Yesterday is Tomorrow (Everything is Connected)
Jennifer Goines: Today is the day. One that ends at the beginning and begins at the end.
– 12 Monkeys (TV show)
The changes Hermione made on the timeline made her uneasy.
It was hard, to academically realize that her presence and knowledge from an alternate timeline had benefited and altered this timeline she was living in – to acknowledging that she no longer had useful information and was merely another participant.
Voldemort's Horcruxes were gone, thanks to her, Barty, and Regulus; and Voldemort did not know. However, with them having spent most of their time during and post-Hogwarts fighting the war covertly, they had left the resistance to Dumbledore's Order of the Pheonix, and they were struggling, even with James' additional knowledge.
Hermione had managed to stave off Fabian and Gideon's deaths but that was it: Lily's best friend Marlene had died regardless – as Hermione knew nothing about her original death other than Voldemort had done it directly – and the Bones' were attacked and killed. Far more people were dying in this timeline, earlier on, than they had originally because of a ripple effect of her existence.
It was horrifying to think.
It also made her wonder if the timeline was trying to reset itself, snapping back into place. A prophecy for a prophecy; a new Chosen One against this Dark Lord. So long as the Deathly Hallows remained far, far away from her, Hermione thought she could manage to squeak through.
Despite it all, every time James left the townhouse, Hermione wondered if something was going to happen to him. Every part of her itched to leave the house as well, to go and fight; even when badly injured and suffering from the aftereffects of torture under Bellatrix's wand, Hermione had rested only a few days and then gone with Harry and Ron to Gringott's and then Hogwarts for the final battle. Sitting around, trying to be a good housewife, was infuriating.
She was housebound, though. James fussed over her constantly, and Dorea would apparate over unannounced "because she was in the area." The one time she had done that, and Hermione had been out grocery shopping, Dorea had panicked and sent James into a tailspin panic as well, resulting in a very confused Hermione arriving home to all the Potters, Sirius, Regulus, Barty, Remus, and Peter working together to figure out where she had gone.
It was the only time she had seen all of them working together without arguments, and it had been so bizarre she didn't want to experience it again. It did mean she was home most of the time, but it did give her the peace and quiet to make her plans for stopping Voldemort, once and for all.
Those were slow going, though. There were too many variables in place to accurately come up with the best means of attack (and despite a voice that sounded distinctly Harry-like piping up in her ear shouting, "attack!" – that was far too Gryffindor and like him, to be effective), leaving Hermione in an awkward phase of 'hurry up and wait.'
Which meant she was bored out of her mind…
…so, Barty Crouch, Jr. to the rescue!
Her fellow Ravenclaw and best friend sprung her from the townhouse, as part of James' approved companionship and whisked her back to his family townhome a few streets over. Iris was ecstatic to see Hermione and gushed over her as she had Winky set out tea, leaving Barty staring aimlessly out of the nearby window until talk of babies was done.
Conversation flowed to other benign topics, until Iris asked, "And how is James doing, Hermione? My Barty has been pulling such awful hours lately…"
"Same," replied Hermione, putting her teacup down, keeping an eye on Barty as he eyed her last two macarons. "Although that's more to do with being understaffed and overworked due to the situation at hand than top-down governance, especially with the recent attack in Beasts—"
She broke off as Wallace Crouch entered the sitting room, a charming grin on his face. "I hope I'm not interrupting, Iris."
"Wally!" Barty's mother beamed up at her brother-in-law. "Not at all – Winky—"
Winky, being the clever house-elf she was, had already set out another teacup, saucer and plate, and Wallace gratefully sank into the couch cushions next to Iris, unbuttoning his blazer/robe combination that wizard fashion was.
"You look nice," continued Iris cheerfully, pouring the tea with a tap of her wand to make the teacup hover.
He snorted. "Thank you, Iris, but you can say that I look tired."
"Not as much as Father," muttered Barty around a stolen macaron. Hermione sent him a glare.
"True," conceded Wallace, leaning back with a sigh. There was close to fifteen years between Bartemius Crouch and Wallace Crouch, but they both had thick dark hair and a sharp face – something Barty had inherited. On Wallace, it made Hermione nervous. "But I've been in constant Floo calls with the ICW back in New York, and the time difference can be annoying to work around."
"Oh?" asked Hermione politely, and Barty added, catching on to Hermione's thoughts, "We've heard that the ICW might finally be stepping in with the current, ah, Dark Lord problem Britain has. Like they did with Grindelwald."
Wallace nodded at them. "The ICW wants to, but we're being blocked by the British Ministry – Bagnold's office is giving us the runaround."
Hermione murmured some nonsense noise that sounded like sympathy to keep Wallace speaking.
"Bagnold wants to keep it contained as a 'Britain-only' problem," expanded Wallace on the topic, voice vaguely bitter. "And since the Dark Lord hasn't made a move outside of Britain, the ICW has no cause or justification to go after him."
"Yet," said Barty, glaring down at his empty plate of snacks.
"The ICW only got involved with Grindelwald because he was appearing and recruiting in many different countries," explained Wallace. "He was threatening the Statute of Secrecy with his actions – this one has not."
Hermione stared. "I'm surprised that the ICW, then, has taken an interest. They're just a body of allied magical nations that uphold the Statute, are they not?"
Wallace hummed. "Yes and no. They do uphold the Statute to stop non-magicals from learning about magic and thus creating another witch hunt, but the ICW does have their own witches and wizards capable of – ah, let's say – cleaning up messes when certain messes get too large for individual containment."
In other words, thought Hermione, the ICW wanted to step in and nip the Voldemort problem in the bud before it exploded in Britain's face. It was odd, to her though, because, in her original timeline, the ICW had not intervened when Voldemort returned in her fourth year; in fact, after that, they seemed to take a hand's off approach and even removed Dumbledore from his appointment on the ICW.
What had changed?
She narrowed her eyes as Barty and Wallace spoke further, listening carefully but all the while the worry and niggling sensation that she was missing something important kept her from fully involving herself in the topic.
"… so, I'm really sticking around until Bagnold gets tired of me," finished Wallace with a sigh, even if it was belied by the smug smirk he wore. "I'll find an in with the Minister's office, just watch. I'll keep lobbying for our intervention – my bosses gave me all the time I want or need to accomplish this."
"Just lobby their intervention?" asked Hermione.
"Well…" Wallace hedged, shifting a bit on the couch. "There are also a few wizards that we think are working for the British Dark Lord – Antonin Dolohov, for one – and let's just say that there are a few ICW nations in Eastern Europe who have a keen interest in retrieving this wizard alive to stand trial."
As he finished, his large silver watch chirped at him, and he startled. "Ah, my apologies, Iris, nephew, Mrs. Potter. It's almost time for Bagnold to return from her lunch, and I'd like to waylay her on her return to the office."
He stood, bowing in Iris' direction and then Hermione's.
"I'll show you out, Wally," offered Iris, standing and joining her brother-in-law.
Once they had left, Hermione frowned.
"What?" asked Barty, glancing at her.
"Do you trust him?"
"Your uncle, Wallace." Hermione stared in the direction they had left, a furrow between her eyebrows.
Barty's eyebrows mimicked hers as he settled into a frown. "Should I not? What's he like in the future?"
Hermione's frown deepened. "That's the thing, Barty." She turned and looked at him, concern on her face. "He never existed in my time."
Barty blinked, shock passing over his face, which quickly turned thunderous as he stared after the man, despite the lack of him in the parlour door.
"Then…" trailed off Barty, voice low, "Then… I don't know, Hermione. I… really don't know who we can trust anymore."
With the increased risks in visiting the magical world, due to the attacks, Hermione kept to the non-magical side as much as possible, doing her grocery shopping there, and when living in the townhouse became too much (and the heavy weight of carrying around her baby was frustrating at her due date loomed), she would visit the nearby café for a few moments of respite.
On that one, sunny July day, Hermione met Barty and Regulus at an outdoor café she enjoyed, oversized sunglasses perched on her nose and an herbal tea set before her. She had a mild notice-me-not and muffliato spell up as soon as both Barty and Regulus appeared, taking their seats with Barty in the full sun, while Hermione and Regulus had their backs to the café front and the shaded umbrella.
"You're huge," said Regulus, staring at Hermione the moment he sat.
"Thanks," replied Hermione dryly. "You're so kind. A real charmer. Those pureblood manners training you had really paid off."
"Explains why Calypso never looked at him twice," agreed Barty with a hint of a wicked glint in his brown eyes.
"Shut up," muttered Regulus.
The trio fell into silence as Barty and Regulus waited for their drinks – and a muffin for Barty – and then, once their items had arrived, Regulus said, while stirring his tea and tapping the spoon on the rim of the saucer, "You know you won't be able to fight him in your condition."
Barty froze, muffin hovering just in front of his mouth, eyes darting between Hermione and Regulus.
"I know," scowled Hermione, a mulish pout on her lips.
Regulus' look hardened. "You can't, Hermione."
"I know," she repeated. "I know I'm a liability in my current condition."
"Not to mention that your magic is going to be all over the place," added Barty carefully. "It's well documented—"
"Yes, I've read those pamphlets, too, Barty!" snapped Hermione irritably. In response, Barty shoved the muffin in his mouth and took a large bite, chewing it carefully to prolongate not speaking. "Dorea was insistent."
Regulus cleared his throat. "Well then… shall we discuss what our next steps are?"
"Here?" asked Barty, swallowing loudly, and then looking around at the café. Although not busy, there were several patrons enjoying the balmy weather and many others walking nearby down the laneway.
"It's the only time I get outside," muttered Hermione. "And no one can hear us, anyway."
Regulus sighed. "Fine. With all of – his – Horcruxes gone, he's mortal. Anyone can kill him now."
"Except for whatever that prophecy says," interrupted Barty.
Hermione's scowl deepened and she slurped at her tea to bite back the words she wanted to say about it.
"I still can't believe Dumbledore and Dearborn are so set on it," continued Barty. "Dearborn didn't seem so bad when we met at Malfoy Manor—"
"He had been a guest of his for several months and had clearly been tortured," said Regulus baldly. "He didn't come by those burn scars naturally, Barty. That's enough to make anyone reconsider being well-adjusted."
Barty mumbled something under his breath.
"Whatever Dearborn is or isn't like," said Hermione, "The truth is both he and Dumbledore are aware of the full contents of the prophecy and think it's me. So, they're expecting me to finish the job."
"Is it you?" asked Regulus skeptically. "You didn't tell us—"
Hermione repeated the prophecy that James had been told, in a bland, monotonous tone. "An unspeakable evil shrouds the land. Yet by balancing the scales of existence, hope shall be restored when chains are broken, through magic never before seen. What was once yesterday is tomorrow and tomorrow is today… For when the clock rewinds, everything is connected…"
"You're the restored hope, I assume," said Regulus, finally after a few minutes of shocked silence, as he and Barty digested the prophecy.
"And the magic never before seen – I guess that's your wandless abilities," added Barty.
Regulus sighed. "And the clock rewinding…"
"If you know the truth about me, then, yes, it's very clear," answered Hermione. "But it doesn't say I have to be the one to kill Riddle. Just that I create the optimal situation for it. And even still – it doesn't offer a clear message of good triumphing over evil."
"True," agreed Regulus, leaning back in his chair.
"So…" Barty looked at both Hermione and Regulus. He nervously ripped apart his muffin and threw a piece into his mouth. "Who's gonna do it then?"
"Kill the bastard," he explained. "And whichever of us does it – because let's be honest, Hermione, it's not going to be you – how are we going to get away with it?"
"Well, if you do it, Barty, your dad can get you off since he's Head of the Aurors," said Regulus dryly.
"Your father will lobby for your freedom," argued Barty.
"Except Regulus happens to have at least one very vocal cousin who is part of Riddle's inner circle," argued Hermione. "Because of Bellatrix, he'll have a harder time selling that he did the world a favour."
"And Dumbledore might not like it," sighed Regulus.
"Which leaves only one of us," finished Hermione, eyeing Barty carefully. "D'you think you can do it?"
"Yeah, 'course!" Barty nodded his head vigorously.
Both Hermione and Regulus stared at him.
"What?" he asked, popping the last of his muffin in his mouth.
"You're going to be fine with using an Unforgiveable?" asked Regulus skeptically. "Standing in front of him and casting the Killing Curse?"
"I didn't say that!" Barty blinked. "I can just as easily use a severing charm or aim a blasting curse at his head."
"I doubt anyone of us would be just walking up to him," stressed Hermione. "Not only would he see you coming a mile away, but that's entirely stupid."
"Oh, what would you suggest, o wise one?" asked Regulus, a slight scathing tone to his voice.
"Find a better place to do the deed," she replied instantly. "With cover. He's still incredibly powerful, Reg. His temper can be his downfall. Goad him, get him angry. Use the geography of the location to our advantage and his disadvantage."
"Like a warehouse or neighbourhood," said Barty, ideas dawning on him.
Hermione grimaced. "Let's not do a neighbourhood – we don't want anyone getting hurt that doesn't have to."
"That really does limit places," sighed Regulus. "Any Pureblood home, or out in the middle of nowhere, really."
Hermione frowned. "Forest of Dean?"
"I suppose…" Regulus sighed again, deeper.
"Well, it's not like some pureblood is going to turn over their ancestral house for us to destroy," laughed Barty. He eyed Regulus. "Got any to spare?"
"We'll need everyone's help," added Hermione, fiddling with her tea, shifting in her seat. "Like baby Lestrange and Malfoy."
"Ugh," Barty made a face. "Must we?"
"I think we can put aside our differences when the world is about to end," drawled Regulus, censure in his tone.
Barty crossed his arms and settled into a mulish silence.
Hermione sighed. "I think we have the good working of a plan here – we'll see with Baby Lestrange, or Malfoy, would be interested in passing information to Riddle from us. Nothing about the Horcruxes, perhaps, because we don't want him going off and making more, but perhaps about the prophecy and where I might be at a given day and time."
"You think he'll want to kill you that badly?" asked Regulus, worried.
Hermione nodded slowly. "He was when there was a prophecy about Harry. He heard it and acted within two years."
Regulus and Barty shared a look; Barty bit his lip and looked back at Hermione. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
She scowled. "This isn't a matter of want, Barty. I don't have a choice."
"You can sit this out, Hermione," said Regulus, trying to gentle his voice. "You're about to give birth. Nothing needs to be decided yet."
"If we don't act soon…" she trailed off and ran a frustrated hand through her tangled curls, bringing stray hairs with her as she lowered her hand. She idly picked the hair strands out. "We'll lose him. More will die, and that's blood on our hands if we wait. I can't do that."
"Let's give it a few days more," urged Regulus, eyeing her and her stomach. "A month, maybe two. The baby is due in July, right? That's soon. We can wait three months, Hermione."
"Can we?" she replied quietly, staring at him.
"I'd pick you over the world any day," he replied, just as quietly.
Tears immediately welled in her eyes, and she sniffed.
"We love you, too, Hermione," said Barty cheerfully.
She scoffed, still sniffly and teary. "What are you talking about, Crouch? These are pregnancy hormones. That's all."
Through her teary eyes, she saw Regulus and Barty share an amused look, and then they were on either side of her, their arms stretched out and she was sandwiched between them, warm and comfortable.
They sat together for a long time until the baby – Harry, that prat – pressed on her bladder and she shoved at them, snapping, "Okay, move – I need to pee."
They laughed, and everything was right.
Near the end of July, James walked into their townhouse and presented Hermione was three buttery croissants from a bakery in Diagon Alley just as she woke up. The smell was enticing, and Hermione peered suspiciously at James and his sweet-as-sugar lopsided smile when she asked, "What are these for?"
"Can't I just spoil my lovely, pregnant wife? The light of my life? The most brilliant woman that I know? The fairest of—"
Hermione snorted and snatched the paper bag. "Flattery, Mr. Potter, will definitely get you somewhere when my stomach is involved."
She opened the bag, rummaged through it for a pastry, and withdrew the still warm piece. Shoving it in her mouth, she moaned and mumbled, "Thought you were going to be at work a bit longer?"
"I was," agreed James, "But Crouch came swaggering in and told Sirius and me to go home."
"Crouch? Swaggering?" echoed Hermione in confusion, swallowing. "When's that man ever in a good mood?"
"Dunno, but last night he sure as hell was," replied James. He reached for one of the croissants and began to idly pick it apart. "He finally got emergency power last night."
Hermione's head jerked up. "Aurors can cast Unforgiveables now?"
James nodded, jaw ticking.
Her chewing slowed, although it was still thoughtful. "Huh."
"Happened last time, I'm guessing?" James' voice was wry.
"Yes…" Hermione trailed off. Her eyes suddenly snapped to him. "You're not pleased."
"I don't know how I feel," he answered quietly.
Hermione waited for James to continue speaking, even as he idly played with the food.
"Sirius accused me of going dark," he finally blurted.
Hermione's eyes widened. "What?"
"Well, not quite, but uh, kind of?" James winced. "He told me I shouldn't become the thing that we're fighting."
Hermione made a noise in her throat and James continued.
"He… he just said I was unaffected," mumbled James, looking down, wane. "That I killed two Death Eaters like it didn't bother me. But it did, Hermione. It did, of course, it did. But at the same time – if we arrested them, then what? They'd have been out within a week, hurting others."
"So, you put them down first," she sighed.
He nodded glumly. "And Sirius thinks I'll start casting dark magic as the next step in my downward spiral toward amorality."
"Are you?" asked Hermione, eyeing him.
"What? Gonna start using dark magic?" James stared at his wife incredulously. Shock rippled across his face when she said nothing, just stared levelly at him. "What? No! Merlin, no."
"There were times we thought about it," said Hermione quietly, after some time of silence. "When we were in the tent, and it seemed like all hope was lost. We wondered if we pushed ourselves a bit more; if we did a little more… would it have made a difference?"
"What did you decide?" asked James – who, despite being told about her previous life, did not have nitty-gritty details of conversations.
Hermione shrugged. "Harry didn't want to cross that line. If he did, I would have been right beside him, I'm sure. Ron would've, too, I think, eventually. But he… for all that he could be spiteful, Harry never crossed it, except once."
"When Sirius died."
James' heart stuttered and his breath hitched. He knew Sirius had died; he knew – but it still hurt.
"Bellatrix killed him in front of Harry," she explained. "I only heard about this after the fact, as I was already unconscious at the time—" absently, her hand reached up to her sternum and drew a line diagonally between her breasts and over her extended stomach. "—but Neville told me. He chased after her and cast crucio."
James blinked. "He did what?"
Fury rose in him at his son, thinking to cast an Unforgiveable on someone, even in response to Sirius' death. For a moment, blind parental fear warred with shock and concern over the actions his son from another timeline did, and then he blinked and realized he was getting worked up over something he would never experience. He did make a mental note to ensure that his child with Hermione knew better, though.
"It didn't land," explained Hermione, eyeing James knowingly. His ears turned red. "Knocked her off her feet, but she was laughing. Oh, we all used imperio during the war, that year on the run, but anything worse? No. Harry wouldn't kill his opponents if he didn't have to." She sighed, again. "Sometimes, things would've been easier if we had, I think."
"Then what is the right thing to do?" asked James. "Do I keep killing my opponents, or do I let them go to hurt someone else? If I do that, and they hurt or kill someone, is that on me? If I can stop them, and I don't – is it my fault?"
"Would you feel guilty if that happens?" asked Hermione curiously. "If you say, fail to stop Bellatrix one day and she goes on to murder a family the next. Would you feel guilty that you could have done more?"
James answered without hesitation. "Yes."
"Then you have your answer."
He made a face and Hermione laughed, loud. "If you can live with the decision you make to stop someone from hurting another – someone you know will do much worse to someone else – then you aren't going dark, James. You're doing what you think is right and you should stick to that."
He let that digest, roll around his brain for a bit. Then, he asked quietly, "Would you upset with me, if I killed?"
Hermione's answer was all teeth. "Darling, I'd be right there at your side, helping you hide the bodies. I've stood beside a Potter from the beginning – I don't plan on stopping that anytime soon."
It took some finagling, but between Petunia and Hermione's phone calls, and Hermione and Lily's owls and floo calls, they managed to find a date that would work for them to meet up in Muggle London in late July. It was pushing close to Hermione and Lily's due dates – uncomfortably close – but with the knowledge hanging over Hermione that her plans with Barty and Regulus were close to being put in motion and that the war would come to an end soon (or ramp up), there would be little time to see her sisters.
Petunia, of course, immediately agreed, as she was more in the know than Lily. She seemed to sense that something was hanging over Hermione and correctly guessed it had to do with the war – and with the prophecy, as well as Barty and Regulus's sombre moods whenever she saw them, or James' tired, shallow expression – and it ending on Hermione's say-so.
Petunia was already seated at the restaurant, with her son in a carrier at her side at the table, cooing over the baby, when Hermione arrived for lunch. She waddled over and waved Petunia off from standing to greet her sister, instead sitting in a huff.
"I can't wait for this one to be out," she sighed. She made a tiny wince of pain as her lower back spasmed and the muscles twitched.
"You'll rethink that after you start pulling all-nighters or your baby has colic," said Petunia sagely, as if she had birthed hundreds of babies instead of being a new mum herself.
Hermione rolled her eyes and picked up the menu, looking it over. "When's Lily arriving?"
"She's got twenty more minutes, Hermione," chided Petunia. "You were early."
Petunia sniffed. "I had to take public transport. You live only a few streets over. What's your excuse, Miss Witch?"
"Anxiety," deadpanned Hermione. She looked at the table, drumming her fingers on it. "I think James suspects something."
"Oh?" asked Petunia, trying to keep her voice deceptively light.
"When I said goodbye, earlier," explained Hermione, voice small. "I know that after this, I'm going to the Haberdashery to meet with Barty and Reg and to put our plan in motion, but James doesn't know that."
"Keeping secrets from your husband again, Hermione?" Petunia's voice was filled with derision. "I thought we were past this."
Hermione grimaced at the rebuke. "Yeah, well…"
"You're not fighting, though, are you?" asked Petunia pointedly.
"No," said Hermione. Her stomach clenched at the thought of fighting while carrying around an extra seven pounds and how her center of gravity was very off. "James was insistent, as were Barty and Reg. They're going to do everything."
Hermione pursed her lips and Petunia ignored her in favour of looking through the menu. That occupied their time for several minutes, until Petunia finally huffed, looking up and around the restaurant, and then down at her wrist and the delicate-looking watch. "It's been thirty. Where's Lily?"
"Maybe she got delayed," suggested Hermione. Her stomach rumbled. "Let's just order."
"How does one of your kind get delayed?" groused Petunia, a pinched look on her face. "You can teleport!"
Hermione ignored her and caught a waiter's eye. The two women ordered and then settled back, discussing nonsensical things like their parents, Sean, his parents, and then ending up on the topic of babies and Hermione's approaching due date.
Dermot Bowes was adorable, sleeping for most of their lunch and only waking up to make some disappointed and upset squawks that Petunia quickly soothed after a trip to the loo. By the time their plates were cleared, and they had moved on to finishing their dessert, both sisters were worried.
"Things have been better," muttered Hermione, her stomach roiling. "Lily wouldn't've have skipped this without saying something."
Petunia's lips were tightly pinched into a line. "Surely, she's not fighting, either?"
"I hope not," sighed Hermione. "But she also doesn't have a partner telling her to stay home, does she?"
Petunia eyed Hermione. "She still hasn't told you who the baby's father is?"
"I still bet it's that Snape boy," muttered Petunia nastily. "She always liked him."
"She said it wasn't—"
"Do you really believe her?"
Hermione squirmed uncomfortably in her seat, her back muscles tight. "Lily said she hasn't spoken to him since my kidnapping—"
Petunia's laugh was derisive. "And you believe her?"
"She's given me no reason otherwise," muttered Hermione mulishly. "Why don't you believe her?"
Whatever answer Petunia was going to give Hermione was cut off when a commotion at the front of the restaurant caught their attention, as well as the others in the dining room. A wide-eyed, wild-haired Barty loomed over the host, speaking rapidly, and confusing them.
"Look, she's right over there! It's important!"
Hermione pushed back from the table, waving, and calling, "Barty!"
He pushed past the host, revealing that Regulus was behind him, and wove through the aisles between tables to reach her and Petunia. As soon as he reached her, he had her wrapped in his arms, squeezing tightly.
"Barty—" gasped Hermione.
"You're alright," he mumbled against her.
She patted his back. "Er, yes. Yes, I am."
"Thank Merlin you're safe," muttered Regulus lowly when he approached, looking between her and Petunia, who was warily eyeing the two. "When we went by the house, and it was empty—" he shuddered.
"What's going on?" asked Hermione, drawing back from Barty, but he hovered at her side, his arm pressed against her.
"Madam, are these two with you?" asked their waiter, eyeing the two wizards with a suspicious glint.
Petunia was the one who answered, as both Barty and Regulus seemed incapable of responding as Regulus held Hermione's chair out and Barty ushered her back into it. "They're my sister's friends, thank you."
The waiter disappeared again, leaving the four at the table alone.
"Diagon Alley was attacked two hours ago," said Regulus quietly, making Hermione and Petunia lean in to hear him.
Hermione stared. "What?!"
He nodded, and Barty said, "My father was called into work. The Aurors have all been called in, too, even off-duty ones."
"Whatever for?" asked Petunia, but Hermione knew.
"They're planning an assault," she said.
Regulus nodded. "Father went by the Ministry, as well, and sent Kreacher to me with information. Barty's father is pushing for a Taboo on any use of the Unforgiveables and has been meeting with the Department of Mysteries for them to cast it. There's news that something big is going on today."
Fear wormed its way into Hermione, making her taste bile. "Do you think someone found out what we're planning?"
Barty and Regulus shared a concerned look, with Regulus venturing tentatively, "Baby Lestrange is on our side—"
"But he could have been tortured," muttered Barty. "His brother is married to your cousin, and they're both real—"
"Yes, thank you," said Regulus loudly over Barty. "I know."
"If he's been compromised," began Hermione, her brain firing as she moved through their options, "We need to move, now. The plans have to be scraped."
"You were going to do something today?" sputtered Petunia, eyes wide. "Hermione!"
She guiltily looked at Petunia. "This was why I didn't want to say anything and do this lunch. It would have been one of the last times—"
"Hermione!" wailed Petunia.
"Ssshhh!" said Barty, eyes darting around.
"Tuney, I'm sorry," said Hermione emphatically, turning to her sister with wide eyes. "You know why."
Petunia's lips trembled. Her blue eyes darted between her sister, Barty, and Regulus, returning on Hermione. She was pale, and clearly emotionally wrung, but she clenched the edge of the table and said, "Go."
Hermione blinked. "What?"
"Go," repeated Petunia through gritted teeth. "Don't make me say it again, Hermione Evans. Go and save the world."
"Petunia…" breathed Hermione, standing, and coming around the table to her side.
Petunia rose and hugged Hermione tightly. She pushed away from her just as quickly though, eyes wet. "Go."
Hermione nodded, turning to her friends. Regulus gathered her purse and Barty ushered her from the table. They had only made it a few paces when Petunia called her name.
"Be careful. And…" Petunia bit at her lip. "Come back safe. Just because you don't think the prophecy is in play, doesn't mean that others won't."
Hermione nodded. "Love you, Tuney."
"Love you, too, brat," her older sister called back.
"C'mon, let's go to the Haberdashery," muttered Regulus. "We can apparate from the corner, there's a park there."
As they left the restaurant, Hermione felt Petunia's eyes on her back, warm and heavy. She only hoped it wasn't the last time she'd see her.
Stuck between Regulus and Barty as they side-apparated her, Hermione wobbled when they appeared in the alleyway to the entrance of the Haberdashery, feeling queasy. Her stomach clenched and for a moment, she thought she was going to throw up.
Regulus stiffened beside her, even as she hung her head, eyes squinting at the pavement. "Hey – do the wards feel odd to you…?"
"What are you talking about?" asked Barty.
The air shifted in front of them, and Hermione jerked her head up just in time to see a red light – a stunning spell – hit Barty in the chest, sending him to the ground.
He yanked on Hermione's arm as he went down, causing her balance to shift. She turned on her heel, twisting it and cried out as another hit Regulus.
"My, my," oozed a familiar voice. "This was far too easy."
Hermione looked to the side in time to see Bellatrix drop her disillusionment charm, and for the stunning spell to hit her squarely, sending Hermione into unconsciousness. But she woke with a gasp, eyes wide and her thundering, aware that time had passed and that she was no longer in the alley but instead a dreary-looking room stone room with shelves, glass jars, and the damp cold of an underground cellar. Familiar arms, holding her tightly, squeezed a warning.
"Awake, are you, blood traitors?"
Regulus groaned at her other side. "Oh, fuck you, too, Bella."
Bellatrix scowled at her cousin, flicking her wand. Regulus clamped his mouth shut as his body bowed on the floor, convulsing.
"Regulus!" shouted Hermione and Barty in tandem. Barty drew her closer to him and partially behind, keeping her hidden from Bellatrix's wand.
After a moment, Regulus breathed heavily, panting, and Bellatrix cackled. "Oh, my itty-bitty cousin can't handle a wittle pain?"
Regulus ignored her.
She turned her dark eyes on Barty and Hermione, a malicious sheen to them. "And here's the halfbreed and mudblood. That blood traitor Potter's been breeding with you, has he, muddy?"
"It's old news, Bella, but when you're nothing more than a maniac's pathetic minion, I can guess that reading the gossip rags isn't on the agenda between murder and mayhem," replied Hermione dryly.
Bellatrix hissed like an angry cat.
"Watch your tongue, girl," threatened Bellatrix, brandishing her wand at Hermione. Barty shifted more in front of her in response. "I'll teach you to respect your betters!"
Hermione's response was a dry look at the elder witch.
Incensed, Bellatrix raised her wand.
"That's enough, Bella," reprimanded a cultured voice. "The Dark Lord wants her alive, remember?"
"Alive isn't the same as unharmed," muttered the witch petulantly, but she stepped back, revealing Lucius standing in the open doorway, his face cast in shadow.
The Malfoy heir stepped into the room, making its small space even tighter. Barty pressed tighter against her, and Regulus crab-crawled backward until his back was pressed against the wall facing the door. He leaned against a burlap bag of some kind and hoisted himself partially up.
Lucius' gaze was impassive as he surveyed the three. "What have you been doing?"
"Nothing," muttered Bellatrix. "Just getting reacquainted with my wittle cousin—"
"You were to grab them and leave them here for collection," snapped Lucius, eyes tight. "They must be in sound mind to answer his questions—"
"He'll just torture them anyway." Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "So, I got started and prepared them for the Dark Lord."
Lucius hissed, inhaling sharply. "That's enough. I am going to the potions laboratory and getting Black something for his pain. Do not do anything else while I'm gone."
The threat seemed to linger in the air between the two. Bellatrix stuck her tongue out as soon as Lucius turned his back. He shut the door behind himself, the lock engaging with a heavy thud.
"Don't do anything while I'm gone," mimicked Bellatrix in a high voice, exaggerating her face into a pinched look that was supposed to be Malfoy. She turned back to face Barty and Hermione, dismissively glancing over Regulus as he panted and stared up at her.
"Out of the way, blood traitor," she snapped, wand twitching. The spell careened Barty away from Hermione, sending him flying into the wall, where he slumped and groaned.
"Barty!" cried Hermione, leaning forward while keeping her hands pressed to the wall behind her. Regulus pushed himself up, staring at their friend with wide eyes.
Bellatrix advanced with a manic light in her eyes. "Let's have a talk, girl to girl—"
The thunderous noise reverberated down from above, shaking the thick walls and sending floating pieces of mortar and dust onto them, turning the air cloudy for a moment. Regulus had thrown himself toward her, trying to cover her from harm.
Hermione blinked back against the dust cloud, coughing.
"Alright?" he muttered, sitting back. His black hair was grey, and his pale face was an odd chalky colour from where the dust clotted against his sweaty skin.
She nodded, looking back toward Bellatrix, who whirled, a snarl on her wide mouth. She yanked open the cellar door and spat, "What was that?"
"Apologies, Lady Lestrange—"
"Black!" she snarled.
The Death Eater outside paused and then continued with a shaky voice: "Lady Black. We'll go investigate—"
"No need," hissed Bellatrix, turning to glance at Regulus helping Hermione to her feet. "We all know who it is."
We do? seemed to be on the Death Eater's mind, as well as Hermione and Regulus' as they looked at one another in confusion.
"It seems that the blood traitor has come for his mudblood," explained Bellatrix with a haughty sniff that was eerily reminiscent of Petunia, enough so that Hermione turned her face into Regulus' shoulder to hide her laugh.
"You think that's funny, muddy?" Bellatrix stalked forward, stepping over Barty's prone form, and dug her wand against the soft skin of Hermione's neck, making her strain her head back. Together, they walked backward until Hermione was pressed against the wall – although Bellatrix was awkwardly leaning over her belly.
"Bella!" shouted Regulus.
"I wasn't laughing," replied Hermione quietly, eyes focused on Bellatrix's.
"No, that's the blood traitor's hobby, isn't it?" the witch continued. Her wand trailed down Hermione's neck, across her sternum, and then rested the tip against her stomach. It twisted in nerves and Hermione swallowed thickly. "No… let's see if he'll be laughing if I present his baby, torn from your stomach. No loss with your death."
Fear crept through Hermione – but so did determination. She might be without a wand, but she could do enough transmutation that Bellatrix would not be expecting any form of defence. Low, at her hip, she curled her hand and prepared, gathering her magic.
"Didn't I tell you to leave them alone?!" Lucius Malfoy snarled as he threw himself forward into the room, eyes wide.
Bellatrix heaved a sigh. "Malfoy – you might be married to my little sister, but I swear—"
"You're needed above," he interrupted sharply. "I've already sent the others outside here topside. Dumbledore's here."
Silence engulfed those in the root cellar.
Bellatrix stiffened and stood straight, her wand leaving Hermione's stomach as she stepped away. "What?"
"Him and his Order. The wards around the manor fell – I saw Macnair, and he said it was Rabastan—"
Hermione and Regulus shared a concerned glance, a grimace on Regulus' face.
"—and now they're spilling into the house. We're to fight them off," finished Lucius.
Bellatrix gave another wordless snarl. She cut her eyes toward Hermione. "This isn't over, muddy. It just gives me the opportunity to kill you in front of your blood traitor husband."
She gave a sharp glare at Regulus and stalked out, her hair crackling with magic as it expanded and lifted. Her heels clicked on the stone as she walked away, and it was only once they faded that Lucius turned to her and Regulus, his hand in his robes.
Regulus tensed as he withdrew it, expecting the man's wand.
Instead, it was three, familiar wands.
"There's very little time," the blond began, voice low. His eyes were wide, and he looked a bit terrified. "Dumbledore and his Order are here, but they're not alone. As I was coming back, a few others reported Aurors appearing at the edge of the wards. Whatever it is you were planning on doing, Evans – you're going to have to do it now."
"Thank you," said Hermione, taking her and Barty's wands. Regulus took his and went to help their friend, reviving him with a low murmured spell. "You should leave if you can. Go home to Narcissa."
Lucius sent her an unreadable look. "I may not have a choice but to stay and fight, myself."
Hermione nodded, resigned.
Barty, leaning unsteadily against Regulus, were the first two out of the room. Hermione followed behind them, one hand on her stomach and the other gripping her wand tightly. She left the cellar, looking up and down the low-ceiling corridor. "Which way?"
"Whichever takes us up, I guess," muttered Regulus, and with a shrug, they turned and began walking.
The lower levels of Lestrange Manor were labyrinthine and worrisomely dark, with damp walls and low ceilings that created a muffled, claustrophobic feeling. Their shuffled steps were nothing more than whispers against the thick stone – and if they were quiet, so too were any Death Eaters down there with them. The only noise came from their heavy breathing – from fear and adrenaline – and the muffled, dull thuds and booms from above them.
"How long has it been?" asked Regulus, voice low.
Hermione grimaced. "I don't know."
Torches flickered as they turned a sharp corner.
"There they are! Stop them!" shouted a Death Eater, one of four.
Spellfire immediately sped toward them. Regulus snapped his wand out and a translucent shield appeared before them, white ripples spreading out wherever the enemy fire hit.
Barty threw himself off Regulus and had his wand out, as well. He sank low, to his knees, and used the space under the shield Regulus conjured, aiming for the Death Eaters' lower halves. A severing charm at the knee sent one Death Eater tipping sideways, wailing in agony, and Hermione (with a fond, but vicious, smile on her lips) set another on fire. The blue flames licked up the thick, heavy Death Eater robes; smoke billowed and obscured the Death Eater's vision, which clued him into being on fire. He began to flail his arms, shouting.
That didn't last, unfortunately; a fellow Death Eater easily put the flames out. The spell had only incited the Death Eater, and the final three turned their attention on Hermione, Barty, and Regulus.
A barrage of spells – yellow, green, blue, red – splashed against the shield. They sizzled, sparked, and cracked loudly against the spell keeping the three safe, the white ripples widespread and making the translucent shield more of a smoky white. It also showed the limits of its boundaries, and several spells slipped past; one made Barty throw himself into Regulus' legs to avoid it.
Regulus gritted his teeth and slid back an inch, then another. He brought up his left hand and held tight to his right wrist, stiffening the joint of the hand that held his wand. The tip smoked. "I can't hold this forever!" he shouted.
Hermione took a deep breath and spread her hands, feeling the air between Regulus and the shield, and reinforced it with her own magic. The smokiness vanished as Regulus dropped his spell and Hermione's took over.
He was sweating around his hairline, exhaustion pulling lines tight around his eyes. "We need to end this."
Barty nodded, eyes dark and fixated.
One of the wizards shouted something indistinguishable, and a vibrant purple burst from his hand. Barty, in return, raised his wand and made a sharp flick. One Death Eater bounced hard against the wall and ended up in the line of fire from one of his compatriots – he immediately began to scream as his skin peeled off his bare hands, flaking.
Hermione stared. "Well, thank God you stopped that one!"
The last two Death Eaters, however, seemed to be far more competent. Their spells were all over the place, always forcing Barty and Regulus to move, testing the boundaries of Hermione's shield. The three were slowly being forced back, pressing against the wall of the L-shaped corridor instead of being able to retreat down the side passage. Every time Barty tried to launch toward its safety, a Killing Curse or something else equally dangerous was slung his way.
"We're pinned," spat Regulus, furiously, as his eyes darted around the space.
"We can't keep this up," agreed Hermione with a heavy frown, twisting her hands and spreading her fingers as the shield she made flickered before holding, shrinking in size.
One of the remaining Death Eaters tumbled forward, head tilted down to see the gaping hole in his chest, robes and innards blasted out in a spray of blood and bone. He fell hard to the floor, making everyone pause in shock.
The last Death Eater barely had a moment to think. A strong burst of wind sent him bowling head over feet, toward Hermione, Barty, and Regulus. Hermione dropped the shield and Regulus snapped flipendo at the man. Caught between the two spells, his body thrashed and floundered, and then his head turned too sharply. There was an audible snap in the corridor, and then the man fell to the floor with a thud as both spells were ended.
Behind them, breathing heavily, Sirius tried to make light by saying, "Well, I wasn't expecting my confringo to blast people apart."
"Sirius!" gasped Regulus in relief, taking a few wobbling steps forward.
Both Hermione and Barty sagged toward one another, also in relief. They were sweaty and shivering, and Hermione was far more exhausted than she normally was. Sirius's arrival was exactly what they needed.
Sirius met Regulus, clutching his little brother to him for a tight moment, and then stepped back with his hands on his shoulders. His grey eyes peered all over his face. "Are you alright? Have you been hurt?"
"Bellatrix tortured him with the Cruciatus," offered Hermione, moving forward when Regulus refused to speak. "But she didn't have much time to do anything else."
Sirius's eyes then swept over her, lingering on her belly. "Are you well, too, Princess?"
She scowled, crossing her arms, goodwill of his timely save evaporating. "Fine."
He gave Hermione a toothy grin, and then it faded as he settled into a determined pose, turning from joker to Auror in a heartbeat. "C'mon, we need to get you three out of here."
"What's going on above?" asked Regulus, falling into step with Sirius as the older wizard ushered them the way he came, further down the long corridor.
"Dumbledore got word from a spy that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named would be here and all but declared we were going to do a massive attack," explained Sirius, voice tight. He kept them moving, footsteps light. "We arrived about twenty minutes ago. The wards were down, letting us in, but we were expected. We've been fighting since."
"Is James here, too?" asked Hermione quietly, peering up at Sirius.
His face was tight, tense when he nodded. "He sent me to find you when we overheard some Death Eaters talking about capturing someone important." He paused, glancing at her quickly before facing forward again. "And a prophecy."
Bile rose in Hermione's mouth. All her careful planning with Barty and Regulus – about facing Voldemort on their terms – and it had been overtaken by chance from the Order! Voldemort had called everyone to the Manor and made it their battleground, and Hermione hadn't anticipated nor prepared for it. They had been hoping for the Forest of Dean in a month or so, with enough time to boobytrap the Forest.
Nothing to it, she thought, mouth pursed. They would have to make do.
Muffled, echoing voices from further ahead of them had Sirius swearing. He shoved Regulus ahead of him down a side passage, this one darker and narrower than others; Barty and Hermione scurried after them.
Sirius bodily shielded Hermione, pressing her further into the damp wall as the noises grew louder. Hermione found herself holding her breath and squeezing her eyes shut, thinking over and over: don't see us don't see us don't see us. Her magic obliged, and the shimmer of a Notice-Me-Not spell enveloped them.
A large group of Death Eaters raced past them, not even one stopping or peering in their direction. Sirius waited until the noise from their footsteps was gone, and then tugged Regulus out first, checking both directions.
With a heavy exhale, and face turned in the direction the Death Eaters went, he muttered, "I came down through a servant's staircase, about ten yards further down this hallway. Get to it, and you'll emerge in the conservatory, near the organ, on the ground floor. It's close to the back gardens – there's a maze out there, I think – get to it and get past the maze and you'll reach the ward boundary. You can escape."
Hermione, Barty, and Regulus shared a look.
"We're not going anywhere," said Regulus stubbornly, jutting his jaw.
Sirius bit back another swear, glaring at his brother. "This isn't the time to play hero, Reg—"
"Then when is?" he countered sharply.
"Ugh!" Sirius turned to face away and then stilled. Hermione was reminded of a dog sensing its prey. His lips flattened into a tight line. "There's someone coming. You need to go. Now."
From near where they had been pinned, at the beginning of the long hallway and the L-intersection, the same large group of Death Eaters that passed them earlier appeared. They were dark shadows in their robes, their bone-white masks eerily floating as they sped forward, like apparitions that only appeared between the flickering torchlight, decreasing the space between them in sharp bursts.
"Go!" shouted Sirius, pushing Regulus. He already had his wand out and was cutting it diagonally through the air. A large red wave pulsed and sped down the remaining space and slammed into two of the Death Eaters, sending them to the floor. They were only stepped over by the others, who continued to advance; some even already began sending familiar, sickly green spells toward them, splashing well away from the four.
"Not without you," retorted Regulus sharply, joining Sirius with his own spellfire, clearly doing more aiming than wide-range spells like his brother, as potshots.
"Damn it, Reg!" Sirius' eyes were wide and wild. "You're my little brother—"
"Not. Without. You," he repeated, voice low. His eyes caught Sirius' – both grey, both resolute – and finally, Sirius nodded.
Regulus sent a look behind, over his shoulder, at Hermione and Barty. It was pleading.
Hermione heaved a deep breath. She didn't like the idea of splitting up, but… She stepped forward and hugged Regulus tight. "Don't die," she muttered into his ear, breathing in his familiar scent and feeling his warmth.
"I don't plan to," he replied, stepping back. She moved away and Barty took her place.
Hermione turned to Sirius, as Regulus took up the defence. He looked a bit strained, lines at the corner of his eyes a bit more pronounced, but he took the time to give her a tight, reassuring smile. "What, no words of comfort for me, Princess?"
With a mild shake of her head to hide her smile, Hermione hugged him tight. Sirius was pleased and equally surprised, but hugged her back, lifting her briefly off her feet. When he released her, he gave her a small smile. "Keep that godson of mine safe, Hermione."
"You too, Padfoot," she replied, slowly drawing away.
A sizzle of yellow passed too close for comfort over Sirius's shoulder, and he startled in surprise. He turned, but Hermione was slow to step away, watching as the two Black brothers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, a shield between the incoming Death Eaters and Barty and Hermione.
Barty was the one who tugged Hermione away a few steps, toward the servant's staircase. "We need to go," he muttered to her.
She nodded and stepped back, once, twice. Then, they were jogging, finding the still-open servant's door where Sirius described. Hermione glanced once more back at the brothers; Regulus waved them off and then turned to look at Sirius, who grinned at his brother. With their flyaway black hair, matching wild smiles, they had never looked so alike.
She dove into the dark, narrow, steep staircase and began to climb.
Barty, behind her, took one last look, catching Sirius' eyes. There was something in them that Barty did not expect: guilt and apology. There had never been time for them to discuss what had happened at the Shrieking Shack, all those years ago, for all that their social lives had become entangled. So, Barty did the only thing he could. He nodded, once, solemnly to Sirius, and let go of his own anger at the man. It had a time and place, and this wasn't it.
He shut the servant's staircase door behind himself, plunging both him and Hermione into darkness.
The climb was hard in the dark. Hermione conjured a floating ball of bluebell flames, but they were weak and flickered uncomfortably whenever they heard thuds or screams through the stone and wood walls.
The flames fizzled out completely when, from below them at the base of the stairs, they heard the wood splinter from the door and bottom few steps, becoming nothing more than a messy mass of splinters and debris that blocked anyone from pursuing them – and kept Regulus and Sirius from joining them.
"Keep going," urged Barty from behind Hermione, helping her as she stumbled in the dark, slamming her knee on one sharp step.
The air was stagnant and dusty, making each breath they took like tiny razor blades cutting them with every inhale. Dust made Hermione's nose twitch, and the encompassing dark made her hands tremble, her brain imagining scenarios behind every scream, cry, or shout they heard.
He pushed her from behind until they reached the top. Hermione fumbled in the dark, feeling around for a latch or cord or handle to open the door to the conservatory. Her fingers finally caught on the metal, and she pulled, the door swinging open.
She and Barty tumbled out, gasping for fresh air.
"How kind of you to join us, Ms. Evans," a sibilant voice declared, making Hermione jerk her head up. "Mr. Crouch. Welcome."
The conservatory was no longer empty: the organ they should have been able to use as cover had been pushed up against the far wall, leaving the carpeted space open. Near the windows, Rabastan Lestrange was curled up, blood pooling underneath him and staining the carpet.
Above him, Voldemort loomed, but he turned his back on the teenager and pocketed his wand to face Hermione and Barty. At his side, Roldophus stared back passively, his face entirely blank. There were others who lingered around the Dark Lord and prone teenager, many whom Hermione recognized: Macnair, Snyde, Avery, Rosier, Crabbe, Goyle, Pyrites, the Carrow siblings, Mulciber…
"Fuck," whispered Barty, terrified, with wide eyes and a pale face that made his freckles stand out all that more.
"Now, now," began Voldemort, red eyes focused on them. "There's no need for that kind of base language, Mr. Crouch. After all, we're all… civilized witches and wizards, here."
His pale, bloodless lips stretched into a parody of a welcoming smile, and he gestured them with a beckoning hand move. Hermione felt the foreign magic catch her, wrap around her middle and pull her resisting form across the carpet, her toes dragging behind. At her side, Barty followed, squirming in the grip.
The magic released them a few meters from the Dark Lord, but in the center of the room. The Death Eaters began to slowly fan out, creating a barrier and enclosing the two in along with Rabastan and Voldemort.
"Now, Ms. Evans," began Voldemort, that same fake, pleasant smile on his face. Dread pooled in Hermione, something prescient falling over her. She wasn't going to like what the wizard said next, she was sure.
"What is this prophecy I am hearing about you being the greatest hope to defeating me?"