"How long have I been here?" Hermione asked, as she finished up her fruit. Regulus sat with her until she finished, refusing to allow her to leave the table until she was done her dinner.
"Just a day," he said. "You came here last night, and were unconscious as I tried to heal you. I also gave you a dreamless sleep potion so you wouldn't move and tear any muscles. The cruciatus curse can lead to tightness in the muscles afterwards, and I didn't want you to overexert yourself too soon."
"How are you feeling now that the potions have kicked in and you have some food in your stomach?" Regulus asked.
"Still sore," Hermione responded. "But not as bad as I felt before dinner."
Regulus nodded. "I didn't want to give you too strong a dose of potions. It can make you groggy and confused, and I didn't want that to happen. I wanted you to have a clear head when you woke up."
Hermione agreed, that was reasonable thinking considering where she was and who she was with.
"Where are we exactly?" She asked. "I mean, I know we are in your home, but where is that? Are we still in England?"
Regulus nodded. "Yes, I live in England still. We are quite isolated from everyone though. I have muggle repelling charms everywhere and wards set up so we won't be noticed by anyone magical. This place looks like a rundown, abandoned house in a forest from the outside. No one wants to check it out. The joys of magic," he smiled.
Hermione nodded and gave her father a small smile.
Hermione hesitated before speaking. "Can…can I ask you another question?"
"Of course, Hermione. I don't want any secrets between us. You can ask me anything," Regulus responded.
She gave him a short nod, "You mentioned earlier, that you met a girl in your seventh year. That you met my mother in your seventh year. Who was she? How come I've never met her? Why was I placed with the Grangers, with the only parents that I know?"
Regulus nodded at Hermione, "That's more than 'a question'," he laughed. "But let's find somewhere more comfortable to sit. It's kind of a long story." He helped her up out of her chair and they walked to the living room.
"Susan," Regulus called. "Can you make Hermione and me some tea please?"
"Of course, Master Regulus!" Susan called from the kitchen. "Coming right up."
Regulus and Hermione both sat on a couch. Hermione took in her surroundings. It was a small, cozy looking room. There was a large fireplace in front of her. The light from the flames gave off a warm, inviting feeling. On either side of the fireplace there were built-in bookcases, stuffed full of books. Hermione could see a few titles she recognised from Flourish & Blotts during her back-to-school shopping. She'd looked at a few of them during her shopping trips, always making sure she would purchase something outside of her studies, be it another topic in the magical world that wasn't taught at Hogwarts or fiction novels. There were windows to her left, the front of the house, which looked through some trees. She could see a narrow driveway, weeds and shrubbery grown in, hiding it from obvious view to outsiders.
She turned to look at the other wall behind her. A desk sat pushed up against the wall, a quill and ink well visible on the surface. There were old Daily Prophet copies on the desk, maybe one or two. She noticed the picture of Umbridge on the front of one, wearing the locket. On the other there was a headline stating that there had been a break-in at the ministry the day her, Harry and Ron stole the locket and that witnesses were sought.
Susan hobbled in with tea and biscuits on a tray. Regulus thanked her, and began pouring tea for both himself and Hermione.
"How do you take your tea, Hermione?" He asked, looking up from his pouring.
"Just a bit of milk, please."
Regulus nodded, finished pouring and added a bit of milk. He handed Hermione her cup and started on his own. He finished his with a bit of milk and two huge scoops of sugar, looking at his daughter as she snickered at the amount of sugar he put in. He fought a grin, but refused to comment, and took a sip.
"Your mother and I were sort of study buddies in our seventh year. She knew of me before we started studying together, but I didn't know her. She was a Ravenclaw. Her parents were both muggleborn, Ravenclaw as well apparently. I never met them. They didn't know about me and their daughter. Her name was Madeleine Erickson. She was an only child, her parents were healers at St. Mungo's. I know that they were in their thirties when they had Madeleine. I know that they were very career oriented; focused on work and not really on their child. They weren't abusive or anything – not like my mother and father – but at the same time, they had no idea what their daughter was doing. Who she was hanging out with. Who her study buddy was." He took a sip of his tea. Hermione did the same.
"Anyway, I was trying to focus on my studies while I was at school. I found them to be a sort of escape to what I was involved in outside of the classroom. We sat at the same table in the library for the first few weeks of school. I don't think I really noticed her, she was just there. She was really good at blending in, not drawing attention to herself." Regulus looked at Hermione, making sure she was following along.
"You have to understand that during that time, having muggleborn parents was viewed as being the same as being muggleborn yourself. You were viewed as unbelonging, as filth, as not being good enough. Most students didn't advertise that they were muggleborn out of fear of retaliation. Lily Evans, Harry's mother was one of the exceptions to that rule. And rightfully so, she was a formidable witch. People were scared of her, she knew how to defend herself." Regulus paused, taking a sip of tea.
"Most muggleborn students and those with muggleborn parents got through their seven years by not being exceptional. Having grades good enough, but not the best. Having some friends, but not a lot. It was like people were afraid to…I don't know…overstep their boundaries or something." He looked at Hermione as she sipped her tea. "Does that make sense? Am I painting a clear picture?" He asked.
She nodded. "I think Draco Malfoy's hatred of me fits into that frame. He always seemed angry that I'd beat him on assignments. He'd call me a mudblood in retaliation a lot of the times, in class or as we were leaving. Harry and Ron only heard him say it a few times to me. In all honesty, it was probably an everyday occurrence."
Regulus nodded. "Did you want me to kick his arse when I get the chance?"
Hermione laughed, "No, he refused to identify us at Malfoy Manor when we were caught. He knew exactly who we were and he said he wasn't sure. He bought us time." Regulus had a surprised expression on his face.
"That's good to know," he smiled. "Anyway, back to your mother. We sat at the same table for a few weeks. Ravenclaw and Slytherin usually get along relatively well, historically speaking. I didn't have a problem with her there, and no one else did either. I didn't know about her parents being muggleborn until after we started seeing each other. She was very secretive about it. Understandably so, I'm a Black, and I was a Death Eater. That fact wasn't advertised in school – that I had been marked – but it was one of those things that most people could put two and two together on." He sipped his tea, and munched on a biscuit. "She started talking to me one day. Asked me a question about her transfiguration homework that she was working on. I ended up helping her with her homework. We eventually got into a rhythm where we would always work together at that table, each of us asking each other questions about our homework."
Regulus grabbed another biscuit, bit into it. "She made me feel normal and I think that I made her feel like she wasn't invisible. She didn't have really any friends, not close ones anyway. Students would ask her for help on their homework, but nothing else. Nothing ever personal. Ever. Just homework help, and they'd leave her alone after she helped them. I asked her what her parents did for a living one day, I think I was the first person to ask her in the seven years she was there. She started crying as she told me they were healers. Then she gave me the biggest hug." Regulus smiled at the memory. "We started hanging out after that, dating I suppose, in secret of course, but we were together."
Regulus watched Hermione wipe her cheeks as she grabbed a biscuit. She nodded to him, and he continued. "Madeleine got word that her parents had contracted Dragon Pox during their work as healers at St. Mungo's, there had been a bad outbreak that year. It was the same strain that killed James Potters' parents. It was vicious, and it worked quickly. Her parents died just before Winter Break, a week after they initially contracted it. The healers couldn't move fast enough, the potions at the time weren't good enough." He took a sip of his tea. "I convinced my mother that I had to stay at Hogwarts over break, I said I needed to study for my NEWTS. Somehow the Dark Lord left me alone too…I don't know why or how that happened. But I stayed at school with Madeleine. She had left for a couple of days at the end of term to arrange some things with her parents' deaths, but she stayed at Hogwarts for the entirety of the break. She had nowhere else to go."
Regulus looked at Hermione, trying desperately not to be awkward. "Some stuff happened." Hermione snickered, Regulus grinned. "And the first month into the new term she told me she was pregnant." Regulus nodded to himself. "I panicked. I mean we were just kids really. We were trying to figure out what to do. I knew that no one could find out about Madeleine or you. Not my mother or father. Not the Dark Lord. No one. It wasn't safe. I knew that if anyone found out about you that the Dark lord would have held you over my head. He would have made you a soldier once you were old enough. Much like what's happened with Draco Malfoy."
Hermione nodded at that. It made sense.
"Like I said before, I went home for Easter break, adjusted the Black Family tapestry. Because Madeleine and I weren't married, she wouldn't show up on there until she gave birth to a Black child, to my child. I had blocked that from happening. I need to go back one day and release the spell, but for now I am going to keep you hidden." Regulus looked at his daughter, gauging her reaction.
"We can go back after the war is over, after You-Know-Who is gone and buried." Hermione stated.
Regulus nodded in agreement, smiling at his daughter.
"I had access to the Black Family vaults at Gringotts," Regulus continued, "I took out some money, a lot really, but hardly noticeable to anyone with access to the vault. I wanted Madeleine to be comfortable. She had no one. Her parents gave her some money, but not enough to survive on without working. Because they were muggleborn, they didn't have a lot of history at Gringotts. No family fortune to live off of. Their St. Mungo's wage was shit to be honest, so they couldn't save up a lot while paying for their home and other expenses."
Regulus drank some more tea. "I found this place during Easter Break. Warded it to the nines and figured we could move here and raise you. That we could hide until everything was over." Regulus looked into his lap. "Madeleine was able to hide the pregnancy…I think maybe Madam Pomfrey knew about it. But I know she had no idea that I was the father. Madeleine refused to tell her. We graduated in June. She hid here. I went to Grimmauld Place. I visited her when I could. I continued my work with the Dark Lord while looking for a way out."
Hermione grabbed a biscuit, enthralled by the story. Wanting to know everything she could about her mother.
"Early July, the Dark Lord summoned myself, Bellatrix and Lucius. He asked me for a house elf for the evening. I gave him Kreacher to borrow. He was always loyal to me. The following morning Kreacher appeared in my bedroom in really rough shape. I thought he was going to die. I coaxed it out of him what had happened. What the Dark Lord made him do. I tried to heal Kreacher as best I could. Then I went to the Black library to figure out what the Dark Lord was doing." Regulus shook his head. "The only conclusion that I could come to was horcruxes. There was nothing else it could be. In future meetings that summer he would brag about how no one could kill him, how he was invincible. Fucking bastard. The arrogant prick…" Regulus shook his head to clear his train of thoughts.
"Narcissa and I were always close. I both of us being the youngest in our families brought us closer I think." Regulus said. "She is like a big sister to me. I feel like I could tell her stuff that no one else knew about. I think at that time during the summer she knew I wanted out. But she also knew it was impossible without death." He finished his tea and placed his cup on the tray. "She told me she and Lucius were trying to have a kid, but she was scared of what would happen to it if the Dark Lord was still around." He looked at Hermione, "She kept mentioning stuff like 'if the Dark Lord was alive still' or if things were 'still the same'. She was very careful with who she said that around…no one but me I think. I vaguely mentioned the horcrux. She's smart, and a Black, she knew what I was getting at. She had a good idea. I said I think I knew where one was. Maybe more. And that I was thinking of getting it, and figuring out a way to get rid of it. That was the beginning of September."
Regulus reached for Hermione's hands. "Your mother went into labour late in the day on the 17th of September, here. I was with her. I stayed with her the whole time. It was a really difficult labour for her. She refused to go to St. Mungo's. We couldn't. The Dark Lord had people there much like he does now. It took a lot out of her…too much." He looked at Hermione, tears in his eyes. "You were born in the early hours of the 19th, after over 36 hours of labour. Madeleine lost a lot of blood…I didn't have enough blood replenishing potion on me. I had no idea it would be that bad," he whispered.
Hermione had tears streaming down her cheeks. She had known something had happened to her mother, but to have it confirmed was like a knife stabbing into her gut. She reached up to her father and hung onto him as she cried. Regulus held her and kept muttering in her ear that he was sorry and that it was his fault she had died.
Hermione and Regulus held each other, trying to comfort each other for their loss. Eventually they broke apart.
"You had bright grey eyes and thick black hair already. You looked like a Black. I couldn't keep you here, it wasn't safe. I wasn't safe," Regulus choked out. "I found the Granger's later that day. They were leaving an adoption agency, and I followed them to their home. I had you with me, in a carrier on my chest, and I obliviated them with you right there in my arms. They had a nursery there already, I placed you in the crib and placed a long term glamour on you. Removable only by force. I walked out of your room, out the door, and disapparated away on the street corner. I walked out of your life, I left you behind. I am sorry."
Hermione took him in for another hug. "I understand your reasoning, I understand why you did it. I agree with what you did. I don't blame you for anything…please know that," she begged. "You did what you had to do in order to survive. In order to make sure that I survived."
Regulus nodded, eyes bloodshot. "I met up with Narcissa a few days later, we went over our plan. We went to the cave the next day, we had to move fast. I felt I had nothing left to lose. I honestly didn't expect to survive it. But she got me out of there. She got me here. She got Susan, so that I wouldn't be alone, that I would be healed. She had to go back to Lucius. She couldn't draw attention to herself." Regulus paused. "I was unconscious for almost a month. I wasn't answering my summons, and eventually word got around that I tried to run. That I was killed on the Dark Lords orders. Narcissa helped spread the rumours apparently. She visited me in December of that year, I was bedridden, and she told me she was pregnant. She was scared. I told her about you. I told her that Madeleine and I had agreed on the name Hermione, and that I had hidden you with muggles. She told no one else."