A/N: Hey, it's been a while. There's a LOT of shit going on in my life. I missed you guys.
If there was one thing that the House Elves had managed to teach Hermione, it was to move out of the way and let them carry on with their business. They knew exactly what they were doing and how best to do it. Jinx had fussed around Hermione for almost an hour, but she sat as still as she was able so that the House Elf could do her magic in peace. Once Jinx was done, she nodded in satisfaction, her ears flapping
"Missy Keeper is being as ready as she can be," Jinx said with an imperious air.
The House Elf had outdone herself this time. The Keeper's robes seemed to glow with a subtle, dark sheen that Jinx claimed was merely the Acromantula silk. Somehow, Hermione doubted that. The Black family crest gleamed brilliantly. Hermione tilted her head and looked at the contained chaos of her hair. She wasn't quite certain how Jinx had managed it but suspected that Elf magic was responsible. Hermione thanked Jinx who blushed and then waved her hands at Hermione.
"Missy Keeper should be going downstairs before Minnie be looking for Missy Keeper," Jinx reminded her.
"You're right," Hermione agreed. "I don't want to distract Minnie."
The Black wizards had departed en masse from the estate the moment breakfast was over. They had each paused long enough for a lingering kiss with their Keeper, which had left Hermione light-headed and breathless enough that she didn't protest their blatant escape. It helped that Narcissa and Andromeda had Flooed over almost immediately with Pansy and Poppy in tow.
"Are you ready, Hermione?" Poppy asked excitedly, her tiara tilted at a rakish angle.
"Jinx thinks I am," Hermione replied with a smile for the little witch. "Where's your sister?"
"Pansy was helping Mrs. Malfoy with the flower arrangements," Poppy explained with serious expression on her small face. "Tuppy has had a hard time getting the greenhouses under control, and Mrs. Malfoy had to bring some flowers over from Malfoy Manor."
"Oh no," Hermione sighed.
Black Estate hadn't been inhabited for decades. Magic was able to protect most things that would rot or decay in a house normally left alone for that long, but the greenhouses were different. They hadn't been properly placed in stasis, and Minnie had reported the ongoing efforts to clear out and repair the greenhouses at regular intervals. Tuppy was probably distraught that his greenhouses had failed the House of Black.
"Poppy! Oh, there you are," Pansy huffed as she poked her head out of the ballroom that they'd decided to use for the tea. She looked Hermione over carefully and nodded. "Jinx did wonderfully well."
"Of course she did." Narcissa followed Pansy out into the hall and examined Hermione. "Jinx is eminently capable. Let's go check on Andromeda and Minnie."
The kobold and Minnie were working together seamlessly, custard tarts and mini sponges floating serenely across the kitchen to settle on prepared trays. Andromeda was moving the trays once they were full to rolling carts that were lined up neatly against the wall.
"Everything looks wonderful," Hermione said with a bright smile for both Minnie and the kobold. "You've done an amazing job."
"Missy Keeper!" Minnie squeaked. She waved hands at Hermione. "It is being time for Missy Keeper to receive her guests! Missy Keeper can't be being in the kitchens!"
With a sigh, Hermione allowed Minnie to shove her out of the kitchen and she swept toward the public access Floo in the entry hall. Guests would only be accepted if they had sent an RSVP, because only certain Floos had been allowed temporary access to the Estate. Even releasing that much control had been almost physically painful for Orion. She had half-expected them to linger on the Estate, or more accurately, to hover protectively over her while they glared malevolently at her guests.
For the sake of the honour of the House of Black, Hermione managed to arrive before the first guests arrived, and she was standing in place when an elderly witch stepped gracefully out of the Floo. She nodded regally to Andromeda and Narcissa.
"Mrs. Fawley," Andromeda greeted her with her own nod. "What a pleasure to see you again. Hermione allow me to introduce you to Euterpe Fawley. Mrs. Fawley, this is the Keeper of the House of Black."
"Keeper Black," Mrs. Fawley greeted Hermione with a deep nod of respect. "All honour to the House of Black."
"Thank you for coming," Hermione murmured just as she had been coached. "Welcome to Black Manor."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," Mrs. Fawley declared.
"I'm certain you've met my dear friend Pansy Parkinson, but I don't know if you've met her younger sister, Poppy," Hermione said and then smiled brightly at Mrs. Fawley.
"Miss Parkinson," Mrs. Fawley greeted Pansy. She held out her hand to Poppy. "Hello, young Miss Parkinson. I knew your grandmother when she was a girl. You look just like her."
"I do?" Poppy asked with a bright smile and she clutched at the older witch's hand.
A reluctant smile tugged at Mrs. Fawley's lips. "You have her smile. And her eyes. Primula Blishwick's best feature was her eyes."
"Thank you, Mrs. Fawley," Pansy said. "Let me show you to your table."
The next witch was already coming through the Floo and Hermione listened carefully as Andromeda and Narcissa exchanged greetings with her. Most of the people here today would be unfamiliar by sight, but Andromeda and Narcissa had spent days drilling her in the sinuous connections between different families. Not every connection was familial—there were grudges left over from Hogwarts' days, spurned contracts, and long-time alliances.
"Mrs. Shafiq, what an honour to meet you," Hermione murmured and nodded to the witch in front of her. "Your latest article in Transfiguration Today was fascinating."
"Thank you, Keeper Black," Mrs. Shafiq replied with her own nod. "Please owl me your thoughts. I would be interested to see what you have to say."
"It would be my honour," Hermione agreed eagerly, excited at the thought of corresponding with such a brilliant witch.
An automatic smile tugged at Hermione's lips when Lavender stepped out of the Floo. Lavender spotted her and waved energetically. Hermione's smile stretched a little thin when Ginny followed Lavender out of the Floo. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Weasley followed quickly and Hermione suppressed a groan.
"Miss Brown," Andromeda greeted Lavender. "What a pleasure to see you again."
"Thank you, Mrs. Tonks," Lavender murmured and curtseyed.
"Miss Brown," Narcissa murmured coolly. She nodded politely to Hermione's former dorm mate.
"I love your gown, Mrs. Malfoy," Lavender gushed. "Is it a Kristoff?"
"Why, yes," Mrs. Malfoy said with a smug little smile. "It's from his upcoming fall collection. He's such a darling and insisted that I have it."
"Lavender, thank you for coming," Hermione greeted when it was her turn.
Lavender giggled. "Like I would turn down an invitation to Black Manor?"
"Where's Harry?" Ginny demanded as she looked around the Floo receiving room.
"I have no idea," Hermione said with a shrug. Ginny frowned at that.
"I thought he was staying here," Ginny protested.
"Every wizard fled this morning after breakfast," Hermione retorted drily. "I'm not even sure they'll return until tomorrow."
"Who are you?" Ginny demanded, glaring at Poppy.
"This is my very special friend, Miss Poppy Parkinson," Hermione replied in an icy voice. She slipped a protective arm around Poppy's shoulders. "Miss Parkinson, this is Miss Ginevra Weasley."
"Miss Weasley," Poppy greeted Ginny uncertainly and cautiously nodded at her.
"Well, Miss Weasley?" Hermione prompted. If Narcissa weren't standing right next to her, Hermione would be tapping her foot impatiently.
Ginny huffed and rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Come on Lavender, let's go find somewhere to sit."
Lavender flushed in embarrassment and nodded politely to Poppy.
"It was nice to meet you Miss Parkinson. Hermione," Lavender said quickly before she grabbed Ginny's elbow and dragged her toward the salon that they were using for the tea.
"Mrs. Brown, thank you for coming with Lavender," Hermione turned to greet Mrs. Brown. "You must be excited about her upcoming wedding."
"Keeper Black," Mrs. Brown said with stiff disapproval. She turned and sailed off after Lavender and Ginny.
Heat suffused Hermione's cheeks and she knew that she was just as flushed as Lavender had been. Ginny was making it difficult to remain friends. If they'd been anywhere else Hermione would have been tempted to give Ginny a piece of her mind. Sometimes, being a Keeper was inconvenient.
"Hermione, dear," Mrs. Weasley cried as she barrelled toward Hermione with widespread arms.
Before she could credit it, Mrs. Weasley had enveloped Hermione in a tight hug. She could feel Andromeda and Narcissa stiffening next to her and there was a small gasp from Poppy next to her. Gently, Hermione tried to extricate herself from Molly Weasley's embrace.
"Mrs. Weasley," Hermione managed to get out before Molly interrupted her.
"You're looking well, dear," Mrs. Weasley said with a nod. "I suppose if you couldn't marry Ron that you've done alright for yourself. And who is this young lady?" She glanced at Poppy and then turned back to Hermione expectantly.
"This is Miss Poppy Parkinson. Poppy, this is Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said softly to the small witch at her side.
"Mrs. Weasley." Poppy curtseyed to the older witch.
"Hello dear," Mrs. Weasley said with a nod. "Your scarring isn't too disfiguring. Don't despair. If our Lavender can get a wizard like my Ron, then I'm sure you'll find a wizard to suit you when you get older."
Poppy blinked in surprise and looked up at Hermione who managed not to sigh.
"Mrs. Weasley means well," Hermione said helplessly.
"She touched you," Narcissa hissed with a wrinkled nose. "You did alright? You are the Keeper of the House of Black!"
"If she doesn't learn to mind the proper boundaries, Papa and the others will deal with her," Andromeda muttered.
"Cousin Sirius will eviscerate her," Narcissa replied with a smirk.
"Indeed," Andromeda agreed.
Once all the witches had been properly greeted, the House Elves made sure that tiered serving platters were delivered to each table. Witches were able to choose which type of tea they preferred and hot pots appeared at each table filled with the teas that witch liked best.
Quiet chatter filled the air as the witches nibbled on the offerings of the Black Estate. Hermione was seated at a table with a group of formidable witches that Andromeda and Narcissa had briefed her on. She made polite conversation and sipped at her tea carefully. This tea party couldn't finish quickly enough. It had barely started, and Hermione was exhausted.
Heightened senses were one of Hermione's side effects from the war. She knew the moment someone entered her room. She sat up, her wand gripped in her hand and whoever had entered her room paused at the foot of her bed.
"I apologize." The low tone was familiar, and Hermione relaxed immediately.
"Regulus?" Her voice was raspy with sleep. "What are you doing in here?"
"I… I missed you," he admitted in the safety of the velvet darkness.
"Get in," Hermione commanded.
The soft whisper of clothing being shed was the only sound in the room. When Regulus slid into bed next to her, the warm press of his thigh against hers jolted her. She set her wand on the nightstand and turned towards Regulus.
"How was your tea party?" Regulus asked.
Hermione snorted. "It was a nightmare. Come here."
Regulus' arms slid around her and pulled her up against the smooth, warm muscle that made up his chest. His lips landed on the corner of her mouth and then he shifted so that he could kiss her properly. There was a greedy hunger in Regulus' kisses that made her kiss him back eagerly. When he sucked on her lower lip, she groaned helplessly.
"Hermione," Regulus moaned before he kissed her deeply.
Hermione wound her arms around his neck and pressed herself against him. When he pulled away from her for a moment she whimpered.
"More," she demanded.
"So greedy," Regulus muttered as his lips slid down her neck. "My perfect, vicious witch."
"Prat," Hermione retorted.
"You love it when we tease you," Regulus argued.
"I do," Hermione agreed. "Tease me, Regulus."
"With pleasure, my lady," Regulus agreed. He twisted around and laid her gently in the bed so that he could shift. He hovered over her, the heat of his body making her pulse race. His lips dragged over her collarbone as he made his way down her chest.
"Regulus," she whined helplessly when he captured a hard nipple between his teeth. She buried her fingers in his hair and pulled, and Regulus groaned against her breast.
Gooseflesh broke out on the soft flesh of her belly as Regulus nibbled his way ever lower. When he spread her thighs wide and bent over her, his hot breath made her clench on nothing at all, and she whimpered. The warm, wet slide of his tongue made her cry out. His large hands cupped her bum, lifting her so that he had better access, and he focused on driving her absolutely mad.
The slow drag of Regulus' tongue against her folds made her wriggle in his hands. When his lips wrapped around her clit and he sucked, Hermione screamed and bucked up into his mouth. He chuckled against her, the vibrations of his laughter against her clit making her vision white out. When she came back to herself, Regulus was sliding a finger inside of her, pressing against spongy flesh.
"In me, now," Hermione growled.
Low laugher teased her senses and Hermione huffed and tugged at his shoulders.
"Patience, witch," Regulus groaned. "We'll get there, I promise you."
The blunt head of his cock pressed against her, and Hermione lifted her hips eagerly. They both groaned as his cock slid into her. Regulus buried his face in Hermione's neck for a moment, trying to keep calm. She wrapped her legs around his hips and dug her heels into the small of his back.
In the dark, it was impossible to see the smirk that she knew Regulus was wearing. His hips swivelled in a circle and Hermione saw stars. Her fingers dug into Regulus' shoulders, clinging to him as he moved within her. The pace he set was brutal—his hips slapped against hers as she threw back her head and cried out shamelessly. When his thumb brushed against her clit, Hermione let go. She could feel Regulus stiffen against her before his hips began to piston helplessly. He groaned against her throat as she clutched him to her.
"Hermione," he gasped.
"I'm here, Regulus," she whispered against his cheek. "I'm here."
The morning after the tea party from hell, Hermione woke to the warm, comforting presence of Regulus pressed against her back. She stretched in her bed and turned around to face him. Dark eyes watched her as a small smile tugged at his lips.
"Good morning." He kissed her forehead and brushed her curls away from her face.
"Hi," Hermione whispered and then fidgeted. He laughed and leaned forward to kiss her gently.
"You are such a blessing," he told her.
"I'm not," Hermione protested. "I'm just me."
Regulus snorted at that. "You should get used to it, my lady. Every one of us is aware of what you are and what you have done for us. We will never let a day go by that we are not profoundly thankful that you are our Keeper."
"Regulus!" Hermione squeaked.
"Hermione," he countered in a husky voice.
"We should probably get up," Hermione suggested.
"Yes," Regulus agreed, but he made no effort to move. She wriggled against him, and Regulus pressed himself against her.
"Oh!" She gasped, staring up at him with wide eyes. "We can… join everyone else in… in just a moment."
"Excellent idea," Regulus purred and lowered his lips to her neck.
At breakfast there was a neat pile of crisp envelopes. Hermione stared at them and noted with some relief that none of them happened to be red. Of course, that didn't mean that some of the letters might not contain bubotuber pus or something similarly noxious. She took a deep breath and carefully edged her way around the table.
This early in the morning, the only people in the dining room were Orion and Cygnus. Hermione smiled at Cygnus and Orion who were already drinking tea and eating breakfast. Orion had a pile of Wizengamot paperwork in front of him, but he paused and looked up as soon as Hermione had entered the room. Cygnus had been reading the Daily Prophet, but he set it down as soon as he saw her.
"Hermione?" Orion's voice rose in obvious question and he frowned at her as she gingerly sat down in her chair, leaning slightly away from the stack of correspondence in front of her. "Is something bothering you?"
"It's just… you never really can tell, can you?" Hermione muttered. She fingered her wand and contemplated vanishing the entire pile.
"Never really can tell what, Hermione," Cygnus asked curiously.
Hermione pointed the tip of her wand at the pile of envelopes. "What's in them."
At that, Orion and Cygnus turned to one another with matching frowns. As one they turned to Hermione.
"Explain," Orion demanded flatly.
"Well, there could be bubotuber pus," Hermione pointed out with a scowl for the mail. "Or… or a cursed letter. Or even some poorly written death threats."
Both wizards went still.
"Hermione," Cygnus breathed and then he stopped, nostrils flaring. He glared at Orion.
"That's not possible," Orion said firmly. "Black Manor is unplottable and has every possible defence measure known to wizardkind. All mail is filtered through a service that checks for everything. Howlers, cursed mail, and mail with ill intent are all rejected before they ever reach us."
"Oh." Hermione stared at the envelopes uncertainly. "A service?"
"All correspondence is routed through our lawyers," Cygnus added.
"Besides," Orion scoffed. "No one would dare send a Keeper anything like that."
"They didn't know I was a Keeper at the time," Hermione muttered darkly.
"What was that?" Cygnus said in a calm, quiet voice.
"Erm… what?" Hermione blinked and raised her eyes to his face.
"Someone sent you cursed mail?" Orion asked carefully. "Who?"
"I'm not quite sure," Hermione admitted. "It was during my fourth year at Hogwarts, and—"
"I beg your pardon?" Cygnus said with the same tone of voice that one might use to discuss the weather. "I'm not sure I heard you correctly. Someone sent a child a cursed letter?"
"What kind of person would do such a thing?" Orion wondered aloud.
"Oh, well, actually it was more than one person," Hermione confessed. She bit her lower lip. "I had quite a few after that article in the Daily Prophet."
"What article in the Daily Prophet?" Orion asked in a silky voice that made her shiver.
"Which one?" Harry asked as he entered the dining room. He yawned so widely that his jaw popped as he shuffled around the table. He dropped a kiss on the top of Hermione's head, oblivious to the twin glares he received for his audacity.
"One which resulted in our Keeper receiving cursed mail," Cygnus replied coolly.
"Ah. The one where Skeeter said that you tossed me to the side and were carrying on some grand affair with Viktor Krum," Harry said with a nod. He glanced at the burning rage in the Black wizards' eyes and gulped audibly. "Er, not that she was. Er, carrying on any affairs, I mean."
"That was shortly before she spent the summer in a jar," Hermione retorted with a smirk of satisfaction.
"Who sent cursed letters to a school child?" Orion demanded turning to Harry who shrugged.
"No idea. Most of them had no return address. Hermione finally figured out how to set the lot on fire and we didn't have to deal with them after that," he explained.
"Skeeter," Orion seethed.
"She is useful, for the moment," Hermione observed as she calmly buttered a slice of toast.
"She is lucky that she is useful to our Keeper," Cygnus drawled. He straightened his cuffs. "She should hope that she continues to be useful."
"Speaking of Skeeter's continued usefulness," Hermione began and then glanced at Cygnus and Orion. "I need to meet with Luna."
"Luna?" Cygnus repeated.
"The blonde witch who managed to find a way through the Black wards?" Orion protested incredulously.
"That would be Luna," Harry agreed with a fond smile for their friend.
"Hermione," Orion growled.
"The Lovegood family owns the Quibbler," Hermione explained with a wave of her hand. "Luna is integral to our plan."
"I ask that you not meet her alone," Orion reminded her.
"No, of course not," Hermione agreed. "I'm planning on asking Sirius to accompany me to the Wizengamot, and then escorting me to the meeting."
"Excellent," Cygnus said with a pleased smile.
"Why is it excellent?" Harry asked curiously.
"Sirius has never had the patience to deal with the Wizengamot, but he would happily endure it for our Keeper," Orion explained with a nod to Cygnus. He took a sip of his tea and frowned thoughtfully. "While I will sit officially for the Black family, it is best if everyone understands how the Wizengamot works—what laws are under review, what political factions are in play, what forces move beneath the surface, and what alliances would best suit our family."
"Why?" Harry asked with his own frown. "I beg your pardon, but… you're the paterfamilias, right? Don't you make those decisions?"
"In many families that is exactly how it works," Cygnus admitted. He glanced at Orion. "It's how ours worked under Arcturus."
"A smart paterfamilias makes sure that his heirs and his extended family understand the long-term goals for the family," Orion added. "So that they won't inadvertently offend a family with whom I'm trying to create an alliance. They will understand what we're working toward and help in any way they can. A family that works together to protect itself is stronger and more formidable than the family that is ruled only by the paterfamilias. That is the future I would like to see for our family."
"That is an admirable goal," Hermione said with a wide smile for both Cygnus and Orion.
The benefits of sharing the information and providing tuition to all family members was immediately evident, and very Slytherin. Hermione didn't have to imagine Andromeda and Narcissa actively working to help their family and recruiting their children to help—she had seen it in action. The Black family would again become a political powerhouse that would be able foster change that could benefit the entire wizarding world. The people that she could help with that kind of support made her a little giddy.
"Ha!" Harry burst out and pointed a finger at Hermione across the table. "And you think I have a saving people thing!"
Hermione threw her buttered slice of toast at him, but Harry managed to catch it with his ridiculous Seeker skills. The prat spread marmalade on the neatly buttered triangle and took a big bite of toast, grinning at her all the while.
"Madam Longbottom, it is a pleasure to see you again," Sirius murmured as he bowed low over the Longbottom dowager's hand.
"Sirius Black," Madam Longbottom sighed. She turned to look at Hermione. "And I suppose he'll be with you all day?"
"Yes," Hermione agreed with a serene smile.
"Very well," Madam Longbottom said with a nod. "As you have a suitable escort, I need you to go to the Wizengamot library for me. That idiot law on potions regulations cited some ancient Anglo-Saxon law about adulterated bread." She huffed indignantly and waved a parchment at Hermione. "Bastards are trying to pull a fast one, I can just feel it."
"The Wizengamot has a library?" Hermione breathed; her eyes wide. Madam Longbottom frowned at her.
"Of course, they do." Madam Longbottom waved a hand in the air. "It's available to all sitting members, their aides, and their heirs so that laws can be researched and cross-referenced."
"Come on, sweetheart." Sirius held out a hand to her with a smirk. "I'll show you where it is."
"Just think of all the information that must be housed there," Hermione muttered to herself as she allowed Sirius to lead her down the hall, her hand clasped around the crook of his elbow.
"They are right," Sirius grumbled. "It's amazing you weren't Sorted into Slytherin."
"Don't be silly," Hermione protested. "I'm a lion and proud of it."
"Maybe a scaled lion," Sirius countered.
"Then you are as well," Hermione scoffed at him. Before she could stop herself, she blurted out: "Harry found out quite a few unsavoury things about all of you, the Marauders I mean, while you were… gone."
Sirius frowned at her. "Like what?" He asked in a subdued voice.
"Your friend James was a bit of a dick," Hermione replied, avoiding answering the question directly.
"We were kids," Sirius said. Then he blew out a breath and his shoulders slumped slightly. "We were gits, especially during our OWL year. I'd like to blame it on the stress, but… yeah."
"My point was just that we both have a couple of Slytherin tendencies, but that doesn't mean we aren't Gryffindors through and through," Hermione pointed out.
"I suppose," Sirius agreed reluctantly. He stopped in front of a set of double doors and waved his free hand in a grand gesture. "The library, my lady."
It was easily double the size of Hogwarts' library, with stacks that stretched out before her in orderly rows. There were tables and study carrels arranged neatly and there were people scattered throughout, silently turning pages and scribbling notes on parchment.
"Oh," Hermione breathed softly. She turned to look up at Sirius with wide, shining eyes. "Have you ever seen anything so wonderful?"
"Yeah." Sirius' voice cracked and he flushed. "Come on, let's find the books Madam Longbottom needs."
"Oh, but…," Hermione protested as she stared at the stacks spread out before her.
"We can come back, you know," Sirius reminded her with a quiet huff of laughter.
"We can, can't we," Hermione murmured. She allowed Sirius to tug her toward the stacks as she looked all around her. "How are these organized?"
"The Wizengamot has its own system," Sirius replied quietly. "I'll get you a chart from the information desk in just a second."
Once Hermione was settled at a table with a stack of research books and a sheaf of fresh parchment, Sirius hurried off to the information desk to grab a glossy brochure explaining the Wizengamot's filing system for the Wizengamot library.
Slowly, Hermione made her way through early Medieval manuscripts deciphering the Elder Futhark as she went. Wulfram had passed several laws that severely punished bakers who sold adulterated bread. In fact, in the glossary there was mention of earlier Roman laws that punished bakers who used sawdust or sand instead of flour in the loaves that were distributed to the poor. Hermione made careful notes in her tidy handwriting.
Across the table, Sirius plopped down with a sigh and leaned back in his chair, head tilted back. The smooth of column of Sirius' throat disappeared into the black robes that showed off his fit frame. His long legs were stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankle. He lifted his head to blink at her. One eyebrow quirked and an amused smirk stretched his lips.
"Aren't you supposed to be working, sweetheart?" He teased her gently. "I don't blame you for admiring the view though."
Quickly Hermione focused her attention back on the manuscript in front of her. The soft scratch of her quill against parchment was the only sound in their section of the library.
"Hermione." Sirius sat up, put his elbows on the table, and leaned forward.
"Hmm?" Hermione tried to concentrate on the runes in front of her, but she could feel her heart begin to race and her palms grow slick. She tried to unobtrusively rub them against her robes.
"Explore the stacks with me?" Sirius asked with a flirty wink.
"But… Madam Longbottom," Hermione protested weakly.
"You've got the information about the Anglo-Saxon law," Sirius reminded her.
"Yes, but there was mention of some Roman laws," Hermione explained as she pointed at the marginalia.
"Which you don't need," Sirius countered. "You'd be better off looking up purity laws regarding potions ingredients on the Continent."
"What countries would you suggest?" Hermione asked curiously.
"I know that there are specific laws in France regarding the potion ingredients supplied to Beauxbatons," Sirius suggested. "Durmstrang may have something similar, but no one knows where it's located. The ICW also has international laws regarding the international buying and selling of potions ingredients. Madam Longbottom probably already knows about them, but it might help her to have copies of the actual laws to hand."
"That's brilliant," Hermione praised him. Sirius shrugged and gave her a slightly wicked grin.
"I've been known to be brilliant upon occasion," He told her smugly.
Using the brochure that explained the Wizengamot library's classification system, Hermione tracked down the books on ICW purity laws regarding food, drink, and potions ingredients. Sirius disappeared from her side for only a moment and returned with a thick volume that had Droit Magie Public inscribed along the spine in gold letters.
"Perfect," Hermione said with a happy sigh. "How do we check these out?"
Sirius grimaced slightly. "Erm, about that. You don't really. You can copy them, or you can read them here in the library, but they can't leave the library."
"Are we allowed to cast gemino in the library?" Hermione asked as she eyed the stacks around her speculatively.
"Yeah," Sirius muttered. He flipped through the brochure. "I think there's a list of acceptable spells within the library. Here, look at this."
The brochure did have a small list of spells that would not trigger the Wizengamot library's defences.
"The library has defences?" Hermione hissed at Sirius who shrugged helplessly.
"Father told me that books used to be rare and were considered as valuable as gold or gems. Most libraries took theft seriously. He warned me that performing any spells not on the list would be most… unpleasant," Sirius muttered in explanation.
"What does that mean?" Hermione demanded.
"I don't know—that's all he would say about it," Sirius admitted. He flushed and avoided eye contact. "I wasn't exactly happy about being dragged to the Wizengamot and I might not have been paying attention. I think he was frustrated with me by that point."
"Sirius," Hermione sighed and reached out to touch his cheek gently. "What happened in the past…" she paused and searched for the right words to say to him.
It wasn't that the past didn't matter because it had touched and shaped each of her husbands. It wasn't that the past wasn't important because it had been responsible for each wizard who had petitioned Arawn for a Keeper. Hermione bit her lip and stared up at Sirius who was still avoiding eye contact. He had tilted his head so that a wave of dark curls obscured his face.
"I should have listened to him more," Sirius whispered.
"No," Hermione protested and touched Sirius' elbow. "You were struggling to deal with an increasingly bad situation. You both were. What happened then was… unfortunate. I wish so much that neither of you had been forced to live through any of it."
Startled, Sirius looked at her with a slightly panicked expression in his grey eyes.
"But if we hadn't, we wouldn't have… and you wouldn't…" He sputtered incoherently.
Hermione nodded. "It's difficult, isn't it? Everything needed to happen in a specific way for us to be here now. And this? This will allow us to make the House of Black what it should have been all along."
"But if I had—," Sirius began only to have Hermione stand on her toes and kiss him to shut him up. "I would be able to—," he tried again. Hermione kissed him again. He gave up trying to argue and returned her kiss enthusiastically. "Fine," he breathed raggedly when they both came up for air. "You might be right. Happy?"
"I'm always right," Hermione corrected him with a haughty sniff. Then she winced. "Well, mostly."
"You're perfect," Sirius muttered in her hair.
"Hardly," Hermione scoffed. "Just ask Harry."
"Perfect for us, love," Sirius amended. "Perfect for the House of Black."
"Let's get those books before Madam Longbottom yells at the both of us," Hermione sighed with another longing look at the book stacks.
Several quick gemino spells and Hermione had a neat pile of copies ready to take back to Madam Longbottom. Sirius took them out of her arms despite her hissed protests. He shrugged at her.
"You're my Keeper, Hermione. I can do no less," He reminded her. "You might as well get used to it."
"I can carry books, Sirius," Hermione protested as she followed him out of the library. "I can cast Wingardium Leviosa and float them out of the library."
"It's not a matter of whether or not you're capable," Sirius countered. "I don't think there's a witch or wizard anywhere that would question your abilities. It's about the courtesy and respect that you are due as my Keeper, my witch, and my wife."
A dull flush crept up Hermione's neck and spread over her cheeks. It had been a handful of months and Hermione still struggled with the depth of feeling her wizards bore for her. They were tied together by forces greater than those of a life debt—the resurrection of a House was the equivalent of a life debt that extended to all future generations. The House of Black would forever owe their very existence to their Keeper. It was overwhelming when she stopped to think about it, and as a result she tended to avoid thinking about it.
"I see," Hermione murmured at last and followed Sirius out of the library.
The Longbottom offices were in cheerful disarray. Madam Longbottom was muttering darkly under her breath and marking up a length of parchment with red ink when Sirius carefully set the stack of books on the edge of her desk. She paused to peer at them over the glasses perched on her nose.
"Ah, yes," she grumbled. "Thank you. Can you start reading through? Make note of any references that you think might be useful."
"Here are the references to Anglo-Saxon law," Hermione replied and handed over a sheet of parchment with the list of titles and pages of interest. Then she picked up the two books that Sirius had helped her to find. "Sirius suggested that both Beauxbatons and Durmstrang might also have pertinent laws that we could reference."
"Excellent idea," Madam Longbottom agreed with a gruff nod of approval at Sirius. "How soon can you get those to me?"
"By the end of the afternoon, I believe," Hermione answered. She paused. "Is that alright? They aren't having a session today, are they?"
"No, it won't be until Friday," Madam Longbottom explained. "We should have plenty of time—but they have adjusted meeting times before so I would appreciate the information as soon as you've got it."
"Understood, Madam Longbottom," Hermione said with a nod. She marched over to her desk and sat down with the two volumes she hadn't looked through yet.
Sirius sat next to her and pulled the volume on Durmstrang towards him with a heavy sigh. They sat side-by-side as they read through the books, each making notes for Madam Longbottom. Occasionally, Sirius' knee would knock against hers and he would flush and clear his throat. Hermione bit her lip and tried to focus on French Magical Public Law; it appeared as though Sirius had been correct.
In the last 800 years, there had been several laws passed to protect the students of Beauxbatons. Several of those laws had to do with food and drink served to the students. Hermione snorted to herself in amusement at some of the older laws, which declared that each student was to be allowed a half bottle of wine and a whole loaf of bread per day. Buried among them were several laws that declared that any potion suppliers that contracted with Beauxbatons could be fined and penalized by the Crown for endangering students if shoddy ingredients resulted in injury or death. After the first French revolution, any reference to the Crown was removed and replaced with the Magical Council that governed France.
Quickly, Hermione made her notes as she found more information that Madam Longbottom could use. Next to her, Sirius began clearing his throat loudly. When Hermione looked up, blinking in confusion, she realized that Madam Longbottom was standing in front of Hermione's desk with her arms crossed over her chest.
"Madam Longbottom?" Hermione sat up slowly and put down her quill.
"It's nearly five o'clock," Madam Longbottom announced. "While I respect your work ethic, we should probably call it a day."
"Five o'clock!" Hermione gasped. She jumped up in surprise and turned to Sirius with wide eyes. "Our appointment with Luna!"
Sirius rose to his feet and nodded politely at Madam Longbottom.
"If you'll excuse us?" He asked. Madam Longbottom waved at them with her hands.
"Of course," she replied. "Thank you for all of your help. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Thank you, Madam Longbottom," Hermione called over her shoulder. She grabbed Sirius' elbow and tugged at him. "See you tomorrow!"
Hurrying through the Ministry was always an exercise in futility, and it wasn't until ten minutes after 5 when they finally reached the Rookery in Ottery St. Catchpole. Hermione walked quickly up to the front door and rapped on it smartly with her knuckles. Sirius stood silently next to her, eyeing the dirigible plums suspiciously.
The door swung open and Luna was peering up at them with her wide grey eyes.
"Hermione and… not Stubby Boardman," Luna murmured. She smiled at them and stood to the side. "Welcome to the Rookery."
"Thank you, Luna," Hermione replied. She stepped inside and Sirius followed on her heels.
"How are your Called adjusting to living?" Luna asked curiously.
Sirius grimaced. "Could you not put it like that?" He demanded. Luna shrugged gracefully.
"Anyone who has been touched by Annwn bears the mark of it on their soul," Luna explained. "I can see Arawn's mark on your auras."
"Really?" Hermione glanced at Sirius and then turned to face Luna. "Can you see—"
"Hermione," Sirius protested in a voice that was not quite a whine. "We're supposed to be asking about the Quibbler."
"Ah, yes." Hermione paused and smiled awkwardly at Luna. "Erm… how is the Quibbler doing?"
"Excellently," Luna said with a pleased smile. "Our next issue is going to cover the Erumpet trafficking scandal in India. Father managed to get some exciting information about ties to the devas and—"
"That sounds amazing, Luna," Hermione said quickly. "But we… erm… we actually wanted to talk to you about doing an interview with… with Rita Skeeter. Kind of like the one we did during your Fourth Year."
"Oh." Luna stared at them with unblinking eyes. Sirius shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Do you think your father would agree to that?" Sirius asked.
"I'm sure Daddy would be thrilled," Luna replied calmly. She leaned toward Hermione. "He still feels guilty, you know."
Hermione flushed and avoided eye contact with Sirius when he stiffened next to her.
"That's wonderful, Luna, thank you," Hermione said. She paused. "You would need to come to one of the Black estates. Rita is staying with us for a bit. For safety's sake."
"That's wise," Luna observed. "I imagine quite a few people are unhappy with her at the moment."
"Considering that it's Skeeter I expect that's understating the case," Hermione scoffed. She paused and reached out to touch Luna's hand. "Really though, Luna—thank you. You have no idea what this means to me."
A small smile tugged at Luna's lips. "I can guess." Hermione nodded.
"Are you free this weekend?" Sirius asked.
"Yes, I am," Luna replied.
"Perfect," Sirius said in satisfaction. He frowned thoughtfully at Luna. "I know that you can bend the wards, but Father is a bit jumpy right now. If you could just come through the Floo… that would be much appreciated."
Luna sighed heavily and pouted at Sirius. "How very boring of you," she complained.
"I have no problem with you coming to visit whenever you wish, but I will admit that all of my wizards are anxious about… well…" Hermione paused and glanced at Sirius.
"The false Rita?" Luna guessed. Hermione shook her head and laughed. Luna never changed.
"Yes," she agreed.
Luna glanced at Hermione and nodded. "But I'll come through the Floo if I must."