A/N: This is for Lizard who patiently, gently kept rooting for this story every single chance she got. She listened to me doubt myself and patted me and gave me wine. For like... almost 3 years she's been this story's biggest champion. Thank you, Lizard. You're the best sister ever.

This is for the truly kind, thoughtful ppl who have been checking in, to make sure that I'm okay. Bless all of you. My chronic health issues, and some underlying health issues, do put me at a greater risk for respiratory illnesses, but I am taking all possible precautions. My anxiety on the other hand has spiraled wildly out of control, making it difficult at times to concentrate on anything for longer than 3 minutes at a time.

To Auntie_L who is a great beta and a greater enabler—I am so lucky to have you as a fandom friend and a partner in crime. Thank you for being that still, small voice that says: "are you sure about that?"

We live in interesting times. Stay safe out there my loves. Be kind to yourselves and to others.


The small parlour in Longbottom Manor was cosy and homely. Cassiopeia sank into one of Augusta's over-stuffed wingback chairs with a grateful sigh. She accepted a cup of tea with a murmur of thanks and took a sip. Griselda Marchbanks frowned at her and Augusta huffed impatiently.

"Well?" Griselda finally demanded.

"Sirius is recovering," Cassiopeia replied stiffly. She took another sip of her tea and allowed her shoulders to slump. "We've moved everyone to the townhouse in Paris so that Sirius can be closer to his Healers at St. Denis's Hospital. They have assured me that he is making progress, and they are hoping that by Yule he'll be able to come home."

"Why not St. Mungo's?" Augusta asked.

"I don't trust them," Cassiopeia said. Her lip curled and she shook her head. "Dumbledore has too much power in wizarding Britain."

"You think that Dumbledore would try to do something to Sirius?" Augusta asked with raised eyebrows. "Or rather, you suspect that he might be so gauche as to attempt something public? The whole story was splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet in lurid detail. Public favour has swung in Sirius's direction, and my understanding is that Dumbledore has received more than one Howler over the matter."

"Dumbledore is an intransigent little git," Griselda huffed in disgust. "Even as a boy, once he had decided something was so, it was impossible to convince him otherwise. He tried to argue with me when I conducted his examinations. Arrogant bastard," Griselda muttered under her breath and glared at Augusta.

"I wanted a completely impartial medical team to conduct an evaluation and submit it to the ICW," Cassiopeia explained. She smirked at her friends. "The team at St. Denis's has submitted formal complaints with accompanying copies to the British Ministry of Magic, the French Ministry of Magic, the Bohemian Ministry of Magic, and the IWC."

"Formal complaints?" Augusta repeated with a frown.

"The Bohemian Ministry of Magic?" Griselda added with her own frown. "Why would you submit anything to them?"

"Because the Ancient and Noble House of Black still holds traditional ancestral titles and lands in Bohemia," Cassiopeia replied drily. "The magical Czernin family within Bohemia has almost completely died out, and the last Patriarch claimed Arcturus as his official Heir. At that time, Sirius was already named as Arcturus's Heir. So, technically, wizarding Britain has threatened one of the last Ancient and Noble Houses of Bohemia."

"Merlin's balls," Griselda murmured approvingly. "That is truly a master stroke, Cassiopeia."

"I also plan on filing formal protests to the ICW against the British Ministry of Magic," Cassiopeia added smugly.

"What would that accomplish?" Augusta asked with a little frown. "Dumbledore is the Supreme Mugwump. What if he just dismisses the protests?"

Cassiopeia smirked. "I'm hoping that by the time all of the protests I've lodged have been processed that he'll have been either replaced or stepped down. He'll be trying to do damage control, but he can't influence the narrative on the Continent. I've already promised exclusive interviews to both the Le Monde magique and Haló kouzlo."

Both Griselda and August slowly smiled at Cassiopeia.

"That's perfect," Griselda said with a nod.

"He'll hate that," Augusta added.

"Good," Cassiopeia replied. "I want the twat to be as miserable as he's made my poor boys."


The private hospital room at St. Denis's was quiet. Hermione perched on an over-stuffed chair in a corner of the room, reading her mother's copy of the Magical Treatise of Solomon. She frowned at the original Greek, slowly parsing her way through the chapter. Mother insisted that she keep on top of her languages, so that she didn't fall behind at Hogwarts.

Cassiopeia Black was firmly of the opinion that a proper young witch was fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic so that one could read any of the grimoires in any of the family libraries. The library at Blackwell held copies of Shams al Ma'arif, Ghayat al Hakim, and the Corpus Hermeticum, and Hermione wanted to be able to read them as soon as possible.

A soft, whuffling snore issued from the bed in the centre of the room, and Hermione glanced up from her book, holding her place with a finger. The figure in the bed hadn't moved. From what she could tell, Cousin Sirius was still resting, just as he had been when she had chivvied Harry out of the room to go find lunch.

Over and over, Mother had stressed that Azkaban had most likely damaged Cousin Sirius's health to a severe degree. She had cautioned both Harry and Hermione to not overwhelm him and to be patient with him. The ravages of Azkaban on Sirius' face made all that clearer to both children far more than any lecture Mother could give. The poor wizard looked as though any stiff wind might blow him over. The Healers at St. Denis had tutted and clucked over his health for weeks now.

"He is going to get better, right, Hermione?" Harry had asked worriedly while they watched Sirius sleep.

"Of course he will," Hermione had replied. She bit her lip as she listened to Sirius's laboured breathing.

The children had been reluctant to leave Sirius alone in the hospital, and Cassiopeia had been willing to indulge them both. She had insisted on continued lessons with Cousin Narcissa and their tutors, but she had temporarily moved all of them to a townhouse in Paris owned by the Black family.

Once lessons were done for the day, and Cousin Narcissa had gone through the Floo back to Malfoy Manor, they were able to use the townhouse's Floo to go over to the hospital and sit in Sirius's room, watching him sleep. He had woken a few times, and every time, Hermione had slipped out into the hall, giving Harry and Sirius time to speak to one another.

It was heart-breaking to see her cousin blossom under the attention from Sirius. He seemed to gain confidence and grow in happiness with each visit, and Hermione didn't want to interfere with that. Even more telling was the way that Sirius seemed to relax around Harry. Colour filled his sunken cheeks and his dull eyes grew brighter. She was content to let Harry monopolise Sirius's time, since it did them both so much good.

"What have you got there?"

The hoarse, raspy quality of Sirius' voice sounded like it must hurt, even to talk, and Hermione had to catch herself from flinching every time she heard it. She stood up quickly, setting her book to the side, her hands fluttering nervously.

"You're awake!" She exclaimed. "I should go and get Harry. He left for only a minute, he was hungry, and I promised to sit with you," she babbled helplessly.

"Wait," Sirius protested as she headed for the door.

Uncertainly, Hermione paused halfway to the door. She turned to face her Patriarch and bit her lip.

"Yes, sir?" She asked.

"Don't call me sir," Sirius reminded her hoarsely. "Call me Sirius."

"Of course, s—Sirius," Hermione stumbled over his name and blushed.

"Why don't we have a chat, just the two of us," Sirius said and fixed her with a piercing stare.

Slowly, Hermione made her way to the chair that had been set next to Sirius's bed. She perched gingerly on the seat and folded her hands in her lap.

"What would you like to discuss, Cousin Sirius?" Hermione asked politely.

"Thank you," Sirius said feelingly. "Thank you for fighting for Harry and for me. Thank you for browbeating Grandfather and pestering Cousin Cygnus. Thank you for never giving up, no matter how many times you were told 'no.'"

"Oh." Hermione's cheeks burned and she stared at her hands. "Uncle Arcturus used to say that loyalty and stubbornness were Black family traits. He wasn't certain if the adoption was responsible, or if I was already like that."

"Adoption?" Sirius repeated slowly, and Hermione's eyes darted to his face.

"Didn't you know?" Hermione asked hesitantly. She bit her lip, uncertain as to how she should go on. Surely broaching his brother's and his father's deaths was in terribly poor taste. It definitely sounded like the sort of thing Cousin Narcissa would not approve of as a topic of conversation for an invalid.

"No," Sirius said with a frown. "I didn't know."

"Mother was worried about our House and she… I was brought to her," Hermione said carefully. She frowned and stared at her lap. "Death Eaters had murdered my birth parents and the Aurors were going to put me in an orphanage."

"Why wouldn't they just put you with your own family?" Sirius protested. "Surely there was a distant cousin who might have taken you in."

"I was a Muggleborn," Hermione explained with a shrug. "As far as they could tell, there was no extended family."

"She did a blood adoption ritual," Sirius stated evenly. Hermione nodded, averting her eyes.

Even at the age of twelve, Hermione was well aware that blood magic and blood rituals were a hot-button issue in wizarding Britain. She wasn't sure which side of the fence Cousin Sirius fell on, but she refused to apologize for her existence, and she was fiercely glad that she was the daughter of Cassiopeia Black.

"She needed me to be able to stand as a Scion for the House of Black," Hermione explained.

"So the Pureblood Scion for the House of Black… is a Muggleborn witch," Sirius repeated slowly.

"Technically, you could name your own Heir, if you believe me to be an unsatisfactory choice," Hermione said stiffly.

A rusty bark of laughter, hoarse and pained, made Hermione wince on Sirius' behalf. She turned worried eyes on her cousin only to find him struggling to sit up. With a squeak, she jumped out of her chair and helped him activate the runes that lifted the bed so that he was propped upright. Once he was settled, Sirius reached out with a thin hand and grabbed her wrist. Startled, Hermione looked up at her cousin, who was watching her solemnly.

"I cannot imagine a better choice for our House," Sirius told her. "From what I have seen, you are everything that the House of Black desperately needs. Aunt Cassiopeia has done a brilliant job with you."

"My adoption…," Hermione faltered. "Cousin Walburga did not approve."

Sirius snorted at that. "Even better. My mother was a prejudiced harpy that focused on the worst elements of our House."

"About Cousin Andromeda," Hermione blurted out. Sirius quirked an eyebrow at her.

"What about Andromeda?" Sirius asked.

"You are, of course, still recovering," Hermione admitted. She paused and bit her lip. "However, once you're better, I think it would be best if you reinstated her."

"You do, do you?" He leaned back in his bed and his lips twitched as he considered her. "Is that something that Grandfather refused to do for you?"

"I didn't know," Hermione confessed in a whisper. She glanced toward the door as though her mother or Cousin Narcissa might burst through it at any moment. "Mother gets engrossed in her potions, you see, and Cousin Narcissa… she didn't say anything."

"Anything about…," Sirius paused and he frowned slightly. "Are you saying that you didn't know Andromeda existed? But you knew I existed?"

"You were the Heir," Hermione huffed. "And you were in Azkaban!"

"Whereas Andromeda was regrettably a witch, married to a Muggleborn, and conveniently disowned," Sirius muttered. His frown grew more pronounced. "I considered Andromeda the only family I had for a number of years."

"So you'll reinstate her?" Hermione asked eagerly. Sirius barked another painful, rusty laugh.

"Yes, my little Scion, I will reinstate Andromeda as soon as I can stand up for longer than five minutes," he promised. A half-smile briefly curved his lips. "Are there any other failings of our House that you feel ought to be remedied immediately?"

"I—" Hermione began only to stop when she heard the door slide open. She turned around to see Harry standing in the doorway.

"Sirius! You're awake!" Harry called happily from the door to Sirius' room. He hurried over to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine, Harry," Sirius said with a smile. He looked at Hermione. "Go ahead and go eat your lunch, Hermione. Harry and I will be all right for now, yeah?"

"Yes, of course," Harry agreed. "She offered to stay with you while I ate, and it's her turn now."

"We'll talk again soon, Little Scion," Sirius said solemnly and then spoiled it by winking at her.

"Make sure he doesn't overexert himself, Harry," Hermione ordered her cousin. She frowned at the both of them. "I am going to go get lunch and then I am coming straight back here. Mother should be here soon."

The days had evolved into an easy schedule. Breakfast with Mother at the Paris townhouse, lessons with tutors, lessons and lunch with Cousin Narcissa, a Floo trip over to St. Denis's Hospital, and visit for an hour or so with Sirius because he was not yet able to handle extended visits. Then Hermione and Harry would Floo back to the townhouse where they would have dinner with Mother. Occasionally, Cousin Andromeda and her daughter Tonks would join them.

Slowly, Harry seemed to relax into this new reality. He had gotten to a point where he trusted Mother and even Cousin Narcissa, but she had worried that Harry might struggle with adjusting to another new person.

At the very end of August, just days before they were scheduled to board the train to Hogwarts, Harry slipped into Hermione's bedroom at the French townhouse. Hermione had been unable to sleep, and she sat up immediately when her door creaked open.

"Harry?" Hermione pushed her hair out of her face. "What's wrong?"

"I…," Harry froze in her doorway, shuffling his feet. "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course," Hermione replied automatically. "Come in and shut the door before Mother catches you."

Quickly Harry shut the door, leaving them both in the dark. Mother had strong opinions about the proper sleep schedules of young persons, and neither one of them wanted to listen to a lecture about their growing magic, and how a lack of sleep might inhibit the proper maturation of one's magical core. Again.

"Lumos," Hermione whispered and then beckoned to Harry once her wand lit. "Come on, Merlin knows there's tonnes of room."

Awkwardly, Harry clambered into Hermione's bed, taking the empty left side and crawling under the covers. Once Harry was settled, Hermione whispered Nox and set her wand on the nightstand next to her bed. They both settled into bed, staring sightlessly at the shadowed ceiling above them.

"Sirius loves me," Harry whispered in the darkness.

There was a wondering quality to Harry's voice that made Hermione long to hex the Dursleys, wherever they were.

"Of course he does," Hermione agreed. "He's your godfather. You must know what a huge magical responsibility that is, Harry. Legally, he's your guardian—he's responsible for raising you and making sure you know your duties as a Scion of the House of Potter—but Mother always talks about how much he adored you when you were a baby."

There was a long moment of silence as Harry seemed to absorb that information.

"You and Aunt Cassiopeia love me, too," Harry whispered hesitantly, and the wonder was back in his voice. Hermione blinked rapidly, grateful for the darkness. "Your mum fought the Ministry to get guardianship of me and to help clear Sirius' name."

"We do love you, Harry," Hermione promised. She paused, searching for the right words to say. "Mother says… Cousin Sirius most likely won't be completely healed for some time. She thinks that it would be best if we all lived together, if… if that's all right with you."

"That's fine," Harry rushed to reassure her. There was the sound of bedding rustling as Harry shifted in the darkness. "It's just… all these people love me and would gladly have taken me in. Why was I…" Harry paused when his voice cracked, and Hermione thought she heard him sniffle. "Why was I left with them?"

"Dumbledore," Hermione spat angrily. "Mother practically begged him to let us see you, but he always refused her. I think she plans to absolutely ruin him, the old busybody. He had no right, Harry, to interfere with your well-being like that. He's no relation to us, he doesn't hold any sort of position within the Department of Magical Child Welfare, he had no authority to do what he did to you."

"You said that. Before, I mean," Harry said. "I… I think I'm really angry at Headmaster Dumbledore, but I don't know what to do about it. He is our Headmaster, right? I mean… what can I do?"

"You don't have to do anything, Harry," Hermione said firmly. "Now that Sirius has been exonerated, and Mother has guardianship of you, we'll have you declared the Scion of the House of Potter. Dumbledore won't be able to do a thing about it without causing a huge kerfuffle in the Wizengamot."

"How do we do that?" Harry asked curiously.

"We'll have to take you to Gringotts here in Paris," Hermione suggested. "Mother will no doubt want to make sure it's done before you go back to Hogwarts. There's also Cousin Sirius' health to consider. We might have to request a meeting at the hospital. It's not the way it's usually done, but perhaps they will be willing to make an exception for Cousin Sirius because of his health."

"Can we ask her in the morning?" Harry asked anxiously. "Can we ask her first thing? I… I don't want to go back to Hogwarts if the Headmaster can still–"

"Of course, Harry," Hermione murmured when he trailed off uncertainly. Cautiously, fearful of startling him, Hermione reached out for Harry and grabbed his hand. He clung to her, his fingers twining with hers. "You've got us now, Harry. We're your family."

There was another sound that sounded suspiciously like a muffled sob, but Hermione chose not to say anything for fear of embarrassing Harry. She would confess her worries to Mother tomorrow, and trust that Mother would know what to do. Perhaps, if Hermione did very well this year, Mother would let her help ruin Dumbledore.


When Hermione and Harry promised to sit still and stay out of everyone's way, the Healers had allowed them to stay in the room while they did health scans of Sirius. Today it was an official team from the Bohemian Ministry of Magic. Hermione, as the Scion of the House of Black, had been welcome to stay and guard her Patriarch. Harry had also been allowed to stay.

"This is odd," the Healer murmured. He turned to look at the Healer from St. Denis. "Did you have these readings as well?"

The Healer from St. Denis looked over the scans and frowned. "No," she muttered under her breath. "No, it is not possible. We have kept Monsieur Black's room magically clean."

"The scans speak for themselves," the Bohemian Healer pointed out with a frown.

"There must be outside contamination," the French Healer protested. She turned to frown at Harry and Hermione. "You have not performed any spells within Monsieur Black's rooms, have you?"

"No, Madame Healer," Hermione answered for them both. "We always turn in our wands at the Nursing Station. They're there right now."

"Perhaps it could be the children themselves?" The Bohemian Healer waved a hand toward Hermione and Harry.

"What exactly are you saying about my Heir and my godson?" Sirius demanded, struggling to sit up in his hospital bed.

"Monsieur Black," the French Healer protested.

"We accuse no one," the Bohemian Healer protested stiffly. He gestured to the runes glimmering in the air. "Azkaban and exposure to the dementors fractured your magical core. They are small fractures, and the Healers of St. Denis should be able to heal the fractures within the next few months."

"I was told that I could probably leave by Yule," Sirius stated flatly.

The Bohemian Healer nodded. "This is a safe, conservative timeline. However, if you see here, and here—" He pointed to two runes that were glowing an ominous dark red. "—These show that you've had exposure to Dark Magic."

"That's not possible," Hermione protested. "We do ritual cleansings every day before we come here."

"If we could scan the children?" The French Healer asked with a gesture toward Harry and Hermione. "It would help us to eliminate them as a possible contagion at the very least."

"Are you two okay with it?" Sirius asked them sharply.

"If it will help the Healers figure out what happened, fine," Hermione huffed. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Can you scan me here, or do we need to do it elsewhere?"

"It would be best if we scanned you in a separate room," the French Healer admitted. "We are trying to keep magic to a minimum while your Patriarch heals."

"You will need to Floo Mother and have her come, then," Hermione said firmly. "Harry and I are underage. We have not been formally invested with our respective Heirships just yet."

It took less than an hour for Cassiopeia to sweep into Sirius' hospital room and frown darkly at everyone. She greeted the Bohemian healer in Czech and then greeted the French Healer in French. Then she turned to Sirius.

"What in Merlin's name is going on?" She demanded.

"They want to scan the children," Sirius explained wearily. He waved a hand at Hermione. "Our Little Scion insisted that you be present."

"Hermione is absolutely correct," Cassiopeia said with a sniff. "Let's go and scan the children." She paused and narrowed her gaze on the French Healer. "And then you will explain to me, in great detail, why such scans are even necessary."

The French Healer scanned Hermione first, and everything came back with green and blue runes glowing across the board.

"She has grown into the Black family magic," the Bohemian Healer commented from where he stood. He glanced at Cassiopeia. "It is deeply entrenched in her magical core. She will be able to pass it along to any of her children."

"Of course, she will," Cassiopeia agreed arrogantly. Her lip curled in disdain. "I may not belong to a coven, but I am not completely ignorant of proper rituals."

"No Czernin would be," the Bohemian Healer said with a respectful nod. He smiled at Hermione then. "We would welcome the little Czernin to Bohemia, should she wish to visit."

"I thank you on her behalf," Cassiopeia replied smoothly. She nodded at Harry. "Let's scan Harry next."

It was immediately apparent that Harry's scan would not be as easy and quick as Hermione's. Both Healers cursed under their breath. The French Healer gestured abruptly, indicating that the Bohemian Healer do his own scan. There were several runes that were dark red and one that glowed a malevolent blackish green. Cassiopeia sucked in a breath and all the blood drained from her face.

"What is that," Hermione demanded.

"The young wizard has been… tainted by exposure to extremely dark magic," the Bohemian Healer said with a worried frown. "This is… I have never heard of anything like this, have you Healer LeFevre?"

"Never, Healer Zierotin," Healer LeFevre murmured fervently.

Several more scans occurred, with the Healers growing more and more concerned. Finally, Healer Zierotin threw up his hands.

"There is no help for it," he said firmly. "We must take this boy to Gringotts immediately and hope that the Goblin nation can help him."

"What?" Harry's voice rose and he turned to stare at Cassiopeia with wide, pleading eyes.

"What are you saying?" Cassiopeia demanded.

"The boy is acting as a vessel for a cursed object," Healer Zierotin explained with a worried frown at Harry. "I did not even think such a thing was possible. Who knows what kind of damage has already been done to his magic?"

"I took him to St. Mungo's," Cassiopeia protested. "I had them run every possible scan. Not once did they mention such a thing!"

"I do not know what to say to you," Healer Zierotin said with a shrug. "I can only say that this boy cannot be allowed to harbour this curse for another day."

"I want a report," Cassiopeia snapped. "Add it to the complaint that I have already submitted to the Bohemian Ministry of Magic."

"It is my pleasure, Madam Black," Healer Zierotin said with a little half-bow. "Anyone who did a basic health scan of the child should have noticed the anomalies that require a more in-depth scan."

The Paris branch of Gringotts was willing to allow them an emergency meeting, and so it was that Hermione silently followed her mother and Harry into Gringotts, accompanied by two Healing teams. The Goblins stared at them and Hermione liked to think that they were surprised to see such a large group of people appear for a medical emergency.

The Goblin Healers conferred with the Bohemian and French teams and then performed their own scans. Hermione had never seen a Goblin have a temper tantrum, and her Gobbledygook was not good enough to translate what the Healer was saying, but Hermione had a fair idea that it was mostly cursing. They whisked Harry away, Cassiopeia following quickly after all of them, leaving Hermione standing alone in a Gringotts meeting room.

Hesitantly, she sat on a bench that ran the length of the room and waited. She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but she was afraid to leave for fear that something important might happen. She leaned back against the wall and sighed. Surely the Goblins would be able to fix whatever was wrong with Harry. They were world renowned Healers. Harry would be fine. He had to be.

Suddenly, Hermione jerked awake to someone shaking her arm. Mother was leaning over her, and Hermione had never seen her look so furious before.

"Where is Harry?" Hermione asked once she had looked around the room.

"The Goblin Healers feel that it would be best to keep him overnight," Cassiopeia explained in a tight voice. She took a deep, shuddering breath, visibly fighting for control, and closed her eyes. "They have an entire team of Curse Breakers working to remove the curse from his body."

"Is he… is he going to be okay, Mother?" Hermione's voice cracked as she asked the question.

"Thanks to Lily, he will be," Cassiopeia said grimly. She looked down at Hermione. "I need to speak to Sirius as soon as possible, but visitors are not allowed this late at night. We'll have to go over first thing in the morning."

The next day was a blur. Mother cancelled lessons, and Cousins Narcissa and Andromeda had come through the Floo in a flurry of agitation. All four of them had gone to St. Denis Hospital and had swept into Sirius's room, trailing after Cassiopeia who sailed ahead of them, powered by her rage.

"Where's Harry?" Sirius demanded with a frown.

"He is within Gringotts Healing Hall with three teams of Curse Breakers who are working in eight-hour shifts to break the curse on my great-nephew," Cassiopeia spat furiously. She paced next to Sirius's bed. "Did Dumbledore make any oaths to James or Lily? This is very important, Sirius—do you ever recall Dumbledore promising to protect Harry?"

"I… I don't remember," Sirius muttered. He looked at Narcissa, Andromeda, and Hermione who were watching Cassiopeia pace with pale, set faces. "Is Harry going to be all right?"

"He will be fine, eventually," Cassiopeia promised. She paused and put a hand on Sirius's arm. "I swear to you, Sirius. The Goblins have promised that they can heal him of this curse. Thank Morgana and Nimue that Lily used the Black Grimoire that Dorea gave her."

"Matris sacrificium," Andromeda whispered. Cassiopeia nodded sharply.

"Just so," Cassiopeia agreed. "It was that alone that isolated the curse that resided inside the last Scion of the House of Potter for twelve years."

"Bloody hell," Narcissa snapped.

"Fuck," Sirius snarled. "I'll kill the old bastard myself."

"Not so fast, Sirius," Cassiopeia huffed at him. "You're going to have to get in line for that honour."

"What about the promise," Andromeda asked with a worried frown. "You asked if Dumbledore promised to protect Harry."

"You want to name Dumbledore an Oathbreaker?" Narcissa gasped in surprise. She stared at Cassiopeia with wide eyes.

"Wouldn't his magic punish him for breaking a wizarding oath?" Hermione asked in confusion.

"Only if he actually performed an official wizarding oath," Cassiopeia corrected her.

"If a wizard or witch makes a solemn promise with intent, then their magic will force their compliance," Andromeda added.

"But he made a show of promising, with no intent to keep the promise," Hermione guessed hesitantly.

"Exactly," Cassiopeia huffed.

"Everyone is present," Sirius growled. "Do you have a ritual blade on you, Cissy?"

"We are not naming Dumbledore an enemy of the House of Black until you can perform the ritual without passing out," Cassiopeia snapped.

"We can't let Harry and Hermione go back to Hogwarts with that… that… unbelievable bastard in the school," Sirius protested.

"We have no choice, not yet anyway," Cassiopeia retorted. She took a deep breath. "There are pieces that haven't yet come in to play—there are things that I am working to manoeuver into place—but I'm not ready yet. I need a little more time."

"What if he hurts Harry or Hermione?" Sirius worried aloud.

"I don't want the children hurt, my number one priority is their safety," Cassiopeia reminded him. She glanced down at her daughter and ran her hand over Hermione's curls. "We'll have to make sure the children are warded to within an inch of their lives. We may need to order protective amulets from Gringotts."

"We only have two weeks until they have to go back to school," Narcissa pointed out. "Is that enough time?"

"It will have to be," Cassiopeia said firmly. "We don't have any other choice at the moment." She glanced down at Hermione again and then looked at Sirius. "Can Hermione stay with you?"

"Mother, no," Hermione protested. "I want to go with you to Gringotts!"

"The Goblins won't allow you into their Healing Hall. You might be a distraction to the Curse Breakers or to Harry—or to the curse that resides within him. You will stay here with our Patriarch. We will try to keep you updated, but please be patient," Cassiopeia said gravely. She looked at Sirius. "We can't do anything to risk your health, either."

Reluctantly, Hermione gave in to her Mother's silent request to guard their Patriarch. She sat in the chair next to Sirius's bed and fretted anxiously until Sirius reached out and put a hand over Hermione's hands.

"I'm worried too, Little Scion," Sirius said gently. "Working yourself up into a state isn't going to help anything. We'll just have to be as patient as we can be, and hope that everything resolves itself quickly."

"Wow," A quiet voice murmured from the doorway to Sirius' room. "I never thought I'd see the day that Sirius Black was the voice of reason."

Startled, Hermione jumped to her feet and planted herself firmly between the stranger and her Patriarch. The wizard in front of her looked rather careworn. He was visibly scarred, and his clothes were patched and frayed. Altogether, he was rather scruffy looking.

"Who are you?" She asked tartly. Her wand was still at the Nurse's station and her fingers twitched reflexively. The man's gaze narrowed on her and he glanced over her head to look at her Patriarch.

"Is there something you need to tell me, Pads?" The wizard asked curiously.

"Fuck you, Moony," Sirius growled. "Where the hell have you been?"

The wizard paled, throwing his scars into stark relief. Hermione stared at him in horrified fascination. What had happened to this wizard? He rubbed the back of his neck and shuffled his feet.

"I'm so sorry Pads," he whispered, and Hermione could hear his voice break. "But, Dumbledore said that—you… but you weren't the Secret-Keeper though. It was Peter."

"Fucking Dumbledore," Sirius snarled furiously, and the strange wizard gaped at him in shock.

"Sirius," the strange wizard whispered. "I owed everything to Dumbledore. He… He let me attend Hogwarts, I—I could never repay that."

"Bullshit," Sirius growled. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Sorry, Hermione."

"Mother is going to make Harry and me go to Durmstrang," Hermione told Sirius solemnly.

"Because I was cursing?" Sirius asked in amusement.

"No. She'll never let us go back to Hogwarts. Not while that man is the Headmaster," Hermione explained. "Not even if we have amulets to protect us."

"Sirius," the strange wizard said his name slowly, his hazel green eyes fixed on Hermione. "Would you care to introduce us?"

"Hermione dear, this is a wizard who attended Hogwarts with Cousin James, Cousin Lily, and myself. May I introduce Remus Lupin?" Sirius introduced the strange wizard. Politely, but with great caution, Hermione curtseyed, but she kept her eyes on this 'Remus Lupin' the entire time. "Remus, this is my Aunt Cassiopeia's daughter, and my Heir, Hermione Black."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Black," Remus Lupin murmured politely. He glanced around the room. "Where is Harry?"

"Did Dumbledore send you here?" Hermione asked sharply. She turned to look at Sirius. "Would he make Mr. Lupin swear an oath?"

Sirius closed his eyes. "Please, Moony, please tell me that you haven't sworn any oaths to Dumbledore," he begged.

"I–," Remus Lupin seemed to freeze. He swallowed hard and averted his eyes. "When… when I came back from the… from my mission, I found that you… that Lily and James… he made me swear on my magic not to look for Harry."

"That dark bastard," Hermione muttered fiercely.

"Aunt Cassiopeia is definitely going to send you to Durmstrang," Sirius groaned.

"Mother isn't going to care about profanities, Cousin Sirius," Hermione scoffed. "Dumbledore has done everything but declare a blood feud on the House of Potter. Mother won't let this stand. She can't. A threat against Harry is indirectly a threat against the House of Black."

"Do you think if I promise to do everything that the Healers recommend, she'll let me help her take him out?" Sirius wondered aloud.

"Maybe," Hermione offered.

"Sirius," Remus Lupin protested. "What are you saying? This is Dumbledore you're talking about. You can't openly threaten to kill Dumbledore."

"No one said anything about killing him, Mr. Lupin," Hermione said primly. She frowned at him. "You might want to listen to Cousin Sirius before you judge him." Then she turned to frown at Sirius. "I'm going to see if the Healers can give you a sedative that won't interfere with your healing regimen. It's going to be a long day, and we haven't heard about Harry yet."

"What about Harry?" Remus Lupin asked worriedly.

"Sit down, Moony, it's a long story," Sirius said with a heavy sigh.