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A Better Life

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Rays of warm light filtered in through the far window of the infirmary. Hermione, safely ensconced within layers of white blankets and soft feather pillows, slowly awoke. The first few seconds were the worst. Her mind threw her back to infirmary visits with Harry and Ron, and a window of time where she looked side to side for any signs of her friends left a deep pang of loss within her chest.

Madam Pomfrey was seated quietly behind her desk while a quill stood on its own, tall feather waving back and forth. Hermione seized control of her muscles from the grasp of sleep and sat up before stretching to release the kinks plaguing her body. Tension bled through her movements but no pain rose up to meet her. Once she’d satisfied herself that she wouldn’t fall apart at the barest movement she swung her body to the side and exited the bed. The cold from the tiles below her feet bled through the thin socks she was wearing and up her heels. The bright white hospital gown reached down to the floor and dragged slowly across the tiles as she tentatively approached Pomfrey’s large desk.

“Ma’am?” Her voice was still hoarse from the screams that had been wrenched from her during her impromptu time travel.

Pomfrey startled at her words, clearly surprised to see her out of the bed so soon, and nearly spilled ink all over her paperwork. The warm smile that the matronly woman shot her once her work was safe was filled with sincerity.

“Ah yes Ms. Granger! It’s so good to see you up and about.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” Hermione looked down at the length of her body, “I was wondering if I could go clean up?”

A simple cleaning spell might have done the job just as well but Hermione was craving a moment of time to thoroughly scrub and inspect herself beyond the prying eyes of anyone else. She wanted to see herself with no filters and ensure it was still her that had gone back in time.

“Of course dearie, I’ll escort you to one of the Prefect’s bathrooms. I’m sure with the lack of students no one will mind.”

Pomfrey stood up from her desk and set the items on it to a proper order with a flick of her wand before walking around it and heading off towards the doors to the infirmary. Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and followed the medi-witch silently.

The walk was quiet and Hermione contented herself to try and catch as many differences between the castle she knew and this new-old version. The stone walls and floor looked the same, if a little less worn down, and most passageways they passed by were familiar to her. Some ghosts lingered about the hallways and were respectful enough to resist questioning her appearance or why she was there off term. Portraits and statues still lined the hallways and while they appeared to be in different locations she could mostly recognize them all. Beyond that, it was Hogwarts as she remembered it. Less lively without the telling voices of students and professors wandering the hallways but still comforting in its familiarity.

When they finally arrived at the infirmary Pomfrey opened the door for her and let her know she’d remain nearby until the witch was ready to return. Hermione thanked her for her help before entering and promptly leaning back against a wall in exhaustion. The walk had been short, no more than five minutes, but still her body was burned out from the exertion. Her trip had worn her far more than she’d realized. A full length mirror was inset against a far wall and Hermione disrobed before walking up to it and inspecting her reflection.

She’d been gifted with a new scar to add to her collection. Standing out in parallel line across her chest a bright red burn mark followed up to catch at her collarbone and continue in a loop around her neck. The flesh was a river of angry red and white blotches, raised from the skin, and interspersed evenly with indents where the chain of the Time Turner had set against her skin and melted. Both Pomfrey and Minerva, ‘And likely Albus too,’ she thought, had done the best they could to heal the mess but it seemed the magical nature of the injury had provided complications. She could hope that it would fade evenly with time but the magnitude of the injury cast doubts on that. It seemed high collared shirts tight necklines would be her best friend until she was comfortable revealing it.

Her eyes traveled down her chest to the faint remnants of the scar that Dolohov had inflicted on her during her fifth year. It was a faint thing, blotches of discolored skin that easily faded into her naturally tan skin color at the edges. Her eyes drifted to her left forearm and to the scar etched upon it that would never fade with time. The best healers they had been able to scrounge up after the Final Battle had all come to the same conclusion. The wound was cursed and would forever mar her skin. It no longer bled but the angry red lines in childish script looked as new as if she’d been carved into only yesterday. Pomfrey and the others had undoubtedly seen it while attempting to heal her but had refrained from bringing attention to it. For that she was grateful.

Turning away from the mirror to face the nearly swimming pool sized bath she snapped her fingers and directed a flow of magic to begin filling the tub with warm and scented water. Bubbles flowed out to film over the surface of the water until mountains of them coalesced around the tiled edges.

Gingerly she set a toe into the water to check the temperature and once it felt right she hurriedly entered. With each step warmth rolled about her skin to massage the muscles beneath. Stress and anxiety burned away as she made her way to a corner of the bath and sat down upon a submerged ledge. She let the events of the past week roll over her as she leaned backwards and sank until her chin was submerged in the water.

Thoughts of the friends she was leaving behind in the future passed quickly through her mindscape, and she hoped they’d attempt to collect her as soon as possible. The Final Battle had left Hogwarts woefully in need of repair and while many of the students and her friends left to begin their lives or reconnect with surviving family members, she had remained behind to help with reconstruction.

She’s had no family to return to and moving into the home they had once occupied felt empty in a way she couldn’t place. It might have been her home but it wasn’t truly hers with her parents still missing in Australia. She’d wanted to find them as soon as possible, return their memories as soon as possible. She hadn’t though. She’d focused on centering herself first while she placated the part of her that missed her mother and father by telling it they were safe and happy where they were. A few weeks of ‘me’ time wouldn’t hurt them. But weeks had turned into months, had turned into a full year. Before she knew it, Hogwarts was mostly reconstructed and she’d been thrown back in time. Any chance at resolving her familial issues had been ripped from her.

‘I’m sorry.’

As her breath hitched and tears burned her eyes she let the emotions run their course, staring down into the water as her tears dropped down to join it.

---oo---

When her fingers and toes had shriveled and pruned, and tears had dried to salted red streaks down her cheeks, Hermione resigned herself to leaving the warmth and security of the water. Her body responded sluggishly as she pulled herself towards the lip of the bath, rinsing her hair and skin from the remaining soap and bubbles. Her feet were chilled instantly when she stepped up onto the cool tiles and a shiver ran down her spine.

She worked in silence after parking herself in front of the mirror again, brushing out curls and tangles while wandlessly drying her hair. Frizz was tamped down into smooth ringlets and tangled knots were pulled apart.

The long bulk of her hair had slowly been growing until it reached the small of her back only a few short weeks ago. Waves and curls of soft hazel brown bounced back against her skin as she twisted and turned to see her reflection. A red spot of irritation grew in her chest as she looked to her locks and filled her with something she couldn’t quite place.

During her time on the run and during the efforts of rebuilding the school she’d cared little for her personal appearance except keeping herself boringly clean and average. When Ron and Harry had run off to dive into Auror training she’d let herself fall back into the bushy hair first year she’d once been, hiding herself behind hair and remaining frustratingly, painfully, average. She’d neither sought attention nor given it unless driven to do so, usually at the firm end of Minerva’s patience whenever they’d needed to meet with persons of wealth or connection that’d stepped up to finance the reconstruction efforts.

At some point during her soak the house elves had removed the white gown she’d been wearing and replaced it with a fresh pair of clothing. A nondescript charcoal colored skit and white long sleeved blouse awaited her along with a pair of simple black flats. She noted absently that the blouse would cover all the scars littering her body when buttoned up. A small part of her spared a kind thought for whomever had picked it out for her. A school issued robe that lacked a house emblem was the last of the items.

After dressing she glanced at herself one last time in the mirror, again sparking that irritation that she couldn’t pinpoint, before leaving the room. Pomfrey appeared to have disappeared at some point and seemed to have been replaced by Albus. He stood slightly off to the side while engaged in a rather animated discussion with a large portrait of an individual that she didn’t recognize. Albus turned to face her when the individual in the portrait pointed a finger and focused his gaze towards her.

“Ah, Ms. Granger. How good to finally see you up and about. I’ll have to let Poppy know that once again, she’s performed a miracle.” He said, while striding over to her and clasping a hand about her shoulder. “I was wondering if you’d be so kind as to accompany me to my office, I believe there are some things we’ve to discuss.”

He peered down his half-moon glasses at Hermione and one corner of his mouth upturned in a small smile, almost as if he expected her to decline.

“That would be fine Headmaster. Please, lead the way.”

“Good, good.” He turned away from her and without removing his hand began to walk down the hallway, Hermione in tow. “I take it you haven’t eaten yet?”

The mention of eating brought a low growl to Hermione’s stomach as it awakened in irritation. Beyond a light meal yesterday she’d not eaten since and found herself famished.

“That’d be the correct assumption Headmaster.”

He tilted his head and smiled down at her as he guided them to a small staircase. A minute or two of climbing upwards led them to arrive upon a landing where a gargoyle sat vigilantly on a large stone pedestal across from them. Her mind momentarily retraced their steps when the short path they’d taken didn’t add up to what she’d remembered.

‘I guess some things are different after all…’

“Once we’ve settled in I’ll call the elves to bring up some brunch.”

Hermione only nodded silently as they ascended the winding staircases past the gargoyles that led to his office.

---oo---

Minerva’s once bright and promising morning was decidedly turning out to be anything but that.

Between multiple Floo calls to as many Unspeakables at the Ministry as she could handle, and all the riddles that they spoke in, she was getting nowhere fast. A hard etched scowl and broken quills were fast becoming her new state of existence.

Her day had started before the sun rose to meet the castle and hours later she was still only halfway finished with the first half of the parchment Albus had handed her the prior night. Contact after contact had either been unavailable, obtuse, or simply unknowing enough to help her. A few elves had been brought in from the kitchen to assist her as much as possible, but they were all still working towards being threadbare at this rate. It wasn’t helpful that after they’d finally gotten some words out of Ms. Granger she’d become filled with guilt and shame at her future incarnation. At herself. It may not have been her specifically that had sent Ms. Granger tumbling backwards on her journey but it had been some version of her. To say she felt responsible for fixing it was an understatement.

And so her day had continued, call after call, frustrated non-answer after non-answer. It took the combined force of ten elves chattering nonstop and descending with shamed faces to get her to acquiesce to their commands and leave the rest of the contacts to them. Left with nothing to do when they took over she instead left the office and meandered herself aimlessly until she’d reached Albus’s office.

The gargoyle protecting the entrance was quickly moved out of her path with a hastily muttered ‘ Sherbert Lemon’, and all that was left was to climb. Only steps from the doors she could smell fresh scones and the tart hint of fruits. Knocking twice she opened the door without awaiting a response and strode up to his desk.

The usual detritus of knickknacks and inscrutable inventions had been cleared away. Instead, it was now piled high with as many samplings of varied food as the elves could fit. Fresh fruits, plates of light sandwiches and toast, links of sausage and bacon sat in repeating circles and enough variations that it looked like a miniaturized feast. Albus had transfigured the chairs that usually sat opposite to his own into an extension of the desk with mid height stools for seating at the edge. Albus’s warm eyes were hardened with a mysterious glint as they flickered up in greeting. Ms. Granger twisted around in her seat to see who had entered.

“Ah, thank you for joining us Minerva. I was just about to send an elf to fetch you. I hope the elves helping you didn’t have to prod too hard for you get moving,” his eyes suddenly switched and filled with some hidden joviality as he spoke.

“I should have assumed it was you pulling their strings. Though,” she smiled down at them both, “I will say I’m happy I took them up on the offer. This all smells delicious.”

“And it tastes even better dear Minerva.”

Leaning down she pulled the stool to Ms. Granger’s, Hermione’s, right side and began to pile fruits onto a plate while Albus maneuvered a pitcher into filling a goblet for her.

“I was just telling Ms. Granger here that you’d begun to search out a solution to her little problem this morning,” at this Hermione raised her head, smiled at Minerva, and quietly broke into the conversation to thoroughly thank her.

Conversation lulled and the trio ate their fill before Albus banished the remainder of the dishes back to the kitchens with a loud snap of his fingers. When they’d disappeared he waved his wand in a thoroughly overdone flourish and transfigured the desk and stools back to their proper form.

“Hermione and I were going to go over a plan for housing her here as a student while we work out a solution to her problem.”

Minerva turned and smiled warmly at Hermione as she began her side of the information.

“I’ve passed through six years when I’m from, and cleared O.W.L.’s in all but Divination and Muggle Studies. My seventh year was,” she tilted her head as she looked for the right words, “Interrupted before I could begin, to put it lightly.”

Minerva couldn’t help but notice the slight wince as she spoke, turning inwards on herself and physically closing up. She had a strong guess that whatever had interrupted her studies had been inconvenient at best, highly unpleasant at worst.

“I’d be willing to take exams to show competency in those subjects, if you’d prefer to have more than my word on it.” Hermione trailed off at the end as she waited for either of the professors to continue the conversation.

---oo---

The afternoon slowly passed by as they worked towards stable plans to insert Hermione into her seventh year. A schedule was hashed out for her to take base competency tests for whichever subjects she requested in preparation for final courses and N.E.W.T.’s. Both Minerva and Albus were in agreement with the plan amidst the acceptance that Minerva, even a future version of herself, wouldn’t let just anyone take care of a highly dangerous and experimental magical artifact.

The final topic for the afternoon was one that weighed heavily on Hermione. Determining which of the four Houses she was going to join. A scroll had been provided by a harried house elf that listed each and every student that would be enrolled next year as well as the House affiliation for the second years and up. Hermione could mostly fill in the blanks for any first years with names that she recognized.

Line by line she’d read and notated next to names for over an hour before they were able to come to any form of agreement. In deference to protecting the future they set out to find her a house with as few people as she’d have direct contact with in her own timeline. Unfortunately, that led to a disquieting notion taking residence in her head. When they finally finished her soured musing was confirmed.

‘Slytherin. I’ll be a damned Slytherin!’

Not that that in and of itself was a bad thing, she knew the House’s traits and though not as virtuous or studious as Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, it was still enough to bring a heated flush to her skin. Moving into the House that considered itself the opposite to her original was somewhat unsettling. But there was nothing to be done.

Mapped out connections littered the parchment she grasped tightly and both Albus and Minerva had concurred with her findings. Gryffindor was automatically out, it held too many family members of those she knew intimately in her own time, followed closely by Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. Following her reasons for choosing a specific House, Slytherin was the only one left. A few of the names sparked her attention but none were specific cases where she thought it would impact the future. Three did stand out however and she merely resigned herself to focusing on classwork and ignoring them as much as possible.

“Slytherin has produced many notable and reputable Witches and Wizards, Hermione. I’m sure you’ll find a place to fit in alongside them.” Albus assured her and tried to lighten the mood, while the Sorting Hat sitting to their side on a bookshelf chuckled quietly to itself. When it settled down she threw it a look and pondered on exactly how much that Hat could know.

By the time she was finally ready to call it quits for the night she was set in her plan and ready to follow through. Taking tests, joining a new House, and being reassured by both Minerva and Albus that they were sparing no expense in searching for her way home had lifted her spirits somewhat over their dismal outlook that morning.

Dumbledore made it a point to note that next time they’d meet they would need to discuss possible back stories and aliases before they ran out of time and the school year began. As she nodded in agreement Fawkes hopped off his perch to allow her to scratch among the feathers under his neck. Bidding the large bird goodbye, as well as the professors, she left through the doorway and began the trek back towards the infirmary. The solitude and quietude was almost enough to convince her that things were back to normal. That tomorrow she’d work with Minerva on updating the school charter, review reconstruction efforts, maybe even send off an owl to Harry and Ron. That she hadn’t been flung off into another time all alone.

Tears hung vigil in the corner of her eyes as she returned to the infirmary and Madam Pomfrey’s insistence that she run through diagnostic spells to check for disturbances cause by her activity.

When it was finished she fell into a fitful and heavy sleep amidst nightmares of times long past but still yet to come.

---oo---

A growl of frustration built up and rumbled low in Bellatrix’s throat as she attempted to corner Andy between shelves of books and old parchments. It had taken over an hour before Cygnus had released them to wander Knockturn and Diagon on their own before she’d finally found a moment to corner Andy and chastise her treatment of Narcissa the night before.

Her hand curled atop Andy’s shoulder and her nails lightly bit into the fabric of her robes while she turned her younger sister around to box her in against a shelving unit.

“Please for the love of Morrigan tell me Why you told Cissa that Mother deserved it?” Her voice was low and feral in an attempt to keep anyone from overhearing her. Andy shrank backwards under the intense gaze before she straightened herself and returned the glare directly.

“Because she did! And I know you’re both aware of it but neither one of you are willing to say it!”

Andy’s raised voice broke the level of an angry whisper and the head of the shopkeeper swiveled around to pin them with a suspicious stare. Bella nodded in the direction of the unwanted scrutiny before releasing Andy’s shoulder and backing away. She crossed her arms across her chest and puffed at a string of curls that threatened to hide her vision before speaking again with strength shoring up her voice.

“That doesn’t mean you need to be so callus to her about it, she’s only twelve! She doesn’t understand what happened yet.”

“But she should,” Andy countered, “And no amount of skirting the issue will fix it. What mother, Druella, did was wrong and I’ll be damned before I roll over and ignore it!”

Andy pushed herself past Bellatrix with a bout of strength that her sister hadn’t thought her capable of and left the store. Minutes passed as Bellatrix shifted side to side on her feet, curls waving back and forth as emotions ate her up inside. She could feel herself being torn between anger and sadness. She’d already lost her mother and the sinking feeling in her stomach warned her that she could lose her sister as well.