A/N: I'm sorry this chapter is rather short, I do try to make them longer but I like leaving chapters at a good point, so xD
Thank you so much for all your reviews. Hope you're enjoying it so far. Constructive criticisms are welcome :3
— — —
Hermione was sitting quietly to herself in a booth in The Three Broomsticks, hunched over Dumbledore's copy of Beedle the Bard and enjoying a butter beer that she thought might be her last– at least for a while.
The buzz of the familiar pub was comforting, but not nearly comforting enough. She was still on edge like she had been at breakfast and her hands still shook anxiously as she read one of the tales in the book.
For the third time since sitting down, she flicked to the page of the book where the strange symbol had been drawn in and pulled out the letter she'd tucked in there for safe keeping. It was from Ron.
Hermione had been putting off opening it, but now as she glanced over the letters which were scrawled down in a messy script, she was glad she had. He'd told her he missed her, that Molly had been bugging him about Hermione staying if she wanted to and that he hoped she was okay at Hogwarts on her own.
Hermione found some comfort in the words and clung to it, but it was quickly torn away from her when she read the next paragraph, containing details about Harry's funeral. Hurriedly, she shoved the letter back in the book and closed it, putting it back in her bag with an pale complexion.
She glanced nervously at the time.
McGonagall had told her that she had to be back at their meeting place outside the pub at 3pm sharp to go back to Hogwarts. Besides that, she and Draco were free to do what they wanted, considering they were the oldest two left in the school.
After a long pause, she got up from her seat and slung her bag over her shoulder again, leaving the rest of her butter beer as she headed for the door.
— — —
Diagon Alley was exactly as Hermione had remembered it, but now– walking past all the shops that she'd visited every school year for supplies– she couldn't stop the wave of doubt that washed over her and for the first time she wondered whether or not she was doing the right thing.
What exactly is right in this situation, Hermione? she thought, walking faster.
On her way to Gringotts, she passed a window that displayed a newspaper, the headline reading, Fraud Returns With Memories: Fact or Faked? Hermione saw the photo of Gilderoy Lockhart next to it and couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous the man was, unable to stop herself from stepping inside the shop and picking up the paper.
It claimed that Lockhart had recovered with memories of "Harry Potter and his dumb friends" casting Obliviate on him to avoid detention. It quoted Lockhart a lot, but he mainly just droned on and on about how he would have defended himself if he had thought for a moment that the young boy had it in him.
Idiot, Hermione dumped the paper back on the stand and found herself getting distracted by other things in the shop, but quickly got back on track when she glanced outside the window and saw the entrance to Gringotts, remembering why she came in the first place.
The bank always put Hermione on edge. Perhaps it was the goblins who all looked up simultaneously from their work when they heard the door open or the eerie quiet that they all sat in day to day, Hermione didn't know, but she was sure she wanted to get this over and done with as soon as possible.
Without further ado, she walked down the aisle between all the goblin's workplaces to the front desk. The goblin there didn't look up from his paperwork to greet her, he didn't even acknowledge her existence at all. It was only when she pointedly placed her vault key on the desk in front of him that his eyes slowly lifted to meet hers.
"Yes?" he sounded so disinterested, so bored. Hermione ignored it.
"I'd like to access my vault, please," she said. "My name's Hermione Granger."
"Of course, Miss Granger," the goblin sighed tiresomely.
He took the key and got down from the desk, walking without checking if she was following.
"What will you be taking from your vault today?" he asked, still walking down a corridor and not bothering to look back at her.
"Everything," Hermione said.
The goblin chuckled, suddenly seeming interested in her. "Everything?"
"And why would you possibly want to be doing that, Miss Granger?" there was something rather antagonistic about his tone.
"Is that really any of your business?"
"No," replied the goblin, "but that doesn't mean I don't want to know."
He stopped at a vault, the one Hermione recognised as her own, and used her key to open to door for her. When he stepped aside to let her look, she stopped in her tracks and her jaw went slack at the sight before her.
The gold piled high, higher than she'd ever expected it to in her lifetime. Hermione thought for a moment that he'd got the wrong vault but it had been her key to open it and the goblin, as arrogant as he was, wasn't stupid.
She couldn't tear her eyes away from the gold as she stuttered out a barely audible, "Where did this come from?"
"I believe Mr. Harry Potter transferred you some of this a couple of weeks ago," the goblin said.
"Did he move money into anyone else's vaults? How much?" Hermione fired out the questions quickly as they came to mind, earning an odd look from the small creature before her.
"Mr. Potter moved a lot of money around before he died," the goblin replied cryptically.
Hermione frowned, this new information making further theories of his death bloom.
"You won't get far, you know," the goblin smirked.
"I'm sorry?" Hermione raised her eyebrows, shocked at the goblin's comment. Her eyes stayed on the gold, though. She had more than enough here now, the problem would have been carrying it all. "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about."
"But you do," he faced Hermione front-on, "so why don't you tell me, what's got someone like you running away?"
Hermione should have known that withdrawing all the money from her vault would have raised suspicion. She kicked herself for being so careless, but unfortunately she was becoming very reckless recently and she knew the chances of her slipping up again were high.
Unless you just calm down, she thought, take a breath and think instead of jumping ahead.
"I just need to get away," she lied. "Harry was my best friend."
The goblin smiled knowingly, showing a line of pointy teeth when Hermione looked down at him. "How, if you don't mind me asking, do you think Mr. Potter died?"
"He drowned," Hermione said, growing tired of the goblin's interrogation tactics, "not that it's any of your business."
"Mhm," the goblin chuckled and something about it made a shiver run up Hermione's spine, "that's what they always say."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Are you saying you know who did this?"
A laugh, the same dark chuckle as before, made Hermione immediately regret confronting the goblin in the first place.
"So you know it was murder, what a smart girl."
"So what if I do?" Hermione threw her hands up in the air and let them flop back down to her sides. "It doesn't matter, I just want my money, then I'll be going."
"You'd do well to show me some respect, Miss Granger," the goblin turned away, admiring her gold from where he stood at the vault entrance.
"Why would that be?" the girl huffed.
"Because I can help you."
Hermione glanced down at him curiously.
"There are so many people who can't be seen here and yet they still have vaults that they regularly withdraw from. Have you ever considered how those people– like Madame Lestrange, for example– manage that? Surely not by just walking in for everyone to see them, I assume."
She blinked, a wave of realisation washing over her. "You help them get in."
"And what?" Hermione shrugged lightly. "You can help me, too? At what price?"
Hermione couldn't help being suspicious of the goblin, as any normal person would be. But this was an opportunity, something that would not only help her but ensure that she could hide things in her vault if she needed to, things like Horcruxes.
"No price at all. I suspect you are going to do your best to catch Mr. Potter's killer," he started filling one of several large leather pouches up with gold, his voice sounding so even and honest that it only made the brunette more suspicious, "and that you will bring an end to such injustice is enough."
— — —
Arriving at Borgin and Burke's brought a wave of uncertainty over Hermione. Gringotts was okay, after all she was in an area of the wizarding world that she was familiar with, but the dark and shady back alley shop was unfamiliar territory.
Glancing left and right to be sure she hadn't been followed to the door, she finally stepped inside, a bell announcing her arrival as she found herself alone in the shop with its eerie interior.
Skulls and bones, potions and herbs, among other items all bottled or wrapped made Hermione shiver. Just as Hermione's nerves slowly started to settle, she heard footsteps from the other end of the room.
Turning, she saw Borgin step into view.
"Not the usual customer," he mused.
"It's not exactly like I frequent places like this, either," Hermione's voice came out a little more uneven than she would have liked it to be.
There was an odd and uneasy silence as Borgin looked her up and down, eyes narrowed and aged lips pressed into a thin line.
"What do you want?"
Hermione hesitated, thinking about turning around and running from the godawful shop as fast as her legs could carry her, but she just squared her shoulders and said, "I need to have something delivered for me."
"We don't do shop deliveries."
"Not something from your shop. I need an owl to deliver a letter for me," she explained.
"My owl isn't for hire," he snapped.
"I have gold."
"Probably not enough," was Borgin's tiresome reply.
"Are you sure about that?" she dug around in her bag and pulled out one of the pouches of gold, holding it out to him.
He eyed it suspiciously through slitted lids. "What're you sending?"
"None of your business."
"Who are you sending it to?"
"None of your business, either," Hermione said impatiently. "Do you want the gold or not?"
Borgin looked between Hermione and the gold with uncertainty for a long moment before he stepped forward and snatched the pouch, stashing it away in his pocket.
"Stay here," he ordered and before Hermione could ask any questions, he was gone.
She waited as she'd been told to, rocking back nervously on her heels as she did. Her eyes wandered to the displays again and she shivered at the jar of eyeballs that were on the shelf.
She heard Borgin's footsteps again soon after and when he appeared this time, he had an owl on his arm. Its brown feathers were battered and unkempt but somehow its gaze still unsettled Hermione when it finally locked eyes on her like a predator on its prey.
"Whatever you're sending, to whoever, she'll get it there," Borgin held his arm out.
Hermione hesitantly held her's out, too, and after it's master cooed at it, the bird happily hopped onto Hermione's arm and proceeded to dig its talons uncomfortably into the girl to find a happy purchase.
"Send her out the door," Borgin busied himself with something on the shelves, sparing only a single glance back in Hermione's direction before she turned to the door.
Hermione walked to the door with the bird, digging the letter she had from her pocket. It was addressed to Bellatrix Lestrange.
Inside, Hermione had written in a script as alike to Draco's that she could muster a time and place for the dark witch to meet. It wasn't signed, but Hermione didn't think she had to sign it properly. After all, she'd used Draco's parchment, the one which had his initials stamped into the corner.
With a shaky breath, Hermione gave the bird the letter and whispered, "Take it to Bellatrix Lestrange."
She then held her arm out and opened the door, letting the bird take flight with the letter in its beak. She hoped that Borgin was right, that the letter would get there safely.
As she watched the bird fly off with the letter, she almost caught herself regretting it. Bellatrix was dangerous, but Hermione couldn't stand not knowing what she'd been doing at the lake. She needed to know if it had been her to kill Harry or if she was just overthinking things like Draco had said.
When she turned around, Borgin was gone. She looked around, sure he would've been there somewhere, but the man was nowhere to be found. Cautiously, as if it might be a trap, she left the shop and allowed a fair distance between her and the creepy alley before she apparated back to Hogsmeade.
— — —
Watching Minerva look around the designated meeting place for Hermione made her feel oddly guilty. The worried look on the teacher's face was almost enough for her to step out of the alley that she was hiding in and walk up to where she was standing outside the Three Broomsticks, but she couldn't do that.
She had to be careful now, she had to make sure people couldn't find her.
Looking down at her bag which was slung over her shoulder and her wand which she gripped tightly in her hand, a tear slipped down her cheek and landed on the back of her hand.
Get it together, she thought.
She glanced at McGonagall again, a lump growing in her throat. Guilt pulled her forward and she took a step only to retrace it backwards.
Indecision gnawed at her insides, but the decision had already been made and Hermione had already disappeared, leaving the crackle of her apparating echoing behind her.