Regulus and Hermione sat at the kitchen table together as they both finished their breakfast. Regulus turned to Hermione. "Do you think you are up for some practice dueling?" he asked her.
"I think so," Hermione replied.
"You're not too sore?" Regulus checked with his daughter, just to make sure.
"I am okay right now. What will we be doing exactly? How hard will we be dueling? Where?" Hermione asked him.
"The basement is set up as a dueling room. The door at the end of the hallway leads down to the basement. I don't think you are ready for anything too strenuous, but we need to figure out where you are in regards to your abilities," answered Regulus.
"I was the highest ranked student in my year," Hermione replied. "Well, behind Harry in defence, I suppose. But I do know my stuff. I am top in every other class." Hermione finished indignantly.
Regulus smiled at her. "I am not talking about the classroom, Hermione. It's very different being in battle with someone, fighting to the death. That's what you need to prepare for. If we get caught leaving Gringotts, if something happens and we need to fight against Death Eaters – against really bad people – you will be fighting to the death." Hermione went to open her mouth to reply.
Regulus stopped her, continuing. "I'm not saying you'll need to kill people; that you'll need to Avada them – I hope you never have to do that – but…you have to realize they will be trying to do that to you." He looked at her pointedly. "You need to be able to defend yourself and handle yourself so that you can take them out before they do that. Death Eaters like to play, dueling is fun for most of them, and you'll need to stop them before they decide to finish the duel. Do you understand what I am getting at?" he asked.
Hermione nodded, subdued.
"What do you think your weaknesses are? Not just Defence Against the Dark Arts, everything. What are your weaknesses? Everyone has them…" Regulus prompted her.
Hermione thought to herself, hesitant. "I think I rely on the textbook too much. Harry is able to apply what he has learned in defence to practical situations – he's had to. I tend to focus on exactly the proper way to do a spell or proper footing for spell casting. I can hold my own against most people. However, it's also what got me hurt at the Department of Mysteries with Dolohov's purple fire curse. I was too proper. I tried to be perfect and I didn't get a chance to defend myself," she finished.
Regulus smiled at her. "I wouldn't be too hard on yourself, Dolohov should have killed you, his curse should have but it didn't. How did you survive it?" he asked her, truly curious.
"I had silenced him, he was yelling out our location, we were trying to hide from the Death Eaters, and I silenced him. He got angry and retaliated by sending his curse towards me non-verbally. I assume it wasn't strong enough to kill as a result," she answered.
Regulus nodded at her. "You were very lucky he was in Azkaban for so long…his magic at that time was weaker."
Hermione nodded in understanding.
"It sounds like you have to think before you cast something. Can you cast without thinking, can you do what just comes naturally. I don't necessarily mean doing it non-verbally, although that is a plus. I mean does spell casting feel natural to you, or is it something that is odd, uncomfortable for you?" Regulus asked her, curious about her answer.
"It is slightly strange to me. I feel comfortable in the classroom, it feels natural there. But outside of the classroom it feels…I don't know…forced almost. I mean like I said, I can hold my own, but I feel like I am fighting to do that…does that make sense?" Hermione asked her father.
Regulus nodded. "Absolutely," he stood up from his chair. "Grab a hair tie, let have some fun," he smiled at her.
Hermione went to her room grabbed a hair tie out of her beaded bag, and tied her hair in a messy bun on the top of her head. "Put on some shoes too," Regulus called out. "I'll meet you in the basement."
Regulus walked down the stairs to his basement. The lanterns flickering on as he descended further into the room. His haven. His home. He exhaled, pushing all the air out in an attempt to control his emotions. Focused. Dueling – he loved it. It was one of the reasons why he initially agreed to sign up with the Death Eaters. He loved fighting. Loved the rush it gave him. Sure, he did it to gain his parents support, to get their respect. But the fact was, the fighting was something he actually looked forward to way-back-when. The power it gave him. The power it made him feel. He wondered if it was a Black family trait, Bellatrix felt it too. Sirius as well.
He knew it was one of the reasons Sirius died in the Department of Mysteries. He wanted to go down in a fight. A duel to the death. Not locked up in a house. A prison, much like Azkaban. He was just a little rusty from the years of no practice. That and probably a little drunk. Regulus shook his head. Dumbledore killed his brother. Slowly. First Azkaban, although Sirius got out, he was damaged. Then forcing him into that awful house. The one thing Sirius despised almost as much as the Dark Lord. Sirius' own personal prison.
Hell, Regulus hated that place, and he had agreed with most of what his parents taught him when he lived there. It wasn't until after Madeleine got pregnant, that he began to question what he was taught. He didn't understand how someone could be so perfect and not be a pureblood. It didn't make sense with any of the teachings he had endured. When Hermione had been born, he realised that blood really didn't matter. She was beautiful. She was half-blood and absolutely beautiful. She was perfect. She still was. He would do anything to protect her. He would do anything for her, no hesitation.
Regulus knew that the chances of finishing the Dark Lord would probably only happen in battle. He hoped to kill Bellatrix in that battle. After what she did to his daughter, she had a target on her back as far as Regulus was concerned. It was a when, not an if. Maybe Dolohov too, he thought to himself. He was pondering what he would do to both of them, when he heard a throat clearing. Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Regulus spotted Hermione waiting for him by the stairs. Watching him.
"Ready?" he asked her.
Hermione laughed. "Not really. What will we be doing?"
"I want to see what you can do," Regulus replied. "I've never seen you fight, never seen you duel. I want you to try to take me down." Hermione looked at him, shocked.
"What are the rules?" she asked him.
"Nothing unforgivable, nothing that could be lethal. I will just defend myself. We'll go until I fall, or you tire out and call time. How does that sound?" he asked her, grinning.
"Alright, I suppose," Hermione said. "I'm really nervous."
"Yeah?" Regulus asked. Hermione nodded. "Just close your eyes." Hermione did that. "Take a deep breath, and slowly exhale through your nose." When Hermione did that, Regulus continued. "I want you to visualize what you will do to me. Spells that you know. Steps that you'll take…have you done that?" Hermione nodded. "Now when you are ready, open your eyes, and start. I'll wait as long as you need."
Regulus watched Hermione calm herself down and focus on her task. He watched as her shoulders rolled back and her back straightened. Her chin quirked up, feet adjusting themselves to be sturdier. She looked like a Black. Regulus smiled to himself. There she is, he thought. She already had her wand in her hand, Regulus saw. He removed his from his pocket and waited.
Hermione quickly raised her wand and opened her eyes all in one motion. "Stupefy," she yelled out, casting in Regulus' direction.
Regulus barely raised his wand and cast the charm aside, before advancing closer to Hermione.
"Depulso," Hermione called out, attempting to get Regulus further away from her. He blocked it just as easily.
"Everte Statum," Hermione screamed at him, sweeping her wand through the correct motion. He cast it aside, coming even closer to her.
"Come on, Hermione," Regulus taunted her. "Surely you have something better than that," he smirked at her. Goading her.
She cast the jelly-legs curse at him non-verbally. It hit him, but he quickly cancelled the curse. She threw the impediment jinx, a stinging hex and a disarming charm at him in quick succession. Regulus blocked the first two, but got caught out with the disarming charm. His wand popped out of his right hand, but he grabbed it with his left.
"More!" he barked at her, continuing to goad her. "I thought you were supposedly the brightest witch of her age," he laughed at her.
Hermione was getting angry. She shot off a langlock and a levicorpus at him. They hit him square in the chest.
He dangled in the air grinning at her. She performed the counter curses, and he dropped to the ground, on his back.
"Good!" He cheerfully responded as he bounced right back up on his feet. "Where did you learn the last two?"
Hermione grinned at him. "Harry had Snape's old potion book for sixth year, there were curses and hexes written in there. I may have read it once or twice without him knowing."
Regulus laughed. "I take it those were the nicer ones? Knowing Snape as I do, I know he has a few lethal ones. Are those in there too?"
"Yep!" Hermione answered him. "I know how to do them, but I don't want to, unless I have to, of course."
Regulus nodded. "You want to go at it again? Same conditions…"
Hermione nodded in response and started firing off more hexes at Regulus.
They continued their practice dueling well into the day, before Hermione called for time. "I'm getting tired," she said, gasping for breath.
Regulus had started responding to her hexes with some of his own. He was good. Really good.
Hermione was starting to like dueling. She never had before, it always seemed like a necessity to her – almost like gym class in her muggle school before she started at Hogwarts. She did it because she had to, not because she liked it. Now she was starting to like it. She was beginning to feel comfortable with her abilities.
"You need food, and potions." Regulus told her.
"And a shower," Hermione added on. "I'll have a quick one before I meet you for lunch. Is that alright?" She asked him.
"Of course," said Regulus as he walked to the foot of the stairs and stepped aside to let Hermione go first. "After you," he said to her, smiling.
"Why, thank you," Hermione responded equally cheerfully and darted up the stairs. Regulus following close behind. Hermione then turned into the bathroom and closed the door. The shower could be heard moments later.
After lunch they took to studying. Hermione was in her element reading Regulus' collection of books. Some on curses and hexes. Some on different dueling strategies depending on your opponent. Hermione read and read, absorbing the information.
~ Meanwhile at Malfoy Manor ~
"Draco, come here," Narcissa called to her son. It was the day he would be returning to Hogwarts from Easter Break. She wanted to say goodbye to him.
Draco quickly walked over to his mother and she reached up to him and held him in a hug.
"I need you to be careful, my Dragon," she whispered in his ear, aware of their guests watching them, waiting to depart with her son. "I need you to be good and to keep your head down. To focus on your classes. Do you understand me?" She asked him. Draco nodded into her shoulder.
"I don't have a wand anymore, mother," he whispered to her. "They are going to hurt me when I get there."
Narcissa slipped hers into his coat pocket as they slowly broke apart. He looked at her in surprise. "Keep it safe for me," she whispered.
"Mum, no this is yours, you need this here." Draco protested in a hushed tone.
Narcissa shook her head, smiling at him. "You need it more than me. Remember what I said." She kissed his cheek. "Be safe, my Dragon."
"Come on! You're holding us up!" snarled Amycus Carrow. "Little Draky has to go back to school now and get his education!" He finished excitedly. He grabbed Draco and they walked out the Manor and up the entrance way to the apparition point.
Narcissa watched them until they reached the apparition point and disappeared. She turned and walked back to her quarters, sighing as she went.
Regulus and Hermione got into a routine as the week progressed. Mornings they would practice their dueling, followed by lunch, and nutrient potions in Hermione's case. She was building up strength and her stamina was improving as a result. After lunch they would focus on theoretical aspects of dueling. New hexes and jinxes, as well as tips and tricks.
They would apply these lessons the following day in their duels. Regulus regularly commenting on Hermione's improvement, and suggesting other tips and tricks that he had found helpful for himself.
Every night Regulus checked his mirror to see if Narcissa had gotten back to him. There had yet to be a response.
Hermione's second week with Regulus, and she was sprawled on the couch reading a book. She stopped her reading of Malicious Magic: Tips and Tricks for Getting out of a Tricky Situation by Any Means Necessary, and looked at Regulus. "How will we get into and out of Gringotts? Do you think we can get away with it without anyone noticing?"
Regulus was sitting at his desk, reading a newspaper he snatched from the nearby wizarding village, trying to gain any information possible. He folded the paper up and placed it on his desk and then turned in his chair to look at her.
"Well," Regulus started, "I'll get Rabastan's hair from Narcissa, soon hopefully. We will glamour you up, Change some key characteristics of you. Do you have a dress? Something pureblood looking? Kind of posh?" he asked her.
"Not really, no." Hermione responded. "I have the dress that I wore to Bill and Fleur's wedding that I could transfigure into something else. But other than that I have just jeans and jumpers mostly."
Regulus shook his head. "I'll get Susan to get you something else. I have an account at Twilfitt & Tatting's under an assumed name. They won't ask questions and it'll fit with the look we are going for."
"Okay," said Hermione.
"Anyway," continued Regulus. "I drink the polyjuice potion with Rabastan's hair in it. We walk into Gringotts. I'll do the talking. We'll pretend your English is not the greatest. I'll insist you come with me to my vault. I should be let in just by appearance only. A perk of having old money. It certainly works that way as a Black."
Hermione nodded at him. It made sense. It was just another way that muggleborns were treated differently. Her parents had set up an account for her in her fourth year, and she had to show her wand every single time she went in. No exceptions.
"We get into the Lestrange vault, look for the cup. I remember what it looked like. Hopefully it is still there. I grab it and stick it in your beaded bag – wonderful undetectable extension charm by the way." He smiled at her. Hermione grinned at the praise.
"We hopefully get back into the cart and ride it up to the top of the bank. Get out and walk out of there before my hour is up. Fingers crossed no one notices anything strange," Regulus finished. "Does that sound like a plan?" he asked.
Hermione nodded at him. "What if someone notices?"
"Then we will have to fight our way out and the Dark Lord will put two and two together and realise we are after his horcuxes. It'll get ugly," Regulus answered her concerns.
"Do we know what the other horcrux is? The Ravenclaw one, has Luna said anything?" asked Hermione.
"I heard from Remus last night, there is apparently a diadem that went missing of Ravenclaws. Legend says it's hidden somewhere. From Luna's description of it Harry thinks that he might have seen it when he was hiding Snape's potion book from in the Room of Hidden Things in his sixth year. I wish I knew that room was there when I was at the school," Regulus smiled at her. "I'm going to assume it's there. We will need to find a way to get into the school without Snape or anyone else knowing. Maybe after term is finished…it's only a couple more months," Regulus said.
"And if we get caught leaving Gringotts, and You-Know-Who figures out what we're doing, we will need to get that diadem quickly before he can move it," Hermione responded. Regulus nodded in agreement. "If that is the case, we need a plan that the Order is in on to take the castle." She looked to Regulus. "Do we have that yet?"
Regulus shook his head. "Not completely. I've been talking strategy with Remus and Bill. We are thinking of using the secret entrances to get into the castle. Harry has the Marauder's Map – another thing I would have loved to have access to when I was at school," Regulus looked at Hermione pointedly. Hermione snickered at him. "With the map we can figure out where everyone is and go from there." Regulus finished. "It's a rough plan, but it is better than nothing."
"Now, we just have to wait for Narcissa," Hermione finished.
"Now we just have to wait for Narcissa." Regulus agreed.
As Regulus was getting ready for bed, he picked up his mirror. It vibrated in his hands. Narcissa, he thought.
He sat down on his bed and sent Narcissa a vibration in response.
She responded quickly. "Regulus, I have your hair. Well…Rabastan's hair, I suppose. Can we meet tomorrow? The Dark Lord is supposed to be out of the country, he's looking for something."
"Absolutely," Regulus replied. "Same spot as before?"
"Yes. Ten o'clock tomorrow morning. If you are not there then I have to leave, I cannot risk waiting around," Narcissa answered him.
Regulus nodded. "See you tomorrow, Cissa."