Beta: Thank you, glittergrrrl05!


January 1980

Sirius Black's Home

Sirius couldn't contain his surprise when he opened the door to see his brother. "Regulus?" he shook his head as if to clear it. "You came."

"I wanted to meet my niece."

Sirius waved him in. "She just woke up. Mary's changing her nappie now."

They entered the lounge to see Mary rocking a tiny bundle. Regulus could see a tuft of dark brown hair over the swaddle.

Sirius spoke from his side. "Mary, Regulus is here. He came to meet Catriona."

The brunette witch looked up with a slightly hesitant smile. "Regulus. I –" she stopped as if she wasn't quite sure what to say. "Thank you for coming. Catriona's just waking up. Would you like to hold her?" She offered her erstwhile brother-in-law the baby.

Regulus took a step forward and gathered the baby in his arms. When she turned her wide gray eyes on him, his brother's eyes, Regulus felt his heart melt, and he fell in love with the tiny bundle of humanity in his arms. Cradling her carefully, he made his way to a chair and sat down. He spoke quietly to her. "I'm your Uncle Reggie, Cat, and I'll keep you safe in our dangerous world." He stared at her contentedly until she began to fuss.

Mary instantly swooped down, knowing that cries were next. Catriona was hungry, and that was a task that only a mother could handle at this point.

The brothers watched as she bustled out of the room.

"I was Marked." Regulus stated it baldly. "You need to be careful how you stand against the Dark Lord, Sirius."

Sirius paled at the news. "Why would you do that? He's – evil, Regulus."

"I came today to meet Catriona, to see you. I don't know if I can ever return."

Sirius grimaced. "I understand."

"Protect your wife; protect my niece, Sirius. I'll do what I can, but he won't stop until he controls our world." Regulus swallowed nervously. "I'd thought to convince you to join me, but I can see now you'd never do that."

Sirius didn't hear from his brother again for over a year.


September 1998

England Quidditch Trials

Ron collapsed on the bed in the dorm, exhausted, booted legs dangling off the side and his arm thrown across his eyes. This was it. He'd done the best he could and he'd find out in the morning if he'd made the team. The three other Keepers invited to try out for the team all wandered in, their faces mirroring the exhaustion he felt.

"Oi, there, Weasley. That was a nice save for Blue right at the end." Oliver Wood sank down onto his bed. "It got you a spot."

Ron dragged his arm down and sat up. "Thanks, Wood,but I doubt it. You lot were tough; Red only got five through the hoops at your end." He stood to gather his toiletries. "I'm heading the showers, then down to dinner." He nodded to the other two Keepers.

Oliver groaned as he stretched out his arms. "Merlin, I haven't been this sore in ages."

Keller Kessel laughed. "Me either, mate." He paused for a moment as Ron left the room. "He's good. Thought he'd gotten the ask for trials because of the whole Golden Trio bit, but he might make the team."

"Kessel, he played for Gryffindor before he went off to battle Voldemort. They had some of their most impressive wins with him at Keeper." Oliver began gathering supplies for his shower. "You know Coach wouldn't ask him to try out if he wasn't good."

"'Bout that; what was Potter like? Was he any good?"

"Harry? Yeah. Harry's good. He was our Seeker his first year."

"Think he'll try out next year?"

Wood shrugged. "Who knows? I think he's going into Auror training when he leaves Hogwarts. Probably depends on if Coach invites him and how Gryffindor does this year on the Pitch."

"Wonder why Coach didn't ask him this year, if he's so good?"

"Dunno. Ask Coach." Wood made his way to the showers and then headed down to dinner, settling in the chair next to Ron.

Just as dinner was ending, Athena, Harry's owl, fluttered down beside Ron, holding out her leg for Ron to detach a letter. Ron scratched at Athena's chest, and absently fed her a bit of chicken as he tore open the letter, recognizing Harry's scrawling handwriting.

Ron,

Hope things are going well with you. I've been reviewing some Pensieve footage of games, and I think Wood is your biggest competition. Kessler and Baker are no small joke, but you're better than them. So, I think you've got this – either Keeper or Reserve Keeper.

Hermione and I are settled back at Hogwarts. We aren't in Gryff Tower this year; none of the Eighth Years are. Instead, we have our own tower. It's some House unity shit. I've got to room with Draco sodding Malfoy -it's total bollocks. Not sure what the fuck McGonagall was thinking. The son of a bitch was rude to Hermione when she came over to check out the room.

Ron grimaced. Malfoy always was a right prick.

Anyway, I set him straight. He apologized. Guess that's all I can hope for. Hermione's rooming with Daphne Greengrass; remember her? Hot blonde, Slyth? And Neville came back. It's pretty funny watching all the girls trip when they see him coming down the hall. Hermione tells me he's the first wizard to make a cardigan look sexy, whatever the hell that means. He looks like Neville to me. But she must be onto something because they all stare at him.

Anyway, classes started the other day. Pretty busy here. Athena is going to stay with you so you can send word back tomorrow about try-outs.

Good luck mate,

Harry

PS: Hermione sends her love

Ron stared off into space. His mouth kicked up at the side as he tried to imagine bumbling Neville Longbottom as sexy. In a cardigan. It just didn't work. Now, Daphne Greengrass, she was a hot blonde.

"What's got you smiling, Weasley?" Wood's voice interrupted his reverie.

"What? Oh. Just a letter from Harry."

Wood looked at Ron expectantly. "Something funny?"

Ron chuckled. "Hermione told Harry that Neville Longbottom - you remember him, right? Short, kind of pudgy in first year. Big teeth?" Ron tapped his teeth to remind Wood of the younger wizard.

Wood's eyes narrowed in thought. "Yeeeaaahhhhhh, I think so. Forgetful chap?"

"That's him. Well, he's the guy who killed Voldemort's snake. Didja know that?"

Wood's eyes widened. "No shite."

"Yeah. It was a fucking beautiful thing to see that monster die." Ron paused to savor the memory of Nagini's destruction. The Quidditch players closest to them paused their conversations to listen.

"It was all over by the time I got there," Wood remarked. "I heard it was touch and go at the end."

Ron shook his head. "I wouldn't want to do it over again, that's for sure. When Hagrid came out carrying Harry's body – we thought we were done for. Then Neville steps up, pulls the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat and – wham! Cuts its head off."

"Sword of Gryffindor?" Wood asked, curious.

"Yeah, Gryffindor's sword. Godric had it made by the Goblins, and it only appears to true Gryffindors. We used it, uh…." Ron suddenly realized where he was and his rapt audience, "to help defeat Voldemort."

"It appeared for you?" Kessler asked from the opposite side of the table.

Ron lips twisted in memory. "I had to use it, yeah. But anyway, it's over. Tom Riddle's dead and he's not coming back."

"You sure about that? Because he disappeared for over 10 years, then he showed back up again." Kessler pointed out what many in the wizarding world thought in private.

"Yeah, Kessler, I'm sure. Harry's sure. Hermione's sure. My dad, my mum, McGonagall, the Minister for Magic, they're all sure. Everyone at the Battle of Hogwarts is sure. That son of a bitch is dead."

The next morning all the Quidditch players gathered for the team meeting. Ron rubbed the sweat from his palms onto his trouser legs. The coach began his speech, thanking everyone for coming out. Maybe it's not too late to go back to Hogwarts. Sounds like a pretty sweet set-up. Harry and Hermione would be glad to see me.

"At Seeker, and congratulations to…."

I can always go work with George. I'm sure he can use the help in Diagon Alley. And he's been talking about expanding to Hogsmeade, so maybe I could run that shop.

He was jolted out of his reverie when he heard the coach continue the list.

"At Keeper, and congratulations to Oliver Wood and at Reserve Keeper Ronald Weasley."

Ron breathed a huge sigh of relief and exchanged a brief nod with Wood. Un-fecking-real. I just made the team. For England.


That Evening

Hogwarts

Athena landed beside Harry at the dinner table and offered him a letter. Recognizing Ron's untidy writing, Harry hesitated for a beat, hoping for the best.

Hermione, of course, noticed. "Well, go on then. Read it."

Harry tore into the missive and stared, mute, at the contents.

"Harry – what does it say?" Hermione's eager voice penetrated his daze.

Blinking, Harry looked up and a grin split his face. "He made it, Hermione. Reserve Keeper. He made it!"

Neville, on the other side of Harry let out a whoop. "Yes!"

Hermione snatched the letter from Harry's lax grip. "And Oliver Wood is the Keeper."

"Gryffindor!" Harry jumped up and yelled out a war cry for the whole Hall to hear, much to the disgust of the other Houses, earning a severe look from McGonagall at the Head table. Neville and Hermione joined in with the entirety of the Gryffindor table, ever up for sparking a bit of House pride.

Bill, the unfortunate Head of Gryffindor House, stood and entered the fray, calming them almost immediately with his stern look as he moved to the Eighths table. "Harry! What are you thinking? Ten points from Gryffindor. And you two – joining in? What is wrong with you lot?" He took in the giddy grins on their faces.

"It's Ron!" Hermione's excited voice split the quiet air. "He made the team. He's Reserve Keeper! And Oliver Wood is Keeper!"

"Gryffindor!" yelled Bill, sparking another round of chants from the Lions. Ginny let out an identical whoop from her seat at the House table; Hermione's voice had carried across the hall.

"Professor Weasley! Control yourself!" McGonagall stood, instantly silencing the Hall. "I'm sure you are quite proud, but really." Bill looked slightly abashed, but the corners of his lips still tilted up in a smile. "Please, Mr. Potter, send our congratulations to Mr. Weasley and Mr. Wood. But this must stop. That will be another 10 points from Gryffindor for disrupting the evening meal." The other Houses looked appropriately pleased at the punishment.

Terry Boot leaned forward. "Don't worry, Potter. Hermione will earn back the 20 points tomorrow in Charms and Transfiguration. Then Longbottom will add some more in Herbology."

"We're going to a game, Hermione. I know you don't like Quidditch, but we're going to a game."

Before Hermione could answer Harry, Blaise responded, smirk firmly in place. "We'll all go."

And at the Head table, McGonagall, Quidditch fan that she was, muttered behind her hand where no one could see, "Thirty points to Gryffindor."


Sunday Afternoon

Room #1

Eighth Tower

Draco, tired and sore after the first Quidditch try-out of the year, stopped and stared at the mess on Harry's side of the room. The wizard himself was lying barefoot on his bed, bouncing a conjured Quaffle in the air.

"Potter, were you born in a barn?"

The Quaffle disappeared with a lazy wave of Harry's wand, and he sat up, bring his knees up to rest his arms on them. "Can't say as that I was, Malfoy. I've got it from good sources I was born at St. Mungo's," he responded.

"Then you must have been raised in one." Draco sneered at his roommate. "It's the only reason I can come up with for your appalling housekeeping skills."

"Actually, I lived in a cupboard beneath the stairs, so a barn doesn't sound half bad. Seems pretty roomy to me." Harry's emerald eyes glinted in amusement at Draco's ire.

"Oh, haha, Potter. Sure." Draco scoffed at Harry's seemingly flippant response. "Just clean up that mess. I feel sorry for the House Elves."

"What? It's not bad. Just some clothes out. And books." Harry looked at his side of the room which was admittedly much less tidy than Draco's.

"Not that bad? Potter, do you have any clothes in your wardrobe?"

"Yes, smart arse, I do." Harry waved his wand to open the wardrobe door, demonstrating that he did indeed have clothes in his wardrobe - precisely one set of perfectly pressed dress robes.

Draco gave Harry a mocking, slow clap of admiration. "Well done, Chosen One. You've hung up your dress robes. Excellent. Truly excellent."

Harry rolled his eyes. What would Ron do? Hex him. Not good for inter-house unity. What would Hermione do? "Fine, Malfoy, I'll straighten up a bit."

Draco watched as Harry got up and magically began setting his side of the room to rights.

"You weren't serious, were you? You didn't really live in a cupboard under a set of stairs, did you?"

Harry froze in the act of physically picking up a stubborn set of robes on the floor. "Yeah, I did." He turned around to see Draco's aghast expression. "Don't feel sorry for me."

"But, you're…."

"The Chosen One? Yeah, that didn't matter much in the Muggle World, Malfoy." Harry shrugged. "It was good for me, really. Sort of helped prepare me for this, " he tapped the lightening bolt scar on his forehead. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that."

Draco walked over to his bed and sat down. "I didn't know."

Harry shrugged. "No big deal." He went back to cleaning his side of the room.

Draco broke the silence. "My dad's an arsehole." He sounded as though the words were being dragged from him.

Harry choked back a snort of agreement and instead made his way over to his bed to take a seat. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, he really is. He forced me to be marked to make up for his failings." Draco snorted. "Don't think I'll ever forgive him for that. Neither will my mother. But she can't leave him, the prick."

"Why not?"

"Marriage is until death do us part, Potter. You know that."

"But your father is in Azkaban, Malfoy."

"Yes, he is. But she still can't divorce him. Those don't exist in the magical world."

Harry pondered that statement. "Blimey, that's terrible. No wonder you don't want to marry Daphne if you don't love her. You're talking a lifetime of misery, especially if you do eventually fall in love with someone else."

"No shit, Potter," Draco snorted. "But could you at least keep your damn clothes in the wardrobe? It's fucking disgusting the way you keep your shit out."

"Don't be such a ponce. You just had to ask."


7:00pm

After Dinner

Hogwarts Library, Restricted Section

Daphne and Draco handed their copies of the betrothal contracts to Hermione and Harry. While Harry just read, Hermione scratched notes onto a parchment beside her; when she was finished, she started issuing orders.

"I need every Wizarding Law book with a section on betrothal contracts in the library. While you three get them, I'll check both of these for any discrepancies."

Draco sat mute at the order until Daphne prodded him to get moving. Fifteen minutes later, he dumped an armload of books on the table. "You know, Granger, we could just get Potter's house elf to do the grunt labor."

Harry's books hit the table beside Malfoy's and slid into a messy pile. "She won't go for that."

"Why the bloody hell not? They love to be useful," Draco snapped.

"He's right, Malfoy; I won't. Dobby isn't ours to command, and even if he was, I wouldn't ask." Hermione was still comparing the contracts without appearing to pay attention to her classmates.

Daphne floated the remainder of the books onto the table effortlessly. "Honestly, boys, have you forgotten you're wizards?"

Hermione and Daphne both snickered at the chagrined expressions on the wizards' faces.

"All right, here's what I have so far." Hermione's companions re-settled themselves into their chairs. "First of all, the easiest way would be a buy-out. But there isn't one. Also effective, but much less desirable, from a reputation point of view, you could get pregnant by another wizard, Daphne."

The blonde witch's eyes widened and she shook her head frantically.

"I didn't think that'd be an option. Or one of you could die." Both Draco and Daphne looked a bit nauseous at that thought.

"Are there any acceptable outs, Hermione?" Harry interjected. "Because this sounds pretty grim."

"Not obvious ones, but that's why we have the law books." Hermione offered Daphne a sympathetic smile. "Don't worry, we'll get you both out of this. Now, everyone take a book and read the sections on contracts or marriage law. Write down anything helpful and where you found it."

The library was open to eighth years all night, so they settled in for a long research session. The only sound was the turning of pages and the scratches of quill on parchment.

Hermione abruptly pushed aside the book she was using and drew the contracts to her, brow furrowed in concentration. She double-checked dates and signatures.

"Neither of you signed these."

"Well-spotted, Granger. We were eleven when they were executed." Draco's sardonic drawl prompted a eyeroll from Hermione, but she went back to her inspection of the contracts.

"Eleven?" Harry was shocked. "How can that even be legal?"

"We were dependent of our parents and their estates, therefore we are bound by their word until we are adults or independent of them." Daphne explained the reality of life in the wizarding aristocracy.

"But you wouldn't get married until you were of age and out of school," Hermione mused aloud.

"But we'll still be dependent upon them," Daphne interjected.

Draco sat up abruptly as he followed started to Hermione's train of thought. "Granger, what are you saying?"

"If you're an adult and no longer dependent on your family, then legally I'm not sure how they can force you to execute this contract."

"So it could be as simple as getting a job and a flat I pay for with my salary or something?" Draco's silver gaze narrowed.

"Maybe. There might be some magic involved I need to research, but yes. Maybe." Hermione hedged. "But if this works, it may only work for the two of you."

"Why?" Harry asked.

Hermione shrugged as she answered. "It's a loophole that families will try to close."

"How could they?" Harry pressed.

Hermione considered her answer. "Perhaps they could add some clause they forced the children to sign when they reached adulthood; any number of things, really. But if they don't see it coming, it may work."

After sitting in silence, Daphne finally spoke up. "Could it really be that simple?"

"I don't know." Hermione was empathetic. "That's why I have to do the research. There may be some magic involved that would prevent this."

"With our families, I'm sure there's magic involved." Draco knew his father and his family; the likelihood of magic not being involved was slim.

"There's something else." All eyes turned to Harry when he spoke. "What if you do pull this off? What's society going to say? I mean, Hermione and I don't care about its opinion of us and we're still be being pushed towards an engagement announcement whether we want to or not. And we're willing to take the consequences of not doing what we're told is proper. But what about you lot? Are you willing to do that?"

"No. It doesn't matter to me, personally. But it matters to my mother, so indirectly, I do care," Draco answered, shrugging.

"Seems to me it'd be better if you married someone whose family was on the winning side - for societal purposes, I mean." Harry responded. He winced at the sour look on the Slytherins' faces. "Sorry, but it's true."

Daphne recovered first. "You're not wrong, Harry, but our parents have been friends for years. They may not care about that. And I don't think they'll take kindly to our rebellion, as they see it."

Hermione started collecting parchments and closing books. "Well, we've got a start. Let's get these reshelved; I'll come back tomorrow to check out the most promising ones."

"Right. But before we go, I wanted to tell you that I have an idea how to flush out our rat." Draco's words stopped Hermione's busy hands.

"Really?" Harry sounded relieved.

"How?" Hermione narrowed her eyes in suspicion.

"It's simple. We'll just play a drinking game with the help of Veritaserum." Draco shrugged. "They won't be able to help themselves."

"You're joking. Veritaserum is restricted." Hermione's scandalized expression was exactly what Draco expected from her, but he wasn't sure what Harry was going to say.

"I'd be willing to bet he already has some at hand," Harry interjected. "Hermione, he's right. Think about it. With Veritaserum, they'll have to tell the truth."

"How do we get everyone to play?" Daphne asked.

Draco smirked. "If Potter plays, they'll play. Everyone wants to know his secrets."

Harry's jaw tightened, and he glanced at Hermione. Her worried eyes met his.

Draco, watching the byplay between the two Gryffindors, smirked. "Worried, Potter? Are you scared that we'll uncover some extracurricular activity you don't want us knowing about? Or is it you that's worried, Granger? Maybe there's some illicit little hanky panky you don't want to talk about? Maybe - together?"

Harry rolled his eyes at Draco's naked innuendo. "Whatever, Malfoy. I'm not ashamed of what I've done, but I'm not one to kiss and tell."

"Kissed a lot of witches, then, Potter? Or wizards, is it?"

"Haha. Bugger off, Malfoy."

"Oh, that's right. It's witches, isn't it? Those stories in the Prophet this summer – they're true, then?" Draco pressed Harry.

"Ginny and I broke up in May. So, no, not all the stories are true. I'm not a cheat."

"So just the ones from June to August, then."

"Bugger off, Malfoy."

"Get a new insult, Potter." Draco laughed. "Right, so we'll have a game and we'll get to the bottom of your little mystery, and everyone lives happily ever after."

"What if I don't want to play?" Hermione objected..

"This isn't going to work unless you play, Granger," Draco responded. "In case you hadn't noticed, you and Potter are the golden ones. Where you go, the sheep will follow."

"What are you on about, Malfoy?" Hermione sounded incredulous.

"It's true," Daphne spoke up. "Drake, Blaise, Pansy, all of us Slytherins have had an easier time than we expected. It's because you two accepted us." She paused in thought. "Neville, too, actually. But he's doing it because you are."

"No, he's not." Hermione disagreed.

"What do you mean?" Daphne was confused.

"She means you're underestimating Neville. He's a leader, not a follower. If he didn't think you deserved a second chance, he wouldn't give you one. Doesn't matter what Hermione and I think," Harry answered.

Draco shifted in his seat, drawing his classmates' attention. "All of this share-care bullshit churns my stomach. Granger, are you in or not? We need you if this is going to work."

Hermione stiffened her spine and exchanged another look with Harry. "I'm in."

"You know, it's really creepy how you two do the whole silent communication thing." Draco commented.

"Bugger off, Malfoy," Harry shot back, but the insult lacked heat.