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Iacta Alea Est

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When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.

Audrey Niffeneger,The Time Traveler's Wife


Light filtered through the half-open curtains, sending patterns in orange and red dancing across the desk, highlighting the specks of dust that flit through the air from the recent disturbance. The shape slumped over the desk – a pile of silks, scarves and a hideous amount of paisley – groaned miserably, the sound reminiscent of a dying man; one who realises that all they have done has been for nothing in the long run. It was a sound of utter failure, and it was heart-wrenching – not that there was anybody around to feel its effects.

One long-fingered, over-ringed hand reached out across the surface to clutch at a glass of water as though it were the only thing keeping the pile alive, and big, insect-like eyes shone out from behind thick, round glasses as the assortment of cloths that had just been revealed to be a female slurped eagerly at the liquid. Another distraught sound echoed from her throat as she slammed the glass down.

"Why?" She asked nobody in particular, her voice broken. "Why do this?" She glanced upwards as though expecting a response from the Gods themselves, and then rolled her eyes in exasperation when no response was forthcoming.

She pushed herself up to stand, bringing the glass with her and contemplating it in the shaft of sunlight. "All of this… for nothing."

She laughed bitterly, looking around the room she had holed herself up in. It was a nice room; or, it had been, in a past life. The walls were adorned with vibrant tapestries, the floor covered in fringed rugs that were a little worn down with age, but no less beautiful for it. All of the furniture in the room was covered in one way or another – chairs and the singular chaise draped with more silk, whether it be scarves or cloaks or throws. The surfaces were cluttered by knick-knacks of various kinds – crystal balls, abandoned tea cups, tins of tea leaves and sugar, various shiny items of indeterminate origin and one beautiful quill and parchment set. All of these things were covered in a fine layer of dust; the occupant not having come to this room since her last prophecy in 1994. She was back here now, though, along with a nice, new, shiny glass ball filled with an unidentifiable white mist.

The woman took a moment to glare at said sphere, her face a mask of disgust and rage. "After everything we've lost," she hissed as though it could hear her, "you dare to come to me? No. No. This is not going to occur."

She turned back to the window, peering out over the Scottish hills as she seemed to come to a decision. "If it is not heard…" she murmured to herself, a flash of determination coming into her eyes. It was a difficult decision, to be sure – she was a Ravenclaw through and through, merciless in her pursuit of knowledge. Her abilities as a Seer were all the more valuable for this, and she'd never considered holding back before… but this was different. If she registered this with the Ministry, then they'd know, and she was not about to condemn innocent girls to this fate. Not after the last time.

With only a moment's hesitation, the woman span and grabbed the prophecy, her usual ethereal movements abandoned in her desperation. With a flick of her free hand, the window was open and in another second she let out a wild cry of rage. The ball she threw span in the air, glinting in the sun as it sailed. It collided with the rocks beneath the window at full speed, shattering and releasing its contents into the air. The tightness in the Seer's chest dissipated slightly as her own voice floated up to her, and she let out a sigh of relief. Safe.


 

Loud, was Hermione's opinion of this pub. The last one had been stifling, the one before that unclean. She was creating quite the list of establishments she'd rather not frequent on this trip, and it didn't look like it was going to end any time soon as it was barely ten in the evening and Lavender was barely even tipsy. To be honest, she was surprised she had even been invited on Lavender's hen night, because Merlin knew they weren't exactly close, but Ginny had insisted that it was an olive branch – the only one she would be extending, at that, and that she should take it and be bloody grateful.

Hermione wasn't certain that she should be grateful. Sure, Lavender had gone to a lot of effort to be pleasant to her this evening, and she hadn't been left out of any of the jokes or games – as evidenced by the small fortune in shot-glasses she had accumulated – but Hermione could not shake the feeling that something was wrong; that something about this whole evening was off. At present, she was crowded around a booth with what she supposed were her closest female friends; though she wasn't all that close to any of them except Ginny, and her female friendships definitely paled in comparison to her relationships with the men in her life. What she would give to be at Grimmauld Place with the boys right now; sitting in the study sucking back firewhiskey and laughing about Percy's various exploits at the Ministry, while Harry and Ron make a right mess out of a drunken game of Wizard's Chess. But, she was here, and she was trying, for Merlin's sake, which is more than she'd ever done in her six years of rooming with Lavender and Parvati at Hogwarts, so surely that must count as some weird girl-political victory.

The niggling feeling at the back of her mind wouldn't go away however hard she tried, though, and it was making her anxious. Absentmindedly she lifted a hand to her neck and fiddled with the pendant that had lay there for almost a year now, nestled between her collarbones.

"What's that?" Parvati asked suddenly, drawing the group's attention to Hermione. "You keep touching it."

Ginny turned big, brown eyes on her and let out a barking laugh. "Oh, don't bother, love. She won't tell you." She looked between the table's occupants and leaned forward as though to tell them a secret. "She's an Unspeakable." The last word was drawn out and spoken in hushed tones, and when it was spoken the other girls' eyes widened in understanding.

"Oh!" Lavender cried. "How exciting! Do you love it, Herms?"

Hermione fought back an automatic shudder at the vile nickname Lavender had taken it upon herself to give her at the start of the evening and pasted a sort-of-genuine smile on her face. "I do, Lav," she divulged. "But as Ginny said, I can't tell you. It's kind of in the name, though you shouldn't know that either…"

Ginny looked suitably chagrined at the glare she received, and muttered an apology under her breath. Hermione rolled her eyes but let it go, knowing it wasn't worth it. Ginny was too shrewd for her own good, sometimes. As calculating as any Slytherin, she had spied and schemed until she'd uncovered the truth, and Hermione didn't have it in herself to Obliviate a harmless friend.

A shiver forced it's way down her spine at this thought, but she shoved the accompanying emotions behind her shields immediately. She wouldn't be very good at her job, otherwise.

Luna turned her large, lamp-like eyes on Hermione then, her gaze unnerving. "It's very pretty," she observed, though she wasn't watching the necklace. Instead, her eyes bore into Hermione's as though trying to pass on a message. These few moments of lucidity from the usually loopy girl were something Hermione usually viewed as a gift, but right now, not so much. "A pretty trinket." She continued, gaining intensity. "Quite useless, though. What will be, will be, you know that." A small smile played on her lips and she leaned forward, tracing a finger down the chain to the shirt's collar. Hermione stayed still, frozen under her attentions. "Quite useless," she murmured again, and then leaned back, returning to her previous game of animating the ash in the tray on the table to play in the candlelight. She had been working on wandless magic, she'd informed Hermione quite matter-of-factly earlier that evening, stood outside the bar as they waited for Parvati to arrive. She'd dressed up in typical Luna style for the evening, with a bright yellow summer dress over an orange jumper, and an eerily familiar clutch at her side. 'What is that?' Hermione had asked, pointing it out. 'Is that my bag?'

Luna had frowned. 'Is anything anyones?' She'd responded. 'What does it mean, to belong?'

Hermione had given up after that.

The girls had moved on from the earlier conversation easily, returning to their game. Simple, it consisted of the girls listing 'facts' about Lavender's intended – one Ronald Weasley – and Lavender calling out whether they were true or false. Every time she was right, the person giving the fact took a shot; every time she was wrong, Lavender did. It had been discovered quite early on in the game that if they were to play then Lavender would stay disappointingly sober, as the pair were sickeningly lovestruck, so she'd started taking what she dubbed 'sympathy shots'.

"Ron has a scar on his wrist from a failed Unbreakable Vow," Ginny told them, swilling her shot with a challenging quirk of the eyebrow to Lavender. The blonde sighed exaggeratedly, and picked up her own glass.

"Ronald is perfect in every way," she announced to the table, "but I'm afraid that is true."

Hermione rolled her eyes as the girls linked arms and threw back their shots. Ridiculous game.

Parvati saved them from another round by scraping her chair back and standing. "I'd better go. I promised I'd be back by midnight and it's getting late." She took two steps and wobbled, her arms flailing out from her sides. Ginny and Hermione jumped up to catch her and deposit her back into her chair with a laugh.

"Alright, Cinderella, we'll walk you to the apparition point," Ginny smirked, a hand on Parvati's shoulder. "Come on, all. Next bar!"

A cheer rose up and soon all of the women were out in the cool night air once more.

Things went a bit downhill from there.

The werewolf attack, to be fair, was unanticipated. The full moon that hung in the sky should have been a sign, but having lived through hundreds of them, none of the girls expected anything different this time – except that this one was the first that Lavender Brown had been in public, intoxicated and leaving her scent everywhere she wandered. They were unsuspecting and unprepared, except for Luna. Luna's eyes, upon hearing the creature's growl, lit up in a way that was vastly inappropriate for the situation, as was the corresponding grin. You almost expected that she'd kneel on the floor in her delight, and start saying "here, puppy, puppy".

As the mass of muscle and fur leapt from the trees onto Lavender, the girls all drew their wands – all except for Luna, who danced over to Hermione's side. Hermione, distracted as she was by the furious need to protect the girl, didn't notice the blonde's machinations until after the job was done. The werewolf growled, ripped into the soft flesh of Lavender's neck, and howled victoriously through a blood-spattered muzzle as he stood in the midst of the multi-coloured curses the women were shooting at him. And then he was gone, and all four girls fell upon Lavender, crying out in fright.

"Shit, shit, shit, Lav, keep breathing, keep breathing!" Ginny commanded the blonde, ripping cloth from her shirt to staunch the bleeding. Parvati screamed hysterically from Hermione's left at the mutilation of her best friend, and Hermione herself grabbed onto Lavender's arms.

"Everyone, grab onto me!" She commanded. As Parvati lunged for her, though, Luna threw her away from them with impressive strength. Hermione, already in the midst of Apparition, barely noticed the movement until Luna's fist impacted with her sternum and the glass of her necklace shattered, and the world began to spin.

"So sorry, Hermione," Luna breathed in her airy way, as the world spun out into a kaleidoscope of colour... and then it was gone.


 

Chapter Text


 

The girls landed with a thud in the middle of nowhere, it seemed. The light-show that was their transportation died out all at once, leaving starbursts in Hermione's eyes as she desperately tried to make sense of what had just happened. There was a damp spot on her chest, her shirt sticking to her uncomfortably. The ground was soft and damp beneath her knees.

They were, in fact, stood in a meadow; green, lush grass underfoot and twinkling stars in the sky. They all released their hold as one, staggering backwards as they aimed to get some understanding of their surroundings. It was an orchard of sorts, Hermione thought before her brain clicked quickly into battle mode; Summoning her wand to her hand and automatically shifting until she was back-to-back with Ginny in preparation for any threats. The trees were flourishing in the early-spring heat, tempered though it was by the nights breeze. They were set in a perfectly symmetrical ring around them, thick and almost entirely impenetrable from their perspective. The air was clear, only the scents of flowers and dirt on it.

Satisfied with the lack of immediate danger, Hermione fell to her knees beside Lavender, her hands scrambling over her clothes to check the wound. "Oh, Gods," she whispered as her eyes fell on the sodden shirt Ginny had wadded into the bite. It was soaked through, the previously light blue material black with blood. Lavender wasn't conscious, but as Hermione poked and prodded at her, a pitiful moan escaped her mouth.

"Here," A calm voice said, and suddenly vials were being pressed into Hermione's palms; Essence of Dittany, Silver Paste, Werewolf Saliva to seal the wound, and Blood Replenishing Potion for afterwards. Hermione nodded gratefully even as something in the back of her mind screamed at her to pay more attention, she was missing something big. Instead, she leaned over Lavender and set to work. She removed the wad of cloth with a sympathetic wince; the blood had started to clot around it and the removal was not at all clean. The wound itself was horrendous. The werewolf seemed to have made no bones about whether she lived or died from his bite - he had torn the chunk of skin out entirely, leaving Lavender's remaining skin ragged and the wound inches deep. By Hermione's estimation, Lavender was lucky to survive.

She bit back a sob as she worked the paste and saliva into the mangled flesh that would certainly scar. The sometimes vapid Gryffindor had more than enough scars from Greyback, her classically beautiful face had been ravaged by his claws and teeth during the last battle, leaving puckered and malformed skin from her hairline all across the left side of her face down below her neckline to her hips. The brunette could remember the werewolf's feral glee as he'd munched away at her, his face covered in Lavender's lifeblood as he cackled around a mouthful of human flesh. "Aw, my pretty girlie," He had hissed into what had been left of her ear, and the fear in the still conscious girl's eyes had had Hermione launching herself at him in a protective rage, despite the two girls animosity towards one another.

Hermione hadn't been the hero that day, though. Sybill Trelawney, instead, had rounded the corner in a blaze of righteous fury, her eyes flashing as she'd screamed at the man murdering her favourite student in a way no person deserved. Hermione had run to join a different fight at the sound of the woman's approach and so didn't see the end of it, but Bill Weasley had informed her afterwards with an uncharacteristically manic glee in his eyes that Greyback had been unrecognizable by the end. Lavender, after all of this, hadn’t even been infected. Hermione had been awed by the blonde’s hitherto unseen strength of character in the months that followed, and the brunette remembered this, now, trying to pass this comfort on as she quietly begged her antagonist to live. She hadn't survived one monster only to be the victim of another.

Behind Hermione, Ginny had no such distractions as she advanced on Luna, who seemed to be inspecting the woodland that surrounded them. She glanced at Ginny once, took in the heated anger in her eyes, and her mouth twitched upwards. "I hope you weren't too terribly attached to Harry," she mused, not even twitching as Ginny drew her wand.

"What did you do, you crazy bitch?!" The redheads venomous tongue lashed out as she took a few steps toward her friend, who chuckled.

"I didn't do anything," Luna said serenely, eyes wide and innocent. "Fate did something, I merely facilitated. There's no going back now."

Ginny growled and went to lunge, Luna dancing out of the way with a tinkling laugh.

"Girls." Hermione snapped, her attention still on her patient. "Stop. Ginny, some wards, if you please." Ginny looked like she was considering mutiny, but Hermione snarled. "Now."

Ginny flew into motion mostly on instinct, because this was what Hermione was good at after seven years of wrangling her boys through this adventure and the next. Probably, Ginny thought with a smirk, this is just another Tuesday for her. She looked calm and determined, weathering the storm as always, making the best of a bad situation. Ginny admired her; for all of her faults, Hermione was her best friend and sister and had always been the rock upon whom Ginny could lean for support. This situation, whatever it was, would likely be no different.

"Protego Totalum, Fianto Duri, Cave inimicum…"

Hermione sighed when it seemed she had done all she could for Lavender, whose colour had returned slightly in the time that she'd been healing her. She felt for her pulse and the rush of relief upon feeling it thrumming was nearly overwhelming. With a huff, she leaned back onto her hands and glanced up at Luna, who was watching Lavender with a small smile playing on her face. "Lu," she began, only to be cut off by a flick of Luna's hand.

"Fate sent us here, Hermione. It wasn't me."

"I know what I felt, Luna. You punched me, right here." Hermione gestured to her sternum, where the shallow wounds were bleeding into the fabric creating a paste of sand, glass and fluid. "You knew that was where I was wearing the Time-Turner-"

"Time-Turner?" Ginny gasped, whipping around to point her wand at Hermione accusingly. "You were wearing a Time-Turner to the Pub? How irresponsible can you get!" She stomped around the warded area a few times, desperately trying to get a hold on her burning fury. "Are we in the past? Is that where we are?" She collapsed to the ground, her hands clutching at her chest desperately. "Merlin, of course we are, of course, it just makes sense, doesn't it? Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck-"

"Ginny," Hermione reached out, hiding her hurt when the redhead recoiled from her hand. "We don't know that. It could have just… knocked us off course?"

Even she didn't sound convinced, but it didn't stop her from shooting daggers at Luna when she decided to chip in in her usual carefree manner, "Nope, we're in the past. 1979, in fact."

"If you know so much, Luna, then where are we?" Hermione snapped, the weight of the situation crushing her. It barely even occurred to her to argue with Luna, not when she was cradling a savaged Lavender Brown in her lap and Ginny appeared to be having a nervous breakdown. The redhead had curled up in a ball, her hands fisted in the remains of her shirt, shaking and sobbing incoherently.

Luna's eyes widened as she pointed at the treeline, excitement vibrating off her as three shadows worked their way out of the darkness. "Oh, brightest witch of our age," she sighed happily, "figure it out."

The three silhouettes made their way into the moonlight, preceded by an ominous growling that rippled through the air and raised the hairs on all of their necks. Ginny dove to cast more wards, quickly, as the possibility of a new threat occurred to her. Luna was giggling quietly to herself as she watched Hermione stare in the newcomer's directions, a frown-line on her brow as her brain worked frantically to decipher the situation.

There was an obvious hierarchy to the mismatched shapes – the largest in the front, a vibrating tonne of sandy fur; a slightly shorter shape so black it almost blended into the trees at his left flank, and behind them both a towering stag. There was no other thing it could be, not with its antlers twisting up towards the heavens, standing out against a background of stars.

All three girls seemed to forget how to breathe as the largest form prowled closer, stopping every few feet to sniff the air and let out another rumbling growl. It was truly massive, made of shadows and teeth and glinting golden eyes that rang a bell, distantly, in Hermione's mind. She squinted a little, but it was only when the eyes of the creature swung over their hiding place and touched on where she was for a moment that she remembered.

"Padfoot!" Professor Lupin hissed, reaching out to slap Sirius' hands away from his plate for the third time. It was the day of the full moon, and Hermione had been watching him get more and more on edge as the week wore on. There was an electricity to the air, an expectation, and it seemed that some of the more anxious adults had been holding their breath around the werewolf for the past few days, eyeing him warily as they moved through the house. Hermione had never quite understood this fear of the man, not the wolf – though she would admit that his snarls were intimidating, and she wouldn't dare to do what Sirius was doing now. Contrary to popular opinion, she had quite good instincts for self-preservation, thank you.

Molly had cooked up a full English breakfast for them all before another long day of cleaning (or, as Ron liked to say, "slave labour") and had set aside a plate of extra bacon for the Professor, who only ever seemed to eat meat in the run-up to the moon. Sirius, being Sirius, had taken offense to what he called 'blatant favouritism' and had spent the last twenty minutes trying to steal his food in more and more ridiculously blatant displays. After this most recent, he let it be for a few minutes, but Hermione was no fool. She watched closely for the slightest movement and-

"Damn it, Sirius, fuck off!" came the snarl as the Black heir dove across the table, both hands out in front to snatch the plate away. The lid on Professor Lupin's temper flew off and he tackled the other man to the ground, both releasing constant grunts and growls as they struggled for dominance. Sirius released that barking laugh of his as the two grown men wrestled in front of the table of wide-eyed children, and eventually lolled his head to the side in the most impertinent display of submission any wolf had ever seen. Hermione had to viciously strangle down the sudden and intense jolt of arousal she felt as Professor Lupin had leaned over to trail his teeth along the Pack mark the other man wore. He bit down, but not before his eyes flicked up to meet Hermione's chocolate brown ones, and the girl gasped quietly. They were the bright gold of the wolf.

Hermione sucked in air desperately, coughing and gasping. Tears filled her eyes but she couldn't even blink them away, fixated as she was by the scene. She could recognize, now that the dots had been connected, the giant shaggy dog as Sirius Black, and the stag – well, that barely bore thinking about right now, not if she intended to survive the night. A swift check on Luna showed a strange expression that Hermione recognised as Luna's kind-hearted version of smug immediately: slightly vacant, drifting, with the corner of her mouth twitched up and her usually massive eyes softened slightly as she met Hermione's.

"What have you done?" Hermione gasped out, arms tightening protectively around Lavender's shoulders causing her breathing to stutter a little.

Luna might have replied, but that was the moment the wolf they had once known as Remus Lupin decided to pounce.


 

Chapter Text

It was chaos. Ginny was screaming, all three of them were frazzled, and Lavender was still unconscious. Hermione was desperate to check her vitals, but alas; there appeared to be a giant fucking werewolf attacking them for the second time that night!

Hermione calmed herself down with the promise that were they to escape this situation alive – alive being a very important part of this promise – she would let herself murder Luna. Probably quite violently.

The various fantasies of how this would occur ran through her head alongside the incantations to every ward she had ever come across. Ginny worked alongside her, though they lost some of her wards every time their attacker leapt at them because of her screams. It's difficult to speak incantations if you're screaming, after all, but as she was still doing a relatively good job of walking and breathing Hermione tried to write it off as simple panic.

Outside of their bubble she could see James Potter – James Potter! – and Sirius Black in their animagus forms, watching anxiously with helpless expressions on their animal faces as their wolf threw himself on her wards. Hermione tried not to use harmful wards, but there was little she could do to try to stop him from coming to harm if he insisted on trying to breach her protego.

When her wrist was weak from casting and her throat was sore and her magical core severely depleted, Hermione collapsed onto the floor next to Lavender and Ginny. The thud – thud – thud of Remus' – Moony's – attack was muffled by the foot-thick protective spells, and other than the breathing of her companions, she could hear nothing. Even Ginny had stopped screaming; there was a periphery worry that her friend was going into shock, but the brunette was too exhausted to deal with that at that moment.

She scanned the area, ignoring her girls and the people outside who were supposed to be dead, Hermione curled up in a ball and sobbed.

Time Travel. Could there have been anything worse? After everything they had been through, everything they had lost over the past thirty years of war? It was finally over, but no. Not for Hermione Granger! Hermione Granger has to deal with space-time anomalies and causal loop theory and the consequences of others' actions. Bitter thoughts swirled and taunted from the darkest depths of her brain, damning and cursing everyone who had brought her to this point in time - Harry, Ron, the bloody troll, Quirrell, Lockhart, Ginny, Remus, Sirius, Pettigrew, Albus fucking Dumbledore and his shitting lemon drops. She honestly would not have been surprised had this all turned out to be some manipulative scheme of the old goat's from beyond the grave.

They had to find a way back to their time, obviously. But without her Time-Turner, she didn't know where to start. They'd need contacts, and money, and the next twenty years of time-travel theory. They would need resources and a place to research and to hide from the world because nobody must see them, it was the number one rule, after all.

Bad things happen to those who meddle with time.

She considered all of this as she huddled in the darkness, barely paying attention to her companions. Luna was somewhere behind her comforting Ginny, though it didn't seem to be doing very much from the sounds of her hyperventilation. Hermione's scattered thoughts raced around her almost tangibly as she attempted to string together enough coherent reasoning to assemble some sort of solution to their problem - she wished that Harry and Ron were here, if only for a sounding board. Ron was pretty good with strategy, after all, and Harry had brilliant instincts. These thoughts were also shoved ruthlessly away lest she break down; Hermione had a strict one-breakdown-at-a-time limit, and that breakdown currently belonged to Ginny. In the meantime, everything she knew about 1979 and the years that follow was sorted into a box in the corner of her mind marked 'in case of emergency', and she prayed quietly that this was not that sort of emergency.

The hours dragged by sluggishly, with a routine of trying their hardest to forget about the werewolf and occasionally standing to strengthen the wards. Luna would mutter to herself occasionally, and dug through the beaded bag she had stolen from Hermione over and over for no discernible reason. "What are we going to do?" Ginny asked finally as the sky began to brighten and Hermione was reminded of the impossible strength her friend could summon when it was necessary. She'd been silent for a while, Hermione would have been sure she had been asleep if it hadn't been for the occasional whimper as the wards shuddered around them, but looking at her now you could barely tell that she had been in pieces minutes before. Her eyes were red-rimmed from the tears and Ginny's frantic wiping away of them, but otherwise her face was set in a mask of steely resolve. Somehow, Hermione didn't think the other girl was referring to the werewolf, and she wasn't addressing Luna.

Pulling herself out of her mind and back into the real world, Hermione sucked in a lungful of air and went back over the thoughts of the last few hours. Hoping to give off an aura of confidence, she scrambled to her feet and put her hands on her hips.

"Well," she began, and all three of them endeavoured to ignore the way her voice wobbled, "we need to find a way back, of course."

Ginny nodded as though this was obvious, and Luna blinked slowly before moving to Lavender's side to check her wounds again. Hermione took this as a sign of acquiescence and her confidence rose up a notch in response. "Naturally, we will need to find a place to research. The Ministry, perhaps. If I can get into the Department of Mysteries I should be able to explain myself to someone. They will understand the importance of the matter, offer their assistance, no doubt we'll be back in 1999 by Sunday." She huffed and nodded again, pasting a bright smile on her face and simultaneously loathing herself for being unable to come up with a less pathetic plan.

Luna was watching her like she was a kitten that had performed a particularly amusing trick. "Oh, Hermione," the girl sighed, her head tilted to one side and smiling pityingly. "Don't ever change."

"Shut up, Luna," came weakly from Ginny's direction. "At least she's trying to help. What do you suggest?"

"I think we should talk to these gentlemen once the sun rises, explain our situation." Right on cue, agonized howling started in the clearing as Moony reformed into Remus. Hermione flinched, but grit her teeth – it wasn't the first time she had heard it, nor the second, nor even the twentieth, she wouldn't break under it now. Ginny, who had never picked up Hermione's habit of waiting on the basement steps to make sure Remus was alright in a morning, started shaking in earnest as the howls rose in pitch. Luna gazed out over the clearing, her eyes flickering between Remus and Lavender, her face torn between guilt and sympathy as she watched the transformation. "They will help us."

"That's out of the question." Her voice was firm and steady, to her relief. "The first rule of time travel is that you must not be seen."

Luna sent her another of those pitying looks again, the ones that seemed to be doubting her intelligence. "You just suggested the Ministry."

"That's different!" was snarled in return. "They are civillians, who will never understand the importance of this being kept a secret. Gods, Sirius Black is out there! This will be a pub story for him by the end of the day! Plus, you know they will ask questions. Questions we can not answer." If there was ever anything that triggered Hermione's infamous fury, it was someone doubting her intelligence. 

"Why not?" This one came from Ginny, whose big brown eyes were fixed on Hermione as her brow furrowed in thought. Outside of their bubble the howls were changing to human screams, which tore at the girls' hearts and put them more on edge than they were before and tempers heated.

"Because we just can't, Ginny, I don't expect you to understand." Hermione sniffed. "Time-travel is an extremely complicated concept with many delicate considerations to be made when you travel."

Ginny's face went stony and blank, but her eyes showed fire. "In other words, you have no good reason why not. I have a good reason why, though. We can end the war, 'Mione! Twenty years earlier! Lily and James won't have to die, Harry can grow up happy, Fred won't die, Tonks won't die, Remus won't die, Sirius -"

"That cannot be guaranteed, Ginny. We might all die. We might just make things worse, in the long run." Hermione wiped a hand over her face tiredly, and turned to face Ginny head on. "We have a future where everything is fine and we are all happy. Why would we risk changing that? Because we can't be bothered to take the hard road? We could be killing Harry in trying to save him." Her tone had softened to pleading by the end of her speech, and Ginny was wavering, but the air was cut through with a shout from outside of the wards.

"Sirius! Take Remus back to the Manor. Pete, go with him, tell Mum I need her."

"You alright, Prongs?" Sirius asked cautiously, suddenly in human form and facing the black-haired boy opposite him. Ginny and Hermione were staring, struck dumb by the sight that confirmed what had until now been little more than idle suspicions. Sirius Black was barely recognizable to them, being young and fit rather than weathered, exhausted-looking and more than a little bit mental. Lightly curled black hair fell sleek past his ears to hover just above his shoulders, bright grey eyes fixed on the other boy, looking every inch the attractive young playboy he had told Harry and Ron stories about. James Potter, on the contrary, was not the mirror image of Harry everybody had told them he was – he was taller, bulkier, with longer hair that was just as messy and a completely different nose. In her defense, Hermione hadn't been the one to notice the nose. That had come from Luna who had whispered 'that nose!', in shock. Ginny snorted indelicately at her outburst.

"I want to see who's behind the wards," James explained quite reasonably. "Remus shouldn't be caught in the crossfire if they turn out to be dangerous."

Sirius considered this for a moment and then nodded his head from side to side. "You need back-up?" He asked. At James' denial, he scooped Remus' body into his arms and strode back through the trees, a little rat running by his feet. The girls all watched him retreat, and then glanced at each other.

"If Lavender were awake she'd tell you to stop drooling before she drowns," Luna observed, chucking Ginny's beet red face gently with a giggle.

"If Lavender were awake she'd understand," Ginny volleyed wryly, smirking lightly.

All three of them chuckled for a moment, before sobering and turning back to the single boy who remained outside their sphere. "I'm waiting," James Potter called, before sinking down to sit opposite them with his legs crossed. "Take your time!"

"What do we do now?" Ginny asked, half turned towards the boy who looked so much like the love of her life. Her face was the picture of grief, and Hermione's heart broke in turn as she recalled the loss of her best friend.

"I don't know," She whispered back, torn.

Chapter Text

James was making a show out of braiding grass together with nimble fingers while humming the tune to a Black Sabbath song he'd probably heard from Sirius. The three conscious girls had huddled together in the centre of their wards, arguing quietly about what to do next. Every five minutes or so James would call out to them as though to remind them that he was still there – like they could forget. Ginny had firmly entrenched herself on Luna's side of the argument after a few minutes, and Hermione was tearing her hair out to try to get them to understand her position. The redheaded girl was stubborn, though, and now that she had her allegiance she was all in.

"Come out, come out!" James called from beyond the wards as the five minute point passed, his gaze unsettlingly knowing as he gazed just over Luna's head.

"We can't!" Hermione cried as Ginny went to raise her wand. "It would destroy the timeline," she hissed frantically, begging the other two to understand.

Ginny rolled her eyes exasperatedly. "What do you suggest we do, stay here forever? That's ridiculous, Hermione. Lavender needs to be someplace warm and dry, someone with experience to check her wounds. Plus, she's probably a werewolf now, she'll be scared and confused, and the only person who could possibly help her in a humane way is out there!" She violently stabbed the air in the direction Sirius and Remus had left.

"The timeline is already destroyed just by us being here, Hermione, face it. There's a reason we were sent here as opposed to elsewhere." Luna chimed in, somewhat unhelpfully in Hermione's opinion. The brunette witch fought to supress the fear and hysteria clawing its way up her throat as she cast around desperately for information that might help. "Your research will not help you here," Luna told her, not cruelly, but it felt like a slap in the face all the same. "This is magic, pure magic, unpredictable and unexplainable in the truest of senses."

"No," Hermione choked out, her fingers tightening on Ginny's wrist. "What about paradoxes? When we're born? Will we just blink out of existence?" She zoned in on Luna's momentarily blank expression with triumph. "Ha! There! See, our best option would be to get out of here and find a way back!"

"There is no back, Hermione! Don't you see? The second those four laid eyes on us the future winked out! We're carving a new one now, an entirely new one with new rules! Time will find a way to include us, but you must understand, there is no going back. Harry, Ron, Neville, Parvati – they're all gone, now. We will never be born, because we are already here!" Luna was panting after delivering this uncharacteristically long speech, and shot a glare at her friend as if to chastise her for making her break type. "You claim to understand how time works. I make no such claims. I do, however, understand our Gods, the nature of magic and the Fates much better than you ever will, and you must listen to me now before we leave you behind. We are going out there."

Hermione glanced at her friends and the stirring Lavender, a tightly knotted ball of anxiety in her gut tightening as she took in each of their determined expressions. "Fine," she snapped, not feeling like it was fine at all. It seemed as though the other two thought it would be easy; seamless; to blend into a new time and a new world all the while trying not to step on any butterflies. Because Hermione definitely wasn't going to be stepping on any butterflies. The future was good, Voldemort had been defeated, the Light had triumphed, and that was all that mattered. They needed to preserve that, and that meant being as unobtrusive as possible. Coming across as normal – just four girls lost in the woods, nothing to see here. She knew the other girls would put up a fight about that later, but right now she was hoping that her agreement would forestall any action until they had a chance to talk properly.

"Mum!" James cried suddenly, and all of the girls shot up as the leaves rustled where Sirius had left.

To the shock of all the women in the wards, the shadows in the trees parted and a woman strolled out. She was an intimidating sight; not because she was overly scary looking, far from it, with her bouncy dark blonde curls that were liberally streaked with grey, eyes of the same shade, full lips quirked into what could pass as a serene smile she could easily be a random passerby. Of a vague age that could be anywhere between thirty and seventy, she was shorter than James by a few inches, but she seemed to fill all of that space and more with an aura of such overwhelming command that the girls took one collective step back, and Hermione found herself debating whether the proper protocol would be to curtsey or not.

The newcomer joined James at his vigil outside their barriers and took up a position at his side, facing the group of women with one hand on her hip and her eyes narrowed. "Are you alright, James?" She asked in a voice that immediately brought to mind warm hearths, hot tea and the worn old armchair Hermione used to occupy in the Black library. He nodded, and the woman reached up to run a hand through his hair affectionately. "Do you want to fill me in? Your brother ran back to the house rambling something about wards and intruders. Naturally, one finds oneself a little concerned."

James grinned up at his mother, pure love shining out of his face. Hermione felt the hole in her heart where her parents had lived for seventeen years of her life split wide open once more, aching and torn in the presence of such familial devotion. From the look of the tears newly streaming down Ginny's face, she was thinking of the family she had left behind too. She caught Hermione looking and schooled her features back to the determination from before, and the brunette couldn't help the stab of hurt she felt at that action. Did Ginny think she'd use her loss against her to meet her own ends? Hermione wasn't that bad, was she?

The woman, Mrs Potter, looked over their wards with a calculated gleam in her eye. "Behind there, are they?" She stood to her full height once more, her son standing proudly behind her, and addressed the girls directly. "Please, do come out. We mean you no harm, for it is truly an honour that you have graced our property – whoever you are."

Hermione's brow furrowed in confusion, but Luna was glowing with self satisfaction. There was something Hermione was missing here, she knew it. All the same, it seemed this was their only choice for the moment. Hermione walked forward, a little wobbly, and summoned her patronus to pass through the wards and give them her message.

The little otter scampered across the grass until it stood on two paws about a foot from their two observers, and opened its mouth to speak.

"Before we leave the wards, we ask for safety on your land. Our friend is in need of urgent medical assistance."

It was odd to Hermione to hear her voice reflected back to her so eerily, but she pushed that aside and stood as confidently as she could while she awaited their response.

"How were they harmed?" Mrs Potter asked, a steely undertone in her voice as she exchanged looks with James. James shook his head and the older woman looked a little mollified, but not by much.

Hermione took a deep breath before taking a chance on the woman stood in front of her. After all, if they refused to let a newly changed werewolf into their house then it was one less thing standing in the way of Hermione's plan – which was to remove them all from this time as soon as humanly possible.

The otter opened its mouth again to tell the woman "she was bitten by a werewolf before our arrival. She appears stable, but we are as yet unsure how to proceed." Ginny rolled her eyes at the rigid formality in Hermione's voice, and prepared to bring down the first layer of wards. Mrs Potter nodded firmly as though coming to a decision.

"We will happily host your convalescence until your friend is ready to be moved. May I ask how many of you there are?"

Luna and Hermione had joined Ginny at the wards now, bringing them down, and with a negligent flick of her wand sent a reply of "four". They could tell the second the outsiders could see through the wards as Mrs Potter let out a shocked little gasp, and James' eyes widened. All of the girls took a moment to consider how this looked – they were all four covered in dried blood, and Ginny's clothes were torn from the fight. Luna and Hermione were dishevelled, though not harmed, but their skins were sallow and they had blackening rings under their eyes from magical depletion, fear and utter exhaustion.

"Oh, girls," Mrs Potter sighed sympathetically, before clapping her hands together in a way that reminded Ginny of her mother were she more elegant. "It looks like you all need a cup of tea and a long night's rest before we chat. Would you mind terribly telling me your names, first?"

Hermione paused, but Luna didn't bother. "Luna Lovegood, this is Ginny Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Lavender Brown." Unholy rage flamed through the air around them as Hermione picked up on her game, but Luna could care less, smiling dreamily at the Potter Matriarch.

Mrs Potter, to her credit, didn't react to the names despite the fact that she was quite close to both the Lovegoods and the Weasleys, and neither had a daughter – as yet. She simply smiled gratefully and nodded. "My name is Dorea Potter neé Black, you can call me Dorea, and this is my son James Charlus Potter. If you are willing, I'd like James to carry your friend to the Manor so that my elves can have a look at her. They've become quite skilled with werewolf-inflicted injuries, over the years." She gave them a secretive smile and chuckled at James' huff. Hermione was confused – who was this woman who was already treating them like they were a part of the family? Why didn't she have more questions? Dorea must have seen the look on her face because she shot her a sympathetic glance. "Muggleborn?"

At her nod, Dorea continued; "there are some things that they leave off the Hogwarts curriculum, much to my distaste, that could come in handy every now and again. I'm sure you have questions, and do not make the mistake of believing that I do not, but they would be better served if asked in a warm living room with a cup of tea after a few hours sleep, yes?"

Hermione nodded dumbly again and Dorea beamed before taking them all in again. "Well then, James, if you don't mind." The boy strode forward and we parted to let him past. He gathered Lavender into his arms gently, then moved back to stand beside his mother. Dorea gestured for them to follow her and began to walk through the woodland at their backs. Hermione started forward before she had even realised she was doing it, and considered for a moment that she could have been imperiused for the willingness she had to follow this woman, and then brushed it off.

Behind her, Luna took Ginny's hand to pass her some much needed strength. The redhead eyed her best friend for a moment, eyes narrowed as she remembered the events of the evening. The girl had held her through most of the night as she had panicked at the werewolf's attack, and helped her fight through the clawing flashbacks to the war the younger girl still suffered through on occasion. Images of Lavender's attack had assaulted her with every bang of the werewolf hitting their wards. Ginny hadn't been as terrified as she was that night since first year, and it had reverted her to that shaking eleven year old she had worked so hard to separate herself from. Luna was the only person who understood what she was dealing with on a regular basis, and for her to go and do this… it was an unbelievable betrayal.

She had agreed with Luna in the argument because it had only made sense, and that had forged an uneasy truce between the two, but she felt she had to make her position clear one more time.

"I'm still mad at you," Ginny threw over her shoulder at Luna as she passed by to follow the group through the trees. Luna smiled and squeezed the redheads hand, "I wouldn't expect any less."

Chapter Text

The drawing room of Potter Manor was an elegantly decorated space just off a lush entrance hall. There were plush couches dotted around the room, coloured to match the light gold walls and darker mahogany floors, covered in antique rugs made of a tapestry-like fabric. An ornately gilded mirror hung in the space between two doors on the western wall, opposite a fireplace on the other, which was sandwiched between bulging shelves of books. Dorea situated Ginny, Luna and Hermione in this room and called for a grouchy house-elf called Bell to bring them some tea, before bustling off to see that Lavender was well tended. The girls fidgeted awkwardly on the immaculate furniture, Ginny and Hermione feeling out of place with their dirty clothes. Luna, on the contrary, was settled quite happily on a pink armchair, cuddled back into the upholstery with her newly bare feet up on the cushion and her knees tucked to her chest, even in her mud spattered and torn dress and hair which, even more than Hermione's, seemed to have reached out to collect leaves and twigs as they had passed through the woods. She stared around the room with a little smile, while the other twos eyes were continuously brought back to the family portrait on the mantel.

In the portrait Dorea sat, poised and perfect with her hair in ringlets around her heart-shaped face, bringing attention to her signature Black cheekbones and full lips. Her forest-green robes flowed to the floor in sculpted waves, her hands clasped together on her lap. Behind her stood James, his hair tamed into some semblance of order, hazel eyes bright with some sort of mischief. Beside him, Sirius stood also, tall and proud, lips quirked into a proud smile. In the back of the picture, taller still than both boys and Dorea, a man who looked the spitting image of Harry stood with a grin and tenderness in his expression. Charlus Potter. Hermione had heard very little of him over the years, less even than she had heard of Dorea, whose name would have often inspired Sirius to lock himself in his mother's bedroom with Buckbeak for days at a time.

"What happened to this place?" Hermione wondered aloud, pulling her gaze from the happy family to inspect the crown molding. "I mean, I've never heard of Potter Manor, have you?"

Ginny shrugged, still looking subdued under the events of the past few hours. Luna picked at a loose thread on her dress as she replied; "Lost, like so many other things. War. So terrible, don't you think?"

Her tone was neutral, but there was something leading there that had Hermione sighing exasperatedly and shooting her a quelling glance. "We've been over this, Luna."

"Ah, I recall. Your word is law, now." Luna replied amiably. "Though I fear I must have missed the vote on that…"

"This is about what is best for the-"

Brittle, mocking laughter from Ginny cut off her words mid-sentence. Ignoring this, Luna turned her lamplike eyes on Hermione with a steeliness the brunette had never seen, and didn't appreciate. "Dorea was right, you're muggleborn, which means you cannot possibly understand the significance of this evening's events, yet. I, however, do. If we are to do anything in this situation, the purebloods -" Luna gestured between herself, Ginny and somewhere above where she assumed Lavender was resting "- would, by virtue of having the most expertise, be the best options for consultation on the matter. It takes a lot of nerve for you to declare your superiority here. Were Lavender awake, she would have slapped you."

Bristling, and having ignored the majority of Luna's words, Hermione scowled. "Oh, so I'm lesser because I'm a muggleborn, now, am I? I cannot possibly understand? How dare you, Luna?"

"Don't get your knickers in a twist, 'Mione, she's right!" Ginny snarled in defense of her closest friend. "It's not about racism, it's about integral knowledge. We landed in the Potters' Ritual Space." She smiled smugly at the lost look on Hermione's face at the words. "See – this is our point. You don't even know what a ritual space is for!"

"I hardly see the relevance-"

"Exactly!" Burst out in a tide of frustration from the other two girls, and Hermione collapsed back into her chair, shocked and chastened. "It's not an insult, love," Luna explained gently, though it was without some of the warmness one had come to expect from the girl, "it's old customs, histories, we hold onto like lifelines in these modern times, when our culture seems to be draining away from us. Hogwarts doesn't even allow the celebration of the solstices any more, you know, and we're losing other such customs as courting and covens, too. It's scary to us, and it's all part of why the Dark Lord was – is – so popular. They watch this happen, blame people like you, because muggleborns and muggle-raised have no clue of how to act in our world. Exacerbating the problem is the isolation of your kind and Dumbledore refusing to teach these newcomers about their new world. You don't understand, and that's not your fault and usually it would hardly matter – but here, now, it does."

Luna heaved a great sigh, eyes wide and looking mildly startled by her own actions. Letting out a nervous little giggle, the oh-so familiar glaze settled back over her glowing blue eyes and she flopped gracelessly back into her chair. Apparently realising that he capacity for coherency had run out, Ginny pulled herself to the edge of her own chair and intercepted Hermione's pointed glare with the ease of a person making use of their years of practise. "She's right, you know. Really right. And I'm so sorry, I feel like I've failed you, my family and I both, by neglecting to teach you these things." Regretful eyes met Hermione's, which softened for a moment before she seemed to realise that someone had been keeping a vast amount knowledge from her – from her, Hermione Granger! – for years, and they hardened instantly.

"Explain it to me then," Hermione demanded. "How am I to know if you refuse to let me learn?" Then she looked at them exasperatedly and growled out – "and why has no-one mentioned it before?!"

"Well, because nobody expected any of this," with a wave of her arm, Ginny indicated the manor. "Plus, there was the whole war thing, which, you must admit, is not the most appropriate time to be teaching muggleborns pure-blood lore. I think it should be taught in History of Magic, personally, but it probably is and I haven't noticed. Damn Binns." She sighed deeply, and then sat up straight, going into lecture mode and looking delighted about it.

"So," she began, pinning Hermione with a stare eerily similar to Professor McGonagall when she thought you should be making notes. "This is all about Magic. That's magic with a capital 'M', rather than the layman's magic. Magic as a sentient force, though some people don't prescribe to this theory and instead ascribe the actions of sentient Magic to Gods and Goddesses, but in the Weasley family we believe in sentient magic." A glance at Luna, in case she wanted to step in, showed that she was now turning her attention to manipulating the dust mites in the sunlight with wandless magic, and seemed entirely uninterested in the conversation.[1]

One long fingered hand swept strands of hair from her face as Ginny continued, really getting into her stride now; "we believe that Magic as a force is sentient, omniscient and omnipotent because throughout history there have been events that have occurred as evidence to this fact. Aside from run-of-the-mill incidents that we typically attribute to 'Fate', as it were, such as Harry Potter and Tom Riddle having brother wands, or perhaps Harry coming back from the 'dead' several times, there have been occasions that have been utterly and undeniably orchestrated by Magic itself.

"In order to understand the significance of these occurrences, you must first know that Purebloods worship pure Magic in all of its forms, be it dark, light or grey, in the same way that Muggles worship their own assorted Gods. Magic provides, protects, and blesses us as a race. We wouldn't be where we are today without these blessings Magic has lavished on us over the years – us Weasleys with our fertility, the Blacks with their beauty, the Malfoys with their charisma – none of this would exist were we not avid devotees of Magic. This is a respect we attempt to pass down to newcomers, in classes and outside, subtly, but when you have these lessons contrasting with teachers talking about 'controlling' Magic, 'using' magic, 'manipulating' magic… well, as you would say, wires get crossed.

"Theoretically, the more powerful a person is, the easier it is to ensure they understand our ways and respect them. Of course, there are always exceptions – you, Hermione, have always been powerful, but you have this habit of forgetting that magic is real. Not everything will fit into your narrow understanding of the world we are in – a problem all muggleborns and muggle raised face, though certainly very few of them are as stringent in their beliefs as you are. Most newcomers see their first unicorn and that some things are not understandable, but you do yourself a disservice in looking for the reasons why. This is even before you've encountered many of the things our Magic has to offer – you've never run into Predestined Bonds, for example. You don't have a familiar. You owe no life debts, you are not an animagus… Godric, in a world of magic you've barely dipped your toe in the pond!" Level explanations had steadily declined into a rant, and Hermione had the distinct impression, as Ginny panted through the pause in her speech, that this had been a long time coming. She still didn't really get it, though – what was so wrong with attempting to know as much as possible? Knowledge was power, after all, her entire existence up until this point had proven that. Her research wasn't for nothing – it was a very rare occasion that her searching didn't provide usable results. With almost everything there was to know about magic written in books, surely it followed that if it were worth knowing, or true, then it would have been written down at some point?

"I can see you doubting me." Ginny snapped, bringing Hermione back to the present. "I know what you're thinking. Let me ask you this, though – do you believe everything just because it is written in a book?" Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but a slash of Ginny's hand cut her off. "No! This is not a debate. How much time, exactly, have you spent researching pure-blood lore, anyway?" When the brunette wrinkled her nose, Ginny felt a surge of victory and rode this surge all the way through her next words. "Exactly. Look, listen to me. You can research this later, carry out a study, interviews, write one of those bloody books you're fond of if you want to, but right now, just keep an open mind.

"The reason I'm telling you about this is to explain why families have ritual spaces. They are naturally occurring places that show up when a family is formed or relocates. Nobody is quite sure how they come to be, only that they do. They're mostly circular, connected to the element the family is closest to – our ritual space is in the paddock, and it's where we host our solstice celebrations. As a rule, it's a sacred space to be used for celebration, and most of us keep the space well-tended just in case Magic will visit a miracle upon us.

"And now we come to why we are here," A hundred mega-watt smile lit up Ginny's face at this point, blinding Hermione. "You'll have noticed I talk about 'magical occurrences' and 'miracles'. There have been dozens of these throughout recorded history, always listed after-the-fact, by the families that were so honoured. As a child, pure-bloods are told these fantastical stories about the innate magic of the land on which we dwell, and the provisions Magic will bring us through it. These have dated back to Merlin himself, and often follow the same path – something had happened in the area that threatened the life of a person, or people, or even things who would later be important. For example, I know that one of Neville's favourite tales is thus:

"In 1849 the North of England was haunted by a mysterious poison. It only affected women of an age to bear children, and gave them horrific pains and sickness. Over the course of months those who were affected would seem to get better, until they were somehow dosed again. Children were lost, and it seemed that nobody in the area could get pregnant – up until six months after the phenomenon began. The Longbottom circle brought to the moors a recently deceased pixie ring. The healers that had before been at a loss as to how to tackle the condition were suddenly enlightened, and immediately set about distributing the cure that had fallen into their laps. The wings of the pixies, when deposited into the reserves, counteracted the active agents in the unidentified brew that had been emptied into it, thereby saving the women of the surrounding areas from becoming barren. In the years since, three groundbreaking Masters have been provided by the descendents of the affected women, including one Damocles Belby." Hermione jolted at the sound of the familiar name, and Ginny nodded gravely. "So you see? There are so many more stories – the Delacours and their Alpine Opalwings, the Prewetts and their reservoir – that we would be here all night were I to continue on this path. The point is – this is what we think has happened to us."

A long silence followed, punctuated by much frowning on Hermione's part and off-key humming from Luna.

"You think we have been sent here?" Hermione clarified quietly, no trace of what she was thinking on her face.

"Quite frankly, yes. It makes sense. You would never have been able to apparate us to the Potter ritual space whether you had knowledge of it or not. The Time-Turner could hardly have sent us back simply because it smashed, that's ridiculous. It would also explain the Potters' reaction to finding us – they think the same thing! And consider it, for a moment. They send back the Brightest Witch of Her Age, chock full of knowledge about Horcrux destruction;" she waved at Hermione, "a girl with a built in Horcrux, Dark Magic and Voldemort detection mechanism;" here, she gestured to herself, "a girl with an uncanny ability to read the signs and provide solid strategy when in need, among other things;" Luna gave a brilliant grin, "and a clever, charismatic woman who happens to also be a werewolf. If you ask me, those are the perfect people to take down a Dark Lord."

Luna tuned back in to nod along with a very serious expression on her face, and Hermione pondered this information for a moment. Once she had a handle on her thoughts, though, she let rip.

"So, what you're trying to tell me, is that we are a time-travelling dream team, hand-picked by either 'Magic'" – here Hermione employed the use of air quotes, rolling her eyes at Ginny's offended expression – "or some nameless, faceless Goddess of 'Fate'." Warily, the younger girls made noises of affirmation. Hermione regarded them for a moment, waiting for someone to crack and scream 'gotcha!', but it seemed they really believed what they were saying. How odd. Did they not hear themselves? "You two understand that what you're saying is impossible, right? It makes no logical sense. You cannot possibly expect me to suddenly subscribe to some mental, pure-blood rhetoric because a myth –" ignoring groans, she soldiered on, "- might provide an explanation. I already have an explanation for this – Time-Turner malfunction. And, I accept that this is my fault, which is why I will fix it. You needn't make things up." She ended her speech with a little laugh, smiling out at her friends, mentally begging them to give this up as a bad job. Their story made no sense, there was no empirical evidence (folk stories, regardless of the class status of those telling them, are still folk stories and have little to no basis in fact). Research, evidence, proper scientific method; they had set her in good stead in her years in both the Muggle world and the Magical, and she was not about to throw them out of the window at first chance. Sensing, however, that the rooms other occupants were not to be swayed, she threw herself into her fallback argument (and it was quite infallible, if she did say so herself):

"It doesn't matter, anyway. This is all rubbish – fact is, when using a Time-Turner to travel, it's strictly forbidden to change anything. It's the law." With a smug smile, shoving all of what they had said behind a door in her mind for later disproval, she relaxed, certain the battle was won.

Ginny gaped at her for a long time before snapping her mouth shut with an audible clack. Hermione could pinpoint the exact moment that the girl got tired of dealing with her arguments, and braced herself for her response. However, instead of an angry, vengeful Ginny, she got a quite reasonable one, who shared a long look with Luna that ought to have made Hermione very nervous, turned full on to Hermione, and said rather pleasantly that "There is so much wrong with that sentence that I'm not sure where to begin."

Luna nodded along, her face also mild. "In the interests of saving you a fair bit of embarrassment, Hermione, we're going to pretend you didn't say that. It was the wrackspurts." She winked, and Hermione was disturbed by their sudden, uncharacteristic pleasantness.

That was until, with a laugh, Ginny added, "Instead, we're going to pretend you said 'you two are so clever! I see your point, now. Let's stop the war!' and do what we were going to do anyway."

Any further protests were cut off by the sly use of a silencing charm to fight Hermione's sudden surge of panic, and the two younger girls settled back into their chairs, looking sweetly satisfied.


 

Chapter Text

"Ron?" Lavender mewled, her eyes fighting the darkness as she attempted to make out the features of the man moving about the room. She had woken twice over the past few hours, but both times had been alone and quickly sucked back by the lulling comfort of sleep. The presence of a new person was a novelty, though it occurred to her that it was strange that it would be Ronald Weasley, of all people, to be by her sickbed.

"It's me, Lav," came his voice, soothing and strong as he climbed into bed beside her. "How are you feeling?"

"Weak. What happened?" She struggled to sit up, gasping with pain and suddenly becoming aware of how much of her body was aching and sore. Her face felt curiously tight, also, like she could barely twitch an eyebrow. She could see a bare slip of the room through slitted eyes, but didn't seem to have the energy to hold them more open. "How long have I been out?"

A weighty pause hung in the air, crushing her lungs and stinging her eyes. She choked on a sob as Ron rustled the sheets, plumping her pillow. "I don't want to stress you out, love," he replied quietly.

Lavender had never been accused of being a push-over, no matter what pet names were employed (and why was he using pet names, anyway? That was something she'd have to address later) and she wasn't about to start now, no matter what situation she had landed herself in. "Tell me," she demanded with all the steel she could muster in her tone.

Ron sighed deeply. "Let me get Poppy-"

"How long?" Lavender snapped, then whined pitifully as the words tore up her sore throat in punishment for losing her temper. Her mother's voice ghosted a scold through her mind, but she shoved it aside. It was nice to know some things didn't change.

Trying to see what was going on bore no fruit as it seemed the light just wasn't strong enough. Stubborn determination built in her chest. "Ron, please," she breathed.

The redhead's large, warm hands encompassed her own, and that more than anything told her that she wouldn't like the answer – Ron was a great many brilliant things, but never all that considerate. "Two months…" came the words, and Lavender's eyes widened. "We didn't know if you'd make it through…"

He was still talking, but Lavender was stuck thinking through the repercussions of what he had just told her. Two months? That couldn't be possible. How had she gotten that badly injured? She remembered very little of the battle, she found, as she scoured her mind for hints as to her fate. Bright lights, dark corridors, warm fire and cold corpses. Lavender had always worked well under pressure, so she'd sprung into action the second the warning had come through via Ariana – she had corralled all the younger students and led them out of the castle with other choice members of the DA at her side, and then thrown herself into the fray with all of the voracity of a true Gryff. It was easy to push the horrifying sights out of her mind at the time, concerned as she was by protecting others and herself. She remembered white-hot, burning fury as people she had worked with over the years, sat across from at lunch, were killed and killing others, and that had carried her through the first half of the Battle.

Then, a haze seemed to lift from her brain. Images that had been blurred and faint threw themselves into painful clarity, and she could see and feel, again, herself running across the courtyard and down the stairs towards where the elder Creevey boy was battling one of the Lestranges. She'd managed to shove him aside, tackling him with her body, just in time for him to miss a green bolt from the older wizard's wand. Creevey had scrambled up and ran after the retreating man, after cursing Lavender for standing in his way. She'd been so distracted by the shock of his reaction, this determined little boy, that she'd not noticed him until it was too late.

Rotting, putrid breath on her face. Sharp, jagged teeth grazing her neck. The sharp tearing of his claws – for they were no longer human nails – as they ripped into the soft flesh of her stomach. Finally, the terrifying, paralysing feel of his excitement pressed against her thigh as he drank of her blood…

She was hyperventilating, Lavender realized blurrily. There was something wet on her face. Warm, wet – she was there again, trapped in the memory, screaming for help and nothing was coming. Fighters witnessing the atrocity but giving her up for dead, and then the blessed void where she didn't have to feel, or taste, or hear, or see.

The absence of this void, odd as it sounds, made her feel bereft. Returned senses were suddenly cloying, disturbing her and suffocating her. The bindings on the bed were now restraints she couldn't defeat, struggle though she might. Dimly, she recognized Ron's voice screaming for the nurse, but she was too far gone. Bursting into tears, she collapsed in on herself in the bed.


 

Lavender came to consciousness in fits and starts. Her senses returned sluggishly, but detectably, and they seemed oddly strong to her – even considering that she'd been existing with werewolf senses for the past few years. One by one, the elements of her environment made themselves known, almost as though they didn't want to overwhelm her. Why thank you, she thought dazedly to the gods, how very kind. First, the scent of fresh, country air filled her lungs, soothing a dry burn in her nose and throat. Next, the sweet chirping of birds came from a distance, and Lavender amused herself by attempting to identify them from the limited knowledge she had collected from her aunt in her youth. In the following minutes, she became aware of the taste of apple blossoms and iron on her tongue, followed by lightening of the darkness behind her eyelids, and finally she choked on her own tongue as she was assaulted by a desperate thirst.

"W… wa… ter…" Her voice was barely recognizable, and she would have grimaced at the rasp had she time for her own vanity at that moment. As it were, she did not. She could barely think past the thirst, but on the back of it she could feel vicious, stomach grating hunger, and knew that if she didn't drink now then she would throw up and that would not be cute.

Luckily, something thin and cold touched her lips, and she latched onto it with vigour. Slaking her thirst took a long time, but once she had had enough she figured that she might as well try to open her eyes.

Everything was blurry at first, reminding her of the last time she'd been in prolonged unconsciousness – no, don't think about that, Lav – but after a moment what had been a smudge of gold coalesced into an ornate light fixture on the ceiling. She frowned at it for a moment, she'd never seen something so regal in her life, and it was just a light. Widening her gaze, she took note of the crown molding – delicate carvings of imps dancing across the top of the walls, interspersed by flowers, telling some sort of story, and her easily distracted mind entertained itself attempting to decipher the tale until a delicate cough called her back to herself.

"Miss Brown, isn't it?" A feminine voice to her right side asked. The tone immediately brought to mind Padma Patil and Hannah Abbot, delicately effeminate. She sounded about Lavender's age, but when she tried to turn her head to investigate a searing pain ripped through the tissue of her neck and she cried out. "Oh dear," the disembodied voice said, and there was a rustling of fabric. "Don't move, love, just relax. You've got a nasty bite, it won't heal unless you stay still."

A nasty bite? Memories of her last time in this position battered at her Occlumency shields, but she thrust them back into the depths ruthlessly. What had bitten her? The last thing she remembered was the shots, but she didn't think she had drank that much… Lifting her head only slightly, so as not to pull at her neck, she glanced at the foot of the lavishly decorated room to see her favourite pink pumps by the door. Yes, then, she had definitely been on her hen night. Parvati had been there, her faithful best friend, as well as Ginny and Luna (who she had never really gotten along with, weird as she was, but when drunk she was a blast) and even Hermione. It had been touching when she'd appeared, unexpectedly sweet, and it was nice that she had made the effort to attend. She had never liked Lavender, that much was obvious, and Lavender had given up on trying to gain her approval years ago, but the fact was that she was Ron's best friend and a big part of his life so it would be nice if they could get along – or even just be in a room without the older girl sneering at her.

Speaking of Ron…

"Where's Ron?" Lavender croaked, not smelling her faithful fiancé on the air, only cleanliness and delicate lavender and spice that she assumed came from her companion. Worry shot through her for Ron – had this happened at the house? No… her shoes were dirty. But then, where was her Ron? He'd be here if she was injured, she knew. Unless… Unless Molly was angry at her for being sick and told him to stay away? It wasn't like the motherly woman to take offense on matters like that, but she had been a bit insane about the wedding over the past few weeks…

"Who's Ron?" The voice asked, and Lavender crimped her brows in frustration.

"My fiancé. Where is he?" There was a gasp from the other side of the room, and Lavender growled, her wolf-instincts that had been latent beneath her skin since the Battle rising to the surface. "What are you keeping from me?" She demanded again, ignoring the voice in her head noting the similarities between her two attacks.

"Miss, please…"

Luckily, she was saved from answering by another person slipping through the door. "Oh, Lavender!" Ginny Weasley choked, before the blonde's vision was entirely obscured by vibrant red hair. "We were so worried! I'm so glad you're okay." She pulled back and pinned the other girl with a ferocious glare. "Don't you dare do that again, do you hear me? No more! You spend too much time in bed." Chucking her chin, the girl climbed in bed beside the blonde. Lavender noticed that she had changed, and she smelled of the same spices as the woman who still stood by the bedside – the same shampoo, if she had to hazard a guess. Her arms were wrapped around Lavender's shoulders as if she feared that to let go would mean that she'd fall apart, and Lavender rubbed Ginny's hands absently.

"Gin," Lavender began, but was cut off by chatter.

"Sh. Don't stress yourself. Dorea says that you're fine, but that we aren't to stress you overmuch – hence why Hermione isn't here, ha! She's sulking down the hall, but you don't need to know about that yet. It's a long story, anyway, and none of us have had enough sleep for this-"

Thoughts swirled through Lavender's brain, questions upon questions. Ginny was nervous, that much was obvious, for she only went into blabber-mode when she was hiding something. The woman who had been in the room was still there, still breathing rhythmically, but so quiet that it was almost like she didn't want to be noticed.

The doors opened before anything more could be said, and this time Lavender could see the intruder. It was a woman she had never seen before in her life, though she felt like she should remember her from the society parties she'd attended since she could walk for she was tall and regal in the manner of only the most formidable Matriarchs. She dismissed the woman who'd been keeping watch with a warm smile and a nod, then moved to perch on the end of the bed; head held high, soft ringlets flowing down her back. Turning slate grey eyes on the girl lying in the bed, she offered a sympathetic moue. Lavender fought back against the emotions the look of motherly concern stirred up inside of her desperately, but it had been too long since her own mother had cared enough to sit at her bedside, and by the time the newcomer reached forward to brush strands of hair behind Lavender's ears, she was lost.

"Oh! Don't cry," the woman begged, looking to Ginny. "Ease yourself, child. You're in a delicate situation, and you've yet to hear the whole story."

Wrinkles. She'd get premature wrinkles from frowning this much. Lavender had no idea how to respond to that, other than to lift her – thankfully responding – limbs and wipe at her eyes. She'd barely noticed the tears, but it seemed she'd rained a veritable torrent when this woman had touched her. "Who are you?" She asked hoarsely.

"Dorea Potter," she declared, adding a soft smile to the end of that sentence. "You're in my home, and well taken care of, if I do say so myself. Lily has been keeping a watch over you while you slept, and it has been a pain to the rest of us attempting to keep your friends from storming your room in concern." With a little laugh, she shared a significant glance with Ginny. "You've only been asleep for ten hours, or so, by their count, but you've missed a great deal."

"Story of my life," Lavender groaned, dragging a giggle from Ginny's lips. Then, remembering the last time she had been laid up and the reluctance of everybody to tell her anything, she added, "If I promise not to stress myself out, will you explain what is going on?"

Another of those looks were exchanged, and then Dorea nodded. "We'll probably have to," Ginny murmured. "Hermione is on a rampage, and I think only your consensus on the situation will relax her."

Nodding, Lavender sighed. "That sounds about right. Well, go on then. I'm ready."


 

Chapter Text

For a person that spends most of their time chasing 'imaginary' (unicorns are real, live creatures that glow and give life and only like virgins but you can't believe in a Blibbering Humdinger?) creatures, a surprising amount of people would describe Luna Lovegood as a wise person. Neville Longbottom, for instance, always listened carefully whenever she spoke, for he believed that she was connected to the world in a different way than he was, and that this connection allowed her to say things like 'don't worry, Neville, you can kill the giant snake' and be right about it. In his humble opinion, more people should trust Luna Lovegood blindly. Unconditionally.

However, while Luna Lovegood can be described as 'wise', she can also be described as a bit… devil-may-care in her attitudes, and this gets her in trouble. For example, the day of Lavender Brown's Hen Party, Luna did a whole bunch of things that might have Neville questioning his judgement – were he ever to find out, which he won't, due to the very nature of Luna's plans.

When Luna Lovegood woke up on the day of Lavender Brown's Hen Party, she was full to bursting with self-righteous determination; the sort of determination only brought on by a mission from the Gods. She stood from her bed with her usual zeal, performed her morning ablutions with typical excitement, dressed herself with enthusiasm and sat down to breakfast with her doting father. He smiled absently as the scent of lemons and sage wafted past him, served her a mug of thorn tea, and asked her what she would be doing that day.

"I'm going to rob Hermione Granger, daddy," she replied, beaming at him.

He nodded.

"Have fun."

She set out, that morning, and watched as Hermione set her wards before striding off to the Ministry with purpose. Two minutes, a muggle lock-pick and a slightly out-of-tune hum of Ride of The Valkyries later and Luna was stood in a cosy living room scattered with books and cardigans. Ten minutes after that, she was gone again, the only evidence she visited at all being the sudden emptiness of most of the drawers, cabinets and trunks in the flat.

Later, while sat with Theodore Nott for lunch, Luna mused, "Does it count as seeing the future if all I see has passed?" She pushed a carrot across her plate to line it up next to a green bean. She beamed, suddenly. "Or, will pass, only before now." The carrot in place, she moved onto another green bean. "Time is so terribly confusing, don't you think?"

Theodore raised an eyebrow and closed his book, finally giving her his full attention. "What did you do?"

Smiling vacantly, Luna replied; "I suppose it's all technically illegal, so I won't give you the details." Theodore stared at her for a moment, frowning so hard that Luna had an odd urge to stroke his nose, like a displeased toddler that needs a nap. "Are you alright, Theo? You really do look quite distressed."

"Illegal?" He asked, his face newly closed off behind that typical Slytherin mask.

Luna nodded frantically. "Oh, quite so, I'm afraid."

Theodore had the unpleasant sensation in his stomach that he often got around Luna, nowadays. The one that warned him that he was too far gone, and she was about to ask him to do something outrageous, like that time he found himself running naked across the grounds of Malfoy Manor as Draco tried to beat him with a broomstick. He winced at the memory, and looked up to head her off at the pass with a firm no, thank you, you crazy –

She had those giant eyes fixed on him, their depths burning with some infernal light, a lock of blonde hair twisted around one slender finger and one side of her mouth tilted up teasingly. Cue the other sensation he often experienced around Luna Lovegood, and the one that had him throwing caution to the wind and assisting her in her ridiculous schemes.

Shifting slightly in his seat, Theodore rolled his eyes. "What do you need?" came on the end of a defeated sigh.

"Oh, Theo," Luna reached over and patted him on the wrist soothingly. "I'm going to miss you."

Luna, upon arriving at the pub later that night, was pleased to be greeted by a stressed-looking Hermione Granger. A stressed looking Hermione Granger was a Hermione Granger that wasn't at the top of her game, and that was how Luna needed her. When she'd received the owl earlier – a note from Theodore that simply stated late for dinner, darling, problem at work – she hadn't been sure that her plan would succeed, but by the look on Hermione's face, it had. She smiled a little, checked her watch and settled in to enjoy the next… three hours?

Luna, contrary to popular opinion, always knew exactly what she was doing. Her brain simply worked a little differently to everyone else's – she saw most of the world in colours; purples, reds and golds for her loyal friends, a russet for her lovely Theodore, shiny silver for Draco, royal blue for her father. She heard the nuances in people's speech, saw the interconnectedness of people's actions, the consequences of these actions that still have yet to come.

What she'd never done, until the day before, was See. Her mother could See, and her mother's mother before her could See, but Luna had only ever had a vague notion of things – her natural intimacy with the magical world and all of its workings could hardly be classed as Seeing, after all, only logic that the regular mind is too closed to consider. The day before, however, Luna had been overtaken by some strange, cloudy, imperius-like daze that was simultaneously the best and worst experience of her natural life. And when that was gone, her head had swam with unfamiliar words and directions and she knew – knew – that she'd have to make this happen. It was her duty to the Goddess, after all. Her mother had raised her to have faith in the Goddess and she would do just that.

It made her sad, of course, that in order to do this everybody had to be put in danger. And Lavender, poor Lavender, would have the worst fate of all; certainly nobody else would willingly step up to the plate and say "you know what, guys? I reckon I'll take one for the team here. Bring on the werewolf!". But it was the path the Goddess had chosen for her, and now that she had the information, Luna could see the wisdom in it, so she had diligently spread the other girl's scent around with astonishing neutrality.

She felt a little regret when she thought of the fact that Ginny would lose Harry, and Lavender would lose Ron. They'd forgive her in the long run once they saw who they were meant to be with, though. Even Hermione would get her Happily Ever After, probably, if she opened her mind a little bit. Her constant reliance on dull things like evidence and research was really quite irritating.

Yes, that small amount of regret Luna harboured was there, but it was easily swept away under the tide of, as mentioned earlier, self-righteous determination.

Luna loved her friends, that small circle she'd surrounded herself with, and they had her undying loyalty and devotion, but she was tired of watching them make life-altering mistakes. Hermione, for example, though she loved her job, was simply floating along in the aftermath of the war with no purpose. She was barely connected to the world around her and rarely went anywhere but Grimmauld Place and the Ministry, slowly wasting away. Luna had no doubt that she would revolutionize the way they practiced modern magic, but there would always be something missing, a great loss she didn't realize she'd experienced that led to this introverted husk of a woman.

Lavender had collapsed in on herself the first day she saw her scarring in the mirror, two months after a long recuperation from the savage attack she'd suffered at the battle. Upon viewing her drastically altered visage and hearing the damning words 'there's nothing we can do', she had fallen into Ron's arms as the only man she thought could ever see past her disfigurement – little did she know – and was now firmly dedicated to what, if she continued on this path, she would find to be an unsatisfying life as a housewife as her natural gifts eroded. She needed challenge, not unconditional acceptance, for no one would deny that the girl was spoilt and shrill. There was someone out there for her, if she made the necessary sacrifices.

Ginny, too, was headed on a downward spiral. Unhealed scars from her experiences with Tom Riddle at eleven still dug deep in her psyche, and an ongoing emptiness leading her to more and more reckless acts in an attempt to fill the void she felt in her soul. She was determined to marry her childhood sweetheart for some semblance of an anchor, but Harry had different priorities, and it was unlikely that together they could have the happy, relaxing Weasley family he craved, or the stimulating thrills Ginny felt she needed. Harry was tired of excitement, an old man at eighteen, and while he could probably be happy on this course, Luna was determined to find the best outcome for everyone.

Luna knew the cure for all of these ills, and it didn't reside in this incarnation of the world.

"It'll be fine," she had assured Theo sweetly when he'd expressed his doubts. She was sure it would be, too. Visions of curly haired children and laughing friends flashed through her mind at full speed as she set out on her mission, and keeping all of this in mind; she robbed Hermione, caused a major disturbance in the DoM, had Lavender attacked by a werewolf, smashed Hermione's Time-Turner, and sent them all tumbling through the oceans of time without a mooring; humming, all the while.

Chapter Text

After the argument that morning, Hermione had ended up curled up and silenced for less than a quarter of an hour before Dorea had appeared in the drawing room, blustering apologies for her prolonged absence. Upon seeing the scene, Ginny and Luna complete with angelic grins and Hermione with a mask of fury, she'd paused. The woman was quick, Hermione had to give her that, because only seconds later she had burst out laughing. "Oh!" she had exclaimed, waving a hand around the room. "It feels like I'm back home with the Blacks!"

She'd moved to sit down next to Hermione, making no move to release her from the spell, and smiled widely. "At least I know that life with you girls around will never be dull. Now, tell me, what is this all about?"

Ginny took it upon herself to fill the woman in, Dorea looking less amused and more pitying by the second. At the end of the tale, she nodded and called Bell again, as if none of them had spoken. "You all need to shower, dress, and take a few hours to relax. We will discuss the situation, as promised, after we are all more comfortable."

They had all been ferried off to different guest rooms, each as opulent as the last, and fulfilled Dorea's orders. All except for the last, for as soon as Hermione had dried her hair her mind was straying back to Lavender and her situation. She was a werewolf now – there was no doubt in Hermione's mind as to that. The poor girl, so much of her life had fallen to pieces because of the dark creatures, and now she was condemned to being one. It was bound to take a toll, and this was why Hermione found herself stalking the corridors to find the girl.

Potter Manor was, in Hermione's opinion, unnecessarily huge. She could easily get lost searching for something she needed, like, for example, Lavender. Hall after hall stretched out in front of her, decorated by portraits that seemed to laugh at her as she passed once, twice, three times. She reigned in the urge to snarl at jovial, round cheeked Potter men and women who seemed, in her frustration, to be sinister caricatures of their actual state – no, Hermione, that's just the lack of sleep talking, snap out of it.

Eventually she heard a door close and hurried in that direction to find a redhead wandering down the corridor. "Ginny?" Hermione called, and then gasped when the woman spun around.

It was not Ginny, that was obvious, though why the appearance of Lily Evans should hit Hermione so hard when James Potter had barely affected her she did not know. This woman was venerated in her time, deified. In her head Hermione had always held an image of Lily Evans as unbearably beautiful, perhaps lit from within by some heavenly light that made her irresistible to all men. That was not, however, what Lily Evans looked like. (She did have Harry's eyes, though, at least that was right).

Harry had always jealously guarded pictures of his parents, and Hermione had only caught a glimpse of one twice in her life. Once, in first year when Hagrid had gifted Harry with the photo album initially, and again in fifth year, but this picture was shown to her by Remus and Sirius. She remembered that occasion because she had been fighting against irrational jealousy at the wistful longing in Remus and Sirius' voices when they spoke of her, this mysterious enchantress that birthed her best friend. It was in bad taste to be envious of the dead, she had told herself – all of her beauty didn't prevent her murder, after all. And she had looked beautiful in that picture; radiant and glorious in the sunlight as she was twirled around on James Potter's arm. But Hermione had never had a clear picture of her face, which is what stunned her now.

She wasn't perfect!

Granted, that seemed a silly, self absorbed thought to be having at this moment in time, but Hermione was filled with relief – so much so it was making her quite light headed. Her rational brain was telling her that she had bigger problems than the relative beauty of the women of this time, but her ego was singing. Lily Evans, while no doubt quite pretty, was also very ordinary. Freckled, creamy skinned, redheaded, the most beautiful and extraordinary part of her was her eyes – and Hermione had grown up with those eyes staring at her, begging her, chastising her, so they weren't as effective as they would be to anybody new, she supposed. Hermione experienced an odd sense of duality, then, staring at Lily Evans' increasingly bemused face like an idiot in the hallway of Potter Manor, as her image of the past as it was attempted to align itself with the new past, as it is. Nightmarish, gorgeous Lily Evans drifted over likeable, ordinary Lily Evans and settled in, and suddenly Hermione was grinning as though all of her worries had drifted away on the wind.

"Hello, you must be Lily!" Hermione prattled, riding the delightful airy feeling that women got when they realised they were equally pretty or prettier than a perceived enemy all the way down the corridor to offer the witch her hand. "Honestly, I've heard so much about you!" It didn't cross her mind until quite a bit later that she was being manic, but Hermione surrendered to her vanity so very little in life, and what better time than when your friends have deemed you surplus to requirements in a crisis?

"Eh, Hermione, right?" Lily asked in the lilting voice of middle-class Mancunians. "The other muggle-born," she added with an uncertain smile, as though she wasn't certain of the reception she'd get for this assumption.

"Yes, yes I am. Forgive me if I seem flustered, only…" Hermione blushed red, and Lily seemed to become suddenly wary. "Well, I've heard about you all my life, so I feel a bit obligated to hero-worship you!"

Lily blinked blankly, then burst out laughing. "Oh my!" She cried, her giggles tinkling bells in the deserted wing. "And here I thought I would accomplish nothing in life. That's a big 'fuck you' to pure-blood society, isn't it? Lily Evans, muggle-born idol!" She laughed more, and the more the sound rang out the heavier Hermione's limbs became until suddenly she was Hermione Granger, awkward, plain know-it-all once more in the face of this woman's glory. She beamed, said something about Lavender and indicated a door, but all Hermione could think was well, there's that heavenly light.

Suddenly, she was a little bit in love with Lily Evans too.

She hated her for that.


"Hello, again," Luna smiled brightly at the startled young man that had crossed her path. He didn't look well, poor thing, stress and exhaustion lining his youthful face. He was pale, but still handsome, the bruises under his eyes somehow managing to add to their smoky allure. If Luna had not known that he was promised to someone else – though how she would not know, when it was her doing the promising and pulling the strings, seemed unfathomable – then she might have melted a little under his speculative gaze. She didn't, though it might have been nice to have been able to; her Happy-Ever-After was by far the most tenuous of all, her heart was hooked to lives that would soon flicker out unless she acted quickly and without doubt when the time came (and wasn't time such a flexible thing, anyway, as this whole adventure showed, so she'd have to pay close attention to the Signs as the year wore on). Loyal was Luna, however. She would not betray the possibility of love and happiness, not when she hadn't been certain that she would have it in this time. Such beautiful, delightful opportunities she had Seen for her girls but in her own mind and heart she had been so sure of her own loneliness in this time.

Seeing their deep brown eyes, offered to her as a reward by the Goddess for doing Her bidding, no doubt, when she had landed in this time had almost made her weep, and Luna was not prone to tumultuous waves of strong emotion. Her heart, soul and hormones were usually on a level with her laid-back, calm personality. Except for anger, of course, but that particular feeling was so rare that mostly she could push it into a box in her mind and forget it existed. Arousal, also, barely factored in – Theodore could always stir her, with his dark eyes and thoroughly buttoned-up persona she enjoyed peeling back the layers and pushing him to his limits, but that required more effort on her part than was sustainable, no matter how lovely he was. Very few others touched her in that way, though she thought perhaps Sirius Black could have been one.

She had met him only once, in the future, though as a dog she'd often left him treats during her second year when she'd gone to visit the Thestrals in the Forest. He'd recognised her immediately at the Department of Mysteries, though, and paid back her kindness with his own act of putting himself in the way of a particularly nasty hex. His shield had dissipated it harmlessly, and the two of them had exchanged a nod before he ran off to his death, and Luna ran to help Hermione. Sometimes she thought it would have been nice to know him better, to help him heal, but that was not her place and she knew it. She was not the girl who brought him tea in the parlour while he mourned his estranged brother, and she was not the girl who he longed for on cold, lonely nights without knowing why or who he was searching for. Luna did not have the matching darkness he needed in a mate, for Dark Magic is all about intent, and Luna's intent was always pure, despite how she languished in the grey areas.

Still, he was pretty, so she took a moment to look him over – broad shoulders, narrow hips, leather-clad thighs, feathery, black hair kissing his cheeks like a lover.

His mate was luckier than she could imagine.

Shaking her head, Luna brought her eyes up to meet his knowing ones, and grinned. "It's almost worth the centuries of inbreeding, isn't it?" she pointed at his bare feet and giggled girlishly – "my, even your feet are sexy!"

His eyebrows had disappeared into his hairline, leaving him looking like an incomplete sculpture. Still hot, but just a bit off. Well, he had a right to be confused, probably he'd come out to the orchard in the hopes of being alone to gather his thoughts because though he didn't travel twenty years into the past with a werewolf victim, the feistiest Weasley and 'Miss Hermione Granger: The Self-Proclaimed Spirit of Ministry Propaganda!' he had still had a bit of a big night, what with discovering four women in the woods.

Luna checked in briefly with her mouth, which appeared to be giving a lecture on the correlation between pure-blood interbreeding and the resurgence of webbed toes and daddy thinks they bred a grindylow into the Black line, do you know anything about that? Generally, when Luna gets into this sort of thing, her mind goes off on a tangent and she can use that time for other things until they inevitably break in with their own thoughts or leave.

Sirius Black, it seemed, was up for the challenge. He sat through the lecture on grindylows, though his eyes were slightly glazed. He seemed to be using this time, Luna's lack of expectation towards him, in order to organize his own thoughts. That was fine; Luna was happy to help, and only lectured more voraciously.

"You're Pandora's daughter, aren't you," It wasn't a question that cut through Luna's words decisively so much as a statement of obvious fact. The boy-man sitting in front of her was watching her with laughing eyes. "I can usually tell a member of her family from miles away, but you caught me on a bad morning." He chuckled, and Luna favoured him with another luminous smile. "I'm Sirius Black, but I think you knew that."

"I did," Luna confirmed, laying her hand in the one he offered her and watching him lay a chaste kiss on the back of it. "We've met. It wasn't as nice as all this, though-" she indicated the gardens, flush as they were with the colours of spring, the morning air heavy with dew and the scent of pollen. Her eyes glazed slightly as she continued on, "much darker, for a start. More cursing."

Sirius looked as though he might like to respond to this with a question, but James Potter broke the moment by skipping down the steps from the house and shouting for Luna. "Your friend is awake!" He called.

"Thank you!" Luna shouted back, smiling her farewell to Sirius as she walked. "Do you know, your nose was rather off putting at first, but think it looks distinguished." She assured the other man as she passed.

James blinked, and Luna floated back into the house, followed by Sirius' barking laughter and James' plaintive "what's wrong with my nose?".

Chapter Text

The door Evans (she called her Evans, now, as part of a new scheme to distance herself from the inhabitants of this time that she had decided upon in the fifteen seconds since she had left Evans' illustrious presence – the girls wouldn't like it, but Hermione was determined that they would return to their own time and it mattered not that they had themselves convinced that this was fate or whatever, it just wasn't logical) had indicated led to a guest room where Dorea and Ginny surrounded a healing Lavender. The patient looked pale and strained, but not too awful, for which Hermione was glad. It would be just their luck if she'd suffered complications.

Ginny glanced at her upon entry, but immediately turned back to Lavender. Dorea spared her a warm smile. "Miss Granger. We were just explaining the situation to Miss Brown."

Hermione eyed the new werewolf and frowned, "do you think that's wise?" She asked, moving closer to inspect Lavender. "She looks a little tired."

"I'm right here, Hermione," Lavender rolled her eyes, still bright despite the events of the past twelve hours. The girl was still ridiculously pretty, even with half of her face disfigured and the tension of a patient hanging over her. More so, Hermione had to admit, for now she had an aura of wildness that gave her previous nymph-like looks some grounding in the reality, like she might run out into the woods at any moment and be one with the land, free of all mortal constraints and happy about it. Hermione had never known a person before their change into a werewolf, so she had never had the chance to compare the befores and afters in her mind – Remus' (Lupin's!) feral nature was always there, humming under his skin, but in her naivety Hermione had assumed it was simply a part of him – some dark, masculinity she had never experienced. It didn't occur to her until now that one of the things she found most attractive about him was the very wolf he loathed.

Shaking herself, she moved to stand on the other side of Lavender's bed. "Are you well?" Hermione asked.

"I'm fine. I'm ready to hear everything – besides, it's hardly fair to keep me in the dark, leaving me out of the big decisions, is it?" Lavender feebly twitched a finger, which Hermione thought might have been her attempt to gesture something. "After all, I think I'm the one most in danger, don't you?"

Not wanting to think about this, Hermione grimaced and turned to Ginny. "How far have you gotten, then?"

"Only about where Luna smashed the Time-Turner," Ginny replied promptly. "We were about to explain how and why we got here."

Hermione scowled at the redhead, ignoring Dorea and Lavender. "You couldn't have called for me?" she demanded of the redhead unrepentantly. "I should have been here to help."

Ginny snorted. "It's not all about you, Hermione. I thought that Lavender could use a friend." The last word was emphasised almost cruelly, as Ginny glared at the brunette. Hermione opened her mouth, then closed it, chastised. "Besides, we didn't need you causing an argument while we tried to sort things through."

"Lavender deserves to see the whole picture, not just your airy-fairy pureblood superstitions," Hermione snapped.

Dorea suddenly loomed up in the space between the two younger women, her face thunderous. "Ladies," she all but growled, "please step outside for a moment."

A whipcord of magic shoved them towards the door just incase they were hesitating, and they found themselves in the corridor facing a livid Dorea Potter. Her eyes aflame, her face tight, Hermione could see with great clarity the Black in her blood, and it cowed her. "This is my home," Dorea hissed, looking between them. "That is my patient," her voice was laced with magic, bearing down on them and summoning their shame in a way Molly Weasley could only hope to achieve. "You will not cause a disruption to her healing, or you must find somewhere else to stay." Pulling herself up to her full height, her features set and haughty, she added – "and sort out this enmity before you come back. How you expect to complete your mission while acting like children, I don't know."

The guest room's door slammed behind her before they had even realised she moved, and then they were stood staring at each other.

"Nice one, 'Mione." Ginny sighed, sending a bolt of rage through Hermione's veins.

"Oh no, don't you start that, Ginevra. I've been doing my best to make a bad situation better, all you've been doing is Lording it over me at every chance!"

Sucking in a deep breath, Ginny's face turned almost puce as she geared up for a reply – before suddenly she deflated and smiled a little sheepishly. "This is what she was talking about, isn't it?"

Hermione shook herself. "Yes… I think so." With a sigh, she scrubbed her hands over her face. "You know I love you, right, Gin?"

"I know," the redhead grinned. "I love you too, you great hairball. You're my best friend and I don't know what I'd do without you."

"But…" Hermione tilted her head to one side and eyed the other girl cautiously. "You don't need me right now?"

She was visibly dithering over the answer. It seemed to cause the girl actual pain to try so hard to make her answer politic, Hermione thought amusedly as she watched Ginny's face scrunch up in concentration.

"It's not that we don't need you, we do." She finally said, taking the older girls hand in her own. "We need your research, knowledge, organization skills and power. We need kind, loving Hermione who makes dumb jokes and comforts us when we're down. We need strong, in-control Hermione who doesn't take shit from no person." They shared another grin that spoke of their years of familiarity, love and family. "The last thing we need is discontent, though. Dorea is completely right - we can't do what we need to do if you're tugging the reins in the other direction. I know you don't want to believe us about the reason we are here, and I didn't expect you to take us at face value in the first place, but we need you to stand by us either way. It's us four against the world, you realise." Warmth oozed through her words, though her eyes were steely as she continued, "And we will rip apart the fabric of reality, with or without your help. It's just that with you we might be a little more successful."

"Oh, Gin." She wasn't sure she could do this. It went against every bone in her body to even try, to cast aside the rules and tear their way into a new future. Hermione didn't even know if it was possible – Ministry research on Time-Travel was often contradictory on the subject of alteration, what with Eloise Mintumble as the main example of changing the timeline, and then evidence of causation triggers elsewhere. There was a whole grey area of mumbled stories and folk tales where you couldn't tell which was real and which was fake and which had been embellished over the years for entertainment value and they probably would never solve those mysteries. It was against every rule the Unspeakables had, every law the Ministry upheld, but something was tugging at her mind, begging her to give in.

She could tell what that was, too. It was her instinctual brain, her emotional brain, the bit she kept cut off and safely locked away since the end of her sixth year and that heart breaking scene in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing - "Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world", what a feeble excuse on which to latch desperately – the bit that had shattered, broken irreparably at the end of the battle, looking down into sightless green eyes. That area where she stored her curiosity, her amusement, her love and desire. Curiosity was scratching at the door, demanding to know, to take on this experiment. Why not? It asked, demanded. Why not?

Desire was not far behind, whispering what-could-be into her ear where it wormed insidiously into her soul where it could hook, if she let it, and stay until… well, until it was broken again, she supposed. And that was the terrifying part. She could remember the split-second glances, the soft dance of his lips over hers, the dark other side of her that she had released and allowed to run wild the second she'd smiled that fateful day. The echoing snap in her soul when he was struck down, the pain, the never ending sorrow, the weeks of intermittently crying and cursing him for what he had turned her into. Finally, swearing that she'd never do it again. Learning Occlumency. Becoming as blank as Professor Snape had been. Not touching a single man since.

Second chance, this one moaned.

But it wasn't a second chance for that, Hermione decided, quashing her desire firmly. He'd never wanted her in the first place so she wouldn't moon after him now. That didn't mean she couldn't pursue the knowledge, though, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The side of her that had always been a little more green than red perked up, smirking in the back of her mind. If they were stuck here, as everybody seemed to believe, then why not? Who would know except for them three? They couldn't hold the sins of the others against them for they were in it together, were they not?

"Us four against the world?" Hermione chuckled, her decision made. "Merlin help them."

Chapter Text

As soon as the decision had been made, Hermione flew into planning mode. While her preference would always be to return home, such as it was, exactly as it was – to a familiar place where she knew the ins and outs like the back of her hand, where things rarely changed and she was in full control of her little corner of the world – she acknowledged their ability to do good here, and the animation that had come to Ginny and Lavender as a result. Something they had, of late, been missing. She perched at the foot of the bed on a Louis XV armchair of powder blue with a notebook and pencil Dorea had rustled up from one of the adjoining rooms as Dorea, Ginny and Luna (who had skipped up the stairs seconds after Hermione and Ginny had finished their conversation with a blithe smile and vaguely approving nod) filled Lavender in on the finer details of their situation. Lavender was holding up remarkably well, she took the news of her new condition with Gryffindor courage beyond compare. McGonagall like, she'd given a regal nod as she filed away the information for later perusal, recognising that this was not the greatest problem here – she wasn't stupid, she recognised Dorea Potter from her portrait at St Mungo's in the boardroom (died 1979, during Dragon Pox research). Died 1979. None of them had said the words at that point but Lavender would have gotten an Outstanding in Deductive Reasoning were they to teach it at Hogwarts.

It seemed odd to her that for once she was the one participating in a wacky, impossible adventure – that was an area usually reserved exclusively for Weasleys, Potters and their muggle-born sidekicks (see: Lily Evans Potter and Hermione Granger). At Hogwarts, everybody had known and expected that the Golden Trio would be at the centre of any mysteries, and the rest of them mere bit-players, collateral damage. Not now, though. Now, it seems she had found herself at the heart of the action with no training for this sort of thing. She was an extra in their lives and had always known that – Hermione's roommate, later Ronald's fiancée. Not Lavender in her own right, no. She was the action/adventure equivalent of "always a bridesmaid, never the bride" (Lavender had always adored Muggle films, she and her father had watched Die Hard together every Christmas for the last eight years despite how it made her mother fume). So, you can understand how everything felt a little distant to her, a little unreal at the moment as she realized that she had in fact been chosen by a higher power to go back in time and win the War. As a werewolf (don't think about that right now, Lav). Anyway, the crux of the matter was that now she was thrown into the craziness that seemed to follow Hermione Granger and her friends around, and she felt woefully underprepared, but she was determined to ride it out with dignity.

While Lavender struggled with these thoughts, and Ginny and Dorea tried their very hardest to help her, and Luna hunted down stray Wrackspurts, everything Hermione knew about the Wars was deposited into her book. Protected by the strongest charms she could remember, the book held a comprehensive timeline of all the events of the Wars against Voldemort, and anything else she may find useful, as found in her mind and added to by the other girls. Lists of horcruxes, Death Eaters, deaths and births, the ages of people they know and the current Hogwarts class were all inked in. Even Dorea assisted, elaborating on certain sections and filling in blanks with dates and other pertinent information. The only thing she wouldn't do was violate the privacy of her boys, which the girls could appreciate given their lives in the nineties.

"What date is it?" Hermione asked finally, realising they had not bothered to ask this question so far.

"18th April 1979," Dorea hummed. "My James and his Lily are due to get married in two months," she added with a proud smile for the girls. Hermione nodded, scribbled that at the top of her book, but was cut off from vocalising her next question by Ginny grabbing her arm and staring at her, wide-eyed.

"Regulus," she breathed, and Hermione understood. Regulus wouldn't be dying until the end of this year – that meant that they could feasibly come up with some way to save him. Ginny had always loathed Regulus' death because it had contributed heavily to Sirius' guilt laden insanity once he had returned to Grimmauld Place at the end of Hermione's fourth year. It wouldn't be easy, though. They would be in need of more allies, people who could inform them as to Regulus' activities, or even just inform them when Kreacher disappeared (as that would be their cue to move in). They would be in need of insiders, and they'd need to begin movements quickly. 

"It would be worth it," Ginny said vehemently, obviously thinking along the same lines as Hermione. Her eyes burned with her old Weasley fire as she leaned over the bed as though they could set off to save the boy now. "So worth it."

Luna reached over and traced a finger over Ginny's chin. "Family is so very important, don't you think?"

After that, where was only the one occasion on which Ginny and Hermione butted heads again, and that was when the redhead was informed of Hermione's brilliant plan to ensure they focused on the mission without distractions – such as the man her best friend had had a crush on for four years.

"But, Sirius-"

"Not Sirius, Gin. You'll get attached, and they are not the same men. He's Black. No-First-Name Black." Hermione snapped, jabbing her pencil in the air.

"So Remus will be No-First-Name Lupin, then?" Ginny retorted acidly, her eyes narrowing.

Forcing the lump in her throat back, she nodded firmly. "Yes."

Ginny scoffed. "Yeah, that's likely. Don't be a fucking hypocrite."

The brunette blinked a few times before a smirk broke over her features. "Why, hello, Ronald, and here I thought I had left you in the nineties."

Ginny leapt to her feet, looking like she'd love nothing so much as to wring Hermione's throat, but was caught off guard by a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, stop it." Lavender groaned from the bed. "Honestly, if I wanted to spend my wedding day arguing, I'd have let Molly plan it."

The two girls stopped blank, suddenly realizing what they had been saying.

"You're right, that was out of order. Sorry, Gin. Lavender." Guilt burned a path up Hermione's throat as she realized exactly how this had fucked with Lavender's life plans – she had never really considered it before, past the worry for her newly-infected acquaintance, but Lavender was right. Had all things been normal, she would be married by now. To Ronald. She would be Mrs. Lavender Weasley. They would all be sat around a marquee in the Weasley orchards watching the happy couple shove their tongues down each others' mouths, trying to control their gag reflexes. Now Ron wasn't even born, nothing more than an idea of an egg, yet to be fertilized.

"This is the worst day of my life," Lavender laughed, a single tear glistening on her eyelashes even as she tried to make light of the situation. "No wedding, no husband, no family, and I'm a werewolf. Could things get any worse?"

Luna perked up immediately as though this had been a cue she was waiting on. Leaning forward, she took Lavender's hands in her own and trapped her in her luminous gaze. "Well," she grinned, "at least you get a Mate!"

Silence reigned, as this information sank in all around – Werewolf mates were things of legend, but Hermione and Ginny knew Lavender idealised that relationship because of the romance novels she'd had stuffed under her pillow for seven years. It was a bit insensitive, sure, to bring it up so soon after her life had collapsed – but this was Luna, and Luna could do these things without consequence. It was just part of her charm. What response they were expecting, they weren't sure, it seemed like maybe they wanted a positive reaction to this news? Lavender always had been fickle…

It wasn't to be.

"Seems life can get worse," Lavender growled, yanking her hands away from Luna and glaring around at the rest of the group with surprising vehemence considering she was bed-bound. "Get the fuck out of my room."


Lavender stared at her reflection, one finger tracing the curving, vicious scars on her face down towards her collarbone, where they joined neatly with the half-moon bite that had poisoned her. Poison, a word chosen deliberately, of course, to reflect the disease mutating her cells as she stood there in her underwear to watch. She had been poisoned. It had been easier to deal with the first time, ridiculously, as then it was like a trade – she traded her beauty, her vanity, her eternal weakness for strengths such as enhanced senses and a more fulfilling diet. The weight gain from the meat had been a relief for a girl built to be curvy like her, especially when it came with a ready-made excuse that even her mother couldn't argue with (the werewolf infection). But now she got the consequences of these perks. One day a month where she would lose her mind, her treasured body, be torn apart from the inside and reshaped into something not-human.

Something animal.

What she didn't realise the first time she had been attacked was how very lucky she had been, not to have been turned. She had been focused on her survival, of course, and later the damage to her face and chest. She chastised her past self now, as she looked at the body that seemed the same but was so strange now. Poisoned. How dare you, Lavender, she screamed in her own mind at the part of herself that still applied lipstick in a morning and bemoaned the way her largest scar cut across her cheekbone, sending the angle all wrong and leaving a mangled lump of flesh in the hollows of her cheek. How dare you be so ungrateful.

For she blamed herself, of course. This was her karmic retribution for being so self-obsessed about the scars. For not appreciating the chance she had been given when the last attack had spared her.

She was a werewolf.

For a girl who had only known three werewolves in her life, two of whom had tried to kill her, the reality of the situation was all too terrifying. If you add to that the fact that the Wolfsbane potion wasn't available to the public yet in the 1970's, and Hermione had never learned to brew it due to 'personal concerns' – a pitiful excuse from someone who suffered from a persistent case of know-it-allitis – well, it seemed that her life was some sort of cosmic joke.

And now the girls had reminded her of that other consequence – the one she had forgotten, the benefit, if you can call it that, of lycanthropy she had not gained with the first attack. Her Mate. Her primal brain seemed to purr at the very idea, but the rest of her was revolted. She didn't need a mate. Until this morning, she had had a perfectly wonderful man, she was getting married, she was in love. He brought all of her senses alive in a mostly pleasant way, and she could have happily spent her life curled up on his chest listening to his breathing. Sure, Ronald wasn't a clever man, nor was he the most handsome of men, but he was a loving, loyal man and she had adored him.

She had lost him.

Angrily, she shoved her arms into her robes and threw herself onto the bed, barely noticing the sting of her tears as they came.

Chapter Text

"Hermione-" Gasps, incoherent prayers, swear words both too comfortable and unfamiliar tripped off his tongue as he grazed his teeth across her collarbone. She hissed, her head falling back against the mismatched walls of the Burrow behind her. Her bare feet barely brushed the overgrown weeds where they wrapped around his waist, and both were too involved in the moment – sweating, groaning, loving – to notice the gnome stealing her dress with big, gleeful eyes. They would notice later, though, and he would laugh until he cried as she stood, naked in the grass aside from her shoes, scowling harder for every second of his mirth through her mane of just-fucked hair. He would keep her like that, if he could, he claimed in soft tones as he pulled his transfigured shirt around her shoulders. Keep her, ensconced in nature, safe somewhere only he could find her.

She smiled, peering up at him from under her eyelashes, coy even with her relative lack of experience. She treasured these moments, even though she knew it was ridiculously naive of her to do so, they just felt right. A surge of rebellious fury washed through her, though, shortly after as he regarded her fondly in the afternoon sun before checking his watch. She knew what he was thinking right then – she could see the guilt in his eyes, a pale shadow of an emotion but still there. He was on the brink of doing something about it, she knew – pulling away from her, most likely. She didn't want him to leave her, to be hidden away. She wanted to be by his side, always. She wanted to be his partner, not her. The impossibility of it fuelled her rage.

"And what of your wife?" she threw back at him, acidly, enjoying the flash of hurt across his features, glad that he felt for one moment what she felt every time he touched her, hugged her, kissed her; whenever someone told them how perfect they were together….


Hermione gasped herself awake, sucking in great lungfuls of fresh spring air and vainly attempting to regulate her heart rate back to normal. "Fuck," she whispered into the empty air. It was a nightmare, only a nightmare – that man was dead and gone, and she had yet to meet the new one. This one would probably never cheat on his wife, trade her in for a younger model, feed the young one scraps of his affection on the heels of massive guilt trips, hot and cold tendencies wrapped around passion shared, and then crush her. His lover would probably never be left to co-parent the evidence of his love for another woman, simultaneously lifting her heart and breaking it every morning – because he would never have the lover, probably. Right, she scoffed.

Logically, Hermione knew that Remus was a good person. At the time it had been lovely, passionate, and had felt so right that she had never questioned the wrongness of their actions until later, when she'd be lying in bed alone, and he was back with Tonks. His mate, she assumed, though that didn't seem to add up when you considered his ability to cheat on her. Yes, Hermione, cheat. At the time they had never used those words – cheating, affair, unfaithful – but she had to face up to that reality now that she was in this new place with a younger him, yet to meet his one true love, yet to commit that sin.

Hermione shoved these thoughts – useless, melancholy thoughts – aside in favour of reviewing the four main principles of Time-Travel as she showered and attempted to wrest her hair into submission. The group had broken up shortly after Lavender had thrown them out of her room yesterday in favour of returning to their rooms for what would hopefully be a full night's sleep. They had barely been in 1979 for fourty-eight hours, and yet it felt as though they had been here for weeks already, so even a night of tossing and turning and waking from nightmares every three hours was gladly accepted, especially when aforementioned restless night took place in a bed that felt like a cloud. Dorea, however, ran her household like a ship and politely requested (see: demanded) that they convene for breakfast at eight in the dining room which didn't ask terribly much considering that they all retreated to bed at about four in the afternoon. In fact, laughably easily done for the girls, especially since Luna had revealed that she had packed Hermione's beaded bag full of enough essentials to make the year. Upon seeing the girl drag each of their Hogwarts trunks from the depths she had been eyed with an angry sort of suspicion, but in honour of the new peace treaty that information had been filed far, far away.

Dressed in a soft navy jumper Hermione had pilfered from one of the boys – it was unclear which one, though it did smell ever-so-slightly of Fleetwood's High Finish Handle Polish – and some ratty jeans she chose for their comfort and expedience more than anything, she followed the hallways back to the foyer. She was vaguely irritated to realise that she wasn't the first one there, but didn't dwell on it as Ginny shot her a shy smile. It took a moment before why she might be uncertain clicked in Hermione's head, and suddenly she was hurrying over to give her closest girlfriend a hug.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered in her ear as they clung together, with sincerity that came with a good nights' sleep and a clear head. Hermione was a girl without illusions of herself, so she knew that the last few days weren't the only challenges their friendship would face and she'd probably get back into her defensive mindset at some point, but right now she was regretful from the bottom of her heart for causing Ginny pain.

"I know, you bitch," Ginny laughed tiredly. A quick perusal of her face showed that she still had bruising under her eyes, but it wasn't as bad as yesterdays and would probably clear up quickly. The perils of pale skin, Hermione guessed, then sent a quick nod of thanks to the Powers-That-Be that she had a natural tan (see, Ginny and Luna, I'm open to the existence of a higher power! She thought immediately after her prayer, which ruined the effect a bit). "I guess we're all a bit strung out," the redhead continued, "Luna too, even. I don't think I've ever seen her this stressed."

Hermione did a double take as she looked up to watch the girl skip down the stairs, her tread light and a beaming grin on her lips. "This is stressed?" she whispered quietly, and got a nod in return.

"I think she feels guilty, about Lavender, you know?" Gin replied in her own whisper. "She never meant for her to get hurt."

Privately, Hermione thought that while Luna really should feel guilty, that was as likely as them finding a Crumple-Horned Snorkack in the back garden dancing with Kreacher. She just wasn't a guilty person, and not because she was innocent of all crimes, but because she was very good at rationalising them to herself – and others. Once she got around to telling Lavender exactly how the poor girl had ended up being turned into a werewolf, a tidbit the others had glossed over in their explanation, she would probably put it in such a way that the other girl would end up thanking her. Most of the time with Luna, Hermione just thanked Merlin that she was (to all appearances) on their side.

"Good morning!" Luna chirped as she bounced her way across the hall to their side. "Were you talking about me?"

"Err…" Hermione had never quite learned the skill of dealing with Luna when she was being direct.

"Shall we go in, then?" Ginny trilled over the top of Hermione, and linked arms with Luna after shooting a warning look in Hermione's direction. "I don't think Lavender will be down for breakfast, but miracles can happen, so we'll save her a seat just in case." Luna seemed to have a sixth sense for the manor they were in as she guided them unerringly down a corridor to large, shiny double doors. They seemed to be the apple of some little House-Elf's eye, as they looked freshly waxed and cleaned, impeccable like everything else in the manse. They swung open silently when Ginny reached forward to touch a finger to the ornately carved handle, so quickly that Hermione barely had the chance to register the pattern – antlers, intermixed with a tree and maybe apples? Something she would have to look up later when she had the chance. Often she had thought that the stag was a James Potter thing, but she had been noticing certain things in the paintwork of the house that may suggest differently.

Speaking of James Potter, he was there as they entered the room, sat close to the head of the table with his own head down in deep conversation with Sirius Black. The two of them were alone for the moment, though the pulled out chairs at either side of them suggested that they wouldn't be for long.

Ginny cleared her throat, and Luna, in keeping with her oddly exuberant personage for the day, cheerily shouted "Hello!" so loud it echoed, and followed it up with a giggle.

James sprung from his seat like a knight of olde, grievously offended that he had been sitting upon the entrance of the fairer sex – or whatever, but that's how it came across. "Good morning," James said with a smile, striding forward with his hand out for them to shake. "We haven't met properly yet. I'm James Potter, and this is Sirius Black."

Hermione shook his hand, unsurprised that his handshake was perfect – warm, not too firm, with a subtle twist. Hermione was a fan of handshakes as a way of judging people. "Hermione Granger," she said, taking Sirius' (Black's!) hand when offered.

"Luna Lovegood," Luna chirped, "we met yesterday, sort of."

"Nose girl," Potter nodded thoughtfully, "you know, I never did find out what's wrong with it. I asked Lily, and she said I have a perfect nose." His eyes took on a sort of defiant-but-besotted look as he smiled rather distantly. "So I suppose it doesn't matter, though it's quite rude to insult your host, isn't it, Padfoot?"

Black shrugged fluidly from where he stood next to Ginny, watching her intently. "She's a Lovegood, mate. Hang on-" realization flooded his face as his eyes flitted from Ginny's freckles to her red hair and brown eyes. "Are you a Prewett? I bet you're a Prewett. You look just like Molly, you do."

Ginny blushed under the weight of his grey eyes, but straightened her spine. "No, well, yes. I'm a Weasley, actually."

"That's impossible!" Sirius (oh bloody hell – Black!) exclaimed proudly. "I know my Purebloods, and the Weasleys have never produced a female."

Haughtily, Ginny threw him a coy smile and flicked her hair back over her shoulder. "Well, Mr. Black, I am one-of-a-kind."

Hermione rolled her eyes and smiled at Potter politely. "So, who are we waiting on?"

"Right, well, Mum has gone to help Lily with your friend – the flower one – what's her name?"

"Lavender."

"Yeah, that's it. I'm terrible with names, me. Anyway, Remus was still in bed when I last saw him but he might be up now. It's been a bit busy around here so we haven't had time to fill him in, but he'll be fine. And Dad is in the orangery, but should be through soon."

She frowned sceptically at that – she knew her Remus rather well, and didn't think even at thirty-eight he would have been okay with suddenly having a newly-turned werewolf sprung on him, especially not after a full moon he can barely remember during which he had sustained mysterious injuries that nobody had yet explained, but obviously James (POTTER) knew him better. She fixed him with a look anyway, before asking him where she should sit. He led them to seats closer to the door, but before they could sit down Lavender and Evans appeared, clutching each other and laughing.

"Honestly, he was a right idiot," Evans was saying as she pulled Lavender closer to navigate her towards Potter. "But soft as a pup, really. I don't know if anybody could resist that level of devotion in the end." She looked up and grinned at James, who grinned back delightedly.

"Talking about me?"

"Bitching, more like," Lily responded playfully. "Do you know, he leaves his underpants everywhere. A messier person I've never known."

James laughed as he took Lavender's other arm to lead her to a seat. "She only says that because she never had to live with Peter."

They didn't seem to notice the cold silence that fell over the four newcomers when he mentioned that name, only continuing his banter with his fiancé. The other girls exchanged significant looks, though - there was a problem they would need to solve, and quickly. Thudding in the hallway cut across James' monologue, though, and they turned as one towards the door.

"Prongs, I was just talking to your mum, and she said we have guests-"

Footsteps gave way to a young man of about nineteen, who appeared in the doorway and glanced around at the group, looking a little bewildered. "What…" he began, only to cut himself off and take a deep breath. His nose wrinkled, face set in a mask of confusion, and then suddenly his eyes darted upwards to zero in on one of their group. Hermione waited, her breath held, for the moment he would look at her and she would feel that familiar pull…

But instead his eyes were drawn to Lavender, still stood at the back, looking a little wobbly where she hung precariously off of Evans' arm. His eyes flowed over her, his face growing whiter by the second, before he settled on her face and his mouth dropped open in horror.

"Moony!" Potter shouted, but it was too late and he was already gone.

Chapter Text

The two marauders flew out into the hallway, almost knocking over an approaching Dorea. "Goodness, what's happened?" she asked the girls, who shrugged sheepishly. Lily sat Lavender down and smiled up at her soon-to-be mother-in-law.

"I don't think they thought to warn him," Lily said, running a hand over Lavender's shoulder as the other girl tried to catch her breath. While she was on the repair, she was not in brilliant shape, but had insisted that she would be present at breakfast. "Those boys, you know – so very clever, but so very dim when it comes to things that matter."

Dorea shared a soft smile with her future daughter-in-law. "I don't know where they get it from."

"Not me," came from the doorway as an older man of about sixty strolled into the room, immediately drawing their attention. He was a handsome man, in a comfortable way – the angles of James' face that gave him some mystery had obviously come from his mother, as Charlus looked very much the dependable boy-next-door with sparkling eyes and a cheeky grin that would last generations. "Perhaps the elves?" He suggested, pressing a kiss to his wife's cheek. He turned to survey the other inhabitants of the room with a smile. "Now, come on then, fill me in. What has brought so many lovely ladies to our doorstep? Sirius been at it again, has he?"


James came upon Remus hyperventilating in an alcove just above the kitchen. He had apparently assumed he wouldn't be found here, and had sank to the ground with his head in his arms. The other boy heaved a great sigh at the state of his discovery, sent out a shrill whistle to alert Sirius, and curled himself up on the floor beside his second-oldest friend in the world. "Bit of a nasty surprise, I suppose," He said, his words teasing but his voice apologetic. "I should have warned you. My mistake."

Remus didn't move from his position, but his breaths had evened out a bit, which James took as a good sign, and an invitation to keep talking. "Her name is Lavender, and Lily seems to think she's alright, but Lily's a god-awful judge of character. I mean, remember all that fuss with Snivellus? Better if I withhold judgement until I know her better." He observed his quiet friend with a lopsided grin. "I would have thought the other blonde would be more your type, but that's just me making assumptions-"

"James."

Remus' voice sounded like he hadn't used it in years, all rusty and gravelly. "Yes, dearest Moony, mine?"

"Shut up."

Faking affront, James puffed himself up in preparation to deliver a suitably scathing speech to Remus on the importance of proper consideration in ones furry friends (he'd had that one written since third year, and it always had Remus in fits) but Sirius came barrelling around the corner, rudely destroying the moment and providing a helpful new target for the non-existent wrath James had conjured up. "Oi, mate, way to ruin a moment, yeah?"

"It wasn't you!" Sirius rushed out, completely ignoring James and plopping himself down on his haunches in front of Remus. He gasped a little to get the words out, which caused a little bubble of masculine pride to rise up in James' chest. He had never been as fit as James – one of the reasons why James had been Quidditch captain and not him – but it was an area they still competed in for no real reason other than the comraderie of it.

"What?" Remus squeaked. It was definitely a squeak, and not a manly growl or anything like that. A squeak.

Sirius grinned rather manically, leaning his forearms on Remus' knees and pushing their faces together as if physical proximity (and exposure to Padfoot's morning breath) might make him seem more trustworthy. "You didn't bite her!"

This was exclaimed with great pomp, as though it was news that ranked up there with Peter's acquisition of a girlfriend and Lily's acceptance of his proposal last year, which it wasn't, because Moony had never bitten anyone and probably never would, and besides, what were the other Marauders for if not to stop that from happening? Did he not trust them to do their job? "Well, I would have thought that was obvious." James drawled, leading the other two – even grumpy Remus – to gaze at him like he had something particularly disgusting on his nose. "Or… not?" he added, as the penny dropped. He'd, sort of, thought it was a Moony Melodrama™, not an actual reason that sent Remus away… It had been so long since Remus had had an adverse reaction to his more animal side that James had, with the use of his famous selective memory, ignored that it could happen.

"I don't understand…" Remus was saying now, turned deliberately back to Sirius as though the very sight of James might confuse him more. The look in his eyes... James could never forget that look, the look that was two parts resignation, two parts grief. Remus' eyes, fixed on Sirius, seemed to regard the other boy as Judge, Jury and Executioner, and James could understand why. Sirius was the one that understood Remus best out of all of them, the one that Moony liked the most, the one that could always talk him down from a ledge. While he was securely James' best friend in the whole world, and James was the same to Sirius, Sirius and Remus shared a bond beyond anything the other Marauders could build.

Sirius flopped across the floor to Remus' side, arms flailing theatrically so that even Remus had managed a weak smile. Once in position, Sirius looped an arm around the sandy-haired boy's neck and pulled him close in a way James would never have been able to do with his masculinity intact, but for Sirius just seems to be normal. "Best that I can tell," he began in his favourite story-telling voice, often heard coming from behind the closed curtains of his four-poster as he regales the boys with his latest conquest, "though we haven't had the full story yet, so I might get some things wrong." he pulls a face here, as though extremely offended that anybody was doing anything without consulting him first. "Lavender – that's her name, right? – was bitten somewhere else, before they arrived on the grounds. I think-" here he pulled his patented Sirius Black thinking-is-painful face, bringing a grin to James, "-the bite was how they ended up here in the first place? Too stressed during side-along, knocked off course, all that stuff they warn about in Apparition Lessons." He shook his head violently, a left-over from his time as Padfoot, his hair swishing out over his shoulders. James' mum was forever asking him to let her cut it, but he was too proud for that. Of course, James had stopped letting his mum cut his hair in third year (it was really fifth year, but he has a reputation to maintain). "They definitely didn't come into contact with Moony, Remus, I promise. We were there the whole time."

"You're certain," Remus pushed, but his voice had stopped oscillating between a high-pitched elf squeal and the sound of tyres on gravel, so it was obvious he was recovering.

"Absolutely, positively," Sirius chirped, reaching over to ruffle Remus' hair fondly. "Moony's just a playful pup, right James?"

"Oh, yes," James agreed solemnly. His position in these conversations was clear, most of the time he just had to agree with Sirius and then break the tension when things calm down. The last time he'd tried to comfort Remus alone, he had been banned from the Shack for a month. Empathy was not what he was best at. To illustrate this point, he continued talking. "Moony was in a bit of a mood, but he didn't hurt anyone."

Moss green eyes appeared over long, folded arms, narrowed slightly in the 'caught out' expression James was so very familiar with. "A bit of a mood?" Ah, that tone of voice was dangerous…

James shifted his weight slightly, suddenly uncomfortable. "Yes?" Sirius was shooting him a death glare. "You know Moony, all… growly and… playful… you know, hunting…"

"Hunting what?" James could barely see Remus' eyes anymore, so narrow were they, but he could tell they were still blissfully green. Moony was staying out of this fight, then. "Hunting, like rabbits, or hunting, like…" He pressed his lips together, his whole face drained of colour.

"He didn't catch anything!" Sirius pointed out, desperately trying to pull James out of the hole he'd dug himself into. "They were warded in!"

"Oh gods!" This moan came from deep within Remus' tangle of limbs, where he had buried his head as Sirius spoke. All that was left of him was this vibrating ball of self-loathing. James and Sirius exchanged exasperated looks over his head, their stomachs roiling with guilt – this scene could so easily have been avoided…

"Look, Remus." James thought that maybe the only reason Remus looked up was because he used his actual name, which he usually didn't bother with. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you sooner. It was stupid, and we were too wrapped up in running around trying to figure out what was going on to even realise the oversight. We shouldn't have forgotten about you. All's well that ends well, though, right?"

Remus rolled his eyes, relaxing slightly. "I can't believe you forgot about me," he accused them with a smirk.

"Peter was there!" Sirius blustered, attempting to cover their tracks. "He said he'd stay with you the whole time. Speaking of, where is he?"

Remus stretched out his legs, almost taking up the whole width of the hall. "He left yesterday. Got an owl and dashed off, so I told him we'd catch him up when we see him next."

"Good call, Moony," James grinned, and took a second to watch his face. The anxiety was still there, but it seemed he'd let the subject go for now, so James checked his watch. "We should probably get back, before we miss it all again. Do you think you'll be alright?"

Remus was already on his feet, pushing them back the way they came and dodging the question. "So the blonde is Lavender,"

"Lovely girl, apparently." Sirius said, "haven't met her myself, though. The other one is Pandora's daughter, if you can believe it!"

"No!" Remus faked a gasp. "They look nothing alike!"

"Yep," Sirius nodded as though Remus was perfectly serious, and the other boys exchanged a look over his head. "But I don't know anything about the others, so you'll just have to hope they don't think you're an arse for running off like that."

"If they can put up with you, they'll love me," Remus laughed as Sirius punched him in the ribs, and the two tussled their way down the corridor, James trotting behind.

Chapter Text

Ginny hadn't realised how little she had been thinking about Harry until the moment she looked into Lily Evans' face for the first time. Seeing her boyfriends' eyes staring back at her had been a shock, sending a bolt of lightning through her gut and turning her insides to granite. Was she a bad person? she asked herself. Didn't normal people react like Lavender to finding out their lover was gone forever? Hermione was fine, of course, but she secretly thought Hermione might still be a virgin for all the interest she showed in the opposite sex, and Luna was also delighted to find herself in this new world, but Theodore (who Luna adorably seemed to think none of them knew about, for how perceptive she is she misses a lot) was never more than a good sidekick in all of her kooky schemes, and apparently an even better shag. Harry had always been more than that. A partner.

Though, her reaction – or lack thereof – to his loss seemed to give lie to that thought.

"I'm Lily Evans," the woman with Harry's eyes said, as though Ginny wouldn't know. Instead of snapping, though, Ginny gave a warm smile and shook her hand.

"Ginny," she replied, and then looked over her head to Hermione in order to avoid the woman's stare. "Shall we sit?" Her voice was so perfectly polite and empty of emotion that Ginny hardly recognised it as her own, but it was. She'd not used this voice in years, not since before the war when she had had to play nice with all the other little pureblood boys and girls. Then, as now, she had let her lips form words as though given from a predetermined script, pretty words that mean nothing – 'shall I pour', 'what a lovely gown' – though now it was her gliding to a seat next to Hermione, avoiding Lily Evans' oddly accusatory eyes – or maybe that bit was just her imagination.

They surrounded the table like a war council when the boys returned, facing off against each other over the perfectly polished mahogany. Presenting their first united front since their arrival in 1979, the four girls sat with their hands linked and shoulders touching on one side, with Hermione taking the middle spot by unspoken agreement. She may not know the science of what had brought them to this year, but she was the most organized of the four, and definitely the most able to handle the logistics of re-fighting a war they had already lost. She faced straight forward, one hand on Ginny's jean-clad thigh, the other holding a pen over her newly ever-present notebook. If there had been a certain stiffness about her since the Marauders had returned to the room, no one mentioned it, though Ginny planned to ask about it later.

She was sat opposite Dorea, who seemed to have been happily handed the 1979 leadership mantel, and wore it with pride. She had her husband to one side, and her son to the other. Charlus sat opposite Luna and beside Sirius, who was still wearing his foppish grin and running his fingers through his black locks compulsively. Charlus and Luna seemed to be having some sort of conversation with their eyes, parts of which Ginny understood, but on the whole discarded. It was the height of foolishness to spend too much time trying to read Luna, she had spent her entire life becoming unpredictable and wasn't about to turn on that now.

Ginny herself sat opposite James and beside Lavender, who was tucked under Ginny's arm and had one hand stretched over the table and interwoven with Lily Evans' fingers. Since she'd woken up it seemed that Lavender was the new Queen of casual physical contact, something Hermione had eyed with interest – Ginny could already imagine her leaned over the textbooks in her bed later that evening, attempting to find an answer. Whyever it was occurring, the fact remained that it was still occurring. When Ginny had sat down, Lavender had slipped herself beneath her arms almost without realising she was doing it, and she and Lily hadn't stopped touching since they'd walked in the room. It was the only point at which the two sides met in any physical way, the table may as well have been miles wide for the others. Lily herself was sat at the far side of the table with Remus, subtly distanced from the rest of the Potters, as though she was recognising that her opinion was no great matter in these negotiations. For Ginny, that lit a flame of feminist anger in her gut, but she let it go for the sake of the team. And people said she would never grow up.

Remus had stayed on the edges since he'd appeared in the room. He'd been friendly, yes, but nothing at all like the Remus they'd known in the nineties – civil but withdrawn, this Remus was, and his eyes seemed to linger on Lavender perhaps a bit longer than was polite.

Dorea cleared her throat delicately, causing an automatic flinch to run through Ginny's body. Another of those awful pure-blood habits she'd been exposed to as a child – it took real effort to push the image of Posy Parkinson and her shrivelled lips leaning over a table with evil in her eyes as she scolded a younger Ginny for laughing too loudly from her brain so that she may focus on the matter at hand.

"You've come from 1999?" Dorea asked, though Hermione must have reiterated that at least three times already before they had sat down. There was scepticism on the faces of the other group, not that they didn't believe us, but that natural scepticism you get when something is so wildly outlandish you can barely imagine it. They couldn't imagine 1999, and therefore it added doubt to their perception of the girls.

Hermione soldiered on, though, in that naturally Gryffindor way of hers. "Yes, 1999. November 28th, or 29th if it was after midnight." Her voice had turned into that detached clinical lecturer's tone she used when tutoring the boys, and her eyes were fastened on Dorea's forehead. If she didn't move them, the poor woman would probably get a complex. Ginny rolled her eyes and took a sip of the elf-made wine she'd opted for when Dorea had taken the drinks orders. It may only be breakfast time, as evidenced by the croissants decorating their makeshift cabinet table, but if she was going to have to relive the past eight hellish years of her life, she would be needing alcohol. Sirius and Lavender also nursed glasses of the red stuff, but everybody else had gone for tea. Fair enough, more for her. "We were out for Lavenders…" Here she bit her lip and glanced down at her hand where it dug into the flesh of Ginny's thigh. Ginny hadn't said anything, but the real reason she could tell that Hermione was so stressed was because she had lost all feeling in that area ten minutes ago.

"My hen do," Lavender spoke up, clear as a bell, though her words had a rusty purr to them that only added to her enviable sex appeal. Remus even jumped when she spoke, as though he'd expected her to have lost that ability and was pleasantly surprised. Honestly, Ginny thought, only Lavender could get sexier after being mauled by a monster. And it was true – though she was obviously tired, her eyes bruised and skin pale, her hair still shone like a gold-spun halo around her head, and she wore a low-cut summer dress that showed off her creamy cleavage to perfection. Even the continuous lines of puckered flesh that stood out against her otherwise unblemished skin seemed to add to the effect rather than detract. She was more striking now. "I was getting married." Sorrow rang through the last sentence, but her strength never wavered as she lifted her eyes to meet Dorea's sympathetic ones defiantly.

The men at the table seemed to fold in on themselves automatically at this news, as though they didn't want to get dragged into her emotional maelstrom. Lily squeezed her hand, Ginny hugged her tighter, and Dorea sent her a sympathetic smile. "I'm very sorry about that, dear," she hushed gently. Turning back to Hermione, she asked, "and why would you be sent back from 1999 to win a war in the seventies?" Because if there was one thing they had all agreed on, it was that the presence of the four girls was to do with the War against Voldemort.

"I assume it would be because the war only ended in 1998," Luna chimed in with a smile, "and we were the ones who won it."

Shocked faces from the other side of the table. Hermione laughed nervously. "I wouldn't say that, Luna…"

"No, I wouldn't either. It was Harry that won the war," Ginny spoke up, sending a glare in Luna's direction.

"Harry, Hermione and Ron." Lavender nodded vehemently.

Dorea seemed to have recovered a little because she leaned forward to push in on their circle. "If it was this Harry who won the war, then why isn't he here instead?"

That stopped the girls in their tracks, and they exchanged puzzled glances. Lavender was the one who said what they were thinking, though. "We don't know," frowning, she crossed her arms. "Maybe we were in the wrong place at the right time, or something. Hermione was supposed to be with the boys that night, and she was the one with the time-turner, so maybe it should have been them but we knocked fate off-course by insisting she attend my party?"

Luna was already shaking her head halfway through this spiel, her eyes practically glowing in her vast amusement. "Not so, Lavender. I Saw this occurrence, and I Saw a coven arriving in the past, not a trio. Even had Hermione gone to Grimmauld Place that night rather than out with us, the outcome would have been the same."

"But how-"

"Sorry to interrupt," came a drawl from the left, and they all swung around to face Sirius Black looking not sorry at all, and entirely unrepentant. "Did you just say Grimmauld Place?"

His icy grey eyes were set on Luna, who was undaunted. "Yes. That's where Ginny lives."

Ginny had to choke back a groan as Sirius' eyes glided over to rest on her. Those eyes, though. She had never been able to resist them, even when she was fourteen they had melted things low in her body in the most pleasant of ways. Having lusted after the man for so long, it was basically habit to let him get to her now, as she felt the old heat rise into her cheeks and her breathing go shallow. Yes, she had lived at Grimmauld Place, though it always felt like a betrayal; wrong to live in the house of the dead man she'd loved with his godson – her fiancée. To have sex in his bedroom, his kitchen, his library (don't tell Hermione). It didn't stop her, of course, because Harry might have suspected something and Sirius had long been dead, but doing it had fed that dark place inside of her, and she hadn't liked that at all. The guilt pooled right next to her lust, and in the confusion it became anger. "Problem, Black?" she snapped in her frostiest tone.

His face hardened even more, if that were possible, until it was an impenetrable aristocratic mask. "Yeah, actually," he hissed, "if you were the good guys, why were you living in the Black Family Home?"

Ginny leaned forward, dislodging Hermione's hand and sending the wine sloshing precariously in her glass. "Maybe I lived with you," she spat back, "ever think of that?"

He snorted. "You're about twelve, love, I think not."

The swirling blackness at the centre of her soul gave a great kick, then, throwing itself forward while she was vulnerable, clawing at the good parts of her and trying to spread. She was panting, she realised, and shaking, and Hermione was watching her worriedly and Luna was half-out of her chair. Swallowing down the defensive fury she felt at his statement – I wasn't twelve, I was fourteen, and I loved you, and you left me – she instead forced out the words 'perhaps we should start at the beginning' in as steady a tone as she could manage, and huddled back in her chair. This time she turned to Lavender for comfort, and the older girl obliged with a hug, even detaching herself from Lily to do so. It was warm, and lovely, but the look on Lavender's face was daunting – she'd have to explain herself later.


 

"Right, good idea, Gin," Hermione said, turning back to the other group, though she'd rather curl up with Ginny. She wasn't the only one having trouble with the ghosts of the past-future, as evidenced by the fact that Hermione had barely moved in the time she'd been sat at the table, not even to drink her tea, which she regretted now that she felt in need of it and it was tepid. Instead she reached out and took a swig of Ginny's wine, closing her eyes to feel the sting of it on her tongue and in her throat. She couldn't stand red wine, thought it tasted like vinegar, but it seemed right. "Well…" Studiously, she avoided looking at Remus.

Clearing her throat, she looked across the table at James Potter, imagining him as Harry, and praying for some sign as to where to start. She wasn't, after all, just dredging up the dark and dingy past. She was illustrating their future. "In July 1980, James Potter and Lily Evans gave birth to a baby boy." Smiling, she glanced down at the glass she'd drained without noticing. "He was my best friend," Hermione continued, slowly, savouring the words. "My only friend, sometimes. We all loved him," here, she gestured at the other three girls, who smiled sadly. Ginny sniffled and buried herself in Lavender's chest. "His name was Harry James Potter.

"In 1979, however, the war against Voldemort had still been going strong, and one night a Seer named Sybill Trelawney attended an interview for a position at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at a Hogsmeade pub." Her eyes were faraway now, and everybody was watching her as she half-whispered the words. James and Lily held each others hands, pale. "Half-way through the interview, when the outlook seemed bleak, Sybill fell into a Seers trance. She spoke a prophecy, then, to Headmaster Dumbledore and one other person, who listened at the door and took it back to his Master – for this prophecy spoke of the downfall of the Lord Voldemort." Here, she turned to Luna, ignoring the flinches of those who belonged to this time, who nodded and smiled.

"I don't know if it'll be the same this time around," she said apologetically, "but where we come from, the prophecy was thus:

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have 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..."

There was a thick tension in the room in the wake of this revelation, which the girls used to gather themselves a little. Ginny left the circle of Lavender's arms and instead slung an arm around her shoulders and summoned the wine-bottle with the other, topping up her glass. Luna swayed slightly, ending with her shoulder pressed against Hermione's, passing on strength for the coming discussion. Hermione wrinkled her nose, sucked in her breath and took a mouthful of her tea, wincing at the sweetness of it before remembering a heating charm and rolling her eyes at herself.

In the end it was Charlus who broke the silence, looking slightly dazed. "Are you telling me that my currently-non-existent grandson is to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"

"Of course not!" Luna smiled, reaching over to put a reassuring hand on his. "We're telling you that he already did."

Chapter Text

Lily wasn't taking this well. James could just tell. They'd never actually spoken of children, it was just assumed that it would happen sometime, but hopefully after they'd had some time to build up their careers and such first. Privately, James had always hoped they would wait until Sirius had settled down and then they could raise their children together, like siblings (brothers, he corrected himself quietly), and he doubted that would have happened in the next year and a half. Sirius' longest relationship had been those three months with Mary McDonald in third year, and that had mostly been hand-holding and stolen kisses behind tapestries, broken when Mary had found him kissing Marlene McKinnon in the Quidditch cloakrooms. It seemed silly now, looking back - they hadn't even been using tongues, for Merlin's sake - but it did seem to set a precedent for Sirius' future relationships.

Glancing around the room, James saw that his parents still seemed to be in shock. Fair enough, he supposed, it wasn't everyday you found out that your grandson had been destined to rid the world of a Dark wizard. There was an odd feeling in James' stomach as he thought about it – something like pride, which was ridiculous, who felt pride for someone who had yet to be born? Though now he was thinking about him being born, stealing glances at Lily's belly, imagining it swollen, her glowing with –

"James Charlus Potter, are you listening to me?" His mothers strident tones cut through his daydreaming. He realized that he was grinning like a lunatic, and tried to hastily rearrange his expression, but the knowing smirk on Lily's face as she rubbed a hand across her flat stomach told him he wasn't fast enough. She was looking happier though, it seemed being on familiar ground – teasing him – was helping her get his bearings.

"I think he's getting broody!" Lily laughed her little bell laugh, causing James to grin again as the sound warmed him inside-out. "It's like Frank and Alice's proposal all over again – just mention a baby and suddenly he can't wait to get his hands on one."

The women sat at the other side of the table displayed an interesting array of emotion, James realised, looking across at them. It had been a joke, of course, but the leader – Hermione – looked pained, as though they had stabbed her, her eyes appearing to flicker to the corner of the room every-so-often, though it was so subtle he might have imagined it. Ginny, the one Sirius didn't seem to like, had guilt written all over her, which had all of James' protective instincts riled. Luna was laughing along with his family, if a little maniacally – it wasn't that funny, after all, but she had her head thrown back and tears streaming from her eyes. Lavender was blank-faced, though she shuffled along a bit, as if to put distance between herself and the cackling blonde. "Oh, Lily, so funny!" Luna sobbed out, "Now I see where Harry got it from!"

James thought she might have continued with this terrifying display of humor but Hermione reached out and clasped her around the wrist, yanking her attention back to her. A single eyebrow was raised, millimetre by excruciating millimetre, and as it rose Luna seemed to compose herself by inches before lounging back in her seat, giving the impression of a satisfied cat, despite her scolding.

"That's impressive," Lily murmured quietly.

"I'll teach you," Hermione said, equally quietly, her eyes flicking to each of the Marauders in turn before returning to Lily. They exchanged looks filled with understanding – the 'poor women responsible for corralling their unruly lads' look that Dorea wore at the holidays, and Marlene used try to use to express her displeasure before she wandered off to find trouble to cause elsewhere (it didn't work for Marlene, as she had a habit of disappearing just before trouble arrived, and therefore never had to take responsibility for anything). James would have been offended if he wasn't so proud of his mischief-making abilities.

"That's all very well and good, Miss Granger," Dorea drawled from her position at the centre of the table, leading their family, as she always had done. She was a force to be reckoned with, Dorea Potter neé Black. "Though I believe there was a story you were telling us."

"Not a story, Mrs Potter, but the truth. Our history, actually." Hermione took a deep breath, and closed her eyes for a second, before returning her gaze to a spot just to the left of Dorea's head. "Though I suppose you could look at it as the story of Harry Potter, if you like.

"It's difficult to listen to, I must warn you now. Nobody here has a happy ending, in our-" she flicked her eyes to Ginny, who twitched her lips, and sighed. "-version of the future," she continued through gritted teeth. "Though we won the war, it wasn't without more than our fair share of loss."

There! James couldn't have possibly made it up. She had most definitely looked away then, seemingly suffering some sort of great grief. James glanced over to see Remus – his Remus, sat in a chair slightly pulled out from the table, stiff with the aches and pains and overwhelming sensation that followed a bad moon. The poor man was probably only just hanging in there. They'd have to see how much he actually took in later.

"Ginny and Luna think that's why we're here – to save you, and change the outcome – so I hope that by telling you all of this it stops it from happening. All the same, though, please be prepared for an uncomfortable few hours." Hermione smiled here, though it was such a weak, pitiful thing that it might have been rather better if he had just left it off. She reminded James of his first tutor, a woman called Elia his mum had hired from the local village, who had been hopelessly in love with Father Grissom from the church. Elia had been a lovely woman, kind and smart, but always haunted by her lost love. It was not a life he would wish on anyone, as all the village knew and pitied her, but she could not stop. James felt warmer towards the new woman for all of this, and wondered how he could help her avoid that fate.

"Harry was, by your own accounts, a happy, loving child for his first year of life. He learned quickly, was walking and running even faster than that. His first word, I'm told, was…" she frowned. "That hardly matters, please excuse me for getting carried away..." tears began to slip from her wide eyes, but she didn't seem to notice. Next to him, Lily reached across to wrap an arm around his waist, as though to prepare herself for what was to come, some mysterious womanly instinct telling her it was about to get bad. He enfolded her in his arms without thought, though his attention was fixed on Hermione Granger and her terrible, terrible tale.

"Harry was raised this year in a secret-kept location, with only Dumbledore, Lily, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter knowing the location. I hear that you visited often, Sirius, and Remus also, though less frequently as Dumbledore had you out on secret missions across the UK. He forbade you from telling anybody of what you were doing, though, which…" She coughed, to clear her throat, and though she seemed to be talking to each of them in turn her eyes didn't stray from their position. It was like she wasn't even there.

Ginny picked up the story here, her hands reaching out to grasp Hermione's. "You know what it's like now. There's a spy in the Order, everybody is under suspicion. Who can you trust but those closest to you, but when they start pulling away, you panic. And what better scapegoat than a dark creature, of course? Everybody latches onto that, the most probable answer." She did look at Remus then, whose eyes were wide with panic and pain.

"I would never-"

"I know," she replied, tiredly, as though she had had this discussion before. She gave him a cheeky smile, though, with such warmth that it looked like Remus was a close friend of hers, full of the love of people who have known each other for years rather than hours. Remus seemed taken aback by her blatant show of affection and for James it suddenly hammered home the fact that these people did know them, after all, and they were in fact from the future, sent back to save them. Another blow was struck when he realised what this meant for him, and Lily – that these people grew up with his son, lived in Sirius' house, knew Remus so very well, and yet looked stunned by him, dazed by Lily, never mentioned the parents of their friend. Frozen by terror, he listened on. "So, you were a tight knit group, but even inside of your bubble tensions were rising, Remus was far away, Peter was distant, Sirius was…" She stopped there, frowned, then let out a little laugh. "A model godfather, if I'm honest.

"Anyway, so you might understand the climate of the situation. Because there is a spy in the Order, and he committed a most despicable crime."

Hermione took back over here, possibly because she had collected herself, possibly because Ginny was starting to sound like the narrator of a bad crime novel. Whatever the reason, she carried on. "Halloween, 1981, Voldemort landed in Godric's Hollow, thinking that Harry was the prophecy child, and gained access to the Potter cottage. Once inside, he killed you, James, as you defended Lily and Harry to give them time to escape. Once you had fallen, he went after Harry.

"Lily was given a choice – to step aside and be spared, or to die. Lily chose to die to save her son, but not before she had worked some ancient, powerful magics. She used the love from this sacrifice to protect her son from Voldemort, blood magic, potent stuff. Voldemort cast the killing curse, and it rebounded upon him, and his body was obliterated until all that was left was a shade. To the outside world, Voldemort had been defeated by an infant boy." Her large, brown orbs blinked once, twice. "Harry James Potter, the boy who lived."

James remembered that moment for the rest of his life. The moment his heart broke, so painfully he could almost hear it. From the outside, you could hardly have told, for he neither flinched nor cried, but inside he felt it tear itself apart and remake itself. A new determination bloomed from its ashes, a fierceness born of the lion that was his House's emblem, and took over him without fight. It took only a half second, but after he felt like a new man.

Feeling his heart beat again as though it were the first time, he laid a kiss on Lily's head where she quietly cried against his chest – stoic, the tears just sliding out as though there would be no stop to it. "That's not the end."

"No." Hermione nodded. "It was the beginning."


"Sirius Black arrived at the house shortly after, to see a smouldering wreckage where you had once lived. He ran in, and found a sequence of bodies – fallen Death Eaters, James, then Lily. Amongst the wreckage was little Harry, crying and confused. Sirius would have taken him to safety, I think, but Hagrid arrived soon after and took him away. 'The 'eadmaster ordered me to fetch 'im', was what he said, and so Sirius in his blind grief gave him away without a fight. Then Sirius realized what had led to this moment – who the traitor had been, who the spy was – and gave his motorbike to Hagrid also, saying that he wouldn't be needing it. Later, this whole scene was recognised as ill-advised." Hermione sent a stern look to Sirius, who didn't seem to notice, so immersed was he in her tale. She barely cared, for she was in her element here. Scolding was something she could easily do, without feeling too much.

"He confronted the traitor, who blew up a Muggle street, killing twelve and allowing himself to escape. All that remained behind was a finger, which Aurors on the scene later used as evidence to imprison Sirius for the murders."

There was a breath, during which James was shell-shocked and Dorea's eyes filled with tears. Charlus' hand flew reflexively to Sirius' shoulder, but Sirius himself had pasted an impassive expression on his face. "Go on," he encouraged without really moving his lips. Ginny, Luna and Lavender all seemed to brace themselves here, knowing what was coming next, and thanking the Gods that Hermione was there to do it for them. A bit cowardly of them, they knew, but it was part of Hermione's strength that she would always be the bearer of bad news, just as Ginny would always be the first of them to a fight and Lavender would be the first to try new things. It didn't occur to them that Hermione's responsibility here was rather less gratifying than their own.

Hermione sucked in a deep breath. "I have to tell you, and I know it will come as quite a shock, but… Peter Pettigrew was the traitor."

"No!" James cried, then looked suddenly surprised, as though he couldn't believe it had been him that made that noise.

Sirius growled deep in his chest. "You're lying." He gritted out. "You must be lying."

Ginny let out a sob and took Hermione's hand. "I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth. He confessed to me himself." Hermione gave a full-body shiver, then looked into Dorea's eyes, for they were the only clear ones at the table. Everybody else on their side seemed to have been seized by protective fury, and James was still hyperventilating in the background. Remus had joined in with the low growling, now, and Lily looked furious. "He was a Death Eater, Mrs Potter, one of Voldemort's most faithful. I have the memories, if you need them."

"Liar! Peter would never do that, he would never hurt James," Sirius was hissing.

Dorea looked at her two sons, not both birthed from her body but loved just the same, and then back at the stranger standing across the table. This was the problem with Fate, she thought to herself. You need an awful lot of faith in it when it moves you into its path, or it can tear you apart. Her family was heartbroken, and she could tell that this was hardly the worst revelation to come that day. She herself had never been too fond of Peter Pettigrew; who was quiet as Remus in his way but as prideful and brash as Sirius in his worst moments. She'd watched him cower behind the bigger boys for seven years, egging them on in their escapades, almost getting poor Severus Snape killed, Sirius imprisoned, James infected and Remus expelled. No, she didn't care for the boy, but it was a big jump from being a sneaky little brat to being a Death Eater, torturer, murderer, and worse.

Hermione's eyes, they were so sincere, though. Luna was serene in her honesty. Lavender and Ginny had shrank back a bit in the boys anger, but didn't back down.

"That would be most helpful, my dear." Dorea nodded, ignoring the tantrums her boys were throwing. Lily nodded along from behind James as she stroked his arm in the hopes of calming him down. "Perhaps we should adjourn to the Study, just you and I, so that I can ensure there is no tampering, and then we can show some things around."

Hermione let out a great sigh of relief and smiled, a true smile this time, her eyes sparkling as she relaxed. Standing from her chair, she indicated the door. "After you."

Dorea nodded, and patted James on the shoulder. "Don't you worry, my boy," she murmured so that only he could hear her. "We'll get to the bottom of this."

Chapter Text

 


They were submerged in silvery liquid, the scene swimming in front of them as it fought to coalesce into something recognizable. Dorea glanced around, recognizing dirty floorboards and haphazard wooden walls, boarded up windows and ratty curtains. Hermione had seated herself on the floor already as though all of her energy had disappeared, and was waiting for Dorea to get her bearings before beginning the memory.

"This is the Shrieking Shack, you say?" Dorea asked in that smooth, cultured voice of hers.

"Where Remus spends his transformations, yes," Hermione responded, her eyes flicking over the scene. It was stuck at the point that Harry had kicked the door open, him stood there looking comical with one leg raised and a fierce look he hadn't yet perfected on his youthful features. Hermione herself stood slightly behind him, mid-flinch at the racket he was causing. Ron was mid-scramble on the bed, and Sirius was in the corner. Oh, Sirius.

"When was this?" She was inspecting Sirius' spectral form, his ragged prison robes, the lines on his face and his knotted overgrown hair. His eyes held that madness that Hermione was accustomed to in him, none of the clarity of this new Sirius, who in turn had none of the frustration and manic humour she had eventually gotten so fond of.

"1994."

Dorea's mouth fell open wide in shock. "What?" She demanded, getting even closer to the frozen figure. "But he's only thirty-three!"

"Twelve years in Azkaban, Mrs Potter," Hermione told her, gently, moving up from her position to touch her arm. "He wasn't the Sirius you raised anymore."

There was a grateful glance exchanged when Hermione acknowledged Dorea's motherly concern and affection for the boy, and then they both stood back. Dorea pointed at the figures in the door. "You and…"

"Harry Potter,"

"My grandson." She nodded. "I can see James in him, and dear Charlus. He got the Potter hair, I see," she let out a little chuckle. "Bane of my existence, that Potter hair."

Hermione smiled, and drew Dorea back to a safe observation point. "Mine, too. You'd think he didn't own a comb."

They settled in slightly, and Hermione flicked her wand. Motion returned to the world.

Harry and the other Hermione dashed over to the bed on which Ron lay, Crookshanks next to him looking relaxed.

"Ron – are you OK?"

"Where's the dog?"

"Not a dog," Ron moaned, the pain in his voice sending prickles down the older Hermione's spine. "Harry, it's a trap-

"What –"

"He's the dog … he's an Animagus …"

Harry spun around, young Hermione on his tail. The door swung closed to reveal Sirius Black to the rest of the room, and the trio all tensed with fear. "Expelliarmus!" The wands swung through the air from their owners to Sirius' hand, and he took a step closer.

"My goodness," Dorea muttered from next to Hermione. "He looks unhinged." Hermione stifled a startled laugh at her cavalier attitude – she could see from the lines of tension on Dorea's face that she wasn't as unaffected as she made out, but it only seemed polite to play along with the charade. It was so very British of her, though, to take this in stride and carry on as though it was just one of those things. Hermione would need to ask her for tips later.

"I thought you'd come and help your friend," Sirius' voice came out, wretched and raspy, and Hermione remembered all over again her feelings when she'd first heard that – pity being foremost, then anger at herself for pitying a murderer. She'd been so very conflicted, and it showed on the young one's face. "Your father would have done the same for me. Brave for you, not to run for a teacher. I'm grateful… it will make everything much easier…"

"He didn't do a very good job of sounding innocent," Dorea said. "But then that must be simply habit, for in my experience he never had been before."

It seemed to help her to talk it through, so Hermione let her, as it distracted her from the pain of the memory. It was like she was living it all over again from the outside – watching Harry lunge, herself and Ron catch her, Ron's moan of pain even as he stood up for Harry and demanded that this strange man kill him first. From this angle, and this position of spectator, she could notice things she hadn't before – the concern and guilt in Sirius' eyes as he told Ron to lie down, regretting hurting the boy. The hatred that crossed his face when he looked at Ron's arms – where Peter hid.

"There'll only be one murder here tonight," Sirius grinned.

"Why's that?" Harry struggled against the two holding him back to get to Sirius. "Didn't care last time, did you? Didn't mind slaughtering all those Muggles to get at Pettigrew … what's the matter, gone soft in Azkaban?" He ignored Hermione's whimpers and put on a burst of strength. "HE KILLED MY MUM AND DAD!"

And then there was a fight, if you could call it that, with Hermione screaming and Ron yelling from the sidelines. Harry pounced on Sirius, and Dorea tensed as though she could help but wasn't sure exactly who needed it. "Stop it," she was whispering, as though she knew they couldn't hear but needed to say it anyway. "Stop it, stop it, stop it…" Now Sirius' hands had reached Harry's throat, and they were both growling, and Sirius hissed words at him that they couldn't hear properly. Hermione watched herself cross the room, determination in her features, and reel back a leg, and Ron dove out of nowhere-

Harry was free, and Crookshanks was fighting him now, as Hermione and Ron struggled to detain the older man. Harry reached his wand and turned on the others. Dorea's nails were digging into Hermione's arm, just above her scar, and she felt them cut through the fabric and into the skin like butter. "Get out of the way!" Harry screamed, and the other two took their wands and retreated to the bed. Harry stood over Sirius' broken, shrivelled body like a conqueror, wand directed at his heart.

"Going to kill me, Harry?" Sirius whispered.

Dorea was crying, no longer being flippant, her eyes glued to the scene. "You killed my parents," Harry's voice shook, but the rest of him was solid.

"I don't deny it," Sirius said, and Dorea shook uncontrollably. "But if you knew the whole story -"

"The whole story?" Harry was shouting, and Hermione and Ron exchanged concerned glances. Dorea's eyes were riveted to the scene, as though it was her favourite film and she knew that the scene coming up was unbearably tragic, but she had to watch it anyway. "You sold them to Voldemort, that's all I need to know!"

"You've got to listen to me," Sirius said, and there was an undeniable note of urgency in his voice now. "You'll regret it if you don't … you don't understand …"

"I understand a lot better than you think," said Harry, and his voice shook more than ever. "You never heard her, did you? My mum … trying to stop Voldemort killing me … and you did that … you did it …"

Dorea gasped, falling to one side until Hermione had to lunge to prevent her hitting the floor. "Lily?" She asked, and Hermione nodded. Dorea was crying now, the tears forging tracks through her make-up, setting the facets of the powder to twinkling in the low light, reminding Hermione of the images of the angels' fall from grace she'd seen in her Bible as a child. Sobs were catching in Dorea's chest as she turned her head back to the scene, at Harry's broken-hearted fury, at Sirius' bedraggled state, at Ron's state of injury – she was too much a mother to be able to stand by as a child was in pain, Dorea, and she suffered that inability to help now. Hermione was smiling fondly, if a bit sadly, at the ensuing scene – Sirius attempting to dislodge Crookshanks from his chest to no avail, as the protective Kneazle glared Harry down.

Slowly, Harry was raising his wand, face conflicted and hurting. There was movement down below, and suddenly, Hermione was shouting – "WE'RE UP HERE! WE'RE UP HERE – SIRIUS BLACK – QUICK!"

Footsteps thundered up the stairs, and the door of the room burst open in a shower of red sparks. Remus hurtled into the room – Professor Lupin, as he was then, ragged robes and everything – his wand raised and ready. His eyes flickered over Ron, lying on the floor, over Hermione, cowering next to the door, to Harry, standing there with his wand covering Sirius, and then to Sirius himself, crumpled and bleeding at Harry's feet. Dorea made an anxious grab for Hermione's hand as Lupin shouted, "Expelliarmus!"

Wands flew to Remus from every direction – Harry's from his hand, the two Hermione held – and Remus caught them all deftly before moving to stare at Sirius, who was still protected by Crookshanks. Then Remus spoke in a voice that shook with supressed emotion: "Where is he, Sirius?"

All three of the children's heads whipped to look at Remus in confusion, but Sirius' remained the same. For a few seconds, he didn't move at all. Then, very slowly, he raised his empty hand, and pointed straight at Ron. Ron's face was a mask of bewilderment, and Hermione and Harry showed the same as they looked back at him. The older Hermione, where she lay on the floor with Dorea, was transfixed. Remus was already talking again, slowly, staring down at Sirius. "… why hasn't he shown himself before now? Unless –" His eyes widened, and Dorea's head was suddenly dislodged by Hermione's fierce nodding, as though she was egging Remus on towards his conclusion. Dorea frowned up, but she couldn't possibly understand that for Hermione this was the first time she'd remembered this scene, properly, since it happened. It had been too traumatising at the time, but now she was simply frustrated by the slow pace of it. She wanted Remus to figure it out, Sirius to shout his innocence, Pettigrew to show, and them all to be safe. If they had done this twenty minutes faster, they would all have been safe, she remembered.

And then she flinched, colouring, as she recalled what happens next.

" – unless he was the one … unless you switched … without telling me?"

Sirius nodded.

"Professor Lupin," Harry interrupted loudly. Hermione stifled a chuckle at Dorea's shocked twitch. "What's going-?"

Remus walked to Sirius' side, seized his hand, and pulled him to his feet so that Crookshanks fell to the floor, and embraced Sirius like a brother.

Hermione could pinpoint the exact moment the betrayal became real for her younger self.

"I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" Hermione screamed, at the exact moment the older Hermione whispered "forgive me," into Dorea's ear. The older woman glanced up at her war-worn companion and then back at the scene, without a word or a movement to indicate that she might. Remus had let go of Sirius and was turned to Hermione, who was on her feet now and pointing at Remus, wild-eyed. Something flickered in Remus' eyes, and he raised his hands placatingly. "You – you -"

"Hermione-"

"-you and him!"

"Hermione, calm down -"

"I didn't tell anyone!" Hermione shrieked. "I've been covering up for you -"

"Hermione, listen to me, please!" Remus was shouting. "I can explain -"

But Hermione was too far gone, and she was enraged now, with Harry right beside her. The older Hermione shifted away from Dorea, guilt and shame welling up inside of her at the look on her own face, at Remus' expression. "I trusted you," Harry shouted, in that terrifyingly broken voice he had, "and all the time you've been his friend!"

It was worse watching the scene as an adult, Hermione realized, and not just because she was in essence watching children risk their lives when they should by rights be in bed, asleep and untroubled. Of course, she could see all of their teenage heartbreak, their anger, their desperation. They had only been children, to be shoved into such situations – she remembered feeling important, and proud, when all of this had occurred originally. Not at the precise moment they had been watching, of course, but later, when they were running around with the time-turner, saving lives. She remembered thinking that perhaps this had been what she was born to do; to look after Harry, and save lives as best she could. When had she lost that determination, that will, she wondered now. When had she turned from this feisty, righteous child into a pale image of a woman who was too scared of breaking the rules and getting hurt to do what was right? She was older now, and smarter, but she'd lost the purity of purpose she'd had in those younger years. She looked up into Remus' scarred face and remembered the younger man sat down the hall, tired but living, alive. How could she think to let him suffer this again, die again? She saw Sirius, the ravages of twelve years of Azkaban on his face, and the wave of shame crashed down over her, heating her skin until it felt like it would crawl off. Gods, how could she be so selfish?

"You're wrong," Remus was explaining, his voice level but fevered. "I haven't been Sirius' friend for twelve years, but I am now… let me explain…"

"NO!" Hermione screamed, and her older self flinched back, stuck in her own spiral now, of shame and guilt and self-loathing. Dorea glanced back at her, fire in her eyes. "Harry, don't trust him, he's been helping Black get into the castle, he wants you dead too – he's a werewolf!"

Famous last words, Hermione thought, as she watched Dorea's perfectly sculpted eyebrows rise up to rest in her fringe.

There was a ringing silence. Everyone's eyes were now on Remus, who looked remarkably calm, although rather pale.

"Not at all up to your usual standard, Hermione," he said. His eyes held a chastisement she'd thought she'd imagined the first time around, as though she'd disappointed him in some unfathomable way. "Only one out of three, I'm afraid. I have not been helping Sirius get into the castle and I certainly don't want Harry dead …" An odd shiver passed over his face. "But I won't deny that I am a werewolf."

Ron made a valiant attempt to get up again, but fell back with a whimper of pain. Remus made towards him, looking concerned, but Ron gasped, "Get away from me, werewolf!"

Remus stopped dead. Dorea let out a whimper at the blankness of his face. He turned to Hermione and said, "How long have you known?"

"Ages," Hermione whispered. "Since I did Professor Snape's essay…"

"He'll be delighted," said Remus coolly. Both Hermione's winced, this time – the younger because she was so used to being adored and doted upon by her teachers that this attitude from anyone but Snape was unaccustomed, and the older because she hated to see that disdain set towards her on such a kind and gentle face. Both regretted causing him pain. "He set that essay hoping someone would realise what my symptoms meant. Did you check the Lunar chart and realise that I was always ill at the full moon? Or did you realise that the Boggart changed into the moon when it saw me?"

"Both," Hermione said quietly.

Remus forced a laugh.

"You're the cleverest witch of your age I've ever met, Hermione." His words were an empty echo of the fondness he would later hold for her.

Dorea turned to Hermione, her face pale. "You…" she whispered.

"I know," Hermione agreed, features set. "I don't think he ever really forgave me for that."

Harry was shouting behind them, but they were in their own bubble now. "You were, what, fourteen?"

"Yes."

"I don't suppose I can hold a grudge against you for that now," Dorea said slowly, watching Hermione's face. "That's assuming that you learned your lesson."

Affronted, Hermione huffed. She may have been in the wrong, and she could accept that, but she still had her pride. "Of course I did!" She snapped back, then reeled it in when Dorea looked less than impressed. "I adore Remus. I did then," she nodded to where he had begun monologuing behind them, all overgrown hair and scars and patchwork robes, "and I did four years later, too. I still do now, if you must know." She tilted her chin up stubbornly. "I've never regretted anything more than this mistake, Mrs Potter. If I'd known then what I know now, I would never have opened my mouth. But I was a child, and I did, and I cannot undo that."

"I've seen you with Lavender – you care about her, but you're distant. How do I know you don't still have these prejudices? How do I know you're not a danger to my boy?"

"I mean no offence, Mrs Potter," Hermione replied icily, "but I show you this memory of my own free will, in order to help Remus. You questioning my motives will not help either us, nor them. I volunteered for this, and I'm doing it. My problems with Lavender are with Lavender, not her lycanthropy, and they're really none of your concern either way."

"I have to protect my boys."

"So do I!" Hermione hissed back. "I have to protect everyone, whether I bloody want to or not! You don't have to believe me, but I will tell you this once – nobody here wants harm to come to Remus less than I do. Nobody wants Harry to have a normal life more than I do. And nobody, but nobody, knows the War like I do, so you'll just have to deal with it!"

She folded her arms across her chest, aware that she was pouting like a child but unbothered enough to do nothing about it. Dorea watched her calculatingly for a few more minutes, and then turned back to the scene.

Harry had visibly warmed towards the two men, now, and Hermione had left her corner to listen more intently. She looked as if she'd like to be making notes, for Professor Lupin always had given a good lecture, and he's bewitched her again. Ron was still whimpering softly, not so quick to warm to the would-be murderers of his treasured pet rat. "Severus was very interested in where I went every month," Remus was telling them now, rolling his eyes at Sirius' grumpy antics behind him. "We were in the same year, you know, and we – er – didn't like each other very much." Dorea and Hermione snorted in unison, then blushed as they glanced at each other coldly. "He especially disliked James. Jealous, I think, of James's talent on the Quidditch Pitch … anyway, Snape had seen me crossing the grounds with Madam Pomfrey one evening as she led me toward the Whomping Willow to transform. Sirius thought it would be - er - amusing, ("all this editing," Dorea whispered, chuckling quietly to herself. Hermione privately agreed – how he got away with hiding his Lycanthropy for so long with such abysmal lying skills, she didn't know) to tell Snape all he had to do was prod the knot on the tree trunk with a long stick, and he'd be able to get in after me. Well, of course, Snape tried it - if he'd got as far as this house, he'd have met a fully grown werewolf - but your father, who'd heard what Sirius had done, went after Snape and pulled him back, at great risk to his life ... Snape glimpsed me, though, at the end of the tunnel. He was forbidden by Dumbledore to tell anybody, but from that time on he knew what I was ..."

"So that's why Snape doesn't like you," said Harry slowly, "because he thought you were in on the joke?"

"That's right," sneered a cold voice from the wall behind Lupin. Severus Snape was pulling off the Invisibility Cloak, his wand pointing directly at Lupin.

"That's James'!" Dorea gasped in outrage. "You get your filthy paws off of my family heirloom, Snape!" James' attitude was, just like that, no longer a mystery.

"I found this at the base of the Whomping Willow," said Snape, throwing the cloak aside, careful to keep this wand pointing directly at Remus's chest. "Very useful, Potter, I thank you..."

Snape was slightly breathless, but his face was full of suppressed triumph. "You're wondering, perhaps, how I knew you were here?" he said, his eyes glittering. "I've just been to your office, Lupin. You forgot to take your potion tonight, so I took a gobletful along. And very lucky I did...lucky for me, I mean. Lying on your desk was a certain map. One glance at it told me all I needed to know. I saw you running along this passageway and out of sight."

"Severus -" Remus began, but Snape overrode him.

"I've told the headmaster again and again that you're helping your old friend Black into the castle, Lupin, and here's the proof. Not even I dreamed you would have the nerve to use this old place as your hideout -"

"Severus, you're making a mistake," said Remus urgently. "You haven't heard everything - I can explain - Sirius is not here to kill Harry -"

"Two more for Azkaban tonight," said Snape, his eyes now gleaming fanatically. "I shall be interested to see how Dumbledore takes this...He was quite convinced you were harmless, you know, Lupin...a tame werewolf -"

"You fool," said Remus softly. "Is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back inside Azkaban?"

Cords suddenly burst from the tip of Snape's wand, twining around Remus's limbs, gagging him neatly. Hermione let out a whimper of protest, but Dore was turning purple. When Sirius started to attack and was stopped, she let out a growl.

"Give me a reason," Snape whispered. "Give me a reason to do it, and I swear I will."

Black stopped dead. It would have been impossible to say which face showed more hatred.

Ron was attempting to desperately hold onto Scabbers, and Harry looked more confused than ever. Hermione, however, took an uncertain step toward Snape and said, in a very breathless voice, "Professor Snape - it wouldn't hurt to hear what they've got to say, w-would it?"

Dorea glanced back at the older version. "Hmph," was all she said, though a new glimmer of respect was shining in eyes that were almost black with supressed anger.

"Miss Granger, you are already facing suspension from this school," Snape spat. "You, Potter, and Weasley are out-of-bounds, in the company of a convicted murderer and a werewolf. For once in your life, hold your tongue."

"But if - if there was a mistake -"

"KEEP QUIET, YOU STUPID GIRL!" Snape shouted, looking suddenly quite deranged. "DON'T TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!" A few sparks shot out of the end of his wand, which was still pointed at Sirius's face. Hermione fell silent.

"Vengeance is very sweet," Snape breathed at Sirius. "How I hoped I would be the one to catch you..."

"The joke's on you again, Severus," Sirius snarled. "As long as this boy brings his rat up to the castle" - he jerked his head at Ron - "I'll come quietly..."

"Up to the castle?" said Snape silkily. "I don't think we need to go that far. All I have to do is call the Dementors once we get out of the Willow. They'll be very pleased to see you, Black...pleased enough to give you a little kiss, I daresay...I -"

"You prick!" Dorea shouted, all of a sudden.

What little color there was in Sirius's face left it.

"You -you've got to hear me out," he croaked. "The rat - look at the rat -"

"Come on, all of you," he said. He clicked his fingers, and the ends of the cords that bound Remus flew to his hands. "I'll drag the werewolf. Perhaps the Dementors will have a kiss for him too -"

Harry was suddenly by the door, blocking them in. Snape narrowed his eyes menacingly. "Get out of the way, Potter, you're in enough trouble already," snarled Snape. "If I hadn't been here to save your skin-"

"Professor Lupin could have killed me about a hundred times this year," Harry said. "I've been alone with him loads of times, having defense lessons against the Dementors. If he was helping Black, why didn't he just finish me off then?"

"Don't ask me to fathom the way a werewolf's mind works," hissed Snape. "Get out of the way, Potter."

"YOU'RE PATHETIC!" Harry yelled. "JUST BECAUSE THEY MADE A FOOL OF YOU AT SCHOOL YOU WON'T EVEN LISTEN -"

"SILENCE! I WILL NOT BE SPOKEN TO LIKE THAT!" Snape shrieked, looking madder than ever. Dorea was practically vibrating out of her skin at this point, itching to take a swing at the man that was so abusing her grandson, and it only got worse with his next words: "Like father, like son, Potter! I have just saved your neck; you should be thanking me on bended knee! You would have been well served if he'd killed you! You'd have died like your father, too arrogant to believe you might be mistaken in Black - now get out of the way, or I will make you. GET OUT OF THE WAY, POTTER!"

"Expelliarmus!" Voices suddenly chorused. There was a blast that made the door rattle on its hinges; Snape was lifted off his feet and slammed into the wall, then slid down it to the floor, a trickle of blood oozing from under his hair. Snape's wand soared in a high arc and landed on the bed next to Crookshanks.

"You shouldn't have done that," said Sirius, looking at Harry.

"You should have left him to me..."

"We attacked a teacher...We attacked a teacher..." Hermione whimpered, staring at the lifeless Snape with frightened eyes. "Oh, we're going to be in so much trouble -"

At the same time, Dorea was looking at Hermione with new pride. "You attacked a teacher," she echoed. Hermione nodded tiredly, and Dorea's hand was back on her arm. The two women huddled together to watch the scene play out with unspoken forgiveness humming between them.

Sirius bent down quickly and untied Remus, who straightened up, rubbing his arms where the ropes had cut into them.

"Thank you, Harry," he said.

"I'm still not saying I believe you," he told Remus.

"Then it's time we offered you some proof," said Remus. "You, boy - give me Peter, please. Now."

Ron clutched Scabbers closer to his chest.

"Come off it," he said weakly. "Are you trying to say he broke out of Azkaban just to get his hands on Scabbers? I mean..." He looked up at Harry and Hermione for support, "Okay, say Pettigrew could turn into a rat - there are millions of rats - how's he supposed to know which one he is after if he was locked up in Azkaban?"

"You know, Sirius, that's a fair question," said Remus, turning to Sirius and frowning slightly. "How did you find out where he was?"

Sirius pulled a crumpled piece of newspaper from his robes with one clawed hand, and smoothed it out to hand to the others. It was the photograph of Ron and his family that had appeared in the Daily Prophet the previous summer, and there, on Ron's shoulder, was Scabbers.

"How did you get this?" Remus asked Sirius, thunderstruck.

"Fudge," said Sirius. "When he came to inspect Azkaban last year, he gave me his paper. And there was Peter, on the front page on this boy's shoulder...I knew him at once...how many times had I seen him transform? And the caption said the boy would be going back to Hogwarts...to where Harry was..."

"My God," said Remus softly, staring from Scabbers to the picture in the paper and back again. "His front paw..."

"What about it?" said Ron defiantly.

"He's got a toe missing," said Sirius.

"Of course," Remus breathed. "So simple...so brilliant...he cut it off himself?"

"Just before he transformed," said Sirius. "When I cornered him, he yelled for the whole street to hear that I'd betrayed Lily and James. Then, before I could curse him, he blew apart the street with the wand behind his back, killed everyone within twenty feet of himself - and sped down into the sewer with the other rats..."

"Didn't you ever hear, Ron?" said Remus. "The biggest bit of Peter they found was his finger."

"Look, Scabbers probably had a fight with another rat or something! He's been in my family for ages, right -"

"Twelve years, in fact," said Remus. "Didn't you ever wonder why he was living so long?"

"We - we've been taking good care of him!" said Ron.

"Not looking too good at the moment, though, is he?" said Remus. "I'd guess he's been losing weight ever since he heard Sirius was on the loose again..."

"He's been scared of that mad cat!" said Ron, nodding toward Crookshanks, who was still purring on the bed.

"This cat isn't mad," said Sirius hoarsely. He reached out a bony hand and stroked Crookshanks's fluffy head. "He's the most intelligent of his kind I've ever met. He recognized Peter for what he was right away. And when he met me, he knew I was no dog. It was a while before he trusted me...Finally, I managed to communicate to him what I was after, and he's been helping me..."

"What do you mean?" breathed Hermione.

"He tried to bring Peter to me, but couldn't...so he stole the passwords into Gryffindor Tower for me...As I understand it, he took them from a boy's bedside table..."

"But Peter got wind of what was going on and ran for it." croaked Sirius. "This cat - Crookshanks, did you call him? - told me Peter had left blood on the sheets...I supposed he bit himself...Well, faking his own death had worked once."

"And why did he fake his death?" Harry said furiously. "Because he knew you were about to kill him like you killed my parents!"

"No," said Lupin, "Harry-"

"And now you've come to finish him off!"

"Yes, I have," said Sirius, with an evil look at Scabbers. Dorea let out a groan and shook her head, now looking rather amused. Hermione thought she'd heard her murmur 'silly boy', but she might have been mistaken.

"Then I should've let Snape take you!" Harry shouted.

"Harry," said Remus hurriedly, "don't you see? All this time we've thought Sirius betrayed your parents, and Peter tracked him down - but it was the other way around, don't you see? Peter betrayed your mother and father - Sirius tracked Peter down -"

"THAT'S NOT TRUE!" Harry yelled. "HE WAS THEIR SECRET-KEEPER! HE SAID SO BEFORE YOU TURNED UP. HE SAID HE KILLED THEM!"

He was pointing at Sirius, who shook his head slowly; the sunken eyes were suddenly over bright.

"Harry...I as good as killed them," he croaked. "I persuaded Lily and James to change to Peter at the last moment, persuaded them to use him as Secret-Keeper instead of me...I'm to blame, I know it...The night they died, I'd arranged to check on Peter, make sure he was still safe, but when I arrived at his hiding place, he'd gone. Yet there was no sign of a struggle. It didn't feel right. I was scared. I set out for your parents' house straight away. And when I saw their house, destroyed, and their bodies...I realized what Peter must've done...what I'd done..." His voice broke. He turned away.

"Enough of this," said Remus, and there was a steely note in his voice. "There's one certain way to prove what really happened. Ron, give me that rat."

"What are you going to do with him if I give him to you?" Ron asked Remus tensely.

"Force him to show himself," said Remus. "If he really is a rat, it won't hurt him."

Ron hesitated. Then at long last, he held out Scabbers and Remus took him. Scabbers began to squeak without stopping, twisting and turning, his tiny black eyes bulging in his head. "Ready, Sirius?" said Remus.

Sirius had already retrieved Snape's wand from the bed. He approached Remus and the struggling rat, and his wet eyes suddenly seemed to be burning in his face.

"Together?" he said quietly.

"I think so", said Remus, holding Scabbers tightly in one hand and his wand in the other. "On the count of three. One - two - THREE!"

A flash of blue-white light erupted from both wands; for a moment, Scabbers was frozen in midair, his small gray form twisting madly - Ron yelled - the rat fell and hit the floor. There was another blinding flash of light and then -

A head was shooting upward from the ground; limbs were sprouting; a moment later, a man was standing where Scabbers had been, cringing and wringing his hands. Crookshanks was spitting and snarling on the bed; the hair on his back was standing up. Dorea was having an amusingly similar reaction.

He didn't look very good, probably worse than Hermione had remembered, balding and shrunken and grubby. He hyperventilated madly.

"Well, hello, Peter," said Remus pleasantly, as though rats frequently erupted into old school friends around him. "Long time, no see."

"S-Sirius...R-Remus..." Even Pettigrew's voice was squeaky. Again, his eyes darted toward the door. "My friends...my old friends..."

Sirius's wand arm rose, but Remus seized him around the wrist, gave him a warning took, then turned again to Pettigrew, his voice light and casual.

"We've been having a little chat, Peter, about what happened the night Lily and James died. You might have missed the finer points while you were squeaking around down there on the bed –"

"Remus," gasped Pettigrew, sweating now, "you don't believe him, do you...? He tried to kill me, Remus..."

"So we've heard," said Remus, more coldly. "I'd like to clear up one or two little matters with you, Peter, if you'll be so -"

"He's come to try and kill me again!" Pettigrew squeaked suddenly, pointing at Sirius with his middle finger. "He killed Lily and James and now he's going to kill me too...You've got to help me, Remus..."

"No one's going to try and kill you until we've sorted a few things out," said Remus.

"Sorted things out?" squealed Pettigrew, looking wildly about him once more, eyes taking in the boarded windows and, again, the only door. "I knew he'd come after me! I knew he'd be back for me! I've been waiting for this for twelve years!"

"You knew Sirius was going to break out of Azkaban?" said Remus, his brow furrowed. "When nobody has ever done it before?"

"He's got dark powers the rest of us can only dream of!" Pettigrew shouted shrilly. "How else did he get out of there? I suppose He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named taught him a few tricks!"

Sirius started to laugh, a horrible, mirthless laugh that filled the whole room.

"Voldemort, teach me tricks?" he said.

Pettigrew flinched as though Sirius had brandished a whip at him.

"What, scared to hear your old master's name?" said Sirius. "I don't blame you, Peter. His lot aren't very happy with you, are they?"

"Don't know what you mean, Sirius -" muttered Pettigrew, his breathing faster than ever. His whole face was shining with sweat now.

"You haven't been hiding from me for twelve years," said Sirius. "You've been hiding from Voldemort's old supporters. I heard things in Azkaban, Peter...They all think you're dead, or you'd have to answer to them...I've heard them screaming all sorts of things in their sleep. Sounds like they think the double-crosser double-crossed them. Voldemort went to the Potters' on your information...and Voldemort met his downfall there. And not all Voldemort's supporters ended up in Azkaban, did they? There are still plenty out here, biding their time, pretending they've seen the error of their ways. If they ever got wind that you were still alive, Peter -"

"Don't know...what you're talking about..." said Pettigrew again, more shrilly than ever. He wiped his face on his sleeve and looked up at Remus. "You don't believe this - this madness, Remus -"

"I must admit, Peter, I have difficulty in understanding why an innocent man would want to spend twelve years as a rat," said Remus evenly.

"Innocent, but scared!" squealed Pettigrew. "If Voldemort's supporters were after me, it was because I put one of their best men in Azkaban - the spy, Sirius Black!"

"How dare you," Sirius growled, sounding suddenly like the bearsized dog he had been. "I, a spy for Voldemort? When did I ever sneak around people who were stronger and more powerful than myself? But you, Peter - I'll never understand why I didn't see you were the spy from the start. You always liked big friends who'd look after you, didn't you? It used to be us...me and Remus...and James..."

Pettigrew wiped his face again; he was almost panting for breath.

"Me, a spy...must be out of your mind...never...don't know how you can say such a -"

"Lily and James only made you Secret-Keeper because I suggested it," Sirius hissed, so venomously that Pettigrew took a step backward. "I thought it was the perfect plan...a bluff...Voldemort would be sure to come after me, would never dream they'd use a weak, talentless thing like you...It must have been the finest moment of your miserable life, telling Voldemort you could hand him the Potters."

Pettigrew was muttering distractedly; words like "far-fetched" and "lunacy," drifting through the air.

"Professor Lupin?" said Hermione timidly. "Can - can I say something?"

"Certainly, Hermione," said Remus courteously.

"Well - Scabbers - I mean, this - this man - he's been sleeping in Harry's dormitory for three years. If he's working for You-Know-Who, how come he never tried to hurt Harry before now?"

"There!" said Pettigrew shrilly, pointing at Ron with his maimed hand. "Thank you! You see, Remus? I have never hurt a hair of Harry's head! Why should I?"

"I'll tell you why," said Sirius. "Because you never did anything for anyone unless you could see what was in it for you. Voldemort's been in hiding for fifteen years, they say he's half dead. You weren't about to commit murder right under Albus Dumbledore's nose, for a wreck of a wizard who'd lost all of his power, were you? You'd want to be quite sure he was the biggest bully in the playground before you went back to him, wouldn't you? Why else did you find a wizard family to take you in? Keeping an ear out for news, weren't you, Peter? Just in case your old protector regained strength, and it was safe to rejoin him..."

Pettigrew opened his mouth and closed it several times. He seemed to have lost the ability to talk.

"Er - Mr. Black - Sirius?" said Hermione.

Sirius jumped at being addressed like this and stared at Hermione as though he had never seen anything quite like her. The older version smiled nostalgically, and made a note to do this in the future to gauge the younger man's reaction.

"If you don't mind me asking, how - how did you get out of Azkaban, if you didn't use Dark Magic?"

"Thank you!" gasped Pettigrew, nodding frantically at her. "Exactly! Precisely what I -"

But Remus silenced him with a look. Sirius was frowning slightly at Hermione, but not as though he were annoyed with her. He seemed to be pondering his answer.

"I don't know how I did it," he said slowly. "I think the only reason I never lost my mind is that I knew I was innocent. That wasn't a happy thought, so the Dementors couldn't suck it out of me...but it kept me sane and knowing who I am...helped me keep my powers...so when it all became...too much...I could transform in my cell...become a dog. Dementors can't see, you know..." He swallowed. "They feel their way toward people by feeding off their emotions...They could tell that my feelings were less - less human, less complex when I was a dog...but they thought, of course, that I was losing my mind like everyone else in there, so it didn't trouble them. But I was weak, very weak, and I had no hope of driving them away from me without a wand...

"But then I saw Peter in that picture...I realized he was at Hogwarts with Harry...perfectly positioned to act, if one hint reached his ears that the Dark Side was gathering strength again..."

Pettigrew was shaking his head, mouthing noiselessly, but staring all the while at Black as though hypnotized.

"...ready to strike at the moment he could be sure of allies...and to deliver the last Potter to them. if he gave them Harry, who'd dare say he'd betrayed Lord Voldemort? He'd be welcomed back with honors...

"So you see, I had to do something. I was the only one who knew Peter was still alive... It was as if someone had lit a fire In my head, and the Dementors couldn't destroy it...It wasn't a happy feeling...it was an obsession...but it gave me strength, it cleared my mind. So, one night when they opened my door to bring food, I slipped past them as a dog...It's so much harder for them to sense animal emotions that they were confused...I was thin, very thin...thin enough to slip through the bars...I swam as a dog back to the mainland ...I journeyed north and slipped into the Hogwarts grounds as a dog. I've been living in the forest ever since, except when I came to watch the Quidditch, of course. You fly as well as your father did, Harry..." He looked at Harry, who did not look away. "Believe me," he croaked. "Believe me, Harry. I never betrayed James and Lily. I would have died before I betrayed them."

Harry nodded.

"No!"

Pettigrew had fallen to his knees as though Harry's nod had been his own death sentence. He shuffled forward on his knees, groveling, his hands clasped in front of him as though praying.

"Sirius - it's me...it's Peter...your friend...you wouldn't -"

Sirius kicked out and Pettigrew recoiled. Dorea was cheering as though her favourite Quidditch team had won the World Final.

"There's enough filth on my robes without you touching them," said Sirius.

"Remus!" Pettigrew squeaked, turning to Remus instead, writhing imploringly in front of him. "You don't believe this - wouldn't Sirius have told you they'd changed the plan?"

"Not if he thought I was the spy, Peter," said Remus. "I assume that's why you didn't tell me, Sirius?" he said casually over Pettigrew's head.

"Forgive me, Remus," said Sirius.

"Not at all, Padfoot, old friend," said Remus, who was now rolling up his sleeves. "And will you, in turn, forgive me for believing you were the spy?"

"Of course," said Sirius, and the ghost of a grin flitted across his gaunt face. He, too, began rolling up his sleeves. "Shall we kill him together?"

"Yes, I think so," said Remus grimly. Dorea stopped dead, and watched the scene with a disapproving look on her face. Hermione could imagine her ranting in her head – "I didn't raise murderers!"

"You wouldn't...you won't..." gasped Pettigrew. And he scrambled around to Ron.

"Ron...haven't I been a good friend...a good pet? You won't let them kill me, Ron, will you...you're on my side, aren't you?"

But Ron was staring at Pettigrew with the utmost revulsion.

"I let you sleep in my bed!" he said.

"Kind boy...kind master..." Pettigrew crawled toward Ron, "You won't let them do it...I was your rat...I was a good pet..."

"If you made a better rat than a human, it's not much to boast about, Peter," said Sirius harshly. Ron, going still paler with pain, wrenched his broken leg out of Pettigrew's reach. Pettigrew turned on his knees, staggered forward, and seized the hem of Hermione's robes.

"Sweet girl...clever girl...you - you won't let them...Help me..."

Hermione pulled her robes out of Pettigrew's clutching hands and backed away against the wall, looking horrified. She had never quite enjoyed being called sweet and clever the same way after that, her older self realized.

Pettigrew knelt, trembling uncontrollably, and turned his head slowly toward Harry.

"Harry...Harry...you look just like your father...just like him..."

"HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO HARRY?" roared Black. "HOW DARE YOU FACE HIM? HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT JAMES IN FRONT OF HIM?"

"Harry," whispered Pettigrew, shuffling toward him, hands outstretched. "Harry, James wouldn't have wanted me killed...James would have understood, Harry...he would have shown me mercy..."

Both Sirius and Remus strode forward, seized Pettigrew's shoulders, and threw him backward onto the floor. He sat there, twitching with terror, staring up at them.

"You sold Lily and James to Voldemort," said Sirius, who was shaking too. "Do you deny it?"

Pettigrew burst into tears. It was horrible to watch, like an oversized, balding baby, cowering on the floor.

"Sirius, Sirius, what could I have done? The Dark Lord...you have no idea...he has weapons you can't imagine ...I was scared, Sirius, I was never brave like you and Remus and James. I never meant it to happen...He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named forced me -"

"DON'T LIE!" bellowed Sirius. "YOU'D BEEN PASSING INFORMATION TO HIM FOR A YEAR BEFORE LILY AND JAMES DIED! YOU WERE HIS SPY!"

"He - he was taking over everywhere!" gasped Pettigrew. "Wh-what was there to be gained by refusing him?"

"What was there to be gained by fighting the most evil wizard who has ever existed?" said Sirius, with a terrible fury in his face. "Only innocent lives, Peter!"

"You don't understand!" whined Pettigrew. "He would have killed me, Sirius!"

"THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED!" roared Sirius. "DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU!"

Remus and Sirius stood shoulder to shoulder, wands raised.

"You should have realized," said Remus quietly, "if Voldemort didn't kill you, we would. Good-bye, Peter."

Hermione covered her face with her hands and turned to the wall.

"NO!" Harry yelled. He ran forward, placing himself in front Pettigrew, facing the wands. "You can't kill him," he said breathlessly. "You can't."

Remus and Sirius both looked staggered.

"Harry, this piece of vermin is the reason you have no parents," Sirius snarled. "This cringing bit of filth would have seen you die too, without turning a hair. You heard him. His own stinking skin meant more to him than your whole family."

"I know," Harry panted. "We'll take him up to the castle. We'll hand him over to the Dementors...He can go to Azkaban...but don't kill him."

"Harry!" gasped Pettigrew, and he flung his arms around Harry's knees. "You - thank you - it's more than I deserve - thank you -"

"Get off me," Harry spat, throwing Pettigrew's hands off him in disgust. "I'm not doing this for you. I'm doing it because - I don't reckon my dad would've wanted them to become killers - just for you."

Dorea began to cry again, quietly, her face shining with pride as she nodded along to what Harry was saying. Hermione slipped an arm around her shoulders, watching the men lower their wands.

"You're the only person who has the right to decide, Harry," said Sirius. "But think... think what he did..."

"He can go to Azkaban," Harry repeated. "If anyone deserves that place, he does..."

Pettigrew was still wheezing behind him.

"Very well," said Remus. "Stand aside, Harry."

"I'm going to tie him up," continued Remus when he hesitated. "That's all, I swear."

Harry stepped out of the way. Thin cords shot from Lupin's wand this time, and next moment, Pettigrew was wriggling on the floor, bound and gagged.

"But if you transform, Peter," growled Sirius, his own wand pointing at Pettigrew too, "we will kill you. You agree, Harry?"

Harry looked down at the pitiful figure on the floor and nodded so that Pettigrew could see him.

"Right," said Remus, suddenly businesslike. "Ron, I can't mend bones nearly as well as Madam Pomfrey, so I think it's best if we just strap your leg up until we can get you to the hospital wing."

He hurried over to Ron, bent down, tapped Ron's leg with his wand, and muttered, "Ferula." Bandages spun up Ron's leg, strapping it tightly to a splint. Remus helped him to his feet; Ron put his weight gingerly on the leg and didn't wince.

"That's better," he said. "Thanks."

"What about Professor Snape?" said Hermione in a small voice, looking down at Snape's prone figure.

"There's nothing seriously wrong with him," said Remus, bending over Snape and checking his pulse. "You were just a little - overenthusiastic. Still out cold. Er - perhaps it will be best if we don't revive him until we're safety back in the castle. We can take him like this..."

He muttered, "Mobilicorpus." Snape was pulled into a standing position, head still lolling unpleasantly, like a grotesque puppet. He hung a few inches above the ground, his limp feet dangling. Remus picked up the Invisibility Cloak and tucked it safely into his pocket.

"And two of us should be chained to this," said Sirius, nudging Pettigrew with his toe. "Just to make sure."

"I'll do it," said Remus.

"And me," said Ron savagely, limping forward.

The scene began to fade out as Sirius conjured heavy manacles from thin air. Hermione had decided to leave it here – the rest could easily be explained, which she did as Dorea watched the group disappear down the tunnel. The whole thing – Remus transforming, Buckbeak, Snape and Fudge, the Dementors. At the end of it they were stood in an inky blackness, though Dorea was still easily visible to her. "That's quite a story," the older woman said, and Hermione released a bitter laugh.

"I can show you, if you like?"

"No, thank you, I've had quite enough of the pensieve for one day."

Nodding her agreement, Hermione held out an arm for Dorea to grab onto, and they ascended through the waters.

"Best if we don't let the boys see that one," Dorea said as soon as they landed, drawing herself to her full height and brushing off her robes. The roses of her cheeks were drained, and her eyes were suddenly much older than they had ever seemed before. "But listen to me, Hermione Jean Granger, and listen well – I will not let that happen to my boys. I don't care about your morals, or your laws, or your experiences. Your excuses for being willing to let this happen again – and I know that's what you've been arguing about – do not matter to me in the slightest. This is not the future I want for my sons, and I will not let it happen."

She stalked forward, pushing Hermione back against the hard wood of the desk. "You're either with me or against me on this," she said, slowly, so that the words had a chance to sink in. "And mark me, my dear, you had better be with me." Staring up into grey eyes, Hermione watched the play of what she would once have called the Black Madness across the older woman's face. She wouldn't call it that anymore; no. Madness was irrational, warm, dangerous but not terrifying. What Hermione saw here froze her in fear, for she could see her own life and death in this woman's hands. Calculated, cruel, cold. She would do anything for her boys, and that included disposing of threats.

Hermione vowed not to become a threat. 

 

Chapter Text

Remus had closed himself off from the rest of them, and now rested on a chair in the very corner of a room. He could see all of the entrance points from here, plus out of the great windows that lined the walls, and his wolf was grateful for it – it calmed them both immeasurably. He was tired, so very much so, and weak beyond human imagining. His legs would barely support him if he went to stand, so he sat instead, and watched the goings-on with half an eye. James and Sirius had retreated to sit beside him, but he would have barely noticed they were there if not for the rippling waves of fury that flowed from them, tinging the atmosphere with an acrid, bitter taste. They didn't like to hear news like that about their best friend, they were firmly settled in for a long road of denial. Remus would probably have joined them, but he just didn't have the energy, if he was honest.

Besides that, the fact that they had guests down from the future paled in comparison to his current dilemma, which was the blonde girl across the floor, huddled in between Ginny and Lily, who had stayed with the new girls despite James' bristling and growling. Her face was lined with claw marks, almost perfectly split down the middle – a disgusting before/after tableau of surviving werewolf victims. The eye on the scarred side was pulled down a little as the flesh melded into scar tissue, which cut into her vision, but she still watched Lily intently as the woman talked vigorously with her hands. This one, Lavender, was the only one that showed any visible evidence of going through a war on the outside – Ginny stank of Dark Magic to the point that the first wave was so intense, he could smell nothing else, and Luna appeared sweet enough, and something about her made Moony want to curl up in a ball and nap, but neither of them looked particularly like warriors. Lavender, despite her current submissive position, looked the strongest of them all.

He was intrigued by the oldness of the wounds – all he had heard was that she had been attacked the night of the full moon, two days ago now, and in his panicked state at first glance he had assumed they were new. Looking at them now the haze of terror had retreated, he could see that they had in fact been inflicted at least a year ago, and quite purposefully – no werewolf could cause that much damage in a frenzy, not without killing the girl. She was comfortable with them now – as comfortable as one could be, at least, with half of their body having been torn apart – which begged the question of how she had only been infected yesterday.

It wasn't by his Alpha, anyway. He could tell that much, even with such limited experience with werewolves other than himself. Moony recognised her as Pack, but other than that, her bloodline was a mystery. She was a complete mystery, though she looked nice enough, and Lily certainly adored her. In fact, she had barely left the injured girl's side once. They were laughing easily, now, at something the other blonde said.

Remus hadn't spoken to any of the newcomers yet. Pretty girls had always intimidated him a little, and that was what they all were, just in different ways to one another. Luna was a waif, like the ludicrously skinny women you see in the magazines, with their countable ribs and sunken cheeks. Ginny was like Marlene, fiery and fierce, hair the colour of spun copper and eyes like chocolate, the sort of girl a man would be challenged by, every day for the rest of their lives. Lavender he could barely be impartial about, because whenever he looked at her all he could see was his own pain and fears reflected back, but he knew that she must have looked like the posters Sirius had stuck to his walls at one point.

And the other girl – Hermione – was a tempest.

Hair constantly held in a halo by her own sphere of power, rosy cheeks like she should be pleasant and cheery, but haunted eyes like she had lived through her own nightmares. They were all surrounded by an aura of sadness, a bone deep sorrow that would never fade, but while Luna shined through it, and Ginny fought it, Hermione used it like a shield. Protecting her from the hardship of her situation, from the truths that lay just beyond.

He wasn't sure when he became so poetic, and put it down to the lack of sleep.

Charlus, who had left the room shortly after his wife had left, led Dorea back through now. She looked pale, wan, and everybody came to attention immediately. Hermione slipped in behind them and send a short nod to her companions, who straightened up expectantly as she rejoined them.

"I have examined the memory Hermione provided as evidence," Dorea pronounced, seated back in her throne-like chair at the centre of the table. "There is no doubt to be had, they tell only the truth."

James was cut off by a preemptive strike from his mother, who gazed at him with regret on her features. "I am sorry, my son," came, in little more than a whisper. "I observed the scene myself – Pettigrew was the traitor. He may be, even now, handing information to the enemy. I should like to doubt this myself, but I heard it from the horse's mouth, so to speak."

"And there's no way she could have been lying? Have made this up?" James snapped back, shaking.

"Oh, my dear, I do so wish." Dorea smoothed out her skirts and leaned in gently to Charlus, whose arms swung around automatically to pat her hair. "I did the requisite spells on the memory, and watched closely as it played. The only signs of tampering were when the images opened and closed. Truly, it is a dreadful truth, but it is the truth indeed." She sucked in a breath and gestured everybody closer, pushing Charlus back as she moved into business mode. "And if this is the truth, then we have a problem."

"Pettigrew," Hermione said, carefully avoiding Dorea's eyes. Remus wondered vaguely what had happened between them, how bad the memory could possibly have been to elicit this sort of reaction. "He knows we're here."

"Yes. No doubt he would have related your arrival to his Master by now, and they will be ruminating on the possibilities already. Luckily, I doubt that they will think you are witches, or even that you are from the future – it is not how the Gods work, usually. This must be an extreme circumstance indeed to warrant the displacement of humans through time…"

"We have told you, many are dead. Research delayed. Education disrupted. A war lasting over twenty years can have a lasting effect for many generations," Ginny pointed out, leaning forward. "And as you are now, you are no closer to killing Voldem- He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named than you were five years ago, when he first rose to power.

"We are here because we have the answers, of course. We've done this all before."

"If I had not just seen what I had, I would wonder why our Fates had been put in the hands of four children," Dorea remarked, her eyes blazing into Hermione's head.

"You have, though," Hermione retorted. "So you have some understanding, you're only being difficult."

Dorea waved a hand negligently, her eyes closing. "You understand why I am. I feel that your harshest truths are not yet told, and I attempt to save us some of the pain." She looked purposefully in Sirius' direction, leading Remus to frown and look at him also. What could Dorea possibly know that was worse than what they had been told already?

It wasn't something she knew, of course, only something she had overheard by chance in Lavender's bedroom. Ginny and Hermione were paler now, looking a little shell-shocked. "You misunderstand us," Ginny said slowly. "Not all we have to say is bad news. Yes, some of it is worse, we do not deny this, but…"

"Our lives were not all darkness, just as life before Tom Riddle was not all light," Luna sang, smiling. "We still had love and joy and music. Births to counter the deaths – Ginny is the youngest of seven, you know. We had lives, after the War ended." Here, she stuck her arm in to Hermione's funny little purple purse, diving up to the elbow and pulling back with a sheaf of papers. She began to toss them across the table to the Marauders and the Potters as she spoke. "Ginny Weasley, Order of Merlin; Second Class, was a Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies, first string. She wrote for the Prophet sports section occasionally, and was expected to move to the England team should she not get married first." A flyer landed in front of Remus, and he glanced over it. The glossy paper featured a picture of a jovial redhead with her head thrown back, laughing loudly at something the cameraman had said. After a second, she turned directly to the camera and winked saucily. It was undoubtedly Ginny, only less worn than she appeared now, with full cheeks and a sly smirk on her face. She wore the robes of the Harpies with pride, her broomstick clutched proprietarily to her chest.

On Remus' left, Sirius let out a low whistle. Before anybody could look to his lap, Ginny, across the table, snatched back the page Sirius had received and gasped, before blushing profusely and shoving it into her pocket with a growl. Hermione chuckled, gaining herself a punch on the arm from her redheaded friend.

"Oh, and she also posed for a Playwizard centrefold," Luna chimed merrily.

"Lavender Brown, Order of Merlin; Third Class, held a seat on the board of the Godric's Hollow War Orphanage since she awoke from her coma, as well as being a hands-on mentor for victims of the War with permanent disfigurement, and a vocal supporter of Magical Creature rights among the Old Families," Luna continued, handing out more papers, this time newspaper clippings featuring pictures of Lavender with small children, or standing behind a podium in the Ministry foyer. One showed her shaking hands with an older Minerva McGonagall, another of her leaving a shop with an ecstatic, but middle-aged, Molly Weasley. "This while preparing for her wedding to Ronald Weasley, Order of Merlin; First Class."

"What's your point?" James asked, a bit nastily.

"Well, to tell you what they've given up to come here, of course." Luna said, frowning at James like he was a petulant child. "They were quite happy where they were, thank you, but answered Fate's call anyway. Aren't you grateful?"

Sirius snorted. "You haven't done anything yet."

Luna grinned sunnily, and the room suddenly appeared much brighter. "Don't be silly, of course we have. We've prevented you from going to prison, for a start. Saved James and Lily's lives, too." She looked over at Remus directly, now, a pondering light in her eyes. "I mean, we haven't started on you, yet, but I'm sure we'll get around to it."


Luna was having the time of her life, if she had to be honest. She loved this bit, the explanation, telling people what was to come and what couldn't happen. Moving her pawns into place, watching things unfold. She was about as opaque as a freshly-washed window, though, so she didn't see it as a betrayal. How could it be; if when you tell people to do something and they do it, that's their choice. Smoke and mirrors wasn't her thing – upfront action, that was what she liked.

Well, except for the odd things she was doing to help out their sex lives, that was entirely sneaky and sly. It titillated her, to be honest, to mess around in this way. It wasn't everyday she could manipulate circumstances exactly to her liking, but the Gods were smiling on her today. Some people might think her way of doing things was a bit heavy handed, that picture of Ginny, for example, but Luna didn't see it. Ginny looked great naked; especially in that particular photograph, and besides all that Luna had never quite understood modern witches' weirdly Christian attitude towards nudity – it was all very staid and dull, if you asked her.

Ginny obviously disagreed, from the way her cheeks were burning, but Luna hardly cared about that. Remus was getting all in a flap, and she always had enjoyed ruffling his feathers. They were so delightfully adorable when he was dishevelled.

"Me?" He was squawking, blinking his eyes confusedly. Luna gave him a nod, a little slower than she might have usually, giving him the impression she thought he also was a little bit slow. "What about me?"

Well, he didn't look excited at all to have Luna there playing his fairy godmother. How very ungrateful of the boy. Oh well, he'd learn.

"Pretty much everything," Luna said in the interim, bluntly. "In the future, you're really rather dim for such a clever man."

And now Hermione looked mad. Luna didn't see why; it wasn't like she had been the one insulted. Besides, Luna would get away with it. She always did. After so many years of being an outcast, she had figured out the perfect formula for making people like her, whether they liked it or not – three parts dazed lunacy, two parts adorable doe-eyes, and one part painful truths. Plus, she had a step up with this lot, what with them knowing her mother so very well. It was like Christmas come early, except with friends.

Remus, for example, seemed to be struggling to find the willpower to be offended. She decided to help him out. "It's not like you're him yet," she told him, kindly, with a smile. Hermione stiffened next to her, and Luna held back from laughing. It amused her that she got to say out loud what the other girl was thinking, and Hermione would wonder how she knew. Luna always knew – they weren't exactly discrete with their affair in the first place, it was magically impossible for them to have been, what with his growling and snarling whenever someone touched her, and Hermione leaking hormones and tears whenever the man was around. The rest of it was just a thorough knowledge of Hermione's personality.

"You may never be that man, now, if only because I've just told you that you grow up to be an idiot. It's not your fault," Luna gave a vaguely Gallic shrug, and smiled again, "it was everybody else's. Didn't your parents ever teach you not to give in to peer pressure? Tut, tut."

Everybody was eyeing her like she was mad – and she was, just a little bit, but it was the madness that shaped her, made her who she was. Looney Lovegood.

"Right, well…" James cleared his throat, seeming a bit thrown. "If you tell us exactly what happened, then we can fix it, and you can go home. Is that right?"

Luna shot him a pitying look. "Of course not. I don't think you've properly grasped the situation. We," she encompassed herself and her friends with an arm gesture, "have been picked as the 'Voldemort-Defeating-Dream-Team'. You can't do it without us."

"Then shouldn't you be talking to Dumbledore? No offense, but we're not exactly warriors." James nodded at his family.

"Nonsense. Some events in time are fixed – the Potters always defeat Riddle, it's a rule. Just like my mum will always die, and the Weasleys will always have seven children, and people's soulmates will always be the same. They're set in stone. Nothing we do can change the main points of your fated tapestry, only edit the journey. We're just here to help you along, you understand?"

"Tapestry?" James blinked. He looked at Hermione.

Hermione blinked back.

Luna folded her arms across her chest in a near approximation of a huff. Everybody – bar Dorea, who seemed to understand perfectly – was looking at her again, like she was a loon. Looney Lovegood. "Besides," she snapped, her dreamy voice falling away so that she suddenly sounded like her father, "Dumbledore cannot be trusted."

That caused a reaction. Hermione scowled at her as Luna pulled her legs up to her chest, a sign that she was done talking, passing on the metaphorical baton. Served her right for rarely listening to a word Luna said, in Luna's mind. She wasn't a vindictive person, and she knew it wasn't fair, but even she could only take so many askance looks before she broke. Happy to be the mental one, yes, but suddenly it wasn't so fun when eight people – three of whom were your friends – were looking at you like you'd taken too much pixie dust.

Looney Lovegood.

She raised an eyebrow at the other girls and smiled a little to show that she was fine. Hermione took a deep, calming breath, and turned back to the other side, who were waiting for an explanation. Bickering, yes, but that was just another form of waiting, as Luna saw it. Let the other three deal with this mess, Luna thought, gazing into the distance, her fingertips dancing patterns on her knees. There was nothing telling her that she needed to be a part of the discussion for a while yet, the desperate feeling in her chest having dissipated after her speech, lurking in the shadows waiting to be called up again. Hermione could handle it, she was a smart, diplomatic girl. She would be fine.


"But, Dumbledore-"

"-defeated Grindelwald!"

"-most powerful wizard-"

"If any of you say that he's the only wizard Voldemort fears, I will cut out your tongues."

Silence.

The words had been said completely deadpan, emotionless, empty, but they cut through the bickering like a hot knife in butter. Heads turned to where Ginny snuggled up with Lavender, the two of them almost wearing the same skin. Usually, they weren't this affectionate, but Lavender had had this clawing need for human contact in her skin all day, like if she didn't touch someone, her skin would wander off and do it for her, and it only calmed when she had skin-to-skin contact.

They were all looking at Ginny, which made Lavender want to laugh. Apparently, she wasn't seen as a possibility, she couldn't possibly have said that, she's too nice. Only Hermione seemed to realize it was her, because even Ginny looked shell-shocked.

It wasn't like her, really, to say things like that. She would think them, yes, a lot; but she'd never really crossed the line into saying them or doing them, and probably never would. The looks of horror, though, on their faces. It was almost worth it.

"I mean it," she said again, looking from face to face, still cuddled in beneath Ginny's arm. "You don't know him like we do, and besides, that statement has always been an out and out lie."

Ginny went to pull away, but Lavender tightened her arms around her waist, sudden panic shooting through her veins. "No," she whimpered, almost without realising it, and then hated herself for it afterwards. She didn't seem to be adjusting well to her new condition, though it wasn't as awful as she'd thought it might be. Her inner wolf filled a position in her brain where before there was just primal instinct, and it settled in like an old friend, as though it had always been there. Generally, it was angry when she was angry, and happy when she was happy, so they got along together quite well. The amber of her wolf's eyes brought out the bronze streaks in her hair, which was also an advantage. It was just these new needs – most food tasted like ashes now, or perhaps it was just the salads she had been requesting. She'd tried to take a bite out of a tomato yesterday and had immediately vomited, which wasn't pleasant, but the chicken had been fine.

Cuddling wasn't her, either, and it made a part of her extremely uncomfortable even as it made another part settle down contentedly. Being both resentful and grateful was a difficult mix of emotions to cope with when it came to her friends. Plus, these pathetic noises she kept making – very unladylike, to say the least. She felt like she'd given these new people – Potter, Black, Lupin, Evans; she didn't have trouble at all being disconnected, as she'd never met most of them and had only been taught by Lupin for a year. That had been awkward – she distinctly remembered herself and Parvati gossiping over him night after night, such biceps, such a sweet man, lovely hair, and then the night that the truth came out turning to Parvati and saying 'well, that's a shock!', and Parvati scrunching up her face and replying, 'ugh, I know, and to think I fancied him! Gross! Werewolves are disgusting'.

It just came to Lavender to remember that the next day Parvati's shampoo had been switched with superglue, and she'd cried the day away in the ensuite with her fingers locked into her lovely blue-black hair. That whole day, Hermione had looked particularly pleased with herself. Vindictive little cow, Lavender had thought, before chastising herself and settling with being pleased that she had showered the night before, instead. The correlation hadn't occurred to her at the time, but now…

Anyway, she didn't feel attached to them, but that didn't stop her from wanting to make a good impression. Unconscious and covered in blood, she could do nothing about, but this morning she had worn her nicest peasant blouse and skirt, along with some three-inch heels that she'd had to discard before even leaving the room they were so painful to walk in. They'd not noticed. Pity, was what she saw when they looked at her. It made her mad, but nice girls don't snarl at new acquaintances, so she'd stewed in it. Until now, at least.

She was quite sure she wouldn't really cut out their tongues, but the wolf liked the idea, so she said it anyway.

"Albus Dumbledore is a great wizard," one of them was saying now, and Lavender tried not to laugh, she really did. It was just – they didn't know what Dumbledore had done to them all. Leaving the students without protection in a school that was just a poor front for a torture chamber, because he was too arrogant and curious to check for curses on a ring. Giving them nowhere to run when things got bad. Letting dangerous creatures live in the castle – Fluffy the Cerberus, a DADA teacher with Voldemort in his head, a basilisk in the walls. She was lucky to have survived her childhood, overseen as it had been by his criminal negligence. Sure, he'd been close to Harry Potter, but nobody else had ever even met him. Lavender had certainly never spoken to him, except for that one time at the Yule ball when Seamus had spun her into his back, and he'd said 'excuse me, young lady'.

Lavender had read that book – Skeeter's book, though she had learned over the years not to trust what she had to say – and had found it informative. Speaking to Harry after the war had also been informative. Leaving a little boy in the care of abusive relatives simply because you wanted to ensure he had 'strength of character'? Lavender's childhood had been by no means a cake-walk, but even she could hardly imagine the scarring he had faced at the hands of his Uncle. It was a risk, too, that could easily have backfired – turned the Boy-Who-Lived into a weapon against muggles. After all, wasn't that what had happened to Riddle?

"Yes, but that says nothing of his character - rather, his magical prowess," she replied in the end, having discarded several more profanity-ridden options. "He sees people as collateral damage or weapons, there is no other option in his world. He is drunk on power, and greedy for more. Prejudiced, cruel and insensitive is how I would describe the Headmaster – and I haven't even seen the worst of him.

"Ask Luna what she thinks of his greater good, when it means leaving a girl to suffer abuse at the hands of her own housemates. Ask Ginny what she thinks, when it means blaming a lonely child for her own possession, for being unable to withstand the might of a much greater wizard, and being alienated from her own family for the rest of her life. Ask Hermione what she thinks of his cause, when it meant that she had to spend years of her life being bullied and degraded for who she is, and him not stepping in to stop it – even encouraging it, at times." She was gasping now, great lungfuls of breath. Her wolf was stretching in her head, claws at the ready, and she knew that her eyes were amber. Lavender was vibrating with rage.

Hermione was nodding along now, and picked up the trail in a deeper, more even voice. "Ask every Slytherin to walk the halls of Hogwarts under his tutelage, who have to work twice as hard at everything for any recognition. The Evil House, hated by everyone but their own, and left with no place to go but the Dark."

"We really need a Hufflepuff," Ginny whispered quietly, almost to herself. Lavender could understand – their side of the table was in turmoil, a black hole of anger and frustration. A Hufflepuff would really balance them out, right now. But all they had were Gryffindors, and one Ravenclaw, neither of whom were known for being even-tempered.

"Albus Dumbledore is a great wizard," Hermione said now, glaring at the assembled Marauders, "but he is not a great man."

Chapter Text

James was sulking, after being shouted down for the third time by the assembled women. They were all rather fired-up over the discussion of Albus Dumbledore's character, and Dorea rather wished the girls could have left it alone. If only they hadn't let their tempers get the better of them…

Dorea and Charlus owed Albus a debt, which they were obliged to repay in any manner he might choose. Were he to learn of their visitors, no doubt his favour would come in the form of knowledge and assistance; bringing them to his side. If he asked, Charlus and Dorea would be magically bound to tell him everything they knew – including the girls' less than stellar opinions of the older wizard, and that would only bring trouble. As far as protection went, it was simply wiser that Dorea didn't know so very much of their personal lives - and that they keep the coven secret for as long as possible.

Dorea wasn't blind, or deaf, or otherwise impaired in any way, and she had known from childhood that what appears too good to be true generally is so. She was a Slytherin, after all, and Slytherins in general didn't have the weakness that was unconditional trust. As such, she'd never entirely trusted the man – he'd not made an effort to beguile her, either, what with her being a Black and a Slytherin; two very bold marks against her in his book. Had she had the choice, they would never have become indebted to the man, but Charlus was a sweetheart with a familial obligation to Dumbledore, and so she inherited his oath. Loyalty was important to her, and she stood with her husband, but if she'd had her druthers she would have discharged the debt years ago and never let him near her son.

"Why don't you continue your story," She said, finally, in a calm voice, carrying over the heads of the occupants of the room. There was a suffocating cloud of dark emotion hanging about, and she didn't particularly want it to break into a storm – especially not one that would further endanger her children and guests. Her dining room hadn't seen this much action since James was a toddler. With his particular brand of accidental magic it had been torn apart, and they'd had to redecorate it then. The argument over colour schemes had lasted into the summer of '63, and while she would jump at the chance to finally have gold damask wallpaper, she didn't fancy cleaning up.

Hermione looked at her first, clever girl that she was, and sat back down in her chair. It didn't seem to have occurred to her until then that she was on the edge of climbing over the table and launching herself at poor James, who had said the sentence they had all reacted to so badly. Dorea wanted to avoid that – her son was everything to her, and she would have to kill the person who harmed him, even if it was a mystical time-traveller from the future here to save his life.

Sirius was pouting, which endeared him to Dorea greatly, for he looked so like a young Pollux. Remus was near asleep, so he wouldn't cause any problems; but Lily was torn. Dorea didn't particularly like that – she usually stood firmly with Dorea's son in all important matters. It was a matter that would have to investigated later. The bond her future daughter-in-law seemed to have formed with the new arrivals was concerning to say the least - magical bonds were tenacious and often unpredictable, and their closeness had the stink of wild magic all over it. As if to emphasise Dorea's point, Ginny chose that moment to curl around Lavender like she was her favourite Crup puppy, which the other girl didn't seem to mind at all.

"Where were we?" Hermione asked, shaking herself a little. Something passed behind her eyes, and her lower lip trembled slightly. "Oh, right… Peter Pettigrew had framed Sirius for his murder, by cutting off one of his fingers and leaving it in the wreckage as he escaped to the sewer as a rat… the Aurors arrested Sirius and took him to Azkaban without a trial…"

Dorea couldn't prevent her fist from clenching as she listened to Hermione recite the facts – twelve years in Azkaban without a trial, James and Lily dead, Remus without any sway in the Ministry or society and left to fend for himself. Nobody to fight for the innocence of her lad, the one she'd raised from a frightened and cowed, if arrogant, eleven-year-old to the (semi-)mature man that sat before her today. You could read the regret in Hermione's voice, as though she was responsible for these atrocities, but it did nothing to assuage Dorea's fury. She was able to read between the lines, you see. To see where the failures had occurred, exactly who was responsible for these actions being committed. The hidden anger in Hermione's voice as she spoke about Sirius' struggles told the Potter Matriarch that the younger girl knew where the blame lied, also, and was planning to fix that.

At least she was planning to do something, now.

Dorea could respect her a little more for it – she'd been a bit hasty in her grief to throw the blame at Hermione's feet, but she couldn't stand the idea that this little slip of a girl was going to stand by and let Dorea's family die without lifting a finger. It wasn't her way, to pretend helplessness in the face of a foe – even if that foe is time and reality itself. Dorea would take on all of the Gods to keep her family safe, rip a hole in reality, tear strips from time until nothing was left except her boys. For Hermione to have looked at the situation and given up immediately…

It was an unforgivable offense.

But she was working on it now, trying to help, even if she had been cajoled into it. Dorea could see that she would be a helpful ally, full of power and morality, knowledge and plans. If the Potters were in a position to forsake Dumbledore and follow this little coven to the ends of the earth, they would.

But, they were not.

Lily was taking notes, bless her, in a little moleskin journal she'd found in her luggage a few weeks before. James had hidden it there, because he had a propensity for buying Lily expensive gifts only for her to turn them down, but James couldn't help himself. He had such a generous nature, that boy. He was kind and loving, and if he were to live no doubt he could do brilliant things…

Dorea looked down at the sensation of wetness on her hands and was startled to see that she had been crying.

"…Harry was moved to live with his only living relatives, his Aunt Petunia and her family." Lily's squeak had jolted Dorea back to the present, where Lily had abandoned her notetaking and was staring wide eyed at Hermione.

"Petunia?" James said, looking between the two of them. "As in, Lily's sister Petunia?"

"…Yes?" Hermione's tone was markedly more wary. She looked between the two of them and then Luna, as if to ask advice. Luna wobbled her head vaguely and looked away.

"You've got to be joking, right?" James demanded, his fist gripping Sirius' shoulder tight. Sirius had an eye on his best friend,but most of him seemed concerned with the deteriorating state of Remus' health. Dorea felt guilty that she'd not noticed earlier, but then it had been a stressful few hours. "We'd never let our child go to Petunia, and she'd never take him in!" James was riled up now. It was very odd, because he'd always been such a jolly boy, and didn't usually have that much of a temper, but ever since he'd been told…

Ever since he'd been told that he'd be murdered along with his wife and his son would grow up the Chosen One, and an orphan, he'd been on edge. Dorea almost rolled her own eyes at her own stupidity. No wonder he was in such a black mood.

Hermione chewed on her lip for a moment, and wrinkled her nose. She didn't seem to know when to stop, which anybody else would have done upon seeing the look on James' face. "I don't think it was a matter of choice, so very much as Petunia was blackmailed into it." When they went to open their mouths, Hermione waved a hand in the air. "I don't know all the details, only that Petunia was forced to take him in, and that was later reinforced when she learned that Harry was to be expelled – andthatonesastoryforlater!"

She was glaring around the room, daring someone to challenge her on that, but everyone had retreated. Once she was satisfied that she wouldn't be interrupted, she continued. "Right. Of course, Remus asked to be given custody of Harry – as the next closest friend of the family, with Petunia having disowned Lily, but he was informed in no uncertain terms that the Ministry would not honor the adoption of a small child to a werewolf, for 'safety reasons'."

What saved her here was the exaggerated air quotes and drawling sarcastic emphasis she put upon the excuse. Otherwise, it was highly likely that the whole of Dorea's family would have launched themselves at her over the table, as on edge as they were. Her disdain for the words broke the tension a little, though, and some of the doom-cloud dissipated. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, this prodded Hermione to look at the boy in question. Upon seeing his face her whole demeanor went through the most startling transformation - a second ago she had been flushed, her eyes sparkling, her lips set and stern. Now, it seemed she'd been replaced with a greyed down version of herself.

"What's wrong with him?" She asked in barely a whisper. Remus gave a low moan, and all eyes swung in his direction. One real look at him had Dorea jumping out of her seat and calling for an elf. "Send for a healer," She ordered, already hurrying to the boy's side.

What she'd before cast aside as mere tiredness seemed to have escalated. His eyes were half-mast, his mouth lolled open. There was no colour to him at all, and as she watched Sirius lifted an arm and it fell limply back to his lap. Remus let out another pained moan in response. She locked eyes with Sirius' worried ones, and tamped down her panic.

Well, until Lavender started to howl.


Cold, dark, empty. The Lestrange Manor had once been a place of great beauty, so the stories said, but today it was just the opposite; cold, dark, empty. For all of the warm bodies that filled its halls, there was nothing of personality in it. The portraits were silenced and scowling, the elves fearful and scurrying. It had been such for the years since the Dark Lord had taken residence here, Rabastan had told people, in whispers, one summer day. He'd been melancholy that day, mourning the loss of his mother's giddy laughter, so long missing from his life. He wasn't one that leaned towards misery, Rabastan, but it had been the anniversary of her death and both of her sons had been granted some freedom to cry for their losses that day.

Not that the Dark Lord was aware that two of his most ruthless warriors had taken time out in the memory of their gentle mama, of course. Bellatrix had been active, and he had assumed that where she went her loyal husband followed.

A shadow slipped through the halls, which emptied quickly when the call was sent out – He was waiting.

Today, everybody gathered in the ballroom, which sent a zap of fear through their hearts. The ballroom was saved for special occasions, and what was special to the Dark Lord was often painful and humiliating to his underlings.

On the threshold, the cloaked figure took but a few seconds to adjust to the darkness in the room, and then he could identify those that surrounded him – Lucius up in the front, his delicate face twisted in demonic pleasure as he faced his chosen Lord. Bellatrix a pool of petticoats and lace at the Dark Lord's feet, looking a mixture of mad and content to be in such a prized position. She looked outwards from her position as chosen pet as though she were a queen. Rodolphus stood quietly to one side, his expression calculatingly neutral. The newcomer took his position in the second ring with grace, beside a young lad of just over seventeen, whose Occlumency shields kept careful reign on the terror that would be coursing his veins. The lad flicked his eyes nervously at his neighbour, but remained silent.

"My friends," the Dark Lord began, his voice a purring rumble. He was unfairly attractive for such an evil man (if that was what he was, any longer…), all floppy hair and dark, brooding eyes. Even knowing the man was getting old – coming up to fifty-three at the end of this year – didn't stop his people from seeing him as a handsome man of only thirty, so accomplished was he with his glamour. "We have much to celebrate." He stood from the chair he had chosen as his throne, moving gracefully, like a cat. He leaned one hand down to smooth Bellatrix's rumpled hair, and the woman gazed up at him in adoration.

"Our spy has brought me information. It seems the Potters have received a gift…" he said gift derisively, but his tongue licked over the other words and made them silky smooth in the air, like you could reach out and stroke them. "Three nights prior to now, on the full moon, ritual magic was activated in the Potter's orchards…"

A swell of muttering burst through the crowds, and people shifted uncomfortably on either side of the newcomer. The cloaked man frowned at the new information, thinking hard beneath his mask.

"The Potter matriarch believes that they have received a blessing from the Gods, something to assist them in the coming War…" the corner of his mouth ticked up almost imperceptibly. "This is the news my spy brings me. What was given by the Gods is a mystery, but I doubt it will remain so for very long." He was grinning now, though the joy one would associate with a proper grin was replaced by bloodthirsty malice. It sent a shiver down the spine of all those present, to see such an expression on his face.

There was a cough from the front row, and the Dark Lord's head swung around to face the perpetrator. A tall man stepped forward, shrouded in his cloak and mask but still unmistakeably Avery's blundering mass. "My Lord…" he began, bowing deeply, almost prostrating himself before his Master. The Dark Lord nodded and twisted his fingers to encourage the other man to rise, and speak if he so dared.

"My Lord, I beg your pardon, I mean no impertinence…" Avery grunted out, his words correct and proper but his tone wheedling. He seemed uncertain, afraid, and as well he should, questioning his Lord. "But, I ask… why is this news something to celebrate? If the Order has a new weapon, blessed by the Gods themselves…"

"Silence." The command was sharp and quiet, and seemed to stop all sound in its tracks. The Dark Lord raised a hand to caress Avery's chin like one would a child you were rather fond of, but there was nothing fatherly in the gesture. "You have always been dim, Avery, but surely even you can see what this means for us." Disappointment and disgust rang from each syllable. He glanced around, his face set into an imperious sneer, expecting something from the assembled crowd. "Does anyone here?"

Nobody answered, all were silent and still, not brave enough to rise to the bait. There were very few Gryffindors in this crowd.

"It means," the Dark Lord hissed, impatience dripping from his acid tongue, "it means, they were to lose. That we are stronger than they are, more powerful. They panic, and they pray, and the Gods may have answered, but what they could not win without divine intervention is hardly likely to be beaten by a few more imps, or flowers, or the like. You all know the stories. You know how the Old Magic works."

He scoffed, smirking, pushing Avery back from him. Those who stood closest to the discarded man backed away, as if his incompetence were contagious – which it was not, but often the Lord's fury spread wider than its original target. "What use is a tool of the Gods, if Dumbledore is too old, too kind, too bumbling to make use of it? And we know well that none of his lackeys will move without him…"

He strode around his throne, one pale hand out to stroke the whorls and divots in its wood. "Our enemies are weak where we are strong. The time to move on them is coming soon… sooner than we expected, I think…" He whipped his robes out and they swirled around his legs as he sat, giving him the impression of great power moving across his skin, keeping his garments in motion. "Keep on with your assignments, we will meet again soon to discuss the next move. Until then…" He made a sign with one hand, and Bellatrix leaped to her feet, feral grin in place.

"Crucio!"

Most of the Death Eaters had made a study of appearing unaffected by these displays. They stood tall, a solid mass, watching dispassionately as their comrade flailed in the dust and dirt. Lucius wore his mask of disdain. Rodolphus looked vaguely disgusted. Bellatrix was cackling gleefully.

The cloaked figure stared at the creature on the floor, a sneer on his lips, his mind in turmoil.

Chapter Text

Remus had been removed to his bedroom, and was closeted in there with Dorea, Lily (who had earned that privelege by being the only person not to start shouting/howling when Remus went down) and a handful of House-Elves. Charlus had disappeared into his study to search for Healer-trained allies who could be trusted not to report the circumstances to St. Mungo's, or the Order, but he hadn't held out much hope that such a one could be found. Remus himself had slipped into unconsciousness shortly after leaving the dining room which Dorea had assured them was much better than him lingering in the creepy half-state from before, but that news did very little to soothe the gaggle of young adults crowded in the hallway directly outside.

James and Sirius, thoroughly shocked and deflated by Remus' sudden unexpected deterioration, had abandoned their sulking at their time-travelling guests and instead sat slumped together directly opposite the door. James, though pale, had pushed aside his own distress in favour of offering Sirius his strength and comfort, for it appeared that for reasons yet unknown to the girls Sirius was handling Remus' sickness much worse than James himself. He had his legs drawn up against his chest, arms draped across his knees, head tilted back to rest on the wall. Slate grey eyes were fixed unblinkingly on the door that obscured his friend from view, as though he could burn through it with gaze alone. Sirius' face showed no real expression, but there was a vibrating aura of barely restrained panic in the air around him that manifested so strongly it kept the others back a few feet.

Well, all except for Luna, who seemed entirely unaffected and simply wandered back and forth between the two groups; her face typically serene, though it had an edge of solemnness that the other girls from her time suspected quietly was pretended for the sake of the remaining Marauders.

Later, looking back, the others would see that what they had perceived as a cold-blooded lack of caring on Luna's part was in fact her certainty that this sudden sickness would be resolved, but at the moment it was simply irritating and rather offensive, so they busied themselves elsewhere instead.

Hermione had had a momentary anxiety attack when Remus had fallen, quickly treated by Lavender's no-nonsense hand entwined through the back of her bushy hair shoving her head between her knees. Bent double, staring at her feet, things had slammed into perspective. Her panic at her ex-lover (who wasn't even aware she existed beyond being some untrustworthy creature from the future)'s sudden collapse had passed, leaving in its place questions, paragraphs from books, quotations from her DADA literature – things she could deal with right now, if she kept her sanity. Plus, there was that feeling; like she knew the reason, the illness and its treatment, and it was just out of reach.

After a quick search of her metaphysical self - something she'd managed to isolate through meditations in her sixth year, in order to better understand her own magic - for that spark that had always, for her, represented 'Remus', and finding it flickering gently, emanating a feeling of peace, she took charge once more. They had followed the boys up the stairs and to Remus' room, where she had flicked through the library in her mind in order to follow the feeling to its conclusion. After a few minutes investigating, appearing lost inside her own head, her face lit up and she turned to Lavender.

"How do you feel?" She asked, a bit abruptly, for Lavender looked taken aback.

Recognizing the look on Hermione's features, though, Lavender obediently began cataloguing her aches and pains – the better not to stand in Hermione's way when she had that 'I've got an idea!' shine.

The look of pleased surprise she wore seconds later spoke volumes, but Lavender confirmed it out loud as well – "Fine! I feel fine! A bit achey, but my arm is alright." She grinned delightedly, but wilted a little upon catching Hermione's distant expression. "What? Isn't that good?"

"It's great, Lav," Ginny soothed, shooting Hermione a significant look. "Right, Hermione?"

Hermione mumbled a non-committal, and began to drift in the opposite direction, frowning thoughtfully. It wasn't a new thing - often when she was on the trail of an idea she'd be as spacey as Luna, though not nearly as reliable. Lavender opened her mouth to ask, but was saved the effort by Luna, who popped up between them with no warning like a nymph-in-the-box. "Come on, then!" she trilled, a hand on each of their backs to push them up the hallway after their erstwhile friend, ignoring Lavender's panicked shriek. Lavender resisted for a moment, frantically beating her chest to restart her shocked heart as she scowled in Luna's general direction. Luna smiled back. "I've told them we'll be back."

"Back from where?" Lavender asked, looking more than a little put-upon as she was dragged onwards by a surprisingly strong Luna. Noone particularly blamed her - of the three girls, she was the least used to Luna's peculiarities, and after years of calling her 'Loony', she'd only recently cracked the habit.

"Library," the girls said as one, in two markedly different tones (Ginny was distinctly long-suffering, which wasn't surprising, given that since they'd arrived it seemed they'd only got to do things Hermione considered fun - lecturing, learning, research. When would she get to play Quidditch, or tell bawdy jokes, or hex someone?). Lavender scowled again and rolled her eyes, submitting to Luna's pushing with a distinctly irritated air. Being a werewolf had changed many things, but her aversion to all things leather-bound and inky was as strong as ever.


A half hour later, Hermione was situated somewhat-comfortably on the edge of a hard-backed chair she'd snaffled from one of the desks at the back, surrounded by books on lycanthropy like a Queen before her loyal subjects. Some volumes were open to specific pages, weighted down by various knick-knacks recovered from shelves around the room, others were closed with torn pieces of newspaper marking the places she wanted, but all were strewn across the gigantic table that formed the centre of the room, reminiscent of an ancient warlord's office.

When the girls entered after Luna's wild-goose chase around the manor house ("but down here there's a genuine 16th century dressing table – with original mirror! Don't tell me you don't want to see that, Lavender!") her hair was held out of her face only by one or two weak sticking charms and what looked like the feathered end of a broken quill. Her hands were smudged with ink from frantic note-taking, the finished article accumulating behind her feet.

Luna glided off again in the direction of the bookcases, leaving Ginny and Lavender to take places in Hermione's sphere. Ginny snatched an armchair from an alcove and dumped it on Hermione's right, and Lavender curled up at her feet. Noticing this, Hermione bit her lip and reached for one of the closed books, flicking though the pages desperately.

"Can we help?" Ginny asked, and Lavender was glad she did because her question sounded much more genuine than it would have coming from Lavender's own lips. She was very much of the do-it-yourself-and-then-do-mine-too school of homework. Luna might have had the pleasure of Nott's sexual prowess, but Lavender had benefitted from his brain on a monogamous basis since fifth year.

"I think I need to ask Lavender some questions," Hermione replied absently, shuffling through her papers. Lavender's eyes widened, and automatically she started scanning for escape routes. "Oh, stop it, Lav!" Hermione scoffed. "I'm not going to test you, it's just questions about yourself – your magic, how you grew up, etcetera."

Lavender shifted on her bottom, suddenly uncomfortable. "I'm not sure…"

"It's completely necessary, unless you want Remus to die," Hermione snapped, but Lavender could see the desperate light in her eyes then, and didn't take it personally. Who knew she wasn't an ice queen, after all? Though if it had to be someone, no surprise it was their Professor. Nil points for guessing that one right, Parvati. Still, Lavender hated to talk about her childhood – her mother said complaints were unbecoming in a lady, and besides, it hadn't been so bad as all that; she had had a loving father, after all. Everything else seemed a bit ridiculous when she said it out loud.

She didn't reckon Hermione would be very happy should Lupin die for her lack of cooperation, though Lavender did quite doubt his sickness had anything to do with her – an almost complete stranger in both times. He hadn't even been that fond of her when she was a student (though that may have had something to do with the short skirts, abundance of eye-makeup, and predilection for speaking out of turn, she reflected now).

With a sigh, she relented, waving Hermione on. It probably set a good precedent to appear helpful from the start, so she couldn't be blamed for anything that might go wrong in the future. Why Hermione chose to pick on her of all people was blindingly obvious, of course – she was a werewolf, and Lavender imagined that Hermione's thoughts went something like 'Remus is a werewolf, Lavender is a werewolf, therefore, Lavender is to blame!', and then that quote from the Muggle scientist about simple answers.

Personally, Lavender thought this situation was more about Murphy's Law.

But she sat patiently and answered Hermione's questions – some sensible, like what subjects was she best at, for example, with the answer of Charms. Some a bit more left-field - "Are you a cat person or a dog person?" she'd asked, like it made sense. Naturally, Lavender had responded with "all things considered, I'd prefer an owl". Where her family's ritual space was, which Lavender found surprising, considering the arguments of the past few days. Ginny had raised an eyebrow here, and Hermione had flushed bright red, but soldiered bravely onwards as Lavender responded with 'in the lake'.

Finally, Hermione looked satisfied, rustling her papers and smiling across the table at Lavender. "Right, final question," she said, with all the gravity of a quiz show host. Lavender likened her to Bob Holness for a few amusing moments, complete with thinning hair and jowls, then dragged herself back into the present. "How do you like Lily?"

Startled, Lavender stared back at her. "Evans? She's alright, I guess, though I don't really know her."

Hermione nodded, adding a note to her near-dissertation. "But you've been all over her all day."

Lavender shrugged easily. "She's nice. She's been helping me, and no offense, but she's much cuddlier than you two."

"We're not offended." Hermione responded, a sly smirk on her face. "I think that might even be the nicest thing you've ever said about me." She gave a little chuckle, her mood seeming suddenly light.

"You've figured it out, then?" Ginny asked, her voice husky. Looking up, Lavender could see that she was curled over the arm of the chair, her eyes half-mast and hair tousled, like she'd been sleeping. A glance at the clock above the mantel told Lavender that they had been here for hours, and hadn't noticed – even Luna had come back, now laid on her front beside the table, big blue eyes gazing guilelessly up at Hermione.

Hermione nodded again, her hair bouncing behind her like its own entity. Lavender found herself watching it, amused, for far longer than was probably sane. Gods, she must be tired. "It's a werewolf thing," she said, with no small amount of satisfaction. Rumbling a growl, Lavender flopped backwards. Of course. Because it hadn't fucked her up enough already. "The good news is that Remus will be fine. The bad news is, we couldn't go back to the future now even if we wanted to."

"Why not?" Luna chirped, though it didn't sound so much like a question as like she was leading Hermione to a conclusion she'd already reached.

"Because Lavender would die."

Gods, it wasn't nearly as easy to hear when people were talking about you.

"Why am I going to die?!" She squawked, flailing in her attempt to rise to her feet. "You can't just say that!"

Shrugging, Hermione blew a curl out of her face. "Well, it's true. You're a weak wolf – bottom of the pack, even. Like, in werewolf terms, your strength is that of a newborn baby. Your scenting instincts are slightly off, your change is elongated, and your magic a bit skew-whiff." She avoided Lavender's gaze as she spoke, probably feeling the sting of it on her head and not brave enough to take that on. If looks could kill... "It'll be like constant puberty, but werewolf-oriented. Mood swings, susceptibility to magical weakness, etcetera, etcetera. You can read my notes, if you like?"

"But why?" Lavender thundered, smacking the hand that held the sheaf of paper away. "I'm a good witch, a strong woman, and a pureblood. I've never had so much as a cold, for Merlin's sake – I've never even heard of a weak werewolf before!"

"Well, you wouldn't," Hermione said calmly, but that didn't help as she still refused to look at her. "Generally, the weak wolves stay at home, out of trouble – and True Alphas, like Fenrir, would have the good sense not to change them at all." She nibbled her lip as she searched for something, though Lavender thought that perhaps she was just looking for an excuse to pretend Lavender didn't exist. "Probably, in the wild, the weak would be abandoned or killed-" a furious whimper from Lavender "-but werewolf packs are linked through magic. It's a responsibility to the maker, once they've bitten the young, to care for them. When the weak are injured, magically depleted, or emotionally harmed the bond drains the needed resources from the Alpha, to make up for your own lack of personal stores.

"You were bitten by a lower-ranked wolf, so the bond couldn't form with him or his alpha, but when we landed in this time your magic must have called to Moony and linked with him to keep you alive – he's an alpha, with his own pack, though only just. Given your state of injury, you must have called on more magic than he could handle – hence the collapse! It's all very simple, really, once you know!"

"Oh yes, how did we not guess?" Ginny countered, drily, and Hermione looked.

"I'm sorry, it's just so fascinating. I remembered writing about the Pack Bond in my essay, third year, but the books hadn't gone into as much detail as these ones do…"

"This is not a book, Hermione, it's my life! What am I supposed to do?" Lavender wailed, her golden locks whipping through the air as she dropped to the floor, burying her face in her hands.

"Oh, oh Lav!" There was a great deal of rustling, and then Lavender was wrapped in warm arms and the scent of ink and toothpaste surrounded her, with an undercurrent of jasmine. "I'm so sorry, really, I am. I didn't think-well, I did think, it just wasn't-you know what I'm like, useless at this stuff! It's really not such bad news though – ow, Ginny! Cut it out! Right, Lavender. Sorry again."

The blonde was shaking now, and Hermione must have taken it for tears, for she tightened her grip. It wasn't tears, though – it was laughter, if a bit hysterical. Hermione being her usual chatterbox self seemed to have struck a cord inside of her, burying her under a tide of comfort and familiarity, making her feel oddly safe and at home even if Hermione wasn't at all that comfortable to cuddle. She'd lived with this girl for seven years, had grown up with her, and the hug felt like the sort she'd be given by an irritating older sister, if she had one. She reached out a hand and laid it on top of Hermione's, who gave up her apologies immediately and rested her chin on Lavender's head. In the cocoon of body heat Lavender let go of her reservations about Hermione, their long-standing rivalry, and didn't think of the bond she had unwittingly thrown herself into against any of their will. She didn't think about how Black, Potter, Lupin and Evans would react to finding out she'd infiltrated their secret little group.

She just relaxed into Hermione's arms, buried her nose in the other girl's neck, and breathed in the comforting smell of the library, the future, home, and… pack.

Chapter Text

Ginny and Luna had put in a request to share a bedroom with Dorea on the first day – more out of habit than anything else, for when Fred had died and the Burrow had become a stifling house of misery, Ginny had fled to the Lovegood's where she had stayed until three months ago, when she'd moved in with Harry. Luna made the ideal roommate, tidy and efficient, though not in any way uncluttered - she did have a habit of collecting odd things and leaving them lying across any empty surface area that was available. Ginny had once come home to a terrarium balanced upon the headboard of her bed, filled with the oddest pink and green frogs. It had disappeared the next day, and she never got an explanation…

Now her friend was emptying her pockets of bark and dirt, which she had presumably been carrying around since earlier that morning when she'd slipped out of the house before dawn. She laid her discoveries out on her bedspread reverently, heedless of the scattering of soil she spread with each movement. Ginny watched quietly from her position sat cross-legged on the other bed, listening to her friend's soothing hum as she sorted them into various conjured jars.

"Lavender will be well," Luna said, almost so quietly that Ginny didn't hear her at first. Their eyes locked, and Luna smiled sadly. She'd always known Ginny better than Ginny had herself, since they had first met, and it was to be expected that she'd notice what Ginny didn't realize – her quietness was attributed to the whole day's events, but the majority in concern for Lavender. She'd looked so pale when they'd left, stunned by the news. She was with Hermione; who was capable, if not the most demonstrably sympathetic person in the world, and when last Ginny had seen them they had curled up on top of the counterpane on Lavender's bed. Ginny should have been able to leave her concerns alone for now.

"Will she though?" Ginny asked, collapsing backwards to sprawl across her mattress. "It's a lot to take in. I'm not even sure I understand it, really."

"She's a child of water," Luna said, having stacked the jars to one side and now climbing into bed. "Children of water take offense to being limited within an opposing element. Were she a were-fish, perhaps we would not be having this problem."

Ginny watched Luna for a moment more, but apparently she'd said all she had to say, for she was now snuffing out the candles and burrowing into her sheets. Sometimes Ginny wondered whether Luna worked from a predetermined script, and her answers only made so little sense because nobody was asking the right question at the right time. She knew from experience that if she asked anything else now, Luna wouldn't respond. She'd sleep until the morning, and then probably come out with something irreverent at breakfast, to start the day off on the foot that she wanted it to.

Luna could disappear for months at a time, and yet still be right there beside you the second she was needed. What were those things the muggles had, the ones they talked to in their heads - Angels? That was what Luna was, a guardian angel, Ginny thought, looking at how the remaining candles spun her hair into gold on her pillow. A loyal but somewhat tricksy guardian angel, perpetually on the brink of falling.


"Hermione…" Lavender's voice came drifting out of the darkness, and Hermione stifled a sigh. They were curled up on the four poster in Lavender's room, with Hermione leaning against the headboard and Lavender snuggled against her side. Their legs were intertwined beneath the duvet, and until that moment they had been silent. Hermione, for one, had been enjoying the tranquil quiet of the night; only sporadically broken by the hiss and spit of the fireplace. Their conversation in the library had been difficult, and she hadn't been looking forward to the possibility of a repeat, but when discussing the sleeping arrangements with the other girls Lavender had been insistent that she couldn't be left alone. Further, she had confided, she'd not felt better than she had when she'd been close to Hermione, despite the energy rush she got off of Lily, and if she was so very volatile then surely it was only good sense for her to stay with the person that had her feeling the most steady?

Whether or not the effects were because of some odd metaphysical bond, Hermione had to admit that she could see the physical changes in Lavender, and if her presence helped the girl get better than she couldn't in good conscience abandon her – especially not when Lavender's health was in direct correlation with Remus'. Even though he was a different person now, and probably nothing at all like the man she had known, there was something inside of Hermione that balked at being even a little to blame for his suffering.

All this said, it had been a relief when Lavender had just changed in pyjamas and climbed into bed. They had a lot to consider – this new revelation was both unwelcome and unexpected, and no doubt would change a lot of their plans. Lavender could no longer take active part in the fighting; though she wasn't brilliant at defensive charms in the first place, every wand was needed in a war. Hermione would need to assess her condition regularly, begin training her up, find something to balance the other girls magic, all to ensure that she stayed in the peak of health.

In the morning, she would need to talk to Luna and Ginny about this. Dorea, too, would be helpful. Even Remus, if he was better, would need to be fully informed of the situation…

"Hermione?"

Hermione shook her head a little and glanced down at Lavender, whose eyes glowed purple in the dark. To give the other girl her due, she'd not referred to Hermione by one of her god-awful nicknames, like she usually would to capture her attention. In deference to this, Hermione kept her sleep-deprived, distracted irritation from her voice. "Yes, Lavender?"

There was a pause, and she blinked, fully disappearing for a second before her eyes were back. "Do I… Will… Will I get better, do you think?" Her voice was wobbly and thin, and Hermione bit her tongue. It was difficult – so difficult – for her to do the sympathy thing with other women. So easily could you offend them, or set them off. In school she'd gotten away with sad smiles and a hug, but now it was different.

Two different responses were possible, from what she saw: a comforting response, or an honest one. After a moment of deliberation, Hermione cast the first one aside – Lavender was asking her, Hermione Granger, the question, so it was very unlikely she expected pretty lies. All the same, Hermione chose her words carefully.

"There is… every possibility that you will find your balance," there, that wasn't too callous. Though Lavender was still staring at her, so apparently not enough… "I shouldn't think that you're so very weak, despite your natural aversion to the condition. You have, after all, had a year to adjust to your lycan senses – that's an advantage most new wolves don't have. And you have us, Ginny, Luna and I. You know I'll do anything I can to help you, Lavender. Luna probably has something up her sleeves already."

Lavender let out a wet noise – it might have been a laugh – and nuzzled her nose into Hermione's shoulder. "And I suppose you'll get Lupin to help," she said, smiling against Hermione's shirt.

"If he wants to," Hermione conceded, though in her head she was certain he'd help, whether he liked it or not. "I'll have nothing to do with that, though. That's a pack thing."

"But you are pack," Lavender grumbled lightly. "I can smell it."

Hermione smiled a little too, reaching up to stroke Lavender's hair, the petulance in her voice warming her heart. "I think that's just because we're friends," she corrected, and then grinning at Lavender's responding chuckle.

"We're not friends, Hermione," Lavender sighed, sounding amused. "We've never been friends."

Rolling her eyes, Hermione tucked the other girl back under her arm. "We're friends now," she told her firmly, tapping her on the cheek. "We have to be, there's nobody else. Besides, do you think I'm the type of girl to climb into bed with complete strangers? I'm offended, Lavender, really."

Laughter vibrated through Hermione's ribcage, and it was not unpleasant. "No, Hermione, not you." There was a pause, and then: "Alright, then. Friends." Her weight shifted on the mattress and then a limb was laid across Hermione's stomach. "Parvati would never believe this," she murmured softly, her voice still laced with lightness, though there was an undercurrent of something warmer.

Hermione shuffled down the bed until her head was on the pillow, and gazed up at the ceiling. "Let's not tell her then," she whispered, listening to Lavender's breathing getting deeper. "I've never liked her, anyway."

Then Lavender was out like a light, and Hermione followed not long after.


"How is he?"

Lily squeaked, startled, her hand flying to her chest. "Sorry," the same voice said, from behind her, tired sounding but sufficiently penitent. She span around to face the offender. James was lolling against the opposite wall, his clothes rumpled and hair almost on end. He'd obviously been out there for an age – it was nearly one in the morning at least, and she had been tending to Remus for hours. His eyes were still bright, though, that spark of intelligence still present. When he opened his arms, Lily fell into them gratefully.

"He's fine, perfectly well. Woke up for a second, then went straight back under, but it's a natural sleep now. Your mother thinks he'll wake up in the morning like nothing ever happened."

James nodded, she could tell, though she only just felt it through the muscles at the top of his chest. "Do we know what it was?" And that was the reason she'd jumped.

An elf had deduced the reason for Remus' sickness, being experts as they were on the Wild Magics, and given them direction for his recovery, so she knew that he was okay and it was no-one's fault... but would James see it like that? Dorea thought that they should keep it quiet until the morning, just in case, but maybe she was referring to their guests, and not James - it was so hard to tell, sometimes.

Lily bit her lip – really, she shouldn't tell him; he'd only get upset and it wasn't her place. But then, he did have a right to know, and she was never very good at keeping secrets anyway. Maybe if she only told him a bit – found a middle ground? Surely Dorea couldn't argue with that, and it wouldn't trouble the new girls all that much either. They had disappeared earlier, but Lily knew they'd gone to the library and then bed, though how she knew that she wasn't quite sure. It came from the same place as the warning not to tell James the whole truth, which made her suspicious. Dorea had been watching her closely all day, too – maybe she had been cursed? Why they would curse her, of all of them, she wasn't sure, but it was feasible… sort of… what did she really know about them, except that they apparently came from the future? Why was she suddenly willing to trust them, to the point of lying to her fiancé? It was a lie, too, that's what her parents had taught her.

Surely, though, telling him everything she knew – which wasn't, by any means, all there was to know – would just cause undue hassle? And, it would break the tentative trust she'd formed with the newcomers, which, surely, as the only person from this time that had formed any sort of a bond with them, it became her duty to maintain it?

Oh, how difficult it all was.

She wrapped her arms around his back, pulling him closer to her, burying her face in his chest and breathing deeply to catch the scent of James – cotton, broom polish, just-turned leaves and a little bit of sweat. Her James. Her James that she loved, who could be killed. Who might die, if not for the help that these girls could give him, despite the unintended consequences of their arrival. And she knew that Remus would be fine – better than fine, probably, now that he had Lavender to play with – but there was no such guarantee for James.

"He was just tired, I think," Lily said, finally, looking up at him with a smile. It was partly true, of course, which was probably what made James believe her. Before her conscience could attack again, she looked down at the floor and said quickly, "I'm tired, though, James. Can you take me to bed now?"

She didn't look at him, and therefore couldn't tell what he battled with – though she knew he battled with something, inside, for it took him a few minutes before he responded – but eventually, he tightened his grip on her and pressed a kiss to her hair. "Of course, Lils. Let me just check in with Sirius first, yeah?"

"Sure," Lily nodded, going practically boneless in her relief. "Sure. I'll meet you upstairs."

She ran an affectionate hand through his unruly hair, watching the strands slip through her fingers and thinking about what Hermione had said about her son's hair. Her son, Harry, who she'd keep safe. Her son, who would no doubt look exactly like his father, who she never wanted to lose, no matter what the cost. It had taken them years to get to this point, and she wasn't letting go now. "You hurry," she added as an afterthought, meeting his sparkling eyes and flashing a coquettish smirk. "Wait too long, and I might fall asleep."

With one last lingering look from beneath her eyelashes, she swanned off down the corridor.

Chapter Text

Remus woke to a new knowledge, and he didn't particularly appreciate it.

He had accepted, quietly, that his life had changed with the arrival of the new girls. He had been sort of okay with that. After all, if they were going to help them defeat Voldemort, then it would be petty to be irritated at their arrival.

It helped that he'd known his friends would still be there, by his side, the whole time.

It had taken many years for him to get to this point; comfortable enough with himself, surrounded by friends and family, not having to hide his secret. He'd even lost his virginity last Spring with minimal anxiety, once he'd gotten over the terror of being too rough, too violent, or – dear god – changing. Logically he'd known that wasn't possible, but sex called for a certain amount of… letting go, and he'd been irrationally terrified that at that point, when he let go, Moony would take the reins.

That hadn't happened, so he was fine. Happy. In a good place – the best place he'd experienced that he could remember.

Naturally, this meant that something had to ruin it.

Laying in the bed with his eyes still closed, he tried to come to terms with the revelation. It was better that he did so now, by himself, than if he wallowed in his sulky confusion until he spoke to James and Sirius, who would no doubt take it worse than him and need mediation. That was his job, so he needed to get over his issues now. Besides, they would be outraged on his behalf, which was always a much nicer feeling than being angry alone.

Really, though, it was like he'd accidentally adopted a child. Or, rather, Moony had. Moony was napping now, quite satisfied with the turn of events, enjoying the growth of his pack. Of course, he didn't have human concerns, so it was alright for him. But Remus… Remus was a wizard, who now had responsibility of a fully grown witch, perfectly capable of looking after herself. Not in werewolf terms, though. If she got in trouble, he would be the one to pay for it. He'd have to be strong enough for the both of them, in case she got into trouble. At least, until she bound her magic – and the possibility of that happening was minimal. It was just luck that meant he wouldn't have to follow her around guarding her from paper cuts – he was strong and she wasn't excessively weak, just weak enough to merit protection.

He might have been okay with that – even have volunteered for the responsibility – if it wasn't for the fact that he hadn't been given a choice. Her wolf had simply latched onto his, and damn the rest of him. Didn't he have enough to deal with? He pressed his pillow across his face, stifling a groan. His life just seemed to be one disaster after another, lately.

The cords of power that tethered him to his pack were almost visible that morning, as he climbed out of bed and made his way to the shower. Three strong ones, Lily, James and Sirius; two fading ones, for Peter and Greyback; one bright but insubstantial one, for Lavender, and then –

Remus stared down at his chest, where the magical wires seemed to meet. One, two, three four five six – Seven?

It was only a shadow, which was why he missed it the first time, but there was no doubt that it was Pack. Not confirmed Pack, so they can't have been a werewolf… maybe Lily was pregnant, which would cause an uproar, or Lavender, or…

He didn't think much further than that as the obvious solution scared him a little, or, a lot. He blinked his eyes and shook his head a few times until the glowing dissipated, and set himself to showering with new vigour. It was so good to have energy again, that he determined to forget about the phantom bond and focus on the present.


The morning sun gilded everything with a pale golden light, making the dew sparkle like jewels on the grass. It was only early – the elves were fussing in the kitchens, and Charlus was in his office, but Dorea was still sleeping, and there had been no signs of life from the wing the boys occupied either. The second the sun had risen, however, Luna had woken the rest of the girls up and dragged them into the grounds, despite their complaints. Now she danced easily across the lawn to a tune only she could hear, Hermione, Lavender and Ginny following behind her.

"What are we doing, Luna?" Ginny called out as the other girl skipped through the trees on the edge of the orchard. Luna shot her a grin and darted into the trees, singing louder so that they could hear her. Ginny and Hermione exchanged a look and followed forward. Lavender, bringing up the rear, had stuck to her scowl since she'd been unceremoniously woken up earlier, and had realized it hadn't yet passed six. "But why do we have to do everything that nutter says?" She'd complained loudly when Hermione had pushed her out of bed, and had continued to complain, over and over, as they had left the house. Nobody had bothered to respond to her, but she suspected that it was more to do with them not knowing the answer than the stupidity of the question.

Now, like obedient little lambs, they all swerved into the woodland and followed the sound of Luna's humming until they reached a clearing, finding their friend sat cross-legged in the centre. For Hermione, it was too eerily reminiscent of the night they had arrived, and she scoped out the area hesitantly.

"Don't worry, Hermione, the ritual space is at least a hundred feet east of here," Ginny murmured, then bent down to take off her shoes. Generally, Ginny had the deepest and most reliable insight into Luna's actions, so it only seemed right for Hermione to remove her own, and then look at Lavender expectantly.

Lavender, who had spent twenty minutes scouring Hermione's bag for something not-hideous (in Lavender's world, which meant over-the-top-and-a-bit-slutty to everybody else – or at least, that was how Hermione saw it) to wear, looked distinctly unwilling to remove her three-inch heeled platform clogs. "What are we doing?" She repeated Ginny's earlier question, her arms crossed over her chest. "I'm not taking off my shoes if it means I'll have to take everything else off, too." She pointed an accusing finger in Luna's direction, her face scrunched up suspiciously. "I can guess her idea of 'communing with nature', and I've been through enough already without having to see your tits." This last bit she aimed at Ginny, apparently even in her bad mood still attempting to hold up the peace she and Hermione had formed the night before. Hermione, who had been rather proud of her own breasts since they had developed at the late age of fifteen, appreciated her diplomacy.

Ginny tossed her hair forward and brought it back, gathering it into a ponytail on the top of her head. "Ignore her," she shouted at Luna, as though perhaps Luna might have been offended, which was highly improbable, "she's not a morning person!"

Hermione and Ginny then left their shoes underneath the tree where they had found Luna's, and tripped delicately across the grass to join Luna, who looked unperterbed by events. Lavender dithered for a moment, then made a show of stomping across to the other girls belongings. "Fine!" She cried, deliberately loud enough for the others to hear. "But I'm not getting naked!"

"Thank Merlin for small mercies," Ginny muttered under her breath. Hermione snorted, and Luna's lips twitched up, but they were back to neutral by the time Lavender had made her way to join them.

"Well?" She demanded, flopping somehow gracefully to the ground. Hermione marvelled at how truly awful she was of a morning – at school she'd always slept right up until breakfast began, and had silently spent the next hour applying make-up, so this attitude was an unpleasant surprise. Except – no, there was that morning in fourth year that the fifth-year prefect had come in to wake them up, and Lavender had crushed her wrist because the older girl had somewhat unwisely attempted to yank her covers away. That was something Lavender and Ron had had in common after the war – their sleep all day/party all night mentality.

Luna let out a humming breath, as though she had been interrupted during her meditations. "Hermione said something yesterday about having to keep you in shape, Lavender, to ensure you're the strongest you can be."

"Did I?" wondered Hermione aloud, but Luna pressed on.

"What with you being so weak and all, and your magic being unreliable, you'll need training up. It seems a waste for only you to be training, so thought, we've all lost a bit of our war-toned skill, why don't we work on it together?"

Ginny blinked. "What war-toned skill? You spent the war in the Malfoy Manor dungeons. Hermione was so starved, she looked like an inferi. I don't think she wants that emaciated look back – so not hot."

"I'm not a violent person, but I know some self-defense, and Ginny's a scrapper." Luna was doing that thing again, where she ignored everybody else's existence until it suited her. "She's also the fittest of us all," – "Mirror, mirror, on the wall," Ginny whispered so that only Hermione could hear, and they both fell to giggling. Naturally, Luna ignored them, and Lavender eyed them suspiciously. – "- which means she can help us work up an exercise regime, keep us on our toes. If we work at it every day, we should be up to scratch in no time."

"That sounds fair, I suppose," Hermione said, nodding sagely. She wasn't sold on the idea that she had actually suggested anything along these lines, but memories of running from the Snatchers and none of them being fast enough encroached, appealing to her logic. With a lopsided smirk, she tried to bring back her earlier good humour. "But – and I mean this – who are you, and what have you done with our Luna?"

Luna blinked. "I am Luna."

Tutting, Hermione shook her head. "You can't possibly be Luna, I'm afraid. You said something entirely too sensible, and it broke your cover. Our Luna would never do that."

Raising an eyebrow, Luna said, "Just like our Hermione would never make a joke?"

"She has you there," agreed Ginny with a wink. Then, apparently realising that this was the answer to her prayers, suddenly she perked up. "I think it sounds like a brilliant idea, Lu. Shall we start with a jog? See how everybody measures up?"

"No, no, no!" Lavender squeaked as everybody climbed to their feet. "I didn't agree to exercise! No way! I'll just meet you all inside for breakfast, shall I?"

She made for the trees, but Ginny was faster, fastening her hand around her bicep. "See, that was rubbish. You'll need plenty of training," Ginny scolded her, smiling, as she all but pulled her back into the circle.

"But I'm a werewolf! I'll burn everything off anyway – have you ever seen a fat werewolf? No." It was astounding how easily she drew out that information, with nary a flinch, when it might mean she got her way.

"Lavender-"

"Plus, I'm perfectly healthy and I like the way I look – voluptuous, Ron called me, like the Bottle-cherry ladies!"

Wryly, Hermione smiled. "Boticelli, do you mean?" She tapped her chin sardonically. "Gosh, I do wonder where Ronald got that from."

Unfortunately, her stopping to stick her tongue out at Hermione gave Ginny the chance she needed to shove Lavender into position. "I don't give two figs about Bloody Bottle-whosit. You shut your face, Hermione! I know that's not how it's pronounced! I don't care. I care about keeping us all alive, and Lavender, that includes you. In fact, you're the one it applies to most! Now, you'll train with us whether I have to imperius you or not." Her fierce look seemed to quell Lavender for a moment, until she took note that Hermione and Luna appeared to be stretching. Panicking, she cast about for a feasible excuse.

"I don't have a sports bra," Lavender announced, smugly, with all the airs and graces of a Prisoner on Death Row who had suddenly been pardoned. "I don't know about you, Miss 32B," here she looked pointedly at Ginny's pert, but hardly large, bosom, "but these need at least three layers of fabric before they stop smacking me in the face."

Ginny quashed this delight quickly. "Are you a witch, or not?" She snapped, and then flicked her wand at the other girl's chest. There was a spark, and suddenly Lavender seemed to be unable to breathe, her torso malformed into an odd sausage-shape. Her redheaded friend looked carelessly self-satisfied. "There. Now you can run."

It was amazing how quickly Ginny's generally laid-back demeanour could switch into Drill Sergeant mode, truly. In less than ten more minutes, she had Luna and Hermione doing laps in their bare feet around the clearing – when Hermione asked to put her trainers back on, she had Luna on one side going on about disturbing the natural magics of the area with nasty man-made material, and Ginny on the other grinding on about all-terrain preparation, so she'd given up in short order – and Lavender lagging behind them. Hermione and Luna had lapped her twice before she gave up her complaining to Ginny about some back problems she'd mysteriously conjured, and was now doing the most pathetic excuse for a jog any of the girls had ever seen.

"Knees up, Lav!" Ginny barked, clearly enjoying herself.

"She needs a better nickname," Hermione puffed out as she and Luna started their fifth lap with Ginny's less-than dulcet tones in the background. "Lav is – (pant, pant) – revolting."

Luna did an odd running shrug. "I don't think her mate is much of a one for nicknames," she threw back, then sped up out of Hermione's reach, ending the conversation. Hermione shook her head, expecting that Luna was playing one of her games again, for she couldn't possibly know who Lavender's mate was when she had been a werewolf for all of three days – could she? It was preposterous, and entirely unlikely to boot.

By the time Lavender had made five laps, she looked ready to collapse, so Ginny called a halt to proceedings and they all met in the centre of the clearing again for a cool down. Lavender attempted to flop onto the floor, but Ginny stopped her with a sadistic baring of her teeth. "Oh, no, missus. You'll seize up if you do that."

"I've already seized!" Lavender cried, using one arm to wipe sweat from her forehead, though it looked like an effort. "I cant do this, really, I can't do it! Go on without me!"

And she dropped to the ground, spread-eagle, her limbs limp as spaghetti and splayed out uncomfortably. Even Luna stopped to look at her quizzically.

"I think she's more Rubens," the blonde girl murmured, turning her head on an angle to better observe Lavender's form. It took a moment for Hermione to pick up the train of thought, not least because she hadn't realized Luna had been listening earlier. "Mars und Rhea Silvia," Luna remarked obliquely, sending Hermione a smile, before waltzing off into the trees to be at one with the dryads, or something.


Ginny finally agreed to end the session on the promise that the girls would jog together later that night, though nobody except for her was very excited by the prospect. In contrast to the other three, who all looked pale and sweaty and all-round exhausted, Ginny was invigorated by the exercise, skipping her way back to the Manor and calling back suggestions for what to do next.

"We need Kreacher, at least." She hollered, turning on her heels to walk backwards, face glowing. "If we can't get to Regulus by any other way."

Hermione wrinkled her nose with distaste, remembering the elf's disgusted whispers about her. For all that she had taken on the role of House-Elf Liberator, she had still been glad to see the back of him when he'd decamped to Hogwarts. "That's nigh-on impossible to do," she replied, "considering he's a Black elf, and look at us – no Blacks."

"I'm a Black," a voice said, sending Ginny into a twirl. She tripped on her own feet, yelped, and fell. Above her, Sirius Black was looking vaguely amused, having exited through the kitchen door that almost melded into the stone. "Alright, love?" he drawled, sending a blush across Ginny's face. It took her a moment to remember that she didn't like him, and curse herself for acting like a silly child. Forcing a scowl, she scrambled to her feet and brushed at her knees.

"Fine, thanks," she snapped irritably, pressing her chilled hands to her cheeks to banish the glow of her embarrassment, which further fed the flames of anger in her gut. She sent a betrayed glare back at the girls for not coming to her rescue. None of them had the grace to look chastised, the cows. "What do you want?"

He loomed over her, at least twice as broad, or perhaps she imagined he was because his mere presence had such a claustrophobic effect. His wide mouth twitched at the corners, the grey of his eyes warmed. Apparently, he'd forgotten that she was an untrustworthy child, and that he didn't care for any of them. "This is my home," he reminded her, looking even more entertained when she took a step back – so that she wouldn't get a crick in her neck looking at him, not because he intimidated her; oh no, Ginny was never intimidated by men. "You're the visitor – the loud visitor, screaming her little head off at eight in the morning. I thought you might be in trouble."

Sirius looked faintly disgusted, probably at the prospect of being awake at such an uncivilized hour. He was still in his pyjamas, lending credence to the idea that perhaps he'd rushed downstairs in a fit of goodwill, but Ginny wasn't the sort of girl who would buy whatever guff he decided to sell her without a fight. "Oh? And you thought you'd rush to rescue the poor damsel in distress, did you? Thought we might need your help? I can take care of myself, you know!"

A shadow crossed his face, and he scowled. "Actually, I was going to ask if you could keep it down. Get murdered if you like, just be considerate enough to remember that people are sleeping in here, yeah?"

Then he disappeared back inside, slamming the door behind him. Lavender let out a low whistle, her normal personality having apparently been bolstered by the sight of her torturous personal trainer landing on her arse in front of a fit lad. "He really doesn't like you," she informed Ginny, matter-of-factly. Ginny snarled at her, then at Luna and Hermione, before letting out a frustrated huff and yanking at the kitchen door, intent on making an exit.

Locked, of course.

She caught the barely-restrained laughter on Lavender's smug face, let out a shout of fury, and flounced off.

Chapter Text

The girls had mostly forgotten to be worried about Remus – except, of course, Hermione, for whom he was never completely absent – and it was with relief mixed with varying levels of guilt that they saw him at the table that morning. He was pale but present, which loosened the knot of worry in Hermione's gut, the one that always doubted whether she'd gotten her answers right, be it in an exam or on a Horcrux hunt. James and Sirius were also in a much lighter mood, probably caused by Remus's regained health, and neither seemed willing to take a jab at their presence and risk ruining the light atmosphere. Rather, they ignored the girls' appearance and chatted amongst themselves.

Breakfast had been laid out on a sideboard on the back wall, opposite the windows. Carafe upon carafe of pumpkin juice, orange juice, apple juice, pots of tea, one pot of coffee were lined against the wall, and on trays in front were glistening sausages, perfect eggs, griddled bacon, toast – even those little ramekins of marmalades and jams at one side. It was a haven of delicious breakfast foods, all kept in stasis by the subtle fizz of elf magic. Unused to such a plethora of options, Lavender dithered over it, gobsmacked and starry eyed at the many different types of meat and fat she could eat in one meal. Eventually, her stomach let out an embarrassingly loud grumble that even the boys took notice of. She raised her chin stubbornly and sent them a challenging look; but it didn't stop Ginny laughing from where she was piling her plate with protein. In retaliation Lavender dived forward, nicked her dish out of her hands, and sauntered back to the table with a sassy 'thank you!' thrown over her shoulder, the whole action taking less than a second. Ginny, left staring at Lavender's pitifully empty plate, rolled her eyes and began again.

Hermione lingered there for a few moments after the other girls had taken their loads to the table, as they had commandeered the opposite corner to the boys, and this was the closest part of the room to Remus without her looking odd. It might have seemed suspicious that she spent so much time inspecting the apricot chutney, but she didn't care about that too much. He was well, she could feel that, his presence an inviting heat against her occlumency shields. If she dropped them, then she would be able to inspect his health more thoroughly, but she'd not done that since sixth year when she had just discovered the link in her meditations, but hadn't been sure what it was.

She wasn't sure what it was now, even. Remus had promised he'd explain everything later, after the war, when she'd last seen him. He hadn't seemed overly blown away by the discovery, nor surprised, but had refused to answer her questions, so she'd turned to her refuge. Books. Bonds weren't widely written about, though it had been enough that she knew it was a bond. Werewolf literature was even vaguer, and harder to get her hands on. She'd thought perhaps they were Mated for a few weeks, until he married Tonks. The wedding had crushed that possibility efficiently enough, plus the fact that none of her research mentioned this sort of metaphysical connection between Mated pairs.

It was something, though. Mating with him, with the capital 'M', and them being together forever, had been a child's dream. Her constant awareness of him, her intimate knowledge of him despite their lack of speaking, that was a reality – and finding the answers had become more pressing a responsibility, because now she didn't know him, they were strangers, and he was likely to notice the magic soon and demand an explanation. An explanation she didn't have.

There was a low hum of conversation in the air, but it stayed light, nothing about the future or the war. The Marauders were talking about some party they had gone to the other week, their mutual friends, some names came up that Hermione vaguely recognized but wasn't overly interested in. She'd add the new information to her book later, just in case. Conversation was delicately structured to avoid mention of Peter, which added tension, but otherwise they might have been having breakfast any other day.

On the girls' side, where Hermione finally retreated with no notion as to what she might have put on her plate, Luna was braiding her hair while nodding along to Ginny, whose energy was, if anything, growing after their earlier run. Her fitness regime, she told them, took up about three to four hours every day, starting with a jog at dawn and ending with a jog before bed. Leaning closer, her eyes alight with excitement, she lectured that because people ate large meals in the evening, they had too much excess energy in their system which wasn't being used. "Eat more in the morning," she advised sagely, pointing at her loaded plate of protein.

Lavender, who wasn't listening at all, leaned back in her chair to make a scornful face at Hermione behind Ginny's back. Normally Hermione would have been resolutely on Ginny's side, but she was a happy size 14 and fit enough for it in a way that Luna and Ginny couldn't empathise with. In the interests of preventing a civil war - which seemed highly possible, from the dangerous look on Lavender's face as she pointedly shoveled food into her mouth - she summoned her notebook and dropped it on the table with a smile, the thud attracting the other girls' attention to her.

"We need to talk about the situation," she said, pointing at her book. Luna nodded, but the other two looked a bit lost. "You know, the one that brought us here?"

"The War," Ginny said slowly, seeming concerned about Hermione's lacking mental state, "we know. What about it?"

"It occurred to me that the Potters and friends all expect us to guide them through the war," Hermione began quietly so that the boys wouldn't overhear, a little bitter about having to break the light atmosphere, but mostly determined to get the issue sorted. "We haven't done anything to convince them otherwise, either. Yet, we don't have a clue what's going on so far, or how to start getting things in order. While they think we're some magical miracle solution, we need to remember that we're not, and it's going to take a lot of work on our side to get anywhere near success."

Hermione scrunched up her face, not liking the sensation pressure on her shoulders. She wasn't a leader, had never asked to be. At best, she was an efficient second in command – she followed instructions well, and could boss people about with the best of them, but lacked that essential spark that led to the creation of new spells, new curriculum, new governments. Her work in the DoM had consisted of finding problems and solving them, which was what Hermione was best at, but she was useless at solving problems that didn't exist, at poking holes where they didn't belong and filling them before anybody noticed. Since being dropped in 1979, however, it seemed the responsibility of the War lay squarely on her shoulders. The other girls may have had a pop about her lack of pureblood knowledge, and they may be determined that they fix the wrongdoings of the war, but none of them had actually started to do anything.

Truthfully, the way they had won their war was through trial and error. It had been a cluster-fuck of epic proportions, complete with underfed dragons destroying ancient Wizarding metropolis and strokes of luck to cover up their lack of any actual plan. To be expected to collate all of that into an actual, workable strategy to unravel history from the start… it was an immense challenge. She felt like Lachesis, stood over the tapestry of life, with all this power and knowledge and ability at her fingertips, only Hermione was suddenly realizing she didn't know how to weave.

Ginny seemed to understand what she was thinking, or it was written all over Hermione's face, for she reached out to take the notebook and frowned at the pages. It was open to the rough timeline Hermione had sketched, from the first thing she knew about the first Wizarding War – the Bones family deaths – all the way through to Voldemort's defeat at Hogwarts. On the next page, glamoured invisible to those who did not know it was there, was the list of Horcruxes. It was obvious the second Ginny noticed it, for she froze – genuinely froze, like a deer in headlights, from her toes to her eyes – before nodding as though she'd come to a decision and putting it down again. Then she looked at Luna.

"You pack anything useful in that bag, or is it all just naked pictured of me?" She joked, her smile somewhat sincere, though the effect was spoilt by her sudden paleness.

Luna nodded, munching on a strawberry. "Old Prophets, books on the war, the entire backdated Quibbler archive from 1976 to 1999. They're in there, if you look."

The brunette looked vaguely surprised, but accepted that explanation easily. "Then I'll do research, straight after breakfast. We do need to focus more on the task at hand though, so to speak."

"Lavender's health is just as important as the War," Ginny scolded, but didn't object.

When it seemed the others were on board, Hermione explained her idea for their part of the war, first checking the boys weren't paying attention. "We can't cross the Order, not yet. Saving lives is fine, but we'll need to find a way to do that which doesn't put us in the path of…" here she glanced around furtively, as though paranoid that the man in question would suddenly appear for jam and scones, "Dumbledore. Preferably, we wouldn't want to draw attention to us from Riddle, either, so we'll have to be quiet and inconspicuous."

"Right, but if we're not fighting, we're sneaking about in our saving lives, and we're not coming out, what are we doing?" Lavender asked, though it was a bit muffled as it came on the end of a bite of sausage.

Hermione passed her a scathing look at her lack of manners. "You aren't doing any of that, anyway, until we're sure a) that your magic isn't a ticking bomb, and b) that you getting a paper cut isn't going to exsanguinate Remus. And to answer your question, we'll be looking for these." She tapped the list with a fingernail, ignoring Ginny's flinch. "Of course, first we'll need to find somewhere safe to keep them, then figure out where they all are right now, before we even think about bringing them back and destroying them, but their destruction is our ultimate aim. At the same time we'll need to be looking out for fixed points in time, and watching how they've changed – that will give us an idea of how much we've changed time, if at all. We've got a lot to do and not much time to do it in."

Lavender, still not looking pleased, pouted up at Hermione. "And what will I be doing, if I'm not allowed to be hunting for horcruxes?" she demanded.

Hermione, returning her notebook to her bag as the thrill of research began to tickle across her skin, gave a grin to the other girl. "The admin, of course."


"What do you think they're talking about?" James asked, breaking into a conversation on the Holyhead Harpies to send a suspicious glare across the room, tapping his spoon against his bowl of porridge agitatedly. Glancing across, Remus noticed that they had indeed ended their relatively loud conversation about exercise and were now muttering together, heads bent close. As he watched, the brunette – Hermione, Remus recalled – looked up. Their eyes only met for a brief moment, but even as she broke away, in Remus' mind Moony woke up and began to watch.

"Remus, probably," Sirius replied, pausing halfway through a Cumberland sausage to follow their line of sight. "Hardly going to be make-up and shopping with that lot, is it?"

Remus rolled his eyes, feeling irritated for no good reason with his friend. "They're still women, you know," he reminded the two of them, because the other two seemed to view their time-travelling guests as the enemy, and without good reason had cast them as some sort of moustache-twirling villains without either personality nor life of their own outside of throwing theirs into turmoil. Remus was frustrated that this instant judgement had been made so quickly, but equally so that he'd not had the pleasure of being able to think these things himself, on account of Lavender's essence loitering at the back of his mind, waiting to be acknowledged. He liked to think he was a good guy, but even a really good guy liked to make his own judgements about people.

This, again, wasn't an option. Lavender's presence was delicate, effeminate, overlaid with the scent of bell heather – a curious scent for a person who looked like Lavender Brown to have, if he was honest. He was reluctantly intrigued by this, as well as the natural interest he should have for a new member of his pack, but these feelings only frustrated him further, because he knew that had he been wholey human he wouldn't be thinking things like is she as delicate as Lavender, or as hardy and stubborn as heather? Because it wouldn't be something he'd notice enough to bother with. Even more concerning was the fact that she felt lonely – something he was intimately familiar with, and it was this more than any wolf instinct that made him soften towards her in the end, for it drew memories of himself as he came to terms with his own lycanthropy. It made him pity her a little, which while being something she would find offensive, was also more effective than sympathy in getting him to view her as a person rather than a burden visited upon him by his curse.

James sent him a surprised look at his words, and Remus didn't blame him. While he hadn't bought into the non-stop bash fest Sirius and Remus were enjoying, this was also the first time he'd defended them. It was the first time he'd been in the mood to defend them. He'd yet to tell his friends about what had caused him to collapse, and they had only asked the once so far before giving into their relief that he was whole, unharmed, and well. He'd have to tell them at some point, of course, but they'd seemed to have reached an unspoken compromise with the girls, and Remus was loathe to be the reason it broke prematurely.

"Don't let Lily hear you say things like that," James said, recovering himself slightly and adopting the hushed reverent tone that was his default when talking about his fiancée. Remus and Sirius exchanged an exasperated look – eight years now, and James still spoke about Lily as if she was some sort of temperamental Goddess; beautiful and terrifying in equal turns, yet completely irresistible. Sweet, yes, but Remus couldn't imagine ever falling for anybody so completely, and Sirius agreed. Together they were waiting impatiently for the day James and Lily started acting like a normal couple, because at the moment it seemed that if Lily chose to Avada James, he would die smiling for the pleasure of being the centre of her attention for the time it took.

Moony gave a snort of disagreement and let out a huff. That was the first of his plentiful daily reminders to Remus that Moony disagreed completely with this assessment – he thought that one day Remus would have a Mate, and he'd then understand. Remus disagreed vehemently with this assessment, and it was likely the sort of thing they'd never come to terms on. He didn't buy into the whole 'wolf-mate' myth; there was no evidence it existed, and while the romantic side of himself (a rather large part, if he was honest, though at the moment it was gagged and bound on this subject) thought it was a delightful idea, the logical side knew that if there was a perfect person out there for him – beautiful, clever, witty and beyond his wildest wishes – then the best thing he could do for her would be to run a mile.

Depressing thought, but true.

"It's the muggleborn in her," Sirius was saying when Remus tuned back in. He had donned the airs of someone with great wisdom – a person as far removed from Sirius as it was possible to be, probably – and was waving a fork around with authority. "Muggle women get really offended when you say stuff like that, Moony. You know, categorise them according to their gender. You say they like makeup and jewellery, and they'll provide you with a hundred examples of women who don't touch the stuff and men who do, or worse." He shuddered theatrically, his other hand rising to stroke a finger over a scar on his temple. "Take it from me, you don't want to be on the wrong side of a girl's temper when it comes to women's lib, magic or no."

Remus smirked at the memory. In 1976, Sirius had wandered into a night-time political rally in Edinburgh and obliviously started hitting on one of the leaders. Getting beaten by a dozen irate scotswomen after one too many firewhiskeys and an indecent joke about lesbianism had left its mark on him, alright. In Remus' eyes (and Lily's, and Marlene's, and Mary's, and every woman at Hogwarts') it was a lesson he should have learned earlier.

James scoffed, sending Sirius a contemptuous look, though it was laced with enough amusement that Remus could tell that he, too, was fondly recalling that night. Sirius had cried for help as he'd gone down, but James had been unable to render aid on account of him laughing too hard, and Remus had felt morally obliged to let the women have their say. Peter, the only one of them who may have given him assistance, had conveniently disappeared, later to be found passed out face-down in an alley off Queen Street.

"Yes, well, we're not all so stupid as you, Pads," James sniffed.

"I prefer indelicate," Sirius faked affront, a hand to his chest.

"prefer imbecilic," Lily's voice floated in as she took the seat next to James, unsurprisingly the one closest to the girls on the other end. To make her lack of allegiance even clearer, she added a grin and a jaunty wave in their direction before turning back to them. "Since we're starting the morning by offending the entirety of the fairer sex, and Muggles to boot," she said in an acidic tone that told them she'd gotten the gist of the conversation, "perhaps you can attempt to at least please your own woman, for once, James, and get me some breakfast?"

James flashed them an alarmed look but dutifully nipped off to the sideboard, while Lily turned her attention on Remus. She unleashed a soft, affectionate smile of the sort that warmed Remus through to his bones, and she only ever used on special occasions. "You look better," she observed, looking at the new colour in Remus' cheeks and the brightness of his eyes with approval. "How do you feel?"

"Fine," Remus responded with a gentle smile, trying to beg her with his eyes not to ask the question he knew she was going to.

"Well that's good," she perked up, "any idea what happened?"

There it was. Remus looked down at his plate, cursing her in his head half-heartedly. He'd be happy to tell her, but not right now, in the company of an intent Sirius and an interested James, and not with the girls within hexing distance. "Does it matter?" He volleyed lightly, before shovelling the last of his bacon into his mouth at speed. He stood, and in a display of extraordinarily dreadful manners, he spluttered an excuse about fetching more food through the chunks of meat and darted off to the sideboard, sending his chair thudding to the ground in his wake.

And then, just as suddenly, he stopped.

There was… something… in the air. Something… sweet… so sweet… so delicious smelling…

His mouth was watering, his eyes almost crossed as it wafted through his senses, luring him into a trance of pure pleasure. It was so strong… so pungent… as if the source was right there

Moony had padded to the front of his mind, sniffing and whining, but making no attempt to break through. In honesty, Remus wanted to whine too, it was so delightful… he only just had the presence of mind to shut the sound down before it came out…. Only just, though…

It was so comforting. Like home, but not his home, a new home… one with laughter and hugs and kisses and long nights in bed followed by lie-ins and more laughter and more kisses and children and a garden and…

Remus had the absurd urge to rip it from the air, form it into a blanket and wrap himself in it, never to let go…

Moony had the urge to roll in it, covering himself so thoroughly in the beauty of it that no amount of washing would ever rid him of its comfort…

There was a clatter in the background, but Remus paid it no mind. Moony was stretching, preparing for a hunt, and Remus thought that was a brilliant idea, wonderful, anything to find the source of…

A cool burst of air swept past, clearing his nose, wiping it all away so rapidly that Remus couldn't prevent a vicious growl. He span, hs eyes opening, to face the culprit.

Stood at the other side of the room, holding a window pole at her side like a triumphant warrior Queen, stood Luna. Her eyes suspiciously wide and innocent, she smiled at him. "Oops, sorry!" She sang, continuing nevertheless to open the windows lining the wall, letting in the spring air and simultaneously ridding the room of the last dregs of the intoxicating fragrance. "Just thought it was getting a little bit stuffy in here, that's all. Is there a problem, Remus?"

Her eyes were, at first appearance, completely guileless, but at the back – and Remus could only see this because he was so buoyed by Moony's rage at the girl, later thinking that he might have imagined it – there was a shimmer of apology.

"No," he responded shortly, seeing no other choice.

"Oh, good," she practically purred, her face as bright as the morning sun as she broke into a smile. "In that case, I think we have work to do. Hermione?"

The girls cleared out in record time, dumping their leftovers into the compost for Dorea's vegetable garden and piling their plates on the sideboard before filing out the door. During the whole performance, Luna held his eyes, still looking oddly melancholy, before with a respectful nod, she disappeared too, the door closing gently behind her. Remus was left to answer to his friends.

Chapter Text

Luna sat alone in a dark, dank room situated at the very top of Potter Manor, squeezed between rafters with a ceiling so thin she could almost make out the shape of the roof tiling. Until ten minutes ago, this side of the floor had been closed off, long forgotten, a dusty shadow at the back of the attic the only indication of a door. So far back, indeed, that the dust on the attic floor had interwoven into a fluffy gray blanket, newer layers making a lighter pattern of swirls and lines until it looked like a purposely designed rug, undisturbed even by the elves.

Many generations of Potters had been and gone throughout these walls without a thought for this room, probably unaware that it existed, and consequently it was in a state; filthy and stale, only saved from horrendous mould by the protective incantations woven into the foundations of the building itself. In one corner stood an ancient looking glass of some polished metal, perhaps older than the house itself, and why it had been delegated to this forgotten wasteland was a mystery. It provided very little in the way of reflection, its new primary purpose being in providing a home to a family of house-spiders that themselves likely dated back to the building's conception.

Some other pieces of furniture scattered the boundaries of the room, pushed up against the walls and covered in draped cloth, presumably for preservation though the state of the material at this juncture made the effort seem futile, but it was evidence of a time prior when Wizards and Witches still employed sensitive Muggles as servants, who would have shared this cramped space and made it their home.

None of this history, while fascinating and worth later investigation, was why Luna had come.

In the ceiling, directly above the very centre of the room, a square window had been installed. It was small, big enough for Luna to pass through uninhibited but too small for, say, Charlus, and its original purpose was unclear – perhaps stargazing, or simply for air for the servants. It was newer than the room itself and much newer than the building, but obviously old enough for it to have been forgotten when the attic was closed off. The outside was clean, evidence of the elves' diligence in cleaning the outside of the home, but the inside had been coated with layers of grime and dirt, cobwebs gathering dust and hanging low, holding onto their prizes determinedly – dessicated insect carcasses dotted both the strands of silk and the floor below – until such a time that it was nearly invisible looking up, as it had blended so well into the rest of the ceiling.

No so any longer.

It was half past eleven, and Luna had been taken from her bed at eleven. Taken was an accurate word to use – though it had been no visible, discernible force, Luna's lack of control over her own shell was telling. The house had been quiet but not silent, for James was in Lily's room, and as she'd passed Luna had heard the whispers of Dorea and Charlus conferring from within the intimate confines of their marital bed. It had, however, been quiet enough for Luna – or, perhaps, the force that controlled her – to slip about undetected. Her consciousness had been awoken by the message, though it had not been a message of words, but a tug and an image. Too indistinct for her to be able to remember in the morning when she tried, it was still enough to alert her in the night, even as her body had already been moving.

It was similar to the night of her first Seeing, as far as she could recall. It was blurred in her memory, but she could recall an image of a beautiful woman in a state of incandescent furry, face almost purple with rage, holding a mess of frayed yarn. What had come after that remained a mystery, a blur of arguing voices and cryptic instructions, growing weaker in her memory every day that passed, but it had been what had led her to Hermione's time-turner, Lavender's attack, and ultimately, 1979.

Luna found herself more aware this night, half conscious and cataloguing any information she came across. She had faith in the Gods to use her well, but if she was to aid them in their design then she'd quite like to make sure she was doing it properly. It was an odd sensation, though. Her body was moving as if of its own accord, much more purposefully than she ever did in her own life, with an authority that felt wrong in her bones. Luna was, effectively, a passenger in her own head. The other entity did not deign to communicate with her, but she could feel it there, blocking her access to her faculties.

The unknown force had taken her body to the kitchens, collecting bread and wine and dozens of candles with a confidence that Luna didn't hold, seemingly knowing where everything lived without looking. Then she had climbed the back stairs, another relic from the time of servants and in a state of considerable ill-repair, but her body skipped nimbly over rotting steps and collapsed panelling, intuitively sensing where trouble lay. It seemed odd to Luna that with all the opulence in the main house, these back routes could be so obviously ruined, but perhaps the Potters had other things on their mind than old house secrets. She wouldn't know anything about the upkeep of a family estate, after all, she did live in a house in which each storey held only one room and no secrets.

Once they reached the odd little room, she had lit all of the candles with a single spell wandlessly (impressively, even. A trick she promised herself she'd try again in the morning) and placed them equidistant from one another around the room. When they were in place and she'd cleaned the window using the muslin she'd pilfered from the old mirror, she'd sat to one side, the untouched plate of food on her folded knees, and settled in to wait.

For what, she wasn't sure, but patience was a virtue she had long been accustomed to, even before the weeks she had spent during the war sat in the Malfoy Manor cellar awaiting rescue. She tracked the movement of the moon with her eyes once the presence had retreated enough to allow her to do so, and amused herself by naming the stars twinkling high above her. She felt unnaturally calm, her brain like a lake in deep summer. Nothing rose to the surface for acknowledgement, nothing even swam just beneath, hoping to disturb her; everything was relaxed, empty, at ease.

And then the moonlight began to seep into the room. It was sluggish at first, oozing across the floor, seeping into the candlelight. For a moment, the two lights battled, gold against silver, but the cold of the night won over and the candle simply went out without even a warning sputter. Luna was still undisturbed, watching with singular fascination. In the depths her cynical mind spoke a thought about wastage, but if it was small in everyday life then at this point it was near non-existent, and so the thought dissipated before it was even really there, for all intents and purposes never actually existing.

Glossy, shimmering moonlight filled the room like something tangible, reaching far beyond the enforced boundaries of natural light, never fading or faltering in its task. Everything was awash with silver and Luna could taste metal, cool and refreshing as water, on her tongue. For all that the moon was at a more latent phase, it made no difference here, where its power shone as bright as any sun ever could.

Within the confines of the candles – not a true Circle, for nothing had been cast, though Luna appreciated the nod to her heritage before that thought, too, was swallowed by the lake – colour began to seep in, filling a silhouette she had not noticed before. The light made already pale colour paler, like a delicate watercolour on a white background, but the shape became more and more obvious as Luna stared. Pinks, blues, yellows and other colours that she was too far gone to name coalesced into the figures of three women, stood holding hands below the window, their presence seeming to amplify the latent power lingering in the room until it stuck in Luna's throat and she couldn't speak the words that boiled up her throat.

Moirai, Matres, Parcae, her brain provided, the names popping to the top of her mind one after the other, quickly discarded. It was what they were, indeed, but they were also more, and Luna hesitated to put a name to them as if it would give them more power over her. The memories were rushing back now, perhaps triggered by the tidal wave of mingled fear and awe that overcame her at their manifestation, rushing to fill the gaps.

Fate was her ally, she remembered, but it was cold comfort as they stood before her, regal and magnificent and utterly terrifying. They faced her as they had the night of her first Seeing, only she knew now that it hadn't been a seeing at all, for that was not her gift. Her gift was the ability to see between reality, to communicate with other layers of the world that others disregarded, to interpret what she had seen there. She was the key for Fate to ply her trade with, as her grandmother before her, and her grandmother's grandmother before that. Luna, with her talent and power, was a conduit for their will, a job which she accepted gracefully because it was her destiny and the rightness rang through her very soul.

Last time the three sisters had stood before her in anger and demanded that she fix what had been broken. The third one, the one who dealt in death, had initiated the contact – Luna's first true exchange with the Gods themselves – because of her ire at those who had suspended her orders. The middle one, she had been coolly dissatisfied that her carefully worked plans had gone awry, centuries after their inception. And the first…

The first had looked at Luna out of glistening eyes, suffocated by her own grief and therefore unable to say a word. Instead, she had held up a ball of what Luna might have called cotton wool, though it was so much more than cotton wool. It was unspun thread, Luna realized as she'd inspected it, and then had been frozen by the implications. The first was she who spun the thread to create life, and for her to have had so much at hand… One look back at her face had confirmed what she had been thinking, and the bleakness of that image had been what pushed her to move. The pitiful ball of wool, the sight of the first's eyes, and the suggestion of what it meant was what overrode her misgivings as she went about her preparations for the move, though she hadn't truly realized it until this moment. The possibility of what might have been, destroyed before it even had a chance to be realized, and then expected to be discarded like so much rubbish…

And now they were back, these Goddesses, which made Luna think that the situation was more than even she had imagined. For them to take such an active interest in the actions of four humans was unthinkable, when you put it into the context of the whole of reality. Yet here they stood, as solid as any mortal, waiting for Luna to come to grips with herself. Their last visit had been chaotic and uncivilized in such a way that only powerful immortal beings could engineer, and though it was intimidating and uncomfortable, Luna could only be glad that this time they were keeping their Godly masks on.

"Greetings, Luna, Pandora's daughter," they intoned as one when Luna's eyes cleared. They had broken the calm of her mind by returning her memories, but by the first syllable of their address the water had risen up and claimed it all, sucking it into the deep so that Luna was left calm and complacent, with her full attention given to them. Their accord, though familiar to Luna from the tales she had learned as a child, was new in the flesh and made the encounter seem unreal. The edges of her consciousness began to blur again, drifting into dreamlike territory, but she reached for the tickle of unease they created in her and pulled on it with both hands until her vision sharpened once more.

Dutifully, she returned their greeting, referring to them as one with the respectful term of 'Fate'. Though she did know their names, or the variety of names they had worn throughout the years, she couldn't breach the surface of her mind deep enough to discover them, and instead named them One, Two and Three. The formalities duly observed, Three sank to the ground closest Luna, paying no mind to the unhygienic setting and instead reaching for the bread and wine Luna still held as offering. She removed the cork from the wine deftly, took a swig and cleared her throat delicately.

"The ending has changed," Three decreed, as though continuing a previous conversation. She continued on; "The outcome is unclear and our control continues to be limited. All I see are deaths, though whether I will charge them or not remains to be seen."

One nodded thoughtfully in the background, her eyes fixed on the wine. Three passed it up to her, and she drank of it, before passing it to Two. "I am unable to see past the final Weasley birth," she observed in turn, apparently to Luna.

Two, clutching the bottle in one hand and One's hand in the other, turned piercing eyes on Luna. "My points are currently unchanged," she chipped in, though not as if she were pleased. Indeed, her eyes only got more intent, and her next words seemed forced through gritted teeth. "Why have they not yet changed, Pandora's child?" Luna tried not to flinch when Two spat her mother's name like a curse.

One tightened her grip on Two's hand, smiling serenely, and if it was slightly brittle, no one commented. "Now, now, sister. Much has been changed already, I'm sure. We must be patient." Two lapsed back into silence, becoming a living statue. No signs of life were detectable, truly, if not for the simmering discontent in her eyes, Luna might have thought she had died. "Tell us," One asked gently, "what have you set in motion, child?"

Three was regarding her expectantly now, and if Luna had thought she was uncomfortable before, it was nothing to being inspected by the Fate who commands death like an insect beneath a microscope. The calm rippled, seemingly in an attempt to swallow her disquiet, but gave up quickly when Luna used the little strength she had access to to fight back.

"As you wished we are with the Potter family, but they are reluctant to trust in us. They have been given the bare bones of future knowledge, and they suspect your involvement, if not so very directly as you are." They nodded as one again, silently encouraging her onwards. Two had even melted into movement again, interest present in the lines of her face, and Luna knew why.

Two, as the one who threaded and spun and weaved, was charged with directing the course of lives, allocating Fixed Points in time, giving help and hindrances in the bigger picture and matching Soul Pairs as directed by Greater Powers. Soul bonds were rare, given only when there was need of them, or they might crop up uninitiated once every while. They used to be seen as rewards for work done by the Gods, like the gifts such as prophecy and magic and even zoolingual telepathy. The only thing on earth that was powerful enough to override a Fated match was the rarer True Love, which, though often found in Soul Pairs, was more prized and revered when it occurred without the interference of a Higher Power. It was a measure of the power of free will, and myths suggested the ability had been an apology by the Gods of Love many millenia ago.

In Potter Manor, involved in the war and at this precise moment, resided two True Love matches, the power of which resounded throughout time in the original reality, and had the potential to do so again. Added to that, each of the remaining inhabitants bore the marks of Two, both in their power and their destined mates. This was no accident, and in moving them into position Two had invested a lot of her power in the outcome of this endeavour. The others hadn't objected to this – One with her ball of tangled thread had in fact been delighted at the prospect of salvaging some lives from the discarded remains of the original reality, and Three only wanted to reclaim her shears and get back to work. This would remain Three's aim, no matter what was to come, for she was as stubborn and steadfast and willful as the force she invoked.

"Hermione's working on a plan, though it might… take some time." Luna finished, aware of how lame it sounded even without the added insult of Two's disdainful scoff.

"Time is a luxury we may not be able to afford, Luna," One reminded her, still gentle as a mother.

Two agreed, her eyes taking on a faraway look. She might be stood in front of her, but Luna knew that in her mind she paced in front of the Tapestry, watching free will take its course, manipulating the strands, twisting and tweaking as people went about their lives – or, more specifically, as Riddle went about his. They had confided, last time, that Riddle had thwarted all attempts by the Goddesses to change his path with his unnatural magic, and it was only after a decade of searching and waiting that they had finally found the – literal and metaphorical – loophole through which they had been able to send Luna, Ginny, Lavender and Hermione back. She didn't fully understand how, yet, but it had something to do with the death of the final Mate, and the lack of bonds holding them to their present.

"As we speak he prepares for battle. Our original timeline grows more narrow every second that passes without action."

Three groaned loudly, her head flopping back on her neck as though the sound had been too large for her dainty throat. She picked at her hemline peevishly. "I told you, sister," she all but growled, her face glowing eerily with the banked embers of her rage. "I told you, I should have cut him when he was but a boy."

"This again," sighed One, her only sign of any emotion other than calm since they had arrived.

Two donned a sour expression to address her sister, a sudden burst of violent emotion rippling the air, and Luna had the feeling that she was only just holding back from slapping Three. It seemed that millennia by each other's sides did not in fact make the heart grow fonder. "And as I told you, sister, he was necessary." She shook herself once, sharply, and Luna had an odd image of a great bird superimposed over Two's graceful feminine features. The feathers undulated as she moved, and it was mesmerizing. "But now…" She looked at Luna's enthralled face, and was seen through the curving beak of the great creature. A queer expression crossed her face and the second image was gone, leaving only Two in her floaty purple tunic. "He has stolen what was not his to take, and in doing so he has jeopardized plans thousands of years in the making, and threatened the very balance of reality. It cannot stand."

Three sent a wry look at the assembled, including Luna in her apparent humour. "Truly, free will, while a delightful concept, is inherently flawed in its practise." She turned on Luna, eyes alight with some dark purpose. "He must be stopped, young one, and soon, before more permanent damage can be done. Riddle is a mistake of creation, one that should never have been inflicted on this world." Behind her, both sisters made noises of disagreement, and Three shot them scornful looks. "My sister is too protective of her casts, all of you, and was too weak to allow me to do what needed done. That fault in her person has since been rectified, but the product remains. If we could do this ourselves, we would."

"We are not ones to rely on mortals for our work," Two added, her lips curled slightly. She softened, though, as Three joined them in their line, her affection for her sister apparent and translating into more kindness for Luna. "We will help as we can," she said, looking at the centre of Luna's forehead. Something inside her glowed with warmth, and belatedly she realized that this was a sort of apology, and wished she knew how to respond.

It was too late, though, for now One was taking charge again. "Time is running short. Take action, child. Begin your hunt. We will be in touch." They looked up at the moon, which seemed to have paused over the window, even though hours must have passed. Luna was suddenly aware of aching in her limbs. "Blessings on you and yours, Luna Lovegood," One sang, and the other two nodded.

Suddenly, they were gone, and Luna was in bed. She could hear Ginny's faint snoring, and the quiet scratch of quill on paper in the next room as Hermione read. Her quiet Tempus told her that it was half past midnight, which didn't seem that odd, when she tried to think about it. She couldn't recall why she was awake, except for a new urgency building in her chest. It pressed on her lungs, made her chest feel tight, her heart beat faster.

Unaccustomed to panic, Luna froze, not even breathing, but her blood pumped still faster, alarm threading through her brain.

Hermione, something said. The scratching was slowing, and there was a crinkle of bedsheets. The fear turned into fire in her veins, a tearing pain in her chest.

Too slow, too slow, too slow, her brain taunted. You're already losing.

Chapter Text

Hermione had been awake for going on twenty hours now; thanks to the training session that morning, the stress of bulling the other three unwilling women through research they had no real interest in doing, the tense atmosphere at dinner and then a 'quick jog' Ginny had insisted on leading in the late evening (which had in fact entailed running evermore excruciating laps of the property boundaries until finally Lavender had collapsed to the ground with a shout of "go on without me, leave me here to die!"), she was more than ready to collapse into oblivion for an extended amount of time, leaving the responsibility of their ongoing mission in the hands of the others. Her conscience – and a gnawing part of her that she worried may be an indication of some obsessive disorder, the nightmare illness her parents had consistently had her tested for in her youth – forbid the notion, cruelly supplying her rapidly wilting brain with images of fallen friends and comrades until the prospect of sleep was but a distant memory. Instead, she sat up in her bed, the very picture of alertness, nursing a cup of coffee Bell had kindly provided her with before the little elf had gone to bed that had deteriorated to the point where it was more warming charm than coffee, and sorted laboriously through the product of their hours of work.

"It's no good," she sighed for possibly the fourth or fifth time, abandoning a sheet of parchment scrawled with incomprehensible text that appeared more Rorschach Test than notation to the growing pile of cast offs that littered the floor space between the right side of the bed and the window. All writing was starting to blur before her eyes now, though her dwindling power of sight was the least of her problems. None of the jottings made any sense.

There was a pile of newspaper clippings Lavender had compiled at Hermione's elbow, the valuable parts helpfully highlighted in bright colours, but the woman seemed to have no concept of organization and as such the yellowing pages of the early seventies were interspersed between the crisp white of the nineties, and aside from the state of their parchment there was no indication of their original time, as the identifying date stamps had been neatly and extremely impractically snipped off. It was good work, in theory, and it certainly looked pretty, but Hermione had been there when it had been done and Lavender had spent far too much time trying to wriggle answers about her newly acquired lycanthropy from Hermione and too little time paying attention to her work. Hermione's greatest personal achievement for the day, she felt, was not telling the girl to get off her overblown arse and look for the answers herself because they were sat in a library for fuck's sake do you not understand how books work?

Ginny's contribution had been received with more grace, though it was hardly as great as Hermione had expected, given the many hours they had sat together looking for information. In between dipping in and out of a book she'd found on the lasting consequences of being possessed by dark magical artifacts (something she had stumbled upon quite by accident, though Hermione felt that it was no accident and was in fact the universe conspiring against her to prevent the other three from doing any actual, useful work) she had been spilling the knowledge she had by virtue of being a Pure-Blood witch onto a sheet of parchment in the form of hunting through an up-to-date as of 1979 copy of the Wizengamot Registry and sorting those listed within into the categories of 'possible ally' and 'best to avoid on pain of a nasty cruciatus'. It wasn't so easy as to divide them into 'Dark' and 'Light', she had explained when questioned, because 'Dark' doesn't necessarily equal 'Evil', just as 'Light' does not mean 'Good'. All the same, she had added labels telling them which of them practiced which brand of magic, and their current allegiances. Further amendments explained why families were not joined to the Order/Death Eaters – for example, the Fawleys, while a light family, refused to swear allegiance to Headmaster Dumbledore because he had snubbed Alexandria Fawley some sixty years back when her parents had approached him with a betrothal contract. His excuse had not been acknowledged, and now the Fawleys and the Dumbledores were in feud. Conversely, the Rosiers were an undoubtedly Dark family whose elders would not bend the knee to Riddle, because the maiden aunt, and now only living Matriarch, had been 'ruined' by Abraxas Malfoy in school under Riddle's orders.

Hermione had that list at her left knee, but it had been abandoned for the moment because in order to have people join a movement, it was rather necessary to have a movement, and they weren't at that point yet. Still, it was quite interesting to see how few Pureblood families were entirely 'dark', though she would never be so stupid as to mention her surprise at this fact to Ginny, who would have met her assumption with an impressively scathing look and an 'I told you so'. Her only frustration came from knowing that this was an enterprising use of her time, and perhaps had she not been so lost in her book, there would have been more to appreciate. The frustration came and left quickly and quietly, for even Hermione couldn't begrudge the girl learning about the lasting effects of her first year at Hogwarts, knowing how scarring the experience had been; how it had left a black mark on her soul Ginny could never escape.

Hands down the most useful tool at this juncture came from Luna, which Hermione had been guiltily and most unflatteringly shocked by. Hermione, Lavender and Ginny had commandeered an alcove at the back of the library for their work, with Luna assisting in moving a table across and laying down wards, but Luna had stayed with them only long enough to ensure they were settled. Instead of joining them, Luna had disappeared off into the shelves, a roll of parchment in one hand and a jumbo-pot of colour-changing ink in the other, not to be seen again until they broke for dinner.

Looking down at the fruits of Luna's labour, spread across the floor by the door and held down by a continuous border of hardbacks, Hermione was ashamed to admit that she had originally written off any work Luna would do that day. Watching the blonde leave she had given a wry smile and entertained herself with the belief that Lu would be quickly distracted, as she was wont to do, and turn up at the end of the day with an arm full of doodles and the news that she had mastered some obscure art and now spoke fluent Mermish.

Not so. While, yes, Luna had doodled a bit, and also, yes, she had learned how to refill her water glass windlessly, she had also managed to create a solid foundation for te=heir work to build on in an inclusive, ingenious way the shadows of which had never touched Hermione's mind. When Luna had dumped a folded mass of paper in Hermione's arms, looking worn but excited, she had been shell-shocked at the sheer amount of spellwork she could feel working – independently of instruction! – beneath her fingers.

Enchanted to within an inch of its endurance, the parchment bore security hexes and runic wards sewn intricately into its very material with a projected ease that Hermione couldn't fathom. Marauders Map-esque, it had a password, but the similarities ended there. Some six feet long and four feet wide, it dominated the rug once spread out, but it was a necessary size for what it contained.

A timeline, similar to the one Hermione had scribbled in her own notes, took pride of place in the centre. It detailed dates in the original reality from 1940 all the way through to the end of Riddle's reign of terror in 1998. With a touch of a wand – specifically, the authorised wand signatures of Hermione, Luna, Lavender or Ginny – it expanded to hand unassisted in the air, a three dimensional model that revealed a second timeline overlaying the first. The second was identical up to a red dot to designate the arrival of themselves in the past, and then it was blank but for three new dashes and various shadows blurring the otherwise blunt black. Should Hermione choose, another tap of her wand would relegate the timelines to the background, pulling the focus of her attention forward and into greater detail. Much was still missing – naturally, Luna hadn't the time to fill it all in what with the spellwork taking hours on its own – but the gist was there. It gave a synopsis of events, in this case either Lavender's infection, the Potter's invitation into their home or Lavender's addition too Remus' pack, as well as speculations on what was to come, how these events changed the future, what possible consequences they might have in the grand scheme of things, including on the War, their skewed timeline, and the Fixed Points that had been designated by Fate long before time began.

It was gratifying to Hermione that Luna had thought of these things, taking the burden of responsibility from Hermione and sharing it equally between them all.

On the main parchment there were yet more planning treasures, including a column designated for tools to success, such as Basilisk Venom and Horcruxes. Further inspection would yield information, how to gain them, how to destroy them. There was a space for other people involved – probably where Hermione could store the information Ginny had given her once she had the energy – including allies, neutrals, enemies. The Order and Albus Dumbledore had its own space in which they could note their movements and members and perceived threat level. Indeed, it had space for everything they might require and yet more spare to be filled in later, all wrapped up in one piece of ordinary looking parchment, which when deactivated folded to reveal a close-up rendering of what Luna supposed a wrackspurt's anatomy might look like should she catch one to check, adding that distinctively Lovegood touch.

It was a treat of orgasmic proportions. Hermione would describe it as beautiful if that word had even a patch on what she felt when she looked at it, touched it, used it. She never thought that what was effectively a study aid/travel companion could have so profound an effect on her, but from the first moment she had touched it her mind had been in ecstasy, and as it was further explored she thought she might have been a little bit aroused.

Another thing never to tell Ginny.

It wasn't just the device that had inspired this reaction in her, either. Too easily before this point had she fallen into the trap of underestimating Luna, even resenting her for having brought them here and seeming to have left them there to sink or swim. Her odd ways had lulled Hermione into the belief that she didn't care, wasn't as invested in the operation as she and Ginny and even Lavender were; for all that she had assisted them in the presence of the Potters and co., Luna otherwise seemed to float around in her own impenetrable bubble of apathy, a detached observer gaining amusement from their antics but not truly one of the team.

But Luna was a Ravenclaw, and they were known – more so than even the Slytherins – for appearing cold and calculated and apart from the rest of the population. Hermione had not made it into that House for many reasons, the most prevalent of which was that she cared, and the pursuit of knowledge to the detriment of everything else was not her bag. She liked to apply things, rather than learn them and file them away and never use it again. True Ravenclaws could lose themselves in it, eat sleep and breathe intelligence, for nothing but the joy of learning and knowing, and so their relationships frittered away in the daylight where people danced and laughed and played while they innocuously read and experimented by candlelight. Mostly they were an introverted House because nobody else understood that when they left the library, walked out into society, they still loved as strongly as any other witch or wizard, even if human interaction was difficult and foreign and they couldn't connect to people as well as others could.

Hidden beneath her flouncy dresses and the radishes in Luna's hair, she also had this softness – vulnerability – a part of her heart that held an image of her friends, Hermione included, if only just. Hermione knew this, but it was so easy to forget when such affection was not often demonstrated.

The parchment, however, was an ultimate gesture of her investment, her fondness for them. The woman must have worked her fingers to the bone creating it, wracked her brains for the spells and information that didn't come easily even to the most accomplished of crafters. Luna was just as dedicated as the rest of them, but it was harder for her to display it. A tear slipped down Hermione's face as she contemplated the difficulties of being Luna, stuck at a phase of emotional development so similar to when Hermione herself had joined Hogwarts, fresh out of a primary school where bullying her was pretty much the national sport and she had built up defences to protect her own oddity. Loving and nurturing friends and family had helped Hermione evolve from there, the priceless gift of unconditional love, but Luna had waited too long for that and only received it in the middle of a war, where ensuring her mental health had never been first priority.

Born of this realization was neither pity nor obligation, but instead a sort of odd, distorted resolution to appreciate Luna more for the person she was – weirdness and far-fetched ideas included. The two of them had never been bosom buddies, but certainly they had respected each other in their own way, and many a more deep and twisted affection than true friendship had grown with less a stable foundation. If she could be friends with Lavender, whom she had loathed for half her life, then surely friendship with Luna wasn't too bizarre a proposition?

Hermione, lost in her own thoughts, plotting and planning in her mist-shrouded mind, didn't notice the door opening until Luna was there, stood in front of her, as if a ghost summoned from thinking too hard. The shock of her appearance made her strike out and lunge for her wand, but Luna's fingers curled in a vice-like grip around her wrist just in time to prevent herself from being hexed.

"Circe, Lu, some warning please!" Hermione shrieked, heart still pounding furiously as she retracted her wrist to rub some feeling back into it. It would probably bruise, great. Shit like this was why it was so hard to remember that she was supposed to be her friend. She gave Luna a long look that began as a scowl and melted into something more searching and concerned as she got a look at the other girl's face. Her forehead wrinkled in concern. "Lu? Are you alright?"

The blonde's head spasmed, pale blonde locks slinking across her cheeks like caressing fingers of moonlight. She looked more ethereal in the dark, a shining spectre in a billowing lace gown circa. 1819. The bruising under her eyes was like elegantly done make-up, casting shadows that made her eyes seem bigger and more luminous, and Hermione had had to drag her eyes away for a moment in order to break the spell of her peculiar beauty and recognize the look of crippling fear that swam over her features. Her heart picked up its pounding again, faster and harder than before, propelling her out of bed to stand in front of Luna and grab her arms. "Did something happen?" she demanded, trying not to shake the girl but all the same itching to, panic over everybody's wellbeing threatening to overwhelm her.

"Yes. No." Another shudder ran through Luna, rocking her head on her neck. She stared at the floor before looking up, conflicting emotion passing over her face so quickly it sent Hermione dizzy. "We're… it's…" Another shake of her head and now, despite all of her good intentions, Hermione's concern was outstripped by a growing irritation that Luna had burst into her room at stupid o'clock in the morning looking like she had been chased by an evil poltergeist and Hermione hadn't been in the best of moods in the first place and the dozy cow couldn't just get to the damn point.

"Too slow," Luna finally hissed out, her eyes squinted shut as though she was in great pain. She pointed across at the still-expanded timeline to ensure that Hermione got her point. With a burst of unexpected energy, she span around and dived for the paper, wrenching her wand out from her sleeve and pointing at the parchment. For one frenzied moment Hermione thought she was about to destroy it, such was her unpredictable mood, but instead she just closed it down and brought up another section. "I Saw…" she began, then stopped. "No… that's not right…" she muttered under her breath, twirling her wand to flip through the legends, increasing in speed. "It wasn't me it was… them?" She shook her head again, jabbing her wand at the paper, it moving ever faster, ever smoother, until the room was lit by a swirling vortex of primary colour flashing so bright that Hermione felt she had suddenly been transported to a particularly dodgy end of Manchester on a Saturday night. Luna continued to mutter and Hermione moved forward so that she could hear better on the off chance that one of the comments were addressed to her.

Magic began to fill the room, hitting every nook and cranny, raising the hairs on Hermione's arms and legs, bringing her magic roaring to the surface in thrilling reaction. It amped up the voltage until the world was one ball of burning colour.

"Luna!" Hermione screamed as it hit crisis point, and then the air was wrenched from her lungs. Her arms and legs disappeared, or she lost feeling, or perhaps they were destroyed and remade in their own image, she couldn't tell. The power of sight was taken from her completely in one confused blur of purple seeping into blackness. The only feeling she was left with was that of Luna's magic filling a hole too small to hold its magnificent chaotic potential, and it drawing out her own to play, coming along for the ride, a ride with no rules or restrictions for there was no pressing purpose, only the joy of power unleashed. Panic dulled her thoughts, her brain swapping sense for fury, fury at Luna and herself and the situation and fury with no reason or outlet except that it was something to hold onto, to remind her that she was real.

The world snapped back.

Her magic lashed into her with enough force to send her careening into the wall behind her, sensation returning just in time to fill her with pain upon her collision. It happened with a great bang!, the windowpane rattling and three paintings falling from their hooks, the door slammed shut and Ginny, next door, grumbled indignantly in her sleep.

From the far side of her bed, Luna's voice floated up, reassuringly back to its floaty, cheery self. "Oops," she whimpered, and Hermione hoisted herself onto her elbows, ignoring the searing pain that resulted in order to give her a piece of her mind.

Being at the eye of the storm hadn't protected her any. She was lay like a ragdoll, all limbs akimbo, a thin trickle of blood tracing its way down her cheek from a gash on the top of her head where she had collided with an end table. She was smiling, if a bit limply, and as Hermione watched wet her lips nervously. "Nothing like a bump on the head to set your thoughts in order."

Hermione's eyes rolled into the back of her head with such force that it was physically painful. All the fight had left her when she lay her eyes on Luna's body, and a kernel of resignation had taken its place. "You want to tell me what's going on now?" she grunted, trying not to sound begrudgingly amused as she levered herself onto the mattress. It wouldn't do to encourage such behaviour. Luna joined her, moving slowly but surely, and Hermione shoved papers aside to make room for her (it didn't half amaze her that everything had survived that whirlwind, not a note was out of place), an action that was greeted with a mildly startled expression from Luna, quickly replaced by gratitude. Hermione couldn't find the will to care.

The two of them laid parallel to one another on their sides, a scant few inches of space separating them. Somehow the explosion had obliterated the earlier tension, like a fire burning off the excess and leaving behind only the base elements. Now they were calm. Comfortable. Luna was right; since she'd fallen her thoughts seemed a bit more ordered, if foggy with a sluggish sort of relaxation, and her earlier tiredness had drifted away in the wind.

"I woke up with a feeling, like before," Luna said, referring to her first Seeing, Hermione assumed. "I just knew I had to get here, to you. We weren't moving fast enough, and I was needed."

"Anything else?" Hermione whispered. It seemed only right to whisper, the atmosphere was so indulgently intimate, and she didn't want to shatter that.

"No," Luna sniffed, "and it's gone now, anyway."

Hermione's eyebrow twitched, literally itching to make that well-worn sardonic journey up her forehead. No, she told it sternly. She felt too good to be sarcastic tonight, even if it was only reflexive. She was on a cloud, and nothing could harm her.

Was she high? Was this what high felt like?

"Something must have gone right, then?" Hermione pondered aloud, thinking back to the events of a few minutes ago. "What was that, by the way?"

"Sympathetic magic," Luna said with a lazy smile. "It was bound to happen at some point, but we've never let loose like that before." She let out a giggle, like a child. "Can we do that again, please?"

"I don't think I could handle doing that again, ever," Hermione tittered in response, then paused to contemplate the noise. What an odd sound. However did she make it? She rolled on her back to better contemplate the mystery, though was quickly distracted by Luna's buzzing.

She looked down to see her hovering a hand over her abdomen, purring like a metal detector, reaching higher in pitch as her hand dropped lower and going lower again the further she pulled away. Hermione shoved away the pull she felt to grab onto Luna and drag her closer, instead asking "what are you doing?" in a drowsy, drunken voice.

"Can't you feel it?" Luna asked, her voice filled with awe as she danced her fingers through the air. Now that she mentioned it, Hermione could feel an itching at the corners of her awareness. As she focused it solidified into a stroking sensation, seeping through her magical shield and into her skin. Closing her eyes, she sank into the mattress, powerless to resist the phenomenon.

She had a new faint sense of Luna, but it wasn't uncomfortable at all, more a rightness not dissimilar to how she had felt with Harry during those months on the run. She had never given over to it with Harry, but she allowed herself to now, thinking that a show of trust like this shouldn't be rejected. It was subtle, so subtle as to not be recognizable had it not been pointed out, but nonetheless there. Another magical bond for her to deal with should have been a bad thing, unutterably stressful and uninvited, but her magic already felt more settled.

"What is this?" she asked, her voice slurred as she stretched languidly, feeling like a large and pampered cat under Luna's attentions. She had never tried this before – the touch of magic on magic was dangerous, could have explosive results if practised with the wrong person; that Luna dared even try it surprised and unnerved her – but now that she knew what she was missing it seemed ridiculous to have held back.

"This is the coven bond," Luna murmured, her voice low in deference to the moment as she pushed her magic further into Hermione. The feelings deepened, taking on more substance once Luna passed the initial resistance of Hermione's natural magical defences, and all at once it was absorbed, sending shards of light above her skin, cooling and inflaming everything in its wake, bringing Hermione's breath in a gasp. She didn't understand, entirely, but she wanted more, it was all that seemed right in this moment, an attainable but mysterious goal. "So this is what they wanted," Luna said, then shook her head again as if to dislodge a fly that had buzzed into her ear, and her eyes went glassy.

Hermione barely noticed, too absorbed in sensation. Tingling rushed over her flesh in waves, her nerves pinging, her heart fluttering in her chest. Her toes curled, her arms tensed, she panted breaths she could never quite catch properly. Slowly, Luna began to withdraw from her personal space, taking with her the magic and the pleasant tickling trickling away in turn. Finally, Hermione was still again, blinking starbursts from her eyes and fighting off a pervasive lethargy.

Intellectually, she knew what had just happened, but that didn't stop her from turning to Luna for confirmation.

Icy blue eyes gazed back at her in the dying light, both solemn and animated. "The potential was here from the start, with you, me, Ginny and Lavender, but something was missing and it didn't get sealed," was explained in quick melodic tones, the content being stored away with a note of the wisdom with which Luna had imparted it. "But now…" she waved a hand over Hermione's chest again, and when there was no answering buzz she got a pleased look. "Bond born of fire," she chanted, "sealed with sex."

Blinking, Hermione translated the meaning of that sentence in her mind, and groaned despairingly. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

Luna laughed lightly, taking Hermione's hand. "Yes," she replied, her eyes searching Hermione's face for something.

Snatching her hand back, Hermione used it to cover her face. She expected to feel her cheeks burning, perhaps some shame lurking at the back of her mind in response to what had just happened. A slightly hysterical giggle attempted to force its way out of her throat but she swallowed it down, blinking into her fingers. The eerie closeness she had shared with Luna was gone with the rest of the enchantment, and she was left cold, but in no way anxious. Her self-consciousness had done a runner along with all of her other negative emotions and had yet to return, but she knew they would. Her brain was all tangled up by the events of the day, and she desperately wanted to lash out at someone just to put herself back on familiar footing, but she couldn't blame Luna for the girl had obviously been as deeply bewitched as Hermione had been. She did, however, have a boatload of resentment towards the Wild Magic or the Gods or whatever it was that had joyfully manipulated her into sealing a bond she hadn't known she had.

To think that earlier that night she had wanted to get closer to Luna. Well. Mission accomplished, she scoffed to herself. Sleepiness was attempting to take hold, but she was loathe to let it for fear of what would greet her in the morning. No doubt she would wake up riddled with shame, self-loathing, questions to which she had no answer, from the mundane to the necessary – what did this mean? Did it affect her magic? How does it alter their mission? What about Lavender and Ginny, were they included? Did they – god forbid – feel it?

She spiralled into unconsciousness in complete turmoil, and yet somehow still completely relaxed.

Chapter Text

There was a girl, there, in the corridor. Ginny noticed because it was new, and things didn't change here very often, but she had. Every night for years Ginny had found herself here, and she knew the faces of the students that milled around her like she knew her own family, despite the fact that she'd not seen most of them in person for years. Some of them were even dead, but they were alive here. In her nightmares.

It felt ridiculous, dramatic, to call them nightmares. She never screamed anymore, never woke up crying, sweating, thrashing. The dreams came when she fell asleep and would leave when she woke, and by now she even managed to wake feeling revitalized from the rest. Why they still returned, night after night, was a mystery – perhaps it was her brain trying to punish her, remind her of the wrongs she had committed, remind her of the debts she owed them all. Each and every one of these people were a reason she shouldn't be happy, she wasn't allowed to be happy, not until she had fixed it.

Ginny had hoped that when Voldemort died, they would leave her. Go haunt somebody else. Instead, they had gotten stronger, like perhaps when he had been alive he had other responsibilities but in death he cared only for her torture. He had taken her life force into himself that year, and had taken so much that perhaps now he lived in her, and that was the only reason she survived. These thoughts still tormented her, though she was certain by now that her darkness was all her own. Still, it didn't change how his image got more vivid, the colours brighter, the words more seductive and the pull evermore difficult to resist.

Otherwise, it was the same every night. She landed here, in the Charms corridor at Hogwarts, watching the students pass by, skirting around her without a thought. They never looked at her, but the action of not looking at her became an insult, as though she was not worth their attention, or perhaps they were too scared to look. In the first months Ginny had suffered this dream, she had tried to call to them, tried to grab and hold them, but they would shrug her off and continue onwards without even a glance. The stronger her loneliness got the more people were in the corridor, the more she pitied herself the faster they moved. When she was at her weakest, her emotions torn to shreds perhaps after a hard day of classes or an argument with her friends, her family would appear in the line-up. Shining, brilliant brothers wandering past, deep in conversation with others – Fred and George, laughing and joking; Ron with Harry, bathed in glory; Percy, alone but proud, the other students gazing up at him in awe; Bill and Charlie, together, swarmed by women and men alike. Sometimes they would look as if they would perhaps turn to her, but instead they would end up gazing at someone else, listening to a joke or hugging a friend.

And she would be alone, in her corner, unheard and unloved, the pointless, pathetic extra, to be wrapped in cotton wool, locked in a tower and never to be trusted.

Granted, her self-esteem hadn't taken such substantial a hit as to send her back to that place since fifth year. Not since she had discovered her aptitude for creating wicked jinxes, her talent on the Quidditch Pitch and her flair for the art of seduction had she felt low enough to see the boys in her dreams, but the memory continued to haunt her.

Tonight she had felt almost bored going in. It was predictable and while it clawed at her emotions, inexpertly tearing guilt and self-loathing from her chest, she knew what was to be expected. People would ignore her, Riddle would start whispering insults from within the walls, she'd end up in the Chamber, then 'No-ones ever understood me like you, Tom' with a mocking laugh and a breaking heart and so on and so forth until dawn.

But who was that girl?

Ginny was irrationally irritated at them for stealing her dream – it was her dream, damnit! Naturally, she had a bit of a thing for people not crawling into her head without an invitation and yet this – whatever she was – was here and Ginny knew that she wasn't a part of the dream because she was new and smiling and practically vibrated reality.

This girl was a mess – an amalgamation of what looked like several people, put together by a person who didn't seem to know what a normal human should look like. These pieces comprised a whole that was incomparably grotesque and offputting, though Ginny wasn't sure exactly why that was, for the individual components were initially appealing; long, platinum blonde hair to her thighs, olive skin so smooth it looked inhuman, curves in all the right places and a narrow waist reminiscent of a Victorian waist trainer. But together… they were alien.

She – for it was certainly a she, even for all of the ambiguity of the rest of her identity – smiled as she advanced on Ginny, and it radiated warmth, but set off something less than comfortable in Ginny's mind. Unnerved, Ginny stumbled backwards, and the girl-creature came to a halt.

Behind Ginny the dream was rolling on in response to the changes in her emotions, the walls were now beginning to hiss at her, the words translating in her mind automatically now, but even that could not take her attention from the newcomer. Instincts screamed of danger, refusing to let her look away.

"Hello," the creature said, her voice a mix of pitches, she might have been a single person or a crowd all in the one body. Ginny's responding greeting was entirely due to her mannerly upbringing, more knee-jerk reaction than any real welcome, but it pleased the she-creature who took a step forward.

Ginny's back hit the wall. Trapped.

The creature continued on until they were mere millimetres apart. Up close, Ginny could count the freckles on her nose, bright ginger on olive making an odd combination. Her hair drifted forward to caress Ginny's fingers, which she realized were hanging uselessly at her side. The bright amber of the creature's eyes shone as she winked, setting off something familiar in her brain. "Relax, Ginny," she laughed, a bell-like sound that had Ginny blinking in recognition. "It won't hurt…" Considering this, she raised her hand to Ginny's chest in a claw. It rested against Ginny's breast, rock solid against Ginny's full-body trembling. "Well, much," it clarified, and then her hand plunged into Ginny's chest, and the whole world disintegrated into pain.


Lavender was dreaming of chocolate cake. It was her favourite, orange chocolate torte smothered in ganache, her grandmother's recipe. At home she had adored it, coveted it constantly – the allure was only strengthened by her mother, who chastised her weakness repeatedly. "You're fat enough already," she would chide, while cutting the largest piece for herself and her 24 inch waist. On another occasion, upon finding Lavender eating a slice in the kitchen late at night, she had confiscated it with a particularly scathing "men don't want to marry pigs, they want to marry women".

In her dream, however, there was nobody watching. No mother hid in the corner, waiting to strike. No visitors were poised to steal it from her hands. There was nobody around to insult her until it fell to ashes in her mouth. It was perfect, untouched, and she was fairly certain that it wasn't even laced with laxatives, unlike the last time she had been lured in by an unguarded baked good of her mother's. Nothing could ruin this moment for her.

The cake sat there, delectably decorated with gold dust, shimmering in the low light. Lavender was unconfined with a plate and fork in front of her and a napkin on her lap. Everything was perfectly presented, all she had to do was eat.

And yet… she couldn't bring herself to do it. It was a ridiculous fear, pathetic, but it seemed there was a block on her mind that prevented her from moving forward with the feast. It wasn't magical, purely psychological, and Lavender even knew what had caused it and therefore should know how to overcome it but the fear was still there.

Surely something would happen if she took it? Her mind whispered, uncertain, shy. It never hasn't. True, she had never been able to enjoy a slice of this cake without consequence, small though it might be, but did that really matter? She still enjoyed the cake. Good things came with consequences, didn't they? You had to pay in blood for every pleasant thing you got to experience, but that didn't mean you shouldn't still want the pleasant thing. If anything, working for it made you appreciate it more.

It made her angry that she couldn't just take it, though. She'd rationalized it, raged at it, coddled it, but the anxious part of her mind had her paralysed with fear.

It's a whole cake, though. It whispered to her. You've never been offered a whole cake, just for you. A whole cake is better than a slice – and this one has been baked just for you. Surely, a gift like this doesn't come without a steep cost. Surely something awful will happen if you take it – more awful than anything you've experienced before, and what's to stop them from just taking it away afterwards anyway? Why would you risk that?

Lavender wasn't sure how long she had sat staring at the cake. Why couldn't she just have something nice for once, she raged inside. After everything she had been through? It was just a cake, for fuck's sake, if she had to have fucking lycanthropy then surely she could have some cake too? Was she evil, was that it? Was that why life felt the need to beat her down at every turn, did she have some great potential for disaster within her that could only be controlled by keeping her in shit? 

She was being dramatic now, she knew, but that didn't help settle her down. Frustrated, she lashed out. Her hand dug through the surface of the cake, the gooey topping mushed into her nails, her fingers clawing up chunks of dense dough. She brought it up to her face to examine.

Perhaps… now?

Her mouth opened, her tongue flitting out to taste, but before she could make contact her brain was full of her mother's acidic tone, her father's beaten silence, the laughter of the other girls her age at the parties after her mother had forced her to wear a dress two sizes too small for her in the hope that through humiliation she could forge the daughter she had failed to gain in genetics – slim, kind, polite, beautiful.

Lavender remembered with spiteful pleasure that she had been beautiful for a while there. Her mother's disgust had not stopped her father from doting on her in private, praising her golden hair, her full lips, her button nose. When Lavender had turned thirteen and her eyes had darkened to lilac, her mother had tried to 'charm that unnatural taint' from her face. Her father had hit back in quiet defiance by having his study wallpapered the exact shade of her eyes, complete with permanent sticking and impervious charms. Then, at school, Lavender would have had to have been deaf, blind and stupid in order to miss the attention she attracted from the boys. Perhaps it had sent her a little silly, but she had been drunk on their appreciation – the likes of which she had never encountered before, and had needed desperately to experience.

At least nobody could say she had taken her allure for granted. She had used it for everything she could, wringing every last drop of privilege from her life, passing from handsome boyfriend to handsome boyfriend; watching them fight over her, reveling in the chaos of it all. Lavender liked to think that perhaps she was a good person but there was something so sinfully thrilling about the power that came with beauty - absorbing the envious looks other girls would shoot her. Just knowing that you were wanted, if only for your looks, could do wonders for one's self esteem. Having something to hold over Parvati and Hermione, both of whom were cleverer than her but could never compete visually... it had been delicious.

At least she had made the most of that before it had left her. She might never be beautiful again, might never drive a man wild with lust or instigate a bar fight with a saucy wink, but at least she had the memories of when she had.

"Go on," someone said, breaking her from her reverie. Lavender realised that she had been stood in that position for a while now, the chocolate had seeped through her knuckles and down her wrist, coating her shirt in sweet sludge. Buttercream lingered on her fingertips from the centre of the cake, so close that it was almost on her tongue already, she could almost feel its velvety smoothness sliding across her palate. "Eat it," the voice cajoled. Lavender looked up to see a girl had taken a seat on the opposite side of the small table, and was cutting herself a sliver from the untouched side of the cake. "I love chocolate," she said, and Lavender wondered at the odd timbre of her voice, like it was not one but many.

"Who are you?" Lavender asked, dropping her fist to the table, smearing the snowy white tablecloth with ganache. The tangy scent of orange liquor rose up to tickle her nose, and she breathed deeply to appreciate it. By the Gods, there was nothing more tempting than this...

"We didn't mean to interrupt your meal," the girl said, looking genuinely abashed. She attempted to move the slice she had taken across to her plate, but it disappeared in mid-air to appear on Lavender's plate instead. "Looks like it's all yours," she said, looking curious but unaffected, unlike Lavender whose eyes had widened in surprise. "Oh well. We're not here for the cake. Are you done?"

Lavender looked at her hand, inches thick with the dessert. It still looked appealing. She wasn't, she really wanted to eat the damn cake, but it didn't look like that was happening any time soon. "Yes," she sighed in defeat, reaching for a napkin and using it to remove the crumbs and other debris from her fingers.

"Brilliant!" the girl said, grinning widely. "Are you ready then?"

Lavender sighed again, but stood up. "Have at me," she invited, bracing herself for whatever was to come. The girl spared a second to give her an amused glance, and then Lavender was on fire, and she was gone.


At 03:00 exactly, Ginny awoke with a shout. Pain racked her body mercilessly for a whole minute, though it felt like more, and then subsided into nothing. Ginny sat in her bed for ten more minutes, panting and listening to the silence, waiting for it to return.

When it did not, she allowed herself to fall back to sleep in which, for the first time in seven years, she did not dream.


At 03:20, Lavender gasped into consciousness, every nerve burning. It continued on for an age, only halting when her face had become numb from the attack, at which point she was disoriented and uncertain as to whether the sensation had truly stopped or she had simply lost the ability to feel. Either was acceptable to her, if she was honest.

She cast a tempus with what little energy she had accumulated in her restless sleep, and cursed, in order; her mother, her grandmother, wild magick, and Ginny Weasley for good measure when she realised that there was less than three hours until the cow would be dragging her out for an hour of torture.

When she fell back to sleep, she also did not dream.


At 03:40, Lily Evans was woken by a burning light. Thinking it to be dawn, she stretched and yawned and sat up, only to find four orbs of light hovering by her face. She blinked once, twice, then opened her mouth to scream.

The orbs took this chance to throw themselves into the opening, forcing their way down her throat, blocking her airways until her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell back into the all-encompassing blackness of sleep.

Chapter Text

The wards rippled through the air, fizzing and popping as he forced his way through. There must have been a foot of them, blood wards and family protections included, and his passage always felt rather like attempting to escape a swamp. Even the Black family wards weren't this bad, barely noticeable, and Regulus knew that it wasn't a lack of magical skill that made these specific wards so damn unappealing.

The rowhouse loomed up in front of him once he'd shoved free of the magic; ugly and menacing though it was, he was glad to see it. Not the most inviting of homes in its prime, it had deteriorated over years of neglect into a heap of rotting wood and damp walls, held up mostly by bad memories and the resident's formidable willpower. Its aura was dark, but Regulus was born in the dark and had never feared its mysteries. He was glad to be here, glad to have made it through another night, glad to still have the ability to apparate to Cokeworth and walk up this damn street and greet the miserable bastard that lived within.

One perfunctory knock and the old, peeling door swung open on its hinges. Considering Snape would never be the type to meet him at the door with a cuppa and a smile, it was the best invitation he was ever going to get, so he didn't dawdle in crossing the threshold – he had a habit of changing his mind if you took too long. It swung closed with a slam, forcing the rank scent of mildew into the air, and Regulus did his best not to cough but failed. Why the man didn't just fix the place, Regulus wasn't sure, but he had entertained the idea that perhaps it was Snape's way of spiting his parents even through the veil.

"Where are you?" Regulus shouted, removing his cloak and going to drape it over the bannister, but thinking better of it upon notice of the thick layer of dust that was in residence there. He closed his eyes, his skin tingling and itching, and counted to ten very slowly. Usually the state of the place didn't bother him that much – he had seen worse – but the night before had been trying and he was feeling vulnerable as a result. If he dwelled too long on the dirt, he would never forget it, and they all teased him for bathing too much already.

"Here," the voice came, low and bored, from down the hall. Clutching the folds of his cloak in one hand and shoving the other into his robes so that he wouldn't accidentally touch anything, Regulus moved through to a parlour that had definitely seen better days. It was dim, the drapes perpetually drawn; very little light existed with which to cast shadows. A box sat in one corner, which Regulus knew that at one point had been a television, but it was at least a decade old now and the aerial had snapped into a jagged metal spike protruding above piles of books, parchment and other household debris that cluttered its flat top. It was a disgraceful health hazard, especially considering the books and mugs and unwashed crockery that littered the floor; perhaps it was an extra security measure, so that those intrepid hunters who managed to pass the wards out front were then thwarted by their own clumsiness, if they made it that far. It seemed unlikely to him that any burglar would step foot in the house for fear of tetanus or e-coli – any reasonable person would already have run a mile in the opposite direction.

Definitely, if Regulus was not presently a deadly combination of determined and desperate, he would have abandoned his mission on the doorstep and already be back at Grimmauld Place, supervising Kreacher as he bleached the stench of poverty from his clothes.

A single spider the size of Reg's fist scuttled out of the shadows and over his shoe before darting out of the door, as if even he could not wait to be free of this place.

It took a moment for Regulus to find his friend in the dark. He wore all black, a contrast to Regulus' rich emerald casual robes, but perhaps that was not so much a fashion statement as necessary if one were to live in such a state of squalor. Regulus could already see, with no little dismay, a thick deposit of silt on the hem of his clothes from where his mere passing had stirred up the dirt on the floor.

Severus was as he always seemed to be these days; he lounged in an old armchair whose pattern had long since ceased to be discernible, a spectre all in black but for the pearly whiteness of his face and one hand, which gripped a crystal tumbler negligently. Regulus eyed the pose with despair fuelled irritation. It took everything he had not to shout at the man, and instead take a seat on the chaise, his cloak thrown over an arm and no doubt seconds later acting as sacrifice to the moths and doxies that inhabited this decrepit hellhole. "Good morning, Severus," Regulus greeted him, his gaze on the glass the man held in case he needed further evidence of the younger man's disapproval. Pointedly, Snape brought the glass up to his lips, met Regulus' eyes with his own, and tipped the lot back.

It made Regulus twitch again, but there was a spark of malice in Severus' eyes that bore a warning, and he didn't want to get into a fight with his friend – his only true friend – over his bad habits when there were better and more pressing issues to argue about.

"Drop out, did you, Black?" Snape drawled quietly, his eyes watching him like a predator might watch prey. It never failed to get Regulus' back up to be spoken to that way, because of all the things he could be accused of, the one thing that wouldn't stick would be weak. He was a strong man, powerful for his age, and fully in control of his faculties.

Rather unlike the man in front of him. "It's Easter, Severus." Regulus replied evenly. "And a Saturday."

"Wonderful," the sarcasm was so thick Regulus could choke on it, and rather viciously hoped that Severus would, "perhaps we should have a drink to celebrate."

He reached one long, slender fingered hand towards the bottle, but Regulus, in a fit of childish pique, kicked the table. Blishen's bearded mouth formed a comical 'o' shape before it disappeared off the edge, and a smashing noise indicated that the beverage was no more. Severus stared stupidly at the spot on the hearth where it had landed for a moment, watching the precious amber liquid seep into the already soiled carpet, his arm still outstretched to reach for nothingness. Slowly, he seemed to regain his senses, his cheeks and ears flushing red from anger and the drink, and he turned to fully face his visitor.

Regulus stared back, eyes dead, face unreadable. He would not give any more of a reaction, lest Severus strike like the snake he was. The snake he resented being. He hated playing these games but when drink was involved they were necessary, hoops through which he had to jump before Severus would recognise him as friend rather than foe.

"That was expensive," Severus narrowed his eyes. His voice remained level, despite looking like he was about to fly into a rage. It was an impressive feat, but it wouldn't keep him alive unless he could either master himself fully, or stop drinking altogether. Regulus knew which one he would prefer for his friend, but either would be acceptable for the time being, until life wasn't so difficult, so dangerous. Until Reg could let go of his paranoia that his every step was being recorded and evaluated, until putting one step out of line did not mean death. Slytherins were all about self-preservation, and Reg was good at that – great at that – and usually Severus was too, which is what made them such great friends, but recently…

Recently, Severus had less been Severus Top-Of-The-Year, Highest-Ranking-Death-Eater-Of-Their-Age Snape and more Severus Self-Pity and Self-Destruction Snape.

Or something like that, but more punchy and less of a mouthful. Reg had never claimed to be a poet.

"I'll buy you more," Regulus lied. "Why are you drinking that swill, anyway?"

Severus twitched a finger, which was his version of a shrug. People often said he was expressionless, but Regulus knew better. "I happen to enjoy the subtler blend."

Regulus wanted to say, 'I doubt the subtle nuances of the flavour profile matter all that much when it doesn't touch your tongue going down', but in deference to their friendship and his rapidly dwindling respect for the older man he said instead, "aren't you going to offer me tea?"

"Tea is reserved for invited guests," Severus growled, a bit of his usual bluster poking through. It gave Regulus hope.

"Don't be such a curmudgeon," he chastised lightly, his disposition lightening as if in reward for Severus' good behaviour. He flicked his wand towards the kitchen where he heard the kettle begin to whistle in seconds. He and Severus engaged in a challenging stare-off for a moment, before he rolled his eyes and went through to make it himself. He added an extra couple of spoonfuls of tea to the pot in the hope that it might sober the other man up a bit, but didn't bet on it.

On his return, Severus had vacated his chair and instead stood at the window, glaring out into the street. Regulus was struck with a vision of the man in fifty years, still communicating in mostly grunts, grumbling about the kids on the street, in his garden. It was a sad image, but made even sadder by the idea that if he didn't get his arse in gear, the other man may not make it to that age at all. He cleared a space on the coffee table with a negligent sweep of his wand before lowering the hovering tea tray to the surface. Severus could usually be relied upon to keep his kitchen equipment as clean as his lab equipment, but that rather sketchy rule only applied if the equipment lived in the kitchen, rather than having been left elsewhere – as evidenced by the rubbish all over the floor. Reg had given the cups, saucers and pot a quick scourify just to be on the safe side, though their new proximity to the filth of Severus' parlour didn't bring him any comfort at all.

He lowered himself back to the couch and took a cup, sipping it for a moment while he regarded his friend. Severus wasn't typically a drinker, hence why it affected him so strongly on the rare occasion that he did. It took a lot to get him to a place where he could overcome his personal history with alcohol long enough to consume it – a situation which was becoming more and more frequent recently, as the Dark Lord got more manic, more determined in his quest for… whatever it was he was searching for, nowadays. The fact that it was early morning and Severus had blatantly neither slept nor stopped drinking hinted to Reg that perhaps his evening had been on a par or above Reg's own.

Regulus would love to not begrudge Severus this vice, Merlin knew they all had them – needed them – but that Severus could not control himself properly when he drank was terrifying when the two of them were in such precarious positions. Neither of them could afford to let their guards down; Occlumency was not fool-proof by any means, and the very walls had eyes in their lives.

Severus seemed to think that the silence was comfortable, or perhaps wanted it to be uncomfortable, so Regulus ended up being the one to break it in an attempt to draw him out of his shell. "I was out with Malfoy and Lestrange last night," he began, because he felt that the single statement illustrated his evening quite nicely.

Lucius Malfoy was a good man, to Regulus' eyes, and had always regarded Reg as a younger brother. It had pissed Sirius off to no end but Regulus had never been more grateful for anybody's existence in the past year and a half. He was protective towards Reg, which Reg would like to say exasperated him (because he could look after himself) but he would be lying. Having Malfoy at his back meant that he was spared the greatest horrors of his life, kept from having to see the worst of the Dark Lord's efforts, and while some nights he despised himself for that and the cowardice it insinuated in him it was also just nice to have someone who cared, who recognised that he was just a kid after all, still at school. Severus, for all that he had affection for Regulus, for all that they were best friends, wouldn't put himself between Regulus and a dying, tortured muggle because he had odd morals which required that Regulus should face up to the reality of the world. Maybe Regulus should, but thanks to Lucius there was some part of himself that remained unscarred. In his mind, he could still be forgiven, because he had never tortured innocent children or raped a helpless woman or torn a man's innards from his stomach while he still breathed…

Lestrange was the opposite. Rodolphus matched his wife in bloodlust if nowhere else, and he believed (strongly) that everybody else should share the same appetite. If Malfoy looked to be protecting Regulus in his presence, Lestrange would only work twice as hard to break him, make his victims scream twice as loud – last night he had held Regulus' neck in one bloodstained hand as he used the other to tear chunks of skin from a wizard's still writhing body as his wife watched on hysterically. The thing about magical people, Rodolphus had leered up at him, his tone idle like he was teaching an anatomy class rather than doing unspeakable things to what was now little more than a corpse, is that they're a lot harder to kill. Which means, Reggie, that they're also a lot more fun.

The victim had been a half-blood with a muggle wife who both lived relatively unassuming lives in Newcastle. The Dark Lord had wanted them killed, but he didn't care how. Lestrange had liked the lack of restriction. Liked it a lot. It had taken an hour in the shower this morning before the blood was all gone but as with the other times he felt like he could still feel it…

Noticing that his hand was shaking, he took a sip of his tea to disguise it. Severus' mouth contorted into a grimace. "You have my sympathies."

Regulus didn't speak for he had opened the conversation and it was now Severus' responsibility to continue it. One of the other man's favourite tricks was to sit in silence until a person felt obligated to fill it, and now Reg attempted to turn the tactic back on him. It wouldn't work if he was sober, but if he was just drunk enough…

As if intercepting the thought, Severus snorted. "I'm not drunk," he told Regulus coolly, eyeing him with distaste. Regulus' eyebrow cocked of its own accord and Severus' face darkened. "Circe's tit, Black, it's eight in the morning!"

"know that," Regulus murmured, sipping his tea delicately. Gods, it was revolting. Severus gave him a disgusted look as he finally tasted his own, and sat back down to doctor it with sugar. "You know how this goes, Severus. It's basic manners. I say something about me, and invite you to comment. You comment, and say something about yourself in return. We converse." A finger danced through the air between them as if to illustrate his comment. "It's not hard," Regulus added, his tone dry as dust.

Severus spent a moment contemplating the accumulated grime on the coffee table. Absently, he doodled a pattern with the nail of his index finger, before realising what he was doing and wiping it away with a vicious swipe of his hand. He gulped down a mouthful of tea. "Dolohov and Avery," he responded, finally, and Reg cringed. The torture dream team, with Severus attached as apprentice-cum-inadequate babysitter. Even the Dark Lord shied away from Dolohov and Avery's joint projects, saving the two of them up for special occasions, preferring to have them available as individuals. Playing together, Dolohov and Avery's destructive powers were quadrupled, their sadistic minds capable of more evil than Regulus could imagine. He must have had something important in mind, though it was beyond Regulus to guess what it could have been.

Still, that meant that Severus had had a much worse night than he had. Regulus felt vaguely guilty about wasting the Blishens. "Any more whisky about?" Reg asked in lieu of a proper response. Well, croaked, for his mouth had suddenly gone dry.

They exchanged knowing, resigned looks. The two of them had become increasingly disenchanted with their cause over the past year or so, beginning to doubt the Dark Lord's vision for the world. They would never say it out loud – never had – but it was clear that they were on the same page. The two of them wanted out, but didn't know how to get there. They weren't Gryffindors, after all, to run into battle wands a'blazing, facing death head first. They could hardly just appear at the Manor one night and say, 'Hello, your Lordship, I'm afraid this 'evil' thing isn't quite for us. Tar'rah!' The office leaving do for a Death Eater was a funeral.

Neither of them were ready to die, just yet.

Still, they couldn't stay, not with things as they were. Sure, Regulus was a Dark wizard, and he had made the choice to join, and some people would say that he should deal with the consequences of his actions, but…

Well, he didn't like killing people. He didn't hate muggleborns, so seeing them… hurt was distasteful. Seeing the poor muggles, defenceless and confused as they were dragged into the room, had even cured him of his phobia of them. There might be billions of the things on earth, but there were billions of ants, also. Neither posed any real threat to him, as long as he didn't do anything stupid like poke a nest of the damn things, so why should he bother himself with them? To his mind – and now that he had thought it through, it seemed ridiculous to not have thought it earlier – as long as they didn't know magic existed, then there was no trouble. There were such a thing as Obliviators, anyway, for the odd one that took the discovery badly, and that had worked for centuries.

The real threat was the Death Eaters, who didn't bother to hide their magic, their kills, or their hatred. Sooner or later they would bring the whole magical community into the spotlight, and what then? Would the Dark Lord kill every muggle on the planet? Not likely. Would the Muggles kill them, first?

Maybe.

They needed stopping, obviously, but that wasn't what was foremost on their minds. They knew that it was likely they would have to fight, any idiot could guess that, and they wouldn't mind either as long as they didn't have to bow to the Dark Lord any longer.

But how could they get out?

The Order wasn't an option – even if the lot of them didn't despise Severus, their leader was Albus Dumbledore, and he found all Slytherins beneath contempt.

Moving country wasn't an option – they would be found. The Dark Lord had allies all across the continents, one would never be safe.

They could start an underground revolution, but Regulus and Severus were hardly the best people to lead something like that. Severus was nowhere near charismatic enough, and Regulus had trouble relating to people who weren't just like him. If only they were nicer people, kinder maybe, or even more handsome, handsome enough that people would trust them despite their less than perfect personalities…

"I wonder what that weapon is," Severus said, apparently deciding to talk. Regulus huffed in frustration; he had felt as though he was onto something and the idea was in his head, he just needed to coax it into the forefront, but the second Severus had spoken the thought had scattered.

"What weapon?" He snapped. Severus peered over his teacup curiously, a spark of amusement in his eyes that he'd drawn a reaction.

"The one the Order supposedly has," he drawled lazily. "The one the Fates themselves saw fit to bless them with."

Regulus rolled his eyes. 'Fates' he says, like Gods exist. How could Gods exist when the world is as dark as it is? The only God Regulus believed in was Magic, no matter what the family legends told him. "It's probably nothing," he replied dismissively, then thought about it a little more. "Some sort of poison, to kill the Dark Lord with, perhaps."

"A poison? Gifted to the Potters?" His tone was laced with only the tiniest bit of irony. Regulus curled his fingers around his cup more securely – he didn't want to think about the Potters, who stole his brother, who lived lives of happiness and light while he was reduced to sitting on a dirty muggle sofa in an equally loathsome little house, flinching at every shadow and jumping at every creak. Severus shouldn't want to think about them either, not with what all they'd taken from him, and yet here the man sat, pondering them like it didn't hurt at all. "Unlikely, don't you think?"

"What else could it be?" if you're so damn smart, Reg did not add.

"I'm not certain, but whatever it is, I'd quite like to know." He tapped his spindly fingers against the porcelain, little tinking noises ringing out then abruptly being muffled by the damp. "The Dark Lord wants me back at Hogwarts."

Regulus nodded. "Better there than out here."

"For you, maybe." Severus shook his head, his lank hair spilling over his shoulders. "He thinks that Dumbledore might trust me if I run back with my tail between my legs."

To say that whole situation was unlikely would be understating the issue. Severus had more pride than a hippogriff, his violent streak equal to or greater than. Dumbledore wouldn't buy it, even if he had been a lion cub.

"He'll never trust you. He'll only use you, then throw you away." It was a warning that Regulus had heard from his parents throughout his childhood – beware the half-blood bearing gifts. All of the twinkling in the world wouldn't convince him to trust a man who allowed, even incited, such blatant discrimination within his school, and he wouldn't encourage his friend to go willingly into his grasp either. Severus' eyes went heavy lidded, his whole body suddenly appearing to suffer some great weight. In this position his face was lined prematurely, his smooth skin showing the stresses of his unreasonably difficult life.

"You should get in touch with the other one," Severus said instead of any other response, his voice forcibly light. He was referring to Sirius, a fact made clear by the strain in his voice. When Regulus went to shake his head, Severus held up a hand. "Hear me out. He's your brother, and despite our… differences, he has always loved you. The Potters will take you in, you will be protected."

"Not likely," he could have responded, but it would be by rote. He thought, instead, about what it might be like, if he were to join Sirius. He would be disowned by his family, of course, but his father was dead and his mother insane, so there was little left for him there. Kreacher would remain loyal, and Kreacher was what he loved most in that house. He wouldn't have to marry Emilie Selwyn, which was a definite plus. The Death Eaters would be out for his blood, which was… not so very different to now.

He would have to deal with the sneers of the Light as they looked down upon the fallen Death Eater, probably even grovel to Dumbledore, deal with their distrust…

Severus was watching him expectantly. "I'll think about it," he said, wondering whether he could supress his pride (which was a match for Severus', easily) for the sake of his life.

"Good," Severus said, a slight smile flickering across his lips. He looked... well, relieved would be the word, but that suggested that he had been concerned about Regulus, and it seemed inconceivable that Severus of all people was trying to keep him safe. Trying to push him into the arms of his childhood tormentors, even.

His quizzical look must have entertained the older man because he laughed, properly, his eyes warm and everything. "I know this seems ludicrous to you, Regulus, but I actually like you. As a person who likes a very limited number of people, I'd rather if the people I did like didn't go around getting themselves killed." He drained his teacup and set it down, sending the tray back to the kitchen with a wave of his wand. "Now, if you don't mind, I had a very busy day planned."

"Moping and drinking?" Regulus snarked, reaching for his cloak.

"Indeed," Severus replied, with all the appearance of solemnity. "Don't let the door hit you on your way out."

Chapter Text

The low rumble of voices reached Lavender as she drifted somewhere between levels of consciousness, teasing and coaxing her brain into interest, leading her up towards awareness. She couldn't hear the words that were being spoken, but it seemed to be an argument. This more than anything else was what woke her, pricking her interest. Lavender loved arguments. To watch, to hear, to participate in… Drama got her blood flowing like nothing else, and clashing with others was an unfailing form of entertainment for her. The best technique for seduction when it came to her, she had learned over the years, was to offer her a good, long, feisty quarrel. She loved it more than any good looks, sparkling humour or buff body – if a man could keep up with her, there was little to stop her falling in love with him.

Her mind settled happily in her body once more, her ears strained to catch more of the hushed conversation. The enhanced hearing of the lycanthrope was one of the many aspects she was having trouble with due to her 'lesser' status; sometimes it was sharp, some times muffled. It couldn't be relied upon, and especially not right now.

Shaking her head, she reached out in a feline stretch, her back arching up off of the mattress, her hands clawing up fistfuls of the sheet beneath her. It took her several minutes to orient herself after being pulled so unceremoniously from sleep – she was a deep sleeper, so deep her roommates had never been able to wake her. In third year she had slept right through Ron's encounter with Sirius Black, and when she'd finally been dragged out of bed even McGonagall's shrieking hadn't pulled her back to reality enough for her to have any clear memory of the attack. She had to wake slowly, in her own time, the result of a lifetime of conditioning, her newly developing senses and the interruption to her sleep the night before. Opening her eyes too quickly would overwhelm her, so she had elongated her morning routine to adapt to her new, more wolfy lifestyle.

She searched inside herself, taking an inventory. The frustration and irritation that had plagued her when she had awoken in the early hours still remained, a snarled up knot in her chest. Resentment towards Ginny, Luna and Hermione lived at the centre of the damn thing, but affection loosened it a little. That was a shock – when did she start to actually like them? – but quickly she put her developing emotions down to the events of the morning, to be examined at a later time. She had what she had begun to recognise as the Pack bond glowing happily in one corner, so it seemed that lot were fine, and the space where she supposed her Mate would one day occupy was as blank and lonely as ever. Her wolf was relaxing in her mind, weak due to the waning moon and happy in its magical prison.

She shifted her hands to stretch out her shoulder muscles, moaning a little at the pleasurable ache that generated. The linen was cool on her palms, smooth and silky and pleasant. A gentle breeze rippled the air, soothing her overheated skin where it had slipped from beneath the duvet. Her body, in an attempt to fight her infection, had been running on extremes of hot and cold for the last few days, which made for a very uncomfortable Lavender. The heat attacked in the mornings and the freeze came of a night, driving her demented. It was hard enough to keep on top of everything that was going on without heat-induced delusions shaking up her already volatile brain.

The voices were still there, urgent whispers directly outside her door. Lavender opened her eyes only to narrow them on the painted wood as if she might have developed x-ray vision overnight – something that might have come in handy, considering the damned house liked to repel her magic; it wouldn't even allow her to cast cooling charms on the wall. While she couldn't see them, with her concentration focused in that direction she could piece together words and intonations.

"-before they wake up," one voice was saying, a man. She thought that perhaps it had to be Lupin, not because she recognised the voice but because the wolf had responded to it, sort of perking up in her head. She wasn't a massive fan of Remus Lupin, he made her a little uncomfortable as a kid, but he wasn't the worst person to be hanging around her bedroom. At least he had a vested interest in keeping her healthy and safe.

"I don't care! I need it more!" The other person was shrill – Evans, Lavender knew with absolute certainty. It was undoubtedly a young female, and of the girls in the house that tended towards shrillness, Lily was the only one that didn't worship the man to an unhealthy degree.

With a sigh, she reached for her wand to check the time. It was later than she had expected it to be, a surprise because that meant Ginny hadn't come to come for her. A satisfied smirk flashed across her lips – it seemed even Ginny couldn't be up at the crack of dawn after participating in ancient magical rites. It was good to know she had a weakness. Lavender took a moment to wonder who had dared to trigger the bond at such an inopportune moment – her money was on Ginny, given that Hermione was such a prude, but even she wasn't immune to the lure of the Old Ways. Luna had instigated it, obviously.

"Then we'll both have to do it," Lily was saying, not even bothering to keep her voice down anymore. Lavender summoned her robe and patted down her hair just as the doorknob started to turn.

"Lavender?" Lily whispered, which was ridiculous considering the racket they had been making outside. Her vibrant ruby tresses preceded her through the doorway, and those jewel-like eyes widened in shock when she located Lavender sitting expectantly on the bed, wide awake. "Oh, you're up."

Remus poked his head around the frame, looking nervous. His hair was tousled still from sleep, his shirt wrinkled and his trousers an inch too short. He was such a damned mess, it was frustrating to Lavender that she was supposed to answer to him, and she certainly didn't know why all of her friends seemed to think he was a God incarnate. If she had met the kid before she had been infected she could probably have sent him running – to her or away – in five words or less. "Come in, why don't you?" she said, not particularly welcomingly, but she wasn't a morning person and she had things to do. Lie-ins to appreciate.

The pair closed the door behind them softly and turned their eyes on her. Lily had this look on her face, sort of determined, but also conflicted. She bolstered herself with a deep breath before speaking. "What's going on?" She demanded, her voice a lot harder than Lavender had expected it to be. Indeed, she looked fierce, but there was an apologetic shine to her eyes, and it was obvious that she was fighting her innate politeness in order to be here. Confronting a guest and friend in their bedroom first thing in the morning? Not something she would usually do, by Lavender's guess.

"Ever since you four arrived, odd things have been happening," Lily continued, her voice accusatory. "First Moony went mental, then Remus got ill, and up until last night I was all for giving you lot the benefit of the doubt, but I can't just ignore this!" She pulled her hair off of her neck, revealing a necklace of purple-green bruising on her esophagus. Remus's eyes darkened at the sight, his face hardening as he glared at Lavender. Perhaps he meant to cow her into submission, but weak werewolf or not, she was a strong woman and didn't take well to threats. "I think you're all lovely, and I don't think you mean to hurt us, and I'm sure you want to help, but this is one step too far!" She stormed to the foot of the bed to lean into Lavender's personal space, apparently oblivious to the fact that Lavender was roughly twice her size. "You lot have been keeping us in the dark for far too long. It is not fair. We want – we need – we deserve an explanation, and I'm not leaving until I have one!"

She was panting now, seeming to have swelled to twice her size in her fury. Lavender watched her, trying not to get worked up herself – though it was hard. She had liked Lily, truly liked her, up until about the second she had woken to the woman just outside her door. Now, she wasn't feeling so fond of her.

They were here to demand answers, which was fine, completely fair – they shouldn't have been kept in the dark for so long, especially considering the fact that Lavender and the others were trespassing on their hospitality while they tried to figure things out. It was natural that they would be frustrated.

The problem Lavender had was what had brought them here, to this specific room, to wake her up ahead of everyone else and bully her into answering their questions. The assumption that not only would she know the answers – which she didn't, really, she wasn't the brains of the operation and the War was not her first priority, selfish as that might sound – but that she would be the weak link they could pry the answers from. She shouldn't hold it against them – it was a natural belief that most people had harboured since her attack in the war; that she was weak, useless, damaged goods, a burden to everybody else incapable of independent thought and easily led. It felt like the second she had woken up from her coma people had been pitying her, coddling her, the stench of false sympathy had been thick in her nose, clogging her lungs. People liked to project their own issues onto her, the guilt they feel deep in their souls, their self-esteem problems… one of the nurses at St Mungo's, a young witch a few years older than her with large ears barely disguised by a carefully styled hairdo had watched her with a sort of satisfied glee, the beautiful woman brought low by her injuries, and had whispered in the corridor to others without thought that she could be heard, 'if I were her, I'd never go outside. How can she bear to flaunt herself like that, looking as she does?'. It had stung at the time, but she would never have considered hiding herself away for the rest of her life; she wasn't quite that pathetic, despite what people liked to think.

Her image was easily bearable, she had found. Sure, she had her moments of self-pity, but losing her looks hadn't taken away her personality. She was still strong on the inside, she could still cast spells, use a quill, she still had her confidence, if a bit tarnished. It might have taken her a few months to come to terms with the situation, but after that she had returned to her old self – Lavender Brown. She was still Lavender Brown, after all. No werewolf could take that away from her.

It had taken her too long to be built up to let herself be cut down now. She wasn't a victim to hide herself away, she was a warrior. She had gotten these scars in battle – and she had survived. By ignoring that knowledge, assuming that she was some malleable witch easily intimidated, Lily and Remus had made themselves no better than the assholes in the clubs who assumed she would sleep with them out of gratitude for their overlooking her ravaged face.

"No." she grunted, making eye-contact with Lily and noting with satisfaction her eyes widening in surprise. Perhaps Lily had thought she would break down and spill all of the information, too tired perhaps to fight. Well, tough. She didn't know the answers, and like hell would she give them without Hermione, Ginny and Luna's input even if she did. She was a Gryffindor, after all. "I can't help you. Go away."

Remus looked to the door as if he was considering leaving, and Lavender liked that – he could tell she wasn't lying, and his first reaction was to blush and run away. It said a lot about him that he could do so; he'd probably even apologise later.

Lily, however, was stubborn, and didn't like to be wrong. She glared at Lavender, her head still held high, displaying the discoloration on her porcelain throat. "You really don't know what this is?" she gritted out, pointing at it again, as if it wasn't the biggest eyesore in the room (and this room held mirrors).

Lavender debated this one for a moment, trying to phrase the answer in such a way that perhaps they would leave her alone. "Honestly, no," she sighed, and it was honest, but Remus went stiff and she knew that had been the wrong answer.

"I don't believe you," Lily pressed, dragging a groan out of Lavender.

"I don't much care what you believe, Evans. I'm tired, I didn't sleep very well and I don't have the patience for this. Please, get out."

Their eyes clashed in challenge - deep lilac against bright, shiny emerald. Lavender had liked that Lily had those eyes when they had first met, their unusual eye colours something that they had in common. Now they were cold and hard and Lavender knew hers were too, and there didn't seem to be much camaraderie between them. After a moment, Lily turned towards the door, then paused. "You didn't sleep very well?" she asked quietly, probingly. Lavender, having thought she had won, muffled another groan.

"Oh, this is just- Right. Follow me."

Wrapping her robe around her, Lavender hauled herself from the bed and through the door, shoulder-checking Remus on her way out and smirking when he stumbled. It was petty, yes, but she was irritated, and despite knowing that she would feel guilty later it made her feel more in control right now. The other two scurried along behind her as she led them through the halls, away from their own beds and towards the guest wing where the other three had been given rooms. She banged first on Hermione's door, shouting a command for her to wake up, and then turned into the next room along, where Ginny and Luna slept. The door slammed against the wall when she opened it, startling the two of them awake.

"Lavender, what-" Ginny began drowsily, before noticing the other two coming in behind her. She uttered a yelp, collecting her covers around her and dragging them up to her neck. "What in Merlin's name is going on?"

Lavender ignored her, flopping herself down at the foot of Luna's mattress, narrowly avoiding crushing the other woman's ankles. Luna gave a sleepy smile as she sat up, her luminous eyes taking in Lily's agitated state and Remus' discomfort. "Sit down, make yourselves comfortable," she invited, smoothing the counterpane for them. Lily opened her mouth – no doubt to rant again, she really was quite shrill – when Hermione slipped in the door and looked blearily around.

"Starting early today, are we?" she commented with a faint smile, pulling her terry-cloth robe closer around her. Her eyes skimmed across the occupants of the room, neatly avoiding Luna's, though a faint rosy blush lifted in her cheeks. She pushed her way between Lily and Remus to join Ginny, Lavender and Luna on their side of the room in a gesture of solidarity, despite the fact that anybody could tell she didn't want to be there. Her eyes were bruised purple and her skin was pale, and beneath her cheery, pleasant façade Lavender could sense her agitation, and it fed her own. None of them wanted to be here, now, discussing what they were about to discuss. The room was too cramped, they were on top of one another and being confronted for answers they hadn't the chance to prepare.

"I'm sick of this," Lavender exclaimed abruptly, addressing her comment to Hermione, their de-facto leader. It probably wasn't any more fair to lay responsibility at her door than at Lavender's own, but she had been elected as their spokewoman and she knew far more about the situation than Lavender did. "I'm frustrated and bored. I didn't ask to be here, I bought no ticket to the crazy train. All I wanted was to get married and have some chubby ginger kids. This is not my damned mess," she snarled, pointing at Ginny, Luna and Hermione in turn, seething with sudden rage, "and I refuse to clean it up!" Hermione blinked slowly, Ginny frowned, and Luna lifted a hand to rub it comfortingly on her shoulder as Lavender scowled.

"Evans and Lupin want to know what the fuck is going on. They turned up at my door this morning, near on kicked it down, and demanded an explanation." She waved her hands at the two outsiders, and looked back at Hermione, then Ginny, then Luna. "Mess." She said bluntly. "Get cleaning."

Chapter Text

Remus watched with interest as Lavender slumped against the wall, her eyes closing, and effectively removed herself from the conversation. About two minutes after they had entered the room to confront Lavender, he had regretted it. His hasty actions had prompted an offense he didn't know could be triggered in the little witch, releasing tidal waves of anger mixed with grief and resentment. The emotion had come through their bond so strongly he'd almost stumbled, and were it not for Lily he would have left the room immediately. No answers, he thought, were worth upsetting her that much. Moony's protective instincts had become engaged, and he'd been pinned to the spot by his conflicting impulses. One part of him wanted to calm Lavender, another wanted to tear apart the agitator, another wanted to remove Lily from a potentially dangerous situation… how other werewolves stayed sane in packs was a mystery.

Now he was in this room, the same size as the other, but now packed with hormonal witches and scents that assailed him in one huge wave. There was the scent of the perfume on the sheets, the apple of someone's shampoo, the musk from where they hadn't showered. Each of their individual scents was rolled into a ball with the others, their magical bonds confusing the image, weaving their identities together as one. All five girls were inextricably linked, and recently, and it set the wolf on edge. Usually his Pack bond would override the Other, but without all of his members by his side he was overruled, and Moony didn't like the feeling of being outnumbered.

Setting him more on edge was the addition of that mysterious scent from the dining room, warm and soft and tantalisingly faint, threaded through the wave. It was weak in the presence of the others, not nearly enough to drag him into the trance he'd suffered yesterday, but still there, present. He could smell jasmine on it, and something spicy that set his mouth to watering, reminiscent of magic. He wanted to search for the source, almost desperately, but the more human part of his mind was fixated too solidly on his problem to follow any other path.

Hermione sighed, dragging his attention to her where she sat on the floor between Ginny and Luna's beds. She looked so tired, like she was praying for a reprieve, and Remus wasn't sure that she could handle the situation. Again his protective instincts were riled, presumably in answer to a female in distress, and he had to fight the urge to comfort her.

"We should have expected this," Hermione murmured, looking to Ginny, who was half-asleep, still snuggled in her blankets.

"Yes, you should have!" Lily snapped, still fired up and projecting haughtiness. "We have a right to know what is going on. You can't have expected to keep everything a secret forever! Not if you're going to continue to use us like you have!" There was more than anger in her voice, there was also hurt, and a feeling of betrayal. Lily had thought they were friends, had played devils advocate for them amongst the Marauders, and now worried that her trust had been misplaced. Remus edged away from her, closing himself off against her volatile emotions, not wanting to agitate the wolf any further. Already they were playing with fire.

"We're not using you, Lily," Hermione soothed, her hands up as if to surrender. "I promise, that's the last thing we were trying to do."

"Then what is this?" Lily cried, pulling her hair from her neck again. Hermione sucked in a breath at the sight, her eyes bugging out of her head. Ginny gasped, her head rearing back. Even Lily couldn't miss their surprise, and wilted. "You don't know?"

Hermione opened her mouth to say something – agree, perhaps – when suddenly her head whipped around and she was staring at Luna. Luna watched her with a worrisome frown. The corners of Hermione's mouth crimped, an expression of supreme impatience flitting across her features. "You know, don't you."

Pushing the covers back, Luna emerged from her bed, skinny white legs swinging childishly inches above the floor as she sat upright. Everybody's eyes were on her, but her focus was rivetted on Hermione. "Don't be mad, please." She whispered, fisting her hands in the coverlet. Shyness and pain seemed to shrink her until she seemed about ten years old, easily breakable and tormented. Hermione's eyes were hard, as though she had little sympathy left for the other girl. She would not make a promise she could not keep.

"It's the bond cementing itself," Luna informed them with a sigh, finally tearing her attention from Hermione. She peered at Lily's neck, one tiny hand reaching out to brush across the delicate patchwork of bruising. "I didn't realise it would be so violent, but I can imagine why that would be." The blonde ran a her hand through the other girl's hair, letting the strands catch on her knuckles and wink in the light. "You aren't as open to the magic as the rest of us are, our friendships with you not as strong. It makes sense, therefore, that you would pay a higher price."

Remus frowned, trying to place what little information she had given in with his knowledge of bonds and wild magic in his head. He knew that there were many types of bonds in the world, to compensate for the many different types of magic. There were romantic bonds, such as soul bonds and mate bonds, but they bound two or three people, rather than five. There were family bonds, natural, like the the Pack bond, but that wasn't spontaneous bond that could be triggered at any time, there had to be an awareness; the infection of lycanthropy and other emotional rules, such as trust in the Alpha. He had never studied a bond that could bind five witches without their permission, seemingly randomly in the night. It didn't make sense, couldn't be possible.

The girls seemed to have forgotten that he was there, and he didn't want to break the moment by reminding him – he wasn't a part of this so his questions could wait. Right now he could feel Lily's distress, and getting her answers was top priority.

Luna was still talking. "It's feminine magic, coven magic, that links us now, but the problem with that sort of magic is that it comes at a cost – a cost which we all consented to pay in one way or another. Hermione and I paid our price in sex, Lavender and Ginny paid in pain, and it seems that you – as the focus, linking us to this time and this earth – paid in blood." Luna's face was overcome with a great melancholy, so deep it radiated outwards to weigh on the shoulders of everybody in the room along with her, dragging them down, sharing the burden. Remus could see the surprise on the other girls faces as the bond diluted the emotion through each of them, the shiver of surprise as the side-effects of their new Coven came into effect. Remus was the only one unaffected, but even at the back of the room, pressed against the wall as if the small distance could protect him, he could sense their sadness, anger and frustration with the blonde.

"It wasn't in the plan, Lily, or we would have asked permission, we would have warned you." A soft sob, regretful, broke through but Luna swallowed it back and continued bravely. "This magic has been dormant for our kind for centuries, nobody could have predicted its rise. By all rights it shouldn't have done so, but…

"None of us are in control anymore. Our lives are in the hands of Fate, and they do with us what they will. Last night Hermione and I experienced the lengths they will go to in order to keep us on track. We were enchanted, unable to prevent ourselves from forging the bond. No human compulsion could have forced that."

She pushed off the bed, sinking to her knees beside Hermione, reaching out for Ginny with one hand and Lily with the other. "I admit, back in our own time, I took a message from the Fates and in doing so committed myself and the rest of you to this path. At the time I thought it might help us all – you were so miserable, broken and alone, the lot of you. You won't think it a very good excuse, I know, but I believed that bringing you here would open your hearts back up again, give you back your happiness, and at the same time save the world."

Luna pressed her cheek against Hermione's shoulder-blade, almost hidden by her fall of white-blonde hair and the angles of the other girl's body. Her eyes, peeking through, were large and tearful. "In opening our lives to Fate I gave permission for this to happen. I was naïve, I realise now, but at the time and for a while after I believed it was for the best. I still do, deep down. I can only apologise that I didn't think more of the consequences when I orchestrated this."

There was silence for a few moments as the information was assimilated. Remus was bewildered, his brain racing to make sense of the information it had been given. So Luna, the one who seemed like the lesser threat, the ditzy one, had brought them here? Without the permission of any of the others? While the rest of them had been struggling to make sense of the situation, she had known about it all along? Did that mean she had further information? Did she know what they were to do?

Without conscious thought he had moved forward, and was now towering over Luna where she sat on the ground, calm now and accepting of whatever the other girls might throw at her. Hostility radiated off of Hermione, she was as stiff as a board where Luna leant against her, but hadn't yet moved away. Lily looked dazed, confused, and that expression was mirrored on Ginny's face. Only Lavender seemed to properly understand the situation, but Remus didn't respond to that, instead looking down at Luna, questions vying for answer in his mind.

"Did you know that Lavender would become…. Like me?" he asked quietly, his tone belying the wrath that threatened to explode within him. He hadn't realised that the answer was important to him until he'd spoken it, until it was out in the universe and there was no way to call it back. Luna looked up, met his glare without flinching, and he could read the answer there, plain as day. A growl burst from his chest, loud and damning, sending the other girls cowering in automatic fear response.

All except for Hermione, who threw herself in his path, suddenly on her feet with her chin lifted, her teeth bared in aggression. "Back off," she snarled, her arm out to push Luna behind her legs.

Remus snarled right back at her, until the room was alive with the rumbling. "How can you protect her?" His voice was furious, his eyes flashing. "After what she did to her, your friend?"

Hermione's face only got more set, her jaw clenched in anger, her throat vibrating visibly where it was stretched so that she could look up into his face. He was perhaps six inches taller than her, yet she stood in front of him like they were equals in height and strength, all of her Gryffindor bravery coming to the fore. "I don't think that's any of your business," she replied smartly, one hand curling around her wand and holding it out to her side. Magic sparked in her eyes, playing along her curls, her image one of danger, a threat all of its own. The taste of jasmine, the tang of her magic invaded his space, but he barely noticed, his wolf clawing at him in response to his anger.

"She ruined her life for a game, made her a monster-"

Shouts rose from every corner at that, cutting off his tirade as the girls all jumped to their friends defense. Remus just shook his head, gritted his teeth. They didn't know anything about it, not really. Lavender hadn't even had her first change yet, she couldn't know the pain, the terror of it. The eerie sensation of losing time, of being wrenched away from consciousness, the horror of waking up covered in blood and other unknown liquids in a different environment and not knowing what happened, whether you killed someone or not, whether you passed on your awful affliction in the night. She would barely recognize the presence growing in her mind, alien and unnatural, whispering to her with tales of bloodlust and murder, begging him to lose control, to give himself over to it.

He was shaking with rage, his wand in hand though he couldn't remember drawing it. Lily had her hands on his arms, pleading with him to calm down, but it didn't seem like anything would ever pull him back, the urge to fight pounding through his veins, heating his blood. He met Hermione's challenge with his own, sure he could beat her at whatever game she wished to play, and then he could get to his real target. She might be a fighter with all the experience of war but he was a duelling champion and the only thing that prevented him from simply stunning her and tossing her aside was the fact that she should attack first.

"Remus John Lupin, you know you're not a monster," she finally said, her voice low, unexpectedly calming. He blinked in surprise, jolting the haze of red in his mind. She must have noticed the change in his expression because suddenly her whole visage seemed to warm, her shoulders relaxing and the hard brown of her eyes melted to the colour of chocolate. "Neither is Lavender. She's a bitch, yes, but she doesn't have murder in her any more than you do."

"I'm not sure that's a compliment, actually," Lavender said snidely, the only person still seated. It was like the tension of the moment had completely bypassed her, leaving her in her original position, looking no more ruffled than before.

"Literal bitch," Ginny sniggered from where she stood by the foot of her own bed, wand in one hand, using the other to blow Lavender a sarky kiss. Lavender made a performance out of reaching to catch it in her fist, then pressing it over her heart and pretending to swoon. Ginny snickered again, and Lily made a little noise of amusement. Remus couldn't see where Luna had disappeared to, but when he moved to check behind Hermione the witch darted out to block his passage.

"I think it would be best if you and Luna stayed separate for now, don't you?" she said, again in that low, husky voice she had used on him before. It seemed practised, specifically cultured to cut through his more feral thoughts and replace them with others. He looked away out of habit, and if he'd blushed then no one would know because he had already been flushed from the adrenalin. Hermione grinned like a shark just out of his line of sight, proud of her distraction, revelling in the rush of power she hadn't felt since her first days with her Remus.

"You come and sit over here," she said, still soothingly, taking a hold of Remus' arm and pulling lightly to guide him over to Ginny's vacated bed. She pushed him down at the pillow, paused for a moment to make sure he wouldn't move, and turned to the other girls. "Take Lu over there, and then we'll continue our chat."

Remus thought of objecting, but now that the rush had gone he could smell that scent again, and he realised it was coming from Hermione. It surrounded him, smothered him, kept the wolf locked in his cage and somehow prevented his anger from rising. He wanted to resent it, this new trap he had fallen into, but he couldn't quite think straight.

Her fingers were still locked on his arm as if to prevent him rising, and he stared at them, soft and slender against the rough wool of his jumper. People didn't often touch him casually, without thought, but this witch seemed to have no such qualms. He wanted to ask her if she didn't fear the wolf, didn't think he'd attack mindlessly, but remembered that she had known him before. How well, he was unsure, but they must have been close enough to touch if she was so at ease with him now. Again her peculiar scent teased his nostrils, her heat radiating through the weave of his shirt to burn his skin.

"I'm sorry, I'm trying to get this straight in my head," Lily said, still standing in the centre of the room. Remus wondered if she realised that she had moved herself protectively in front of Lavender, or if it had been subconscious. "You're saying that this… whatever it is… was orchestrated by God?" Her scepticism was palpable.

"Not God, Lily, Gods. Plural, multiple, like the Romans and the Pagans." Lavender shifted to tug on Lily's sleeve, pulling her slightly so that Lavender could see around her into the room. "Some purebloods and half-bloods worship Gods and Goddesses, like Circe, Apollo and Hecate, which you'll recognise in the language. Most of us believe in the Fates and the Furies and their intervention in mortal life." Lavender shrugged a little, making sure the motion was visible to the rest of the rooms occupants. "Most of them we disregard, but the ones that are relevant to our way of life, you can bet we worship them properly. Did you never notice Professor Sprout's shrine at the back of Greenhouse One?"

"I thought it was just her peculiar way," Lily said, but her face had taken on the slightly blurred quality of a scholar when there is information to be had. Remus knew she was filing this away for later examination.

"I think Luna has a valid theory, if it makes a difference. The Moirai are known to be inflexible, indomitable and beyond human morality. Assuming they orchestrated our path, I can see them doing anything in their power to prevent us from diverging, including binding us to one another indestructibly. In that case, had Luna not opened the way for them they would have found another solution, one no doubt more objectionable than this."

"You're just trying to excuse her," Remus accused, though less loudly than perhaps he might have done without Hermione gripping his arm in warning.

"I have to say, it doesn't seem very likely," Lily added, the pleasure of learning having passed, now seeing clearly again. "It's like you're suggesting we've been chosen as some sort of heroes, but look at us. We're hardly Odysseus."

"Odysseus was born for his quest. With us, the Fates just picked up whatever was available at the time, why else would there be four of us?" Lavender parried, managing to sound quite reasonable even while saying something completely ludicrous. Remus feared for her sanity, and more so his own, because he was starting to see the logic of it.

"So what you're saying is that the 'Fates'," Lily raised both of her hands in overdone air-quotes, her nose wrinkled in disbelief, "are binding us together in every available manner to make sure none of us can leave?"

"Not before the job is done, no," Luna chirped up. She had moved to Lavender's side, the two of them leaning on one another for support, both physical and emotional. Lily wavered in the centre, as though she was afraid to even consider what they were saying as truth. Remus wasn't sure he bought it either – he might only be a half-blood, but he knew that some of his friends worshipped deity. The very manor they stood in was full of the evidence of their worship; vaguely morbid tapestry and statuary dedicated to Persephone, Thanatos and Atropos were present in nearly every room, even the nursery in which they raised their young. He had never bothered to question the phenomenon, in the Wizarding world it was widely accepted that the Potters had an alliance with Death, but now he considered that it might be something more than that.

Over his head Ginny and Hermione seemed to be carrying out a silent conversation that involved a lot of nose twitching and eyebrow waggling. It had been going on for quite some time, the motions sometimes getting quite aggressive, as though they were arguing, though it was difficult to tell exactly what it was about. 'Remember your promise,' Ginny finally mouthed, an action only just caught by Remus. Hermione let out a long sigh and Ginny shot her a triumphant grin.

"The tales from that era do seem to substantiate the notion that the Gods would choose mortals to carry out their dirty work," Hermione droned, but there was a bitter edge to her voice as if she resented saying it, and Ginny looked far too smug for comfort. She was the sort of woman, Remus thought, that only looked that smug when someone was in pain. "Though I can't say for sure-"

Ginny let out a groan and marched over to Luna's bed, joining the two blondes to face the room, her chin jerked defiantly. "Do you not think that the Fates would want to have a hand in destroying a man that can defeat death? A man who has found a way to defeat his own destiny? That certainly fits with the mythos." She took Lavender's hand, an arm slung around Luna's shoulder, and glared up at Lily. "You don't have to believe our explanation, you know. Just accept that we're bound now. It doesn't mean much of anything, a coven bond, just that we're stronger together, weaker apart. It's an incentive to keep you close, that's all."

"Oh… well, what about Remus? What happened to him?" Lily was fighting to hold onto her anger, the emotion draining her of energy quickly. She was too tired to fight for much longer, Remus could tell that from the way she held herself, and her tough-girl image was severely dented by the longing looks she sent the pillows when she thought they weren't looking.

Remus shifted uncomfortably, not fully wanting to accept what they were throwing at him, but unable to entirely discount it either. The fact that Hermione didn't seem to believe it herself was a balm to him in some ways, as was the fact that she was sat beside him, serving as sanity in the storm. "That was Lavender drawing energy from me, right?" he asked, his eyes on Lavender. His voice held too much concern, was too soft for his liking. He couldn't seem to help himself – she brought out his compassionate side.

"Right, sorry," Lavender winced, not meeting his eyes. "I didn't know about that until after."

"That's fine, we know now," his voice was still damnably gentle; he knew from the colour that rose in her cheeks that she thought he was patronising her. It seemed she was very easily offended. "Moony added her to the Pack, that wasn't their doing," he explained to Lily, a tad sheepishly. "It seemed suspicious, what with everything else going on, so I came to ask about it. It wasn't my intention to stress you all out."

"What's done is done," Hermione said firmly, her nails still keeping Remus in check while her glare seemed to do the same for Lavender. "Since the Fates-" her cynicism beat even Lily's, seeming to fill the room, "-have seen fit to provide us with these resources, however, perhaps we should use them?"

"What do you mean?" Lily asked, suddenly seeming wary. He didn't blame her – Hermione had a zealous glint to her eyes, a sudden malicious grin on her lips.

"Well yesterday we were trying to research things, but we hardly made a dent in the list. With the help of you two on top of the four of us – and Sirius and James, of course, we wouldn't want to keep them out of the loop – we should be able to get the ball rolling much faster." Her face suddenly went innocent, all big brown doe-eyes and pouting lips as she bounced her gaze between the two of them. "You did say you wanted to be included, right? That you deserved to be involved?" Before they had a chance to answer she was nodding decisively, straightening up and finally releasing Remus from her clutches. "Then you'll be happy to meet us in the library after we grab some breakfast. Thank you so much for offering your help."

She hustled out of the room, the door not even having swung shut before the sound of running water could be heard from next door. Lily looked at him, startled.

"Scary, isn't she?" Ginny sniffed from the comforter of the other bed. "Now, I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm half naked. Unless you're going to marry me, Remus, could you please get out? Anybody would think you're trying to compromise my virtue."

This from a woman who lay sprawled across the two blondes like they were her own personal harem. Remus rolled his eyes, but left the room. Lily followed swiftly. "I know I'm supposed to be upset," she said to him as they headed in the direction of their own quarters, "but I'm actually dreadfully excited. Aren't you? They talk a lot of rubbish but I think they could actually change things, and we've just been plonked right into the middle of it!"

She was smiling, walking backwards with a near skip, and Remus didn't want to break her bubble, but – "That's all well and good, Evans, but you're overlooking the more immediate problem." She blinked at him in question and he smirked. "You're the one that has to tell Prongs and Padfoot that you've volunteered them for a day in the library. Good luck with that."

Chapter Text

The boys turned up that day, after much grumbling and grousing – and, the girls thought, more than one attempt to throw Lily out, going by her malicious smirk, James' limp and Sirius' bright red ears – and settled down. Hermione had found it an honour to work with such quick minds, remembering everytime one of them flicked through a book that these were the men who had mastered the animagus transformation at fifteen out of empathy for their friend's plight. Well, she found it an honour until about two hours in, when they begun to get bored, and she had to put up with Sirius howling Remus' name and parchment taking flight around her. Not even thinking about the magnificent intricacy of the charms work on the Marauders' Map could save them from her wrath in the end, and the boys had grovelled at her feet as she kicked them out of the library and threatened to leave them out of her plans.

After that small hiccup, things began to pick up in their research. Days turned into weeks as Spring settled more fully over the Manor, and the inhabitants fell into a routine. Delicate compromises were made between work and play, the boys and Lily having to fit war preparations around their original commitments. All residents found time to help, including Charlus and Dorea, though Hermione was – wisely – careful of the information they were privy to. While they had been kind hosts, and at present agreed to hide their existence from the outside world, Hermione could sense the strain they were under to fulfil their obligations to Dumbledore and therefore was loath to confide anything more than the necessary information. All six of the original residents continued to attend Order meetings, of which there had been two, though they were sure to bring the information back to add to Luna's chart. The newcomers were uneasy about how easily they could come by this information, vowing to find a better way to police their own revolution; something more secure than blind trust and less torturous than dark magic tattoos.

Remus and Lily proved to be the most committed to the cause, due to them spending more time at the Manor than James and Sirius, as James was often out visiting allies and investments with Charlus in preparation for managing the Potter holdings, and Sirius was busy with Auror training at the Ministry. Lily, who studied Healing magic from home with the elves and an imported tutor from St Mungo's, balanced this with her Defensive Magic study, and volunteered to join what she referred to as their 'Girl Power' classes (so named after coming across them in their clearing, with Lavender and Hermione puffing around the trees and Luna and Ginny sparring in the centre). She was Ginny's favourite student by far, mostly due to Ginny's inability to corral Luna into any sort of training if she wished to be elsewhere, Lavender's defiance whenever she was asked to do anything remotely physical, and Hermione's typically bookworm ineptitude. The redhead proved to be a quick study, who had already been in fair shape and far stronger than she looked. She and Ginny were quick forming a bond, though it had nothing on the one between Lavender and Lily, who grew closer by the day.

Remus worked part-time in an independent bookshop in nearby Helmsley, allowing him ample free time to spend either with his head in a book or assisting Lavender through her pre-moon preparations. He was Hermione's near constant library companion, though the both of them were liable to leave the room at random times without explanation, and not return for hours. For Hermione, this was because of difficult memories which often visited her without warning both in the day and at night. Remus had his own problems being close to Hermione, which he wouldn't confide to anybody.

Slowly, by inches, the girls began to get to know the Potters and their adopted children, more as people than as amorphous figures distorted by time and nostalgia. They learned that they had flaws, just as the girls did, but also their kindness and compassion. Lily was found often outside of Lavender's room in the night, pacing restlessly as the other girl suffered through nightmares, knowing that Lavender's pride wouldn't allow her comfort but unable to return to her own room without assurance of her wellbeing. Remus would put aside his own loathing of his beast in order to reassure Lavender that lycanthropy 'wasn't that bad', despite patently disbelieving every word he said. He continued to pretend that Luna didn't exist, but didn't say a bad word about her to the other lads, nor did he make her feel unwelcome, which only further convinced everybody of his unfathomable goodness. Luna cared about his disapproval not at all, when asked about it she told the girls, "don't worry, I'm used to it. At least I still have all of my shoes!"

The situation between the two of them made Hermione uncomfortable, but she had precious little time to contemplate a solution, busy as she was attempting to keep a grip on Sirius and James. They were perfectly good researchers, very clever – they could make accurate intuitive jumps with very little information. Unfortunately, their concentration failed easily, leaving them to revolt against their 'babysitter' who more often than not was Hermione, herself. She had spent the 29th with straight, blue hair; the colour not bothering her as much as the straightness, for she looked good in blue, but with her hair straight her magic was much weaker and she was drowsy to the point of narcolepsy.

When Ginny saw what they had done she was swift and merciless in her retribution, leaving Sirius wandering around looking like a wolfman from a Muggle film with thick thatches of hair sprouting from his flesh and bursting from his clothes, and James with antlers sending his head askew, hopping around on hooves like a confused, bastardized faun.

Remus, upon walking into the chaos, took one look around and walked straight back out again.

Still, as April melted into May, they found themselves growing more comfortable with one another. There was ample time for Lavender, Luna, Ginny and Hermione to observe the relationship between the boys, which had been amplified to mythical proportions by the men they had known in the future. As it was, in the present, it was fascinating to watch. Everybody seemed to have their designated role and was happy with it, and even with Peter gone there was no imbalance. James and Sirius were inseperable, but that did not make Remus an outsider, for he was the calm to their storm even in temper. Sirius was the closest to Remus emotionally, James their comic relief for when things got too morose. For both of the men, it was clear that James was representative of home for them, in a world where everywhere else was so unwelcoming. The relationship was idyllic, the girls watching from the sidelines in a mixture of awe and jealousy, suddenly feeling petty for the divisions in their own ranks.

As the full moon approached Lavender began to get skittish. She spent a lot of time in her room or outside, playing in the pond that backed onto the Potter's property. Luna shadowed her from a distance, hovering by in the case that something went wrong, but otherwise going unnoticed. She had a talent for melting into the background that she used shamelessly to her advantage, Lavender never knowing she was watched. Her research slowed to a trickle before stopping altogether as her attention was drawn to other, more imminent things.

Hermione allowed this, as she herself was involved in her own project. At the beginning of April she began to disappear for hours at a time, returning looking flushed but pleased. Lily and the boys would look at her askance, but she gave no hints as to her whereabouts, though Ginny and Luna often sent her knowing smiles. Dorea, too, seemed smugly knowledgeable, but that seemed to be her default emotion nowadays around the children. Despite her and her husband not being fully involved in the plotting, Hermione and Ginny had a habit of disappearing into her office to debrief her on their work in the least possible detail, though mostly they reassured her of the boys' health and helpfulness, leaving Dorea feeling proud and involved.

On the sixth of May Hermione burst into the library at speed, holding two goblets out from her body and hovering two other glasses behind her. Ginny squealing in excitement drew the attention of James and Sirius, who wandered out from the stacks to eye the steaming cups with trepidation. "For us?" he asked, shrinking back a little, no doubt regretting the trouble he had caused her over the past few weeks.

Smirking, Hermione wove her way through the chairs scattered about the open area in the centre of the library towards where Lavender and Remus sat with Ginny, nestled in an alcove protected by a statue of Artemis in armour on one side, and a regal looking doe on the other. Both werewolves were already wincing at the stench. "Sadly, not." She informed the lads, who were following her through the library.

"Is that chocolate milkshake?" James demanded, reaching out a finger to taste some of the whipped cream. The glass danced forward, out of his reach.

"Yes," Hermione said curtly, placing the goblets one each in front of Remus and Luna, blessing them with a wide grin. Remus gave her a wary smile before contemplating the contents of his goblet, not looking at all trusting.

Lavender, by contrast, picked it up. She went to take a sip then paused, looking up through her eyelashes slyly. "What did you bring me, if Remus gets chocolate milkshake?" she asked, much like a child would bargain with their parents over how many vegetables to eat. Rolling her eyes, Hermione dropped the other glasses onto the table with a thud.

"Cola float, you disgustingly Americanised traitor," she scolded, slipping into a chair and pulling a face as she examined the congealing ice-cream/soft drink mixture. "I hope your teeth rot."

"Gosh, Hermione, you're so kind to me, how on earth does anybody resist your myriad charms?" Lavender fanned her face exaggeratedly. "I just want to fall at your feet and scream 'Take me, take me!'."

"Are you going to drink it or not?"

"Is 'not' an option?"

"No."

She poked her tongue out, scrunching up her face in displeasure, but Hermione had already turned to her other patient, who was looking distinctly suspicious. As he watched, the concoction bubbled and what looked like a Hedgehog's spine drifted to the surface, only to be swallowed up again by the seething mass. He gulped back the sudden urge to vomit.

"You want me to drink this?" he prayed that the answer was no. He understood that potions were necessary and helpful, but when you got a pepper-up potion it didn't exactly advertise its contents. Having the eye-of-newt actually staring up at you as you drank was a whole other – disgusting, sinister – ball game. The expression on her face gave him no hope at all. "To think I was starting to like you," he accused, anything to delay the moment he would have to shove it down his throat.

Ginny piped up quickly enough to distract everybody from the heat rising in Hermione's face, smirking mischievously at the two lycans. "Oh, come on. I doubt that's the worst thing you've ever put in your mouth." She dragged the cup over to herself, peering inside curiously. "Well, actually… nope, I'm going to stick with my first assessment," she chuckled softly, then turned her head towards Hermione and Lavender to mouth 'Michael Corner'. Lavender turned slightly green, but Hermione's entire face flamed up.

The blonde snatched her cup back, clutching it protectively to her chest. "You're depraved," she hissed at Ginny, who only smirked wider and winked.

"What is it?" Sirius asked from where he and James loomed over the lot of them, arms crossed, looking a little constipated. Hermione thought that might be due to the fact that they were half-amused, half-protective, and weren't sure which emotion should be allowed to win out at the moment.

"It's a potion," Ginny answered slowly, as if he were very dull, in order to allow Hermione time to regain her composure.

"Wolfsbane Potion," she expanded, pressing her fingers to her cheeks to cool them. "Foul thing, a pain to brew, but I have it on good authority that it helps with the transformation."

Remus glanced up from where he had been mesmerised by the fact that the liquid in his goblet seemed to breathe. "By 'good authority' you mean me, don't you?" He sighed, looking back down. "I read about this, I think, last year. It seemed wonderful, but I'd written off ever being able to get it because -" he met Hermione's eyes, a calculating look in his own. "It's meant to be really complex and ludicrously expensive, how did you make it?"

"Wait, you've heard of it?" James butted in, frowning at Remus. "How do you know that's what this is? She might be trying to poison you."

Ginny scoffed and Hermione flew onto the defensive, turning around to glare at the man. James just raised an eyebrow. "What? It's not a stupid question. What would you think if I just turned up out of the blue with a potion for Lavender to drink?"

"I would never drink anything you brewed," Lavender retorted playfully. "I quite like my life, thank you."

Huffing, James flung his arms out in exasperation. "You get what I mean, though?"

"Dorea helped. She bought the ingredients and oversaw the brewing process to make certain nothing went wrong. She's quite the potions mistress, your mother." Her gaze turned wicked. "Of course, if you don't trust her…"

He looked surprised to find himself so firmly backed into a corner. Remus, knowing that he was running out of ways to procrastinate, searched wildly for another way. Lavender on the other hand, simply lifted the goblet to take a generous swig.

She let out a hacking cough, her eyes watering. She grimaced, then quaffed the lot. The goblet was returned to the table and she retched violently, her body rejecting the potion already. "Oh, Gods," she gasped, reaching blindly for the drink Hermione had thought to provide as both bribe and compensation. After a sip of the creamy brew she relaxed, though didn't look any happier. "Why lycanthropy?" she demanded, everybody jumping. She traced the condensation on her glass with a finger, pouting. "Of all the magical creatures in the world, why a fucking werewolf? Why not a Selkie, I ask you? I would have made a fucking fabulous Selkie."

Hermione said, "she'll be fine" at the same time as Sirius nodded thoughtfully and said "it's the tits." They stared at each other for a moment, blinking blankly, just marvelling over their differences.

"Thank you for that input, Black, much appreciated," Lavender drawled dryly. She prodded Remus' goblet with a finger. "Bottom's up, wolf-boy. I thought you were meant to be braver than me?"

It was an obvious challenge, meant to prick his male pride, and Remus was ashamed to say that it worked. His mind fixed firmly on delicious, not mouldy and cadaverous looking things, he poured the lot down his throat.

"Delicious," he muttered, smiling weakly. Hermione gave a throaty laugh, then pushed the milkshake over the table.

"Reward for a job well done," she teased, her eyes sparkling with amusement. His heart stuttered for a moment as they watched one another.

"Thank you," he replied in a husky voice that he knew he would pay for later. James and Sirius had lit up like fucking Christmas trees at the sound, poking and prodding one another excitedly, probably already formulating jokes. Remus forgot the danger, though, as his fingers brushed hers, sending a shiver of awareness down his spine. Ginny called her attention to her and the moment broke as if it had never been, leaving Remus with an unsettling sensation unfolding in his stomach – he wasn't sure if it was intuition or the potion. Either one didn't seem too good.

Chapter Text

The letter, which had been dropped into his breakfast that morning and now bore traces of melted butter and jam on its pressed ivory envelope, looked deceptively harmless as it sat, starched straight and practically shiny in its perfection, against the rich emerald satin of his bedspread. Unfurled, its secrets revealed and imprinted forever onto Regulus' psyche, it seemed to mock the mess that was his life; its unblemished innocuousness giving no hint as to the devastation it had wreaked with its delivery.

The 'Death Eater' thing had been all well and good while it had been only himself in danger, his family spared the backlash of the Dark Lord's displeasure. It had been Regulus' understanding that while he worked for Him, his family would be safe. That had been the agreement, unspoken and unsigned though it was, and the Dark Lord had given his word.

What did the Dark Lord's word stand for? Nothing any longer, it seemed.

Tapping his wand negligently against the sole of his dragonhide boots, Regulus contemplated the offending parchment. He was locked and warded within the confines of his four-poster, the better to properly absorb how much his life had changed within the last twelve hours, and what exactly to do about it. The sounds of the other boys in his dorm going about their bed-time preparations seeped through the thick velvet curtains, and Regulus felt detached. More than ever he was different to them, apart from the boys he had grown up with. They were normal, he was Other, a fact he had known for most of his life and yet the enormity of which had only just occurred to him.

They wouldn't disturb him. He was the last Heir to the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black, second richest House in the country, with their fingers in every pot and every politician on puppet strings. Here, in Slytherin, they could appreciate that fact, treating him with the deference his birth allowed him. Often it served to make him feel more Other than he knew he already was, but today their behaviour was a blessing, for he needed to think. He needed to plan, as best he could with the limited time that had been afforded to him by this warning.

Absently, he traced Lucius' garishly flamboyant signature with a finger. The warning had come written in his usual fluffy style, plumped up by words most men hadn't used since the eighteenth century, sealed with Lucius' personal seal rather than that of his family or, alternately, as in the case of Regulus' own brother, whatever was lying around in easy reach that was heavy and looked cool. The last missive he had gotten from Sirius, some two years ago now, had bore a picture of a dragon picked out rather crudely in the red wax with one of Evans' hair pins.

Regulus shook his head violently to rid himself of thoughts of his errant brother, but it was no good. Severus' suggestion had haunted him since the trip to Spinners' end some three weeks ago now, pair that with Lucius' message and it was predictable that Sirius would be on his mind. He found himself going over Severus' suggestion again, turning the possibilities over in his mind.

At first, when the concept had been put forward, Regulus had dismissed it out of a confused mixture of pride and concern. He didn't want to put Sirius more at risk than he already was, and at the same time, this honourable gesture would keep Regulus safe from the risk of rejection. Both had seemed perfectly acceptable reasons; between them, the perfect excuse.

That was then, though. Now… now, everything had changed. Severus would think him ridiculous for this, and indeed, Regulus doubted his own sanity on the matter, but this was the proverbial feather that broke the Hippogriff's back. Logical or no, he needed out, and he needed out now.

Sirius was staying at the Potter manse, he had learned from eavesdropping and his own investigations during the last day of the Easter holidays, with the Potter and the rest of his entourage. There, along with his cohort, lived the mysterious 'weapon' the Death Eaters were convinced the Wild Magicks had granted them, unless they had already handed it over to Dumbledore. With the 'weapon' there they were hardly likely to trust Regulus, but he had enough determination to pursue shelter with them anyway, sure he could find some way to get them to trust him. He could be useful to them, he assured himself when his self-consciousness rose, he knew a lot about the Dark Lord and his workings, and he had contacts.

If they were Slytherins and not Gryffindors he would be less nervous. No Slytherin would turn away this opportunity, dangerous though it might appear on the surface. There were too many ways to turn it to their advantage, it would be idiotic to say 'no'.

Regulus pushed away his negative thoughts and focused on the positives: Sirius was his brother, and they loved one another despite their mutual failings. Evans had always been fond of him, too, and she was a soft heart. Potter's mum liked him, that was another stroke in his favour, and even Dumbledore wouldn't be able to turn down his offers of information. There was a way out.

Seeing the light, he grimly prepared himself to reach for it. The other boys were breathing deeply and evenly, not a one was disturbed as he packed his trunk. He burned the letter to ashes in the fireplace and tergeoed the remains before clipping his cloak around his neck, picking up his trunk and his wand, and slipping from the dormitory without a sound.


Lavender gulped down the last serving of Wolfsbane for the month with a decidedly reluctant air, glaring petulantly at Hermione as she did so. Hermione stubbornly refused to take it personally – it was only hours to the full moon now, and Lavender had become increasingly tetchy as the week passed. The attitude she had adopted over the last few days had Hermione yearning for the sassy, spitfire girl she had come to know, her memory seemingly whitewashing away her perceived faults until the Old Lavender had nearly been granted a Sainthood in her mind, so much was she preferred over the near-feral, snarling, volatile creature that sat in front of her now. Lavender's adverse reaction to the coming change had not been unexpected, but the extent to which her personality seemed to have been overrun by her wolf was amazing.

"That's shit," Lavender told her, her voice a rolling purr as she slammed the goblet down next to her tray of untouched food.

"It's necessary," Hermione replied smartly, never particularly renowned for her soothing bedside manner. "You need to eat."

"Not hungry." Lavender scowled as she caught the expression Hermione turned to hide – the other girl was mouthing the response as it was said. It had been the standard over the past two days, though this morning she had made a token attempt to nibble on a sausage. The full moon had apparently stripped Lavender of the will to do anything but glower and complain, leaving Hermione with the impression that she had been strong-armed into playing nursemaid for a younger, far prettier Professor Snape.

"You need the energy," Hermione pushed. Lavender shook her head, climbing back up onto her bed and curling into a ball in the middle, tucking her hands behind her calves and resting her chin on her knees. Her eyes, large and focused, stayed fixed on Hermione as she collected up the tray in defeat and, after placing a bag of Maltesers on the bedside table (for Lavender would eat chocolate, she just couldn't resist it if it were in reach), stalked from the room.

In the kitchen she found James and Lily; Lily attempting to bake cookies while James flapped around her in characteristically fawning fashion, making the most of the little time they could find to spend together and alone in a house of ten people.

"Oops, sorry," Hermione laughed as James took a comical leap backwards and shot her a wink. Lily blushed deep red, that more than anything informing the brunette that the display was a form of foreplay for the two of them, and regretting even more that she had interrupted.

James seemed undeterred, scooping up a handful of cookie dough while Lily's attention was divided and hopping up onto the counter, swinging his legs as he gnawed on his prize. "She still not eating?"

"Not a bite." She lifted the tray to show off the cooling spaghetti Bolognese. "The elves are going to start refusing to feed her at all."

"Not likely. They're too pleased to have so many more mouths to feed to complain about anything," Lily murmured, moulding her mixture into balls and dropping them onto the baking parchment from a height so that they made a satisfying 'splat' noise, the force compressing them into imperfect circles. "How's Remus doing?"

Grimacing, Hermione moved across to clean the plates, transferring the food into a box for later. "Sirius refused to let me see him," she muttered, scrubbing hard at the dish to release some of the aggression that statement rose in her. "He intercepted me at the door, said Remus was too agitated for visitors."

She downplayed her reaction deliberately, but James' softening expression said she didn't do a very good job of it. If there was one thing about the future everybody in the house accepted but didn't talk about, it was that Hermione and Remus had been close. Nobody asked how close, and Hermione was glad of that, but the more time the two of them spent together in this time the clearer it was that she had experience with him, older and wiser though he was. This only made it hurt more that he had begun to avoid her, and she had had several late nights that week going over and over her actions to try to figure out exactly what she had done wrong.

"'Mione…" James began, his voice low. That was too much, the sound of the horrific nickname she had always abhorred and yet was inextricably linked in her head with the Weasley family and happiness. James had never called her it before, for him to choose this moment felt like a cruel joke from the universe. It was getting hard enough for her to hold it together, without being reminded of what she had lost…

She was a rational person, Hermione. She knew that there had been very little left for her in 1999; her parents and Remus were dead, her friends were drifting away from her, she spent her days alternating between obsessing about work and bitterly observing her friends' more successful lives. There had been no sign of her being able to move forward with her life, she had been unable to shed the past as easily as everybody else, and it had lived as a constant wall between her and the world. By contrast, here in 1979 she felt connected, alive, nothing was blurry any longer and she could feel again.

Still, she had lost much in the move. Harry and Ron would never be the same, she had lost the family she had adored in the Weasleys, her past might as well have never been. Those grades she had worked so very hard for were gone, the Dark Wizard she had fought so hard to kill was back, she was stuck as the commander for a revolution she knew next-to-nothing about in a world of suspicion, guilt and war…

To her horror she felt tears prickling her eyes. "Excuse me," she gasped in a strangled voice, desperate to escape before she could humiliate herself. She forced a walk from legs that would rather run, nonetheless leaving swiftly.


"Are you ready?" Ginny asked, helping Lavender navigate the stairs in the entrance hall as they descended to meet the crowd who awaited them below. It felt a bit like entering an extremely depressing ball, with the grim expressions on everybody's faces. Most of them were wearing black, too: black trousers, black jumpers, a threadbare black tracksuit in Remus' case (an outfit, upon witnessing the unmitigated horror on her face when she had first seen it, he had assured Ginny that he only wore for full moons) and a black dress transfigured from a cotton pillowcase for Lavender. Getting her to change clothes had been a challenge and a half, it took both her and Hermione to wrestle her into the thing, and she had refused underwear on the grounds that 'it would only get fucked up'.

Lavender sent her a scathing look. "That's a stupid question," she grunted as her feet met solid ground. It seemed that what she lacked in energy she could make up for in rancour, Ginny was displeased to note. Tossing lank hair over her shoulder, Lavender turned her pale, greying face on the other and assumed a regal tone. "Let's get this over with."

Remus was in a much better state, though his mood was no lighter. He watched Lavender approach with the air of a condemned man, actually flinching when she took his elbow. Dorea clapped her hands now that they were all assembled, pasting on a bright smile despite the dark mood. "Is everything prepared?"

She was referring to the wards Luna, Lily, James and Sirius had been working on for the past week or so, which theoretically would allow the werewolves a large space outside to enjoy the full moon in, but would prevent them from leaving. It had been unanimously agreed that allowing Lavender free range would be much too dangerous both to herself and the inhabitants of the house, and immediately Luna and James, as the best at Charms, had begun their experimentation. In the orchard they had erected a dome which should, in theory, allow humans free access until moonrise, allow animagi free access all night, but keep the werewolves sealed safely within.

"As good as we can get without testing it," James informed her, wrapping his arms around Lily and resting his cheek on the top of her head. "It should be fine if we stick to the plan."

What he didn't say, but they all knew, was that now they were relying on the luck of the draw. Hopefully, the spells would hold. If not…

"Good enough for me," Lavender said, though Remus looked uneasy. "Let's go."

They left Dorea behind as the rest of them traipsed across the garden towards the orchard and their destination. Lavender and Remus led the charge, though Remus was still looking doubtful and it appeared that he was being dragged. Everybody silently gave Lavender points for bravery; she was charging out to an uncertain fate that could feasibly include death or serious injury, and she only seemed determined to get it over with.

They reached the iridescent cage in no time at all, at which point the more human of the lot stepped back. "Ten minutes," Hermione called, making Remus flinch. Her voice slid across his skin like the finest of fur coats, enflaming his nerves. He had avoided her for fear of Moony, who seemed increasingly enamoured of her scent, but it seemed that he was becoming more sensitised to her, even her voice setting the wolf to prowling.

The girls stepped forward, reaching for Lavender – to hug her or kiss her or even just wish her luck? – but the blonde tossed her hair again, scowled back at them and stepped through the curtain of magic, bringing Remus with her. He shivered as the magic slid over his flesh, an unpleasant crawling sensation beginning between his collarbones and spreading. And then, they were locked in the box, sound muffled slightly but their view of the sky brilliant and unobstructed. By instinct Remus looked to Lavender rather than watch the girls leave for the house, wondering if she might need help or comfort.

Far from that, the woman had stretched out on the floor, leaning on her elbows and tipping her face up to the stars, a peaceful smile on her lips now that the moon was rising.

James and Sirius, now the only people remaining on the other side of the wards, shot him matching grins. The idea was that after the change was over, Padfoot would join them in their cage in animal form, and help him with the new wolf. As second-in-command of the pack, Sirius should be accepted by Lavender, though there was still the risk that she wouldn't recognise their bond and would lash out. For that reason, Prongs would remain outside of the wards, his scent blocked out by their clever charm work, and guard the area.

Remus tried to use the well-thought-out plan to reassure himself, but he had a bad feeling. He wasn't certain what it was, but it was there. These things were unpredictable, nothing could control a werewolf, they just had to have hope.

The first groan from Lavender coincided with the spilling of silver light over the horizon. Remus just had time to turn to her in concern, catch a glimpse of her writhing on the grass, before the pain burned through his spine, forcing him to the ground and wiping awareness from his mind.

Chapter Text

It had taken him hours to find the Potter home, despite the vague image he had of it in his head. Regulus had never visited, but Sirius had, and Sirius had taken great pleasure in describing the place to his little brother. He'd made the place sound like a haven, a magical land away from his responsibilities, obligations and parents, many conversations revolving around Reg sat in awe as Sirius trotted out his memories and experiences in an attempt to stir his brother's envy.

He could remember them all: at Potter Manor, Sirius had excitedly informed his younger brother, they could have pancakes for breakfast. At Potter Manor they could play outside in the Orchards. At Potter Manor there was nobody lecturing him on the rights and privileges of the Pure-blood class. At Potter Manor he could wear muggle clothes – muggle clothes – and nobody batted an eyelid over either his choice of attire nor what he did in it. Reg had been on the receiving end of long stories that mostly consisted convoluted descriptions of the grounds, full of apple and pear trees, and the large cherry sap that had been planted at the head of the drive because Mrs. Potter adored the sight of blossom across her steps in the spring. Mr. Potter's many virtues were extolled relentlessly; painting him as a man who was rarely heard but seen often, and told the best jokes. Regulus knew that the Potters had Thestrals in the stables instead of Abraxans, that the house-elves wore little tailored tunics, that the damn bricks were said to be blessed by Merlin himself.

(Even as a child Regulus had read into these tales what Sirius would not say out loud: this is my real family, Reg. This is where I belong. When his brother had eventually abandoned him, at least Regulus had the comfort of knowing that the images taunting him of Sirius' happiness were detailed and accurate.)

He knew a lot about Potter Manor, but it was knowledge that did not include a map, which made his mission that night a lot harder. He'd apparated to the outskirts of Helmsley, the nearest market town, and hiked due West under a disillusionment charm with the naive assumption that he'd find the place quite easily. Knowing that the Manor was close by, he'd ensconced himself in the countryside, wandering near aimlessly for an hour searching for any signs of life, until finally he'd come across a little dirt trail that had been travelled recently by horses.

That was where it had gotten difficult. The Longbottoms and the Potters shared a fondness for the area, their houses built close together on this stretch of land. If he chose the wrong direction he could find himself faced with an angry Augusta Longbottom, who had always terrified him more than anything the Potters could possibly produce.

He chose south, and strode onwards for a while longer, his brain on alert. It was only when he'd realised he was walking absently in circles that he noticed the paths disappearance into the air before him. It didn't reappear on the other side, where he could only see endless moor. The wards twitched in his head, trying to subtly push him away. His awareness of the magic nulled their efforts.

He sat down rather than attempting to go any further at that particular moment. He had been walking for a long time; Blacks weren't built for physical exertions, at least not ones that required hours of stamina (the implications this could have on his future relationships wasn't something he cared to worry himself about at the present time, or any time in the past, or the future. He'd cross that bridge when it came). The grass was soft and well maintained, despite the fact that it was ostensibly just a patch of crabgrass in the middle of nowhere, and that more than anything else told him he had the right place. House-elves without enough work made work where they could find it, so strimming and feeding the surrounding area's earth was right up their street.

Stretching, he stifled a yawn. His night was not done, not by any stretch. He'd found the place, now he needed in.

First things first, he figured he might as well start with the simplest solution in the hopes that he might get lucky. The locks on his trunk clicked open without any prompting, allowing him to slip the little white envelope from within. He then pulled from his cloak pocket a shrunken cage, complete with horned-owl plaintively hooting at him. "I know, Castor, hush," he whispered, enlarging it back to full size and meeting the regal amber eyes of his pet. Castor was a typical owl, a wild thing with a temper when provoked; it was likely that hours of being bashed around on Reg's hip could have triggered that temper.

Careful to keep his fingers clear of the creature's beak, he slipped a few treats into the cage and watched Castor suck them down. The little owl had no manners, either, though that wasn't anything that could be helped. Castor was his own bird, making it clear often that he only returned to Regulus out of affection rather than servitude. "You like that, buddy?" Regulus murmured, a smile twitching his lips as Castor let out an affirmative sort of choke. He clicked the cage door open and offered a strip of bacon from his hand. "Come on, don't fail me now," he encouraged, watching Castor turn his head consideringly before he hopped forward and stole the bacon, swallowing that, too, whole before presenting his leg. Regulus took a moment to savour the victory over his truculent feathered friend, but hurried along when Castor started to click his beak in impatience.

"Take this to the Potters. Give it into the hands of anybody you find – preferably Sirius, but anybody will do." He tied the letter securely to Castor's leg, and leaned forward. Castor brushed his downy cheek against Regulus' in a feathery estimation of a hug – or so he supposed, he wasn't any expert in animal affections, or affection at all. Castor could be promising to kill him for all he knew. "Go on then," he ordered, his mood a little soured by the thought.

Castor shot him a look of reproach as he hopped back, cooed in understanding, and launched himself towards the wards. He was gone in a split-second, and Reg was alone again.

He settled himself on his resealed trunk, nibbling gratefully on a roast beef sandwich. He'd had no trouble leaving the castle, using the tunnel down to Hogsmeade as an apparition point after collecting a stash of food from the Kitchens. He'd miss the little elves, of course, but not so much his fellow wizards – yet another reason his parents had been so disappointed to be left with him as the heir. Regulus's inability to form lasting relationships with other humans had long been an irritant for his mother.

The moon shone overhead, providing a clear light for him as he scanned the area. Squirrels hopped through the trees overhead, insects chirped in the undergrowth, and Reg felt a part of nature, even as he sat waiting. His back ached, his legs tensed, Reg paid the sensations no mind as he relaxed into the environment, chewing thoughtfully on his snack and attempting to find order in the unrefined chaos of his plan.

"Regulus Black," a woman said suddenly, sending Regulus sprawling backwards in the dark. She appeared directly in front of him, a dream come to life, with an airy smile on rose-petal lips, grey-blue eyes large and shining in the moonlight. Platinum hair streamed down her back to her knees, spilling over her bottom in a way that – well, Regulus had no right to be admiring. She wore a white tunic over torn yellow corduroys, her feet bare. Castor perched happily on her shoulder, cooing like a maniac, rubbing his beak into the silvery mass like he lived there. In her right hand she held his letter, open and pressed against her thigh.

He wasn't jealous of an inanimate object. That would be ridiculous.

"You are Regulus Black?" She said now, her tone still light but with the edge of a question as she watched him. Regulus realised how ridiculous he must look, lying spread eagle in the mud like a lunatic. He scrambled to his feet, finding himself a few inches taller than her, and so close he felt her breathing. She grinned in amusement and he became conscious that he had done it again – acted like a nutter.

Putting some space between them – though not too much, because he couldn't resist the urge to be near her – he brushed off his knees for something to do and gathered a blank expression onto his face. "That's me," he said finally, then winced because it came out sounding so pathetic.

She smiled, if possible, even wider. "I've been expecting you," she told him, her voice music to his ears it was so beautiful. Frantically, he tried to gather back the pieces of his sanity (and, if he could find it, his dignity) to figure out what was going on. Random forest nymphs didn't make a habit of appearing to him, which meant she was likely human, however impossible that might seem to him at the moment (she glowed, for Merlin's sake).

"You have?" She wasn't a Potter, that was obvious. With her blonde hair, pale skin and bright blue eyes she was basically the antithesis of everything the Potters were: with their near worship of Death they could never produce a woman like this, all light and beauty and laughter. But, if she wasn't a Potter, then why was she here? She couldn't be a girlfriend; he would have heard if Potter and Evans had split, Sirius never stuck with the same girl for more than a week never mind long enough to introduce them to the family, and Merlin knew the werewolf wouldn't even touch a woman like this.

She looked like Pandora, but not. The figure was the same, the face was similar, but he knew Pandora was older, and currently shacked up with the Lovegood scion in some odd little tower down south. This woman could only be a few months, if a year older than him. She continued to smile at him while he observed her, the image of patience, with Castor snuggled comfortably in her hair, her body entirely relaxed. She seemed unmoved by his scrutiny, almost expecting it. "Yes," she answered him, the words languorous. "Not tonight specifically, but sometime. You chose a risky night to appear," she added at the end, faintly scolding.

Confused, he tried desperately to think what could be dangerous about this night. Had he missed something vital? "It's a full moon," the woman supplied, now looking a little perturbed, probably by his utter stupidity. "Everybody is supposed to be tucked up safe in their beds, not wandering the countryside like so much fresh meat."

"Oh," Regulus hadn't thought of that. How silly of him. "You're not inside," he pointed out, stupidly.

The woman shrugged, a liquid movement that barely disturbed her feathery hitchhiker. "I'm safe." She tilted her head as though listening to something Regulus couldn't hear. "We're not talking about me. Are you stupid, or just fearless?"

Maybe he should have been offended. Neither option had him looking very good and he'd rather like to look good in the eyes of this odd angel. The truth remained, however, that he had been very idiotic in coming out tonight without even checking the lunar chart. Especially when the place he was intending to visit had a werewolf on call. "I was in a hurry," he muttered.

"Death has a way of solving that problem," the girl fired back, leaving him dazed. Was she threatening him? Then she sighed, looking up directly at the moon as if for help. After a moment, she nodded, then turned back to him. "If you're so determined to see us that you'll walk miles in the middle of the night - during a full moon, no less - then the least we can do it offer you some tea."

She grabbed his hand and pulled, yanking him through what felt like a pinhole. He couldn't see, couldn't breathe, was dying, regretting trusting strange apparitions that appeared to him of a night on the moors, didn't exist any longer, was simply dust in the air–

A second later, they were facing the imposing façade of Potter Manor. Regulus blinked once, twice, thrice, then turned and voided his stomach behind a rose bush. The woman watched him do so without expression, offering him a handkerchief once he was done. "Was that bad?" her eyes watched him curiously as he mopped at his face. "I've never brought an uninvited guest through wards before. Wasn't sure if it would work."

He gazed up at her in disbelief. "Really?"

Not sensing the incredulousness behind his words, the woman nodded. "I've not really needed to. Most people will open the gate to guests. Not the Potters, no." She, again, seemed pretty disapproving of this fact.

"Who are you?" he decided, probably wisely, to ignore her commentary. There were more important things to concern himself with, for example; this woman seemed more than a little insane.

"Luna," she replied, face brightening. "Didn't you know that already? I'm the moon, see, and you're the star. I hear that works for other people." Then she paused, tipping her head to one side. "Though now that I think about it, my last lover was the night, and that didn't end well at all."

Definitely crazy. Not Black-Crazy, a nice crazy, but crazy all the same. Reg also thought she might have just offered to be his lover, which wasn't half bad either, if he could live long enough to make that happen.

As if sensing his thoughts, a howl cut through the night, followed by a second, then loud barking. He flinched in automatic fear, glancing from left to right. Luna laughed lightly, touching his shoulder to draw his attention. "Don't be scared," she teased, pearly white teeth flashing in the night. "They're locked in. I should know, I designed the wards." She folded his fingers in his once more, giving them a light tug. Her hand felt cool against his; a pleasant cool, like coming upon a spring after days in the desert heat. "Come on, they're waiting for us." Luna pulled him forward, sending him stumbling behind her on the path towards the front door.

Regulus looked at the house properly for the first time. Doubtless in daylight it would be a beautiful country home, filled with the scents and sounds of family life, with the inhabitants visible through the windows as they went about enjoying their day. Tonight, however, it looked bleak and threatening, the white stone bleached dark grey by the night, the darkened windows gaping maws into some hellish underworld. He shuddered, a feeling of foreboding striking him hard.

"I don't like tea," he said, the only thing he could think to say that might save him from some obscure Hell he had a feeling would soon be his life. The Manor did not look friendly, not at all. Whether it was just the effects of some rather clever wards or an actual warning, his instincts were screaming at him to stay out. Was this how people felt when they visited Grimmauld Place?

Luna looked between him and the house, puzzled for a moment before she scowled. "You're British," she told him, like that would explain everything. Castor let out a hoot of agreement, ruffling his wings. He looked perfectly pleased to be here. Perhaps it was Reg alone that felt the dark aura the manor exuded.

He was still being dragged onwards, his heels digging into the gravel not stopping his forward motion on account of Luna being much stronger than she looked, plus more determined than he gave her credit for. She had him at the door in no time, swinging it open to pull him inside, luggage and all. There was a split seconds impression of darkness closing in on him, oppressive heat crawling up his spine, his nerves winking out from pure fear, before the door was closed and he found himself stood in a well-lit entryway, the walls and floors decorated in pale colours that were infinitely comforting.

His knees buckled, giving up on him after his fight with the wards. The floor rose up to greet him like an old friend.

Luna caught him around the middle as he fell, pulling him upright and placing him back on his feet to allow her to fuss over him. "Sorry, sorry," she muttered, pressing her tiny hands against his cheeks and forcing him to look up into her own. "Sorry," she muttered again, but Regulus waved her away. He was fine, or at least he would be, and there were other more urgent matters at hand.

Two girls – or women, he should say, for they were older than him – awaited them in the foyer, neither looking very impressed. One, a redhead, had the distinct look of a Weasley, all freckles, roses-and-cream skin, the brown eyes of a Prewett and a tilt to her brows that belied the expressionless look she had sought. She wore a pair of black trousers with a blue jumper, her arms folded across her chest. The second they stepped inside her glare had locked onto Luna, not sparing him a glance. The other had wild, curly chestnut hair that stood a few inches from her head in volume. Between the curled strands hung little thin, tight braids that whipped through the air when she moved her head, which she did now, shaking it to demonstrate her vexation. Her skin was darkly tanned, and her eyes, like her friend's, were an average-looking brown, though they sparked with power that hissed and spit as it zapped along her hair and down her arms. She gave him a once over, recognition flickering in her eyes before she, too, turned to Luna. "Lu," she said in a low voice that fairly hummed with supressed exasperation. A vinewood wand had made its way into her hand and was now aimed unerringly at Regulus; he did not doubt that she would hex him if he gave her cause to.

"I found him outside the wards," Luna squeaked, her hands up in front of her in surrender. The underlying message here was: "I didn't do anything wrong!". Resignation on each of their faces spoke of how often she must pull stunts like this one, and he felt vaguely jealous that this meant he was not special.

The redhead sighed. "Regulus Black, Luna? Like Sirius needs more of a reason to distrust us."

Luna shrugged again, bringing a hand up for Castor to hop onto, and moving the little owl over to perch on Reg's trunk. Otherwise, she acted as though Reg wasn't present. "I couldn't just leave him out there to freeze to death," she told them, quite sensibly he thought, but then it was his life on the line.

"He's a wizard, he'd be fine for the time it took to ask permission, at least," The brunette snapped, then took a deep breath as if to calm herself. "It is not our place to invite strangers into the house, Lu. Especially not estranged family members who happen to also be Death Eaters."

What struck Regulus about this statement was the lack of condemnation in it. She said 'Death Eater' like she might otherwise have said 'Journalist' or 'Lawyer', a distasteful occupation, yes, but more the result of poor life choices than anything to condemn one for. Of course, he couldn't properly judge her feelings on the matter as she refused to look directly at him; nonetheless he felt a flicker of hope that the situation wasn't as dire as he first assumed.

"We need him," Luna seemed to remind her, the statement greeted by a harassed toss of the brunette's impressive mane. "What better time to bring him in than when he arrives himself? Do you think we'd have gotten a better reception had we left him out there, or sent him away, promising to call him back at some arbitrary future point?"

"She has a point, Hermione," said the redhead, relaxing almost imperceptibly and turning to examine him now that she deemed the immediate danger gone. Her eyes travelled from his patent leather Oxfords, up his black-clad legs, to his muddied and wet cloak, which she did not offer to take, which made her either not the hostess or unforgivably rude. Finally, she looked at his face, tracing his cheekbones, chin and eyes with her own, then his hair, at which point she made a dissatisfied moue with her lips. Regulus was used to this reaction; he was, after all, a man who had spent his entire life being compared to his brother – the larger, more handsome and charismatic of the two – and suffering the disappointment which people were often unable to disguise upon meeting him. Obviously, this girl knew Sirius, and likely quite well.

"I'm getting really sick of this 'ask forgiveness' attitude, Luna," Hermione huffed again, clicking her fingers agitatedly. Her wish to continue her dressing-down of Luna was so strong it was almost palpable. Self-control won out, however, as she shook her head and continued in a different vein. "Your reasoning is all very well and good, but how will we explain it to Dorea? You've broken through her wards to bring a Death Eater into her house, which I doubt she'll take well. And, that's without even considering how the boys will respond."

"Then it's rather lucky we have four more hours before they're back, isn't it?" Mrs. Potter hummed, appearing from behind a door. She looked as regal as ever, even in the middle of the night, dressed in a dove-grey robe that skimmed over her body to pool on the ground. Even the three girls who had been surrounding him jumped, parting like the red sea before the older woman, who strode straight past them to stand before Regulus himself. "Hello again, Regulus," she smiled her majestic smile, the one which had always been able to cow him. That wasn't a rare effect, however – he would freely admit to a deficiency in his courage stores, particularly right at that moment. "What a pleasant surprise. Come, we'll sit. You can tell us all about what brings you here so urgently."

Regulus was led to a salon that bordered the entrance hall, where with the door open he could see the front door without twisting his neck. Luna stayed right by him the whole time, which both comforted and unnerved him, though the 'unnerved' part grew larger when he saw the faintly possessive look she shot Hermione as the brunette drew closer to him. It wasn't a romantic look, as perhaps he might have liked, but more of a child's reaction to a sibling closing in on their new favourite toy. At least she didn't growl. He wasn't a fan of that.

Mrs. Potter perched on the edge of a sofa, her feet crossed at the ankle on the floor below. She motioned for Regulus to take a seat opposite, which he did to the backing track of three womens' jangling nerves. Mrs. Potter let them stew for a moment before transferring her gaze up to them, gathered as they were around the back of Regulus's seat. "Ginny, dear, I wonder if you might check in with Lily? Last I saw, she was pacing in the library."

Ginny opened her mouth only to snap it shut just as fast when she saw the look in Mrs. Potter's face, instead nodding and slipping out of the door. Regulus appreciated the subtlety Mrs. Potter was attempting to employ, but it seemed quite useless when he knew exactly what was going on. Now, the older woman looked between Hermione and Luna with a calculating eye, taking in Luna's close proximity to him, her faintly protective stance, like she had to reconsider something. She seemed to reach a decision. "Luna," she said. Beside him, Luna jerked slightly, a chirp of surprise leaving her lips. "Could you please direct the elves to take Regulus's luggage up to the Rose Room? No doubt you'll want to oversee the unpacking, make sure everything is just so." Her eyes narrowed when Luna didn't move. "I'll speak with you later."

Luna let out a humph of displeasure, trailed one finger down Regulus's hand and flounced off back into the entrance hall, calling for an elf as she did so. Mrs. Potter waited until she was out of earshot before inviting Hermione to sit down. Hermione settled herself in a chair separate from the couches of both Mrs. Potter and Regulus himself, metaphorically proclaiming no allegiance in the discussion to come. It was a political move, whether she recognised it as such or not; one which the Slytherin part of Regulus approved of even as the human part mourned the loss of a potential ally. In this arrangement he had the feeling he was about to be interrogated.

"Regulus," Mrs. Potter was every inch the Queen of the castle, leaving Regulus feeling incredibly common. Sirius saw Mrs. Potter as a second mother, but while she'd always shown a liking for Regulus he'd never been that comfortable with her. "Meet Hermione Granger, a friend of mine." Hermione looked bemused at the introduction, enough to make Reg doubt whether the two women were all that friendly. Sure, they were comfortable with one another, just not the sort of comfortable that lends itself to friendship. They were allies, and allies of circumstance rather than choice. Mrs. Potter continued, unnoticing or uncaring that her lie had been so transparent as to not exist. "Hermione Granger, Regulus Black."

Hermione sent him a quick smile from her chair, but she didn't take her attention from Mrs. Potter for very long. That was just as well, because Mrs. Potter had transformed herself into the Inquisition, and watched Regulus with direct, burning eyes. "I've promised myself not to get too involved with the goings-on in this house," she told him, voice low. "Hermione and her friends hold the reins when it comes to their plotting, and I am not challenging that. I do, however, need some reassurance that you will not sell my family down the river with your presence. I care not how much they trust you," she waved a hand dismissively at Hermione, who was braiding the longest parts of her hair with nervous twitches of her fingers, "only whether or not can trust you. If you will assure me that you mean us no harm, nephew of mine, then I will leave you in their capable hands. If you lie to me, however, Hermione here will obliviate you so thoroughly that you will be unable to recall your own name." Hermione blushed red. Uneasiness tainted her features, along with concern. Concern for whom, though?

Mrs. Potter brushed her skirts off with her hands. "Now, child, answer me this, and answer knowing that you are still affected by the Potter wards. They will communicate to me the truth of your answer..."

Regulus had expected something like this. Not this situation precisely, he'd suspected illegal veritaserum or legilimency, but blood wards worked similarly for uninvited guests, which Luna had so neatly made him. He was in the grips of the wards now, the magic a presence at the back of his mind, brushing his thoughts every now and then to ascertain his intentions, to make certain he wasn't planning to hurt anybody. Definitely, if he were to draw his wand and attack either of the women in front of him, he would be yanked from his position on the couch and deposited elsewhere before his curse had the chance to land.*

Luckily for him, he hadn't come here with cruel intentions. He only wanted a safe place, maybe even a home in time. He wanted his brother back, he could admit now in the safety of his own mind, and a life of his own, to do with as he would. He wanted to save those he cared about from some awful fate such as the one alluded to in Lucius's letter, and preferably have a place to escape to once he had done so.

"Who do you owe your allegiance to?" Mrs. Potter asked, breaking through the fog of his thoughts. She wanted him to say the Dark Lord, Dark Magic, the Blacks, or even Dumbledore, or the Light as a whole. Something stark, black and white, not the grey in which he generally operated. Beneath his robes his Mark burned, his mother's face appeared in his head. Severus' years of sage advice ran through his mind, Lucius's continued attempts to save him from a Dark fate remembered in that short second. Then his owl, which he hadn't expected, the elves from Hogwarts, the one centaur foal he'd made friends with during his youth.

The wards pushed at him, demanding an answer to the question the House Matriarch had put to him, as the prisoner, the interloper and intruder. He wasn't sure he had an answer, but then it came to him, pushing aside Kreacher's beloved image. "Myself," he said, knowing it was absolute truth and he couldn't say anything different, not even if they cast him out for it. "My first loyalty, Mrs. Potter, Aunt Dorea, is and always will be to myself."

"Bloody Slytherins," he thought perhaps Hermione hissed in disbelief, but his attention was fixed on Dorea as he waited for the axe to fall.

Chapter Text

He didn't hear the first knock, wrapped up as he was in several layers of cushioning. The second was louder and managed to penetrate the material, but he ignored that too, a twitch of his nose the only thing betraying his annoyance. The third was brisk, preceding the door clicking open and footsteps padding into the room. Remus growled a little at the intrusion, snuggling even deeper into his cocoon, hoping Sirius would leave the tray and go.

It was not to be. His post-moon sensitivity notified him to the scent of the trespasser, even as he valiantly attempted to ignore their existence. It wasn't Padfoot, he realised somewhat blithely. The intoxicating and well-known scent of jasmine wound itself around him, infiltrating the many, many layers he had used as protection from it, coaxing the top of his head free of the duvet until his hair, mussed from the night before and his sleep, peeked over the top of the bed, shortly after followed by tired green eyes. It was more instinct than thought that drove him to do it, because he'd known her identity the second her scent tickled his senses, but he'd wanted to see her too.

"You're awake," a low, musical voice washed over him, the slight scratchiness evidence of her lack of sleep. He swivelled his head, still mostly hiding in his burrito, until she was in his line of sight.

Hermione was smiling, even humming a little under her breath as she twitched the cover of his tray just-so before glancing back at him again. She looked excited, like she'd had very good news, and he wanted her to share it with him so that he might wrap himself in her joy. Her curls were a bouncing mass of energy even this early in the morning, her face flushed and eyes sparkling. The sight of her, as it had the past week, sent a punch to his gut and even the beast in his mind, so recently exhausted, managed to perk up at her proximity. He fought the urge to reach out and brush the one lone curl from her face and follow its path down her cheek, to trace his fingers down her throat, across to where he would be able to feel her pulse pound beneath her skin. Would it speed when he touched her, he wondered mildly. Would she react to him like he knew he would to her?

Suddenly frightened of the direction his own thoughts were taking him, he cringed away from her. He'd thought things might get better after the moon, that he would have more control over his own thoughts. Apparently, he wasn't getting away from it that easily, and the realization made him scowl.

She arched an eyebrow, faint lines of consternation appearing by her mouth and eyes, as though she blamed herself for his reaction. Guilt streaked through him, but he didn't reach out, not trusting what he might do. The thought of touching her, experimenting with his touch, lips and fingers +on her skin was still too close to the surface. "I brought your food," she said softly, waving at the plate.

Right, food, yes. Food was good, he liked food. He even thought he should be hungry. "Where's Padfoot?" he asked, remembering that she shouldn't be here, he had left specific instructions to have her kept away before he had succumbed to the lure of the wolf.

Her pulse jumped in her neck, something he wouldn't have noticed but for the fact he continued to be enamoured by that expanse of bared skin. His thought processes were delayed by new desires, desires to kiss and lick and bite, desires that had nothing to do with his original question and everything to do with her presence so close to him when he was so sensitive. She shook a little hair into her eyes, the sign of a guilty conscience if ever he'd seen one, distracting him with a fresh wave of scent.

Tearing his eyes away, he forced himself to concentrate on her face, which didn't help either as she had brightened even through her guilt, lips spread into an anticipatory smile. She still held the tray in her hands, fingers drumming the wood. Wandering closer, she leaned forward to place the plates on his bedside table, the movement tightening her shirt, causing it to cling to her curves while simultaneously loosening in the front. He might have moaned, or even whimpered, he wasn't sure – whatever noise it was had her stood right in front of him, clinking vials together in her hands.

"Are you hurt?" She asked, switching dizzily fast to business-mode, worry lacing her voice. Her scent hit him like a cannonball, distracting him from the fact that she still hadn't answered his question, tasting of everything spicy and delicious and melt-in-the-mouth. She babbled on about something-or-other as she scanned him for injury, cocooning him with her body heat as her hands fluttered over his skin. He tried to separate the feelings she stirred in him, for they were odd indeed – he was comforted, he felt safe, but he burned with a desire that seemed to set fire to his very veins. Her fingers landed firmly on his collarbone, the touch blazing through his shirt, working to push him back into bed when he hadn't even realised he was sat up; he wanted to say that he felt better, was fine, there was no pain. She talked right over his protests, her anxiety palpable, and his mouth was too dry to bother anyway, not when he didn't even understand his own thoughts.

"I checked you over when you first came in, but sometimes these injuries can take a while to show, especially when you've been sleeping. What is it, are you sore? Stiff? Drink this." She pushed a vial of what might have been a pain potion into his hand. His fingers missed the offering, instead lacing through hers seemingly of their own accord. Everything paused as Hermione drew back a little to stare, her brow furrowing quizzically. "Remus?"

He wasn't sure what he was doing, not really. Her fingers twisted through his was a new sensation, somewhat calming. Watching James and Lily over the years, he'd never quite understood their need to be close to one another, to walk with their hands linked, shoulder to shoulder. He would have liked to, his romantic's heart had always craved it, but he'd always known that those sorts of feelings weren't for him.

Or, that was what he had always thought, until he'd met Hermione.

Her eyes finally locked with his, the world dropping away as she read his expression. He wasn't sure what she would be seeing, what part of his whirlwind of emotion might be written across his face, but she didn't seem too scared. Shock replaced worry in her eyes, then it shifted to realization, only to be swiftly replaced by nerves and the faintest flicker of heat – heat to match his own, to warm him from the inside out. The wolf growled at the sight, low and hungry, too far away from Remus' consciousness to make any sort of movement. Remus, therefore, could blame nothing for his actions but himself; he had made the final decision, whether he remembered doing so or not.

How it happened was a mystery, he only knew that it did. There was a blank space between the sight of her lovely eyes heating to a swirling chocolate and the first touch of his lips to hers. Logically, it was probably a mistake, for they hardly knew each other at all, and the moment that his lips brushed against the corner of her mouth, and then pressed more firmly to hers, he had the sense that he was beginning something he couldn't pull back from.

But she was warm, and so soft, feeling unbelievably right beneath his fingers as he cradled her head in his hands, tilting her face up to him. She tasted of spearmint toothpaste and the same spices he could identify in her scent, followed up by the burn of cinnamon to sear his senses. It would be so easy for him to drown in her. He even felt like he would, when he traced the seam of her lips with his tongue, her inviting him in with a soft sigh, then a moan as he stroked her tongue with his own.

Until that moment a part of him had been braced for some sort of backlash, perhaps a slap, or she would shout at him. He was terrified that perhaps he had read the signals wrong, and was forcing himself on her unwillingly, knowing that shame would be his constant friend once this moment had passed. This, until he felt her response, the way she pushed closer to him, losing herself in him just as much as he was in her. He took shameless advantage of the moment, drawing her deeper by claiming her mouth more thoroughly until she mewled against him, lavishing her lips with teasing nips and licks. One hand slipped from her cheek to her neck, feeling her pulse beat a tattoo against his palm as he pulled her closer, a twisted sort of triumph jolting him when she curled her own arm around him, the other hand clutching his arm for balance.

Remus could have kissed her forever – just that, just kissing, if he had to he could have stuck with that. With every minute that passed the sensations grew more overwhelming, as she relaxed more fully against him, her body a pleasurable weight atop his. Her inhibitions lifted until she was fighting for control with him, little breathless laughs escaping them both as she bit down on his bottom lip, hard, suckled his tongue. Eventually, however, good sense began to prevail, beating its way through the fog of his mind, forcing him to slow the kiss, gentle it, loathe to end their play but aware that he should. Her disappointed mewl when he withdrew would be with him for a long time, he knew, as would the sight of her, so dishevelled as she lay sprawled across him on the bed, only the duvet between them to prevent what could have been a very tricky situation. Her eyes were glazed as she blinked heavy, slumberous eyes up at him, her ravaged lips pouting slightly. Pride welled in him alongside affection to see her like that, filling him up near to burst.

Unable to hold back a grin, he turned his head slightly to see the plate she'd brought him. Suddenly his appetite had come back with a vengeance. "You said there was food?" he asked, feeling inexplicably more human.

She shook her head, blinking rapidly. "Erm, yes…" she pushed herself up on one arm, seeming to orient herself. Her features arranged themselves back into her business-like expression again, like she was trying to compose herself, though the effect was lost on him when she was so delightfully rumpled. "Eggs, toast, maybe some black pudding? I wasn't really paying attention, it was a long night."


She knew she had said the wrong thing when she felt him stiffen beneath her – and wasn't that something, to find herself laid across him like some sort of wanton nymph. In her defence, she had been a little distracted, what with the unexpected snogging. Somehow she'd fooled herself into thinking she wouldn't be affected by his kiss, not when she had experienced it so many times before… she had been mistaken.

Her fondness for Remus carried through into any incarnation of the man. He made her laugh, smile, enjoy life in a way others couldn't touch. Kissing him, loving him in the future had been heaven on earth, even when she had been sure she would go to Hell for it. Nonetheless… with the older Remus there had been so many strings, complications that wouldn't go away. Obligations they couldn't escape even alone together, not with the age difference, her role in the war, his disease, then Tonks and later Teddy hanging over their heads. They had been each other's addictions, unhealthy but irresistible, and in the end it had destroyed not only the both of them but Tonks and Teddy, also.

The difference, then, with the younger Remus, must have been in the lack of barriers between them. There was a sense of rightness, purity there than she hadn't ever experienced before. It had been their first kiss and it had felt like one; soft, curious exploration followed by a conflagration of mutual lust. No encroaching darkness or guilt, only the questing pleasure of two people who, despite their many differences, just seemed to fit. And, while Hermione felt somewhat deceptive, for Remus didn't know of their joint pasts and the disaster they had wrought together, she also felt like this had been inevitable, and perfect, the way perhaps their relationship should have been the first time.

She would have to fill him in, if this went anywhere. At the moment, however, there were other more pressing concerns; such as the prodigal son's untimely return to the fold, said son's brother who lay blissfully unaware in the room next door, Lavender's good health, and above all; their rapidly diminishing timeline for war.

"First," she said, pulling herself off of Remus's body and slipping onto the floor, making a show of brushing off her clothes to hide her red cheeks at such an undignified display, "you should know that everybody is fine. Lavender woke up an hour ago and threw a hairbrush at Ginny's head, so she's pretty much back to her old self." Hermione made certain to meet his eyes so that he could read the absolute sincerity of her words, waited for his nod before continuing. "Sirius is unharmed. Sulking, actually," she let out a chuckle, remembering his face when he had carried Lavender through the front door. "Apparently you were all excessively boring last night, and he has put in a formal request for better entertainment next month."

Remus's mouth twitched up at the corners. "Request noted. I aim to please," he rumbled, eyes glinting wickedly. She rolled her eyes at him, fussing with the bedclothes just to have something to do.

"James and Lily are in the library journaling last night's events for posterity. Of course, I'd rather be doing that, but they're inseparable right now, something about him taking too many liberties with her 'future husband's' body." Hermione sniffed slightly, her opinion of the matter clear. She thought Lily was overreacting, given that James hadn't even been within the wards last night, never mind fighting werewolves. Remus and Lavender had been in much more danger than he.

Frowning, Remus caught at her wrist to stop her moving about. "I'm sorry," he said, not sounding sorry at all, "but did I just hear you say that you would rather be in the library with James than here with me?" A mischievous glint sparked in his eyes, though his face was the picture of hurt. "Am I that bad at snogging? Or is it something else? It's the antlers, isn't it? Nobody can resist the antlers."

Hermione let out a laugh, making him smile. "I don't know why, but I'd assumed you would be shyer than this," she teased, prying his hand loose and running her fingers across his palm.

Curling his fingers around hers, Remus grinned. "It's the potions," he informed her solemnly. "I feel like I'm floating on a cloud right now. Don't you worry, I'll be back to stammering and blushing in the morning."

Her reply was cut off by the feel of his lips brushing against her fingers, even though his eyes were still on hers. "Well," she tried again, yanking her hand back. "That's good to hear. I was beginning to worry that James had brought back the wrong werewolf." She dumped the tray into his lap, shooting him a severe look when he reached out to grab her. "Eat up, there's a good boy. You need your strength, we've called a meeting for seven."

Remus, his mouth full of eggs, widened his eyes in question. "We received a visitor last night and Luna has claimed him as her own. We need to figure out what to do about him, sooner rather than later, and according to Lily 'democracy' is a thing you all consider important." She screwed up her face in displeasure, startling a snort from Remus. "She's insisting on a vote. So, the library at seven, please. If you're late, I'm taking your vote."

"That's not how democracy works," Remus pointed out reasonably as he buttered some toast.

Hermione stood, pushing her shoulders back and jutting her chin out in characteristic defiance. "She's lucky there's a vote at all, if I'm honest. As it is, I'm sorely tempted to give you all the wrong time, just to ensure my victory." At his look, she waved a hand impatiently. "I'm not going to do it, I just want to."

"I think I preferred you before, back when you were snogging me," Remus muttered. "This you is scary." He paused. "And a little bit evil."

"Power corrupts," she warned him, only partly joking. It was true, after all, power did corrupt. That's why she had been so reluctant to take over the mantel of 'leader' for their little band of misfits; she didn't want to be mini-Dumbledore. Right now they seemed to have a good balance, she, Luna, Ginny and Lavender, but when the Marauders and Lily were added, there were imbalances. That needed to be solved, though she didn't know how that might work. It wasn't like any one person could just take up control, that would ruin everything they had been working for with this new approach to the war. Everybody needed to be involved, equal, to know they were important and that none of them were cannon fodder. It was a political minefield, even when there had only been four of them, never mind eight.

Worse, Regulus was here now, which meant that at some point in the not-so-distant future, a Black family feud would begin. That occurrence needed to be headed off, and the two boys needed a mediator, as well as a leader; she just wasn't made for that, you only had to look at her school days with Harry and Ron to know. Whenever the two of them had a falling out, the best she could do was not pick sides. She wasn't a therapist, she couldn't handle complex emotional problems, she had enough of her own to worry about without taking on the many and varied issues of the pureblood aristocracy. Luna and Ginny were so much better prepared for the role. In fact, the only person more inept than herself in matters of diplomacy was Lavender, who was much too prickly and volatile to play peacemaker.

They needed Regulus. Not least because with his arrival he had illustrated exactly how their changes were affecting the wider world. In the old reality, Regulus hadn't searched out his brother, he'd preferred to take on the world alone. This time, he had them, and they had him. Hermione's only problem with the situation (if you ignored the emotional minefield he had created with his arrival, which Hermione was trying to do, at least for the moment) was that the world had suddenly become unpredictable. He was living evidence that they could, in fact, change the future, but what else did this mean for them? They couldn't control everything and everyone – if Regulus could walk up to the door and demand entrance, then others could do the same.

The question that bugged Hermione the most, even with the threat of a Black family duel hanging over her head, was who will be next?

"I don't like that look," Remus murmured softly from the bed, frowning. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she responded quickly, collecting up his plates. "It's complicated."

"I can do complicated," he groused as she made for the door.

Hermione sighed. "I know, but right now I'd rather you 'do' sleep. Rest, Remus, or I won't let you into the meeting." When he opened his mouth to protest, she waved a hand. "No! You know I'll lock you in here. Don't you push me."

Hermione thought he might have tried to narrow his eyes at her, but he'd underestimated his level of exhaustion. He forced his eyelids to slits, glaring out at her, before his fatigue took the last steps to closing his eyes and they stayed that way. She smiled a little, taking one last glance at him huddled beneath the pile of duvet as though it were the middle of winter, snuggling deeper almost unconsciously. She thought that perhaps she was looking forward to their mutual mortification, later, when the realization of what had happened between them came crashing down. It would remind her that she was alive and kicking, able to feel something other than massive stress.

Remind her that she wasn't some bossy, emotionless automaton placed in this reality for the sole purpose of war.

Even if they didn't work out, at the end of the day she'd have that to hold onto.

Chapter Text

Lavender Brown, in spite of popular opinion, was not a stupid girl. Sure, she might have failed out of Ancient Runes, and, sure, Professor Snape had once called her 'a menace to the art of potion-making, only ever surpassed by Longbottom', but she wasn't an idiot. She just wasn't all that good at books and learning and that sort of thing. Her priorities had always been on other things; learning secrets, gossip, make-up skills and the like. She might not be able to brew the Draught of Living Death but she could apply lipstick with her eyes closed, name all the different shades of blue, and seduce a man – any man – in under ten minutes (which, according to the films she'd watched as she grew up, was really a much more useful skill for a female spy than knowing how to re-pot mandrakes, anyway).

She knew, with utter certainty, that she was useful. That she had abilities beyond the purview of the other girls she'd found herself here with. Because, let's be honest, Hermione might be 'the brightest witch of her age' (who even told her that? Whoever it was, Lavender wanted to punch them. Way to give everybody else an inferiority complex) but she was definitely a specific person's type, and the sort that grows on you with time and exposure, at that. Ginny, on the other hand, was smokin' hot. Gorgeous. Her hair was the sort of thing men dream about – and Lavender knew this because she'd heard Seamus waxing poetic about it more than once, and wasn't that just typical of Seamus, the serial arsonist, to fancy a redhead? – and her skin the type that women wanted for themselves, at any cost. Her problem was that she was a lad. Growing up with six brothers had given her a sort of blunt forwardness, the type that men refer to as 'refreshing' but don't dare take on. Flirting with her was an exercise in self-preservation, as she makes it quite clear that she could break your neck, which for most people just isn't sexy. She also intimidated other women, setting their teeth on edge, not a great trait for someone who needs to collect information. And Luna… well, Luna was odd. Probably wild as all hell between the sheets, but vacant and weird out of the bedroom. A conversation with her could go literally anywhere except the place you want it to – and Lavender was pretty certain she did that on purpose.

Most men liked nice, docile women. Pretty, kind, affectionate but distant, that was what her mother had told her. Lavender had difficulties with the 'distant' bit, not because she couldn't withhold emotion – she could do that, and when she got angry with someone, she could hold a grudge like no—one's business – but because when she allowed herself to fall, she fell hard. If she detached herself, though, she could get a man. She could be nice (no, really, she could), and sweet, and switch between personas as easily as she changed clothes. While her scars were a drawback, her base appearance was the same. Plump, curvy, pretty, blonde.

Decades of experience with girls also added to her skillset. Any girl could be charmed into being her friend. She could go on a night out alone and return with dozens of numbers, all females, all wanting her company another night, another event. In terms of information-gathering in the real world, she was the perfect spy. With a glamour and a smile, she could do anything she set her mind to, as long as no equations were involved.

So, she knew she was useful. For something aside from scoring them an all-access-pass to Potter Manor via a magical disease, that is. Not so much in the library, but later, when they were doing more practical things, her expertise would be indispensable. Hermione knew that, too – they were already making plans to send Lavender and Ginny on excursions into Wizarding Britain, to check the climate of the war and how things might have changed, and later, to collect Horcruxes with as much discretion as possible. They couldn't, after all, fight a war from within this house.

Plus, while her talents might not be coming into use right now, in the planning stages, they certainly helped Lavender. She knew things about the occupants of Potter Manor that perhaps they didn't even realise themselves. Ginny and Black, for example, were definitely going to fuck. Not this week, perhaps not even this month, but at some point. Maybe at Potter and Lily's wedding, when Ginny is at her lowest and most miserable for having lost Harry, and Black is all hopped up on the free bar. She looked forward to watching that happen.

She also knew that Hermione had met her match. How the others were so ignorant, she didn't know. It was in her stance when he was near, in her fidgety movements, in her eyes when she looked at him. More, it was in the dreamy way she'd flitted in and out of Lavender's room after the full moon, her cheeks flushed and lips all plumped the way they could only be after a good snogging session. Really, Lavender was happy for her. The girl needed to unwind, she was so damn highly-strung, and the difference that one encounter had made was remarkable. She was practically floating on air. Lavender couldn't even imagine how Lupin must be feeling – didn't really want to, if she was honest. He seemed nice and all, but ruminating on what they might have been doing in the other room gave her an icky feeling in her stomach. She couldn't see the attraction at all.

He should feel lucky, Lavender determined as she watched Hermione practically tear her hair out, pacing through the library in agitation. Hermione, for all of her faults, was a sweet lass with a heart of gold. A big head, too, but everybody has flaws. If Lupin could find a way to keep her, he should. He wouldn't regret it.

Probably. Even his charitable nature must have its limits, after all. Hermione could be a veritable harpy sometimes.

Such as right then. Lavender had woken up for good at midday, feeling fine. Hermione told her she'd woken up earlier that morning and thrown something at Ginny, which she didn't remember, but couldn't deny, as it did sound like something she would do. Not the second time, though. Then, she'd been perky as a newborn babe.

Apart from the excruciating pain of her bones being broken and rearranged repeatedly, her skin crawling off of her fleshy innards in order to make room for fur, and the blinding headache that came from her eyes changing shape, size and ability; her full moon hadn't been that bad. She couldn't remember much, of course; when she tried her mind conjured images of fangs, burning pain, and the soft brush of fur against her flank. All she knew was that she must have slept, because when she'd woken up she was fully charged, her wolf asleep, pretty much been ready for battle.

Hermione disagreed.

First, Lavender had been wrestled back beneath the covers, Hermione claiming that she needed more rest. She didn't. What she'd needed was a bath, then a swim. Maybe sex. She'd woken up pretty aroused. That was irritating, considering she seemed to be the only person in the group who didn't want to hump anything in the house – and thank the Gods for that, because unlike Ginny, she still loved her former fiancé. Still, she'd bathed, spending hours in the bath, happily sacrificing the smoothness of her skin in order to feel the serenity that came to her when she was fully submerged.

Pancakes had been shoved down her throat by Hermione next, after which she'd been tucked back into bed, half-expecting Hermione to kiss her on the forehead and sing her a lullaby. She hadn't gone that far, thankfully, and after a token attempt at sleeping Lavender had thrown off the sheets and gotten dressed. She'd been informed of the 'family meeting' later that night, therefore had headed to the library, determined to be of help, despite not knowing what was going on.

Once there, Hermione had sighed in resignation and shoved her into an armchair. And that was where they were at, with Lavender watching Hermione run herself ragged, feeling quite impotent.

"Look, 'Mi, if it's bothering you that much, why don't you just tell him to shove it?" Lavender suggested, anything to get her to calm down. The pacing was making her dizzy.

Hermione swung around, her eyes wide with shock and dismay. "Lavender!" Then her mouth contorted and she added, "and don't call me 'Mi."

"What, you don't like 'Mi? I do. You'll have to help me out here, it's a real pain trying to find a nickname that sticks if you're just going to scowl at me. What?" She rolled her eyes at Hermione's scoff. "As for the Black situation, I'm not saying that's what you should do, only that it's an option. If you don't want to hurt Black, get rid of mini-Black. Black-lite." She tilted her head on her shoulders consideringly. "Petit Noir?"

"He does have a name, you know," Hermione scolded, going back to the table where she'd laid out her research, as if the parchment might suddenly achieve sentience with the express purpose of telling her how to handle this situation.

"I know," Lavender hummed. "Regulus." She rolled the word on her tongue, tasting every syllable until it came out on a melodic purr. "Like the star, constellation of Leo. I'm not entirely uninformed, you know. I've been studying the Pureblood directory since I learned to read."

"Really?" The other girl blinked, the haze Lavender had come to associate with her spinning off into research mode drifting over her eyes. "I didn't know your family did that."

Lavender smirked wryly after nodding. "Me and every other kid in Wizarding Brtain. Anyway, you don't know much about my family, Hermione, you've never asked." She waved away Hermione's repentant look, mostly because she didn't want the girl's guilt, nor her pity. And didn't want to think about her mother. "Just because I know his name, doesn't mean I'm going to use it. Wasn't that your idea in the first place? Use their surnames so that we don't get attached."

Hermione snorted. "It's a bit late for that," she confessed, her hands pressing her cheeks in a pre-emptive defense against blushes.

Lavender sent her a saucy wink, because no matter how icky the idea might be; as a woman and a friend, she just couldn't let that opportunity pass. "I know. Exactly how good a kisser was he, by the way?" She burst out laughing at the other girl's flustered flapping. "That good, huh?" Deflecting Hermione's glare, she continued, "I wasn't talking about that lot, anyway. It's pretty clear we're not leaving anytime soon. I meant Regulus."

"Too late for that, too," Hermione informed her, her nose wrinkling in disapproval. "Luna's claimed him. And I mean claimed. Apparently, she lives by the 'rules of the wild', and in 'the wild', that which you discover is yours."

Her interest perked, Lavender sat up straight, her legs swinging down from the arm of the chair to thud onto the ground. Her gossip-detector was vibrating. "You mean she's used the principle of 'finders, keepers' to get herself a boyfriend?" she clarified, her voice wobbling with suppressed mirth. "And how does he feel about that?"

"He's a bit starstruck right now," Hermione rolled her eyes, shuffling papers. "That's not the point. We need to figure out how to break the news to Sirius."

Lavender swung herself back up into her previous position, her head dangling over the edge of the chair so that she was upside down. Hermione scowled at her, muttering something about 'idiotic werewolves overexerting themselves'. Heroically, Lavender didn't make a joke. "I don't get the problem," she said instead, watching as Hermione picked up and discarded sheet after sheet of parchment. "Shouldn't he be happy that his brother's back? The estranged son who has seen the error of his ways and wants back into the fold – it's any mother's wet dream."

"Some things can't be forgiven," a new voice snapped. Lavender turned her head to see Ginny and Lily in the doorway, looking like a study in contrasts. Ginny had her red hair tied up in a messy bun, was dressed in sweaty work-out clothes and looked intensely bedraggled. Lavender knew she'd just come from the forest from the leaf in her hair and the mud on her shoes. She pitied the elf that had to clean that up. Lily, on the other hand, had the top half of her own red hair braided into an intricate bun, the bottom half free to tumble around her shoulders. She wore a peasant shirt of some sheer material, her bra as visible as her navel, and heavy bell-bottom jeans over platformed shoes. Her nails were perfectly painted as opposed to Ginny's chipped, and her face powdered where Ginny's shone. Together, they looked like twins the Gods had made negligently, without attention to detail. Lily was the one who had spoken, her face looking thunderous.

"Regulus abandoned Sirius, all because he was a Gryffindor," Lily declared, glaring at Hermione and Lavender. "What sort of a brother does that?"

"One under a lot of pressure, holding the weight of his House on his shoulders, with an inattentive father on one shoulder and an abusive mother on the other," Hermione fired back with equal heat. Again, Lavender straightened herself, feeling like she might need access to her wand for this. Lily looked furious. "Sirius pulled away from Regulus once he was at Hogwarts. What did you expect him to do, just ignore that? Take a leap of faith when he wasn't sure if anybody would catch him?"

Lily scowled, stalking up to Hermione. "I know Sirius and Regulus. You do not. Regulus joined his family in throwing Sirius out, rather than protecting him. He's a Slytherin, and a Death Eater."

Hermione's hair was electrified, sparking wildly. "Oh, and you would know this because you're so close to Regulus? He just tells you everything that's on his mind, does he?" She snarled the words, her anger palpable. "You're judging him for making a decision based on a situation you know nothing about! Regulus is the younger brother, it wasn't his job to protect Sirius! Yes, he's a Slytherin – so what?"

"Slytherins can't be trusted!" Lily shouted.

"I was almost a Slytherin," Lavender threw out, just wanting to be a part of it, really. Standing on the sidelines of a fight this epic isn't really all that fun. She liked to be in on the action. Plus, Lily's blanket statement about Slytherins was pretty offensive. She quite liked Slytherins, sometimes. She and Pansy Parkinson used to meet for a stitch-and-bitch session every other week, with Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones. Pansy was weak-minded, yes; nonetheless, absolutely hilarious once she got going.

There was a silence so complete you could have heard a pin drop. Lily was staring at her, eyes wide, her mouth opening and closing repeatedly. She looked a bit gormless, to be honest.

"What?" Hermione said, blinking rapidly. "How?"

"I can see it," Ginny said thoughtfully, her first words since entering the room. She'd mainly stayed on the outskirts during the fight, but now she came forward. Lavender nodded at her in thanks.

Hermione, having pulled herself together, seemed to think she had a trump card in hand with that. "There, see? Lavender can definitely be trusted, and she was almost a Slytherin." A smirk crossed her face. "So was Harry, actually. He asked to be put in Gryffindor, however before then, the Hat thought he'd make a brilliant Slytherin."

Lily threw her hands in the air. "Oh, great, use my unborn son against me, why don't you?" She was a little more subdued, though. "Really?"

"Yes," Hermione said, softer now. "And he's not the only good Slytherin you know, is he?"

"The Minister was a Slytherin," Lily murmured. "And Marley, she was almost a Slytherin, before she was put in Gryffindor."

Hermione raised her eyebrow – that slow rise she did when she was spectacularly unimpressed. In a dangerously low voice, she said, "that's not who I meant, Lily."

The redhead flinched, backing off a step before she even noticed she'd moved. "How do you- never mind. That subject is not up for discussion right now."

Curiosity was almost suffocating Lavender. There were certain things Hermione and Ginny tended to know about the past and the future that she didn't, simply by virtue of having been Harry Potter's friends, rather than just the girl his best friend was shagging. Most of it they had told her, or had written on Luna's map. Not so much with the private things, little details about people's lives – such as this one. Lavender knew juicy gossip when she saw it, and what she wouldn't give to know

"What are you talking about?" She asked. Suddenly she realised she had leaned forward in her chair so far she'd almost fallen out. Both Hermione and Lily shut up, looking guilty. Gods, she was so stupid sometimes, that ridiculous Gryffindor brazenness materializing out of the blue to ruin things for her. It would be so much easier to be nosy if she could be quiet and nosy.

"My point remains – seeing Regulus here could tear Sirius apart. I say, chuck him to the curb. He can't be trusted, and I won't see one of my boys in pain over some no-good Death Eater, not again." Lily flipped her hair over her shoulder, all self-righteous defense of her friends. Lavender quite admired her for it, and at the same time, was stubborn enough that her opinion turned the tables on her own.

"Bollocks to that," she said, most eloquently. "You know we wouldn't have kept him here without a good reason. The boy says he's in trouble, Hermione says there's more to him than meets the eye, and Luna likes him. Put those three things together and, in my opinion, at least, you have a rock-solid reason to accept him. Besides, we're having a vote, aren't we? Isn't that good enough for you?"

Lily glared at Lavender, but she didn't shrink back. She wasn't afraid of any hoity-toity ginger; she'd faced down Molly Weasley on a wedding-planning rampage. Evans had nothing on her. Luckily, Lily still had a soft spot for Lavender, and let the point go, instead letting her eyes turn clinical as she scanned Lavender's body. She could predict the next question with accuracy. "How are you feeling?"

"Perfect," she replied with complete honesty. "Never better. I haven't felt this good since before the first attack. The she-wolf is snoozing, my senses are perfectly normal, and I'd rather eat spinach than steak. For me, that's the height of good health."

"Don't get used to it," Hermione warned, slipping into lecture-mode. "My research suggests your symptoms will return with a vengeance the moment the moon starts to wax."

Lavender shrugged, too busy being grateful for the reprieve. Lily, however, looked confused. "That can't be right," she said. "I've been observing Remus for years through his transformations. Generally he feels awful both before and after the moon."

"He fights it," Lavender responded easily. "I can't be bothered to do that. No offense to him, but I watched him change, and it was like torture, horribly painful. I couldn't endure that, not simply to keep some obscure sense of control over my humanity. I'm not that stubborn, nor am I that strong. I figure, if I have to be a werewolf, I might as well commit to it." She stretched, her body flexing like a satisfied cat, twisting itself over the chair, demonstrating her impeccable physical state. "I have zero regrets."

Brandishing a notebook, Lily hitched herself up on a nearby corner table. She flipped through her notes, presumably those she had taken from James earlier, ignoring Hermione's envious looks with ease. "James said your transformation lasted much longer than Remus's did," she said, glancing up at Lavender, who shrugged. "Could that be put down to your 'omega' status?"

"That's possible," Lavender mused, "except that I don't know what an 'omega' is."

"It's just another way of saying you're the weak wolf," Hermione clarified.

Nodding, Lavender considered this for a moment. "I think 'omega' is more polite, makes me less likely to slap you," she smiled, nodding at Lily, who sent a victorious look in Hermione's direction. The two of them could get along like a house on fire, but they clashed equally frequently. They were too similar to do anything else; their personality differences were mainly in that Lily had more of an ego and a shinier exterior. Inside, down where Hermione was the girl she used to be, before nine years of war and self-deprecation had touched her, she was a match for Lily Evans.

Hermione had the biggest heart of anybody Lavender had ever met, which was why she fought so hard for Regulus. He meant something to Luna, and Hermione loved Luna, so Regulus was under her protection. Hermione was too principled to do anything else. In fact, Lavender could bring home a troll next week, she was fairly certain, and as long as she professed to love him Hermione would make him feel welcome. She was a difficult woman, high-maintenance and sometimes unduly harsh, but it was life that had made her that way. At her core she was a good woman, fiercely loyal and loving, and would stand by her friends through hell.

In demonstration of these traits, she backed down. "Fine, then. 'Omega' it is."

"James also said that you and Moony got along quite well," Lily observed, still watching Lavender.

She simply smiled. "I'm a dog person."

"Is there anything you'd like to add to the notes?" Lily asked, brandishing a pencil.

"That would be a no. Even if I could remember anything – which I can't – I think you two are far too addicted to your note-taking. It can't be healthy."

Hermione snorted. "Lav, are you high?" Probably. She did feel quite floaty, but then, Hermione had poured unnecessary pain-killers down her throat every three hours since sunrise.

"Your potions are strong," she responded.

"Lily made them," Hermione deflected. "I was too busy with the wolfsbane. At least now I know who to blame, anyway."

"Blame for what?" Lily asked, suddenly all perked-up like a kitten hearing a tin open. Hermione shot her a look, blushing again, and turned away.

"Nothing, never mind. Back to Regulus. We can't send him away, Lily, so what do you propose we do about the Sirius situation?"

Lily tapped her pencil against her teeth in thought. All animosity seemed to have been washed away by the brief interlude, replaced by genuine concern. "You should have gone to get him last night, the second Regulus arrived."

Ginny, from the floor where she was stretching, piped up, "Lily. Really?"

She sighed and frowned. "Fine, then. I guess one of you should warn him now, rather than spring it on him later. If he just walks in on Regulus with you lot, he'll go mental. And Sirius doesn't trust any of you all that much, so it could be the final straw."

Hermione grimaced. Lavender didn't blame her. Sirius was an imposing bloke, funny but scary. A Black, also, which to the informed only made him a bigger threat. "Any volunteers?" Hermione asked, a little desperately.

Rising to her feet, Ginny smiled. "I'll do it." She smiled even wider at Hermione's bemusement, baring her teeth. "Seriously. I'm not scared of him. Never have been, never will be." She pulled her trainers back on one-handed and glanced at the clock above the door. "Where's Regulus?"

"In the study with Luna," Hermione said. "Last I checked, Sirius was in bed."

"Leave it to me," Ginny nodded waving a hand over her shoulder as she turned for the door. "I'll sort him out."

None of them were all that reassured, not even when Ginny wiggled her hips and threw them a smirk as a departing shot. No girl was attractive enough that this could be forgiven all that easily. Not even Ginny.

Chapter Text

Ginny wasn't as confident as she made herself out to be. Not by a long-shot. She only knew that she was their best bet at talking Sirius down, next to Lily – but Lily couldn't be trusted not to fan the flames of his temper. Better it be Ginny to bear the brunt of his reaction; she was a tough girl. She could take him down if he got feisty.

She tore the bobble from her hair as she crossed the landing, running her fingers through it to allow it to feather out across her shoulders. She stopped at the entrance to the family wing to scourify her shoes, her sports-bra and her joggers, too. A freshening charm came on the heels of that, then a quick make-up charm to powder her face.

Really, that didn't mean anything, though. She'd freshen herself up to go into any man's room. The fact that the man she was going to see was Sirius Black was irrelevant. He probably wouldn't even notice what she looked like, too busy would he be facing the emotional torment that came with Regulus's return. She was okay with that, because she wasn't neatening herself for him. Really.

Even though she knew he preferred it when she wore her hair down, because it only just brushed the tops of her breasts, and drew the eye there. Conjuring a shirt to cover her sports-bra would be logical, too, but… well, like she said, he liked her tits. She'd seen the flare of lust in his eyes, quickly dampened. That didn't mean anything – if it did, she'd probably have gone in there all sweaty, in order to make his mind go to other sweaty activities.

She paused.

No, Ginny. Bad Ginny.

Shaking her head, she continued on. She could lie to everybody else, but never herself.

His door was closed, which could equally be a bad or good sign for her. Knocking lightly, she pressed her ear to the cool wood, straining to hear his breathing. Nothing. Hell, if he was out and about, her mission had already failed. He could walk in on Regulus any time, and they wouldn't know until it happened. And then what would they do – he'd see Luna, put two and two together, and probably come up with an even worse theory than the already pretty awful one that was true.

"Shit," Ginny muttered, biting her lip. She pulled back, hands on either side of the door, to look down the hallway. He could have gone to visit Remus, she supposed. That was unfortunate, neither of them would welcome a visit from her if he had. Remus would be feeling vulnerable; Hermione's caretaking would have pushed his pride far enough without her wandering in on him in his exposure and demanding an audience.

James was in bed. That was the only way Lily would have left him to rejoin the girls in the library, so he must be there. Unless they were in the habit of sleeping in puppy piles (and she wasn't completely discounting that theory; sheer adorability overrode the oddness of grown men sleeping together), Sirius couldn't be with him.

She took a few steps towards James's door anyway, more out of curiosity than any real belief that her quarry was there. Stopping herself with a brisk shake of her head, she marched determinedly back to Sirius's door and banged her fist against it once again.

"Black?!" she shouted – just to cover all of her bases, you understand. What was the harm if he wasn't there?

There was a thud beyond the door, followed by a groan. Then footsteps.

Well. In her defense, she didn't think he was inside. He wasn't breathing, for Merlin's sake! And she told him that, too, the second he opened the door.

"Circe, do you not breathe?"

Her lips slammed closed, her mouth dry. She hadn't meant to shout at him, but shouting at him had stopped her doing something less appropriate – like, maybe, drooling. He was shirtless. Not just shirtless, but shirtless and tattooed. Shirtless and tattooed with blurry sleepy eyes and mussed up hair. Fuck, if he didn't look like a Playwitch model, all muscle tone and ink and the softest little happy trail leading down towards his –

"Like what you see?" Sirius asked, leaning against the doorjamb with his arms crossed, smirking.

"Just until you opened your mouth," Ginny shot back easily. "Put some clothes on, we need to talk."

"Can't fault a woman who knows what she wants," he drawled, turning back into his room, his every movement heavy and languid with sleep. Ginny took the moment to shake the sudden tension out of her limbs, and, scolding herself for being a lech, slipped inside. She fought a momentary crisis in her mind – to close the door or leave it open? Closed forced intimacy, but open was weird. Quick escape in case of an explosion, versus high likelihood of eavesdroppers. She reached back, stopped her hand, then shook her head irritably. There she went again, losing her bloody mind over Sirius Black. She was a grown woman, damn it!

She turned back to see him pulling a t-shirt over his head, his back-muscles rippling. Her breath caught in her throat, sudden heat flashing through her. She was grateful, then, that she'd left the door open, for all of the air seemed to have vacated the premises. He span around on his heels, head down, shaking his hair out like – well, like a wet dog, actually, but four-hundred percent more sexy.

Finally, he finished his little reverse strip-tease, and Ginny was able to roll her tongue back up off of the floor and into her mouth. He glanced behind her at the open door and pulled his gaze back with a little knowing smirk that made her want to slam the door in his face, preferably with her on the other side of it. "What's so important that it merits a house-call?" He asked, sauntering closer. She took a step back without thinking, then scolded herself for the weakness – he veered off at the last minute and sat himself on the edge of his bed, elbows on his knees, leaning forward with his eyes piercing hers. He checked his watch and frowned. "Don't I have a couple more hours before I have to present myself to Her Highness?"

Finally, familiar ground! If there was one thing she could do, it was fight. "Don't talk about Hermione that way," she snapped, grateful for the defensive anger he had riled in her. There was a short list of people allowed to insult Hermione, and he most certainly was not on it.

He rolled his eyes, allowing Ginny a few minutes to remind herself that she was supposed to be nice to him, he was in for a rough evening, for Merlin's sake, Ginny, have some compassion. "Retract your claws, Weasley. It was a joke."

"In poor taste," she couldn't stop herself from muttering. He was this infuriating mix of beautiful and irritating that pressed all of her buttons at once. It was bad enough when he'd been pushing forty, but at nineteen?

Just… insufferable.

"I need to talk to you," she repeated, forcing herself back into business-mode. She made a valiant attempt at softening her features into something close to sympathy. From the look on his face, she must have taken it one step further, closer to insanity. "We had a visitor last night," she began again, slowly, more to keep herself in check than anything else. She wasn't brilliant at modulating her temper, as any quidditch player she'd worked with could tell you. Adrian Pucey still had a lump of displaced cartilage on his nose from where she'd caught him leering at one of her teammates in the showers and swiftly, mercilessly, broken it. Or, she supposed he didn't have that anymore… she wasn't sure how that might work. The specifics of alternate reality time-travel was something she didn't want to delve too deep into.

"A visitor?" Sirius prodded, face carefully blank. No trace of his previous humour showed, which she was grateful for.

"Your brother," she blurted out, her face colouring. Maybe this had been a bad idea. She wasn't brilliant with delicacy. Weasleys, as a general rule, were to discretion what an elephant was to glass.

He blanched. No joke, his face went white as a sheet, his eyes widening so far there was a thick white band around his irises. Ginny wondered for a moment whether he'd suffered a heart attack, he was so pale, so unresponsive. "Black?" she wandered a few steps closer, concerned that his eyes didn't track the movement. "Sirius?"

He swallowed a few times, his lips smacking with the action. "I'm good." He said, finally. Grey eyes focused on Ginny again. "Reg was here?"

Surely referring to him by a nickname was a good sign?

"Is here," Ginny told him in a quiet voice.

Sirius blinked a few times, trying to digest that information, before he stood up so quickly it sent Ginny stumbling back. There was a low thrumming noise coming from his direction – a growl? "Where?" He demanded, looking all ready to storm the barricades. This was what she had been prepared for, she could do this. As long as he didn't slip into another emotional coma, she would be fine.

"We need to talk about this before you can see him," she said calmly, her hands held up placatingly. "There are some things you ought to know -"

"Circe's tits, Weasley! I don't care! Where's my brother?" He advanced on her, nostrils flaring, eyes flashing silver. Seems Sirius had thought the situation over and decided anger was the best solution to this problem. Ginny almost got whiplash, what with him going nought to one hundred in the space of a second. It took everything she had not to move – in that, she used all of her energy to paste her feet to the ground with a non-verbal sticking spell, unable to trust that she wouldn't run away. That done, she straightened her spine and squared her shoulders, meeting him head on.

"Regulus is a complicated boy, Black. There are things you must know before you go thundering on in there and destroy everything we've worked for." She sounded calmer than she felt, a veritable tsunami of fear prepping itself in her chest. Her heart pounded double time, so hard she could feel it in her thumbs. One hand caressed her wand lovingly, the sliver of yew slipping smoothly against her flesh, reassuring in its solidity. She could take him down if she had to. She could.

Sirius's eyes turned calculating, zeroing in on Ginny like he'd just figured something out. Not a feeling she appreciated, being flayed by his glare, but she could deal. Temporarily. "You think I'm going to harm him, don't you?" He asked in a soft voice. Ginny resolutely did not reply to such a trap of a question, and the both of them could testify to that point with complete accuracy when Hermione went off on her later. Sadly, her face? Not so discrete. "For fuck's sake, Ginny, he's my brother!"

Not a great argument to his point, really. "I broke Charlie's shoulder once, gave Percy a hairline fracture in his kneecap. And love my brothers. I'll need better assurances than the 'he's my brother' spiel."

"How about, I'm not a crazy b-" he seemed to catch himself, "witch!"

She growled low in her throat. "Since I assume you quite like being a functioning male, I'll take that at face value. Another statement like it won't pass."

They stood, both fuming with rage, glaring at each other. The space between them, little as it was, popped and fizzled with their magic, waves of it seeming to emanate from their skin. Something flashed in Sirius's eyes, a sort of speculation – Ginny could understand that. She felt the same way. She kept her fury up front, but behind that… well, her brain was considering other uses for their volatile chemistry. More physical ones, where the bruises wouldn't come from an impending duel. Not that a duel wouldn't be fun, but wrestling – and the things it could lead to – would be more so.

"I would never hurt Regulus," Sirius said, finally, his voice rough. "Not… intentionally."

Relief washed over Ginny. "I'm glad to hear that."

"However -" Sirius added, and Ginny let out a disappointed sigh. He couldn't just leave it at that, could he? Couldn't just trust his brother – and the rest of them. He had to qualify his bloody statements like some sort of politician. She had the sense that her relief was premature. "- he is a Death Eater. I know that, I've seen him with his friends, heard them talk. You can't tell me otherwise, because that would be a lie. Bringing him here – and I assume you have, because he'd hardly come himself – was a massive liability."

"All is not as it seems," Ginny said, mysteriously. Or, something close to mysteriously, anyway. You'd think after years spent with Luna as her best friend that she'd have the airy thing down pat, but it came out sounding like the cliché it was, and Sirius was looking at her like she'd lost the plot, so her voice couldn't have been dead on either. "Look, Regulus is a good bloke," she tried, abandoning her Cassandra-esque attempt to convince him for her more usual forthright tones. "Misguided, yes, but we have reason to believe that his moral compass remains firmly set north, no matter what mistakes he's made in the past."

Sirius had begun his groan about halfway through her sentence, and it lasted much longer than her ending did. She scowled, crossing her arms across her chest. He was such a dickhead.

Scrubbing his hands across his face, he peered at her with incredulous eyes. "Did you quote that directly from Her Highness's diary?"

Infuriated by the burn that elicited in her cheeks – just because Hermione had said something similar didn't mean she didn't believe it herself! – Ginny found herself stamping her feet in frustration. "Damnit, Black! Can you stop being – well, you – for one second and just listen to what I'm saying?"

"I am listening, Weasley. You're telling me Regulus isn't a 'real' Death Eater, despite that tattoo on his arm that says otherwise. You lot have also said that Peter is a real Death Eater, despite our years of friendship! Some of the things you lot say make so little sense." He buried his head in his hands, his fingers blocking the full strength of his muffled roar of rage. "You don't understand – I just don't know what to believe anymore! What is the world coming to that our friends aren't even our friends, and our enemies might in fact be something more than that?"

Ginny shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable. "I don't know. I suppose… it's just been par for the course my whole life."

Sirius stared at her in disbelief. "You're joking."

Not joking. Sirius couldn't even comprehend the amount of not joking she was doing here. She had been possessed by Voldemort at the age of eleven, had to live with his demon mark on her soul ever since. She'd been the Chosen One's girlfriend, the most powerful Weasley child, the one with the potential for darkness that had had Death Eater children sidling up to her in the library to leer consideringly, wondering how far she had taken her magic to the Dark, whether she would be a useful tool, when she'd snap. She shook her head, omitting all of this to give him a smirk. "Sadly not."

"I don't- how can you bear it? To live every day not knowing who will be next, having dinner with your family and having to wonder – wonder constantly – who will be the next to go? Who will die, or who will turn? Who – who -" Ginny realised, to her horror, that he was crying. And not the sobbing, messy, sodden cry of a distraught woman, the sort that Ginny had experience with, but the infinitely more heart-breaking silent cry of a grown man whose emotion has completely overwhelmed him, leaving him young, vulnerable and defenceless in the dust. She was sat next to him without really thinking about it, stroking her hand down his spine and humming softly, like that might help him at all. Like a complete stranger witnessing his breakdown could be anything other than completely humiliating.

A strange ache started in her chest as she watched him crumple, his shoulder leaning into her heat even as he turned his face away to hide his tears. She'd never seen Sirius cry before. She'd seen him angry, in pain, lost and frustrated, but never so hysterical that he cried. She hadn't even been sure he had tear ducts. But here he was, breaking down in her arms, and she had no idea how to deal with that. His fingers still blocked his face, but tremors shook his body, transferring from him to her as she tried to absorb some of the shock. His fingers shook against his face, and his eyes – what she could see of them – were dark and stormy against his paler skin.

"I keep thinking," he said, his voice a raw croak. She didn't think he realised where he was, or who he was talking to, only that he needed to talk it out, get the poison out of his system. Selfishly, she experienced a pang of jealousy to think that he might have done this in front of Hermione, or Lily (not Lavender, she thought. Very few people were brave enough to cry in front of Lavender) just as equally as she, and though she'd identified her role in this tableau as concerned friend, she couldn't help but think even a hippogriff could fill this position – had filled this position.

"I keep thinking," he repeated, his voice steadier now, his breathing less erratic. "What if it was James, or Remus, and not Peter? How would I feel if one day I went out on a mission and came up against Moony or Prongs, and they suddenly weren't who they'd said they were? Would I be able to fulfil my responsibilities – to the Order, to the light – or would I just… give up?"

He let out a rattling breath, his shoulders shaking violently against her. "It was bad enough with Reggie, even though I was prepared for that inevitability. Or the day someone came through the doors of Headquarters and just gave me that look, you know the one, where they've suddenly remembered what family I've come from, and they pity me, or I disgust them, but then it's followed up by those words – "Reg was there" or, worse, "We've had to take him down". But, the idea that it might be Peter… and then, the consequences of his betrayal…"

Sirius had calmed now, but his face was bleak as he looked at Ginny. "I don't want to feel this. I don't want to have to look across at my best friends and have to consider that they might – might – you know." Ginny nodded. She did know.

She also knew that his worries were unfounded, that he need not fret. And while he didn't trust the girls implicitly, he could use their reassurances right now. Besides, she knew where he was coming from - he wasn't the only one whose family had betrayed them. She reached out tentatively and, when he didn't push her away, took his hand in her own.

"I'm not going to tell you you're being stupid, because you're not," Ginny said fiercely, her eyes fixed forward. She could probably talk in full sentences if she didn't have to look at his face; having to look at the grief in his eyes, however, would likely reduce her to a babbling, cooing wreck as she tried to comfort him. She wasn't so great at comforting people, more so when she actually wanted to. "I get your worries better than you think I do. A blow like that – well, that's going to undermine everything you thought you knew, open a fissure in your remaining relationships. It has you doubting your judgement, and that of those around you."

By this point, she couldn't remember how she was supposed to turn this around. Ginny was not an overly eloquent person at the best of times, never mind when she had over 12 stone of gorgeous male piled in her lap. She gave it her best effort, though. "James, Lily and Remus are stalwart." She proclaimed, injecting her voice with as much confidence as she could muster. "They would never abandon you, nor would they betray you. If they went to the Dark Side, they'd never leave you behind – they love you so much it verges on incestuous." She nodded, firmly, once, to drive the point home. "That, my furry friend, never changes."

He pulled back a little, a strange expression on his face. For a moment everything tightened inside of her, worrying that she might have gotten it wrong, or made things worse.

But then the impossible happened – he sniggered.

"I think that's the most backhanded compliment I've ever heard," he snorted. "Incestuous?"

Grinning, she shoved him with her shoulder. "Yes. Completely. It's so weird. Do you sit in the corner while James and Lily get it on, advising him on technique?"

He smirked, and it was like the sun had come out from behind the clouds. "He should be so lucky. Besides, it's not like you can talk. You and your lot, always whispering in corners, demanding that you and Luna get to share a room – and don't think we didn't notice that time Lavender and Hermione shared a bed. Should Remus be jealous?"

She was laughing, now, and he was watching her, not ready to laugh properly but seeming to bask in her mirth. "Merlin, you're such a creep," she informed him, the effect somewhat marred by her smile.

"Guilty as charged," he leered exaggeratedly, his eyes scanning from her trainers up to her face. The light atmosphere was heady, a relief after the darkness that had preceded it. Ginny almost felt like she could fly, her relief was so complete. Sirius got somber for a moment, but the glitter remained in his eyes. "Alright, then," he said seriously, giving her hand a squeeze. She'd forgotten it was there, actually, and remembering her impromptu gesture sent her blushing. "I'll give Reggie the benefit of the doubt. But I'm warning you now – don't expect miracles. Too much has happened for us to go back from."

Tracing his fingers with her own, she thought of Percy and his return to the family. How he'd struggled through the blame and recriminations against him in the months following the war. How, even though he'd stood with his family at countless funerals, and mourned with them over Fred, there was still that invisible barrier between them; one which, at times, seemed insurmountable. "I won't," she replied with absolute honesty. "It's enough that you'll try."

Chapter Text

Luna was sat cross-legged on Charlus's desk, the floor around its base littered with quills and inkpots and sheets of parchment. She'd not thrown them there – no, every piece had its place, carefully reproduced on the rug from where it sat on the top. Regulus hadn't questioned her process, and she'd been tempted to think he was too preoccupied to notice, except that when she'd laid the indigo ink next to the scarlet, he'd reached over and replaced it an inch to the left, beside the sapphire. They'd locked eyes for a moment, he'd blushed profusely and retreated to the sofa. He didn't say anything; the small gesture told her enough.

They weren't talking much, but she was in no hurry. Not tonight, anyway. Content simply to bask in the presence of the man the Fates wished her to marry, she'd taken the time to catalogue his every movement, feature, mannerism in her mind.

Regulus Black. She hadn't been expecting him, not on anything more than the topmost of logical levels. She had known that he would come, and it was only a matter of the 'when', but she hadn't realised that when he came he would be coming to her. Not until she'd seen his sweet face in the woods, him perched on his suitcase, equally as large as his brother but somehow more elegant, more refined. His eyes had been wide with fear tempered by a sort of wild intelligence that appealed to her in her core. That, even before his looks – his lovely, imperfect yet delightfully carved face, his long pianists fingers, his broad shoulders yet slim neck.

She could come to love Regulus Black, she knew. Her soul belonged to him as much as his belonged to her. All of those things that others found quirky and odd in her would be understood by him, and she would know him best of anyone. Their pairing would be magnificent – provided she could keep him alive long enough for them to bond. His fate was by no means sealed, nor was it entirely open to manipulation. She was aware of this – of all of the girls' matches, hers was the most precarious.

Which hurt, really. Luna wasn't a woman to find pain wherever she looked, oftentimes able to dismiss it even if it stared her in the face, but there was a certain loneliness in being her; the woman whose soul-mate was killed before she was even born. A man who, if reality had its way, would have never known the comfort of a match, had died alone and afraid and so full of self-loathing there was little room for anything else.

Not this time. If Luna could control their fate – and she knew she could, for she was a powerful witch with connections, and her mother had taught her that she could do anything she put her mind to – it would be high priority for her to keep him safe. He was sweet, and vulnerable, and so very hers that it ached to remove herself from him, she wasn't sure she would survive being even a room apart.

Which was what had led her to spend nigh on eight hours in this room with him, where they'd been deposited just before the werewolf gang had returned from their full moon romp. It was, for her, a sort of prelude to courting. She understood, after all, the importance of men in believing that they had a choice in matters of the heart (even though they most certainly did not). Regulus required the illusion of free will, and as such she would allow him the space and time to come to terms with the truth – which was that they belonged together. Luna believed fervently that his decision wouldn't take very long to make, not very long at all, but just in case she would put her very best features on parade.

Hence the robe. It was a nightdress, but not much of one, covered by her sheerest dressing-gown. the effect was seductive and yet remained demure, the way he would like her, she imagined. Her hair was down around her hips, spilling into her lap and around her shoulders, framing her face to great advantage. The nightdress reached her calves, but the way she sat with her legs crossed caused it to rise, flashing her bare feet and ankles in the light. Not a sight to arouse any average male, no, but Regulus was a different breed. His eyes lingered there longer than appropriate.

It gave her such a rush, to have him look at her like that. Never before had she given much thought to seduction; Theodore, darling though he was, hadn't taken much convincing before he was happy to jump into her bed ('jump' perhaps being an overstatement of the matter, he was much too sedate to do anything so enthusiastic – despite what his sexual proclivities might suggest) and Neville before that had been a fast, passionate affair, conducted in the heated aftermath of beheading Nagini and ending just as quickly with blushes and profuse apologies the morning after. She'd never wanted someone enough to bring her head from the clouds and focus on reality, a strange experience for her. Certainly, she'd never had cause to consider her clothing, how the fabric fell against her body, or to fret about how one might like her hair styled. She felt all at once twelve and thirty, with the worldly knowledge of a woman and the giddy anticipation of a preteen.

Regulus shifted in his seat. It had been a long night and an even longer day, with very little to occupy them since they'd taken this room as their own. The first two hours had been spent in antsy expectation – when would Sirius find out, when would he appear? – but the adrenalin had grown stale, leaving him, at least, exhausted both mentally and physically. With Luna promising to watch over him, he'd been drifting fretfully in and out of consciousness since. They'd barely said more than fifteen unique words to one another since the walk, but then, Luna had never needed words to communicate.

His eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks. Thick, ebony lashes, much too long for a man, against unmarred alabaster skin. His eyes, Luna knew, were charcoal; two shades darker than his brother's, to fit his more serious personality. His nose was too long to be conventionally attractive, and his lips too thick. Luna didn't care – she'd never had much time for convention. His sleeve inched up his forearm where it lay bent beneath his head, and she could just make out the writhing head of the Dark Mark.

OhRegulus.

She smiled a little. In another time, another place, another reality, she'd have been the one with that tattoo. The Lovegoods had never been known for strict adherence to the Light/Dark dichotomy of Magic. They only cared for magic itself, and Luna was no different. If Harry hadn't been her friend – her only friend – it was likely she would have fallen to the Dark. She'd had offers. While the general population thought of her as dotty and vapid, there were those who remembered her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother. They knew what women of her line were capable of, and they'd have killed to have her on side.

Her allegiances, however, sat firmly where her affections lay. She'd loved Harry, so she was Light. She loved Ginny and Hermione, so she was Light. Now, she loved Regulus, and in the interests of securing his survival, she would remain Light.

Twirling her wand through her fingers, she leaned back on the desk, her head dangling off one end while her feet dangled over the other. From this position she could read all of the titles on the bookshelf behind the desk, and occupied herself with that for a while. The Potters had the oddest tastes – from Muggle fairy tales (a first edition of Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm was prominent behind glass) all the way to more modern textbooks, which appeared from their state to be the ones Charlus had used in school. How nostalgic of him, to have displayed them in his office. The collection was seemingly random, but all of the spines were bent and broken, all of the pages yellowed with age and use. Though many of the tomes in the library were ancient and priceless, there had never been an air of affection about them as there was here.

A silver flash broke her from her ruminations, and she realised she'd been about to open the cabinet that held the Grimm book. Frowning, she stared at her fingers. Often they would take on a life of their own, go off on kleptomaniacal thieving sprees until she came-to in her room with treasures heaped around her like a Niffler. That was how she'd found Riddle's diary in her first year, discovered Harry's Invisibility Cloak at Shell Cottage, how she'd discovered Hermione's love-notes from Remus in the aftermath of the battle. Why they would want a book of fairy-tales, though, she had no idea.

Glaring at her prize, still imprisoned behind Unbreakable Glass, she swung herself up to face the interruption. It was a patronus, shimmering but strong, pawing at the ground as it swung its mane. A horse, which meant Ginny. Behind it, Regulus was awake, staring in awe.

"Is that-?"

Luna touched the apparition on its nose, letting it nuzzle into her hand, before it poofed out of existence. "We've got company," she said with a smile.

Seconds later there came a knock on the door, and Regulus bolted upright, his trepidation clear. Luna shot him a smile, and padded over to the door, cracking it open.

"Sirius Black," she hummed. "You look awful."

Behind him, Ginny snorted and tossed her hair, looking awfully like her patronus. "Let him in, Lu. He's promised to be good."

"Ah, but will Regulus?" Luna asked lightly, turning her head to make eye-contact with her charge. "Your brother's here. Nobody else seems worried that you might hurt him, but I'd rather not wake up with his head in my bed, so can you swear you'll be nice?"

Shock flitted across his face, followed by offense. "Of course," he bit out. Luna nodded solemnly.

"You'd best come in, then," she told Sirius, opening the door a little wider. "But no funny business."


The last time Regulus had been in the same room as Sirius, Sirius had been incapacitated, and Regulus was trying to save his life. Lying in a pool of his own blood, barely conscious, Sirius could hardly have been considered a threat, but Reg had worked quickly and carefully anyway, because he knew his brother, and Sirius could be deadly even in sleep.

This time, Sirius had full control of his faculties. He filled the doorway with his shoulders, towered over little Luna until she looked even smaller and more breakable, enveloping her in his aura of barely-restrained violence. It took everything in Reg to stop him from jumping up and shoving her out of Sirius's path, knowing it would only rile him more if Reg treated him as a threat. Oh, but it did hurt to see her there, shoulders squared up to the brute like she could take him out, when she looked so fragile.

"Can I speak to Reg alone, please?" Sirius asked. Reg was shocked on about fifty different levels. Since when did he ask permission? He was so polite to Luna, despite the fact that he was obviously stressed, his neck tight. And he'd called Regulus by the nickname Sirius himself had bestowed upon him, as though they were still close, as if they'd spoken only yesterday with civil tongues and affection.

Dumbstruck though Regulus was, Luna wasn't anything near it. She twisted her fingers in a strand of platinum hair, cocking her head to one side and watching Sirius with huge pale eyes. In a split second she'd gone from seductive water-nymph to lost little girl, and the transition made Regulus hugely uncomfortable. "Lu…" the redhead in the hall warned her, as though she was just as uncomfortable as Regulus, but Luna didn't back down.

"How do I know I can trust you?" she asked, matter-of-factly. Sirius's eyebrows shot up, his mouth falling open in surprise.

"You want to talk about trust, now?" he replied, his voice just the right side of menacing. "Why don't you ask Lavender what she thinks about trust, Luna? After what you did to her, I'm sure she has an opinion."

Luna flinched back, the only sign that she felt anything less than completely confident since Regulus had met her. She reacted as though she'd been slapped in the face, watching Sirius with a face drenched in betrayal. Regulus was frozen, completely impotent, as Sirius glared back with eyes as hard as diamonds. "Yeah, that's what I thought," Sirius sneered finally.

Luna shook her nightdress out, raising her chin. She glanced back at Regulus once, then turned to the door and swept out. The redhead looked after her, then shot Sirius an angry look. "What was that for?" she demanded.

"Half an hour, at most," Sirius responded, completely ignoring the question. "You can wait outside if you like."

She snorted, sending Sirius a disgusted look. "Yeah, like I'm going to leave after what you just did. You'll need a bodyguard once Hermione finds out."

"Right, yeah, see you in a bit, Gin." He closed the door on Ginny's outraged face, and turned to Regulus. For the first time his entire attention was settled on him, his eyes running over a face so similar to his own, over his robes – still messy and sweaty from the walk – and the trunk by his feet. Leaning one shoulder on the door, Sirius crossed his ankles and folded his arms. "You've got yourself some fans," he told Regulus, his mouth still twitched in a sneer though it was obvious he was making an effort to control himself.

"What, the women?" Reg asked, nonplussed. "I don't know why. They've just been really… nice?" He shrugged one shoulder, deciding to omit any mention of the suspicion he felt for the secrecy they were acting under, and his inexplicable connection to the smallest. "Who are they, anyway?"

"It's really not my place to say," Sirius grumbled, and when Reg opened his mouth to protest, he waved a hand and continued, "No, really. I'm not in charge here, so I don't get to make the call. I doubt you'll be in the dark for long, though. Like I said, they seem to like you."

Yes, well, them liking him hadn't gotten him very far up to now, had it? He watched Sirius take in every detail of the room, and let the silence hang between them. There was no way to answer what he'd said without inflaming Sirius's anger, which boiled beneath the surface of his careless façade. Besides, it wasn't like Regulus knew anything. He'd been trying to put the pieces together since he'd arrived, but nothing made sense. So far, he'd figured out that there were at least three foreign women here, perhaps mercenaries hired out by the Order from overseas. It seemed they were in charge, but who was to know? The Dark Lord could be hosting a cotillion in the ballroom for all the facts he had.

Mind, if they were mercenaries, it wasn't likely that Sirius would be comfortable enough to tease and harass them the way he just had. Which left him, once again, completely lost.

"Merlin, Reg, talk to me," Sirius snapped, frowning. Reg couldn't stop the rise of his brow. Sirius looked almost frustrated, jaw ticking as he looked down on his brother. His brother. Anybody else would be uncomfortable with the body language and what it suggested – intimidation, domination, whatever else you fancied calling it – but Reg was a Slytherin, a snake, and snakes are more deadly when they're threatened. He wouldn't know what to do if he was in a position of obvious power over his brother, probably back down, but from the bottom he could see his way clearly.

"What do you want me to say?" He asked, suddenly quite exhausted. It had been a long night, and an even longer day of tensions and theorising and plotting and re-plotting over and over. There seemed to be no end in sight. He'd come here to be safe, but was he really safe? Because it felt like he was running the damn gauntlet. First we'll tempt you with a beautiful woman but you must not touch her, then you'll have to face the matriarch and convince her of your worth, then you'll be locked up for hours and you must not go mental, and then you'll have to fight your only brother… Gods, what was next?

"How about, 'hello, brother mine, nice to see you after so long, how are you?'."

Regulus stifled a roll of his eyes. Sirius might hate Severus, but they were two peas in a pod when it came to infuriating him. "Hello, brother mine, nice to see you after so long, how are you?"

Ignoring the blatant sarcasm, Sirius strode across the room and hitched himself up on the desk opposite him, right where Luna had been sat before. He had to admit, the scenery was better when Luna was here. "Oh, just fine. You know, except for the whole war thing, worrying that my friends won't come home alive, worrying that Death Eaters will break in, worrying because my stupid fucking brother got himself wrapped up in Dark magic and I never know whether he's dead or alive." He growled out the last sentence, eyes gleaming. "But, yeah, pretty good, thanks."

"Well, I'm alive," Regulus announced unnecessarily, waving a hand over his body to illustrate the matter. "So that's one less thing to worry about."

"You're a stupid fucker, you know that?" Sirius shot back.

"I didn't, but since you're the second person to say so today, I'm starting to get the picture."

Sirius tapped his nails against the top of the desk agitatedly, glaring down at Regulus. Regulus stayed passive, avoiding looking Sirius directly in the eyes – that would just start a fight – but keeping his attention on the other man. He looked good, Reg noticed. Tired, but good. The space under his eyes was swollen and bruised like he'd been crying, and his hair was rumpled from sleep. His lips were pressed in a thin line, holding back the torrent of words no doubt swirling in his mind.

"Why did you come here, Regulus?" He asked finally. Reg let out a long breath, his hands digging in his cloak pocket. He produced the letter he'd received the morning before and smoothed it out, before handing it over. Sirius took it, eyeing the thing suspiciously.

"It's just a letter," Reg drawled, smirking a little. "A letter from Lucius Malfoy, yes, but the only danger it poses is the message inside and its disgustingly flowery prose. You might need a sick-bucket, not a doctor."

His brother shot him a venomous look, unfolding the parchment to inspect. Regulus knew the moment he'd found the hidden message because his eyebrows rose and eyes widened before they narrowed, and his mouth ticked up at the corner. "How very you that this would be the trigger that set you on the right track," Sirius murmured, his voice laced with morbid amusement. "They threaten your family, you join them, but gods forbid they threaten your House-Elf…"

Regulus snatched the letter back, scowling. "Don't take the piss, Sirius. I didn't have to show you."

"Hermione's going to love you," Sirius went on. "Good old Regulus. 'Forget blood purity, forget the muggle-born poison, House-Elves are my cause!'." He stopped, realised something, and let out a bark of laughter. "Oh, Merlin, she already knows, doesn't she? That's why they're all so protective of you! Oh, this is priceless! Wait 'til I tell James."

The laughter continued for a few more minutes before Regulus had had enough. He shot to his feet, scowling. "Yes, alright, laugh it up why don't you. 'Regulus wants to save Kreacher, how pathetic'," he imitated in an insulting voice. "Well, maybe he wouldn't mean so much to me, except that he raised me. He's been there for me all my life. He isn't a fair-weather friend, or, in your case, a fair-weather brother. He deserves my loyalty a whole lot more than you do!"

"Reg," Sirius said, but didn't get a chance to continue.

"Don't you Reg me, Sirius. You were always a dick to him, I didn't expect you to understand, but I certainly didn't expect you to do this. You've gotten what you wanted, haven't you? I'm committed to the Light, now. The Order, or whatever it is you're doing here. You don't have to worry. I'm not going to shame you anymore, not going to kill your little friends. You can leave now, forget I ever existed!"

He was panting, his blood rushing in his ears. For all that he worked so very hard to be the perfect heir, the perfect Slytherin, Reg had always had this temper. Hair-trigger, it wasn't so much dangerous as humiliating, as Reg was more likely to burst into tears on the heels of it than maim anyone. Aware that he was perilously close to crying now, he turned his back on Sirius, glaring hard at his trunk in the hope that it would force his tear-ducts into submission.

"Regulus…" Sirius pleaded, sounding a little broken. His amusement had died a quick death, and now he was feeling… well, Reg didn't know what he was feeling, but it very likely wasn't anything like regret. Sirius never admitted he was wrong, not to Regulus. And he didn't apologise, either. "Look at me, Reg," Sirius cajoled, his steps coming closer. Reg's hand curled around the grip on his wand, causing Sirius to stop in his tracks. Regulus didn't think he'd hex him, wasn't really planning to, likely never would not even in a fit of temper, but knowing that Sirius thought he was capable of harming him, his own brother…

"Get out." Regulus snapped. He didn't care if he would be trapped in this damn room for the rest of his life, he wasn't spending one more second in Sirius's company.

"Reg… brother," Sirius tried, stopping when Regulus shook his head.

"You can't use the brother thing on me again, Sirius. No."

He could sense Sirius frowning. "Use it…? No, Reg, that's not what I'm doing. I'm your brother, and you're upset. You have to know that I care."

"For someone who professes to care so much, you've got a funny way of showing it. Go – your half-hour is up. I'm sure there's someone out there who actually wants to see you."

Silence reigned while Sirius seemed to struggle with himself. Reg didn't move, he knew how this would end. Instead he spent his time memorising the wallpaper pattern, counting the flowers that washed across it. Eventually, footsteps marched to the door and it was wrenched open, causing whoever was on the other side to give a little squeak. "Black?" The voice asked.

"Not now, Weasley," Sirius replied before he stomped away, his footsteps fading into silence. Regulus glanced over his shoulder to see that the redhead had appeared in the doorway and watched him with a calculating look on her face. He didn't tell her to sod off – his mistake.

"That looked like it went well," she said, hands on her hips. He didn't bless her with an answer, and she sighed. "I remember lying in my bed at Hogwarts once and wishing on a shooting star – I wished, 'please, please, please send me a tall, dark, handsome stranger to sweep me off my feet. He should be brooding, and complex, but passionate above all!'." At his derisive look, she lifted her chin defiantly. "Hermione had just lent me Pride and Prejudice, don't you judge me."

She shrugged. "Anyway, you can guess how that worked out. I'm locked in a house with the worlds' supply of Byronic heroes, and far from being blessed with some hot, steamy, contemptuous sex, I've in fact been gifted with only a migraine for my troubles. You lot," she scowled at him again and pointed a thumb over her shoulder in the direction Sirius had left, "give 'be careful what you wish for' a whole new bloody meaning."

His manners lifted their head, shrugging off the chains he'd kept them under for the duration of his conversation with Sirius. If there was anything that could prod him into civility, it was a woman. "My apologies for your inconvenience," he said smoothly, dipping a slight bow. "If you'll show me to the exit, I will make myself scarce."

"Scarce?" she frowned, her mind trying to figure out where things had taken a turn. "I was only joking," she clarified. She apparently felt no compunction against rolling her eyes, for she did so frequently. "Besides, we need you here."

"But Sirius-"

"I'm sorry," she interrupted loudly, "but Sirius isn't in charge here."

"Who is?" He asked, tired of the games.

She grinned, tossing her hair over one shoulder and thrusting her chest out in glee. "Well, right now, it's me." She held out a hand to him. "We're late for a meeting, which is unlucky, because you're sort of the guest of honour."

He stepped back involuntarily, his mind providing flashes of Death Eater revels, the phrase guest of honour bandied about with malicious laughs as they dragged some poor muggle to the floor, and then the blood and the horror that followed it…

"Oh, shite, I'm sorry," Ginny winced, seemingly recognising her error, though how she did Regulus couldn't guess. "Yeah, been there, done that. No-one's going to hurt you. Even if they wanted to – which they don't – they wouldn't dare take on Luna to get to you. She can be scary when she wants to be." She shook her head. "No, you're safe. We just want to inform you of a few things, take a vote on you living here, introduce you around, that sort of thing."

"Is it an Order meeting?" he wondered aloud. He didn't think it was, because Dumbledore led the Order and he was too power hungry to relinquish any sort of control to a woman Ginny's age, but then he was unpredictable.

"Oh, Circe, no," Ginny laughed. "Like we'd subject you to that. No. We're… well, I suppose we're the underground underground movement to take down ole' Voldy. Come on, we're late. I'll explain more on the way."

She stood just to one side of the door, waiting. He had a moment of split-decision – was this the best choice? When he'd come here, he was coming to a known entity, but now everything was on its head and he was confused and in the dark. He needed information, yes, but did he trust this girl enough to get it?

He'd have to. There wasn't really a choice. Tense and wishing he'd brought Severus so that he didn't feel so bloody outnumbered and alone, he followed Ginny out of the room.

Chapter Text

Somewhere outside of reality, a steady pocket in the timestream had been occupied by three fretful sisters, for the purposes of correcting their egregious errors before any of their fellows became aware of their fallibility. Luckily for them, they had been planning their attack for nigh on a mortal century.

The pocket had been decorated as a temple from a bygone era, with high white marble walls, arching pillars of the same material, cushions and tables and chairs scattered around. In the centre of the room sat a table upon which there lay a now-defunct spindle, a basket of unspun wool, and two empty crystal caskets, older than time itself. On the far wall there hung a tapestry, a magnificent thing woven from every imaginable colour, glinting in the ambient light of the dying chandelier. The image was unclear, and would yet be for many millenia to come, but it was beautiful even for the confusion it would evoke in any admirer. At the far end the tapestry frayed, thousands upon thousands of threads hanging loose to trail upon the ground, waiting for action.

Two paced before the tapestry, her skirts swirling around her legs in a non-existent wind. As she watched, more twists were made, knots weaving themselves against her instructions. Her long, ebony fingers twisted together just below the sash of her gown, hidden from her sisters by her body. Still, she shook with anger and anxiety as she watched the tapestry work, taking on a life of its own despite the impossibility of that action. No, it wasn't weaving itself – it was being woven by a renegade mortal who'd tapped into powers beyond his comprehension.

Behind her, Three lay on a chaise, her bare feet brushing lightly against the cool marble floor of their sanctuary, the rest of her body arranged across the silver cushions with great care, her arm slung over the back in a deceptively relaxed movement, head propped up on the arm. Her face was turned towards Two, black eyes hooded as she watched her sister. Two raised her hand as if to tug on her hair, and then seemed to remember herself and buried it deep in the folds of her gown again, so violently the whole thing sagged to one side.

"Calm, sister," Three murmured softly, a warning.

Two spun around, her arms tight to her body, keeping herself under rigid control. "How is serenity to solve our problems?" she demanded.

"Serenity, no. Patience, however…" Three glanced over at the end of the tapestry, at the wreck which was all that remained where the three of them had ripped out a whole section in order to reweave it. Golden thread tied four displaced threads together, before they spread again to intersect others' lives. The four of them were irrevocably linked – Two had made certain of that – and the three of them believed that as long as the four of them followed their current path, they would destroy the renegade.

Their threads wove even as the sisters spoke, dancing and flitting between one another and those surrounding them. They dragged others closer, interlocking them into their web, clutching them so close to the original four that they might never escape. Then, Three looked farther up the Tapestry, at the thick black line which headed steadily towards them. In the black one's trail there lay many a frayed thread, not so many as there had been before the reweave, but still hundreds. Hundreds lying dead in his wake, not something that Three usually shied away from but seemed unjust now, as their lives ending had no place in the grander scheme of things and were most certainly not planned. Some dozens more had been infected by his darkness, their threads turning grey with taint. "How am I to summon patience in such circumstances?" Two was demanding now, but Three wasn't listening.

"Something's about to change," Three murmured, her fingers reaching out to examine a bright, thick thread which had featured prominently in this section for many decades now. She frowned, tracing upwards, searching for the trigger while ignoring the burning that came into her hands lately when she touched the tapestry.

"Danger," One announced, shimmering into existence on Three's left, her hands buried deep in a white fur muff, a matching hat perched precariously on her head. She dropped the accessories to the floor, both disappearing before they hit the ground. "It bothers me to be locked here like a lesser being; I have been watching," she explained when Two and Three eyed her askance. "It is good that I have, for I saw the mistake they made." She reached out with a translucent hand and plucked at one of the shorter threads that hung from the end of the tapestry. "You see? Foolhardy of them, wasn't it?"

"Ah," Three nodded, following it back to where it had knotted in with their primary threads, a tiny streak of grey amongst the reds, yellows and purples. "Yes. How do we resolve this?"

"Sister, weren't you just advocating for patience?" Two said snidely. "Now you call for action?"

Three scowled. "He is just as dangerous as the Other. Our intervention is necessary."

"Is it?" Two pressed. "Or are you just bored?"

One pressed the palm of her hand against Two's shoulder in reprimand. "Stop. We mustn't fight, sisters. We chose our champions wisely, have trust in them. We are forewarned."

"Yes," Three jerked a hand toward the tapestry, "Sadly, they are not."


Hermione scanned the area, taking in the expressions of everybody present and generally getting a feel for the atmosphere. It looked like nothing so much as a social club, with armchairs and sofas scattered about, some people laid on the floor looking completely at leisure, others with books in their hands, just reading quietly. Lavender was spread out across the whole of a three-person sofa she'd levitated over a couple of hours ago, having gotten tired of her armchair perch and antsy to use magic while she wasn't so volatile. It was rose-pink with dark wooden legs, some French design, and Lavender had taken to it like it was her soulmate. She had her hair spread out over the arm, the rest of her body twisted into odd positions on the back and sides. She was reading a magazine she'd pilfered from Lily earlier, seemingly engrossed in an article detailing the possibilities of using Ashwinder Eggs in perfume to give them love-potion-esque properties.

Behind her, Luna crouched on a plush golden cushion, braiding tiny plaits into Lavender's hair behind her customary bright pink headband. Every now and again she'd give Lavender an instruction, and the other girl would follow it, rewarded by Luna's hand stroking through her hair to massage her scalp. Luna'd taken up that position the minute she'd come through the door, looking as upset as Luna ever did and still dressed in the nightgown she'd been wearing earlier. The two of them whispered quietly to one another, exchanging small smiles and laughs but never talking loud enough to be heard.

Lily had commandeered Lavender's old armchair, with James seated on the floor beneath her. Lily read from a Muggle romance novel she'd brought with her, one hand absently playing in James's hair. Her calves were over his shoulder and locked on his chest, where James hugged them to him with his arm even as he turned to talk to Remus, who was perched on the arm of another two-person sofa, this one forest green and worn, with squashy cushions that could swallow a small cat if it was so silly as to land on them.

Hermione herself was trying to calm her nerves, pacing around their 'war table', checking her notes to make sure she'd not missed anything. She had faith in Regulus, emotionally, but intellectually she knew that this move was a risk. If Regulus wasn't yet the convert she thought he was – though the evidence worked in his favour on that one – then she'd be inviting a snake into their bosom, betraying the trust everybody had seen fit to vest in her.

She took a deep breath in through her nose, and let it out through her mouth slowly. She could do this. The only person who doubted her was her. Everybody else had faith. Luna, as if sensing her thoughts, turned to shoot her a smile. She returned it, if a little strained. She could do this. If only she knew how Sirius and Ginny's meeting had gone, so that she had a little heads-up. If only she knew how the meet between Regulus and Sirius had gone…

The door swung open to admit Sirius. All eyes turned to him immediately, some softer than others, Luna's surprisingly harsh. He took a glance around the room, his face seemingly carved out of stone. Taking a seat near the back, he shot a brief nod to James and Remus, then folded himself up and stared out the nearest window, neatly blocking the rest of them out.

Lavender turned her head to look at Hermione, the movement pulling her hair from Luna's hands. The other girl let out a miffed little huff, but Lavender ignored her. She was as curious as Hermione was about what had gone down, except for Lavender it was more of a detached curiosity, simply a matter of her wanting the latest news, whereas for Hermione it could make or break their entire operation. "Sirius?" Lily questioned, her voice soft. Sirius didn't respond in any way.

"Padfoot, mate," James said, straightening up. He sent Remus a significant look and the two of them rose, striding over to huddle with their friend. Sirius continued to stare out of the window as the two of them talked to him, nodding every now and again as they posed questions. The exchange was too quiet to hear, but the Black heir gradually relaxed, so it must have been helpful. She was glad for that – it hurt her to see him hurting, though they'd never been that close.

She busied herself with something else, anything else, to give them some semblance of privacy – taking a quick detour to smack Lavender upside the head when it became clear that she'd had the opposite idea. Ignoring her offended looks and Luna's quiet chuckling, she instead checked and re-checked the agenda she'd written up for the meeting, ensured that Luna's map was locked and folded away, and created duplicates of the notes she'd made to help her run the meeting with Lavender and Lily that afternoon.

The silence itself was conspicuous enough to grab Hermione's attention when Regulus walked in the room. She glanced up from her parchment to see him hovering in the doorway, looking small and somewhat lost, with Ginny on his arm grinning like the cat who'd got the cream. Luna stood from her place behind Lavender but didn't move forward – it wouldn't have seemed appropriate, the atmosphere seemed so tense that any sudden movement might shatter it.

Lily, remaining curled up in her armchair, peered over at Regulus with a cold sort of curiosity. She didn't like him, that much was certain, but she was an intellectual and if intellectuals liked to study people then Regulus would be a prize. His eyes were an odd mix of hard and soft, a thin layer of ice preventing you from reading his emotions but still allowing you to see their depth. Indeed, they were like hollows in his head, bearing the strain of his lifestyle in their darkness. His intelligence was equally easily read, and she knew he was assessing the room just as much as everybody in it was assessing him.

The men in the corner with Sirius had stood, automatically shifting into semi-protective positions around their friend. What warmed Hermione's heart, also, was that Remus's eyes shot to her, too, as though it was a reflex to make sure she was safe in the face of a new threat. She battered down a blush as pleasure zipped through her at the thought.

Everybody was still, watching, waiting for something to happen. Ginny didn't drop Regulus's arm, which sent out a clear message to Lily and the Marauders – the girls were taking responsibility for him, he was under their protection, like it or lump it.

A piercing catcall suddenly ripped through the air, breaking the stand-off as everybody's heads whipped around. Lavender, never very good with tension, grinned from her perch on the couch where she had hopped up onto an arm for a better view. "Look at you," she called, shooting Regulus a salacious wink that had him blushing furiously. "Are all of the men in 1979 this beautiful? Because I wasn't looking, but I might be now."

"Lavender!" Hermione scolded over the sound of a few surprised snorts. She glanced back over to Regulus, who was staring at Lavender wide-eyed, like she was a new and disturbing species he'd never come across before. "Ignore her," she told him, waiting for him to turn his attention to her before giving him a warm smile. "She's incorrigible, but harmless."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Lavender murmured, forming a claw with one hand and pawing at the air, smirking in his direction. "I have been known to bite."

"She's also high as a kite – err, a hippogriff?" she corrected hastily when he just looked more bewildered. "She's on about fifty pain potions. Come in, sit down." Coming out from behind her table she moved towards him, Ginny tugging on his arm until he reached her. Gesturing towards the couch farthest from Sirius – and a good distance from Lavender, just in case she wasn't joking – she sat down and beckoned for him to join her.

"I'm Hermione, by the way," she held out a hand, which he shook somewhat awkwardly as he sank into the chair. Luna was behind him almost immediately, swapping places with Ginny who joined Lavender on her settee, allowing the blonde to drape her legs over her lap. "I know we met last night but I don't think we were properly introduced. That's Ginny, I'm sure you know, and the loud one is Lavender."

"Er- yes, hello. Regulus Black – you know that, though." Oh, his voice was so lovely, perfectly cultured and entirely reminiscent of the people Hermione had known as she'd grown up. She was smiling genuinely before she even realised that the other one had been forced. He glanced around again, catching Lily studiously ignoring him, James and Remus still stood in front of Sirius, who was watching the interaction with unfathomable eyes. He then turned back to Hermione. "Can I ask, what am I doing here?"

Hermione furrowed her brow. "You came here last night, don't you remember?" She shot a look at Luna, panicking slightly on the inside. Was he quite well? Had he hit his head?

"Yes, I remember that I came here with my own agenda," Regulus replied carefully, sounding out the words as he weighed them in his mind. "But it's quite clear that you lot want me for something else."

Luna made a quick movement, a strangled noise escaping her throat. Regulus studiously ignored her, but Hermione couldn't stop herself from looking up. Luna stared at her with wide eyes, telling her to tread carefully. Well, of course she'd try to do that, but she wasn't the most delicate of people. Then again, at least she wasn't Lavender.

"You're right," Hermione nodded. Honesty was, after all, the best policy. "Though I do think that our interests are aligned, at least in this case."

Regulus shot her a sceptical look. "I haven't told you why I'm here."

Hermione froze for a split-second, a war raging in her head. It was so very difficult, talking like this, withholding information while sharing enough to earn his trust, all of the subtleties and double-talk that was required while discussing the matter with him because, regardless of how much she wanted to trust him and her knowledge of what had occurred in the future, it remained that they didn't know Regulus, he was a complete wild card. Who knew what might have happened to him if he hadn't died in his quest to retrieve the horcrux – he could have continued to be a Death Eater, he could have changed his mind about destroying the horcrux. And, while Luna obviously adored him and she trusted her judgement; sitting across from him now and staring into those eyes, feeling the darkness in his energy, she felt more and more doubts creep into her mind.

"Why don't you explain, then," Hermione asked, pitching her voice higher to grab everybody's attention, as if they hadn't been fully tuned in already. Lavender's magazine hit the floor with a soft thunk, apparently having slipped through her fingers while she was concentrating on Regulus so hard. "We'll need you to explain to the whole group in as much detail as you can, please, so that we are well informed when we come to take a vote."

"A vote?" Regulus asked, eyes still fixed on Hermione, oblivious to Luna looming behind him, her fingertips playing through the hair at his nape.

"Yes. Lily suggested we take a vote to decide whether we can afford to bring you in. It is, after all, our lives on the line if... well, you understand."

He nodded, and took another scan of the room. He was on edge, rather antsy, which made it all the more odd that he'd not notice Luna. Hermione met her eyes again in question; Luna smiled. The time they'd spent together in the study must have done more than simply bored them.

"Very well," Regulus jerked his head, words clipped neatly at the end. Honestly, how was his accent so very particular when Sirius's was, in contrast, so very gruff? "I suppose that's to be expected. I received a letter yesterday, at school." He fished the square out of his pocket and handed it to Hermione, who unfolded it and smoothed it out over her legs. Relatively short, it held only a few paragraphs in a nauseatingly flourished hand. The sign-off caught her eye – your friend, Lucius – and shocked her, rather. She'd known, of course, that Snape and Malfoy had been friends, and that Snape and Regulus had been friends, but she'd never joined the dots.

She looked back up at Regulus, who tucked a stray hair behind his ear and ducked his head. "It's not what it appears."

Fingering the edge of the page she shot him a smile. "That's only to be expected. I doubt an inquiry into your mother's health would cause you to abandon school."

"Indeed. When he says that, he's not referring to my mother, he's talking about Kreacher, my House-Elf. It's a warning, fairly standard, to let me know that the Dark Lord is interested in using them. Where he invites me to tea, that's informing me that I'll be called up soon…" He trailed off, catching sight of Hermione's raised brow. "What is it?"

"Oh, nothing -"

"She's surprised," Ginny said from behind her, causing Hermione to jump. She'd been reading the letter over Hermione's shoulder without her noticing, and now grinned at Regulus. "Merlin, I'm surprised. Who knew Lucius Malfoy had a heart?"

Hermione touched her fingers to Ginny's pale ones where they rested against the arm of the couch, and the other girl shot her a tight smile. The scars of Malfoy's intervention in her childhood ran deep, much deeper than she pretended, and Hermione knew that her grin took a lot of effort. Regulus had no such knowledge, his feathers all ruffled, righteous indignance in defence of his friend. "Lucius is… complex, but he's not a monster." His voice was quite snippy, reminding Hermione that he was only eighteen.

Personally, Hermione thought complex an extremely generous way to describe the aristocrat, but then she didn't know him very well. It was hard to be charitable towards someone who would sell his own son to the devil, attempt to kill children, then stand back and watch silently as you were tortured.

"I'm sure," Hermione said instead, managing to keep the dubious tone from her voice. "So, Mr. Malfoy sent you a letter warning you that you would be Called on soon, and that it would have something to do with your – with Kreacher."

"Yes. It was the final straw." His face was set defiantly, challenging them to pick up on that, to ask him why, why everything else – the killings, the torture – was just fine but harming his House-Elf was despicable. Everybody kept silent, but she could see those questions spinning through everybody else's mind no matter how much they tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. "I'd been having... doubts for a while, though I couldn't find an appropriate out. Not one that wouldn't get us killed."

"Why didn't you go to Dumbledore?" Hermione asked, curiosity swirling in her. He shot her a contemptuous look.

"Is that not what I have just done?"

She huffed, bristling against his sudden change – the look in his eyes, so familiar from her childhood, that pureblood superiority which grated against her very Muggle ideals of equality. "Not at all," she snapped. "You came to your brother, walking miles in the middle of the night with no certainty of a happy ending, rather than simply taking the stairs. If you'd wanted to go to Dumbledore, you would have. I may not be a Slytherin, Mr. Black, but do not mistake me for a fool."

He narrowed his eyes at her, Luna behind him looking tense. Ginny, behind Hermione, had also straightened up, her hand on her wand. Sure, they would give him the benefit of the doubt, but not at the cost of Hermione's protection, which warmed her deeply. Though if it came to a fight, Hermione wasn't entirely certain where Luna's loyalties would lie.

All of a sudden, satisfaction flit across his face. "So you aren't with the Order," he mused, his mouth ticking up. "Ginny said you weren't, but one cannot be too careful. The Headmaster is known for his tricks."

"Not in our crowd." Hermione replied easily. "You'd be hard pressed to find one person in the Order who'll admit outright to him being the manipulative old coot that he is."

"Yes, but there aren't any Slytherins in the Order, are there? At least – I don't know of any. And you Gryffindors tend to worship him." His nose twitched as though he smelled something bad, the idea was so deeply offensive to him. Still, in his eyes, there was a flicker of respect at her response, though she could tell he found her delivery gauche.

"You haven't answered the question," Hermione tilted her head in curiosity, attempting to steer the conversation back where she'd needed it to go. There was a list of questions on the table behind her, but she didn't want to disrupt the conversation long enough to get it, and she was doing well enough on her own. Or, she thought so, at least. The others might disagree, but they'd put the power in her hands and so she would run the show as she saw fit.

"Headmaster Dumbledore has a past, one which does not set him in good standing when it comes to seeking assistance, not for Dark wizards. Severus, alone -" both Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes at the automatic derision that emanated from the Marauder's side of the room, though Lavender let out a little snort of her own, amused by their actions, "- has suffered the consequences of his bias more times than any child rightfully should." He studiously did not look at his brother, and Hermione knew what he was thinking of. Having one's own brother attempting to kill one's best friend must be a delicate situation.

"I did not join the Dark Lord because of a belief in his rhetoric. Like many others, I joined because there seemed to be no other place for me. It is hard to fight the monsters in the dark with no weaponry and no support, Miss…?"

"Granger," Hermione replied, waiting for the recognition to cross his face. There it was. He now knew she was a muggleborn. All of her instincts went on alert for any changes to his attitude, anything that might bely his claim that he didn't believe in Voldemort's 'rhetoric' – though, he hadn't exactly said he didn't, had he?

"Miss Granger," he repeated, with a slight acknowledging tilt of his head towards her. "My family was threatened. My friends were threatened. Severus had already joined the cause by the time I was called up and, well, what self-respecting person wouldn't follow their best friend into the dark when they were asked to? Of course, he was angry at me for it, but he understood." Regulus shrugged, the same fluid shrug as his brother. For all of their differences there were still the base similarities of siblings raised in the same environment – their inflections, their movements, their tempers. "I am a Dark wizard, that I won't deny, but Dark doesn't always mean evil and the one thing I cannot stomach is the rape, torture and murder of innocents." He paused, gazing off into the distance. "Well, that and being forced to do things I shouldn't like to do. Being boxed into a corner has a habit of making one lash out."

"I understand." Hermione did, actually. Despite being a Light witch and everything that came with that, there were times when her actions could be seen as grey, or even dark. The mysterious case of Umbridge and the Centaurs, for one. Keeping Skeeter in a jar, for another. Still, she drew the line at murder and mayhem – she didn't crush Skeeter, despite how much she'd wanted to. And she'd sent a message to the castle about Umbridge, too. She had a conscience. She could see how that might work for Regulus, too – his line might be further away, but it still existed.

"We still need a guarantee." She added, remembering what her goal here was. Talking to Regulus was surprisingly absorbing; he had such a different take on life to her, on morality. He was the antithesis of everything she'd been taught made a good wizard; he was slippery, cunning, unmistakeably Dark, and yet she could feel his power and it wasn't a bad one. Powerful despite his own self-consciousness, a sort of seductive caress that held very little appeal to her while at the same time helping her understand what drew Luna in. "We can't have you suddenly decide one day to run back to Lord – He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. If you're in, you're in, and you can't run off just because you're insulted, or upset, or angry. And you have to understand this, too; while we're not the Order, if we're to give you our protection, we will require you to assist us in turn. There will still be times when you are asked to do something difficult, or distasteful. I need reassurance that you will not take off when that happens."

One of his perfectly formed eyebrows crept up on his head. "An Unbreakable Vow?" To give him credit, he didn't flinch at the idea.

Hermione did, though. She wasn't fond of having everybody look at her for guidance, never mind having them be magically beholden to her. "No. Not that."

"An oath," Ginny piped up again. Hermione shot her a confused look, and Ginny continued patiently, "A wand oath, to assure us of your… cooperation. It won't bind you, there is no death penalty, but it is a show of loyalty from Regulus and faith from you, Hermione. A nudge in the right direction whenever he may find himself torn, is all it is."

Hermione turned back to Regulus, an unspoken question on her face. He jerked another nod in response. "That's settled, then." Fiddling with her holster, she drew her wand into her palm. "Your hand, please, Regulus?"

"No."

Chapter Text

"No."

The voice came from Lily, who was staring at Regulus's hand in Hermione's, stricken. It was hard to decipher the emotions behind the expression, but Lavender thought they might be something along the lines of 'protective' and then, the darker 'jealous'. Personally, Lavender thought she might just be objecting for the sake of objection. To remind everybody else that Hermione wasn't infallible, despite the general consensus on that matter being 'she might not be perfect, but she's a damn sight better than me'.

Or maybe that was just Lavender's personal opinion. It was difficult to tell, what with the odd habit other people had of not spitting out their feelings the second they have them.

Hermione's lips crimped together in what looked like exasperation as she turned, not releasing Regulus, to face the redhead. "Excuse me?" Hermione said, her words shot through with acid-tipped impatience. Ooh, Lavender thought with a smirk, you've done it now, Miss Priss.

Lily turned her head up, her chin jutting out defiantly. "You promised us a vote. If you do the… oath-thingy, whatever it is, that means he won't be able to leave, no matter what we decide. So, no."

Hermione stirred, her face darkening to thunderstorm levels of anger. Poor Regulus edged back a bit, looking rather concerned at the turn of events. Lavender liked that, almost as much as she liked the way he didn't take Lily's apparent hatred of him personally. Lesser men would have fallen at her feet and begged forgiveness for whatever perceived wrongs they had done her (she really was quite pretty). Ginny cut off whatever tirade was about to begin with a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "She's right," she murmured softly. "You gave your word."

Hermione's fingers tightened around Regulus's, and for a moment it looked like she wouldn't let go. And then, with a sigh, she released him and stood up, her hand clenched into a tight fist around her wand's handle. She shot another poisonous look at Lily, striding to the table piled high with documents. "A vote, then." She snapped out, then sucked in a deep breath. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment and when she opened them and released the trapped air, she was serene. "A vote," she repeated in a much softer voice.

Lavender glanced around. She felt she could probably guess how this was going to go, and it was going to go not well. There were too many big personalities in this room, too much tension. It ratcheted up even more as she waited, raising the hairs on the back of her neck and setting the she-wolf in her head to growl-mode. Awareness and anticipation shivered over her skin, and she moved, almost without noticing, into a stance that would allow for more movement in a fight.

Over in the back of the room, Remus was fighting off a similar reaction. He'd gone stiff as a board, his lip curled up in a silent snarl, his muscles coiling even as he fought to keep them still. Neither James nor Sirius seemed aware of his struggle, but Lavender watched with interest. The more time she spent around him, the wiser she thought her decision to go with the flow in regards to her lycanthropy became. They were at war, they couldn't afford to waste their energy on pointless internal battles.

"The facts are as follows: Regulus Black is a Death Eater," Hermione began. She'd done something to her voice, and it sounded richer and more powerful than it ever had before. It was filled with a charisma Lavender wasn't aware she was capable of, a persuasive silken touch that convinced the speaker that she was right. It wasn't magic, nothing of the sort, it was the strength of her own convictions. Lavender wondered what it was like to feel that deeply about a specific cause, and worried about it, because Hermione had a habit of picking up causes. If she turned this level of influence on her House-Elf campaign, perhaps people would have paid attention.

"He is Marked, both on his skin and within his soul, so I won't deny that truth. He is also a Dark wizard, and the remnants of his magic cling to him." She took another of her breaths, and spun her gaze onto each of them, her odd spell dragging them in. "However – Dark does not always mean evil, and Regulus does have his good qualities. He's loyal, clever, and subscribes to a morality. He stands by his family, doesn't hold grudges."

Regulus blinked slowly, lazily, and Lavender could see him trying to absorb what was happening. His limbs were stiff even under Luna's soothing hands, a flicker of fear in the back of his eyes. He was waiting for the axe to fall, Lavender realised. He was refusing to be lulled into a false sense of security. Some of the people in this room were his enemies, his friends' enemies, and he never forgot that.

Hermione's calculating eyes fell on the Marauders and Lily, a challenge in them. "We know what he is capable of, but I understand if you don't wish to take our word for it. Operating on blind faith is very difficult when you've got something to lose. I do ask, however, that you trust us in this. Without giving too much away to those who are less well informed, I can say that I've seen Regulus make the ultimate sacrifice to end Lord- sorry, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, with all of the bravery of any Gryffindor, and the blind recklessness of one too."

James's eyes softened as he looked across at Regulus, whose eyes were wide. Apparently he didn't appreciate that description of himself. Too bad. Hermione was trying to wind a picture of empathy, and it was working. Even as James softened Hermione smirked, and muttered, "I thought you'd like that." Then she straightened again, her face blank. "I've made the decision to trust him, despite my many and varied misgivings. Will anybody else stand by me on this?"

Now, Lavender was a Pureblood. She wasn't really up on the concept of democracy. Wizarding Britain voted for their Minister, but the rest of the government was made up of hereditary positions and titles, department heads were given to political allies, and very few people had any real say in how the Ministry was run. The Browns themselves had a temporary seat on the Wizengamot, unelected. Her mother had never bothered to vote for Minister. The only voting she'd ever encountered in her life was in magazines, when they asked which skin cream was better. She would never consider herself politically savvy, nor did she want to be. Democracy, to her, seemed rather like a waste of resources, using up time and effort that could be better spent improving their society.

The same opinion, she extended to this farce. Hermione knew better than anyone in the room how best to defeat Lord Voldemort. She'd been in the centre of the war in the nineties, the best friend of the Boy Who Lived. Ginny had a window right into what remained of his nasty delinquent soul, too, from her possession. And Luna… well, Luna had a direct line to the Gods, or whatever it was that was going on in that freaky head of hers.

In contrast, the Marauders were temperamental pranksters as likely to think with their little head as their big one, proficient in magic but prone to flares of anger, whose only real advantage here was that they owned the house, and Lavender's friends seemed to drool on them quite frequently. And while Lavender did like Lily, it seemed ridiculous that she'd march into a situation she didn't properly understand that would have consequences she'd not even notice and demand that she have an equal say in all matters discussed.

Lavender was self-aware enough to admit that she didn't really have very much to offer here either, other than her knowledge of the future and her furry tendencies. This was, she thought, what qualified her the most to have these opinions, because if Hermione or Ginny did, they'd come off stuck-up or mean. Hermione probably even agreed with Lily on the whole 'democracy' thing, which, really, she was so damn nice and logical and accommodating about everything that it began to border on dangerous.

Or, not even began. It was dangerous. Here they sat, four against four, with Regulus in the middle. They needed Regulus. Lavender didn't really understand why, but even the little wolfie who lived in her head was telling her they needed him close, and little wolfie was clever. But because Hermione was so bloody moral, so bloody soft-hearted, they were dancing on a knife's edge of losing the kid forever!

She-wolf growled at that. She didn't like the idea that the men would try and take away Luna's mate – or, whatever, that was the message Lavender got. Her wolf was lonely, regardless of the fact that she'd only popped into being a month ago. She wanted her mate so much that she was projecting that ache onto everybody else. Though, Luna did look awfully attached to Black Jr.

"I will," Luna said, the first to respond after a lingering pause. She'd sat at Regulus's feet with her legs all tangled into some pretzel shape, head leaned back against his knee. The languorous look was somewhat ruined by the blue fire that blazed in her eyes as she looked around the room, her features deceptively relaxed. The way she was curled around his legs gave off the clear signal that he was hers, and approach at your own risk.

Her she-wolf was perfectly happy to abide by that rule.

Lavender kind of wanted to break it, just to see what happened.

Maybe she hadn't been put into Slytherin because her self-preservation button was somewhat jammed.

"Me, too." Ginny added, to nobody's surprise. She was stood, still, at the back of the couch. Lavender wondered if there'd been a memo sent out that she'd not received, something about physical intimidation and standing around him. She kept her distance anyway because, well, first, she wasn't as completely insensitive as she appeared and had realised she made him uncomfortable, and second, in the physical intimidation charts, if ten was a dragon and one was a flobberworm, she probably hit negative numbers. She wore a bow in her hair, for Merlin's sake.

Still, she liked him. She liked him better than she liked his brother, in any case. Regulus didn't look at her like she was incurably dim.

She waved a hand in the air. "Count me in," she leered at him, just to see him squirm. She must not have put enough effort into it, because Luna didn't so much as blink.

Lily was still in her seat, lips pressed tightly shut. She didn't want to give her opinion until James had, that much was clear. Not for a lack of back-bone, but more because the only reason she'd called for a vote was so that Sirius could have a real say in the matter. James would follow Sirius's lead, and Lily would follow his. It was a reasonable idea, but, again – Lavender didn't have much time for democracy.

Plus, this was setting a precedent for the future, and Lavender didn't much fancy having to face the Disco Inquisition (complete with gross bell-bottoms and tight asymmetrically striped shirts; yes, Sirius Black, there are styles you can't bring off) if and when she wanted to bring home her theoretical troll lover.

She turned with everybody else as a tangible shift in awareness occurred. Sirius had stood up from his chair. He still looked worn, tired and morose, but his spine was straight and there was something of his characteristic arrogance on his features. He stared down his little brother from across the seemingly vast expanse that separated them, and there was a silence so complete Lavender was convinced that she was the only one breathing.

His head whipped around to glare at Hermione with fierce resentment. "If anything – anything – happens to anybody in this house because of him, it's on you."

"Sirius," Lily breathed from her chair in shock. Somehow, Lavender didn't think it was shock that he'd speak to Hermione that way.

He rotated his shoulders once, twice, and breathed out until he seemed to collapse in on himself. For such a large man, he suddenly looked alarmingly delicate. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and faced his brother again, face etched with heart-breaking sorrow. "I don't think you'd hurt us, not purposefully," he said quietly, "but you wouldn't be the first to destroy their family out of ambition or neglect." Then, to the room at large, "I have nothing against Reg's presence. Our family problems are family problems, not to do with the War effort."

Then he left, waving off James and Remus when they moved to go with him. Lily stretched her neck over the back of her chair to watch him go, before turning to her fiancé with a bemused expression. "What? I don't understand." she said to herself. Nobody explained anything.

"Are we done?" James asked, his jaw ticking. He remained stood halfway between the group and the door, turned slightly away. Remus was hovering behind him, his expression lost.

Hermione looked rather shaken herself, the blood in her face completely gone. "Er- yes?" she said finally, that commanding note from earlier having vanished. "Is he okay?"

"Does it matter to you?" Lily asked sharply. "I thought it was pretty clear who you preferred."

Another shadow crossed Hermione's face, and this time nobody bothered to hold her back. "Oh, go to Hell, Evans!" She spat. "I don't know where you get this idea that the world is all black and white, that emotions are so fragile they can turn on a frigging dime, but it's not bloody right. I don't owe you anything, and like Hell am I going to stand by while you pull your 'little girl lost' routine on me. What just happened, what I said – that wasn't personal. It doesn't mean I don't love Sirius, or I love him less, or any of that. This was about the bloody War; you know, the one that rages outside, the one where people are being tortured and dying every damn day, the one we came back to save you from?"

"Oi!" James shouted, his hackles visibly rising as he turned on Hermione in defence of his girlfriend. Lavender, seeing danger, was there before she even realised she'd decided to move. Remus was stood beside her, murmuring 'calm down, mate' at his friend, even as Lavender prepared to tear into James for threatening her friend.

"You think I don't understand the war?" Lily was screaming back. "I'm muggle-born! I grew up with the war! I've seen people killed, people dying. My friends and I have been targets since first year! I've seen things you couldn't comprehend, and yet you come into my house, tell me what to do, treating us like second-class citizens because 'oh, Hermione knows best'! Well, fuck you and the horse you rode in on, Hermione fucking Granger. You don't know shit."

Hermione, however, was on a roll. Her eyes flashing, the air cracking with power, she stood still in the one spot glaring at Lily, recognising even in her clouded state that moving would trigger something she wouldn't be able to take back. "Oh, I don't, do I?" she said in a deceptively light voice, cocking her head to one side, her eyes innocently wide. "I've not seen people killed, have I not? Never been tortured?" She wrenched up the sleeve that hid that gods-awful scar of hers, the one which could crawl into your soul and make you ache for days, make you consider every time you've thrown an unthinking slur at someone in anger, and turn that pain they felt back on you. Lavender always felt it like a punch in the gut, the memory of that one time in second year she and Parvati had laughed as Draco Malfoy had called Hermione a mudblood in the middle of the Charms corridor, so petty, simply because Hermione had told them to shut up the night before. The time in sixth year when she'd said the awful word herself, angry because Ron had left her to ask Hermione for help on his homework, precious, brilliant Hermione who had more Potions knowledge in her fingertip than Lavender had in her entire, vacuous head.

Lily's eyes flashed wide when she saw it. Hermione barely recognized the gesture, for she was snarling on. "I've lost friends in battle, so many of them. Seen small children taken down. Comforted their parents. I lost the man I loved in war, Ginny lost her brother, Luna was locked in a basement for months and months on end. Lavender lost her fucking flesh."

She shoved her sleeve back down so hard it yanked on the seams at her shoulder, and crossed her arms. Slowly, her power drew back into her, the air becoming less electrified. Her eyes still held a wealth of aggression, but her words were measured. "Listen to me, Lily Evans, and listen closely. I like you. I think you're a lovely person, with a kind heart and a brilliant mind. You were the mother of my best friend, and I do not discount that – he was a wonderful boy, and an even better man.

"However. I paid all of my debts to you when I gave my life up to protect him. I do not regret this choice, and I would – and am – doing it all again, and I'm certainly not here to hold it against you; I'm only pointing this out to ensure I'm making myself very, very clear." Her eyes sharpened into razors, drilling into Lily, who watched her closely, still prepared for a fight. Her face was purple against her red hair, which still allowed her to look fairly charming.

Ridiculous how some women could look good in any given situation.

Hermione was not done. Her voice was like whips, slashing through the air and landing with precision. "While, yes, you are all of those things, you are also a petty, self-absorbed little witch, and I do not have the time or the energy to pander to your whims. You have James for that. Remus and Sirius. Your other friends. I have, however, seen the long-term effects of being your obsequious little puppet and I can tell you with complete confidence that I will never, ever beg for your attention, or your forgiveness, for any action I might take that you may find issue with. While it would be nice if we were friends, because when you're not doing this you're genuinely wonderful, I have no gnawing urge to abase myself to you in order to be so.

"Now, I apologise most sincerely if our behaviour since we joined your household was something you found offensive. Please, feel free to discuss with me your issues and we shall see if we can come to an arrangement about it. Do be warned, though; if your issues stem from not being –" she cast about for a word, and Lavender grinned.

"Top bitch," she threw out there.

"Top bitch," Hermione said with a wry glance at Lavender. "If they stem from not being 'Top Bitch', then I reserve the right to ignore you. Are we done?"

"No, we are not-" James glared from behind his werewolf barricade. "Remus, move."

"Oh, get over yourself," Lavender scoffed. "It's about time she had a breakdown, it's just unfortunate that Lily was at the centre of it. Your woman is perfectly fine. Maybe her ego's a little bruised, but that's what you get when you've sheltered someone their whole life and they suddenly get exposed to the real world." She raised a wry eyebrow. "Honestly, she was asking for it. Who in their right mind challenges a mummy bear on her love for her cubs? She might as well have spat in a Hippogriff's face."

James turned his face to her, showing her the roiling anger that boiled there. She just shrugged.

Like she said – self-preservation button severely on the blink.

"You won't hit a girl," she snapped. "Now take your pretty little girlfriend and fuck off to lick your wounds. We'll see you when we're all a bit calmer, won't we?"

She stepped back to allow him through. He sent a blistering glare at Hermione, but grabbed for Lily. Lily turned to Hermione and scowled. "I am not petty," she whined, sounding very much like Lavender herself when she was in a mood.

Hermione just cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah, sure. Tell that to Snape."

And then they were gone, the door slamming shut behind her. Hermione twisted around to face Remus, who once again looked rather abandoned. Lavender was so glad she'd gotten over that 'I want to be liked' phase, because Remus did look terribly torn. It couldn't be easy to choose between your mates and your Mate.

She snickered quietly at her own joke.

"I rather think you know where you're needed right now, Remus." Hermione said softly, with an apologetic smile. He looked at her, worrying his lip between his teeth. Gods, there was such a wealth of emotion there, it was a miracle either of them had time for anything else when their beasts were so damn busy pining. Was that what meeting your other half was like? If it was, she didn't really fancy it. Going googly-eyed over a lad stopped being acceptable two years ago.

"Sorry," he said finally, and with a nod to everybody else, followed in his friends' footsteps. Hermione walked behind him to the door and warded it closed, before turning around to the rest of them, her arms crossed across her chest as though it was the only thing keeping her together. The consequences of wielding that sort of temper did not pass her by - already she seemed to crumple, regret staining her features. Ginny rushed over to fold her in her arms, and they clung to one another gratefully.

Lavender looked over at Luna, and their eyes locked. "Well."

"That went better than I expected." Luna replied guilelessly. She rocked her head back onto Regulus's knee, who had apparently been forgotten in the commotion, and smiled triumphantly up at him. "Welcome to the family."

Chapter Text

It was quiet in the library, the other men having left. He wasn't sure how long it had been but he'd remained unobtrusive, in the background, respecting their moment of peace, while Hermione tried to work through what she'd just done. He was a patient person, but the hour was getting late and he was very tired, so eventually he spoke.

"'The one we came back to save you from'," Regulus said, his voice breaking through the silence. His eyes were fixed on Hermione, who was huddled on a chair with Ginny wrapped around her like a security blanket. She glanced up at his words, frowning.

"Excuse me?"

He tipped his head, one finger tapping out a beat on the arm of his chair. "That's what you said to Evans. The one we came back to save you from." There was a pause as horrified recognition flared in Hermione's eyes. "Came back from where?" He asked smoothly, his voice completely level.

Luna, who was still sat at his feet – which made him vaguely uncomfortable in a 'this is weirdly submissive' way, rather than a 'why is the stranger touching me' way, which in turn unnerved him even more – turned to lay her cheek on his thigh and gaze up at him. He determinedly shoved away all of the mental images that came with that tiny motion, instead cocking an eyebrow haughtily. "Well?"

"1999," Luna hummed. "It was a good year. You'd have liked it. Voldemort was dead, the Wizengamot was being dismantled and the Snufflops were mating. They only mate once a decade, you know."

"1999," he repeated sceptically, turning his eyes to the other girls. He didn't know what a Snufflop was, but he doubted it was real. If he'd learned anything over the past day it was that Luna really was quite odd.

And then of course there was all that information he'd managed to glean from Hermione and Lily's argument. He couldn't count that – yet – on account of not understanding a word of it.

He would, though. Soon.

1999 seemed a bit far-fetched even for Luna. Time-travel simply didn't work that way. Not that it was a particular project of his, but he'd read the research. He knew of Eloise Mintumble and her ill-fated experiment. These girls were here, interacting with the world, controlling the world, and that simply wasn't possible with time-travel. Time was a loop, self-correcting. Things could only happen if they had already happened, which would make their entire trip pointless, even if they were from the future.

But some of the things they'd said…

No. He wasn't going there. He was a logical man, he couldn't subscribe to ludicrous ideas such as this.

The women didn't seem to get the message, however. Ginny was nodding solemnly, and Hermione was looking pained. Luna was the only one with any measure of composed nonchalance, playing with his fingertips.

He was quickly learning that he couldn't leave anything within touching distance of Luna if he wanted it to go unmolested.

"That's not possible," he said aloud, realising he hadn't actually responded to the statement, and it seemed that the others were formulating their attack around his opinion. Hermione eyed him for a long moment, before saying;

"You're right, of course. It's not possible." She smiled widely and stood up. "Guess that's us done, then. See you tomorrow-"

"Sit back down." Ginny said, rolling her eyes. She grabbed Hermione's hand in what looked like a painfully tight grip and yanked once on her arm until the other girl over-balanced and collapsed onto the sofa. "It's possible," this she addressed to Regulus. "We've done it. I don't know how or why, but we have, and we're here. We're not leaving, either. Our reality is gone, shattered to the wind, and all we can do now is make the best of the new one."

"Which is a real pity," Lavender piped up. She was still on the settee she'd occupied since the beginning of the meeting, her legs spread over the back, shoulders on the seat, head hanging off the edge. "Considering how I wasn't a werewolf in that one, and how in this one my fiancé is not even a foetus." Catching Ginny's acidic look, Lavender closed her eyes and sighed. "I was just making a point."

Ginny waved the interruption off, but Regulus continued to watch Lavender. She was an odd sort of girl, extraordinarily pretty if it weren't for the mangled flesh that coated her face, arms and legs. He could only assume it was present on her torso, too, but he couldn't see that in the clothes she was wearing. Her hair was bright gold, voluminous, tangled and braided, and she spoke with an eloquence that belied her actual words. Her personality, from what he'd seen, was crass and self-absorbed, though there was an almost Hufflepuff-ian sense of loyalty hidden beneath her Gryffindor aggression. While he'd seen and knew of the other three girls's assets; the ones which would, he supposed, make them perfect for an inter-time mission to save the world (if that was what this was – he still had his doubts) he couldn't quite see where this other girl fit.

She was a conundrum.

"We arrived just over a month ago," Ginny was saying. "It's a long story, but the gist of it is that this trip was entirely accidental. Well…" she glanced at Luna. "At least, we rather thought it was. Until… some things came to light.

"Anyway," Ginny shook her head as if to clear it. "We're from the future. And we're going to take down Voldemort – sorry," Ginny winced along with Regulus when a spike of pain radiated up from his Mark to vibrate down his spine. He couldn't hold back the glare. "I forget about … yeah."

Hermione huffed, still looking irritated that he was learning anything at all. Which was ridiculous, considering how the other inhabitants of the house must know much more than the spare information they were giving him, and all of them Gryffindors, a notoriously unreliable bunch. "We were told there was a weapon," Regulus informed them, thinking that perhaps a little quid-pro-quo would get them to loosen up. "About a month ago, He informed us that the Potters, and therefore the Order, had received a weapon from the Fates. I assume that's you."

Ignoring the scoffing coming from Hermione's corner, Luna nodded. "That's the theory we're running with," Ginny said. "It would explain our ability to change things, at the very least."

Regulus took a moment to contemplate this. It was a feasible explanation, he thought. All the more easy for him to subscribe to given his upbringing. Many pureblood families were into the 'Gods' thing, choosing a patron from one of the Pantheons and running with it. There were rituals and sacrifices and whole days and events given to the Gods, to the belief that they existed and interfered with mortal life. It wasn't so far off to suggest they might meddle in a war – though he didn't see why they would.

"He's immortal," Luna murmured. He glanced down to see her staring up at him, solemn as though she had heard his thoughts. "He's meddled in the Fates' realm. You must know how much the Fates abhor interference."

"In the stories they just curse people," he replied, his brow scrunched up in thought. "Whole generations or bloodlines. They don't actively displace whole groups of mortals through time."

"They do now," Luna said with finality, as though her words were law. The other girls were nodding. Regulus studied them all for a moment more – Hermione, tired and drawn after her earlier fight; Ginny, looking like she'd happily jump off the nearest cliff if only it would solve anything; Lavender, bored and sleepy; and Luna, curled up in the cradle of his legs, only half-connected to the world. Their speech patterns while they were explaining things to him were, upon reflection, discordant and exhausted. Hermione had kept her mouth shut because she was struggling to keep her eyes open, and Ginny's voice had borne all signs of strain. Lavender was seconds away from falling asleep, only keeping herself in the land of the living by fixing her pansy-purple eyes on him.

Many of his house would take this moment to prod and push, for people have fewer protections when they are tired, but he was in need of their protection. Manipulation, while effective in the moment, would only lead to distrust and distrust was the last thing he could afford right then. Besides, if he quit now while he was ahead, he could use the time to dissect the information he'd gleaned from their argument.

He put on a tired mask of his own, looking across at Hermione. "Can we pick this up tomorrow, please?" He asked in his most polite voice, his Guest voice. Her eyes flared open with relief, and she pushed up off of the sofa with a smile.

"Of course. Dorea had the elves set up a room for you – it'll be Lavender's old one, back near the boys."

"What?" Lavender suddenly came to life, her mouth falling open. "They've kicked me out of my room?"

Hermione twitched her nose as she shook her head, rolling her eyes while her back was to Lavender. "Not 'kicked you out', only moved you. Closer to us."

"Dorea says that while we're adults, she wasn't going to encourage any 'hanky-panky' between unmarried couples under her roof," Ginny snorted as she climbed to her own feet, a little wobblily. "Like we don't know that she knows that James and Lily get it on like rabbits."

"I don't appreciate the insinuation that I'm anything other than perfectly respectable," Lavender sniffed, in what Regulus thought was a fair impression of Hermione. "I'm not the one sniffing around wolf-boys genitalia. I'm not the one indulging in snark-tastic foreplay with the most notorious playboy of the generation. And I'm not the one attached to Mini-Black like a bloody limpet!"

"Ignore her," Ginny said, guiding Regulus from the room – admittedly, with Luna still attached firmly to his side, though he would reject the limpet analogy – and down the hall. "She's touchy when she's not getting laid."

"I heard that, Ginevra!"

"Would that Lavender's quick temper be our only problem," Hermione hummed from Luna's other side. "Sadly, there is much more to deal with. And it appears I've alienated half of our assets."

"They'll get over it," Ginny assured her, flipping her hair.

"I doubt that," Hermione murmured. "Lily Evans can hold a grudge like no other."

"Well, it's either forgive you or die horribly at the hand of Lord – well, you know. I think getting over herself is a small price to pay."

Hermione made a noncommittal noise and stopped before a door. She turned to Regulus with a smile. "Right, this is you. The family wing is two doors down, we're on the other side of the library. Ginny runs fitness sessions every morning at six, if you want to join in, otherwise you'll often find me in the library. The elves serve breakfast from half-seven onwards in the dining room, though they'll bring food to the Morning Room if you're so inclined."

"Almost like a hotel," he said, to lighten the mood.

Ginny grinned. "Yeah, a hotel, only everybody in it is the exact opposite of relaxed, the staff are super hostile, and there's no room-service." Cocking her head, she clarified, "unless you get furry once a month. In which case, Hermione's only too happy to play nurse-maid." Grinning and ignoring Hermione's aghast gasp, she leaned closer to whisper conspiratorially; "Werewolf fetish, you know? One too many romance novels when she was in school, I reckon."

"Ginny!" Hermione snapped, her face purple as she smacked the redhead on the arm. Regulus raised an eyebrow sardonically in her direction, to which, maturely, she stuck out her tongue. "Don't you start," she rolled her eyes with genuine affection, as if they'd been friends for years. The sight knocked him off guard for long enough for them to usher him into his room and slip back out of the door, Hermione grabbing Luna around the waist as she went. "Sleep well!" Hermione chimed.

"I'll be here for you at six!" Ginny added with a cheeky grin, and the door closed behind them.

Regulus looked around the room. Large, airy, bright with candlelight even though the sun was setting. The opposite of his room at home, but welcoming even for that. His trunk was set at the base of the bed, Castor chirping merrily at the sight of him from his perch on the wardrobe. Regulus fed him a treat through the bars, scolding himself for doing so even as it happened. He really did spoil that bird.

Well, he thought, glancing around, taking in the faint scent of female that lingered even after the deep cleaning, glancing at his view. This is my life now.

He pulled up the cuff of his robes to examine the Mark on his arm. Still there. Still bold. Still entirely, disgustingly Dark. He could feel it infecting his blood, his flesh, his magic. He was tied to the Dark Lord through blood and bone, and the only way to rid himself of the obligation was to kill him.

He could do that. Not alone, but with a team, maybe. Even if that team was querulous, ill-suited to one another, with undertones of disdain and resentment. A gang of misfits, half of whom travelled accidentally back through time to take on the responsibility, the other half adopted in like scruffy strays. Two werewolves. Two muggleborns. One girl who was quite clearly a Weasley. Hardly the crack team he'd have chosen, were he in charge, but oddly, they fit.

He wondered what Severus was doing right then. Whether he was safe, sleeping, or whether he'd been Called. He wondered about his mother, who was hardly much of anything anymore but whom he still loved. He wondered about Kreacher, who would no doubt be alerted any minute now to his disappearance.

One finger traced the outline of the Mark. Looking at it was hard but he forced himself to, had been doing that every night for the last few months. A way of facing up to his mistakes, to the ones he's made and the ones he'll continue making. A symbol of where he'd gone wrong and exactly how far he'd go to make it right.

It might not be too bad, here. Sirius… well. They'd patch things up or they wouldn't. The women were nice, if a bit intimidating. They had faith in him to do what was right.

He couldn't remember the last time someone had had faith in him.

It felt nice.

He wouldn't let them down.

Chapter Text

It was nearing dawn, the world outside of the house still living in peaceful slumber, the darkness like a comforting blanket. Grimmauld Place shivered and groaned, but stood proud even after the onslaught it had experienced when the Dark Wizards had smashed their way through its formidable wards. There was a sense that the visitors were unwelcome, seeming to vibrate from the very walls, but it was not malicious nor dangerous, so they ignored it.

They were congregated in the Lady's Parlour at the front of the house, where the Dark Lord himself had brought them. The lady of the house was there, curled in an armchair. She didn't flinch when they'd broken in, only staring at them dolefully for the wilful destruction of her property. Walburga Black didn't do much at all, nowadays, sick as she was. Nobody knew which had come first, the insanity or the deterioration, but all were aware that Walburga was worse than useless now.

That did not prevent the Dark Lord from questioning her, however.

"What do you mean, 'he's gone'?" Lord Voldemort asked in a silky tone. Walburga turned her head to look at him, a maniacal smile fitted onto her face, a face so stiff from years of disapproval that the flesh stretched grotesquely over her skin; a horror. Where had her looks gone, Severus idly wondered. What happened to the proud woman he'd met seven years ago, so handsome and strong?

"Gone." She reiterated, her voice trembling with supressed… something. "Gone, gone, gone. They're all gone." She threw her head back, cackling to the ceiling. "The house of Black, desolate and crumbling. There's only Kreacher and I left now!"

The Dark Lord let out a hiss of anger. "Where?"

"Who knows?" Walburga's dim, lifeless eyes rolled in their sockets. She was dying. It was clear from the pallor of her skin, the loss of weight; she sat before them skeleton-like, flesh dripping off of her bones as though it were melting away before their very eyes. "Killed, probably. That – that – Dumbledore. He always hated us."

"He – is – not – dead," The Dark Lord gritted out, glaring at Walburga with disgust. They had been contemporaries, Severus remembered idly. She was only a year older than him. And yet, here Walburga sat, shrivelling to dust, while Riddle was more beautiful and powerful than ever. It was odd how things worked out. "I would know if he were dead."

"So would I," she replied, nodding sagely, bone grating against bone disturbing the stillness of the air. "And he is dead. Gone. I can feel it, here." She lay a spindly hand against one withered breast, the rings she wore obscene in their sumptuous wealth when she held them against her desiccated body.

"HE IS NOT DEAD!" The Dark Lord roared, leaning close to the woman so that his spittle flecked her face. She did not flinch, gazing obstinately into his face – or what would have been obstinate, were she not so terribly vague. "He is hiding from me," he whispered, his face only an inch from hers, their noses almost touching. "You will tell me where he is, hag, before I burn your precious house down around your ears!"

Another tinny laugh was released from her mouth, her eyes fixed on his chin as though it were awfully interesting. Severus fought down a chill. She was insane – entirely and completely. There was nothing of the once-formidable matriarch left in this shell, only a spirit with similar mannerisms and a familiar face. Empty, he thought her, and tried to battle back the nausea she elicited. He was here because the Dark Lord wished him to see what would happen if he were found to be harbouring Regulus. His job was to stand back and watch, never moving, no matter what he deigned to do to Walburga. She was his third visit this day – Severus had come first, as Regulus's closest friend. The Dark Lord had kindly fixed him up after his own 'questioning' in order to allow him to observe the other interrogations. Then, he had visited Lucius, who now laid at home overcoming the effects of the Dark Lord's Cruciatus.

It didn't look like Walburga Black would be surviving this encounter.

"My sons are dead," she murmured softly. "All gone."

The Dark Lord did not give her another opportunity to defy him.

As they turned to admire the flames from the park opposite the house, the Dark Lord spoke again. "We must return to Malfoy Manor," he drawled, a smirk playing at his lips when screams began to emerge from the neighbouring muggle residences.

Bellatrix Lestrange, stood at the front of the group, conducting the flames with her wand, scowled fiercely. "Why, my Lord?" Her voice, Severus could have told her, was not compliant enough. Not trusting enough. He would not take it in the spirit it was meant – curiosity, to the Dark Lord, was defiance.

Predictably, He reached out and grabbed a hunk of her hair, yanking backwards until she stumbled and fell into the mud at his feet. "You think to question me?" his voice remained level, almost pleasant.

"No, my Lord, I apologise, my Lord," Bellatrix grovelled, not moving from the mud, her eyes peering up at the Dark Lord with slavish devotion. Severus, not wishing to watch her display, turned his attention to the fire. 12 Grimmauld Place had been consumed, a darkened husk remaining as the flames spread through neighbouring houses in search of fuel. He tried not to consider Walburga Black, her corpse the human version of the house, blackened and singed, the fire feeding off of her flesh until all that was left was her diminutive frame.

Severus often wondered at exactly which point he became disenchanted with the Dark Lord's cause. Perhaps it had been then, as he watched the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black turn to ashes, while Lord Voldemort watched on in apparent victory. There had been near a thousand years of history kept in that house. If the walls could talk, they would have told stories of the many great wizards who had lived in those halls, Dark and Light alike. Artefacts the like of which Voldemort, with his lack of true magical and cultural knowledge, would never appreciate but many scholars would kill for had been destroyed in that fire. The pureblood tradition, so proudly upheld by members of the House of Black, had been destroyed.

How could one follow a leader who toes the line of the pureblood dichotomy by day while destroying their history, their people, their culture and their beliefs by night?

If many of his followers had not been insane, they also would have left at the first sign of any such atrocity. Sadly, there were too many like Bellatrix – fanatics who would lay their wands at the feet of any man who would allow their bloodlust to slip its leash.

"You are forgiven, my pet," the Dark Lord hummed, still admiring his handiwork.

His lips tipped up at the corner as he tilted his face to the sky, revelling in the screams of muggles as they flooded the streets, mothers carrying newborns into the cold, dark night and watching their worlds burn down, university students gawping in half-drunk, half-hungover shock as their flats are gutted by that most volatile of elements.

The Dark Lord took all of this in with an air of complete satisfaction, his fingers flicking as he locked the occasional door and watched the fallout from it as the people trapped inside trampled one another to reach windows which blew outwards in lethal shards of glass from the heat.

Eventually, he turned back to them all, the line which consisted of Severus, Mulciber and Rabastan Lestrange, stood silently watching the destruction. Hiding their true thoughts, their screaming rejection of the scene they had just witnessed, behind thick Occlumentic walls. "To Malfoy Manor," he repeated, a terrifying grin spread over a face that seemed even brighter than it had before all of the killing, as though the premature taking of someone's life rejuvenated him somehow. "I find myself in need of a House-Elf."

Chapter Text

Hermione sat on the doorstep outside of the kitchen exit, her bare feet buried deep in the grass, staring off into the middle distance. It was early – much too early for her to be out – and cold, a biting chill she barely noticed other than to think it seemed suitable, what with her mood being so dark, hung in the air. There was nothing much to see in the inky blackness but for the silhouette of the woods, the occasional mouse rustling through the grass, and an owl or two flying overhead. Occasionally some small creature would wander up to her and carry out it's own investigation; a toad whose resting place she'd usurped, a wild Niffler that left disappointed when it realised she wore no jewellery, and a vole. The latest woodland detective had taken a shine to her and stayed, not that she noticed. It was a hedgehog, which played in the grass three feet away, contracting and releasing itself from its spiky little ball, turning beady eyes on Hermione occasionally as if the show were for her singular benefit. It wriggled its little paws in the air, flipping onto its front as she stared into the night. It let out a miniscule huff, toddling on its tiny feet over to gaze up into her face.

"Hmm," she sighed deeply, startling the tiny creature such that it constricted itself once more into a spiky ball. She shifted on her legs, head cupped in her palms.

It had been two days since The Confrontation, and she was in a near-perpetual state of self-doubt. She wouldn't say she regretted the things she'd said, per-se, only the way she'd said them. Often she'd find herself going over and over the scene in her head, finding places where she could have tweaked it to be less offensive, or more sympathetic. She'd not wanted to alienate the whole lot of the Potter clan, after all, only make Lily understand. But she'd definitely gone about it the wrong way, so badly that perhaps she'd broken a bond which would prove necessary over the coming weeks – and that failure would be on her head.

Then she'd realise what she was doing and get angry at herself all over again, going on long rants in her head about how it was the right thing to do, and she shouldn't be so hard on herself, and how Lily would get over it. Until she remembered Lily's propensity for holding grudges over the silliest of slights. It was a vicious cycle, spinning on and on, up to the point that she no longer realised she was doing it. Just that morning she'd been laid awake in bed, going over it again, half-conscious, until Lavender had slammed into the room and attempted to smother her with a pillow.

Apparently, she'd been talking aloud. She hadn't noticed.

It was eating her up, though. The atmosphere in the Manor had been strained for the past few days, understandably, with Lily tactlessly vacating rooms as one of them entered, or glaring at Hermione across the dinner table. James at her side, the stalwart protector, casting Hermione as the Wicked Witch, out to destroy his pretty bride. She shouldn't let it get to her, but she couldn't help it. She'd always had the failing that she wants to be liked, while at the same time refused to compromise her personality in order to be so.

If only she could fix this, because it wasn't just affecting her, not anymore. Lily had stopped training with Ginny, and Ginny was less perky because of it. Sirius was still distancing himself from Regulus, which in turn infuriated Luna, and while she couldn't take all the credit for that she certainly hadn't helped it with her little tirade. And Remus, whom she'd only kissed hours before the Confrontation, was now avoiding her eye, standing staunchly with his Marauders.

Only Lavender remained untouched by the drama, and Hermione thought maybe it was because she didn't care enough to let it get to her. She still swanned around like she owned the place, all sarcastic commentary and witty banter. The only sign of stress she showed was that her clothes had gotten progressively louder in colour, as if she was purposefully drawing their attention to her, to the point where Hermione was pretty sure she brightened them up with a spell every time she left a room. Sunshine yellows and hot-pinks were her current favourites, the yellow so glaring as to blind them, the pink verging on Umbridge-ey. She was making a point, but nobody seemed sure what it was.

There was a clattering behind her, bringing her back to the present as the door opened. Her little hedgehog pal bolted with a squeak, lunging for the woodland which encroached ever more on the Potter land. There were footsteps and a pair of trainers appeared in Hermione's peripheral, lime-green with black stripes. Ginny dropped herself to the steps beside her with a huff, folding pale arms across her chest to battle the pre-dawn chill.

Together, they watched the sun edge over the horizon, spilling gold light across the acreage, gilding the trees. Hermione lifted her face to the light, allowing the delicate heat to warm her, the magnificence of the sunrise to make her feel small; insignificant. Helping her to feel balanced, despite the chaos that surrounded her. Her worries didn't feel nearly so large when she faced the sun in all of its glory, watched the cycle of life spin. The only sounds for a little while were those of the birds waking up, the nocturnal creatures scurrying to bed, and each other's breathing. After a while, though, Ginny spoke.

"You're moping," she said gently, and Hermione scoffed half-heartedly.

"We're at war. There's no time for moping," she rebuffed, but in her head recognized that that was exactly what she had been doing. It was foolish of her, too. They had too much to be getting on with to be concerned with petty arguments. That view only worked, however, if the other side thought so too. They didn't, and Hermione certainly wasn't going to be the one to remind them of their obligations. She'd been the bad guy enough for one week.

For a year.

They fell silent again, listening to the birds whistling in the trees, feeling a soft breeze pick up and play against their skin. Ginny's fingers crept over and linked through Hermione's, and she felt like she could let go. Release some of her burden. So she did.

Ginny's arms were out to catch her, and they huddled together, listening to the elves work in the kitchen behind them. She didn't cry, she'd done enough of that, but it was cathartic in its own way. Just Ginny's indomitable strength surrounding her, her friendship assured, no matter what ridiculous things Hermione might do or say. There was no pressure here. Only two girls, who knew each other inside-out, liking what they saw.


 

 


Tense.

That was how Ginny would describe the past two days. It was as though the string that connected them all together had been stretched to breaking point, and they were all just waiting for it to snap.

Hermione had lived in a state of constant self-flagellation – her default setting appearing to be miserable and pessimistic, as she repeatedly beat herself up with imaginary consequences to the (completely necessary, if you asked Ginny) actions she'd taken. She barely spoke, buried herself in research, stayed away from meals until she was too hungry to refrain. Ginny was certain she'd barely slept, too – her brain was too busy to allow it, and Lavender, with her enhanced hearing and her bedroom next to Hermione, was getting frustrated herself.

The whole situation was, to her mind, ridiculously unfair. After all, all Hermione ever seemed to do was try and make life better, easier, for the rest of them. She wore the weight of the world on her shoulders, and it had been so long since she'd looked completely relaxed (if you ignored the two hours of happiness she'd had just before the meeting, which Ginny did, otherwise she might get very angry that her best friend had been so close to happiness only to be dragged back once again and who knows who she might end up taking it out on).

She was not the only person to see it as a problem, either. After watching Hermione run herself ragged at school for seven years in service to two men who never seemed to appreciate her, Lavender seemed to gather just enough team spirit at the sight of her back-slide that she was angry too. And after two days of watching the girl wear herself to the bone from the sidelines, she and Lavender had decided to do something about it.

So, after depositing Hermione back in her room, Ginny picked up Lavender (who was awake and ready, a miracle in itself) and together they headed to the family wing, to beard the lion in his den.

Ginny liked teaming up with Lavender, she really did. Even in school when, admittedly, Lavender had been a bit of an airhead, Ginny had liked her. When Ron had announced their engagement Ginny had been overjoyed – and had to admit to a twinge of satisfaction, too, that her brother wouldn't be marrying Hermione. It wasn't that she had anything against Hermione, no, not at all, only that a blind person could see that they wouldn't make a good couple, especially with Hermione so uninterested in romance, as she had been back then. Ron would touch her and she'd bear it, rather than welcome it. The sight was painful enough to watch, she couldn't fathom how awful being in the relationship must have been.

Lavender, on the other hand, would have made a perfect sister-in-law. She was the exact opposite of Hermione, which in Ginny's mind made her perfect for Ron – loud where Hermione was quiet, self-absorbed where Hermione was selfless, inept where Hermione was intelligent. She was the sort of wife Ron could look after, rather than feel emasculated by, and that was what he had needed. Plus, she'd loved him. She still did. It was often visible in her eyes, the ghost of her love for Ron, the one thing preventing her from fully connecting to this time and these people. Despite her loudness and laughter, she still suffered. Ginny loved her ever more each time she saw it.

The two girls had originally grown closer over the course of their respective engagements, to the point that her mum had been pushing for a double wedding, except that Lavender railed against that idea ("Are you insane, Mrs. Weasley? Why in the name of all the Gods would I want to share my special day?!") and Ginny had watched her grow, toughen and soften at the same time, to become the person she was today. And while they had their moments of contention, as two women so similar were wont to do, it was still nice to come together on these rare occasions as a team. It felt like old times, with her balancing Lavender's forthright, quasi-violent nature with the patience that came of having six brothers, and Lavender moderating Ginny's often hair-trigger temper.

Lavender knocked, because Ginny didn't trust herself not to punch through the door, so mad she still was from comforting a broken Hermione. It was a good knock, polite but demanding, and Ginny wondered whether she'd put some magic into it or if it was just the force of her personality echoing through her movements. There was a shuffling inside and it swung open, revealing a scowling James Potter.

"Morning, Bambi," Lavender chirped pleasantly, while Ginny stuck her foot in the door, forseeing his attempt to slam it in their faces. "Mind if we chat?"

"What do you want?" he demanded, not inviting them in. Ginny was inclined to think that was rude. They, after all, were not the ones who tore his girlfriend into little bite-size pieces.

"World peace, chocolate-chip pancakes and the entire works of Madonna on CD, but that's not going to happen, so I'll accept you telling your girlfriend to take that stick out of her arse instead." Lavender flashed him a charming smile. "You know, since you asked."

His face flushed purple with anger in mere seconds, and he tried to slam the door again. Ginny fought back a wince as her foot got smashed into the doorframe. Painful. "Will you stop that?" Ginny snapped, smacking the door open with her hand. "That hurts!"

"Nobody told you to put your foot there!" James replied indignantly. "I'm not going to do what you want, so you might as well leave."

"Look, Potter," Ginny tried, her voice level, face serious. "I know she's your fiancée, and you love her, but even you can admit that some of what Hermione said was true – oh, no, you don't!" she shoved her shoulder against the door to keep it open, glaring at James when he went to push it forward. "Just – fucking – hear us out!" The door slammed against the wall and James scowled at them, but released it in order to step back. She took his lack of further attempts to chuck them out as acquiescence, which was probably pushing it a bit, but worked for her purposes so she wasn't going to let the opportunity get past her.

Ginny took a deep breath to moderate her voice before she continued. "You love her, I get that. You're a man. All that testosterone in your head makes you go all fuzzy about women who look at you for protection – I understand. But what you need to get is that while you want to keep her all innocent and lily-white, it's not possible. Her naivete will get her, or one of us, killed."

He jerked his chin forward. "Hermione was out of line, saying the things she did."

Sighing, she let herself slump a little. "She could have said it better, yes. She shouldn't have shouted. She understands that – don't look at me like that, she does. She's a fucking person, James Potter, with emotions. She's not just your bloody – never mind, we're not here about that." More deep breaths, while James looked supremely sceptical.

"There's nothing wrong with Lily the way she is." James said with the stubbornness of a man who had loved a woman through her formative years. Ginny could place a bet that he completely overlooked the faults in her personality. She could have handed him hard evidence of Lily's bitchier side and he'd still think she was perfect, as long as it didn't happen in front of him. "Her uncompromising goodness is part of what makes her Lily."

"We're not saying she has to go Dark," Ginny huffed. "We're just saying she needs to open her eyes. See what's actually in the world rather than what she has decided is out there."

"I don't understand what you mean. Lily's not blind. She knows there are bad people out there." James said. There was, to his credit, a hint of perplexity in the midst of his now wavering certainty.

Ginny folded her arms, resisting the urge to tap her foot in impatience. "Yes, bad people. Evil people. That's not the problem. The problem is that she sees it all as a five-year-old might, without any nuance or consideration of context. She sees the Big Bad Wolf and the Wicked Witch of the West, not people. There's a difference – people can make mistakes. People can do bad things and still be good, and a bad person can do good things. Abraxas Malfoy – a known Death Eater – donates ludicrous amounts of money to the Children's Wing at St. Mungo's. Augusta Longbottom, the pinnacle of light magic, once almost killed a person in a duel when her anger overcame her. Lily doesn't get that, which is a problem."

"Lily doesn't-"

"Alright, Antlers; here's how it is," Lavender interrupted with the air of someone making a great personal sacrifice. "You love Lily. Well, goodie for you. We love Hermione. She's done more for us than you know and she always deals with the consequences, and let's face it, they're mostly bad. I have no problem telling you that I hate her, sometimes."

"How is this supposed to help?" Ginny hissed, but Lavender waved her off.

"The thing about Hermione, though, is that she's loyal as a dog, and has no sense of self-preservation. She's sacrificed herself over and over on the altar of the Greater Good, no matter the cost. Most of her time in school was spent in seclusion because people shunned her for the choices she made – good choices, choices that saved people's lives. Hermione is everything that is good in the world, no matter how bossy she is, or how stuck-up she can seem."

Lavender flipped her hair back over one shoulder, the mass of gold bouncing about, pink, purple and blue ribbons dancing through the air as it moved. Her eyes became hard, and there was no trace of Lavender's usual bonhomie in her face as she spoke next.

"I won't let you and your girlfriend destroy her, James Potter, just because you don't want to face the truth. It's not happening. What you need to do – that's right, need – is get over this. Move on. Because while I might not like Hermione – hell, I might hate her – I also love her, and I will protect her to my last breath. If anybody deserves your forgiveness, it is her."

She stopped, and cocked her head. "Plus, you know, she's totally in love with Lupin, and he's ignoring her because you and Lily are in a mood, and it's breaking her heart. Fix that, too, while you're at it. There's a good lad."

Nodding at him once, she turned around and swept from the room. Ginny followed on her heels, stifling her urge to take a look back, to see the look on James's face. She wasn't sure if he'd gotten the message, whether what they'd said would help or hinder their case, but going back certainly wouldn't help. The door slammed shut behind them, Ginny feeling the rush of air against her back when it happened. Lavender seemed unbothered. "I've never met a bunch of people so arrogant in my entire life," she mused as they moved along to their next destination, effectively breaking the tension.

"I know. Doesn't it just feel like home?" Ginny deadpanned.

Lavender shot her a scathing look, but otherwise ignored the comment. "I begin to understand why Snape hated them all so much."

Ginny snorted a startled laugh. "Merlin, there's something I never thought I'd hear you say. Sympathising with Snape? Who are you and what have you done with Lavender?"

She smirked out of the corner of her mouth. "Oh, I know. I mean, I've started to wonder that myself. It's crazy - last night I even dreamed of him."

"Snape? As in, Professor Severus Snape?" She edged closer, lowering her voice to a whisper out of some insane fear that Hermione might be lurking around the corner, prepared and waiting with a hex on her lips in the event that someone insults a teacher. "Greasy dungeon bat, Severus Snape?"

"Yeah. Don't pull that face, it wasn't anything sexy. Get your mind out of the gutter." Lavender paused, shaking her head with a laugh as Ginny snapped her mouth shut. "I dreamed he was telling me my potion was 'passable'. That's it. The extent of the dream. Do you think I'm going mad?"

"Don't ask me," Ginny shrugged, still a bit dazed. "I never liked Divination, it was always your strong suit. Bit of a disappointing dream, though. If your subconscious is going to subject you to him, it could have at least been something genuinely scarring. Dodgy detentions, trading sexual favours for grades, and what-not."

"Oh – what is wrong with you?" Lavender demanded, slapping Ginny on the shoulder as she stopped walking.

"You're right," she nodded. "The sexual favours thing – entirely unrealistic. Nobody would believe that you had managed to scrape an 'A' in Potions, never mind an 'O'. Talk about wanting to get caught." She couldn't help a wink, even as Lavender smacked her again, face aghast.

"You're a dirty girl, Ginevra Weasley! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"

Ginny shrugged. "Well, no. Not anymore."

Lavender blushed a little, the sight so shocking it stopped Ginny in her tracks. "Merlin, I'm sorry," she said. "Sometimes I forget that I'm not the only one who left things behind – people, you know?"

"That's alright," she leaned her forehead against Lavender's shoulder for a second, letting herself relax and release the grief that sometimes crept up on her with a suddenness it froze her. She didn't cry – she wasn't a big crier, not since fifth year – but she wobbled for a brief moment, inhaling Lavender's unique scent of cut flowers and petrichor. There was a layer of something vaguely canine beneath it, but far from off-putting, it rather reminded Ginny of softness, safety and calm. It seemed inordinately comforting, for a girl who wasn't generally disposed to comfort. "Carry on, anyway. You had this entirely appropriate dream about ol' Snapey, and you wanted to know what it meant, whether you were going mad. Which, if you ask me, seems like a bit of an overreaction to a dream, but to each their own."

Lavender dithered for a moment, and Ginny could tell she was caught between wanting to talk about herself – which was always her first instinct, if Ginny was honest – and the unfamiliar urge to maybe hug Ginny, or offer some sort of reassurance. Ginny was not at all in the mood for that, so she moved just out of reach and waved her hand in an encouraging manner, raising an eyebrow with impatience. Lavender rolled her eyes, but continued her tale. "I looked it up in my copy of The Dream Oracle. It didn't help, useless waste of sodding paper. Apparently I'm craving approval from a hostile source, or whatever. Load of rubbish. I've never craved anything from Snape and that's not likely to change. I mean, come on. With that nose?"

"You know he's around somewhere," Ginny said, thinking. "Hermione wants to recruit him."

"That foul-tempered old git? What for?"

"He's very clever," Ginny hummed in consideration. "Astute. Brilliant with potions, and he always was a great spy."

"Great. Let's roll out the welcome mat, shall we? At this rate there won't be room for my troll."

"What-" She blinked in confusion, only to be brushed off. Which was fine, considering she needed the moment to rid her mind of the truly disturbing image her troll comment had generated.

"Nothing. Here we are." She knocked again, leaning against the wood. "I don't know why we bother knocking, he knows we're here. Maybe he even understands why I was so mad when he was loitering around outside of my room, now. Do you, Remus? Do you understand?"

"Nobody understands you, Lavender." Ginny said, then turned to the door. "Maybe he's not in."

"I'm in," came a voice from behind the door. "I'm just…"

"He's naked," Lavender said in a stage whisper. "I can hear him putting on his boxers. Or maybe they're briefs. Or, he could be a long-john person. How exotic."

"Why are we friends?" Ginny asked the ceiling with harassed patience. "Why me?"

The door cracked open and Remus's eyes appeared there, puffy from sleep. A sliver of sparsely-haired bare flesh was visible, from his neck, down his chest, to finish in a sea of plaid material. Lavender let out a squeal of glee. "Boxers!" she whooped. "I was so right."

"Can I help you?" Remus asked wearily. Ginny gave him a soft smile because, well, she always did like Remus, and teenage Remus was just so adorable she kind of wanted to nibble on him. Plus, she was giddy in the aftermath of a wave of relief so profound she'd nearly fallen over at the realization that while, yes, she could just eat him all up; the sight of his bare chest – nice though it was – gave her nothing beyond the vaguest stirrings of lust in her lady-parts. She certainly had no overwhelming urge to lick him all over – thank the merciful gods. That would have been a complication too far. "Er – Ginny?"

She looked up to find him blushing, giving her a strange look. Oh, Merlin, she'd been staring at his chest. Lavender was smirking her bloody face off. "Oh bloody – sorry, Remus." She winced. "Not that you're not… lovely… but I wasn't – it wasn't sexual."

"…Thanks?" he said, a confused sort of frown crossing his face. "Sorry, did you need something?"

"Yes," Lavender drawled, still smirking at Ginny in an infuriatingly knowing way. "Can we chat, Remus, please?"

He blinked, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "What – now? You and me? In here?"

She widened her eyes until there was a ring of pure white surrounding her lilac irises, in some bastardised display of innocence. "Why, no, Mister Lupin. I certainly cannot enter your chambers alone. What of my reputation?" She fluttered a hand in front of her face and then scowled. "Yes, in there, idiot. Don't worry, Ginny's here, she'll guard your virtue." Then she winked at Ginny, a sly expression crossing her face. "Well, from me, anyway. It seems she might have designs on that lovely body of yours herself, and I certainly aren't strong enough to hold her back."

Remus stood back with a sigh, eyeing Lavender warily. Most people seemed to do that, Ginny realised, eye Lavender like she was something extremely dangerous. Not one to let an opportunity pass, however, she let it go and entered the room through the gap he'd created, turning in the space to look back at Remus. He hadn't closed the door, she noticed, which was probably for the best.

He looked – well she didn't want to say bad, but bad was correct. His hair was a mess, his eyes were bruised with lack of sleep, and his skin was so pale his veins stood out like delicate blue spiderwebs. "Are you alright?" Lavender asked, apparently on the same page as Ginny, though Ginny took more immediate action by dragging him – gently, or something close to that – to a chair and pushing him down. She and Lavender wore identical masks of concern.

"I'm fine," he grumbled, pushing Ginny's hands away when she went to check his face. "What did you need?"

"I'm no healer, but you don't look fine to me," Ginny muttered, withdrawing her hands to fold them across her chest.

Remus shrugged, avoiding her eyes. "I feel fine. Just tired. Haven't slept enough, apparently."

Ginny scrunched her eyes in suspicion until he was nothing but a blur of beige and yellow. He shrugged, raked his hand through his hair again, and shook his head. "Fine," Ginny let up. "We were here to give you The Talk."

"The Talk?" Remus repeated, in the same tone Ginny had used, the one where you could hear the capital letters. "What 'Talk'?"

"You know, The Talk," Lavender said. "The one where we promise to kill you if you hurt our friend."

"I get that normally it would be the brother or the father that gives it, but I think we're plenty scary enough – even though we have wombs and shit." Ginny added. "Hermione's our best friend, we just wanted to let you know that. She's under our protection."

"I don't -" Remus blinked hard. "Nothing's going on between me and Hermione."

"Well not right now, no." Lavender groaned. "You're still on the 'Poor Lily' train. But you did kiss her, and I'm thinking that you'll probably do it again at some point, so in the event that that happens, you should be aware of the consequences."

"Namely, our combined wrath should you cause our Hermione to shed so much as a single tear through your idiocy." Ginny added, with a smile for the splash of colour that had risen in his cheeks. They'd dialled it down a bit – down from the already pretty placid speech they'd intended to give, in deference to Hermione's genuine love for the boy and her own warmth towards the man he became – but the point still came across pretty well, she reckoned.

"We're not telling you to go and fix it up now, or to scoop her up and make a run for the sunset," Ginny then clarified, seeing a flash of cornered panic in his eyes. "We're just saying… if you don't intend to keep her, don't string her along. It's not fair."

"I'd never do that!" Remus protested, unaware of the untruth. Well, that wasn't entirely fair, she supposed. He had been thirty-something when he'd married poor Tonks, decades separate from the cute kid in front of her. And she couldn't help but think of him as a kid, despite his towering height, because he was pouting slightly and his hair was so mussed, making him look a worn fifteen rather than nearly twenty.

"Good," Ginny said. "Then don't."

There was a knock at the door and Remus jerked, his face colouring guiltily. "Moony?" Sirius's voice called through the gap. It was ridiculous, Ginny mused, that she could be stood in a bedroom with a topless Remus Lupin and have no response, but hearing his sodding voice through a slab of wood the thickness of her wrists set all of her nerves to fizzing, and she suddenly became some lovesick puppy. "You in here?" he asked again, prodding the door open, and stopping in his tracks at the sight of Remus in a chair with the two of them stood over him.

Sirius's eyebrows crept up his forehead. "Should I come back later?" he asked, voice infused with gallons of suggestion. Ginny scowled reflexively.

"No, we're just leaving." She snapped, wrapping her hand around Lavender's arm. "Come on, Lav."

"So soon?" Sirius taunted, but his eyes were much too empty for the girls to take any real offense. Ginny was too busy running to safety, anyway.

"Glad to see you looking better, Black," Lavender threw back gaily as they passed the Black heir in the doorway. "The slapped-arse look never did suit."

And then they were around the corner and both men were out of sight, and Ginny was glaring at Lavender. "'Slapped-arse'?" She sputtered indignantly. "Do you ever stop?"

"Well there were those three days where I was unconscious, and then the next one where I didn't talk to anyone at all…" She flashed a grin that showed all of her teeth, making it vaguely threatening. "I'm making up for it now, though, don't you worry."

"You're lucky you've never gotten yourself killed," Ginny muttered as they sloped towards the library, where they'd promised to meet Hermione.

"Oh, people have tried." Lavender replied easily. "As it turns out, I'm not that easy to kill. Who would have guessed?"

Ginny was saved from having to reply by the appearance of a silver light in the hall, blocking their path. It coalesced into the form of a hare, only where usually it would be prancing about in a manner similar to its creator, this time it sat solemnly on the floor, it's massive ears drooped over it's glowing silver eyes.

"What…" Lavender began, only to fall silent when Ginny shushed her. That, in itself, was a miracle that illustrated the suddenly dark atmosphere in the hall.

"Come quick," The ghostly hare squeaked in Luna's airy voice. "Grimmauld – it's gone."

Chapter Text

Hermione had known something was wrong. It was a feeling in the pit of her stomach, an anxious tightening as she watched the clouds disperse and reform with apparent spontaneity in the sky. She was no centaur to read the heavens, but the feeling of foreboding never left her. Reading hadn't squashed it, meditation hadn't coaxed it into the light; it was just there. Lurking.

The patronus, in hindsight, was a relief to receive. It meant knowledge, it meant action. They could do something¸ something other than sit in the same chairs rereading the same books, reorganizing the same information as they waited for each other to get stronger, faster, for their allies to gather, for better ideas to occur, for the right time. They couldn't, after all, destroy the Horcruxes until Voldemort had hidden them all. They couldn't recruit members until their own ranks were stabilised. They couldn't fight until they were in a position to do so.

They just needed a sign. Something to clue them in on Voldemort's movements.

And, as she often did, Luna provided exactly what they needed at the exact time they needed it.

She caught up with Lavender and Ginny as they all followed the glowing, spectral hare through the house and towards one of the disused rooms in the East Wing. Next to the morning room, it had originally been a smoking room for the men of the family to gather in, but had been shut off as the numbers whittled down to three. Dorea had handed Hermione the key after their blow-up in the library, when she'd asked for a place to repurpose into a study. Untouched for decades until they'd taken ownership, it boasted all of the original furniture and a faint whiff of smoke in the air. One large, impressive window took up the back wall, though it was covered in heavy red-and-black drapery that blocked out any light, so stiff with age that after a few tugs they'd given it up as a bad job and instead put a note on one of their lists to ask an elf to replace them. Dark panels covered the walls and floor, with the original burgundy rug still spread across the centre of the room though that, also, was near-black with dust. A few cleaning spells had fixed it up enough to be just about habitable, though none of them would want to be in there for more than a few hours at a time – hence why Hermione had been in the library.

Pushing open the door now, they could see that it was still in the exact same state they'd left it in, except for one glaring irregularity – the House-Elf keening on the rug.

Regulus was sat with the tiny creature in his lap, rubbing at its back on autopilot, it seemed, because his face was bloodless and his eyes stared unseeing into the distance. Luna was curled up in the juncture of an armchair and the wall, her expression panicked, her hair falling around her like a silken cape. As they entered the room she looked up, and experienced relief so intense they could almost feel it themselves, despite the many feet separating them.

Hermione took in the scene in one sweeping glance and felt her spine straighten. Automatically, the moroseness she'd been wallowing in the past few days was shoved to the back of her mind in favour of taking charge of the situation in her usual logical, no-nonsense fashion. The patronus had said that Grimmauld was gone; surely that meant 12 Grimmauld Place? Which would make the elf clutching at Regulus Kreacher, the last Black family house-elf.

As if on cue, he threw back his head and let out an ear-splitting wail, followed up by a cry of 'Mistress!'

His grief was plain and cutting. Regulus's face crumpled, even as he tried to calm his faithful servant, muttering platitudes with flimsy conviction. Luna made an aborted gesture to move towards them, before huddling further into her corner, face stricken. Hermione made a judgement call based on the information at hand, and indicated that Ginny should grab Luna and bring her over to the group. Ginny helped the blonde to her feet and stumble over to them, and the four girls retreated to the hallway, closing the door behind them to block out the noise.

"What's happening?"

Luna grimaced, unsteadily swaying on her feet. "So much death… so much…"

"Luna!" Hermione said sharply, ducking down to look her directly in the eyes. "We need to know what happened."

Luna's eyes flitted around in her head before settling on Hermione. Clarity returned by inches until she nodded, pushing up off Ginny to stand at her full height. "Voldemort attacked Grimmauld Place this morning," she said, pushing a fall of blonde hair from her face. "Kreacher says he was looking for Regulus, and he was angry, so angry. Mrs. Black refused to give him information – or, just couldn't, that wasn't very clear – and he tortured her, before burning the house down around her."

She gazed up at Hermione, her eyes glazed with tears. "He burned her alive, Hermione. Her, the house, the elves… Kreacher was only able to escape because Regulus had given him an order – he must always return to Regulus, no matter how bad the situation. Always. But the other elves…" She let out a choked sob. "And the muggles, oh, gods, the muggles…"

"Shit," Hermione swore, hearing Ginny echo the sentiment with equal vehemence. "This is a problem."

"What do we do?" Ginny asked, rubbing one hand in comforting circles on Luna's back. "I mean – we didn't exactly plan for this."

"No, but we should have." Hermione rubbed the bridge of her nose, where pressure was mounting rapidly. She was dancing on the brink of self-pity, about to collapse into the depths. A deep breath pushed it back a little, but it remained on the horizon, watching her, waiting for its chance. "Bloody Hell."

They pushed the door back open to see Regulus talking to Kreacher in whispers. The elf was sat on the floor, hands bunched in his towel-smock, staring up at Regulus with pure adoration. Regulus's voice was firm but gentle, compassionate, as he soothed the creature. He glanced up when they came back in, his eyes carrying a dead quality, too cold around the edges. "Someone needs to tell Sirius," was his startling opening line. "He never liked her, but… he has a right to know."

"I'll tell Dorea," Ginny said in a quiet voice. "He'll take it better from her." She slipped away.

Regulus turned back to Kreacher, mumbling quietly again. Luna slipped into the room and sat beside him, one tiny hand pressed against his shoulder in support, and he leaned into the comfort even though he showed no outward signs of noticing it. Hermione sighed and looked at Lavender, who was watching them with a pained look on her face. She turned back to the despairing Regulus.

"Shit," she said again, under her breath.


Kreacher, hysterical though he was, calmed down enough in the following hours to agree to transport Regulus to the wreck that was what remained of Grimmauld Place. Sirius demanded to accompany him, and nobody argued. The two men looked entirely worn down by events, and nobody had the heart to deny them, not when they looked so heartbroken. Even Sirius, who had hated his mother, felt pain at the thought of her death, and the destruction of their family home.

They gathered in the entrance hall; Sirius, Regulus, Luna, James and Remus. Kreacher glowered at the boys under heavy lids, but made no verbal complaints, even holding his hand out to the older Black son when it came time to leave. Hermione, Lily and Ginny stood in a group nearby with Dorea and Charlus, both of whom had spent the morning comforting Sirius after the news had come through. A temporary truce had been enacted in respect for the Blacks' loss.

"Be careful," Dorea warned them again, as they prepared to leave. "They'll probably be watching the house, knowing you'll return to it."

"We're prepared," James assured his mum with a faint smile. "They won't be expecting so many of us."

"All the same, I think I've lost enough of my family for the day," Dorea said in a slightly subdued voice, and nodded to Lily, who stepped forward with a silvery bundle in her arms. "I'd be much more comfortable if Regulus would go under the cloak."

James raised his eyebrows as Lily handed the mass into his arms, but didn't argue. Regulus, after all, was the one the Death Eaters were looking for. Sure, the rest of them would make a nice bonus, but if they'd been put there to wait for Regulus it wasn't likely they'd take any chances by attacking their group. Not if it meant going against orders.

Or, they could be exceedingly stupid, and attack them anyway. In that case, as he'd told his mum, they were prepared. All of them were armed with their wands in wrist-sheaths, and wore dark clothing so that they might blend into the night. Hermione had handed them each a vial of her tweaked Bulgeye Potion, which could be thrown at an enemy rather than ingested, and would 'distract them' for at least a half-hour. It sounded vaguely dark, so James hadn't pressed for more details – what it did and how remained a mystery to him. Plausible deniability, and all that. Luna had packed a hand-bag full of odd-shaped objects, the purposes of which she remained infuriatingly cryptic about, except to say they would prove 'useful'. Again, he had felt it best not to press.

The Marauders had been unsure about bringing Luna on for the ride – she was one of their 'secret weapons', after all, despite their personal relationships being on the rocks, and it seemed premature to bring her into the light. The girls had argued back that she looked too much like her mother for that to be a problem, and it was a visit to a burn-site, not an Order meeting. They most certainly weren't sending them off alone, because 'the Gods know what sort of trouble you idiots will get into' (Lily). Still, in deference to the men's concerns, Luna had braided her distinctive hair up and around her head, then covered it in a hat – or at least, it seemed to function like a hat. James wasn't particularly brilliant at matters pertaining to fashion; to him it looked like a bonnet hastily made of woven ribbons, and judging by the proud look on Lavender's face when it had been revealed, he was pretty close to the truth.

Doodads and thingamajigs all packed, the five of them cloaked up and said their goodbyes. Regulus knelt down to give Regulus a muttered order to return to the Manor straight away and wait to be called back, and then they were all linking arms and being sucked away.

They landed in the park across the street, hidden in the shadows cast by the trees that lined the border. It was nearly ten at night, the day given away to planning this excursion, and so the only light available was that of the moon, which cast a grey tint over the land. The streetlamps, they knew, had been blown out by the fire, the wires that hooked them into the electricity source fried by the heat. Lamps all across this street and the next three were out, meaning there was no ambient light to orient themselves with. This was fine by James, as his animagus form gave him exemplary night vision, but he worried for Luna.

They spread out, with Sirius in the centre and Regulus under the cloak. James took point, and Remus took the back. Luna slipped away, as was the plan – she hoped to find the Death Eaters on watch and take them out quietly, with minimum fuss, so that Regulus and Sirius didn't have anything more to stress about while they examined the house's remains.

James didn't like being out in the open like this. He hated it. The hairs on the back of his neck were stood on end and he could swear they were being watched, though there was no evidence. The park was nearly entirely deserted, the gates chained closed, a swing in the distance shifting in the breeze sending discordant notes into the air. Luna shivered into invisibility a few feet away as she cast a Disillusionment Charm, and he lost track of her. The only other sounds were the soft breaths of his friends and the crackling of grass underfoot.

The row of houses loomed out of the darkness, the moon behind limning them with a silvery edge. The street was deserted, and it was easy to see why.

The fire had spread through at least six houses before it had been stopped by the authorities, feeding on the flammable stuffing in the ancient furniture and bursting through wooden doors as if they were never there at all. The road was scattered with shiny, sparkling shards of glass, like a diamante carpet. Number 12, the centre of the fire, had burned down to cinders. All that remained of the roof were a few beams of blackened wood, the walls having collapsed beneath it, allowing the moon to shine straight through the destruction. The door remained in place, stood proud at the top of stone steps, but the walls surrounding it had crumbled until there was only five-feet, perhaps less, of standing brick left of what once had been at least four-storeys high. The back of the house had fared better, but only just, and now had the look of a dollshouse, where you could see straight through to the back wall. Some of the windows there were untouched, except for warping and soot, and on the third floor a single bed sat unscathed by a window, scraps of paper dangling from its four-poster frame.

Behind him he heard a strangled noise, and then a dash of heat as someone brushed past him to hurry up the steps. The cloak distorted the air for a moment where Regulus stood, but just as soon it was gone. Sirius, still stood at James's back, was breathing hard. James, himself, was fighting back the urge to vomit.

The fire department and crime-scene crew had obviously spent the day here, with plenty of witnesses. The debris of a days' work was strewn across the scene, ribbons planted at various points on the floor, visible through the windows. Temporary scaffolding had been erected at Number 18, where the second floor appeared on the brink of collapse. By the edges of the park coffee cups and crisp packets rolled through the ditch. None of this affected Number 12, which would be invisible to the muggle authorities, but no doubt the Aurors would visit as soon as the coast was clear. The untouched houses on either side had the look of places that had been summarily abandoned, Number 6 with their door left open, gently swaying back and forth with the wind. All over, windows were open to the night, freeing the residences of the scent of smoke, though it wouldn't do very much. From their arrival in the park, the stench of ash had laid heavy on James's tongue.

"Sirius?" Remus said softly, the sound almost offensive in the hush of the night. James glanced back to see that Remus had moved up alongside their friend, who just stared at the wreck of his childhood home, his face blank and empty. "Sirius, are you alright?"

He shook his head suddenly. "Yeah," he croaked, then cleared his throat. "Yeah, Moony. I'm good." He looked around at the rest of the street then, as if it had only just appeared. "Gods, who could do such a thing?"

"We know who did it, Pads," James said slowly, his voice curiously flat. "There's no mystery here."

"But how," Sirius asked, sounding lost. "So much…"

There was a fluttering as something moved around in the house, and they all three whipped around to face in that direction. Regulus suddenly appeared in front of them, his face bleached white, eyes haunted. "Gods, she's still there…" he said faintly, before turning to his right and promptly throwing up on the pavement.

Sirius pushed past James to join his brother, pausing for a moment before reaching out to pull his hair back with one hand and rub between his shoulder blades with the other. James stepped back beside Remus to give them privacy. The werewolf's mouth was fit into a grim line. "They're right, you know," he murmured. James shot him a questioning glance, and Remus shook his head. "The girls. We… well, we don't understand this. Not any of this. The scope of evil…" Remus gestured to Regulus. "That isn't the reaction of a man who could torture and kill innocent people, Prongs."

James kept quiet. It was hardly the time to be debating politics or personal offense, anyway. That could wait until they were all back home, in the safety of their Manor. Sirius was now talking quietly to Regulus, offering him a handkerchief. Regulus took it gratefully and cleaned himself up, then straightened to his full height and turned to Sirius. James couldn't hear what they were saying, they made their comments deliberately low, though watching was emotional enough. Regulus watching Sirius with shielded eyes; Sirius's shoulders sagging; Regulus's face crumpling as he tried to talk, gesturing at the house. Sirius finally grasped at his brother's shoulders and dragged him into his chest, and the two of them shared a bone-crushing hug.

Of course, as was par for the course in their lives, someone had to ruin it.

The atmosphere had changed suddenly, the very air stilling in prelude to violence. Goosebumps pricked up on the back of James's arms, and Remus stiffened, turning to his right, staring into the shadows of Number 10.

"Well, well. In't this touching," a slimy voice crept out of the darkness. James whipped his wand out of his sheath and into his hand, pointing it into the shadows, but he couldn't know if his target was right. There was a movement, and he shifted further to the left, Remus taking the other side. Sirius and Regulus had frozen.

A man materialised on the street half-way between James and Sirius, his wand held loosely at his side. Dark hair tangled around his ears, dark eyes staring out of bruised sockets. His mouth, wide and thin, was crooked into a leer as he stared at Sirius and Regulus. James didn't recognise him, couldn't match his face to any of the Wanted posters.

"He said you wun't go back to yer family," the bloke hissed, lips curling back to reveal crooked yellow teeth loosely attached to his gums. "I knew be'er, o'course. Lil' Regulus Black, always running home to mummy…"

"Back off, mate," Sirius snapped with his usual haughtiness, wand trained steadily on the approaching Death Eater. He tried to shove Regulus behind him, but he wasn't having that, instead moving out of reach and facing the threat with his wand held between two slender fingers.

"Evening, Wilkes," Regulus said amicably, over Sirius's frustrated rumble.

"Black," Wilkes growled, stopping in his tracks, as though the idea of carrying out a civilised conversation was so completely beyond him it had shocked him into stillness.

"I must admit, I'm somewhat surprised to see you out and about so soon," Regulus mused, his perfectly articulated accent curling around the words, making them sound both perfectly pleasant and vaguely threatening. James shifted further, putting more space between him and Remus so that he could circle behind the older wizard. It was four against one; perfectly good odds, if not for the fact that Luna was still out there with who knew how many more. If Wilkes got off a call for help before they took him down they could find themselves in very hot water. "Considering how very upset the Dark Lord was with you the last time we met."

"What you on about?" Wilkes snorted, then spit on the floor. "I'm not 'ere to chat."

"How sad. Such a failing in our society – whatever happened to the days when one could have a perfectly civil duel, rather than getting ambushed in the street? There's no honour in your approach." Regulus tutted quietly, each click of the tongue winding the Death Eater tighter. "Really, what would your father say?"

"Kill the blood traitor is what 'e'd say!" Wilkes spat, then raised his wand. "O' course, I'll get a prize if I bring you back alive…"

"I suppose you'll have to do that, then, won't you?" Regulus sneered. "Never could think for yourself."

Wilkes snarled, taking a step forward as he exclaimed, "Think for me'self? I'll – fuckin' – Avada-"

"Stupefy!"

"Incarcerous!"

"Expelliarmus!"

"Stupefy!"

James straightened up from his casting position to see Sirius and Regulus both blinking at him over the prone form of Wilkes. "We should have just done that in the first place," he commented wryly, running his eyes over the now Stunned, bound and disarmed Death Eater. "He wasn't that stimulating a conversationalist."

Regulus smirked. "He's always had that problem. If he ever has more than two thoughts to rub together at one time, I'll eat my hat." Remus snorted a laugh from James's side.

"So what are we doing with him?" Sirius asked, a disgusted expression on his face. He reached out and poked the man with a toe, relaxing when he moaned. He met James's raised eyebrow with a shrug. "I thought we might have accidentally killed him."

James shook his head, smiling. "I guess we should drop him off at the Ministry. They'll sort him out."

"Won't they question how we got him there?" Regulus was mimicking his brother in that he wore an expression of supreme distaste whenever he had to look at the body. James was quite sure his distaste was more of a personal nature, however, than Sirius's general distaste for all Death Eaters.

"Nah," Sirius shrugged. "We'll take him to Moody. He doesn't like me much, but he's a bloody good Auror, and a member of the Order. He'll sort it out."

"Oh, well that's g-" Regulus's face slackened midsentence, eyes going round with surprise. There was a split-second pause, and then he fell. James watched the sequence happen in slow-motion: Sirius crying out as Regulus's knees buckled and he slammed face-first into the concrete pavement. Sirius lunging for him, not making it because a bolt of red light struck him in the ribs, sending him flying backwards.

James and Remus cast shields simultaneously at the sound of his impact, squinting through the dark to see their attacker.

Nothing.

"Fuck," James hissed, his eyes shooting from Regulus, collapsed on the ground, blood trickling out from beneath his face, to Sirius, crumpled against a defunct streetlamp, his head lolled abnormally to one side. Remus was turning from slowly in deliberate circles, sniffing the air, wand out. James made a movement to dart to Regulus's side, as he seemed the most grievously injured, but Remus grabbed his arm at the last second, digging his fingers in sharply. "What?"

"Don't be an idiot," Remus snarled, his eyes shining golden in the night. There was a flash of ghostly white at the edge of the park and then Luna was stood before them, taking in the scene with wide, startled eyes.

"There were four – I took out two, who were waiting in the bushes down the street. One of them was waiting in Number 10, for someone to turn up, and there was another, but I don't know…" She took three steps toward Regulus absently, her eyes fixed on him and the stream of blood marring the pavement. Remus grabbed her arm too, and she acquiesced to the unspoken command without a word. She turned her haunting eyes on the two of them, a plea buried in the depths. "Are they gone?"

"I can't sense anyone," Remus said in a low voice, strained from keeping a tight leash on his own protective instincts. "That doesn't mean they're gone."

Luna's mouth firmed up as she looked at Sirius, looking like a broken rag doll, and Regulus, face-down in the dirt. "Then we'll leave," she said resolutely. "Remus grab Sirius, James, help me with Regulus."

"How are we getting back?" James frowned. "Regulus is the only one able to Summon Kreacher."

Luna glared at him from where she was attempting to lug Regulus up using an arm around her shoulders. He hurried and grabbed the other side, and together they lunged for the shelter of the trees. "Are you a wizard or aren't you, James?" she snapped, then shook her head. "Wait here."

She darted out of the shelter towards the bound man on the doorstep of Number 12. James could track her movements by the shine of her face as she knelt down beside him and drew her wand. It was pointed at his head, there was a flash of light, and then she was up again, running back towards them.

A plume of smoke blocked her path, stopping her in her tracks as a man appeared, wand raised and pointed. James let out a warning yell even as he began to cast, dropping Regulus to the floor and sprinting to Luna's aid. She was hidden from sight, but he saw the orange bolt streaming forward even as he hit the newcomer in the back, taking him to the ground in a rugby tackle he'd not had occasion to use since he was twelve. Luna landed five feet away, eyes open and thankfully not vacant. Blood streamed from a cut in her shoulder.

"Stupefy!" he gritted out, his wand pressed to the back of their attacker's neck. There was a shudder underneath him and his body went limp, James scrambling off of him immediately. "Luna," he gasped when he reached her, his hands fluttering uselessly over the gash in her muscle. It was deep, he could see the white of her bone at the top even as everything else was covered in a steady flow of blood. Cursing silently, he racked his brains for emergency aid spells, but couldn't think of any. Then Remus was there, pulling him up and away.

"Take them home, one at a time," Remus directed in a no-nonsense tone as he knelt down beside Luna, pressing a hunk of folded material that James recognised as the sleeve of his shirt to her wound. "Then come back, obliviate that one." he pointed at the man James had just stunned. "I'll stitch this up and wait for you so that we can all go back together."

"It's not safe," James protested, scanning the street. He tried really hard not to think about the warm stickiness on his hands, or of the scarily unnatural glaze in Sirius's eyes.

Remus threw a glare at James over his shoulder. "We'll be fine, which is more than I can say for you if we get back and the girls find out you lingered rather than getting them all help. Quickly, James."

He dithered a second more, but the threat was real, and gave him the shot of adrenaline he needed to think clearly again. Leaving Remus chanting over Luna's shoulder, he wrapped one arm securely around Sirius's waist and lifted him to his feet. Carefully going over his three 'D's, so as not to risk a potentially devastating splinch, he twisted on his heel and threw them through space to his front garden. He laid Sirius gingerly on the grass and shot off a patronus to the house, before apparating back to London for Regulus.

When he returned, he found Remus propped up against a tree with Luna curled up in his arms. She was conscious, but only just, smiling and humming blearily some song about a Crumple-Horned Snorcack (whatever that was). His obliviate took only another second, and he dragged the man behind a particularly large Oak. Then he joined Remus and together they returned to the house, and the motley collection of panicking women that waited for them on the lawn.

Chapter Text

"Luna!" Hermione's heart stopped when she saw Remus appear in the garden. The witch-lights they'd hung in the air lit her skin with a ghostly white light, bleaching all colour away and making her look, for a moment, entirely dead. Hermione's throat tightened around a scream as she barrelled through the group, ignoring the others where they were gathered around the Black brothers. "Luna!" she breathed again as she reached their side, wrenching her friend from Remus's arms with unexpected strength and instead cradling her in her own as she lowered them both to the ground. "I swear to all of your Gods, Lu, if you've gotten yourself killed…"

"'M fine, He'mi'ne." Luna mumbled, turning her head to burrow her face into Hermione's blouse. "Y'r such a worrier."

Hermione let out a relieved laugh, her entire body relaxing. "Bloody Hell, Luna. You had one job. One job!"

"They cheated," Luna grunted, her head lolling back. Her eyes were mere slits in her face, though her pout was pronounced. "We expected one or two, not four. Cheatin'. Don' be mad at me, He'm. Be mad at Regulus." A smile curled her lips and she threw one hand back as though it weighed the world, to point at Regulus where he lay being tended to by Dorea. "He took off the cloak."

"Idiot boy," Hermione replied without real heat, more because it was expected. Luna twitched another smile. "One might think he wants to be killed."

"He was very brave," Luna said dreamily, gazing besotted at her love. "Like a lion, only better."

"If you say so, love," Hermione agreed, pulling apart the torn fabric at her shoulder. Someone had spelled the flesh back together, and it had been cut clean, five or six inches from the curve of her shoulder down to the top of her breast. She'd obviously jumped out of the way and the spell had gone wild – Hermione hated to think what could have happened if she hadn't. It was a nasty cut, she could tell it went deep from the position and the way Luna favoured that side of her body. The arm attached lolled lifelessly at her side, making Hermione think it had torn through muscle and nerves.

Ginny approached from the front, clinking vials in her hand. "You look like you've been in the wars, Lu," she said brightly, crouching on her other side. "Protected the lads well, did you?"

"They'd be useless on their own," Luna slurred, blinking lazily. "What'd you bring me?"

"Blood-replenishing potion and a generic heal-all. Wasn't sure of the damage," she explained to Hermione over Luna's head. Hermione nodded her understanding as Luna brightened up and attempted to push herself into a sitting position.

"Oh, is it Hermione's Heal-All? The one that tastes like aniseed?"

Ginny grimaced. "I think you're the only person in the world who appreciates that." She commented drily, uncorking the vials and bringing them to Luna's lips.

"I like it," Hermione huffed.

"You made it," Ginny rolled her eyes. "Will it work, d'you think?"

Colour was already seeping back into Luna's face, just in time for her to wince. "Oh, it feels like a million ants are playing under my skin," she moaned, wriggling out of Hermione's lap to lie on the floor. Her head shook rapidly. "Eurgh…"

"Looks like it," Hermione laughed, the sound brittle but existent, which was good enough for now. "Where's Lavender?"

Ginny hitched a thumb over her shoulder. "Dorea's teaching her how to properly cast an episkey. She thinks it might come in handy in the future."

"Episkey?"

"Regulus broke his nose when he fell over. Otherwise, it was just a strong Stupefy. He'll be fine after some rest." She frowned. "Sirius got the worst of it. Broken ribs, a concussion…"

"What? How?" Hermione's mouth fell open as she tried to imagine how someone could inflict that sort of damage on Sirius Black, a stocky boy with muscle and agility. He had been a Beater, for Merlin's sake. He used to get battered with bats and balls for fun.

"Remus says a stunner got the best of him, a big ol' tree broke his fall. Don't worry, he's fine enough." Ginny grinned, cocking her head towards where Sirius sat, looking awake enough as Lily fussed over him. James and Remus were stood over him, James talking rapidly with his hands and Remus looking like he was trying to smother a smile. "They're giving him what-for. I don't think Lily's ever going to let them leave the premises again."

"How, though?" Hermione asked again, shaking her head. "He's an Auror…"

"Can't be a very good one," Ginny shrugged, looking pleased with her own assessment. Hermione raised an eyebrow but left it at that – their weirdly competitive flirtation was their own damn business, she had enough to worry about without concerning herself in her friends sex lives. At least, not Ginny's. That girl could complicate basic arithmancy along with the best of them if she wanted to. "Anyway, I'd best get back to work – I make a really shitty porter, just for future reference."

Hermione waved her off and examined the group again, lifting her arms so that Luna could snuggle her head into her lap. There was something off about this whole thing. Regulus, Sirius and Luna's injuries… something didn't add up. It niggled in the back of her mind, but every time she reached for it, it slipped through her fingers like fog.

"Hmm…" Luna burbled, rubbing her nose on Hermione's knee. Hermione glanced down to see that she had her eyes fixed on Regulus, who was being helped up from the ground by Dorea and Lavender. The boy looked around, his eyes settling on Sirius for a moment, lips pinched in concern, before he moved on. His eyes flared wide when he caught sight of Luna.

"Are-" He shrugged off his helpers impatiently and hurried over to Luna's side, his eyes fixed on the gash in her shoulder. "Are you alright?" he asked in clipped tones.

"Brilliant," Luna smiled, her fingers rising to trace the outline of the bruises on his face. He had a great black one surrounding his nose and left eye, tiny cuts littering his skin from falling on a pavement blanketed with shards of glass. "Not okay." She pouted, prodding at his eye. "Cheaters."

Regulus captured her hand in his and frowned at her. "You're not okay?"

"Nooo…" Luna cooed, "you're not okay. Look at your face."

The tension melted out of him completely as a smile grew on his lips. He winced as it stretched his skin, but didn't let it drop. "Because I was so pretty to start with," he snorted, letting go of Luna's hand and claiming the other one so that she could continue her exploration. She pressed her fingers gently to his eye, and then to his nose, and then drew her finger back and in one smooth notion flicked the bridge of his nose, where the bruising was at its worse. "Oi!" Regulus bawled, his hands flying up to cup his nose. "What was that for?"

"You were meant to stay under the cloak!" Luna informed him primly, in a wonderful impersonation of Hermione's voice, if Hermione did say so herself. The blonde wriggled around in Hermione's lap until she was propped up by her knees, and fisted her good hand on her hip. "You could have been killed!"

Regulus's mouth fell open as he stared at Luna. Hermione tried to stay entirely still, not wanting to disrupt what could potentially be a pivotal moment in their relationship. Of course, it was difficult to do, what with the tension crawling up her spine, the awkwardness stiffening her joints. I swear to the Gods, Luna, Hermione thought loudly, in the hopes the other girl would hear it, if you snog him on top of me I will hurt you.

"You were worried about me?"

"I'm from the future," Luna said tartly. "I know exactly how good you are at getting yourself killed. Of course I worry!"

Regulus blushed, his face shadowed enough to almost hide it, but not the way he ducked his head in embarrassment. "Really?"

Luna shook her head and then, using her elbow and knees, crawled out of Hermione's lap (thank the merciful Gods) and towards Regulus. "Does it still hurt?" she asked in a low voice.

Now, at that point, Hermione knew she should leave. Turn around, busy herself with anything else. But the moment passed all too quickly while she dithered and Regulus was saying "no".

Luna nodded thoughtfully and reached up with her good arm, hooking it around Regulus's neck. He looked faintly bewildered, but didn't move away, kneeling entirely still, almost preternaturally still. Luna let out a stressed little huff and shuffled onto her knees in front of him, reached up, and pressed her lips to his.

It only lasted a second, but Hermione could pinpoint the exact second Regulus realised what was happening. His eyelids slammed shut and his entire body melted, tension seeping out as he bowed over her. That was when Hermione finally moved. She spun to turn her back on the embracing couple, feeling an embarrassed flush burning her own cheeks as she searched wildly for a distraction. Sirius chose that moment to let out a piercing wolf-whistle, and the other lads laughed with them while Lavender shouted "you go girl!".

Ginny appeared in front of Hermione, a soft smile on her face as she looked over her shoulder. "Well, at least that's something," she said in a low voice. "Though it's hardly fair that Luna gets her happy-ever-after before the rest of us."

"She did save his life," Hermione scolded. "Regulus deserves to be happy, no matter what Luna's done."

Ginny hummed noncommittally. "I'm just saying, before anybody else has the chance. Now if someone else brings it up we can scowl and provide a united front on the matter." She grinned. "Aren't they adorable? Regulus is like a lost puppy. He so doesn't know what he's getting into."

Hermione snorted, turning back. Regulus and Luna were still kneeling, their foreheads pressed together as they talked in low voices. Sirius was chatting animatedly to James, as Dorea, Lily and Lavender cleaned up the area. Remus, though…

Remus was watching her.


"Hermione!"

Hermione paused in the hall, closed her eyes and counted to ten slowly as the pitter-patter of footprints caught up with her. Lily. She didn't know if she had the energy to deal with this right now. After the night before and the outcome of Regulus's trip back home, she'd barely slept, and felt like a walking zombie as she made her way to the downstairs study with an armful of paperwork. If nothing else, at least the trip had provided the kick up the arse they'd all been needing to come out of the complacency trance they were existing in, and now everybody seemed enthusiastic to move on.

It was Hermione's job to find a way to do that.

Something she'd be unable to do if she was derailed by an angry Lily Evans.

A hand waved in front of her face and Lily's pale face appeared. "Helloooo?"

"Sorry, I was…" Hermione spun her hand in the air helplessly. "…somewhere else."

"Yeah, I get that." Lily nodded, her face pensive. "Long night, huh?"

Hermione had the sudden feeling that this conversation wasn't going to go the way she expected. "Er… Did you want something, Lily?"

Lily's hair fell over her face as she turned her head, biting her lip. "Yes, actually. Can we talk?"

She really wanted to say no. She was still raw over the whole argument, and then the being ignored for several days. If it were up to her, she'd happily keep the truce in place forever, never talk about it again. Still, she was a polite person, so she acquiesced with a stiff nod and Lily showed her into a room. A Ladies Parlour, with all of the bells and whistles; fresh flowers, pink fainting couches, ivory curtains open over freshly washed windows with a view of Dorea's pet flowerbeds. Lily navigated the room with the ease of a person who'd visited many times, slipping over to a cooler cabinet and offering Hermione a drink. Somehow it felt hostile; a woman making clear her position in the household, while she was just the lowly guest. Another girl-political victory for the opposite side.

"I was angry," Lily said as she set two glasses of gillywater on the coffee table and gestured Hermione to a seat. She searched wildly for a place to set down her burden, finally settling on the couch cushion next to hers, and took up the gillywater, watching Lily warily over the rim. Lily, recognising she wasn't going to receive comment, huffed a little and faffed with the roses on the nearest end table. "I'm not going to apologise for being angry with you. I was right to be. You were… extremely rude."

"I'm not going to apologise for what I said," Hermione interjected quickly, her voice snippier than she'd aimed for. On the defensive already, are we? She asked herself wearily. What a surprise.

"I know." Lily heaved a deep breath and folded her hands in her lap, then met Hermione's eyes. "I've been thinking about it. What you… meant. And… what I've seen, over the years.

"I know you think I'm blind, and I… well, I wasn't the most observant. But I do notice things, you know. I'm not stupid." She took a sip of her gillywater and nodded. "Dumbledore, for example."

"Dumbledore?" Hermione asked faintly, searching around for anything that might have indicated a segue into that discussion. Nope, nada. "I thought you and the Potters…"

"The Potters and the Marauders adore Dumbledore," Lily said, flicking imaginary flint from her skirt. She suddenly seemed years older, much more mature, as she looked at Hermione with knowledge in those startling eyes, knowledge that for some reason she'd hidden. "The Potters owe him their loyalty, and Remus especially feels indebted to him."

"Not you?" Hermione wondered aloud.

"Not me," Lily agreed, gazing off into the distance. "Understand, I don't know Dumbledore. He never spoke to me, not once, and I was Head Girl. It was only once I joined the Order that he paid me any special notice, and only then, I think, because of my closeness to the boys." She gave a rueful shrug. "I'm a clever girl, and powerful, but I'm still a muggleborn female with no family ties, and I owe him no fealty. He, for all of his supposed 'equality', is as prone to that pitfall as a Malfoy. More subtle about it, I would think, but it's still there. The prejudice."

Hermione could see that. He'd never had much interest in her, either, except for as an extension of Harry. She was Harry's brain. That was the extent of her usefulness. There was something else, though… You use such odd phrasing – fealty, owe, as though it's not a choice." She fixed the other girl with a piercing look. "Are they beholden to him?"

Carefully, Lily picked her words and answered slowly. "The Potters have been… allies… of Albus Dumbledore for many years. You took a great risk coming here, sharing your information with us. You do know that?"

"I know that, yes." Hermione nodded, then looked up at Lily with new respect. "You never gave any indication that…"

"That I didn't trust Dumbledore?" Lily let out a bitter laugh, shook her head. "I know you think I'm naïve, Hermione. What would it have helped if I had?"

"It would have helped us understand you better. The way you've been acting, you'd think you were only here as James Potter's arm candy!"

"Sometimes, it's better that people think that." Lily snapped back. "You talk about Dumbledore as if you know his personality, yes?" Hermione nodded. "Well then, you'll know that that he plays the long game, and he wins it, too. He devises so many ways to trap you in a corner that you cannot fight, lest you're wrapped up tighter in a web of your own making. He's smarter than people give him credit for, and I would wager more powerful to boot."

She sighed, looking at her shoes. "Remus… he is a prime example. He's been groomed for Dumbledore's cause since he was a child, and he doesn't realize it. A werewolf, hidden at Hogwarts, gaining an education. Three friends who just happen to be clever enough, and powerful enough, to become Animagi at fifteen – without any incidents, which is miracle in itself knowing the boys' temperaments, and the low number of successful animagus transformations."

Lily was now fidgeting awkwardly, looking around as though she thought she was being listened in on. Her anxiety showed clearly in her face, but she plowed onwards, her shoulders stiff and straight. "When you're raised outside of all of this, without any prior prejudice, you notice things. You start to learn how to add two and two to create five, and it makes sense. But when you've learned all of it, and you know you're intelligent, but two and two still makes eight…"

"You think Dumbledore interfered…" Hermione whispered, quietly. Lily gave a jerky nod, but Hermione's thoughts were already rolling onwards. "And if he did that, then who knows…"

She was reluctant to finish the sentence, but Lily understood. They stared at each other for a moment, lost in the potential repercussions of their theory. "We need to tell the others…" Hermione said vaguely.

Lily gave a start, reaching over to grab her arm, digging her nails in until the flesh was almost ripped. "No!" she exclaimed, then repeated again quieter, "no. I'm only telling you this to explain why I am the way I am. I love James. I love him with everything in me, and if I were to speak up, go against Dumbledore, then… Well, dangerous people with dangerous thoughts have been turned or disposed of more easily than you could imagine, in crueller ways than…" Lily's lips pressed together in a thin white line, her eyes fixed on Hermione's, pleading.

A puzzle piece fell into place in her head. "You're – this is about…"

"Severus." Lily shook her head.

"He was your friend."

Lily nodded jerkily. There were tears welling in her eyes again and without thinking Hermione reached over to clasp their hands together. "Yes, my friend. Severus. He was a good boy, if a bit dark, but darkness isn't-"

"Darkness isn't what Dumbledore likes in his followers, because if you can turn to the darkness, or even dance in the grey areas, that means that you aren't a rule-follower. You aren't as easily controlled, the world isn't as black and white as you expect it to be." Hermione took a deep breath, let it out slowly through her teeth. "Your split…"

"It was real, at first. Then, when I started to put the pieces together, it was more for my own good than anything else. Like I said, Hermione. I love James. I want to be with James, and I'll be whoever I need to be to keep my place here." She let out a bitter, cold laugh. "Gods, that's so selfish, isn't it? I deprived him of his best friend because I wanted to marry his mortal enemy. And now – well, now he's a Death Eater, isn't he? And I have to ask, is that my fault?"

Lily gripped Hermione's hands in hers and leaned over the table so that their faces were close. "I'd do it again, Hermione, if I had to. Cruel as it was. Even though I've seen the person he's become, I don't feel guilty. I miss him sometimes, but it's all a part of the game you have to play, isn't it?"

Hermione pulled back, both disgusted and respectful. She remembered in her head Severus Snape going to his death to avenge Lily Potter's, thinking that she hated him for something he said in anger when he was sixteen, how he'd beaten himself up about that his entire life. Then again, that couldn't all be lain at Lily's door, could it? Most of it was just Severus Snape. The cruelty. The Darkness. She wasn't entirely to blame.

It wasn't Hermione's place to place blame, she decided. The respect took over. Respect for a girl who'd hidden herself away for years in order to keep herself safe from a benevolent Dictator everybody she knew loved. A girl who fostered that mistrust and never let herself slip, never took her guard down – not even when she met four girls from the future who seemed to sincerely hate him as much as she did. Not even when the 'leader' humiliates her in front of her fiancé and friends by basically calling her stupid.

"I'll apologise now," Hermione said slowly, looking up at Lily, who was sat like some exquisite statue on the sofa. "For the way I said those things. For rushing to judgement, I suppose. I could make excuses, but it wasn't my place to say those things, anyway."

Lily smiled slightly. "No, it's okay. You opened my eyes to some things. Reminded me that I shouldn't be acting this way – shouldn't be pretending. In faking ignorance I think, maybe, I caught it?"

"Well, we all know that ignorance is contagious," Hermione said with a weak smile. Lily bobbed her head in agreement.

"I think – I don't like you, Hermione." Lily said, running fingers through her hair. "I think maybe I could grow to like you, but I don't… not yet. I respect you, though. That's why I told you this. I'm trusting you."

"I'll try not to let you down." She should probably have been more offended that Lily sat there and proclaimed her dislike of Hermione for all the world to hear, as though she was the final word on all such matters, but she wasn't. One couldn't be around Lavender for very long without either breaking down or growing a thicker skin, and this time, Hermione had gotten tougher. So Lily didn't like her. So what? Ginny did. Luna did. Remus did. Lavender…

Anyway, she could deal with not being liked. Story of her life so far. Being wrong was what bruised her ego, so she wasn't going to blindly accept what Lily just told her. She'd mull on it. Watch the girl. Research. It was what she did best, after all.

For now, however. "Truce?"

Lily gave a tepid smile. "Truce."

Chapter Text

"You fancy her," Sirius teased quietly, his voice barely above a whisper.

Remus jerked out of his trance to turn to his friend, remembering at the last minute to school his features. "Who?" he asked, nonchalantly turning a page in his book.

Sirius rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. "Really, Moony? We're really going to play this game?"

"I'm not playing a game, Pads." It was weak even to his own ears, and Sirius seemed to agree, if his cocked eyebrow was anything to go by. It didn't matter. His strategy was deny, deny, deny, and they couldn't prove the truth. He wasn't ready to talk about it, so he'd just… not. It was a fair tactic, really, and one he'd been settled on since the fight in the library; an approach that he only became more convinced was the right thing to do, especially after Ginny and Lavender's quite frankly terrifying visit.

If he didn't talk about it, it didn't exist.

And the wolf in his head would just have to learn to deal with it.

The dog, however, had different ideas.

"You like her. You want to kiss her. You want to snog her," he sang with a smirk, resting his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand as he stared at Remus. "You probably want to do a whole lot more than that, too, you're just too much of a gentleman to say so."

Remus turned his back on his best friend with a sigh, trying to bury himself back in the book, only to realise he had no idea where he had been up to. Most likely due to the fact that instead of reading it, like a normal person, he'd been watching Hermione navigate the library, collecting up books and papers. Drooling – him, not her. And that might be an exaggeration but it also might not because she really did have lovely curves and an arse he wanted nothing more than to bite, and at one point she'd dropped a sheet of paper and bent near-enough in two to pick it up...

Disgusted with himself, he pinched his cheek lightly to drag him back to the present and flipped back to the start of the chapter. Only, he skipped back too far and found himself staring at a page titled Mating Bonds, which not only was decidedly not a chapter on Alpha/Omega shared healing but also hit a little too close to home. So close to home, in fact, that he threw the damn thing across the room and simply sat there, staring at it. Fuming.

Sirius had fallen silent and out of the corner of his eye Remus could see him looking between him and the book with a questioning look on his face. A low growl rumbled out of his chest without any conscious thought, and that was the final bloody straw.

Moony was being a prat. He was prowling and snarling and keeping Remus awake at night, demanding more of what they'd experienced with Hermione, with no regard to what Remus himself wanted. He wasn't even sure the wolf cared what Hermione wanted, only that it had decided Hermione was his, and he was going to do everything in his power to get her. And that included punishing Remus for not immediately going to the woman and mating her right then and there.

Remus liked Hermione. He thought she was sweet, clever, pretty and funny in a dry sort of way that he could appreciate. He admired her for her loyalty, respected her bravery, and understood her compulsive need for control. It didn't hurt that she'd tasted so delicious and fit so well against him that he felt all of twelve, waking up in the middle of the night painfully aroused by the memory of their kiss (humiliating, for a nineteen-year-old). He just… he didn't know her very well, and didn't want to jump into a permanent mating when it might not end well. And, let's face it, the odds were not in their favour. He was a werewolf, compulsively poor, scarred to all hell, and a pretty miserable bloke on top of that. Hermione was nice, but she wasn't that nice. He'd give their relationship a year, tops, and like Ginny said – if he didn't intend to keep her, he shouldn't go after her at all.

"I know that face," Sirius drawled, shoving his finger under Remus's nose and waggling it. "That's your self-pity face."

"I don't have a self-pity face," Remus snapped, waving off Sirius's hand.

He wasn't deterred, barking out one of his belly-laughs and watching Remus with amused eyes. "Oh, you don't, do you? I've been your friend for eight years now, Moony, and let me tell you – you're so bloody mopey I sometimes have doubts about your gender."

Remus snorted derisively. "It's talk like that that gets you beaten up by women, Pads."

"That only happened twice, and the point still stands. You're thinking about Hermione, aren't you? Doing your noble thing, the oh I'm such a horrible person why me rubbish."

Somehow affronted, Remus scowled. "I am not."

"Yes, you are." Sirius grinned. "Look, mate, I'm not about to tell you what to do, but I think you should go for it."

"You're suggesting I just… do it. Jump into a relationship with someone who I like and respect, which, if it ends badly, could have disastrous consequences not only for the two of us, but for the entire war effort." Sirius nodded his head rapidly, looking pleased. Remus sighed deeply. "Why am I not surprised?"

"She likes you," Sirius said, his voice, for once, grave. "You like her. I've been in relationships with less of a foundation."

"I know," Remus muttered. "You and Marley still haunt my nightmares."

He clicked his tongue in disgust. "Yeah, I admit that was an error in judgement. But that's not you and Hermione, is it? She's perfect for you, all bookish and swotty" – "hey!" Remus huffed – "and so bloody bossy. She's got a caring streak a mile wide, you need that. And she needs – needs – to get laid."

"Stop talking now, Padfoot, if you want to keep your tongue."

He held his hands up in surrender, a mischievous smirk on his face. "And she's your Mate. What? You think I haven't seen you researching it?" He picked up the book Remus had thrown – Howl: A Gentle Study of Werewolf Behaviour – and waggled it in his face. "The spine is worn down to nothing at chapter twelve, shall we see what that is?"

"Alright, I get it," Remus grumbled, snatching for the book and missing by a mile. Sirius grinned, set the book down out of Remus's reach, and flipped through. "Sirius-"

"Ah, mating bonds. Did you know, Remus, that werewolves, like normal wolves, mate for life?" Sirius pulled a 'thinking' face, curling a finger over his chin and squinting as though he had a monocle. "The Alpha of any singular pack is likely to find their Mate in a human – they're so much more fertile than werewolf women, apparently. Twins and triplets are common, due to something in the mating bite stimulating the woman's fertility – did you know that, Remus? Fascinating stuff."

"You can stop anytime," Remus snapped coldly, and Sirius glanced up at him. "I know all of this."

"Yes, but didn't," Sirius said with the air of someone greatly intrigued. "Remus, why did you never tell me that your cock can-"

"That's enough!" He shouted over him, grabbing for the book again to mask his blazing cheeks. Sirius simply dangled it just out of reach of Remus's arms, smirking. He scowled. "What can I do to make you stop reading?"

"Well, I don't know. It really is very enlightening." He stopped when Remus let a growl trickle out from between his teeth, and smiled. "I suppose, you could promise to talk to Hermione. About… all of this."

"I didn't know you were such a big fan," Remus ground out between gritted teeth, trying to curtail the part of his head that demanded he jump on the bastard and show him who is boss!

"I'm not," Sirius hummed. "You are, though, and I want to see you happy. Also, well rested, because you're grouchy when you're tired and it makes taking the piss a risky experience. I quite like my throat where it is."

Remus paused. Moony, in his head, was flipping somersaults, he was so excited. If he were in physical form, he'd probably have licked the bloke half-to-death, he so adored Pads's proposition and the way he'd neatly boxed Remus into a corner. There was another part, more human but no less pining for Hermione's attention, that was urging him to take the out and be happy about it. To go and talk to Hermione. See if she'd kiss him again. See if she'd be open to a relationship of some sort, because Remus knew that he'd never be able to leave it at just one night.

"Fine," he relented, pushing as much reluctance into his voice as possible so that Sirius didn't think he'd won. "I'll talk to her. Now give me the book."

"Promise?" Sirius wheedled, bringing it closer.

"I promise." Remus seethed.

"Now?" Sirius brightened.

"Don't you push it," Remus growled, snatching his prize out of Sirius's hand and clutching it to his chest.


Now, Ginny wasn't usually inclined towards eavesdropping, you understand, but when she witnesses something potentially dangerous – like, for example, a girl who hates her friend dragging said friend into a room alone – then she feels it is her moral duty to keep an eye on the situation; or, as in this case, an ear. And when she feels that said friend is being shovelled a shit-load of Hiffogriff dung by said enemy, her obligation only grows, and at this point, she cannot with good conscience abandon her post. Not even if the conversation grows personal, not even if said friend buys into the aforementioned Hippogriff dung, not even if she strikes an agreement with said enemy.

Protectiveness was a Weasley's innate instinct. They were a large family who defended and supported each other with all of the weapons in their arsenal. When opponents close in on a single member, their reaction is always to close ranks around the target, to protect their weakest member from all outside interference. Ginny had tried to do that for Hermione with James, and that seemed to have gone well – after all, there was no way Lily had swallowed her pride enough to talk to Hermione without a nudge from her devoted fiancé – but she had overlooked Lily herself in all of the commotion. She'd felt that all that had needed to be said had been said, and these things would resolve themselves in time.

Apparently not, because now she'd walked in on a conversation in which Lily has once again cast Hermione as the aggressor, and while Ginny had sympathy for her plight – and she did – it also seemed weak of the other girl to drop all of the blame for her, frankly quite nasty, actions towards the people in her life on Dumbledore and the wider Wizarding society. It was predictable that Lily would find some excuse, some way to make Hermione feel guilty about her actions, but Ginny hadn't guessed that she would be quite so clever about it, quite so brilliantly manipulative in pinpointing the one thing in her life that Hermione might actually identify with (because let's face it, after a point the 'we're both muggle-born' thing doesn't quite make the cut) and twisting it into the perfect reason for Hermione to not only forgive, but to reassess the whole situation.

Ginny's fingernails cut into her palm as she listened, the one on her middle finger carving a half-moon shape into the fleshy part of her thumb. She was angry, and maybe it had something to do with her own guilt over Harry, and wanting his mother to be that most vaunted, deified woman he'd been told of when he was younger, therefore being disappointed with the reality, but it was more likely that her anger came from the woman's blatant disrespect of Hermione, and everything she'd suffered, everything they'd suffered. She didn't care what Lily spewed – being ignored and vaguely threatened by the Headmaster had nothing on hours of torture, a possession, involuntary murder, years of therapy, losing the respect of your family and peers all in one fell swoop and futile fighting for years to regain it, battles in the middle of the night when you're too young and much too unprepared, and living off of scraps for a year as you hide, terrified, in one single room amid dozens of equally petrified students, some of them no older than twelve; and that was just Ginny.

Before she could go in and confront her, however, Hermione opened the door and stepped out, closing it quietly behind her. She showed no surprise at the fact that Ginny was there, only putting a finger to her lips and indicating that she should follow her down the hall. Ginny hesitated, her mind vacillating between wanting to warn Hermione and wanting to punch Lily. The decision was made by Hermione herself, who rolled her eyes and grabbed Ginny's wrist, dragging her along in her wake. By the time she got back her ability to speak through the gnawing fury, Hermione had locked them in a room decorated entirely in moss-green, closed the curtains and warded the room to silence. She took up a position by the desk and waved a hand. "Now you can speak."

"Lily fucking Evans." Ginny grunted. "She's playing you, and you're just fucking buying it!"

Hermione affected a startled expression. "Really?"

"Yes, really! She tells you some sob story about how she's this poor muggle-born oppressed by 'the man' and its cost her her best friend but that's okay because she loves James, so she's pretending to be fucking naïve? Just – how does one pretend to be that naïve? You can't fucking trust her!"

"Alright, calm down with the swearing, love." Hermione frowned. "Her story makes sense."

"Makes sense? Makes sense?" Ginny screamed out her rage, raking her fingers through her hair. "Gods, Hermione – no, it doesn't fucking make sense. Not unless she's a spineless fucking coward!"

Grimacing, Hermione muttered, "I actually thought it was quite brave of her to-" only to be cut off by another wordless shout. "Ginny, calm down."

"No! Honestly, Hermione. Someone has to say it, and I know you! You talk the big talk, but in your mind you're thinking 'well, she's a really nice person'. Newsflash: not to you, she's not! To you, she's just a really shitty person suffering from an inferiority complex."

"Ginny, do you know what we just got there?" Hermione said patiently, her eyebrow raised. "Do you?"

"Hermione, I will not – what?"

"Do you know what I just got from Lily?" She enunciated each word carefully, tapping her fingers across the surface of the desk.

"Well – no. What?" Ginny suddenly felt like she was missing something big, something that had given Hermione this calm air, despite Ginny's temper – and her temper was quite cowing, if she did say so herself.

"Well, on the one hand, a truce, which is helpful because we can't move forward without us all being on the one side. On the other," Hermione flashed a wicked grin. "I also lost my only real reason not to bring Severus Snape in. Congratulate me, Ginny."

Ginny stopped, her mouth falling open. "You what?"

Hermione gave a shark's smile, all teeth, her eyes sparkling. "Severus Snape. We can bring him in now, and Lily can't complain – she told me directly that she has no personal problem with him. The 'mudblood' thing is gone. Poof." She leaned back on her hands on the table, a satisfied expression on her face, reminding Ginny why she'd always thought Hermione made a better friend than enemy (Poor Skeeter, poor Umbridge, silly fools. Ginny didn't dare even consider what punishment Hermione might find fitting for her were she ever to betray her. Maybe she'd transfigure her into a broomstick. Lock her spirit in a diary. The possibilities were, truly, endless). "I agree with you – we can't trust her, she's only out for herself and James. Yes, there was truth there, but I'm not convinced on all of it. One thing I know is that she's obviously much brighter, much more involved than we gave her credit for. As long as we keep them close, however, they're basically harmless. Snape, though… he'll be difficult."

"That's an understatement!" Ginny exclaimed, still reeling from the announcement. "Even if Lily doesn't complain – and I doubt she'll let it lie, no matter what she says – James, Sirius and Remus despise him, and Dorea will never let him in the house for as long as that's true. Snape hates them in return! Plus, and I don't say this lightly, Hermione, not with Regulus in the house; he's a fucking Death Eater!"

Hermione did that thing with her face where she looked very disappointed, as though Ginny were a naughty child. "Yes, Ginny, he's a Death Eater. Please stop swearing, this is not a Samuel L. Jackson film."

Ginny narrowed her eyes, recognizing the familiar tactic. Fucking muggle-borns using muggle culture to throw the purebloods off guard, sneak things in under the fence while they're still dazed and confused wondering 'what the fuck are you on about?'. "I'm not falling for that. Severus Snape is a Death Eater and that is a problem."

"An easily over-come one, now that we've got the green light on Snape-"

"What green light?" Ginny hissed. "You've got a vague statement from Lily saying she doesn't hate him. That's hardly an invitation."

"It's enough." Hermione said firmly. "We can't bring him here, obviously, but we won't need to. We need a Death Eater. He could be it."

Scowling, Ginny threw up her hands in exasperation. "Yes, except for the part where he's a Death Eater! A real one, Hermione, not a good-guy-pretending-to-be-bad. Think about it; the reason he crossed over in the future was because Lily died due to something he did. That was a guilty conscience, not a pure bloody heart or whatever it is one needs to be considered 'good' in this fucked-up decade. With her alive, he's got no reason to change sides. And, as much as she has pissed me off, I don't think offing her will solve any of our problems."

"Regulus says he wants to leave, and he might help us." Hermione said matter-of-factly. "I trust Regulus."

"What's that story – the scorpion and the frog?" Ginny sniped, but the other girl just rolled her eyes again. "How do you suppose we get him to help us, then?" she sighed.

"We could try asking," Hermione suggested, showing once again that while she is the cleverest person Ginny knows, and extremely aware of the dangers in the world, she's also delightfully trusting. To a fault. She seemed to read what Ginny was thinking because now she was the one who sighed. "Well, then, what do you suggest?"

Using her outstretched arms, Ginny vaulted onto the desk, straddling it so that she was facing Hermione, close enough that she could talk quietly, in case the wards failed. Suddenly, she felt quite businesslike, the words crystal clear in her mind. "First, we can't tell anybody we're going after him. Not Remus, not Lily, not anybody. All it will do is create a fuss we can't afford."

"I wasn't exactly going to advertise it," Hermione said, pulling herself up onto the desk with rather more difficulty than Ginny had had, glaring at her when Ginny raised an eyebrow tauntingly. She sat with her knees over the edge, swinging her feet, so that she faced the door but was only centimetres from Ginny.

"Don't anything it. Lavender can know, Luna can know. Regulus can have a vague idea because we'll need his help on it. Nobody else."

"They'll be angry if they find out we hid it from them," Hermione warned, but it was a weak objection.

"Rather beg forgiveness and all that," Ginny said dismissively. "You wanted Snape, you'll have to deal with the consequences. You're sure you want him?"

"I want to save everybody I can," Hermione declared, voice thrumming with determination. "Regulus, Snape, hell, Malfoy if I have to. Everybody."

"Realistic goal," Ginny commented sarcastically, making Hermione smile.

"Eight years ago, my goal was to help an eleven-year-old boy defeat the Darkest wizard to ever live," she grinned, her entire face alight with mischief. "Compared to that, this one's easy."

Chapter Text

"Where the hell have you been?" Lavender snapped from her armchair, scowling in Hermione's direction. "I've been waiting for you. You said ten! It's now half-past eleven!"

"I got distracted," Hermione admitted, dumping her pile of parchment and books onto the closest flat surface. Ginny, behind her, muttered 'distracted, right' in a scathing tone under her breath.

Lavender huffed. "Well, if you say so. The fact still stands; while you were 'distracted'," she said that word scathingly, as though Hermione's lateness had ruined her day, "I've been here keeping lover-boy on ice."

"Lover-boy?" Hermione repeated blearily, looking up. Remus was sat opposite Lavender, on one of the moth-eaten settees the room had come with. He caught her eye and smiled faintly. "Ah…"

"He's not the most scintillating conversationalist," Lavender continued, "but we did alright. Covered all the bases; the weather, our health, his shitty hair-cut." She turned back to look at him and said, quite sincerely and with great generosity, "Again, I would be perfectly happy to cut it for you. Just say the word and we'll neaten that mop right up." She leaned in closer and added in a confiding tone, "Help mask those problematic ears."

"Thanks, Lavender, but I think I'll pass." Remus replied, looking – thankfully – mildly amused. Brave man, but then, Hermione had already known that.

"Well, alright then," Lavender shrugged. "Your loss."

"Can I talk to you, please," Remus asked Hermione. "Alone?"

"Oh." Hermione blinked. "Yes?"

"We'll just leave you to it," Ginny added hastily, beckoning to Lavender.

Lavender frowned, looking from Remus to Hermione even as she stood to join Ginny at the door. "Do I have to? This seems like it could be interesting. Wolfie is as jittery as Ron when someone mentions spiders and, I'm not an expert but that, to me, signals something exciting."

Rolling her eyes, Ginny waved at Hermione and said to Lavender, "I needed to ask you a question, anyway. Who's Samuel L. Jackson? Hermione mentioned him earlier and I'm still confused." The look she threw Hermione said exactly how much of a sacrifice she was making to ask.

"Only, the most attractive man in cinema!" Lavender squealed, and Ginny winced as though the sound had perforated her eardrum. "He was in Die Hard 3 – him and Bruce Willis lit up the screen. I couldn't breathe, I was so turned on."

"Ri-ight," Ginny said, suddenly upping the amount Hermione owed her for this sacrifice. Lavender excited was the worst. She glanced back at Hermione in the hope that she might save her at the last minute, but – nothing. Hermione was too busy watching Remus apprehensively. "That helps."

Lavender linked arms with her to drag them out of the room, starting to natter; "I mean, I also like Bruce, but he's just not got the pure sexual magnetism…"

Their voices trailed off as the door snapped closed, leaving Hermione alone with Remus for the first time since the morning of the full moon. Suddenly nervous, Hermione cast wildly around for something to say or do. Spotting the book in his arms, she brightened up and grinned. "Oh, is that Howl, by Agnes Nikolova? I love that book – it's so well researched, and possibly the kindest portrayal of werewolves in modern history. I mean, I know she was based in one of the Eastern packs, but you can apply much of what she learned to the British quite easily, I think."

"Err…" Remus blushed. "Right, yes."

Hermione paused then backtracked, frowning. "Of course, you'd know better than I. It could be complete rubbish for all of my experience." She let out a nervous titter.

"Oh, well… yeah. It's pretty accurate. Actually, I kind of wanted to talk -" Hermione had stopped listening, her mind reminding her quite rudely of certain passages in the book, passages she'd never quite got to explore with older Remus, because they hadn't been mated, but were now, for some ridiculous reason, being imagined in great detail. Her breath left her and she cursed her active imagination. "Hermione?"

Snapping out of her trance, she was mortified to realise she'd been staring at him breathlessly, likely all starry eyed because of her perverted imagination. She shook her head briskly and shot him an apologetic smile. "No, sorry, do go on."

"Are you alright?" He frowned. "I can come back later..."

When, Hermione wondered, did their conversations get so bloody stilted? They'd never had this problem in either incarnation. They had so much in common that their chat had always had a sense of ease, even when they were all pent-up about war or family or sex. Perhaps it was that she didn't know him very well, or perhaps it was because of his age and the awkwardness of the situation, but whatever it was, she wasn't keen on the way her shoulders seemed about to crack, her spine painfully straight. "No, no it's fine."

He shot her an enquiring look, but let it go. He rolled his shoulders, letting Hermione know that she wasn't alone in feeling the pressure. "Er –" he seemed to be looking for a way to start, his eyes darting around the room, and that, of everything, was the part that cracked Hermione up.

"Oh, Gods," she sighed loudly, giggling when he started. "How about we just ban 'err', 'erm', 'oh' and 'sorry' from this conversation? Otherwise we'll get nowhere."

He seemed to slump a little in relief, sending her a bashful look from beneath his fringe, the discomfort of the situation evaporating to leave only the usual nervous tension. "You're right, sorr- yeah. I'm just – a little nervous."

"Well, stop," Hermione said briskly, "because it's rubbing off on me and I can't think properly when that happens." She made for Lavender's armchair, then stopped, looking between the couch Remus was sitting on and the chair a few feet away. Should she be sat with him? What sort of discussion were they about to have? She was fairly certain it wasn't going to be a break-up sort of thing, considering their lack of a relationship, and he'd kissed her for goodness sake, she hadn't pursued him in any way, so they couldn't have an issue over that. She was intrigued, however, by his apparent nerves. Was he about to dress her down for the Lily thing? If so, he was a touch late on that.

What was she doing? Right, sitting down. Remus was watching her hesitate, his lips quirking up at the edges. Just as his nerves comforted her in some way, displaying hers seemed to make him relax by inches. True, he continued to be as tightly wound as a shiny new spring, but his posture was slumping bit by bit. And if that was the case, then she might as well give him something to go on. With a quick turn, she marched over the rug to sit on the sofa he'd previously occupied. His nostrils flared as she walked past, and he seemed to suck in a deep breath. Then, smiling more freely, he bent to retake his place.

"Sirius said I should come," he blurted out, dropping the book on the coffee table.

"So – what? You don't want to be here?" Hermione felt vaguely affronted by the idea. She wasn't that awful. Really. Was she?

"Oh – sorry – shit!" He winced, and it was satisfyingly real. "It's just – I don't know how to broach this. Talking to – well, girls – isn't my thing."

"Women," Hermione corrected, biting back a smile.

"What?" Remus said vaguely, his attention rivetted to where her teeth had dug into her lip.

"I'm a woman, Remus. I'm twenty." She smirked. "Only just, but still. I'm the proverbial 'older woman'."

His eyes flicked back up to hers, amusement turning them warm. "Right. I'm your teenage toy-boy, then, am I?"

Hermione let out a laugh. "Hardly. I don't think a kiss qualifies as some torrid affair." She regretted that the moment she said it, for he stiffened and his eyes skipped away. "Hey, it was a joke."

"No, I know." He muttered, and he looked straight into her face again. She almost swallowed her tongue when she caught sight of his pupils, dilated so wide they almost swallowed the green of his eyes – green tinted with streaks of gold, a sign that his wolf was interested in this conversation, too. She remembered seeing that same sight repeatedly back in the future, before their… assignations. Seconds before he'd kiss her, or touch her, or throw her against a wall and...

She shut out the thoughts, hard though it was. Yes, she'd loved older Remus and yes, she'd enjoyed their affair, but it had been messy and tainted, and she refused to allow it to taint this Remus, and whatever would happen here – if anything. Besides, she'd been with Remus the man so rarely, it barely merited mentioning. Moony, however…

Which was odd, now that she thought about it. If Tonks was his Mate, then surely… and she hadn't even been Pack, nor a werewolf, none of the things you'd expect to tempt a werewolf into … well, sex.

She had so many questions that would remain unanswered about that part of her life, which was why she liked to keep it locked away, only to be confronted in dreams and moments like this. Remus… well, he needed to know, but would she ever get the courage to tell him? And what if they started something. Keeping it from him would be the ultimate betrayal. Telling him… might ruin everything before it started.

You're a Gryffindor, Hermione Granger. She scolded herself.

"I slept with you," she admitted suddenly, effectively shattering the atmosphere. He jerked back so quickly he almost toppled over the edge of the chair. She didn't blame him for his surprise. She was surprised, too.

"I – what?"

"In the future. Older you. When I was seventeen, right up until – well. You were married. I don't know why it happened, but it did, and I thought you should know." The words tripped over themselves to get out even as in her head something was screaming (in a voice that sounded oddly like Ginny); what the actual fuck what the fuck why did you just say that what the fuck do you enjoy destroying your personal life who the fuck what the actual fuck, Hermione! STOP TALKING! "Before anything happened, if anything were to happen. And – well, I know I'm not your Mate, but I like you, and that -"

"I was married?" Remus asked, astounded.

Irrational irritation itched in her chest. "That's what you're taking from this?" she snapped, equally astounded.

He shook his head, smiling slightly. "No, no. I got the rest of it. But, seriously, I was married? For how long?"

"A year? Less?" Hermione let out a huff. "Does it matter?"

"I think it matters to you," Remus said logically, but he was still smirking, so proud of himself, the git. "Any kids?"

There was a pause as affection and guilt swelled up in her chest. "Yes. Teddy. He was… only a few months old when you died." She glanced away to mask her expression. "It… I'm not proud of what I did, but I helped Teddy after you died. I loved him."

His expression, what she could see of it from the corner of her eyes, was conflicted. "Wow." He took a deep breath, staring down at his lap as he flexed his hands there. "I – I suppose this is why people aren't supposed to know the future."

Her mouth stayed resolutely closed despite her instinct being to immediately rattle off a lecture on how that future no longer exists due to discrepancies in the timeline they'd taken advantage of. Instead, she kept watching him as he battled with the information he was given. Finally, he looked up. "Did I love her?"

"I…" she shrugged. "I think so? I mean, why else would you marry her? I know there was a lot of pressure on you at the time, but you never said that you didn't love her."

"But if I loved her, then why would I… cheat?" He seemed to have trouble getting that word out, and Hermione didn't blame him. Yes, he was only a teen now, but he was so pure and good, she couldn't imagine him taking those steps away from what he'd consider his duty. The older Remus, however, had been broken and worn, tired from years of being in perfect control. Hermione had idolised him, from the very first second they'd met and she'd realised he was a Professor. Devotion like that… well, even the best person likely wouldn't be able to resist it for long. She had been the temptation, the lure away from his family in a time when he was so stressed, so strung out, and even Tonks wasn't a safe harbour. There, he was under more responsibility, more obligations. Hermione was the only person who didn't ask anything of him. It was nobody's fault but their own, and Hermione accepted that, only… rationalising it came easily, as them, together, had always felt so right.

Without waiting for her to answer, he closed his eyes. "Actually, no. Don't answer that. I know why I would cheat."

Really? Well I don't! She throttled down that question, too. He probably didn't want to talk about it. The Gods knew she didn't. This was probably the most awkward conversation she'd ever had, and it wasn't going to get better anytime soon.

"This changes things," Remus muttered quietly, and then blushed. "I didn't expect you to be a virgin, but this is just… odd." He then looked up, his jaw slack. "How old was I?"

"Not that old!" Hermione defended tartly. "Thirty-six? Thirty-seven?"

"And you were seventeen…" he checked, then blinked hazily. "Bloody hell. I don't know whether to condemn myself or congratulate myself."

"You're joking," Hermione said, meeting his eyes. Nope, not joking. "This is the house where feminism comes to die." She complained, throwing her hands over her eyes. "You've got the one-night-stand king, you've got the woman who pretends to be stupid so people will like her, you've got the stay-at-home mum who encourages that out-dated, ridiculous attitude, the fiancé who thinks his perfectly-capable girlfriend is made of glass, and the alpha-werewolf high-fiving his future self for fucking a girl twenty years his junior. Why, Gods, why?"

He shot her a smirk. "This is 1979. I don't know what things are like where you're from – though, obviously, they were pretty exciting – but here, Feminism is still a dirty word."

"Yeah…" Hermione drawled, scowling. "It's not that different in the nineties, actually."

Smiling at her, he let out a chuckle. "We seem to have gotten off track."

Hermione widened her eyes innocently. "I don't know, Remus, I think I like it off track. Let's forget about whatever I was saying before and instead debate gender politics. I'm good at gender politics."

"Nice try." He rested his head against the back of the sofa and hummed. "If we're being bluntly honest, I should tell you that you're my Mate."

"No, I'm not." She replied automatically, waving his statement off. He shot her a wry look.

"Yes, you are. I should know, I'm the werewolf."

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. "Well, then, you're wrong. We can't be…"

The air hissed out from between his teeth as he scrunched his brow in frustration. "Merlin, when I came here I wasn't expecting a debate. Some snogging, yeah. Not this – I feel like we should be in a boardroom."

"You don't understand," Hermione said, standing up and stamping her feet, uncaring that it seemed childish. "We – well, we had sex. We fucked. Made love, once or twice, but we never – we didn't Mate. According to the book, a werewolf can't control when he gives the mating bite, ergo: not your mate."

"The book is written based on wild werewolf packs in Eastern Europe. There's no reason for them to hold back on giving the mating bite – no reason like, for example, being married." Remus glared. "Trust me, Hermione, you're it."

Suddenly feeling faint, she collapsed back onto the couch, eyes fixed on his face. "But…"

A growl rumbled from his chest, more gold bleeding into his eyes. Hermione thought better of arguing.

They stayed staring at each other for a few minutes, Hermione considering the eyes of both Remus and Moony, wondering where that all left them. She was pretty sure the atmosphere wasn't conducive to kissing and making up, were she to want that – and she did, but also didn't. What she'd just told him was a lot to take in, and if he made any decisions now, the likelihood was that he'd regret it once everything had time to sink in. If she was, indeed, his Mate – and boy, if that didn't send a shiver of pure, piercing joy through her heart – then they needed to take this slowly. Be careful about it.

Hermione had no intention of Mating with him if there were things left unsaid, things he'd regret later. She knew what it was like to live under the burden of constant resentment, both towards her and outwards, and she didn't fancy that as her life. Besides, after years of denying vehemently the possibility of her and Remus being anything more than… whatever they were, she needed some time, herself. Coming to terms with this new revelation would require overturning everything she'd thought she knew about their relationship and her life up to then. And Merlin knew, if there was anything Hermione hated, it was being wrong.

It felt like that was becoming increasingly frequent.


Eavesdropping. Again.

Ginny wondered what exactly it said about her that she'd suddenly resorted to such underhanded tactics, but then she remembered the first war, and all the things they should have been told but hadn't, and how it was her eavesdropping that alerted everybody to something being wrong in fifth year in the first place.

Plus, you know, it was fun.

Guilty conscience satisfied, Ginny tried to – discretely – press her Extendable Ear farther under the door. Luna had given her it this morning with a blank smile, pressing it into her hands before she'd left for her jog. 'You'll be needing this,' she'd said, and she was right. All she had to do was keep it secret, not let anybody else know it existed, with the obvious exceptions of Luna, Lavender and Hermione, to protect the future of WWW. None of them wanted Fred and George's genius to go unacknowledged into history, and in a house full of pranksters, letting slip even one of their inventions would be a dangerous game.

"…and to be honest, I don't even like the sodding necklace, a load of fuss for nothing if you ask me. Anyway, why would you make a romance without a happy ending? I don't buy things that make me cry! Give me a good old comedy, or some action, any day. Don't you think, Gin?"

"Lavender," Ginny whispered, because she was closer to the door and paranoid of being discovered, despite their having hidden behind the drapes in an alcove. "I don't want to be rude, but I am literally the world's most disinterested person."

"Excuse me?" Lavender retorted snippily.

"Seriously." She turned to look directly at her. "You wanted to stay and listen, that's what we're doing."

Lavender scowled. "Well I'm so sorry to bore you, but you did start the conversation."

"That was before you gave me a half-hour lecture on the sinking of some bloody boat!" she snapped back. "Lavender, I don't even know what a film is, for Merlin's sake!"

Lavender let out a harassed huff, scowling. "Well, why didn't you just say so? What is wrong with you, Ginny Weasley?"

"Shush," Ginny said, suddenly going on the alert, pushing her hand back to cover Lavender's mouth. There had been a long silence on the other end of the wire, but a scrambling noise had just begun, so Ginny thought they were either kissing or preparing to leave. Her concentration was absolute as she listened, straining her ears for the tiniest sound.

"I just - need time to think," Hermione said finally, her voice a bit weak. Ginny felt bad for her – any time she and Remus got a chance to talk, obstacles were thrown in their way, mostly of their own making. Poor buggers.

"That's probably best." Remus's voice was distant. "This is a lot…" There was a creak of the ancient sofa, a shuffling as he moved.

"No, Hermione, don't leave it at that!" Ginny hissed, feeling rather helpless and infuriated with the pair of them. "Remus, for fuck's sake! – OI!" She snatched her hand back, turning again to glare at Lavender, who was smirking smugly. "Did you just lick me?"

"Lick you?" Lavender blinked her gigantic eyes innocently. "Of course not. What's happening?"

Ginny scowled, using her quidditch reflexes to throw her hand out, wiping the trail of saliva down Lavender's cheek and darting out of the way when she moved to attack. "I think they've stopped talking." She said through barely concealed amusement, looking at Lavender so that the other girl could see the frustration writ over her features and Ginny could more easily dodge further attacks. "They're both incompetent. Hermione's upset."

"Do I need to break his face?" Lavender queried, her face perfectly solemn, and Ginny had the oddest feeling that she was being perfectly serious. "I can, you know. Maybe not with my bare hands, and not purposefully, but I'm sure an accident can be arranged."

"Circe, Lavender, what the fuck?"

Lavender just shrugged, perfectly peaceful. "Well?"

"I knew there was something wrong with you," she shook her head ruefully. "But everybody was like "no, Lavender's perfectly normal! Not a stabby thought in her head!" Lavender stuck her tongue out childishly, but Ginny couldn't complain, because she was squinting her eyes and holding her thumbs to her head like antlers, waggling them and gurning grotesquely herself.

"Wait – Remus…" Hermione's voice was hesitant. Ginny, dropping the game, whipped around to listen further. "I don't…"

"Hermione?" Remus was closer to the Ear now, nearer the door.

More shuffling, presumably as Hermione moved to join him. Lavender began to wave her hand in front of Ginny's face, clicking her tongue impatiently. "Hello-oooo?"

"Remus is leaving, Hermione's trying to stop him."

"That girl," Lavender's voice was infused with long-suffering. "No wonder she's always single."

"Just in case things don't work out," Hermione muttered lowly, and then there was a pause, and then the soft sound of them kissing. Ginny began to spool her gadget back, a satisfied smile on her face.

"They'll be fine," she told Lavender.

"They'd bloody better be," Lavender snorted. "Gods, it's like dealing with children. They're on, then they're off, then they're on again. Why can't they just have a nice, stable relationship? Win the war, settle down, have some puppies?"

"You do know that the werewolf jokes don't have the same bite when you, yourself, are a werewolf?"

Lavender shot her an incredulous look. "The reason I can make werewolf jokes is because I am one. You know how touchy that boy is, it would be like picking on a House-Elf otherwise. Just plain cruel." She smirked. "Bite, though. Good one." Ginny rolled her eyes and prayed, yet again, for patience.


The problem with good intentions is that once you're off the road, you stay off it.

Or, at least, that was the thought Remus had as he found himself, once more, kissing Hermione. At least she'd kissed him, this time. That sent a perfectly clear message.

Her lips were soft and sweet, hesitant in a way they hadn't been the first time. Her hands had stayed in perfectly respectable positions, as did his, and the only place they were joined was at their lips. It was chaste, so very chaste that he could barely taste her, but for the faint remains of her morning tea on her lips. It ended, too, much too quickly, and he found himself staring down into her eyes.

"You're very short," he found himself saying. And she was. Standing up, her mass of hair cleared his shoulder but that was only through pure volume. Looking up at him when they were this close together did something to her neck that he found quite nice but would probably cause problems in later life. Still, it was amazing that so much… well, everything, could be packaged in such a tiny body.

"Thanks for pointing that out," she said dryly, looking down at herself. Her lips were quivering though, and her amber eyes were alight with humour. "I never noticed. Next, you'll be telling me I have hair, or feet, or other equally unbelievable facts."

"Feet? Really?" He made a show of looking down and gasping. "By the Gods, I have them too!"

Hermione stared at him for a moment and then burst out into peals of giggles. "Oh my," she tittered, the sound uplifting after the heaviness of their conversation. "How is it possible that at nineteen, you make the same jokes as when you're almost forty?"

He shrugged one shoulder sheepishly. "Like fine wine – they get better with age?"

"I don't think they were ever good." Her blinding smile took the sting out of it, though, more so when she punched him lightly on the arm and said, "it's a good job you're handsome".

She thought he was handsome, one part of his brain said, preening.

The other part – the cynical, awful, rational part – replied with she also slept with you, helped you cheat on your wife, and raised your child despite not being his mother. Well. That sobered him up.

Hermione took her cues from him, stepping back, the light in her eyes fading. He was sorry to see it go, but she was right. They needed time to consider things. After all, you couldn't build a successful relationship on simply liking a person's smile. Especially not when there were other such important issues to address.

The door was only two steps behind him so he was there in no time, his hand on the knob, turning it. Hermione stayed where she was, silent except for when he'd gotten the door open and was about to step out. "We'll talk later?" she asked then, her voice filled with a morbid hope that Remus recognised much too well.

He looked at her again, took her in stood in the centre of that awful, nicotine stained room. She was bright even in the candlelight, because they still hadn't managed to get the drapes clean, leaving the room in a sort of suspended twilight. She wore nothing special, jeans and an oversized jumper, her hair as unmanageable as always, springing in every direction. Her eyes glowed amber, lively, expectant, and her long fingers twisted nervously in the belt-loops at her waist. This was her natural environment – the dusty, old rooms nobody else appreciated, surrounded by books and research in comfy clothes, devoid of ornamentation.

Still beautiful, he noted. Still everything he could look for in a woman, only more complex. A woman with a history, one he'd have to learn how to deal with. He hadn't ever had an adult relationship before. He'd never had reason to learn how to accept another person in his life, to carve out a space for them. Sirius had found his own way in, not taking no for an answer, dragging a grinning James by the hand and Lily on behind them. But, he'd never done it himself. He didn't know if he'd manage it, to be truthful. Opening up sounded painful and fruitless.

But she was so beautiful, and she would be his, if only he'd take her. If only he could get over himself and do this thing, find a way.

"We'll talk later," he agreed, closing the door and wondering what the hell he was getting into.

Chapter Text

"Horcruxes!" Hermione called over the din, waving her hands for attention. Ginny, seeing she was getting nowhere fast, let out a piercing whistle. Immediately, the canines – poor Sirius, Remus and Lavender, clapped their hands over their ears with pained shouts, which had the fortunate side-effect of shutting them all up. It was so helpful when the troublemakers had exploitable weaknesses.

"Thank-you, Gin," Hermione said more calmly, glaring at the inhabitants of the room as they calmed. "As I was saying; Horcruxes. What can you tell me about them?"

"I didn't realize we were back at school," James said to Sirius under his breath, who snickered back.

Hermione fixed them with a glare. "Do you, or do you not want to be involved in this discussion? You can always leave. It's your house, you know where the doors are."

James opened his mouth then closed it again as Lily kicked his shin, slumping down in his chair. Hermione smiled at him. "That's what I thought.

"Now, as I was saying – does anybody here, outside of Luna, Gin and I, and possibly Regulus, know anything about Horcruxes. No? Okay, good. That means I can start from the beginning when I'm catching you all up.

"A Horcrux is a powerful piece of dark magic, used to bind a piece of one's soul to an object – be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. They're rare, simply because of the amount of power one must expend in creating one, and how very dark – inky black, even – the spell to create one, and later, use one, is."

"What do you mean, 'inky-black'?" Lily piped up, glancing at Hermione over the top of her quill. She was taking notes, bless her heart.

"You must commit an unspeakable act in order to create one," Regulus answered, settled on his own settee with Luna's ankles lolling over his knees. He, too, was taking notes, with Luna beside him to mutter corrections and extensions. "That is, after you've killed a person to sever your soul, you must commit another atrocity of such proportions that even the books at Grimmauld didn't explain the process."

There was a lingering pause as, presumably, both Regulus and Hermione mourned the loss of such a glorious library.

Regulus cleared his throat to add, "So, it's worse than dark – the darkest, most black magic you can conceive of."

Then, Sirius, with typical insensitivity; "why were you even looking?"

Regulus shot him a dark look, but Hermione was already responding, stepping into Sirius's line of sight and raising her eyebrows at him. "I thought we'd settled this – your brother's experience with the dark is part of what makes him so valuable to us. He's a Death Eater – big deal. I suggest you go outside and work out any lingering aggression you have towards him because, from this moment onwards, I won't be tolerating any wisecracks or other signs of passive aggression. We need to be a team, all right? It's too dangerous to be any other way."

She fixed the man-child with a gimlet stare until he forced his eyes away, nodding stiffly in defeat. Still puffed up with adrenalin, she transferred her look to everybody else, one by one. "That goes for all of you, too. Leave your problems at the door because, frankly, I don't give a damn – shut up, Lav." Lavender sent a rueful look towards Hermione as she closed her mouth, but the other girl was already moving on.

"Ginny, Lavender, Luna and I have collated all of the research we've been doing on the War, Voldemort, his allies and his Death Eaters into this document." She used her left hand to pat the thick pile of folded parchment she had on the desk, nodding at Luna as she added, "thanks to Luna's impressive spellwork, it provides us with a comprehensive plan for how to end this war with as little bloodshed and outright battling as possible. Of course, not everything is accounted for – we still don't know how to deal with Dumbledore, for example, nor how to avoid the Order indefinitely, but we'll figure it out. Right now, what we need to do is find a starting point, something we can actually do.

"And I thought we might as well start with Horcruxes."

Hermione leaned back on the desk with a solemn expression on her face. "Destroying a Horcrux is exceptionally difficult unless one has access to rare potions ingredients, or is able to summon and control fiendfyre. I'll take a risk and assume that nobody here has that ability?" They all sent her identical incredulous looks, to which she nodded her understanding. "Well, then. We need Basilisk venom."

"I'm sorry – what venom?" Lily asked, glancing up from her notes through a curtain of fiery hair. "Basilisk? But they're extinct."

Ginny grimaced. "Not… exactly."

"What do you mean, 'not exactly'? People would know if there was a basilisk out there. They're not small." She scoffed, thought it wilted a little upon seeing Hermione's face. "Right? I mean, it's not possible."

"There's one still out there," Ginny said decisively. "And we know where it is."

"Our first order of business is to get our hands on it. That could be… difficult, but necessary." Hermione glanced down at her notes, and nodded to herself. "It's sleeping right now, but there's no guarantee it won't wake up once we enter it's lair. It could be a very dangerous undertaking."

"How dangerous?" James asked, perking up. There was that Gryffindor fire in his eyes, the one uniquely found in the lads of their house, so reckless and excitable.

"Dangerous, as in, this is a creature who would just as soon kill you as look at you – mostly because looking at you would kill you." Hermione smiled a little at her joke, turning to Lavender with bright eyes, who smirked back at her. Ginny rolled her eyes.

"Okay, so how are you supposed to milk it if it's that dangerous?" Sirius asked. Beside him, Remus nodded solemnly, a confused wrinkle on his brow.

"We kill it." Ginny said simply.

"And… how do you propose we do that?" James raised an eyebrow in question.

"With roosters," Lily said slowly, with an air of realization. "A rooster's crow is deadly to a Basilisk. It's the only way to kill one without getting close enough for it to react."

Hermione nodded her agreement, sharing a brief conspiratorial smile with Lily. James frowned at his fiancée, but didn't ask, instead turning back to Hermione and saying, with great interest, "so where is it then?"

Hermione told them.


Dear Mr. Sirius Orion Black III,

As Black family patriarch and following the recent passing of Mrs. Walburga Black, you are named as the next of kin for Hogwarts student Regulus Arcturus Black.

In regards to this position, your presence has been requested in a meeting with Hogwarts' Headmaster Albus P.B.W. Dumbledore, this Friday, at eleven a.m. in his office to discuss a matter of utmost urgency.

Headmaster Dumbledore understands that this summons comes at short notice and therefore has included a letter to be passed on to Head Auror Moody to explain the situation. Please ensure we receive your acceptance by return owl no later than five p.m. on Thursday.

Our condolences on your loss.

Kind regards,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress


Sirius stared up at the wrought-iron gates to the school and took in a deep breath, holding it in his chest until his lungs began to strain, the tight ache grounding him to the moment. Beside him, James fiddled anxiously with his wand, staring back at the path towards Hogsmeade, shuffling his feet every now and again. One strand of hair flopped into his eyes and he blew it away with a frustrated huff.

"When are we going in?" he demanded, turning to Sirius with a scowl.

"Calm down, Prongs," Sirius snapped, then shook himself again. All of their nerves were stretched to breaking point. The 'mission' – and he felt bloody ridiculous calling it a mission – had been thrown together in a matter of days, their roles sketched out quickly. It was by no means infallible, and considering they were about to break into the most secure school in Britain, they would all have preferred infallible. He didn't say that to James, though. He was twitchy enough as it was. "It's a good plan. Stick to the script."

James grimaced, and Sirius could almost hear his mind whirring, the Lily-part throwing up objection after objection. To stave it off, he turned and grabbed his friend by the shoulders. "Listen, mate. We've carried off some of our most memorable pranks with less planning and more danger. Get it together!"

"Yes, but when we pranked people, it was just the four of us, they weren't deadly and – oh, guess what? Nobody got killed."

"Nobody will get killed this time, either," Sirius said firmly, with strained patience. "You heard Hermione. They've done worse things and gotten away with it. I mean, they've never gone up against Dumbledore, but goblins are equally as terrifying."

James scoffed. "I still think that Gringotts story was a lie. A dragon? Seriously?"

A sharp whistle rent the air and Remus came jogging up out of the trees, his face red from running. "There's a Quidditch game on," he panted. "Just started. If we're lucky," he said lucky with a wink, "they'll end the game just as your meeting lets out."

"Let's hope they're lucky, then," Sirius grunted, before raising his wand and summoning his Patronus.


["A lot of it will be about timing," Hermione said, stabbing a finger at the map spread out across the floor. The Marauders' Map, even – complete with sullen teenage boys irritated that they had to share their prize. "Timing our entrance with Sirius's exit. Making sure you're where you're needed, that the props are where they're supposed to be."

" Not a problem," James said smugly, pointing at a name on the map. "He idolises us. Two words to him and he'll have everything we need prepared."

" Not by owl," Hermione reminded him. "It could be intercepted."

" I hardly think the Ministry is reading our letters, Hermione," Lily said in a snooty voice.

Hermione didn't even bother to look up at her, instead sorting through cards she had in her lap until she found what she was looking for and handed it over to Remus, who read the card and nodded, a mischievous glint appearing in his eye. "Good job it's not the Ministry we're hiding from, then, isn't it, Lily?" she replied, not stopping her work.]


"Black! Shud'a known it'd be you!" Hagrid beamed, approaching on the other side of the gate. "And ye brought James and Remus too! Ah, 'Eadmaster'll be right pleased."

"Hagrid!" Sirius greeted him with a grin, waiting for him to open the gates fully before starting forward. If there was an unexplainable flutter in the air, nobody mentioned it – in fact, they highly doubted Hagrid saw it at all. "Got yourself that dragon yet?"

"Eh, 'fraid not," Hagrid said and, not noticing anything odd or unusual about the group, closed the gates behind them and began to lead them up to the castle. "Only a matter o' time, though. Now, sad business this…"


["So, if we're meeting with Dumbledore, then what…?"

Ginny took over, pointing at their destination on the map. "I'll be making my way here, with Lavender as a lookout."

" You'll have to use the cloak," Hermione hummed, rattling through her little beaded bag, occasionally picking out a vial and shaking it to check the potion's efficacy. "We only have three lots of Polyjuice, and I'd rather save it for when it's really needed. Is that alright, James?"

James shrugged. "Yeah, fine, just avoid Dumbledore and McGonagall. They can both see through it."]


Ginny didn't think she'd ever been this close to another woman in her life, and she played Quidditch for a living. She'd lived in dorms, she used communal showers on the daily. Never had she been so wrapped up in another woman like she was forced to be now, with Lavender, under this bloody cloak.

"I somehow doubt this is how Ron and Harry did it," Lavender muttered under her breath, but as Ginny was so bloody close to her, it was clear as a bell.

"I don't think men can be this close to one another without certain things entering certain areas," Ginny murmured back, wincing as Lavender stepped on her toes. They weren't the most in-sync team in the world, what with Lavender being three-to-four inches shorter and probably about five inches wider. Ginny had her arms wrapped around her shoulders, her entire front pressed up against Lavender's back, as close as they could possibly go. If she'd had much breast to speak of to begin with, it was safe to say they would have been forced back into her chest. Their legs were supposed to be moving in tandem, but Lavender kept missing beats. The cloak wasn't very big, not when you were a grown woman, and even pressed as close as they were they had to be very careful about keeping themselves covered.

"Next time, we use Polyjuice," Lavender swore vehemently as she almost tripped over Ginny's feet. Ginny snorted her agreement as they scuttled around the edge of Hagrid's cabin. "How do we do this?"

"If I remember correctly," Ginny hummed, glancing around as she carefully cracked open the box in her mind she'd kept mostly closed since her first year. Flashes of blood and feathers chased across her mind as she hunted for the memory she needed, before forcing them back in. "They're over there," she said, pointing to the opposite side of the pumpkin patch, where the trees met Hagrid's land. They shuffled over carefully, one step at a time until the chicken run came into view.

It was a mesh run, boxed in on all sides, with three coops separated by more walls of mesh. There was, Ginny recalled, one rooster to service the hens in each coop, though Hagrid had to replace them often. Hagrid, as was his way, was as inept at breeding chickens as he was with nearly every other area of animal husbandry, and every once in a while he thought that perhaps all of the roosters might like to be friends.

Really, if Riddle had just waited for Hagrid to have one of these intelligence blips, there might never have been need to make Ginny kill the damn things – they did it quite efficiently themselves, thank-you very much.

(The fact that a gamekeeper obsessed with dangerous magical creatures just happened to raise chickens doesn't ring any alarm bells unless you know that after the Basilisk was killed in Ginny's first year, the run was replaced by an extended pumpkin patch, even though Hagrid had been raising chickens since the forties. Suspicious? Very much so.)

Lavender opened Hermione's little beaded bag, which she'd belted at her waist, and pulled out three wood-and-mesh crates, dropping them on the floor before glancing around to check they were unobserved. When she was certain that nobody watched, she threw off the invisibility cloak and knelt down beside the runs. Ginny brought out her wand and began peeling back the anti-predator wards someone – likely Sprout, who often assisted Hagrid with the more logical side of his projects – had covered the coops in.

Once done, Lavender unclipped the cage doors and attached the opening of the crates to each open entrance, before backing away from the chicken coop altogether. Ginny cleaned everywhere she'd touched of her scent, and then Lavender returned, this time on the opposite side of the coop, where the roosters napped.

"Ready?" she asked, glancing up at Ginny, who valiantly ignored the slight queasiness on her features. They weren't killing the things, after all. Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.

"Ready," she said instead, casting the final ward across the centre of the runs, the ward that would ensure their theft was a success.

Lavender nodded, kneeled down in the mud (with her signature 'urgh' of disgust) and reached her arms forward, linking her fingers around the holes in the mesh, wincing at the remnants of feathers and other dirt. In one smooth motion, she lifted her hands and tore the mesh apart, the metal snapping with a high-pitched squeal of protest. Suddenly, the air filled with terror-filled squawks as Lavender leaned forward, punching a hole in the back wall of the coop, waving her fist to spread the terrifying scent of predator into their homes. Chickens appeared from every direction, charging down their runs, ruffling feathers and screeching in horror, even from the untouched coops.

Ginny grinned up at Lavender as they barrelled towards her, only to run into an invisible wall. All except for the roosters, of course, who stormed through to disappear into the provided crates, which Ginny slammed shut immediately. With a swish of her wand, Lavender fixed the damage she'd created, and Ginny obliterated any scent remains. Almost immediately the chickens calmed down.

"Very good," Ginny said, nodding in an impressed way.

Lavender scoffed. "That's me – Lavender Brown, animal nightmare extraordinaire. It's a wonder we have a door left with all of the people pounding on it, begging to hire me."

Scoffing, Ginny locked the crates together with their specially made clips and silenced the whole lot. "Take a compliment, woman," she groaned.

"Maybe later," Lavender said, tossing the beaded bag over to Ginny so that she could take charge of the chickens. "Right now, I'm going to wallow in self-pity. Oh, woe is me, why do chickens hate me, whatever will happen to my lifelong dream of being a farmhand now?!"

The crates sealed into the purse, Ginny stood up and clipped it to the waist of her jeans, then picked up the cloak. "Are you done?"

Lavender tilted her head one way and then the other. "Hmm… Yeah, think so."

"Good," Ginny said shortly, checking her watch. "Ten minutes left. You'd best head to the Quidditch pitch."


["You need to respond to the letter," Hermione told Sirius directly. "The contract between school and parent requires that parents-or-guardians be notified no later than a week after any incident involving their child. In the case of extreme injury or disappearance, the guardian must receive an invitation to a mandatory in-person interview within a week. The actual date of the interview is at the Headmaster's discretion, and generally he skirts the rule -" she scowled, remembering all the times she and her friends had been deathly injured at school only for their parents to be clueless as Dumbledore decided the injury 'wasn't bad enough', "- but he knows you, he knows your relationship with Regulus is strained, and he knows you trust him. That's why it's so soon, and that's why you need to go."

" What am I supposed to do?" Sirius asked, his face a mask of nervous concern.

" Just be you," Hermione soothed him with a smile. "He's expecting you. Act informal and clueless and then, later, reckless and angry. Don't give him any reason to think something's off."

" But things will be off?"

Hermione shot him a sly smirk that explained eloquently exactly how she came to be friends with girls like Ginny and Lavender. "Oh, yes. Things will be off."]


"My brother is gone?" Sirius repeated, by all appearances at a loss to find any other words.

"Sirius – I am sorry. But you understand, there is no way I can keep a child here if he really, sincerely wants to leave us." Dumbledore peered over his half-moon glasses with all appearance of sincerity. Sirius, fixing his eyes on a spot just above his ear, found he didn't have to work all that hard to feign fury. Whether he knew where Regulus was or not, he still could have died. And it had been over a week before Dumbledore had contacted him to let him know he was even gone!

"I can assure you that the Order and Hogwarts are both doing everything in our power to locate your brother," Dumbledore was saying, his face solemn. He had his fingers pressed together in an arch beneath his chin as he pinned Sirius with his gaze. "However, I am sure you know, Sirius, that your brother was involved with Lord Voldemort, and so… recovery may not be possible."

Can't you even say his name? Sirius thought furiously, not having to act as he clenched his fists on the arms of his chair. Regulus. Regulus Arcturus Black. Being a Death Eater does not stop him from being a person.

"I want to be involved," he hissed through his teeth, keeping to the script. "I want… Reg… I need to help search for him."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," Dumbledore said in his even tone. "You know that. You're too close to this, Sirius, and we need you on other things. You're training to be an Auror. It's imperative to the cause that you pass your tests."

With a pitiful look at Sirius, he said, "I understand your concerns, Sirius, but this is the way it must be. We will keep you updated, of course."

There was a clear dismissal there, and Sirius didn't dignify it with a response as he stood abruptly, the movement shoving the delicate chair he occupied back a few feet. Without a word, he turned and stormed toward the door.


[" Take Remus, too," Hermione suggested, looking between the three marauders.

" Why?" Remus asked, looking startled to be addressed.

Hermione bit her lip, using a complicated gesture of her wand to pull up details on Hogwarts from Luna's parchment. "You're his pet werewolf, if you'll excuse the term. He'll want to talk to you about travelling in the werewolf packs, to help the Order."

"What?" he stammered. "But – I can't! I'm not – I'm not pack. They'd kill me. Especially if I'm unmated, that's even worse. They'll think I'm out to steal their women!"

Both of them studiously looked elsewhere on the word 'unmated'.

" Don't give him an answer. Be noncommittal. But you need to be there, so that he doesn't have chance to escort Sirius and James off the grounds."

" So I'm the distraction?" Remus demanded, looking offended. Hermione smiled sweetly, reaching out to pinch his cheeks.

" A very handsome distraction," she confirmed, laughing softly when he blushed.]


"Remus, if you please, could you stay behind for a few moments?"

All three marauders paused, looking back with well-faked surprise. Dumbledore was still looking stern and regal, though he was now fixed on Remus, who shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Okay, sir," he relented, shooting James and Sirius confused looks. All three of them moved to return to their chairs, but Dumbledore held up a staying hand.

"Only Remus, I'm afraid. Why don't the two of you go and wait in the kitchens? I know the elves will be only too happy to see you again." His eyes twinkled brightly.


[James bounded into the room, grinning widely. "He said yes," he announced, excitement thrumming through his tone.

" Really?" Lily said, her own disapproving as she pinched her lips.

"Really! He said he'd be happy to help, it'd be an honour, even!" James punched the air. "And it didn't even cost that much!"

"Brilliant, Prongs!" Remus beamed, and Sirius let out a throaty howl that had Lavender throwing paperweights at his head.]


Sirius looked at James as they stepped around the gargoyle into the corridor, ignoring it as it leaped back into position.

"I feel like we're abandoning him," James confessed, mouth twisting with guilt.

"He'll be fine," Sirius said without much conviction. "We've all got our parts to play."

They hustled down to the third floor, coming to a halt at the statue of the one-eyed-witch. There, slouched against it, was a scruffy looking seventh-year wearing a silver and green tie whose eyes lit up at the sight of them. He lifted a sack in greeting, and Sirius grinned back. "All right, Bas?"

"All right, Sirius. I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

James gave his arrogant smirk and strode over to the statue, ushering Basil out of the way. "This is just between us, alright?"

"I get it, I get it. I won't tell anyone, I understand the value of information. Hurry up, though, will you? It's Dor's birthday tomorrow and if I don't get her those chocolates, I'm done for, mate." Basil, usually so very lethargic and slow, had a mask of utter terror on his face at the idea of disappointing his long-term girlfriend. This reaction was the only reason Sirius and James got along with Basil; a healthy fear for the normally perfectly amiable Dorcas Meadowes's displeasure could unite all sorts – even Slytherins and Gryffindors.

"Oh yeah? Then watch and learn." James waved his wand in an unnecessarily flamboyant manner before smacking the tip lightly against the hump at the back of the statue. "Dissendium," he sang, and stepped back with a flourish as the hump pulled away with a dull grating noise, to reveal the slide beneath.

Basil gave a slow smile. "Cool." He handed the sack to Sirius, who weighed it in his hand when it appeared light. "I got it from ol' Sluggy," Basil explained with a gleam in his eyes. "And shredded Dorcas's bedspread for the rest of it. Though, I'd prefer you kept that last bit to yourselves, given as she has such a volatile temper and all."

"Not one0 word," James promised. Basil winked and pulled himself up into the passageway, and then he was gone, the door closing behind him. In the distance the dull roar of students returning from the Quidditch pitch rang up the corridors. Sirius and James exchanged a look, smirking.

"Best get to work."


["I can speak Parseltongue," Ginny whispered to Hermione.

She jumped, turning to stare at Ginny, her mouth opening and closing rapidly as she searched for words. "What – how?"

" He lived in me for a year," Ginny said with a forced bored tone. "Does it matter? I can get us down there."

" Ginny…" Hermione said, her face pinched in concern. "Let someone else do it. Please."

"Can anybody else speak parseltongue?" She asked bluntly. "Does anybody else know the layout of the Chamber? Can anybody else get in?"

Hermione gave a troubled frown, glancing down at her papers. Ginny could almost hear her mind whirring as she tried to find another way. "It'll be too dangerous for anybody else," she said, sensing weakness on Hermione's part. "I'm not twelve anymore. I can handle it. Let me. Please."

Giving a pained grimace, Hermione nodded reluctantly. "Fine. But you're taking Lavender."

She snorted a laugh, looking across at where Lavender was stood in front of a conjured mirror, ignoring everybody else in the room as she attempted to tame a stubborn cowlick from her hair. She was all ribbons and hairbands and bouncy curls, not at all looking like the nightmare creature she could be when she really fancied it. "Really?"

" Give her more credit," Hermione scolded. "She saved countless lives at the Battle of Hogwarts."

" She can't even use magic," Ginny retorted. Then, upon receiving Hermione's disappointed look, she added, "right, that was bitchy. Sorry." Hermione raised an eyebrow, but thankfully didn't press any further. Not at that time. Which was good, considering Ginny thought she might just be having more trouble with the idea than expected.]


"Done," Lavender's disembodied voice said as she stepped into the passage. It was one of the ones which were blocked off in their time, but here and now, it led from the side of the castle facing the Quidditch pitch all the way up to the second floor, releasing at the opposite end of the castle from the bathroom, behind a portrait of Anne Boleyn. Lavender dropped the cloak to the ground, scowling. "It's too sodding warm under there," she added, giving the material a death glare.

Ginny shrugged easily. "Sorry, but it's the only option. We can't risk a disillusionment charm while your magic is all funky."

Lavender moved her glare to Ginny, but kept quiet. Really, though, it was becoming a pain to be wandless. "Why can't Luna do this shit," Lavender grumbled instead, kicking at the priceless Potter family heirloom.

"Luna, as you well know, disagrees with killing any animal, no matter how murderous it may be. And before you ask, no, we can't send Hermione down into the 'All Muggleborns Must Die' centre of the school."

Lavender grimaced. "Yes, fine. Whatever. Let's go." They set off down the corridor, Lavender dragging the cloak behind her until Ginny huffed and grabbed it herself. "Wait -" Lavender said as they turned a bend, "-I'm pretty sure I saw her eat roast beef the other day?"

Ginny snorted. "She doesn't like killing any animal, I should have said. Even Luna can be a hypocrite, Lavender."

"And here I was thinking she was perfect," Lavender replied, and the funny thing was – she sort of sounded sincere.


["I'm about to let you in on one of the best-kept secrets of Hogwarts," Luna sang, her legs swinging beneath her as she sat on a desk like a little fairy ornament. James and Sirius exchanged raised eyebrows. Was there anything they didn't know about Hogwarts?

"The Come-and-Go Room," Luna said, then turned her giant eyes on Sirius, as though she was addressing her words directly to him. "It's my birthday soon."

"It is?" Sirius looked massively bewildered.

"Oh, yes. I'd like a diadem."

"A diadem?" James said sceptically.

"Yes," Luna grinned as though he'd done something particularly smart. "Very good, James."

And then she wandered off to fall asleep on the couch, leaving James and Sirius to wallow in their utter confusion.]


While Lavender and Ginny made their way to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, Sirius and James sloped up to the seventh floor, where a tapestry of Barnabus the Barmy teaching trolls to play ballet hung. They observed it for a moment, ostensibly moving back and forth to catch it at the perfect angle. When a door appeared behind them, they slipped inside without ceremony.

"Wow," Sirius stopped in his tracks at the rows upon rows of assorted clutter.

"Bloody hell," James said from behind him, eyes wide. "I'm not ashamed to say I thought this might have been a drug-induced hallucination. How are we meant to find it in all of this?"

"I don't know," Sirius drawled, picking up a sealed bottle of elf-made wine and waggling it at James with an impish grin. "But I bet the search will be fun."


["And the Basilisk?" Sirius asked as the plan came together on paper. "Who's going to kill it?"

Ginny gave a slow, menacingly bitter smirk. Hermione shot her a vaguely worried look, but said all the same, "Ginny will."

"We have unfinished business, Snakey and me." Ginny offered as an explanation, still smiling that bone-chilling smile.]


The girls' bathroom on the second floor, nicknamed 'Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom', hadn't changed in the decade-or-so between now and the last time Ginny had seen it. Decorated in greens and ivories, with a habit of reflecting echoes back to the inhabitant when no sounds were around to be heard. The central pillar, surrounded as it was by sinks, haunted her nightmares, the visions coming thick and fast as she approached. The first glance of her face in the dingy, grimy mirrors above the basin sent her reeling, the lank hair, pale face and giant eyes shooting her right back to where all of this had begun.

Of course, when all of this had begun, Lavender hadn't been there. And Ginny didn't think she'd ever been so grateful for the other girl's frank attitude as she was at that moment, when Lavender strode over to the mirror, reached across to scrub a section clean, and let out an ear-splitting shriek.

"What?!" Ginny demanded, scrambling to her feet again and running across to her friend, who turned a horror-stricken face on her.

"Oh, my gods. Have you – does nobody clean these mirrors?" turning back, she prodded at her cheeks with one hand, her eyes locked on her own reflection. "Tell me this isn't what I actually look like, Ginny, tell me please."

"What are you on about?!" Ginny fisted a hand over her heart to slow the pounding her scream had induced.

"I look like a plate!" Lavender wailed, and that was when Ginny slapped her.

Chapter Text

"Get yourself together," Ginny hissed, shaking Lavender by the shoulders. "We've just broken into Hogwarts, under the nose of the most powerful wizard in Britain – who, by the way, isn't likely to be very nice to us were he to find us – to kill a giant, deadly, mythological snake. And you're worried about how you look?!"

"Looks are important," was her unrepentant answer, prompting Ginny to groan and push her away.

"Stand there and try not to touch anything," Ginny commanded, pointing to the space beside the door. "If anyone tries to come in, stop them. If it's a teacher, hide. And if Myrtle turns up, for the love of Merlin, be nice."

Lavender gave her dead-eyes, something she had a habit of doing to people who say things she deems too stupid to respond to. Heaving a sigh, Ginny turned back to the sinks. It had been a while, but once she got past the terror it was actually quite pretty, and she located the little carved snake with ease. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and reached back into that part of her mind Tom had carved out as his own. She'd not been lying when she told Hermione she could speak parseltongue; she could. The fact that she could only do so when she allowed herself to be overcome by the remnants of Riddle's shredded soul was immaterial.

The familiar sensation of weightlessness washed over her, lulling her into complacency, a tiny voice in her head whispering pleasantries inducing her to let go. At eleven, the voice had been everything. Loud, much louder than now, but soft and inviting, like silk brushing over her skin. At eighteen, the sensation was more akin to razorblades, not because of the feeling but because of the memories, of her deep-seated distrust. She battled that now, breathing deeply, trying to keep herself connected even as she let herself float. It was harder than she'd expected – the piece of soul that had originally possessed her had been effectively exorcised, after all, and now she only had a few fluttering scraps, fought against by her own will. She found she had to feed it her darkness, which was dangerous – too dangerous to risk in any other circumstance. The last time she'd given in to her darkness she'd come aware to hands bathed in blood and the glassy, staring eyes of –

No. She wouldn't think about it.

But she was safe enough here. There were no stressors, aside from Lavender's discordant humming, which was comforting in that it told her she was no longer alone. She had a goal fixed in her mind, the plan of how to reach it fleshed out and tangible. At her waist Hermione's beaded bag was a welcome weight, warm from heating charms she'd cast to keep the roosters comfortable on their trip.

She reached inside herself; not tentatively, for even her own darkness would be prone to strike if it sensed weakness, but with confidence and authority. She cracked the shell encasing that part of herself, and using willpower as a funnel, piped the magic into the hissing remnants of Riddle's soul. She cut the channel off just as soon as she opened it, the moment the feeling of weightlessness became more heady and seductive, before it could draw her in too far. Once more she sealed away her darkness, only this time it was done with a feeling of despair, futility.

She pushed that problem away for consideration another time.

Riddle's influence crawled through her, emanating a sense of satisfaction as it settled itself in her consciousness like she were its favourite old armchair. It reached for the controls, but Ginny wouldn't let it get that far. She smacked it back, keeping a thin shield between it and her, retaining control while dangling dangerously close to the edge. She kept breathing steadily, ignoring the weighty sensation in her arms and legs, and thought open.

The amorphous Darkness surged, and her mouth opened and she was hissing. Wriggling, the snake on the faucet made a croaking noise as the whole sink lifted into the air, baring the passageway to her. The stench of must and damp emerged, and unidentified slime. She held her breath as she stepped forward, and slid down.

The antechamber she landed in matched a vague recollection, as did the raw white bones lining the walls, and the smell of death was even stronger here. It was cold, too, and Ginny pulled her jumper closer around her, forcing herself to ignore it, not to shiver because if she shivered she just might break. The darkness in her mind was exultant, recognising the place from which it originated, tempting Ginny to stop and take in all the details. She did not, instead brushing a hand against the beaded bag at her waist as a token of her mission before marching forward into the darkness.

She was halfway through the first passage before she realised she was walking in the pitch-black. Her feet were steady, her direction sure, and yet she could see no further than the end of her nose. The implications of that – that the episode from first-year was embedded deeper in her than she'd thought, that Riddle's soul was stronger within than she'd believed – had a scream building in her throat.

Swearing harshly to release some tension, she lit the tip of her wand, only to immediately regret it as the bright, pure light reflected back to her from the slime coating the walls. The fading grandeur of the chamber only saved to emphasise the desecration; Basilisk skin and other old, rotting sections of human flesh was held suspended in a clear, congealed substance which had hardened over the decades – centuries – since the prey had been slaughtered and devoured. The green of the walls glinted dully through it, the occasional Slytherin seal prominent, framed by the gore.

Ginny, with the control of her own mind that she had lacked during her last 'visit', saw the evidence of such horrors and wondered exactly how many unsuspecting muggle-born had been fed to this beast during Slytherin's tenure, and further; how many enemies his successors had dispatched down here before the Chamber became a myth. As a pureblood – despite how terrible a one she may be – it was antithesis to who she was and what she had been taught to wish for the ending of a line, but here and now she couldn't help but be grateful for the end of his original bloodline.

She would feel better once the snake was dead, and to be the one who killed it might soothe a part of her soul that had remained raw and aching in the wake of her possession. She hoped so. If not, she feared there would be very little hope for her – she'd tried every other recourse available to her; love, marriage, friendship, family, and none of them had sealed her back together. She might have mastered the art of pretending perfection, but she feared that unless her act proved true at some point, she would break.

Her musings had successfully distracted her from her path for long enough to reach the main chamber. She thought that perhaps she had been walking for ten minutes, maybe less, because there was an anxiety in the back of her mind for her to finish this job in a suitably timely manner. Her memory of this place was crystal clear, as was her awareness now, her mind conspiring against her to force her to face her fears.

Slytherin's great, carved semblance rose intimidatingly above her, the central eyesore of a hideously bejewelled room, his mouth, thankfully, closed tight, though his eyes gaped wide and empty. If he weren't so terrifying he might have been comical; the amount of vanity one must possess in order to have a thirty-foot high model of your own face and admittedly impressive facial hair commissioned was unfathomable, and yet still completely ridiculous.

And here, people thought Gryffindors were the arrogant ones.

That she was present enough for her mind to be making 'overcompensation' jokes would have been calming except that before she could process her sanity it skipped over onto the next thing, throwing up the giant snake as evidence, and suddenly she was laughing more than a little hysterically, slipping to her knees and shedding tears that mingled with the ever-present goop on the floor. This was definitely her body's reaction to standing in the centre of all of her nightmares at once; she was lucky jokes had formed in her mind, rather than horrors, for she thought that perhaps if she started screaming she wouldn't stop until she was dead.

The lucky thing about this was that the snake was sleeping, and would remain so as long as Riddle didn't appear and order it to wake. It offended a very Gryffindor part of her that she would be sneaking up on and killing a beast that could provide such a stimulating battle, which, when awake, would be such a formidable foe, but for the sake of her own sanity and continued survival she pushed all such thoughts away.

Pulling herself together, she left her jumbled emotions on the cold, hard floor and approached the bust. She knew from experience that the Basilisk's nest was situated behind the face of the statue, in a dark, tight space that satisfied the part of its brain that was more snake than murderer. To access it, one must go through the mouth – which released onto the ground level of the Basilisk's nest – or the eyes, which released onto two balconies that ringed the sub-cavern in semi-circles a few feet farther up. Of course, the Basilisk could access all three entrances, but as a human Ginny would aim for the eyes.

She scanned the statue and plotted her route, aware of her time limit. Biting her lip, she backed up a few steps, and then charged forwards, pushing off into the air with all of her gathered strength and momentum, throwing herself at the man's moustache. She hit the rock a few feet below, closer to the chin, and had to battle her winded chest in order to dig her fingers and toes into the indents made by the detailing on his beard.

The rock was old, eroded and covered in the same substance that covered the interior walls, though thankfully here it was devoid of human remains. Her fingers sank deep as she searched for a new grip, and as she removed them to climb higher a disgusting sucking noise was made, and a truly repugnant smell – like that of rotting eggs, only condensed and amplified – was released into the air. She scrambled up, up, until she reached the ledge that was Slytherin's lower lip, and pulled herself up into the scant space. There was a path up here, she knew, but it was a slope and it was slimy and messy to boot. Navigating it would have taken more time than climbing, so she'd made the judgement call.

Taking a few breaths, and using the time to take a quick drink from the flask she'd packed in her bag, she gazed out over the chamber.

It really was rather tasteless. She liked the colour green, but… too much of a good thing was represented here. Shaking her head with a wry smile, she tucked her drink away and began to climb again.

It took little time to reach the eyes – the stone at this height was less touched by the slime, instead being merely clammy and uncomfortable to hold – and she didn't pause before entering, for fear that stopping might end her mission forever. She also refused to look down, not until the job was done.

The roosters, happily, were most disgruntled, making little angry chicken noises as she dragged them from the depths. She clucked at them amusedly, dumping the cages on the floor and dragging out a bag of chicken feed.

"Alright, fellas," she tutted quietly at them, waggling a finger in their faces. All three creatures watched her with disdain in their beady eyes. "Let's keep this nice and anticlimactic, shall we?"

Then she poured herself a handful of seeds, and dumped it through the bars of cage one. The rooster took a second to glare suspiciously, before pecking once, twice, three times. Finally, he ruffled his feathers in a satisfied way and released a long, loud crow.

Delighted, Ginny didn't even flinch as the other two joined in their song, angrily challenging the other roosters to their food, their territory, their women – whatever it was roosters actually cared about. Ginny, disinterested in their masculine squabbled, turned around to watch the snake die.

It was, in fact, anti-climactic; just the way she liked it. The Basilisk rustled, slithered a bit, lifted its head from its position beneath three coils of tail – and thank you very much for the consideration, Madame Snake – blinked once at the opposite wall, and crumpled.

"Die, bitch," Ginny whispered euphorically, grinning at the carcass even as the roosters continued their noisy squabble.


"How hard can it be to find a crown?"

Sirius's own words came back to haunt him as he picked through piles upon piles of crap. Broken broomsticks, empty bottles, jars of fermented eyes, ears, fingers and one penis (which James had shrieked to high heaven upon finding, threw against the wall in shock and then had to sit down and drink some suspicious looking sherry in order to calm down; problem being that once he started, he just couldn't seem to stop – damn spiked brandy), old uniforms, bustiers, broken chairs, a house-elf head Sirius was pretty sure had been stolen from Grimmauld, wigs, bracelets, earrings, all manner of jewellery and accessory – but no crown.

Or, sorry, diadem.

He was halfway through, he thought, and no sign of stopping. Really, he thought it might be a fools errand, and so wasn't paying as much attention as he ought to have been. James, distracted by the booze, had given up and was now singing songs loudly a few aisles down (and not good songs. Irritating ones. For example; 'How much is that doggie in the window' is only charming up until the fifth or sixth time the man points at you and hoots – "hahahahaaaa- Padfoot how much are youuuuuuuu?! Are you for saleeeeeeee? Isn't this song funny, Pads? Pads? What are you doing, Pads? Don't hit me-' or, you know, whatever).

As such, neither was expecting his reaction when he made contact with the barest sliver of forged silver.

He screamed. He might deny it later – would deny it later – but he definitely did scream. For all that he was a Black, he had made it his business to avoid any interaction with Dark artefacts, and as such he'd never become used to the crawling, oozing feeling of the darkness attempting to find root in your soul, the pain as it forced its way into your head. He screamed, and then he threw up – all over a pile of silk damask curtains, which would never be beautiful again.

James found him about his third round of vomit, after hearing his hoarse shouts for his help. Still a bit drowsy from the boredom-induced drinking, he didn't quite register what was happening for a moment. Sirius was sort of – slouching? And flailing his arms? No, he was forming words. No, he was pointing. Pointing! That was right!

Now what was he pointing at? Ah! Pretty! Pretty shiny!

"Hey, isn't that the Lost Diadem-"

"Don't touch it!" Sirius lunged between James and the tiara with startling speed, leaving James blinking in shock. "It's – cursed," Sirius panted, turning to look at it in horror.

"We have to touch it," James said patiently, his eyes fixed on the pretty shiny, "it's our horcrux, isn't it?"

Sirius retched again at the memory of the thing's darkness. "Whatever is in that thing isn't much of a soul," he said, his voice somewhat shaky.

"Well, no," James replied in an easy voice. "It's Voldemort's soul, so it wasn't going to be squeaky clean, was it? Gods, Pads, sometimes you can be so obtuse," James added with an exasperated sigh, his eyes rolling in his head. Sirius raised an eloquent eyebrow at his hypocrisy, but couldn't reply as the alcohol fumes coming off of his closest friend triggered his gag reflex once more. James, oblivious, pulled a carved wooden box from his pocket and enlarged it on the ground, before pulling his handkerchief from his breast pocket and wrapping it around his fingers. He then picked up the diadem – the Rowena's Lost Diadem – and dumped it in the box with very little ceremony. He snapped the lid closed and grinned at Sirius a little woozily. "Phase Two complete!"

"You spend too much time with Lily," Sirius grunted half-heartedly, his eyes fixed on the box that they'd been given for the mission. Ginny had built it with the wood of an apple tree in the orchard (and how sexy was a woman who knew how to woodwork?), Lily and Hermione had carved protective runes into the sides, and Luna and Lavender had completed the charms work, Lavender pouring some of her Werewolf-tainted blood into the wards to counteract the darkness of the horcruxes which they would store within. None of them had been sure it would work, but Sirius could no longer sense its presence, which was presumably a good sign.

They locked it tight and shared a predatory smile as they realised what the completion of this task meant. James shook the bag Basil had given them gleefully. "Prank time!" he declared jovially.


 

"It's about time!" Lavender whined when Ginny reappeared, crawling up through the hole in the floor, covered in all sorts of disgusting gloop and smelling like a slaughterhouse.

"Shut up," Ginny snapped back, shaking off her hands with an expression of supreme disgust. She set about siphoning off the grime, muttering under her breath – and Lavender, curious, tuned in to hear her say "what is it with that man and giant fucking snakes?!".

Snickering, Lavender held out a hand, into which Ginny dumped the beaded bag. Looking inside, Lavender's eyes widened at the collection of fangs – still holding remains of the Basilisk's jaw. "Bloody Hell," she whistled lowly. "What did you do?" she held up a tooth that glistened with blood and meat. Ginny glared at it, a sly smile playing around her mouth.

"I got closure," she said in a menacing voice. Lavender thought perhaps it was best not to pry any further. Instead, she pulled the invisibility cloak from its depths, and the roosters, before closing it back up and turning to a now-clean Ginny.

"Ready?"

"Yes," she replied firmly. The two of them released the roosters with a spell and vanished the crates, opening the door. Ginny checked her watch – "ten minutes left," she said, and Lavender nodded, preparing for a run.

They launched themselves into the corridor after the roosters to head back to their passage, which would serve as both entrance and exit, only to stop dead at the sight before them.

"Ho-lee shit," Lavender whispered.

The walls were feathered. Feathered. The three roosters were ambling down a corridor which Lavender was pretty certain was decorated by the remains of their ancestors. Or, like, their billed cousins. Whichever it was, the previously grey stone walls were now a downy white, blue and green, with some red thrown in, you know, just for variety. They fluttered half-heartedly in the breeze from the roosters' passage, but didn't move any further than that, for whatever was sticking them to the wall was entirely solid.

"Hey, I'm sure I made this once," Lavender said, ill-advisedly prodding at a section where the greeny-grey gloop was visible. "Isn't this what happens when you overboil Pepper-Up?"

Ginny shook herself out of her daze, turning to Lavender with a frown. "How would you know?"

Lavender rolled her eyes. "If there's one thing I know, Ginny, it's botched potions. And shoes. Mostly botched potions, though."

"Yeah – right, whatever," Ginny shrugged it off and grabbed Lavender's forearm, towing her along the corridor. They were losing time now. "Maybe we should have put restrictions on the type of prank they can do. Do you think it goes all the way through the castle?"

"I highly doubt they did it by halves, if that's what you mean," Lavender sniffed, skipping with odd grace through congealed mess that was the floor.

"Ugh," Ginny said, recoiling as a feather caressed her arm. "If I never see another chicken in my life, it will be too soon."

Chapter Text

"What do you know of our Lord's plans?"

Lucius's smooth, cultured voice drifted into the room in advance of him, disturbing Severus from his studies. He was sat in an armchair in the Malfoy Manor library, surrounded by books and parchment. Lucius had donated the resources to his cause as he prepared for his interview with the Headmaster; though, like any good Slytherin, the older man appeared to have ulterior motives.

"No more than you, I am sure," Severus replied, checking a passage in a book as he annotated his writing. Lucius huffed from where he filled the doorway, using the hand that did not clutch his new walking stick (new to Lucius, Severus should say, considering it was a five-hundred galleon antique passed down through the generations, bequeathed to Lucius upon Abraxas's recent death. Lucius held the record as the first Malfoy male to require the use of a walking stick at the young age of twenty-five) to flick at a strand of white-blonde hair. "What is the matter?" Severus asked disinterestedly, more because it was polite than because he really cared.

"He has taken Narcissa's elf," Lucius's voice was just this side of a grumble, his mouth twitched downwards. "She is most displeased with me for allowing it. I simply wonder whether you know exactly for what he will be used, and when he might return."

"I wasn't aware you were so attached to your servants," Severus asked, cocking an eyebrow. Lucius gave a rolling shrug.

"He was a wedding gift from her Aunt Walburga. Cissy has grown fond of him, despite his general ineptitude at anything resembling his job." Lucius scoffed, moving into the room to sit himself in an adjacent armchair. "She has such a soft heart," he complained, though there was an affectionate undercurrent. Severus wondered at it – he had always been rather terrified of Narcissa; her ice-cool demeanour and abnormally beautiful looks mixed with her Black blood left a sour taste in his mouth. Of course, it was so very much like Lucius – foppish, pampered Lucius – to fall in love with a woman just the right side of psychotic. If Bellatrix weren't so much older, and already wed, Severus often thought Lucius would have gone after her instead.

"Spare me the drama of your happy marriage," Severus sneered through his thoughts, more than a little bitter, as he snapped a book closed. Because, yes, Lucius might go to sleep every night with the threat of a slow, prolonged, torturous death hanging over his head, but at least he slept, and with a woman who loved him, too. "If you plan to moon over your wife all afternoon, I shall simply return home."

"Don't be bitter, Severus," he smirked. "You'll marry someday, and then you'll understand. In the meantime – are you telling me you are unaware of his plans for the creature?"

"I am rather distracted at the moment," he gestured to his collection of books. "Truly – are you sure this conversation cannot wait until tomorrow?"

"Severus, if he kills that elf, Narcissa will avada me." He was entirely serious, and Severus could understand that. While she was not as prone to violence as her sister, she had certainly been cooling towards Lucius lately as their quest for a child continued to lack fruit. The death of a treasured (pet? Slave? Severus had never quite adopted the vernacular of the privileged) would be the final straw, and Lucius's murder would become no longer an amorphous event in a possible future, but something that had happened.

Still… "I am uncertain as to what you want from me," he sighed, dropping his quill and leaning back in his chair to watch his friend.

"The Dark Lord likes you. He holds you in his confidence. A simple question, well placed…"

Sometimes, this normally intelligent man's stupidity conounded him. The Dark Lord was unstable, and only grew more so by the day. A question such as that, wrongly delivered, could mean his death. "Do you understand what you ask of me, Lucius?" he purred lowly, taking satisfaction in his friend's discomfiture at the question and tone. "I would be risking my life if I do this thing for you."

"I would owe you much," Lucius replied quietly, his silver eyes boring into Severus's. He felt the bond snap into place, and released a small smirk.

"Very well, then," he sighed, waving a hand in the air. "I shall ask. But you must give me this night before my obligation comes due. I have my own mission." He nodded to the books.

Lucius's face relaxed, and he nodded curtly, using his cane to pull himself to his feet. His limp was slight, barely there, having healed exceptionally quickly from the beating he had taken the week before. A twinge of guilt flickered in Severus's chest at the sight. Were it not for he and Regulus, Lucius would be unmarred.

"Do not pity me," Lucius snapped, jerking Severus's gaze up to his face. "This is not your burden to bear." He knocked the silver-tipped point of his cane against his lame knee. "It was my disobedience that warranted this punishment."

"And I thank you," Severus murmured with deep sincerity. "We owe you, also."

"Do not speak of it," Lucius said smoothly, moving to the door. "We are friends, are we not? We look out for one another. All I expect is that you inform me when the time comes."

Grimacing, Severus turned back to his books. "I shall," he murmured and, after a pause, listened to the tapping of Lucius's cane as he departed.


"It's beautiful," Lily gasped, reaching out her fingers. Hermione slapped the back of her hand lightly, receiving a glare in return.

"And dangerous," she said, unrepentant. "More dangerous than you can understand right now."

"Desecrated," Luna said sadly from the outskirts of the room. She'd refused to come any closer, to even look at the Diadem, despite how much allure the artefact must have had to her as a Ravenclaw and a scholar. Regulus stood beside her, her pillar of support. "Rowena would have killed herself rather than see her legacy tarnished thus."

"Oh-kay, then…" Lavender drawled slowly, rolling her eyes. "On that delightful note, what are we going to do with it?"

"Destroy it!" Ginny suggested, staring at it with a disturbingly bloodthirsty expression in her eyes. Hermione eyed her askance. She'd been acting so strange ever since she'd come out of the chamber; freer, in some ways, but also slightly wilder. Hermione put it down to the thrill of relief, and prayed it'd wear off.

In the meantime, she shook her head. "We can't destroy it yet, not when we don't know when or if we'll be able to get the rest of them. We don't even know if he's placed the locket yet, and we can't risk him learning what we're doing and moving them." She glanced at the map she'd gotten out, open next to her, the Horcrux information pulled up. She'd added a note to the Diadem to say they'd retrieved it, but she couldn't cross it off until it was properly destroyed. They had the ring, the locket, the diary and the cup to retrieve before they could start bringing him down.

"Do we know if he has the snake, yet?" Hermione suddenly asked, her eyes fixed on Nagini's entry. She knew that Nagini wouldn't become a Horcrux for another fifteen years, but if she existed and was close to Voldemort, she would need to be a consideration.

"Snake?" Sirius wondered, looking at his friends, who shrugged. He leaned back in his chair, legs crossed languorously, and took a sip of the firewhisky he, Remus and James had insisted on dragging out in celebration of the successful completion of their first mission. "No, we don't know anything about a snake."

"He didn't have a snake the last time we saw him," James nodded, pulling Lily closer under his arm reflexively at the mention of the events. Lily rubbed her head against his cheek like a cat, snuggling closer. "That was a couple of months back, though."

"I've never seen a snake with him," Regulus added. "Not one single snake, I mean. He – well, he can talk to snakes, so there are often loads just slithering around, but he doesn't have a particular favourite that I've noticed."

"No giant ones?" Hermione checked, her wand next to Nagini's name, her voice laced with hope. Horcrux or not, she was still a vicious thing Hermione had no wish to come up against.

Regulus cocked an eyebrow. "There was once a particularly long grass snake."

"I'll take that as a 'no', then," Hermione crossed Nagini off with a satisfied smile. Sometimes, only sometimes, being in the past was much better than being in the present. She might have to navigate a whole new social set, and she might be surrounded by ghosts, and her friends might not have been born yet, but at least there weren't any giant snakes. Well, not anymore.

"I think we should tackle the ring next, just because it'll be the easiest to get at. I think for this one it would be best if-"

"Er, Hermione?"

"Yes?" Hermione looked over at Sirius, who was watching her wide-eyed over the rim of his tumbler.

"D'you think we could just, take the night off?"

She blinked. "What?"

"It was a stressful day," Sirius said slowly, as though she might not understand. "We should leave this for the morning, and just… relax."

"Relax?" She glanced back at the map she had open, at the plans she could be making, and then at Sirius, who had widened his eyes pleadingly. Sweeping her gaze over the rest of them, she could see how tired they all were for the first time. And then, as if a switch had been flicked, her own exhaustion caught up with her. She hadn't been in the Castle, no, but she'd been on a hill nearby, watching as much of the goings-on as she could see with a set of omnioculars. She and Luna had been up there all day, on alert, in case something had gone wrong and they needed back-up, or a swift exit. Regulus and Lily had been back at Potter Manor, Regulus still lying low, watching the Marauder's Map with one of the DA galleons close so that they could warn everybody of trouble. She'd flown up on the back of Luna's broom, and flown back the same way, and she realised that her muscles had never untensed. There was an aching pain in her shoulders from the constant strain, and she had a headache in her temples.

"You're right," she sighed, pressing two fingers to her temples to massage away the sudden pain. "You all did well today, you deserve a break."

"You too, Hermy," Lavender said brightly. "Don't sell yourself short, you did well too. I mean, not as well as Ginny and I, or Sirius and James, but you know, what you did you did well."

"Thanks, Lav," Hermione gritted out. "Don't call me Hermy."

She shrugged, and offered her a bottle she whipped out from beneath her bottom. "Firewhisky?"

"How long has that been there?" Ginny asked, leaning forward with an amused quirk of her lips. Lavender shrugged.

"Always be prepared," she said sagely, and then capped that off by taking a swig.


Two hours in, and there were empty bottles strewn across the floor. It was still light out, not that it mattered to the Marauders, who knew a party could happen anywhere at any time. Sirius had happily sacrificed some of his whisky stash to the cause – the size of this stash being more than slightly concerning, but probably not an issue to bring up at a party – and even Hermione had indulged after some cajoling. Ginny didn't really blame her for her reluctance, after all, the last time Hermione got drunk Lavender had become a werewolf and they'd broken time.

Ginny had a nice buzz going. Not so drunk as to be stupid, drunk enough that perhaps her judgement wasn't quite what it should have been. She danced with Lavender, sang loudly and tunelessly with Luna, tolerated Lily when the girl had spent ten minutes intermittently hugging her and stroking her hair (Lily; surprisingly lightweight, for who her boyfriend was. Though, from the way she poured herself all over him and his resulting satisfied grin, Ginny had to think it was perhaps more by design than accident). Really, nothing had gone wrong until Sirius came to chat.

Sirius, in the way of all budding alcoholics, could handle his liquor and look good doing it. In fact, he possibly looked better a little bit sloshed, or maybe that was when Ginny was sloshed? She didn't know. Didn't care, really, either, not right then. James and Lily were snogging, which seemed a bit déclassé with near-strangers in the room, but whatever. Each to their own and all. Blood Traitors weren't meant to have class, anyway. The problem was that since they were snogging, it was giving Ginny ideas. Unwelcome ideas. Not unclear ones, either.

SNOG HIM T'FUCK was not in any way subtle.

Nor did she think it was so terrible an idea, which of all things was probably the best indicator of her general lack of sobriety.

Still, he was right there, with that face and those eyes, and the cute little nose, and that scar he got fighting feminists in Scotland (for a clever bloke he really was unforgivably stupid sometimes), and his lips were all quirked up at the edges as he examined her through half-lidded eyes.

"All right, Gin?" he asked.

Actually, it was more like a purr. Damn. She couldn't even imagine how fucking hot he'd have been in the future if he hadn't been to Azkaban. Sexy like that only grows with age.

"You should know," she said – slurred, maybe, definitely, don't judge – with a little prod to his chest, "I don't like you. Well, actually I do, but mostly I don't. You're still so fucking sexy, though." She turned her prodding into an outright grope, flattening her palm against his chest and taking a handful of pectoral muscle, observing her hand as she squeezed and he let out a discontented hiss. "Like, what is this? You don't work out. I would know if you worked out."

"Merlin, woman!" He used his right hand to hook Ginny's hand away from his chest, folding his own fingers around it and stretching it out for his examination. "Watch where you're putting those claws!"

"Claws?" Ginny scowled, snatching her hand back and wobbling precariously as she did so. "I don't have claws!" How dare he insult her nails!

He rolled his eyes, and then –

Well, he took his shirt off.

Ginny felt like perhaps she'd missed some vital moments between their conversation and this conclusion, though she wasn't complaining because seeing his chest was always a treat.

"See?!" Sirius was saying, stabbing himself viciously in the chest with his index finger while the other hand held his shirt up. Oh, so not off then. Pity. "You're drawn blood!"

Pfft. Blood? Okay, so maybe there were some red pinpricks – pin pricks – but that was all. Melodramatic puppy. "Stop doing that," she snapped, grabbing his wrist this time to stop him from poking himself again. "You'll bruise it."

"It?" He said, incredulously, or something like that. "Ginny, you do realise that my chest is a part of me, right?"

"Sadly, yes," Ginny nodded, reaching out with her other hand only to be stopped by Sirius again. The released shirt fell down to obscure her view. How rude. "If only your chest came attached to someone else." She let out a wistful sigh. "We could have so much fun…"

He made a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat. "I'm feeling really appreciated, thanks."

"You're welcome," Ginny said brightly.

"I come over here to talk and all I get is abuse," he grunted sourly. "I don't even know what I've done. I thought we were getting along quite well."

"I suppose we are," she relented. "But how long will that last, d'you think? I'm not betting on forever."

"All the more reason to make the most of it now?" Sirius said with a cheeky smile. "I find you attractive, you find me attractive..." He winked, flicking a few strands of hair off of his face with a practiced twist of his head. "It's been a long day, we've got all this pent-up energy…"

"That might be the worst proposition anybody has ever given me," Ginny scoffed. "And yet... I find it strangely appealing."

"It's my special skill," Sirius said solemnly, using one finger to push some hair from Ginny's cheek, the slight touch making Ginny's heart beat faster. "Sirius Black: Helping Women Make Inadvisable Life Decisions since 1959."

Grimacing, Ginny gave into the urge to lean in to his hand, not even kicking him when he smirked at the action. "I really don't like you," she repeated, just to make certain.

"I got that," Sirius winked, and then he kissed her, and that was perfectly okay. It turned out that while emotionally they might not match, physically…

Well.


"Damn," Lavender said from next to Hermione, her attention wandering. "I owe you two galleons."

Hermione craned her neck to where Lavender was pointing and grinned at the sight of Sirius and Ginny practically eating each other's faces. "I did warn you," she said, nudging Lavender in the side with her elbow. "I've known Ginny for years. She never could resist the dark and handsome thing for long."

"I notice you didn't say 'tall'," Lavender hummed, turning back to their game of Exploding Snap. "Wise choice, under the circumstances. 'Average-height, dark and handsome' doesn't have the same ring to it." Her eyes flicked up again, a wicked glint to them. "Of course, you don't really go for the 'tall, dark and handsome' bit, do you?"

"Not true," she said smartly. "Viktor Krum."

Lavender snorted indelicately. "Tall and dark, yes, but handsome was never a word people would use to describe ol' Vik. He looked like a Mr Potato Head someone'd been beaten to death with the Surly Stick. If that man hadn't been an international Quidditch player he'd have been excluded from the gene pool."

Somehow, Hermione mused, Lavender could say the most awful things in such a tone as to make them sound almost acceptable. Made all the worse by the intimacy of her use of Muggle references and Muggle colloquialisms, which linked the two of them together in a conspiracy as tightly as if they'd been speaking another language. After all, nobody here would understand a word of what she'd just said, and Viktor, less even than them. "That's not fair," she replied, carefully hiding her amusement. It would be bad to laugh. It would. Viktor was a sweetheart, a complete gentleman, everything one could ask for in a man, including a sexy accent, a sculpted body and a pure heart. And Hermione wasn't the sort of person to care about looks, anyway!

Which was lucky, considering Viktor's face.

Oh, Gods, when did she get so cruel?

"You're right," Lavender agreed seriously, flipping a card onto the table. "Allowances must be made. He is, after all, filthy, stinking rich. Snap!"

They both ducked to avoid flying shards of card, and when they came up, Hermione gave Lavender a bemused look. "How you ever came to be marrying Ron is beyond me."

"He's bitchier than he looks," Lavender admitted with no guilt. "And such a gossip, too. I'm not generally fond of my men waxing poetic about the women they saw before I came along – I prefer they think the sun rises and sets with my existence – but he had the most delightfully horrific story about Padma Patil and her hairy arse mole." She sighed happily. "He'd tell me it whenever I was feeling down or insecure. You know, 'I know you're all slashed up, love, but at least you don't have to shave your crack three times a day' sort of thing. Apparently it was the size of my thumb."

"You two had such an odd relationship," Hermione smiled fondly. She might not have liked Lavender very much back then, but she had seen that Ron was happy, and that had always shown Lavender in a good light. Originally, she'd thought Lavender too high-maintenance for Ron. With time, however, she'd seen that a relationship requiring constant attention, in which Ron was required to be both comforter and provider, had been exactly what he'd needed. at the time, anyway. He'd matured, gotten a good job, grown into himself and shrugged off most of his inferiority complex, and all because he had a girlfriend who, despite her flaws, adored and needed him.

"He was an idiot," Lavender said, contemplating the inch of liquid remaining in her glass, "but he was my idiot." She tossed it back.

Hermione couldn't stop herself from reaching over to clasp Lavender's hand in hers. "You'll find someone else," she murmured. "A Mate. Someone new to love and be loved by."

"I don't want to replace Ron," Lavender muttered, a bitter twist to her mouth. "He'd hate me if I did."

"Only for about two days, until something shiny distracted him," she joked, and there was some truth there, too. There were many truths she didn't say, too, like how she knew Ron better than Lavender did, and in time the cracks would have started to show. How, even if they went back right now and things hadn't changed, Lavender had. Ron could never handle a werewolf wife. He was too impulsive, explosive, impatient. He had the pureblood mistrust of anything different to him, which was partly why he and Hermione had never gotten together. Lavender, too, lacked the patience required to nurse Ron's ego for the rest of her life. She wasn't soft enough, not anymore. Ron had nursed her through her recovery, and it had been noble, but he'd known she'd get better. Lavender was damaged, not broken. Now… she was damaged, not broken, still, but it was a different damage. She was torn up, remade, a whole new woman in many ways. She loved Ron; the ghost of Ron, the Ron that had been. If Ron were here now, though, the sad truth was that the reality of him, of them, would have torn them apart.

She would never say that, though. Lavender deserved the memories untarnished.

"Thank you," Lavender said suddenly, and Hermione jerked, thinking that some how she'd read her mind. Instead, she found that Remus had appeared and refilled their glasses.

"It's alright," he said with a smile. "Thought I'd join you, given that everybody else is occupied. You don't mind, do you?"

"Nope," Lavender said, giving him a smile. "In fact, I was just off to – err – chat with the back of Lily's head, I guess." She nodded in the redhead's direction, where she was sat in James's lap with their foreheads pressed together chatting quietly. "I've been meaning to ask it how it keeps its hair so sleek. Later!"

Lavender hopped up just as Remus sat down, weaving her way around the room. Thankfully, she didn't stop and chat at Lily, instead pilfering their half-empty firewhisky bottle and slipping out the door. Hermione settled back in her seat, glancing sideways at Remus, who was refilling his own glass. "Subtle," he commented. He was slightly blurry from drink, his cheeks pink and green eyes sparkling invitingly, a secret smile on his lips.

"How did your chat with Dumbledore go?" Hermione asked, jerking her gaze away as it lingered. She had never been terribly subtle, either, which Remus seemed to get if the look in his eyes was any indication. "I only saw the first half, then James and Sirius started causing trouble."

Remus nodded slowly. "You were right, he wants me in the werewolf packs." There was a beat of silence, after which he looked up at Hermione, seeming to realise she was waiting for him to continue. "Oh, I won't do it. I said I couldn't, but he just kept at me and at me, so we ended on 'I'll consider it', which… I won't." He smiled when Hermione worried her lip between her teeth. "Stop that, I mean it. I won't do it. I haven't got a death wish, you know."

"Dumbledore can be… convincing." Hermione said.

He crossed his ankles and uncrossed them, shifted his legs, and stretched out beside her. "Can I assume I said yes the last time, then?" he asked with an edge to his voice. Hermione looked away quickly, but that in itself was an admission of guilt. Remus sighed, and used his thumb to pull her face back around to his.

"I'm not him," Remus told her urgently, keeping eye contact, green on brown.

"I know that," Hermione replied, jerking her head back. Remus dropped his hand but didn't look away, his eyes still boring into hers.

"You do, but you don't. Look, we're the same base people, I get that, but he was twenty years older than I am. Twenty years is a long time, Hermione."

"I know that, too," she snapped, irritation heating her blood. "What's your point?"

He exhaled on a frustrated growl. "I'm not him. I might never be him. You look at me sometimes, and it's like you're searching for him in me."

"I don't-"

"Hermione," he shot her a disappointed look and her mouth slammed closed, her cheeks heating from automatic shame that he'd so easily caught her in a blatant lie. "Look," he shrugged, "Dumbledore aside, this – whatever it is, failure of distinction? – it's a problem not just for the war, but for us. On a personal level.

"I can get over you sleeping with other me, though, Merlin, is that weird…" he grimaced. "But this... in the long run, I don't want you to end up disappointed, and I don't want to grow to resent you for loving someone I'm not." He swirled the liquid in his glass and tossed it back.

"I like you, Hermione. I do. Mating aside, you'd still be the person I'd want if things were normal. And I'd like it if, for a few minutes, or an hour, or, possibly forever – that would be good – you could forget about the him like you would any other ex-boyfriend, and just…" he gave her a melancholy smile. "Give me a chance. Me. Not him. And we could see how that goes."

She opened her mouth to respond, but he cut her off with a shake of his head. "Don't answer right now. Take a few minutes to think about it. I'll be outside." He shot her a quick grin. "Ginny and Sirius have gone missing, and someone has to make sure they don't kill each other."

Chapter Text

Hermione liked to think she wasn't a stupid woman, but often actions would indicate the opposite.

Like, right then, when Remus had just bared his soul, and now she was just sat staring.

"Hermione?"

She lifted a finger in an admittedly imperious gesture to ask whoever it was to give her a moment. Just a moment, though a moment didn't seem nearly long enough. The emotions that swam through her…

She was confused. It was okay to be confused, wasn't it? It didn't mean she didn't like him that she wasn't running and jumping for joy that he wanted to give them a chance. This must be much easier for him, after all – he had a biological, magical, fate-directed imperative to be with her, despite her complexities and secrets. But for her…

Knowing that she was his Mate made this no more simple. If anything, it made it harder, because she had to apply that knowledge to her memories of Older Remus, of what they'd done together, of the circumstances. It made more sense of their original first time, however – it had been fast, passionate, regrettable but unavoidable. Completely cliché, too. He'd come to collect her after she'd oliviated her parents, and he'd been her shoulder to cry on. He'd held her and comforted her for hours at the near-abandoned Grimmauld Place, and then, later, he'd held her and comforted her in a different way. She remembered thinking how good he was, how kind.

This was before she'd known he was married.

Shaking her head, she tried to shrug off her thoughts of him. Remus was right. The two men were different from each other, in so many ways that they might as well have been different people altogether. Older Remus was, in many ways, just a disastrous ex. He was gone, their relationship was done, and Hermione could move on, now.

With Remus, hopefully. She refrained from referring to him as 'his younger self' even in her head, as it occurred to her that setting a precedent like that would be dangerous. She would already have to work to get the two of them straight – a difficult task, but as with everything else, one she would accomplish.

Boiling it down to the basics; she liked Remus. This Remus. For everything he was now as opposed to then. She was attracted to him, unsurprisingly. Certain looks in her direction had the ability to make her blush, certain touches had a way of flushing her body with heat. She would find herself struck, at breakfast, by the adorable sight of him in his pyjamas, yet at the same time her heart would beat faster at the flesh on view. He made her laugh, he made her giggle like a little girl, around him she felt worth something for reasons other than her intellect.

And he understood her. Better than anybody else around, except perhaps Ginny. That was not a quality to be taken lightly, and Hermione never would.

"Hermione?"

She blinked herself out of her trance to glance up at Luna and Regulus. Luna was the one talking, while Regulus stood at her side, impassive except for the affectionate arm he'd wrapped around her waist. They really were well-matched; despite the oddness of the situation and the youth of their acquaintance, they appeared to have fallen into the relationship with enviable ease. They hardly seemed to talk to one another, and yet were always in tune. Regulus, admittedly, could be found looking utterly bewildered by the situation at times (and once, she'd overheard him saying to Sirius, "I have no idea what is going on. None. But I don't seem to care. Why don't I care?!") and he struggled, too, but they worked through those things behind closed doors and the majority of the time they were utterly content.

"Yes, Lu?"

Luna cocked her head to one side, doing her Luna-frown (which is not at all like a normal frown - that is to say, her lips were not turned down, but her eyes had dimmed a little and her nose was scrunched). "Don't you have somewhere to be?"

"No, I-" Hermione glanced at the clock in the corner and her eyes widened. Apparently, she'd been lost in her own head for half an hour. Half an hour! "Yes, I do," she said blankly, then shook her head as if to jumpstart her thought processes. "Thanks, Luna!"

"You're welcome," she said happily, as Hermione headed for the exit. "Young love," she then told Regulus with a wistful note to her voice, and mischief twinkled in her eye when he scowled at her in offence.


Hermione caught up to Remus at the entrance to the family wing. He was closing the door behind him, until he caught sight of Hermione, and his eyes lit up. "You came," he said softly, then pressed a finger to his lips. She shot him a questioning look, to which he sent a pointed look at Sirius's door, and she grimaced. That was not a thing she wanted to think about right then. "In here," he opened the door to his room and ushered her inside.

Hermione could admit, at least to herself, that the past few times she'd been in here she'd been a little too preoccupied by the man in the bed than by its décor, and so she took this opportunity to peruse it. The walls were painted a light green, the carpet a plush forest-green, the skirting boards a polished oak. She wandered into the room, taking stock of his belongings – his trunk, still mostly packed, with clothes spilling out of it, a bookcase full to bursting with texts, and three frames on the wall. She moved closer to admire those: one was a signed and mounted Quidditch jersey from the Wales national team, the enchanted daffodil on its breast shimmering in the candlelight; another an exquisitely detailed black-and-white drawing of a wolf, dog, stag and rat, gathered in a pool of moonlight before a backdrop of trees in a maple frame; and the last a tattered old Tottenham Hotspur poster in a plain black frame, protected by unbreakable glass. Hermione paused at this last one, her grimace so reflexive she didn't even notice she'd pulled a face until she heard his chuckle.

"Not a fan?" he murmured. She could tell he was stood in the centre of the room, just watching her, waiting for her to be ready to face him. She appreciated that more than he knew, for nerves had begun to trickle into her as she'd crossed his threshold.

"'Not a fan' seems a bit of an understatement," she said under her breath. "I don't know if we can get past this," she joked, looking back over her shoulder.

He rolled his eyes in amusement. "Ah, muggleborns. Werewolves, fine, sure, you'll give them a go, but Merlin forbid I support the wrong football team…"

Hermione scoffed. "There's the wrong football team, and then there's Spurs." She smiled at his good-natured laugh, and moved back to the sketch. It was so beautiful as to be unreal, otherworldly. All of the components were correct, but there was something about the way the wolf tossed its head back to howl, something elegant in the slope of the stag's antlers, something formidable, powerful, in the dog's pitch eyes. "Who drew this?" she asked, her voice low from awe.

"Sirius," he said, and Hermione jerked in surprise. Remus's voice turned wry. "He does do other things aside from look pretty, you know."

"I know," Hermione said defensively, and glanced back at the picture. She could, now knowing the artist, identify what that elusive quality was that made the image so provocative. It was emotion. The emotion he'd poured into the lines, the enchantment, how he'd shaded it while thinking of the friends he'd immortalised there.

"It was a birthday present, fifth year." Remus had to clear his throat as his throat grew tight at the memory. "He'd been working on it for weeks, disappearing from meals early, hiding himself behind his curtains hours before curfew. I thought there was something wrong but whenever I brought it up James and Peter would just wink and brush me off. I remember being so angry with them, thinking they didn't care, and then on the morning of my birthday I woke up to him sat beside me in bed, and he just said 'alright, Moons?' and dropped it on my face." He paused when Hermione let out a snort of laughter, turning to face him. He'd moved closer to admire the picture and was now only a few feet behind her, looking down on her with a smirk. "The corner of the frame caught me in the eye," he said, indicating the area with a reminiscent smile. "I was bruised for a week."

"What then?" Hermione murmured, eyes sparkling with humour.

"I punched him," Remus said easily, ignoring Hermione's gaping mouth. "Of course, I felt bad when I opened it and saw what it was, but at the time I was grouchy and the full moon had just gone. I don't like being woken up," he explained.

"I'll bear that in mind, then," Hermione said without thinking, then stopped abruptly when his eyes shot to hers and darkened. She felt her cheeks flush with colour.

"Oh, I don't know," he said, "I think I would quite like waking up to you."

She opened her mouth on impulse to change the subject, snapping it closed again immediately. She didn't want to change the subject. That was a thing she used to do, yes, when she was uncomfortable in a situation or wanted to ignore it. That was the sort of reaction that stopped her other relationships in their tracks, and not at all in a sensitive way. Neville hadn't spoken to her for a month after she'd met his romantic declaration of affection with an exclamation of "oh, so that's what mandrakes look like when fully grown!". Discomfort aside, she couldn't let that happen with Remus.

Instead, she smiled, unable to resist a glance at the bed. It seemed to have grown three times its size in the past few seconds, but she was certain that was just nerves. Gathering her courage, she looked him in the eye. "You think? Or you know?"

A split second of shock flickered across his expression at her words. It seemed he'd thought she'd brush it off, too, and wasn't that indicative of how well he had come to know her in such a short space of time? "I know," he said matter-of-factly. "Does this mean..?"

Hermione put her back to the bed and faced him full on. "I won't forget the other Remus," she said abruptly. "I can't. He's too much a part of me. But I understand what you mean, and I… well, I can do that. Separate the two of you. You're really not all that much alike, actually."

He pulled a face. "That's a good thing?"

She took a deep breath, and let out all of the thoughts that had been building since she'd left the library in search of him. "Yes." It was definitive, and he looked taken aback, so she rushed on. "I'm glad you're not him, Remus," she said. "He was a wonderful man, but he hurt me immeasurably, and together we were toxic. You… you're different, and that's a good thing. A wonderful thing."

She brushed an affectionate hand over his cheek, her mouth curving of its own accord when he turned his face slightly into it. "Don't get me wrong, I loved the old Remus, but you are… everything he should have been. You're free, and happy, and we're in similar places in life. We stand a chance of making it work." She faltered. "If… if you want to, that is."

Remus took a step towards her, and they were toe-to-toe, almost touching. He searched her eyes for a moment, and smiled back at her. "I do," he said quietly. "I really, really do."

A spurt of joy burst up inside her and she grinned. "Good. That's really, really good. I mean, I hoped so, but you just… well, you never know. But that's great! That we can try. I mean, I don't think you should mark me yet, of course, but just trying is-"

"Hermione," he huffed, happiness and frustration humming through his words. "Stop talking."

Outrage rose, and she opened her mouth to start again, but with a little laugh he dove to capture her mouth and talking was the last thing on her mind.

It started out soft. All sweetness, the relief of everything being in the open, and the freedom to take their time. He brushed his lips against hers gently, and she craned her neck to take them back when he went to move away. His breath against hers seemed another kind of intimacy, warm and spiced from the firewhisky they'd both partaken of, but not so heavily as to dull his natural flavour. His nose butted hers, and they both breathed a laugh, not separating so much as decreasing the pressure for one short moment, before they were back again, fused together at the mouth.

He pulled away for a moment to look at her face, running his fingers over her cheeks and down her neck, before pulling her close so that she was tucked under his chin, his arms wrapped tightly around her. She felt him bury his face in her hair and shudder, the twitching of his muscles fascinating to feel. She made a questioning noise in the back of her throat, and he pulled back, grinning somewhat goofily. "I've wanted to do that for ages," he said, twin spots of colour appearing on the top of his cheeks even as he tried to play it off.

"Smell good?" Hermione asked, for a lack of any other, more suitable response. He tugged on a curl fondly and nodded.

"Oh, yes."

More kissing. Not at all unwelcome. His lips were a direct contrast to the firm lines of his body where he'd tucked her against him, stretched as she was up on her tiptoes to reach his mouth. Her fingers smoothed over his neck, his han