Falling Leaves

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From the last day of the Triwizard Tournament, Cedric's death haunted her. His gaping yet unseeing eyes as they contemplated the night, his stillness drowned by cheers and whistles... She had asked Harry if things would ever be the same, and though he had said no, very little had changed.

It stood to reason that, if Death Eaters had wreaked havoc at the Quidditch Cup before Voldemort's return, their acts would only grow in cruelty and visibility afterward. She had expected countless reports of deaths and disappearances. Streets deserted enough that silence itself rang loud and the oppressive weight of the Dark Mark floating above one or all of her neighbors' houses as the walls were engulfed in flames. But the only oppressive thing was the summer heat as it permeated every room in her parents' house, weighing down her movements and muddling her train of thought. There were no dark clouds or fog to hint at the ominousness of the situation, no lightning slashing through the sky to convey her terror as they did in books and films. Just the sun–bright and unpleasant and unyielding–and the lazy twittering of birds as they ventured into the yard in search of food then retreated to the trees' shade.

It was worse, perhaps. Not the lack of massive deaths, of course, but apparent peace was noxious for different reasons. Hidden wars never gathered many fighters: people rioted not for good, but to maintain their way of life. The surface-level calm endorsing their beliefs, even when the waters ran deep and troubled. Whilst Harry was discredited by the press, and people's main concern revolved around travel destinations and summer fashion, Voldemort regained his strength.

So she forced herself not to settle. Not to rest.

Whenever the doorbell rang, or someone popped a jar open, or a car backfired, Hermione started. The beginning of that summer vacation had her answering the door at all times, wand concealed behind her back however ludicrous it might be that Death Eaters–or Voldemort himself–would bother with calling etiquette.

Until the time magical callers indeed appeared. Hermione opened the front door to find Professor McGonagall standing on her doorstep. The Head of Gryffindor wore a stifling emerald roll-neck dress, sensible black heels encasing her feet, and hair tied in an updo, looking not so much a witch, but a strict governess. Not a drop of sweat was apparent anywhere despite the ensemble, and Hermione–with her t-shirt already sticking to the skin of her back, hair clipped up haphazardly and damp around her forehead and neck–envied her for a moment: oh, to be allowed to cast Cooling Charms!

When Hermione caught movement at the professor's side, the fluttery herd of Pixies from the year before returned to her stomach with a vengeance. Next to her, and towering over them both, stood Professor Lupin. The same calm, kind closed-lipped smile he had always offered his students two years before graced his lips, and Hermione inhaled rather noisily while trying to keep her gaze from wandering lower as she had done with his companion. Running her fingers over her curls or straightening her clothes would do nothing for her appearance, so she refrained from trying. Then the heat that had gathered on her cheeks and neck at seeing him again melted down, sinking her heart to the bottom of her stomach.

"It's not Harry, is it?" Hermione blurted, thoughts running amok in her mind. Her left hand found support on the door jamb, setting her gaze on Professor McGonagall. If something had, in fact, happened to Harry, she wouldn't be able to take Professor Lupin's kindness.

"Mr. Potter is fine, Miss Granger. We are here to escort you somewhere safe," Professor McGonagall said.

The relief for her friend wasn't long-lived as the witch's words pierced through it: somewhere safe, which implied her parents' house wasn't. It didn't come as a surprise, but the confirmation didn't sit well with her. If she were Voldemort, however...

"I'm really, truly sorry, professor," Hermione raised her wand, staring the witch in the eye, "But we've only just had an impersonator for a teacher. It wouldn't be creative, of course, but… Well..."

That neither of them raised anything at her except for a brow was telling. But Hermione had read about wandless casters, and fighting an underaged student hardly presented a challenge, so she kept her wand arm steady. With her parents at the practice, she would only have to fend for herself, and though the idea did nothing to prevent the sweating of her palms, it brought her some measure of comfort.

Professor McGonagall–or so Hermione hoped–clasped her hands together, her chin held high despite the wand trained at her, "I see Hogwarts has finally managed to teach one of you about danger, Miss Granger," The older witch's face softened, "Though not with the methods I would've preferred."

Hermione grimaced, "Yes. As you can probably recall and I would rather forget, professor, I've had… some experience with Polyjuice Potion. Which is why I know Animagus magic can't be fooled by it. I won't let you in until you show me."

There was a glint of something in Professor Lupin's green eyes when Hermione sneaked a glance at him. It took years off his face, and Hermione was reminded of the boy she met the previous year. "We could use this, Minerva. Amongst ourselves."

The look the witch gave him was not one Hermione was ever keen to receive.

"Very well," In an instant, the silver tabby cat Hermione had seen in her Transfiguration lessons was sitting before her, tail thumping against the ground and pupils reduced to slits. Hermione could almost read Is this to your satisfaction? from its poise alone, and it was rather eerie to think Crookshanks would go along swimmingly with her Transfiguration professor had he not been out exploring the neighborhood, given that they both managed to admonish her with nothing but a stare and a tail flick. Once Hermione had lowered her wand and the other witch had taken human form again, she fixed her gaze on Hermione, "Now, I believe turnabout is fair play. Miss Granger, what object have I given you in your third year?"

The question caught Hermione unaware and her gaze darted to Professor Lupin's face. She answered the question at him, paying minute attention to his body language, "A time-turner."

Despite the mention of time travel, there was no change in Professor Lupin's expression, no hint of recognition whatsoever.

Oh. Her shoulders drooped and she let go of the door jamb to clasp the tip of her wand.

"Good. Now that we've settled this, Miss Granger, would you mind if we came in?"

"Of course! I'm sorry, professor. I had to make sure..."

"I'm not cross, child," The Head of Gryffindor entered the room once Hermione had stepped aside, "Slightly peeved, perhaps. But you did well, given the circumstances."

She motioned for them to take a seat, "Just not terribly well. I'd be dead by now if you were Death Eaters, wouldn't I?"

Their lack of answer was a response in itself and she cringed.

"It won't always be that way, Hermione," Professor Lupin said, and she found she had missed his presence, even if it felt a little bittersweet, "Your instincts were in the right place, and they'll do as much for you, or perhaps more, as the spells."

"Thank you," Hermione debated over whether or not to call him Professor Lupin. When she couldn't decide either way, she changed the subject, "So we're leaving? And my parents?"

"It would be best if they spent a few days out of town."

"I'll… I think I can arrange that."

She didn't know what she expected from a safehouse that happened to be the Order's headquarters, but that place wasn't it. It had been exciting, reading the address on a piece of paper and seeing it materialize before her, and she had asked a ton of questions about the Fidelius Charm to those who didn't really mind her curiosity and had–or still did, in Professor McGonagall's case–answered them for a living.

Meeting Sirius without Harry there had been rather awkward. There was an anger in him that she didn't quite know how to respond to, and even though he had been pleasant enough to her and grateful still that she had saved his life, he had kept his distance after Dumbledore took her side on a spat with him over Kreacher one night. Not that she had too much time to mull over it given that Mrs. Weasley had them slogging away in an attempt to make the dingy house tolerable. Between that and the too-young-to-join-the-Order eavesdropping efforts, Hermione watched Remus.

She had come to draw a few conclusions, none very helpful. For starters, he spent most of his time at Headquarters with Sirius, which was not unusual given they were best friends. Contrary to his friend, however, he never once insulted Kreacher, even though the elf didn't repay the treatment in kind, spouting prejudice against werewolves whenever possible. And, now that she was studying him, something else caught her eye: although he was a great deal taller than her and most of the others, the baggy cardigans that a third-year Hermione had always associated with gentleness and dependability, now struck her with a different impression. From what little she could recall through her headache, young Remus hadn't seemed keen on loose-fitting clothes, so either he had taken a liking to them at some point, or… Hermione's jaw set in place even though her heart was constricting in her chest. Or he had become an adult werewolf, trying to understate his height, to present himself as non-threatening as possible to others.

She snapped the book she was pretending to read closed and stormed out of the Library. Even if, at the moment, Hermione wished she could bury her face in that hateful piece of clothing, wind her arms around him, and cry.

Which was absurd.

In any case, that understanding along with all the time she had spent around Professor Lupin at Number 12 Grimmauld's Place renewed her determination to figure out what had happened. Perhaps she had been going at it wrong. She had consulted all the books she could find on time travel, but none about the garden itself. As soon as she could once they were at Hogwarts, Hermione went to the Library. Her version of Hogwarts: A History was too new, too heavily edited and revised to have enough relevant information on the garden, so she gathered all the previous ones dating from the garden's creation and sat down.

In the end, it wasn't information per se that she found. Next to the section on the garden in a 1970 edition, four words stained the margins:

She never came back.

Her breath hitched. Hermione could recognize that handwriting anywhere. It used to come in the form of praise for her work and suggestions of more in-depth reading materials on her third-year DADA assignments.

Despite his discouraging words and oblivion, Hermione still returned to the garden every day. A sheet of moss covered the stone steps and floor, and a dandelion or five–that she hadn't seen since she used to blow them as a child to watch its seeds float around–peeked out in between clumps of overgrown grass. There were flowers as well, though Merlin knew if they had been planted or had grown on their own.

As Hermione returned each day, though, she wondered if perhaps they never met in the past again and she remained a mystery he had long forgotten. By her fourth day there, between reading on how to maintain a garden and her attempts at sprucing it up, the door swung open to reveal a slightly taller Remus than the year before.

She let out a gasp, "It is you! I've been waiting and I didn't know whether or not you would come."

A/N: Hello, lovely people!

This chapter was actually quite cooperative (which means it led to less banging my head on the keyboard trying to get it to read decently), so I managed to finish it with a lot of time to spare, yay!

Oh, and I also forgot to mention that this story isn't being betaed, so if you notice something amiss, let me know. English isn't my first language and it can sometimes lead to some traumatizing yet hilarious mistakes (or, you know, some regular ones).

I really hope you enjoy this chapter and, if you get the chance, let me know what you think!

To Canimal: Oh, God! I can only imagine how awful that must have been... yuck. But I'm really happy you're enjoying the story, and thank you for the reviews, I appreciate them :)

Many, many hugs to caprubia, Chantal9, Ale74, PaleandBroodingsGirl, Canimal, and sashaann88 for the reviews. To kathiesmith69, Ale74, Lexxxi, Shieldmaiden Sigyn, Sleepy Niffler, skulli4485 Sabrequeen1822, skhnmrrd, and xxErikoxxx for adding the story to their favorites. And to AFenwick, Grahamgirl93, JunkFoodJacki, Ale74, Lexxxi, PaleandBroodingsGirl, Shieldmaiden Sigyn, faeriephile, firefly81, skulli4485, skhnmrrd, wolfkitty1103, and xxErikoxxx for following the story.

You guys are amazing :)