after, aware of things being different and not quite right. Perhaps she was a bit slower, or the violent nature of her death kept her isolated in some sort of mental trauma bubble to heal her, but she didn't realize what was going on until much later.

('Much later' being, in relative linear time, only two years - but still.)

She was playing at a park, minding her own business when a group of other girls came to snatch her toy. She blinked, staring at them for a few brief moments in pure shock that someone would do such a thing.

"Mine!" one of the other girls declared.

When she scrambled to her feet - her balance a bit off - another girl shoved her and she fell, landing not just hard on her rear, but her head slamming back into the ground. The ground itself was grass - nothing hard like concrete or asphalt - but the move jarred her and she lost her breath for a moment, trying to catch it with great, heaving gasps of air.

Something inside her shifted; an awareness that hadn't been there previously. And while it settled in the back of her mind, cozying up and making space, the girl succumbed to baser instincts and let out an audaciously loud wail that made many heads snap toward her and the few girls standing around her, one still clutching the stolen doll.

"MUMMY!" she cried, tears rolling down her cheeks, her face red.

A very pregnant woman wobbled over as quickly as she could, concern etched on her face while her curls spilled from a hastily-done updo. She wore a pretty summer dress, stretched across her large belly, with a cardigan covering her shoulders to ward off any potential chill.

"Cordelia! Sweetheart, what's wrong?" the panic in her voice shifted as her brown eyes turned to the cluster of other girls, and the doll that was obviously where it shouldn't be - in someone else's arms.

The little girl, Cordelia, sniffed loudly and muttered something about stolen dolls in a voice broken between catching her breath. While her mother managed to retrieve her doll, the awareness in the girl settled and she blinked.

Her tiny head looked around the playground, her sniffles and sobs trailing off as she surveyed the pleasant breeze in the air, the blue sky tinged with puffy grey clouds, and the tightly packed, white-washed rowhouses opposite the grassy park.

Parked in front of some of the houses were boxy cars in colours of tan or brown or black, models she hadn't seen in years on the street. One drove by on the road between the houses and the park, except it was on the wrong side of the road in her eyes -

Her breath hitched, and her eyes swiveled around to look at her body: she was a bit on the gangly side, with long pale arms and legs from a very pink pinafore and scuffed velcro shoes with grass stains. But they were not the arms and legs from her memory; they were the arms and legs of someone much younger than twenty-eight, with scars and burns and blunted nails from picking at her hangnails and biting them in anxiety, a nervous habit she never kicked.

Those hands, small, warm, slightly sticky, reached up and patted at her face in growing horror. It didn't feel like her face; this one was round, squishy in the cheeks. Her lips were thinner, her nose far more pert and sloped than what she remembered hers being, and even her eyebrows felt thinner and more defined.

In the midst of her physical examination, her mother finished chastising the other girls, retrieved her doll and placed it in her arms while helping Cordelia to her unsteady feet, trotting her to the bench where she had been sitting, a stroller parked beside.

As she stumbled on unsteady feet, a swish of hair fell forward and Cordelia used her free hand to reach up and grab it, tangling her fingers in the thick brown curls.

This is not right, she thought, firmly. I'm blonde. I have straight blonde hair.

And then she remembered: watch out - something shiny and black - pain - darkness -

With new awareness, Cordelia looked around one last time as her mother shuffled her into the stroller. As she was buckling her in, and speaking all the while, she found herself listening intently to her mother's words.

"-I'm sorry that happened, my love. We'll go visit Daddy now, at the dentistry," the woman was saying, her voice soft and contrite. "But you'd best get used to sharing your dolls, Cordie -"

Clara. My name is - was? - Clara.

"-because soon you're going to be a big sister! Isn't that exciting, darling? You'll have to be a big girl and take care of little Hermione when she comes." She sighed happily. "Two little Grangers! I never thought it possible."

Clara/Cordelia's brain came to a halt, even as her mother began to push the stroller out of the park.

"Oh shit," she muttered, very, very quietly. Buffetted by the stroller's sides and cloth roof, the woman did not hear her child mutter the expletive, but even if she had, the little toddler would be unable to answer any query, lost in her own mulish thoughts.

Of all the times to become woke, she thought, a deep-set frown on her face that was very out of place on a two-year-old's, it had to be just before Hermione Granger is born in 1979. Not only have I time-travelled, but I'm in the freaking Harry Potter books!

If she ever got the opportunity to meet Albus Dumbledore, she'd tell him his 'death is but the next great adventure' quote was full of shit.

Upon realizing that she was somehow an insert into a story that once upon a time didn't exist, there was a period of mourning for her previous life and then, following that, an existential crisis about being someone who didn't exist, period. How was she supposed to interact with the Grangers, who never really had any lines in the books? Who were merely known as 'tooth healers' and Muggles to boot?

And another thing - Cordelia? Who names their child 'Cordelia'? The only Cordelia she knew was the character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and since it was apparent her parents liked Shakespeare given their choices of Cordelia and Hermione, she had to wonder why they didn't pick better names?

Sure, her mother was Helen Granger and naming her daughter Hermione made some sense (except for the part where Hermione, Helen of Troy's daughter, didn't have much of a happy ending); but naming their firstborn daughter Cordelia was asking for trouble! Cordelia died in King Lear. She proclaimed her love and fidelity to her father, who banished her; she ended up marrying the King of France (not too badly done, she thought smugly), but then when she brought the French army to help her father escape prison, her sisters executed her.

Was that really the legacy they wanted to saddle their daughter with?

And better still - in her previous life (first life?) - she had been an only child. What did she know about being a big sister to the Hermione Granger? One-third of the fanon-called "Golden Trio," who went off to save the world? (or, well, Britain at least.)

At least she grew up in the 80s and knew what to expect. Hey - now there was a thought! A smile began to stretch across her face. She knew what to expect in the future if things managed to remain fairly similar. She could encourage her parents to be comfortably wealthy with the right suggestions in stocks or bets.

(The not-newly, but newly-Christened) Cordelia Granger felt overwhelmed by these worries and questions but soon had to face them head-on as Mrs. Granger's water broke early on the morning of September 19th, 1979. Within several hours, Cordelia was the big sister to a squalling, red-faced Hermione Granger.

Her mother, in the hospital bed and beaming, cuddled the youngest Granger to her breast while she stared at the girl who would one day be proclaimed "the brightest witch of her age," by Remus Lupin.

"Helen, love," whispered Cordelia's father in a hushed, awed voice. "Look at her. She's beautiful."

"Alfred, help Cordelia up. I want her to meet her little sister," instructed Helen, turning her eyes from her husband to daughter.

Her father helped Cordelia's tiny body to scrambled up to sit next to Helen, not even hiding her curiosity about what was happening as Helen shuffled in the bed and then helped guide the tiny swaddled baby into Cordelia's lap and position her arms around the newborn.

Cordelia sucked in a breath and held it.

"Cordelia," began Helen quietly. "Meet Hermione, your sister. You two are going to be the best of friends, I just know it."

She knew she couldn't go back - that was death. Maybe being reborn into the Harry Potter universe was a second chance. A chance to survive past her thirties, to obtain that Masters. Maybe it meant more than an empty, cheap apartment with few friends and no family to speak of.

Maybe - maybe being Cordelia Granger meant helping Hermione Granger save the wizarding world.

Suddenly, a flurry of daydream images swept through Cordelia: receiving her Hogwarts letter at eleven; going to Hogwarts during the same year as the Weasley twins and being sorted into Gryffindor - she was brave, wasn't she? - and befriending them. Of having a magic wand (!) and casting spells, and being called "mudblood," by Slytherins and brushing it off because she's actually in her twenties and what is a silly name going to do to her?

Images of telling Hermione all about Hogwarts and what to expect - of Hermione stealing her textbooks and reading ahead; of accidental magic, trying to mimic her big sister - of being more social, of having friends. Of Ron Weasley not saying, "it's no wonder she hasn't any friends, she's a nightmare!" Of preventing the troll in the bathroom scene -

Of stopping the stupid crush on Gilderoy Lockhart. Of helping Sirius Black as Padfoot and stopping Pettigrew from escaping that fateful night, changing not only the canon, but also Harry and Sirius's paths - of joining the Order of the Phoenix and fighting against Death Eaters and saving the world and knowing where the Horcruxes were, helping Harry and Hermione and Ron stop Voldemort well before he could get started -

Excitement filled her. She could save Sirius! And Remus! And Tonks! And so many others.

Yes, thought Cordelia, looking down at Hermione's squashed newborn face, and feeling an unfamiliar swell of familial sibling love spill from her, I can't wait for you to join me in the magical world where we, the Granger sisters, are going to change the Harry Potter canon. We're going to change the world.

Except, on March 15, 1988 - Cordelia did not receive a Hogwarts letter.

But on September 19, 1990 - Hermione did.