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A Better Life

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The following two days of Hermione’s existence were dreadfully boring at best and massively frustrating at worst.

Madam Pomfrey had spent almost the entirety of two days performing as many final healing spells as she could, from scar softeners to teeth cleaning, She was subjected to nearly hundreds of textbooks worth of ‘checkups’. And in the end nothing could affect the scar now draped along her neck nor the one written in her arm. The faint markings still on her chest from Dolohov did manage to finally fade into the surrounding skin tone, though a cursory inspection with her fingers still revealed raised and textured skin.

By the time the sun began its descent behind the castle Hermione was sick from the numerous potions she’d been told to drink and had to pointedly refuse a secondary potion for the nausea.

House elves had been piling old tomes and fading manuscripts in sections along the floor as Pomfrey sped through them all and the air still rang with a near continuous Pop as they Apparated and Disapparated. Pomfrey only gave up on continuing to try when a house elf collapsed underneath a stack of books almost as tall as Hermione and the witch herself scuttled back on a bed to refuse any more treatment.

It took some time but eventually she approved Hermione’s release with the assurance that she’d stop by whenever any form of phantom twinges or pain reared their head.

A false smile graced Hermione’s face as she hurriedly made her exit from the room and out into the hallway beyond. The only things she gained from the two days were a healthy respect for the ingenuity of Pomfrey and an everlasting taste of mint in her mouth. And so she brusquely walked from the infirmary and off to the library, head filled with the knowledge that Pomfrey could heal her all she wanted and still not get to the root of her issues.

A parchment was clutched within her fingers outlining the subjects that Minerva had approved her for a standardized test in. The last thing on her mind was study but with nothing better to occupy her time she planned on acing every test. To that end she scoured the library itself and prepared in any manner that she could.

Finally entering the library had filled her with intense nostalgia when she realized the room itself had hardly changed in thirty years. Allowing herself to get lost in between pages and shelves was a reprieve she was looking forward to. The shelves were arranged as they were in her own time and it seemed most texts were the same, barring any new work that had yet to come out or revised copies. Her body automatically found its way to a shelf at waist height below a large open window that crisp air flowed through.

She deftly pulled a dog-eared copy of The Art of Transfiguration, Vol Iv, and opened to a chapter she’d left off on only a few weeks ago. Though it lacked the hand written notes and highlights that she’d left in her own copy it still brought a tender smile to her face and filled her with a sense of belonging.

The library was left free for her to wander in silence with minimal supervision by the few house elves that maintained the library being her only companions. Madam Pince had yet to grow up and become the Librarian and the area was instead lorded over by a sharply dressed woman with thin features and penetrating gaze that left Hermione feeling as if she’d scoured herself with a scrub pad. If the library was a kingdom, then this Librarian was the Queen, and she brokered no nonsense when it came to her charge. The name plate silently floating up above a desk identified her as Madam Mazur and though they’d yet to speak two words to one another Hermione was content to leave it that way. A single glare she’d received when she’d sneezed above the volume of a whisper had the woman staring daggers into her back. If the Librarian had stared any harder Hermione would’ve been afraid that she’d erupt in flames.

Between studying Hermione took time to wander about the grounds and hallways while avoiding any professors she’d not met yet. The trips back and forth were a chance to memorize the pathways leading to and from the Slytherin common-room and her newly acquired single dorm. Though normally preserved for the Slytherin Prefects, she’d been given leeway and been allowed to use it due to the only female Slytherin Prefect declining the offer. No one else had stepped in and Slughorn had offered her the room. The man was a near copy to his older self in most regards though he was slightly more outgoing in this time. She supposed that two wars and constantly being hounded by Voldemort to join him had worn down his amicable nature over thirty years. His only real eccentricity was walking around with an enchanted quill and parchment following behind him, constantly writing down potions notes that he thought of.

It was weird, and different, but for being thirty years off her time it was pleasant enough. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.

---oo---

Both Dumbledore and Minerva had been an infrequent sight as the days passed by. She knew they were busy with both the start of term arriving soon and the new distractions caused by her arrival but it still left her feeling empty with their absence. Meals were small affairs that she managed to take with relative silence in the Great Hall. The long tables that separated the individual houses were empty of students but still filled in with food whenever she sat down. The few professors that kept off hours and meal times would generally give her a passing glance and then leave her alone as they sat at the staff table.

Hermione was ushered off to Minerva’s office after a similarly silent breakfast on a Tuesday morning by a small elf with a squeaky voice. Her day of testing had arrived and the meager breakfast of toast and fruit she’d stoically eaten wasn’t enough to settle the few last minute testing nerves that roiled her stomach.

“Hello Ms. Granger,” Minerva said as she smiled kindly from her desk when Hermione entered the room. “I have ten tests for you today. Please feel free to work through them at your pace, use as much time as you need.” She stood from her seat to lean over the desk and pass a rather thick packet of brown parchment over to Hermione. As Hermione grabbed the papers Minerva used her free hand to snap a simple onyx black quill and filled inkpot into existence on the small desk that Hermione was to use.

“As you’ve yet to decide upon an alias, please forgo filling in the header, just leave it blank for now. We’ll fill it in tomorrow before they’re reviewed. If you find yourself needing a break at any time, please let me know and I’ll escort you from the room until you’re ready to return.”

“Thank you Professor,” Hermione gratefully replied as she looked up to the younger version of her mentor. Minerva had greatly surprised her at how much she resembled, in looks and manner, her older self. If anything, she was her older Professor. Just more youthful and spritely.

Hermione allowed herself to be absorbed into the testing as candles marking the hours burned down. Minutes flew off into hours and by the time she’d finished all ten it had become quite apparent to her how much more prepared for these tests she was than someone from this actual timeline. Either Minerva was low-balling her with the tests, ‘As if,’ or the pureblood notion that Hogwarts standards had decreased over time was objectively wrong.

She was fairly sure it was the latter.

When five marks had passed on the candle marking the hour she stood wearily from the desk and stretched out her back and remaining muscles. Being in a hospital cot for an extended time had clearly been bad for her desk posture. When she was sure she wouldn’t fall to pieces she grabbed the stiff packet and dropped it off on Minerva’s desk. With that accomplished she turned quickly on her heel and left the classroom. Standing outside in the corridor she looked up and down its length before deciding to avoid returning to her new quarters or the Great Hall. Some free time spent alone and active was calling to her after five hours cooped up writing.

The natural beauty that surrounded the castle was as timeless as ever and the distinct lack of any students milling about was a welcome balm. She could wander aimlessly while anticipating that at any moment she’d come across Harry or Ron to whisk her off to another adventure.

Soft winds tousled her curls as she made her way from the castle walls to the edge of the Forbidden Forest in the thrall of her memories. After a few minutes spent peering into its depths her direction changed and she found herself headed towards the shore of the Black Lake. The air was still warm with the remnants of summer as wispy clouds moved by startlingly fast high up in the sky. Reaching the edge where water began to lap against the shores she removed her shoes and socks before tossing them behind her. Stepping forward she allowed her toes and heels to sink down into the warm sand as water gently lapped over her toes and against her ankles.

These rare moments truly felt like she was in her own world. In her own respective timeline. That there was a loving family waiting for her back home and a gaggle of acquired friends waiting to hang out with her. That war had never descended upon them to steal their innocence away and tear the scales off their eyes. That she was at peace, unmarred and unbroken. Only in the deepest recess of her mind did she dare dwell on how far from the truth that all was. None of her friends were here. None were even alive yet. Her family wouldn’t know she was their daughter and she wasn’t even sure if her parents knew each other yet. If anything she was just another kid like them, just barely of age, youthful and without a care in the world. Her scars would never fade.

No one was standing by her side in awe of the battle that had torn apart their lives and no one was waiting with a shoulder to lean on. To cry on. Much the same as it’d been after the actual battle. No one paid her much attention after their side had been declared victorious, only seeing in her an able body that could help rebuild.

She was just Hermione. The girl that tagged along. Not the prophetic Chosen One, and not even his Stalwart Best Friend.

‘You’re nothing. They weren’t with you then, they aren’t with you now. Nothing’s changed.’

Her body slowly collapsed downwards until she had her knees pressing into her chest with her arms wrapped tightly around them. Silent tears picked up a steady pace down her cheeks and her breathing became labored. Harry and Ronald had chosen to leave her without so much as a backwards glance or a ‘Thank you’.

She knew Auror training was hard and extensive and that they had their own demons to overcome but not even a single owl from them had arrived in all the time between the final battle and her misadventure with time. She was left with nothing but radio silence and memories she couldn’t share. She knew she wasn’t alone, Ginny and Luna had both stayed to take their seventh year and Neville had started apprenticing under Professor Sprout. But they weren’t part of the Trio. They hadn’t been on the hunt for Horcrux’s, they hadn’t been captured and broken down within Malfoy Manor.

Everyone was an arm's length away from the trials the Trio had endured. No one could concretely understand why she woke screaming almost every night and clutched her arm with a death grip and neither could they understand the ephemeral visage, that maniacal grin, that inspired it. Alone and deep within her thoughts the voice that sounded suspiciously like the dead was cackling in all its full glory.

‘You have nothing left to go back to Muddie, nothing and no one.’

A warm gust of wind traveled out and across the lake carrying the sound of her turmoil and sobs as she broke.

---oo---

"Acid Pops."

The stone gargoyle sentinel guarding the spiraling staircase up to Dumbledore’s office slowly moved out of her way with a grinding sound of stone against stone. Hermione strode confidently up the steps while she ruffled the paperwork in her hands. When she reached the top she knocked against the door and walked inside at Albus’s warmly voiced welcome with Minerva following her closely behind.

“Ms. Granger, Minerva. How good to see you both,” Albus said. He looked up at them with a grandfatherly smile warming his face. “I believe we have some matters to settle now that you’ve finished the placement exams.”

Hermione walked forwards to take a seat in the plush chair to the left of Albus’s desk and wrapped her arms around herself.

“Yes sir. I’ve put some thought into an alias but I’m still rather stumped on a back story,” she worriedly glanced up at her two professors, “I think I’d like to go by Emelia. It was my grandmother’s name. However, I’ve not been able to decide on a surname.”

Albus gave her a pointed look before he steepled his fingers on the desk and turning to eye Fawkes.

“Grenier would suffice, should you like.” He spoke with a strong tone and glanced back and forth between Fawkes and Hermione. “The Grenier name is traced back to a now extinct pureblood lineage from Canada.” He stopped and appeared to wait for Hermione to interject. When she didn’t he continued again. “It will be easier to claim that you’ve come from abroad and lived elsewhere rather than having lived here your whole life. It will allow you an adequate with few questions.”

Hermione steadied herself before mulling it over and replying. Claiming that she was descended from a pureblood line would confer numerous advantages in traditionalist UK Wizarding society as well as fit her snugly in with Slytherin. The less her classmates questioned her about being there, the better. Unfortunately, it would be the antithesis to who she’d been back in her own timeline. Having to act the part of a haughty pureblood would be as much of her cover as the name itself. But if she mastered it, then no one would have cause to question her whatsoever.

“Emelia Grenier. I’ll take it,” she punctuated her acceptance with a slight smile.

“Well then, that settles that.” Albus leaned back and smiled to both Hermione and Minerva. “With that out of the way, Minerva here will escort you through Diagon Alley tomorrow to stock up on school supplies and other materials.”

Minerva visibly perked at the chance to get away from the castle, even if only for a little bit of time. The lead into the new school year was stressful and she relished the distraction.

“Sir,” Hermione interjected, “I didn’t exactly have any time to bring galleons with me. I can’t actually pay for anything.” She turned her head and eyes up in confusion.

“Not to worry dear. Are you aware of the special allowance to the school for Unique Needs and Circumstances?”

Hermione could only shake her head. She knew there was a stipend available for muggleborn students to take up when they first received their letters of admission, but reading beyond that and diving into the school charter and operation policies had been dry reading, even for her.

“Well,” he leaned forward with a glint in his eyes and conspiratorial whisper, “Each year the Ministry gives us an allowance based upon their tax revenue that we may spend on students with, shall we say, special needs. We are allowed to spend it as we see fit, within limits of course, and at the end of the year we keep half of what wasn’t spent while the remainder goes into paying for a part of the next year’s allowance. As of right now we’ve only had three students with which to spend this allowance on within the past six years. What we’ve saved over this time had risen to a not insubstantial amount. It will be donated to you and placed within a Gringotts account in your name. When we can get an approved inheritance test to pass you for a Grenier, you may merge the two accounts and keep the value.”

Hermione’s eyes widened considerably as she sat forward in alarm.

“Sir, I couldn’t possibly-”

“Ms. Grenier, quite frankly, you can and you will. It was through the actions of a Hogwarts employee that you’ve found yourself wounded both physically and chronologically. I cannot in good conscience find a better method of restitution than this. At least until such a time as we can return you to your own, well,” he chuckled, “Time.”

When he was finished speaking her leaned back fully into his chair as his lips turned up into a wide grin. Hermione couldn’t tell if the emotion behind it was sincere or if it was the grin of a cat that’d caught a particularly tasty canary.

“Sir, this is, well, this is a lot. To say the least. And thank you, truly. All you’ve already done for me and now this, I don’t know how to explain how thankful I am for your help in all this. But I feel that I have to ask, is there any, um,” she sat back and looked off into the fireplace while her face burned with sheepishness, “Is there any sort of catch to this?”

The old man chuckled airily before replying.

“No no, Merlin’s blue beard, no. No catch or anything else of the sort.” He spread his hands and fingers apart and looked down his glasses at her. “Well, there would be, if you were younger. I’d have liked to place the sum into a trust until you were of age, but from what you’ve told us and Pomfrey’s examination, you’re already of age. I trust you won’t spend it all at once, at least wait until you merge with the Grenier accounts. Gringotts will be your first stop tomorrow, and if you’ll both excuse me, I have some calls to make with the Ministry regarding you legally existing.”

He stood from his desk and spread an arm out towards the door as their obvious dismissal.

“Please enjoy the rest of the evening Ms. Grenier, Minerva.”

Hermione and Minerva descended from the office in silence and hashed a time to meet up in the morning when they reached the bottom. As they went their separate ways the voice in the back of her mind spoke up again, and for once she could agree with it.

‘Nothing in life is free. He wants something.’

---oo---

Bellatrix’s heart and soul felt like they were being eaten up alive.

Cygnus had descended from his study and deigned to eat a dinner with them before announcing he would be taking Andromeda and herself back to Diagon tomorrow to meet with some business associate. Normally it wouldn’t have unnerved her in this manner, but the tone of his voice as he spoke of his associate was needling her beyond belief.

Cygnus met weekly with other purebloods or captains of Wizarding industry but rarely were any of his three daughters invited along. And she was quite sure that if Cygnus had his way she’d be permanently locked inside Black Manor until she was married and popping out little pureblood runts.

She’d already been informed earlier in the week of her impending engagement to Rodolphus Lestrange. The west wing was unrecognizable by the time her rage had dissipated to safe levels. Being used as a broodmare to garner status and a dowry infuriated her to no end. Seeing red was becoming a constant filter in her life. Ever since his announcement she’d been on the edge of falling into bouts of anger.

Meeting another so called man of importance was infuriating. She’d already had enough of them telling her how to act, how to talk, what to say and do when in the presence of her betters.

Subservience was unbecoming of her and the shackles that her sex expected her to wear burned on her skin. Alone in her room red sparks dripped hungrily from the tip of her wand.