Chapter 26


"'S a bit exciting, innit?"

Regulus lifted his gaze from the Prophet, just in time to watch Scabior shove a mouthful of eggs in his mouth. Regulus grimaced in distaste.

"See now, this is the part where you say, 'why Scabs, wot's it that you find exciting?'" Scabior said in a mock voice.

"Why Scabs, what is it that you find exciting?" Regulus's lips curled in a smirk.

Scabior leaned in, whispering conspiratorially. "The whole thing. All of it. Bein' part of something bigger than all of us. When Granger came to me last year, I couldn't have dreamed what I'd be doing now."

"What, barely masticating eggs?"

"That too." Scabior grinned, and Regulus rolled his eyes, though he couldn't quite stop the smile tugging at his lips. "I thought I knew where I was headed before this, you know? Had my life set out before me, following along, not really inclined in any one direction. But this? It's like I have purpose now. What I do means something."

Regulus nodded, refolding the newspaper and setting it aside. "I know what you mean. I thought I knew what lay ahead of me. What my duty was. For so long I was resentful about it, but this…" Regulus shook his head. "It's all changed."

"It has." Scabior dragged his fork around through his eggs. "You and Sirius seem to be getting on."

"Yeah." Regulus smiled to himself. "He came for me."

"Sure did."

"Thought I was in danger. He shook my father's hand."

"Hope he washed twice afterwards."

"Knowing him, it was closer to three."

Scabior snorted. He regarded Regulus for a long moment, unnoticed, as Regulus poured himself another glass of pumpkin juice. "You know, with everything going on, it's got me thinking about the future." His tone was oddly hesitant. Regulus glanced up at him.


"Yeah, like what I might do after. If I make it, that is."

"You're making it."

"Yeah, but—"

Regulus's expression closed. "No. There's no question about it."

Scabior frowned. "Mate, I don't mean to be a thorny wand in your pocket, but we can't ignore the possibility that I won't—"

"No." Regulus's hand was suddenly holding Scabior's, clasping tightly. "I'll not hear it, Scabior. There's no future scenario without you in it. I won't allow it."

Scabior stared at Regulus for a long moment. He nodded faintly. "Yeah, alright. 'S not happening, like you said."


Scabior's eyes slowly slid to their clasped hands. Regulus had not let go. His fingers were pressed into Scabior's palm, his thumb against the back of Scabior's hand.

Then, as if imagining it, Regulus felt a soft brush of Scabior's thumb against his fingers.

They let go at the same time, heat climbing up Regulus's face as he diverted his attention to his breakfast, and Scabior reaching for his glass. When Regulus finally chanced a glance at him, Scabior met his gaze steadily over the rim of his glass, drinking deeply.


"You're a cat?"

Remus looked absolutely delighted. Hermione practically preened under Remus's praise. "Oh, you must show me soon. You must be so adorable. Tell me she's adorable?"

"Cute as a button," Sirius confirmed. He cast Hermione a fond look, which quickly turned wicked. "When she's not trying to swat at your legs while you run, that is."

"Hey, you started that. You nearly took my ear off," Hermione countered with a raised brow. They were sat comfortably around the Gryffindor common room, replete with dinner and taking to lazing in front of the fireplace.

"That was playbiting, love. No way I'd take a chomp out of your kitty ear."

"And I was playswatting. It's totally a cat thing. Or, I'm pretty sure it's a cat thing," Hermione frowned. "I should look into it. Crookshanks used to do it, but he was half-Kneazle, so he's not a very good standard of comparison."

Sirius began to grin. "You took in a half-Kneazle cat as your familiar? Why am I not at all surprised?"

"Well, nobody else wanted him! I couldn't just leave him at the shop once I found that out. I'd been looking for a pet and… well, he was staring at me."

"Probably deciding if you'd make a good lunch," James said helpfully.

Remus hummed. "My wolf form does always have food on the back of his mind when it's transformation week."

"Yeah, but you didn't eat any of us," Sirius reminded.

Remus snorted. "You think I haven't tried? You lot were just too bloody stubborn to leave me alone."

Hermione tilted her head thoughtfully. "I'm so curious now. How much does animal behavior translate in Animagus transfiguration—depending on how long you stay in that form? I've read up on this of course, but it's a different thing when actually experiencing it. Are certain animal forms more susceptible to instinctive behaviors that we can't control when in that state?"

"Listen," said James, burrowing deeper into his cushion on the armchair. "If it comes naturally while you're in your Animagus form, it's probably normal. No need to overthink it, is what I say."

"He says that because he's always rubbing his antlers against a tree the minute he transforms into a stag," Sirius whispered to Hermione, who stifled a grin.

"Except Peter won't eat cheese while a rat," Remus said thoughtfully.

Peter, who was sitting on the carpet by the fireplace, frowned indignantly. "I don't like it! It has a smell."

"That's another thing. Everything smells so much worse as an animal. Keener senses," Sirius sighed. "Catching a sniff of unwashed bums all the time is no cakewalk."

"He trotted through London as a dog once," Remus explained to Hermione. "He wasn't quite the same for a while after."

A roar of discussion erupted, and Hermione shook her head and returned her attention to the book in her lap. "What's this?" Sirius asked, propping his chin over her shoulder to read. After a moment, she felt him stiffen beside her. "Unforgivable curses? What's got you reading this?"

Hermione opened her mouth to speak but paused. Casting a wary glance around the common room, Hermione nodded in the other direction. "Come on."

Sirius followed Hermione toward the girls' dormitory. He halted before he could take a step up. Hermione turned back questioningly.

"I can't. The stairs," said Sirius, gesturing at the stairs in question. He shrugged, smiling apologetically. "We could go to my dormitory?"

"Mm, but my room's empty tonight. Everyone's sleeping over Merilla Stacy's dorm room," Hermione explained. "Let me just…" Pulling out her wand, Hermione flicked her wrist and spelled the stairs. "There. Come on up."

Glancing warily at the stairs, Sirius took a tentative step. When his foot met solid marble and the stairs didn't sink into a slide, Sirius flashed a smile and followed Hermione up.

The upended bedcovers and missing pillows had Sirius whistle low as he closed the door behind him. "Explain again why the girls are sleeping in the Slytherin common room tonight?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Merilla snuck in a bottle of firebrand merlot from her parent's cabinet during the holidays. The whole Slytherin common room's joined in—they've made it a bit of a party. Last I heard."

Sirius barked a laugh. "You're joking. Really! Merlin, I'd like to see that, if only to see the Slytherins get sloshed."

Snorting, Hermione settled on the bed near the pillows. Her smile widened when Sirius, with a wink, jumped a little and settled closely next to her. "So," said Sirius. "You were going to talk about the book."

Hermione's expression sobered. "Yes. It's… it's something I've been thinking about since you said you and Regulus would try finding the last horcrux together. We know—at least we think we know—that Bellatrix has it."

"Yes," said Sirius slowly. "Not quite following, though, love."

Hermione glanced down, smoothing the pleat of her skirt over her knees. "There are things that the universe, you could say, took care of when the Sands brought me here. I became part of the Potter family. They were connected to the Grangers, somehow. I woke up in a bedroom they provided for me, with a Hogwarts letter from Professor Dumbledore already sitting on the desk. All little pieces, designed to establish me here forever. One of those things," said Hermione, with a little frown, "was the circumstance that orphaned me."

"Death Eaters killed your family," Sirius said quietly. He folded her hand in his. Hermione smiled a little at the gesture, and nodded.

"Yes. And in particular, they tortured me. They used the Cruciatus curse, not enough to render me insane, clearly, but enough that I have… the aftereffects of it. You've seen it before."

"I have. That first day on the carriage," Sirius replied darkly. His expression was grim. "Is this why you're reading up on the Unforgivables?"

Hermione shifted a little to face him directly. "We're up against the impossible this time, Sirius. It might not feel like it because the finale is facing Voldemort, but Bellatrix is not one to sneeze at. I bet you anything she's the one who tortured me—she's why I seize up in pain sometimes. I…" Hermione shook her head, breaking away from Sirius's gaze. "It's going to happen again. I can feel it. And I need to be prepared. We"—Hermione gripped Sirius's hand tightly—"need to be prepared."

Sirius tightly squeezed Hermione's fingers back. "I understand. There's no way to deflect a Cruciatus curse, though, love. How do we, or you, defend against it?"

"I don't plan on deflecting it, Sirius."

Hermione stared at Sirius until his eyes widened.

"You can't be serious. Hermione, that…" Sirius reached for words, staring back at her incredulously. "This is nothing like using a fiendfyre curse. You have to have that cruelty in you to use Unforgivable Curses. Using that kind of magic… it changes you. Dark magic, it's—it's corrupting."

"I'm already changed, Sirius," Hermione said softly.

"Not like this," said Sirius quietly. "Nothing like this."

"If I don't cross that line, we will lose." Hermione's expression was resolute. "I feel like—like everything has been leading to this. Dark magic isn't a theory anymore, it's a part of this and... a part of who I am now." Hermione said the words with difficulty. "I can't ignore what this is doing to me. But dark magic is an integral part of our plan. We're working with initiate Death Eaters, for Merlin's sake."

"I know, I know Hermione, I'm not—" Sirius squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm not trying to shut you down. I actually, genuinely understand where this is coming from." He reopened his eyes to stare at her with emphasis. "My family is all twisted up in the dark ways. Our library has books so unspeakable it would make even Dumbledore's beard curl. I know what using it does to you. I've seen how it changes a person. To control someone, take their mind, their agency, to torture, to kill. I just… can't bear to see what it'll do to you. That you're feeling cornered into using it."

Hermione reached over and squeezed Sirius's hand. "I know. And I know how personal this is for you." Her fingers reached under the sleeve of his sweater, pushing it up lightly until she could trace the scar underneath. "You said it yourself over Christmas. I will be up against Voldemort with nothing to show for it. I'll die. I have to be prepared."

"That's what we're here for," said Sirius fiercely. "The whole bloody point of that conversation was to explain why you need all of us."

"I do. I'm not denying it, but my god, Sirius, am I wrong? Am I actually wrong to prepare for the worst?" Hermione looked away, swallowing hard. "I know the cost. I know what it takes to use these curses. I have to believe I can come back from it."

Silence stretched between them for a long moment. Sirius closed his eyes and turned away. Hermione didn't blame him; this was beyond unpalatable to consider. But it had to be done. She had to try.

With a soft exhale, Sirius reopened his eyes. "We become what we hate," he said softly, and tilted his head to glance at her. "The very thing we swore to destroy."

Hermione smiled a little as Sirius lifted his arm for her to burrow against him. Settling comfortably, Hermione traced a ridge on his sweater. "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Sirius shifted to pull up Hermione by the chin, and kissed her hard. Hermione's fingers tightened on his sweater as she kissed him back, her heart beating wildly when he pulled away. His eyes darkened with conviction. "Over my dead body."

Blinking rapidly, Hermione pressed her face against his shoulder and held him tightly. Sirius squeezed back, kissing the top of her hair. "I hate this," Hermione said into his sweater. "I just had to convince you that using Unforgivable curses is a good idea. I hate it. God, I hate all of it."

"I know, love."

Hermione drew back enough to meet his eyes uncertainly. "I'll have to…" She couldn't bring herself to say it.

Sirius's gaze became knowing. He held her just a little tighter. "I'll help. Doesn't have to be anything big, you can use insects. Plenty of them on the grounds."

Hermione shook her head, then snorted. "When I was a fourth year, our Dark Arts professor showed all three Unforgivables on a spider. It was vile, and disgusting, and I was very loud about how cruel it was. I never wanted to see something like it again. And look at me now."

"I"m sorry, love. I know the feeling. It's awful."

A thought entered her mind, and Hermione looked at Sirius curiously. "Have you ever seen them performed?"

Sirius looked at her solemnly. "You know my family. I've seen it all."


Sirius's gaze lingered. "All."

Hermione's heart clenched in her chest. "Oh, Sirius."

Sirius forced a smile and broke their gaze, clearing his throat. "It's alright. I'm free now, yeah? Never have to be around that lot again. That is, unless they catch me or Reg when we poke around the manor."

Hermione bit her lip. "I'm still worried about that, you know."

"Love, you're always worried."

Hermione scoffed. "I am not." She hesitated, then deflated. "I definitely am."

Sirius grinned and pressed a laughing kiss to her temple. "Not your fault. Got the weight of the world on your shoulders, don't you? As for me and Reggie, we'll be fine. We know that house like the back of our hands—we won't get caught. Again."

"Good. I have plans for you, and not being a pile of rubble in your old house is sort of key."

"Plans?" Sirius lifted a brow. "Care to share with the audience?"

A secretive smile played on Hermione's lips. "You and me plans."

Her face began to warm at the spark of heat in Sirius's eyes, but she held his gaze. "Hermione Granger," Sirius said quietly, his voice soft and teasing, "you are being saucy with me."

"Hey, you picked me." Hermione shrugged, her smile widening as Sirius started leaning in closer. "I can be as saucy as I want with you now."

"Thank Merlin for that. Any longer and I'd've had to consider finding another shrinking sweater."

Hermione's answering retort was silenced against Sirius's lips.


All Severus wanted to do was sleep.

It had been a long day. Oliver Cornby had spilled oil of boil on Severus's robes during potions, which made him late to his next class, which made him late for lunch. A group of first-year Slytherins decided to set off dungbombs on the fifth floor except they didn't know how and they exploded right in their faces, which made them cry at the smell, which made Professor Slughorn suddenly appear, as the head of the House, whom Severus had the misfortune to be walking past, and suddenly found himself tasked with taking them to the infirmary to get rid of the stench that now clung to them.

By the time he had supper he knew it was an early night in. No studying for Severus Snape. Except, to his bloody misfortune, the entire dungeon decided to have a party because somebody brought booze to Hogwarts and—

A shriek cut off Severus's thoughts, and he held in a frustrated growl. "If looks could kill," a voice drawled, and Severus turned his head to find Scabior sauntering up to him. "Din't expect to see you here."

Severus pushed himself further against the wall he was leaning against, scowling. "And why's that."

Scabior shrugged. "'Spect your nose'd be in a book in the dormitory than watching Briar chug a case of beer."

Severus rolled his eyes. "I wanted to sleep, but this"—he gestured angrily—"is keeping me up. May as well be here to witness Slughorn coming down and docking a hundred points."

Scabior blanched and hastily set down the can in his hand. "You told?"

Severus scoffed. "What do you take me for? But all this bloody noise will—"

"—do nothing. Merilla did a powerful Silencing charm. Damn good at charms, she is."

Severus's expression darkened. "Then there's no point in staying after all."

"Come on, mate." Scabior rolled his eyes dramatically. "Don't you get tired of being all…" He gestured vaguely. "I know I get tired of seeing it."

Was he deliberately trying to get hexed? "Why are you here?" Severus said acidly.

Scabior tilted his head questioningly.

"Here. Talking to me. Like we're mates."

"Er, aren't we?"

Severus stared.

Scabior gave him a wounded look. "We are! Don't have to be an arse about it."

"What on earth gave you the impression that we are friends?"

"Well, you know." Scabior widened his eyes with emphasis.


"You know." His eyes widened more.

It clicked. "That's where you misunderstand," Severus hissed, drawing close enough to loom over Scabior. "Being workplace associates doesn't make us anything."

Scabior snorted loudly. "Workplace associates? Where's Regulus—REGULUS! C'mere and listen to what Snape just—ow!"

Severus folded his arms as Scabior rubbed his shoulder. Just then, Regulus came into view, and holding a glass at that. "You called?"

"Snape thinks we aren't friends," said Scabior.

"We aren't," said Regulus. With a smirk, he slung his arm around Scabior's shoulders. "We're bosom buddies."

Ignoring Scabior's snort, Severus snatched the glass from Regulus's hand. "That's enough of that."

"Oi! I can hol-hold my drink."

"Is that why you're swaying?"

Regulus attempted to stand straight. "You can't tell me what to do."

"As a matter of fact, I can."


"I'm older than you," Severus replied indifferently. Staring beyond the rim of the glass, Severus gave the drink a tentative sip. "You're too young to drink. I better not see you do it again."

"Only two years younger than you," Regulus scowled, then glanced at Scabior. "Tell 'im, Scabs."

"He's two years younger than you," Scabior told Severus.

"And besides, I only had…" Regulus paused. His face went pale. "Balls."

Scabior exchanged a glance with Severus, who glared severely. "Time to get you to a loo," he said, and wrapped his arm around Regulus's waist. "Come on…"

Severus ignored Regulus's protests and resumed glowering at the crowd. It was incredible witnessing so many of his classmates revert to incomprehensible dunderheads, all because Merilla bleeding Stacy brought—

A shadow fell over Severus and he snapped, "By Merlin, Scabior, if you're here to talk about being friends again—"

"Wow, if I'm getting mistaken for Scabior, I'm definitely doing something wrong."

Severus's head snapped up to see Lily as she sidled in next to him, smiling. "Fancy seeing you here."

"And you," said Severus, his mood starting to lighten. That was the best thing about Lily; even at his most annoyed, she could always make things a little brighter, just by being there. "It feels like half of Hogwarts is packed in here."

Lily shrugged. "It's not often you get a secret party. Frankly I'm surprised we didn't do one earlier. But yes, definitely some Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws are scattered about as well. Word spread fast."


"I think it's fun."

Severus glared at her. "I wanted to sleep."

Lily raised a brow. "Who's stopping you?"

"Oh, I don't know. Let me think."

Lily grinned. "Come off it, Sev. It's Friday night, Slughorn's asleep, and we all could use a bit of fun. It's not been a normal year, after all."

"Certainly not. We've never had to see Oliver Cornby stuff this many peanuts in his mouth before."

A laugh bubbled past Lily's lips and Severus turned to face her, half-amused and half-annoyed. "He spilled oil of boil on me during Potions, Lily. I nearly thrashed him for the smell alone."

"God, that stuff lingers," Lily said darkly. "Slughorn shouldn't make us use that ingredient anyway. It's so much less efficient than pixie dust."

"Pixie's got a lower heat threshold than boil."

"Yes, but at least it doesn't have fifteen warning signs to look for when using it in a brew."

"It's irritating, I don't disagree."

Lily narrowed her eyes. "Is that—"

"A fourth-year? Yeah."

"They're not allowed! We specifically said sixth and seventh years only can drink."

"Hm, slight problem when there's no actual supervision."

"Bloody hell," Lily muttered.

Severus began to smirk. "I suppose I shouldn't tell you that Sirius's brother is completely plastered right now."

"What? " Lily exclaimed. "Where is he?"

"Scabior's taken him upstairs. Leave off it for now."

"Sirius will chew Reggie's head off when he finds out."

"Let me know when he does—I'd like to watch."

Lily snorted and shook her head. A comfortable silence passed between them, both of them watching the small chaos unfolding in the common room. Suddenly, Lily said, "I've missed this."

Severus glanced at her. Lily turned her head to meet his eyes, and he found warmth in her gaze. "Me too," he replied, smiling slightly.

Lily mirrored his smile, which then turned wistful. "We don't spend enough time together anymore, Sev."

"I know. Everything's been so…"

"I know. But soon, yeah? Once…once it's all done. Then all we have to worry about is graduation, and jobs, or more school, and dating, and…"

Severus couldn't stop his snort.

"What?" Lily narrowed her eyes.

"That's an optimistic list."

"Well I intend to do all of them." Lily sniffed. "As will you."

Severus withheld from rolling his eyes. He wanted to say that there was a good chance none of them would make it out alive, and even less of a chance for Severus, if Voldemort found out he was a traitor. Instead, Severus said nothing. He'd known Lily long enough to know when something was worth arguing with her or not.

Lily suddenly sucked in a breath. "Oooh, finally. Someone's managed to sneak in food from the kitchens."

"You can thank me for that, Evans." None other than Merilla Stacy strolled up toward them, lips twisting in an amused smile. "It helps when the kitchen elves like you. Here."

She held a plate loaded with food to Severus. His lip curled in distaste. "No thanks."

Merilla didn't miss a beat and handed it off to Lily. "Enjoy. I added extra chips."

"Ta." Lily didn't waste time and started munching on a chip.

"Not drinking, not eating, and not enjoying yourself," Merilla noted, eyeing Severus with interest. "I'm almost flattered."

"It's purely unintentional, if that is the case."

Merilla chuckled. "I swear, this was supposed to be just me, Lily, and the rest of my dormmates. Unfortunately, Lucrezia Hannigan doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut."

Severus grunted. Sighing, Merilla turned her gaze back to Lily. "I'm off to bed, then. Make sure Alice gets to her dorm alright."

"Night, Stace," Lily said.

Severus huffed indignantly. "You're leaving your own party?"

Merilla shrugged slightly. "I'm knackered. See you in History of Magic."

Severus watched her go, even more annoyed. "I don't understand people like her."

"Like what?" Lily asked, giving him a look that was more knowing than he liked.

"She just… does whatever she pleases."

"Some would say that's a good way to live."

"She left her own party."

"You heard her—she didn't intend for a party," Lily reminded.

Severus didn't know why this was agitating him so much, but he couldn't let it go just yet. "Why did she bring alcohol anyway?" he snapped.

Lily took another bite of food, chewing slowly. "Probably for the same reason a lot of other students had some stashed away." Her next words were carefully said. "I think, perhaps, a lot of us sense what you and I already know is coming." Lily set down the plate on a nearby chair and placed a gentle hand on his arm. "If there was a time to enjoy the moments we have, I think it has arrived."

Slipping her hand back to her side, Lily wandered over to chat with Alice. Suddenly feeling very tired, Severus turned and left.


"It would be nice, I think," said Remus eventually, as Hermione made circuits around him as a cat, "if I could actually have an Animagus form."

Hermione the Cat stopped in front of him, waiting. Remus smiled and bent down, scritching her chin and was rewarded with an answering purr. When he moved away, Hermione transformed back.

"Has anyone ever done it before?" Hermione asked curiously, adjusting her sweater. "Had a werewolf and Animagus form?"

Remus shook his head. "The werewolf isn't just a form, it's an actual… being inside of me, waiting to come out. To be honest, there hasn't been enough documentation on the life led by those bitten by a werewolf. My guess is, the wolf will reject any attempt. He's quite possessive like that."

Hermione looked intrigued. "That's such an interesting way to put it. Yes, I could see that being a problem." Hermione paused a moment. "When you were… attacked in the Shrieking Shack by the other werewolf, did you ever find out who that was?"

Remus frowned. "No. I—for a second I thought I knew who it was, but the next morning I'd all but forgotten his face. I just remember he was big, quite big, and… I think he'd been waiting for me. I don't know why."

Hermione absorbed this quietly. He could tell her mind was working, but whatever she was thinking, Remus would not be privy for it today. She shook her head with a smile. "I'm sorry I brought it up. Thank you for helping me collect what I needed, Remus."

Remus looked at the jar in Hermione's hand, just as she tucked it inside her bag. "Have you told anyone else about this?"

"Only Sirius and you, so far. I'm not sure this is one I want to broadcast." Hermione glanced away. "I'm not sure I'm willing to hear what they will say."

"That's very fair." Remus looked upon Hermione with a pang of sadness. Of all she bore under her shoulders, Hermione was perhaps the only person he knew who did not feel sorry for herself for it. "When do you plan to start?"

"I'd planned to tonight. Sneak to the Room of Requirement and, you know." Hermione wrapped an arm around her middle.

"Will Sirius be there?"

Hermione shook her head. "He wanted to, but tonight's the only night he and Regulus can coordinate time in secret to discuss their plan. I do believe they intend to break into the Black Manor on Saturday."


Smiling a little, Hermione turned back to face the castle. She checked her watch. "I think if we hurry, we can still make lunch."

Nodding, Remus fell in step with Hermione as they walked up the grounds. A peaceful silence passed between them, interrupted only by the sound of the giant squid blowing bubbles in the Black Lake.

Remus finally spoke. "I'll be there, then."

Hermione looked up, startled. "Sorry?"

"Tonight, the Room of Requirement," said Remus. He quirked a small smile. "I'll be there with you."

Hermione gave a short, anxious laugh. "It's not exactly a spectator sport, Remus. I'd… I'd actually prefer being alone for this one."

Remus stopped. He waited until Hermione turned to face him, looking at her with an openness he rarely shared. "Hermione," he said softly. "I know what it's like to be alone when you're doing something you hate. So I'm going to do for you what James, Peter, and Sirius did for me—even when I tried scaring them off." He took a step closer, gazing at her firmly. "I'll be there."

Hermione stared, blinking rapidly, and nodded. "Okay."

Smiling, Remus gave Hermione a short nod and began walking again.

A/N: Hello beautiful friends! I know this wasn't updated as soon as most of you would like, but I'm happy I got this out anyway. I've been getting such an incredible stream of kindness and enthusiasm and just overall good-heartedness from all of you, especially in the last couple months. I wanted to shout, hey! I'm writing the next chapter, don't worry! But I wanted to just publish it and let the chapter speak for itself.

Second, As of July 25 that just passed, this fic has reached its 10-year anniversary. I know. It took me a while to process that, because it does not feel like that much time has passed... but it has. When I started Sands, I was 18 and bored in my old bedroom, wondering what university would be like in the fall. I was still growing into myself, learning, becoming the person I am proud to be today. In that time, my writing has transformed. Matured. The scope of it is sometimes limited in this story, but it's there, and anyone who's been here since day 1 will have seen that growth. Above that, I have made... truly incredible friends on here and online writing fanfic and being part of a fandom community. If not for Sands, which was my step into this world, really, I would have missed out on some truly incredible, valuable, and life-changing friendships. You all know who you are.

Thank you to everyone who has read this fic. Thank you to all of you, new and old, who left a review or a favorite or follow, who gave this little story a chance and let me know in some way that you enjoyed it. When I say I read every review, I mean it. Good and bad, thankfully where the good far outweighs anything bad. I'm the luckiest fic writer ever, you guys. I'm still chugging along, sometimes hopping fandoms, and updating this slowly, and the love you give is truly rewarding. THANK YOU. Seriously, y'all make this experience so special. I don't rightly think I deserve it, but it means the world that you do.

As for this fic itself, next chapter is all plot! Things have been sprinkled and set up in this one. Trajectory-wise, there's not much left to this story-things are falling into place, and what I've been slowly setting up is all coming to head now. So YAY! Also, there are two quotes here: in the conversation on the bed, Sirius's "we become what we hate" is loosely based on an old yoga maxim, and Hermione's quote is from the Bhagavad Gita.

Lastly, technically this story is still under revisions so... if you see something inconsistent, please forgive me! It'll be addressed soon enough.

Thank you again, and thank you for joining me on this incredible ride.

Until chapter 27! x