"Down there?" George asked, pointing down the dark, dingy alleyway that Mrs Weasley had gestured towards hastily.
"You want us to go down there?" Fred clarified, his mouth opening slightly in shock when their mother nodded.
"Now quickly dears, muggles can be a curious bunch if you give them enough cause." She shot Hermione a rather sheepish smile as she said this before jostling the boys towards the entrance.
The alleyway was not the most inviting of places. It was a slim gap between two abandoned buildings that appeared to have been derelict for some time. One store, which boasted having the 'best pies in all of ondon', had completely lost its roof and weeds sprouted out the top of it. The other had, at one point, been a barber's shop, as the barber's pole still hung rather precariously from the side of the building. Most of its windows though had been boarded up and every inch of its bricks was covered in some form of graffiti. Ron had read some of it aloud only to fall silent when his mother had warningly hissed his name.
"See, nothing to be squeamish about." Mrs Weasley stated, though seeming to not entirely believe it herself. Ginny scoffed next to Hermione and pointed out a rather strange pile of something damp and unidentified, the smell that wafted up from it, however, was enough for Hermione to give it a wide berth, quite happy to let its identity remain a mystery.
At first glance it seemed like a perfectly standard alleyway; sporting the usual dampness and chill in the air, uneven cobbles beneath their feet and bits of newspaper with old posters wedged between the gaps in the stone, mixed together in a damp paper mush. Hermione realised, however, that there did not seem to be an end and it didn't look as if it were leading anywhere, instead, the buildings appeared to go on forever, stretching back unbelievably far. Hermione noticed that with each step the walls seemed to open up, whereas before Hermione and Ginny had struggled to walk side by side without brushing along the walls, now it seemed that they could walk side by side quite happily and the walls had lost their damp sheen.
When they finally reached their destination, Hermione's mouth opened in shock. She'd heard Harry often say that magic constantly surprised him and she had to admit there were times that she felt the same. Especially when she gazed upon the very thin but incredibly tall building that seemed to just appear at the end of the alley, lit up, impossibly, by the warmth and glow of bright sunlight. Precious Lilies was painted in white above the bay window on the ground floor, green stems seeming to weave around it, blooming into Lilies of every kind of colour Hermione could name and some that she was sure had no name. Every inch of the brick work was covered in lush green vines, and small flowers appeared every few seconds, blooming daintily before disappearing.
A woman, short in stature with wiry limbs, appeared to be wrestling with a watering can, tugging at it uselessly as she tried to pull it away from a hedge. The women's auburn hair stuck out at all angles and Hermione stared open-mouthed when she noticed that her clothes appeared to be made out of leaves. The tiny woman paused in her battle to look up and grin broadly at them.
"Ahh customers." Her voice was melodic and the effect it had on the boys was on par with the group of Veelas, from the Quidditch World Cup, flouncing past.
"Durie, my dear." Mrs Weasley said brightly, opening her arms wide as she bustled past her sons. The small woman's grin seemed to broaden even more as she let go of the watering can and rushed to embrace Molly. Vines sprouted from the woman's head, weaving around her auburn hair and falling down her back.
"How have you been? It's been so long." Molly nodded sadly at her words.
"I'm afraid things have been rather hectic at home and you know how terribly busy Arthur gets."
"Yes, yes, have you been giving him that tea I suggested, calms the nerves considerably."
"Oh yes…" Molly paused and glanced back at the group of them all staring somewhat wide-eyed at the strange woman, seeming to suddenly remember their presence. "Oh yes, Durie I should probably introduce you." Durie's eyes opened wide in excitement and Hermione realised that they were, in fact, bright purple.
Molly went round each of them introducing them and Hermione had to bite back a laugh as the boys all flushed when Durie grasped their hands in her own and cooed over what an honour it was to meet them all. However, when it became Hermione's turn, the laughter died in her throat. Durie was much more beautiful up close, her features so wonderfully perfect and symmetrical Hermione was sure that they couldn't be human, there was something ethereal about her as if she would simply float away. Hermione could feel the tingle of Durie's magic as she took her hands and the old magic that lingered around her seemed to recognise it, flaring up without warning. She'd gotten so used to its absence that its sudden appearance almost made her legs buckle beneath her, but Durie grasped her hands and held her up with a strength that shocked her.
"Hermione Granger, a pleasure to meet you." It seemed as though she meant to say more, but instead, she stepped back and took them all in.
"So what is it I can do for you all?" Molly, who was looking Hermione curiously, smiled and clutched her bag closer to her side.
"Oh yes, we wondered if we could beg transportation from you, my dear. We would use our own but dark times are upon us and well-" Molly leaned forward conspiratorially "-we are trying to move as quietly as possible."
"Anything at all for you, Molly. Come inside, come inside. You will stay for some tea and cake though, I've just got some on the boil." Molly nodded, however reluctantly, turning to them all and ushering them in with a big sweep of her arms. Hermione wondered whether Mrs Weasley's hesitation was a want to get back as quickly as possible, they had no idea what time Harry would be back and they were all anxious to hear how things had gone.
The inside of Durie's house was not what Hermione had expected. She hadn't really known what she'd expected, perhaps a quaint cottage, roaring fire, cosy chairs, small pieces of furniture befitting of the woman's stature and build, she definitely had not expected to walk into a dense forest. The ground beneath their feet was soft moss and trees grew close together their thick trunks creating the walls and their branches wove together into a ceiling. Rocks were piled up the corner of the room forming a stairway to the second floor, a small stream running down the side of it and collecting in a pool at the bottom. Ginny and Hermione glanced at each other in disbelief before craning their necks to see more.
"This is…" Ron began, only to be interrupted by his brothers.
"Stupendous." Fred paused when he noticed the stream in the corner. "How do you get that to work." He muttered stepping round Ron to inspect it. Durie smiled sweetly but didn't answer. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief, she guessed that they would be looking for new ideas for their joke shop and Durie's home was like a treasure trove.
"The pair of you behave." Mrs Weasley hissed, grabbing George's collar when he moved to follow a rather real looking squirrel that was digging up the earth.
"Oh, it's quite alright, Molly," Durie said, giggling sweetly. "I know this place isn't like anywhere else."
Hermione thought that was a considerable understatement, on closer inspection she noticed that the tree trunks had images that flickered across them. Beautiful women ran through trees, hiding amidst the wood and sinking into the ground as if they had always been apart of it. On another a fierce looking man rode a great black horse, a large spear grasped in his hand as he hunted something within the forest; small beings danced beneath a large white moon and magical creatures met beneath trees heavy with pink blossoms
"What are these?" Hermione mumbled, leaning close and placing her fingers on the rough bark. The images seemed to ripple as if Hermione had touched the surface of a lake.
"Oh those are little snippets from my past, you witches and wizards have your ways, I have mine." She said with a small smile, placing a large pot over a fire that burned many shades of green.
"Who's this?" Ron asked, his nose nearly brushing the rough bark as he took in the image of a beautiful woman stepping from out the hollow of her tree, her dress was long and made of leaves fiery with autumn, bare feet poking beneath them as pale and white as the moon.
"Oh that," Durie said with a smile, rushing forward, a small mug in the shape of a mushroom clasped in her hands. "That's my mother," Durie said with pride.
Durie's mother was absolutely stunning, there was something otherworldly about her, her purple eyes glimmered with a thousand secrets and her smile was so sweet and inviting Hermione felt herself almost tempted to step within the magical image.
"She's...she's beautiful." Ginny breathed, leaning just as close as Ron had.
"Isn't she, honestly I don't think this does her the slightest bit of justice, but then, I suppose I am biased." she sauntered over to a small pot and lifted out several small green objects, placing each of them on a plate.
"So where is it you lot are off to?" Durie asked sweetly, handing Mrs Weasley a plate and breezing past her to hand another one to Ginny. Mrs Weasley sniffed the item gingerly, her nose wrinkling as if she'd smelt something fowl. When Hermione's own plate was pressed into her hands she found herself suppressing a gag as a rather disgusting smell overwhelmed her senses. Hermione wondered whether Mrs Weasley's reluctance to stay for tea was less to do with getting back to hear news of Harry and more to do with Durie's lack of culinary prowess.
"Diagon Alley," Molly clarified, glad of a distraction from the offensive cake on her plate. "We have some shopping to do, got to prepare for the new school year." Durie clapped her hands with glee.
"Oh, you all attend Hogwarts?" She looked at each of them and they all nodded. "How is Dumbledore these days?" Mrs Weasley sat herself down on a tree stump, shifting from side to side to get comfortable.
"He is as well as can be considering the circumstances. Lots of nasty things are afoot." Hermione pretended to be inspecting her cake but was listening intently to the conversation, hoping to catch some snippet of information that the occupants of Grimmauld Place had simply decided not to tell them.
"Yes so I heard, Voldemort isn't it?" Durie said it so whimsically as if it weren't the name of the most dangerous Dark Wizard the Wizarding World had ever known. Everyone apart from the twins seemed to react; a cold shiver ran down Hermione's back making her shudder, Ginny jumped slightly in her chair, Ron whipped his head round to check behind him and Molly let out a little squeak.
Molly took a moment to compose herself before answering in a clipped tone.
"Yes..yes that's right." She took a nervous nibble of her cake and instantly placed it back down, wincing.
"You know of...of You-Know-Who?" Ginny asked. Hermione met her friend's gaze before turning to look at the strange woman inquisitively.
"Of course I do." Durie squeaked, "I know of all the goings-on, some of my best customers are witches and wizards, I get a few open-minded... oh what do you call them now Molly?" Durie said clicking her fingers.
"Muggles," Molly interjected, shuffling her feet uncomfortably as she tried to surreptitiously secret the rest of her cake in the large number of four-leaf clovers surrounding her feet.
"Yes that's it muggles, but not many."
"But if you know, why don't you help?" The question burst out of Hermione without her fully considering the ramifications of asking it. She ignored Mrs Weasley's disapproving glare, hoping that Durie would not take offence. Apparently, the woman was delighted with the question, giggling sweetly and sitting herself down on a tree stump, gesturing for the rest of them to do the same.
"I suppose it does seem a little strange to you all, me being here, quite a bit away from all the goings on of the wizarding community. Believe me, if I had it my way I'd be right in the thick of it." Durie took a bite of her own cake, munching on it happily.
"Then why don't you?" Hermione asked, shuffling forward on her tree stump. She could feel Mrs Weasley's glare boring into the back of her head, but she ignored it.
"Legally I can't dear." Hermione opened and closed her mouth several times, unable to formulate a sentence.
"What?" Ginny asked for her, even the twins seemed to have perked up slightly, turning their heads to listen.
"Oh I suppose it would sound a bit strange to you all, would it not."
Durie jumped to her feet, removing the pot from over the green fire and pouring them each a cup of tea. Hermione nibbled her bottom lip in frustration, there seemed to be no haste to the small woman and Hermione was eager for her to explain.
"A long time ago," Durie handed both Ginny and Hermione a cup of tea, "a very, very long time ago, my mother, and those like her worked rather closely with witches and wizards. You see there was…a different type of magic then. It was older and it was the same magic that had created my mother."
"Created?" Ron asked, glancing back at the image still glimmering on the surface of the bark.
"Oh yes, my mother was a wood-wife or moss wife or a spirit of the forest, whatever it was that people used to call them. She was made to protect the forest." Hermione wondered whether Mina knew any spirits like Durie's mother and had to bite her tongue to keep from asking.
"So are you a...a wood-wife?" Hermione asked tentatively and was shocked when Durie let out a large shriek of laughter in answer.
"Oh no, no, no dear, though I can understand the confusion. No, my father you see, he was a wizard, a great wizard. Met my mother the night of 'The Wild Hunt' and I came not long after."
"The Wild Hunt? As in nasty soul grabbing spirit trying to drag away unsuspecting victims?" Fred, who had managed to corner the squirrel, asked momentarily distracted. Hermione was shocked that Fred had heard of such a thing, as far as she was aware it only existed in Muggle Mythology. He shrugged when his mother stared at him in wide-eyed shock.
"One of Dads muggle books."
"Yes, one and the same." Durie giggled, tiny sparks of magic popping around her head like little fireworks.
"When father died, mother and I retreated back into the forest. Not long after that witches and wizards simply stopped using Old Magic. Well their link with us was gone, severed and because of their decision, many wood wives lost their power, along with the other spirits of course. None of us could hide away and no new spirits were being created."
"So you mean to say that there was this old magic and we simply what...stopped using it?" Ron asked, scoffing at how ridiculous it all was.
"Yes, that's exactly right."
"But that's..that's impossible, surely we'd just find it all again." Durie pursed her lips, suppressing a smile.
"Old magic does not work that way my dear, as soon as we have had this conversation, you will forget."
Hermione sat bolt upright as Durie said this. Hermione had wondered why Mr Weasley had said nothing about the archives they'd travelled through when they had made it to The Burrow. He seemed to have heard about it and known that some people believed in its existence (including his friend Tiny) but seeing it was another matter. She couldn't understand it herself as Arthur hadn't seemed all that shocked by seeing A.R.M.A, in fact at some points it was as though he had seen it before.
"Is it some sort of spell?" Fred asked innocently, no doubt already figuring out a way to counter it.
"I'm not quite sure my dear, you would have to take it up with the Witches and Wizards who put such measures in place. All I know is that the only way to counter the effects is to be touched by old magic," Durie turned to stare at Hermione, "and that is rare thing indeed."
"Oh don't go giving them ideas, my dear, these two will have a field day trying to find out ways to be 'touched by old magic'."
"Sounds a little too familiar," George commented.
"I like to be wined and dined first." Ron spluttered on his mint tea at Fred's words. The laughter soon died when Mrs Weasley pinned them with a stare.
"So, so what happened after we stopped using old magic." Ginny asked." Durie sighed into her mushroom shaped mug and continued.
"Sluagh...Oh, I mean Muggles were able to see us and that is where all their mythology came from, reams and reams of it. You wouldn't believe the amount those folk would wax lyrical about, we'd only have to go to the bathroom and we were blessing the ground." The boys allowed themselves a quiet chuckle.
"Well obviously they didn't find us a blessing forever, soon there were hunts for us, running us down and killing us one by one. Added to that 'The Wild Hunt'," Durie shook her head "we didn't stand a chance.
"Well when there was only a few of us left, we decided to call it a day, go into hiding and try to make of life what we could. I, however, didn't make the cut, what with being a little bit different because of my father. So you see me here."
There was a pause before Hermione asked her question.
"But you said you couldn't legally use magic to fight...You-Know-Who."
"Oh yes, yes. Well when the Witches and Wizards removed themselves from Old Magic they broke ties with my people, we swore under oath that we would never again become involved with the problems of others. If I were to break that oath then, well things wouldn't turn out very well for me." Durie took a sip of her tea, smacking her lips appreciatively.
Hermione supposed she couldn't argue with that, as much as she wanted to.
"If you were around when muggles were writing their mythology, then you must be…" Ginny spluttered.
"Very old, yes. Though I don't like to focus on my age too much, can get me down from time to time." Hermione wondered how Durie could ever get down about her age when she looked so perfect.
"Well, we best be off Durie, my dear, got lots to do and not enough hours of the day to do them in." Molly swept up her bag and smiled gratefully at the smaller woman.
"Oh, of course, I am sorry to have kept you so long, wittering on as I do."
They all stood, gathering together behind Durie as she led them down a small corridor, the twins and Ron having to stoop rather alarmingly to be able to fit. It smelt strongly of blossoms as petals fell delicately from the branches, landing quietly at their feet.
"Here we are." Durie said, opening her arms wide to a vined doorway, "This one is Diagon I'm sure of it. If not, just pop right back and I'll send you the right way."
Molly pushed forward, stepping through the doorway first, obviously reluctant to leave the twins alone in Durie's house. She needn't of worried, the twins seemed absolutely enraptured with the doorway and Hermione thought that they would probably try and replicate some if not all of what they'd seen in Durie's house.
One by one they stepped through the door, till Hermione was the only one left. Durie stared at hers, purple eyes seeming to grow dark amidst the falling petals.
"You have the old magic about you. No doubt you will not forget" Her voice sounded different, less airy.
"Erm...I…." Hermione stuttered.
"Do not be afraid, your secret is safe with me." Hermione opened her mouth to explain that she was not afraid, but thought better of it, instead she turned towards the door, hoping that Durie would simply let her leave. She paused though when an image on one of the tree trunks caught her eye.
"What-what's this?" she asked, leaning forward, her heart hammering in her chest. It was a wedding ceremony taking place deep in the wood, Durie's mother easily recognisable as the person overseeing the proceedings.
"Oh it's a wedding that my mother performed, strange couple they were, strange but beautiful. Mom had a bit of a soft spot for them, said they reminded her of her and dad. I blessed them afterwards" Hermione was hardly registering her words because she knew it was them. She would have recognised Edwards dark hair and blue eyes anywhere, and the blonde hair, though trimmed short, was so obviously Mina.
"Where did they go after?" Durie shrugged, leaning forward herself as if seeing the scene again would jog her memory.
"Into the woods I suppose, they were running from something. Never waited to find out if they actually succeeded in outrunning it." Hermione decided not to tell her what she knew of Mina and Edward's story, as far as Durie was concerned they had their happy ending and that was all Hermione had ever really hoped for them. With a sigh, she turned back to the door and twisted the handle.
"Remember where I am, Hermione Granger, most doors lead to me." With that Hermione stepped out onto Diagon Alley, almost bumping into Ron who was peering at the door curiously.
"Where were you?" He asked, trying to glance behind her. "We thought you'd got lost." Hermione shrugged off his concern, linking her arm in Ginny's and following Mrs Weasley past all the shops.
"Strange old bat wasn't she?" Ron muttered, turning to his brothers, who nodded.
"Ronald Weasley that is no way to talk about someone." Mrs Weasley hissed, though she didn't seem to disagree with him. "Durie is a lovely old lady, she didn't have to let us use her home to travel. Plus she's one heck of a gardener."
"I feel like I've…" Ginny muttered.
"Forgotten something." The twins said together, both tapping their chins in confusion.
"You better not have," Mrs Weasley admonished, "We are not going back for it now."
Hermione couldn't believe it, they'd forgotten everything, just as Durie had said. What's more, they remembered the beautiful creature as being an old woman, she wondered if that's what Mrs Weasley had expected when she'd lead them down the alleyway.
Hermione found herself unbelievably grateful that she remembered everything in great detail. Everything about the house, about Durie and her mother and about the wonderful stories she told of the past. Her relief though was mainly due to what she had seen of Mina and Edward.
They had gotten married, the thought circled round her head over and over. It was something so beautiful and wonderful and she was glad that they had found such happiness. Somehow, knowing the ending, made it so much more tragic. What made it all worse was the fact that, now she knew she wanted nothing more than to share it with Draco Malfoy, to pull out the scroll and write to him. Ginny tugged her arm slightly and drew her back to reality, seeing Malfoy wouldn't solve anything she knew that, but it didn't stop her from hoping.