“Do you have any idea what’s been happening while you’ve been away?”
Harry stared at his scotch and took a sip before speaking. It burned a little, but it felt good. “I know some things.”
“Like what?” Hermione snapped, taking a gulp of her own drink. Harry had expected that she would cough, but she didn’t. This wasn’t Hermione’s first time drinking scotch.
“When they attack Muggles, or when there’s some phenomenon that doesn’t have a good enough explanation, I know something’s happened.”
Hermione snorted. “Brilliant. I’m so glad you kept yourself well-informed Harry.”
“What am I supposed to do, take the Daily Prophet?”
“Good idea. An owl lurking around the flat every morning wouldn’t draw any attention at all.”
“Where’s Hedwig?” Hermione asked suddenly, her voice concerned.
“I let her go when I left Godric’s Hollow.”
“You let her go?”
“She just flew off and never came back?”
Harry did not respond. He could hear the electric heater rumbling and ticking away, but so far he hadn’t noticed any change in temperature, and Hermione was still wearing her coat.
“That just doesn’t sound like Hedwig,” Hermione sighed, leaning against the window and looking down on the dark street. It had begun to drizzle outside.
“She followed me,” said Harry glumly. “She followed me here and she wouldn’t go away for weeks. But I didn’t let her in, so eventually she stopped coming back.”
Hermione didn’t move. Harry could sense that she had tensed, but she didn’t turn around. Finally she took another sip of scotch and sighed. “That’s horrible, Harry.”
“No, that’s really horrible. Hedwig loved you and you kept her shut outside this window.”
Harry grimaced, struggling for the right words. He knew they wouldn’t come, he knew they didn’t even exist really, so he found some that would do. “I didn’t want a reminder.”
“Of what you were leaving behind?”
That was it? That was all this new Hermione was going to say to him? She wasn’t going to yell at him for hurting Hedwig, who had indeed always been loyal to him even when she was angry. She wasn’t going to accuse him of leaving her behind; of leaving all of his friends behind in order to go be a coward in a plain flat in Muggle London?
“How did…” his voice trailed away. “How did you get that scar?”
Hermione turned, leaning back against the windowsill and thrusting her chin into the air in defiance of any shame. “It was a warning,” she said. “When you left and no one knew where you were, Lucius Malfoy tried to question me and when I didn’t have the answers he gave me this.” She ran her fingers lightly over the scar, starting at the tip of her chin and running them all the way back to her throat.
“A warning for what?”
“To tell them where you had gone, what you were doing. Or else suffer.”
“But you didn’t know.”
Hermione almost laughed. “You think that stopped them? You think the Death Eaters believed that? Harry, you don’t have any idea of what’s been happening these years, so don’t pretend that what you did – leaving like that – don’t pretend it was all for the best. You don’t get to be self-righteous. Not when people have died.”
Now Harry was grateful for his scotch and tea. She had been right to insist on drinks. People had died? He knew that some must have. On a deeper level, he knew that he was putting lives in danger by leaving the Burrow that night. But then Harry had thought he would be back. Five days, tops, he had decided. They’d probably find him before then even, and take him back home to be put under the watchful eye of the Order.
But it hadn’t taken five days for Harry to absorb what Godric’s Hollow had had to offer him. They weren’t so much memories as they were cautionary tales of horror. The Muggles hadn’t known what had happened to the Potters, not really. They all thought it was a bad gas leak, a terrible explosion when one of them had tried to start a fire in the living room. But then she had come to him.
Harry had been staying in a small bed and breakfast, one with a fondness for cats and lace that reminded Harry of sickeningly sweet Dolores Umbridge. He was in bed, but he was not asleep, when someone knocked on his door.
“Come in,” Harry had called curiously, reaching for his wand where it lay on his bedside table and tucking it under his pillow. The door had opened to show a woman. She had long dark hair and looked, to Harry, to be around the same age as Remus.
“Hello Harry,” she had said, closing the door behind her with a quiet click. “I’m Imogen Ollivander. I knew your parents.”
“Harry?” asked Hermione, shaking him from his memories. She’d taken off her coat now, and thrown it back onto the sofa. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“I didn’t mean that it was your fault that people died,” she sighed, her voice edged in guilt.
“But it is.”
“It’s my fault that everyone died, Hermione. From my parents to Sirius to Dumbledore – they’re all my fault.”
Hermione sat down and kicked off her left shoe and then her right. “No, it isn’t,” she said, rubbing her knobbly hand-knitted socks against each other.