A/N: I know. It's been awhile. A looooong while. Honestly, I had been staring at the same 3k for about a year. The inspiration for me finishing this chapter and posting it is all due to Ada_Lovelaced (I think that they only post on archive of our own). They made the MOST incredible art of the four Called wizards. Heart-stopping, breath-catching, absolutely stunning art. The way they captured Orion and Cygnus made me giddy. Sirius and Regulus were sheer perfection. It was so beautiful that I teared up a little. As always, Auntie_L keeps me from making an arse of myself. Big squishy hugs to her. Happy Pride Month everybody.
Lounging against the Floo in Malfoy Manor, Sirius waved a hand in the air as he argued heatedly with Remus while they waited for Luna Lovegood to show up for her appointment with Hermione. There was no telling if she would be early or late, so Sirius and Remus had been hanging out in Lucius's foyer for over an hour.
"All I was trying to say was that not every girl at Hogwarts wanted into your pants," Remus huffed. "I hardly think that—"
"She called me boring," Sirius interrupted him. "Me! Sirius Black! Marauder extraordinaire!"
"I know, Padfoot," Remus sighed as he watched Sirius pace back and forth. "But that was twenty years ago."
"No one has ever called me boring!" Sirius continued to rant. "I'm the life of every party!"
"There was that one little Ravenclaw," Remus reminded him. "What was her name? Pandora… something?"
"Rosier," Sirius snapped and rolled his eyes. He waved a hand dismissively. "She doesn't count. She was asking if she could take a picture of my aura to send to a friend of hers in Costa Rica or something."
"You knew my mother?"
With a startled yelp, Sirius turned to face Luna Lovegood, who was standing in front of the Floo, staring up at him curiously. He quickly regained his composure and straightened out his robes. Remus shot him a warning look and then turned to Luna with a slight smile and a nod.
"Your mother was Pandora Rosier?" Remus asked, just to make sure. He remembered Luna from his brief tenure as a Professor at Hogwarts, and he had learned that with her, it was always best to confirm. She nodded.
"She was a couple of years older than we were," Sirius explained. "She always managed to catch us mid-prank."
"Mother had the Sight," Luna said with a shrug. Sirius blinked at that.
Mage sight. Of course. Anyone who had mage sight would be able to see the ward lines. It was a rare gift, but it did pop up occasionally in the older families. If Luna Lovegood had mage sight, it would explain her ability to confound the wards of the Black Estate and nearly give Orion a stroke.
"You have it, too," he stated flatly.
"Yes, of course," Luna agreed. "I can trace it back, mother to daughter, for centuries. It's fascinating."
"No wonder she was able to bend Orion's wards." Remus shook his head slowly.
"It's also how you knew there was a fake Rita." Sirius groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Come on, you'll need to hold my hand. Father launched war wards, and I don't think even you could get through them."
They used the Floo to reach the Black family home that had been Rita Skeeter's reluctant sanctuary. The blonde witch was pacing anxiously in a set of robes in an electric grape so vivid that they made Sirius's eyes water. Nearby, Hermione sat demurely in one of the delicately wrought iron chairs that were scattered through the conservatory. She sipped at a cup of tea, but her narrowed gaze tracked Skeeter's every move.
Standing like silent sentinels throughout the room were his fellow Called. Orion was standing at attention at her right shoulder, glowering at everyone. Cygnus was leaning against a wall with an air of indolent grace, but his eyes scanned the room continuously. Regulus was standing near Skeeter with a frown. It was an intimidating scene, but Luna ignored all of that to skip into the room and stop in front of Hermione.
"Hello Hermione," Luna greeted her with an ethereal smile.
"Luna!" Hermione exclaimed happily. She set down her cup of tea and stood up to hug Luna tightly. Once she pulled back, she gestured toward the pacing witch in front of them. "You remember Rita Skeeter, of course."
"Yes," Luna agreed. She looked the witch over with pursed lips. "Shall we begin?"
The three witches sat down in a small circle and Luna pulled out a sheaf of parchment, which she handed to Skeeter. Next, she pulled out a quill set and handed that over as well. The four Black wizards watched silently as Hermione began to speak, outlining the last few months of her life as the Keeper of the House of Black.
"Are you certain this will work?" Orion asked Sirius as quietly as possible so that he would not disturb the interview.
"It should do," Sirius said slowly as he watched Skeeter nod at specific points in Hermione's narrative.
"It might also help Muggleborns," Remus offered diffidently from Orion's elbow. "They know so little of our world — even a Hogwarts education doesn't give them the sort of information that older families all hold as common knowledge. It wouldn't hurt them at all to let them know about Keepers. At least they would know enough to leave off accosting your Keeper in public."
"That is true," Orion agreed with a nod. He frowned at his son's friend. "You were a professor at Hogwarts, were you not?"
"Erm… yes?" Remus blinked at him warily. Very few good conversations had started with that sentence.
"Did our Keeper struggle because she was a Muggleborn?" Orion asked. Remus went still next to him and began to turn to Sirius. Orion shifted, moving so that he stayed in Remus' line of sight. He placed a hand on Remus' shoulder and leaned forward slightly. "Did she?"
"Your Keeper is a singular witch," Remus observed with a glance at the woman in question. "She rose to every challenge and surmounted every obstacle."
"But there were challenges and obstacles because of her background," Orion guessed.
"Sir," Remus sighed, and Orion removed his hand from the wizard's shoulder with a frown.
"How can we make it better?" Orion asked. He glanced at Hermione and a slow, cold smile spread over his wife's face that made him shiver with awe and desire. "There may be another Keeper who is Muggleborn someday. How do I ensure that she is treated with the honour and dignity that she will deserve?"
"I would ask Hermione," Remus said after a lengthy pause. His lips twisted in a half-smile. "I'm sure she already has a list of things she thinks ought to be changed."
"Whatever ideas my Keeper has, I am happy to execute," Orion stated calmly. "But I am asking you, as someone who observed what your students went through, what do you think will help?"
"Perhaps some kind of early intervention wizarding world outreach programme for Muggleborn children," Remus suggested. "If the Obliviation squad is called in to clean up a case of accidental magic, then a copy of their reports should go to the DMLE, and someone should reach out to the family."
Privately, Remus thought that a department that acted as liaison for Muggleborn children might have saved Harry from the Dursleys. At the very least, maybe someone could have rescued his best friend's child from living in a cupboard. Even if no one would listen to him — even if no one would ever have allowed him to be Harry's guardian due to his irregular work history, his finances, and his status as a werewolf — they might have ensured that Harry had a safe and happy childhood.
"What about the Statute of Secrecy?" Orion asked with a heavy frown.
"That is easily done, sir," Remus told him with an earnest expression. "Muggles have a number of agencies devoted to caring for children. We could have Ministry officials disguised as someone from any one of those agencies to act as a contact point for the Muggleborn child."
"It might even be possible to have the Other Minister coordinate everything for us," Sirius observed. "They could create a Magical-Muggle liaison office that coordinates efforts with issues that may involve authorities in both the Magical and the Muggle world."
"That's a very well thought out suggestion, Pads," Remus said with a small frown. "Have you been thinking about this for a while?"
Sirius' lips tightened and his eyes flashed. "I can't help but think if something like that had existed, then James's boy wouldn't have lived in a fucking cupboard for eleven fucking years."
Remus swallowed and nodded. "Just so," he muttered.
"We will make it happen," Orion decided. He glanced at Cygnus, who nodded minutely, and then focused on Remus. "You will help us."
"I would love to," Remus agreed immediately. "But, sir, I'm probably not the best… choice… for something like this. Most people in the Wizengamot would object to someone like me—" He faltered into silence when Sirius and Orion fixed matching glares on him.
"I am aware of your background, Mr. Lupin," Orion snapped. "And yet Hermione holds you in the highest regard. Are you unaware of the weight of a Keeper's judgment?"
"No, of course not," Remus protested, flushing. "It's just that… Sirius, tell him."
"I think our Patriarch understands the situation perfectly," Sirius countered.
For once, Pansy was able to secure one of the good tables at one of the poshest cafés on Diagon Alley. The hostess had almost fallen over herself to make sure that Pansy was happy and had hurried back with their drinks. Daphne, Tracey, and Millicent blinked at the hostess's effusive manner and then turned to stare at Pansy.
"Well," Millicent said into the stunned silence.
"And you were worried," Tracey scoffed.
"If I have learned anything it is that the public is a fickle bitch," Pansy retorted. She was grateful for the Black family's patronage, but she wouldn't count on it forever. "I may be worth cultivating at the moment, but what about tomorrow, or the day after?"
"Then I guess we just need to make sure that you are always worth cultivating," Daphne said with a toss of her long, blonde hair.
"How is Keeper Black?" Tracey teased her school chum. Pansy flushed and stared at her hands.
"She's… she's such a vicious, ruthless witch," Pansy admitted softly. She shook her head and looked up at her friends who were watching her with various expressions of surprise. "I kind of adore her."
"And Potter?" Millicent drawled with a raised eyebrow.
"I kind of adore him, too," Pansy sighed.
"So, it's real then?" Daphne asked hesitantly. She waved a hand in the air. "This whole… thing?"
"What whole thing?" Pansy countered.
"Are you really engaged to Potter?" Daphne demanded with an exaggerated eye roll.
"Potter and I—" Pansy paused, suddenly unwilling to talk about their current relationship.
"Yes?" Daphne asked, resting her chin on her hand.
"Or is it just a front because you're under the Black family's protection?" Tracey added with a gleam in her eyes.
"My relationship with Harry Potter has absolutely nothing to do with my patronage by the Black family," Pansy protested.
"Merlin's balls, it is real," Daphne whispered. Millicent rolled her eyes.
"I told you it was, silly cow," Millicent said tartly.
"Yes, you did," Tracey agreed. "But honestly Mills, have you ever heard of a less likely pairing?" She giggled a little in amusement. "I mean… it would be like… like… that Looney Lovegood and Greg. Can you imagine?"
"Actually," Pansy drawled with a smirk. "Greg has had a crush since our Seventh Year. Remember when someone cursed the Carrows with violent diarrhoea?"
"Of course, I remember," Tracey scoffed. She smiled dreamily. "They couldn't teach for a week. It was lovely."
"That was for Luna?" Daphne demanded incredulously.
"That was for Luna," Pansy replied.
"Huh." Tracey shrugged and then shift in her seat so that she could see Millicent. "So, Mills, what's going on with Blaise?"
Millicent frowned at Tracey. "How in the bloody hell would I know what's going on with Blaise?"
"Come on, Mills," Daphne protested. "He was ridiculous at the St. Mungo charity gala. I thought he was going to glare one of the Weasleys to death for daring to dance with you."
"It was George," Millicent said flatly. "And Blaise was not staring at either one of us."
"Oh, he definitely was," Tracey countered with a smirk. "That wizard couldn't keep his eyes off of you."
"He was talking to Regulus Black," Millicent muttered.
"Yes, because Regulus Black, one of the Called, had danced with you just before George Weasley," Daphne said with a grin. She turned quirked an eyebrow at Pansy. "Because apparently you're now included along with Pansy."
"Ha," Pansy scoffed. "By your logic, Keeper Black will soon be matchmaking on Mills' behalf."
"It's not a terrible idea," Tracey said with a grin. She giggled and shook her head. "Can you imagine Blaise's reaction if you did have some new pop-up boyfriend? Some chivalrous Gryffindor who followed you about everywhere? He would have a fit!"
Pansy snickered. "He would just die," she gasped out. "And then we'd have to listen to the hour-long rant about how awful Gryffindors are."
"He has a rant specifically made for Gryffindors?" Daphne asked doubtfully.
"I think it was Gryffindor," Pansy said and then frowned. "Who was it that asked you to Hogsmeade in Fourth Year?" Pansy turned to Millicent expectantly.
"Lee Jordan?" Millicent guessed. "I think? That's ridiculous! I didn't even go to Hogsmeade with him—he got hexed and was in the infirmary all weekend."
"Millicent." Daphne stared at her in disbelief. "Blaise hexed him. Some obscure Italian hex that isn't exactly legal, or at least it isn't in Italy, but isn't technically illegal here."
"Didn't you wonder why Jordan never asked you out, ever again?" Tracey asked in exasperation. "He liked you well enough to ask you once. Why would he never try again?"
"Didn't you wonder why the Weasley twins pranked us like mad for a month afterwards?" Pansy added with a roll of her eyes.
"I…" Millicent flushed and avoided everyone's gaze. "I assumed that he… that he had thought better of it. Besides, Blaise said that—," She froze, her eyes wide.
"Morgana's cauldron, I think she gets it," Daphne said in satisfaction. "It's about bloody time."
"No." Millicent shook her head in denial. "It doesn't make any sense."
"Who took you to Hogsmeade when poor whatshisname got 'sick'?" Pansy reminded her gently.
"Blaise, but—" Millicent trailed off, struck speechless. "You think that he… that Blaise Zabini likes me."
"Love, that boy has had it bad for you for the last five years," Tracey retorted with a shake of her head. "I thought he was going to curse Vincent when he asked you to the Yule Ball before he got a chance to do so."
"Oh." Millicent stared at them all, her eyes wide in shock. "Do you… are you… really?"
"Really, Mills," Pansy sighed. She glanced around the table. "Which is something that I know all of us have tried to tell you over the years. What happened?"
"Blaise has been very… odd… the last couple of days," Millicent explained.
"Are you ready to order?" A server appeared near their table with a polite smile.
"I think so, yes," Pansy said after a quick glance around the table. "I'll have the langoustine."
"Very good, Miss," the server murmured and turned to the next witch, carefully taking everyone's order.
Once the server was gone, Millicent picked up her glass and then set it back down again.
"What should I do?" She asked with a frown.
"Blaise needs incentive," Daphne said with slight smirk. "He won't make a move, but he's eaten with jealousy every time anyone even looks at you."
"Incentive?" Millicent repeated doubtfully.
"Ye—es," Tracey said slowly, drawing out the word. She took a sip of her drink. "What do you think would work?"
"Keeper Black might be willing to help," Pansy suggested. She glanced at Millicent. "Have you thought about what you want to do after Hogwarts?"
"Father wants to marry me off as soon as possible, but I've convinced him to let me complete a Mastery first," Millicent said with a roll of her eyes.
"What are you thinking of studying?" Pansy asked curiously.
"Magizoology," Millicent replied.
"Kneazles?" Daphne groaned.
"What?" Millicent protested. "I like kneazles."
"Does Blaise know that he's going to be the proud owner of a knot of kneazles?" Tracey asked with a pointed look over the table.
"One hopes, if he expects to make things work with our Mills," Pansy said with a laugh.
It was still early enough in the year that eating outside posed particular risks, so Theo had suggested that they eat breakfast in the conservatory. Draco tried to focus on his kippers as Theo's favorite Venomous Tentacula stroked his hair. He glanced up at Theo, to see Theo watching him with a fond expression on his face.
"What?" Draco demanded.
"You're very patient with her," Theo said with a shrug. He picked up his tea and smirked at Draco before taking a drink.
"Shut up," Draco muttered and stabbed at his kippers with his fork.
"She was my Mum's," Theo offered after he set his cup down. "I've done my best to take care of her, to make sure that she… thank you."
A dull flush crept up Draco's cheeks. He cleared his throat and took a drink of his own tea. Theo never spoke of his mother. Draco couldn't imagine what that would be like, to not have his Mum. The thought of his made his chest tight and his throat close up. He eyed the Venomous Tentacula for a long moment.
"Her vines look very… pretty?" He tried with a helpless glance in Theo's direction. Theo laughed, his eyes bright and his teeth flashing in his face.
"Now she'll never leave you alone," Theo teased Draco. "She's a vain girl, our Medea." He nibbled at his breakfast for a minute and then set down his fork and leaned back in his chair. "You know I love to see you, darling, but why are you here?"
"My grandfather wanted me to ask you a question," Draco huffed. He leaned back in his own chair, mirroring Theo's casual air.
"You could have sent an Owl, Draco," Theo admonished, his lips twitching in amusement.
"I could have," Draco agreed easily. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table. "But that wouldn't have been nearly as fun, now would it?"
"Hardly," Theo said, his tone mocking. He tilted his head. "What question?"
"The Keeper's public censure of Dolores Umbridge," Draco began. Theo grinned at him.
"By the gods, was that delicious," Theo said. "Thank Keeper Black for me."
"Right." Draco nodded. He rearranged his silverware for a moment and then focused on Theo again. "What does everyone else think?"
"Those of us that attended Hogwarts with that woman want to build Keeper Black a shrine," Theo said drily. He arched a dark brow at Draco. "Did you honestly expect anything other than acceptance? That woman is utterly vile. The only person that ever tolerated her for extended periods was Fudge."
"That's true," Draco admitted. "But… during the War, she was—"
"I don't know a single person who doesn't despise her," Theo said, interrupting Draco. "Father said that she certainly didn't make any friends at the Ministry during her time there. There were impromptu parties in several offices after word of the censure leaked. The woman was utterly lacking in cunning."
"Good," Draco said with a nod. "That's good. Grandfather will be pleased to hear it."
"Now." Theo stood and made his way around the table to stand in front of Draco. "About that fun."
Slowly, Draco slid his hands up Theo's thighs, the fabric of Theo's trousers dragging against his skin. His fingers danced along the fastenings, and Draco looked up at Theo with a small smile.
"What kind of fun did you have in mind?" Draco asked, his breath warming his fingers where they still lingered. Theo slid a hand into Draco's hair and tugged, hard. When Draco hissed, Theo smiled.
"I have a few ideas," Theo purred at him. Draco licked his lips.
"Hmm." Theo tugged on Draco's hair again. "But I think we should relocate so we don't traumatize my father or Medea."
"Let's do that," Draco agreed, and moved to stand. Theo's fingers tightened in his hair, and then released, allowing Draco to stand. Theo was standing so closely to Draco that, as he stood, his body brushed against Theo's. His chest was pressed to Theo's and he stared into the other man's eyes. "Bedroom?"
"Yes," Theo agreed. He leaned forward to press an open-mouthed kiss against Draco's jaw. "Let's go."
Stumbling after Theo, Draco wondered if it would always feel like this—if being near Theo would always make him feel a little unsteady… a little drunk. When they finally reached Theo's room, Draco's pulse was racing and his skin felt too tight. Theo pressing him up against his door was almost a relief. Being held in place settled him, made him relax against the door and against Theo's mouth.
"Love you like this," Theo sighed against his lips. Draco pulled back so that he could see Theo's face.
"Like what?" Draco asked curiously.
"Mine," Theo murmured, moving to press kisses along Draco's jaw and down his neck. His teeth pressed into Draco's skin, biting down against the tendon. Draco moaned helplessly and rolled his hips against Theo's.
"We should both be naked," Draco panted.
"Yeah," Theo agreed. "Much more naked."
"Help me," Draco muttered as he fumbled with the fastenings on Theo's trousers.
Pulling and tugging on clothes was harder than it should have been. Maybe if Draco and Theo hadn't stopped to press frantic kisses to each inch of exposed skin, it would have been faster, easier. But what was Draco supposed to do when miles of taut muscle and silky flesh were exposed to his gaze? How was he supposed to resist the trail of dark hair that led down Theo's abdomen? He dropped to his knees and rubbed a cheek against Theo's thigh, breathing in the faint hint of his lover's cologne and something that was solely, uniquely Theo.
Brushing against his cheek was the silky skin of Theo's hard cock. If Draco turned his head just so… he licked a delicate stripe up Theo's cock from root to tip and Theo groaned low and deep. Theo's fingers were back in Draco's hair, tugging, grounding him. The heavy weight of Theo on Draco's tongue was one of his favorite things. With a happy sigh, Draco swallowed Theo down, his fingers flexing against Theo's thighs.
"Fuck," Theos gasped, and his hands moved so that he was cradling Draco's head. "Look at you. So perfect for me."
With a loud, filthy pop, Draco pulled his mouth off of Theo's cock to stare up at him. Keeping eye contact with Theo, Draco whispered a spell under his breath. Carefully, Draco ran his hands up the back of Theo's thighs to cup his arse. With sure fingers, he teased the cleft of Theo's arse, gently stroking over the sensitive skin with lubed fingers. When Theo gasped, trembling under his skillful fingers, Draco smirked up at his lover and swallowed him back down to the root.
The trembling grew worse until Theo was shaking in his arms, his fingers tightening painfully in Draco's hair. Slowly and carefully, Draco breached Theo's arse with one lubed finger. Theo groaned, his hips flexing, making him thrust shallowly into Draco's mouth. Draco hummed his encouragement and sucked harder, making his cheeks hollow.
"Draco," Theo gasped out in warning. Draco ignored Theo and began to gently work in another finger.
Once the second finger worked its way in and Draco was able to crook them, Theo tipped over the edge. He cried out, clinging to Draco as he let go. Eagerly, Draco pulled him in, almost choking himself as Theo came down his throat. He pulled off, coughing and gasping, leaning against Theo who was weaving unsteadily.
"You idiot," Theo admonished while he petted Draco's hair. "You could have hurt yourself."
"I'm fine," Draco rasped. "Next time, I want you to fuck my mouth."
Theo's cock twitched in a valiant effort to let Draco have his way and Theo groaned.
"Don't say things like that when I can barely stand," Theo complained.
"Maybe we should move to the bed then," Draco suggested.
"Okay," Theo muttered. "Let's do that." He helped Draco to his feet and then pulled him close, devouring him a consuming kiss, almost seeming to chase the taste of himself in Draco's mouth. "Ambitious bastard, aren't you," he murmured into Draco's skin.
"Slytherin," Draco reminded him breathlessly. "We're always ambitious."
"What do you think?" Hermione asked once they returned to the Black Estate.
"You were utterly ruthless and without mercy," Orion murmured. He took her hand and brushed his lips against her wrist. "It was intoxicating to watch."
"Orion," Hermione protested breathlessly. "That's not what I meant."
"It might not have been what you meant, but it was what stayed with me the most," Orion admitted. He pulled her closer until she was pressed against him. "I find myself grateful and beholden to Arawn, but that is every day for me."
"Orion." Hermione stared up at him with wide eyes. "What did you think about the interview?"
"I have every confidence that your article will be received exactly as you hope," Orion assured her. "I suspect that it will flush out our fake Rita, and when she appears, we shall deal with her."
"When you say 'we,' you are including me," Hermione said with a suspicious glint in her eye.
"Of course I am, my darling," Orion murmured as he bent to press a kiss to the side of her neck. He pulled back to look her in the eye. "I trust that at that point, my waiting will be finished?"
Steel grey eyes watched her carefully, waiting for her to speak. Hermione's breath caught at the look of determination on his face. A few years ago, Hermione might have hesitated or faltered, but that Hermione had been innocent… a child. She had lived through a war and it had changed her. She knew exactly what her husband was asking, and she nodded slowly, her eyes on his.
"Yes," she agreed. "No more waiting."
The muscles in Orion's shoulders loosened and he closed his eyes for a moment. Then he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
"Thank you," he whispered against her skin. He leaned back and looked her over. "Have you made any plans for the evening?"
"Not tonight," Hermione said with a shake of her head. "I have promised some time to Sirius, but that's not until this weekend."
"He told me," Orion said with a nod. His fingers tightened on her. "Would you be willing to spend the evening with me?"
"What… like… sleep in your room with you?" Hermione asked slowly, confusion furrowing her brow.
"No, I mean spend the entire evening with me," Orion corrected her. He paused and his lips twitched. "Although I would not be at all opposed to having you in my bed, if you would like to be there."
"What about the others?" Hermione asked, frowning as worry for her other wizards tweaked her conscience.
"Cygnus is working on a project and will be staying the night with Andromeda. Sirius and Regulus have dragged your Mr. Potter to a pub to discuss his intentions toward Miss Parkinson," Orion explained. He smirked at his pretty little Keeper. "I'm afraid that leaves us all by ourselves."
"Well then," Hermione said slowly, looking up at Orion with a small smile on her mouth. "I suppose that we should keep each other company."
"That was my thought as well," Orion murmured, leaning down to press a kiss to her lips.
"It was an excellent thought," Hermione whispered against his lips.
"It has been known to happen upon occasion," Orion agreed, pressing featherlight kisses against her skin.
"Dinner first?" Hermione asked, arching against him.
"We could have something sent up?" Orion suggested. Hermione's belly gurgled loudly, and he pulled back to look at Hermione's face. "Or we could eat first. You didn't have lunch, did you?"
"No," Hermione admitted and flushed at the stern look on Orion's face. "Luna and I spent time going over Skeeter's interview and time rather slipped away from us."
"Dinner first, then," Orion said decisively. "Let's see what they have in the kitchen."
There was a brief flurry from the kobold and Minnie when Orion strode into the kitchen, Hermione trailing after him.
"Missy Keeper!" Minnie huffed, her hands on her hips. "What is Missy Keeper doing in the kitchens!"
"She hasn't eaten since breakfast, Minnie," Orion explained with a worried frown. "I know that you usually have a more elaborate dinner planned, but I think it best that we have something quick and simple."
"Of course, Missy Keeper's Orion," Minnie agreed. She tugged at her ears and then glanced at the kobold. "Soup and sandwiches?"
"That sounds lovely," Orion said. He nodded to the kobold. "I'm grateful to you both."
"The Mistress should not be skipping meals," the kobold observed with a frown for Orion. Then they focused on Hermione and their sharp features softened. "If the Mistress has a yearning for something special, let me know. I will make sure that it is cooked perfectly."
"Thank you," Hermione replied and nodded to the kobold. "Everything that you have provided has always been cooked exceedingly well."
The kobold's sooty face flushed, and they nodded. "Leave everything to me." They paused and made shooing motions at both Hermione and Orion. "Go wait and it will be brought out to you."
"We'll be in the study," Orion stated. Then he slid an arm around Hermione's waist and guided her from the room.
It was quick work to throw together sandwiches and a vegetable soup. When Minnie swept into Orion's study, a trolley rolling silently behind her, Hermione saw the tea set as well. They murmured their thanks to Minnie. who huffed at Hermione a little more before she turned and marched out of the room. With deft movements, Orion poured tea for Hermione and handed her a plate.
"Eat," he said firmly, a small furrow between his brows.
Eating neatly, Hermione managed to inhale her sandwiches, a bowl of soup, and three cups of tea. If she tried to consume any more, she would probably be ill. She leaned back in her chair and sighed. The House Elves that had chosen to tie themselves to her might be the bossiest beings she had ever met, but goodness, could they cook. Even something as simple as sandwiches and soup tasted positively heavenly. Orion was watching her with a fond, proprietary air.
"Well?" Hermione asked, arching a brow at him. "What did you wish to discuss?"
Those dark brows met over Orion's nose, and he frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
"You managed to get Sirius, Cygnus, and Regulus out of the house all at one time," Hermione pointed out drily. "That's very unlike you, Orion. So, you must have a purpose for doing so. Most likely, it's something to do with your role as Patriarch and my role as Matriarch, but you don't necessarily want witnesses. So… what do you wish to discuss?"
"You are incredible," Orion sighed and shook his head. "We are beyond blessed to have been Called by you."
"Flattery is charming, but it only goes so far, Orion," Hermione countered.
"It is customary for the Keeper to help guide her House," Orion said slowly, seemingly choosing his words carefully. "In the past, Keepers have helped their wizards to correct the course of their House that led to the fall of the House, made changes in their political goals, and encouraged them to follow honourable paths. I thought it best that you and I discuss that together before we pulled in the entire House."
"Why?" Hermione asked with a frown.
"You are a brilliant witch. Clever, intuitive, flexible in your magic and your thinking," Orion praised her. He paused and shifted in his seat. "You are also self-conscious about the gaps in your knowledge. I thought you might like the opportunity to ask me questions… that it might help you in your evaluation of our House and the counsel that you might offer us."
"I see," Hermione said slowly. "Let us begin at the beginning then. 'Toujours Pur.'"
"The motto of our House?" Orion asked in surprise. "What do you wish to know? When we acquired it? Which Patriarch came up with it?"
"What does it mean to you?" Hermione corrected him. "Has that meaning changed over the years? If so, how and why?"
"When I was a child, my grandfather was actually the Patriarch," Orion began. He ran a hand through his hair and huffed. "I was taught that our motto was meant to remind us to keep our magic pure. That we should not allow it to be tainted by profane spells or corruption."
"It hasn't been used that way recently," Hermione protested. "Several members of your House corrupted your motto for their own purposes, your previous wife chief among them."
"I know," Orion agreed with a heavy sigh. "Sirius and Cygnus have been rather clear about how our House was handled after my death."
"Yes," Hermione agreed. "We need to make sure that that never happens again. You need a motto that is far less vague and a bit more finite in its scope."
"You wish us to become a Light family," Orion guessed, but blinked when Hermione shook her head.
"No," Hermione retorted flatly. "There are plenty of so-called Light families that I would rather we not emulate. In fact, that brings up another question. What does it mean, exactly to call a family Light or Dark? The Dumbledore family claimed to be a Light family, but some of his decisions were no better than Voldemort's."
"Ah." Orion tilted his head and eyed his wife thoughtfully. "I believe there is some small confusion. It sounds as though you have been taught that Light families are inherently good and that Dark families are… what? Inherently evil?"
"It was never explicitly stated, but often implied," Hermione said with a nod.
"I can't claim to know when the conceit began, but the associations have been there for centuries," Orion began. "It was that way when I was a boy at Hogwarts. Of course, we all knew it was just… so much twaddle; rather like the way Slytherin and Gryffindor goad one another. It's… so-called Dark families usually follow the older traditions. They don't shy away from sex magic and they embrace blood magic as their birthright, which it is."
"Blood magic is mostly illegal," Hermione said and frowned at him.
"Of course it is," Orion agreed. "It's incredibly powerful and can't really be limited to species. Goblins, House Elves, Centaurs, and Veela can all use blood magic with no need of a wand. Even Muggles have managed to perform a weak version of blood magic upon occasion. The Ministry hates the idea of that kind of power being in the hands of non-wizarding folk. The Light families fear what we could do with a little blood, willingly sacrificed, and the will to bend the world to one's desires."
"I read through as much of the library at Grimmauld Place as I could," Hermione admitted. "A lot of it was… well…," she paused and grimaced. "I'm really hoping that some of those books were Walburga's."
"Probably not," Orion admitted and flushed. "Many of them were inherited tomes that had been in the family for generations. Some of them we had collected specifically so that we could learn how to counter specific spells."
A dull flush spread up Hermione's neck and spread over her cheeks. She averted her gaze and twisted her hands in her lap. She had stolen a number of the books from Dumbledore's private library to figure out how to destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes. Several of those books had been so dark that Hermione had kept them in a specially warded trunk in her beaded bag. She still had them, in fact. Just in case.
"I see," she murmured. "I understand that quite well, actually."
"Do you?" Orion stared at her intently.
"Yes," Hermione admitted. She could feel her cheeks burning.
"We have books here in the library about Dark magic," Orion offered. "If you'd like to read through them you are, of course, welcome to do so."
"I know," Hermione said with a laugh. "I catalogued the library with Minnie. I'm aware of every volume that we have, and I did notice that the Black family did have quite the Dark magic collection."
"That's true," Orion agreed with a small, fond smile. "Cygnus and Regulus were quite put out that week. They both claimed that you cared more for the books than us." Hermione opened her mouth to protest, and Orion held up a hand, his lips curling up in a small smile. "Don't worry about assuaging our collective wounded pride. Your drive to collect knowledge is one of our favorite things about you."
No one had ever said that Hermione's burning need to know was one of their favorite things about her. Most people liked her despite the fact that she was an irredeemable swot. Even her parents had struggled with Hermione's dogged determination to learn upon occasion. Hermione leapt to her feet and flung herself at Orion. She wound her arms around his neck and pressed urgent kisses to his cheek, his lips, and his chin. His arms slid around her waist and pulled her onto his lap.
"You always say the right thing," Hermione muttered against his skin. "It's infuriating."
"You appear most annoyed," Orion murmured into her hair. He slid a warm hand up her back to rest on the back of neck, his fingers idly stroking her nape. "You must let me make it up you, my lady."
"Hermione," she huffed and bit his earlobe gently.
"My Hermione," Orion agreed, bending his head to press kisses down Hermione's neck.
"Yours," she gasped helplessly, tilting her head to give him better access. "How… oh… how do you plan to make it up to me?"
"I have a few ideas," Orion said. "But perhaps it might be better if we relocated."
"Your room," Hermione decided.
"Perfect," Orion said. He slid his hands under Hermione's arse, and stood up. "Shall we?"
"Yes." Hermione wrapped her legs around his waist and held on as he began to walk towards the stairs that led to their rooms.