Chapter 8: Into Hiding
Hermione and Severus Apparated back to the Forest of Dean after escaping Grimmald Place. It was much warmer than the last time. Hermione sat down on a rock by the lake, shaking from the rush of nearly being caught.
“Cutting it a bit close, don't you think?” Severus asked, arms folded.
“I know, I know!” she said. “I spent most of the first month after the war either asleep or crying. We went to a lot of funerals. I must have forgotten a few details.”
“So,” said Severus, leaning against a tree, “How are you planning to get to Australia?”
Hermione sighed and said, “We'll have to fly the Muggle way.”
Severus was not thrilled at the prospect of allowing a Muggle to fly him halfway around the globe in a hunk of noisy metal, but there was no way they could secure a Portkey.
Hermione shoplifted a few Muggle outfits for Severus and herself with the help of the Invisibility Cloak. They packed luggage filled with Muggle items. A bit of spell-work secured them tickets on the first flight to Australia.
They had yet to agree upon a plan once they arrived. Severus thought they should seek out one of the isolated magical communities scattered across the continent. Hermione wanted them to live as Muggles and have nothing to do with the wizarding world until she caught up to her proper place in time.
“I just think it would be the safest course of action to remain in hiding as Muggles,” she said. “That way we're untraceable.”
“Nobody is looking for us,” he reminded her. “I am dead and your younger self is alive and well back home. Australian magical communities are not centralized. If the stories that come out of the continent can be believed, there are far more magical creatures there than witches or wizards. It is every community for itself – nobody would care to track us if they even knew who we were.”
Hermione eyed him.
“So you want to live as hermits and fend off dangerous magical creatures in the wilderness instead of participating in a normal, safe, Muggle community?” she asked.
“You wish to live without magic for three years and be forced to participate in a foreign Muggle culture? Muggles are too nosy,” he said. “They have no respect for privacy. We'll have to modify memories regularly. Most Muggles have never seen anything as frightening as me. The invasive questions and curiosity will never cease.”
His hair hid most of his scarring and he had cast a charm to cause Muggles to overlook his disfigurement, but the charm would cause the Muggles to go cross-eyed if they tried to speak directly to him or make eye contact for too long. The scars were still angry and red, and blisters continued to form where the venom had left his skin.
“As I'm sure you know,” he said, “Muggles are far more organized than magical folk when it comes to governing. Eventually the questions would lead to someone investigating just who we are and how we came to be in the country. We'll have to construct an elaborate backstory complete with the appropriate documentation if we are to have a permanent residence.”
“I could do that,” Hermione said, then sighed. “But I suppose you're right. It will be far easier to find a nice secluded spot for ourselves, perhaps near a city or one of the magical communities.”
She had not told Severus about her parents. Hermione had not yet decided whether she would try to find them and attempt to reverse the memory modifications. Severus would be able to tell her if it was even possible, but she was afraid to ask.
They spent the first couple of months hopping from magical community to community before settling into a small flat with one bedroom above the only shop in a small rural town. The owner, a greying, wild-eyed witch who wore Muggle clothes, lived across the hall.
There was a bar and apothecary across the street, a one-stop-spot for brews and beverages of all sorts. A gas station sat mostly vacant at the end of the street. It was there for the handful of Muggles who straggled through on their way to some ill-advised adventure in the wilderness. The wizard who ran it routinely sent the Muggles back the way they had come with a full tank of gas, suddenly realizing that they had to get home right away. Countless Australian magical beasts lived in the outback that began in the other direction of town, and any Muggle who made it that far was never seen again.
Severus seemed to enjoy the remote surroundings. Hermione was less enthusiastic, but as time wore on she grew to accept the strange empty land and the slow pace of life. She made frequent trips to Muggle cities, borrowing from their libraries and attending university courses for the fun of it. Once, she even used a Confundus Charm to convince a professor that she was one of his students for an entire semester – Hermione enjoyed earning grades.
While Hermione was hiding out in the back of Muggle university lecture halls, Severus traveled between the various magical communities, making contact with any apothecary he could find. By their second year in hiding, he was supplying half of Australia's magical communities with specialty potions and elixirs. When he was not collecting potions ingredients or traveling, he worked on the potion that would save his life. So far, he had not been successful in creating anything that would work. He had, however, been successful in producing plenty of antivenin for Hermione to take with her on her journey back in time.
Hermione wanted to find a job as well and contribute to their rent, but Severus insisted that she simply assist him with brewing and continue her unofficial Muggle education. They had few expenses, rent was cheap, and their landlady, Wilhelmina Baldwin – or 'Ms. Willie' as she was called – liked having someone to cook for a few times a week. Her husband had died ten years earlier, and her only son, Billy, was away at school and spent his holidays in the city. The Australians had a small school of magic in Sydney that held classes year-round, and Ms. Willie often lamented her decision to send him there.
“He got a taste of city life and won't come home,” she would say. “I knew I should've schooled him myself. He says he's moving to Egypt.”
It was remarkable to Hermione that the turmoil Voldemort had caused in Britain, which had reached far outside the country and across Europe, was not even a blip on the radar of Australian magical folk. They had no newspapers that were widely read, so news traveled by mouth. Nobody recognized the name of Harry Potter. Albus Dumbledore himself could have walked through any of the towns, only drawing attention only for his unusual wardrobe choices. Magical folk in Australia most often wore rough Muggle clothing and were suspicious of anyone dressed formally.
The Australian policy of asking no questions was convenient, but unnerving. They expected to be left alone and would return the courtesy. They often refused to engage in small talk. Hermione suspected that she and Severus were not the only ones in hiding, and that many others had more nefarious reasons to lay low in the Australian outback.
Early one morning, Hermione heard Ms. Willie singing as she left her flat, on her way downstairs to open the shop. Hermione followed her down a short while later.
“Good morning, dear,” said Ms. Willie. “Isn't it a beautiful day?”
Hermione smiled and asked, “What's got you in such a good mood this morning, Ms. Willie?”
Normally, Ms. Willie was not a morning person. The old witch handed Hermione a mug of coffee.
“Billy is coming home today,” she said, beaming. “My boy has graduated a semester early! He'll be here for a few weeks!”
“That's great,” Hermione said. “I look forward to meeting him.”
“And you will, dear, tonight for dinner. We'll close the shop early and have a celebratory dinner. Is Mr. Gallagher going to be in town?”
“I... don't know,” Hermione said. “He's away on business this week. You'll probably just get me for the evening.”
“Ah, well, you're my favorite anyway, Harmony, dear. Don't tell Mr. Gallagher,” said Ms. Willie.
Hermione and Severus had never explained their relationship to Ms. Willie or anyone else. They lived together and did not address one another by any given name in public after introducing themselves as Silvius and Harmony Gallagher. They were called Mr. Gallagher and Harmony by the few who spoke to them.
Hermione promised she would be back in time for dinner. She was curious to meet Billy Baldwin, who had not been home in almost two years.
The shop was already closed when Hermione arrived that evening. She could see that the lights in the back were still on, shining through the shelves filled with almost anything someone might need in town.
Hermione went around back and unlocked the door. She snuck up to their flat and tidied up a bit before going downstairs. They mainly used the kitchen for brewing potions these days. Neither of them had cooked anything in months.
Their beds – Hermione's a transfigured chair that had refused to give up its faded floral pattern – were on opposite sides of the main room. The chair that was left sat in the corner against a narrow bookshelf that held whatever library books Hermione borrowed. A small round end table was the only other furniture in the flat.
Hermione did not delay long, knowing Ms. Willie would hear her footsteps and come looking for her.
“Hello,” she called out as she came down the stairs.
“Harmony!” called Ms. Willie. “Come on down, dinner is almost ready.”
Hermione turned the corner and saw a tall, lanky young wizard with reddish blonde hair standing behind the bar counter of the shop.
“Billy, this is Harmony Gallagher,” said Ms. Willie, appearing beside them, “She's in the rooms upstairs where Elias used to stay.”
Billy appraised her with large, grey eyes.
“Pleasure to meet you,” he said, extending a large hand.
“Mr. Gallagher is out on business this week,” said Ms. Willie. “Perhaps you'll meet him later.”
“You're married?” he asked Hermione in disbelief.
“Ah...” Hermione hesitated. Thus far they had avoided such questions. Billy had obviously rejected the social customs of his childhood home.
“Yes. I am,” she said. Severus would not be amused by this new charade.
“Let's eat,” said Ms. Willie, patting Billy's arm.
They sat down together at the table she had set up in the middle of the shop floor.
“Billy was just telling me about his plans for the future,” said Ms. Willie, as they started their meal. “He is no longer going to Egypt... so what is your plan, Billy?”
“I've secured an apprenticeship with an American university, in the Charms department,” he said. “They are great innovators there, outpacing the rest of the magical world in the creation of new opportunities.”
“I see,” said Ms. Willie, as Hermione said, “That's wonderful!”
A silence followed. Hermione stared at her meal, feeling uncomfortable.
“Well, I'm sure you'll do great things,” said Ms. Willie, forcing a smile. “You are a bright, ambitious young man, and I'm so very proud of you.”
Hermione smiled at Billy and said, “Have you ever been to the states before?”
“I've never been out of the country,” he said, laughing. “I can't wait.”
Then he studied her.
“Are you British?” he asked.
“I am,” she said.
“When did you leave?” he asked.
“Oh, ah... quite a few years ago,” she said.
“You must have been very young,” he said. Hermione laughed.
“Ah, well, I'm older than I look,” she said. Billy stared at her.
“Billy! Stop being so damn nosy and eat your dinner!” said Ms. Willie.
He raised his eyebrows at Hermione and took a large bite of his meal. There was a loud rap on the shop door. Ms. Willie sighed and hoisted herself up out of her chair.
“That'll be Minnie,” she said. “I best go let her in or I'll never hear the end of it tomorrow.”
“So,” Billy said as soon as she was gone, “I suppose you left Britain to escape all the unrest... the blood purists trying to take over again.”
Hermione tried to breath normally.
“I'd rather not talk about it,” she said pointedly.
“I apologize,” he said. “I heard about it from one of my professors who's got family living in Europe. He didn't like to talk much about it, either. He did say, a while back, that it all blew over and came to nothing. Did you know?”
Hermione stared at him.
“I heard,” she said.
“Why haven't you gone back?” he asked.
Hermione gave him a stern look and said, “I have my reasons.”
Ms. Willie and Minnie began cackling loudly over something one of them had said. Billy shook his head.
“Those two aren't going to be done anytime soon,” he said. “Look, we don't have to talk about anything political. I've always wanted to travel – my professor talked about wizarding London frequently. Is it as charming as it sounds?”
“I except it's far less charming at the moment,” she said. “What with the years of... unrest.”
“Right,” he said, looking down at his plate.
“Billy!” called Ms. Willie. “Minnie hasn't seen you in ages. She's going to join us for dessert.”
“You haven't eaten dinner yet, Mum,” Billy said. “Hello, Minnie.”
The rest of the evening was dominated by Ms. Willie and Minnie's conversation. Hermione excused herself after dessert. Billy did not look happy to be left alone with the older witches and waved to her in resignation as she left.
There was a message from Severus in the journal they kept on the bookshelf. Hermione had figured out how to charm it so that it would instantly relay any messages written with the Muggle pen he carried along with his own charmed pocket journal.
I shall return tomorrow night, was all it said.
Hermione smiled as she imagined what Severus' reaction would be to Billy and his inevitable questions.
The next morning Ms. Willie knocked on Hermione's door.
“Harmony, come join us for breakfast before you run off for the day,” she said as soon as Hermione opened the door.
“Ah... okay,” said Hermione. “I'll be right down.”
“Oh, no, dear, we're in my kitchen. Come on over when you're ready.”
Hermione joined them a few minutes later, pushing open the cracked open door to Ms. Willie's living room.
“Good morning, Harmony,” said Billy, who was sitting in one of the armchairs holding a mug of coffee.
“Good morning,” she said politely.
Billy was mostly silent during breakfast, answering his mother's questions as quickly as possible. Ms. Willie went down to open the shop while Hermione and Billy cleared the table.
“Harmony,” he said suddenly, startling her. “I've never met anyone with that name before.”
“Neither have I,” said Hermione, charming the dishes clean and sending them to their spots with a flourish of her wand.
“You're an accomplished witch,” he said, watching her. She laughed.
“It's just a housekeeping spell,” she said. “I got it from a book, actually.”
“Mum says you read all day,” he said. “And that you like to go pretend you're a student at the Muggle universities.”
“That's right,” said Hermione. Billy leaned against the kitchen counter.
“Have you thought about finishing your magical education here? Persmille is a small school, but the professors are amazing. They've come from all over the world to teach. Not sure why they wanted to come here, but they're great.”
Hermione smiled and said, “It sounds like a wonderful school, but, ah, I've already completed my education.”
Billy raised an eyebrow without comment.
“I'm sure I'll see you for dinner,” said Hermione.
As she was leaving, Billy said, “Harmony, wait a minute.”
She did, impatiently.
“If you ever want to know more about what happened, ah, back home,” he said. “That professor I told you about, he keeps an archive of newspapers from Britain. I know he has most of them from the past five or six years. I could get you permission to go take a look sometime.”
“Oh... no, that's okay,” said Hermione. “Thank you for offering.”
He nodded and said, “I'll be here for a few weeks. If you change your mind, let me know.”
Hermione smiled and opened the door. Then, she paused.
“Did you ever read any of them?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “I was too busy with my schoolwork – trying to graduate as soon as possible to get out of this godforsaken country and somewhere with some real wizarding culture.”
Hermione left, relieved. She returned her bag full of books to the library and spent hours selecting more. She was curious about Persmille, even though she would never be able to see it.
That evening she wrote a message to Severus.
Billy's come to visit for a few weeks. Has been asking a lot of questions about Britain and the war. Says he doesn't know anything about what happened... but one of his professors is British and has family back home. He offered to take me to the school today, where there is apparently an archive of British newspapers.
We might have to leave.
Hermione waited for a response, lighting the lamp as she sat holding the journal open on her lap. After a few minutes, his familiar scrawl appeared.
Leave the window open.
She smiled at the page and went to raise the window. An hour later, Severus landed in the dimly lit room.
“So, Billy is going to chase us out of Australia,” he said.
“He's very... inquisitive,” Hermione said. “I'm worried that he'll decide to go look through those archives to, ah, try to impress me... or help me... or something. I know I wasn't in the papers after the battle, that was all Harry... but your face was all over the papers for weeks between Harry getting your name exonerated, your funeral, your decoration as a war hero...”
Severus was scowling at her.
“Impress you?” he asked.
Hermione laughed and said, “Ah, yes. He's taken a lot of interest in me... even though I told him I was married.”
“Married,” repeated Severus, his scowl remaining. “To whom?”
Hermione grinned and said, “I didn't say, but I'm sure he'll assume I'm married to you. It's been one of the rumors around here for the past two years - probably the nicest one about us.”
“Perhaps he wonders why you have no ring,” Severus said.
“People can be married without a ring,” she replied.
“That is a Muggle sentiment,” said Severus. “Magical vows require rings.”
“Maybe we just don't wear them,” said Hermione. “Due to our work, brewing. Why do we have to explain our choices to Billy?”
“We don't,” he said.
“So, are we staying?” asked Hermione. “I'm worried he'll figure out who we are... do you think they talk much about Voldemort and the war in the states? That's where he's moving after next week.”
Severus started pacing, which made Hermione nervous.
“If we leave now it will only raise suspicion and more questions from this impertinent young wizard. He may go looking for information about you if we disappear,” Severus said.
Hermione stepped in front of him, forcing him to stand still.
“Okay, so what's our story, then? If we're married?” she asked.
He crossed his arms and looked down at her.
“We fled Britain five years ago. You were nineteen, apprenticing at the lab where I worked in Potions research. I had no family and you were afraid they would hurt yours if you stayed.”
“You're good at this,” Hermione said.
“We were married in a private Muggle ceremony once we arrived,” he continued. “Shortly after, we found this town and moved into this sorry excuse for a living space.”
“Simple enough,” she said, hugging herself as she looked up at him. “We'll need more than a backstory to be convincing... you'll have to pretend to like me.”
He regarded her silently, his face carefully blank. She took a shaky breath and reached out to touch his arm.
“Severus,” she said, feeling him tense up under her touch. “What if it wasn't just a story?”
He unfolded his arms and slowly brought his hands to rest on her shoulders as he took a step forward.
“You want it to be...” he said vaguely, holding her gaze. It seemed to be both a question and a statement. Hermione felt a rush of exhilaration and warmth flow through her mind and body.
“Yes,” she said firmly. “I've wanted...”
She gulped as his head dropped toward hers.
“I've wanted more for so long. Surely you know,” she said.
“I know,” he said after a moment, eyes glittering and unblinkingly fixed on her.
He pressed his lips to her forehead. She wrapped her arms around him and sighed lightly as his hands found their way to her back. He rested his chin on her head.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I care for you – don't be thick,” she said.
“You will soon return to your friends in your present time,” he said. “What about Weasley?”
“I told you, it didn't work out the first time,” she said. “I have no intention of being more than a friend to Ron after I get back. The day you show up and ruin our date is the last date we'll ever have. Thank Merlin... I don't know what I was thinking, agreeing to try it again with him.”
He exhaled and looked at her.
“You might change your mind, once I'm no longer your only option for company,” he said.
“I prefer your company to that of anyone else, so I doubt it,” she said.
He lifted a hand to her cheek, staring at her with renewed seriousness.
“What I feel for you...” he paused, the light brush of his fingers sending chills through her, “It has long been beyond what is appropriate.”
She closed her eyes briefly.
“I'm nearly twenty-five, and as far as I'm concerned you haven't been my professor for seven years, what could be inappropriate about it?”
“I am old,” he said flatly. “In case you've forgotten.”
She laughed and said, “They say we magical folk can expect to live well past 120 years these days – which puts our age difference into perspective.”
He stared at her, his hand still resting gently on her cheek. Hermione rose to her tiptoes and placed a hand behind his neck.
“Now, kiss me,” she whispered, inches away from his mouth. He let his head fall forward, meeting her lips with his own. Hermione felt his arms tighten around her and pressed herself into him as she deepened the kiss. His hands roamed over her body slowly for a few moments. Then, he stopped.
“If we do not make an appearance soon,” he said, “That infernal woman is going to be up here peeking through the keyhole.”
“We've blocked the keyhole with a Perpetual Night Charm,” she reminded him.
“Nevertheless,” he said, kissing her again. “Perhaps we should continue this later.”
Hermione sighed as they stepped apart.
“Okay. Let's go,” she said.