Hermione looked from the rough scrap of paper Sirius' raven had delivered to her over to the proper letter that Amelia's owl Hera had delivered to Harry.
"Aunt Amy say anything helpful? Dad's just gloating."
"Apparently she's taking a few days off to make sure everything is okay at home before she goes back to work," Harry made a face at her. "Which means she's hanging around to make sure Dad and Remus aren't going to kill each other if she leaves them unattended."
"And it means that you two need to cough up," Susan announced, arriving from the Hufflepuff table. "I win!"
Groaning, both Harry and Hermione began rummaging in their pockets for galleons.
"Why do we always lose?" Harry complained.
"Because she's sneaky," Hermione grumbled, handing over ten coins to her sister. "How'd you know they'd find him so quickly?"
"Because they always knew where he was, they just wanted to see if he'd come home by himself," Susan tucked her winnings away and pulled out her schedule. "We've got double potions together this morning."
"Oh, yes. With Hermione's new mortal enemy." Harry laughed as his sister glared at him. "What? Admit it, you don't like Slughorn."
"I dislike toadies." Hermione glared at the new potions master who was busy eating an enormous breakfast. He'd attempted to summon her and Harry on the Hogwarts Express but Susan, who was alarmingly well connected, had warned them off. "Anyone who only thinks I'm worth something because of my parents is of little interest to me." She waved to Minerva who was talking to Snape. Her adopted mother smiled at them, while Snape looked up and glared at the three students.
"I am not looking forward to Defence," Harry mumbled.
"Not again!" Hermione swore and her siblings turned to see what had alarmed her so. Slipping into the Great Hall, a fresh black eye blooming on his face, was Draco.
"Got the bruise balm?" Harry asked. Susan handed him the pot and the three of them went off to wrangle their cousin.
Draco saw them coming and rolled his eyes.
"I'm fine!" He hissed.
Hermione handed him a bacon sandwich with one hand and dragged him from the hall with the other.
As the well-documented news of his father's arrest had brought with it the news of his parent's divorce, Draco had become public enemy number one in the Slytherin Common Room. Hermione had made very certain that the Slytherin's saw he was under her protection which only meant they didn't target him anywhere that she might catch them. He was on his own in his dormitory.
"You can't keep sleeping there," Harry complained as Hermione applied the balm with gentle swipes of her fingers. The Twins bruise balm was a noxious shade of yellow, but it was extremely effective.
"I think Nott, Crabbe and Goyle have taken the mark," Draco murmured, one eye shut.
"Their fathers were also arrested in the Ministry," Susan pointed out thoughtfully.
"The Dark Lord would take that as a sign the families owed him new Death Eaters." Draco's tone was subdued. "They wouldn't have had any choice."
"I know," Hermione promised. "But even if they didn't have a choice, I will not let them take it out on you." She wiped her fingers on Susan's offered handkerchief and glared at him. "So we're going to find somewhere else for you to sleep, we can set up a meeting with Snape to get it sorted out. Do you want me to retaliate?"
Draco glared at her.
"You are such a Gryffindor." He complained. "If you retaliate, they'll know it worked."
"If I retaliate, they'll know I won't stand for them fucking with you," Hermione insisted. She held up her hands in surrender, "It's up to you, Draco. C'mon, we're already late to potions."
"I'm going to have to hold tryouts," Harry complained as he threw himself onto the sofa and rested his head in Hermione's lap. "We're missing two Chasers and both Beaters. Not to mention I've got Weasley to get into shape as well. He's a good player, but if the Slytherin's start that singing shit again…even with you and Katie on the team it's basically going to be starting from scratch."
"I'm not going to be on your Quidditch team," Hermione murmured, ignoring the girl glaring at her across the room.
"What?" Harry stared at her. "Why not? You've been the reserve Chaser for years."
"Partly because I'm too busy," She smoothed his loose hair away. "But mostly because Ginny Weasley is going to be the other chaser and you don't want us on the same team."
Harry turned his head and glared at Ginny who pretended she was reading her charms textbook.
"It might not be her," He muttered darkly.
"Yes, it will." Hermione rolled her eyes. "She was the replacement Seeker last year, remember? And she was damn good at it. She'll be a great Chaser, it's what she always played at home. The Twins told me," She added when he frowned at her. "Besides she's dating Smith in Hufflepuff so she's got over her creepy crush on you." Just as well, Hermione thought, because that was uncomfortably close now she was dating the Twins.
"Why is she glaring at us then?"
"She thinks I'm cheating on her brothers with my brother," Hermione murmured. She stiffened suddenly. "Why are you in Hogsmead?"
Harry looked up at her and winced when he saw her blue eyes.
"Hi, guys," He murmured.
"Oh, okay. Have a good business meeting." The blue faded and Hermione shook herself. "They've got a meeting with Zonko's." She said.
"That's still really fucking creepy," Harry complained.
"Oh, shut up."
Their first Defence lesson brought an uncomfortable realisation with it. Although Snape wasn't using the same classroom as last year, Hermione kept seeing flashes of pink in the corner of her eyes and the scar on her hand burned. Snape's dedication to pettiness against the Gryffindors no longer made her angry. What were house points in the face of actual blood spilt? Umbridge had tortured students and Snape was...assigning detentions cleaning cauldrons? It was almost childish in comparison. She only half-listened to the lecture, keeping one warning hand on Harry's arm to ensure he stayed in his seat. Unusually for Harry, he seemed to have come to the same conclusion as Hermione, keeping his gaze fixed on the blackboard. When they split up to practise non-verbal spells, he paired up with Draco, leaving Hermione with Susan.
If anything, the sight of a well-behaved miniature Sirius Black unnerved Snape far more than anything else.
Harry had done an admirable job of controlling his temper, so Hermione didn't mind when he stormed off at the end of Defence instead of following her and Draco. She could only ask so much of him after listening to Snape bait him for two hours.
Professor Snape watched them approach with clear disdain on his face. While he was Draco's godfather, Hermione's adopted parentage put him in a difficult position. On the one hand, he loathed Sirius, on the other he respected Minerva greatly. As a result he couldn't decide how to treat Hermione.
"Miss Granger," He frowned. "Mr Malfoy. Is there something important or can I get on with preparing a lesson plan simple enough for the Gryffindor's to understand?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. Last year that would have infuriated her.
"Professor, Draco is being bullied. What are you going to do about it?"
"I am not being bullied!" Draco hissed, twisting around to make sure the classroom door was shut.
"You're right," She placated, patting his shoulder "That's the wrong word. Professor, Draco is being tormented, what are you going to do about it?"
While Draco glowered at her, Snape leaned against his desk, regarding them both cooly.
"Who are you accusing?" To his credit, he did look slightly concerned, looking Draco over with a worried frown.
Draco pointedly remained silent so, scowling, Hermione took the lead again.
"Nott, Crabbe and Goyle. I imagine if Zabini isn't helping them, he certainly isn't doing anything to stop them."
"Blaise is neutral," Draco murmured and Hermione suspected he meant in a wider sense than Hogwarts politics.
"Do you have any proof?" Snape asked silkily. "These are serious allegations."
Hermione turned to Draco who, as she had suspected he would, pointedly looked at the floor and didn't say anything.
"No," She admitted with a sigh. "We also suspect they've taken the Dark Mark," She watched Snape carefully as she said this. He didn't flinch, didn't even blink. "But you already knew that, didn't you sir?"
"The Dark Lord does not waste his time with school children," Snape said in a tone that implied that he'd very much like to not be wasting his time too. "Just because they are in Slytherin does not mean you can arrogantly paint them all with the same brush. Slytherin's are not automatically Death Eaters." There was a hint of warning there.
"Obviously," She drawled, hitching her bag onto her shoulder. "Look, are you going to do anything, or do you want to explain to my mother why I'm smuggling my cousin into the Gryffindor Common Room to sleep?"
"Without any proof of these outrageous allegations…"
"Fine." She headed for the door, "C'mon, Draco."
Snape held out a hand.
"Mr Malfoy, if you would stay for a moment."
Shrugging, Hermione left them to it.
"What did he want?" She asked idly when her cousin emerged several minutes later.
"To remind me to be vigilant and that hanging around with stupid Gryffindors comes at a cost!" He snapped, irritably. "What was the point of that if you knew he wouldn't do anything?"
Hermione began to lead them towards the Great Hall for lunch, keeping a wary eye on the other students. She learned that nowhere in this castle was safe over the years.
"The point was to make this official," She murmured. "When attempting to prove a charge of neglect, you need proof that you attempted to do things by the book before you go ahead and fix things by yourself."
"Charge of neglect?" Draco frowned at her. "Is that some muggle thing?"
"I spent enough time in the foster care system to know how this goes." She admitted. "No one believes kids. So you play the game, prove the system failed you and wait for them to notice you've fixed things by yourself. We've played the game, we made it official. Now it's my turn to fix it."
He pulled her to a stop, frowning at her.
"How often did you see this game played?"
"Too often," She told him with a sigh. "Kids would come in and it would be the same old story. There had been reports and reports and no proof. By the time they were finally believed, they might have been in abusive situations for months or years. A lot of kids ran away before that happened, or ran away when they realised that they would have to go back. And it would always be the same line "Why didn't you wait for the system to fix things?" She laughed. "Because the system is shit, and now I'm responsible for people I'm not going to make the same mistakes. When everyone is out at dinner tonight, pack your trunk. You're not spending another night in that dormitory."
He only glanced over at the Slytherin table, before he followed her to sit next to Harry with the Gryffindors.
"You're doing this House proud, Miss Black," He promised.
They got Draco set up in the Room of Requirement, as it was that or an abandoned classroom. Hermione admitted that realistically Draco might be in more danger in Gryffindor Tower than he was in the dungeons. It was the Twins' suggestion because Draco refused to sleep in a secret tunnel.
Tiredly, Hermione looked around the Library and watched the students coming and going. She had only been back for a week, but she was already exhausted with it all. Her main source of joy at Hogwarts had always been the Twins and without them here it felt like she was only here to protect her family and wind away the hours with classes and homework. Which, she admitted, was what school was for. But she didn't want to be here any more.
She packed away her books and made her way towards the Transfiguration classroom and her mother's office.
"Busy?" she asked, sticking her head around the portrait.
Minerva glanced up and smiled at her.
"Not too busy for you," She waved her to a chair and Hermione flopped into the seat, kicking her legs up over the armrest. Minerva rolled her eyes and muttered something that sounded like "Sirius" under her breath.
"Do wizards have universities?"
Apparently that wasn't what Minerva had been expecting as she blinked in surprise, but laid down her quill.
"Not as such. If you wish to further your education you can pursue a Mastery in a subject. You met several apprentices at those conferences in Europe. There are several positions available in Britain."
"But that's the only option?" Hermione asked thoughtfully.
"Essentially yes. Beyond the training programs that certain employers offer. I know the Auror Corp does rigorous training in Defence." Minerva frowned at her. "Isn't it a little early to be thinking about this? You've only just started your NEWT studies."
"Is it possible to sit your NEWTs in one year?" Hermione nervously twisted her fingers together, absently sending George a wave of reassurance as he noticed her apprehension.
"Yes?" Minerva's eyes narrowed. "Hermione, what is going on?"
"I don't think I want to stay for seventh-year." When Minerva just raised an eyebrow. "You know I haven't had a single year here when I wasn't attacked or bullied or tormented? I don't really have a lot of happy memories here. Everyone will be seventeen next year and they'll all have each other. I just want to get it all over with."
Her mother leaned back in her desk chair and considered her seriously.
"Is this about the Twins?" She asked seriously.
Hermione made a wobbly gesture with her hand.
"Sort of. They made being here fun. But it's also that it's hard to pretend to be a teenager here. To pretend to care about house points and homework when I've been attacked when I'm fighting in a war." She let out a short, hysterical laugh. "And it's really tough to take the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor seriously when I am what happened to the last one." Minerva didn't flinch. She realised Sirius must have saved her the trauma of telling her. The two watched each other for a long moment.
"Are you still considering Curse Breaking?" Minerva started rummaging through her desk and pulled out a large, leather-bound book that she flipped through quickly.
"I think so. It looks interesting and I wouldn't have to work for the Ministry. But I think I'd like to do some more studying first." The book opened on a page with Hermione's name printed in a neat script at the top. "Is that my academic record?"
"Yes." Minerva frowned down at the text. "You're doing NEWTS in Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, Defence and Arithmancy." She gave her daughter a particularly dry look. "You don't make things easy, do you?" Hermione shrugged. "According to Filius, Gringotts requires a NEWT in Charms, Defence, Runes and Transfiguration at the minimum of Exceed Expectations. Potions and Arithmancy would certainly help." She closed the book. "This won't be easy, Hermione."
"But is it doable?"
"If I can get your Professors to agree, perhaps. The best idea would be to move you to seventh-year classes now and see how you cope. Make an assessment at Christmas. You would be playing catch up on the sixth year material and it's possible some additional tutoring could be made available to you." She started making notes on a scrap of parchment. "What Mastery were you interested in?"
"Charms?" Hermione admitted, trying to sound apologetic. "Maybe enchantments. Sorry mum, but Transfiguration really isn't my thing. Fred's better at it."
"Filius will be insufferable about this." Minerva rubbed her temples. "I'll set up a meeting with your professors. If, if, they agree, you'd start new classes on Monday. Are you prepared to work hard?"
Hermione gave her mother the look she felt that comment deserved.
"Don't be sarcastic," Minerva chided.
"Go on. Go away. I need to talk to people."
I can't speak for Minerva's meetings with other members of staff but my own went like this.
"How good is she?" Minerva asked, appearing suddenly as I was tidying my classroom.
"My daughter," She grumbled. "At charms. I know she got an Outstanding on her OWL but so did Sirius. How good is she really?"
I put down the textbooks I'd been stacking and turned to her.
"A natural," I admitted. "In class, she doesn't stand out and has never tried to excel," Minerva rolled her eyes. This apparently wasn't news to her. "But the pranks she produced last year with the Twins, that was truly beautiful charm work. The added power she receives from her Bond allows her to achieve difficult spells without feeling the strain many wizards would. She's intuitive and precise in her wand work, and ingenious in spell creation."
"Surely the Twins were behind most of last years…"
"Neither Mr Weasley has her natural grasp of charms. George excelled in potions and Fred, if you remember, had an excellent grasp of Transfiguration. And their "jokes" increased in complexity when she joined them at Hogwarts." I frowned at her. "What's brought this on, Minerva?"
"My daughter wants to pursue a Mastery in Charms," She sighed heavily. "She wants to sit her NEWTs this year, instead of returning for Seventh-Year."
"I would happily sponsor her Master's application," I admitted, frowning at her. "Why are you so apprehensive?"
"Is it wrong of me to want my daughter to remain a child for a little longer?" Minerva asked sadly. "She's of age in two weeks, and while I can't refute any of her reasons for this...I just wish she had had a proper childhood, instead of growing up like this." She straightened. "Would you accept Hermione into seventh-year classes, on a provisional basis. We'll give it a month initially and then make a proper judgement at Christmas."
I agreed that sounded best and wished her luck with the other Professors.
"Severus is the only one I'm concerned over," She admitted, "But I think if I convince him it will get Sirius' daughter away from him faster he might go for it."
Her apprehension over Minerva's verdict was pushed onto the back burner when Harry approached her with a serious expression and note.
"I got this. Dumbledore wants to meet with me,"
Hermione picked up her books with a sigh.
"Let's go see what he wants then,"
The stone gargoyle sprung aside as Harry tiredly muttered "Acid Pops" and the familiar staircase turned into view. Exchanging a wary look the Black siblings ascended and knocked at the door.
"Enter, Mr Black."
Harry rolled his eyes but turned the handle, holding it open so Hermione could enter first. Sirius had a lot of flaws but not teaching his children manners wasn't one of them.
"Miss Granger," Dumbledore looked surprised to see her. "I was not expecting you to accompany Mr Black. There is no need for you to be here."
"I make it a policy not to let my little brother go anywhere dangerous on his own, sir," Hermione smirked.
"Surely you can't be implying that Mr Black would be in any danger visiting my office?" She insolently sprawled in one of the small delicate chairs, as Harry took up his position at her shoulder. They might both be adopted but they'd learned power plays and slick arrogance from a natural drama queen. They slipped seamlessly into their roles, setting their stage as they wanted.
"Of course not, Professor," Hermione drawled. "But I've been kidnapped from this school twice. None of my family goes anywhere unaccompanied, not even to Herbology. Better not take any risks." She grinned.
You won't get him alone, they were saying. You can't split us up, you can't divide and conquer. Hermione wouldn't leave her brother alone with this man for a minute.
"So what can we help you with, Professor?" Harry asked, grinning as he slipped his hands into his pockets.
Dumbledore watched the pair of them over the rim of his half-moon spectacles.
"Harry," He started.
"Oh, I don't think it's appropriate for a Professor to call a student by his first name," Hermione jumped in immediately. "Do you, little brother?"
"Mr Black," Dumbledore tried again and she waved him on with a smile. If the Twins had taught her anything, it was how to hone her naturally irritating personality. "I think it is time someone told you why your parents were attacked in Godric's Hollow."
"Peter Pettigrew sold them out to Voldemort because of some Prophecy?" Harry asked, examining his fingernails. Hermione found her own gaze caught by the blackened, withered remains of Dumbledore's hand, broken only by the heavy ring that sat on what was left of his ring finger. Dumbledore looked at the pair of them.
"It is very important that you know what exactly the Prophecy said. As any record of it has been destroyed…" He glared at Hermione who smirked.
"Death Eaters have no respect for Wizarding artefacts." She murmured.
Dumbledore chose to ignore that.
"However, I still have my own record. I was the one to witness the Prophecy many years ago when I was interviewing a candidate for the vacant Divination position." As Harry and Hermione exchanged bemused looks, he reached beneath his desk and pulled out a stone bowl, etched with runes. In it pooled a silvery liquid that moved of its own accord. Dumbledore poked it with his wand. A ghostly figure, a miniature of Sybil Trelawny rose up out of the bowl and started to speak.
"..The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who had thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have a power the Dark Lord knows not...and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…"
The figure of Trelawny sank back into the depths of the Pensieve as Harry and Hermione shared a long look.
"There were two possible candidates," Dumbledore continued with a sigh, removing the bowl. "Yourself and Mr Longbottom, who's birthday is two days before yours. The prophecy does not specify any further and Lord Voldemort made the decision himself when he went after your parents instead of the Longbottoms."
Hermione had an awful, acidic taste on her tongue as though she'd been sick.
"This is why Sirius hid him from you," She realised with a sinking feeling in her gut. "This is exactly what he was afraid of!"
"Hermione.." Harry started, looking pale and frightened, but a lot of things were starting to make sense to Hermione.
"You remember Sirius saying Dumbledore didn't call for him to have a trial? That's why he trusted Amelia, she was the only one to insist on the trial. You'd already left Harry with his Aunt, without even waiting for the will to be read,"
"I was meant to go to Remus if Sirius wasn't around, or Alice Longbottom," Harry whispered.
"You didn't even wait for the Aurors to get there or the will to be read," Hermione continued, finally understanding truly what had driven Sirius to his deception. "Do you know what happened when my parents were murdered, Sir?"
Dumbledore looked momentarily thrown.
"I was immediately placed into state custody while social workers searched for my proper legal guardian. Which involved researching my family tree and contacting my parent's lawyers to have their last wishes read. Because my grandmother was unreachable and on holiday in Greece, I spent three days in a group home under the supervision of six social workers until she could collect me. I was not stolen off into the night without the say-so of the law!" She snapped out and Dumbledore stared at her. "You thought you knew best, you knew who was going to be this so-called vanquisher, so you had to make sure nothing got in the way of that."
"Petunia hated my mother," Harry murmured. "Dad always said so."
"Sirius always liked to exaggerate…" Dumbledore started but Hermione wasn't finished.
"What possible reason could you have, sir, for separating a baby from a loving family? For disregarding his parent's last wishes,"
"James and Lily could never have guessed the way the world would become after their passing…"
"Do you know what it's like to live somewhere that everyone thinks you're a freak, sir?" Hermione smiled at the Headmaster. "You remember where I used to live, don't you? You visited me to bring me my school letter. I spent three years in a building where every child thought I was a freak. They thought I was dangerous." They were right, Hermione added to herself. "When I came to Hogwarts, I was alone and angry and terrified." She turned to her brother. "Imagine if that had been you? Imagine if you'd grown up without any knowledge of this world and then you were dropped into it with all the fame you've had to deal with. And along comes a kindly professor who after five years," She gritted her teeth and Harry looked like he was starting to get it. "Five years of the shit we have gone through when you are at your lowest, when you are scared, tells you that you are meant to save everyone? Without a family, without a stable home...you might just fall for it." They both looked back at the Headmaster who had gone very still.
"Miss Granger, I assure you, that my intentions were only ever for the greater good!" He protested.
"You wanted an orphan." Hermione drove her point home. "You wanted someone like me, but because of Sirius, you got my little brother. Someone with a family who grew up loving him, with siblings and parents. Someone who is adored. Harry is, shockingly, the most well adjusted in my entire family. Well adjusted people do not make good savours!"
"The prophecy has already been set into motion…"
"And we care why?" Harry asked seriously.
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"And really," Harry continued, looking bored. "What do you think I'm going to be able to do? I'm not even the strongest teenager in this room! And you honestly think I'm going to be able to defeat Moldytort? You think I'll survive for more than five seconds?"
"No," Hermione whispered, bile rising in her throat. She could read the sadness in Dumbledore's blue eyes like tears. "No, he doesn't think you will, do you, sir?" The Headmaster said nothing and she nodded. "Right, that's enough of this. Harry, c'mon. We're going."
As her brother held the door open for her, Dumbledore called out to them.
"I have made many mistakes." They both paused, sharing a tired look between them. "But I have reason to believe that Lord Voldemort has managed to make himself immortal."
"Well, we figured that," Harry drawled. "Mortal people don't survive rebounded Avada's."
"I believe he split his soul into pieces and placed them into objects of importance to him."
"Oh, like the one in Harry?" Hermione realised and Dumbledore froze. She grinned menacingly, looping her arm with her brother, trusting he'd go along with this.
"Or," She continued, taking a wild stab in the dark because this seemed like she stumbled upon something important. "Like the one that used to be in Harry? Sirius made sure we got rid of that after the thing with Mr Weasley."
"Oh, yeah," Harry ran with it. "That hurt,"
"See, Dad didn't like the idea of a piece of Voldemort being in his son's head. Weird preference, I know. So he got rid of it."
Dumbledore suddenly looked very old and very frail.
"You have no idea what you've done," He breathed.
"We haven't the foggiest," Harry confirmed honestly. "C'mon 'Mione." And he pulled them out of the door.
"What the hell was Dumbledore talking about?" Harry was pacing Draco's bedroom, tearing at his hair like a wild thing. "I can't save the world."
Hermione frowned at him over the top of her silver mirror.
"Oh, don't tell me you believe in that Prophecy nonsense," She complained. "Sirius Black!" She added, firmly tapping the mirror.
Several tense moments went by as Hermione was treated to Susan's nervous expression over her shoulder. Eventually, the mirror rippled and cleared to reveal the tired face of their father.
"'Mione?" Sirius mumbled. His hair was loose and an utter mess, like he'd just woken up, the neck of his t-shirt pulled askew over one shoulder. There was a healing scratch across his nose and a bruise blossoming on his forehead. "What's wrong, darling?"
"Think we should be asking you that, Dad." Susan pointed out, looking slightly concerned.
Sirius wasn't listening, looking to the side.
"They already know," He was saying through a yawn. "It's not like they're kids…"
His daughters both rolled their eyes.
"Remus," Hermione snapped. "We know you're there. Stop hiding."
There was an awkward pause in which Sirius grinned smugly before Remus reluctantly shuffled into view. The two of them leaned against the wall in what Hermione now realised was Sirius' bedroom, the mirror propped between them.
"Full moon last night," Sirius explained with a yawn. "We were both sleeping it off. Moony was a little unhappy about being away for so long,"
"Good to have you home Dad." Hermione enjoyed the way Remus winced at that. The werewolf looked shattered which was a sure sign that the full moon had been particularly hard. There were some suspiciously canine looking teeth marks in one ear. "Harry got summoned to see Dumbledore today."
That brought both Marauders out of their half-asleep state and they sat up straight.
"I went with him and Dumbledore decided he'd finally tell us what he wanted with Harry," She jerked her head at her brother and with a sigh, he settled onto the back of the sofa so he was looking over his sister's shoulders.
"He thinks I'm supposed to defeat Voldemort," Harry explained, looking exhausted. "He's got some stupid prophecy." Sirius and Remus went very still. "You already know about it?"
"We know something," Remus offered, looking apologetic. "We knew Dumbledore forced James and Lily into hiding for a reason. We were never sure why Voldemort was targeting them, beyond…" He winced. "The usual reasons."
"There's something else," Hermione added, taking Susan's hand when her sister offered it. Harry sighed heavily and rested his head against her neck. "Dumbledore said he thinks Voldemort has found ways to cheat death by hiding pieces of himself inside objects," Her fathers' went very still, Sirius' eyes darkening. "So I asked him if he meant like the piece inside Harry and he didn't like that we knew about that. So I lied and said we'd gotten rid of it."
"Dumbledore didn't like that," Harry mumbled, drooling against her jumper as he spoke. Hermione grimaced and tried to shoulder him off her.
"Dad," She paused for a moment, trying to force the words out of her mouth. "Dad, I think Dumbledore wants Harry to die because of that piece of Voldemort in him. I think he wants Voldemort to kill him."
After spending long minutes ensuring their children that they would not let that happen, that they would keep them safe, Sirius lowered the mirror.
"Is she wrong?" Remus breathed, the echo of a sob in his words. "Is she wrong, Sirius?"
Because this was all just guesswork, connections made by a teenage girl who was suspicious of everyone.
"It makes too much sense," He admitted reluctantly.
Remus snarled, the wolf still too close to the surface after the full moon. Sirius watched numbly as the pillow shredded under too sharp nails.
"How far did you get in your research?" He asked when the werewolf had calmed. He was fighting to stay awake, this new revelation too much after the exhaustion of the night before. He wasn't as young as he had been once, attending classes at Hogwarts after running all night under the light of the moon. Amy would be home soon though, and he had to stay awake to greet her. "I know things got a bit away from us." Remus, leaning against his shoulder, stiffened.
"I found something but," His voice cracked from howling last night, that rasp that always followed the full moon. "I didn't want to...It's called a Horcrux, I think. Even by the Black family standards, it's dark magic. You can split off a piece of your soul and store it, like Hermione said." Remus swallowed nervously, plucking at the duvet with restless fingers. "And if you shatter something enough, in theory, if you hit it by accident, say with a spell designed to split the soul from the body,"
"Like an Avada," Sirius realised.
"Some of the soul could become trapped in the nearest vessel."
"Which happened to be Harry. Did you find a way to remove them?"
Remus went very still, eyes fixed on his lap. He didn't say anything for a long time.
"Yes," He admitted. "To destroy a Horcrux you simply need something truly destructive. Like Fiendfyre. If you're trying to remove a Horcrux from a living vessel...a spell designed to sever the soul would work on any soul fragments. Including the host."
Sirius stared at him, trembling faintly.
"Are you saying we have to Avada my kid?"
"This is why I didn't tell you!" Remus snapped. He'd gone very pale, his scars standing out in relief. "I was going to keep researching, find another way."
"This is what Dumbledore wants," Sirius realised. "This is why he wanted Harry on his own. He wanted a kid that was going to sacrifice himself to get rid of the last bit of Voldemort's soul. He wants my son dead!"
There was a creak as the bedroom door was pushed open.
"You two surfaced yet?" Amelia asked, unlacing her Auror armor. "I swear you both sleep like the dead after the full moon. Managed to get away from work early today, thank Merlin." She caught sight of them with her robes half over her head and stared. "What's happened?"
Far away their children sat in a loose circle on the floor of the Room of Requirement.
"What do we do?" Harry was restless, nervously braiding and unbraiding his long hair just to keep his hands busy. He looked frightened.
"Nott and the others are definitely up to something," Draco was more composed but his eyes were narrowed as though he expected enemies to jump out from every corner.
"Do we go back to Dumbledore?" Susan didn't look like she liked this option but was determined to consider it. "He's the one who knows everything,"
"He's the one who wants us to think he knows everything," Harry countered, starting to get angry. "Hermione was right, he wants us in his bloody debt so we'll do what he thinks is best. I think," Here he scowled. "Do you remember when Ginny was possessed by that diary?"
"Yes," Said a voice that sounded like but wasn't, Hermione.
"It contained some of Voldemort, it told us so. I think it was one of those objects. But it was destroyed."
"We demolished the tunnel. There's no going back down there to check."
"So he's made at least two," Susan got out her notebook and began to write, "Three if we count Harry. Do you think he made more?"
"Almost certainly," Draco admitted. "From what my mother told me, he's...arrogant. If one would protect him from death, he'd want as many as possible to become immortal."
Hermione blinked and the blue in her eyes muddied with her natural brown.
"I think this isn't our fight," She admitted. "We're at school. No one is coming for us right now. I think we should keep our heads down and keep our family safe. We've taken enough hits this year. We're not going to play Dumbledore's game."
Hermione started classes with the seventh years that Monday. While Miss Granger had never been obvious enough to not pay attention, it was fairly obvious that none of her classes had ever challenged her academically. For the first time, she was behind the rest of the students, and had to work extremely hard to keep up. In the more practical classes, the seventh years were expected to cast silently, something she had only just started to study with the sixth years. Although her bond gave her something of a natural advantage as she didn't tire as easily as her peers, she was behind in both technique and knowledge. In her more theoretical classes, she was trying to cram a year's worth of education into the space left around her new seventh year workload.
It was amazing to see what Miss Granger looked like when she was actually trying.
Hermione tucked her head under George's chin and hummed happily as he stroked her hair.
"Any reason I've been dreaming about shapeshifting furniture?" She asked idly.
"Product has been giving me some trouble," He admitted, looking slightly embarrassed. "Want to help me?"
She leaned back to look him in the eye.
"You're a cheap date, George Weasley."
"Hey!" He frowned at her as she took a seat on one of the spare crates in the secret tunnel they were using. "What?" He asked when she held her hand out.
"Notebook!" Hermione insisted, grinning at him. Working on products was a pretty good way to spend her Sunday evening as far as she was concerned. "What charms are you using? Can I have your old textbooks?"
He settled on the crate next to her and pulled out his battered notebook, flipping through it to his latest experiment notes. Fred hadn't been able to make it that night, which was fine. Hermione valued her one on one time with the Twins.
"Why do you want our old books?"
"I'm crashing my NEWTs," She tapped the sugar quill he'd brought her against her lips. "Is this a permanent enchantment?"
"Semi. What do you mean crashing?" He put his hand across the pages, forcing her to look up at him.
Sensing this was one of the things they were going to have to talk about, she put down her new quill.
"I don't like being here," Hermione admitted. "The greatest thing about Hogwarts was always you two, and you're not here anymore. I'm going to be of age soon, I don't want to spend another year here if I can do it in one."
"What about your siblings?" George asked, frowning slightly when her left eye faded to blue. Clearly Fred was paying more attention to her than the accounts he was supposed to be doing.
"They're all going to be seventeen. They can look after themselves. The only thing keeping them here right now is Dumbledore throwing a fit like he did when Sirius threatened to remove us. When they're of age, we should be safer. I don't," She scowled, looking frustrated like she normally did when forced to talk about her feelings. "This place doesn't have a lot of happy memories for me and, to be honest, I'd rather be out in the world fighting than stuck in here being treated like a child. Minnie got all my professors to agree to a trial to see how I'd cope and...we'll see. It might not happen. The work is a lot."
George smiled at her. There were other reasons she wasn't saying, a justification that she didn't want to own up to yet, and he knew that. But he also knew she'd tell them eventually.
"If this is what you want to do, we're not going to stand in your way."
There was a pause and then Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Fred, get back to work,"
In the midst of their latest crisis and her new workload, Hermione had almost forgotten about her birthday. Being first to the breakfast table on the nineteenth, she wasn't reminded until Sirius' raven dropped down in front of her, a small bundle landing on top of her toast.
"Thank you, Beaky." She said dryly, brushing crumbs off the package. The raven glared at her and helped himself to her orange juice.
"Is that what I think it is?" Draco asked.
She jumped, turning to glare at him.
"When did you get there!" She demanded
"Just now. Happy birthday." Draco's eyes were fixed on the package in her hand.
"I've no idea what it is because I haven't opened it yet. That's how birthday presents work!" Scowling, Hermione unrolled the package. A small ring fell into her palm and she pressed the note it had been written in flat.
Congratulations! You made it to seventeen! That means you can officially inherit! (Although if you're going to bump me off, you should be aware you take responsibility for your little brother, so there's that to think about).
This ring is given to the heir of the House when they come of age. I never wore it myself, as I was blasted off the family tree by that point, but you've yet to be kicked out of the house, so you get to wear it! Gringotts actually sent me a reminder to come and pick it up from the vault, I think they thought I'd forget. (I had)
Wearing this is the symbol of our House. Be aware that you speak for your family at all times and that there are those who would use that against you. I am proud and honoured to call you my daughter and my heir.
Remember purity takes more forms than blood.
(Donated by the Black Family)
"Would it kill him to be serious for once?" Draco complained, reading over her shoulder.
"He is Sirius," Hermione murmured, turning the ring over in her hand. It was a signet ring, made of black stone, probably obsidian. Etched into the face were the three ravens, wand and skull of the Black family crest. The motto was inscribed on the inside of the band. "This is it, then?" Draco looked from the ring to her. "I put this on and….what?"
"And you officially become heir to everything Lord Black has and everything he stands for." Draco intoned solemnly. "Just as Susan will take on the Bones household, Black will take on Potter and…"
"...and you'll take on Malfoy." Draco made a weird face that was something between a grimace or a shrug. "I was never going to turn my back on this family anyway," Hermione whispered. She slid the ring onto her right ring finger, feeling the heavy weight of it. The size adjusted until it fit perfectly and for the faintest second, she heard whispers in her ears…
"Well met, Lady Black," Draco murmured and she scowled at him.
"Oh no. I just got you to call me Hermione. Don't tell me we've gone back to square one!" She was rewarded by a very faint smirk as he turned to his own breakfast.
"Happy Birthday, Hermione."
She glanced up and grinned at her mother.
"I see Sirius beat me to the punch. Very well. I have two things for you." She settled onto the bench next to Hermione and Draco slid elegantly a few place settings down to give them some privacy. "These are for you." She set two parcels wrapped in soft cloth down on the table. Hermione was grateful for the low numbers of students this early in the morning. "One is a gift. The other you only have to accept if you want to." The first she unwrapped opened to show a pocket watch, covered in beautiful filigree and ticking faintly. "It is tradition to present a witch with a watch on her seventeenth birthday," She reached into her own pocket and pulled out a battered watch to show Hermione. "My mother gifted this to me on my own birthday. Yours should take a little more punishment. I thought it prudent knowing what you get up to."
Hermione took the watch and beamed, clicking open the cover and tracing her fingers over the engraving on the inside face. A small tabby cat and a tall dog, the cat sitting neatly, the dog with one ear flopped the wrong way as Padfoot's so often was.
"Thank you," Hermione breathed and, without caring if anyone was watching, hugged her mother tightly. "I love it."
"I thought having something to remember us by would be…" Minerva shook herself away from that thought. "This is the one you don't have to accept." This time the cloth revealed what looked like a heavy necklace, one engraved carefully with spiralling knotwork and each end of the semi-circle ending in what looked like owls. "This is a torc. The Ross family had a lot of jewellery redesigned when they settled in Scotland. That's our crest," She pointed to the three lions rampant and what looked like a wreath at the centre. "It's less well known than...that," She nodded towards the ring. "But...you don't have to wear it. We're not an active family…"
Hermione took it without another word.
"I would be proud to," She promised and Minerva had to blink back tears. Her adopted mother showed the charms to shrink and enlarge the torc, depending on what it was to be worn as. With it the size of a normal bracelet, Hermione slipped it firmly onto her right wrist.
"I see your brother coming," Minerva was looking behind her and stood up rather stiffly. "So I shall leave you to it. Happy birthday, dear."
The rest of Hermione's presents were less dramatic. Harry had the look of someone who had clearly panicked at the last moment when he presented her with a pocket knife. Susan got her a study planner, which was going to be extremely helpful given her new workload. Remus and Amelia had sent her chocolate and a leather arm holster for her wand. Draco handed over a set of cuff earrings in silver and the Twins sent her a WWW logo patch which she very proudly sewed to her leather jacket.
Hermione's determination to stay out of trouble seemed to be reflected by the school at large. Although the Prophet often brought word of Voldemort's activities and the dangers of the outside world, Hogwarts felt insulated and safe. The pupils lost themselves in the routine of classwork, study and meals. The days passed without much notice from anyone.
Harry didn't answer, dragging her through the corridors. The days where Hermione was stronger than him were long past. The skinny boy he'd been at eleven had been left behind as Harry grew both taller and larger than her, although he'd never gotten as broad-shouldered as the Twins. Given his strong resemblance to Sirius, who Remus occasionally referred to as a "tall streak of mayhem", it wasn't likely that he ever would.
Still, long hours training on his broom made him more than strong enough to move his sister.
Harry blasted open a door to an empty classroom and shoved her inside, glancing up and down the corridor quickly before he closed and locked the door.
"Is there any reason you're acting like a barbarian?" Hermione couldn't quite muster the energy to glare at him.
"Do you know you flinch?" Harry looked angry, arms folded as his emerald eyes narrowed.
"What?" She managed.
"You flinch. Every time you pass the old Defense classroom."
Hermione hadn't known that, but it made sense. She just sighed and settled onto an old desk, rubbing at her shoulders with one hand. Her book bag would cripple her long before any Death Eater.
"And then there's that."
She followed his gaze to her hand, the scarred one. The words "I must behave" were red and raised from where she'd been absent-mindedly scratching at them.
Hermione debated whether she had the energy to run away from her brother. Probably not. The bastard was fast when he wanted to be.
"Nervous habit," She mumbled.
Judging by his expression that excuse wasn't going to get her very far.
"I keep thinking I'm going to see her around the corner," Hermione admitted in a hollow voice. "I spent all of last year on high alert because when I wasn't alert I was attacked. Twice. I heard one of the Slytherin's doing an impression of her in the corridor yesterday and I froze because it was uncanny enough that I thought it was her. Except of course it's not. It won't be…" She swiped furiously as her eyes. "Because I killed her."
Harry seized her shoulders and forced her to meet his gaze.
"I'm going to tell you what you told me after Diggory died. Do you remember?"
She remembered. Her brother looking haunted and exhausted, long nights where his dreams would startle them both awake.
"It gets better." He promised her.
"You didn't kill Cedric," She murmured, ignoring the way he flinched when she said the name.
"As good as." Harry looked grim. "He's dead because of me. It was my idea that we take the trophy together. My mum's family are dead because of me. Death Eaters killed them this summer. Hell apparently Voldemort only targeted my parents because of me!"
"No, it's not!" He shook her slightly. "Hermione, were you trying to kill her?"
Harry didn't let her look away and she realised that Lily Evans must have been a formidable witch to pass such a powerful gaze onto her son.
"...no…" The word fell from her lips in the barest whisper and then it was like a dam had been released because she couldn't stop. "I was...I just wanted to get away! I didn't...I thought she'd put out the flames, she was...I was desperate! I was in pain and I was scared and she said she was going to lock me up in the Department for the rest of my life that she was going to find the Twins…!"
Harry withstood the torrent without flinching, hugging her tightly.
"It will get better," He whispered in her ear as she cried into his shoulder. "I promise."
When her tears had mostly dried and Harry had sacrificed his handkerchief to her they sat together in the dim light afforded by the dusty cobweb strewn windows.
"Is this why you're leaving?" Harry idly flicked his wand, banishing dust from the air. "Because I don't believe that stuff you said about us being seventeen and able to look after ourselves. I mean, we will be and we are, but it's not like you to want to leave us."
She considered lying, but if anyone deserved to know the truth, it was Harry. He was the heart of their family, the reason they had bonded together. She never would have been adopted by Sirius if it hadn't been for Harry. Never become so close with Susan. Hells, it was Harry who'd helped the Twins hunt her down on the train in First Year.
"It feels like she's haunting me," She told him. "It wasn't so bad at home, but wherever I go in this castle I feel her watching me. I have to keep reminding myself that she's really gone. I can't relax here. With the Twins it wasn't so bad because…"
"...They make you feel safe," He supplied when words failed her.
"They came after me when Pettigrew kidnapped me," She sighed. "I don't think they've ever really forgiven themselves for the Basilisk attack even though that was no one's fault really. But without them here, I feel like I've got to be on guard for the next attack. Draco is convinced Nott is up to something, Dumbledore is definitely up to something. I'm supposed to protect us from everything…"
"You know, it's not your job to protect us."
She laughed darkly and Harry scowled.
"No, I mean it 'Mione. You've always tried to protect us and I know that's your emotionally stunted way of showing you care, but…" He grabbed her hand, rubbing his thumb over her scar. "You don't have to."
"I'll stay if you want me to."
He looked at her for a long time, a sad expression on his face.
"You really mean that." It wasn't a question but she nodded anyway. "You really think I'm going to force you to stay in a castle that you hate when you could be much happier somewhere else?" He scoffed. "I really must be a terrible brother."
"You know I love you, don't you?" Now she started talking, it was difficult to stop. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have Dad, or Remus or Amy or Susan."
"Hermione, you have the proof of how much you love me etched into your hand!" He was back to glaring fiercely. "I am very, very happy that you've decided to do something for yourself. If you are hurting yourself by being here, don't let me stand in your way. You don't need to worry about me or Susie. We'll look after ourselves. It'll only be for a year. I'd offer to come with you but we both know I can't cram for NEWTs in one year, not if I'm going to get into the Aurors."
"You're still set on that?"
He shrugged, grinning roguishly.
"It runs in the family, 'Mione. Two of my dads have been Aurors and my mother is literally the Head of the Department. But I might see if I can't try being a Quidditch star first. How does Seeker for Puddlemere United sound?"
"Ridiculous. Besides, you hate attention."
"That is true." He sighed heavily. "You know something? When I turn seventeen, I won't be a Black anymore."
She twisted to stare up at him, horrified. When had he gotten so tall?
"Yeah, I know." He rolled his eyes. "I'll officially be Lord Potter. Would've been Black too, but someone stole my inheritance," He toyed with the heavy ring on her finger.
"You can have it back," She grumbled.
"Too late!" He singsonged. "Hey, how come the Twins haven't interrupted us? They're usually pretty aware of when you get upset."
"They were out with Angelina and Oliver last night." She sighed. "They got so drunk, I actually started to feel weird and then we all dreamed about being chased by giant blue cheese."
"Your head must be a weird place to be."
"Apparently she's managed to convince the teachers to let her try for exams a year early," Fred reported as he pulled his coat a little tighter around himself. It was freezing in London at night.
"She's decided she's going to try and get a Mastery in Charms, or maybe become an Enchantress," George continued for him, passing the bottle of Ogden's over to his shivering brother. "That's like...she said it's like muggle university?"
"She'll manage the exams, no doubt there."
"Course, you don't need us to tell you she's clever." George set out four glasses which had come from Granger's own kitchen. Fred filled them each with a measure of firewhiskey.
"Apparently she's so busy studying that she hasn't managed to fight anyone since the start of term,"
There was an awkward pause as George glared at his brother.
"Not that Hermione fights a lot of people," Fred corrected, "And it's always for a good reason! She's very protective of people! She punched Malfoy once because he was being mean to her little brother!"
"Don't listen to him," He begged their silent audience. "You're making her sound like some violent maniac!" With a sigh, he raised his glass. Fred mirrored him as the clocks around London began to ring out the midnight hour. "You'd be very proud of her," He promised.
"She misses you a lot, but Sirius and Minerva take good care of her," Fred added.
Glasses held aloft they toasted to health and happiness and the restful peace of the dead, leaving two glasses balanced in front of the Grangers tombstone as the magic of Halloween settled around them.
"...and there is the matter of the new apparition tutor, Twycross I think he's called. The Ministry says he's quite qualified…"
"When did I lose your trust, Minerva?"
Professor McGonagall stopped reading out the agenda for the school governors meeting next week and fixed the Headmaster with a grim look.
"Really?" She demanded, impatience clear on her face.
He leaned back in his chair, folding his hands neatly in his lap and looking at her expectantly.
"When I suspected you no longer had the best interests of those in your care at heart." She admitted. Dumbledore didn't flinch.
"And when was this?"
Minerva fought back frustrated tears for a moment. She very much did not want to talk about this.
"Somewhere between watching you leave that boy on the doorstep of the worst kind of muggles and the lengths I have had to go to keep my daughter safe from you." She closed her ledger. "You are a great wizard, Albus, but you are not an especially good man."
He blinked at her.
"If you were anyone else, I would suspect Sirius of filling your head with lies." His voice was soft and reproachful. Not long ago it would have made her hold her tongue.
"I watched that boy lie his way through school," Minerva almost smiled, remembering the dark-haired youth who'd terrorised the castle, "But he has grown up into an honest man and an excellent father."
"He has grown up into a powerful man with his family's proclivity for madness," Dumbledore grumbled. Minerva did nothing to refute that. She saw the Black madness too often in both of Sirius' adopted children, never mind the man himself. "And yet you chose him to adopt Miss Granger with?"
Was that what he felt the true betrayal was? That when it came down to it, those she had trusted were the very ones who had rejected his protection?
"I needed someone capable of keeping a secret." She met his glinting blue eyes without fear. The only thing he would find in her thoughts was the truth she was telling him. "As I already knew about his deception with Mr Black, I felt he'd be more than willing to protect Hermione as well."
"And in doing so, he has encouraged one of the most powerful witches of this generation to turn towards darkness."
"Just because the Black family has a history of…"
"I know what Miss Granger did to Madam Umbridge."
Minerva froze in her chair, fingernails digging into her palms. She wished desperately to shred something. Dumbledore didn't look angry, simply tired.
"She killed her."
"She did not intend to," Minerva snapped. "And that counts for far more than you realise." She was suddenly very angry. "You wonder why I stopped trusting you, Albus? I stopped trusting you because you risked the lives of children. The Philosopher's Stone could have gone anywhere else, but you kept it and it's very dangerous defences in a school! When the Basilisk attacked, you could have called the Ministry and the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, but you refused. You insisted we would take care of it in school, while students were being attacked! We should have sent everyone home the moment we knew something was wrong, but you refused! There are more mandrakes than Pomona's in the world but you insisted we wait for the school crop to mature. Pettigrew broke into Gryffindor Tower and set my daughter's bed on fire and even then you were reluctant to call the Aurors or even admit the children were in danger," Now she had started Minerva found she had difficulty stopping. Every instance where she had bitten her tongue and followed the Headmaster's direction came pouring out. "You let Black compete in the Triwizard Tournament when he was only fourteen! Binding magical contract or not, there were steps that could have been taken! He could have forfeited every task, he could have just not competed in the first place! You could have decided to not let live dragons onto school grounds! A student died because of that!" She paused, blinking back tears. "I knew Amos Diggory, you know? A good man and he was so proud of Cedric, as he should have been! And he will never see that boy grow into the man he should have become. And then you let her into this castle! Umbridge was torturing students, my daughter still has the scars! If Severus could teach Defence this year, why couldn't he have taught it last year and avoided the entire ordeal? Is it just because of the curse on the position? Why are you so afraid to let a teacher who openly loathes students leave this castle? Those things are all on you, Albus!" She drew in a shuddering breath, feeling light-headed. Dumbledore was staring at her in obvious pain. "Adopting Hermione is one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life," She whispered, voice hoarse. "But it is my greatest shame, Albus, that it wasn't until my own daughter was in danger that I realised how callous you are!"
There was a silence filled only with the ticking of Albus' various gadgets and the hushed whispering of the portraits.
"Here, here!" Phineas Nigellus muttered. Minerva vaguely remembered he was a distant great-grandfather of Hermione's.
"I have made many mistakes…" Dumbledore started and she hissed. "No, you have said your piece, allow me to say mine." He waited until she had collapsed back into her chair before continuing. "I am not a perfect person, Minerva, and I have made a great many mistakes. Do you remember how it was in the First War? The Ministry doing next to nothing to stop Voldemort, the way people looked to me to fix their problems? All because I once defeated a dear friend and had him locked away for the rest of his life. I will admit it rather went to my head. I began to feel as though I was the only one who could solve everything. Up until I was interviewing Sybil and she prophesied and I realised that I would not be the one to fight the great final battle. This would not be like Gellert. This task would fall to a child, one not even born yet." He sighed, "I put little stock in it until the Potter's died and I realised how many things can go wrong in the raising of a child. I meant what I said when we left Harry with his Aunt and Uncle. I truly thought growing up without the pressure of fame would be better for him. Imagine the sort of boy who grew up with that on his shoulders? Who grew up knowing he was held in awe by the entire country. And sixteen years ago I stood there and thought about the sort of boy a young, ill-prepared, irresponsible and angry Sirius Black would raise. When Sirius went off after Pettigrew, it seemed as though all of my fears were confirmed and I knew I couldn't allow him to grow up in the wizarding world. If Harry was to grow up to fulfil this Prophecy as I now believed he would, I wanted him to have the best chances possible." He removed his spectacles and carefully set them down on the desk. "When all that fell away, I thought we were surely doomed. After Severus finally confirmed my suspicions about the boy..."
"You wanted to see if he was still the sort of boy who would save everyone?" Minerva glared at him. "Harry is a very well-raised young man."
"Harry," Dumbledore insisted severely, "Is the copy of Sirius down to the marrow and Sirius is not the sort of man to make sacrifices for the good of others. That was always James' speciality, though there is precious little of him left in the boy."
"Harry is the sort of boy that Sirius would have been, had he not grown up in an abusive household, living under the worst kind of tyranny!" She could feel her temper rising again. "The sort of boy Sirius would have been, had he grown up with a loving family. His sacrificial tendencies should not come into it, Albus, because that boy should not be sacrificing anything!"
"The Prophecy can go hang!" Minerva snapped. "I will not live in a world where I expect children to lay down their lives for the good of all! I will not allow children to sacrifice themselves for me!" And this was the fundamental difference, this was the line between the two of them. Albus had made his peace with sending a boy, a child, to his death. And Minerva never would.
"I thought when I learned about your daughter's Bond that perhaps we had been granted a second chance." She tried not to let her fear show on her face. "There hasn't been an active Bond in this country in centuries. But you hid it from me. When I could have protected all three of them?"
Minerva gathered her things and stood.
"I hid it from you because I knew you would think to use it," She stared him down. "If it really was for the "greater good" as you so insist, would you have been able to stop yourself from attempting to harness what is, at best, an expression of love and friendship? No," She cut across him as he opened his mouth. "I don't think you could. Especially not for the "Greater good". Remember, Albus, some of us are old enough to remember where you learned that phrase."
She swept from the room, leaving the Headmaster behind her.
Amelia scowled at the next meeting in her diary but made an attempt to straighten up her desk anyway. There was no point coming across unprofessional.
Life at the Ministry hadn't really changed much. The Aurors were on high alert, but when you had been on high alert for months, it really just became alert. Scrimgeour had done a good job getting everything back under control after Fudge left, but he was struggling to keep morale high as the Ministry failed to learn anything more about the Death Eaters.
"Come in," She called when the knock at the door came.
"Madam Bones," Rufus Scrimgeour settled heavily in her spare chair. "You're looking well."
She warded and silenced the door behind him. The ex-Auror didn't even blink. He'd served in the ranks under Moody, Amelia had actually trained under him herself. He'd been out of field duty for several years now and had retired to the complex department of Ministry Security before his election to Minister for Magic.
"Glamour charms," Amelia explained, leaning back in her chair. As she entered the fifth month of her pregnancy, her Auror armour wasn't enough to hide everything now and she had resorted to glamour charms. There could be no rumours about her condition. That had been Rufus' condition when she'd told him about the baby. She could keep her position as long as no one knew about her new "weakness". She'd burned with fury at that but a hard, cold side of her could see the cruel logic. The Auror department needed to appear strong. No one outside of the family, Rufus and her secretary knew. Selwyn only knew because he'd caught her throwing up in her wastepaper basket. "What brings you here? If you're after my report, it won't be ready till tomorrow."
"I've come to ask you something," He didn't look well, exhaustion was stretching his skin thin and his hair was greying at a dramatic rate. "There is a significant lack of morale. The wizarding world needs hope. I hate to ask, Amelia but I am desperate. Your son..."
"You didn't hear me out." He complained.
"I didn't need to," She resisted the urge to rest one hand on her stomach, determined to train herself out of anything that might give away her deception. "Leave my children out of this."
Rufus scowled at her.
"We need someone to rally behind!" He insisted angrily. "We need…"
"That's what you're for," She told him coldly. "The country rallies behind the Minister for Magic."
"I am not perfect," He looked both tired and furious. "You-Know-Who will set his sights on me eventually and it will either be the Killing Curse or an Imperious. They need a legend, more than a man. Harry…"
"Is a teenager!" She snapped. "My husband and I have done extremely well to not raise that boy to think he's the next Merlin. I won't have that pressure put on him now. Leave him at school."
"And the rumours about your step-daughter?" He rubbed at his face, only one eye glaring at her.
"Blatantly false." Amelia lied baldly. "You will not use my children to fight this war, Rufus. I've got a department of trained men and women you can use instead. Bring me battle plans, not propaganda." Her smile was brittle and sharp. "I can not help you."
Hermione had a headache. She wasn't managing to sleep enough and she couldn't figure out the trick to this latest translation for Ancient Runes. The chill of mid-November had settled heavily around the castle and she'd gotten frozen at the last Quidditch match which had left her with a sore throat and runny nose she couldn't shift.
"Do you ever think about how wonderful she is?" Harry breathed dreamily.
And she was going to kill her brother.
"No." Hermione snapped, studying Fred's old textbook with a frown. He clearly hadn't looked at this since he'd left Hogwarts, as the scribbles of him trying to find a rhyme for "Hermione" hadn't been scratched out. While that was rather sweet, she was extremely grateful it had been abandoned before she'd ever had to hear a finished product. Unfortunately, it made reading the passage she was studying rather hard.
"But she's so beautiful, and her eyes are amazing and…" Hermione groaned but Harry continued as though he hadn't heard her. "And she's so clever, she should be in Ravenclaw…"
"Wait what?" Hermione's head jerked up and she gave her brother her full attention for probably the first time in weeks. Harry was staring dreamily off into the middle distance, one hand propping up his head. He looked like a lovesick fool. What was concerning was this was not the stupid look he got on his face when he was talking about Luna.
"Harry," Hermione said slowly, a sick feeling building in her stomach. "Who are you talking about?"
Harry grinned at her sloppily.
"Romilda Vane, of course?"
Hermione seized his goblet and plate without a word and began casting detection charms on them. Nothing worked until she caught sight of the Honeydukes wrapper sitting by his elbow.
"Where did you get that?" She asked, grimacing as the charm came back positive.
"I found it in my bag!" Harry declared proudly.
Hermione scowled and stood up in her seat, looking across the Great Hall for some support.
"OI!" She yelled, grateful that the hall was still mostly empty this early into lunchtime. "Susan!"
Her cousin jerked in her seat, whirling to look at her across the hall, a half-eaten sandwich in one hand.
"Family emergency!" Hermione shouted. Susan dropped her sandwich without another word and seized the bag Hannah was already handing to her. She marched across the hall and Hermione watched with a sinking feeling as Luna, quick and silent as a moonbeam darted up to follow her from the Ravenclaw table.
"What's happened?" Susan demanded as she drew near.
"Someone gave Harry a love potion," Hermione explained, gathering up her books and shoving them into her bag. "We need to take him to the hospital wing for an antidote."
Susan shook her head looking furious.
"Don't bother. I've got some in my dorm room. We'll take him there. Who did it?"
"Romilda Vane." Harry sighed dreamily.
Hermione exchanged a grim look with Susan who was clenching her wand in her fist.
"Ooh, she'll pay for this!" Susan swore. She helped Hermione get Harry to his feet, grabbing his bag and beginning to lead him towards the door. He went willingly enough, still grinning inanely.
"Luna, can you…" Hermione paused when she realised the blonde wasn't with them. "Where'd she…?"
Susan nodded in front of them where the tiny witch had darted to intercept the buxom figure of Romilda Vane, just entering the hall.
"Oh no," Hermione breathed. "Susan…"
"I've got him." Susan shouldered Harry more fully which left Hermione free to chase after the little witch.
Romilda had stopped when Luna had stepped neatly in front of her, but she didn't have time to say anything before the first hex flew.
It was only Romilda's fast reflexes that allowed her to get a protego up in time. A shield which caught the second and third hexes Luna fired but began to waver under the fourth. The next bat-bogey hex shattered it and hit Romilda square in the chest, followed by an entangling jinx which hit her glossy hair. It began to writhe like snakes. Luna's full-body bind knocked her out flat on the floor, leaving the girl helpless as her hair began to wrap around her head and shoulders, tangling impossibly. Hermione winced as a very familiar curse which she herself had developed, hit Romilda last, but because of the hair, she was unable to see if it had been successful. Hermione reached them in time to see Luna plant one shoe on the rigid girl's chest and lean close to snap out,
"Harry Black is mine. Back off!"
"Miss Lovegood!" Professor Flitwick, breathing heavily, for he'd just run the length of the hall, huffed to a stop next to Hermione. "What is the meaning of this?"
Luna's expression of fury and possessive anger faded to her usual serene calm.
"I'm not sure what you mean, Professor."
"Romilda dosed Harry with a love potion," Hermione said quickly.
Romilda's friends immediately began to protest and in the confusion, Luna disappeared.
"Why do you have the antidote for this?" Hermione asked as Harry slowly began to sober up. It had taken time to extract Harry from the Hall, but after Flitwick had witnessed him throwing himself at Romilda and sobbing, the Charm's professor had admitted the young Gryffindor girl was in the wrong.
Susan gave her a shifty look.
"The Twins gave it to me." She admitted eventually clearing away the empty vial.
Hermione turned to stare at her.
Susan moved slightly away from her.
"They were concerned about you being slipped a love potion." She admitted quietly.
"WHY?" Hermione yelled, aghast.
Susan gaped at her.
"Cousin dear, Sirius has received two betrothal offers for you since the start of term. But everyone knows that you'd never date anyone so the only way to get you to marry someone would be to trick you into it. The Twins wanted to make sure you were protected."
It was a quiet day in the shop. Mid-November wasn't a busy time for Diagon Alley and the blustery, wet weather was keeping most customers away. They were spending most of their time filling mail orders and serving the few people who stumbled in from the cold.
So when Sirius staggered in, sunglasses on and wearing a knee-length velvet frock coat over his suit, they both noticed.
"Oh this can't be good," George mumbled as they watched their girlfriend's father look around the shop before spotting them behind the counter and making straight for them.
"Hello!" Sirius winced as his voice echoed around the mostly empty shop and said quieter, "How are my favourite sons-in-law?"
"Still not your sons-in-law." Fred rolled his eyes. "What can we help you with, Sirius?"
"Firstly, I've got a message. You're to come to dinner on Thursday." This made sense. The Black family dinners were more private meetings on Sirius' personal version of the Order of the Phoenix. Normally it consisted of the Blacks, including Narcissa and Andromeda, Tonks and Kingsley, the Twins and Amelia's fanatical collection of contingency plans. "Secondly, I found something." Sirius reached into an inside pocket and pulled out a battered school notebook. It was stained and the pages crinkled as though it had gotten wet and had to be dried. The top left corner was burnt.
"This!" Sirius announced theatrically, "Is the Marauder's Secret Weapon." He opened the notebook and the Twins leaned closer to examine the messy handwriting and sketched diagrams. "Pretty much every prank we ever pulled off at Hogwarts is in here, along with the early stages of design for the Map. Thought you two might be able to make something of it,"
They stared at him.
"Sirius…" Fred breathed. "You can't…"
"Why are you giving this to us?" George asked, reverently turning the pages.
There was an awkward pause as Sirius shifted on the spot.
"I thought…" He swallowed. "I thought there might be something we can use in there but...Remus and I...It doesn't feel right to work on it without James." Which explained why they didn't recognise the majority of the handwriting. The sarcastic notes matched the tight script that had marked their defence essays and a lot of the crude drawings were accompanied by flowing elegant letters that they knew belonged to Sirius. The messy handwriting that wasn't always straight but made up the majority of the notes…
"This is James'?" George stared at him. "Sirius...we can't take this!"
"Of all my kids, Harry doesn't have the Marauders' creativity. He's never been interested in elaborate plans or schemes. Too much like me for that. Susan schemes but she's more into politics than mayhem and Hermione...well she's more into anarchy and destruction than pranking people," The Twins glared at him for that. "But you two appreciate what that is to the family and I think you might be able to make something great out of it. C'mon," He started flicking through the book when they just kept staring at him in shock. "I want to show you what we got up to in fourth year."
When Fred had to leave to serve an actual customer, George asked,
"Why are you really here, Sirius?"
His girlfriend's father laughed, somewhat bitterly.
"Can't I just drop in on my favourite pranksters?" He sobered and rubbed his face tiredly. His cane was leaning against the counter. They would have offered him a chair but they didn't think it would be well received. "I had a fight with Remus," George winced. "I needed to leave before I did something I regretted. Remus knows to let me cool off," He added in explanation. "But it's best to not let a Black brood alone. We get awfully fucked up that way."
If Sirius was trying to tell him something, it wasn't anything George didn't already know about dealing with a Black.
Hermione watched the figure approaching her with a raised eyebrow. She was settled in at her usual table in the library, Draco studying peacefully at her side. Luna stopped neatly in front of them and bowed low. She looked unnervingly normal, hair brushed neatly and without any strange jewellery on her person.
The girl frowned and straightened up.
"Miss Black," She intoned formally. "I have come here to ask your permission to court Mr Black, youngest of your House."
Hermione gaped at her, but Draco's elbow digging into her ribs made her school her expression somewhat. She glanced at him quizzically.
"Traditionally, your permission or Lord Black's would be required before any formal courting could take place," He murmured in explanation, watching Luna with more wariness than the girl probably warranted. "It is unusual but not strange for her to seek your permission."
Unusual but not strange. A good term for Luna.
"I have brought a gift to show the strength of my affections and the severity of my intent." Luna intoned and placed a parcel wrapped in red velvet cloth on the table. Hermione unwrapped it and stared for a moment. It was a small brooch, made of an antler tip which had been hollowed out like a vase. White flowers with green stems sat there, like a minuscule flower arrangement, made with silk and tiny stitches. They were lilies.
Hermione opened her mouth, paused and glanced at Draco. He smirked faintly. She started again.
"Do you know it took Madam Pomfrey three hours to undo the curse work on Romilda?" Luna met her gaze, utterly unrepentant. "And they still haven't worked out how to get the word SLAG off her face?" Hermione was planning on telling them the counter charm. Eventually.
Luna didn't flinch and Hermione had her answer. Harry had taken far too long to do something about this, he deserved what was coming.
"I value actions over gifts. And you have defended and supported my brother." She smirked. "I accept your request and I give you my blessing," Draco snorted. "Don't hurt him, Miss Lovegood."
"Peidiwch byth," Luna said, which Hermione assumed was an agreement. She rewrapped the brooch and stole away amongst the stacks.
"What did I just agree to?" Hermione asked once she was sure the girl was out of earshot.
"Well nothing, really." Draco had already turned back to his homework. "It's a tradition, meant to deter men from wooing ladies without their parents' consent and to ensure that everyone knew the seriousness of the intentions. She's just basically said that, if he agrees, she intends to court and then marry your brother. To which you agreed."
"So nothing important then?"
"Don't you think you should take a break?" Harry asked, unintentionally bringing her wrath down on himself. His sister glowered at him over her charms essay. "They're only practise tests."
"Which if I don't pass, I won't be able to sit my exams!" Hermione hissed venomously. Harry barely blinked. "Go away! I'm studying."
He sprawled across the table in the Common Room she was working at instead.
"You'll pass them no bother," He twitched as she tried to stab his nose with her quill. "I'm worried about you."
"Received any interesting gifts recently?" She asked as a thought occurred to her.
"I've given Luna permission to start formally courting you." Hermione leaned back and smirked at him as Harry went very pale and then very red. He opened his mouth and gaped at her.
"You did what!" He shrieked. Several Gryffindors looked over, rubbing at their ears.
"I gave her permission to court you," Hermione began rummaging through her book bag. "I imagine you'll be hearing from her soon."
"Why?" Harry whined, still abnormally loudly.
"Because you weren't going to do anything about it," She fixed him with a stern look. "Luna has made her opinion on the matter perfectly clear, she's just gotten tired of waiting for you to catch up."
"I thought you hated this sort of thing!" Harry complained, finally lowering an octave. "You and the Twins…"
"Are different." She pointed out. "This is weird to me, but you grew up with this. It's normal for you. And honestly, you brought this on yourself. Luna has been trying to get your attention for years now."
"I can't believe you!" He hissed furiously, storming off.
"I want godmother rights for your firstborn," Hermione called after him, already turning her attention back to her book.
"You're already going to be an aunt!" Harry yelled back. "Fuck off, 'Mione!"
Finally, Hermione thought to herself, blissful silence.
Draco took a deep breath, checking his reflection in the mirror by the door. While Miss Black might be happy to march around looking like she'd gone through a hedge backwards, Draco was too closely watched for the same luxury. Privately, he admitted that it rather suited her. Hermione bristled with too much power and wild magic to look convincingly tamed. Picking up his book bag, he left his makeshift bedroom and entered the seventh-floor corridor. As the door melted back into the wall behind him, he stopped dead and stared.
The Slytherin in him wanted to walk away, pretend he had seen nothing. The Black in him, the one that had been so fiercely protected by the kindness of his family, wanted to see if he could help.
He couldn't believe the Gryffindors were rubbing off on him.
Without a word, he dropped down next to the figure, handing his silk handkerchief over to Theodore Nott. The other boy looked up, tears streaming silently down his face.
"Malfoy!" He hissed, scrubbing furiously at his eyes.
Draco didn't say anything, and eventually, Theo relaxed. Draco had already seen the weakness, there was no sense in panicking now. He took the silk square and began carefully putting himself back together.
"Did it hurt?" Draco asked eventually.
"It nearly killed me," He admitted hollowly. "I think...He was displeased because my father failed him."
They both stared at the opposite wall, neither daring to meet the others eye. In the quiet hush of the seventh-floor corridor, Theo whispered.
"I think he is going to kill me when I fail."
Draco didn't bother to ask what Theo might fail at. That would be too much for the temporary truce of this moment. He didn't ask why Theo was curled up in a disused corridor on the seventh floor either.
"Who did you stay with this summer?" He knew Theo's mother had died a long time ago and with his father in Azkaban…
"The Goyles took me in," Theo chuckled darkly. "Spent the summer with Greg's scintillating company. They took me to visit Azkaban. I saw your father. He misses you, you know?"
"I know," Draco sighed. "It wasn't my decision to leave, but...I don't regret it. I do miss my father though."
"So do I," This surprised Draco. By all accounts, Thorus Nott was a cold and distant man, even to his own son. But he had been all Theo had had since he was five. "Is your mother well?"
"She's safe," Draco wasn't as surprised by this line of questioning. Theo's mother had actually been a dear friend of his own. They'd often been lumped together for playdates while their mother's had gossipped over tea and cake. That had all stopped after Sorrell Nott's death, but Narcissa had made a point to always ask after Theo. "Lord Black has been very kind to us."
Theodore laughed again, but it was still a bitter sound.
"You know," He murmured. "If you had asked me in First Year which of us would be the Death Eater and which the Blood Traitor, I would never have guessed this," Draco smirked. "But here you are, willingly following an adopted muggleborn around the castle like she's the second coming of Morgana."
He noted the word choice but didn't dare look Theo in the eye.
"She is the Heir to my House, distancing myself from her would only hurt my own chances in the long run," There was another laugh from the Slytherin next to him. Draco felt his shoulders shake with the force of it. It wasn't technically a lie, or at least it hadn't been in the beginning. It was probably what a lot of patriarchs were telling themselves. The poor Malfoy boy, making the best of a bad situation, but he'll come back to the fold once he's of age. It wasn't true anymore. "Besides, I honestly believe she could raze this castle to the ground if she was angry enough. I would rather be on her side than standing against her."
"He wants her and her bondmates," Theo whispered. "Either with him or dead. He knows they're too dangerous."
"My whole family is dangerous." He retorted, ignoring the fear that sat in the pit of his stomach at the thought of what the Dark Lord would do to his future matriarch.
"I'm not," Theo trembled faintly, crumpling the black silk in his hands. He had never been one for violence or scheming. He had preferred quietly studying and staying out of the rivalry and blood politics. He was not a natural leader. It wasn't hard to imagine that he'd been chosen for this mission, whatever it was, not because he'd succeed but because he'd fail. He was a punishment for his father, nothing more.
Draco broke his staring match with the wall and twisted, seizing both of Theo's hands in his own.
"You don't have to be," He promised, ignoring the stiffness that had suddenly gripped the boy. "You don't need to be dangerous, Theo. You just need to survive!"
"If I fail….!"
"He can't get inside this building while Dumbledore lives," Theo flinched. "You just need to try. Prove that you're trying and when summer comes...You'll be seventeen. You don't need to go home to that!"
"I can't run!" Theo hissed. "My father would disinherit me, the Dark Lord would kill him! I have responsibilities, not that you would know anything about that!"
"I know that I never want to bend the knee to a monster," Draco refused to let Theo look away. "He promised our families power, he promised them greatness. What he gave them was enslavement! Your father chose his path, as did my own. It is not our responsibility to pay their debts. We have to survive this so we don't make the same mistakes. Do you want your own children forced to submit to such tyranny?"
"Draco," Theo breathed, looking terrified. "He's winning!"
He gave in and hugged the other boy, feeling his tears seeping into the shoulder of his robes.
"He has not won yet!" Draco promised in a whisper.
When he next passed the sixth year Slytherins, the rest jeered and hissed blood-traitor as he went by. Theo, very pointedly, said nothing.
And that gave Draco hope.
"Do my brother's know you're cheating on them with him?"
Hermione and Draco exchanged a long look over the top of their school books.
"Give us a minute?" She asked her cousin. He rolled his eyes, but got up, glaring at Ginny as he passed. "Sit down," Hermione ordered the younger girl. "We need to talk."
Ginny scowled at her, flicking her long hair over one shoulder.
"I think I'm fine standing."
Hermione sighed heavily.
"I am not cheating on your brothers," She started with, as much patience as she could manage. "Believe me, I have enough trouble with the Twins without adding anything else to it."
"Black and Malfoy are always hanging off you…"
"I am the oldest of four siblings!" Hermione snapped, which was more accurate than Ginny probably realised. Draco certainly counted as an honorary brother. "Between Harry, Susan and Draco, as well as their various hangers-on, I am far too busy trying to look after them all to deal with your nonsense," Ginny bristled but Hermione held up a hand and continued. "Look, I understand. The Twins are your favourite siblings, you love them as much as I love Harry. I know you're just trying to protect them. But whether you like it or not, I'm in their life for good. We can keep fighting each other or you can get over it."
The two witches stared at each other for a long moment.
"I don't want to spend the rest of my life fighting with you," Hermione admitted tiredly. There was a cramp in her hand and there were another seven chapters to be read before class tomorrow. She was so exhausted.
"Harry said you told him I used to play Chaser with the Twins," Ginny muttered. "How did you know that?"
She let the bond bleed through, feeling the Twins tension and relief like her own as they looked through her eyes. Ginny went white, stumbling back a few steps.
"They are literally inside my head, Ginny." She paused, concentrating. "They say hi, by the way. They were watching your goal on Saturday."
"Can they hear me?" Ginny whispered, looking terrified and shocked.
"Yeah," Hermione smiled. "They're in Diagon at the moment, working on a stock order. Can't hold this for long though."
"Hi Fred, hi George." She whispered.
Hermione let the bond fade as the Twins went back to their work.
"You're really not dating Malfoy?" Ginny pressed.
"I'm really not. He's my cousin, Ginny. I know I'm a Black but give me a little credit." Hermione grinned.
The youngest Weasley sat down with a sigh.
"Have you met Fleur?" She started, with the look of a battle-weary soldier. "She wants me to be a flower girl in the wedding. Guess she's going to be our sister-in-law."
"We're friends," Hermione admitted, looking ruefully down at her books. She didn't point out that Fleur wouldn't be her sister-in-law. It was something of a moot point.
"Can you convince her to change the colour scheme?" Ginny asked desperately. "She wants me to wear pink! It is not a good idea with my hair."
Hermione took this as the truce it was intended as.
"I'll see what I can do."
"How was Andromeda?" Remus asked as Amelia settled down into the armchair across from him. Unusually for her, she was dressed casually in an old t-shirt of Sirius' and a pair of muggle leggings.
"Fine, fine. Excited about Tonks and Shacklebolt," She stretched out, kicking her bare feet up into Remus' lap. "I think she was worried Tonks would never settle down."
"They're good together," Remus rubbed absently at her ankles and the witch relaxed. "She needed someone who could be serious about her,"
"Jealous?" Amelia asked idly.
"Of Shacklebolt?" Remus snorted. "No. Never. One Black in my life is more than enough."
"He does rather demand attention," She noted ruefully.
"How…" He paused, grimacing slightly. She waited in silence, forcing him to continue. "How is the baby?"
Amelia smirked. He was still having some difficulty dealing with everything but she refused to let him hide away from reality.
"Our baby," She corrected, "Is fine. Andromeda reckons I'll be due in March, most likely. I've already booked the time off, we just have to hope the little bastard is on time."
"Its parents are married," Remus murmured in his latest attempt at shirking responsibility.
"Some of its parents are married," Amelia countered smugly. "We could change that, you know? It quite quick to do."
Remus went incredibly still, enough that she momentarily worried that Sirius had snuck up on them and petrified him. The way his face was drained of colour dissuaded her of that. His eyes were huge and terrified.
"Had any more thoughts about names?" She asked, as though she hadn't just stunned him into silence.
There was a long pause while Remus visibly got himself back under control.
"I've not come up with any more suggestions," He managed hoarsely. "But are you sure…?"
"Hope is an excellent name," She told him firmly. "We could definitely do with some roundabout now. Besides, I meant surnames."
"I take it Sirius' suggestion is still out?"
"I'm not cursing my child with a name like Blopin!" Amelia scowled at him until he had to look away laughing. "I was thinking Bones," She relented. "Unless you want to give them your surname?"
"It's not mine!" Remus hissed.
Amelia thought about her increased irritability around the full moon, her current craving for bloody steak, the way the baby always kicked more for Remus and smirked.
"Is this normal?" Susan asked nervously.
The Blacks stood a few bookcases away from Hermione who was studying hard. They had been sitting with her, but had been banished for being "distracting". They would have stayed but Hermione had done something that made the air around her feel heavy, like breathing lead and it was extremely unpleasant to sit in.
"She's always been a little...fanatic about research," Harry whispered back, "But never anything like this."
"She's going to burn out," Draco muttered, irritated that his own studying had been disrupted. He'd been evicted for breathing too loudly.
"What do we do?" Harry hissed. "She's not going to listen to either of us."
"The Twins say she's been blocking them out because she needs to concentrate," Susan looked worried. "They wrote to check everything was okay," She added when they frowned at her.
"She's barely coming to meals," Draco reported. "She's spending all her free time in the library, apart from your Quidditch matches."
"I think," Harry admitted. "That we need to call in reinforcements."
"She'll kill us," Draco looked grim. "But you're right. She's not going to listen to us."
George knew she wasn't paying attention to her surroundings. Dimly he could hear her running through a list of what sounded like runic arrays in her head as she headed back to the Library.
"Oh, no you don't." He called cheerfully, wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting her clear off the floor and into the secret passageway he and his brother were hiding in.
"Not again!" Hermione yelled, slapping at his hand. "Put me down, George!"
He dropped her in front of Fred who grinned down at their girlfriend.
"What the hell are you two doing here?" She shrieked, torn between fury and pleasure at seeing them. Her ability to be both angry and happy had always amused George.
"Your brother called in back-up," Fred admitted easily.
Hermione clearly decided on fury as the air around her began to heat uncomfortably.
"How dare he!"
"Nice try," George countered it easily with cooling charms and smirked as she glared at both of them. "We're a little harder to chase off than your family."
"I don't need to be watched!"
"Sure, you don't," They looped her arms with theirs and began dragging her down the corridor. "But apparently you've been shutting yourself up in the library."
"I've been dreaming about Transfiguration," Fred complained.
"And you've been shutting us out." They started climbing the stairs that would lead to an empty balcony on the fourth floor. "Thought we weren't going to keep doing that?"
Her guilty silence filled the air between them and they climbed without another word.
"It's not just about the exams," Hermione admitted, at last, huddled between them from the harsh December wind.
She and George glared at Fred who chuckled, holding his hands up in defeat.
"It's...I've been trying to research ways to defeat Voldemort," She murmured, burrowing into her cloak. "I don't want my brother to face him alone, and if we can destroy those things…"
"Would Dumbledore really leave books about something like that lying around?" George frowned down at her.
"No," She admitted frustratedly. "But I won't know for sure until…"
"Until what?" Fred smirked at her. "Until you've read your way through the entire Restricted Section?" He kissed her forehead. "You can fight in a war or you can study for exams, 'Mione. Even you can't do both without burning out."
"I can't just do nothing," She hissed. The snow around them was melting. She probably didn't realise she was responsible.
"You think Sirius is just sitting on his arse?" They all snickered as the tension was broken by the thought of Sirius willingly sitting to one side. "He and your dad have been working on this themselves."
"We've got a standing invitation to House Black meetings," George explained when she frowned at them.
Neither of them mentioned that it was because Sirius claimed they were as good as Blacks now.
"If this is going to be your last year at school..."
"...Take advantage of it..."
"...Focus on your schoolwork…"
"...Let your family look after themselves…"
"Besides," Fred grinned at her. "Between the three of us, we don't have any NEWTs. We'd better make sure the only ones we get are good."
"So why don't you spend less time in the library and stop frightening your siblings?"
"I can't study in the Common Room," She complained. "Your brother is dating Lavender Brown and he keeps…" She trailed off in disgust, which her bond mates echoed.
"Oh, that's disgusting,"
Despite Luna's declaration of intentions, and the new brooch Harry was sporting, there had been no obvious change in their relationship. Unusually, Harry was very tight-lipped on the subject, which concerned his family greatly. A plotting Black was a worrying thing indeed. Currently, the two were staring at each other across the Great Hall. Well, Harry was staring at Luna, it was impossible to say what Luna was staring at.
"Remind me why we're going to this party?" Hermione was exhausted. She'd finished the last of her tests the day before and the stress had finally caught up with her. If she looked as bad as she felt, there was no way she was in any shape to grace Slughorn's Christmas Party.
"We're networking," Susan had the air of someone who had already had this argument many times. It was possible they had, Hermione's memory of the last few days was...hazy. "A lot of important people will be there and it's a good opportunity to ask questions and be seen."
"And I have to go….?"
"Because you represent two Houses and unless you want to be out of the social circle for the next fifty years you need to start actually talking to people. Speaking of which, who are you taking as your date?"
"I resent the idea that I cannot attend a social gathering alone," Susan glowered at her and Hermione wilted. "I'm taking Draco," She mumbled.
"I'm taking Hannah," Susan's stern expression brightened somewhat at the mention of her girlfriend. "And Harry..."
"Has had enough!" Harry declared darkly and shoved away from the table.
"Should we do something about this?" Hermione asked as they watched their brother stalk his way through the students to the Ravenclaw table.
Susan was unsympathetic.
"If she curses him, he's earned it."
They sipped their tea as, in the distance, Harry bowed low to Luna. The blonde witch stared up at him, looking unusually serious. Whatever Harry said next caused several nearby Ravenclaws to blush deeply. Luna just smiled, nodded and stood up so Harry could kiss her properly.
"About bloody time," Susan complained.
They both started to snicker as Luna towed a thrilled looking Harry out of the Hall.
"So Harry's taking Luna."
Much of Slughorn's party was a waste of time, in Hermione's mind. She had been asked by no less than seven boys and one girl, which was all very flattering, she supposed but mostly extremely irritating. She had asked Draco out of self-defence. Draco had agreed but on the condition she "do something about her hair" and "not dress like you're planning to murder someone in an alleyway". This had left Hermione in a dress her brother had bought her for her sixteenth birthday, a dark red affair overlaid with black lace and the silver earrings Draco himself had given her. Her bracelets, torc and ring already weighed her down enough without any extra jewellery.
"Hair," Draco said severely when he saw her, which wasn't very encouraging.
"I tried!" She complained, turning to show him the braids that were holding most of the heavy black mass into some form of order.
"You'll do," He admitted begrudgingly.
Rolling her eyes, she took her cousin's arm and allowed him to lead her down to the dungeons.
"You're in a fine mood,"
He laughed tiredly.
"I've been trying to work out if Nott is staying over Christmas," He admitted in a whisper. At her raised eyebrow he continued, "He might not be safe if he goes home. Whatever the Dark Lord has sent him here to do, he hasn't done it yet."
He hadn't done a lot of anything according to Draco's reports, apart from hanging around the seventh-floor corridor. Draco had only noticed that because he passed him when he left the Room of Requirement. The music was starting to get louder as they approached the party.
"You're worried about him." When he winced, Hermione chuckled. "It would be far too easy to pretend the other side are just monsters. But they're not. They're human. Just like you." She paused, pulling him around so he was forced to meet her gaze, "Just make sure he's worth it, Draco."
"Shut up, Miss Black."
From outside the door to Slughorn's office, the music was already too loud for Hermione and Draco looked grim.
"I blame Susan," Hermione announced, before pulling him into the party.
They went unnoticed for a few minutes before Slughorn barrelled up to them, beaming and clearly tipsy.
"Miss Granger…" He paused, frowning at her. "Is that Ross jewellery?"
Hermione touched the torc, which had been enlarged to its proper size and sat heavily around her neck.
"My mother gave it to me," She demurred, which caused Draco to stifle a laugh. Clearly, her well-behaved act could use some work.
"But I thought Professor McGonagall was the last remnants of the Ross family?" Slughorn was frowning now, as though she was a particularly interesting potion.
"She was," Hermione considered how long she was willing to play this game and gave in. "She's my adopted mother."
Slughorn's eyes widened before he returned to beaming again.
"And Sirius Black's daughter to boot! Come you must meet…"
Hermione and Draco sighed heavily as he dragged them off to meet someone undoubtedly important.
"And of course you may know these two gentlemen," Slughorn's voice was grating on her nerves and her smile felt more and more forced with every second she had to listen to it. Draco had abandoned her several minutes ago, she'd last seen him talking to Snape in a corner. "Former students, Gryffindors I think. Surely some of the greatest entrepreneurs of this generation."
Like she cared. Hermione stared blankly into her gillywater.
"Oh, we're nothing without our favourite assistant,"
Her head snapped up and she felt her eyes widen as the Twins smirked at her. Their dark shirts and leather jackets made her mouth dry as she desperately tried to think of something to say.
"Hi," She managed.
Slughorn's attention was caught by Harry and Luna's late arrival at the party and he bustled off leaving the three of them alone.
"What happened to your date?" George asked, not moving any closer.
"Some wizard, abandoning our witch at a party," Fred appeared genuinely annoyed about that, but George kicked his ankle and he stopped scanning the crowd for someone to curse.
"He's talking to Snape." She took a desperate drink, trying to ignore the heat in their gazes. "What're you doing here?"
"You thought we were going to miss seeing you all dressed up?"
"How did I not know you were in the castle?" They each took an arm and began steering her away from the main crush of the party.
"What?" Fred smirked. "You thought you were the only one who could manipulate the Bond?"
George laughed in her ear.
"Do you like the jackets?" He asked, turning to show her the patch on the arm that mirrored the one on hers. "Thought we'd get some to match you."
The patch was different. A tight possessive feeling in her gut made her smirk as she ran her fingers over the Granger's Glorious Gizmos logo on George's left arm, the same arm that held his bond mark.
"Oh, I think she likes that," George said to his brother, looking unmistakably smug.
"Do you like everyone knowing we're yours?" Fred whispered.
"Because we like everyone knowing you're ours." George frowned for a moment. "How many people asked you to this party?"
Hermione groaned, doing her best to ignore the way Fred was playing with torc around her neck.
"Who told you?" She complained.
"We like to check up with Susan," Fred admitted easily, as George kissed the back of her hand. What with both of them blocking her from the rest of the room, no one could see what they were getting up to. They could….Her thoughts betrayed her and she flushed scarlet as the Twins exchanged a look, smirking at her.
"Did you catch that thought, Fred?"
"Really? Here? My mother and half the Professors are here!" Hermione managed, trying to ignore the heat of Fred's hand through the back of her dress, the feeling of George's breath against her neck as he leaned down to whisper in her ear.
"Well, then you'd better find somewhere else,"
"We've not seen you properly for months," Fred kissed the side of her neck and Hermione whined quietly, blushing deeply. "We have missed you, 'Mione,"
"Oh, Merlin," Hermione managed.
Susan watched her sister drag her boyfriends from the room and admitted to herself that this was longer than she'd thought Hermione would actually be able to stand staying at the party. She just hoped they didn't get caught in a broom cupboard. Looking around, she took careful stock of her family. Harry and Luna were talking to a vampire, Luna looking interested while Harry draped himself across her shoulders like the shameless hedonist he was. She suspected it was a miracle the two of them had made it to the party at all. Draco was talking seriously to Professor Snape in the corner and seemed unconcerned that his date had absconded with the Twins and was unlikely to return. Several older witches, including McGonagall, had collected large plates of food and several wine bottles and had started a coven in the corner. Susan was familiar with such covens from the socialite parties Amelia had been forced to attend when she was younger and knew better than to intervene. They were either setting up all of their grandchildren, in which case Susan didn't want to know, or they were getting drunk enough to perform some ancient magic, in which case she was staying out of the way.
"Here!" Hannah chirped, returning from the dessert table. "I got us trifle, but I made sure yours didn't have any cherries in it."
Susan grinned at her girlfriend who beamed back.
"So," Hannah licked the cream off her thumb and looked around the room. "Who's next on your attack list?"
Not for the first time, Susan mused that she was a very lucky witch indeed.
"Master Copernicus, over there in the black," She indicated a shabby and elderly looking wizard. "Specialised in Dark Arts; wrote several books on the subject." To Hannah's credit, she hadn't asked about why Susan was suddenly interested in such things. Although Hannah was a half-blood, the Abbotts were an old Pureblood family and sat on the Wizengamot. Hannah had been raised to respect the sanctity of House business.
"You take me to meet the worst people," Hannah complained.
Both of them finished their trifles before fixing smiles on their faces.
"You'd better take me on one hell of a date to make up for this," Hannah muttered as they approached the ancient wizard.
Susan launched into her introductions as they approached. Given the dark nature of what she was actually interested in, she was forced to lay out the groundwork of academic interest in fighting the dark arts and slowly lead into making a careful mention of what she was actually interested in. If she let Harry and Hermione do this, she suspected that they'd just storm up to people and demand that they tell them about Horcruxes. Subtle her siblings were not. So she'd recruited Draco for this, although it looked like he'd gotten sidetracked.
Most of this had been a waste of time, so far. The majority of the elders she'd spoken to had no idea what she'd been talking about or had been horrified by an interest in such a dark topic. She'd almost given up hope when, Mistress Bradacova, who'd been brought over by Copernicus to join the discussion had waved Professor Slughorn over.
"'Orace," She'd said in heavily accented English. "Do you know anything about 'orcruxes? Master Copernicus and I 'ondered if you'd ever researched eet?"
Slughorn's grip on his sherry glass had become incredibly slack, red alcohol slopped out onto the flagstones. The rosiness brought on with drink was fading rapidly as he stared at the European witch in what could only be described with horror.
"I found some notes in the Library," Susan explained, watching him closely. "Some student had scribbled them in an old textbook. Actually," She beamed as though a thought had just occurred to her. "You've been here ages, does the name Tom Riddle mean anything to you? He was researching it."
Slughorn dropped his sherry glass and it shattered on the floor, a sound covered by the raucous noise of the party.
"I'm sorry," He mumbled through bloodless lips. "I think I've rather overindulged."
Hannah and Susan exchanged looks as he staggered away through the crowd.
"That would be a yes then," Hannah muttered.
Ah canon, we hardly knew ye...
19000 words long enough for an update?