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Into the Black

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Hermione Jean Granger was confused.

She had recently returned home from her sixth year at Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, headmaster and leader of the light, had been killed.

She knew it was only a matter of time before her parents were hunted down and slaughtered by Death Eaters due to her relationship with Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, and due to the fact that she was a muggleborn witch.

A smart muggleborn witch. Very smart.

Yet she was confused.

On the train ride home, as the rest of the Hogwarts students were dealing with the fact that the headmaster was killed and Death Eaters had terrorized the castle, Hermione was dealing with the fact that the only way she'd have any chance to protect her mother and father was if they had no idea who she was. The safest place she could put them was as far away from her as possible. She had to obliviate them.

So, as she got out of her parents car, after having arrived home from Kings Cross Station she followed them inside, sat them down, and made them tea. They asked her how her school year went. She said she had the highest marks of her year. They were proud. They were dentists, education had always been important.

She got up off the couch, with the pretence of running to the toilet. She stood behind her parents on the couch, watching the television advertise cheap flights to Australia. Hermione reached for her wand in her pocket, and quietly but clearly spoke "obliviate."

She picked through each and every memory they had of her and pulled them out of their heads. She found the summers and holidays spent with them during her breaks from her schooling. Letters she had sent telling them of her classes. Their trip to Diagon Alley before her second year. Meeting Professor McGonagall as she explained that she was a witch. She found the years she spent with them prior to learning she was a witch. She pulled everything out. Younger and younger she got in their memories. Five years old, getting storybooks for her birthday. Just over a year old learning how to walk and talk.

She reached all the way to her birth, her mother finding out she was pregnant after years of trying. Their miracle baby, as they always told her. Yet there was nothing there. Absolutely nothing.

There was no pregnancy. Her mother was never pregnant with her. Yet they had always told her of the morning sickness that seemed to plague her mother for the entirety of the pregnancy. It looked to Hermione that one day she had just arrived. One day she appeared in their lives, a bundle of joy, with the name Hermione. She could tell that it was important to them. That Hermione had to be her name.

To Hermione it reeked of magic. Someone had obliviated them and gave them a child that they thought was theirs. With false memories of morning sickness and the importance of the name Hermione.

She was confused. Who had left her with them?

She walked to her room, packed up her belongings that she had left behind into her Hogwarts trunk. She could hear her mother and father talking about how great an idea it was to move to Australia and re-start their dental practice there. She stepped out the back door as they were huddled around her father's computer buying plane tickets to Australia.

She quickly walked through her backyard, trunk shrunken and stuffed in her pocket, beaded bag slung around her chest, thought of The Burrow, and disapparated with a crack.

Chapter Text

Hermione was terrified.

They were exhausted and somewhat delirious due to their lack of nutrition for such an extended period of time. They'd slipped up. Forgotten that the name Voldemort was taboo. Snatchers were popping up outside the tent. They had nowhere to go, anti-apparition wards had been put in place as soon as the snatchers had all arrived.

Hermione hit Harry with a stinging hex to his face, and glamoured his hair to be longer. Less Potter trademark, less recognizable. Ron got a beard to his face to hide his Weasley freckles. Hermione glamoured her hair dirty blonde instead of her natural brown and changed the shape of her nose. She hoped it'd be enough to hide them in plain sight.

Greyback sauntered into their tent, followed by other snatchers. They were outnumbered. He smirked at his captives and ordered his colleagues to bring them to headquarters.

They were bound together and brought to Malfoy Manor, the Dark Lord's headquarters. It was Easter break. Draco was there. He was asked to identify who they were, just to be sure, as they appeared to be his age. Easy for him considering he'd been around them ten months out of the year since they were eleven. He knew exactly who they were. Hermione knew it. He hesitated, said he wasn't sure.

Then Bellatrix Lestrange walked in.

Fuck.

She quickly noticed the sword of Gryffindor, stunned the other snatchers and forced Greyback to his knees, held him at wand-point demanding to know where he got the sword.

"In the tent," he groaned. "We found it in their tent when we captured them."

The Malfoys were watching from a distance, afraid to get in the way of Bellatrix. Or maybe afraid of Greyback, Hermione couldn't be sure.

Bellatrix ordered the prisoners to be split up. "Leave the mudblood, we're going to be talking…girl to girl," she sneered.

Harry and Ron snapped. Harry was screaming obscenities at Bellatrix, trying to get her to choose him instead. Ron was begging for her to be spared.

Hermione heard the dungeon gate clamp shut. She stood alone staring at her interrogator.

Bellatrix smirked. "Crucio!" she shrieked.

Hermione dropped to the floor. Muscles contracting. Blood burning. Throat tearing as she screamed.

"Hermione!" Ron screamed from the dungeons below.

Narcissa looked at Hermione withering around on the floor. Shocked expression on her face.

"Where did you get the sword?" Bellatrix screamed. Her back to Narcissa.

"We found it…we just found it I swear!" Hermione pleaded.

"Liar! This was in my vault. What else did you take?" She bellowed.

"Nothing…we haven't been in your vault…we just found it for protection," cried Hermione. Narcissa slowly removed her wand from her sleeve. Her eyes on her sister.

"You lie, mudblood filth. Crucio!" Snarled Bellatrix.

Hermione twitched and convulsed on the floor. Choking sounds coming from her throat. Her wrists twisted in, her fists clenched. Her nails were cutting into the palms of her hands. Blood.

Narcissa had her wand in her hand, her husband watching the mudblood thrash around on the floor of their home. Her son pale, looking faint as his classmate was tortured in front of him.

"You lie!" Screamed Bellatrix. "You're full of lies," she climbed on top of Hermione. Her wand pointed at her face, looking her dead in the eyes. The deranged witch flicked her wand over Hermione's head. She could feel the trickle of her glamours being removed. Bellatrix flicked and flicked. Removing glamour after glamour. Her head was building up pressure. More and more pressure as Bellatrix flicked and flicked. She didn't understand. What was taking so long? How difficult was it to remove her glamours?

"Who are you?" Bellatrix muttered, suddenly curious. Like a child opening her presents on Christmas Day. She gasped. Jumped back onto her feet.

"Is this a sick joke? Are you tricking me?" She screamed.

"CRUCIO"

Hermione screamed. Throat ripping. Back arching. Bladder emptying. Never ending.

Suddenly it stopped. Bellatrix was unconscious on the floor. Narcissa standing behind her with her wand raised. Both Lucius and Draco were unconscious, toppled on the ground. Greyback was on his back, unmoving.

Narcissa grabbed Hermione's hand, stuck her scarf into it and muttered "portus." Hermione barely conscious.

She landed on her back with a thud. Heard quickened steps coming closer to her.

"Shit," the unknown male voice said.

Then darkness.

Chapter Text

Hermione could hear someone talking around her.

She was in a bed and someone was holding her hands. Healing them, cleaning them. Muttered healing spells filled her ears. Potions poured down her throat.

She tried opening her eyes and couldn't. She twitched and struggled trying to get up, unable to move.

"Shh...It's okay Hermione. You're safe now and you will be okay. You need to rest." The unknown male voice coaxed her.

Another potion poured down her throat. More darkness.

...


...

Hermione's eyes opened in a flash.

It was late in the day, judging by the bit of light seeping through the window. Or perhaps early morning. She had no idea where she was.

She was able to raise her head from her pillow and able to move her hands behind her body, pushing herself up into a seated position on the bed. She was sore.

Someone was sitting in the chair next to her bed facing her. Arms tucked in their armpits, chin resting on their chest. Asleep.

It was difficult to make out defining characteristics. The lighting in the room was poor. Dark hair, pale skin. She squinted. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His forearms had scars. Dark magic, Hermione thought. Like the scars left over on Ron from the Department of Mysteries and his attack from the brains. Dark magic, like the mark left on her torso from Dolohov's purple fire. Anything else would have been healed. Dark magic doesn't heal. Not entirely.

"H-Hello?" She stuttered. Voice cracking. Her throat was dry.

The man jerked awake. Grey eyes piercing hers.

"Hermione," he rasped, clearing his throat. "How are you feeling?"

"Sore," Hermione said. "My throat burns, and my body aches," she squinted at him some more. "You look familiar…"

The man lit up the room with a wave of his hand. Conjured her a glass of water. She took it gratefully.

"Small sips," he said.

Hermione nodded, still squinting at him.

He sat there watching her work through her thoughts. Patient.

She took him in. Black hair, grey eyes. Cheekbones that would cut your hand if you slapped him. On the tall side, she thought, as she looked at how he was folded into the chair. Strong. Young. Maybe mid-thirties. He looked like Sirius from the pictures she'd seen before he was locked up in Azkaban…but not quite. Almost.

"Regulus?" Hermione questioned. "You're supposed to be dead…"

His eyes lit up. "Right in one, Hermione.” He stood and reached for his wand in his pocket.

Hermione backed up in the bed. Eyes wide.

He stopped. "I promise, I would never hurt you Hermione. I need to see how you are healing. Bellatrix's curse was powerful and you are severely malnourished. I promise, I just need to check what you need, then we will talk for as long as you want. I will tell you everything." He pleaded.

"But I'm a mudblood," she tested him, watching his reaction. "You're a Black. Why would you help me?"

He looked at her condescendingly, reminding her eerily of Draco Malfoy. "You're not a muggleborn sweetheart, you know that. It was smart thinking sending your parents to Australia. My contact told me you obliviated them. They've no memories of you." Regulus watched her, eyebrow raised.

Hermione paled. "What did you do to them?"

He held his hands up. "I just made sure they got on their flight. They are safe. No one can find them, you were very thorough with your obliviation…better than me." He conjured a mirror, and handed it to her.

She took it, hands shaking. She exhaled and looked into the mirror. Grey eyes stared back at her. Black hair in place of her brown. Pale. She looked up at Regulus.

"I need to check to see how you've healed Hermione. After we will talk." He spoke calmly. Patiently.

Hermione nodded. Lost for words.

Regulus raised his wand and started his checking. Hermione's skin tingled, magic rippling over her, travelling from her head to her toes. He reached over to a table situated next to her bed, grabbed a vial and handed it to her. "This will help with the muscle soreness from prolonged exposure to the cruciatus curse."

Hermione downed it, feeling the potion hit her empty stomach. Another vial was handed to her. "This one will heal your throat from screaming, you've ruptured blood vessels. You need more than I initially thought." She downed that one too.

Another vial. "This one is a nutrient potion. You are severely malnourished. What were you eating on the run?"

She swallowed the contents of the vial. "Mainly mushrooms. Fish if we were by a body of water. Berries."

Regulus looked at Hermione, eyes glassy, "Why did you leave Grimmauld Place? Kreacher would've made you lot food?"

"We got caught leaving the Ministry. We had got the locket – Slytherin's locket – off Umbridge, but we brought too much attention to ourselves doing it. Yaxley, I think, grabbed on to me as we apparated away. We reached the top step before I could throw him off. He could get in. He saw where we were hiding. We couldn't go back." She looked at Regulus, "Harry told Kreacher to hide at Hogwarts if there was a security breach. He was helping us. Feeding us before we ran." Regulus nodded, and handed her another potion.

"For the headache," he said. "It's a side-effect from being released from a long term glamour. Especially one hooked into your core." She drank that one too.

Hermione's eyes grew, suddenly remembering. "What about Harry and Ron? Are they okay? Did they make it out?"

"Yes, they made it out. They are safe –"

"—Are they here?" Hermione interrupted.

"No, they are at one of the Order's safe houses. My contacts say they all made it out okay. Luna and Olivander were in the dungeons when you arrived. They got out too. As did the other boy and goblin that were captured just before you were." Regulus finished. "They have been informed that you are okay. That you are in another safe house."

"Am I?" Hermione questioned "Am I in another safe house?"

"No," Regulus said, sitting back down. "This is not a safe house for the Order, nor is it a safe house for the Death Eaters. This is my house. My home." Hermione nodded.

"What happened?" Hermione asked him. "You are supposed to be dead. We found your note in the fake locket. Kreacher said he was ordered to leave you behind."

Regulus smirked, proud of his elf. "He was ordered to tell anyone he deemed trustworthy who asked that he left me behind. I didn't go into the cave alone. My cousin, Narcissa came with me. Waited on the shores of the lake as Kreacher and I took the boat across. I drank the potion, Kreacher switched the lockets, Narcissa watched from across the lake. I reached into the lake, delirious...I was so thirsty. Inferi grabbed me, pulled me under. Apparently Kreacher was howling. Narcissa ordered him to apparate her to the island. She got me out of the lake…I don't know how…I woke up weeks later. Everyone thought I had died. That I had tried to get away from the Dark Lord and got tracked down and killed for my cold feet. That I got in too deep and wanted out."

"Did you get cold feet, did you want out?" Hermione asked.

"I didn't want in in the first place…not really. I did what was expected of me. I was sixteen when I was branded." He showed Hermione his dark mark. Ugly and black on pale skin. "People do stupid things when they are sixteen. I thought that if I did what my family wanted they'd be proud of me. My insecurities as a teenager ended up controlling my life. Marking me for death really."

He conjured a glass of water for himself. "My grades in school were top of my year, every year. It still wasn't enough for my mother and father. I was second born in a very traditional pureblood family. The spare." He took a sip. "I was their favourite, absolutely. But only after Sirius rebelled from their teachings. After he was sorted into Gryffindor. Before then I was invisible."

He looked at Hermione. "I wanted to be noticed…and at the time the Dark Lord's teachings were not different from what I already knew. What I was already taught. It wasn't a big step." Another sip. "Bit stupid really, now that I am older," he chuckled. Hermione nodded.

Hermione opened her mouth and closed it again, hesitating. Regulus looked at her, smiling softly, "it's okay Hermione, just say it."

"To get the dark mark…you…you had to kill someone…" Her eyes wide, afraid of what he'd say, but already knowing the truth.

Regulus nodded. "I did, yes. I've killed a lot of people. Tortured a lot of people to get information, or to show my power, my worth. It was what was expected of me."

"Technically you died when you were eighteen though…Sirius said you died in 1979…I've seen the tapestry. You did all that before you supposedly died?" She questioned.

He nodded. "I rose up quickly in the ranks. I am a Black, people were scared of me. I had power that most people could only dream of. I had power that the Dark Lord wanted. He liked to collect the powerful in order to gain more power himself. Much like Slughorn and his Slug Club, really. Just for different purposes." Regulus sipped his water, watching her reaction, "...much like Dumbledore too."

Hermione looked down at her hands in her lap, one hand clutching her glass of water. She took a sip, and nodded.

Regulus stood up, "Let's go to the kitchen. You need some food in your stomach." He helped Hermione up. She was wearing a men's T-shirt and sweatpants. They walked slowly to the kitchen and sat at the table. A house elf was cooking at the stove.

Chapter Text

Hermione watched as the little elf brought bowls of soup to both her and Regulus.

"Thank you, Susan," Regulus said, tucking into his soup.

Hermione snorted. "Susan?" She asked with a grin on her face.

Regulus smiled, "When we were kids, Sirius said he thought house elf names were stupid. That if he ever had an elf, he'd call it Susan. One of his many rebellions against pureblood tradition I suppose." He took a sip of soup. "Eat up, Hermione. You need your strength back."

Hermione sipped her soup. It was delicious. "This is wonderful, Susan. Thank you very much."

"Yous are very welcome, Missy Hermione." The little elf squeaked, as she continued to putter about in the kitchen.

"Is Susan your brother's elf?" Hermione asked, as she took another sip of soup.

Regulus looked at her. "No, she is mine. I got her after the cave. Narcissa actually bought her for me. I needed someone to help me and heal me. It took years before I was able to do anything remotely strenuous. Partially due to the potion I drank in the cave, and partially due to the inferi. Narcissa couldn't be here very much. She'd have been killed. Me as well." He took another sip of soup. "Sirius loved her when he came by, after Azkaban."

Hermione looked at him, shocked. "He knew you were alive? After all this time?"

Regulus shook his head. "No, he didn't know about me being alive until after Azkaban. I had heard about him escaping. I knew he wasn't a Death Eater, anyone who knew him then knew that. Or should have." He stopped to take more soup. "I tracked him down when he was on the run…it would have been during your third year. He was unstable. His mind broken from the dementors. He told me to 'fuck off', thought he was losing his mind."

Hermione sipped some soup and watched him as he spoke of his brother. Letting him gather his thoughts.

"Near the end of the school year he sent me an owl. A fluffy little thing, with a letter bigger than it. It zoomed off as soon as I took the letter from it." More soup was eaten.

"Pig," Hermione said. "Pigwidgeon is what Ron's sister named him. Ron hates the name and calls him Pig instead. Sirius wrote Harry and said he got the owl for Ron, because he no longer had a pet rat because of him and he felt kind of bad. Pig met us on the train on the way home that year." She looked at Regulus. "How did you track Sirius down that year? Everyone was looking for him, no one could find more than a few flashes of him heading north to Hogwarts."

"My talents with the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters involved tracking people. I'd hunt people down that were running afraid. Get the information that was needed and disposed of them." He looked down and continued softly, "or I brought them back to the Dark Lord and he questioned them, and either convinced them to join the ranks, or killed them." Regulus looked at Hermione, "I was marked winter break of my sixth year. My birthday is the beginning of January, so I could conveniently kill someone without setting off the trace. Heaven forbid I should do that." More soup. "The summer between sixth and seventh years I spent hunting people. By myself sometimes, or sometimes with others, to learn the trade so to speak. Went back to Hogwarts in September for my final year. Met a girl," he smiled. "Knocked her up…I forgot about the contraceptive spell," He made a face, amusement in his eyes. "I panicked and went home, to Grimmauld Place for Easter Break, and adjusted the tapestry to hide you and your mother, once you were to be born. One of the perks of being the Heir." Hermione smiled softly.

He finished his soup. "Anyway, we got off topic. Pig gave me a letter. It was from my brother, asking if we could meet up somewhere. We eventually decided to meet here. We didn't really trust each other – not at first – but he knew I couldn't turn him in, due to me being supposedly dead and having the Dark Mark on my arm. I knew he wouldn't turn me in because he was a fugitive." Regulus looked at her, "we talked about a lot of things. How I hid, how Narcissa helped me. He told me what had happened the night the Potters' were killed by the Dark Lord. Told me about Peter. Told me about his lack of a trial."

He looked into his hands in his lap, "Sirius thought he was in a holding cell at first, awaiting trial. He thought he'd be able to explain the switch of secret-keepers, once he got to trial. Explain Peter escaping, his animagus form. He didn't realise they stuck him with the lifelong prisoners until Bellatrix, Rabastan, Rodolphus, and Barty Crouch Jr. came in a few weeks later."

Susan set a plate of fruit on the table in front of Hermione, "Eat Missy Hermione, you need to build up your strength. Yous too skinny." Hermione grabbed a piece of melon.

Regulus started on his sandwich. "We talked about how Dumbledore was the Chief Warlock at that time, and how he would have known Sirius hadn't gotten a trial. He said he didn't once visit him when he was in Azkaban. Not that it was required or anything, but considering Sirius helped the Order with so much right out of school, gave them so much information, contacts, families to watch. He was a beacon of information being a Black." He shook his head, and took another bite.

"Do you think Dumbledore was a bad person?" Hermione asked, "Harry and I read the book that was released. Talking about his history, his secrets, and his life before Grindewald's defeat."

Regulus shook his head again. "No," he said. "I don't think he was another Dark Lord or anything. I think he just liked being the chess master. That he was okay with collateral damage, as long as it was in the name of the Greater Good. As long as he had say and control over his pawns." Regulus looked Hermione in the eyes, "I think once he heard the prophecy nothing would get in his way to make sure it was fulfilled. Sirius would've been in the way if he had Harry. I mean, could you imagine Sirius being okay with Harry being a child soldier?"

Hermione shook her head. "No, I mean he wanted Harry to know what was going on, to protect him from doing something stupid and rash. But I think he would've wanted the adults, the Order, to figure out how to defeat You-Know-Who. To set it up so Harry just had to do the last thing." Regulus nodded.

"Do you know how to defeat him?" He asked Hermione. "You know about his horcruxes. Have you figured out how to destroy them? I couldn't find information anywhere."

Hermione nodded, "In theory, I know how to defeat him. We destroyed the locket. Fiendfyre and basilisk venom work apparently, according to a book Dumbledore gave me. We used the sword of Gryffindor to destroy it. Harry used it to kill the Basilisk in our second year…in the Chamber of Secrets. The sword took in the powers of the venom, due to it being goblin made. He also stabbed the diary that Malfoy had given Ginny with a basilisk fang. The diary was also a horcrux, given to Lucius due to his service, and his standing we think. We don't think he knew what it was, just that it was dark." She looked at Regulus, eyes wide, "Bellatrix thought we stole the sword from her vault…she kept asking me what else we took out of there. Do you think there's one in there?"

Regulus nodded. "I know there is one in there. Me, Lucius and Bellatrix were all together when he gave us items. Or, in my case asked for Kreacher."

Hermione stood up from the table, her men's T-shirt and sweatpants making her look tiny. "We have to go get it then. We can break in!" She exclaimed.

Regulus laughed. "That's not happening any time soon, if at all. Sit down Hermione, finish your fruit. You need your strength before we do anything at all."

She sat back down, grabbed some grapes, popped one in her mouth and raised a brow. Regulus snickered.

"I need to talk to my contact in the Order before we do anything at all. We need to figure out what your friends are doing." Said Regulus, starting on his sandwich again.

Hermione scrunched her eyebrows together in thought. "Who is your contact in the Order?"

"Remus," Regulus smiled. "Sirius got me in contact with him if anything should happen to him. From my contact with Narcissa, I've been giving him some information to help out. I can't tell him everything, I do have to protect my cousin. But we have been feeding each other information from both sides ever since. I am the spy no one knows about."

Chapter Text

"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."

Hermione nodded.

"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."

Chapter Text

It was late when Regulus and Hermione finished talking. After a quick shower, Hermione returned to her bedroom, exhausted from everything she had learned. She was just pulling back the covers, getting ready to climb back into bed when Regulus knocked on her door. "Come in," she said.

Regulus poked his head in the doorway. "I just wanted to make sure you took some more potions. Some pain potion for your aches and pains," he walked in and reached to the table housing various vials of potions. Grabbed one and handed it to her. She drank it down. "Also another nutrient potion," he handed her another vial. She swallowed it too, and handed back the vials. "I really don't want to give you anymore dreamless sleep, it's highly addictive. Do you think you'll be okay without it?" He looked at Hermione, waiting for her response.

She nodded. "I think so, yes." She looked at the potion table a bit closer. There were numerous potions waiting in stasis; waiting for someone to need them. "Sure have a lot of potions here," she said, making eye contact with Regulus.

He looked at his feet braking the eye contact, half smiled and responded, "I didn't want to ever run out of potions again. Not if I could help it. It also keeps my mind sharp, being out here."

"Have you remained all alone out here for almost 20 years?" Hermione asked, shocked.

Regulus shook his head. "I have a running supply of polyjuice potion…and some hair from an old muggle man and a few others that I stole from a while back. I go into town, or Diagon Alley as different people," he smiled at Hermione. "That's a story for another day though, you need your rest…so do I," he turned, wished her goodnight, and softly closed her door.

Exhausted, Hermione slipped into bed, and was out before her head hit the pillow.

...


...

Hermione woke to a knocking on her door. "Hermione, time to wake up. There is someone here who'd love to see you," Regulus called through the door.

"Okay, I'll be there in a minute," Hermione called out. She quickly got out of bed. Reached into her beaded bag and pulled out a change of clothes. She finished tugging on her shirt as she opened the door of her room.

Hermione could hear hushed talking from the living room, and walked down the hallway in that direction. On the couch there were two men sitting, chatting with each other. One Regulus, the other someone Hermione hadn't seen since the summer.

"Remus!" Hermione cried out. She rushed to him as he stood up, and engulfed him in a massive hug.

Remus hugged her back just as enthusiastically. "Hermione," he rasped. "How have you been? Are you feeling better? Harry and Ron and the others are worried about you," he smiled down at her.

Hermione beamed. "I am doing better, yes. Still sore, but my headache is gone now. Which is nice." She looked at Remus critically, with narrowed eyes. "Have you gotten over yourself and gotten back together with Tonks?"

Remus nodded, looking ashamed of his behaviour. "Yeah, I got the picture eventually. Our baby is due any day now," he replied, looking both terrified but excited all the same. Hermione gave him a short nod.

Regulus smiled at them, then stood up from the couch and walked down the hallway to her room. He returned holding three vials of potions for Hermione.

She looked at them quizzically. "Three?" she asked.

"I'm going to give you a double dose of nutrient potion. The quicker you'll get better and up to strength," he smiled at her. "We can't stay in hiding forever. I'm starting to get tired of it," he winked at her.

Hermione laughed in response, and downed the three vials.

Remus was watching the interacting between father and daughter, smiling. "Harry and Ron want to know where you are, Hermione. What did you want me to tell them?"

Hermione looked at Remus, nodding. "Tell Harry that I am with my father. He knows about me obliviating my parents – the Grangers – and finding out that they weren't my biological parents. That they'd been obliviated before." Remus nodded. "But can you tell Ron that I am at a safe house?" she looked at Remus questioningly.

Remus looked at her – wide-eyed – and slowly nodded. "Ron knows that I obliviated my parents, but he doesn't know anything else about it. He left us for a few months. Walked out of the tent, and left me and Harry alone to fend for ourselves. I trust him, he is my friend, but I want to keep it close to my chest right now. He really hurt me. He really hurt us – both me and Harry. I want to have a talk with him alone, about some of the stuff that has happened in the past. But not right now," said Hermione. She looked down at a spot on the floor between the three of them.

"Does that make me a bad person? To keep this from him…for now?" Hermione asked, looking between Remus and Regulus. "I honestly think he is going to over-react. That he'll demand to know who my father is. Harry will know to give me time. He knows I'll tell him who, when I am ready and I know that he is okay with that. I know that he will understand," she looked back up, making eye contact with Remus and Regulus.

"Are you ashamed of me?" asked Regulus. "I mean…I agree that no one can know the identity of me right now. But are you ashamed I am your father?"

Hermione was already shaking her head as soon as he started talking. "I am not at all ashamed. I am quite proud actually," she smiled at him. "But, I have a feeling once everyone figures out who my father is, Ron will freak out. He'll explode. I want to talk with him before that happens. To set some ground rules about how he treats his friends." Hermione squished her eyebrows together in thought. "I wanted to talk to him before we were captured – when he came back to us – but, I didn't know what to say without angering him. Harry was so happy he was back…I didn't want to be the Grinch." Remus nodded in agreement.

"The Grinch?" Regulus asked. "What's a Grinch? I mean I can guess what you mean…" he tapered off.

Hermione smiled at him. "He's a character from a muggle story book." Regulus nodded in understanding, smiling at his daughter.

"Did you want to tell Harry about who your father is?" Remus asked them both. "I think he would probably take it pretty well."

"NO!" Hermione exclaimed. "I think there is something with his scar…You-Know-Who can get in his head, give him false memories…that's how Sirius died. I don't want You-Know-Who to be able to see this thought from Harry. I mean, he hasn't been in Harry's head since fifth year, as far as I know, but I don't want to take any chances. Harry still sees into his thoughts from time to time, when You-Know-Who is really emotional." She looked at Regulus. He was looking at Hermione, putting pieces together. "Now that I know who my father is – the identity of my father – I want to keep it a secret the longest I can. I think I want it to be a surprise for everyone when the time comes. Our 'ace up our sleeve', if you will." Hermione finished with narrowed eyes.

Regulus was smirking. "How very Slytherin of you." Remus tried to hide a laugh, and ended up getting smacked in the arm by Hermione.

"Well, what can I say, my father was a Slytherin. I must have picked up a few things from him." Hermione responded as she sat down on the couch.

Regulus and Remus sat on either side of her on the couch. "What is the plan now with everything?" she asked them. She looked to Remus. "Has Harry said anything about what we were doing on the run?"

Remus shook his head. "Bill said that he refuses to say anything, both him and Ron. They are being very hush hush with everything. Bill said that he keeps talking with Olivander, asking him about wands – myths about wands. Which reminds me…" Remus reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out Hermione's wand and handed it to her. "Narcissa gave it to Harry as she let them out of the dungeons. She gave them all of their wands, plus Draco's, Bellatrix's and Greyback's."

Hermione beamed at him and slid the wand into her pocket. She looked to Regulus. "Do you think we should tell him what we were doing on the run? Dumbledore said to keep it a secret, that it was just for the three of us to know…but what do you think?" she asked.

Regulus pushed all the air out of his lungs and looked at Remus. He took a deep breath and said, "I think Remus needs to know…but I don't think everyone in the Order needs to know. Bill's probably safe. He might actually be able to help as he is a curse breaker. But I am not sure about anyone else." Hermione nodded in agreement. "Why don't you tell Remus. I'll fill in the blanks if need be."

"Okay," said Hermione. "Harry, Ron and I were searching for horcruxes, You-Know-Who's horcruxes." She looked to Remus, "Do you know what a horcrux is?" she asked him.

Remus raked through his brain, going through everything he knew about the Dark Arts. "They are pieces of souls, aren't they? Objects with bits of soul in them? They are really Dark Magic…" he looked to both Regulus and Hermione.

"There is dark magic, then there are horcruxes…they are beyond what one would consider to be Dark Magic or Dark Arts. They are the darkest of dark, blackest of black. I had trouble finding information in the Black Family library at Grimauld Place, and that's saying something." Regulus responded. "I've done a lot of horrible things as a Death Eater, but what one would have to do to create one of those, is far beyond anything most loyal Death Eaters would do."

Remus nodded in understanding.

"So Harry, Ron and I were hunting these horcruxes down." Hermione continued. "Yes, horcruxes, plural. You-Know-Who made more than one. They are what is keeping him alive. What kept him alive when he went after the Potters in 1981." She stopped, making sure Remus was still following along. "We've destroyed one – Slytherin's Locket – the one that Regulus found in 1979. Harry destroyed the diary in his second year, in the Chamber of Secrets. The diary that Lucius Malfoy gave to Ginny Weasley. The diary that possessed her. It was a piece of You-Know-Who's soul doing that."

Hermione stopped to gather her thoughts. "When Bellatrix was torturing me, she thought we had been in her vault. She kept asking what else we took out of there." She looked to Regulus, "Regulus and I think there is another in the Lestrange vault in Gringotts."

Regulus interrupted, "It was a goblet, a cup. Hufflepuff's cup I think." He looked to Hermione, "I wonder if there is something of Ravenclaw that he has put a horcrux in…it'd make sense. Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. We need to ask a Ravenclaw or someone with knowledge of the Ravenclaw legend."

Hermione gasped and reached for Regulus' hand, "Luna! Luna is a Ravenclaw, I bet she'd know something. Is she still at the Order safe house with everyone else?" she asked Remus.

"Yes, she is still there," he answered. "I'll ask her if there was anything that Ravenclaw had that went missing, or had some sort of legend behind it, and we can work from there," he nodded.

"I need a quill," Hermione said, as she stood up and went to Regulus' desk. She grabbed his quill, ink well and a piece of parchment. She walked over to the bookshelf and grabbed a book to write on and sat back down on the couch. Regulus took the inkwell from her, opened it and held it for her as she began to write. Hermione started a list of the possible horcruxes, and those that were already destroyed. "Slytherin's locket – done," she said. "Diary – done; Gaunt ring – done by Dumbledore; Hufflepuff cup, Ravenclaw thing…what else?" she looked at Regulus.

"Narcissa said that snake follows him everywhere…it could be that too…" he hesitated. "What about Harry?" He asked Remus and Hermione. "He shouldn't be able to see into the Dark Lords head without being with him. It sounds like Legilimency without being around him, which should be impossible unless there was a connection."

"I was thinking something along those lines too…it makes the most sense. He is also a parseltongue; it's how he opened the Chamber of Secrets," Hermione looked at Remus. "Do you agree? Or are we out to lunch?" she asked him.

"How do we get rid of the horcrux in Harry? Assuming there is one. It makes sense, yes. But how do you get it out of him without killing him? Without hurting him? Is it possible?" Remus questioned them, not wanting to know the answer.

Regulus spoke softly. "How about we deal with that one last, maybe we will figure out a way to remove it when the time is right…"

They all nodded in agreement.

"We can destroy the horcruxes with either fiendfyre or basilisk venom. The latter of which is in the Chamber of Secrets. We need to get to that snake. Does Harry have the sword of Gryffindor, or was it left behind at Malfoy Manor?" Hermione asked Remus.

"Yes, he has it still. Narcissa gave it to him when she gave them their wands back," said Remus.

"So fiendfyre, basilisk venom, and the sword then, will destroy them," Hermione said, writing her notes on the subject.

"How are we going to get the cup out of the Lestrange vault?" Remus asked them.

"I have an idea…stupid idea, but it is there," Regulus said slowly. Hermione and Remus looked at him, waiting for him to continue. Regulus hesitated. "I can get my contact with the Death Eaters to get some Lestrange hair. Narcissa is my contact," he said to Remus, who looked surprised. "I can see if she can get some off Rabastan or Rodolphus, and I can go in to get it."

"We can go in to get it," Hermione corrected him. "Horcruxes react badly to people, you are not going in alone. We need two people there." Regulus went to interrupt her, Hermione put up her hand stopping him. "Rabastan or Rodolphus, that is – you, can go in and I can go with you pretending I am a new recruit or something. Someone from Eastern Europe. I need a disguise, but we can do that; get in, get it and walk away before they even know we've taken it."

"What about Griphook? The goblin that was brought to Malfoy Manor with Dean," Remus asked them. "Would he be of any help?"

"I don't know why he would help us, there is nothing in it for him. He'd need something to help us and I wouldn't give him back the Sword of Gryffindor," said Regulus. "We will probably need that."

Hermione and Remus hummed in agreement.

"How long will it take for Narcissa to get the hair from one of the Lestranges?" Remus asked Regulus.

"It'll take a bit of time. I have to contact her, and then the Lestranges have to be at Malfoy Manor for her to get it. She is not really allowed to leave the place. The Dark Lord appears to be holding her and Lucius hostage in a way. They are not in good standing with everything that has happened in the last couple of years. With the escape of everyone, he is extremely angry at them. He is taking it out on them by holding them hostage…among other things," Regulus looked troubled. "But she will get the hair. Narcissa wants him dead and gone just as much as everyone else." He nodded to himself.

"How do you get in contact with her?" Hermione asked him.

"The same way I get into contact with Remus," Regulus smiled at her. "Sirius made a couple more of those two-way mirrors he and James used during their separate detentions. He gave me a few before he died. It's safer than sending an owl or calling via floo. They've been updated though. Instead of having to call out to get their attention, I can send them a sort of vibration through the mirror and it lets them know I need to talk to them. She'll get back to me when it is safe for her to do so."

Hermione looked in wonder at the genius of it all. "Why haven't the mirrors been mass produced? It is so much easier to communicate with anyone, instead of floo calling or owling." She shook her head. "Sirius and Mr. Potter would've made a killing selling those."

Remus smiled and nodded in agreement.

"We need to train you Hermione. Harry needs training too, and Ron I suppose. All the kids at the safe house need to be trained how to duel properly. Just in case. We need to be prepared in case we can't get out of Gringotts without someone noticing," said Regulus. "I'm not talking about classroom dueling either. The Death Eaters will fight dirty, you all need to learn how to do that too."

Remus nodded to him. "I'll get right on it. Maybe get Bill to teach them, Fleur too. I may be able to stop by a few times. But Dora is really close to giving birth. I need to be there, too."

"Absolutely," said Regulus. "You need to go back to her. Spend time with her. Hermione and I got it on this end. I'll keep you informed of what is going on via the mirror. I'll let you know when we will be going into Gringotts, so we are all prepared in case it goes wrong." He stood up, Hermione and Remus following suit.

Hermione reached up to Remus and gave him another hug and a kiss on the cheek. "You're going to be a great father, Remus. I am so proud of you," she smiled at him.

Remus smiled shyly, a bit of colour in his cheeks. "Thanks, Hermione. That means a lot." He nodded in goodbye to Regulus. Remus turned and grabbed a pinch of floo powder, stepped into the fireplace, and disappeared in the green flames.

"I need to talk to Narcissa," Regulus said to Hermione. "Why don't you get some breakfast and I'll meet you in the kitchen in a few minutes."

"Okay. Please thank Narcissa for me. For everything she has done. She saved my life," Hermione said.

She walked into the kitchen, and started chatting with Susan.

Regulus walked to his bedroom down the hallway. He reached into the drawer of his nightstand beside his bed and took out his mirror. He sent a vibration to Narcissa's mirror and waited sitting on his bed.

Almost instantly Narcissa responded. "Regulus," she said. Regulus looked at her in the mirror. Her bottom lip was swollen and cracked. She had a swollen eye and bruises of what looked like hand prints wrapping around her neck.

"Narcissa, what did they do to you?" He looked at her with pity.

"You know Death Eaters, Regulus. You know what the Dark Lord orders them to do to people who have displeased him. I'll be okay. I have an elf getting me some healing potion." She said in response, calmly. Looking every bit the Black – one who never forgets who wronged her. "What did you need?"

Regulus nodded at her, admiring her response. "Rabastan or Rodolphus' hair. I need it for polyjuice potion. Is there a way for you to get out of the manor to get it to me with no one noticing?"

"I've lived here a lot longer than the Dark Lord. I know my way around. Know my secret passages out of this place better than him that's for sure. Last I heard Rabastan and Rodolphus were out of the country getting more followers and sympathizers for the Dark Lord. He's trying to build up a bigger army. I am not sure when they'll be back. But I will get the hair for you no problem. Any preference of Lestrange brother, dear Regulus?" Narcissa asked, half a grin on her face.

"Probably Rabastan...Rodolphus tends to stick by Bellatrix when they are together. She can't catch you," Regulus looked at her through the mirror pointedly.

"Do I even want to know what you need it for?" Narcissa asked him, waving his concern off.

"I'm going to break into Gringotts," Regulus smiled at her.

Narcissa put her hand to her lips in a move to stop her laugh from erupting. "Boys," she shook her head. "I'll let you know when it's done. I've got to go. Talk to you soon." She signed off.

Regulus placed the mirror back in his nightstand drawer. He stood up and walked to the kitchen. It was time for breakfast.

Chapter Text

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."

Chapter Text

When Regulus entered the kitchen bright and early the next day, Hermione was already there, sipping her tea and working slowly on her English breakfast. "You're up early," he said to his daughter as he poured himself his tea. Susan was already setting a plate for him as he sat down in his chair.

"I didn't sleep too well unfortunately," Hermione quietly responded.

Regulus took a closer look at her. She had bags under her eyes, and they were bloodshot – like she'd been crying. She was picking at her breakfast, mostly just moving it around on her plate, every once in a while taking a small bite. Her left hand was balled in a fist – knuckles white, while her right hand held her fork tightly. Tense and on edge.

"Nightmares?" Regulus questioned her. She looked like he did when he was her age. She was terrified.

Hermione gave more of a jerk than a nod of her head, but Regulus took that as an affirmative answer.

"How often have you had nightmares, Hermione?"

Hermione looked down at her cup of tea. "Almost every night I've been here."

Regulus' eyebrows rose. "Why didn't I know about them?"

"I've silenced my room every night before I go to bed. I didn't want to worry you, or wake you up or anything. I thought they'd go away eventually. They are just getting worse." Hermione admitted. She looked defeated.

"Hermione." Regulus whispered. "You can tell me anything, you know that right? I don't want any secrets between us. I want to know if you are doing alright. I know I haven't been around for the majority of your life – all your life really – I want to be there now. I want to be here now, with you." He paused. "Please tell me if you are having troubles, we can deal with them together."

Hermione nodded. She put her head in her hands. "Bellatrix," she mumbled behind her hands. "I have nightmares about Bellatrix."

Regulus nodded. "About her torturing you?"

"At first, yes." Hermione took a breath. "But they've changed, and they are really messed up. More stuff happens than what really did. More brutal. More people involved. Greyback. Greyback and Bellatrix. Sometimes Dolohov, too." Hermione snorted. "I haven't had a nightmare about Dolohov in over a year. I don't know why they're coming back full force."

"Maybe…with all the preparation and planning we are doing it is setting you off. Not to mention you were tortured by someone who gets off on torturing people. Some who enjoys it – looks forward to it." Regulus said.

Hermione hummed in agreement. "That would make sense." She took a sip of her tea.

How about you try to get some rest today. I have a bunch of running around I need to do today. I can give you a dreamless sleep potion again and you can catch up on the sleep you've missed. How does that sound?" Regulus asked her, watching her reaction closely.

"Okay," Hermione spoke quietly. "That sounds okay to me. What are you doing today?" She made eye contact with Regulus, curiosity in her eyes.

"Narcissa got back to me last night. She has Rabastan's hair for me. I need to meet her in an hour or so. I also need to pick up your dress from Twilfitt & Tatting's later in the day. So I need my disguise to pick that up as well," said Regulus.

Hermione looked excited. "That was quick, I didn't expect the dress to be ready for a few days at least."

"Money is a great incentive…I told Susan to tell them to rush it. Regardless of the cost." Regulus smirked. Hermione shook her head and rolled her eyes.

"Finish your breakfast, Hermione. I'll get the dreamless sleep potion for you. You need your rest." Regulus ordered. "I'll be in and out of the house all day…you won't miss much, I promise."

Hermione tucked into her breakfast and Regulus into his own.

About thirty minutes later Regulus was following Hermione into her room. He reached to the back of the table by her bed and found a little bottle of dreamless sleep.

"This amount will last you for 4-5 hours." Regulus said as he handed her the bottle. "I should be back before you wake up. If I am not here, wait a day, then get in touch with Remus. My mirror is in my nightstand in the drawer. Just hold it and call out his name. He'll come and get you to safety." Regulus looked at her. "Do you understand?"

Hermione nodded. "Please be safe for me." She settled back into her bed and drunk the potion down completely. She sighed and was out cold in seconds.

Regulus bent down and kissed her on the top of her head. "Anything for you, my Hermione." He turned and walked out of her room.

...


...

Regulus was waiting in Wiltshire, in the trees surrounding Malfoy Manor. He was hidden behind a tree, camouflaged into his surroundings. He could see the back of the manor off in the distance. Windows dark. The gardens in the back of the property – the pride and joy of Narcissa – were full of overgrown shrubbery and trees and dead plants everywhere. The numerous paths he could remember when he was younger were hidden in the overgrowth. It looked abandoned.

He turned to the trapdoor situated in the ground next to a tree a few feet away from him. Mossy, rotted wood hidden among the leaves on the ground. You wouldn't see it if you weren't looking for it.

The door slowly opened. Regulus' hand on his wand pointing in the direction of the opening door.

Narcissa poked her head out first, rolled her eyes at Regulus' wand pointing at her, and walked up the steps out of the ground to stand in front of him. "Relax Regulus. I don't even have a wand anymore. I couldn't hurt you even if I tried."

Regulus nodded, still holding his wand, although he pointed it down to the ground. "Who has it?"

"Draco," Narcissa replied. "He needs one for school, they'll kill him if he doesn't have one. I had to take his wand away, give it to Mr. Potter to fit the story I told Bellatrix and the Dark Lord. To fit the story I've told everyone." She reached into the pocket of her black robe and pulled out a vial of brown hair. "My head still hurts from the legilimency I've had to endure as a result of everyone's escape. But I've succeeded, no one knows the truth."

"It's good that as Black children we were subjected to that shit every day." Regulus chuckled as he reached for the vial. "Who knew it'd pay to be raised by secretive, paranoid lunatics, right?"

Narcissa smiled in response. "No one outside of a Black knows or understands what we went through as children. The preparation we have all had as a result of who our family was. It's a good thing Bellatrix is so insane. I don't think she remembers much from her childhood. She has completely lost herself. I think she did before she even went into Azkaban. Now she is no longer a Black, she is the Dark Lord's right hand soldier. That's it."

"I'm going to kill her when I get the chance." Regulus informed her. "I hope you understand that. For what she has done to Hermione."

Narcissa nodded again. "I would expect nothing less from you. I understand completely."

"She wanted me to thank you – Hermione – for saving her life. For saving everyone's life."

"That's kind of her to say." Narcissa smiled softly. "I'd love to sit down with her and talk to her. After everything is over."

"Absolutely," Regulus nodded at her. "I think she'd like that."

"I must go back now, Regulus. I don't want anyone to find me out here." She started to turn back towards the door in the ground.

"Of course. Please take care of yourself, Narcissa. Be safe. This will be over sooner rather than later. I promise." Regulus said to her back as she stepped down the stairs.

Narcissa turned, facing Regulus once again, half smiled and reached for the door. "Goodbye Regulus. See you soon." The door clicked shut, the leaves and moss re-positioning itself on top of the door, hiding it from view.

Regulus disapparated away, reappearing a short distance from his home. He walked to the front door and let himself in. The house was quiet, but he could hear Susan puttering about, tidying up and humming to herself. He poked his head in Hermione's room, she hadn't moved an inch since he left. Good, she needs her sleep, he thought to himself.

He walked down the stairs into his dueling room, through a door in the side of the room and stepped into his potions room. He placed the vial on the counter and labeled it 'Rabastan' and placed it next to his collection of various hairs in vials. He grabbed another one labeled 'Robert Burgman' and dropped a hair from it into a goblet. He grabbed a ladle and scooped out some polyjuice potion out of the cauldron bubbling on the side of the room.

"Bottoms up," Regulus said to himself, drinking the entire goblet full of the foul tasting potion. "Ugh. It never gets any better." He shook his head to himself. Shuddering. He could feel his body changing almost instantly.

He quickly walked back out of the house and disapparated with a crack, thinking of Diagon Alley as he went.

...


...

Regulus walked through Diagon Alley quickly. The place was almost deserted. Shop windows boarded up, lights off in others. The few people who were out and about in Diagon Alley were moving quickly, much like Regulus. They were there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be. No families were here. Just adults. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a man leaning against the wall of Flourish & Blotts, watching people hurry about.

Something's off about him. Regulus thought to himself. The man's clothing fit poorly, like he had gained a fair bit of weight in a short amount of time and hadn't had the chance to get new clothes. He looked uncomfortable. Polyjuice. Regulus tried to get a better look at the man without raising suspicion. He hadn't been spotted yet and would like to keep that up for as long as he could. Death Eater? Or Order? Regulus thought. Hmmm. A shitty one whatever side they were on. Everyone knew to pick a person as closest to the same size as yourself, if you had a choice. It lead to less chance of clumsiness and better fitting clothes assuming you couldn't transfigure them. It was the rules with the Death Eaters as well as the Order. Who the fuck was this? An idiot apparently. Regulus answered himself. He walked past the man and carried on towards Twilfitt & Tatting's. The man looked up as Regulus walked by, and made a move to start following him. Seriously, you think I didn't notice you, fool? Regulus kept a look out on the man as he strolled through the Alley. He made sure to pay attention to the other people around as well. Perhaps they were working in pairs and this dumbass was a decoy. He couldn't see anyone else. The moron was alone. Good.

Regulus stopped just before Twilfitt & Tatting's in front of an extremely narrow alleyway between the clothing store and another. Maybe two feet wide. It was filled with so many boxes no one could walk through it. He looked at his watch. Waiting. Incompetent went to walk by Regulus. Regulus reached an arm out and grabbed him, pushed him up against the stone wall of the clothing store, wand pointed at the man. "Expelliarmus," he muttered and grabbed the man's wand before the imbecile knew what was happening. Halfwit looked scared. "Who the fuck do you think you are, boy?" Regulus growled at him. His wand was sticking into the man's throat.

"It…it is my duty to watch e-e-everyone who comes here. You've no right to assault me, s-sir." Fatass stuttered. Shaking.

"Who gave you the duty? The Ministry? You-Know-Who? Who gave you the duty?" Regulus pushed him harder into the wall. The disguised man was gasping for air.

"The…Dark…Lord…" the man rasped out. "Please, I'm just…trying….to do my job. He'll…kill me if…I don't." His face was turning more and more red as he gasped for air.

"He will kill you anyway. You are shit at your job." Regulus sneered at the man. "I want you to tell him something for me." The man was in tears. "You tell him that I will see to it that he falls. I will hunt that bastard down until it is the last day on this Earth. I will slaughter anyone in my way."

He stunned the man and let him fall in a heap to the ground. He dropped the man's wand next to the heap. Regulus took a breath, straightened his robes and walked back out of the alleyway and into Twilfitt & Tatting's to pick up Robert Burgman's order, whistling as he went.

Chapter Text

Hermione slowly started to wake up from her dreamless sleep. She could hear someone walk around in her room and place something in her closet. She took a deep breath and was able to open her eyes, blinking from the sunshine streaming through the window. "Hmmm," Hermione mumbled to herself.

"Hello to you too, Hermione." Regulus chuckled at her. "Have a good sleep?"

Hermione nodded. "How long was I out?"

"About four hours…there is still going to be some of the dreamless sleep in your system. It's why you're so groggy right now." Regulus told her.

"M'kay," Hermione mumbled, stifling a yawn behind one of her hands.

Regulus sat down in the chair in her room. "I've picked up your dress for Gringotts, as well as Rabastan's hair…I think we may need to move pretty quickly. I may have done a thing while I was in Diagon Alley." Regulus finished, grimacing.

"What kind of 'thing', what happened?" Hermione squinted at him, taking him in. He didn't look too guilty about whatever he did. In fact, he looked like he was trying to look guilty, but was failing miserably.

"Well, before I tell you I need you to know that I didn't go as myself. I went as Robert Burgman. A man I made up. His name is fake, but I took the hair from a muggle man a while back. He is the one the account is under at Twilfitt's." He paused. Hermione was looking at him like a mother would at their misbehaving child. "I may have threatened a possibly wannabe Death Eater for following me to Twilfitt & Tatting's. I almost made him piss himself. I told him to give the Dark Lord a message from me."

Hermione just stared at him. Eyebrow raised, lips pursed. "How do you know he was a wannabe…possibly?"

"I asked him."

"You asked him?" Hermione repeated.

"After I shoved him into an alleyway and disarmed him, yes…I asked him. He was polyjuiced, I think. He looked uncomfortable in the skin he was in. Anyway, I thought he was suspicious. Then he started following me, which made him more suspicious. I pulled him into the alleyway like I said, and asked him who he was working for." Regulus responded. "He said the Dark Lord…that it was his duty to watch everyone who came into Diagon Alley. That he was just doing his job so that he wouldn't get killed." Regulus paused, thinking. "Then I told him that I had a message for his Dark Lord, which I told him to tell him when he got the chance. Then I stunned him and left his wand next to his body on the ground." Regulus finished with a nod to himself.

Hermione continued staring at him. "What was the message, Regulus? Why do we need to hurry?"

Regulus exhaled slowly. "I may have said that I would hunt down that bastard and slaughter anyone in my way."

"Fuck, Regulus. Why would you say that?" Hermione had her hand over her mouth in shock. "Now he's going to know that we're coming after him…what if he panics and moves his horcruxes, then what? Hmmm, what do we do then?"

"I know, I know. I kind of lost my temper. I was angry that you are having nightmares from Bellatrix and everyone else. I am angry that you were ever put in that position to begin with. I am furious that Dumbledore assigned this near impossible task to a bunch of children. I just want it done. It should have been done years ago. But no one did anything. I did nothing. I fucking hid in a house with a house elf, while you went through everything at Hogwarts. You had to deal with the Draco ponce disrespecting you because I hid you from literally everyone. I made you muggleborn. I put you through that." Regulus' voice rose and rose until he was almost shouting at her. "I put a fucking target on your back, because I couldn't get off my ass and find the other horcruxes. I am pretty sure I was the only one initially that knew there were more than one. That knew the Dark Lord wasn't dead, besides Dumbledore – and I still did nothing." He finished in a whisper.

Hermione reached forward, and took Regulus' hands in her own. "I don't blame you, Regulus. I probably should, but I really don't. I loved the life I had as Hermione Granger, muggleborn witch, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Granger, dentists. But at the same time, the parents that I knew and I were growing apart. I was too different from them. They didn't understand anything to do with the magical world. But luckily for me, you do. I can share my magical life with you and you actually understand what I am talking about. I don't have to lie to you and only tell you about my grades, not about the yearly assassination attempts on my life as well as my friends' lives. You get it. To me that is invaluable." Hermione looked into Regulus' eyes. "Do you understand what I am getting at?"

Regulus nodded, unable to speak.

"Now, when do we go to Gringotts? What day is it?" Hermione asked him.

"It's the first of May." Regulus looked at Hermione. "I think we need to go today if we can. I can give you a pepper-up potion to balance out the dreamless sleep in your system still."

"Okay, let me get my dress on and we will go." She downed the bottle of pepper-up potion, then stopped and looked at Regulus. "If we get caught leaving Gringotts we will be fighting at Hogwarts. I think we should bring all your potions just in case. My beaded bag should fit them all. You need to tell Remus right now what's going on."

Regulus nodded and started towards his room. Hermione started stuffing the potions bottles in her beaded bag, stopping when the table was completely empty. She placed her bag on the bed and opened the closet door. In it was a dress bag hanging. She took it out of the closet, laid it on the bed and unzipped it. She looked at the dress inside with wide eyes.

She picked the dress out of the bag and saw it was far beyond anything she could have imagined for herself. Black in colour. Long sleeves, structured bodice, and a high sort of neck. She called for Regulus' elf. "Susan!" The elf popped into the room.

"Yes, Missy Hermione, what can Susan do for yous?" the little elf asked smiling.

"I need help getting dressed properly. I've never worn anything like this before." Hermione stated to her. "Can you help me please?" She smiled at the elf.

"Oh! Absolutely!" Susan snapped her fingers and Hermione felt a subtle scourgify across her face and body. "Off with yours pajamas, please." Hermione did as she was asked, and soon felt the elf pull the dress onto her body. She could feel the elf's magic fitting the dress appropriately to her body, the back of the dress tying up. "Theres. All done Missy Hermione. Yours boots are in the closet as well." The little elf levitated them towards Hermione.

They were lace up boots and had no heel of note. They looked like a female version of combat boots in a way. Like the ones she saw Tonks' wear when she was coming off her shift at the Ministry. "Are these auror boots?" Hermione asked Susan.

"Yes, Missy Hermione. Mister Remus recommended them to Master Regulus for yous to wear. His Missy Tonks said they helped with balance in dueling. She gots yous a pair." The little elf responded, as she went ahead and put them on Hermione as well.

"Thank you, Susan." Hermione said, as everything was finished. She looked into the mirror. Staring back at her was someone she barely recognized. She looked tough. Almost like a Bellatrix, but with more class. Her dress was clean and well structured. It was light enough that she could move around quickly if needed. She looked intimidating. She heard a light knock on her door. "Come in," she called.

Regulus stepped into the room. He was smirking at her outfit. Hermione turned from the mirror to look at him. He was partially dressed in his Death Eater regalia. He was just missing the mask. "Is that yours?" She asked him. He nodded. "Are they all the same or are you hoping no one will notice it's not Rabastan's."

"They are all identical save for the masks. Those are the identifying factors. Rabastan's an arrogant prick, he loves walking around in his without his mask on." He paused. "Don't worry, it's going to work." Hermione nodded at him.

"What should I do to my hair?" Hermione asked him. Regulus stepped behind Hermione and pulled out his wand. He started muttering spells and she could feel her hair changing. It was straightening out. She looked back at the mirror and she saw the colour changing to a light blonde. Regulus stepped in front of her and pointed his wand at her face. Her eye colour changed to a bright blue, and her cheekbones became a bit more pronounced.

"Make sure you tie your hair back." He told her.

Hermione nodded and reached for the hair tie on the table by her bed. She tied her hair in a low ponytail and looked again at herself in the mirror. She didn't recognize the person looking back at her. "Have you let Remus know what is going on?" She asked Regulus.

"Yes, I just got off the mirror with him. Tonks just had the baby. A little boy, Edward Remus Lupin. Metamorphmagus like his mother."

Hermione squealed. "A little boy!" She beamed at Regulus as he smiled back at her.

"Remus is getting everyone set up for Hogwarts just in case. He said he'd be there, but Tonks will stay behind with her mother and the baby."

Hermione nodded at him. She grabbed her beaded bag and tucked it in one of her boots and stuffed her wand up her left sleeve in a holder fitted into the dress. "I'm ready."

Regulus downed a goblet of polyjuice potion that was sitting on the kitchen table and transformed into Rabastan before Hermione's eyes. "That's so weird to watch," Hermione said, shaking her head.

They walked out the door and through the yard a ways before Regulus grabbed on to her arm. "Remember, you can't really speak English very well. I'll do the talking."

Hermione nodded and they both disappeared with a crack.

...


...

Regulus and Hermione reappeared in Diagon Alley just steps away from the front stairs leading into Gringotts Bank. They quickly walked up the steps and into the bank.

Stepping through the doors Hermione saw many goblins at work. Each teller was present, most of them with a few people lining up. Regulus had Hermione's arm tucked in his, and escorted her to a teller who was free.

"I wish to enter my vault," Regulus, as Rabastan, said to the goblin. The goblin looked up from his paperwork.

"Of course, sir," the goblin growled out. "The young miss will stay up here in our waiting room."

"No, she is coming with me. She is my guest." Regulus responded, looking at the goblin as if challenging him to disagree with him. Hermione watched the goblin react.

The goblin took in what Regulus was wearing. Death Eater robes. "Of course, sir. My apologies. Right this way."

They quickly walked through some doors, and entered to where the carts were. Regulus held out his hand to Hermione and helped her into the cart. He got in after her. The goblin followed last.

They zoomed further and further down into the bank. Hermione was holding on for dear life on the bar in front of her, knuckles white. She could hear a growl in the distance. Something big. The cart suddenly came to a stop and Hermione looked to her right. A dragon was chained up a few stories below where they were. It was sick looking. Pale. They keep dragons in the bank? Hermione thought to herself. Regulus helped her out of the cart. She looked in his eyes, Furious. He subtly shook his head. Not here, not now, she heard him implore.

"Your vault, Mr. Lestrange," the goblin said to Regulus as he opened the vault up with his finger. He stood back as the door swung open.

Regulus stepped into the vault, Hermione following. She looked around at everything in there. Mounds of gold. Artifacts and crowns. Gowns and books. Dishes and dishes everywhere. Stuff was piled everywhere. Where could the goblet be? Hermione wondered to herself.

"Here it is," Regulus called out, he turned to look at Hermione. He nodded towards a goblet with the Hufflepuff crest on it. He noticed Hermione about to reach forward to touch a table. He gave her a pointed look. "Make sure not to touch anything, okay love? I'd hate for you to get hurt because you're not a Lestrange." He chuckled at her. Hermione rolled her eyes and crossed her arms at her chest. "That's better," Regulus smirked at her.

He reached for the Hufflepuff cup and grabbed it quickly, slipping it into his pocket of his robes. Hermione could see him shudder at the feeling it gave him. "I got what I needed. We're done." Regulus said to the goblin at the door. Hermione and Regulus sat back into the cart and rode it back up to the top of Gringotts.

They walked back through the top floor of the bank, heading towards the entrance. They were walking quickly. They needed to get out. Regulus pushed open the door to the bank, and let Hermione through first, always the gentleman. He turned to follow her out. As Hermione and Regulus began to walk down the stairs, two people in black began to walk up them. Hermione looked at them. Her eyes grew.

Rabastan Lestrange and Antonin Dolohov.

"Fuck," Regulus muttered. He took out his wand, as did Hermione.

The real Rabastan looked up as he was walking and stopped. Dolohov did the same. They both looked at Regulus – identical to Rabastan. They grabbed their wands at the same time.

Regulus was already firing off curses before they could get them raised. Hermione was doing the same. Trying to keep up. Rabastan and Dolohov returned fire with curses of their own.

Hermione was focusing on Rabastan. She shot off everything she could think of and he kept throwing it off and returned fire. Grinning at her as he did it. She was able to defend and get shields up in time for everything he was throwing at her. He's playing with me. Hermione thought to herself as she dodged another curse. Bastard.

"Sectumsempra!" Hermione howled at him. It hit him square in the chest. He collapsed on the ground, gasping for air. She disarmed him and turned to Dolohov and Regulus dueling.

Dolohov went to reach for his left arm, reaching for his dark mark to call the Dark Lord. Regulus responded by throwing a potent slicing hex at him and sliced his arm off entirely. Blood spurting everywhere. Dolohov screamed in pain, and responded with his purple fire curse, directed toward Regulus, but not caring where it went. He grabbed Rabastan and disapparated with a crack.

Regulus sat down on the steps, in shock. Hermione ran closer toward him. Screaming, "Regulus!"

He looked at her. He looked at his arm. Hermione took him in, his robes were torn. His left arm by his shoulder was bleeding and there was a gash of purple peeking through. His polyjuice started wearing off, he was turning into Regulus again. People were watching them. Huddling behind walls and lampposts.

She touched his shoulder, trying to see the damage. "We need to get out of here right now, Hermione. The Hog's Head." Regulus gasped, obviously in pain.

She grabbed him and disapparated with a loud crack.

...


...

They reappeared on the front porch of the Hog's Head pub in Hogsmead. Hermione dragging Regulus through the door. The pub was empty, but the bartender was behind the bar. He looked oddly like Hermione's former headmaster. He must be Aberforth Dumbledore, Hermione thought to herself.

"We're with the Order!" She screeched out, panic setting in. "The Order needs to get here now! Regulus is hurt badly!"

Aberforth looked from Hermione to Regulus, his eyes bulging. "Well, I'll be…"

Chapter Text

Hermione was looking at Aberforth with huge eyes as she was supporting Regulus while he leaned on her. Aberforth nodded at her.

"Let's go to the back room, first. You need to get away from the windows." He said to her as he walked towards the pair, helping Hermione and Regulus along the pub to the back. They quickly went to the back room where Hermione and Aberforth were able to help Regulus into a chair.

"I know who this fellow is, but who are you Miss?" Aberforth asked Hermione as she was reaching for her beaded bag.

Hermione looked at him questioningly. Her eyes widened. "Oh, my bad." She removed her disguise and looked at Aberforth. "I'm Hermione Granger, friend of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley. We need to get in touch with Remus, to let him know that You-Know-Who knows what we are doing. We got caught leaving Gringotts, and dueled with a couple Death Eaters. They got away. Hurt, but they still got away."

Aberforth nodded to her. He grabbed a mirror from his pocket. Regulus looked at it questioningly. That was Sirius' mirror. Aberforth noticed his expression. "Mundungus Fletcher sold it to me. He stole a bunch of stuff from Grimmauld Place, I assume." Regulus nodded. Aberforth stepped away as Hermione got to work on Regulus' shoulder, and called for Remus in the mirror.

Hermione's hands were shaking as she was attempting to get Regulus' cloak off. She needed to see his wound. To see how bad it was. He was trying to help her as best he could, but had a difficult time moving. After much struggling she was able to remove his cloak, and his shirts underneath, leaving him with only his bottoms and boots on.

Regulus hissed in pain as she touched his shoulder. "How bad is it? I can't really move my arm."

"He missed most of you, thankfully. Or you'd be dead. He's gotten your shoulder pretty badly though." She handed him a few potions that she remembered having to take after Dolohov got her in her fifth year. Regulus drank them down quickly. Hermione started with the Essence of Dittany. She dropped multiple drops on Regulus' shoulder and watched as the wound was slowly closing. "It's going to leave a scar. The Dittany only closes this particular wound, it doesn't heal it completely."

"That's fine," Regulus said to her, watching her work. She handed him a pain relief potion and a muscle regeneration potion. He drank them down as well.

"Any better?" Hermione asked him.

Regulus smiled at her, "I still can move my wand arm just fine, Hermione. I will be fine. I can deal with this later." She nodded at him.

They heard a commotion at the front of the pub. Steps coming towards them. They all withdrew their wands and pointed them towards the door separating the back room from the rest of the pub.

The door opened and Remus stepped through. He was followed by Harry, Ron, Luna, Dean, Ginny, and finally Fred and George. Remus dropped the portkey he was holding onto a nearby table.

Hermione relaxed at the sight and lowered her wand.

"Molly and Arthur, and Bill and Fleur are notifying the rest of the Order. They will be here soon." Remus said to the trio.

"Hermione!" Harry called out to her. Hermione walked quickly to him and gave him a hug. She pulled back and he was looking at her hair and then her eyes. He looked over to where Regulus was rising from the chair he was in. "Holy shit!" Harry exclaimed, realizing this man was Regulus Black. "You're supposed to be dead."

"That was the story everyone was told, yes." Regulus responded to the teen, as he was slipping his shirt back on.

Harry nodded. "There is a story in there I'd like to hear one day. But I just wanted to thank you for what you've done. With the locket and helping Hermione."

Hermione was watching Ron. He hadn't said anything to her, but was gaping at her and looking between her and Regulus. She could tell he was putting two and two together. "You're a Black?" he asked her, disgust in his voice. "You're supposed to be Hermione Granger, Muggleborn witch. How long have you been hiding this from everyone?" He scowled at her.

"One, I was Hermione Granger, Muggleborn witch for as long as I can remember. I've only just found out recently that Regulus is my father. He hid me to keep me safe. I wasn't hiding anything from anyone. Two, Harry knew that the Grangers weren't my biological parents. We talked a lot when you left us to fend for ourselves. I hadn't told you yet, because I didn't know who my father was until a few weeks ago, after Bellatrix tortured me. I figured you would overreact…and I had better things to focus on, like figuring out how to defeat an immortal lunatic." Hermione paused, catching her breath. Ron was speechless. "We can deal with this later, you and I. We've more important things to do right now." She looked at him. "I see you've brought the sword. May I have it, please? We have a horcrux to destroy." She held out her hand to him. Fred and George were chuckling.

Ron looked at her, in shock. He shook himself. "Yeah…yeah, of course, Hermione." He handed her the sword. "I'm sorry."

"It's nice to meet you, Hermione Black." Luna said in her dreamy voice.

"It's nice to see you too, Luna." Hermione smiled at her.

Regulus pulled the cup from the pocket of his cloak and placed it on the floor.

Harry spoke up. "The locket fought back. Ron had to hit it twice with the sword before it was destroyed. Once to open it, then again to destroy it. I don't know if this'll be the same. If it'll fight back in some way."

Regulus nodded at him and held out his hand to Hermione. Waiting for her to give him the sword. "You all go wait in the front of the pub. I'll get this one."

Hermione shook her head at him. "No, I'll stay with you. I can help you destroy it."

"I don't want you getting hurt, Hermione. I can handle it. Please give me the sword. Wait in the front and fill everyone in on what's going on."

Harry suddenly dropped to the floor, clutching his scar. Hermione could hear him grinding his teeth as he struggled to breathe. She went towards Harry, as did Ron, when Regulus suddenly clutched his left arm, doubled over in pain. "Fuck!" He roared.

Harry opened his eyes. Looking up at Hermione and Ron standing over him. "He's really, really angry. Lestrange is dead, he bled out somehow…there was blood everywhere. Dolohov was there on his knees in front of him. He looked in rough shape. You-Know-Who closed his wound, I think. His arm was missing, but there wasn't any blood. He refused to give him pain potions. He said he failed his job. That it was his punishment." Harry was gasping. "He knows about the horcruxes. He knows we're after them for sure." He took another breath. "He wants to know who betrayed him…which one of his followers betrayed him. Dolohov told him there was someone in Death Eater robes fighting them."

"He is calling every one of his followers to him, right now." Regulus said, righting himself again. He was clenching and unclenching his left hand. "I bet they're planning what they're going to do next." Harry and Hermione nodded at him. "Does he come to the school, where he knows there is one and one of his followers is headmaster? Or does he risk it, and search everywhere else first?" Regulus looked to Harry. "What do you think he's going to do, Harry? What's your gut feeling?"

"Why would you ask Harry? You're the Death Eater! Wouldn't you know better?" Ron scoffed at him.

"Ron! Don't be a git!" Ginny yelled at him as she smacked his shoulder.

"I respect his opinion on the matter, Mr. Weasley." Regulus calmly spoke to Ron. "I haven't been around the Dark Lord in almost twenty years. People change in that time. I'm asking your friend, because he seems to have a good idea on what the Dark Lord is doing. What he is feeling. It would be foolish not to ask his opinion on the matter."

Hermione was looking at Regulus, tears in her eyes. Harry was a horcrux, she knew it and so did Regulus. She turned her head to look at Remus, he was watching Harry. He'd never seen him see into You-Know-Who's head before. He turned to her, and subtly nodded at her. He realised it too.

"I think he's coming here." Harry said. "I don't know why I know that…just that he is. It feels right to me."

Regulus nodded at him and gave him half a smile. "Then we need to split up and get the diadem sooner rather than later."

Aberforth stepped forward. "Up the stairs there is a painting of a girl. It's a passageway into the room of requirement. I've heard a rumour that there are a number of students hiding in there."

Luna piped up. "Oh, there are. We've been hiding in there since the start of the term. I only left the room to visit my father for Christmas, but I was taken from the train. Come on, Harry. I'll help you find the diadem." She grabbed his arm and started walking up the stairs, pulling him along.

Regulus looked to the redheads. "Weasley's, go with them and try to organize an escape route for the younger students. We need to get as many out without anyone knowing." They all nodded at him and started up the stairs. Regulus looked to Dean. "I don't know who you are, but you should go as well. There are a lot of kids in there. The more help the better." Dean nodded at him and followed the Weasley's and Harry and Luna.

Hermione, Remus, Regulus and Aberforth remained. "The boy's a horcrux, isn't he?" Aberforth asked them, when he heard the portrait swing shut.

nodded, and cleared his throat, "It appears so."

Another commotion was heard outside of the back room. They all raised their wands as Aberforth walked to the door to open it. Molly and Arthur and their group of Order members came walking in. Arthur was holding an old boot and placed it on the table next to the portkey Remus had placed there earlier. "Bill and Fleur and their group should be right behind us," Molly said, as she gave Hermione a hug. "Where are my other children?" she asked Remus, taking in Hermione's hair and eye colour.

Regulus responded. "I've asked them to help evacuate the kids out of the school as quickly as they can."

Molly turned to look at him. "Regulus Black…I heard stories about you when I was younger and had less children." Regulus nodded, expecting an earful – if he was to believe everything Sirius told him of the woman. "It's amazing how having children can change us, isn't it?"

He nodded at her in agreement. "Yes, ma'am."

Hermione was watching the interaction. Ready to jump in to defend Regulus.

"We'll have a chat after all this is over. Now is not the time." She told him. Regulus nodded at her again.

"We need to get into our positions, before Death Eaters storm the castle," Remus cut in. "Harry has the map and he is in the Room of Requirement. He knows to leave it there for everyone to see." The Order members nodded at Remus, and began to walk up the stairs.

"I need to destroy this horcrux before more people arrive, and kids start to evacuate." Regulus stated to the room.

Hermione, Remus, and Aberforth left the back room and waited in the pub. Hermione stood facing the closed door of the room. Remus and Aberforth keeping watch of the front of the pub. She was nervous. She didn't know what the horcrux would do.

Suddenly, she could hear a commotion in the back room. Rattling could be heard, like the cup was shaking uncontrollably. She could hear muffled sounds coming through the door. A struggle, she thought. She heard Regulus yell out, and then a loud crash. Silence.

Hermione whimpered. "I have to see what happened," she whispered to Remus and Aberforth. She took a step in the direction of the door, when suddenly Regulus yanked it open.

"All done!" He beamed at her, holding the remains of the cup.

Hermione was relieved.

The third portkey suddenly appeared in the middle of the pub. Bill and Fleur and other Order members, including Kingsley Shacklebolt, appeared.

"Upstairs through the portrait of the girl," Remus said in greeting. "Bill can you stay here for a moment, we have a question for you about something with regard to your expertise."

"Of course, Remus." Bill said as he stepped to the side and let everyone else through.

Once everyone else had gone up the stairs, Hermione looked at Bill. "We think Harry is a horcrux…almost 100 percent sure. Do you know how to remove one without harming Harry?"

Bill looked at her with sad eyes, and shook his head at her. "I've looked in all my books on the subject. Everything I've done in Egypt, when I was there. They were all in objects. We just destroyed the object. That's what everyone does. I've never heard of a horcrux in a living host before."

"In two living hosts," Regulus stated. "We can't forget about the snake, Nagini."

"But I don't care if we kill the snake." Hermione broke down. "I care about killing Harry. What are we going to do?" Her eyes were filled with tears.

Remus muttered softly, "Maybe it'll be like before. Maybe You-Know-Who will just be a shell if we try to kill him. Maybe we can do that and get more time to figure out what to do with Harry."

"We don't have any more time. This is it," finished Regulus.

"We need to go up there, to figure out what is all going on," Remus said.

"I'll stay here, and help the kids get a portkey out of here. I have enough junk lying around to make a few dozen portkeys at least. It's still the location we all agreed on, correct?" Aberforth asked Remus.

"Yes," Remus replied. He turned to Regulus and Hermione. "Come on you two. We have a lot of work to do."

Chapter Text

Hermione, Regulus, Remus and Bill raced up the stairs of the Hog's Head and entered the portrait passageway into the Room of Requirement. All four of them were panting by the time they reached the end of the tunnel and pushed open the door into the secret room. As they stepped down the stairs, travelling further into the room. Harry was standing there with Luna as she was explaining that they wouldn't be able to find the diadem unless everyone left the safety of the room. Remus and Bill told Regulus and Hermione that they were heading to Professor McGonagall's office to let her know what was happening. The rest of the Order had stationed themselves in agreed upon spots throughout the school, guarding the secret entrances into the castle, as well as the numerous entrances spaced throughout the place. A few had also been told to keep watch from the various towers. Ron and Molly were attempting to gather groups of students that had been hiding in the room for the better part of the school year.

Regulus noticed only students from three of the houses were present, just Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor. Maybe the Weasley twins were getting them, he hoped. "Where are the twins? Where are Miss Weasley and the boy?" He asked the room, "Are they getting all of the other students?

Ron spoke up. "Well, yeah. Ginny and Dean are sneaking off to the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff common rooms to pick them up and tell them what is going on. That they need to evacuate quickly. Harry gave them the map so they wouldn't get caught. Fred and George are running to the Gryffindor common room to get the Gryffindors that are still there."

"And the Slytherins…who is getting them?" Regulus asked him. The room went still and quiet.

"No one…I didn't think we needed to…" Ron finished weakly, already seeing the error of his plan.

"Didn't think we needed to?" Regulus repeated back to him. "Are they not students here too? Not every Slytherin is a Death Eater, Ron. Last I heard, Gryffindor had a Death Eater in its ranks too. Pettigrew was a Gryffindor, was he not? I am sure the other houses have their fair share, too."

Ron nodded at him, gulping. "Yes, sir." He hesitated, "I don't know the password to get in. We don't know the password. None of the Slytherin students were hiding in here with everyone else."

Harry spoke up. "I know where the Slytherin common room is, I can try to get them out. I probably need someone to come with me though. I am not sure if I'd be taken seriously or hexed. Regulus how about you come with me…they should listen to you more than me."

Regulus shook his head at Harry. "You and Luna need to focus on the diadem." He raised his voice, commanding attention of everyone in the room. "Everyone in this room needs to leave. Aberforth, the bartender of the Hog's Head, has portkeys set up for every single student in this school to get to safety. Death Eaters and the Dark Lord are on their way, if they aren't here already. You need to get out now."

"What if we want to stay and fight?" A small Gryffindor called out to him.

Regulus smiled at him. "It isn't safe for you to do so. These people will try to kill you, and won't hesitate to do so. Anyone who is not of age needs to get out now. Anyone who is of age, I can't tell you what to do…but I highly recommend leaving, please." He looked to Hermione. "Hermione, you're coming with me to get the Slytherins out of here." They began to walk to the doorway, handing the sword to Harry as they passed him and Luna.

Not one student had moved to leave.

Neville Longbottom spoke up. "Come on people, get out of here. You heard the man! Anyone lower than seventh year gets a portkey out of this place. I won't take 'no' for an answer. It's not safe here anymore." People started walking to the secret passageway leaving the place. Listening to their leader.

"Thank you, Neville and Regulus," Molly called to them, as she was finally able to herd the students toward the passageway.

...


...

Outside of the Room of Requirement, Regulus and Hermione were quickly making their way towards the dungeons, when, Hermione had a sudden thought. She stopped walking and grabbed Regulus' right arm. He stopped and looked at her. "What is it?" he asked.

"It's not even night yet. What if they aren't in their common rooms?" She looked at Regulus worriedly. "What do we do then?"

Regulus looked at his watch. "Classes should be done by now. They'll be dropping their stuff in their rooms before they head to the Great Hall for dinner in a bit. Remus and Bill are notifying McGonagall of what is happening. She will help too, I think. As will the other professors. Come, we need to hurry." They started walking again. The halls were empty.

It was eerie. It didn't feel like a school anymore.

After a few minutes they eventually reached the dungeons and the blank wall where the Slytherin common room was hidden. Regulus was rolling his left shoulder, attempting to gain an understanding of how bad his arm was. "A bit better," he muttered to himself.

He squinted his eyes in thought. "Salazar." He guessed the password. Nothing happened. Hermione was watching him; waiting, worrying. "Pureblood," Regulus called out. A doorway appeared. "Only two tries…not bad, eh?" He smiled at Hermione as he grabbed the handle and pushed the door open.

The common room was full of students. Regulus and Hermione stopped once they took a few steps into the room. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at the two intruders.

"Hello," Regulus said to the silent room. "I'm Regulus Black. I'm sure most of you know Hermione here," He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. Paying attention to their audience. "The school is being evacuated. Death Eaters and the Dark Lord are on their way. We need to get the young ones out." They all just looked at him. "Today would be good." He added on.

"How do we know this isn't a trap? That you aren't a Death Eater yourself. You are certainly dressed like one. And aren't you supposed to be dead?" a voice called out. The room turned and looked at a young girl sitting near the window looking into the lake.

"Miss Greengrass, correct?" Regulus asked her, recognizing her family's characteristics. She nodded. "I hid from everyone. Everyone thought I was dead. I kept it that way until recently." He looked at Hermione, she was wringing her hands, nervous. "I walked away from the Dark Lord and his followers almost twenty years ago. I promise you this is not a trap. It is not safe here anymore. We have portkeys for everyone to get away."

"You're a traitor to the cause!" Someone yelled. Draco Malfoy quickly stunned two people. Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle collapsed on the ground. He then sent off an incarcerous directed at his two former henchmen.

"Ignore them…cousin. They don't know any better." Draco drawled at him, standing up and looking at both Regulus and Hermione standing there.

"Well, I'm not going to sit here and wait around to get killed. Self-preservation and all that." Pansy Parkinson said to fill the silence. "Come on, little ones. Let's get out of here." She stood up and dusted off her robes. The first and second year Slytherin students followed suit. Hermione noticed that they were wincing as they stood. A few had very obvious injuries on their bodies and were hugging their arms or their sides.

"What's happened to them?" Hermione asked Pansy. Pansy looked at Hermione, taking in her new appearance.

"The Carrow's like to get Crabbe and Goyle and some other seventh years to torture the lower years with the cruciatus curse so they can get used to using it. Crabbe and Goyle were the some of the only ones actually throwing a full strength curse. It's the only thing they are good at, unfortunately. It's hard to see reason and see that something is wrong when you are finally good at something. Most everyone else faked it, eventually. We saw that it was wrong." Hermione nodded at her. Pansy smirked at her, looking between Hermione and Regulus, noting the similarities. "Oh Draco, you are going to be in so much trouble…" She chuckled. Draco gulped. Regulus snorted to himself, attempting to hold his laughter in.

"Where do we escape from?" Pansy asked them.

"The Room of Requirement," Hermione started. Pansy nodded, knowing where it was, having been on the Inquisitorial Squad in fifth year. "There is a secret passage to the Hog's Head in there, where there are portkeys waiting to take everyone away. Everyone can leave if they want to…not just the lower years. Everyone is free to go." A few more students got up and made to leave with Pansy and the others.

"Anyone who is not of age is required to leave," Regulus began. "You don't want to be a part of this. They will kill you regardless of whatever house you are from. Whoever your family is. They don't care. Trust me."

"What if we are of age?" Theodore Nott replied. "My Father is a Death Eater…I would rather fight against him than run away. I never really believed in his shit, I just tried to keep my head down to avoid his wrath."

Regulus looked him dead in the eyes. "I can't tell you what you must do if you are of age. But you need to know that it is going to be to the death. The fighting will be to the death. That's how Death Eaters fight…that's how I fought. It isn't a school duel." Theodore nodded at him in understanding. "No one will judge you for getting away. Someone needs to watch the younger kids. There will be a lot."

"Come on everyone who wants to leave this place," Pansy called out. "We need to get out of here." The majority of the Slytherin students got up to leave with her as she walked towards the door. "Thank you for thinking of us," she said to Hermione as she and Tracey Davis walked past, leading the other students out.

As the last of the students leaving the school emptied out of the room, Hermione looked to the ones who were staying behind to fight. Draco Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Daphne Greengrass, Blaise Zabini, and Millicent Bulstrode were left standing there.

"Aren't you marked, Draco?" Regulus asked him. "Did you not get called away a few minutes ago?"

Draco nodded. "Yeah, I am. I was in potions class when it burned. Snape came running in and told me to stay behind. To not respond to the summons. He's left, as has Amycus Carrow. Alecto Carrow is still here, she was told to stay by her brother apparently. She should be in her office, waiting for her brother to return."

"You have your mother's wand, right?" Regulus asked him.

Draco looked at him, shocked that he knew. "How did you…" He paused, understanding suddenly. "You're in contact with my mother aren't you?" Regulus nodded. "Is she okay? Is she hurt?"

Regulus shook his head. "I saw her this morning. She was fine, I promise." Draco looked relieved. "We should meet everyone in the Room of Requirement to go over our plans. Everyone with me and Hermione, please."

When the group got to the Room of Requirement, there was a bottle-neck of students pushing through the door to escape. A mishmash of colours from all four houses were lined up together. Pansy Parkinson and Tracey Davis were at the end of the line, making sure everyone would be able to get out of the castle. Harry and Luna were waiting to the side in the hallway. Harry holding the sword.

"Have you got the diadem yet?" Hermione asked Harry.

Harry shook his head. "It's been a non-stop lineup since you lot left. We have to wait for them to leave before I can do anything. Fred and George said that Professor McGonagall got rid of Alecto Carrow…apparently she transfigured her into a chair and locked her up somewhere. Remus has the map now. He's just in there going over plans with some of the professors and some of the seventh years. You guys can squeeze through."

Remus and the professors came running out of the room. "They've breeched!" He yelled to Regulus and Hermione. "We need to reinforce everywhere." He looked to the small group of Slytherin students staying to fight, wands drawn. He handed the map to Harry. "Follow me, you lot." They all nodded at him and took off with him and the other professors down the hallway.

Regulus looked at Hermione. "We stay in pairs, always." A loud crash could be heard not too far off from where they were. He looked at the students in the hallway. A few of the younger kids were starting to cry, looking behind themselves to try and see who was coming for them. "Everyone stays in pairs. No one splits up. Is that understood? Hermione and I will try to hold everyone off from getting up here." He paused. "Harry, after you destroy the diadem, you and Luna come and find me and Hermione. We need to get the snake." Harry nodded in understanding.

Pansy and Tracey had their wands out, backs facing the escaping students in a dueling stance. Protecting.

"We got it here, go!" Tracey called out. Hermione and Regulus took off after Remus and the others down the hallway.

"Watch out for McLaggen, Hermione. He's a nasty piece of work, if he is still here," Pansy called out to Hermione as her and Regulus ran off to defend the castle.

...


...

Chaos.

It was absolute chaos. Hermione could taste the spells in the air. Dust was everywhere. It was hard to see. Hard to breathe. Her and Regulus stood side-by-side and fought off the continuous pressure from Death Eaters and the Dark Lord's followers attempting to get to the Room of Requirement. They'd been at it for what felt like ages. Hermione wasn't sure how long they'd been fighting for. Too long.

"They're imperiused." Regulus called out to her and a few of the Order members that were stationed with them. He quickly brought down someone in full Death Eater regalia with a well-place killing curse hitting the man square in the chest. He moved on to another Death Eater, throwing spells at him quicker than Hermione had ever seen anyone do. The unknown Death Eater was keeping up with him.

Hermione was trying to incapacitate those who appeared to be imperiused. The ones without the Death Eater regalia. Stunning spells, and incarcerous spells hit them one after the other. They were falling to the floor, landing in a heap. From out of nowhere she was hit in the left arm with a slicing hex. She screamed out in pain, turning to where the spell came from. McLaggen, Hermione thought. He was smirking at her. Arrogant and proud.

Hermione shot spell after spell toward the prick. He was blocking everything. Snarling at her as he did. "Come on, you frigid bitch. I thought you were the brightest witch of her age. Perfect marks. Perfect life. Fuck you." He gloated her, blocking another one of her curses directed toward him. He sneered; face changing, becoming more and more angry. "You can't stop us. Crucio!" He yelled out at her.

It sliced through her shield like a warm knife through butter, and hit her in the chest. Hermione dropped to the floor. Screaming. Burning. Pain. She was gasping for air. Trying to get her bearings. She heard laughing.

"Did you like that? Want some more?" Cormac called out to her.

Hermione still had her wand in her hand. It hadn't hurt as much as Bellatrix's curse. She struggled to gain her footing. Slowly standing back up on her feet. McLaggen stopped laughing. Hermione snarled at him. "Is that all you got? I wouldn't have graded you better than an acceptable."

McLaggen raised his wand at her, glaring. He began the incantation of the killing curse. Hermione hit him with an entrails-expelling curse before he could finish. He fell to the ground. Dead.

Regulus finished off the Death Eater he was dueling. Turned to look at Hermione. "You okay?"

Hermione nodded at him. The hallway they were situated in was littered with people, some stunned and some deceased. Only the Order was left standing.

From behind them Molly, Ron, Pansy, Tracey, and Harry and Luna came running. "All the kids are out!" Ron called out to them.

"I thought you two were leaving. Self-preservation and all that." Hermione called out to Pansy, grinning.

"Oh shut up. We changed our minds." She grinned back at her.

Regulus looked toward Harry and Luna. Harry was holding the destroyed diadem in his one hand, sword in his other. "Time to get the snake," he said to Harry. "Luna, you're with Hermione now. Harry with me."

Harry stepped closer toward Regulus. "I think he's in the Shrieking Shack. He felt this horcrux get destroyed, I think. He was angry for a bit. I slipped into his mind. The snake is with him. As is Snape." He pulled out his invisibility cloak. "We're too tall to cover everything, but it's better than nothing. We need to get to the shack."

Regulus grabbed the cloak with his left hand, wincing as he did so. He was able to raise his arm above his head, and rest his hand on top of his head. The cloak flowing out and covering Harry and himself almost entirely. Their feet peaked through as they walked, but it was better than nothing. Regulus held his wand in his right hand as did Harry, who was carrying the sword in his left.

They made their way down through the castle as quickly as they could. It was still slow moving. There was fighting occurring everywhere. Parts of the castle were crumbling onto the floor, creating obstacles for the pair. Regulus saw the small Gryffindor boy from earlier in the Room of Requirement with another student participating in the battle. "How the fuck did they get back in here?" he muttered to Harry.

Harry shook his head. "I have no idea. That's Dennis Creevey and his older brother Colin. They're muggleborn. I don't know how they are even in the school to begin with."

Regulus stuck his wand arm through the seam in the cloak and stunned the Death Eater the boys were dueling. They twirled around, but were unable to see who had helped them.

"We should tell them to get out of here…they don't belong here," Harry said to Regulus.

"We have told them. They didn't listen. We need to move, Harry. The quicker this is over the better."

Harry hesitated, but agreed in the end.

Regulus and Harry carried on through the castle. They eventually made it to the front entrance. The quickest way to the Whomping Willow. They made a beeline towards the tree and Regulus hit it with an immobulus charm, freezing the tree in place. They slipped through the entranceway and trekked through the tunnel toward the Shrieking Shack, listening carefully as they went. Before long they were at the door in the floor, allowing them entrance into the shack.

"Not a peep." Regulus hissed at Harry as they slowly opened the door. Still under the invisibility cloak they followed the sounds coming from one of the rooms of the shack. Through the claw marks in the walls and holes in the door, Regulus could see the Dark Lord speaking to Severus. He was talking about how the wand he had didn't work properly. The Elder Wand. Regulus remembered that story from his childhood. It was a myth, he thought to himself. What is he playing at? He thinks he has the fucking Death Stick?

The Dark Lord hissed to his pet and stepped away from his right-hand man. The snake struck Severus in the neck, puncturing it instantly. Severus collapsed on the dirty floor. Gasping for air. Trying to hold his neck. Trying to cover the wound.

The Dark Lord hissed at the snake again, and Regulus watched as it sided up close once again to its master. They both disapparated away. The Dark Lord suddenly started speaking to everyone in the battle. "You have fought…valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery. Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste. Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat, immediately. You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured." There was a pause. "I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle commences. This time I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour."

Harry waited a moment before throwing off the cloak and rushing to Snape. Regulus followed Harry into the room. Snape was laying on the floor, twitching from the blood loss, but still conscious. Silver tears were running down his face from his eyes and nose. Memories, Regulus thought to himself.

Severus was looking at Harry. "Take them," he whispered to Harry. Regulus handed Harry a clear vial he had just conjured. Snape looked over to Regulus. Nodding at him as Harry quickly collected the memories. Regulus watch Severus take one last breath before he expired completely. Regulus suddenly winced in pain, clutching his left arm. The Death Eaters were being summoned.

"I need to see these." Harry said quietly to Regulus. "There's a pensieve in the headmaster's office. I need to see these," he repeated. Harry closed Severus' eyes, stood up, and turned back toward the passageway out of the shack. Regulus followed.

...


...

Regulus and Harry were able to quickly get back into the castle. The Great Hall was full of people. Some people were laying on the ground on makeshift gurneys. Sheets pulled over them. Regulus spotted the Weasley family and Hermione huddled together. Remus was sitting up on one of the gurneys, wincing as Hermione was dabbing him with Dittany and forcing potions down his throat. She had tears running down her cheeks. The Weasley's were focused on someone else. Someone lying down on a gurney next to Remus, unmoving. Regulus and Harry walked closer. Regulus was holding his breath. The Weasley girl, Ginny, was wailing next to the person on the gurney. Her mom was holding her, crying just as hard as her daughter.

"Percy…" Harry muttered to Regulus. "It's Percy." Ginny looked up at the sound of Harry's voice.

"He came out of nowhere and jumped in the way of a curse aimed at me…he saved my life." Ginny looked at Harry, eyes bloodshot. "He saved my life." She broke down again and leaned into her mother's arms.

Regulus looked over at Hermione. "He abandoned the family before my fifth year. Said they were fools for following Dumbledore. That the ministry was right in saying that You-Know-Who was not back. That it was lies spread by Dumbledore and Harry to try and overthrow the Ministry," she whispered to him. Regulus nodded in understanding.

"Oh no. Please, no," Harry whispered to himself. He was looking toward another row of gurneys.

Regulus followed his line of sight. The Creevey brothers were lying next to each other. Unmoving. Madam Pomfrey was slipping a sheet over the both of them.

Regulus looked down at Remus. Unable to continue to look at the small Gryffindor boys. He squatted down beside him, next to Hermione. "What happened to you? Will you be okay?"

Remus nodded at him, understanding that the brisk change of topic was a coping mechanism. "Dolohov clipped me with his curse. I was able to retaliate though. He's dead. I was able to get Pettigrew as well. The rat bastard is done. Finished."

Regulus nodded at him. "How?"

Remus looked at him. "Blood boiling curse. I boiled him to death. Harsh, I know. But…I wanted him to suffer."

"He had it coming. He fucked with a lot of people's lives. Ruined a lot of people's lives." Regulus responded to him. Eyes cold. Thinking of his brother stuck in Azkaban for twelve years. "Is Bellatrix still around. Have you seen her at all?" He asked Remus.

Remus nodded at him. "She is still around. I saw her kill the Creevey brothers. I couldn't get to them in time to provide back-up. She left suddenly just after You-Know-Who spoke to everyone."

"Where are the Slytherin students who stayed behind?" Regulus looked up from Remus, looking around the room. He just spotted the group of them huddled around a body when Remus responded to him.

"Tracey Davis was killed by a Death Eater. Theodore said he thinks it was his father that killed her. He said he got him good in retaliation. He doesn't think he'll make it for too much longer. He wouldn't tell me what curse he used. Just said that it was a family thing. Nott Senior got away from the group when You-Know-Who summoned them all back to him." Remus said to him.

Regulus and Remus continued to chat with each other. Filling each other in on what had happened. Minutes passed. No one noticed that one of them was missing.

...


...

Neville Longbottom came into the Great Hall carrying the Sword of Gryffindor. Hermione and Regulus looked over at him.

"Where did Harry go?" Hermione asked Neville, her eyes not leaving the sword.

Neville stopped in front of Hermione and Regulus. "He told me he had something to do. He gave me the sword. Told me I had to kill the snake. He's left the castle. I think he's gone to meet the bastard in the Forbidden Forest."

Chapter Text

Narcissa was standing next to her husband in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. The Dark Lord's followers had been called back from the battle. They were waiting for the Boy-Who-Lived to make an appearance. The Dark Lord was convinced the Potter boy would come to him. That he would sacrifice himself for his friends. Narcissa, on the other hand, thought the Dark Lord was far too confident in the destruction caused by his most loyal. The Death Eaters had taken a hit. A big one. Bigger than anyone thought they would have. The Order fought just as dirty as them, they fought like Death Eaters. They fought to the death. Good job, Regulus, Narcissa thought to herself. She watched a few of the Death Eaters take a look around at the empty places – where their comrades were supposed to be standing. She watched them realize that there were more empty spaces than full ones.

They were in trouble, and they knew it.

She turned her head slightly and watched Nott collapse to the ground, unable to stand anymore. He was gasping for air, drowning. Someone had hit him with a brutal, slow moving curse. It reeked to Narcissa as family magic of some sort. Deadly. He was dying and he knew it, too. Good riddance, she thought. This bastard was one of the cruelest men she had ever met. She touched her throat in memory of what he had done to her weeks ago. He made eye contact with her as she watched him kneeling on the soiled ground. She returned his stare with cool eyes, pursed lips and her back straight as she looked down on him. She was a Black by birth, and right now she was looking the part.

"Enough weakness," the Dark Lord hissed out. "Bella, if you will."

"Anything my Lord," Bellatrix crooned. "Avada Kedavra!" She shouted at Nott. He collapsed face first into the dirt floor. Dead.

It had been almost an hour when Narcissa saw the two Death Eaters the Dark Lord told to keep watch for Potter return to the circle. They were alone. What now, Dark Lord? Narcissa thought to herself. What do you do now?

"He hasn't come, my Lord." Rowle said, stating the obvious. He looked to the remaining Lestrange brother walking beside him as they returned to their leader.

The Dark Lord was shocked. Narcissa almost laughed. "I could have sworn he would have come to me," he hissed to his followers.

"Oh, I did come." A voice came from behind a tree. Harry Potter stepped out from the tree, stuffing something shimmery into his cloak pocket.

Narcissa watched him step into the centre of the circle of Death Eaters. No wand in his hand. What are you doing? What are you playing at, Potter? Narcissa watched in confusion as Potter just stood there facing the Dark Lord.

"Harry!" Hagrid called out. He was tied up against a tree. "What're yeh doing here? Yeh shouldn't've come 'ere."

Harry shrugged at him. "Here I am." Narcissa watch him look at the Dark Lord. Waiting. Waiting for him to make the first move. Interesting.

"AVADA KEDAVRA" the Dark Lord hollered at Potter.

Green light saturated the surroundings. Narcissa had to shield her eyes from its brightness. It suddenly cleared, leaving behind darkness and silence. She looked to where Potter was, and saw he was not moving on the ground. Lying on his back.

"My Lord!" Bellatrix screeched.

Narcissa quickly turned her head toward the sound. The Dark Lord had collapsed. He was having a difficult time standing back up on his feet. Bellatrix was trying to guide him back up. Narcissa could tell the Dark Lord was relying heavily on her to stand again. Interesting.

"Someone check the boy, to make sure." The Dark Lord ordered his followers. Even his voice sounded weak.

Narcissa walked over to the Potter boy before anyone else could. She kneeled on the dirt ground, leaning over him. She got close to him, her hair covering his face from view of those around him. She put her hand on his chest. She could feel his heart beating. Strong. Alive. She got a little bit closer to his ear. "Draco, my son, is he still in the castle? Is he still alive?" she whispered to him.

She watch Harry open his eyes a slice. Taking in who was talking to him. "Yes, he's in the castle," he whispered. "He's safe, Regulus made sure."

Narcissa let out a breath. Checking that the barriers in her mind were still strong. She stood up and turned to the Dark Lord. "He's dead."

...


...

The Dark Lord and his followers trekked out of the forest and stopped in front of the entrance to the school. The Order and those sided with them were waiting for them. Standing there. Watching. Hagrid was forced to carry the Potter boy in his arms. Narcissa could hear him weeping.

"Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, is dead," The Dark Lord called out. He was grinning. His snake was out of its protective barrier, laying on the ground next to its master. Coiled. Resting. Arrogant bastard, Narcissa thought to herself. You've made a big mistake.

Narcissa could hear crying out in the crowd of people. They were in shock. Disbelief. She was scanning the crowd, looking for Draco. Looking for Regulus. There they are. She spotted them in the centre of the group, hidden from view from most. Regulus had pushed Draco behind himself. Protecting him from the possibility of stray curses thrown his way. Regulus had found her in the crowd of Death Eaters. He was looking at her. She shook her head at him. Still alive.

She watched as Regulus leaned over to a student standing next to him. Longbottom. He muttered something at him. The Longbottom boy nodded. Regulus turned to Hermione on the other side of him. He muttered to her as well. She nodded at him, not taking her eyes off of the Potter boy. She muttered something back at him, nodding towards Potter.

Regulus was making his way forward, toward the front of the group facing the Dark Lord. Narcissa could see the Longbottom boy slowly doing the same. Cautiously. He was eyeing the snake. Narcissa smirked.

The Dark Lord was rambling on about gifting anyone who wanted to live, positions in his ranks. That he would welcome them with open arms, regardless of their previous stance.

Regulus stopped at the front of the group. He was in full Death Eater regalia, minus the mask.

The Dark Lord stopped talking.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Have I interrupted something?" Regulus conversationally asked the Dark Lord. He stood there. Wand in hand. Waiting for a response.

The Dark Lord blinked. Shocked. "You're supposed to be dead," he responded to Regulus.

"Whoops, I guess not. I must not have gotten that notification. Apologies, my Lord," he gave the Dark Lord a mock bow, never taking his eyes off of him.

"My Lord, let me kill him. He is a traitor to the cause. A disgrace to the House of Black." Whimpered Bellatrix. "Let me have him." She was watching her Lord. Waiting for his approval.

"Oh Bella, consider it a date." Regulus was smirking at her. She turned her attention to him. "You tortured my daughter. I can't let you get away with that. It just wouldn't be fair."

Hermione was standing at the front of the group next to Regulus. She too had her wand in hand. Watching. Paying attention to her surroundings. She raised a brow at Bellatrix, and pursed her lips. Narcissa chuckled to herself. They were a distraction. A distraction for the Longbottom boy. Narcissa watched as he finally reached the front of the group. He had a sword in his hand. The sword she had returned to Potter as she let them out of the dungeons.

Suddenly there was yelling. Longbottom rushed forward. Potter rolled out of Hagrid's arms, landing on his feet. Draco's wand in his hand. Very much alive. Regulus and Hermione were throwing curses at the Death Eaters. Harry threw a few of his own. The Order and everyone else soon followed suit. The Battle had commenced.

Harry was quick to send a hex to the snake. Throwing it in the air. Neville raised the sword and sliced its head off as the beast came back down.

The Dark Lord yelled out in anguish. He threw out a few curses of his own. Slughorn got hit. Narcissa watched as he fell to the ground.

"Mother!"

A yell caught her attention. Draco was facing her and Lucius. Grabbing at them trying to get them to safety. They had no wands. Only Draco had one.

"CRUCIO!" Narcissa heard Bellatrix holler near her. She jumped and looked to the noise. Hermione was thrashing around on the ground. Bellatrix was laughing as she held the curse on the girl. Insanity in her eyes.

"CRUCIO!" A male voice roared from behind Bellatrix. She dropped to the ground on her stomach. Thrashing her face into the stone walkway.

Hermione was trying to get up off the ground. Draco rushed forward and helped her up. Helped her get out of the way. He pushed her next to Narcissa and turned to stand in front of his parents. Protecting.

Regulus was standing over Bellatrix. He still had her held in the curse. Hatred in his eyes.

He released the curse, and Bellatrix slowly rolled over on her back. Blood was dripping down her face from the sharp rocks. She raised her wand at Regulus. He sliced at her arm, cutting her just under her armpit. She dropped her wand. Blood was spurting out. He sliced her inner thigh.

Narcissa watched at Regulus stepped closer to her sister. He bent over her, said something in her ear.

"Please…" Bellatrix whispered. Blood coating her teeth.

Regulus sliced Bellatrix's neck. Her blood spurting in his face.

Narcissa watched as Regulus looked at Hermione standing next to her. He held out a hand to her. Telling her to come with him. Hermione was shaking. Narcissa didn't think it was only from Bella's cruciatus curse. Hermione wouldn't move. She was wide-eyed staring at Regulus. She shook her head at him.

Suddenly everyone's attention was drawn toward the centre of the group. The Potter boy could be heard talking over everyone. Like he had placed a sonorus on himself.

"That wand doesn't work for you, does it Tom?" Harry stated. Both he and the Dark Lord circling each other. "It just feels like every other wand, doesn't it? It doesn't feel any different from any other wand you've tried. I can tell you right now…you are not the true owner of the Elder Wand. You didn't earn it. It doesn't belong to you."

"You fool," the Dark Lord hissed at the teenager. "I killed Severus, of course I am the true owner of the Elder Wand. He killed Dumbledore. I killed Severus. It's mine."

Harry was shaking his head, smirking at the Dark Lord. "You don't have to kill someone to gain the power of their wand. A simple expelliarmus would do, Tom. Severus never was the owner of Dumbledore's wand, the Elder Wand. Ever. Someone disarmed Dumbledore before any one of your Death Eaters got there. I watched them do it."

"No way." Narcissa could hear Draco mutter to himself. She looked at him, he looked at her. He was shocked. He was the one who had disarmed Dumbledore.

"Do you think you can defeat me, Tom" Harry called out to the Dark Lord. "You're weak. Your magic isn't as strong as it used to be since you came back, is it?"

Narcissa watched as they continued to circle each other.

"Do you want to know why that is, Tom?" Harry asked him. He continued without waiting for an answer. "It's because your soul has split too much. It's unstable. There isn't enough of yourself left." Harry started listing things off. "Diary – destroyed by me; Ring – destroyed by Dumbledore; Locket – which Regulus stole from you – destroyed by Ron; Cup – destroyed by Regulus; Diadem – destroyed by me; Snake – destroyed by Neville as you saw for yourself. And me – you left a bit of yourself by accident on me. In my scar. You destroyed that one yourself. Thanks for that by the way."

Harry stopped his circling. "There is only one bit left now." Harry smirked at the Dark Lord. "So how about we duel, Tom. Duel to the death." Harry raised his wand. The Dark Lord doing the same.

"Avada Kedavra!"

"Stupefy!"

Both spells were cast as the exact same time. A flash of blinding light. Narcissa had to squint. Then silence.

Only Harry Potter was left standing.

...


...

Narcissa was sitting with Draco and Lucius at one of the tables in the Great Hall. They had been sitting there for hours. The tables had been pushed against one wall, out of the way to place the injured and deceased onto gurneys on the floor. She was holding Draco's hand tightly. Watching Potter, Regulus, and Hermione speak to Kingsley Shacklebolt. Remus Lupin was standing near the group as well. Adding his points in when he was able to. Shacklebolt kept looking at her, Draco and Lucius. Then looking away, responding to the group.

Narcissa looked around the Great Hall. She could see the Weasley family huddled around each other. Holding each other close. Luna Lovegood was with them. As were a handful of students in Slytherin school uniforms. She could see Pansy, Blaise and Theo standing next to the Weasley twins. She spotted Millicent and Daphne sitting closer to the youngest Weasley boy, and Neville Longbottom. Molly Weasley looked over at Narcissa, she was holding her husband and daughter. Narcissa looked at the gurney on the floor in front of the Weasley family. A redhead young man was lying on it. Dead. Narcissa closed her eyes in shame. Tears fell on her cheeks. She opened her eyes again watching as Molly Weasley nodded at her in appreciation. Understanding the indiscriminate price of war.

Narcissa looked down at the table in front of her and closed her eyes. She didn't know what would happen to her family. She was tired, but it was finally truly over.

About an hour or so earlier – Narcissa estimated to herself - the Death Eaters left standing had been rounded up by aurors after having been restrained by the Order. The aurors had then disappeared from the castle with them. She heard McGonagall state to one of the aurors present that there was a chair in a cage in her office that was a Death Eater in disguise. Alecto Carrow. Narcissa had chuckled to herself. Impressed.

They were taking Death Eaters to holding cells, Narcissa figured. Maybe at the Ministry. Maybe the holding cells in Azkaban to await trial. She wasn't sure. She heard footsteps coming toward them. She kept her eyes closed. Her head turned down. Judgement cometh, she thought to herself.

"Lucius Malfoy, please stand up for me." An unknown auror spoke from behind the trio.

Narcissa's husband slowly got to his feet.

"Please put your hands behind your back. We are placing you under arrest for your involvement with the dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort. We will be placing you in a holding cell in the Ministry to await your trial." The auror finished speaking.

Narcissa opened her eyes and turned her head toward the auror behind her. "Are all of the Death Eaters placed in the Ministry to await their trial?" She asked him, truly curious.

"No ma'am. The rest have been taken to Azkaban to await their respective trials. We have holding cells there that are more secure." He nodded to her. Understanding her reasoning behind the question. Safety for her husband.

"What about the children locked up there?" Narcissa asked him. "Are they free?"

"We have released all of them. They are all currently at St. Mungo's getting treated." Shacklebolt said to her. He was standing on the other side of the table with Regulus and the others, facing her. Narcissa nodded.

The auror popped away with her husband. "What now?" she asked Kingsley.

"For now, you and your son can leave. You can't go back to the manor yet. We need to check it and clear it. But you are free to go. When more things are settled, we will have to get a statement from yourself and your son, Draco." Kingsley said to her. She nodded at him, but didn't move to stand up.

"Where do we go?" Draco asked her.

"Remus and I will check out the Black Family home. We can all stay there if it is safe. We need room for some of your housemates. They have nowhere to go either." Regulus answered him.

"What's happened to Grimmauld Place?" Narcissa asked Regulus. She knew from her childhood visits that the place was usually locked down. Impenetrable.

"There was a security breach," Harry said to her. "Yaxley got in back in September last year."

"I will come and help," the oldest Weasley boy said from behind the group. "I am the cursebreaker after all."

"Are you sure Bill?" Remus asked him. "You should spend time with your family."

"So should you," Bill responded to Remus good naturedly. "I can get this done quicker than most everyone else here. Then I can spend more time with my family. So can you. Have you sent word to Tonks?"

Remus nodded. "I sent her a patronus."

Bill looked to Narcissa. "Give us another hour or so. We can get you and Draco out of here then. Is that alright with you?"

Narcissa nodded to him. "Of course. We can wait for as long as you need. No rush. Thank you for your help."

Draco spoke up suddenly. "Where have the other students gone? The ones that got portkeys out of here?" He looked between Regulus and Remus.

Bill laughed. "We've portkeyed them all to Romania. My brother Charlie and his mates get to babysit them all at the dragon reserve there. Not much different between them, I think." He snickered.

Remus cleared his throat, smiling. "We have to set up authorisation with the Romanian Ministry to send the portkeys back here. It should only take a day or so. Charlie is close with the portkey official in their ministry. He's helped us out a lot."

Chapter Text

Hermione was in the room her and Ginny had shared the summer before her fifth year. She was hiding, she could admit to herself. Hiding from her father. Hiding from Harry. Hiding from herself. She was scared. She killed people. She watched as Regulus killed people. She couldn't get the sight of Regulus, slicing Bellatrix's throat and her blood spraying on his face, out of her head. She couldn't get the sight of him motioning to her to come with him, as the blood was dripping off his chin. It wouldn't leave her brain. It would replay in her head every time she closed her eyes. She couldn't forget McLaggen and his guts spilling on the floor of the castle by her wand. She couldn't forget the sound of Rabastan gasping on the ground after she sliced him open.

Harry had come with them to Grimmauld Place. He hadn't wanted to encroach on the Weasley's. They needed time to grieve. They had all arrived and had been sitting in the kitchen on the bottom floor of the house. Kreacher had been called by Regulus and – after taking time to calm the old elf down – Regulus had asked Kreacher to make everyone some dinner. Regulus had sat down on one side of her, Harry on the other. Harry touched her shoulder and Hermione freaked out. She jumped out of her chair. Wand drawn. Battle stance. The entire table of people stopped what they were doing and were watching her. Narcissa, Draco, Theo, Luna, Regulus and Harry. Draco was looking at her, arm raised, ladle in hand as he was scooping out some stew out of the pot on the table into his bowl. The stew was dripping onto the table. No one seemed to notice. Hermione ran upstairs. She slammed the door to her room and hid under the covers on the bed. It was where she was now.

Hermione could hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Slowly. She could hear the creaking of the floorboards as the person walked closer to her room. She heard the door open. Heard it creak softly. She heard a breath hitch. The door closed softly. She could almost feel as the person sat down on the floor beside her bed. She was facing them, but under the blanket.

"I am just going to remove the blanket, Hermione." Regulus spoke softly. "We need to talk. I need to look at you."

Hermione felt the blanket get pulled off her body. She was huddled in the fetal position. Wand held tightly in her hand. Knuckles white. She was pointing it at Regulus. Her body was shaking, but her wand held steady. She refused to blink.

Regulus showed Hermione his hands. They were empty. "I promise, Hermione. I promise I won't hurt you. No one here will hurt you." He swallowed, eyed her wand. "Can you put down the wand, Hermione? Can we do that?"

Hermione's eyes were filling up with tears. She was trying to wipe them clear, she needed to see. It was important to see. She was so scared.

"Hermione." Regulus' voice broke. "Hermione, please. I am so sorry. Please don't be afraid of me."

Hermione broke. The tears were rushing out. She couldn't stop them. She was wailing. She let go of her wand and hid her head in her hands, trying to make herself as small as she could as she lay curled on the bed. She was rocking on the bed. She couldn't stop the sounds coming out of her. It was suffocating. She couldn't breathe.

"You need to breathe, Hermione." Regulus said to her. "Take a deep breath. Come on, Hermione."

She felt his hand press on the mattress. Close to her body, but not touching her. He was reaching out to her.

"Take my hand, Hermione. Anchor yourself, and take a breath." Regulus softly said to her. "You're going to pass out."

His voice was soft to Hermione. Not terrifying. Not scary. Not threatening. Soft and kind. Hermione focused on that thought. Soft and kind. She was whimpering now. Not screaming. She slowly pulled one of her hands away from her face. She could see Regulus sitting on the floor, his arm extended on the bed toward her. Palm facing up. Waiting for her to take it. Hermione slowly and cautiously reached her hand to his. She hung on tightly.

"Take a breath," Regulus said to her. Soft and Kind.

She took a deep breath and exhaled. She took another breath. Then another.

Hermione remained curled in her ball. Hand holding Regulus'. He just sat on the floor. Watching her. Holding her hand. Hermione didn't know how long they stayed that way. She used her other hand and wiped her cheeks and under her nose. She swallowed. Her throat hurt. How long had she been screaming?

She slowly uncoiled herself. Bringing her legs down away from her torso. Looser. She remained on her side, facing Regulus. She swallowed again.

"I – I am a murderer," she whispered to him. "I've murdered people. Spilled their guts. Cut them open. I killed people. I've killed them."

"You did that in self-defense." Regulus whispered to her. "You would have died if you didn't do what you did."

Hermione ignored what he was saying to her. "You killed Bellatrix. You murdered her. You're a murderer. My father is a murderer." She took a breath. "I can't get you slitting Bellatrix' throat out of my head. Your face was covered in her blood. It was dripping off of you." Regulus closed his eyes. "I see that every time I close my eyes. I see McLaggen's intestines falling to the floor. I hear Rabastan gasping for breath after I sliced his chest open."

"I'm sorry," Regulus whispered to her. "I am sorry that you were forced to do what you had to do to survive. I am sorry that you killed people. I am sorry that you saw me like that. That you saw me kill people. I got carried away with Bellatrix. I shouldn't have done what I did. Not like that."

"Do you regret killing her?" Hermione asked.

"Honestly? No." Regulus responded. "I should have just killed her. Not torture her. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted to make her suffer. I wanted her to feel the pain that you felt. That so many other people felt because of her." He squeezed her hand. "But, I am glad that she is not here anymore. I am glad she is gone. I am glad that she will never come back to hurt anyone else." He paused. "I don't regret killing her. I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to. To protect you."

Hermione looked at Regulus, shocked that he would admit such a thing.

Regulus noticed her reaction. "No secrets, Hermione. I would kill her again if I had to."

Hermione just looked at him. She didn't know how to respond. She was glad that he was honest with her. Glad that he didn't just tell her what she wanted to hear, saying that he wouldn't have killed Bellatrix if he had to do it again. She knew he was telling the truth.

For now, she knew that that was enough.

"I didn't mean to react the way I did," Hermione said to him. "I didn't mean to run away from everyone. I don't know why I did. Harry touched my shoulder and it caught me off guard and I panicked. I was already on edge and he just set me off. I was so scared."

"It's okay. You did nothing you should be ashamed of." Regulus paused. "Have you had panic attacks before?"

Hermione frowned to herself. "No. I don't think so. Is that what that was?"

Regulus nodded. "Draco started having them in his sixth year. Narcissa was worried and she kept getting in touch with me. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to help him. She wanted to know if I had the same issue when I was a kid. When I was going through the same thing as he was."

"Did you?"

"A few times, yes." Regulus admitted.

"How did you stop them?"

"I was taught occlumency at a very young age. All Blacks were. We were raised by paranoid parents, thinking everyone was out to get them. I was able to place the acts that I did into a separate space. I was able to separate my thoughts, my actions, and compartmentalize them and place them into a box inside my head." Regulus responded. "I didn't always work. It doesn't always work. But I think it has helped me keep my sanity. I think that if I did what I did during the First War without doing that, I would have gone insane. I would have been another Bellatrix."

"Do you think I should learn occlumency?" Hermione asked him, still laying on her side on the bed. "I read up on it, when Harry was forced to let Snape teach him occlumency in fifth year. I wanted to know what he was going through."

Regulus softly smiled at her. "I think it may help. But I also think that it won't solve everything. It would be a good skill to learn though. To be able to compartmentalize things. But I think the best way to deal with what you have seen and done – all of you kids – is to be able to talk about it with each other. With someone you trust."

Hermione nodded to Regulus. It made sense to her.

"I'm sorry that I called you a murderer." Regulus went to interrupt her, but Hermione raised her hand to him to let her continue. "I knew what you had done when you were younger. When you were first with the Death Eaters, but I didn't really visualize it. I know you said to me you tracked people down and got information from them, I could read between the lines of what you were saying, I knew what you were doing. But … I didn't visualize you actually doing it in person. It was more of an abstract notion to me at the time. Seeing you do that to Bellatrix right in front of me threw that abstract idea in my face. It was real now. It caught me off guard. It made me uncomfortable. It scared me."

"I'm sorry." Regulus hung his head. Ashamed.

"I know." Hermione responded to him, squeezing his hand.

Hermione sat up in her bed. "I think I'd like to have some dinner now… I think I am okay – right now – for that."

...


...

Hermione and Regulus made their way back into the kitchen.

When they walked through the door, Hermione saw that everyone was waiting for them to return before they started their dinner.

"You didn't have to wait for us," Hermione said to the crowd.

"Of course we did. You are our hosts, we are your guests. It would be rude to start without you both." Narcissa exclaimed, confused.

"But –"

"It's tradition, Hermione. You'll have to get used to it." Theodore responded to her, grinning.

Hermione sat down in her chair as Regulus scooped her some stew from the pot in the middle of the table.

"You look better, Hermione." Luna smiled at her. "Less wrackspurts floating around your head."

"That's good to know, Luna. Thank you for telling me." Hermione responded, smiling at her friend.

Regulus looked confused. "What's a wrackspurt?"

"Oh! They are invisible creatures that can float into a person's ears. They make your brain go fuzzy." Luna happily replied as she started nibbling on her stew.

Regulus just sat there. Confused look on his face.

Harry chuckled quietly at Regulus' reaction. "You're feeling better?" He asked Hermione quietly as she tucked into her stew.

Hermione nodded at him and started on her dinner. It was time to heal.

Chapter Text

Regulus was lying on his back in his bed in Grimmauld Place. He couldn't sleep. His mind kept going over his daughter's panic attack earlier in the day. He wanted to be able to hide her away and protect her from the shit she was dealing with. He wanted to protect her from people like him. He knew he went too far with Bellatrix. He couldn't stop himself. He was so full of anger; it was blinding. Pure rage. He couldn't focus on anything else in that moment. His conscious left him for a moment. It felt like it had back during the First War, before he had gone into hiding. It felt so natural to him. It felt like home.

He was worried about being around Hermione. Could he really be a father to her? He was trying, but he knew that he really didn't have a great reference on how to be one. His father was a terrifying man. Not as noticeably unhinged as his mother. No. His father was cruel and cold and manipulative. Regulus supposed that he had a good reference on what not to do, if anything. He just didn't want to fuck her up. She was such a good person.

Fuck. He couldn't sleep. Maybe he should go down to the kitchen and make himself a hot cocoa.

Regulus snorted to himself. Was he twelve? What kind of adult made himself hot cocoa to get to sleep. Maybe he could find one of Sirius' firewhiskey bottles that he knew were in the house. Firewhiskey and hot cocoa sounded much more grown up.

Regulus was up and walking through the house and down the stairs to the kitchen before he knew it. He saw a light on in the kitchen. Who else had trouble sleeping? Probably everyone in this house.

Regulus walked through the door and spotted Harry sitting in one of the chairs at the table. He was looking down at the table. His hands clutching his mug of hot cocoa. Lost in thought.

"Couldn't sleep?" Regulus asked.

Harry jerked a bit in surprise. But caught himself before he sloshed the contents of his mug over the side.

Harry nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Have a lot on my mind."

Regulus nodded at him, even though Harry wasn't looking in his direction.

Regulus walked into the pantry and lit up the room to have a look around. It was definitely going to be a firewhiskey night.

He soon spotted an unopened bottle of Ogden's Finest in his father's well-known hiding spot. Thank you, Sirius for keeping this place well-stocked. Regulus smirked, grabbed the bottle and walked over to the stove to make himself some cocoa. Once he had his mug of cocoa he poured himself a healthy dose of firewhiskey. He walked over to the table and sat down next to Harry. He always found it easier to talk to someone if he wasn't looking directly at them. He wondered if Harry was the same.

Regulus raised the bottle to Harry, silently asking if he wanted some. Harry hesitated, but nodded. Regulus poured him a small measure. He wasn't sure if he had had some before and he didn't want to get him inebriated.

"You want to talk about what's on your mind, Harry?"

"Snape's memories," Harry quietly responded.

"Hmm," Regulus drank some cocoa. "You told Kingsley that he was good. That he was following Dumbledore's orders the whole way through," he prompted Harry.

Harry nodded at his mug and took a sip. "Dumbledore was dying already. He would have died anyway if Snape hadn't killed him. He was cursed. His hand…from the ring. The horcrux."

Regulus and Harry drank more of their cocoa.

"He told Snape that he had to kill him. He didn't want Draco to do it. Dumbledore knew that it was Draco's mission. To kill Dumbledore. He knew he'd been marked over the summer before sixth year. He didn't want Draco to have to kill him. He told Snape to do it instead. To help Draco as much as he could, but he himself kill him." Harry said.

Regulus' eyebrows were raised high on his forehead in surprise. He had thought Snape was a dirty, dark bastard through and through. Much like Sirius, he didn't like him.

"He didn't want Draco to have to kill anyone."

Regulus snorted. "It was a bit late for that." Harry looked at Regulus in surprise. "He was forced to kill a muggle man a day or two after he was marked. Just like everyone else who was marked before him."

"Really?" Harry asked.

"Yep," Regulus said with a pop. "The Ministry was pretty much already corrupted that summer, he didn't have him being underage to protect him. He had no choice in the matter. They would have killed his mother, then his father, and then him if he didn't do it."

Regulus took another sip of his cocoa. "For someone who is so incredibly intelligent, Dumbledore is really, very naïve and clueless on how the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord worked. How they operated." He looked to Harry. "I've interrupted you, sorry about that. Please carry on." He gestured at Harry to continue.

"It's alright," Harry said to him. "Anyway. Snape apparently was following orders from Dumbledore. He was working to bring You-Know-Who down from the inside. He got the sword of Gryffindor to us when we were on the run. He had given Bellatrix a fake one to put in her vault. He gave us the real one. He knew about the horcruxes. He knew somehow that the sword would destroy them." Harry took a sip of cocoa.

Regulus saw that he was hesitating, not wanting to go on. "What is it, Harry. What did Snape show you in his memories?"

Harry looked down at the table, self-conscious. "A lot of stuff. He was in love with my mother, apparently."

Regulus made a noise in his throat, in disagreement. "I wouldn't go that far, Harry. I don't think it was real love. Pure love. From what I remember from Snape when we were both in school together. When we were in the Death Eaters together, it was more of an obsession for him. Obsession isn't love. It certainly isn't a healthy love." Harry was looking at him, worriedly. "I was a year below him and my brother – and your dad – at Hogwarts. I remember the shit Snape would get into in the Slytherin common room. He was ridiculed, and humiliated, and hurt all the time because of his obsession with your mother. But, at the same time he would say some pretty awful things about her to the up-and-coming Death Eaters, Harry. He would join in with them eventually and say, in detail, about what he wanted to do to her. I can tell you with absolute honesty and certainty that it was not love."

Regulus watched Harry swallow, looking sick to himself. "He may have toned things down later on, with her. He may have thought differently about her later on, Harry. But when I knew him, he wanted her as a pet. As a medal, if you will. A trophy. I know that he was not the only one at Hogwarts who thought that way about your mother. They were dark times. She was very beautiful and strong magically. But she was muggleborn, Harry. It was dangerous for people who were muggleborn at that time, for that very reason." Regulus was looking at Harry, unsure what else to say about Severus. "Do you understand what I am getting at?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah…it makes sense with some of the memories I was shown. He wanted Dumbledore to save my mum, when he realized the prophecy was about me. But he didn't care about me or my dad. He didn't care about us, whether we lived or died. Just my mum."

Regulus waiting for Harry to continue. He wanted him to tell more about the memories. He knew that there was more to it than that. He still didn't know why Harry had walked into the Dark Lord's circle. Narcissa had told him he just showed up. No wand drawn. Like he had wanted to die. Like he was ready to die. He hesitated. "Harry…during the battle…why did you go to the Dark Lord? Why did you do that? What did Snape show you?"

Harry was looking at his drink. Running his fingers over the mug. Tracing the handle and rim. "He showed me a lot of stuff. It's making me think a bit. Some of the stuff he showed me is making me question Dumbledore and his actions even more than I already was." Harry snorted to himself and took a drink of his cocoa. He took a deep breath. "Dumbledore knew pretty early on that I was a horcrux. That my scar was a horcrux. He told Snape to teach me occlumency with the knowledge that it likely wouldn't work to block Voldemort out. That it likely wouldn't work because of our connection. I mean, we could see into each other's heads pretty regularly. How fucked up is that?" Harry threw out the question rhetorically. "He knew that the only way to get rid of the horcrux inside me was to let Voldemort kill me. He told Snape that I had to die at the exact right moment to finally get rid of Voldemort. So that he'd finally die. He told Snape that I would have to be sacrificed. That I was a 'pig for slaughter', as Snape put it. Snape showed me that Dumbledore hinted to him that he knew that I wasn't treated the best at the Dursley's…that's my aunt and uncle…who I was raised with after my parents…" Harry looked to Regulus, seeing if he understood who he was talking about.

Regulus nodded at him. He knew of the Dursley's from Sirius. He knew they were horrible people.

"Snape showed me that Dumbledore thought that it'd be best if I had a not great childhood so it'd be easier for me to sacrifice myself at the right time…for the Greater Good. He figured that if I hadn't had a close family, I would be able to sacrifice myself for the magical world. That it'd be easier for me that way. That I'd feel it was my responsibility to do that." Harry finished in a whisper.

"Harry…" Regulus didn't know what to say. "Harry…you have to know that Dumbledore was a manipulative person. But that he generally did it for good. I'll be the first to admit that he didn't care about the collateral damage along the way. But…perhaps he didn't know exactly how bad it was at your aunt and uncle’s place."

"I lived in a cupboard under the stairs until my first Hogwarts letter came. It came addressed to Harry Potter, Cupboard Under the Stairs." Harry blurted out. "I apparated when I was eight to get away from my cousin and his friends during recess at school…they were 'Harry hunting'. I apparated on top of the fucking school when I was eight years old to get away from them. I had no idea what had happened. I had no idea that magic existed."

Regulus was shocked. That was some seriously impressive accidental magic at such a young age. He knew that accidental magic that serious, that complex, was only brought on by extreme stress for the child.

"I was locked in my cupboard with no company but the spiders for three days. With no food, for that incident." Harry was on a roll. "I turned my teachers hair blue once by accident. I grew my hair back over night after my aunt sheared it off, save for the front to hide my scar. I have burned my hands more often than I can count from cooking meals for my aunt and uncle and cousin. I started cooking when I was four. For some reason I never had any scars after about a day or so. My magic was healing me, I realize now. My supposed family got three full meals per day…I was allowed some bread and cheese once per day, if I was lucky. If no abnormal stuff happened. I used to sneak out and steal food from the kitchen at night. My cupboard would unlock for me when it was really bad, when I was desperate. I didn't understand at the time that I was doing magic to get out of there." Harry paused. "How could no one notice that?"

Regulus shook his head. Dumbledore had to have known. There was no way he didn't. Not something that severe, that constant. That much accidental magic, that type of accidental magic, should have sent people checking on Harry. "Harry…I'm sorry you had to go through that. That you experienced that. I am so incredibly sorry."

"If I would have known about magic…if some other family took me in, even if it wasn't Sirius, do you think I could have done what I did? Do you think I could have sacrificed myself?"

Regulus was watching Harry. How had he sacrificed himself, if he was still alive? How did that work? "Harry, before I answer that…how are you still here if you sacrificed yourself. I don't mean to sound cold…but, you are still alive…how?"

Harry nodded at his mug, like he had been waiting for someone to ask him this question. "I went to Voldemort, expecting to die. I thought it was the only way to save everyone. He hit me with an Avada. I dropped to the ground. I did actually die." He looked to Regulus, watching his reaction. "I died. I was at a train station waiting for a train to move me on. I had wanted to see my parents again. And Sirius. Dumbledore showed up at the train station. We chatted. He mentioned that I had a choice. That the Avada killed the horcrux. But if I wanted to I could move on, see my family, my mum and dad, and Sirius. Or I could go back and carry on to kill Voldemort for good. To make sure he was killed for good. I had a choice and I chose to remain living. I came to just before Narcissa placed her hand on my chest. Just before she asked me about Draco and whether he was still alive. She told him I was dead. She saved my life. Again."

Regulus nodded to him. That had to have been a difficult choice to make. "To answer your question. I am sure another family would have taken you in. Any family would have. But, I don't think you had to necessarily sacrifice yourself to get rid of the horcrux in your scar. I do think there may have been another way to get rid of it."

Harry was watching Regulus closely. "We couldn't figure it out before the battle happened. Me and Bill and Remus and Hermione. We were worried. We didn't know what to do. If you think about how you could destroy a horcrux in an object, there are a number of ways. Basilisk venom and fiendfyre. Apparently also the killing curse. I honestly think that there was probably some other bit of Dark Magic that could be used to destroy it. There is a lot of it. And most people don't really understand it very well. Dark Magic is very frowned upon. Rightfully so, most of the time." Harry was nodding to him, following along.

Regulus continued. "Growing up in a family known for their love of Dark Magic, I learned that it isn't necessarily bad. There is not just good and bad. White and black. Light and dark. Not saying I know everything about Dark Magic. Far from it. But what I do know of it, I know that it can be used for good. Think of how basilisk venom was used to destroy the horcruxes. A basilisk is an extremely dark, magical creature, its venom is deadly. Fiendfyre is another dark bit of magic and it would have worked as well. It would have been done for good if it had been used." Regulus was watching Harry. He could tell he was thinking about those facts.

"What is so troubling about Dark Magic, is that it is extremely difficult to control. It takes more out of you. It can deplete your abilities for a bit if you are not mature magically. It can deplete your abilities for a bit if you get carried away with it, even if you are an adult and have used dark magic before. Light magic generally doesn't do that. That is why Dark Magic is no longer taught at Hogwarts. It's too risky. Generally, when you are young, and not magically mature, you can't even do anything if you decide to throw a bit of Dark Magic around. Think of the unforgivables – one tiny branch of Dark Magic. If you were thirteen or even fourteen – hell, even fifteen or sixteen – chances are, if you cursed someone with an unforgivable it was highly likely not to work. If it was the cruciatus curse for example, chances are you maybe might have been able to send them a sting, or a muscle twitch. Maybe a bit of a burn. It takes too much skill and power to be able to do it, and you wouldn't have been able to until you were mature, and had superb control of your magic."

Harry nodded, he was thinking of a memory, Regulus could tell. "Bellatrix told me that righteousness wouldn't work. That I had to really mean it."

Regulus looked at Harry, shocked. How would he know that? When?

"I chased after her through the Ministry after she sent Sirius through the veil at the end of my fifth year. I sent a crucio after her, but it just knocked her on her arse. It caught her off guard, I think." Harry answered his unspoken question.

"It did." Regulus agreed. "Even just knocking her on her arse showed Bellatrix how strong you were magically. You caused her muscles to seize up for that to happen to her."

"If Draco killed someone before his sixth year how did he do it? You said it be unlikely that one would be able to cause harm."

"He has always had superb control over his magic. He has had to. His father tested him regularly growing up, from what I know of his life. From what Narcissa has said to me. You have to remember that when the Dark Lord came back, he was staying at Malfoy Manor. He had been staying at Malfoy Manor for over a year before Draco was forced to get the mark. Before he was forced to kill someone. You'd better believe he was tested during that time. He would have learned how to hone his magic quickly. He would have had to." Regulus said to Harry. Trying to get him to understand what others were going through during that time.

"That makes sense," Harry said to his mug as he finished up his hot cocoa. He smirked. "I met Draco before Hogwarts. Did you know that?" Regulus shook his head. "I met him at Madam Malkin's getting robes. Hagrid had just saved me from the Dursley's. They were running with me to get away from all the owls dropping off my Hogwarts letters." Harry was chuckling to himself. "I think there had to have been ten thousand of them coming through every nook and cranny in the house. The fireplace, letter box. Milk cart. Everywhere. They wouldn't let me read them. So they packed up the car and ran."

Harry snorted. "Anyway, Hagrid brought me to Diagon Alley. Draco was in Madam Malkin's getting robes. I was waiting to get my robes and we started talking. Hagrid appeared outside the store. Draco made fun of him. Said his was a servant. A half-breed. He reminded me of my cousin. I didn't want to be around him. I didn't want to be around another bully. I stuck up for Hagrid. I mean...he saved my life, I'm sure of it. Draco mentioned something about the different houses at Hogwarts. I had no idea what he was talking about. He was talking about being in Slytherin, how it was the best house. He wanted to know what house I thought I'd be in. I had no idea. I didn't want to be around him. I really didn't. Eventually he left. Eventually I met Ron Weasley on the train to school. He had mentioned that Slytherin was the bad house. That it was where all of the bad people went. I didn't want to go there. I didn't want to be a bad person. My aunt and uncle had been calling me freak for as long as I could remember. I just wanted to fit in."

Harry was chuckling. Shoulders shaking. "The sorting hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. Did you know that?" Harry asked Regulus, who was smiling at him. "Said I had a 'thirst to prove myself'. That it was all in my head. That I'd do well in Slytherin. I was freaking out. I begged the hat to put me anywhere else. Anywhere but Slytherin. I literally begged a hat. I said Gryffindor would be good. That I would like to be put into Gryffindor. I was terrified. Eventually it agreed with me and put me in Gryffindor." Harry was shaking his head at the memory.

"I had to beg the hat to put me in Slytherin," Regulus said to Harry, grinning. "I dealt with the fallout from Sirius being sorted into Gryffindor the year before. I was told that under no circumstances would I be in any house but Slytherin. That Blacks were in Slytherin. Always. I was stuck in a hat stall as we argued about which house I would be put into. I was able to convince it to put me in Slytherin. I said it was safer for me to be there than anywhere else," Regulus grinned at the memory. "When I removed the hat to walk over to the Slytherin table, I looked over at Sirius. He was grinning at me. Proud. He knew what I was doing. He understood why I did what I did."

Regulus and Harry continued to chat into the night. Giving each other tidbits of their childhood. Their experiences. Their attempt to fit into the roles made for them. It was their attempt to heal from the expectations placed on them.

"You know how Kingsley has offered a bunch of us roles in the aurors, positions with the aurors, without our NEWTS?" Harry asked Regulus. Regulus nodded to him he had heard Kingsley make the offer. "I am not sure I want to take it. I know that it's what people expect me to do…but, I don't know anymore. I know Ron probably will. Maybe a few others. But I honestly just want to be normal for a change. I think I just may go back to school when it re-opens for September."

Regulus nodded. It was a good idea. "You could still apply to be an auror after you finish your schooling, if you decide you want to." Harry nodded. "I'm sure Hermione will go back to finish her schooling. You wouldn't be the only one to do so, that's for sure." Harry nodded.

Regulus stood up and cleaned the table, placing their mugs in the sink and returning the bottle of firewhiskey into its well-known hiding spot in the pantry. "You should get some sleep, Harry. You need your rest."

They both left the kitchen and headed up the stairs to their respective rooms. As they were walking further up the stairs they both heard a bone chilling scream come from within one of the bedrooms. It sounded like Hermione.

They looked at each other in shock. And took off toward her room.

Chapter Text

By the time Regulus and Harry reached the floor with Hermione's room the entire house had woken up. Bedroom doors were wide open, heads were poking out of the numerous rooms along the hallway. Everyone was wide awake, in the clothing they had been wearing during the day, with wands drawn. Alert. Regulus slid on his socks on the floor just before Hermione's room, grabbing the door frame so he wouldn't slide past. He entered the room and spotted Theodore Nott trying to wake Hermione up.

"Wake up, Hermione!" Theodore was yelling at the thrashing girl. Holding her shoulders and arms so she wouldn't harm herself. "It's just a dream…it's just a nightmare."

Regulus was in shock as he watched Hermione's body arch like she was under the cruciatus curse. "Bellatrix," he said to the room. "She's having a night terror about Bellatrix." Regulus stepped further into the room, allowing Harry to enter behind him, and reached for Hermione's hand.

"Bellatrix is dead, Hermione. She can't hurt you anymore. Please…please wake up." Regulus held her hand, running his fingers over her hand, attempting to bring her comfort. Attempting to wake her up.

"Did you hear that? The psychotic bitch is dead. She can't hurt you anymore," Theodore was practically yelling at the terrified girl.

"Hermione. Please wake up. It's not real. Not anymore. Please wake up. Listen to my voice and wake up. I know you can do it." Harry was calling out to her from within the room. He was standing in the centre of the room, unable to reach to Hermione due to Regulus and Theodore surrounding her.

Hermione gasped. Her eyes sprung open as she shot up into a seated position on the bed.

"It's okay, Hermione. It's okay. You're safe now. It's over and you are safe." Regulus said to her. He was watching as she was trying to take in her surroundings. Gasping for air. Trying to breathe. Hermione was nodding to herself. Trying to comprehend what had happened. Realizing that what she had just experienced wasn't real. Regulus watched as her bottom lip started quivering and her face scrunched up.

She grabbed the closest thing to her, Theodore Nott, and tried not to cry.

Regulus watched Theodore stiffen, but he tried to comfort her as best he could. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and held her hand as she clutched his shirt taking slow, deep breaths.

"I'm sorry for waking everyone up," Hermione muttered into Theodore's shirt. She was looking in the direction of the door, looking at her housemates standing just outside in the hallway peering in.

"Hermione, it's okay. I am pretty sure not many of us were asleep. I definitely wasn't." Harry said to her from across the room. Regulus looked at him, he had sat down on the second bed in the room. Regulus turned back to facing Hermione. He saw her stiffen, realizing that she wasn't clutching Harry.

Regulus watched her scrunch her eyes closed and slowly pull away from the body she was hanging on to. Regulus watched as she opened her eyes again and looked up at Theodore's face.

"I am so sorry, Theo," Hermione whispered, her face turning pink. "I didn't realize it was you." Hermione hid her cheeks behind her hands.

Theodore was chuckling, also a little pink in the face. "It's okay, Hermione. I really didn't mind." Regulus watched him pause, thinking. "Everyone has bad dreams. You're not the first. Okay?" Theodore removed his arm from around her shoulders and started to stand up off of her bed.

Regulus caught his eye and Theodore quickly looked away, refusing to look at Regulus. He straightened his shirt. Trying to find something to do with his hands and left the room, seeing that Hermione's father and best friend were there for her. Regulus bit his bottom lip to hide his grin.

"Did you want to talk about it, Hermione?" Regulus asked, putting what he just realized in a box in his head for another time.

Hermione shook her head. "I forgot to clear my head before I went to bed. It's my fault it happened." She shook her head. "Stupid Bellatrix," she muttered more to herself than the others in the room.

"Did you want one of us to walk you through it?" Harry asked her. "Snape made me do that every day before bed in fifth year. It didn't work for me, with my nightmares, mind you. But that was for another reason entirely. I do know how to do it though, if you wanted." Harry was rambling. He wanted to help his best friend, Regulus realized.

Regulus stood up off the bed.

He smiled down at his daughter. "I'll let Harry walk you through it. Let me know if you need anything, alright?" He squeezed Hermione's shoulder. He knew he had to let her friend help her. They had been through a lot together. He slowly walked out of the room, looking back as he left.

Harry was wandering over to Hermione's bed. Softly chatting with her.

"Does that happen to Hermione often, Regulus?" Narcissa asked him as he made his way by her bedroom on the way to his.

"Almost every night since the Manor." Regulus stopped to look at his cousin and stepped into her room to talk to her. "I didn't know about it until the morning of the Battle. She had been silencing her room to not disturb me most nights apparently."

"Have you suggested occlumency to her?" Narcissa asked him, curious about his response.

"Of course." Regulus responded. "She understands that Blacks have experience with the practice. She knows why, too." Regulus was watching Narcissa, wondering what she was getting at.

"Hermione knows of my past. If that's what you're asking. What you're referring to." Regulus took a stab in the dark at his cousin's curiosity. "She knows what I've done. She knows that I've had to use my occlumency to keep my sanity, Cissa." Regulus watched as his cousin raised a brow in surprise. That was her only tell.

"She is well aware that I've killed people in the past. That I've hunted people down and slowly killed them to gain information." Regulus snorted to himself. "She called me a murderer this morning, after she ran from the table. She's not stupid." Narcissa's second brow joined her first high on her forehead. "She is right, Cissa. Nothing she said was false."

"That isn't a way one should talk to their parents. It's disrespectful." Narcissa argued.

"It's true though," said Regulus, he paused. "We will go over some of the steps with occlumency over the next few days. She already knows the theory of it." Narcissa nodded in agreement. "But…I don't think it is the cure for her nightmares. Her night terrors. Occlumency is more of a bandage to the issues she's having. It's just going to take time to heal…for them all. For us all."

Narcissa was nodding to him in agreement. Regulus watched as she opened her mouth to say something. She hesitated a moment, watching Regulus. "You seem quite close with her, Regulus. You've told her about your past. What else have you told her? Have you spoken to her about what she will be facing because she is a Black? About what will be expected of her because she is a Black? She is the last true Black heir. That is a lot of pressure for someone who has been raised as a muggleborn."

"It's a lot of pressure for anyone, Cissa. I went through it and I was raised very much the pureblood. Her upbringing isn't going to affect her. She's smart, she'll pick it up quickly." Regulus stated to her, wondering what Narcissa was getting at.

"Perhaps, my son Draco could help her." Narcissa offered.

Regulus chuckled. "Not happening." He was smirking at his cousin. "He's the Malfoy heir, not the Black one, Narcissa. You know that."

"Yes, but –"

"No." Regulus put a stop to her argument. He was shaking his head at her. "I will show her the ropes. I will show her what will be expected of her. I will show her what is important, and tell her what isn't."

"All of it is important, Regulus." Narcissa tried arguing again.

Regulus snorted at her. "No it isn't. Most of it is bullshit." Narcissa regained her surprised expression from before. "She just needs to know how to play the political game. She needs to understand the influence she will have, and how to use it. She needs to understand how some people will view her. She needs to understand how to speak to certain families, and how to expect to be spoken to by certain families. She is already an exceptional witch. Her magical skill is there already."

"But what about marriage? Are you going to let her remain single? There is power and influence in marriage that she needs to know and understand." Narcissa whispered furiously to Regulus.

"I am not setting up a betrothal with anyone. Don't even go there." Regulus rolled his eyes at the thought of the archaic practice that was still prevalent in many pureblood families.

"But she needs to have an acceptable marriage. One that is fit for the Black family." Narcissa stated, confused as to why Regulus was against the idea.

Regulus just looked at Narcissa in disbelief. "Who do you think Hermione's mother is, Cissa?"

"I just assumed that it was the girl you were betrothed to when you were a child. The pureblood girl from France. She disappeared around the time you did. I assumed something had happened to her. I thought maybe you sent her away, or she left you..." Narcissa stopped, looking at Regulus, realizing she was way off in her assumption.

Regulus was chuckling to himself. "I only met Genevieve once, at our betrothal ceremony the summer before my fifth year, after my brother ran away. I can assure you, neither of us wanted it. I am pretty sure she ran away and married someone else." Regulus was watching Narcissa. "I met Hermione's mother in my final year at Hogwarts; her parents were muggleborn healers, Cissa." He paused. "Hermione is technically a half-blood."

Narcissa just looked at him. Trying to comprehend what he was telling her. "But…but you're a Black. Why did you do that? Why would you do that?" She blurted out.

"Is that going to be a problem for you?" Regulus asked her. "I thought we fought a war, and won by-the-way, to get rid of the bullshit."

Narcissa swallowed, trying to gather her thoughts. "It's fine. It will take some getting used to. But, I swear it is fine, Regulus."

"You've been surrounded by those who strongly believed that purebloods were best, and everyone else was filth." Regulus stated to her. "I know it will take time for you. You're like my big sister. I respect you, I respect what you've been through. How long you've been living that life. It took me time, too. To unlearn all that I had known previously. But I was fortunate enough to not be around that day-in and day-out once you hid me." Narcissa was nodding to him, she knew he was giving her an ultimatum, giving her a choice.

"Just make sure your son, Draco, doesn't have a problem with it either. I know he's said some cruel things to Hermione when he believed her to be a muggleborn witch. He doesn't get to do that ever again. Do you understand what I'm getting at, Narcissa?" Regulus looked at her, using her full name to get his point across. "I am the Head of the Black Family and I control the tapestry … among many other things. You do understand what that means, correct?" He asked her.

Narcissa gave Regulus a jerky nod of her head. "Of course. Understood."

Regulus gave her a cool smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Good." He turned and left her bedroom and headed towards his own room for some much needed rest. He was exhausted.

...


...

A week had passed since Hermione had her nightmare. Since then she had been clearing her mind with Harry every night before she went to bed. She could feel it doing her some good. She felt more at peace and relaxed as a result. She knew, however, that she was nowhere near healed from everything she had experienced during the War. None of them were.

Earlier in the day they had all gone to Percy Weasley's funeral. The family was devastated. Broken. From what Hermione had learned about Percy's death, she realized that no one knew where Percy had come from. He had just appeared and stepped in the way of a curse aimed at his little sister.

It had cost him his life.

No one knew if he had come with Order members as they evacuated their posts at the ministry to get to Hogwarts to fight in the Battle. No one in the Order had seen him come in. He certainly hadn't arrived at the castle via portkey like the rest of the Order. Had he come with someone else? Non-Order members? Death Eaters? No one had any idea. Those unanswerable questions, Hermione realized, were what was most difficult for the Weasley family.

Hermione herself liked to think that his last heroic action, saving his sister's life, was Percy's way of apologizing to his family. To her, it didn't matter who he had come into the castle with. His final action spoke of someone who was against the Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort. It spoke of someone who was with his family.

Harry had decided to spend some time with the Weasley's at The Burrow after the funeral had ended. They had insisted he come and stay as long as he had wanted to. They thought of him as a son, a brother. Hermione knew that Harry craved the feeling of having a family. She knew that the Weasley's were the closest thing to any sort of family that he would be able to have. She was standing next to Regulus when Harry mentioned it to them both. Regulus had told Harry that he was more than welcome to come by anytime he wanted to. That Grimmauld Place was very much his home, too. Harry had said he would, that he would probably come by in a few days. He had hugged Hermione and then left with the Weasley family.

Luna had decided to spend the rest of the day at St. Mungo's. Her father was a patient there after having been brutally tortured and placed in Azkaban as a result of Harry, Ron and Hermione escaping when he called the Death Eaters to his home to trade Harry for his daughter. Luna had told Hermione that he was having a difficult time. She had said that while dementors were no longer guarding the prison, horrible memories were still prevalent in those who had been locked up there. He was remembering Luna's mother who had passed when Luna was just nine years old. He was remembering his daughter being held prisoner in the Malfoy's dungeon. He would need time to heal.

Narcissa had been requested to come to the ministry to give her statement of the events that had transpired during the War. They had wanted to know her role in everything. Kingsley, the new interim Minister, had wanted to know her side of the story before he had the trio come and give their version of the events that had taken place. Hermione knew that she, Harry and Ron were expected at the ministry the following week. The ministry, and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, needed to build their cases. They needed to start the trials.

Draco and Theodore were in the kitchen talking about quidditch. Hermione had quickly removed herself from that conversation and hid in the library. Her go-to; her safe place. No one tended to bother her here. Although, she had noticed that Theodore had taken to spending time reading in here with Hermione sometimes. Although they rarely spoke to each other, they had kept each other company in the vast room. Hermione still had a difficult time looking at Theodore after she had realized she had been clinging onto him rather than Harry as she came to from her nightmare. She knew that it was silly of her, but for some reason that Hermione really didn't understand, she was embarrassed. She and Theodore had worked together as partners in their numerous classes together since their third year. They had both started taking Arithmacy and Ancient Runes together; and during Hermione's sixth year they had been assigned partners by Slughorn in their Potions class. Both of them had always worked well together, they were both very intelligent and could keep up with each other's train of thought during their class projects. He had always treated her with respect, even though during that time everyone – including herself – had thought she was a muggleborn witch.

Theodore was immensely different from Draco Malfoy in that regard. Hermione didn't know how to handle living with Draco Malfoy. He hadn't said anything insulting to her. He actually had barely said anything to her at all, now that Hermione really thought about it. It was like he was afraid of her. Avoiding her for some reason.

A knock on the library doorway removed Hermione from her thoughts. She looked up from her book – that she hadn't actually been reading – and spotted Regulus standing in the doorway watching her. He smiled at her.

"I want to show you something," he said to her. "Is that alright?"

Hermione placed her book on the table next to the old chaise lounge she was sitting in. "Of course," she replied as she stood up. "Lead the way."

Hermione followed Regulus into the drawing room. He walked to the dead centre of the room and turned partway around to face the Black Family tapestry. Hermione followed suit. She looked at the top of the ancient tapestry spotting the distinct identifying crest of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black. The ancient crest had a skull situated at the top of it, followed by a fist grasping a wand – emphasizing the importance of keeping the family pureblood. The bottom of the crest had the Black family motto, Toujours Pur. Hermione slowly read through the names located on the vast family tree starting with the oldest members of the family – dating back to the Middle Ages – and worked her way down the tree. Noticing as the tree began to get more and more thinned out. Less offspring, less viable births – Hermione could see the effects of the prevalent inbreeding that had plagued the family. She could see the criss-crossing of familial lines, cousins marrying cousins. Blacks marrying Blacks. She slowly worked her way down the tree, aware that Regulus was watching her make her way down the tapestry. She finally spotted Regulus' name near the bottom. He had a branch connecting him to Madeleine Erickson. Together they had a branch identifying Hermione as their daughter.

Hermione gasped and covered her mouth with both of her hands. Hermione Lyra Black (Born September 19, 1979) was located at the very bottom of the tree. At the very bottom of the tapestry. Hermione turned to look at Regulus, he was watching her reaction, a small smile playing on his lips. She quickly stepped over to her father and pulled him into a hug. "Thank you" she murmured into his chest. She felt him grasp her and pull her closer to himself.

"Is that alright?" He asked her. "You're still okay with that, right?" he pulled back from her, watching her reaction.

Hermione was nodding up at him, smiling. "Yes! It's perfect…thank you so much."

Hermione tucked her hair behind her ear. "Hermione Lyra Black…Lyra is a constellation, right?"

Regulus nodded at her. "It's sometimes visualized as an eagle. I thought it was a fitting name for you. Tying you in with your mother and her parents. All Ravenclaws."

Hermione was smiling, she had turned back to look at the tapestry and studied her name on it. "I was almost sorted into Ravenclaw, did you know that?"

Regulus laughed. "No, but it doesn't surprise me at all." Regulus walked closer to Hermione and placed his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. "We will have to go to the ministry and Gringotts to set up some other things for you. You need access to the Black Family Vault among other things. We need to go to the ministry to make it all official."

Hermione was nodding her head in agreement. "What do you mean by the 'Black Family Vault'…are there other types of vaults?"

Regulus was watching her. "Yes…there are trust vaults, which have only money in them – which you will get as well – the family vaults have both money, most of the time, as well as important artifacts in the family. You saw that in the Lestrange vault. There were tables and chairs, goblets, gold, gowns, everything in there. Basically everything that is important to a family. Everything that has historical significance to that family tends to be in the family vault." He paused, taking in her question. "Why do you ask?"

Hermione was frowning. "When we were on the run. When Ron had left us. Me and Harry were talking…about anything and everything really. We were trying to distract each other from the hunger we were feeling; the effects from the horcrux we were wearing." She swallowed at the memory. "But anyway, he had brought up his learning of him being a wizard. He told me that Hagrid had brought him to Diagon Alley – which I thought was strange. I mean, Hagrid is a half-giant. Not that there is anything wrong with that!" She quickly said to Regulus. "I just thought it was strange that they got someone who was so very different from muggles to make contact with him. I mean…McGonagall met my parents, the Grangers I mean. She was in muggle clothes and everything." She paused, trying to gather her thoughts. "Anyway, I went off topic a bit. Harry mentioned that Hagrid had his key to his vault. Apparently Dumbledore had given it to Hagrid to give Harry access to it. Harry mentioned that he had never seen so much gold in his life. That he didn't know what to do with it all. He didn't realize that he had any money. He was always wearing second-hand stuff from his cousin." She paused again. "Harry only had money in the vault he said. Just money. Just galleons and sickles and knuts. Nothing else." She looked to Regulus. "Shouldn't he have had family heirlooms in there, too?"

Regulus was nodding. "That is his trust vault. Sirius mentioned to me that James and Lily had given him a key in case anything happened to them. Sirius needed a key to get access to it. It was for Harry, but if Sirius had a key he would be allowed to take money out of it for Harry, for when he was raising Harry. Sirius wasn't a Potter, so there was no other way. Family vaults tend to open without a key. You need a bit of blood the first time you gain access to it. After that the goblins let you in themselves. We saw that with the Lestrange vault." Regulus paused in his explanation. "The Potter family is a decently old wizarding family – I don't think it's as old as the Black family, mind you. I mean they aren't in the Pureblood Directory, they apparently didn't get along with whoever wrote it so they are a bit difficult to trace. But they would have a family vault. There will be a Potter Family Vault in Gringotts, I'm sure of it."

"They're descendants of the Peverell's." Hermione informed Regulus, smirking at him. Regulus blanched at her – his eyes were huge. "Harry is a descendant of the Peverell family…you know one of the first pureblood families to die out in the male line. That's how he had the invisibility cloak, one of the deathly hallows. That cloak has been in his family since that Peverell brother got it from death himself, if you believe in those fairy tales. He told me a few days ago during one of our mind clearing exercises. The Gaunts were another descendant of the Peverells – Tom Riddle, Voldemort – he's from the Gaunt family, in case you were interested." Hermione smiled at him. Regulus was watching her, unable to speak. Hermione frowned at herself. "I probably shouldn't have said anything about Harry's family. That was really not my place to say." She looked down at the floor, ashamed at herself for spilling the Potter family secret.

Regulus placed his hand on top of hers. She peered back up at him. "I won't say anything. I understand the need for secrets in families. The Black family is renowned for it. I won't say a word to anyone. I respect that." Hermione nodded at him. "We will go to Gringotts when Harry comes back here in a few days. How does that sound? We can take him along. Get him access to his family vault. I know it was Sirius that was supposed to do that, but…" Regulus drifted off, not finishing his sentence. Hermione knew what he hadn't said. Sirius was Harry's godfather, it was his responsibility, but he had never gotten the chance. He was dead.

...


...

That Friday morning Harry had returned to Grimmauld Place. He had a new wand with him, ebony with a dragon heartstring core. Eleven inches long. Hermione watched as Harry took out the wand he had been using previously, Draco's wand, and handed it back to its proper owner.

Draco's eyes closed as his fingers wrapped around his wand. "Thank you," he muttered to Harry.

Harry nodded to him. "It's yours. Thanks for allowing me to borrow it for as long as I have." Draco smirked. "I mean, not like you really had a choice, I know." Harry chuckled. "That wand defeated Voldemort, you know. Don't forget that." Draco nodded at Harry. He understood what he was saying.

"Dumbledore's wand…the Elder Wand that Voldemort stole from his burial, is back with Dumbledore. That's okay with you, right?" Harry asked him. They all knew that Draco was technically the owner of the Elder Wand, the Death Stick.

Draco chuckled. "I never want anything to do with that wand, Potter. It causes far too much trouble than it's worth in my humble opinion." He left the room to talk to his mother in another part of the house.

Hermione smiled to herself as she and Regulus watched the exchange between the two. She made eye contact with Regulus and took a breath. "Harry…Regulus and I were going to be heading to Gringotts later today. Did you want to come with us?"

Harry looked at her, confused. "I just took some gold out, Hermione. I should be okay for a while at least."

Hermione smiled at him. Trying to implore to him that this was important and that it wasn't really an offer. "Regulus is going to give me access to the Black Family vault. As well as set up a trust vault for me with gold. All the paperwork is finished. I am officially a Black now. Hermione Lyra Black." She paused, watching Harry's reaction. He looked pleased at her, but still confused. "Maybe you can check out your family vault while we are there…" she left the rest hanging. The Potter Family Vault, Harry. It's yours. "There might be some interesting finds in there for you to see."

Harry looked between Regulus and Hermione. Slowly realizing what they weren't saying. He nodded. "Okay," he said softly to them.

Hermione, Regulus and Harry left Grimmauld Place through the front door and stepped out onto the front steps. Regulus took a look around. Spotting no one watching them, her grabbed Hermione and Harry and disapparated with a crack.

Moments later the trio reappeared in front of Gringotts Bank. Barely breaking stride, Regulus began his ascent up the marble steps. Hermione and Harry following closely behind him. Regulus held open the door for the both of them, and gestured at Harry to head in before him.

The trio walked over to an open counter and waited for the goblin to acknowledge them.

"Yes, how may we be of service?" he asked them.

"Hello," Regulus bowed his head a bit at the goblin. "We have quite a few things to do here today. My daughter needs to have her blood taken to allow her access into the Black Family vault. Also, I wish to set her up with a trust vault." The goblin nodded at Regulus. "Finally, Mr. Potter here also needs his blood taken to gain access to his family vault."

The goblin looked closer at Harry. "Of course. Did you want these to be separate from each other, or can we do it all at once, together?" He hoped down from his spot behind the desk and walked with them across the lobby toward the way to the vaults.

"Together is fine." Regulus said. Hermione saw the goblin give a nod acknowledging his affirmation to Regulus' statement.

They followed the goblin into a cart waiting for them. "Can we do the Potter Family vault first?" Hermione requested. She wanted Harry's vault dealt with first. He was the most important, right now.

"Yes, Heir Black. We can do that," The goblin responded as he released the brake and the cart took off. Hermione hated this part. She wanted to throw up. She hung on tightly as the cart careened around corners, travelling deeper and deeper into the bank's vaults. Eventually, the cart slowed to a stop in front of a vault with a very old door. Hermione took a look around as they all gathered around the door. All of the doors looked to be this old. Hermione realized that they were in a section of the bank that was strictly the Family vaults. Of course, that would make sense.

The goblin asked Harry to hold out his hand and then pierced his palm with a dagger hidden in his belt. He then motioned for Harry to place his hand on the vault door. As he did so the door could be heard slowly unlocking. It opened with a hiss.

"The Potter Family vault, Heir Potter, Head of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Potter," the goblin said as he pulled the door open for Harry to enter.

Hermione slowly walked in behind Harry. The vault was full of old furniture. Hermione spotted a beautiful dining room set with eight chairs and a large mahogany table. Matching armoires were also in the vault. Harry opened one. Inside were numerous wizarding robes; ancient but in fantastic condition. Hermione saw Regulus slowly enter the vault taking a look around. Hermione caught his eye and he smiled softly at her. This was a good thing for Harry to know about.

Hermione could see Harry walking over to a rolled up tapestry leaning against the wall of the vault in a little cubby. She stepped closer to him, watching as he reached his hand out to it, running his fingers over the ancient threading. "Why is this hidden away in a vault?" Harry asked the room. "The Black one is hanging in the house for everyone to see. Why is the Potter one in here?"

Regulus cleared his throat. "It may be just for safe keeping. Most families don't have their family tree hanging for everyone to see. Some do, absolutely. But most people – most families – don't care as much as say the Black family did." Harry nodded at his answer.

Hermione watched as he frowned to himself. He carefully pulled the tapestry back from the wall. There was a second tapestry hidden behind it. "Two?" Harry looked to Regulus and Hermione.

Regulus' eyes grew wide. "One is probably the Peverell Family tapestry, the other the Potter Family tapestry." Harry closed his eyes in understanding. "Hermione mentioned to me about your cloak, your invisibility cloak. I hadn't realized it was that cloak when we used it in the Battle." Harry grinned at him and nodded.

Harry hesitated, but carefully placed the tapestries back in place against the wall. "I have nowhere for them right now. Maybe later," he said to himself. He continued to walk around the vault, taking in everything that was there.

Hermione too was looking around. There was so much history in here, she realized. Old books on bookcases, which she knew would hold a wealth of information. Numerous ancient trunks appeared to be full of other items for Harry to go through one day, when he was ready. Hermione heard Harry gasp.

She turned to look at him, Regulus had too. Harry was standing in front of a trunk that appeared to be relatively new compared to the rest that were in the vault. She quickly stepped over closer to Harry, attempting to see what had gotten his attention. She gasped as well. On top of the trunk were the words, For Harry James Potter, Love Mum and Dad. Harry slowly reached his hand out and lifted the lid of the trunk. Inside were more books, Hermione could see. She also spotted a pensieve in the trunk. And numerous vials with labels on them full of a silver liquid. Memories.

Harry's hands were shaking as he picked up a vial. He read the label on it. July 31st 1981 First Birthday. Hermione watched as Harry wiped his cheeks, and returned the vial to the trunk. Hermione peeked inside at the vials. There were hundreds of them. Dated both before and after Harry had been born. His parents had left him their memories for him to view when he got the chance. In case anything should happen to them.

"Oh Harry," she whispered to him. She felt a tear make its way down her cheek and quickly brushed it away. She reached out and brought him in for a hug.

"Thank you," Harry muttered into her shoulder. He looked over at Regulus, "both of you…thank you."

Chapter Text

Harry had decided to grab a couple of books that Regulus recommended from the Potter Family vault. He had told both Regulus and Hermione that he wasn't sure he was ready to watch his parents memories for him, at least not yet. One of the books was about the Potter Family history, a common type of book found in most Pureblood families according to Regulus. Another of the books that Regulus recommended to Harry was a book about Heir and Head of House duties and etiquette.

"A lot of it will be out of date in terms of etiquette," Regulus told both Harry and Hermione. "But, it's good to read anyway, just so you know what to expect as you get older; as you finish school. That sort of thing." He looked to both of the teenagers. "You both are going to have some really high expectations placed on you. Both because of your family name, and because of what you've accomplished already with defeating Voldemort." Harry and Hermione nodded in agreement. "You'll want to know what to expect so that'll you'll both be able work with it. The Wizengamot will treat you differently now because of what you've done and who you are. Other Wizarding families will do the same." Regulus nodded toward the book in Harry's hands. "That book will help you prepare for that; it will inform you of what you can expect from different people."

"That makes sense," Hermione said to the room, thinking of the different ways in which she had been treated when everyone assumed she had been a Muggleborn. Of course being a Black would result in different behaviour from people.

"I can explain more to both of you if you want later on. Right now we should head to the Black Family vault," Regulus said to the pair as he made his way out of the vault.
The trio, and goblin, made a short trip in the cart to the Black Family vault. Hermione listened as the goblin informed her as to what he would be doing to give her access to the vault. She held out her hand and the goblin pierced it with his dagger; she stepped forward toward the door of the family vault, and placed her hand on it. Hermione heard grinding and clanking within the door as it slowly began to unlock. She heard a guttural groan come from within the ancient door as the final lock released and the door popped open slightly.

"The Black Family vault. Heir Black of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black," the goblin called to the small group as he pulled the door completely open for Hermione.

Hermione hesitated before she took a step into the vault, it was a lot to stomach.

"Before we all go in there," Regulus began and Hermione turned around to listen. "I'm not entirely sure what is safe for everyone and what isn't. I know I'll be okay, and Hermione should be as well, I think, because she is a Black and has gotten access to the vault. But Harry, I'm not sure how the things in there will react to a non-Black person. Make sure not to touch anything, alright?" Hermione watched as he looked to Harry, who nodded and stuck his one free hand in his pocket while his other continued to hold his books.

"Kind of like when we cleaned out Grimmauld Place before fifth year, you mean?" He asked Regulus.

"Exactly like that, yes." Regulus responded.

The trio stepped into the ancient vault and took a look around, taking in their surroundings. Hermione saw piles and piles of gold in the middle of the vault. There were bookshelves lining the sides of the vault with numerous books piled on them in every which way. There were armoires near the back of the vault, in which Hermione assumed would be gowns and robes.

Hermione took a step towards the bookshelves; Harry followed her snickering. "Oh shush, Harry!" Hermione responded to him, knowing exactly what he was he was snickering about. She turned her head to read some of the titles; The Darkest Art was spotted quickly, as was Dark Magic: Experiments and Experiences. Hermione shivered thinking of all the ways in which dark magic could have been used in experiments. Muggles and Muggleborns, she thought to herself. That's who it was used on without a doubt. She continued her visual inspection of the countless books, slowly walking through the vault, Harry following close behind her. Hermione noted that not all of the books were about Dark Magic, although all appeared to be ancient.

Hermione felt Regulus step up behind her. "These books are all First Editions," he muttered into her ear.

Hermione gasped and spun around. "All of them?"

Regulus was grinning at her reaction. "All of them." He confirmed to her. "That's why they are here in the vault."

"Should I pick some up like Harry has?" Hermione asked her father.

"I'm looking for a specific one for you. The Black Family History, but I am not sure if it is here or at Grimmauld Place." Regulus paused. "I asked Sirius to not throw it out if he found it when you guys were cleaning out the place. I know he threw out a bunch of books - and rightfully so - they were cursed. But he told me he didn't see that book there. So...hopefully it's here somewhere."

"Did Sirius know about Hermione?" Harry asked Regulus.

"He knew I had a daughter. I told him pretty early on. He wanted to know why I left the Death Eaters. Why I left the Dark Lord." Regulus hesitated for a bit, looking at Harry. "I told him Hermione was my daughter a few days before the Department of Mysteries. I told him over the two-way mirror that he had. He was having a shitty day and I was trying to distract him. Trying to make him feel normal, rather than prisoner in his childhood home."

Hermione watched as Harry looked to the floor, ashamed. "I'm sorry for getting Sirius killed," Harry said softly.

"Harry...believe me when I say Sirius getting killed was in no way your fault." Regulus paused. Harry refused to look up from the floor. Guilt evident on his face. "Yes, you did something stupid and rash, but you did the best thing you could think of with the information you had at that time. He didn't tell you about the mirror. You had no idea what he had given you. That's on him, not you. Secondly, Bellatrix was the one to send him through the veil, not you. That's on her, not you. Thirdly, Dumbledore refused to tell you what was going on. He refused to tell you what may happen with your connection to Voldemort. That's on him, not you." Regulus paused again, watching Harry. "I don't blame you at all, Harry. Not even in the slightest. From what I know of my brother, and of my family, I know that that's how he would have wanted to go down. In a battle, in a fight to the death." Hermione watched as Harry looked up at Regulus, hesitant. "He wasn't in a good place, Harry. Not saying he was suicidal or anything, but his mind was fucked up from being stuck in Azkaban so long and then in Grimmauld Place. That's also not on you. That's on Dumbledore, alright?"

Harry gave a small nod, and wiped his eyes. "Okay," he spoke softly. Hermione could tell he was trying to believe what Regulus had told him. Trying to comprehend what he had said, but it was difficult.

"How about we look for the book here, get the trust vault set up, and then get out of here. How does that sound?" Hermione asked them.

"Sounds perfect." Regulus answered for the both of them.

The trio searched the room high and low, and after almost an hour of searching the titles Regulus found the book he was looking for. They quickly left the Family vault and got Hermione's trust vault set up. She had the vault that her parents, the Granger's, had set up for her transferred to her trust vault.

The trio returned to Grimmauld Place later in the evening and found Kingsley Shacklebolt and the Head Auror waiting for them there.

"Ah, Mr. Regulus Black," the Head Auror said to the room as the trio entered into the kitchen. Narcissa had gotten Kreacher to make the guests tea. As ever the perfect host, she was waiting there with them, making small talk until Regulus arrived.

"Mr. Black," the Head Auror stated again. "We need to go through some things with you down at the Ministry. We need a statement of your roles during the first war and this second one if you will." He smiled at Regulus, trying to put the group at ease.

"It's alright, Regulus." Kingsley said to him. "They just need to cover all the stuff that's gone on. It shouldn't take too long."

Hermione's hands were shaking as Regulus handed the book he was holding to her. "I'll be back, I promise." He whispered to her as he took her in for a hug.

Hermione gave a slight nod and a small smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Of course, father. I will wait up until you get back here, and you can tell me how it all went." She noted as the Head Auror's eyes grew wide at her response.

"You're Hermione Granger, are you not?" The Auror asked her.

"Yes, I was known as Hermione Granger until relatively recently, sir. My legal name is now Hermione Black. Regulus is my father," Hermione answered him, waiting for his response.

"And you're supposedly friends with Mr. Potter here," he motioned to Harry standing to the side of the room.

"We're best friends, sir." Harry corrected him.

The Head Auror nodded at them, cautious. "Of course, Mr. Potter. My apologies."

"Alright, Regulus. Time to head to the ministry to give your statement." Kingsley said trying to hide the grin on his face.

Hermione watched as Regulus, Kingsley and the auror left the kitchen and left Grimmauld Place heading to the Ministry.

...


...

Hermione stayed in the kitchen, Harry with her until two in the morning before Regulus returned.

"You guys didn't have to wait up," Regulus said as he stepped into the kitchen.

Hermione sipped her hot cocoa and firewhiskey. "Of course we did," she shook her head at him. "We're not doing anything else. Why wouldn't we stay up? What did they say?"

Regulus grabbed a glass out of the cupboard and poured himself a firewhiskey as he sat down at the table with them. He sighed. "Well...apparently I was a spy since before I was marked when I was sixteen. At least that was what Shacklebolt told the Aurors. I went with it. I told the Aurors what had happened both in the first war as well as the second war and my role in it. I said that because I was a Black I knew I was expected to follow the Dark Lord. I said that I had been working with the Order for years. I focused on what I had done in this last bit. I talked a bit about before, how I hid. Why I hid. Kingsley said Dumbledore had set it up so I'd give him information. That I had gave him, and only him, information during the first war. He said that after his death, during the second war I was working with Remus and Narcissa and Sirius to give them information when I could. To tell them what I had heard." He took a sip of his firewhiskey. "Remus has already given his statement stating that apparently. Same with Narcissa." He frowned. "I mean it was all true, at least my role in the second war. My role these last few years. It's not too far off at least."

Hermione watched as Regulus took another drink of his firewhiskey. "So that's it then. You're free to go?" She asked.

"Yep," he said with a pop. "The Head Auror realized that Harry and Hermione knew me. He said I was free to go. Thanked me for my service." He rolled his eyes. "Kind of alarming how easy it was. Makes me a bit uncomfortable, really." He frowned to himself.

"Kind of like how Draco's dad got away with it the first time," Harry muttered to himself. He looked up from his drink with wide eyes. "I didn't mean it like that...I'm so sorry Regulus. Really."

Hermione was watching as Regulus was chuckling. "I didn't have to grease anyone's palms, Harry. Come on, cut me some slack." Harry and Hermione snickered. "I think it was more you that got me off, to be honest with you. Both of you did, I think." Regulus looked at them both pointedly. "I'm pretty sure he's a big fan of the two of you. Harry especially; if you still wanted to, he'd sign you up as an Auror no problem."

"I'm still not sure I want to do that...maybe. I want to be a bit older before I have to decide. I want my NEWTS just in case I want to do something different," said Harry as he rubbed the back of his neck.

"You'll come back to school with me, for sure?" Hermione asked him, grinning.

Harry nodded at her. "I let Ron know when I was at The Burrow. That I was thinking of going to finish my NEWTS, Mrs. Weasley was happy, Ginny was happy too. Ron was angry. He didn't understand why I would. It's why I came back here today, or yesterday I suppose." Harry finished.

"Ron will come around...he always does Harry. You know that." Hermione tried to comfort him.

Harry nodded at his mug of cocoa. "I know...I just didn't want to be around him until he did so. I needed to let him cool off a bit." He looked to Hermione. "He was livid, Hermione. Absolutely livid. I think he thought we'd do everything together...always. I just needed a break. I need to figure out what I want to do with my life away from people who already have my life planned out for me."

"Did you tell him that?" Regulus asked him. Harry nodded.

"Yep." He took a sip of cocoa. "I just really want to be normal for one school year, without someone coming after me. No impersonated professor. No Triwizard Tournament. No frauds pretending to teach. No ministry officials. Nothing. I just want it to be as normal as possible."

Hermione reached over and squeezed his hand. "We'll figure it out Harry, I promise. I think this upcoming final year will be really great for you. For me too." She smiled at him and looked to Regulus. "I am exhausted, and I'm sure you both are as well. It's been a long day for all of us. I'm headed to bed."

"Don't forget your mind clearing exercises before you go to sleep." Regulus called out to Hermione as she stepped through the kitchen doorway and headed up the stairs to her room.

...


...

Monday morning began with Hermione, Harry and Ron meeting at the Ministry to give their statements regarding what had happened over the past year or so. The Department Of Magical Law Enforcement and the Wizengamot needed to start the court proceedings for the numerous Death Eaters awaiting trial. They had spent the entire morning and the better part of the afternoon going over everything with the officials. Finally they were finished. The trio had decided to go for a late lunch at The Leaky Cauldron, and had chosen to walk the short distance from the Ministry.

Hermione was walking behind Ron and Harry, listening as Ron apologized to Harry for his behaviour the week before. She smiled to herself as she followed the boys, lost in her own thoughts. Hermione exhaled, pressing all the air out of her lungs. She was pleased she didn't need to go over everything ever again. She just wanted to heal. Her sleep was better, but it was far from perfect. She rarely slept through the entire night. She knew she was jumpy during the day. Still on edge from what they had been through. They all were. Luna had woken everyone up the night before. She had started screaming in her sleep from a nightmare of her time held captive in the Malfoy Manor dungeons.

Narcissa had informed everyone there that while Luna was held captive, there were a number of Death Eaters who liked to pay her a visit in the dungeons. She told them that she had, for the most part, been able to stop the Death Eaters from harming Luna, but she was sure she hadn't stopped everyone. Hermione had watched when Theo asked if his father was one of those that paid her a visit. Narcissa assured him that he was one of those that she made sure wasn't ever in the dungeons with Luna. Ever. Hermione watched as Theo sagged in relief. She had wondered what that was about.

Finally, the trio had reached The Leaky Cauldron, Ron holding the heavy door open for Hermione and Harry to enter before him. As they stepped into the dingy pub, the chatter inside died away as the patrons took in who had entered the establishment.

"It's Harry Potter!" A voice cried out.

"It's the Golden Trio!" Another voice yelled from the back of the pub. Excited chattering began.

The patrons started standing up from their tables and began inching closer and closer to Ron, Harry and Hermione to get a better look. The trio shrunk back from the crowd attempting to gain more space between themselves and the strangers in the pub.

"Miss Black! Miss Black! How does it feel to have a Death Eater as a father?" A young man asked as he pushed up towards the trio.

"How dare you!" Hermione exclaimed. She stood in front of Harry and Ron, feeling when both of her friends grabbed her arms to hold her back. She shook them off of her. "My father saved my life and countless others during this second war." She glared at the man. "Without him, I am sure Voldemort would still be around, wrecking havoc on everyone." She watched as numerous people winced when she said his name. "And how truly pathetic, that so many people are terrified of the name of a dead man." She turned to Harry and Ron. "I don't wish to eat here anymore, let's go somewhere else. Somewhere where we can all eat lunch in peace."

She stormed through the pub with Harry and Ron close behind her, she could feel her hair cackling; patrons quickly getting out of their way. She reached the back entrance of the pub - the entrance into Diagon Alley - grabbed the arms of her friends, and disapparated with a loud crack.

...


...

The trio landed on the top step of Grimmauld Place. Hermione roughly pushed open the door letting it bang against the wall, waking Walburga Black's portrait.

"Blood traitors!" The portrait screeched. "Children of filth!"

"Shut it you old, bigoted hag!" Hermione screeched right back. She watched as the portrait Walburga focused on her, taking in her appearance, noting the black hair and grey eyes.

"Who are you?" The portrait asked quietly in wonder.

"She's my daughter, mother." Regulus spoke from beside the portrait. He stepped in front of the painting blocking Hermione, Harry and Ron from her view.

"Regulus," Walburga whispered in shock. "You're alive?"

"I am." Regulus replied.

"How?" She asked.

"I pretended I was dead. I hid from everyone for a very long time to get away from the Dark Lord." Regulus replied.

"And your daughter? What of her?" Walburga asked him, Hermione could see her attempting to peer at her beyond Regulus' shoulder.

"I hid her with muggles. Dentists."

"Muggles." Walburga scowled at him.

"Don't start mother. I put up with your beliefs. They were very, very wrong." Regulus started arguing with her. "You say anything remotely insulting to my daughter. To anyone who visits ever again, and I will burn your portrait with you in it. Is that understood?"

Walburga gasped. Shocked at her son standing up to her. "You cannot destroy my portrait. I made sure. I am stuck here forever." She smirked at him.

"Then I will burn the entire Grimmauld Place to the ground." Regulus stated. "I certainly don't want to live here. I am the Head of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black, my daughter Hermione is the Heir. You don't belong anymore. You have no say whatsoever over anything. You're done." Hermione watched as Regulus took out his wand and forced the curtains over her portrait closed.

Regulus turned to face the trio. "How was the Ministry?" He asked them.

"The Ministry was fine. It was the attempted late lunch after the Ministry that was the problem." Harry stated to him.

Regulus grimaced. "Where did you go?"

"The Leaky Cauldron," Ron answered him. "We got bombarded as soon as we walked in the door, so we left and came here." He looked over at Hermione. "Some git said some rotten stuff to 'Mione."

"What did he say?" Regulus asked Hermione.

Hermione shook her head at him. "It doesn't matter. It's done. We left." She attempted to get by Regulus in the hallway, but he blocked her from entering further into the house.

"Hermione..." Regulus coaxed. "What did the man say?"

Hermione sighed. "He asked me what it was like to have a Death Eater for a father."

Regulus grimaced, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you had to put up with that. You shouldn't have had to deal with that...it's my fault."

"And I told you already...it doesn't matter. Now will you please get out of my way." Hermione glared at him. She watched as Regulus' mouth popped open. He stepped to the side, allowing her access into Grimmauld Place.

Hermione squeezed passed him, stomped up the stairs to her room and slammed her bedroom door. Lunch forgotten.

Chapter Text

"Should I go after her?" Regulus asked Harry and Ron who were still standing in the entranceway of Grimmauld Place. "I don't think she's been angry with me before...I'm not sure what to do." He frowned to himself. He was at a loss.

Harry shook his head. "She's not mad at you...she's angry with that git's reaction to you."

"It's best to let her cool herself off...she has a bit of a temper when she gets going." Ron added. "I mean, even her hair was cackling, so..."

"Just give her a bit of time, then you can go up to talk with her." Harry recommended to him.

Regulus nodded to them as he led the two further into the house. The small group settled into the kitchen, where Draco and Theo were sitting, snacking on some food that Kreacher had laid out on the table.

"What happened to Hermione?" Theo asked them.

"A git at The Leaky Cauldron asked her how it was to have a Death Eater for a father." Ron answered him.

"Did she hex him into oblivion?" Draco asked, curious about the answer. Harry shook his head.

"Nah Draco," Theo grinned at him. "She only does that to you."

Draco scoffed. "She's never hexed me."

"You're right, she just punched you in the face." Ron smirked at him.

"Slapped me, Weaselbee." Draco corrected him. "She just slapped me, you were there. Surely you would remember that."

"What can I say, a lot of stuff happened that night." Ron responded.

"I saw her slap you twice, Draco." Harry told him. "Hermione and I went back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius."

Regulus chuckled a bit to himself and grabbed a biscuit as he settled into a chair at the table.

"Why did she slap you?" Regulus asked Draco, watching his face as he answered, trying to get a read on him. The kid had a fantastic poker face.

Draco hesitated. "I think I said something cruel about that hippogriff, Buckbeak." He looked to Regulus. "I can't remember exactly what I said, but I know it wasn't nice." Regulus watched Draco frown to himself. "She has a need to protect the less fortunate, I think. I probably picked up on that around then, with her incessant research in the library regarding hippogriffs."

Harry hummed in agreement. "Yeah, she definitely does." He looked to Regulus. "She tried to set up an organization to save the house elves in fourth year. She called it S.P.E.W. - the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. She tried to set all the Hogwarts elves free. Thought that they were slaves. She thinks that they're being mistreated by Wizarding families." Regulus' eyebrows rose on his forehead, it was an ambitious undertaking.

Ron snorted as he took a swig of pumpkin juice. "She obviously doesn't understand their place. I mean that's normal. Why would you need to save them?" He muttered to himself.

Regulus narrowed his eyes at Ron. He was starting to understand why Hermione lost her temper. She had been fighting with the likes of Draco to earn her spot in the Wizarding world, enduring his wrath because she wasn't magical enough. She understood the biases faced by the non-wizard creatures and beings. He understood why she was angry at the man in The Leaky Cauldron. The man was questioning her place. Degrading her because of who her father was. She couldn't escape it.

"I think it's an excellent idea, Weaselbee." Draco drawled, picking up on the same things as Regulus had. "She obviously understands more than you do in terms of discrimination. I mean you're just poor. You are still pureblooded though." He paused, smirking. "If Hermione decides to start up her house elf organization again, tell her the Malfoy Family will support her one hundred percent. Publicly." He stood up from the table. "Gentlemen," he acknowledged them all, as he left the room.

Regulus grinned and grabbed one of the sandwiches that was on a tray on the table and put it on a plate. With the plate in his hand he stood up. "I'm going to go check on Hermione," he told the people in the room.

Regulus quickly made his way up the stairs of the house, thinking about what he needed to say to his daughter. He knocked lightly on her bedroom door, then opened it without waiting for a response. He stepped into Hermione's room and saw her lying on her back on her bed; the palms of her hands pressed into her eyes.

"Hey Hermione," Regulus started. "I've brought you a sandwich. I know you haven't had lunch yet." He placed the plate on the bedside table and sat on the edge of her bed facing her.

He heard Hermione sigh and watched her swallow. He reached for one of her hands still pressed into her eyes and pulled it down from her face. He held her hand with both of his and watched as she slowly lowered her other hand and opened her eyes to look at him.

"I really need to say something to you," Regulus began. "I need to say it all before you interrupt me, or argue with me, or shrug me off. Can you do that for me?" He asked her. She nodded at him, weary.

Regulus took a breath. "I know that you've spent your whole life not fitting in. I used to watch you occasionally from afar when you were in muggle school. When I saw you, you never had friends to play with. You always just stuck to yourself reading your books. I know that when you started doing magic you further isolated yourself. People thought you were weird. You were the weird girl turning pebbles into flowers in the playground at school. People were scared of you; they knew you were different from them. This was just one more thing that isolated you from them. That made you stand out from them. Children can be cruel, I know. I waited outside your home on your eleventh birthday, disillusioned so McGonagall wouldn't see me. I watched as she gave you your Hogwarts letter. I watched as you believed that you would finally fit in somewhere."

He swallowed, trying to gather his thoughts. "I know that your time at Hogwarts has been anything but belonging for you as Hermione Granger, Muggleborn witch. As an exceptionally smart Muggleborn witch. I know that you've put up with a lot of bullshit because of your blood status. I read the Daily Prophet during the time it published those horrible stories about you in your fourth year. I know that the only reason Skeeter said anything like that about you was because you were a Muggleborn witch. You had no family - no Wizarding family - to protect you from her venom. To prevent it from happening in the first place."

"I also know that you have a personal understanding of the discrimination and biases that non-wizard beings and creatures face from the Wizarding world. You've experienced the same biases, the same discrimination from almost everyone, friends and enemies alike. You've experienced the whole 'you don't understand our ways, you're not from here' bullshit, that most Pureblood people spew. Believe me, I know. I used to spew it, too." Regulus paused trying to figure out what he was attempting to say. "I hear that you tried to set up an organization to help house elves. I think I can infer that at least one of your friends told you the idea was stupid when you started it in your fourth year. Ron Weasley is the typical pureblooded wizard. I'm not saying he's a bad person, not at all. But I do know that house elf treatment and their place in a household has been that way for hundreds of years. Changing it would break tradition. Changing it would be against the norm according to people like him, the typical Pureblood." He was watching her as he spoke.

He could tell Hermione was curious as to where he was going with his speech. "I have a pretty good idea that you expected to be treated differently since now you are no longer a Muggleborn witch. And you will be, don't get me wrong. But...I also know that now you are a Black. That you are a member of the Black Family; the Heir, or Heiress if you will. And because you are a Black, people are going to find another way to discriminate against you. Because of the history of the family. Because of me. Because of my choices, my actions. And for that I am truly sorry...that you are going to have to continue to deal with the bullshit that is prevalent in Wizarding society." Regulus looked down at her hand cupped in both of his. He gave it a squeeze. "I will do anything you want me to do if you feel like you can't take it. I will do anything you ask of me to make it easier for you. I will do anything to change that perception, that discrimination, that you have faced for your whole life. Anything. Do you understand? If you want to blame me, and yell at me sometimes, that's okay. I understand. I know that I deserve it. I deserve to hear it."

Hermione sniffed and sat up in her bed. "I'm just really tired of it all. The 'bullshit' as you put it. I'm tired of dealing with it. I'm tired of experiencing it first-hand. I'm tired of it feeling the exact same as it did before Voldemort fell. And I know it's been only a few weeks since that's happened. I know it's unrealistic to think that anything would change in that short amount of time. I guess I just hoped that people were faking their prejudice, to keep themselves safe from Voldemort. I think it was naive of me to believe that. But I couldn't help myself. When that man asked me what it was like having a Death Eater for a father, I was so angry. I still am. I am just really tired of people judging without knowing. Without understanding. I called him out on his...shit. I told him that you had saved my life, and the lives of many others. I told the room that without you, Voldemort would probably still be around. Then I called everyone out who flinched at his name. I'm just tired of the cowardly behaviour. I feel like that's what caused so many issues in the first place." Regulus watched as she gave him a half smile. "I've already dealt with Skeeter. She won't be writing garbage about me anymore."

Regulus' eyebrows rose high on his forehead. What was she hinting at? "What do you mean, you've dealt with Skeeter?"

"I figured out that she is an unregistered animagus, like Sirius was. She's a beetle. I caught her after the third task of the Triwizard Tournament in fourth year. I stuck her in a jar for a few weeks. I made her interview Harry in fifth year about Voldemort coming back. About what had happened. I wouldn't allow her to publish the interview in the Quibbler until I approved every last word that she wrote." Hermione shrugged, and grabbed half of her sandwich and took a big bite.

Regulus was in shock. His daughter blackmailed someone when she was still a fucking child. He rubbed his face with both hands. "You probably shouldn't go around blackmailing people, Hermione." He stopped and started chuckling. "That was very...House of Black, what you did. Anything else like that I should know about?" Please say no, he thought to himself.

Hermione nodded to him. "I cursed the D.A sign up sheet in fifth year. The defence group that Harry taught. I made everyone sign it and made it so anyone who said anything to anyone else with malicious intent, to get cursed. A girl said some stuff to Umbridge in order to disband the group. In order to catch those who were standing up to Umbridge at that time. Marietta Edgecombe is her name." She paused and took another bite of her sandwich.

"What was the curse, Hermione?" Regulus asked her. "She's okay?" He was staring wide-eyed at his daughter as she munched on her sandwich.

"She's fine." Hermione waved him off. "She just has some really bad acne on her forehead spelling out the word 'sneak'." She paused. "I'm not sure how long it'll last."

Regulus was unsure if he should be proud or angry at his daughter's behaviour. "Where did you get the curse? Where did you learn about it?" He asked her. He knew that the book it came from, the family or person who invented that spell, would give a good indication of how long it would last for.

Hermione stopped her munching. "I got it from a book here that I read before fifth year." She looked at him. "Why?"

"What kind of book?" Regulus asked her, the spell didn't seem familiar to him. "Was it a book you could buy in a store somewhere, did it say when it was published?"

Regulus watched as Hermione slowly shook her head. "It was in a journal it looked like. It was written with a quill. Not printed or published by anyone."

"Hermione!" Regulus all but yelled at her. "That was the book on Black Family magic. Why were you reading that?"

Hermione gulped. "Sirius showed me the book that summer. I needed to get away from the Weasleys, I'm used to being an only child. Having them all around all the time was tiring. I was hiding in the library one day before Harry got here. Sirius came in to hide from Mrs. Weasley, I think. He grabbed the book from a shelf somewhere and showed me some of it. He let me read it. He said that I may find a few spells in it that would be helpful one day. I thought he was just mad that he couldn't tell Harry anything, so he found a loophole and told me instead. I just assumed that he wanted to prepare me as best he could for what he knew would happen."

Regulus watched as Hermione paused, lost in thought. "He said I may be learning about some of them in the future anyway. He told me I reminded him of someone who used to hide in the library to get away from their parents. I thought at the time he was talking about one of his friends. Remus or someone like that, I don't know. He was talking about you, wasn't he?" She was gaping at him. "He knew didn't he. Before you told him I was your daughter. He knew that it was me. He already knew you had a daughter. He knew your daughter's age, give or take. He knew that your daughter would be in the same year as Harry. He put two and two together. Took a guess and figured it was me."

Regulus grinned. "It seems like it, doesn't it?" Hermione nodded at him, and took another bite of her sandwich.

Regulus watched as she frowned. "How did you learn about S.P.E.W.?" Hermione asked him.

"Harry brought it up downstairs just now." Regulus answered her. "Draco said you appear to want to stick up for the less fortunate." Hermione looked surprised. "He mentioned that you slapped him in third year. I wanted to know why. He said he thought it was something to do with the hippogriff that you and Harry saved that year, along with Sirius. He told me he said something cruel about Buckbeak." Hermione was nodding at him. "Harry agreed with Draco, and brought up your house elf organization that you started in fourth year."

Hermione snorted. "I didn't go about it the right way I don't think. I was trying to trick the elves into becoming free elves. That was wrong...I see that now." She frowned to herself. "I just didn't want other elves to be treated like Dobby, or Winky. Or like that elf named Hokey, who was framed for killing that witch, Hepzibah Smith. I mean it's wrong that the house elves from the Black Family look forward to being decapitated. That's disturbing...so incredibly disturbing."

Regulus was nodding at her, she had a point. "What about bringing awareness to change how they are treated. Not tricking them to becoming free elves. But creating laws to protect them from abusive households. I don't think you can convince people that elves deserve to be paid —" he raised his hand to stop her from interrupting him. "At least not yet. You have to make changes slowly. Changing traditions too quickly will make people disregard everything you do or say." Regulus looked at her pointedly. "If you want to change something, you are going to have to play politics. You're going to have to learn how to work with people who you don't necessarily like, in order to get things done." Hermione gave him a small smile. "Draco has told Ron that the Malfoy Family will support your endeavours for house elf rights one hundred percent. Publicly. I know he's a bit of a ponce, but he would be a great person to work with. The Malfoy Family still has support from a lot of the more traditional families. He would be an asset to have. You'd have to learn how to work with him."

"How will I learn how to do that?" She asked Regulus. "I tend to bulldoze over everyone when I get focused on something. I tend to disregard other people's opinions." She frowned at herself.

"We can work on it. Together, if you want." Regulus told her.

"Will we work on it during the summer?" Hermione asked him.

"Possibly." Regulus replied. "Or maybe through your last year at Hogwarts. I don't know if I can give you a crash course in it. It's going to take time to learn the tricks and skills. It's a complex thing to learn. How you hold yourself, speak to others. That sort of thing."

"I don't want to change the person that I am. I don't want to lose myself and turn into a cookie-cutter Heiress, or whatever." Hermione was watching Regulus closely, frowning.

"I promise I won't force you to change yourself. I'm just talking about polishing up some things. How to speak to certain people. How to gain attention and drive your point across; gain support for your cause." Regulus looked at Hermione. "You are going to need to look the part as well. We are going to need to polish up how you dress and appear in public."

"Are my muggle clothes not appropriate for the House of Black?" Hermione asked him, eyebrow raised.

Regulus chuckled. "I never said that. I just mean polishing up your look. Nicer jeans. Nicer blouses. Dresses that sort of thing. Some Wizarding clothes as well. You belong in this society, you can't let people find something to say you don't fit in. You're a young adult now, you need to start looking like one, rather than like a student. No one will take you seriously if you don't look the part."

Regulus watched as Hermione thought about his point, eyebrows scrunched together in thought. "I suppose you have a point." Hermione conceded. She looked to him with a grin on her face. "Are you offering to take me shopping to better represent the House of Black?" She queried.

Regulus snorted. "Absolutely not. I was offering for you to go with Narcissa to do some shopping. She knows how to look the part quite well."

Hermione frowned. "I'm afraid that if I do go with her, I'll be stuck wearing strictly Wizarding outfits. Like I've said before, I don't want to lose myself. I don't want to erase the life I've lived. It's an important part of who I am as a witch and as a person."

"Then when you two do go shopping you'll need to tell her that." Regulus looked at her pointedly. "She will listen to you, she has to, you're the next in line to head the House of Black after me." He paused. "She also may show you how to deal with people who don't agree with everything you say. You'll have to convince her to take you to a muggle shop. I suggest a high-end one initially. Narcissa wouldn't be caught dead in a shop without designer things, muggle or magical."

...


...

Two days later Hermione was heading out of Grimmauld Place with Narcissa Malfoy on a quest to find some outfits 'fit for an heiress', as Narcissa put it. She was terrified. Narcissa was an intimidating woman. The day prior she had taken some gold out of Gringotts Bank to cover her purchases.

"I suggest we stop at Twilfitt and Tatting's first," Narcissa said to her after they appeared in Diagon Alley. "We need to get you some proper witches robes and outfits, the ones you have are ghastly and outdated."

"I agree," Hermione said to her, understanding the need for compromise. "I would love to stop by a muggle store as well. I do need some new jeans and shirts. None of mine fit me quite right anymore." Narcissa stopped her quick paced walking and turned to look at Hermione in shock. "I'll need to convert some galleons to muggle money I think. You'll love the store I want to visit, Mrs. Malfoy, they have some superb quality items there. Perhaps you can find something for yourself as well. My treat for all the help you're giving me." Hermione smiled at her, and continued their journey through Diagon Alley. Her hands were shaking, she had never stuck up for herself like that before. She clutched her hands together to hide her nervousness.

Hermione pushed the door to Twilfitt and Tatting's open, a bell chiming to announce the pair's arrival. An older witch seemingly glided from the back of the store to the front to greet her new customers. "Ah, Lady Malfoy, Miss Black. What a wonderful surprise." The old witch crinkled her eyes as she smiled at them. "What may I be helping you with today?"

"Miss Black needs some appropriate witchwear. I suggest some robes and dresses for her to wear. Dressy, but not over the top. Traditional as well." Narcissa informed the old witch.

Hermione frowned, not too traditional, she thought to herself. "I was leaning towards something more modern than the traditional witches outfits" She looked to Narcissa, who was watching her with an eyebrow raised. She turned to look at the old witch, what was her name? "I would like to embody a more modern and accepting look for the Black Family. I was thinking of something that tied in both muggle and Wizarding fashion. To illustrate my upbringing and to illustrate the Black Family and their acceptance and support of muggles and Muggleborns." Her and Regulus had run through the look she wanted to go with and he had helped her with what she should say. He told her that it was important to show the Black Family position politically before the time would come when she stood before the Wizengamot to argue for the rights of mistreated people and beings.

The old witch was watching Hermione with pursed lips. Had she said something wrong? "I have just the outfits for you, Miss Black. I know exactly the look you're going for." She said to her. Hermione sagged in relief. "Follow me, dear. I will set you up in a fitting room for you to try on some outfits to see what you are comfortable with." The old lady turned and began walking to the rear of the store. Hermione followed suit.

Hermione was in her new bra and knickers that her, Luna and Ginny all went shopping for the day before. She was in the fitting room waiting for the old lady to return with some outfits for her to try on. She was scrutinizing herself in the mirror. Her ribs were less pronounced. She was gaining the weight she had lost while on the run relatively quickly. She glared at her hair in the mirror. While it was no longer frizzy, due to the release of the glamour that Regulus had placed on her, it was still a mess. Her curls were wild, she swore they had a mind of their own and did whatever they wanted. Her hair was down to the middle of her back, it was quite long for her. Perhaps she should get a trim to clean it up, she thought to herself. She was still getting used to the jet black hair that she sported and the cool slate grey eyes. She felt she looked alarmingly like Bellatrix. But without the insane look in her eyes. And the rotten teeth, she supposed as she ran her tongue over her own. She looked at her chest in the mirror and frowned. Her breasts were still annoyingly large, although smaller than they had been before the horcrux hunt. She felt they didn't suit her body and had gone out of her way to camouflage them while she was at school; she had always gone for shirts and jumpers too large for her frame, she hadn't wanted people to stare. She curled her arms around herself, self-conscious of what she was looking at. She looked down to her hips, a part of her that she had no problem with. Not too big and not too small. Subtle, but still there. She liked that. She didn't mind her legs either. Although they were a bit on the short side, she didn't really have any issue with them. She figured she must have gotten her height from her mother, Regulus was just over six feet tall, Hermione stood only five foot three inches. She'd have to ask Regulus more about her mother she decided. Did she have curly hair like her daughter?

"Okay, Miss Black. I have your outfits for you to try on. May I come in to help you get dressed?" The old lady called to her through the curtain.

"Yes, of course," Hermione called out, ending her scrutinizing herself.

The curtain was pulled open and the old witch walked into the fitting room, outfits trailing behind her on a rack. Hermione watched as the lady pushed the rack up against one of the walls in the fitting room, allowing for better movement in the room and room to try on the many items present. The witch tugged the curtain closed again and turned to look at her. She smiled kindly at Hermione and clapped her hands together.

"Now dear, there is nothing to be afraid of. Let's get you in the first outfit I picked for you. Lady Malfoy requested that you show her each one." She said to Hermione as she stepped towards the rack of clothes, selecting an outfit on the end of the rack.

Hermione looked at the rack, there had to be at least fifteen different outfits there. This was going to be a long day.

The first outfit she tried on looked almost entirely muggle. It was a black pencil skirt with a waist that came up to just under her bust. The skirt went just past her knees. The top she was wearing appeared to be silk, and was a button up blouse in a deep burgundy. It almost looked black until the light hit it at the right angle. Hermione looked at herself in the mirror, she looked like a young business woman.

"What do you think, dear?" The lady asked her.

"Overall I like it...but I'm not sure about the colour. I feel like it's too much black." Hermione frowned at herself in the mirror. Her bust was on display as well from the cut of the outfit. She brought a hand up unconsciously to hide herself.

"Don't worry about the colour. We can make this outfit in any colour you want. Perhaps a brighter red? Or even a blue for the top would look well with your skin tone." The old witch smiled kindly at her. "You need to stop being self-conscious about your body," she told Hermione as she gently pushed her arm down, away from her bust.

Hermione nodded at her, she knew that she had a point. She frowned once more in the mirror and removed the hair elastic from her wrist. She quickly tied her mane of hair up, away from her face and off of the outfit she was wearing. No hiding, she chided herself.

"Ready to show Lady Malfoy?" The old witch asked.

Hermione nodded again, turned around and left the fitting room.

Narcissa was sitting on a chair in an area off of the fitting rooms. Her eyebrows rose high on her forehead as Hermione walked closer to her. Hermione watched as Narcissa slowly stood up not taking her eyes off of the outfit. Hermione stood in place as Narcissa made her way around Hermione, scrutinizing everything it seemed. Hermione swallowed nervously. Was this too muggle?

"I am not familiar with this style," Narcissa said to the women. "Although I do quite like the cut of it." Hermione felt her brush her hand over Hermione's back as she completed her inspection.

"I took inspiration from the muggle world," the old lady told the two. "I was walking to work one day, I needed inspiration, and I saw a muggle woman wearing almost this exact outfit. I did make the skirt a tad bit longer, to cover the knee. I thought it illustrated a strong business woman. At least that was the feeling I got from the muggle woman that I saw."

Hermione watched as Narcissa made eye contact with her. She nodded. "I do like it. It should represent the new House of Black quite well." Narcissa told Hermione. "What other colours are you thinking of?" She asked Hermione.

"I'm not entirely sure, something not too dark. I do like the colour blue quite a lot. Possibly a purple as well for the top." Hermione answered her.

"A brighter red as well, I think. To show you are a Gryffindor still." Narcissa added on. She gave Hermione a small smile. "Let's see something else. Something more traditional for when she will be working with the traditional Pureblood families."

Hermione and the assistant returned to the fitting room and got started on the second outfit. After Hermione had it on she again scrutinized herself in the mirror. It was more traditional, she'd give Narcissa that. It was a dress, which landed just below her knee. It was fitted quite snuggly; the top of the dress was similar to the one Regulus had gotten her for their trip to Gringotts. It had a high neckline and a structured bodice. The sleeves however, were bell shaped. The ends of the sleeves reached the full length of the dress when Hermione held her hands in a more natural position.

Hermione looked to the old witch and saw that she was holding up a cloak of some sort. Hermione nodded to her, allowing the woman to place the cloak on her. Hermione watched as the cloak was clipped in place. It was a cape, it looked like. The entire ensemble was a light blue colour.

"What do you think of this one?" The old witch asked Hermione.

Hermione frowned. "I really don't like it on me. It's a beautiful outfit, don't get me wrong. It's just not me." Hermione turned to the side and continued to look at herself in the mirror. "I do like the colour though. I think it suits my skin tone quite well."

The old witch was nodding at her, she agreed with Hermione. "Let's show Lady Malfoy anyway. See what she says." She gestured to Hermione to leave the fitting room before her.

Hermione stopped in front of Narcissa, who again stood up and inspected Hermione's outfit thoroughly. "What do you think of this one, Miss Black?" Narcissa asked her.

"It's nice, but it's not me." Hermione looked Narcissa in the eyes, trying to beg her to understand.

"Why is it not you?" Narcissa asked her. "You're a Black. This is what a witch from the House of Black would wear. Are you not a Black?" She raised an eyebrow at Hermione, waiting for her response.

Hermione swallowed, thinking about what she wanted - no, needed - to say. "To me this is a costume. It's beautiful, it's classy, and it's traditional. Like you've repeatedly inferred." She paused and took a breath. "I'm not traditional. I'm me. I'm rough around the edges. I'm unsure of proper Pureblood protocol. I'm ignorant of many of the Pureblood traditions that have been around since, I don't know...the Middle Ages. I love history, and I love learning about new things, love learning about the House of Black. But please don't assume that I will change the person that I am in my core, in my soul, to fit a family whose traditions haven't changed for hundreds of years. The people who raised me were muggles. I very much identify as a Muggleborn witch, it's all I've ever known. My mother's parents were Muggleborns themselves." She paused again, looking at Narcissa. "If you met me somewhere and I told you two of my grandparents were Muggleborn, would you refer to me as a pureblooded witch?" She asked Narcissa.

Narcissa shook her head. "No, I wouldn't. You're not pure enough to be considered Pureblood in most circles. Certainly not in the more traditional circles. Most families really don't care about blood status and even those families would see you as a half blooded witch."

Hermione nodded, agreeing. "Then why am I wearing this Pureblood witches outfit? To me, it seems like I am trying to hide my blood status when I have this on. I'm not. I am proud of who I am and who I was raised by. To me this outfit hides who I am."

Narcissa pursed her lips and nodded. "I see your point." Hermione exhaled in relief. "I will concede that this is not the outfit for you."

"Thank you, Narcissa." Hermione said to her, truly relieved.

Narcissa gave Hermione a small nod in understanding. "Let's try on something else."

...


...

Four hours.

They were in Twilfitt and Tatting's for four hours before they were ready to leave.

Hermione stopped by Gringotts for a quick money exchange into muggle currency before she and Narcissa headed out into Muggle London. She was able to get herself a few pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts, for casual wear as Narcissa said, before they returned to Grimmauld Place. Hermione's Twilfitt and Tattings outfits would be ready in a week she was told. An owl would be sent to inform her they were ready to be picked up. As Narcissa and Hermione made their way into the old house they both heard what sounded like a baby's laughter coming from the kitchen.

Hermione gasped. "Teddy," she whispered to herself and made a detour to the kitchen to see the baby.

Hermione softly pushed open the door of the kitchen, Narcissa close behind. She spotted both Remus and Tonks sitting close together as they watched Harry play with Teddy in his lap. Regulus looked up at Hermione and Narcissa as they entered the room. He smiled at Hermione. Noticing her muggle shopping bag, he winked at her, amusement in his eyes. He then looked away from her to someone else who Hermione hadn't spotted during her initial look through the kitchen.

"Andy?" Narcissa gasped.

Hermione watched as Andromeda stood up from her place at the table and made her way to her sister.

"Cissa," Andromeda gave Narcissa a cautious smile. "Long time, no see."

Chapter Text

Hermione tucked herself in between Harry and Regulus at the kitchen table, cooing at baby Teddy as she sat down. Andromeda and Narcissa had left the room together, seeking out somewhere more private to talk with each other after so many years without contact. She held out her hand to Teddy as he watched her from Harry's lap, curious at the newcomer. His hair was currently identical to Harry's - messy black, although his eyebrows, from what she could tell were more of a lighter colour. He reached out and grabbed one of her fingers and gave her hand a big tug.

"He's so strong!" Hermione squealed, looking to Tonks and Remus. She watched as Tonks grinned at her in agreement.

"That he is!" She said excitedly. "Be careful with your hair though. He loves grabbing onto hair and pulling as hard as he can. My mum found out the hard way." She snickered.

Remus cleared his throat, trying not to laugh at the memory. "I heard from Minerva yesterday." He said to Regulus. "She asked if I wanted to come back to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"And?" Regulus queried. "What did you tell her? Are you going to? You'd be superb for the job...again."

Remus smiled and shook his head. "I said I wouldn't right now. I want to spend time with Teddy. Dora is going back to work in a couple of months. She's been off for quite a while with everything that was going on." Remus paused. "I told her that while I would love to teach again, eventually, I do know that hiring a werewolf right out of the gate after Voldemort's demise would not sit well with most people." He frowned. "Umbridge's laws are apparently in the process of being overturned as she has been sent to Azkaban for her crimes against Muggleborns and Half-breeds," Remus gave air quotations to the last term. "But I still think it's a bit too soon for most people." He smiled. "I did give her a recommendation though, for another person who I think would be perfect for the job."

Regulus frowned. "Who?"

"You." Remus said to him.

Regulus was shocked. "Me?" He looked to Hermione, she was nodding at Remus' recommendation. "I'm a Death Eater." He said stupidly to the room.

"Oh please," Harry started. "Snape taught our sixth year. And in fourth, Barty Crouch Jr. taught us...as Mad-eye Moody mind you, but still. We still learned loads. He was probably my second favourite professor behind Remus. He knew his stuff, he was just...you know...Barty Crouch Jr.."

Hermione hummed in agreement with Harry. "He was quite intense, wasn't he? But Harry is right, he knew his stuff." She looked to Regulus. "You know your stuff as well. You taught me during the weeks before the Battle of Hogwarts, I know I would've died or been badly hurt if you hadn't done that."

Regulus frowned, still not entirely convinced. "I highly doubt Minerva would want me there teaching kids. She'd get a lot of flack for it, that's for sure. She doesn't need that in her first year as Headmistress."

Hermione smacked him on his arm. "You'd be an asset, just like Remus would be. She knows that I'm sure. Besides, how else would you teach me how to be an Heir for the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black if you weren't there everyday. That's a lot of owls and floo calls if you're not there, in my opinion."

Regulus gave her a half smile. "We'll see." He frowned. "I'd need to think about it for a bit. I don't really know a thing about teaching." He rubbed the back of his neck in thought.

"It is a lot of work," Remus told him. "But it is pretty worthwhile in my humble opinion," he smiled.

"And that's assuming Minerva agrees with your recommendation. She could think you're nuts with your suggestion...she certainly doesn't have to listen to what you say," Regulus argued.

"True," Remus agreed. "But she was definitely open to the idea."

"We'll see," Regulus said again.

...


...

The next morning Hermione was sitting at the kitchen table - still half asleep - munching on some breakfast with the rest of the houseguests. It was a requirement in the house, according to Narcissa, to have everyone eat breakfast together. The other two meals were allowed to be skipped entirely or consumed somewhere else. She had told the room that while they had all experienced turbulence throughout the last few years, having breakfast together was a way to gain some sort of control over their lives. Breakfast was served everyday at seven thirty in the morning. She had told the room of teenagers, and Regulus, that anyone not there would be required to clean a room of her choosing - without magic. Not one person had been late for, or missed breakfast since they all arrived there weeks before.

A tapping could be heard at the kitchen window, the entire table turned to look at the window and the owl waiting on the ledge on the outside. Hermione, being closest, slowly stood up from her chair and walked to the window to let the owl in. It hopped in and nipped Hermione's hand gently as she removed the letter from its leg. She offered the owl a piece of bacon from her plate, which the owl wolfed down quicker than she had seen any bird do, and flew off without waiting for a reply.

She took a peek at the name on the envelope and seeing that it named her father as the recipient, she handed the letter to him.

Hermione sat back in her chair and restarted her breakfast, paying attention to Regulus as he opened the letter. She watched as he unfolded the parchment and began reading. His eyebrows rose slowly up his forehead the longer he read the letter addressed to him.

"Who's it from?" Hermione questioned him, unable to wait any further.

"It's for a meeting with McGonagall at Hogwarts in a couple of hours. They've started to repair the castle, a few of the teachers who were available and some magical architects apparently." He said as he skimmed over the letter again. "She'd like me to meet her in her office, the Headmistress' office, to discuss a few things." Regulus looked at her when he finished.

Hermione was grinning at him, nodding. Implying that he should take the job.

"Are you going to be one of our teachers, come September?" Theo asked looking up from his plate of scrambled eggs, hungover. He and Draco had gone out the evening before - they were now paying the price.

"Don't talk so loud, mate." Draco begged him.

"Fools, both of you." Narcissa stated loudly to the room. "'Everything in moderation' I said. But did you listen? No. Why would you? I'm only your mother."

"You're not my mum," Theo argued. "But I swear...you are my favourite person, Narcissa." Theo paused, swallowing and looking green in the face. "Surely there is a hangover potion around. I'm sure it's such a thing. Why can't we have one?"

Narcissa sniffed. "To show both of you that moderation is best. How else will you learn?" She sipped her tea, smiling at Theo. "And dear Theodore, I can assure you that you are my favourite as well. Mother or not."

"But...what about me?" Draco whispered to the room. A pained expression on his face.

Hermione snickered into her hand. Poor Malfoy.

"You're just my son I suppose. I guess I'm stuck with you." Narcissa replied to him, eyebrow raised in annoyance. She smirked at Draco. "Eat your eggs, Draco. You'll feel better." She patted his hand and returned to her scone with apricot jam.

Regulus was grinning. "To answer your question Theodore. Possibly. Although I haven't heard from McGonagall personally, yet. Just from Remus."

"You'd be a good professor, Regulus...sir...Mr Black." Theo frowned, at a loss as to what to call him.

Regulus scoffed. "Please don't call me Mr. Black, that's my father. He was a cold, manipulative bastard."

Theo nodded in understanding. "Understood sir."

"Regulus is fine." Regulus prompted.

"Okay sir. Sounds good." Theo replied, grinning and scooping a fork full of eggs.

...


...

Regulus appeared with a soft crack at the gates leading into Hogwarts. He took a quick look around as he walked through the grounds, taking notice of the landscaping that had been repaired from the damage of the Battle. From the outside, the castle looked good. As good as ever, really. It was a magnificent place.

He pulled his cloak a bit higher up on his neck. It was still a bit chilly out; the Scottish air crisp upon his exposed skin. Either that or he was too used to the weather in the south. Probably that, he figured. He never liked the cold - it reminded him of Grimmauld Place - which was cold in more ways than one.

It had been a long time since he had been here. Disregarding the Battle, where he was focused on the task at hand. Now, with everything and everyone safe, memories of his time here we're running through his head.

He could almost see his brother and his friends hanging out sprawled under the big tree by the lake. He could still hear his brother's barking laughter as he and his friends told jokes to one another. Or recounted their numerous pranks on the Hogwarts population. Or when they teased James Potter with his unwavering infatuation with Lily Evans.

He remembered how on edge everyone was near the second half of his education here. Knowing that something horrible was going to be happening to their peers. To their parents. To their friends and loved ones.

He remembered when he and Madeleine walked around the entire lake during Winter Break in their seventh year. They were snuggled up with each other as they slowly made their way around the lake. Protecting each other from the cold. Protecting each other from the shit going on on the outside. Trying to act their age for a change - no expectations, no missions, no pain. Just one another.

They had been some of the very few people who had stayed behind during that break. The majority of students had left to spend time with their families, knowing that it may be the last time that they ever did.

Fuck this was difficult.

Regulus finally reached the entrance into the castle, pushing the huge door open to gain access. He walked through the entrance, peering into the Great Hall as he passed by, noticing the four tables lined up in their respective positions. Empty. He made his way up the grand staircase, working his way up to the headmistress' office. He could hear people talking off in the distance. Repairs to the stonework being done. Dust in the air.

He reached the hallway with the gargoyle entrance and stopped. Headmistress McGonagall was standing by the entranceway waiting for him to arrive. She turned when she heard his steps abruptly stop.

She smiled at him, in her trademark way. "Ah Mr. Black. Regulus. You are right on time."

"Minerva," Regulus said in greeting. He watched as she said the password to the gargoyle and followed her up the stairs into her new office.

"I haven't had the chance yet to change any of Albus' decorations that he's done in here over the years. I know Severus hadn't changed a thing when he was headmaster last year." She looked severely at a little trinket, undoubtedly Albus' choosing, and frowned trying to figure out what the tacky looking thing was.

Regulus smiled at her. "I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to make the place yours."

Minerva hummed. "Perhaps," She acquiesced. "Have a seat, Regulus." She stated as she held out her hand to one of the chairs facing the Headmistress' desk. She carried on walking to her place behind the desk and sat down. Regulus waiting until she sat down before he himself did. He couldn't get rid of some of the traditions that he had learned during his upbringing; it was one of those things that was permanently ingrained in him.

"Down to business." Minerva said. "I asked you here today to discuss a potential opportunity - an employment opportunity - for you here at Hogwarts. Are you okay with working? I hope I'm not overstepping my boundaries. I know traditionally Blacks didn't work...at least not like what I am offering you."

Regulus smiled at her. "You're not overstepping anything, Minerva. I'm not against working at all. Although I should warn you...I have never had a job before. I just lived off of the gold that I had access to for the last twenty odd years or so." He frowned. "I really have no idea what I'm supposed to do."

"It's no matter, Regulus." Minerva began, waving away his concern. "I have been searching for someone to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts over the next few years. Remus was my first choice, but with little Teddy now is not the best time for him. He recommended you to take the position." She looked down at some parchment on her desk. "I have to say, I agree with his recommendation. Your grades were the top of your year, all throughout your schooling. Why is it we never noticed this?" She asked him, lifting the parchment with his school records and waving it around.

Regulus grinned. "Probably because the headmaster during my time had a bias towards Slytherin students. That, and I am a Black - the darkest, scariest family out there." He watched as Minerva frowned. "Nothing against you, Minerva. I always respected you when I was a student. After I left, too. I know you've shown all of your students respect, regardless of their house, or family name."

Minerva nodded at him, agreeing. "Are you open to the idea to teach here?" She asked him. "You would be an asset to the school, and would definitely help the students here."

"I think so, yes." Regulus replied. "I've been told I would be good for the position when Remus visited the other day." Minerva smiled at him. "How will this work though...I mean, Hermione - my daughter, will be one of your eighth year students. Can I teach her still? Am I allowed to do that?" He questioned her.

"I checked, and yes, you are allowed. This is her NEWT year so the majority of her grades will be coming from her examinations. But, the guidelines state that as long as there was no apparent bias between parent and student, it would be allowed," Minerva stated.

Regulus watched as Minerva hesitated. "May I ask you a personal question?" She asked him. He nodded. "Who is Hermione's mother? I am assuming it wasn't the muggle woman that I met when I visited her house to give her her Hogwarts letter."

Regulus shook his head. "No, it wasn't. I hid her with them just after she was born. Her mother was Madeleine Erickson. The Ravenclaw girl in my year. Her parents were both Muggleborn healers who died from dragon pox during our last year here."

"I remember her," Minerva exclaimed. "She was such a bright girl. Quiet. Curly, brown hair. Correct?" She checked with him. He nodded again. "I had no idea she was with child during that time. You two hid your relationship very well. What ever happened to her?" She looked at him with questioning eyes.

"She died during childbirth. She lost too much blood, we couldn't go to St. Mungo's for the labour. It wasn't safe for either of us." Regulus replied, trying not to think too much about that horrible time.

"I am terribly sorry for your loss, Regulus." Minerva spoke softly.

"Thank you," Regulus replied quietly.

The silence between them stretched out for a bit.

Minerva cleared her throat. "Now...I hate to change the topic so abruptly," she started.

"It's appreciated, truly." Regulus said.

"Well then," Minerva said. "We need to discuss how the teaching will be this next year. It's a bit of a mess due to the school shutting down early. None of the students were able to do their OWLs or their NEWTs." Regulus nodded, indicating that he was following along. "Fifth year students this past year will be allowed to carry on taking their choice of sixth year courses, assuming of course, that they took the course prior. We will be disregarding OWL scores from this current school year because they do not exist. The NEWT students were also unable to take their examinations. They will be allowed to come here as eighth year students as you are aware, and take their courses and eventually their examinations at the end of the year with the seventh years."

Minerva paused, making sure Regulus was still following her. "In other words, the students who were seventh years last year, or those who had not come last year, are able to repeat their courses without any negative repercussions on their school record. It is not required for students who have not completed their education here to come back to school to finish. I do know that the Ministry is offering jobs in numerous positions and departments regardless of whether or not someone has their NEWT levels, due to how short staffed they are. They needed to clean house, they desperately need people there. I do not expect every student to come back. However, I do believe that most will."

Regulus nodded again, it made sense with what he had already heard.

"Your classes, specifically your NEWT level class, should be quite large. We may have to find you another room to be able to fit in everyone comfortably. I've asked the architects if there is a solution, but have not heard back as of yet." The headmistress continued. "There are requirements which you must teach for each year. I have everything in a portfolio for you for when you leave here today. You'll need to set up your lesson plans, preferably prior to when the students get their book lists. The way in which you teach the class, be it theory or practical, is entirely up to you. I highly recommend a mixture of both."

Regulus scratched his chin in thought. "Of course."

Minerva frowned, lost in thought for a moment. "I am not sure how the students will be with the practical aspect of the course. The majority, if not every single one of them, had the unfortunate experience of having Amycus Carrow as their Dark Arts teacher. His sister, Alecto, was the mandatory Muggle Studies professor. She taught the students that muggles were scum, among other things. Amycus taught many students how to perform Dark Magic. He forced the older students to use Dark Magic on each other and on the younger students as punishment." She looked at Regulus with wide eyes. "It may do them good for you to slowly ease into the practical aspect of the course. They've been through hell. We couldn't protect them as well as we should have." She looked down at her desk, guilt evident in her posture.

"No one blames you, Headmistress. You guys did what you could, as best as you could at that time." Regulus responded. He hesitated. "I am, unfortunately, well aware of the kinds of people the Carrow siblings are. They would've killed you, or other teachers, or even students without hesitation. The only reason they didn't was because they were told they weren't allowed do that."

He watched as Minerva nodded in understanding.

"I know," she began. "I still feel the same though. I still feel like we could have done more than we did. I will probably always feel this way, to be honest with you."

Regulus nodded, understanding where she was coming from.

"Back to the task at hand," Minerva said to him. "We will figure out a room for you. I have asked the architects here now if it is at all possible to enlarge the current Defence room. You will have an office in the room, as well as a place for you to stay while you are teaching. You can come here one week before classes start to get everything set up how you'd like. It is entirely your responsibility." She looked at him over her glasses. "I ask that you send me your textbook list no later than the end of June. Flourish and Blotts needs time to order all the books before the students come rushing in to buy everything. Some textbooks take longer to get in stock than others, depending on popularity, how new they are, that sort of thing." She paused. "I will give you free reign for your choice of textbooks for each year. But I ask that they be appropriate for each year."

"Of course," Regulus said.

"Now," she began, folding the portfolio closed. "Your past may be an issue for some students, I'm not going to lie to you." She looked at him again over her glasses. "In regard to that, I highly recommend being as honest as you can be with the students. They will have questions about your past, with you being a Death Eater. With you having the dark mark on your arm, even though it is just a scar nowadays. They will still notice. They will question you without a doubt. I am sure that some students may even be afraid of you at first. Their experience with Death Eaters - apologies for lumping you in with them - is not a very good one. They've had Barty Crouch Jr. masquerading as Alastor Moody. They've had the Carrow siblings as professors here last year. They've also had Severus Snape as potions professor, defence professor, and as Headmaster at a time when his job was to prove to Voldemort that he was his man through and through. While Severus turned out to be on the good side in the end, he was not the greatest of teachers. He viciously bullied numerous students throughout his career here. Not once did Albus reprimand him for his actions."

She looked at him pointedly, frowning. "Bullying will not be tolerated here from anyone, student or teacher. There will be punishments if it is found students or professors are doing such a thing."

Regulus nodded. "Sounds like a good idea to me," he replied to her.

Minerva smiled at him. "I'm glad to hear it. We will have bi-weekly staff meetings here once classes start." She paused, and held her hand up in thought. "We will also have a staff meeting before the school year starts as well. I almost forgot." She shook her head at herself. "It'll be during the week before the students arrive. Think of it as a sort of meet-and-greet for all the staff here."

Regulus nodded. He frowned all of a sudden and looked at Minerva. "Who is your potions professor? Is Slughorn still going to teach? Do you know how he is doing?"

"Horace will be able to teach potions still. He actually requested that he still continued to do so. He has had his leg rebuilt from the curse that Voldemort threw out at him. But it is slow going apparently, he is currently in St. Mungo's still. He will need a cane to walk." Minerva answered.

Regulus nodded, the man was lucky to still be alive.

Minerva and Regulus continued their discussion well into the afternoon. Regulus listening closely as the Headmistress gave him pointers with different aspects of teaching.

It was just before dinner when Regulus left the castle, portfolio in hand. He apparated away once he reached the front gate, thinking of Grimmauld Place as he did so.

...


...

As Regulus entered into the old house he could hear hushed talking going on in the kitchen. He gently pushed open the door, not wanting to scare anyone. Sitting at the table were Draco and Luna munching on some food left out on the table by Kreacher.

"Hey, you two,” he said to them.

"Hello Regulus," Luna said to him, smiling. Regulus could see that the smile was strained. She was still having troubles. "I see Headmistress McGonagall offered you the position." She said to him, nodding toward the portfolio in his hand.

"Yes she did," Regulus said to them. "You're stuck with me I suppose." He grinned at them.

"That's not such a bad thing," Draco argued. Luna nodding in agreement.

"Is Hermione here?" Regulus asked, wanting to let his daughter know.

Both Draco and Luna shook their heads.

"She and Harry are spending the day with the Weasley Family," Luna replied. "They'll both be back after dinner they said."

Regulus smiled. "Okay, sounds good." He turned to leave the room, wanting to get to work on what he would be doing for the next year or so. He wandered up to the library and placed the portfolio on a desk in the room. He sat down, grabbed a piece of parchment and a quill from a drawer and opened the portfolio.

He had some work to do.

Chapter Text

Regulus was pacing in Remus and Tonks' living room, shaking his head, muttering to himself. "I have no idea what I am doing." He said quietly to the occupants of the room, little Teddy was having a nap in his crib close by.

Remus smiled at him. "You'll be fine, Regulus," he assured him. "It's fine if you don't have everything entirely planned out yet. It's only the second week of June."

"It's not just that," Regulus argued. "I've never had a job before. What if I'm not cut out for it? What if I'm the worst teacher there?"

He stopped his pacing and looked to Remus. "What if I say something wrong and McGonagall fires me? I could lose my temper - I mean I am a Black, we're renowned for it. What if I do something awful? What then?"

Regulus watched as Remus rolled his eyes and Tonks snickered at him.

"You'll be fine, Regulus." Remus repeated to him. "I still have my outlines from when I taught. Did you want to have them?" He looked pointedly at Regulus, waiting for his response.

Regulus nodded to him. "Please." He begged, he could admit to himself.

Remus stood up from the old sofa. "Give me a minute. I need to find my stuff." He smiled to Regulus as he left the room.

"Have a seat," Tonks said to him as she gestured towards an aged chair facing the home's fireplace.

Regulus made his way over to the chair. As he sat down in it he could hear the chair give a squeak in protest.

"So...how's it been?" Tonks asked him after he settled into the chair. She was sipping a cup of tea. Bags under her eyes. Exhausted.

"Good," Regulus nodded to her as he answered. "It's been okay overall, I think."

Tonks nodded at him as she had another sip of tea. "How're the kids? Nightmares? Or are they alright?"

Regulus grimaced, hesitating. "Some are having nightmares for sure. Hermione and Luna without a doubt." He paused, thinking. "I haven't heard anyone else have any...but I do notice that the majority of the kids are dead to the world during breakfast. Like they haven't been sleeping, which is no surprise considering. Draco and Theo tend to go out drinking quite often...not every night, but multiple times a week for sure. They drink quite a bit when they do go out. They're feeling the effects the next day for sure." Regulus said to his cousin.

Tonks was nodding at him. She took another sip of tea. More of a guzzle, really. "That's probably their way to cope with everything that's gone on over the last few years. A way to forget. I know of a few Aurors who had that same coping technique at one point. They were eventually able to deal with the job a lot better. But they did need help to do it initially." She paused, thinking. "Do you know if McGonagall will have mind healers at the school?" She asked him. "We have them working in collaboration with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. With the Aurors there."

Regulus frowned. "She had mentioned something when I met with her," he said to Tonks. "She didn't specifically say 'mind healers' but she did say she was in talks with some people. The Ministry and St. Mungo's if I remember correctly."

"Good," Tonks nodded to him. "I worry about those kids. All of them. The ones you have staying at Grimmauld, the ones who were at Hogwarts this past year. The muggleborns who went on the run. The muggleborns who were locked up in Azkaban. All of them." She paused. "This war has really fucked up a lot of people...a lot of families."

"Yeah. It has, hasn't it?" Regulus replied. He looked at his cousin, wondering how she was doing. "How are you and Remus doing? How's Andromeda?"

Tonks smiled. "Mum's alright. She's still sad that Dad's gone." She sniffed. "I am too. I'm sad." She gave him a small smile. "But, I do know that she is happy that her and Aunt Cissa are speaking again. That you're talking to her a bit, and inviting her to Grimmauld Place to have a visit." She paused, thinking to herself. "I do know mum tried to hide it, but I remember how lonely she'd get when I was younger. When I was still a kid. She really did miss the family. Some people in the family, I think. Not everyone, of course. But, not everyone was bad in the Black Family. At least not from what I heard from mum. Not everyone was a bad seed."

Regulus nodded in understanding.

"I'm trying to figure out a way to return people back to the tapestry who have been blasted off. Walburga always said it was permanent, but she liked to exaggerate quite a bit. I'm hoping this was one of those times she did so." He told her. "I think I have thousands of books to go through. I don't really know where to start. So it will take me quite a bit of time to even figure out if it can actually be done."

"That's kind of you to look into, Regulus. You know you don't have to do that. Mum doesn't need that. Just the communication is good enough for her." Tonks replied to him.

"I know. But, it's something that's important to me. It's something that I care about," said Regulus. He looked to Tonks. "You haven't said how you and Remus are doing. How are you?" He asked her, watching her reaction.

Tonks smiled and looked down at her lap. She took another gulp of tea and placed the empty mug on her coffee table. "I'm exhausted. I don't sleep great. I haven't in years. With Teddy it's just one more thing. I love him so much, don't get me wrong. But, the child barely sleeps throughout the night. And when he wakes up, it's not like he's curious and just lays there. No. He screams at the top of his lungs. Every. Single. Time." Tonks frowned to herself. "I keep thinking someone is hurting him. That someone is out to get him and he's screaming for help. But, no...he just wants to be fed, or changed out of his stinky nappy. Or he just wants cuddles." She softly laughed to herself.

"Remus is alright, I think. He's exhausted, too. Don't get me wrong. But, I think he's at a point in his life where he actually sees a future for himself. With me, sure. But mostly with Teddy. He'd do anything and everything for his son." Tonks told him.

Remus came back into the room, carrying a box full of parchment and some old books. "I'd do anything for you too, Dora." Remus quietly admonished her. He gave her a kiss on the top of her head. He turned to Regulus who was sitting in the old chair, smiling at the two. "Here are my notes and rough outlines for when I taught there." He extended his arms to Regulus. Offering up the box.

Regulus stood up. Taking the box from Remus. "Thank you, Remus. You're a lifesaver."

Remus chuckled. "It's really no problem." He smiled at Regulus.

Teddy began screaming in his crib nearby.

Regulus winced. "Well, it looks like it's my time to leave." He snickered at the pair. "If you two ever need anything. Let me know." He turned to the fireplace, shifted the box into one arm and grabbed a pinch of floo powder. "Grimmauld Place!" He called out. Disappearing in the green flames.

...


...

Hermione was sitting in the library in 'her chaise lounge', as Theo put it. She was reading The Black Family History, the book Regulus had found for her in the Family Vault. It was a huge book, much to Hermione's glee. But it was difficult to read. Old English mixed with dark beliefs. The section of the book she was currently on was full of the political leanings of the different members of the family, starting from the Middle Ages. It also had pages of ideas or things that certain members of the family were able to carry out - passing laws, suggesting practices to the Ministry of Magic.

Regulus had wanted her to read it so she'd know about the history of the family. So she'd know what to expect if she decided to step in front of the Wizengamot to push through new laws. He had told her that the majority of the older families would probably be cautious of anything she suggested due to her being a Black. Due to the past political leanings of the family. She needed to know what she was up against. She needed to prepare.

Hermione looked up as Theo shuffled into the library clutching a mug of coffee, looking worse for wear. She had noticed that both Theo and Draco had, more often than not, gone out drinking late into the night. She had always heard as they stumbled through the hallway in the early hours of the morning. Struggling to get to their respective bedrooms. She had been wide awake, laying in her bed waiting for day to break.

"Hey Theo," Hermione said to him quietly. Folding her book closed. It was enough reading for today, especially since she had been reading about the need to pass laws to hunt muggles.

Theo grinned at Hermione, his smile not quite reaching his eyes. "Hey Hermione." He watched as she placed the massive book on the table beside her. "Good book?" He asked.

Hermione chuckled. "It's The Black Family History, so no...it's not really to my taste."

Theo softly chuckled as he took a slurp of coffee. He sat down in another chaise lounge near her. "Yeah...I bet." He grimaced at the book. "We have a similar book, the Nott Family does. I had to read the thing before I started Hogwarts. Father's orders." He took another slurp of coffee.

Hermione blanched at him. "You had to read about laws to hunt muggles down before you started school? Before you were eleven?" She frowned. "You were just a kid."

"Pretty much. Yep," Theo confirmed. "The Family History books are different for each family, but the dark families tend to have wonderful stuff like that in them." He paused. "I had to start reading mine when I was eight."

"Theo...that's awful." Hermione frowned. She really had no idea what it was like for children of traditionally dark families. She realized she was incredibly sheltered from it all, even though she had fought on the frontlines in the Battle. She really had no idea what went on behind closed doors.

"It definitely fucks with your head when you read that stuff when you're just a scrawny, squeaky-voiced kid. I'll give you that." He toasted Hermione with his mug.

Hermione looked down at her lap. "I feel like I am incredibly naive of the goings on of Pureblood families. I think...I can see why I rubbed some people the wrong way when I first showed up at Hogwarts. I don't really know anything, do I?" She looked up at Theo. "Textbooks really aren't everything."

"Hermione...no." Theo frowned and placed his mug of coffee on the table beside him. "I didn't mean what I said to make you feel like that." He paused. "I love how you approach everything magical with so much enthusiasm. It's refreshing to see someone's wonder for something I knew about before I could remember. I've never known anything else, Hermione." He looked down at his hands in his lap. "Please don't think you don't know anything. You do. You know more, and understand more than most people, Pureblood or otherwise. All families have their secrets. Light or dark. All families have their stories. Their history." He looked up at her. "I tend to be nonchalant about it because it's sort of my way to deal with it." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It's probably not the best way, I know. But it's all I know."

Hermione hesitated. "Is that why you're drinking all the time?" She slapped her hand over her mouth. Eyes wide. "I'm sorry, Theo. That's none of my business. I'm sorry." She closed her eyes and shook her head at herself. Ashamed.

Theo gave her a soft laugh. "It's okay. You haven't offended me, Hermione." He paused. "The answer is 'no'. I'm binge drinking for another reason."

Hermione opened her eyes and peered at him.

Theo swallowed. "I basically killed my bastard of a father." He paused to watch her reaction. "I sent a bit of family magic at him, a spell that the Nott family invented, after he killed Tracey...Tracey Davis. It caused him to suffocate. It caused him to collapse on the ground, weak. It led to Bellatrix sending an Avada at him. Even if she hadn't killed him then, my father would have died. There is no way to remove that spell from someone. There is no way to heal someone from that spell. Death is guaranteed." He continued to watch Hermione. "I've known about that spell since before I came to Hogwarts. I've been sitting on it since then. I've wanted to use it against my father, no one else, since then." He confessed.

"Why?" Hermione whispered. Afraid to speak any louder.

"I watched when I was a little boy as my father hurt my mother...repeatedly. I couldn't do magic yet. Not really. But I could read. I was reading anything I could get my hands on to try to help her. I wanted to protect my mother. I never got a chance to. She died when I was six." Theo replied.

Hermione cleared her throat. "How did she die?"

"Natural causes according to the healer my father paid off." Theo scoffed. "My mum was twenty six when she died. There was nothing natural about it, I can assure you."

"I'm so sorry Theo. I had no idea. I had no idea that you went through that." Hermione replied.

Theo shook her off. "I'm okay with her death now. I have memories of her. Of our time together. I've accepted it."

Hermione hesitated. Theo nodded at her, indicating to her to ask what she was thinking. "So you're binge drinking because you basically guaranteed the death of your father?" She asked him.

Theo shook his head. "No. I binge drink because I don't feel bad about it. I feel no remorse for my actions. And that fucking terrifies me." He looked at his coffee mug and picked it up. He took a sip, gathering his thoughts. "Does that make me like my father? Does that make me a monster like him?"

Regulus walked into the library, holding a box in his arms. Obviously he had been standing just outside the room for a while, listening. "Theodore, I can assure you that you are nothing like your father. I was with him in the Death Eaters. I worked next to him all too often. I knew the moment I met you, that you're nothing like him." Hermione and Theo turned to look at Regulus. "The fact that you're questioning it, and feeling terrified about it says it all. You're no monster."

Theo looked down at his hands. He gave slight nod. Unsure. "But...I don't feel bad about what I did." He peered up at Regulus. "I feel nothing."

"Sure you do." Regulus argued. "You just don't feel what you think you should feel considering he's your father. You do feel something, Theodore. What is it?"

There was silence as Theo thought about what Regulus said. "Relief." Theo croaked out finally. "I feel relief. And peace."

Regulus was nodding at him in understanding. "And there is nothing wrong with feeling that way."

Theo nodded at his answer. He hid his face in his hands.

Hermione watched as Theo's shoulders were shaking. No sound was coming out from him. But she knew he was crying.

She looked up at Regulus trying to figure out what to do. He motioned for her to sit next to Theo. To comfort him. He quickly walked to his desk in the library and dropped off the box he was carrying on it. He turned and left the library, leaving Hermione with Theo.

Hermione got up off of her chaise lounge and scurried over to where Theo was sitting. She sat down close to him and hesitantly put her hand on his shoulder.

"It's okay Theo." She tried comforting him. "You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay."

Theo turned into Hermione, face still hidden behind his hands. Hermione watched, still as a statue, as Theo slowly pulled his hands away from his face. He wrapped his arms around her, clinging to her tightly and burrowed his face into her hair and wept.

Chapter Text

Hermione was once again sitting in her chaise lounge in the Black Family Library. It was a daily occurrence for her. She was uncomfortable leaving Grimmauld Place, unless she was visiting The Burrow, or some other non-public location. She was terrified of the attention she was getting from strangers in the street. She was starting to understand Harry's point of view. Harry's experience with the Wizarding world. She was turning into a hermit, she realized.

She scowled to herself. She didn't want to live this way. This wasn't healthy. She didn't want to live in fear.

She stood up from her chair. Placed the massive book back on the table beside her, and stepped out of the library, in search of her father.

She quietly walked through the ancient house, searching each and every room. Slowly working her way from the top of the house, where she started, to the bottom.

She spotted Regulus in the drawing room talking with Narcissa. She quietly knocked on the doorjamb, alerting the occupants of her presence and stepped into the room.

"Hermione," Regulus said to her in greeting as he smiled at her.

Hermione smiled back at him and Narcissa. "I need to get out of this place. I'm turning into a hermit, but I am uncomfortable going anywhere by myself. Can we go somewhere?" She asked the room.

Narcissa smiled at her. "It is around lunch time. Why don't you and Regulus go out for lunch?" She suggested to Hermione.

Regulus nodded. "Did you want to do that?" He asked Hermione.

"Yes," Hermione said. "I really think I would." She looked to Narcissa, hesitant. "Did you have plans for this afternoon, Narcissa? Did you want to come out for lunch with me and my father?"

Narcissa smiled at her. "I'd love to." She said excitedly. "But I think you should freshen up before we go." She looked at Hermione critically. "You have yet to wear the items we selected for you. You're still wearing your ill-fitting clothing."

Hermione stuttered, caught off guard by Narcissa's blatant truth. "B-But I haven't gone out anywhere really. I had nowhere to wear anything to." She frowned, scratching her elbow self-consciously.

Narcissa looked pointedly at her. "If you are still uncomfortable with some of the clothes, you need to wear them in private. You need to become more comfortable in them, Miss Black."

"But…they are very dressy for me." Hermione said. "I'm not really used to them."

Narcissa arched her eyebrow, not believing Hermione in the slightest. "You haven't even worn the muggle clothes that you insisted you buy. The jeans and blouses that you bought for casual wear." She paused. "You are still wearing your frumpy clothing."

"Narcissa," Regulus warned her.

"No Regulus." Narcissa looked at him pointedly. "The Heiress for the House of Black needs to get over her insecurities about her body. Her insecurities about herself as a woman. She needs to be confident about herself and her abilities or she will be eaten alive."

"I am confident about my magical abilities," Hermione argued weakly.

She focused on Hermione, who was looking at her feet feeling humiliated. "Then you sure have a strange way of showing it. I mean no disrespect. Truly, Miss Black. But I can assure you that what I've just said is mild to what the public will be saying about you if you go out dressed like you are. You look weak. You look insecure. You look a mess. You look like you are out of your depth with everything that has been going on with you."

"I am out of my depth," Hermione quietly argued, her eyes starting to tear up.

"Of course you are. Anyone in your position would be," Narcissa agreed. "But not everyone needs to know that. You need to be able to fake it for the time being."

"I don't want to offend anyone. I don't want to make a mistake and offend anyone." Hermione argued, continuing to look at her feet.

"Hermione," Regulus quietly said. "You're not going to offend anyone. And if you do…who cares? That's their problem." He paused, watching Hermione closely. "Where is this coming from?" He asked her as she looked up at him. "Has someone said something to you? Has someone said that you've offended them? Someone here?"

Hermione shook her head. "No," She said quietly. "No one here."

"Someone somewhere else?" Regulus was probing.

Hermione remained silent.

"Who?" Regulus questioned her, frowning.

Hermione opened her mouth and hesitated. "I don't want to get anyone in trouble. I don't want to cause any trouble for anyone. I don't want you to get angry." She pleaded to her father.

"I won't get angry, Hermione." Regulus assured her. "What have they said to you?"

"They haven't said anything directly to me. But…I heard a couple of people talking, that pureblood culture will find me offensive because of how I was raised and how I look." She touched her huge mane of hair as an example. "I heard them say that I would likely be changed to fit the pureblood mold. They said that they hoped my change wouldn't be too drastic. That they hoped that I'd still be recognizable as Hermione." She paused and took a breath shaking her head. "But that it was unlikely, because I'm a Black now. They said that I would probably be muted. That my education would be a waste of time. That I would be molded into the 'perfect pureblood wife'. One without an opinion on anything that mattered." She finished in a whisper.

Narcissa was standing there with her lips pursed in annoyance. Regulus was trying not to explode in anger.

"Who said this about you, Hermione" He asked her.

Hermione hesitated. "When I went to The Burrow the other day. I heard Mrs. Weasley and Ron talking in the kitchen. I had been hanging out with Ginny in her room…having girl time…we hadn't done that in a while. We wanted to catch up. I had wanted a glass of pumpkin juice, so I walked down to the kitchen and heard them talking behind the closed door." She paused. "Harry had run to the toilet before he and Ron went out for a fly around on the brooms. They didn't know I was there - Ron and Mrs. Weasley."

Regulus was frowning, he crossed his arms. "Mrs. Weasley has her reasons for not liking the Black Family. Her biases are evident, and have been evident ever since she met Sirius. She treated him like trash because he was a Black. There is some history between the Prewett and Black Family from years and years ago that she can't seem to get over." He paused. "How would you say Mr. Weasley has been treating you since he found out you were a Black?" He asked her. "You mentioned at my place, to both Remus and myself that you thought Ron would explode when he found out. That he wouldn't take it well. Has he treated you any differently since then?" He questioned her.

"Not really. Not drastically different." Hermione answered. "He has always teased me about me liking school. About me taking my education seriously. He is now questioning why I am even bothering with my education. That I didn't need to continue because I am a Black. That I had enough money to do anything I wanted for the rest of my life, and me finishing school is a waste of time." Hermione shrugged. "He's always been insecure about not having any money. It's nothing new," she finished quietly.

"And he's ridiculed you about your house elf organization." Regulus added. "Theodore told me the other day that Harry ripped him a new one the day you three tried to go for lunch at The Leaky Cauldron. After I had left to talk with you in your room." He paused, hesitating. "When did you and he become friends, Hermione?" He questioned her.

Hermione blinked. "He was Harry's friend first, in first year." She hesitated. "If Harry wasn't both of our friends, I probably wouldn't have anything to do with him. I mean…we've grown as friends. He is my friend. We've been through a lot together. Every year at Hogwarts." She backpedaled. "He's my friend. He's one of my best friends. That doesn't just end because of my last name." She insisted to them. "I used to have a bit of a crush on him up until sixth year." She blushed, figuring she may as well lay everything out for them. "I mean…I don't want to date him…I used to. But, I know now that we wouldn't work as a couple." She finished quietly.

"What changed your mind?" Narcissa questioned her, eyebrow raised in intrigue.

Hermione grimaced. "Him sucking face with Lavender Brown anywhere and everywhere in sixth year. I thought it was tasteless." She shuddered in memory. "He was jealous that both Harry and I got invited to Slughorn's stupid party and he didn't. I was going to ask him if he wanted to go with me to it. He had started playing quidditch that year on the Gryffindor team. He was getting attention from Lavender because of it. He liked the attention. He liked how she threw herself at him." She snorted at the memory. "I invited Cormac McLaggen instead, to piss Ron off…to get him to notice me. The guy wouldn't leave me alone, and I figured 'why not?'" She shuddered again at the mistake she made.

Regulus was watching her closely. A memory clicked into place. "What did he do to you, Hermione? Cormac? What did he do?" He asked her quietly. "He called you a 'frigid bitch' in the Battle before you…finished him."

Hermione shook her head. "Not what you're thinking." She told him pointedly. "I did nothing with him, I refused to. That's why he called me that. He got a bit handsy with me during the party. And I kept shrugging him off. He kept trying to peer down my dress, thinking I hadn't noticed him doing so. On the way back to the common room he pushed me up against the wall. He tried snogging me. He tried to put his hand up my dress and I hexed him into oblivion and left him there in the hallway and walked myself back to the common room. He had to get help and go to Madam Pomfrey to get fixed." She frowned. "I didn't know he had a reputation for stuff like that. No one had told me."

Regulus was watching her with tightly controlled anger, she could tell. She watched as he clenched his jaw. She swallowed nervously. Regulus noting her nervousness, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He exhaled slowly and re-opened them. Calm. He nodded at her. "Good job," he approved of her actions against McLaggen.

"Good riddance, is what I like to say to people like that." Narcissa said kindly to her, smiling. Starting to understand why Hermione was self-conscious of herself. "How about I help you pick something out to wear for lunch and we can meet Regulus downstairs in thirty minutes?" She asked Hermione. "We can have a sort of 'practice run' for you as Hermione Black in a public place. In a nice public place mind you. I don't do The Leaky Cauldron." She looked at Regulus pointedly. "Just so you know."

He chuckled in response, eyes crinkling. "Does that sound okay, Hermione?" He asked checking in with his daughter.

Hermione nodded. "I'd like that."

...


...

Thirty minutes later, Hermione was in her pencil skirt from Twilfitt & Tatting's and a sleeveless button up blouse from a muggle store. She had on a pair of strappy heels that she had never worn before, but bought them because she liked how they looked. Narcissa was completing the finishing touches on her hair, leaving her curls, but pulling it back slightly, away from her face. Hermione had added a touch of mascara and some lip gloss on her lips completing the look.

"See," Narcissa said to her. "You still look like you. Just polished up a bit."

Hermione nodded. She could see what she was saying. "Thank you." She looked to Narcissa.

Narcissa smiled at her. "It's no trouble, dear." She turned towards the doorway. "Let's see where Regulus takes us for lunch. I'm famished."

Hermione snickered and followed her out the door.

Hermione slowly clambered down the stairs on her heels, grasping the railing tightly as she did so.

"In the future I may teach you how to walk in heels." Narcissa said to her without looking back as she glided down the stairs.

"Please," Hermione begged. "I'm afraid I'm going to break my neck." Her foot gave a bit of wobble. "Or my ankle," she said.

Regulus chuckled at the bottom of the stairs. He was wearing charcoal coloured dress pants and a tucked in, dark blue button up dress shirt. Muggle, Hermione realized. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. Giving him a more casual, relaxed look. He held out his hand to Hermione as she walked closer to him. She reached for his hand in relief. Maybe he'd catch her if she fell. She snickered to herself. She was hopeless in these shoes.

"You're going to show off your scars?" Narcissa asked him, looking at his left forearm where his Dark Mark scar was still red and raw. Everyone would know he had been a Death Eater in the past. There was no mistaking the scar for what it was.

"Yep," he said to her, as he tucked Hermione's hand in his elbow. "I have nothing to hide." He looked down to Hermione, smiling. "You look beautiful, Hermione."

He and the women walked out of the house, pausing as they stood on the steps. Regulus looking around for anyone watching them. Narcissa clasped his other arm. They disapparated with a faint crack.

...


...

The trio reappeared in Diagon Alley near Gringotts. Narcissa released her hold on Regulus' elbow and walked next to him and Hermione.

Hermione continued hanging onto Regulus' arm, focusing on her steps. She knew he was walking slowly for her as they meandered along the cobblestone street.

They eventually reached a small restaurant tucked into a corner of Diagon Alley. Hermione peered up at the sign above the door, Andre's was all the sign said. Regulus held the door open for both Narcissa and Hermione to enter before him. Hermione spotted the Reservations Required sign as she stepped through the door. She swallowed nervously. She had never been to a place like this before…her muggle mum and dad rarely went out for a meal, preferring to spend time at home together after a long day at work.

"Ah, the Black reservation," the young maître d' greeted them, smiling. "Welcome to Andre's." He said to the trio, his eyes not leaving Hermione. "Right this way." He turned and led them through the restaurant towards the back of the place.

Hermione was clutching Regulus' arm tightly as he maneuvered her through the tiny restaurant. The patrons of the place were watching as they walked through the place, Hermione could tell. She felt eyes on her back.

"Relax," Regulus muttered quietly to her. "They're noticing me and Narcissa more than you, Hermione. I reserved us a table near the back. They won't bother us there."

"I feel like I'm wearing too much muggle stuff," Hermione muttered back to him as they squeezed by a table with a couple dressed in full wizard and witch's garb. "They could kick me out for not looking the part," she joked quietly to him.

Regulus chuckled softly. "Nonsense. You're a Black, Hermione. They won't touch you," he whispered in her ear.

They reached their own table tucked in a corner near the back of the restaurant. They could watch each and every person enter and exit the establishment, but no one could see them without being obvious about it.

The maître d' pulled Narcissa's chair out for her as she sat down, Regulus did the same for Hermione.

Hermione carefully sat in her chair. "Thank you," she said to Regulus.

He smiled at her. "Of course." He sat down in his chair.

"May I interest you in a bottle of one of our goblin-made wines?" The maître d' asked Hermione once she was seated. She frowned, unsure what she was supposed to say.

"Please," Narcissa said to him. "Red if you have it." Drawing his attention to her instead.

"Of course, Lady Malfoy," he said to her. He quickly left the table and headed through the doorway to the kitchen.

Hermione peered at the menu. It was entirely in French. She frowned, she hadn't read or spoken French in years. Not since muggle school.

"Can you read French, Hermione?" Narcissa kindly asked her. She was watching as Hermione's brows furrowed in concentration.

"I haven't looked at it since muggle school," Hermione replied. "It's been a while, for sure."

"They teach you French at muggle school?" Narcissa asked her excitedly.

"Yes," Hermione smiled at her. "It's usually an option when you get older. At least at the school I was at it was like that. But my parents – my muggle parents, I mean – wanted me to learn when I was younger, so I had a tutor. It's easier to learn another language at a younger age apparently."

"That's wonderful," Narcissa said to her. "I had no idea."

The maître d' arrived with their bottle of red wine. He made a show of opening the bottle, watching Hermione as he did so. Hermione raised an eyebrow at Regulus. This was way beyond anything she had ever experienced. She watched as he bit his lip to prevent himself from laughing at her expression.

Narcissa was poured a small sample of wine first. She took a taste and nodded to him, approving of his choice. The maître d' poured everyone a glass.

"May I order for you, Hermione?" Regulus quietly asked her.

"Please," Hermione said to him.

Regulus gave her a miniscule nod of his head, smiling at her. His facial expression quickly changed as he looked to the maître d' with an eyebrow raised, looking cold and intimidating. "Can we have moment before we order?" he asked the man.

The maître d' looked at him with a surprised expression. "Of course, sir." He left the trio's table.

Hermione was watching Regulus with a confused expression. He leaned closer to her, turning his menu so she could read it with him. Narcissa was paying attention to Regulus. "He's trying to impress us. That's why he's doing all the fluff that you see." He quietly said to Hermione.

"Why?" Hermione questioned him.

"Because he wants to be noticed by the House of Black." Narcissa answered her.

"Why?" Hermione asked again.

"Because he's trying to impress me." Regulus answered her this time, grinning.

"Why?" Hermione was confused. What had she missed?

"He wants to court you, Hermione." Narcissa answered her. "He's attempting to show Regulus that he has class. That he's classy enough for you. For the House of Black. He's trying to do it subtly, but is failing." She took a sip of her wine. "That's why he poured my glass of wine first. Why he offered me to taste it first. He's trying to be cautious, but he really doesn't know the protocol." She looked at Hermione with twinkling eyes. "He's supposed to offer it to Regulus first as the Head of the Black Family. He's considered to be higher standing than myself as the Head of the House of Black. That, and I am a Malfoy now. The Malfoy's married up into the Black Family. Not the other way around."

Hermione frowned. "But you were a Black. Why does it matter what your last name is now? Shouldn't we all be the same standing or whatever?" She questioned them, trying to wrap her head around it all.

Regulus shook his head. "No. I'm a "true" Black, is what some would say. My mother and father were both Blacks. Cousins who married each other." Hermione wrinkled her nose in disgust at the obvious inbreeding. Regulus chuckled at her reaction. "The direct line, if you will. Narcissa on the other hand has only one parent who is a Black. She's not considered to be "direct line", her blonde hair illustrates that. That's not a Black characteristic." He paused. "That and she's a woman. That's mostly what people focus on today in the Wizarding world."

Hermione scowled. "What does that have to do with anything?" she whispered furiously, aware of where she was.

Regulus held up his hands, placating her. "It means that the Wizarding world is a patriarchal and somewhat misogynistic society which views women as lesser than men." He looked at her smiling. "A load of shit if you ask me. But most people view women – girls – as weaker, as less desirable as a Head of House. That's why it is rarely, if ever done."

"It's why my parents had three children." Narcissa said to her. "They were trying for boys to carry the name. Most pureblood families only have one or two children if they are males. The heir and the spare at most."

Hermione frowned again, returning to the issue at hand. "I don't want to court anyone. I don't want anyone to court me. I think the practice is archaic." She shuddered.

"I won't force you to do anything, Hermione." Regulus promised her. "You can date whomever you choose to, without the expectation of having to get married." He squeezed her hand in reassurance.

Hermione nodded. "Thank you."

"Just don't accept gifts from men you don't know. Men you don't have a friendship with. Pureblood men especially. It is old tradition to present a witch of their choosing with a gift to begin the courting process." Narcissa informed her. "They know better. They will know you are new to this and will try to use it to their advantage to marry into the family. To gain a better political and social standing for themselves, now that you are not only a Black, but are also considered to be the Brightest Witch of Her Age. You've definitely made a name for yourself, you and Mr. Potter, and Mr. Weasley – any family would gain clout if they married one of you three."

Hermione nodded at her, indicating she was following along. "We didn't do everything though…we had help." She looked to Regulus.

He smiled gently at her. "It's easier to identify few who have saved the Wizarding world, that is Harry, Ron and yourself, than it is to draw attention to everyone who did their part. Harry will always have that attention – whether he wants it or not. He's had it since he was fifteen months old. It's not going away anytime soon."

Hermione understood what he was saying. People were going to hold them all up on a pedestal, whether they wanted it or not. Harry more than the rest of them.

"Now, the meal." Regulus said, changing the topic and peering at the menu in his hands. "Are you okay with lamb, Hermione?" He asked her.

"Yes, I think so." Hermione replied, nodding.

He pointed out a dish for her and explained what it was.

"That sounds delicious." Hermione said to him.

Regulus smiled. "Good. It'll go well with your wine."

"I think I'll go the same thing." Narcissa said to the two. "It does sound delicious."

Regulus signaled to the maître d' that they were ready to order.

...


...

The trio eventually returned to Grimmauld Place after they had slowly finished their lunch.

Regulus and Narcissa had gave her hints and advice on how to behave. Adjusting her posture in her chair, how she held her wine glass. They had said that they majority of the time it wouldn't matter. But if the time came where she was at a public convention, or if she were to be having dinner with special guests, it would do well to know it. She would draw respect from whomever she was with. She would also illustrate to the more pureblood elitist families that her blood didn't matter. She could hold her own with the best of them.

The three of them stepped into the kitchen, and stopped as they spotted Draco, Theo, Luna, Harry and Ron sitting at the table. Draco was holding a letter.

"Mother," Draco said to Narcissa as she entered the room. "Where have you been?" he questioned her, frowning.

Narcissa waved him off. "We went out for lunch, Draco. Regulus and I walked Hermione through some things that she will need to expect and be comfortable with in the future." She paused, noticing the letter in her son's hand. "What is that you're holding?"

"The Ministry sent notice," Draco began. He looked once again at the letter. "Father's trial begins the first week of July."

Chapter Text

The first week of July saw both Draco and Narcissa visiting the Wizengamot everyday as the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Ministry proceeded through Lucius Malfoy's trial. It was now the last day of his trial. The closing arguments had been said. The Wizengamot had to decide what to do with the Death Eater. Regulus and Hermione were waiting quietly in the Library of Grimmauld Place. Harry and Theo were with them. Luna had gone back home with her father, who had been released from St. Mungo's care the day prior.

"What do you think will happen?" Harry asked the room, breaking the silence.

Theo shrugged. "He was a Death Eater…he can't deny that. He did support the Dark…V-Voldemort pretty much up until he was sent to Azkaban the first time…at the end of our fifth year." He looked up from his book at Harry. "Draco wants him to go to Azkaban to rot. He blames his father for a lot of what he and his mother went through."

Regulus hummed. "Narcissa feels the same way as Draco." He told the room quietly. "They had the opportunity to run, and probably would have succeeded, but Lucius refused, forcing the Malfoy Family to stay where they were. Narcissa blames him entirely for Draco being marked the summer before his sixth year." He hesitated. "Narcissa put up with a lot as well. She had never been marked. Having Voldemort living in the Malfoy home brought a lot of attention to her. His more ardent supporters found it insulting that she wouldn't take the dark mark. They found ways to take it out on her. Verbally…or otherwise." He finished quietly, frowning.

Hermione was quiet in thought. "If she was getting harassed by his supporters, by his followers…what happened to her when she let us all go that day at Malfoy Manor?" She questioned the room, looking at Regulus carefully. "Did she have to pay for that? For us escaping or whatever she told them?"

Regulus hesitated. He gave her a subtle nod. "Yeah. Yeah she did." He frowned again. "Remember when I told you I needed to communicate with her over the mirror to get Rabastan's hair to break into the Lestrange Family Vault?" He questioned her.

Hermione nodded slowly. "Of course I remember…what happened to her?" She was looking at him with huge, worried eyes.

"She had bruises on her body when I saw her through the mirror that first time afterwards." He quietly said to her.

"Where?" Harry asked him. "Where were the bruises?" He was slowly putting together what Regulus was trying not to say to the room.

"Her neck." Regulus said quietly. "Her neck was bruised, her lip was swollen and cracked. And she had a swollen, black eye. Like she had been beaten by someone."

"No." Theo said quietly to himself. He looked up at Hermione, frowning. He turned to Regulus. "Hand prints around her neck? Like she had been choked?" He asked him, already knowing the answer.

Regulus nodded, looking at Theo carefully.

"What a fucking bastard," Theo said to the room.

Hermione gasped, bringing her hand to her mouth, understanding what Theo and Regulus weren't saying to the rest of them.

"Who's the fucking bastard?" Harry asked Theo and Hermione. Looking between the pair of him.

"My father." Theo ground out. "He did the same thing to my mother. That's how he killed her. He fucking choked her to death."

Regulus cleared his throat. "He was known for doing that to women, young women when I was a Death Eater with him, back in the day. He had a reputation for being…rough with women."

"For being an 'abusive fuck' is what you're looking for, Regulus," Theo said to him crassly. "No point in sugar coating it. He's dead, he won't take any offense to it anymore."

"What did Lucius do?" Harry asked the room, disgusted by what Narcissa had been through because of letting them go. "Did he protect her? Did he try?"

Theo snorted. "He fucking hid, Harry. The only thing that man cares about is protecting his own skin. He's not brave like you Gryffindors. He fucking hid in the manor somewhere as his wife was beaten…and who knows what else by his comrades. Draco helped her. He tried to at least. He tried to help his mum. Protect his mum."

Hermione frowned. "Why was Narcissa worried about where they would take him before his trial then?" She asked Regulus. "At Hogwarts, after the Battle, she wanted to make sure Lucius was safe from the other Death Eaters in Azkaban awaiting trial. Why would she care about that?"

Regulus looked away from Theo and peered over at her. "A few reasons," he began. "Firstly, she doesn't want him to get killed because of her actions. When Harry jumped up alive after she told Voldemort and the Death Eaters that he was dead, she put Lucius' – and her and Draco's - life at risk. Secondly, she's a Black…she is very…" he hesitated, looking for the right word. "Unforgiving. Lucius getting killed right as he got sent to Azkaban to await his trial, is kind of the easy way out. Not saying she wants him to suffer…but she certainly wants him to pay for his mistakes. To pay for his actions that he's taken. He has hurt his family a lot. He has put them through a lot. Lucius loves power. The Malfoy Family loves power – they did historically, at least. His greed, his need to have more power hurt them. She figures him having her, a Black, should have been enough power. But he wanted more."

Regulus paused again, thinking. "Thirdly, Narcissa cares a lot about appearances, Hermione. You've seen this. The designer clothes, high heels that you could barely walk in, where we went for lunch that one day. How and where she picked out your new outfits. Appearance is everything to her. Her not sticking by Lucius' side – in public at least – looks bad in her eyes. It's why she and Draco have been at his trial every single day. To look like the perfect family. Behind closed doors is another matter entirely. They've barely spoken to each other in the last few years. Draco is her everything. Lucius is her spouse – her arranged marriage. There is no love lost there between them."

Hermione frowned. "That's actually really sad," she said softly to the room.

Regulus smiled sadly at her. "It's tradition, Hermione."

Theo spoke up. "Most traditional Pureblood marriages are entirely arranged, Hermione. It's seen as a business opportunity. A political move, that sort of thing. It's all most traditional Purebloods know."

Harry frowned. "Does that mean Draco has an arranged marriage waiting for him?"

Regulus nodded. "Yeah…I'm trying to talk Narcissa out of it. Lucius arranged it with the Parkinson Family when Draco was first born. She is seeing that it may be a good thing to get rid of. But who knows." He shrugged a little to himself.

Theo snorted, chuckling. "Draco is not Pansy's type. I can assure you."

"But didn't they go to the Yule Ball in fourth year together? Didn't they date, or court or whatever, after that? Up until, what…fifth or sixth year?" Hermione asked the room.

"Yep." Theo said with a pop. "It was what was expected of them. They broke up middle of sixth year."

"Why?" Harry questioned.

"Pansy wasn't attracted to Draco, she realised." Theo said. "She tried "dating" other guys." He used air quotations, trying to sugar coat what he was trying to say. "Me for a bit. She wasn't attracted to me either." Theo looked at Hermione, pointedly. Trying to give her a hint. "She likes women, Hermione."

Hermione's eyes grew.

"She figured out she was attracted to women and not to guys, the middle of her sixth year." Theo paused, frowning. "She had dated Tracey Davis for a bit, in secret. No one knew accept me, Draco, Blaise and Pansy and Tracey." He looked at the occupants of the room carefully. "Don't tell anyone else, alright? No one else knows. Not her parents. Not anyone else. I really shouldn't have said anything about it. It wasn't my place to say anything."

Hermione frowned. "But she's been dealing with Tracey's death all by herself. That's awful."

"No," Theo began. "She is with Blaise, me and Draco quite a bit. She isn't alone in her grief, Hermione. That's where we are most of the time when we aren't here. We are with her." He paused. "They weren't even dating anymore when Tracey was killed. They'd broken up at the start of seventh year. They were better off as friends they figured."

"Is homosexuality a common thing in the magical world?" Hermione asked Regulus and Theo. "Is it considered to be deviant or wrong? I know it can be viewed that way in muggle society by some people."

"It's probably about the same." Regulus said to her. "Some families are non-supporting. Others are." He shrugged. "It just depends."

Theo nodded in agreement. "Marriage is seen as a way to produce Heirs. You can't produce Heirs if you're with someone of the same sex as you, can you?"

The occupants heard the front door open and close. Steps coming up the stairs of the house towards them.

Regulus had a hand on his wand, waiting. Watching the door.

Draco and Narcissa popped into the room and spotted them all sitting around in a circle.

"Eight years." Draco said to the room as he plopped down on a chair by the group.

"He didn't get a life sentence?" Regulus said surprised. "They're still trying to protect him from the Death Eaters locked up. What did they convict him of?" Regulus asked Narcissa, watching as she settled gently into another seat.

"Conspiracy. Coercion. Knowingly colluding with known lawbreakers – from him providing…Him…with a place to stay. Him and some of the Death Eaters who had nowhere to live. Bribery. Forcing his son into taking the Dark Mark. Knowingly housing dark artifacts for malicious purposes." She paused taking a breath. "They went easy on him because he hadn't a wand for the last year or so. They could have sent him there for life. But he apparently gave them a lot of information on suspected supporters. Financiers and sympathizers to the cause that weren't necessarily marked. They had no evidence that Lucius committed murder. His wand was destroyed by…Him." She said. "They've taken a lot out of the Manor as evidence."

Narcissa looked to Draco, lovingly. "They've stripped Lucius from having say over the Malfoy Family. Stripped him of his Head privileges. It's all Draco's now. For whenever he's ready."

"They can do that?" Theo asked the room. "They can strip someone of their Head of House powers. Their influence?"

"Apparently so," Narcissa replied. "It is an ancient law that has rarely, if ever, been enforced. If the Head of House is viewed as being detrimental to the survival of his house, his family, the Ministry has the right to assign someone else in the family the position." She looked to Theo. "I am sure it was created with the intention to further propagate pureblood ideals, but it never actually specified that. Minister Shacklebolt and the Wizengamot used it to their advantage."

"Good for them," Regulus said quietly to her and Draco. Narcissa nodded in agreement.

"We will be able to go back to Malfoy Manor now that everything is done with Lucius. They've gotten all the evidence they need for the other Death Eaters still awaiting trials." She said to him.

Regulus nodded. "You are more than welcome to stay here for as long as you wish to. I'm not going to kick you out, Narcissa."

She gave him a smile. "I know that." She paused. "We can't stay here forever though. We need to get our affairs sorted. Before Draco heads back to Hogwarts to get his NEWT levels." She looked at Draco deliberately.

"Yes mother," Draco said quietly to the room, rolling his eyes.

Regulus chuckled.

"Did you want to come with us, Theodore?" Narcissa asked him. "When we do eventually leave here in the next few days."

Theo hesitated, looking at Regulus. "Can I stay here?" He asked him. He took a quick peek at Hermione, before focusing his eyes on Regulus. Trying to look innocent.

Regulus smirked at him, knowing why he wanted to stay behind. "That's fine, Theodore." He grinned. "You can stay here for as long as you want. Well…until classes start again at least." He paused. "I don't want to be here any longer than I need to be with everyone here. I like my home better than this place and will be moving back there once everyone has left."

"But won't you be living at Hogwarts when you're teaching?" Hermione asked him, clueless about the subtle exchange between Theo and Regulus.

"Yes." Regulus said to her. "I meant afterwards, Hermione. I'm not spending Winter Break here. Or the next summer when I'm not teaching. This place has too much history for me."

Regulus turned to look at Harry. "Have you given more thought about Godric's Hollow?" He asked him.

"Yeah," Harry replied. "I think I'll figure out a way to fix it up and move in once I'm done schooling. I don't mind rooming at The Burrow after I'm done Hogwarts for a bit."

Hermione frowned. "But what will happen here?" she questioned Regulus.

He shrugged. "I'll fix this place up, too." He told her. "It needs to be brought into the current century at least." He chuckled. "It's a bit dark for my tastes. The severed elf heads aren't really my thing."

Draco chuckled loudly. "Fuck man. Those things give me nightmares." He rubbed his face and shivered. "What are you going to do Theo when you're done your NEWTs, where are you going to go?"

Theo grimaced. "I'll need to hire some curse breakers to go through Nott Manor. Father liked his traps for non-Nott people. His paranoia was second to the Black Family." He looked to Regulus. "No offence, Regulus."

Regulus snorted. "None taken."

The group continued talking with each other throughout the afternoon about their long-term plans for themselves. They made their way downstairs toward the kitchen for a spot of dinner, when they heard a loud crash come from within the room.

Regulus reached for his wand in his pocket and barrelled through the doorway ahead of everyone else.

Hermione stepped into the room not far behind him and spotted Regulus kneeling on the floor trying to console Kreacher who was apologizing profusely to him. A pot had tipped onto the floor from the stove, spilling most of its contents all over the floor.

Hermione quickly cleaned the food off of the floor and reset the pot on the stove. She peered into the pot, spotting the stew that had not been spilled.

Harry peered into the pot standing next to her. "I can cook stew." He said to Hermione. "I have no idea how to do it the magical way, with all those tricks that Mrs. Weasley has. But I do know how to do it the muggle way." He pointed to the left over stew in the pot. "I can work with this, Hermione." He said to her quietly.

Hermione nodded to him. "I think he's too old. He can't do all this anymore, Harry." She was watching Kreacher as he was grasping Regulus shirt.

"Kreacher," Regulus was speaking softly to him. "I'm not going to behead you. You just dropped the pot. It's not a big deal, alright?"

"Kreacher is tired, Master Regulus. Kreacher is getting weaker. Older," the elf gasped quietly to his master. "Kreacher's magic isn't strong all the time anymore."

Regulus nodded at his elf. He hesitated. "Kreacher…what if I got another elf to help you out here?" He looked at his elf, questioningly. "I have an elf at the house I was staying at…after the cave. She would love to help you out here, Kreacher. You wouldn't have to do everything. Just when your magic is strong enough. How does that sound to you?" Regulus asked.

The old elf looked down at the floor. "If that is what Master Regulus thinks is best."

"How about I get Susan to come here tomorrow morning, Kreacher?" Regulus asked his elf. "You both can work out a plan for who does what. You don't have to do everything. You both can share duties."

The old elf nodded. "Kreacher finds that acceptable Master Regulus."

Regulus smiled at Kreacher. "Good." He said. "Now…I insist that you take the rest of the night off. Harry and Hermione will cook us dinner and we can clean up after ourselves when we are done."

Kreacher hesitated, about to argue with Regulus.

"That's an order, Kreacher." Regulus said to him forcefully, but smiling. "Take the night off."

Kreacher nodded to him and headed towards his cupboard for some rest.

"Dinner will be delayed a bit, everyone." Harry said to the group of people in the kitchen who had been watching the proceedings. "Give me about an hour or so."

"I'll make some tea while we wait," Hermione said to the room.

Harry got to work chopping vegetables the muggle way. Regulus watching him closely.

"Does this bring back memories?" Regulus asked Harry, thinking of what he had told him about the Dursley's.

Harry snorted as he added chopped potatoes to the pot. "I actually kind of like everyone here. So this is far different from what I'm used to."

Regulus gave a huff of laughter. "Did you need me to help with anything?"

Harry hummed. "I don't know any household spells…is there a way to speed this up? Or will it take time to cook?" He looked to Regulus as he grabbed some carrots to chop up. "I don't mind preparing everything, but stew generally needs to simmer for a while. To gain flavour and tenderise, so I've learned over the years."

Regulus nodded. "I know of a couple that should work once you're ready."

Harry nodded as he added the carrots to the pot on the stove.

Thirty minutes later the groups was tucking into their dinner.

"This is delicious, Mr. Potter." Narcissa said to him as she took a bite of her stew. "Did your family teach you how to do this?" She asked him, curious about the answer.

Harry gave her a small smile and a nod. "Uh…yeah. My aunt and uncle had me cook quite often for them and my cousin, Dudley."

Theo snorted. "They named their kid Dudley?" He looked at Harry. "Is that a normal muggle name? It sounds strange to me."

Harry smiled. "He got his friends, his gang, to call him Big D."

Draco burst out laughing.

"Draco," Narcissa hissed at him. "You're being rude."

Draco snickered to himself as he helped himself to some more stew.

"Is it normal for muggle families to cook for themselves, Harry?" Narcissa asked him, smiling politely. "Did you do it all together as a family?" She peered over to him, waiting for him to respond.

Harry rubbed his neck, self-conscious. "Um…no. I did it all. Up until I left for Hogwarts, at least. I did it in the summer break quite often as well, when I was back there."

Regulus was watching as Narcissa and Hermione frowned.

"You were eleven when you left for Hogwarts, Harry." Hermione said to him. "How long had you been cooking for your aunt and uncle and cousin?"

Harry paused. "Since I was four." He looked down. "I've been cooking since I was four, Hermione." He took a bite of stew. Watching as Hermione was looking at him with huge eyes. "It is fine, Hermione. It's done."

Narcissa was looking at Regulus as he gave a miniscule nod of his head. "Well," she said quietly to the table. "Thank you, Harry for this lovely meal."

Harry smiled. "It's no problem, I'm happy to help out."

...


...

"How is your reading coming along, Hermione?" A voice called out to Hermione as she was focusing on her book.

She looked up from the Black history book peering at Regulus. "It's alright." She frowned. "It's quite dark. Some of the stuff in here."

Regulus nodded in agreement. "You don't have to push yourself to read the whole thing right away, Hermione." He paused. "It's one of those things that could take years. It did for me."

"I know…I just feel like a have a lot to catch up on." Hermione said to him. "I feel like I am behind everyone who has these things to read. I really don't like falling behind. I don't like not knowing something."

Regulus closed the door to the library.

"I can teach you some things. Give you some history if you want." He frowned at himself. "I should have been doing this earlier. I shouldn't just have you reading this thing." He nodded towards the book in her arms.

Hermione closed the book and placed it on the table beside her chaise lounge.

"The House of Black is known for their love of Dark Magic." Hermione said to him. Prompting him.

Regulus nodded. "Not only their love of Dark Magic, but their skill in it as well." He sat down across from her. "It's how the name started. Black. It emphasized the importance of the Dark Arts to the family. Their skill."

"Why would the Black Family be so skilled in Dark Magic?" Hermione asked him. "That's what I don't understand. How did it happen? Did it start off dark? Was it always dark?"

Regulus frowned. "For some reason, the members of the family have always been really skilled in that type of magic. It was their niche, if you will. Some people are exceptional at Transfiguration. Some at Potions. The Black Family in everything dark." He paused. "Dark Magic tends to take more energy than Light Magic. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone can do it as well and as consistent as members of the House of Black. Some people can't do Dark Magic at all. It means nothing about their skill as a witch or wizard. Just that they are unable to perform that particular type of magic."

"Dark Magic generally needs a mature magical core for it to work properly for most people." Regulus said to her. "That's why it isn't taught anymore at Hogwarts. It used to be, back in the day. But they found that it might actually be damaging young witches and wizards. Damaging their core development. They stopped teaching it. They changed the course to Defence Against the Dark Arts. To protect against it."

Hermione was nodding, she had read that in Hogwarts: A History.

"The Black family is known for…was known for their skills, their abilities in that art, so to speak." Regulus began. "I think it's related to breeding, to blood…if you look at the Olivander Family, they are known for their skill in wand lore. In wand manufacturing. The Weasley Family and the Prewett Family in their abilities to have large families, among other things." He looked to Hermione. "That's a rarity in the Magical world. Having children is difficult on a witch. That's one of the reasons why most families have only one or two children. It takes too much out of the witch. It can mess with her magic."

Hermione frowned. "But wouldn't inbreeding affect one's ability to have children as well?" She asked her father. "That's had to play a part in a witch's ability as well."

Regulus nodded in agreement. "Absolutely. It's definitely played a roll. Purebloods are becoming sterile because of how closely related their families are."

"So…why don't pureblood families marry Muggleborns, or Half-Bloods? It would probably help with the infertility." Hermione told him.

Regulus smiled. "True…but does that make it so the family is no longer good at their craft? If the Black Family married muggles and Muggleborns and Half-Bloods, does that mean their skills in Dark Magic get weaker?" He asked her. "Does it dilute their abilities?" He looked at Hermione. "A Family's skill in something is often their entire identity, Hermione. The fear in this family was that they would just be like everyone else in regard to their abilities in Dark Magic. They would no longer be special. They'd lose their entire identity if they bred outside the Pureblood circles...outside the Black Family." Regulus paused, gathering his thoughts. "Now, I know that the inbreeding and the paranoia has mutated a lot of the thinking in this family, in regards to abilities. In regards to magic. Do I personally think that if the Black Family bred outside the Family we'd lose everything unique about us? No, not necessarily." He looked at Hermione. "In all honesty, it's probably for the better. At least overall. Generations down the road may not have the ability to perform Dark Magic as well as past members, or at all…but maybe that's not such a bad thing."

Hermione frowned. "Would you say me being a Half-Blood has affected my skill as a witch? As a member of the Black Family?" She asked him, wanting to know the answer.

Regulus smiled. "No." He said to Hermione. "I think you are extremely skilled in your abilities as a witch, Hermione. As a Half-Blood witch." He looked pointedly at Hermione. "You are extremely skilled in Dark Magic as well, Hermione."

Hermione gasped at him. "What are you talking about? I haven't done anything dark."

Regulus was looking at her with his eyebrows raised in disbelief. "You killed a man with Snape's Sectumsempra curse, Hermione. The first time you used it. You killed someone with the entrails expelling curse the first time you used it. That is rare." He paused, taking a breath. "Harry used the same curse that you did on Rabastan, on Draco, Hermione. He hurt him, absolutely. He didn't kill him. Draco had serious, but mostly superficial injuries. Anyone with skill in healing could have healed him in time. Snape just happened to be close by. You killed Rabastan almost instantly, Hermione. Narcissa said he was gone in less than a minute. Those at the Manor couldn't move quickly enough."

Hermione frowned. "I don't want to be a dark witch. I don't want to be good at that," she said quietly. "It scares me. Being good at that."

"I know…and that's okay." Regulus said to her. Hermione watched as Regulus got up and sat next to her. "I don't want you to be a dark witch either." He said as he put his arm around her.

"I have another question." Hermione muttered into Regulus' shoulder as he held her.

"Hmmm," he said. "And what would that be?"

"How did the Black Family gain so much influence in the past?" Hermione asked him. "I am assuming they didn't use Dark Magic to get stuff done. To control people. Government."

"Well…I am sure some of the things done was the result of Dark Magic. Imperiusing someone in the Ministry." Regulus said to her. "But, no. You're right. Mostly they gained influence through other ways." He removed his arm from her shoulder. "If you remember the Family Tree, the Tapestry, you can see that the Black Family is related to almost every single Pureblood family out there. The Black Family married into other families to gain influence, to gain power. Control."

Hermione looked at Regulus. Frowning.

"If you think about it. You get married, your Father-in-Law tells you about an idea he had. You humour him, he is your Father-in-Law. It's not like you can just blow him off, tell him his ideas are shit. He asks for a favour. You're trying to make a good impression. You grant him the favour. He meets with someone in a position of power. They bounce ideas off of each other. Laws get passed." Regulus shrugged. "Or…you're terrified of something happening. Your children getting taken away by someone in the family. You follow along with them so you don't ruffle any feathers. You don't lose something dear to you."

Hermione nodded. "Like having ones fingers in a lot of pies."

"Exactly." Regulus responded.

"It sounds like the mafia." Hermione quipped.

Regulus chuckled. "It sounds like how Voldemort gained power initially. Having his fingers in a whole bunch of pies. Favours he called. Questions he had for some families. Knowledge that he had no right to know about. Blackmail."

Hermione was nodding. "Is that why he had so many members of the Black Family in his ranks? Blackmail?"

Regulus hesitated. "Yes and no. He liked the Black Family because of their knowledge about the Dark Arts. Our skill in it. I think it was similar to the knowledge that the Gaunt Family had in the Art, at least historically. I know my parents were open supporters of his. Of his love for Dark Magic. I know Narcissa's parents were the same. I know that my mother refused to tell him some things about the family. Some secrets. They were in school together. At Hogwarts at the same time. All he really knew about the Black Family was their skill in Dark Magic. Nothing else. He was honestly clueless about anything to do with the history of the family." He looked at Hermione. "I know that when I got marked. When I got branded by him, mother told me to never allow him to see our magic book. To see the spells invented by the Black Family – they're old, some of them are dark, and most of them are dangerous if done incorrectly. But also, not all of them are necessarily for use. They are just invented by a family member out of curiosity. For theoretical purposes. That was a line he could never cross according to her."

Hermione nodded. "That makes sense. You have to have your secrets, you can't lay everything bare."

Regulus nodded. "Everyone has their secrets."

...


...

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY!" Hermione and the others yelled out.

All of the Weasley's, Regulus, Hermione, Theo and the Lupin's were standing in Harry's bedroom. Watching as he jumped out of bed in surprise.

He was wearing only his pajama bottoms, resulting in Ginny, Hermione, Tonks, Fleur, and Fred and George waving ten pound notes at him. Hermione had picked them up the day prior for everyone to use.

"Aaaah," Harry said, attempting to hide from everyone.

Ginny grabbed his glasses on the bedside table for him and placed them on his face. Once that was done, she grabbed his face and gave him a kiss on the lips. She pulled back grinning. "Happy Birthday Harry," She said quietly to him, smiling. Pulling him in for a hug.

"Well, now that the birthday boy is up he needs a spot of breakfast." Molly said to the room. "You have ten minutes to get down to the kitchen, Harry dear. Susan is waiting."

Hermione watched as Harry was beet red.

"Thanks everyone," he said to the room, looking around desperately for a t-shirt.

The people in the room collectively chuckled and began to exit the room, allowing for Harry to get dressed in peace.

Minutes later Harry appeared in the kitchen, dressed and more awake than he had been previously. Hermione watched as his eyes bulged taking in all the food on the table.

"Susan," Harry said desperately. "You didn't have to make this much."

"Nonsense Misters Harry," the little elf toddled over to him. "It's yous birthday." She guided him towards an empty chair at the table and lightly pushed him down. "Sit. Susan gets yous your breakfast."

The table was full of people. Smiling as Harry tucked himself in at his spot.

He grinned at Hermione. "I'm going to get you back for the ten pound notes, Hermione."

Hermione snickered. "How'd you know it was me? That it was my idea? It could've been Tonks you know…she knows muggle stuff."

Tonks bellowed laughing. "Barely, Hermione. Nice try in deflecting the blame."

Hermione pursed her lips, trying to fight back a grin. "So you'll get me back, will you?" She asked Harry, lifting a brow as a challenge.

"Yep," Harry said, sipping his orange juice. "Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But I promise you…I will get you back one day."

Remus was chuckling next to Tonks. Eyes bright. "You better be careful, Hermione. He sounds like his dad did when Sirius pulled a fast one over on him."

Hermione crinkled her nose, fighting a grin. "I'll be on the lookout then, I suppose." She dug into her pancakes, savouring the delicious taste.

...


...

Later that day the occupants of Grimmauld Place made their way over to The Burrow for Harry's birthday dinner. Mrs. Weasley insisted that everyone come, it was tradition to have it there.

Everyone was sitting outside in the back yard at the elongated table they had used previous years, laughing and joking with each other.

It was dark out and beginning to cool down drastically from the lack of sunlight. Hermione, shivered pulling her light sweater closer around her torso in a futile attempt to keep warm.

Harry had already given his flannel shirt for Ginny to wear, he was left with just a long sleeve top, but had huddled closer to Ginny in an attempt to share body heat.

Hermione looked over at her father sitting a ways down the table, chatting with Andromeda and Molly. Tonks and Remus had left earlier in the evening, Teddy needed his sleep. Regulus turned his head slightly and spotted Hermione, he gave her a smile as he took a sip of wine.

Arms brushed her back suddenly. Hermione jerked her head around, trying to figure out who was touching her. Theo was standing behind her, his light jacket in his hands.

"Here," he said quietly to her. "You're shivering." He placed his jacket over her shoulders and sat down next to her. He smiled at her. "Better?"

Hermione laughed lightly. "Yeah actually. Your jacket is warm." She pulled his coat tighter around her torso and tucked her arms into his sleeves. It was huge on her. She had to pull the sleeves up to set her hands free. "Thank you," she said to him. Smiling.

Theo grinned. "Anytime."

"If you were cold 'Mione you could have just asked." Ron said loudly from across the table, still bundled in his sweater.

"Oh it's alright Ron. I don't mind wearing Theo's jacket." Hermione said to him. She looked around the table, and made eye contact with Ginny who winked at her and toasted her glass of wine.

Hermione blushed, thankful that it was dark out.

"You looking forward to going back to Hogwarts, Hermione?" Theo asked her quietly.

"Very," Hermione said to him. "I can't wait." She turned to look at him smiling shyly.

"Me neither." Theo said with a twinkle in his eye as he took a sip of wine. He placed his arm on the back of her chair and started talking to her about the upcoming school year.

Chapter Text

The morning of August 1st saw Hermione and the others sitting quietly at the kitchen table, munching away at their almost finished breakfast.

The day Narcissa and Draco left for Malfoy Manor back in July, Regulus informed everyone there that breakfast would not be served at promptly seven thirty in the morning. Nine o'clock was more his time of choice. It also wasn't mandatory.

A tapping at the kitchen window alerted the occupants of mail.

Regulus quickly got up, beating Hermione to the window, and let the two owls inside. He retrieved the letter attached to the first owl, giving it some bacon as thanks, watching it fly away. The second owl had multiple letters attached to its leg. Regulus carefully retrieved them as well and allowed the owl to also grab a piece of bacon before it left.

Regulus took the stack of mail, searching for who it was addressed to. He took the first letter and handed it to Theo and then handed both Hermione and Harry their letters. He had one of his own as well.

The Hogwarts booklists had arrived.

"Oh," Hermione said quietly as she pulled open her letter. Regulus watched as she was checking the envelope for something else. Something more.

Hermione frowned to herself and unfolded her letter to read.

Dear Ms. Hermione Black

As an Eighth Year student returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry I must inform you of certain rules in place in regard to the Prefect and Head Student requirements. Unfortunately, only students between Fifth Year and Seventh Year have the ability to become prefect and/or Head Girl or Boy. This has nothing to do with your abilities as a student. The rule is in place to allow current students between Fifth Year and Seventh Year an equal chance, without having competition with more students than usual. I highly recommend that you use this extra time you will now have to focus on your studies. NEWT Level courses are incredibly challenging for all students. Use the time you have wisely.

Sincerely,

Headmistress Minerva McGonagall

Hermione nodded to herself and looked up at her father who was watching her.

"Is everything alright, Hermione?" He asked her with a concerned look on his face.

"Yes." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "I haven't made Head Girl or Prefect because I'm an eighth year student now. Only students who are between fifth year and seventh year are allowed to be chosen."

"Same for quidditch captain, apparently." Harry said to her. "Although I can still play on the team if I get chosen by the current quidditch captain."

Regulus nodded, still watching Hermione.

Hermione frowned a bit more and looked down at the table, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.

She sniffed. "But…Head Girl is all I've ever wanted. It means a lot to me and to potential employers. I feel like I'm being punished because I went back to school."

"Hermione," Regulus said softly. "Head Girl or Prefect means very little outside of school. Sure it can show that you have exceptional leadership skills and time management skills, depending on your grades. But that's it. You don't need to have a badge to prove it."

Hermione looked up from the table and turned her head to Regulus frowning at what he was saying.

"Think about what you and Harry, and Ron did this past year you guys were away from school. You worked together as a group, figured out how to destroy a horcrux – which is incredibly difficult to figure out or to find information on. You both kept your heads enough with the horcrux in close proximity to you. You didn't get caught when that thing was there around you. You didn't get hurt when that thing was there around you. You had a plan – abet a vague one – and you stuck to it. You kept your head. That says more about leadership and mental acuity than any silly badge does." Regulus paused. "You don't need a badge to prove to people you are brilliant, Hermione. You don't need a badge to prove to employers that they should hire you. Everything that you've done from your first year at Hogwarts to today has already done that for you. You'll have no problem finding a career of your choosing."

Hermione nodded hesitantly to him. "You think so?"

Regulus nodded. "Yes, I do." He paused. "How about you take a look at the rest of your letter. What do we need to get this year?"

Hermione returned focus to her letter, still clutched in her hand, and removed the top piece of parchment. The second page had a list of books to buy for her classes. As well as a requirement for students to purchase a dress and/or dress robes. Finally, it had the note that students completing their education must purchase a graduation gown and hat to wear during the graduation ceremony.

"I need a dress as well as a graduation gown," Hermione looked up at Regulus. "Why? What's going on?"

Regulus smiled at her. "There is a Yule Ball this year before everyone leaves for Winter Break. The other professors insisted on it." He looked at Hermione. "They want to emphasize unity between the students. They want the students to be students, to be kids. This is a way to do it in a fun way for most people."

"The only Yule Ball we had before was during the Triwizard Tournament," Harry said to him. "I didn't find that fun at all."

Theo started chuckling. "You looked terrified, Harry. Before you and the other champions started dancing."

Regulus was chuckling too. "They try to have a Ball at the school every couple of years usually. I think I went to two or three of them when I was a student there. It's not a requirement, but it's a good thing to go to. Especially if you think you'll be going to events in the future. It is good practise to get comfortable with some stuff."

"Is that your subtle way of telling me I have to go?" Hermione asked him, with an eyebrow raised.

"There was nothing subtle about that Hermione, but yes. You'll have to go. I insist, this time." Regulus looked to Harry. "You should go as well, Harry. You'll definitely have events to go to. Families will invite you constantly, since you defeated Voldemort, to their parties and balls. The Ministry as well."

Harry nodded in acceptance.

"When can we go to Diagon Alley to get our books and everything?" Hermione asked Regulus. "I need to get a start on my reading, I don't want to fall behind."

Regulus shrugged. "We can go today if you want to." He answered her. "I'm getting sick and tired of going over my lesson plans and second guessing what I'm doing. I may as well get what I need to teach you guys."

Hermione nodded. "You should ask Ginny to come, Harry." Harry nodded at her. "You and Theo can get your dress robes, and Ginny and I can get our dresses while we are there. Before it gets too busy with back-to-school shopping."

Regulus nodded. "That sounds like a plan. We can make it a day event, I suppose. Go for lunch while we are there."

Hermione looked to Theo. "Is that alright that I invited you to come with us? I don't want to overstep my place. Maybe you'd want to go with Draco or Pansy or Blaise. I shouldn't have assumed." Hermione frowned to herself.

Theo chuckled. "I would love to come with all of you, Hermione." He paused. "Even if Draco and Pansy and Blaise go another day, I can still go with them, it's not a big deal."

"I'll floo Ginny and see if she can make it today," Harry said to the room. "Give me a couple of minutes."

Harry got up and left the room.

Hermione looked at the booklist, her mind thrumming with anticipation for the upcoming year. "Two books for defence?" she asked Regulus.

Regulus nodded as he sipped his coffee. "I have to teach the seventh years the six year defence course before we can start on the seventh year stuff. And those who missed a year, the eighth years, I need to re-teach everything. Or at least brush up on some things. Snape didn't do the best of jobs either. Although he was better than anyone else, except for Remus with course content." Regulus sipped his coffee. "It's going to be a really intense course. I think four or five hours per week of class time is needed to get everyone prepared for their NEWT exam. I'll know more during the staff meeting the week before classes start."

Hermione frowned. "How long will you take to reteach the sixth year stuff?"

Regulus grinned. "A month and a half…two at the most. I'm just doing the important things that tie into the seventh year curriculum. A bit of theory that needs to be done, and then practical applications for certain spells that will tie into the more advanced spellwork."

The floo was heard roaring to life. Moments later Harry stepped back into the kitchen.

"Ginny will come," He smiled at Hermione. "Mrs. Weasley is coming too. It's the last year she will get to do it, so she wants to be there." Harry paused. "They're just finishing up breakfast. Ron will come too. He needs some clothes for when he begins his training next week."

Hermione nodded to him. She looked down at her shorts and T-shirt and looked back up at her father. "Is this appropriate enough? Or do I need to get changed into something else?"

Regulus waved her off. "It's fine." He finished his cup of coffee. "This isn't an official outing for you. This is just back to school shopping."

"Narcissa said to treat every outing like an official outing, like I was being judged." Hermione informed him as she sipped her tea.

"And do I look like Narcissa, Hermione?" Regulus asked her cheekily. "Remember what I said: if you offend someone that is their problem, not yours. It's the summer. It's hot out already. It would be ridiculous to wear anything more than you are."

The floo roared to life again. Soon afterwards the kitchen door swung open. Ginny, Molly and Ron stepped into the room, greeting the occupants.

"I'm quidditch captain!" Ginny roared to the room, Molly rolled her eyes and pursed her lips in disappointment.

"Thought I should let everyone know." Ginny grinned mischievously at the occupants of Grimmauld Place, ignoring her mother. "I wonder who I'll pick for seeker." She tapped her chin in thought. "I may have to hold try-outs for the position. You could be a bit rusty, Potter."

Harry chuckled.

The group quickly made their way out of the kitchen and headed towards Diagon Alley.

...


...

After a quick trip to the various vaults the group was ready to start their shopping.

"I need to get a new broom," Harry said to the group. "And an owl." He frowned, remembering Hedwig. "I'm going to start there, if that's alright. I'll meet you at Flourish and Blotts when I'm done."

Ron said he'd go with Harry.

Regulus, Molly, Hermione, Ginny and Theo stepped into Flourish and Blotts in search of their textbooks for the upcoming year.

Hermione inhaled deeply. She loved this store. The smell of new books awakened her senses. The smell of parchment and ink wafting through the store. Peace. Chatter could be heard quietly throughout the store. They had beaten the rush of students.

She turned to look at Regulus, smiling, and took off with Ginny and Theo towards the subjects they would be studying for their final year.

"She seems happy," Molly said to Regulus as they slowly walked through the store.

"She is, I think." Regulus responded. He found talking to Molly to be slightly uncomfortable. He knew she didn't approve of him. He was a Black and a former Death Eater. He knew she was judging him critically. Probably rightfully so.

"You know," Molly started. "My son Ron used to really fancy her. I thought they'd get married in the future. I thought she'd be a Weasley one day. I suppose you wouldn't think a Weasley is good enough for her now that she's a Black."

Regulus stopped abruptly and turned to look at her. "Ron being a Weasley has nothing to do with me thinking he's not good enough for her, Molly. What I do have a problem with, however, is this: he sure has an odd way of showing someone that he fancies her." He stated bluntly. "I mean, insulting one's intelligence repeatedly, ridiculing someone for taking their education seriously is a strange way to show you fancy someone, is it not?" He asked her coolly. "Also the fact that he reduced her to tears in her fourth year because she happened to get a date to the Yule Ball, and happened to have a good time at it away from him, is also a strange way to show someone that you fancy them."

Molly's mouth popped open in shock. Her face turning red in anger.

Regulus held up his hands in order to placate her. "If she only takes one thing away from what she will learn about being a Black, I truly hope that it is the realisation that she shouldn't have to dumb herself down to make others more comfortable and attracted to her." He paused, watching Molly with hard eyes. "I know you think I am going to change her. That I am going to set her up with a husband, a pureblood husband. I can assure you that couldn't be further from the truth. I support my daughter one hundred percent, in anything she does. If she wants to save the house elves from abusive households, I'm there right beside her. If she wants to rewrite the outdated and biased werewolf laws and make it so Remus and others can hold down a job consistently, without fear of retaliation because of their condition. I am right beside her. I couldn't care less who she marries, if she chooses to at all. I trust her choice. I support her choice – whoever and whatever it will be. I trust her. All I am trying to do is show her that she can do it. That she can use her family name to do it, to make it easier for her."

"The fact that I may be buying her clothes, that I may be getting her to wear some more high-end clothing during certain outings has very little to do with her being a Black and more to do with me trying to instill some confidence in herself." Regulus hissed at her. "I wonder how she got the idea in her head that her dating boys and dressing in nice clothes somehow made her a scarlet woman." He scoffed at the outdated, traditional term that he had constantly heard his mother use when he was a child. "How did that happen, I wonder? How did she get that idea? Who did she hear that from, Molly?"

Regulus watched as Molly gaped, speechless. "I've never called her that." She insisted.

Regulus smirked and shook his head. "Not to her face, perhaps. But I do know that your son…the one that supposedly fancied her, informed her that that was what you thought of girls who had a boyfriend or two. All because she went to the Ball with a popular boy and not your son. All because she stood by Harry's side when everyone else left him." He looked around the store, making sure no one was listening in. "You know…for someone who prides themselves on being a supposed 'blood traitor' you sure do have some very traditional viewpoints, Molly." Regulus watched her with a bored expression, one that he had perfected when he was just a kid. He was truly simmering inside.

Molly stood there with a hard frown on her face. Scowling at Regulus. "You were a Death Eater. It was something you chose to do. It was something you agreed with. How dare you question me. How dare you tell me that my viewpoints are too traditional. Where were you when your daughter first went to Hogwarts? Where were you when your daughter got hurt at school? When she got into trouble? You weren't there, Regulus. You hid from her, Mr. Black. You let other people raise your own child, because you couldn't do it yourself. You didn't know how to." Molly paused, gathering her thoughts. "I may not be perfect. But at least I am there for my children when they need a mother. When they need a parent. Which is more than I can say for you."

A throat cleared from behind Regulus. He turned to look at who it was. Harry and Ron were standing there, Harry clutching his new owl cage, Ron holding Harry's broom.

"Have we interrupted something?" Harry asked, looking between Molly and Regulus.

Regulus shook his head the same time Molly spoke.

"Of course not, Harry dear. Nothing important." Molly said to him with a strained smile on her face. She turned as if to look for her daughter, trying to gather her emotions. Regulus watched as she closed her eyes for a moment and swallowed. "We must find the children. There is lots to do today." She walked away from the group towards where Hermione, Ginny and Theo had disappeared to earlier.

Regulus held out his hand to Harry, indicating he would take the owl cage from him so Harry could get his books. Harry gave him the cage carefully. The tiny owl, black in colour, was sleeping peacefully in its cage.

"Let's go get your books," Regulus said to Harry, motioning that he and Ron should lead the way.

...


...

After the school supplies were purchased for everyone, Regulus took the entire group out for a bite to eat. After that was done the group began to search for outfits for the upcoming year. School robes and graduation gowns for Harry, Theo, Hermione and Ginny. As well as dresses for the girls and dress robes for the boys. Ron was able to find clothes he could wear to work when he started his training. Everything was complete. Everyone was exhausted.

Hermione dropped her purchases onto her bed and began the trek downstairs to the kitchen. She needed a cup of tea.

She gently pushed open the door to the kitchen and stopped in her tracks when she spotted Regulus sitting at the table, clutching a mug of tea. Lost in thought.

"Dad," Hermione said quietly, not wanting to startle him.

Regulus inhaled deeply and looked up from his mug. He gave her a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"Are you okay?" she asked him, frowning. She knew something was off since the bookstore. Regulus and Molly were shooting each other glances, thinking no one else was watching them. The tension was rife and evident to everyone there.

Regulus gave her a jerky nod. "Yeah. I'm okay."

"You had some words with Mrs. Weasley, I assume?" Hermione stated to him.

Regulus snorted softly. "You could tell, huh?"

Hermione grinned. "I'm pretty sure the waiter could tell, dad. It wasn't exactly difficult to figure out."

Regulus grimaced a bit to himself.

"Did you want to talk about it?" She asked him gently, unsure what she should say.

Regulus opened his mouth, hesitated, and then closed it again. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "She accused me of not allowing Ron to marry you because I figured he wouldn't be good enough for you. Because you're a Black now." He said quietly to her. "I told her that I had no problem with Ron being a Weasley, but that he had a funny way of showing someone he liked them. He fancied them." He paused. "It sort of escalated from there. Harry calmed it down. But some harsh words were said between us." He looked to Hermione. "We'll be okay, Hermione. We can be respectable adults. We can put our differences behind us. I don't want this to come between you and her. You and her family."

Hermione nodded. "Thank you for sticking up for me."

Regulus looked at her surprised. He hadn't told her that.

"Theo and Ginny and I heard a bit of the argument when we went searching for you two. We didn't know where you went off to. I didn't know how it had started. Thank you for telling me." Hermione said quietly.

Regulus gave her a smile and took a sip of tea. "How sneaky of you." He quipped. "I'm really proud of you, you know that right?" He asked her.

Hermione nodded. "I'm starting to see that, yes. I'm proud of you too, dad." She gave him a small smile. "I like calling you that." She grinned. "Dad."

Regulus chuckled softly. "I like hearing it."

...


...

It was the third week of August and Hermione was hard at work, reading her textbook after dinner. Theo had often joined her in the library to read together. Making small talk as they did.

She liked him. She could admit to herself.

She liked him a lot.

She had dreamt about him a few nights previously. It was erotic. She never really had a dream like that before. About anyone. Not Viktor and definitely not about Ron.

She had flooed to The Burrow in a panic the following day. Searching for Ginny. She was terrified she would mess things up with her and Theo's new friendship. The redhead grinned at her in response to her confession and assured her that Theo thought the same about her. Hermione asked how Ginny was so sure about Theo's feelings towards her. Ginny had snorted in response and told her he wouldn't stop looking at her. That it was 'pretty, freaking obvious' to everyone but her.

Hermione swallowed as she remembered her and Ginny's conversation. Remembering what Ginny had told her about finding the right guy. That it wouldn't matter who she had been with previously. That it wouldn't matter if she had very little experience. "It doesn't matter to people who are worth it, 'Mione'", Ginny had told her. "Harry didn't care that he wasn't my first. He's accepted me for me. All of me. All of my skeletons. If Theo is the right guy, he will do the same for you."

Hermione shook her head to clear her thoughts and tried focusing on her Arithmacy book. Even she could admit this textbook was a dry read. She had to be in the mood for it.

"Hey," a quiet voice called out to her from the doorway.

Hermione looked up from her book and spotted Theo standing there watching her.

"I was going to go for a walk," Theo began. "I was wondering if you wanted to come with me." He voice lifted at the end, indicating his hope that she would.

Hermione closed her book with a snap. "Absolutely I'll come with you, Theo." She shook her head, trying to disengage her thoughts about her feelings for him. She needed a clear head.

Her and Theo exited the library and made their way through the house towards the front door. Spotting Regulus in one of the rooms, laying on a couch reading and chewing on a quill, Hermione poked her head in the doorway.

"Theo and I are going to go for a walk," Hermione informed him.

Regulus grinned without looking away from his book. "Have fun you two."

"See you in a bit," Hermione responded. Ignoring his teasing tone.

Theo walked behind her as they stepped out of the front door and down the steps. Hermione paused and turned to face Theo.

"Where do you normally walk to?" She asked him.

Theo shrugged with a grin. "Wherever," he told her. "I don't really have a solid route. I just walk until I can clear my head usually."

Hermione nodded in understanding and turned back around. She started walking, placing her hands in her jeans pockets. She was nervous.

She felt a soft touch to the small of her back and looked to Theo walking next to her. He was looking at her as he more firmly placed his hand on her back.

"Is this alright?" He asked her.

Hermione nodded to him. "Yes," she said softly.

She removed her hands from her pockets and hesitantly reached around his lower back with her left arm.

Theo moved his arm up around her shoulders and tugged her closer to him as they walked along the sidewalk.

"What do you have to clear your head about?" Hermione asked him after minutes of silence.

Theo chuckled. "You, usually." He told her. "I have to clear my head about you, Hermione."

Hermione smiled. "Really?"

"Really."

Hermione nodded and tucked her hair behind her ear with her free hand. She felt it spring back to its previous position seconds later.

"I want to say something to you, Hermione. Is that okay?" Theo asked her.

"Of course," Hermione nodded again.

Theo nodded. He took a breath. "I really like you. I have for a while. Possibly since fifth year. But most definitely since sixth year. I like how you think. I like how you can hold a conversation with me in a variety of subjects. I like how you take school as seriously as I do. Most people don't. Most people say I'm too intense or boring because of what I like to study." Theo paused, taking another breath. "What I'm trying to say is that I like you more than a friend, Hermione. As more than a classmate. And I was wondering if you felt like that about me. I was wondering if you wanted to date. If you wanted to try dating with me. I promise that if it doesn't work out, or that if you don't want to, that's okay. I won't mind, I understand. I will still be your friend if that's all you want." He stopped walking and turned to face in front of her.

"Do you want to try a relationship with me, Hermione?" Theo asked her softly, watching her face for any tell.

Hermione grinned at him. She knew she was blushing like mad. "Theo…I would love to try a relationship with you." She smiled up at him. "I would really like to date you, Theo."

Theo grinned in relief and nodded at her. His hand moved to her face. Cupping her cheek. "Can I kiss you?" He asked her, peering into her eyes, waiting for her response before he did anything else.

"Please," Hermione said as she stood on her tiptoes, reaching up to place her hands on his shoulders.

She closed her eyes as Theo got closer to her. His lips brushing hers moments later. Tentative. Cautious.

Hermione pressed closer into Theo. Reaching around his neck, trying to get a hold on him.

She opened her mouth slightly and deepened the kiss. She felt his hands move to her hair grasping it lightly in response.

He deepened the kiss more. Tentatively reaching out with his tongue, pressing against her lips. Asking.

Hermione responded by tentatively stroking her tongue against his. Fuck she wanted this, she realized. She took a quick breath and crashed her lips harder against his. Nibbling on his bottom lip.

A car honking at them caused them to break apart quickly.

Looking away from each other, embarrassed about getting carried away.

Theo cleared his throat, and reached his arm around her shoulder again. They began to walk again.

Hermione laughed softly. "We got a little carried away there," she told him quietly. Looking up to see his face as he responded.

Theo grinned. "Whoops."

He kissed the side of her head as they strolled down the sidewalk, no destination in mind.

Chapter Text

Hermione was laying in her bed wide awake, brimming with excitement and nervousness. It was still incredibly early in the morning, the sun just beginning to rise in the sky. Her bedroom slowly gaining colour.

Hermione reached for her watch on her bedside table, checking the time. It was only six o'clock in the morning. Far too early to get out of bed. She had already packed her Hogwarts trunk the night before. She was ready to go.

She let her mind drift, it quickly turned to Theo. Hermione grinned to herself and hid her face behind her hand. They had gone out on a few dates together, dinner and lunch at both muggle and wizarding restaurants. Theo was ever the gentleman, and never let things get too heated between them…at least when they were in public. Their new relationship had made the front page of the Daily Prophet after a simple lunch date in Diagon Alley – the first time he had taken her out. Hermione was embarrassed at the attention they were getting, but both Theo and her father informed her that it was probably going to be pretty regular with who she was, a Black and part of the Golden Trio. It still had left Hermione frustrated and in tears the day the story broke to the public. She just wanted to experience something normal. Was that too much to ask from people?

Hermione laughed a bit to herself. Remembering how Harry had responded to the story. Ever the supportive friend, he had taken Ginny out to a posh wizarding restaurant to draw attention away from her and Theo's new relationship. Ginny thought the idea was hilarious and rolled with it. The newspaper had had a field day. Suggesting possible wedding dates for the Boy-Who-Lived-Twice, and how soon the two would be having children. Hermione rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. They were just kids trying to figure themselves out.

In private, she and Theo were a different story. They had taken to studying in the library together – nothing new, Hermione could admit. Yet now when they did study together in the library, Theo liked to sit behind her on her chaise lounge with her leaning back against him; he would hold her in his arms while they read the same textbook together. He would nibble on her ear or her neck as they were reading – distracting Hermione constantly. Sometimes he would read the book aloud to her as she held it open for him. Pausing to kiss her deeply when he figured they had been studying for too long. She loved it. Sometimes they would just read silently to themselves. During which he would kiss her cheek when he was ready for her to turn the page. She loved the affection he showed her. It made her feel warm inside.

Regulus had the misfortune one afternoon of walking in on them making out in the library; Theo laying on top of her, his hand sliding up her shirt. Textbook forgotten on the floor.

Theo had the misfortune as well.

Regulus had sent a faint stinging hex to Theo's backside and informed him that he needed to go and visit one of his friends for a few hours. He was grinning while he said it, otherwise Hermione would have thought that he was against the idea of them together.

After Theo had left for Blaise's home, Regulus had sat down across from her. "Now, I do try not to be a hypocrite," Regulus had said to her at the time, smiling faintly. "And I do really like Theodore…" Hermione had looked at him with huge eyes, understanding where he was going.

"Dad," She had said. "We learned about the contraceptive spell in fifth year. Professor Flitwick had to teach us. Apparently years prior there had been a number of students that had gotten pregnant at Hogwarts, because they didn't know the spell. In the seventies, if you can believe." Hermione had looked at him with an amused expression.

Regulus grinned in relief that he wouldn't have to teach her it. "I knew the spell…I just forgot about it at the time." He scoffed at her. "Just please be careful, alright?" He asked her softly. "Don't forget to use your head, Hermione. And don't feel like you need to do something you're not ready for, okay?" Hermione nodded at him, in understanding.

They had quickly moved onto more history about the Black Family. A daily occurrence that Regulus more than happily told her about. Answering the questions she had openly and honestly.

Hermione sighed again shaking her head trying to clear it. She took another look at her watch. Six thirty. Maybe she should have a nice, long shower before the rest of the house woke up. She'd have time for her morning cup of tea before breakfast. Before the chaos inevitably happened as it did every September 1st.

Hermione was on her second cup of tea before anyone else joined her in the kitchen. Susan and Kreacher were working together, making everyone breakfast. Hermione watching them as they did so.

Regulus walked into the kitchen, smiling when he saw her sitting there nursing her tea.

"Couldn't sleep?" He quietly asked her, reaching around the elves busy at work to make himself a cup of tea as well.

"Not really, no." Hermione responded to him.

Regulus nodded, indicating that he was listening. "Are you sleeping any better? Or is it still the same as before?"

Hermione hesitated, taking a sip of tea. "Some days it's better. Some days I can get close to a full night's sleep. But those are rare." She paused. "I mean…I never could do that before, so it is technically better than before. It's just not consistent."

Regulus nodded and took a sip of his tea. "Minerva said during the staff meeting last week that she was able to get some mind healers stationed at the school for everyone. I've met them. They seem like really nice people. Really approachable." He paused, not wanting to overstep his boundaries. "Would speaking to them be something that you're interested in?" He asked his daughter.

Hermione nodded. "Yeah. They sound like psychologists or psychiatrists in the muggle world. I would definitely be open to talk with them."

Regulus sighed in relief. "It may be a good idea to talk to someone you don't know. Not family or friends. No judgement, no history. That's what they said at least. That it was sometimes easier for some people to say what they were feeling, what was an issue for them to people who weren't family."

Hermione hummed in understanding.

"You have a really full schedule this year, with all your courses." Regulus said to her. "You will need your sleep. As much as you can get anyway." He paused. "Your classes are going to be really intense. Not just mine…all of them. The professors have a lot to catch up on for the NEWTS."

Hermione nodded again.

Regulus hesitated a bit, watching Hermione closely. "What?" she asked him quietly.

"You don't have to be perfect, Hermione." He said to her. "You don't need perfect grades. You don't need to get every single answer correct. I don't want you to beat yourself up if you only get an Exceeds Expectations in something."

Hermione frowned. "Has Harry said something?" Thinking of how upset she was in sixth year when he bested her in potions. Or during her third year defense exam in which he beat her score.

Regulus smiled at her. "He may have mentioned it," he admitted. "I will be marking defense really different from most of your previous professors. Not unfairly. I just won't be giving out marks to people I like because I like them. I know that the professors – some of them – do that for the students they like." He looked at Hermione over his tea cup. "I won't."

Hermione nodded and sipped her tea. "Why?"

Regulus smiled. "Because you've had a lot of shit teachers in defense. The only one who was any good was Remus and that was way back in your third year." He paused. "The NEWT exam in defense tends to make people realise that they don't know everything. I knew of students that were in my year who left the exam in tears. Slytherins, Hermione…bawling their eyes out in the common room because they didn't know the subject like they thought they did."

He took a sip of his tea. "The fact that you've had just one good professor in your entire schooling in defense is going to unfortunately hinder you. It will hinder everyone there. I have to try to make up for it. I will have to try to fix it as best as I can. But I know I won't be perfect. Some people won't like the way I'll be teaching them."

Hermione sipped her tea and nodded in understanding.

She could hear feet thumping down the steps. Moments later both Harry and Theo stepped into the kitchen with Hermione and Regulus.

"Morning," Harry mumbled to the room, running a hand through his mop of black hair. As he sat down at the table Susan puttered towards him and set his cup of coffee in front of him. Kreacher did the same for Theo.

"Thanks Kreacher," Theo said to the old elf.

"Breakfast will be ready shortly." Susan said to the room as she turned back towards the stove.

Theo was standing behind his usual place at the table. He made eye contact and grinned at Hermione. He walked over to her and bent down to give her a kiss. As his lips pressed into hers, Hermione heard her father start to laugh.

"Merlin you two," Regulus chuckled. "It's been like eight hours at most." He said grinning at the couple, amusement in his eyes.

Hermione rolled her eyes at him and stuck out her tongue.

Susan and Kreacher served the quartet with their breakfast.

...


...

Regulus had dropped everyone off at Platform 9 ¾, he would be heading to the castle later in the day to meet everyone at the school. After giving Hermione a long hug and helping her up the step onto the train, he nodded to Theo and Harry before he turned ready to leave the platform. The train was ready to leave. The kids needed to get on it quickly before it left without them.

Hours later, Ginny and Hermione and Harry and Luna were sitting on the Hogwarts Express, lounging in their seats. They were about halfway to the school by Hermione's calculations. Theo had just left the carriage to sit with his friends for the remainder of the ride, having not seen some of them for quite some time.

Hermione took out a textbook to read for the rest of the way.

"So…" Ginny said to the carriage, her eyes not leaving Hermione even as she leaned against Harry's shoulder. "Have you two done the deed yet?" She grinned at Hermione. Ever the gossip.

Hermione blushed. "Piss off, Ginny." She said good naturedly. "No we haven't." She focused on her Ancient Runes textbook.

"But you obviously want to…" Ginny kept pressing her for information.

"Gin…stop. I don't need to know about Hermione's sex life. She's like my sister." Harry begged her.

Ginny cackled. "Hermione knows all about our sex life, Potter."

"Unfortunately," Hermione murmured with a grin at her best friend.

"The sexual tension is very evident." Luna said to the carriage as she read her magazine.

"Between who?" Hermione asked, looking towards the blonde girl.

"Both couples, of course." Luna replied. "I'll be finding my soulmate this year. Hopefully we're as sexually compatible as everyone here." She finished dreamily.

Ginny grinned at Luna. "And who are you thinking is your soulmate, Luna?" She asked her close friend.

Luna smiled. "I have a feeling, but I won't say. He doesn't know yet. I don't want to tempt the fates."

...


...

Hermione was sitting at the Gryffindor table with her housemates. Full to the brim after a delicious meal. The headmistress had given her welcoming speech to the students prior to dinner being served, after the first years had been sorted – both eleven year olds and the twelve year olds that missed the year before. There would be a lot of new students this year. Seamus and Dean had sat down next to Hermione and patted her hair earlier in the night. Commenting on her new colouring. Hermione watched them as the couple were talking in hushed tones with each other a bit further down the table. They were a well-known secret couple in the Gryffindor common room. Only Harry had been surprised that they were together. Completely oblivious to his surroundings the previous years.

A tapping could be heard coming from the head table at the front of the Great Hall. Headmistress McGonagall was standing, waiting to speak to her pupils. The chatter quickly died down.

She smiled at the crowd of faces looking up at her. "After we've all enjoyed our delicious feast, I do have some further announcements for you all to hear." She said clearly to the occupants of the great hall. "We have a number of new staff at Hogwarts this year, whom I'd like to introduce you to." She turned slightly to Regulus. "Mr. Regulus Black will be our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for at least the next year. He is extremely skilled in defense and was one of the key individuals to fight against You-Know-Who in the recent war. I look forward to hearing how you all enjoy his classes this year and do believe you'll all be in for a treat." The great hall erupted in cheers. Hermione clapped along with the rest of the group, giving her father a grin as she did so.

"Another new staff member is Miss Penelope Clearwater, who has agreed to take over from myself in Transfiguration." McGonagall said to the room. "As her former professor, I know that she was an outstanding student in Transfiguration and has recently completed her mastery in the subject in America. She is a real asset to have here, I do hope you'll welcome her back to Hogwarts with open arms." The great hall cheered loudly again.

"The head of Gryffindor House is now Professor Vector, rather than myself. Gryffindor students, while I do enjoy you all, I will ask that you direct your questions or issues about booking the quidditch pitch now to Professor Vector." She looked at the Gryffindor table pointedly, with the slightest smirk. The Gryffindor table collectively chuckled. "My Deputy Head is Professor Flitwick, whom the returning students will be familiar with as their charms professor." Professor Flitwick gave a little wave from his seat, smiling at the crowd of children looking up at him.

"Your Head Girl this year is a Ravenclaw student by the name of Rebecca Stathmort." The girl stood up to wave at everyone. "The Head Boy is a Hufflepuff student by the name of Zachary Stevenson." The boy at the Hufflepuff table waved at the students looking at him. Hermione frowned, she had remembered that she confiscated a fanged Frisbee from him in her fifth year when she had been a prefect.

"As you all can see, sitting near to Madam Pomfrey are other healers." The Headmistress stated somewhat quietly, but still clearly. "We have four more healers here to assist Madam Pomfrey in a number of areas. They are all on a rotation. Two will be available during all hours of the day. Everyday." She paused, and took a breath. "These healers, while adept at handling a number of different things, specialize in mind healing. They are available to everyone here, staff or student. To talk about anything you wish that is possibly troubling you. Regardless of whether it has to do with the war or something else." She smiled at the crowd, now entirely quiet. "While it is not a requirement that you see them, I highly recommend each and every student visit a healer at least once during this year. I myself have already spoken with them. There is no harm in talking with someone. No one here will judge you. You are not weak." She let her last statement ring out. A few of the students were nodding.

She smiled again. "On a lighter note, I bring great joy in informing you all that this year we will be having a Yule Ball just before the Winter Break. The theme for this ball is 'unity' and is open to all students, regardless of year, although it is not required that you come." A few of the students chatted excitedly with each other.

The Headmistress smiled at everyone, watching as the students chatted. "On to our usual notices now," she said. "The Forbidden Forest remains forbidden as it does every year. Mr. Filch has banned a number of items from Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes as well as Zonko's Joke Shop. A complete list is posted on his office door for you to look at when you get the chance." She paused. "I ask now that the prefects from each house escort the students to their respective common rooms. Your class schedules will be given to you all tomorrow morning during breakfast, which begins at seven thirty in the morning. Good night everyone, and Welcome to Hogwarts!"

Hermione and the other students slowly got up out of their seats to make their way to their respective common rooms.

Hermione reached her dorm room, which she now shared with Ginny and three other seventh year girls. Hermione was the only female Gryffindor to return to complete her studies.

She looked around the room as she sat on her bed. Smiling at Ginny.

She was home.

Chapter Text

Hermione sat down at the Gryffindor table bright and early Wednesday morning. It had just reached seven thirty in the morning, she had been waiting in the common room for hours before she headed down to the great hall. She reached for some scrambled eggs and fruit and placed it on her plate. She spotted the toast near to her and grabbed a couple of slices to add to her plate. She didn't know how busy she'd be today with her classes. She might need her energy.

She was putting apricot jam on her toast when Ginny and Harry sat down next to her.

"Mornin'" Ginny said to her with a smile.

Hermione grinned at the two. "I didn't spot you in the dorm when I got up, Ginny. Did you find a good place to sleep?" She looked at Harry as she sipped her pumpkin juice.

Harry grinned at her, sheepishly. He looked happy, Hermione saw. She had never seen him so relaxed before. So complete.

"I did have a great sleep," Ginny said as she piled eggs and sausages and toast onto her plate. "I needed some snuggles last night. I was thinking of Percy a bit." Ginny smiled a little sadly to her.

Hermione smiled at Ginny. "I'm sure he'd be proud that you are here, Ginny. To finish your schooling. You know he'd think it would be important for you."

Ginny nodded to her in agreement and took a sip of her pumpkin juice.

Professor Vector stepped up to the small group of seventh and eighth years.

"Ms. Black," she said as she handed Hermione her class schedule.

Hermione smiled at her and thanked her for the schedule.

The professor handed schedules to both Ginny and Harry as well, before walking further down the table from them to another group of Gryffindor students.

Hermione took a look at her course schedule. Today she had Charms and Ancient Runes before lunch, followed by Transfiguration right after lunch. She had a spare period before dinner. She nodded to herself. Today wasn't too bad. Tomorrow was a full day with double Potions before lunch, followed by double Defence afterwards. She had a feeling that it'd be her toughest day. Regulus wasn't going to go easy on them, he told her as much.

"What do you have today, Hermione?" Harry asked her.

Hermione smiled at him. "Charms, Ancient Runes and then Transfiguration after lunch." She paused. "Not to sound too pushy…but I think we should set up a study group sooner rather than later. For anyone who wants to work together. Not necessarily on the same subjects. But just together. We can bounce ideas off of each other, help each other out if we get stuck on something."

"I'm down for that," Ginny said to her as she took a bite of egg. Harry nodded in agreement. "I have to ask to book the quidditch pitch, too." She paused. "Do you want to meet in the common room, or the library?" She asked Hermione.

"Library of course." Hermione answered her. "Non-Gryffindors can't get into the common room."

"We can try, though." A smooth voice said behind Hermione.

Hermione turned to look at who was behind her. Theo was standing there with Blaise.

Hermione smiled at them. "Hey," She said to Theo. She looked to Blaise, someone she had never really spoken to in the past. She gave him a small smile in greeting.He nodded his head at her and took her hand. Hermione watched wide-eyed as he kissed the back of her hand. "Heir Black," Blaise said to her smoothly. "It's a pleasure to meet you properly."

Hermione didn't know what to do. She looked to Theo in question.

"I'm standing right here you git." Theo said jokingly to Blaise.

"Bugger off Heir Zabini." Ginny chirped good naturedly. "Keep your pecker in your pants." She said loudly with an amused expression on her face.

Hermione could hear a faint chuckle coming from the head table. She looked over at the noise and spotted Regulus filling his plate full of breakfast.

Blaise grinned. "Just merely trying to introduce myself, is all." He smiled at Hermione, full pearly whites.

Hermione grinned slyly. "That's funny. I could have sworn that I have seen you around here before. Was I not good enough then for you to introduce yourself to me?" She looked at him with good humour and an eyebrow raised.

"Come on," Blaise responded, with his arms open. "It's not like this guy here did either before he knew who you truly were." He put his arm around Theo's shoulders and patted Theo's chest with his other.

Theo grinned. "I did actually, Casanova." He looked to Hermione with a smirk that reached his eyes. "When was it again…third year. Or fourth?" He asked his girlfriend.

Hermione smiled at him sweetly, eyes bright. "Third year." She answered him. "Ancient Runes, you sat at the same table as me. I was nervous that you sat down with me. Malfoy had called me a mudblood earlier in the day for beating him in potions yet again. I thought you were about to do the same. But you didn't. You smiled at me. Apologised about what was said. And properly introduced yourself to me." She paused looking nowhere but at Theo. "It was a Tuesday afternoon."

Theo just smiled at her in response.

"Really?" Blaise questioned them.

Theo nodded, eyes not leaving Hermione. "Really." He stated.

Blaise shook his head in disbelief. "You're breaking my heart, Theo. Not telling me these things." Theo snorted. "I apologise, Ms. Black. For all the shit I've said about you in the past." He said to Hermione, politely. His flirting attitude absent, only seriousness.

Hermione nodded at him. "Apology accepted, Mr. Zabini."

"What's this about study groups," Theo asked her, changing the topic. He sat down at the Gryffindor table right next to her. Leaving Blaise standing. He kissed her cheek and peered at her schedule. He had his own in his hands and was comparing them.

"I mentioned to Harry and Ginny here that we should set something up, sooner rather than later." Hermione said to him.

"In the library," Ginny added in to the conversation. "We wouldn't want any trespassers or anything outrageous like that in our common room."

Theo nodded, smiling at Hermione. "I like that idea." He paused. "Can I invite some of my friends to study with us?" He asked her.

"Of course," Hermione said to him. "You can even invite Casanova." She smiled at Blaise.

He grinned at her in thanks, then spotted someone at the entrance into the great hall. His smile slipped off of his face. "Pans is awake." He said to Theo, slapping him on the shoulder.

Hermione turned to look at the entrance and spotted Pansy Parkinson looking hesitantly around the hall. While she was dressed immaculately as usual, Hermione noticed that she had no make-up on and her hair was dishevelled, like she had a difficult time getting out of bed. She looked pale. She looked sad.

"Go," Hermione said quietly to Theo. "Spend time with your friend." She told him. "I'll see you in Ancient Runes, okay?"

Theo nodded sadly to her. "Thank you," he said to her as he got up from the bench.

Hermione watched as he and Blaise walked over to greet Pansy who was still standing in the entranceway.

"What happened to her?" Ginny asked Hermione and Harry quietly. She too was watching Pansy.

"A close friend of hers was killed during the battle," Hermione told her. "Tracey Davis."

"That's so sad," Ginny said quietly to them. Harry and Hermione nodded in agreement.

The trio quietly finished their breakfast. Before Hermione, Ginny and Harry left to get their school bags before classes began, Hermione walked over to the head table to speak to Regulus.

"Good morning," Hermione said quietly to him as she stepped up on the platform where the table was situated.

Regulus smiled tiredly at her. "Good morning, Hermione." He said. "Did you have a good sleep?" He asked her quietly as he took a bite of eggs.

Hermione hesitated and shook her head. "Not really, no." She told him quietly. "I've been up since four o'clock this morning. I couldn't get back to sleep once I woke up."
Regulus nodded at her and frowned.

"I'll talk to the mind healers sometime soon," Hermione told him. "I have a break before dinner, maybe I can get in then."

Regulus yawned, covering his mouth. He swallowed, smiling softly at Hermione. "That sounds like a good idea." He told her.

"You aren't a morning person, are you?" Hermione asked him, giving him a grin.

Regulus chuckled. "Not at all. I tend to stay up late and read. I just have first years this morning though. Third years after lunch. I should be okay, I think."

Hermione nodded at him. She pulled out her schedule and showed him. He smiled and took it in his hands, reading it carefully.

"This isn't too bad," he commented. "Your Thursdays will be a long day with double potions followed by double defence." He handed it back to her. "You have free periods to study or catch up on things, which is good to have."

Hermione hummed in agreement. "I should go get my stuff before I head off to class." She told him quietly.

"See you later, Hermione," Regulus said to her as she left the platform and followed her friends out of the great hall.

...


...

Hermione was sitting in her Ancient Runes classroom waiting for the lecture to begin. Professor Flitwick had let them out of class a few minutes early for the first day, a gift he said that probably wouldn't happen too often this year. She had just placed her textbook on the desk in front of her and was reaching in her school bag to grab her Ancient Runes notebook and quill, when Theo sat down next to her.

"Hey," he muttered in her ear as he kissed her cheek.

"Hey," Hermione greeted him. She looked around the room and didn't notice any other eighth year students. People had dropped the class or had not returned to the school. Only seventh years were present now. And only about a half dozen. This class was small.

Professor Babbling stepped into the room and quickly walked to the front of the classroom. She sat on her desk, facing her students.

She gave everyone a small smile. "Good morning class," she began. "We will have a lot of things to learn this year. So it is best to get right to it." She continued in her no nonsense attitude. "Those of you who have taken this class last year," She looked at Theo and gave him a smile in acknowledgement, "I have to inform you that, this will not be like last year." She paused. "The majority of this class will now be a large research project, with classes intermittently spaced throughout the year to teach you certain key things." Professor Babbling got up off her desk and started walking around the room. "This year you will be working in pairs on a translation. Gringotts has given me four different works to translate. They are somewhat newly discovered texts of varying ages. They have not been translated yet." She paused. "I have exact replicas of the texts here with me, the originals remain locked in Gringotts. I will give you the replicas for you to translate with your partner." She turned back around to face the room, her eyes bright. "Your translation will be the first of this work. No one else has looked at these texts yet. This is an exciting opportunity for you all. As such, you all have the opportunity to publish your final work, your final translation, in Ancient Runes Today. I will use my connections with the magazine to get you published if that is what you wish to do." She smiled brightly at the small group of NEWT students, Hermione had never seen her this excited before.

"Now before I hand out the texts to you, let's get through the bones of the course." The professor said to the room as she handed out the course outline. "I will review some key rune translations from sixth year, just to help you refresh." She grabbed some chalk at the blackboard and started writing. "Followed by the new course work for this current year. The course work should only take one term to complete, so I will be trying to spread it out over the entire year." She continued writing on the blackboard. "By working on your translations throughout the year, each of you will be prepared for your NEWT level examination at the end of the year."

Hermione excitedly followed along for the rest of the class, quickly scribbling her notes down. Impatiently waiting to get the text to translate. She couldn't wait to get started.

...


...

The next day found Hermione in a double potions class for the entire morning. The eighth years had sat relatively close together in the room, not wanting to be in the way of the majority of the seventh years. They were situated two to a table, much like the previous years. Hermione sat herself next to Theo, Ginny next to Harry. Hermione watched as Draco sat down at an empty table, Luna Lovegood quickly sitting down next to him, smiling at him as she did so. Ginny turned around in her seat to look pointedly at Hermione. She waggled her eyebrows suggestively at her.

Theo started coughing, trying not to laugh at the redhead.

Hermione smiled at the redhead. Was this who Luna was talking about on the train? It was difficult to tell with the Ravenclaw.

Hermione could hear a seventh year sitting behind her mutter to her desk mate. "I can't believe Loony is sitting with the Death Eater." Hermione felt Theo tense beside her. Hermione turned around in her chair at gave the Ravenclaw girl a cool expression.

"I'm pretty sure Luna can sit with anyone. As can Draco." She paused. "And perhaps you should pull your head out of your backside before you judge people. Not everything is black and white." She had a soft spot for her cousin, the more she learned of his upbringing from Regulus the more she felt sorry for him. He had no choice.

"Whatever Granger," the Ravenclaw girl rolled her eyes at her.

"It's Black, actually." Hermione grinned at the girl's shocked expression and turned back around in her chair.

Hermione watched as Blaise and Pansy sat down together. Pansy looked more put together than she had the previous day. Although she still looked quite sad.

"How's Pansy doing?" Hermione quietly asked Theo before Slughorn started speaking.

Theo hesitated. "Some days are okay…some days aren't." He responded quietly to her. "Today is probably the best I've seen her in a while."

Slughorn got up from his chair at the front of the class. Hermione noticed that he had lost quite a bit of weight. He leaned on his cane as he stepped in front of his desk and began the lecture.

"Good morning class," Slughorn began. "We will be starting the seventh year curriculum today. Have no fear those who missed last year. We did very little actual curriculum work last year. So you are all in the same boat." He told the class.

"What did the seventh years do last year?" Hermione asked the room.

"Mostly healing potions," Theo said to her. "We only did one or two weeks' worth of actual seventh year stuff."

Hermione looked at him shocked. She nodded. "Okay," she said quietly to the room.

Slughorn nodded at Hermione in agreement. "Madam Pomfrey was in need of a constant supply of different healing potions last year, Ms. Black." He smiled pleasantly at her. "That was more important than the curriculum, I thought."

"Of course," Hermione replied.

"Now then," Slughorn began. He turned to the blackboard and pointed his wand at it. The directions for the polyjuice potion appeared on it. "We will get started on this potion today." He hobbled over closer to his own cauldron and placed his cane on the table. "This potion will take a month to brew. We will get it started today and slowly work through it as the month goes on." He smiled at the class. "Time to get your ingredients."

...


...

After lunch Hermione, Harry and Ginny headed up to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Hermione was excited. She didn't know what to expect from the class this year. From Regulus.

Regulus was waiting for them all inside the classroom. He was sitting on top of his desk. Relaxed. He was wearing muggle clothes, Hermione noted. A dress shirt, burgundy in colour with the sleeves rolled up, paired with charcoal dress pants. His cloak was hung over his chair. He grinned at Hermione as she took her seat in the huge lecture hall. She looked around the room. She had never seen a room this big here at Hogwarts. It could probably fit a couple hundred people if they needed to. They had ample room to practice spellcasting when they eventually came to it.

The room had been painted blue in colour. Opposite of the pink garbage that Umbridge had plastered everywhere during Hermione's fifth year. And lighter than the darkness that Snape decorated the classroom with in her sixth year. The shutters were open, letting in the sunshine still present in the Scottish landscape. The room felt calm.

Regulus sat on the desk, watching as the seventh and eighth years slowly trickled into the room. Some students were nervous. Cautious. Unsure what to expect. The name Black had put some students on edge. They knew the Black Family's reputation.

Regulus looked at his watch. Class had begun.

"Good afternoon everyone," He said to the room. His voice slightly amplified so he wouldn't have to yell at everyone for them to hear what he was saying. He smiled at the occupants. "My name is Regulus Black, I am your defence professor for this next year. First off, I would like to introduce myself a bit more thoroughly to you. Allow you to ask questions that you may have for me. Then we will go over what is to be expected this year for your NEWT levels." He slid off of his desk and stepped in front of it. He leaned back against it. Relaxed. Non-threatening. Regulus was looking around the room, taking in the students' expressions.

"I was a Death Eater." He said clearly and concisely to the room. He showed his Dark Mark scar on his left forearm to the room. "I received my branding when I was sixteen, during the Winter Break of my sixth year. I killed a muggle man on my seventeenth birthday, January third, a few days later to complete my initiation into the Death Eaters." He looked around the room. Some students were watching him curiously. Some were disgusted by his confession. Others were terrified. "I come from the House of Black. The Black Family. The Family known historically for their skill in the Dark Arts. In Dark Magic. Ask any pureblood, or half-blood, who they know of to be a dark family, and chances are the first family name that pops up is mine."

"I worked with the Order, the movement started by Dumbledore, working against Voldemort in this past war." He continued to look around the room. "Having been a Death Eater, I was able to give them vital information to help defeat Voldemort. I was able to help train the group in certain aspects of Dark Magic, or Dark Arts." Regulus swallowed. "I was also expected to work with Voldemort in the first part of the war. In the Seventies, specifically. It was what was expected of me. I am a Black after all. What else would I be doing, if not Dark Arts?"

A few students nodded at him. Understanding what he was getting at.

"Being a Black, traditionally at least, I was taught Dark Magic from a young age. While I don't know everything there is to know about Dark Magic, about Dark Arts, I generally believe I know quite a bit. Probably more than any teacher you've had in this course. I know how to perform Dark Arts quite well. Naturally, I also know how to defend against it. It was a necessity in order to survive." He paused, giving the room a soft smile. "I promise with one hundred percent certainty, I will not carry out any spell against you. You are safe here. I will not hurt you."

"Now," he smiled at the room. "Any questions so far?"

Regulus saw a few hands go up throughout the lecture hall. He pointed to a Hufflepuff boy. "Yes?"

"How're you not in Azkaban?" The student asked him shakily.

Regulus nodded at him, expecting the question. "I was a spy. Dumbledore had me working with him and the Order to gather information to bring Voldemort down." He lied through his teeth. Keeping with the story that he and Kingsley told the Ministry that summer.

The student nodded, still hesitant. Still not trusting him entirely.

"What does it feel like?" A student called out from the back of the room.

"What does what feel like?" Regulus asked back. "Getting the Dark Mark when I was just a kid, or killing someone when I was just a kid?"

"Both," the same voice responded, still hidden from view.

Regulus smiled. "The process of getting the Dark Mark is brutal. It is a mutation of the protean charm. I've never felt something so painful in my life. Including being put under the cruciatus curse by my cousin Bellatrix." He paused. "Killing someone is also painful. But in a different way entirely. Not physical pain, but psychological. It never leaves your head. I can still remember the man's face as he looked up at me. I will never forget his fear. Ever."

A few more students nodded in understanding.

Regulus pointed to another student, Ravenclaw this time.

"How did you get a job teaching?" the young man asked him. "I thought Blacks were above teaching. That they had no need to work with us mere peasants." The boy was trying to lighten up the conversation.

Regulus chuckled softly. "I don't need to work, you're right. I had someone recommend me to Headmistress McGonagall and she offered the position to me." He looked around the room. "You all remember Professor Lupin, don't you?" The room collectively nodded at him. "He was asked to come back to teach, but he just started a family with his wife. He wanted to spend time with his son. He recommended me to the Headmistress."

Regulus looked around the room once more. While the majority of the students still seemed cautious, no one else had their hands up. "Alright. Let's get to the course content. We have a lot to cover this year." He gestured towards the blackboard. An outline appeared on it. "Generally speaking, your experience with Defence has been atrocious." Regulus began. "For the last seven or eight years you've had sporadic teaching at best. The only professor that you've had who actually stuck entirely with the curriculum was Professor Lupin. Unfortunately for you guys, that was either in your third year, or your second year. It's been a while."

He pushed himself off of his desk and began to walk around the room. "This class specifically is going to be quite intense. I will have to teach you both sixth year stuff as well as seventh year before you write your NEWT level exams in June. This is why you all have a double defence class twice per week. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons." He paused. "Seventh years here today can probably agree with me that they did not learn any sixth year defence in the last year. Am I correct in that assumption?" He asked the room.

The room collectively nodded at him.

"The first month and a half will be a condensed version of sixth year. I will teach you the important stuff. The things that you will need to go on into seventh year defence." Regulus continued. "The first couple of weeks will be strictly theoretical. I understand that many of you had the misfortune of having the Carrow's as your Dark Arts teachers. I know that they liked to practice dark arts in this room. Against many of the students here today. I will try to slowly lead into the practical aspect of the course. But be warned, we will be practising spells eventually. If you need to mentally prepare yourself beforehand, that is completely understandable. I will let you all know when we will be practising magic the class prior."

Regulus continued to walk slowly around the room. "The marks for this class will be a bit different than your earlier defence classes." He swallowed and pointed towards the blackboard. "I will have a few theoretical assignments for you throughout the term. Answering old NEWT level exam questions. I will also be marking you on your practical skills. The majority of your grade however, is your NEWT exam at the end of your year." He stopped his pacing. "I can tell you from experience that the exam is extremely difficult. As are all of your NEWT exams. The theoretical portion of the defence examination likes to ask you your opinion on things. Your opinion on certain aspects of dark magic, or defensive magic. They are expecting you to cite your sources. And no…you cannot bring in your textbooks."

A few students grimaced.

Regulus nodded. "I know. It's brutal."

"Of course, not everything is your opinion. You'll need to know how to perform every single spell you've learned thus far in this class. They may not ask you to do it. But again, they have every right to do so. You'll need to know other theoretical aspects clearly. You'll need to know the theory behind Light Magic and Dark Magic. And be able to compare and contrast the two types of magic." Regulus smiled at the class. "Can anyone tell me right now what the differences are?" He asked the room. "Not for marks yet. I'm just curious at where you all are."

Regulus watched as a few students raised their hands to answer him, Hermione included. Regulus smiled at Hermione, but pointed to another student to answer. "Miss Parkinson, what are some of the differences?" He asked her. She hadn't raised her hand to answer him. But he knew she should probably know the answer.

Pansy was shocked she had been called on, but recovered quickly. She cleared her throat. "Well…from what I know from my family. I know that Dark Magic is more difficult to perform. At least consistently. Light Magic is something that everyone can do, eventually. Dark Magic is not. From what my father told me, Dark Magic is kind of raw power, whereas Light Magic is…not." She frowned. "I'm not sure how to describe it. I'm sorry."

Regulus was nodding at her, knowing what she was trying to get at. "It's a good start. Dark Magic takes more energy from your core to perform well. I think that's what your father was getting at with his explanation to you. Light magic can be performed by magical people who are still developing their core. Dark Magic, generally speaking, cannot be performed with a still developing core." Regulus paused in his explanation.

"It's important to know and understand that in order to be well-versed in defence, you will need to know and understand the theory behind Dark Magic. I will not ask you to perform certain spells. Some, absolutely. But they are the more socially acceptable Dark Magic spells…more grey than dark. I will not have anyone perform anything unforgivable. If I find out anyone does, I will make sure they are sent to Azkaban." He looked pointedly at the group of students. "No exceptions."

Regulus continued to lecture to the seventh and eighth years, periodically asking them questions on what they knew. Trying to get a feel for where everyone was at.

Hermione was quickly taking notes. Her writing barely legible.

"Now," Regulus stated, near the end of class. "I would like if you all could do an assignment for me." He looked around the room. "I would like each of you to tell me the differences between Dark Magic and Light Magic as well as the similarities. I want you to give me your opinion on the two. Which one is better and why? I want you to use textbooks to back up your opinions on the matter. But I want your opinion. I want to see what you think. I want to see what you believe. I'm thinking four feet of parchment is more than enough room to tell me everything you know. No longer please. There are almost eighty people in this class. I don't want to read anything longer than four feet." He smiled at the class. "Due Tuesday at the start of class. Class dismissed."

...


...

On Friday morning Hermione found herself in the seventh year Herbology greenhouse. This was a class with only Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. She was already exhausted and covered in muck. It had started raining overnight. Everything was saturated. Everything was humid.

"You have some dirt on your face, Hermione." Ginny muttered to her.

Hermione snorted. "I am pretty sure I have some in my bra as well." Ginny laughed as she replanted the plant they were working on. "How it got there, I have no idea." Hermione finished wiping her brow.

Harry scratched his head after he re-potted his plant. "I need a shower after this." He muttered to them. "I can feel it in my hair, my ears…up my nose. Everywhere."

Hermione and Ginny chuckled at him.

Soon their class was over. They left the greenhouse to head back to the castle to get washed up before lunch. Lucky that they had a break before. The trio bumped into the seventh and eighth year Ravenclaws and Slytherin students heading to their Herbology class.

"Hey beautiful," Theo smirked at Hermione. Taking in her dishevelled appearance. "Replanting?" He asked the group.

Hermione nodded. "The greenhouse leaked…a lot of the plants are oversaturated now because of all the rain that began overnight."

Theo grimaced. "Sounds like fun." He stepped toward Hermione. "Can we meet up after Arithmancy this afternoon?" He asked her quietly. Giving her a grin.

Hermione nodded to him. "Of course."

Theo nodded. "See you later, alright." He smiled at Hermione and walked into the greenhouse.

Hermione followed the Gryffindors up to Gryffindor tower to shower before lunch.

"I seriously have some muck in my bra Ginny." Hermione whined to her friend. "I don't understand how it ended up there." She called from one of the two shower areas in the seventh year dorms.

Ginny snickered loudly. "You and me both." She said. "I have the same problem." Ginny paused. Hermione could hear her dropping her clothes on the floor. "What do you think Theo wants to meet up with you for, Hermione?" She asked the curly-haired witch.

"We've barely spoken to each other all week, Gin." Hermione explained as she stepped into the shower, relishing the warmth. "He probably just wants to talk with me outside of class time, that's all."

Ginny hummed in agreement. "I forget that you don't get to hang out with him in the common room. Harry and I are lucky in that regard."

...


...

After lunch Hermione found herself in the Arithmancy classroom. The class, as usual, was dry. But she did well in it anyway. Enjoying the structure of the type of class that it was. She knew she was a very logical person. She knew it was why she did so poorly in Divination before she walked out of the class in her third year. Hermione found this class relaxing for herself. It wasn't fluff. She didn't do fluff.

Theo waited for her as she packed up her school bag at the end of class. He held out his hand to her and took her hand in his. He kissed her cheek as they walked out of the classroom. "I would like to go somewhere private to talk with you, Hermione. Can we do that?" He asked her quietly.

Hermione looked at him nervously. Had she done something wrong? She had never really been in a relationship before. Maybe she had made a mistake somewhere?

"Nothing is wrong," Theo told her. Knowing what she was worrying about. "Do you know of somewhere we can go?" He smiled at her.

Hermione nodded. "What about the Room of Requirement?" She asked him. "We can make it whatever we need it to be."

Theo nodded in agreement and began walking in the direction of the room.

Once they stepped into the room Theo put his arm around Hermione's shoulders and led her towards a couch.

They both sat down on it. Facing each other.

Theo smiled at her and cupped her cheek. "Can I kiss you?"

Hermione nodded. "You don't have to ask every time, Theo. Of course you can kiss me."

Theo grinned. "I just don't want to push you too far, Hermione." He leaned in and kissed her fully on the mouth.

Hermione melted. She loved this feeling. This warmth.

She tentatively pressed her tongue to his lips. Asking for more.

Theo responded by caressing her tongue with his. His hands in her hair. Pulling her closer to him.

Hermione pressed up against him. She could feel as her breasts pushed against his chest. She could feel her nipples pebbling underneath her bra. Warmth in her belly.

Theo groaned roughly and started to pull away. His hands still in her hair, he caressed her cheeks. Flushed and warm.

He grinned at Hermione. "I did actually want to talk with you, Hermione."

Hermione kissed him on his lips softly. "What about?" She asked him.

"About your history. Your experience." He said to her quietly.

Hermione frowned. "Why?"

"I just want to know what you're comfortable with." Theo answered her.

"Will you tell me your history? Your experience?"

Theo nodded. "Daphne Greengrass and Pansy Parkinson. I was in a relationship with Daphne for a couple of years. Fourth year to the beginning of sixth. She was the first person I've had sex with. Pansy is the second. Me and Pansy didn't date. We just fucked. Friends with benefits if you will. We were horny. We were scared. We were lonely. We were trying to figure out things about ourselves at the time." Theo paused, watching Hermione closely. "There are no feelings between us. We are just really good friends. We've been through a lot of shit together."

"And Daphne?" Hermione asked. "Feelings still, or no?"

Theo shook his head. "We are two very different people. Different priorities in life. I wouldn't even say we are friends. Acquaintances maybe. No hard feelings. No romantic feelings either. I think we are kind of like you and Ron. We started with a friendship and moved to dating. We liked each other at one point romantically, but found out it wasn't meant to be. We haven't been able to rebuild our friendship since. But I think that's just because neither of us wants to do so."

Hermione nodded in understanding. She swallowed and looked down at her hands in her lap. "I've never had sex before." She quietly told him. "I'm not naïve about sex…I just haven't experienced anything, really." She looked up at Theo's face. Watching his reaction.

He smiled at her. He already knew she was likely a virgin. She had a reputation in the school for being a prude. Brought on by McLaggen no doubt. "That's okay, Hermione. I have no problem waiting until you're ready. Alright?" He told her.

He squeezed her hands in her lap. "How far have you gone with someone? Who have you dated in the past?" He asked her gently.

Hermione smiled a bit. "Just Viktor Krum in fourth year. And that wasn't really dating…I mean it was…but not really. It wasn't anything permanent."

"And what did you do with Viktor?" Theo asked her. He sat back on the couch, wrapping his arm around Hermione. Pulling her close to him.

Hermione snuggled into his side, trying to get comfortable. "Um…we kissed a bunch of times." She told him softly. "I let him touch my breasts once or twice. He let me touch his penis through his trousers." Theo looked at her with wide-eyes.

Hermione smiled softly. "I was curious about sex. I had read about it in one of my muggle mother's romance novels that she liked to read." She paused. "I was curious to know what an erect penis felt like. He let me rub him a bit through his trousers. He told me what felt good for him." Hermione nodded to herself. "I wasn't ready for actual intercourse yet. I was only fifteen, he was seventeen at the time. He knew I wasn't ready. He didn't pressure me or anything. He just let me be curious with him." She shrugged. "That's it. That's all I've done."

Theo nodded and kissed her forehead. "No feelings?"

Hermione shook her head. "None. He's a friend at most. We used to write to each other pretty regularly up until the middle of my sixth year. I haven't written to him since. Neither has he with me."

"And nothing between you and Harry or Ron?" He asked her gently.

Hermione shook her head. "I had a crush on Ron for a while. It ended in sixth year. I feel nothing romantic towards him at all. Strictly platonic." She hesitated. "I fell asleep with Harry when we were on the run last year. I think of him as nothing but my brother. He the same for me. But we had been keeping watch in the tent. One of us would sleep while the other would spend the night outside the tent, alert for anyone looking for us. Partway through the winter we could no longer pull all-nighters. The horcrux was slowly killing us. We were dying and I think we both knew it."

Hermione swallowed at the memory. "I woke up to Harry pulling me close to him as he got in the same bed as me. He had put the horcrux on the counter, as far away from us as he could. It was so cold. We were at risk for hypothermia. For freezing to death. We were starving. At that time we hadn't eaten anything for a few days. Just some snow for hydration. We fell asleep together…I think we slept for a few days. It was difficult to keep track. Eventually we woke up again. Starving, but feeling a bit better because we were away from the horcrux. I don't think we expected to wake up again. I know I didn't."

Theo pulled her closer to him and kissed her forehead again. "Where was Ron in all of this?" He asked her.

"He had left us in the beginning of October." Hermione stated. "He was hungry and had been splinched. He and Harry had gotten into an argument. He said that Harry had nothing to worry about because his parents were already dead. Ron's parents weren't. He still had a family to care about." Hermione paused. "He accused me of choosing Harry over him. He was jealous. Really jealous. Really nasty. I know that it was the horcrux doing that to him. It was affecting him more than me and Harry for some reason. He stormed out of the tent after throwing the locket at Harry and apparated away." Hermione swallowed. "He tracked us down just after Christmas. He saved Harry's life and destroyed the locket with the sword of Gryffindor."

Hermione and Theo continued to talk to each other in the Room of Requirement up until it was time for dinner. Theo held Hermione's hand as he walked her into the great hall and to the Gryffindor table before he walked himself towards the Slytherin table to sit down and have dinner with his friends.

Chapter Text

The first weekend of the school year saw Hermione and the others forming the study group in the library. They had a few students from multiple houses. Ginny, Harry and Hermione were the Gryffindors present. While Luna Lovegood was the only Ravenclaw. The Slytherins present were Theo naturally, Blaise, Pansy, as well as Draco Malfoy. Hermione had been allowed to book a study room in the library, allowing the group to carry on with their discussion pertaining to the material they were covering in their final year of schooling.

"When should we meet again?" Hermione asked the group as their session drew to a close. The library would be closing in approximately fifteen minutes, they needed to leave. She was packing her defence assignment into her school bag. Frowning at the seven feet that she had written. She hoped that it'd be okay for Regulus. She didn't know where to edit. It was all important.

"Not next weekend," Ginny and Harry replied at the same time. Ginny grinned at Harry. "We've got team tryouts that weekend. I'm going to be a grumpy, stinky mess that Saturday afterwards." Ginny told Hermione.

"What about Sunday?" Hermione asked her. She looked around at the group as she straightened her school bag. "Does that work for everyone?" Pansy nodded to her, and gave Hermione a small smile. "It works for me. We don't all have to meet up when we do. If a few of us can't make it once in a while it shouldn't be a problem." She told the group quietly.

Ginny nodded in agreement. "We can maybe meet here during a weeknight, eventually. At least when the quidditch season really starts." She told Hermione. "I can work around these study groups with my quidditch practises. It's not a huge deal."

Hermione looked around her group of peers. "Does that sound alright with everyone?"

The group gave her a collective nod in agreement. She smiled. "Great. I'll book the room early tomorrow morning with Madam Pince. And I'll let you all know the time to meet for next Sunday."

The group finished their packing up and left the library as Madam Pince shooed them out, exasperated already even though it was only the first week of school.

...


...

Tuesday morning Hermione trudged through her History of Magic class. It was a cruel world, she figured, having History first thing in the morning. Regardless of the early hour and boring class, Hermione focused on her note-taking, supplementing her notes with her History of Magic textbook on the desk in front of her as Professor Binns lectured to the half-asleep class.

Once the class had finished, Hermione walked to the hospital wing, nervous. She hadn't been able to sleep much and had woken up her dorm-mates the night before screaming from a nightmare. She was exhausted. She had been putting off seeing the mind healers present at the school. Hoping that she'd get better on her own. But to no avail. She knew she needed help, and quickly. She was already burned out and it was only the beginning of her second week of school. She wouldn't last if she kept it up.

Hermione pushed open the large oak door to the hospital wing. She spotted Madam Pomfrey puttering about in the large room. She turned and spotted Hermione standing near the entrance.

"Ah," the school healer said to her softly, giving her a kind smile. "Good morning Miss Black. What can I help you with today?" She asked the curly-haired witch.

Hermione smiled back at her. "I need to see a mind healer, I think." She started. "I have a break right now before lunch. I was hoping I could fit in."

Madam Pomfrey nodded to her. "Of course, dear. Right this way." She turned and walked Hermione to the back of the wing. Next to her office, there was another room with a simple sign stating Mind Healer on the door.

Hermione watched as Madam Pomfrey knocked softly on the door before opening it slightly. "I have a student for you, Robert." She said to the man sitting in the room who was reading a magazine with his feet propped up on his desk.

The young man grinned at Hermione and Madam Pomfrey as he set his magazine down and removed his feet off of his desk. "Why, hello." He said kindly to Hermione. He stood up from his chair and reached to shake her hand.

"Hi," Hermione said softly to him, shaking his hand.

"I'll leave you two to it," Madam Pomfrey said to the pair of them. She left the room, softly closing the door partway.

"Have a seat, Miss Black." Robert said to her as he gestured to a chair in front of his desk.

Hermione sat and fiddled with her hands in her lap. The mind healer was sitting there watching her. She was nervous. She didn't know where to begin. She scratched her face and sighed.

"I'm having a difficult time sleeping." She admitted quietly to the healer.

Hermione watched as the healer nodded to her.

"Do you know a reason why you are? Is it a recent occurrence, or has it been happening to you for a while?" Robert asked her.

Hermione frowned. When had it started? "I'm not sure when it really started…it may have been more of an off-and-on thing until recently." She swallowed, gathering her thoughts. "I started having nightmares after Bellatrix Lestrange tortured me with the cruciatus curse Easter Break of this year."

The healer's eyebrows rose slightly on his forehead.

"I woke up my dorm-mates last night with my screaming." Hermione told him. "I just really want to sleep through the night, but I can't. I can't seem to get more than a few hours each night." Hermione told him softly. "I'm so tired."

"Do you have nightmares every night?"

"No…prior to last night I haven't had one for a few weeks. But I still seem to not be able to sleep very well, regardless of how well I clear my head before I go to bed." She told him.

The healer nodded to her, indicating that he was following along.

"We will come to your nightmares in a bit," he told her. "But, when you don't have a nightmare…how many hours do you sleep, would you say?" he asked her.

Hermione frowned in thought. "Maybe four or five hours total. And not consistently. I wake up every hour or so. I am a really light sleeper." She yawned. She was exhausted.

Robert nodded at her again. "And you clear your mind you say?"

Hermione nodded at him. "I try to practise occlumency before I go to bed. To put everything in a box. To help me cope. I have a lot of thoughts running through my head. I needed a way to organize everything or it would overwhelm me."

Robert frowned to himself. "How about we try a few things. Now…I want you to know we won't be able to 'cure' you overnight, so to speak. It will take time. But I do wholeheartedly believe that we can get you having a more consistent and lengthy sleep eventually."

Hermione nodded, she figured it would be a multiple visit kind of thing.

"I want you to continue to practise your mind clearing exercises at night." Robert told her. "I do think that they are probably helping you, at least a bit. So I see no need to discontinue them." Hermione nodded in understanding. "What I do want you to do though, is begin to write down the things that are running through your head." He looked at Hermione. "Write about anything you are thinking about. Whenever you want to. Whatever time works for you the best."

Hermione nodded to him. That was something she could do.

"Now…" Robert hesitated. "I think your nightmares are something that will take a while to fix. If you feel comfortable enough…I would recommend that after you have one to write it down as well. Everything you can remember about it. How you felt, who was involved. Everything you can." He looked at her with kind eyes. "I have found that patients who have been tortured, who have nightmares because of it, tend to do a bit better if they are able to write about it in detail afterwards. We will go over the detail of your experiences, when they do happen." Robert looked at Hermione pointedly.

"Is that something you'd be comfortable with, Hermione?" He asked her.

Hermione nodded again at him. "Yes. I can speak with you about it. I could do that I think. I really want to get better."

He smiled at her. "I will get Madam Pomfrey to give you two vials of dreamless sleep. I don't want you to rely on it. But, I do see that you are exhausted. You look dead on your feet. I think it would be a good thing to be able to get at least one complete night of sleep this week. The other vial just keep in your nightstand."

Hermione nodded again.

Robert reached into his desk drawer and pulled out two notebooks. He handed them to her. "One for your thoughts, the other for your nightmares, alright?"

"Thank you," Hermione said to him as she stood up with him and took the notebooks he handed to her.

He followed her out of his office and into Madam Pomfrey's. "Hermione is going to need two small vials of dreamless sleep, Poppy." Robert said to the matron.

Madam Pomfrey stood up and walked to her potions cabinet. She took out two small vials of dreamless sleep potion and handed them to Hermione. Smiling gently as she did.

"Does this time work for you, Hermione?" Robert asked her.

Hermione nodded as she placed the vials in her schoolbag. "For now, yes."

He nodded to her. "Can we meet again next Tuesday, same time?"

Hermione nodded. "Sounds good." She smiled at him.

...


...

Hermione made her way after lunch to her Tuesday Defence class with Harry and Ginny. Theo was walking with her this time. Holding her hand as they made their way up to the defence classroom.

Regulus was once again waiting for them when they got there. Sitting on his desk, relaxed and watching as the seventh and eighth years slowly trickled in. Next to him on his desk was a box beginning to fill up with the assignments that he had given them the week prior.

Hermione dropped her schoolbag onto her desk and began to rummage through it. Grabbing her rolled up scroll of parchment she quickly checked it, making sure it was the correct one. Seeing that it was, she stepped over to Regulus to give him her assignment.

Regulus smiled at her and reached out his hand to take it from her. She gave him her assignment with a small smile. "Here," she said quietly to him.

Regulus smiled at her. "Thank you," he said to her as he took her assignment from her. Hermione turned to head back to her seat, missing the slight frown that Regulus had on his face as he held her assignment. It was obviously longer than the four feet he had assigned the class.

He placed it in the box and continued to take assignments from students who were now beginning to line up in front of his desk.

Soon after Regulus began his lecture on the importance of non-verbal spells. He started with the theory behind them. Informing the class that the practise of non-verbal spells would be some of the first practical lessons they would be doing. Although it wouldn't happen for at least another week.

Later that night Hermione began to write her thoughts in her journal. She cleared her head before she went to bed and remembered to take one vial of dreamless sleep potion.

She was out for the count as soon as her head hit the pillow.

...


...

Thursday afternoon eventually rolled around. Hermione, Ginny and Harry, as well as Luna, made their way up to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom near the end of their lunch hour.

Regulus was yet again, waiting for the student to arrive. Sitting on the top of his desk. Relaxed. Approachable. There was a seventh year girl, who Hermione didn't recognise speaking with him quietly. He was explaining a concept to her. Using his hands to illustrate what he was trying to get at. The girl nodded at him. Informing him that she understood what he was telling her. With a quick smile, the girl turned and walked to her seat to wait for the lecture to begin.

Hermione looked at Regulus' desk and spotted his box with all of the assignments in them. She looked wide-eyed at Regulus, surprised that he had marked everything so quickly. He gave her a soft grin and a subtle nod. He looked at his watch and began his lecture, a continuation of non-verbal spells. Soon the class was near the end of the period, with twenty minutes to spare. He grinned at the class and informed everyone that he had finished marking their assignments earlier in the day.

"I just want to give you all the heads up," Regulus began. "I am marking your assignments almost like they would your NEWT exams. I want you all to be prepared for your exams at the end of the term. I don't want anyone to be surprised when they walk in to the exam. I want you all to be more than ready." He looked around the lecture hall.

"That being said," he continued. "I am letting you all know that no one got a perfect mark. I gave out one outstanding grade to one person in this entire class. That's one person out of seventy-eight people. Even they didn't get a perfect grade. They did not get one hundred percent. They still have room for improvement." He paused. "The majority of students received an exceeds expectations." He swallowed. "No one received a failing grade." He smiled to the class. "I am free to discuss your assignment with you outside of class time. You can stop me in the hallway, assuming I'm not on my way to teach another year. That's fine by me. You can also see me in my office."

He turned to the box, grabbed a handful of scrolls and started calling out names. Students made their way to the front of the room to take their assignments back once their names were called.

"Hermione," Regulus said to her.

Hermione got up out of her seat and made her way over to Regulus. He handed her the marked assignment and gave her a slight grin. It didn't reach his eyes.

Hermione sat back down in her seat and hesitantly looked at her assignment. She had a feeling she wasn't the one who got the outstanding grade. Maybe she'd be one of those who had scraped up an exceeds expectations.

She took a peek at the grade near the top of her assignment.

Acceptable.

She had never received an acceptable in her life. Well…not since flying lessons in first year. But really…that didn't count in her mind.

Hermione sat in her chair, looking at her assignment. Oblivious to everyone around her.

"Hermione," a voice called out to her.

Hermione jerked her head up. Theo, Luna, Harry and Ginny were standing there waiting for her to leave with them to go to dinner.

"You okay?" Ginny asked. Theo was looking at her worriedly.

Hermione nodded slightly, swallowing. She looked past the group and spotted Regulus watching her near his desk. Hermione blinked a few times. Her eyes were burning.

The last student who was talking to Regulus left the classroom after he had heard Regulus' explanation of his grade.

"I – I need to talk to Regulus about my grade," Hermione said softly to the group. "I'll meet you guys later, alright?" Her voice was shaky. She cleared her throat.

"You sure?" Theo asked her softly.

Hermione nodded to him. She needed to understand why she had done so poorly.

Regulus came over and sat next to Hermione at the desk. "We'll be okay everyone." He said quietly to the group of students. "Go get ready for dinner, she'll meet you there in a bit."

Regulus sat there watching her as everyone else left the room. "Can I ask you a question, Hermione?" he said softly to her.

Hermione nodded, but didn't speak.

"How often do you go over the length limit for your assignments?" Regulus probed.

Hermione closed her eyes and sighed. Always. Every single time. She always went over the limit.

"I don't think I've ever not gone over the limit," she said quietly to him, she turned to look at him cautiously.

Regulus gave her a grin. "You have a lot to say."

Hermione nodded in agreement. "I find a lot of information that to me is really important. I just want to get it all in there. It may be a little off topic, a little bit more than what the professor asked of us, but it does tie into the question asked." She softly defended herself.

"You can't keep doing that." Regulus told her. "That's not fair to anyone else. In any of my classes. You gave me almost double what I asked for. That takes me away from marking, and helping other students who probably need more assistance in the subject than you do." He looked at her pointedly.

Hermione gave him a nod. "I'm not sure how to do that." She hesitated. "I don't want to leave anything out."

He nodded at her. "Okay…let's look at your assignment together, alright." He motioned to her to open it up. "I've given you some comments, about what you can do differently, or explain something differently. You can read that at another time. I want you to tell me what the assignment was about. What did I tell you all to do for me?"

Hermione swallowed. "You asked us to tell you the similarities and differences between Light Magic and Dark Magic. You wanted to know which one we thought was better and why. You wanted us to use the textbook to back us up."

Regulus nodded and gave her a smile. "True. The key point there is your opinion. Your belief in which type of Magic is better. You missed that. You gave me everyone else's opinion on the two Magics, I didn't see yours in there at all. Do you think there is one that is better than the other? I don't care what some wizard believed in the 1700s, Hermione. I care about what you think." He looked at her assignment. "You never gave me your beliefs. Your opinion." He looked to her. "What do you think?"

Hermione hesitated. "I – I don't know. I don't know what I think of the two. There are positive aspects of Light Magic and positive aspects of Dark Magic. I know that not all Light Magic is good and not all Dark Magic is necessarily bad. I think I am kind of on the fence with the two Magics. I don't know which one I think is better."

Regulus nodded at her and gave her a grin. "So…you like aspects of both Magics?"

Hermione hesitated before she gave him a nod.

"Then you need to tell me that." He told her. "You are allowed to like both. You are allowed to see good things in both Light and Dark Magic. I think that's what has caught a lot of students off guard when they looked thoroughly into the two Magics. They like aspects of both of them. There is nothing wrong with not picking one over the other. But you need to say that. You need to say to me, to the people marking your work, that there are good aspects of both Light and Dark Magic. That you cannot pick one over the other to be the better one."

Hermione nodded to him. "It's not all black and white," she said to him. "There are bits of grey."

Regulus nodded to her. "Exactly. It mostly depends on how we use those Magics. If you are using Dark Magic for bad things, then yeah…it's a bad magic. Light is probably better in that case. But…you know that you can use Dark Magic for good things. Think of Harry. Think of those horcruxes and how you got rid of them. Think of some of the hexes you've learned throughout your schooling. Technically some of them are dark, but you've used them for good. At the same time, you know that some Light Magic can be used for bad. I mean…think of the Headmistress during the battle. She transfigured Alecto into a chair. Transfiguration is a perfect example of Light Magic. Yet if that was used in a different situation it could too be considered to be bad." He paused. "What if Alecto transfigured Minerva into a chair instead? What if once she did that she destroyed the chair somehow?" He looked to Hermione. "That would be a bad thing, right?"

Hermione nodded in understanding.

Regulus sighed and took a closer look at her assignment. "Another thing I docked you on was the length. A huge part of your paper doesn't even talk about what I asked." Regulus told her. "You spent three feet telling me the history of Magic. I never asked you to tell me that. I just wanted similarities and differences and then your beliefs. Not the history. If you do this in the NEWT exam, they will only mark the first four feet that you've written. They will stop reading anything beyond that point."

Hermione looked at him with wide eyes. Shocked.

"Yeah," Regulus replied. "If I marked this exactly like they will on the exam in June, you would have failed it."

Regulus and Hermione walked together to the great hall for dinner. Splitting once they entered the hall, Hermione walking to the Gryffindor table and Regulus walking to the head table at the front of the great hall.

...


...

Friday had arrived. Hermione and Theo were rising from their seats in Arithmancy, repacking their schoolbags once class had ended.

"Do you have any plans?" Hermione asked Theo quietly as she slung her schoolbag on her shoulder.

Theo doing the same, shook his head. "No, not really." He looked at her as they walked out of the classroom. "Did you want to work on the Runes translation today?"

"Yes," Hermione said to him as they walked down the hallway. "I think it's best if we try to get the translation done as soon as we can. We will have more time to interpret its meaning if we do."

Theo grinned. "I wholeheartedly agree. Did you want to work on it in the library or the Room of Requirement?" He asked her.

Hermione scrunched up her nose in thought. "I'm thinking the Room of Requirement for now. I would like to sit on a comfy sofa while we work on it, and there aren't any of those in the library, unfortunately."

They quickly made their way to the Room of Requirement. Stepping through the doorway Hermione spotted a large table with big comfy chairs surrounding one side. A plush sofa on the other. A large fireplace was cackling nearby. The walls of the room had floor to ceiling bookcases with a ladder attached to be able to reach the top shelf.

Theo started chuckling. "It's always books with you, isn't it?"

Hermione grinned as she set her schoolbag on the table. "What can I say…I like books."

"What's with the ladder though?" Theo asked her, looking at the ladder as it leaned against a nearby bookshelf. "You can just use a summoning charm."

Hermione blushed. "It's from a story I read when I was a girl. There was a library with a ladder all the way to the top shelf to get books down." She shrugged as she sat down on the sofa. "It's one of my favourite books. One of my favourite muggle books, at least."

Theo nodded as he sat down next to her. "What's the story called?"

"Beauty and the Beast," Hermione said softly.

"Beauty and the Beast," Theo reiterated. Hermione nodded at him. "I'll have to remember that one." He gave her a grin.

Hermione removed her school cloak and jumper. It was warm in the room from the fire burning nearby. She rolled up her sleeves and grabbed a quill and a spare notebook from her bag. She also removed her Ancient Runes textbook and placed it on the table in front of them both.

Theo removed the text they would be translating from his schoolbag and placed it on the table. He too removed his cloak and jumper. He settled next to Hermione on the sofa. Bodies lightly touching. Bumping into each other as they both got comfortable.

Hermione and Theo leaned forward, closer to the text. Hermione watched, quill in hand, as Theo opened the front cover. The cover was blank. Leather with thick thread binding the pages together. Keeping everything in place. The pages looked to be tea-stained, some areas on the parchment darker than others.

"The smell of the old book will be missing because of this being a reproduction, but it'd be neat to know what it was like." Theo said to her. "If there was anything distinctive about it."

Hermione hummed in agreement.

Theo turned the blank page over. On the following pages there were lines of Runes filling the entire page from top to bottom. Barely any space between them. Handwritten. Some scrunched together so closely it seemed as though whoever wrote the work had forgotten a Rune and had quickly squished it in before continuing on.

"Ugh…" Hermione said to break the silence. "One day there will be a translation that is neatly written and properly spaced. This is going to take a while, I think."

Theo chuckled in agreement.

Hermione quickly wrote 'page one' on the top of the page in her notebook. Underlining the words before she focused on the runes in the text they were given.

"Do any of them jump out at you?" Hermione asked Theo. "Or will we need to look up every single one of them?"

Theo hummed. "I see the Othilla rune here…could mean it's someone's property. Which wouldn't be surprising. I wonder where Gringotts got the books from." He muttered to himself.

"I see Anzus just here," Hermione pointed a bit further along the page. "Perhaps it's someone trying to communicate with us. Someone trying to provide insight about something. Someone's research from way back…"

Theo hummed in agreement.

The two of them puttered away on the first page of the journal. Occasionally hypothesizing what the individual was trying to get at. Trying to explain. To Hermione it looked like someone's research journal. Theo argued that it may be a book of old Family magic. Really old Family magic. Rudimentary.

"Why would Gringotts give us someone's book of Family magic, Theo? That makes no sense. That is no one's business but the family." Hermione growled. "They have no right to do that."

Theo chuckled at her anger at him. "Spoken like a true Black. Always with the secrets." Hermione gasped and glared at him. Fighting a grin in the process. "Not everyone is as secretive about their Family Magic, Hermione. Most are, true. But something this old, I think any family around today could barely understand what this book was saying. I think it's from an extinct family line. That's why Gringotts gave it to Professor Vector to translate. They would've kept it secure if there was still some family member around."

Hermione frowned. He had a point. "It could still be someone's research," she argued. Not wanting to concede her point too soon.

"Perhaps," Theo grinned. "Maybe it's a mixture of Family Magic and research. Maybe the family was known for their research and they've put everything in one book for future relatives to see."

He looked closely at Hermione, fighting a grin. "Have I made you too angry to kiss?"

Hermione threw down her quill on the table. "Of course not. I like our discussions." She grinned at him. "They keep me on my toes."

Theo hummed in agreement as he leaned towards her. His hand reaching into her hair as their lips touched.

Hermione gasped, allowing Theo better access to her mouth. She brought her hands up to press against his chest. Touching and caressing him, fiddling with his Slytherin tie as he nibbled on her lip before kissing her along her jawline towards her ear.

"Back?" Theo quietly muttered into her ear as he sucked on her lobe before working his way to her neck. Nipping and sucking.

Hermione laid on her back on the sofa. Theo following her, never removing his lips from her neck for too long.

Hermione pressed into the sofa. Her hands reaching for Theo. Still playing with his tie. One hand moved to his hair. Bringing him back to her lips.

She could feel him grinning against her mouth as they gave each other short open mouth kisses.

Hermione felt Theo's hand begin to roam her body, starting in her hair before moving down her cheek. His fingers softly tickled her neck.

Hermione squeaked and pushed a shoulder up to protect herself. Turning her head slightly to the side.

Theo chuckled into her hair as he took advantage of the open space on the other side of her neck. Nipping and sucking.

His hand roamed further down her shoulder. His leg moved between both of hers.

His hand slowly made its way to one of her breasts. He gave her a gentle squeeze. She gasped.

Theo removed his lips from her throat and pulled back slightly to look at her face. Her expression. "Okay?" he asked her huskily.

Hermione nodded. She pulled him closer to her. Wanting to feel him press against her. Her hands in his hair. Her hands roaming around on his back. His shoulders.

Theo gave her another grin before kissing her deeply. His roaming hand squeezed her again. Hermione groaned into his mouth. She felt her hips buckle slightly. Not in her control.

His thigh pushed against her heat.

Her hips buckled again. Rubbing against his thigh. Pleasure shot through to her core.

"Fuck," Hermione gasped pulling away from Theo's mouth. She latched onto his neck. Nibbling and sucking.

Theo chuckled again. He moved his thigh against her. Rubbing.

Hermione consciously rubbed his thigh harder. Wanting him to get closer to her.

Theo gave her breast another squeeze before he moved his hand down to her hip. Squeezing. He moved his thigh against her some more. Watching her expression as he did.

Hermione gasped and closed her eyes when Theo pressed his thigh against her harder. Her hips wouldn't stop moving. She wanted this.

She opened her eyes and saw Theo watching her. Watching her expression. Dark eyes and a wicked grin. He reattached himself to her neck as she continued to rub herself against him. Theo's hand on her hip guiding her.

"That feels so good," Hermione rasped out.

She felt hardness press against her hip.

Theo moaned into her ear. "Fuck," he groaned out. He started to pull away from Hermione.

"No please," Hermione begged him. Reaching to pull him back down closer to her. Trying to catch her breath.

Theo grinned sheepishly at her. Red in the face.

"I'm afraid that if I don't pull away I won't be able to stop, Hermione." He told her quietly.

He sat back on the sofa. Hermione followed him up. Snuggling next to him.

She looked down to his lap. Easily spotting his bulge in his trousers. She kissed his cheek.

His hand moved to her cheek and under her chin. Bringing her eyes up to his.

Hermione gave him a soft grin. Curiosity in her eyes.

"Can I touch you?" She asked him quietly. "Just a bit." She swallowed. "I just want to feel you."

Theo bit his lip and gave her a nod.

Hermione kissed his cheek again and brought her hand down onto his lap. She ran her hand over his bulge. Grasping him through his trousers.

"Fuck," Theo muttered. He had an arm around her shoulders.

Hermione moved her hand over his bulge. Grasping and rubbing.

"Hmmm," Theo murmured throatily. "Like this." His hand moved on top of hers, guiding her as she caressed and rubbed him.

"Is this still good?" Hermione asked him quietly as she rubbed the palm of her hand over the tip she could feel through his trousers.

"So good," Theo replied to her. He removed his hand from hers and brought it up to her breasts again. He gave them both a squeeze and a caress through her shirt. Keeping in time with her. His hand moved lower on her torso. Across her stomach. To her hip. To the inside of her thigh.

"Can I touch you?" He asked her, making eye contact with her as he rubbed her thigh.

Hermione gulped. She nodded to him.

"Are you sure?" Theo asked her quietly. "You can say no."

Hermione nodded again. "It's okay. I want you to…just not skin on skin contact."

"Through your knickers?" Theo asked.

Hermione nodded in confirmation.

Theo's hand moved to cup her folds underneath her skirt. His fingers rubbing against her knickers. Searching.

"I can feel your wetness through your knickers," Theo said in awe.

Hermione blushed and restarted her hand, rubbing his cock more thoroughly.

Theo's fingers touched Hermione's clitoris. She gasped.

"There you are," Theo muttered into her ear. He started kissing her neck again. Keeping in time with his fingers' movement. Hermione doing the same to him.

She rubbed her hand over the head of his penis. Rubbing her thumb over him repeatedly before working her way down his shaft again. As best as she could through his trousers.

Theo's thumb rubbed her clitoris through her knickers in response to what she was doing to him.

"Fuck," Hermione gasped quietly. She tried to widen her legs to give him more access to her.

Theo's thumb started moving quicker and quicker against her. Rubbing her with more pressure. More friction. He moved his fingers higher up. Three now rubbing her quickly.

Hermione had never felt anything like this before. She never had someone touch her like this before. Her hand dropped from Theo's cock. She couldn't focus on anything else.

Pressure building up inside her. Pleasure entirely focused on the one small point between her legs. She gasped. She could barely breathe.

"Come on Hermione," Theo groaned to her. "Come for me." He rubbed and rubbed. Faster and faster.

Hermione groaned. She scrunched her eyes tightly closed. She clenched her thighs together. Her legs jerking as Theo continued to rub her.

Theo swore and decreased the pace of his fingers on her.

Hermione's legs continued to jerk slightly. She opened her eyes, her mouth parted attempting to take in more air.

She looked at Theo as he cupped her gently between her legs. He blinked his eyes open. Staring at her.

He gave her a grin and removed his right arm from around her shoulders. He muttered a quiet scourgify as he moved his hand over himself. Cleaning himself up.

"Oh," Hermione said surprised. She didn't realise he had gotten his release along with her.

Theo grinned. "Okay?" He kissed her cheek. Straightening out her shirt and skirt. Covering her up again.

Hermione nodded. "Very okay." She said to him.

Theo laughed. "Good to know," he told her. He looked to his watch and snorted. "We are so late for dinner." He looked to Hermione. "Ready to make an entrance?"

Hermione blushed and nodded to him. They began packing up their Ancient Runes notes and quickly left the Room of Requirement. Theo holding her hand as they walked together through the castle.

"My legs are wobbly," Hermione muttered to him as they made their way down the main staircase.

Theo chuckled. "Whoops."

Hermione smacked his shoulder as they both walked into the great hall. Thirty minutes late for dinner. The place was packed.

Theo walked her to her spot at the Gryffindor table before walking himself over to the Slytherin table.

"What took you so long?" Ginny asked her loudly. "We couldn't figure out where you were."

Harry nodded in agreement as he took a bite of chicken.

Hermione rolled her eyes good naturedly at Ginny. "We were in the Room of Requirement going over our Ancient Runes assignment. We lost track of time." She reached for some chicken and potatoes and placed some on her plate. Ginny poured her some pumpkin juice.

"So that huge love bite on your neck, that's what?" Ginny grinned at her. "Some sort of rune, is it?"

Hermione snorted and gave her a nod. Eyes bright. "Don't you dare ask me about it here."

Ginny laughed loudly and slapped her on her back. Readjusting Hermione's hair to cover it up from curious eyes.

"Later 'Mione," Ginny said to her as she took a bite of chicken. "You'll fill me in later."

Chapter Text

Hermione woke up to Ginny tackling her as she rolled over in bed, barely awake.

"Happy Birthday!" Ginny whispered excitedly to her.

"Mmhmm," Hermione mumbled as Ginny detangled from her. "What time is it?" she asked.

"Almost eight in the morning," Ginny replied. "I haven't seen you sleep this late in a while, 'Mione."

Hermione grinned to herself. "I stayed up late reading, Gin." She told her. "But I still usually wake up earlier than this." She stretched in her bed and sat up, running her hand through her mass of tangles.

Ginny grinned at her. "Do you have any plans for your birthday?" She asked as she rummaged through her trunk for a shirt.

Hermione nodded a little as she watched her redheaded friend pull out a wrapped package from her trunk. "Regulus – dad – wants to take me out for an early dinner. Just him and me, at a little restaurant in Hogsmeade. He's gotten permission from McGonagall." Ginny handed her the package. "Gin – you didn't have to," Hermione protested lightly.

Ginny scoffed. "Of course I did! Don't be ridiculous." She admonished her. "Open it!" She wacked Hermione in the arm as she sat down on her bed.

Hermione tore open the gift. Ginny had given her something that looked like a day timer. Hermione frowned and looked at Ginny. She was with her when she purchased one at Flourish and Blotts over the summer. She didn't understand.

"It's not what you're thinking it is. It just looks like it." Ginny began. "Fleur gave me one this summer. It's a book on girly stuff. Hints for feeling better during your period. Tips for more enjoyable sex…when the time comes for you. There are even spells in there to tame unruly hair. I thought it'd be perfect for you."

Hermione grinned at Ginny. "Thank you."

She looked a little closer at the little book. Hermione opened it up and saw it had spells to tame frizzy curls, with moving picture diagrams on how to hold one's wand. This would be perfect for her. "Why did Fleur, of all people, buy this same book for you?"

"We've gotten closer. I realised that I was treating her like absolute garbage and that I was in the wrong. I apologised over the summer and we ended up going shopping together." Ginny paused. "She and Bill are trying to have a kid…don't tell mum. Apparently this book has a section in it that allows you to keep track of your fertility. Both to have children and to prevent having children." Ginny looked at Hermione pointedly. "In case you forget the contraceptive spell. You can keep track of the times when you are the least fertile, so you don't completely stress out and have a breakdown as you are waiting forever for your period to arrive." Ginny finished as she pulled an old t-shirt over her head, getting ready for her early morning quidditch practise.

"Have you ever forgotten the spell?" Hermione asked her, curious.

Ginny shook her head enthusiastically in the negative. "Nope. Never." She stated bluntly.

"Bill taught me the contraceptive spell the summer before my fourth year, after I accidentally let it slip to him that I had given Michael Corner a handjob." Ginny paused and swallowed, lost in thought. "He knew that at that time, my head was still fucked up from the diary. He knew mum's response to deal with it was to feed me more food and to not talk about it…to sweep it under the rug, so to speak." She took a breath. "Bill knew I was still struggling a bit. That I was trying to feel something other than fear. Something other than darkness. He had worked with shit like that in Egypt, he said to me. He understood how it messed with people's heads. He knew that it had messed with me more than most people realised."

"Instead of telling me I needed to stop what I was doing, he took me aside, and taught me the contraceptive spell over the summer at Grimmauld Place. Sirius had told him the Ministry wouldn't be able to track me there in terms of underage magic. His parents had set something up to prevent the Ministry from monitoring the home." Ginny smiled wetly at Hermione. "Bill told me that I wasn't alone. That I could talk to him about anything, anytime. He didn't make me feel dirty for what I had done already. He understood."

"Gin," Hermione said quietly as she reached an arm around her friend and pulled her in for a hug. "I'm sorry I didn't know you were struggling that much."

Ginny wiped her eyes and gave Hermione a watery grin. "I was very good at hiding it. Too good. Mum has no idea," Ginny snorted to herself. "And you know how persistent she can be with gossip, with knowing other people's business. She thinks I'm still a virgin, Hermione. I even got the sex talk the day before we left for school this year." Ginny shook her head in disbelief. "Bill and Fleur were there in the kitchen when she brought it up…I think she wanted back up for some reason. She asked if I knew the contraceptive spell at all and, fortunately, I was able to tell her that Flitwick taught everyone in our fifth year charms class." Ginny paused. "Bill asked how I did on that charm, while hiding a smirk, and I told him that I passed with flying colours. That Flitwick practically toppled off of his chair with excitement at how well I performed it."

Hermione snickered.

Ginny chuckled, grinning at Hermione. "Fleur told mum that in France, they teach them in their third year at Beauxbatons. Both boys and girls in charms class. Then she gave me a wink. It was about a week after she picked out the book for me." Ginny hesitated. "I just want you to know that you can talk to me about anything, Hermione. I know you're close with Harry, and Theo and Regulus – but, you can also talk to me if you need someone else. About anything. About sex, about nightmares, anything. I've had my fair share of both. I won't judge. Ever."

Hermione nodded and gave Ginny another hug. "Thank you, Ginny. It means a lot."

...


...

Hermione was sitting at the Gryffindor table, putting some jam on her toast. She hid a yawn behind one of her hands. A hand touched her shoulder gently. Hermione looked to the side and spotted Theo sitting down next to her.

"Hey, sleepyhead." He kissed her cheek. "Happy Birthday." He grinned at her, grabbing a slice of toast from the table.

"Thank you," Hermione grinned back at him. Colour in her cheeks.

"I got you a gift," Theo smiled. Hermione watched as he reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a small wrapped box. He placed it next to her plate.

Hermione wiped her hands on a napkin. "You didn't have to," She told him quietly.

Theo nodded. "I did." He laughed at her.

Hermione carefully unwrapped the little box. Jewelry, she thought. It looked like a jewelry box. She slowly opened the velvet lid. Inside was a simple white gold necklace with a small, dark blue teardrop stone pendant. Hermione gasped and looked to Theo with wide eyes. "Theo…this is beautiful." She swallowed. "You didn't have to do this. This is too much." She frowned, unsure.

No one had ever gotten her something like this before. They always bought her books, not that she was complaining. She loved books. Harry had gotten her a new book on Ancient Runes for her birthday this year that she hadn't read before.

"Hermione," Theo began. "It isn't too much when it's for someone I care about. Someone special to me." He smiled at her. Trying to get her to understand her worth. "May I put it on you?"

Hermione nodded her consent.

Theo removed the necklace from the little box and unclasped it. Hermione held her hair up off of her neck. Giving him better access. She turned slightly in her seat, looking away from Theo.

Theo reached around her front and pulled the necklace up to her neck. Hermione felt as he clasped it back together, it was now sitting around her neck, the stone resting high up on her breastbone. She turned back around to look at Theo. "Thank you," she smiled at him. He gave her a short kiss on her lips.

"You are very welcome, Hermione." Theo grinned at her. "What are your plans for today?" He asked her as he buttered his toast, making himself at home at the Gryffindor table. "Still going out with your father for dinner?" Hermione nodded. He looked around the great hall, towards the head table, searching for Regulus. "Where is he, by the way?" He looked to Hermione, waiting for her to answer. He took a bite of toast.

"He's not a morning person to begin with, and it is the weekend." Hermione answered him. "I'm going to go and visit him after I finish my breakfast. My mum passed away today." Hermione gave Theo a small smile, it not reaching her eyes.

"Hermione…" Theo put his arm around her. "I had no idea." Hermione nodded. "I'm sorry to hear that. When did she die?"

Hermione swallowed. "During my birth. She bled out. They couldn't go to St. Mungo's. They were in hiding, basically. Dad was trying to protect me and mum from Voldemort. Trying to keep both of us a secret so we wouldn't be used against him." She answered him quietly.

"I'm sorry," Theo told her again as he pulled her closer to him.

Hermione smiled softly at him. "Thanks Theo. It means a lot." She frowned to herself. "I wish I could have met her. I want to learn more about her, from dad, but I don't want to upset him."

Theo hummed. "What was her name? Do you know?" He asked her.

Hermione nodded. "Madeleine Erickson. She was a Ravenclaw student in the same year as Regulus. They were study buddies in their final year." She looked at Theo as he gave her a grin. Hermione scrunched her nose in thought. "Her parents were also in Ravenclaw when they were here. They were both Muggleborn. They were healers at St. Mungo's until they died of Dragon Pox in 1978."

"Damn," Theo muttered.

"Yeah," Hermione agreed.

"She and Regulus started seeing each other during their final year. Mum got knocked up. Apparently Regulus and mum forgot the contraceptive spell in the heat of the moment." Hermione snickered. Theo smirked. "Um…They graduated in June. Mum hid at the house where Regulus is living today – not Grimmauld Place, but his own home. He visited her when he could get away from Voldemort. He was there when she went into labour with me. Two days later I was born, mum had died, and Regulus dropped me off at Jean and Robert Granger's place. He had followed them from a muggle adoption agency to their home and placed me in a crib in their house. He obliviated them and gave them false memories of me. They thought I was their biological child." Hermione looked down at her plate. "I had no idea they weren't my parents until I went to obliviate them to hide them from Death Eaters just after sixth year. I found out that my mum – Jean – was never pregnant with me, but she always told me she was. She had memories of terrible morning sickness, but there was no evidence of an actual pregnancy. Regulus was sloppy when he planted the new memories into their heads."

Theo hummed. "He probably had a lot on his mind, Hermione. His whole life changed in minutes." He stated quietly to her. "Also, the Grangers…they were your parents, Hermione. Biological or not. They did raise you as their own, because they believed you to be theirs." He paused. "Regulus is your parent, too. As is Madeleine. You have a bunch of parents, not just two."

Hermione gave him a grin and a nod of her head.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Theo told her.

Hermione nodded again. Listening to what Theo was saying to her.

"I'm going to go visit Regulus now…is that alright?" Hermione asked Theo, watching his face for his expression.

"Of course," Theo smiled at her. "Did you want to meet up afterwards in the library to study?"

Hermione nodded. "Yeah."

"Alright, that's where I'll be." Theo gave her a smile.

Hermione kissed his cheek and stepped up from the table. Theo standing up with her to head towards the Slytherin table.

Not long later Hermione was knocking on Regulus' office door. It clicked unlocked. Hermione gently pushed the door open. The room was empty. She walked through his office towards his living quarters near the back. She knocked again. The door unlocked. Hermione let herself in.

The room was mostly still dark. The drapery was tight, blocking out any sunlight. There was a small fire still burning in the fireplace. It was the only thing giving off light. Hermione spotted Regulus still lying in bed. One hand covering his face, the other still pointing his wand at the door from when he unlocked it.

"Dad," Hermione said quietly.

Regulus hummed in acknowledgement. He brought his hand away from his face and looked at Hermione.

Hermione stepped hesitantly closer to him. "May I come in to visit with you?" She paused. "I don't want to be a bother. I can go if you need to be alone today." She backtracked. She didn't know what to do. She was never any good at comforting people.

Regulus sniffed. "It's alright, Hermione. You can come in to visit." He sat up in his bed. The lanterns of the room softly came on. Giving Hermione the ability to take in how Regulus looked.

Hermione watched as he pulled on a shirt, hiding his Dark Magic scars from view. His torso was covered in them. Hermione swallowed, tightly. She didn't think she'd ever get used to seeing them.

Regulus ruffled up his hair and sat on the edge of the bed. He patted the spot next to him. Inviting Hermione to sit down with him.

She stepped towards him and sat down next to him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

"Happy Birthday, Hermione." He said to her as he kissed the side of her head.

"Thank you," Hermione gave him a bit of a smile. She hesitated. "Are you doing okay today?" She took in his red eyes and stuffy nose.

Regulus gave her a small smile. "I promise I'm okay. I will be. Today is just a little difficult sometimes, that's all." Hermione nodded in understanding.

"Is it this difficult every year for you?" She asked him.

Regulus shook his head. "No, actually." He gave her a smile. "I've been good for the last few years, but being here today is hard. Being at Hogwarts today is difficult for me. Too many memories." He paused. "That and you're here with me. I've never been around you on your birthday except when you received your letter." He pulled her close, giving her a side hug. "You are remarkably like your mother, did you know that? You remind me of her so much."

Hermione hummed. "In what way?" She asked him quietly. Curious.

"Well…" Regulus began. "You have the same fluffy, curly hair that seems to have a mind of its own. Yes, your hair colour and eye colour are that of a Black, but the other characteristics are Madeleine's one hundred percent. Your school smarts are also similar to your mum." Regulus grinned at a memory. "I remember her quoting textbooks to me when we were studying together to prove her point. Word for word, Hermione. Much like you do sometimes. She'd even tell me what book it was and which page it was found on. Completely ridiculous, but completely Madeleine."

Hermione snickered.

Regulus smiled at Hermione's response. His eyes travelled down to her neck.

"Ah," He grinned. "I see Theodore gave you his gift already."

Hermione's hand unconsciously moved up to the pendant as she toyed with it gently.

"Yes he did. Just before I came here to see you." Hermione replied. She felt her cheeks heat slightly. She couldn't stop blushing when she thought of Theo. It was annoying really.

Regulus chuckled, easily spotting her blush. He stood up from the bed and began searching in his dresser drawer. He pulled out a small, wrapped gift and handed it to Hermione. Retaking his seat next to her.

Hermione began carefully opening the gift. Careful not to tear any of the wrapping. She pulled out another little jewelry box. Velvet. Identical to the one the necklace was in.

She looked to Regulus as she propped the lid open and gasped when she looked down at the item in the box. It was a white gold watch. Small. Very feminine looking. High quality, but not gaudy or obnoxious. "Dad," Hermione murmured. She looked back up at him.

Regulus grinned. "Traditionally, wizards, when they reach seventeen they get a watch from their family. Marking the moment when they officially become a man, when they officially become a man of the House…so to speak." Regulus softly informed her. "You are not a man, I know, and I know you are older than seventeen. But, sometimes, older families will have watches in their Family Vaults for both the Heirs and Heiresses. This is a watch from the House of Black. It is the least obnoxious one I could find in the vault." Hermione snickered as Regulus rolled his eyes at some of the over-the-top things that were in the Family Vault.

Regulus took it out of the box and clasped it onto Hermione's wrist. "There," he said.

He looked at the time on the watch and gave Hermione an amused expression. "Whoops," he said to her. "I didn't realise I was in bed for this long."

Hermione snickered. "At least it's Saturday." She replied as he jumped up from the bed and began rifling through his armoire.

Regulus hummed in agreement. "What are your plans for today, before our dinner that is?" Regulus asked her as he grabbed a shirt.

"I have this defence thing to do…the professor gave us all a four foot assignment about non-verbal spells for us to do on my birthday weekend. I can't believe it." Hermione said shaking her head.

Regulus too shook his head. "What a bastard. You should complain to the Headmistress to get him fired."

Hermione snorted and stood up from his bed. "I'm going to head to the library to study with Theo for a bit. Harry and Ginny will be there after quidditch practise." She said, pausing. "Are you sure you're going to be alright today?" she asked Regulus.

He nodded. "Yeah…yes, I'm feeling better since I've spoken with you." He gave her a small smile.

Hermione smiled in return. "Good to hear." She stepped towards the doorway. "Four in the afternoon, correct?"

"Yep," Regulus replied as he grabbed a pair of trousers.

...


...

It was nearing four in the afternoon, when Hermione finished her defence assignment. She had just begun her Transfiguration assignment that was due the upcoming week.

"I think I may be done for the rest of the day," She told the small group of study partners.

Theo was there with her, working on his potions assignment. Harry and Ginny were also working on their potions write up. Pansy was tucked in between Blaise and Draco as they worked as a group on their charms assignment. Luna has sat herself down beside Draco and continuously inched herself closer to him as she helped him with his Charms work. She herself was working on her transfiguration assignment.

"Off to dinner with your father?" Theo asked her as he set down his quill.

Hermione nodded at him. "Can we meet up afterwards?" she asked him quietly.

"Of course," Theo replied. "Where?"

"I'm not sure…I don't think we will be gone for too long. How about here?" Hermione asked.

Theo agreed with her and Hermione soon left the library and headed towards Gryffindor tower.

A short time later Hermione was standing in her dorm room, looking at her clothes. She wasn't entirely sure what she was supposed to wear. Regulus had told her it really didn't matter. Hermione frowned to herself. It was beginning to get a little cool out, so she decided to stick with some jeans and a nice fitted jumper. She'd throw on her pea coat that her mother had bought for her a few years ago, just in case it was chilly at night on the walk back to Hogwarts. She kept her hair tied up, which she had done earlier when she had been studying in the library to keep it out of her face. She finally pulled on her boots that Tonks had gotten for her, she liked the style and they went well with her jeans. She was ready to go. She nodded to herself in the mirror, and left her dorm to search for Regulus.

He was waiting for her just outside of the Great Hall by the front entrance to the castle.

Regulus gave her a smile, looking better than he had earlier in the day and they both left the castle together, walking towards Hogsmeade.

"Where are we going?" Hermione asked him after a few moments. "What's the name of the restaurant?"

"Rupert's Pub and Eatery," Regulus replied. "It's sort of off the beaten path, but it's a cozy little place. Good food too, if I remember correctly." Regulus grinned at her.

Before long the two of them arrived at the eatery and quickly stepped inside, it was beginning to get chilly out.

"Just for the two of us," Regulus said to the hostess who greeted them with a smile.

"Of course," she replied. "Follow me." She grabbed a couple of menus and led the way to a table near the back of the cozy little restaurant.

Regulus hung Hermione's coat on her chair and pulled out her seat for her as she sat down.

"Thank you," Hermione grinned at him. Regulus gave her a smirk as he sat himself down across from her.

"Our special today is our fish and chips. We have haddock and cod for our fish. Caught fresh just this morning." She gave them both a grin as she gave them their menus. "A waiter will be with you shortly." She left the pair alone.

"I feel like haddock," Hermione told Regulus. "I haven't had fish and chips in ages."

"Sounds delicious." Regulus replied as he set down his menu. "What will you have to drink?"

Hermione hesitated. "May I have a beer?"

Regulus chuckled. "Of course, I'm your dad right now, not your teacher."

Hermione grinned at him.

A waiter soon arrived at the table. "Greetings," the young man said to them both. "Have you both decided what you're going to be having?" he asked.

Hermione nodded. "I'm going to go your special, the haddock fish and chips. May I have it with a pint of Wizard's Brew?" Hermione asked him.

The waiter gave her a nod.

"I'll have the same." Regulus said as he handed his menu back to the waiter with a grin.

They made small talk as they waited for their meal to arrive. Hermione slowly sipping her beer as Regulus told her tales he had of this place. Apparently, a few of the Slytherin's in his year, and the years above, liked to come here for a pint or two during their classes. The eatery was notorious for not caring whether or not a student was supposed to be in school or not. A customer was a customer. Something that couldn't be said for the Three Broomsticks which was often frequented by the Hogwarts staff during the week.

Soon their fish and chips arrived, Hermione's mouth was watering. She hadn't eaten lunch, instead opting to focus on her schoolwork.

"Oh Merlin," Hermione said in awe as she took a bite of fish. "This is delicious!"

Regulus chuckled at her, but nodded his head in agreement. His mouth full.

"I have a question for you, Hermione." Regulus said to her after he swallowed. "Just a curiosity of mine."

Hermione gave him a nod, allowing him to ask his question.

"What are your plans after you finish Hogwarts?" Regulus asked her. "No pressure. I'm just curious."

Hermione's eyebrows shot up on her forehead in thought as she slowly chewed her food. She took a sip of beer. "Well," she began. "I've been wanting to change some of the laws that are in place pertaining to beings and creatures. Werewolf laws, house elf laws…that sort of thing." She told him. "I assume I'll be working in the Ministry of Magic in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures." She paused. "Why do you ask?"

Regulus frowned to himself. "You know…you don't necessarily have to work in that department to change the laws that are currently in place, right?"

Hermione frowned. That was the first she had heard of it. "How else would I do it?" She looked to Regulus. Curious.

"You can take over the House of Black seat on the Wizengamot." Regulus told her. "That's how most of the laws are passed anyway. Most people who are working in a department at the Ministry are just working on cases, that sort of thing. They don't get to change laws, they just have to uphold them." Regulus paused. "I mean…you can work in that department. There is nothing wrong with that. At all. But I just want you to know that you don't necessarily have to, to change things."

"How would I get laws passed, or read even if I was just in the Wizengamot?" Hermione asked him quietly.

"Well…you can work with a lawyer to help write up what you want done. Say 'equal employment opportunities for werewolves', for example. They help you with the wording. They help you with the holes in the law that you may not see. Then you bring it to the attention of the Wizengamot during a time you're discussing legislation. Members take it home to read. Eventually they all come back and either pass or reject the legislation. Or they tell you to adjust it somewhere." Regulus told her as he munched on a chip.

Hermione nodded. It made sense. "But, how would little, old me get it to pass the Wizengamot?"

Regulus grinned at her. "Allies, silly. You can get different families to support you. The Potter Family will, without a doubt. They have a seat that's been empty since before Voldemort fell the first time, in 1981." He paused. "Probably the Malfoy Family as well, assuming they take their seat. Having those two families supporting you will probably get you support from both Light and Dark Families." Regulus told her. "Even though the Potter Family is more neutral than Light."

Hermione nodded, lost in thought. "I've never thought of it in that way. I've never known that that was the way you get things done in the magical world."

Regulus gave her a tight grin. "You wouldn't have…you were just a muggleborn. You didn't have a seat on the council. Nor would you. You'd have to fight tooth and nail to get anything done." Regulus paused. "Because you are a Black, you should be able to get more people, more families to listen to you." Hermione gave him a nod in understanding. "Work smarter, not harder." Regulus finished quietly.

Hermione swallowed her fish. "Another way in which Muggleborns are treated differently from everyone else." Regulus hummed in agreement. "Thank you for telling me."

"Of course," Regulus responded. "Now that you know that you don't have to work in that department to get stuff done, do you have any other interests?"

Hermione nodded as she munched on her fish. She swallowed. "I really like ancient runes." Hermione told Regulus. "We're working on a translation of a journal of some sort. It's never been translated before, we will be the first people to do so. I really like what we are doing. It's extremely interesting to me. Translating." She paused. "I don't think I want to do curse breaking…it's not really my thing. But I do like the idea of working with Gringotts or someone like that and translating works found. Working alongside curse breakers. Alongside Gringotts."

Regulus nodded in agreement, giving her a grin. "Bathsheda said during one of our staff meetings that both you and Theo were her best students."

Hermione smiled brightly at the praise from her favourite professor. It was something for her to think about.

...


...

Regulus and Hermione arrived back at Hogwarts soon after dinner had ended. Hermione made her way back to the library in search of Theo. She wanted some couple time. They barely spent any time together other than to work on their schoolwork. As she walked into the large room she quickly spotted Theo sitting, reading his transfiguration textbook at a table.

Hermione sat down next to him with a grin. "Hey," she chirped in greeting.

"Hello," he smirked at her. "How was your dinner with Regulus?" he asked.

"Great!" Hermione replied. "We had a good talk with each other. And some delicious fish and chips."

"Mmm." Theo said with a grin as he packed up his schoolbag after seeing that she wasn't taking out her textbooks to read. He stood up from his chair and helped her up from hers. "Room of Requirement?" he asked her with a grin.

Hermione fought a grin of her own. "Yes please." She paused, unsure if Theo would go for it. "Can you go to your dorm and get your pajamas?" she asked him quietly as they left the library.

Theo looked at her questioningly.

"I really want to spend time with you outside of studying or class time." Hermione said to him. "I was wondering if you wanted to spend the night with me in the Room of Requirement." Hermione questioned him quietly, fighting a blush. "Just to talk. And sleep eventually. About anything other than schoolwork."

Theo grinned at her. "Alright. Let's head to the dungeons to get my stuff." He looked at her. "I take it you want some snuggles?"

"Yes please," Hermione said quietly as she pulled him closer to her, her arm wrapping around his lower back.

The couple soon made their way to the Room of Requirement. Hermione gasped as she pulled open the door. Theo had been the one to think of the room this time. Inside was a large fireplace. Bookcases lining the walls. A seating area off to the side of the cozy room. A large four poster bed was the focal point. A loo was off to the side of the room.

"Alright?" Theo asked her, watching as she took in her surroundings.

Hermione grinned. "It's perfect."

Chapter Text

Hermione and the other students arrived in the defence classroom on Tuesday afternoon, and stopped dead in their tracks. The classroom had been changed.

It was time to begin their practical lessons.

Hermione had forgotten that Regulus had told the class the week prior that they would be attempting non-verbal spells this week. By the looks of things, a few other students had forgotten as well.

"Make sure to place your school bags on the side or front of the room," Regulus said to the students from his desk. "We won't be needing any textbooks for today's class, or Thursday's class. You'll only need your wands."

Hermione dropped her bag on the floor near the front of the room. Her friends doing the same. She removed her wand from her sleeve on her left arm. Numerous students doing the same thing. A few removed their wands from their pockets. Not a single student had their wand in their school bag, where they technically were supposed to be kept during class time, according to the school rules.

Regulus gave the students a nod. Understanding, but not commenting on the rule in place.

"Be careful with keeping your wands in your pockets." Regulus said to the room. "Can anyone tell me why?"

"Moody told me I could lose a buttocks if I kept mine in my back pocket." Harry said to Regulus. His voice carrying across the room. "Constant vigilance and all that."

Regulus grinned."When was this?"

"Summer before fifth year." Harry replied. "I got picked up at my Aunt and Uncle's place by him and a few others to spend some time...at another location. I had my wand in my pocket and he let me know what he thought of that."

Regulus nodded. "That is one of the reasons not to keep it in your pockets, accidental magic. You can also warp the shape, when you sit down repeatedly. Not a good thing to do." Regulus told the class. "I would recommend keeping your wand in your sleeve. Most Wizarding clothing will have a place for it. If you prefer to wear muggle clothing you can make a place of your own. I'm not entirely sure what the spell is. You'll have to look it up. Another way is to wear a holster on your forearm, hidden from view underneath your sleeve. You touch your wand and the holster will release it. You can get those at any wand shop or supply shop." Regulus smiled at the class. "Your Hogsmeade weekend is coming up soon, you can purchase a holster at Dervish and Banges."

"But isn't that against the rules?" A Ravenclaw student asked. "We're supposed to keep them in our school bags during class time. And when in the hallways." He frowned.

"You're supposed to, yes." Regulus admitted. "But I've never seen someone actually follow it, other than first years. You certainly weren't when you pulled your wand out of your pocket. I think as long as you don't hex or curse anyone in the hallways it can be overlooked." Regulus paused. "If it makes you more comfortable to have it on your person at all times, it shouldn't be an issue."

Regulus took a look around the room and then looked at his watch. "I think everyone is here by now. Class has begun. Today we will be practising our non-verbal spells. We will begin with the disarming spell. Yes, it is only a second year spell, but you need to start somewhere. The more complex the spell, the more difficult it will be to do non-verbally." He looked around the room. "Everyone can pair up now, please." The students began pairing off. "I want you to decide who will go first. The person who is waiting to be disarmed please hold your wand in your hand and stand there. No blocking, no fighting back. Not yet. I need to see where everyone is right now, and we will go from there."

Students nodded and readied themselves. Each and everyone of them taking a duelling stance.

"Remember what you now know about non-verbal spells." Regulus told the room. "Focus and intent." He paused. "Begin."

Hermione, facing Theo, focused on the spell. Expelliarmus, she thought clearly.

Theo's wand flew out of his hand. Arching into the air. Hermione reached her left hand up and grabbed his wand.

She gave him his wand back with a grin.

Theo too was able to disarm her non-verbally.

Regulus slowly walked around the classroom. All of the eighth year students were able to disarm their opponents non-verbally. Not at all surprising. He knew Severus taught them non-verbal spells. Although he disagreed with the way in which he did it. Quite a few seventh year students were successful as well.

He slowly walked up to a Muggleborn Hufflepuff girl and waited off to the side. Watching. The girl was a seventh year. Quiet. But smart. She knew her defence theory very well. She was the only student to get an outstanding in his class so far. Twice.

She was frowning. Trying to disarm her classmate. The classmate's wand hadn't moved yet.

"Focus and intent." Regulus said quietly to her. "Think of the spell. Think expelliarmus, just don't speak it out loud."

The Hufflepuff gave him a nod and refocused on her classmate. Eyebrows crinkled. Lips pressed together tightly. She moved her wand in the proper formation, and the classmates wand flew out of his hand.

Regulus grinned. "Good job."

He continued his walk through the classroom. Correcting stances and wand movements as he did.

"Good," Regulus said to the room. "Everyone has succeeded with the disarming spell. Now we move on to defending against it. One person attempting to disarm, the other attempting to block it. Both non-verbally, please. Use only the shield spell to block. Protego. Nothing else. No other curse or jinx." Regulus paused and took a look around the room. "Begin."

Regulus watched as numerous wands arched across the room. He could hear students swearing under their breath as they stepped forwards toward their partners to get their wands back. He grinned.

"Yes. Like I said before during our lectures...the more complex spell, the more difficult it will be for you to perform non-verbally. Your shields won't be strong enough at first. Or they won't be there at all." Regulus paused, taking a look around. "Focus and intent. Focus on the shield. Visualize the shield. Protego."

The class practised for the rest of the period. The majority of students were able to produce a weak shield. Something that would be able to slow down a spell but not inhibit it entirely. A few students, mainly the eighth years, were able to produce a full shield.

"Next class we will pick up where we left off today," Regulus said to the room. "Once we have that we will move on to defending against something more than a disarming spell...I'm thinking stunning spells. Just giving everyone the heads up. Class dismissed."

...


...

It was the beginning of October, a Sunday afternoon, and Hermione was straddling Theo's lap while he sat on their couch in the Room of Requirement. The two of them had been working on their Transfiguration homework, due the next day. Hermione had almost completed her assignment when Theo decided that it would be a good idea to snog her senseless. She agreed. It was a good idea.

Theo's hands were caressing her hips and squeezing her behind as they snogged each other.

Hermione gasped as Theo nibbled on her bottom lip. Grinning.

One of his hands began to move up underneath her shirt. Barely touching her back. Softly touching her stomach.

Theo pulled back from Hermione slightly. Watching her as he slowly moved a hand further up her shirt. Watching her expression. Cautious.

Hermione gave him a nod and he added a second hand. His fingers tickled her sides. Her ribs.

Theo gave her a grin as she tightened up. Squeaking. Ticklish.

He leaned forward slightly in his seat and began kissing her again. Tongues caressing tongues. Licking. Nipping.

Hermione removed her hands from Theo's shoulders and grasped the bottom hem of her shirt. Removing her top in one swift movement. Left with only her black, sheer lace bra. The one that Ginny had recommended to her with a wink during their summer shopping trip with Luna.

"Fuck," Theo muttered under his breath as he kissed her some more.

Hermione grinned. She grabbed both of his hands in hers and brought them up to her bust. Placing them firmly on her breasts. She gave herself a squeeze in the process. Indicating to Theo what she wanted.

Theo began squeezing her gently, watching her expression as he did so. Making sure she was alright with what he was doing.

Hermione closed her eyes and thrust her breasts further into his hands. She loved this. Loved this feeling. Of him touching her. Squeezing her.

She blinked her eyes open as she felt Theo drag his thumbs over her nipples which had pebbled. Hard.

Theo was watching her. Dark brown eyes looking into her grey. "Okay?" He checked in with her as he gently pinched her nipples through her bra.

Hermione nodded. "I like this," she muttered roughly to him. "I like how you touch me. It feels good."

Theo gave her a grin which Hermione returned.

She closed her eyes again. Enjoying his touches. She loved how they both explored what they were comfortable with. What each of them liked. Learning. Understanding. She trusted him. She knew he wouldn't hurt her. Wouldn't push her too far, too fast.

Theo began softly kissing the tops of her breasts. Above her bra, as he continued to run his thumbs over her.

Hermione hummed quietly as she brought a hand to Theo's hair. Running her fingers through his brown locks.

Hermione's mind drifted as she enjoyed Theo's caresses. His kisses. Thinking of when they had spent the night together on her birthday. Just talking and snuggling. Asking each other questions. Learning. Understanding. Thinking of when they had touched each other intimately weeks ago. Theo's hands on her, rubbing her. Her hands rubbing him. Stroking him through his trousers. She thought of the summer. Spending time with Theo in the Black Library. Regulus and Narcissa teaching her how to hold herself in public when they had gone out for lunch. Before, when Hermione told Regulus what she had overheard at The Burrow that summer. Molly Weasley. Ron and Molly. Ron telling her that his mother thought she was a scarlet woman during her fourth year for dating Viktor. For supposedly dating Harry. Scarlet woman. Old terminology for slut. Whore.

Hermione tensed up. She brought her hands towards herself as she opened her eyes. She tried to cover herself up. Self-conscious. Ashamed.

"Hey...hey," Theo pulled away. "It's alright. It's alright, Hermione."

Hermione cupped her breasts. Hiding them from Theo. "I'm sorry." She swallowed. She covered her face with her hands. Trying to hide. Trying to disappear. She started to climb off of Theo. Derogatory words continuing to run through her head.

She sat on the couch, bringing her knees up in front of her. She hugged her legs. Her face resting against her legs. She tried to catch her breath. Tried to clear her head.

Theo's hand cautiously touched her shoulder. "I have your shirt, Hermione." He told her. "How about we put it on so you're more comfortable, alright?"

Hermione made a sound in her throat. Unable to speak. She could feel herself sliding. Losing control. Her brain working a million miles a minute. Going through other words for for whore. Other words for slut. Her eyes burning. Stinging. Focus Hermione.

She looked over at Theo sitting beside her. Blurry. Worried.

She felt her shirt get placed in one of her hands. She clutched it. Trying to find the bottom to pull over her head.

She dragged it on. Hands fumbling. Shaking. Tears running. Brain thinking.

She took a breath. Deep.

She felt a hand return to her shoulder. Cautious.

Theo.

"I'm sorry." She said again. Her throat thick with emotion.

"Sweetheart. You have nothing to be sorry about. Nothing to apologize for."

Her tears wouldn't cease. Her hand wiping her face repeatedly. Her cheeks still wet. Her eyes still stinging.

"Can I hold you?" Theo asked her cautiously.

Hermione gave him a nod and she felt his arm reach around her shoulders. Pulling her close to him. Nestled into his side.

His hand ran through her hair. Her curls.

Soft. Calming.

Hermione took another breath. She swallowed. Exhaled.

She took another. Theo continuing to run his hand through her hair.

Her arms cautiously pulled him closer to her. Wrapping around his lower back. Wrapping around his waist. His stomach.

She leaned her head against his shoulder. A kiss to the top of her head.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Theo chest rumbled against her cheek as he spoke.

Hermione closed her eyes. She sighed.

"Fourth year." She whispered to him.

Theo hummed. Indicating he was following along. That he had heard her.

"Do you remember things from then?" Hermione asked him quietly. "About what went on during the school year?"

"The Triwizard Tournament." Theo stated. "Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. Yule ball. You beautiful and in a beautiful dress. Viktor Krum. Dancing." He paused. "Did something happen then, Hermione?"

"Not what you're thinking." She replied. "Viktor was always a gentleman. Always respectable towards me." She swallowed. Thinking. Clearing her head. Organizing what she wanted to say to Theo. "Rita Skeeter." Hermione said clearly. She felt Theo tense. His arm tightening around her shoulders. "She wrote some unflattering things that year. About me. About me and Viktor. About me and Harry, supposedly. About me cheating. Love potions." She sniffed.

"Hermione..." Theo said quietly.

Hermione shook her head and pulled away from Theo. Trying to get some distance. Trying to figure out what she needed to say.

"I don't care what Pansy said to her. I think I understand why she did what she did. It's fine. It's done." Hermione said. "Ron was angry at me for going to the Ball with Viktor. He told me I was fraternizing with the enemy, by going to the ball with him. He was jealous." Hermione swallowed, wiping her cheeks some more. Trying to clean herself up. "His mother, Molly, reads the Daily Prophet, she read every single word that Skeeter wrote about me. She read every word of the supposed love triangle that I was in with Viktor and Harry. She told her son that girls who dated around were scarlet women. She told Ron that I was one because I was supposedly dating both Viktor and Harry." Hermione snorted to herself. "She told her son that I was a slut because I didn't go to the Ball with him. Because I went with someone else. The only person who actually asked me. Who actually paid any attention to me. She told her son I was a slut because I stuck by Harry's side when everyone else thought he had cheated to get into the tournament. Including Ron." Hermione swallowed.

"Which was what Regulus was getting at in Flourish & Blotts, when he and Mrs. Weasley were bickering at each other. Hissing at each other." Theo responded. Finally understanding what had happened during their Diagon Alley visit.

Hermione nodded. "I don't know how he found out about that specifically." She swallowed, thinking. "Harry might've told him what had happened. They were talking a lot. Spending a lot of time together going over things. Experiences. Expectations placed on them by others. It may have gotten brought up during one of those talks they had." She frowned. "He told me he had read the garbage that Skeeter wrote. The lies."

Hermione felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned into Theo. Wanting comfort. Needing comfort.

"I'm sorry that you've experienced that, Hermione." Theo muttered to her as he held her.

She sniffed. "I let my mind wander when you were kissing my breasts. Eventually it wandered to Ron saying I would be viewed as a scarlet woman. I could hear Mrs. Weasley's voice. Hissing the words at me." She shook her head at herself. "I'm not ashamed of who I am. I'm not ashamed of what we've done so far. It's just that sometimes...this time...the words hurt like they were meant to. Usually those types of words just bounce off of me." Hermione swallowed.

"Have I pushed you too far?" Theo asked her, quietly. "Are we moving to fast for you?"

Hermione shook her head emphatically. "Not at all. I want more with you actually." She gave him a soft smile. One which he returned to her.

"I just have doubts - hesitations - sometimes." She frowned. "I sound and feel very contradictory. Conflicted."

Theo kissed her hair again. Fingers running through her curls.

Hermione sighed. "Not to pour even more cold water on things, but I need to finish my essay for Professor Clearwater. I just have the conclusion left. It won't take me too much time."

Theo let her sit back up closer to the table. He gave her a grin. "It's no problem, Hermione." He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, snickering as it sprung free almost instantly. "Dinner will be starting in about thirty minutes anyway. We wouldn't have been able to carry on much longer without making another entrance."

Hermione laughed as she dipped her quill into her inkwell. "Thank you for being patient. And understanding."

"Anytime."

...


...

After dinner Hermione and Regulus made their way to Regulus' office. It was the time they had figured would work best for them, in order to carry on with Hermione learning more about the House of Black.

"What will I be learning about today?" Hermione asked Regulus as they stepped into his office. He set out to make some tea for the pair of them as Hermione sat on one of his cozy chairs near the fireplace.

"I don't know." Regulus told her, giving a bit of a laugh. "What would you like to learn about?"

Hermione frowned as she accepted the mug of tea from him.

Regulus sat down in the other chair facing her. He waited for her to respond. Patient.

Hermione opened her mouth to say something. She hesitated and closed her mouth again. Her brows scrunched together. She took a sip of tea.

Regulus gave her a grin. "What is it, Hermione?"

Hermione placed her mug on the side table next to her. She looked down at her lap. Her hands.

She cleared her throat. "It's not necessarily about the House of Black."

"That's fine." Regulus assured her.

Hermione could feel him watching her. Trying to get a read on her.

"It's about defence." She said quietly.

Regulus' eyebrows rose slightly. "Okay." He frowned as he took a sip of his tea.

Hermione looked at Regulus. "I don't know what else I need to do on my written work to get an outstanding grade from you. You've given me an acceptable and two exceeds expectations. That's it. I don't know what you're looking for, from me."

Regulus gave her a slow, single nod of his head. "You've always gotten outstanding grades." He stated to her.

"I have, yes."

"Your answers are by the book." Regulus told her. "There is nothing wrong with that. But I think you are smart enough to be able think critically. To be able to bring forth your own ideas. More of your ideas to the table."

Hermione raised her eyebrow, disbelief evident on her face. "So, what you're saying is, the person you've given an outstanding to has done all that?"

Regulus nodded. "Yes, they have." He set his mug down. "You're grades won't matter, Hermione. You'll be able to get whatever job you want when you're finished here. It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me." Hermione said firmly. "I don't want to get a job because of my last name. I want to earn it."

"Hermione —"

"No. You need to listen." Hermione said abruptly to Regulus.

"You are the only professor who has marked me this way. My grades are identical in every other class I'm taking. The other seven classes, all outstanding." Hermione shook her head to herself. "What you don't realize is that I have had to earn my place in this world. I've had to work my arse off to stay here, to prove to people that I belong here. I know that if my grades were merely acceptable, people would have assumed that it was because I'm Muggleborn. Yet you keep keep telling me that it doesn't matter. If I were Muggleborn, it would matter, and you know it. I wouldn't be able to find a decent job if my grades were average. I refuse to use my family name to find my ideal job." Hermione frowned, eyes wet. "I don't think you're marking me fair. I don't think you are marking me like everyone else. I think you are being harsh. I think that if I were still Hermione Granger, Muggleborn witch, you would have given me an outstanding on each assignment that I've handed in to you."

"Hermione," Regulus said softly to her. "I understand where you're coming from —"

A harsh laugh erupted from Hermione. "With all due respect, Regulus. No, you don't. You have no idea."

She stood up from her chair.

"I think I'm done here." She said to him. "I need to go write in my journal for my mind healer to discuss on Tuesday. I have a lot to say it looks like."

Hermione left Regulus' office, letting the door close harshly behind her. She made her way to the Gryffindor common room and pulled out her journal from her school bag.

She had a lot on her mind.

Chapter Text

Hermione sighed as she took her seat in her Monday afternoon Transfiguration lecture. Luna Lovegood plopped down next to her with a dreamy smile as she began to remove her notebook from her school bag. Transfiguration was one of the few NEWT level classes that had split up the four houses. There were just too many students in the advanced class to be able to have them all in the classroom at the same time. The seventh and eighth year Gryffindors were with their Ravenclaw cohorts, while the Slytherin seventh and eighth years were placed with the Hufflepuffs.

"Good afternoon, Luna." Hermione said quietly to the blonde as she set her quill and inkwell down on the desk.

Luna turned to look at Hermione more directly.

"Good afternoon," Luna gave her a grin.

Hermione's eyebrows rose on her forehead as she spotted a small bruise on the blonde's neck. A love bite. A hickey. It was barely noticeable, but if you knew where to look it could be easily spotted.

"Did you have a good lunch?" Hermione asked her with a grin. "Stimulating?"

Luna grinned and a blush coloured her pale cheeks. "Quite stimulating, yes."

Ginny rose from her seat behind Hermione and Luna and stepped forward to get a better look at her friend. A sly grin on her face.

"Luna!" The redhead gasped as she spotted the love bite. "How long has this been going on?" The grin widening at the blonde's blush.

"Oh…you know." Luna replied. She looked down at her bag and pulled out her assignment to hand in to Professor Clearwater. She grabbed Hermione's homework from her and walked up to the front of the room to hand in their work. Harry doing the same with his and Ginny's work.

Ginny made eye contact with Hermione. Her eyes wide in amusement.

Hermione shook her head. "Don't tease her."

"I would never." Ginny exclaimed. "She is one of my best friends." Ginny paused as she sat back down in her seat. "I am really happy for her, actually." She pursed her lips. "I wonder if it is who we think it is…"

Luna and Harry sat back down in their respective seats. The rest of the class settled down as well. Prepared for the start of their Transfiguration lecture.

"Alright class," Professor Clearwater began as she stood up from behind her desk. "Today we will begin the topic of human transfiguration. Now I know you touched on it in your sixth year – with the transfiguration of hair colour that you were able to carry out under Headmistress McGonagall's teachings. Today, however we will go one step further and begin to learn about facial transfigurations – nose shape, lips, chin, even eye size. Today will be our theoretical lesson on it. The next class later this week will begin our practical lesson on this topic."

Professor Clearwater pointed her wand at the blackboard behind her. Transfiguration notes appeared instantly on the board. "Facial transfiguration is much more advanced than merely hair colour change. It is also more dangerous if you make a mistake. It is important you follow along with the theory I am about to teach you, prior to practising on yourselves. I can assure you, however, that if you do make a mistake we will be able to fix it. It just may be slightly painful as we do so." She looked to the class pointedly. "Can anyone tell me why it is more dangerous than hair colour change?"

Hermione raised her hand, having already read this particular chapter during the summer at Grimmauld Place.

Professor Clearwater nodded to Hermione to answer.

"Because hair is technically dead, we don't feel it change colour or texture. Our face, our muscles and bones are very much alive. We will feel it as we make changes to ourselves. It can lead to mistakes due to the strangeness of feeling our nose elongate or our chin shorten. We must remain focused on our task while we carry out the transfiguration and not the changes, doing so can lead to potential facial tearing or blood vessel pinching if we make too much of an adjustment from our original selves." Hermione reiterated almost directly word-for-word from her Advanced Transfiguration textbook.

"Exactly." Professor Clearwater said. "Ten points to Gryffindor."

Hermione gave her a grin and focused on her notetaking. She dipped her quill into her inkwell and began scratching her notes down in her transfiguration notebook.

The hour long class was quickly finished. Professor Clearwater stating to the room that she felt they were ready to perform transfiguration from the seventh year curriculum. That the next class they would begin the practical lessons which would take them through the rest of the year.

Hermione packed up her notebook, quill and inkwell and slung her bag onto her shoulders. She followed Ginny, Harry and Luna out of the room.

"Any plans for the rest of the day?" Hermione asked her friends.

"Not really, no." Ginny responded as she took Harry's hand in her own.

"I was thinking of sending Ron an owl, actually." Harry replied. "I haven't spoken to him in a while."

Hermione grinned at Harry. "Say hello from me."

Harry acknowledged her with a grin and a nod of his head.

Hermione looked to Luna who was watching the Slytherin students walk up the stairs to the Transfiguration classroom. Oblivious to the conversation going on around her.

Draco gave her a slight grin which Luna returned. But neither of them did anything further.

Blaise gave the group of Gryffindors and Ravenclaw a nod of his head. "Good day." He peered into the room, spotting students still making their way out. "How was class?"

"Good. Just theory today. Practical lesson next class on human transfiguration." Harry responded with a grin.

"Nice."

Hermione was watching Theo. He wasn't making eye contact with her, instead watching Pansy as she straightened out her bag on her shoulder. Unsmiling.

Hermione walked closer to Theo. He sensed her and turned to face his girlfriend. "Hey beautiful." He said to her as he kissed her cheek.

Hermione gave him a slight grin. Her nose twitched. She thought she smelled alcohol on his breath. "Hey." She said softly to him. Trying to make eye contact with him.

She watched as Theo's face changed. Guarded. Walls up. She could see it in his eyes. He had put his occlumency shields in place. She frowned slightly.

"Is everything alright?"

Theo grinned. "Of course." He kissed her forehead and ran his hand through her curls.

Hermione relaxed at the gesture. Theo appeared to be open with her again. His grin reaching his eyes. Could she have imagined it? Was she being paranoid?

"I'll see you tomorrow, alright?" He told her quietly.

Hermione gave him a nod. She watched Theo walk into the classroom with Blaise, Pansy and Draco.

"You have it bad, 'Mione." Ginny said to her as she pinched Harry's behind. The group made their way down the stairs.

Hermione snorted in agreement. "I do seem to like him quite a bit. I agree." She grinned at her friends.

"I'm going to head off to the library." Hermione said. "Anyone is welcome to join me if they'd like to."

Luna smiled at her. "I'll come with you, Hermione. I want to remain ahead in my course readings." Luna grabbed Hermione's hand and gave it a squeeze. Watching Hermione's expression closely. "It will all be alright." She said quietly to the curly haired girl as they made their way down the staircase.

Hermione gave her a timid smile. Unsure. Luna had noticed something was off as well. The Ravenclaw didn't miss much, Hermione realised, no matter how dreamy she appeared to be.

"Harry and I will meet you two in a bit, before dinner. We have some stuff to do." Ginny said with a grin. Unaware that anything was amiss. The couple quickly scurried off together towards the owlery.

Hermione and Luna found an empty table in the library and sat down. Hermione taking out her History textbook she had stuffed in her schoolbag earlier in the day. She needed to read ahead to be able to follow along in Professor Binns' class.

She felt a set of eyes on her. She looked up from her textbook. Luna peering at her. A sad look in her eyes. "What's wrong, Luna?" Hermione questioned her friend quietly.

Luna shook her head. Her large eyes blinking. Clearing. "Nothing is wrong." She hesitated, biting her lip. "Draco said that Theo is being secretive with them. That he's hiding something from them."

Hermione watched Luna closely. Holding her breath.

"Draco said that Theo hadn't come back to their dorm room a few weeks ago. On your birthday. Theo refused to say where he was." Luna told Hermione quietly. Aware that they were in the library, not wanting anyone to hear what they were saying.

Hermione shook her head. "Theo spent the night with me on my birthday. We slept together in the Room of Requirement. We just talked. Nothing actually happened." Hermione finished quickly. Not wanting Luna to get the wrong idea.

Luna closed her eyes in relief and gave Hermione a grin. "That's wonderful. I'm glad you are able to spend time together." She peered at Hermione again. Turning her head slightly.

"You're still worried." She stated.

"I thought I smelled alcohol on him just now." Hermione admitted quietly. Looking down at her textbook in her lap.

"He and Draco were drinking a lot over the summer."

Hermione nodded.

"Perhaps you need to speak with him about it." Luna told her.

"How?"

Luna shrugged. "You'll figure out a way." She gave Hermione a smile and peered down at her book.

Hermione focused on her history textbook. She was reading about the nineteenth century wizarding world. She shook her head. Trying to clear her mind. Trying to focus on her school work.

...


...

Hermione sat down in Robert's office in the back of the hospital ward. She sighed as she did. Pulling her journal out for Robert to read before they began their discussion.

"Long week?"

Hermione gave a nod. She handed her journal to him. "I wrote it all down. I would like you to read it before we talk." She quietly told him. Her arms curling around her stomach. Self-conscious. She hadn't written anything this personal before.

She waited as the mind healer read through her journal entries from the last seven days. She picked at a loose thread on her Gryffindor jumper. She had snagged it on her bag earlier in the school year and hadn't repaired it yet. She wondered if she could. If she could fix magically altered clothing without affecting the quality altogether. She'd have to look it up.

"Well." Robert said. "I see a few things we can discuss with each other." He closed her journal and handed it back to her. Hermione tucked it into her bag. "Has this been effecting your sleep at all?" He asked her.

Hermione scrunched up her nose in thought. "I took my second dreamless sleep Sunday evening after I wrote about defence."

Robert gave her a nod and scratched a note in his file on her.

"You've always gotten Outstanding grades."

Hermione nodded. "Yes I have."

"Are you offended that you haven't gotten one yet in defence this year?" Robert questioned her.

"Offended?"

Robert nodded. "Yes offended. You appear to be angry that you haven't received one yet in that class. You said in your journal that you always got an 'O' on your assignments. That Regulus must not understand what he is doing because he has yet to give you one."

"I'm angry that he seems to be holding me to higher expectations than everyone else." Hermione stated bluntly.

"Because you haven't received an 'O' from him yet."

Hermione nodded.

"Maybe you don't understand the material as well as you think you do." Robert said to her, watching her expression closely.

"I know my magic." Hermione said indignantly. Frowning.

"I never said you didn't." Robert held his hands up. "But you also have had horrible teachers in that class. Perhaps you don't know or understand the material as well as you think you do. You have improved your grade. You went from an 'A' to an 'E' you've said in your journal. That's no small feat."

Hermione continued to frown. "My education is important to me." She said quietly. "It always has been important to me. It is part of my identity. Regulus shrugging it off, telling me that it wasn't important goes against everything my parents have taught me."

Robert nodded. "Your muggle parents." He clarified. His quill scratching a few more notes for himself.

"Yes. My muggle parents. They are dentists. Education has always been important to them."

"And you feel that Regulus telling you it is not important disregards your muggle parents. Disrespects them." Robert stated.

Hermione nodded in agreement.

"Perhaps you can talk to him about this feeling you have. You said you walked out of his office quickly. Not letting him explain himself to you." Robert said to her. He scratched a few more notes in his file.

"I see him after lunch." Hermione told him.

"Then I suggest you talk to him after your class, Hermione. I am sure it is just a misunderstanding between the two of you. I don't think he means anything malicious." Robert gave her a raised eyebrow. "He cares about you a lot. He wants what is best for you."

"Have you spoken with him?"

"I can't tell you that, Hermione." The healer told her quietly. "It's between patient and healer."

Hermione nodded in understanding.

"Let's move on to what you wrote last night." Robert said to her. "Can we do that?""

"Of course."

"Your boyfriend Theodore Nott had been drinking quite a bit over the summer with his friends. He stopped doing that. Now you smelled alcohol on him yesterday afternoon." He paused. "What time did you bump into each other?" He scratched a few words in his notes.

"After transfiguration class." Hermione said quietly. "I have my class right after lunch. He has his after me with the Hufflepuffs."

Robert nodded. "I suggest trying to bring it up with him. Delicately. You have said in the past to me that you two are able to speak with each other about a number of personal things. That is good. It tells me you have good communication with each other."

"I don't want him to get angry at me."

"He might get angry at you." Robert admitted. "But I think he will be open to talk to you. He has done it before. I am open to take in new patients, if he is having difficulties. As are the other healers here."

Hermione agreed. Telling him she'd be able to sit down with Theo the upcoming weekend.

"Do you find you are sleeping better over all?" The mind healer asked her. "Is the journal writing helping you at all?"

Hermione nodded. "I do find it helps me with clearing my head. Almost like practising occlumency, but instead of placing thoughts behind walls or in boxes, I am placing them on the page as I write them down." She paused. "I still only sleep a few hours a night though. Maybe four or five hours total most of the time. Occasionally I can sleep in on the weekend a bit longer. Maybe six hours."

The healer scribbled down more notes in the file.

He frowned. "Nightmares?"

Hermione shook her head. "Not recently, no."

The healer nodded. "I want you to keep writing things down. I am going to ask my colleagues what they suggest in regard to your sleep. You are not getting enough. Is that alright with you?"

Hermione nodded. "Of course."

The healer stood up from his desk. Hermione stood up from her chair.

"Same time next Tuesday?" Robert asked her.

Hermione nodded.

"Madam Pomfrey will give you two more vials of dreamless sleep for you."

Hermione turned towards Madam Pomfrey's office next door. The matron smiled at Hermione and handed her two small vials of the potion. "Have a good day, dear."

...


...

"Next class will be a practical lesson." Regulus told the group of seventh and eighth year students. "You'll only be needing your wands." He paused. "I just want to give everyone the heads up: my office hours today are cancelled for personal reasons. I ask that you wait to speak with me tomorrow at the earliest. Class dismissed." He walked closer to Hermione. "Can we talk?" He asked her quietly as she stuffed her notebook into her bag.

Hermione gave him a nod of her head but didn't say anything. She didn't know what she needed to say. How to say what she needed to say to him. Her mind was racing. She wondered if he was angry at her. He was difficult to read.

"I'll see you at dinner?" Theo asked her quietly as he slung his bag over his shoulder.

Hermione hesitated. "I'm not sure. Regulus and I have a lot to talk about."

Theo gave her a nod. "Tomorrow then." He bent over to kiss her cheek. Hermione couldn't smell any alcohol on him.

"Tomorrow." She confirmed. Theo kissed her cheek and left with the other students.

Hermione remained sitting at her desk. Watching Regulus as the last of the students left the room. She heard the door click shut and exhaled. Trying to relax.

Regulus sat down in the chair that Theo had been sitting in, right next to Hermione. Hermione's hands were clasped together on the desk in front of her.

Regulus reached over and grabbed one of her hands. Holding it in both of his.

"I'm not angry." Regulus told her.

Hermione looked over to Regulus in surprise.

"Are you poking around in my head?" She asked him quietly.

Regulus shook his head. "I didn't need to. You seem nervous being alone with me."

Hermione swallowed and nodded. "I am."

Regulus ran his thumb over her knuckles. "Please don't be nervous. It makes me feel like a shit." He chuckled dryly.

Hermione snorted. "I don't know what to say to you. To get you to understand where I'm coming from."

Regulus nodded. "Can I start?" Hermione hummed in agreement.

"You were correct in your statement that I have no idea what you went through as a muggleborn witch." Regulus started. "I understand from an outsider's perspective. But I don't actually have any personal experience with the expectations that you have faced." He rubbed her knuckles some more. "All I was trying to get at was that your grades aren't everything. They don't mean everything, and I think I went about the wrong way to explain it to you."

Hermione nodded in agreement. He did go about it the wrong way.

"I know that if you were still a muggleborn witch that your grades would be extremely important for you. To get a decent job. To start a career. Depending on where you decided to work." Regulus paused. "I was just trying to tell you that you didn't need to stress out about them. That you could use your last name to help you out, if you needed to do so." He swallowed. "I'm sorry if I offended you. Or insulted you. That was not my intention."

Hermione nodded again. She opened her mouth to speak. She hesitated, frowning. "What do you know of dentists?" She asked Regulus.

"Dentists?" Regulus questioned.

"Dentists." Hermione confirmed. "What do you know about them?"

"Um…they are a muggle tooth healer, basically. They tend to people's teeth." Regulus answered her.

Hermione nodded and gave him a small smile. "They are tooth doctors. They need to go to school for a long time to get the appropriate education to be able to practise. To be able to tend to people's teeth. Education is extremely important. It is a difficult program to get into. The pay is really good. People like making a lot of money. But you have to work hard to get there. To even begin your practise. It is a lot of work to make the big money. To grow your client base. There are offices everywhere for dentists. There is a lot of competition. You need to be good at your job to do well in the field."

Hermione paused, trying to figure out how to explain what she was attempting to say. "My mum and dad – my muggle mum and dad, I mean – have always taught me that having a good education will open doors for me. That having good grades – the best grades – is important to be able to choose what I want to do with my life." She hesitated. "You telling me that my grades weren't important went against everything they had taught me. Against everything they had cared about. My parents raised me. My dentist parents raised me. You weren't there until you were forced to be there. Until I literally appeared on your living room floor, hurt." Hermione swallowed. "I found what you said to me to be insulting to my muggle parents. I found it to be arrogant. I mean…I don't want to be like one of those pureblood people who believe that I was entitled to something because of my last name. Because of the family that I was born into. I didn't get to choose that. I get to choose how hard I work at something. I get to choose how much my grades mean to me. That's my choice. It's not yours, Regulus."

Regulus gave Hermione's hand a squeeze. "Your grades are important to you." Regulus stated.

Hermione nodded. "Very important to me." She added on to Regulus' statement. "I don't know if I understand why I am not getting a top grade in your class. You haven't really explained to me what you're looking for. You keep saying to think critically. To come up with my own opinions on the topic. To not rely on others opinions. And I don't understand how to do that." She paused. "I thought I was doing what you were asking of me, but apparently I haven't been."

"I want you to pick apart what others are saying about the topic." Regulus said quietly. "I want you to tell me where they are wrong. I want you to tell me where they are right. I want you to illustrate that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments about whatever they are saying about Dark Arts. About defence against the dark arts." Regulus paused. "Not one of the theories or arguments is perfect, Hermione. Not one of the spells that they have invented are perfect. There are weaknesses for everything. That is what you keep missing." Her hand was squeezed again. "You tend to brush over the cracks in their work. You focus on the good things only. There is always two sides to every argument. To everything. Two sides of a coin, if you will."

Hermione gave a nod. "Won't that make my argument weaker if I point out their weaknesses?"

Regulus shook his head. "Not at all. By talking about the weaknesses you are upfront about it. You can pick certain things you like, and say why…and you do that very well. But you need to tell me where they can improve. You need to tell me your weaknesses as well. You need to be critical of yourself as well. Your arguments are not perfect. Everyone has biases. You need to tell me what they are." He paused again. "By being open about the strengths and weaknesses of whatever it is you are talking about, you allow for discussions and improvements in that particular area."

Hermione gave a small nod.

"I think that when you decide to argue for the rights of house elves, and werewolves, you will be picked apart. Your arguments will be picked apart by people who are scared of what you are suggesting. You need to be able to point out your weaknesses, your biases, and be able to be open to discussion." Regulus told her. "It will help you make a more thorough law, when the time comes."

"If I decide to do that." Hermione said quietly.

"If you decide to do that." Regulus agreed. "No pressure."

Hermione gave a soft laugh. "What if I decide to change the laws and I mess them up? What if I make it more difficult for werewolves to hold down a job in advertently?" Hermione asked her father.

"Well," Regulus said quietly. "That's why you work with multiple people. It's why you ask werewolves what they think about what you are pushing forward. It is why you get lawyers in there working with you to prevent that. You cannot do everything on your own."

"Do you honestly think my last name will help with that?" Hermione asked him quietly.

Regulus nodded. "It'll make people listen to you more. It demands respect, still. Even though the family is almost extinct. The older families will listen to what you have to say. If you didn't use it, they wouldn't even read your proposal. They would just reject it upfront."

"That's biased." Hermione muttered to herself. "No wonder the magical world is so behind the times."

Regulus chuckled. "I very much agree. They will probably look at you less seriously because you are a woman as well. That's something you'll have to deal with as well."

Hermione grimaced. "What about me being a half-blooded witch? Will that make a difference, too?"

Regulus hesitated. "It may. But the Black name may overrule that. If that makes sense."

Hermione gave him a nod. The name meant a lot in the magical world. She'd have to deal with it.

"Thank you for talking with me some more." Hermione said to Regulus. "Thank you for clarifying."

Regulus nodded. "Thank you for talking with me, Hermione. I know I came across the wrong way. I apologise again for that."

Hermione gave him a nod.

"How are you sleeping?" Regulus asked her, changing the topic.

Hermione hesitated. "Not great some nights. Other nights is better. My healer is wanting to speak with the others here to get another opinion. I'm only getting four or five hours normally."

"Nightmares?"

Hermione shook her head. "I haven't had one since September. Writing down my thoughts is definitely helping with that, I think."

Regulus nodded. "Have you been practising your occlumency shields as well, or just the journals?"

"Both." Hermione said to him. "I do find the writing things down to be easier for me. It comes more naturally to me. Almost like another way to practise occlumency, I think."

Regulus nodded in agreement. "Did you want to practise with me?" He asked her. "I can teach you some things. Like Snape did with Harry. Although I'll try not to be an arse about it."

Hermione chuckled. "We can try that. Sundays?"

"Sure. Sundays will work." Regulus told her.

Regulus looked at his watch. "It's time for dinner. We better make our way there." He stood up from the desk and held out his hand to Hermione. Helping her up from her seat.

Chapter Text

Hermione was tense as she paced the empty wall hiding the entrance into the Room of Requirement. Theo watching her closely as she focused on what she needed in the room.

Finally a door appeared. Hermione sighed in relief. She was nervous. She didn’t know how to talk to Theo about what she noticed earlier in the week after Transfiguration class. She hoped he wouldn’t be angry at her, but she knew they needed to talk with each other if this was going to be a problem for him.

Hermione sighed again as she pulled open the door and entered the room, Theo following closely behind her. Hermione placed her schoolbag on the table and took a seat on the comfy couch. Theo doing the same.

She turned to her boyfriend, who was watching her closely. “Can we talk?” She asked him quietly as he took as seat beside her.

“Of course.”

Hermione nodded to herself. Readying herself for the fallout.

“Earlier this week…Monday…after my transfiguration class and just before yours.” Hermione stated. She looked over at Theo, who had closed his eyes. “I thought I could smell alcohol on you.” Hermione continued quietly. She frowned, unsure. “I … You told me you stopped drinking over the summer. Are you drinking again?” She wrung her hands together. Tense and terrified at what Theo would say to her. How he would react.

Theo placed both of his hands on top of hers in her lap. He sighed and gave her hands a squeeze. “I did have a couple of drinks earlier that day. I can admit.” Theo confessed quietly. “Pansy and I had a couple of drinks at the end of lunch after she got word that her father had been arrested by the aurors. Nothing happened further than that, I swear, Hermione.”

Hermione frowned. “Why the drinking?”

“Her father was a supporter of Voldemort. A financial backer, if you will. I don’t think he ever had the Dark Mark on his forearm.” Theo paused. “It was a drink of celebration. A drink to celebrate that someone was paying attention. That law enforcement was doing their job.” Theo took a breath. “Mr. Parkinson is not a nice man. To his wife or to his daughter.”

Hermione swallowed. Her throat tight. “That’s all that happened?”

“I swear, Hermione.” Theo pleaded. “Nothing else happened. I know the alcohol was probably not the answer. Not the correct answer, but…it happened. We drank a few shots of Firewhiskey in the common room. That’s it. Then we went to class.”

“Thank you for telling me.” Hermione said quietly.

Theo kissed her on her forehead. “Thank you for caring, Hermione.”

Hermione sighed, relief ran through her bones. It was a perfectly good explanation. She needn’t have worried so much.

“You ready to work on our Ancient Runes translation?”

Hermione hummed in agreement. “Yes. I was thinking about what Professor Babbling went over this week in lecture, and I think we can use it in our project.”

Theo and Hermione began pulling out their books and started their work on their assignment.

...


...

It was the end of October, a Friday evening, and Hermione was straddling Theo’s lap while he sat on their couch in the Room of Requirement. They had been working on their Defence assignment when Hermione decided it was a good idea to snog Theo senseless.

Judging from the hardness pressing into Hermione through her knickers, Theo thought it was a good idea as well.

Hermione rolled her hips. Theo groaned and squeezed her behind through her skirt, encouraging her on.

Hermione began unbuttoning her shirt, pulling it open. Theo helping her remove it completely. Hermione mewled as he began caressing her breasts through her sheer black bra. The one that Ginny had recommended to her during their shopping trip with Luna.

Hermione began unbuttoning Theo’s shirt as quick as she could. Hands shaking. She wanted to touch him. To feel.

Theo shrugged his shirt off and repositioned his hands on Hermione’s hips, encouraging her to continue her grinding. He began placing open mouth kisses on her chest. Licking and sucking. Groaning.

Hermione reached around her back to remove her bra. Theo’s hands joined hers.

“Are you sure?” Theo asked pulling back from kissing her breasts.

Hermione nodded. “I’ve never been more certain. I want this Theo. I’m ready. I have been for a while.”

“All the way?”

“All the way.” Hermione gasped. She placed her hands on his shoulders. On his neck. She pulled at his hair.

Theo unclasped her bra and pulled it down her arms. Hermione grasped her bra and chucked it off to the side.

She gasped. Theo’s hands touching her. Squeezing her. Hermione closed her eyes. Theo began sucking on her breast. His hand squeezing and pinching the other.

Hermione mewled. Fuck this felt good. She rolled her hips against Theo’s bulge.

“Fuck.” Theo muttered into her breasts. Hermione grinned.

“You like?” she asked him as she ran her hands through his hair. Pulling.

“Very much.” Theo grinned up at her. “You’re beautiful, you know that? So fucking beautiful.” He gave her breasts a lick of his tongue. Watching her reaction.

Hermione groaned. Closing her eyes again. She rolled her hips more. She needed more friction. She spread her legs wider, wanting to get closer to Theo.

“Fuck.” Theo muttered. He moved a hand to her hip. Under her skirt. Hermione felt his hand travel to her knickers. To her clitoris.

Theo gave her a rub. Hermione mewled and stuttered her grinding against him.

Theo hummed. “You’re wet sweetheart. So wet.”

Hermione squealed as Theo stood up from the couch. His hands on her arse. Her arms and legs wrapped around him as she clung on for dear life.

“You’re still sure?” Theo asked breathlessly as he made his way to the bed. Kissing and squeezing.

“Yes, yes, yes. A million times, yes.” Hermione pleaded.

Theo was grinning at her. Kissing her. Holding her. It felt so right. Perfect.

Theo made it to the bed and gently set her down. Hermione moved further up the bed, Theo following closely.

Hermione began unzipping her skirt, trying to pull it off while seated on the bed. Theo reached over to her and pulled it down off of her hips and down off of her legs.

Theo grinned at her again. “Beautiful.” Taking a look at her dressed in only her knickers

Hermione blushed. Shy but at the same time empowered. She truly felt beautiful in this moment. She grinned at Theo. “You’re not so bad yourself, Mister.” She rubbed her hand over the bulge in his trousers. “But you are wearing far too many clothes. It’s not fair.”

Theo laughed. He pulled his wand out of his pocket and performed the contraceptive charm on her. Hermione felt a warm tingle in her belly, the characteristic of a properly performed spell. “Good?”

Hermione hummed. “Perfect.”

Theo pulled his trousers down and chucked them off of the bed with his wand. Clad in only his underwear he crawled up closer to Hermione. He grabbed her ankle, bringing her foot to his chest.

Hermione shivered as he ran his hand gently over her legs. Barely touching her. Theo grinning at her reaction.

“You are very wound up, Hermione. On edge. Coiled up, if you will.” Theo began kissing her calf. Moving up to the inside of her thigh. He reached her apex and began kissing her over her knickers.

Hermione gasped. Her head flopped down on the pillow. She felt Theo’s hands move to the waistband of her knickers.

“Perhaps we can fix that.” He pulled her knickers down her legs and over her toes.

She was completely bare. Completely naked. Hermione tried closing her legs together. Theo in the way.

“Shh. It’s okay Hermione. It’s alright.” Theo muttered into her thigh as he repositioned himself between her legs. “You are beautiful. Exquisite. You have nothing to be shy about.” He kissed her thigh again.

Hermione sighed. She relaxed her legs. Theo pushing them open further.

“Still okay?” He asked.

“Mmhmm.” Hermione closed her eyes. She knew what Theo was about to do. She had read about it in the book Ginny had gotten her a month prior.

Theo kissed her folds. His tongue darting out, licking her apex.

“Oh fuck,” Hermione cried out. Her nerves raw. Her toes curling.

Theo groaned against her. He began sucking on her clitoris.

Hermione mewled, wanting to slam her legs closed. Theo holding them open. She felt something exploring her. A hand. Fingers.

“Relax Hermione.” Theo muttered into her folds. He gave her another lick. Another suck.

Hermione felt his finger begin to prod her. She groaned as Theo’s pushed a finger inside her. He pumped it in and out. More kisses. More licks.

A second finger joined his first. Tight.

“Fuck.”

Hermione opened her eyes and peered down at Theo feasting on her. Dark eyes met her own. Hermione mewled again. Her hand moving to Theo’s head. Pulling his hair. Pressing his face into her.

Theo groaned against her and sucked harder. His fingers moving in and out of her quickly. Curling inside her.

Hermione’s legs began to twitch. Higher and higher. She felt her walls clamp around Theo’s fingers.

She scrunched her eyes tightly closed, groaning. Fuck.

Her hand fell from Theo’s head. She tried to catch her breath. Hermione reopened her eyes. Theo began pulling away from her.

He gave her a grin as he wiped his face. “Good?”

Hermione huffed and gave him a breathy laugh. “Yes, good.”

She watched as Theo kneeled between her legs completely nude stroking himself. Hermione bit her lip. Watching Theo twist his hand around his cock.

“You like?” He asked with a smirk.

“Yes.” Hermione murmured. “More.” She swallowed. “I want more.”

Theo leaned over and kissed her. Hermione could taste herself on his lips. On his tongue. Theo nibbled on her lip.

He rubbed the head of his cock against her folds. Against her clitoris. She felt a bit of prodding at her entrance.

Theo began to enter her. Slowly. Cautiously.

Hermione frowned. She bit her lip. Theo pushing into her entirely. Hermione squished into the mattress as Theo pressed down on her. She could feel his arms shaking slightly. Like he was holding back. Trying not to move. Trying not to lose himself.

It felt strange. A bit of pressure. She felt full.

Theo groaned. “Okay? Can I move?” He asked her tensely. A bead of sweat running down his forehead.

Hermione wiped it away as she wrapped her arms and legs around him. Holding him close. “Please.” She whispered.

Theo kissed her as he grasped her hip, squeezing. He began to move.

Hermione held Theo as he moved. His breath against her cheek. His kissed her jaw.

Hermione groaned. Theo grunted.

This was starting to feel good again.

Theo’s breath hit her ear. He sucked on her lobe. A hand moved to her hair. Tugging gently. “Can I go faster?” He grunted into her ear.

“Please.”

Theo’s hips snapped against hers. Faster.

Theo’s hand moved from her hip to her apex. He began rubbing her as he ground into her faster. Groaning.

Hermione mewled. Her legs began to twitch again.

Fuck.” Hermione swore. “Fuck yes. Yes, Theo.” She groaned. Her hand moved between them both and reached for her apex. Rubbing in time with Theo. Two hands working her.

Her walls tightened. She squealed weakly. Theo stuttered as she clamped down on him. He pounded into her a few more times before he reached his release.

“Fuck.” Theo grunted into her ear. He collapsed on top of Hermione. Squishing her further into the mattress.

Hermione gasping, tried to catch her breath. She ran her fingers through Theo’s hair. Over his shoulders.

Theo pulled back. Looking at her. Watching her expression. He kissed her cheek and gave her a grin which Hermione returned with a grin of her own. “Beautiful.” He murmured to her. He kissed her some more and began to roll off of her. Pulling her with him.

Hermione shivered, missing the warmth that Theo provided her. She nestled into his side.

“Cold?” He asked her, eyebrow raised.

Hermione nodded into his shoulder. Trying to stifle a yawn.

Theo moved and began to pull the covers down. Once they were under the covers Hermione nestled back into Theo’s side.

“Get some sleep love. You need your rest, alright?” Theo muttered quietly to Hermione.

Hermione was out in seconds. Exhausted.

...


...

Hermione found herself on the drawing room floor in Malfoy Manor. Bellatrix was there. Cackling.

“CRUCIO!” The insane witch screamed.

Hermione screamed. Throat burning. Muscles tensing.

“You bitch! You filth!” Bellatrix screamed. “You think he cares for you? Stupid girl! Foolish girl! CRUCIO!”

Hermione screamed again. Throat tearing. Hands clenching. Blood. Pain.

Bellatrix ended the curse, laughing. “Come here, boy. Show us what you can do.”

Hermione blinked her eyes open. Her teeth were still clenched together.

A man walked out of the dark wearing full Death Eater regalia. He removed his mask and smirked coolly at the mudblood on the floor. Theo. “Pathetic,” he spit on Hermione. “Crucio!”

Hermione cried out in pain. “No. No Theo. Please, no.”

“Hermione!” A voice called out.

Hermione didn’t know where it was coming from. The dungeons? Who had she been captured with? Where was Harry? Ron?

“Hermione!” The voice called out again.

It didn’t sound like Harry or Ron.

She could feel someone touching her. Shaking her as she lay on the cool marble floor. She tried to open her eyes. Who was touching her?

“Hermione! It’s just a dream! Just a dream. Listen to my voice and wake up, sweetheart. Please wake up!”

Dream.

She tried again to open her eyes. Listening to the voice.

Hermione’s eyes sprung open. She gasped for a breath. Tears were running down her cheeks. Theo holding her.

“You’re okay, Hermione,” he said to her. His voice tight. “It’s just a bad dream. Just a dream.”

Hermione tried to swallow, quickly finding that she couldn’t. Her throat tight. She tried taking another breath. Gasping. It was difficult to breathe. Theo. Death Eater.

Hermione started crying, bringing her hands up in front of her face. Trying to hide from the world. She wailed into Theo’s chest.

“Baby, no.” Theo held her. “It was just pretend. None of it was real. You’re safe now. Safe Hermione.” He ran his hands through her hair.

Hermione continued to cry. She couldn’t stop. This was the worst nightmare she had ever had.

“Hermione,” Theo muttered. “It’s over. It’s done. No one will hurt you. No one.”

Hermione took in a breath. Her tears still escaping her eyes. She took another breath. Her hands touched Theo. Touched his chest. She pressed her forehead against his chest. She took another breath. Swallowed.

She nodded. “Nightmare.” She gasped out. “Over.”

“That’s right, sweetheart. It’s over. It’s just a nightmare.” His hand ran through her curls some more.

She peered up at Theo’s face. Taking him in. Not cruel. Not cold. Kindness and warmth. Kindness and warmth.

She sniffed. Wiping her face. Theo’s thumb ran over her cheeks. Wiping her tears away.

Hermione exhaled, pushing all the air out of her lungs before she took in a deep breath. She blinked. The room was darker than it was before she fell asleep. Nighttime.

Another breath.

Theo continued to run his hand through her curls. Calming. “Did you want to talk about it?” He asked her quietly. “I heard you telling me no. You said ‘No. No Theo. Please, no’ – Hermione what were you dreaming of? What did I do?”

Hermione shook her head. Swallowing. “It was the same as every other time. Bellatrix. Malfoy Manor. The drawing room floor. She tortured me, as usual. But this time she called for someone else to show her what they could do.” She swallowed again. “A man came out of the shadows in full Death Eater regalia. He removed his mask. It was you, Theo. You were a Death Eater.” She took a breath. “You spit on me. Told me I was pathetic… then you used the cruciatus curse on me.”

Hermione felt Theo tense.

“Baby, I am so sorry.” Theo said to her. “I am so sorry you had to go through that. I would never do that. Please know that. Never.”

Hermione swallowed again and nodded her head. “I know.” She sniffed. “It was just a stupid dream.”

She looked around the room some more. The fire low. The lanterns low as well. “What time is it?” She asked Theo, looking back at him.

He took a look at his watch. “It’s just after seven o’clock in the morning. You’ve been asleep for well over eight hours.”

Hermione was surprised. She hadn’t slept that long in years. “We should head back to our common rooms. I need to get changed for Hogsmeade. And I need to write in my journal about my nightmare for my Tuesday appointment.”

Theo agreed and threw the covers off of them both.

Hermione squealed. She had forgotten she was naked underneath.

Theo chuckled as he pulled on his underwear. He reached to the floor and tossed Hermione hers.

She quickly tugged them on.

Theo pulled on his trousers. Smirking as he watched Hermione look for her clothes.

She grabbed her skirt and quickly pulled it up.

Theo strolled over to the couch. Grabbed Hermione’s shirt and bra and handed them to her as she stepped closer to him.

“Thanks.” Hermione muttered with a blush. She dressed – rather sloppily – but knowing she just needed to get to the Gryffindor Common Room without drawing too much attention from anyone.

Theo pulled his shirt on. Hermione grabbed their ties. Stuffing hers in her school bag. Theo doing the same with his.

Pulling her jumper on, Hermione began working on stuffing her school items back into her bag.

Bag over her shoulder, she ran her hands over her front, attempting to iron out any wrinkles. She didn’t want to know what her hair looked like. A monstrosity, she was sure.

“Ready?” Theo asked her as he pulled open the door.

“Absolutely.” Hermione smiled softly at him.

They made their way to the front of the Gryffindor common room. Theo insisting that he walk her all the way there.

Theo held her just in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady. “Okay?” He asked Hermione with a grin. His thumb brushed over her lip.

Hermione smiled. “Yes. I’m okay.” She went up on her tip toes and kissed him.

“I’ll see you in an hour or so, alright?” Theo asked.

Hermione nodded. “Sounds good.”

Hermione made her way into the common room and walked up to the seventh year dorm rooms. Smiling as she did. She pushed the door open and quietly stepped inside. She needed a shower. Badly.

She dropped her bag on her bed and began looking through her trunk for something to wear.

“Good morning, Hermione.” Ginny drawled from the bed beside her. “Out late were we?”

“Good morning, Gin.” Hermione whispered. She couldn’t wipe the grin off of her face.

“Is that…your school uniform?” Ginny asked her. “No way!” Understanding finally what Hermione was up to during the night.

“Shhh.” Hermione pleaded, trying not to laugh. “I really need a shower.”

Ginny snickered. “I bet you do.” She grinned at Hermione. “Congrats...enjoy your shower.”

...


...

Theo entered his dormitory after a long evening of catching up on his assignments in the Slytherin common room, it was close to one o’clock in the morning. The majority of the day had been spent with Hermione in Hogsmeade for their first Hogsmeade weekend of the school year. The group of Slytherin misfits and Gryffindor heroes – plus Luna – had spent most of their time at The Three Broomsticks, chatting and hanging out with each other, drinking butterbeer.

He sighed as he placed his schoolbag on the end of his four-poster bed. Draco, Blaise, plus the few seventh year blokes were already lying in their beds, reading or chatting with each other.

Theo kneeled down in front of his trunk, propping the lid open. He reached inside and grabbed his shirt, flannel bottoms and his shaving kit.

“I’m going to go take a shower.” Theo said as he closed his trunk.

“Have fun.” Blaise commented teasingly.

Theo snorted as he began his walk toward the lavatory.

The lanterns lit as he entered the room. He pushed the door closed and made sure to lock it. He didn’t want anyone walking in on him.

He turned on the shower, the hot water instantly producing a fair amount of steam.

Theo dropped his pajamas on the counter by the sink. He clutched his shaving kit tightly in both arms as he slid down the tile wall onto the floor.

He unzipped the kit and pulled out a bottle of Firewhiskey. He hadn’t had a drink for a few days and he could feel the headache coming on. The craving. He clenched his jaw. His teeth grinding.

His hands shook as he spun the cap off with his thumb and index finger and took a long drink directly from the bottle.

His eyes burned as he let the whiskey sit in his mouth before swallowing.

He took another long drink. Letting the whiskey burn all the way down his throat.

Fuck.” Theo muttered as he closed his eyes in shame.

Chapter Text

Sunday evening Hermione made her way to her father’s quarters for their weekly House of Black lessons. She was slightly nervous, knowing that Regulus wanted to practise a bit on her occlumency shields. She really didn’t want Regulus seeing what her and Theo had been up to Friday night. It was private and special to her, and just between her and Theo - no one else. She had barely told Ginny anything, just giving her the general assurances that yes it was good, yes she was feeling good, and yes they remembered the contraceptive charm. Hermione snickered, it was the first thing Ginny had asked her after she finished her shower Saturday morning.

Hermione shook her head in one last futile attempt to clear her mind. She quietly knocked on Regulus’ door.

“Come in, Hermione,” Regulus called out to her.

Hermione twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door, quickly stepping in to small room. Regulus was just finishing making tea for the both of them. He stepped over to Hermione as she sat down in her chair by the fireplace and handed her her mug of tea. “Thank you,” she murmured blowing on her tea before she took a small sip.

Regulus grinned at her as he took a sip of tea. “You’re very welcome.” He placed his mug on the side table. “So I was thinking today we could work on your occlumency shields, then we can talk a bit about the Wizengamot. How does that sound?” He queried.

Hermione placed her mug on the side table and folded her arms in her lap. “I would prefer if we didn’t practise my occlumency today,” she said quietly.

Hermione watched as a single eyebrow rose on Regulus’ forehead. “Why not?” He asked her.

Hermione huffed, feeling slightly self-conscious. “I just have a lot on my mind, and some of those things are private, is all.” She tried to be nonchalant about it.

“You don’t want me seeing things as your teacher or as your father?” Regulus asked her cautiously.

Hermione frowned. “Both,” She said slowly. She bit her bottom lip. “Mostly as my dad though.”

Regulus pursed his lips, he squinted at Hermione, trying to figure out what she was hiding.

Hermione picked up her mug of tea and took another sip. She raised a brow at Regulus, waiting for him to change the subject.

“Alright,” Regulus conceded. “We won’t work on your occlumency tonight. But you do still need to practise, Hermione. Have you had any nightmares since last Sunday?”

Hermione gave a curt nod of her head. “Saturday morning. I dreamed of Bellatrix again. Torturing me again.” She paused. “Theo was there this time in my dream.”

Regulus’ eyes grew slightly larger. This was new for her. “What was he doing?”

Hermione hesitated. “He was...told to torture me by Bellatrix. To show her what he could do. He was in full Death Eater regalia.” Hermione sniffed. “Obviously it was fake. Theo would never do that to me. He would never hurt me, I know that.” She said quietly. “I will be talking with my mind healer on Tuesday to talk about it more thoroughly. To see if there is something more I can do to stop them from happening in the first place. I shouldn’t have to practise occlumency every single day to be able to sleep without having a nightmare.”

“Okay,” Regulus said. “But you have to remember that it has only been a few months, Hermione. This is going to take time.”

“I know...I just want to be normal. I just want to be able to sleep without dreaming about being tortured. I want to have happy dreams. Good dreams. Not the ones I’ve been having.” Hermione paused, swallowing. “It’s frustrating.” She sniffed. “Can you teach me about the Wizengamot?”

Regulus gave her a nod of his head. “Alright,” he said as he took a sip of tea. “Now keep in mind, what I know of the Wizengamot is only accurate from what I learned from the family, as the heir, twenty years ago. There are probably not going to be too many changes, in terms of which families are ‘light’ and which families are ‘dark’.” Regulus paused. “The greatest change will be the House of Black, if I’m being honest.”

Hermione frowned. “But you don’t know what I want to do, not really. I mean...sure I want to help people like Remus. I want things to be fair for him. For people like him. And I do want to make sure house elves are treated right. That they’re not mistreated. Not abused. And then there’s that poor dragon at Gringotts. Not to mention those ridiculous laws that Umbridge pushed through. I mean sure, those laws were abolished, but nothing has been put in their place. There is nothing in place to protect anyone or anything who isn’t a pureblooded witch or wizard.” Hermione stopped her rattling when she noticed Regulus grinning at her. She frowned. “What are you smiling about?”

Regulus shook his head, still grinning. “You wanting to do all of that makes you very different from the House of Black, traditionally. The Blacks would have supported Umbridge and her ridiculous laws, Hermione.”

Hermione shook her head. “She’s a Half-blooded witch. Her mother’s a muggle. She just really hated her mother and squib brother. Her and her father, apparently. I looked her up over the summer. The Daily Prophet had a write up on her during her trial.”

“She was good at hiding it.” Regulus agreed. “But I still think, traditionally at least, the family would’ve supported her. My mother and father would have done so without a doubt.”

Hermione nodded and took a sip of tea. “So the Wizengamot,” she prompted.

Regulus sipped his tea. “The Wizengamot,” he began, “is basically set up as a dichotomy - light families and dark families. That being said, there are neutral families as well - what most people refer to as ‘grey’ families. In simple terms, the dark families are those that generally support the more traditional leanings in the magical world. Whereas the light families in the Wizengamot are those that support more modern leanings.” Regulus paused, frowning. “It’s not that simple, not really. But, that is basically the general idea of it all. Are you following still?” Regulus asked her.

Hermione nodded.

Regulus frowned. “I should probably tell you what the Wizengamot does, before I get into the specific leanings of the different families.” He took a sip of tea. “The Wizengamot is both a court and a parliament. They sit in on court cases - trials - and are the ones who decide whether the accused is guilty or not. They also bring to the table different proposals that they want to pass, or update. The members can bring forward a proposal - say, protection for werewolves - the members of the Wizengamot have to read through the proposal in its entirely, then they come back and argue points, clarifications, improvements, and if you’re lucky they pass the proposal and it becomes a law.”

Again Hermione nodded. She took a sip of tea.

“This is where the light and dark families come in. Now...not all families who are dark in the Wizengamot are ones who practice Dark Magic, like I’ve said before, it just means they tend to support proposals which are traditional - think of the werewolves right now. There is very little protection for them. They, for the most part, cannot hold down a job. And the majority of them haven’t even gone to school if they were turned when they were children. Remus is lucky. He is the anomaly. The outlier.” Regulus took a sip of tea. “The dark families in the Wizengamot would argue that werewolves are dangerous creatures, that they shouldn’t be around our children, nor should they have the opportunity to gain an education at Hogwarts. They’re not human, not really. They’re half-breeds. They should only be around those who are like them, other werewolves. Other half-breeds.”

Hermione frowned and took a sip of tea.

“Now, the light families argue that werewolves are human the majority or the time. The only time they are not is during the full moon. That’s it. Therefore, they should have the opportunity to be able to gain an education at Hogwarts. They should have the opportunity to be able to hold down a job.” Regulus paused. “Does this make sense?” He asked Hermione.

Hermione nodded again.

Regulus grinned. “Now, what would you argue?”

Hermione frowned. “Well obviously werewolves deserve to be able to gain an education, they deserve to be able to have a career. They are only dangerous during the full moon.”

Regulus nodded. “What about during the full moon though?” He frowned. “What then?”

“Well, there should be protections in place. Remus had the Shrieking Shack to transform in while he was at school.”

“Which he escaped from regularly with his friends and ran around the school grounds, Hermione.” Regulus stated, grinning.

Hermione huffed. “What if they were given the Wolfsbane potion?” She asked him. “Students and adults should be given Wolfsbane potion, it helps with the protection of others in close proximity. As long as there is a place the werewolf can go to to transform. An office at Hogwarts, or a home. They should be relatively safe.”

Regulus nodded. “Wolfsbane is expensive. Most werewolves wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Hermione shook her head. “The Ministry should supply it. For cheap. A few sickles for a weeks worth. With Greyback running around with Voldemort for the last few years there is likely going to be a greater influx of werewolves around now. At least more than there were before. It would make sense to mass produce the Wolfsbane potion. Cheaper for everyone all around.”

“Would the Ministry supply it, or maybe St. Mungo’s?” Regulus questioned.

“Maybe both, just in case.” Hermione replied. “St. Mungo’s would be ideal, they can see if there are any injuries, or other underlying health issues when the potion is being picked up.”

“How would they pick it up?” Regulus prompted. “Do they have to give identification to be able to get it? That would make people uneasy. Discrimination doesn’t stop overnight.”

Hermione frowned again. “I’m not sure. I don’t think many unknown werewolves would want it on record that they’re picking up Wolfsbane potion regularly. I would say anyone should be able to pick it up. But I don’t know if people would abuse that. Take advantage of that.”

Regulus hummed in agreement. “I could see some shady Knockturn Alley shop owner buying it for cheap and then selling it for a profit. Not every werewolf is going to trust the Ministry, or St. Mungo’s. They are going to go somewhere where they are most comfortable. The Ministry has fucked them over for decades.”

Hermione sat up straighter. “What about the potion shop in Diagon Alley?” She asked her father. “Would that be an alright middle ground? The Ministry, St. Mungo’s and then the Apothecary.”

Regulus nodded. “That could work. Perhaps other shops as well.”

Hermione hummed in agreement. It was a lot to think about. She took a sip of tea. Ideas running through her head.

“Now the families in the Wizengamot,” Regulus stated. “I know that there will be quite a big change, if it hasn’t happened already. I know of families who have held a seat in the Wizengamot since it formed, who are now extinct. Narcissa will know more than me. I highly recommend asking her for some help on the different families. She has always loved politics. She understands it extremely well. I do know that right now the Wizengamot is operating at approximately two-thirds capacity. There are only thirty five seats filled right now. The Black seat is empty, the Potter seat is empty, the Malfoy seat is currently empty. The Crabbe and Goyle seats are also empty. They will probably stay that way, at least for now. For a while. The heirs to both of those families are in a rehabilitation facility undergoing treatment. The heads of those two families are in Azkaban I believe. The Nott seat is also empty.” Regulus frowned. “I’m not sure if Weasley’s still have a seat. They did at one point. The Bones seat is empty, but waiting for Susan Bones when she wishes to take it over.”

“How many seats are normal? How many are in the Wizengamot?” Hermione quietly asked.

“Fifty.”

Hermione hummed. “You mentioned that there are grey families...what do you mean by that?”

Regulus nodded. “The grey families are more neutral. They can go back and forth on the types of laws that they support. The Potter Family, for example, is a grey family. They tend to be on the lighter side for laws pertaining to creatures and beings and whatnot, but they also support laws which keep some of the traditions in place. Not all, but some. The Greengrass Family is very similar.” Regulus paused, deep in thought. “From what I remember from my lessons was that the Potter Family supported the practise of Dark Magic in school. Not all Dark Magic - not the really harmful stuff. But I do know that they supported the teaching of blood magic. It hasn’t been taught at Hogwarts in years. Not even theory based. Blood magic is one of the oldest magics around. Before wands. Before schools even. I know that the light families pushed to have it removed from the curriculum. They said it was too dark for kids to learn about. I know that when that motion was passed, the Potter Family was one of the families against the removal.”

“How long ago was this?” Hermione asked him. Curious.

Regulus frowned. “The early 1900s, I think. Before Dumbledore became Headmaster of Hogwarts.”

“And blood magic is Dark Magic?” Hermione asked.

Regulus hesitated. “It can be. But not always. I think Harry was saved with blood magic that his mother performed just before Voldemort killed her. The blood magic between and mother and her child. Her and James may have had everything prepared ahead of time, and when Voldemort found them Lily just had to do the last step. The sacrifice for her son.”

Hermione nodded. “Harry mentioned something like that. He said Dumbledore told him that his mum sacrificed herself for him. To protect him from Voldemort.”

Regulus nodded. “I’m no expert, but I think it was the both of them. Both James and Lily. Blood magic is usually quite convoluted. There are usually a number of steps that need to be taken for it to work. I think that they were practising blood magic before they were killed. They made sure everything was ready just in case.” Regulus shrugged. “It’s old magic, really old. I don’t think Voldemort ever took it seriously. Well, not until he came back in your fourth year.” He paused, frowning. “Blood magic can be tricky to perform. Sometimes it can work great, other times it won’t work at all. The fact that the Potter’s were able to even perform it, let alone having it work, says a lot about their magical abilities.”

Hermione hummed in agreement.

The pair continued to discuss the different positions within the Wizengamot well into the evening, frequently going off topic as they bounced ideas off of each other.

...


...

Hermione took her seat near the front of the potions classroom, Ginny and Harry sitting down in front of her. Her mind was on her and Theo and their activities the evening prior. Theo sitting on their couch in the Room of Requirement and Hermione straddling him. Both of them entirely nude. Hermione bouncing up and down on Theo’s cock. She could still feel his hands on her hips. Squeezing and encouraging her on. Teaching her.

Hermione shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. She needed to focus. She knew this would be a difficult potion to make if she wasn’t paying attention. She was taking out her Advanced Potions textbook when Theo sat down next to her, kissing her cheek as he did so.

“Good morning beautiful,” Theo muttered into her ear.

Hermione grinned at him, blushing. “Good morning Theo,” she replied quietly. “I missed you at breakfast.”

Theo nodded, grinning. “I slept in. I was trying to catch up on my homework and readings last night and ended up staying up until two in the morning.”

Hermione hummed. “You’re almost as bad as me,” she grinned at Theo.

Theo returned her grin with tired eyes. “I’ll try not to mess up our potion today.” Theo squinted at the blackboard as Professor Slughorn made his way into the room from the back storeroom. “Veritaserum,” Theo muttered, nodding. “It’s a difficult one.”

“Alright class,” Professor Slughorn began. “Today we will be developing the truth serum, veritaserum. A difficult potion in the sense that you must follow the directions exactly. No substitutions are allowed, doing so would render the potion ineffective. This potion also takes approximately one month to make. As a result, we will be starting it today and will work on it through the month of November, before we can finish it.” He paused, smiling at the class. “I now ask that you get the appropriate ingredients from the storerooms. Once everyone has the proper items I will begin the potion with you, we will work on it together.”

The students spent the first half of the class preparing their ingredients and starting their potions. Once they had completed all of the steps that they were able to before the potion needed to brew, the professor moved all of the cauldrons off to the side of the room, still simmering.

“Okay,” Professor Slughorn said once he moved the last cauldron. “The rest of the class will be theoretical based. You will be asked this on your exam in June, so I suggest you all pay close attention.” He gave them all a grin.

“Veritaserum is a truth serum, we all know this,” he began. “However, it is not always used in court proceedings. Can anyone tell me why?”

Hermione’s hand reached high in the air.

“Yes, Miss Black,” Professor Slughorn grinned at her.

“Well, while veritaserum is a truth serum, it can be beaten by a skilled witch or wizard,” Hermione took a breath. “If one is good at occlumency or has had an antidote to the serum, the wizard or witch can continue to deceive. Also, if the wizard or witch truly believes what they say happened to be the truth, even though it is obviously false, they will continue to say what they believe to be the truth.”

Professor Slughorn nodded at her. “Exactly, five points to Gryffindor for you Miss Black.” He smiled at her. “Now, that’s not to say it is never used. It will be used during the questioning of the suspect, the interrogation. Once the investigators gain information from the suspect, they will then look for more evidence which will be used in the trial. The use of veritaserum is a step to get to the evidence needed for the trial.” He looked at the room pointedly. “Its use is also highly regulated by the Ministry. The use of veritaserum without Ministry approval is illegal, do not forget that.”

The students scribbled away in their notebooks as the professor continued to lecture about the truth serum.

...


...

“WELCOME TO THE FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON!” The quidditch announcer roared to the crowd of students and professors alike. “GRYFFINDOR VERSUS HUFFLEPUFF!”

The crowd cheered loudly as both teams entered the pitch. Hermione was bundled up in her Gryffindor cloak and scarf. Her hands cozy in her mittens that Mrs. Weasley had knitted for her a few years earlier. She was sitting next to Theo who was decked out in his Slytherin cloak and scarf. He even had on Slytherin mittens and a knitted hat. Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, trying to fight a grin.

“You’re wearing the wrong colours,” she said to him over the cheering crowd.

Theo grinned at her as he shook his head. “I’m wearing the right colours, Hermione. Slytherin all the way. Always.” He patted her head with his mitten covered hand, laughing at his girlfriend’s expression.

Hermione stuck her tongue out at him as she turned her attention back to the pitch. The team captains shook hands, Ginny easily recognizable with her Weasley red hair. Seamus was sitting on the other side of Hermione, his boyfriend, Dean, was one of the chasers on the team.

“Gryffindor for the win, Theo! How much do you want to bet?” Seamus asked with a grin, peering around Hermione.

“Winning this game?” Theo asked. “Or winning the whole season?” An eyebrow raised in question.

Seamus frowned in thought, his eyes bright. “The whole bloody season!” He answered. “Weasley could be playing professionally, as could Potter if he wanted to. No other team stands a chance.”

“Bold words,” Draco drawled as he and Luna sat down in front of the group. Luna sporting her lion hat to support the Gryffindor team. “I’ll wager a bottle of Ogden’s Finest, Finnigan. Slytherin wins the quidditch cup this year, Gryffindor in a close second place. The first of the losers.” He smirked as he shook Seamus’ hand.

Seamus chuckled. “It’s a deal.” He looked over to Theo. “Do you want to wager, Theo?”

Theo looked to Hermione who was trying to fight back a grin. She shrugged at him, she had a feeling the Gryffindor team this season would be strong.

“I’ll wager.” He grinned at Seamus. “I’ll buy you a bottle of Ogden’s Finest if Gryffindor win the cup this year. If not, you owe me a new quill set. None of that cheap shit you can get anywhere. I want my name engraved on the thing. I’ll need something personalized for when I open up my own law office. Keep that in mind for when you have to buy me one.”

Seamus roared with laughter. “Deal!” He reached around Hermione and shook Theo’s hand, sealing the deal.

Hermione shook her head at the two. “Boys.” She said mostly to herself. Theo kissed her cheek, grinning at her.

The whistle blew loudly. The game had begun.

...


...

The game had been going on for just over an hour, Gryffindor leading 120 — 50, when Draco turned to the side to look at Hermione and Theo. His arm still draped across Luna’s shoulders, he pointed with his left hand to a group of people on the other side of the pitch.

“Do you see those three there?” Draco called out to them. He pointed to a witch in a dark red cloak and matching hat, a man in a green Wizarding robe and gloves, and another in a black cloak and purple scarf.

Hermione nodded that she had. “What about them?”

“They’re scouts for professional teams.” Draco answered her. “They're watching Weasley and Potter. Taking notes.”

“GRYFFINDOR SCORES AGAIN! 130 — 50!” The commentator informed the crowd. More cheering ensued.

“I’m not sure if Harry wants to play professionally. Ginny does for sure. Much to her mother’s dismay.” Hermione informed him.

Draco nodded. “She is very good. The fact that she can play various positions doesn’t hurt her chances either. Potter’s a natural. He can read a team really well. The Hufflepuff seeker is following him around, he knows that. That’s why he hasn’t gone after the snitch yet. He wants Gryffindor to score as many points as possible before he does to cushion their lead. He’s spotted it a few times already. The other seeker hasn’t.”

“140 — 50!” The commentator yelled out. “Weasley scores another goal for Gryffindor!”

Hermione cheered and clapped her mitten covered hands together. “Good one, Gin!” She called out as the redhead flew by, ducking to avoid a bludger hit in her direction.

“Come on, Hutchinson. Pay attention.” She called out to the new beater on the Gryffindor team. A third year lion, tall for his age.

“Sorry Ginny.” Hutchinson yelled out. He took off after the bludger, whacking it towards the Hufflepuff keeper.

The keeper had to move out of the way to avoid getting hit. Dean, using the distraction to his advantage, scored another goal for the Gryffindor team.

“150 — 50 for Gryffindor!”

Hermione watched as Harry took off after the snitch. The Hufflepuff seeker close behind.

“Potter’s spotted the snitch!” The commentator called out to the crowd.

Hermione watched, her face hiding behind her hands as Harry dove sharply towards the ground. The Hufflepuff seeker still close behind. She watched as Harry reached forward, reaching for the snitch. Grasping it just before the ground. He pulled up to avoid hitting the ground, his feet almost dragging in the grass below. His hand held high in the air. The snitch’s wings beating rapidly, trying to break free from his grip.

“Potter’s caught the snitch!” The commentator called out. “Gryffindor wins 300 — 50!”

Hermione stood up and cheered loudly with the others. She grabbed Theo and kissed him in celebration, ignoring the flash of a camera nearby. “Are you worried you won’t get your quill set?” She asked him as she pulled away, grinning.

Theo started laughing. “Not really. I can buy it myself if I have to.” He grinned as he kissed her again. Nipping on her bottom lip. Another flash went off.

Hermione pulled away from Theo. Frowning. She couldn’t ignore the camera any longer. She looked around, trying to spot the photographer. It was just a crowd of students. She couldn’t spot anyone out of place.

“Let’s head inside, alright?” Theo murmured in her ear. He too was looking for the camera.

Hermione nodded and began the trek down the stairs with the rest of the crowd. Luna and Draco directly in front of them. Hermione could hear Luna’s lion occasionally roaring as they made their way down towards the ground. The crowd of students moving slowly. Draco leaning over closer to Luna and peppering her cheek with kisses. Her lion hat roared again.

Theo chuckled. Hermione bit her lip in amusement.

...


...

The next morning Hermione was working her way through her English breakfast. She was famished. Her stomach growling, begging for more. Theo sat down next to her at the Gryffindor table. He kissed her cheek as he got settled next to her.

“Morning,” he murmured as he stole a piece of bacon from the table.

“Don’t you have your own bacon at your own table, Theo?” Ginny grinned at him from the other side of the table as she took a sip of pumpkin juice.

Theo grinned. “Of course. I’ll get some over there too.”

Harry chuckled as he helped himself to some eggs.

Theo turned to look at Hermione. He pulled out the Daily Prophet.

Hermione set her fork down on her plate and reached for the paper. The front page had a large photograph of the quidditch game. Specifically, the crowd watching the game. Draco and Luna the focus. Hermione watched the photograph as the couple kissed in celebration of the game. She took a look at the headline. Head of the Malfoy Family Courting a Lovegood?

Hermione frowned. “Why is this even a story?” She asked the group. She handed the paper to Ginny. “They should be able to date in private. How did the press even get onto the school grounds?”

Ginny frowned. “It says here that the photograph was mailed into the newspaper from an anonymous student. They’ve claimed that Draco and Luna have been dating for the better part of the school year.” She shook her head and threw the paper back towards Theo. “If I find out who that anonymous student is, they’re getting a bat-bogey hex or two. Luna doesn’t need to deal with that rubbish.”

Hermione turned in her seat to look for Luna and Draco, spotting them quickly both sitting at the Ravenclaw table. They were grinning at each other, oblivious to the murmuring around them.

Hermione grinned. “It looks to me like they don’t really care.”

Theo chuckled. “I’m pretty sure they don’t...not really. Draco is aware of the press. But he didn’t seem too worried about it this morning. He’s more angry at whoever took the photo of them. It was a private moment between a couple. A very private couple. He said that their relationship is no one’s business but their own.”

Hermione nodded in agreement.

Theo looked over to her, grinning. “Are we studying today?” He asked Hermione.

Ginny snorted. “Studying my arse.”

Hermione grinned. “We do study when we’re together. We just tend to get a bit distracted sometimes.”

Harry chuckled as he helped himself to his pumpkin juice. “You two have a monopoly on the Room of Requirement. It’s not fair.” He looked to Hermione with amusement in his eyes.

Hermione rolled her eyes at Harry. “We’re in different houses. Where else are we supposed to spend time together that’s private?”

“In an empty classroom, just throw up a silencing charm.” Harry told her with a grin.

“In a broom closet,” Ginny added on, popping a piece of bacon in her mouth. “That’s always nice and cozy.”

“In an alcove in a disused part of the school,” Seamus said to the group as he and Dean sat down next to them.

“Outside near the lake under a tree,” Dean told Hermione with a grin.

Theo chuckled at the suggestions. Hermione could feel herself turning pink in embarrassment. She tried to keep herself from smiling. Shaking her head at the suggestions.

Hermione closed her eyes as Theo kissed her cheek. He pulled her closer to him. “Did you want to go for a walk outside before we meet everyone in the library to study?”

Hermione peered at him. “I would love to go for a walk, Theo.”

Theo nodded. “I’ll go eat some breakfast and then grab my things from my dorm. Meet you at the entrance in thirty minutes?” He asked standing up from his seat.

Hermione gave him a nod. “Sounds good.”

Thirty minutes later Hermione and Theo were exiting the main door of the castle. Hermione had bundled up, wearing her pea coat, Gryffindor scarf, and mittens. The wind was cold this time of year. Theo wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close.

“Anywhere in particular you want to go?” Hermione asked him, she gave his bum a squeeze as she wrapped her arm around his lower back.

“Nowhere in particular, Hermione. I just want to spend time with you.” Theo said quietly to her, giving her a grin.

“Did you want to walk around part of the lake?” Hermione asked.

Theo smiled at her. “Alright.”

The couple snuggled closer together as they made their way towards the Black Lake. No real destination in mind.

Chapter Text

“Attention class,” Professor Flitwick said to the room of seventh and eighth year students. “Today we will be learning the Bubble-Head Charm.” He paused as he waited for the last bustling students to get fully settled before he continued. “This charm is exceptionally difficult to perform accurately. The bubble itself can be finicky to the surrounding environment. Confidence and accurate wand movement is key in performing an exceptional Bubble-Head Charm. You will be tested on this during your NEWT level exam in June, I guarantee it.”

“Now,” the professor said to the room. “The proper incantation is bulla capitis, and the wand movement is like so.” He demonstrated the movement to the students. “I’ve also illustrated the movement on the blackboard behind me.” He grinned. “Now grab your wands and repeat after me, bulla capitis!”

Bulla capitis!” the class responded as one.

Hermione grinned as she felt and saw the bubble emitting from her wand. The bubble quickly covered her entire head. She could hear Professor Flitwick cheer as he made his way over to her.

“Fantastic, Miss Black! Five points to Gryffindor for successfully performing the spell on your first attempt!” He grinned at her, proud. “Now to remove the bubble, just say finite incantatem.”

Hermione did just that and removed the bubble around her head, grinning as she did so.

“Show off,” Ginny snickered to her as she attempted again to perform the charm on herself. This time she did it accurately, grinning at Hermione from within her bubble.

“Well done, Miss Weasley!” Professor Flitwick called out to her as he made his way through the classroom, correcting wand movement and pronunciations for a number of students.

The students continued to practise their Bubble-Head Charms throughout the majority of the lecture period. More and more students were able to successfully perform the spell.

“Alright!” the professor called out near the end of the period. “For your homework, due next class, I would like you to tell me about the Bubble-Head Charm. Its strengths and weaknesses, where it can be used and where it cannot be used. I think three feet of parchment should be enough room for you all. Class dismissed!”

...


...

Hermione sat next to Theo in their Ancient Runes class. She loved that the classroom was small and had a cozy feeling, more seminar rather than lecture. Professor Babbling was speaking to them about the risks involved in translating works from different times.

“For example,” Professor Babbling said to the small group of students. “The use of the term ‘voluptuous’ in describing a woman, was often used to illustrate how successful she was; how successful her family was. Today, one views the term as more of an insult rather than a success. If you are fat, you are lazy – not successful.” She looked around the room with an eyebrow raised. “Please keep this in mind when working through your translations. Some of your works will show the runes for terms such as this. Do not mistranslate the meaning behind them due to the change in definitions over time.”

Hermione dropped her left hand onto Theo’s lap and began exploring. Touching and caressing him through his trousers. Teasing.

She heard Theo quietly hiss as her hand made contact with the head of his cock. She bit her bottom lip to hide her grin and gave his head extra attention. She could feel him lengthening beneath her hand. She could feel him hardening.

Theo cleared his throat as he spread his legs slightly wider underneath the table. Placing his free hand on top of hers.

Her fingers continued to touch and explore as the professor lectured on about rune translations.

Professor Babbling looked at her watch. “We are out of time for now. It goes without saying, but please continue working on your projects. Feel free to come to me if you have any questions or concerns about something. Class dismissed.” She turned her back to the class and began cleaning up her desk.

Hermione removed her hand from Theo’s lap and began placing her items into her school bag.

The couple were the last to leave the classroom, Theo grasping Hermione’s hand and pulling her down the hallway. A man on a mission.

He stopped in front of a broom closet door, took a quick look around and pushed Hermione into the tiny storage closet, himself close behind. The door shut with a snap.

Hermione couldn’t see a thing in the tiny closet. She went to turn around, to face Theo when he grabbed her by the shoulders and pressed her front up against the wall.

“No no, sweetheart. You don’t get to tease anymore.” He grunted into her ear.

He pulled her hips back. His hard cock rubbing against her behind. “Keep your tits and hands against the wall. No more touching for you.” He flipped up her skirt and pulled her knickers down around her knees.

Hermione groaned.

“Shh…you need to keep quiet,” he whispered into her ear, grinning as he caressed her arse. His fingers finding her folds. Two fingers pushed into her. “We don’t want to get caught.”

Hermione whimpered. She bit her lip to stop herself from crying out.

She heard Theo unfasten his belt and pull his zipper down. He muttered the contraceptive spell, his wand pressing into her stomach.

In one swift motion his cock entered her. Theo grunting into her ear as his hips slapped against her arse. Hermione mewled.

“This is going to be quick, Hermione,” He muttered as he began fucking her.

Theo’s hands squeezed Hermione’s hips as he continued to piston in and out of her.

Hermione softly mewling and whimpering as he took her hard. Flesh slapping against flesh. She felt her legs begin to tremble and pushed her arse out even further. Encouraging him. The slight change in angle had her groaning. She was sure anyone walking by would hear them. She couldn’t help herself. And she really didn’t care.

“There…right there,” she gasped. She could barely breathe. Her walls began to tighten around Theo’s cock.

His pistoning stuttered slightly before he quickened his pace as he reached a hand around towards her apex. He began to rub her clit furiously. Grunting.

Hermione couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t hold it in anymore. She whimpered once more as she found her release. Her legs shaking. Theo holding her up as he continued to ride her through her orgasm. She could feel her juices running down her thighs.

“Fuck,” Theo hissed as he stilted deep inside her, coming hard as he found his own release.

Hermione swallowed. Breathing hard as she came down from her high. She gasped as Theo began pulling out of her. He pulled up her knickers and straightened her skirt before tucking himself back into his trousers.

Hermione removed her wand from her holster on her arm, waved it between her legs to clean herself up before turning around. She softly lit her wand as Theo was refastening his belt. She gave him a cheeky grin as he straightened himself out, making himself look presentable once more.

He grinned at her as he took a step forward cupping her face with a hand as he gave her a peck on the lips. “You are such a tease you gorgeous girl,” he muttered as he wrapped his arms around her pulling her closer to him. “I almost came in my trousers in Ancient Runes. Now that would’ve been embarrassing.”

Hermione snickered into his shoulder as she snuggled against him. She stood on her tip toes as she gave him a peck on the cheek. “We better get out of here before someone comes looking for us for not being at lunch.” She readjusted her school bag slung over her shoulder.

Theo slowly pushed the door open, sticking his head out to check if anyone was nearby before opening the door fully and exiting the closet. Hermione’s hand firmly held in his as the pair made their way to the Great Hall for lunch.

...


...

Hermione left her Transfiguration class with Harry, Ginny and Luna in tow. The Slytherin and Hufflepuff students were making their way up the staircase towards the room. Hermione stopped one step higher than Theo, giving him a grin before she kissed him deeply.

“Ugh you two…get a room would you,” Ginny called out with a smirk as she and Harry had their arms wrapped around each other.

Hermione laughed lightly, blushing as she looked at Theo. “I can’t help myself sometimes.”

Theo chuckled as he gave her arse a squeeze through her skirt, reminding her what they had been up to only a few hours before.

Hermione bit her lip as she took in Theo. His eyes were glassy and dark, something she hadn’t really noticed prior to lunch. Although she could admit, she hadn’t really been looking closely. “You alright?” she asked him, frowning slightly.

Theo gave her a grin. “Never better.” He gave her another kiss on her lips. His breath minty fresh.

“Yeah?”

He nodded at her. “Yeah. I’m just a bit tired is all. Some witch I know has exhausted me, demanding things from me…teasing me throughout class, broom closet visits. The whole bit,” he muttered quietly into her ear.

Hermione blushed some more. She couldn’t believe they had done that…that she had done that. She pulled back slightly, readjusting her jumper.

“What did you learn about today in class,” he asked the group, aware that Hermione was beginning to get uncomfortable. Trying to change the topic.

“Human to animal transfiguration,” Harry answered him from beside Ginny. “Not animagi, but strict, temporary transfiguration. Like when Krum turned himself partially into a shark during the second task of the Triwizard Tournament.”

“Like when Draco got turned into a ferret, you mean?” Pansy asked with a grin as she made her way up the stairs with a pretty Hufflepuff girl walking next to her.

Theo started chuckling. Blaise burst out laughing.

Draco shook his head at them, but had a small grin on his face. “That fucking hurt I’ll have you know. My pride and my body.”

“Well…considering Professor Moody was in fact Barty Crouch Jr., I’d say you got off lightly, Draco,” Luna smiled at him as she kissed his cheek. “He could have made it permanent. Or turned you into a non-living thing. I’ve heard that is far more painful. To be an object, rather than a being of some sort. You lose your brain…temporarily at least, until you are transfigured back.” She shuddered at that thought.

Draco turned into her and gave her a kiss on her cheek. He fondled one of Luna’s radish earrings with endearment as he pulled away. “That would be awful…losing your brain,” he said to her quietly. Luna nodded in agreement.

Hermione turned her attention back to Theo as he gave her another squeeze.

“Studying after dinner?” he asked her.

She gave him a nod. “Yes, I think so. We can meet in the library. I need to research for my Charms assignment.” Theo gave her a nod of his head.

“We have quidditch practise after dinner for a couple of hours, but we may be able to meet up for a bit afterwards, ‘Mione,” Harry said to her.

“I wouldn’t mind working on my assignments with you, Hermione,” Pansy said to her with a grin. “Is that alright?” she asked with a slight frown.

“Of course!” Hermione grinned at her. “The more the merrier.”

The groups made their way to their respective locations. The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs entered into the Transfiguration classroom to begin their lecture, while Hermione and the others began the trek back to their common rooms.

...


...

It was the last Sunday of November as Hermione made her way to Regulus’ quarters for their weekly lessons. She stopped just outside his door and gave it a light knock, waiting for her father to respond.

“Come in, Hermione,” he called out to her.

She pushed open the door and smiled when she spotted Regulus setting down her mug of tea next to her favourite chair near the fireplace.

Hermione took her seat and clutched her mug of tea. Blowing on the hot drink before she took a tentative sip. “What’s the plan for tonight?” she asked her father.

Regulus took a sip of his own tea before responding. “Well…you really need to practise your occlumency. We haven’t done it in a while…about an entire month, Hermione. It needs to be done.”

Hermione frowned, but nodded her head. Her mind healer had told her it was important to continue. To be able to compartmentalise. “Alright,” she hesitated. She had been practising every night, but it had been a while since Regulus had tested her walls. She was afraid of what he would think of her if he saw some of the things she and Theo got up to. Molly’s harsh words still occasionally ran through her head.

Regulus placed his mug down on the side table. “I promise I won’t judge you Hermione.”

She looked at him in shock. Had she been projecting her thoughts that much? “How did you know I was thinking that?” she asked him quietly.

Regulus gave her a smile. “You have a very expressive face. I can put two and two together.” Hermione blushed. Regulus gave her a chuckle. “I will try to avoid anything like that, alright? I really don’t want to know about it. At all.” He grimaced.

“How do you avoid it?” she asked him, curious.

“I actually want to see certain things. I want to look for specific situations or events. By focusing on that as I perform legilimency on you, I can avoid the private stuff that no father wants to see.” Regulus informed her.

Hermione gave him a nod of her head. She placed her mug beside her. “What are you looking for? What situations? What events?”

“I was going to start with the first time you met my brother. In your third year. To test you walls for now. The Shrieking Shack, buckbeak, the dementors. That’s what I want you to focus on.” He paused. “Have you done that?” he asked her quietly as he removed his wand from his holster on his arm.

Hermione nodded her head in affirmation.

“Good,” Regulus said. “Now I want you to build your walls specifically around those memories. Around that day. Brick by brick. Layer by layer.” A pause. “Let me know when you’re finished.”

Hermione exhaled, focusing on her walls. Closing up those specific memories about that day. Her time turner being hidden behind the wall. Buckbeak as well. Her and Harry running through the Forbidden Forest – being chased by a transformed Remus. She hid the fear she felt behind the bricks. She finally tucked away the Shrieking Shack in its entirety behind the wall. The bricks stacked high to cover the entire house. Done. Focused.

“Finished,” she said quietly.

Legilimens,” Regulus muttered in response.

Hermione watched as her thoughts came forward in her head. Regulus quickly found her wall, hiding the memory of her meeting Sirius for the first time. He prodded her walls for a moment before he moved on in search of another entrance. Her memories turned to Professor McGonagall taking her aside at the beginning of the year to give her the time turner she would need in order to take the classes she wanted. The memory was quickly tossed aside. Next up was her in the library surrounded by a mountain of books. Her hair more bushy than before. Stressed as she hurried through her homework assignments. The memory was pushed aside. Ron screaming at her about Crookshanks. Accusing her familiar of eating his pet rat, Scabbers.

Hermione’s heart ached as she remembered Crookshanks. Ginny had told her that one of the Carrow twins had killed her cat in the Gryffindor common room the first week into the school year, as an example of what would be done to those who supported the Golden Trio. Regulus tugged on that memory and followed it further into her mind.

Hermione frowned, she didn’t know what he was doing. Regulus followed her memories of Crookshanks and latched onto one where the cat chased the rat through the common room. Regulus began searching for the times she had been around Scabbers. Second year in Transfiguration class when Ron attempted to change his rat into a goblet with a sellotaped wand. Hermione’s memory of Ron, Harry and her in Diagon Alley before their third year – Ron complaining about his rat, saying he had been sick since his family had returned back from Egypt. Hermione, in hindsight, remembering that it had been when word got out that Sirius had escaped Azkaban prison.

Regulus latched onto to that thought of hers and followed it further into her mind.

Hermione frowned, realising what Regulus was trying to do. She tried to push him off. Tried to give him other memories to distract him. He merely tossed them to the side, searching. Quidditch. Hermione bundled up with everyone else in the stands. Pouring rain. Harry flying higher and higher after the snitch. She could barely see through the torrential rain. Something caught her eye as she looked at the other players flying above the pitch. A shaggy, black dog in the stands strangely focusing on Harry. A scream. Dementors had invaded the pitch. Harry falling from the clouds. Dumbledore slowing his descent. The black dog had running off down the stands, across the pitch and in the direction of the Forbidden Forest.

Hermione, Harry and Ron leaving Hagrid’s hut came forward in her mind. Hermione frustrated that Ron still refused to apologise to her after Hagrid had found Scabbers. Ron trying to keep a hold on his rat as it wrestled against his hands. Ron swearing after he grabbed on tightly to his rat. His face pale. Telling her and Harry to run. “The grim!” He yelled out to them, pointing to something behind the two. Hermione slowly turning, afraid of what she would see. The shaggy, black dog running full speed at Ron. Pulling Ron through the opening in the Whomping Willow.

No, Hermione thought. She pushed back at Regulus’ nudging. She refused to allow him entry into the willow. Refused to allow him to see what had happened that night. No matter how hard Regulus pushed at her, she wouldn’t allow him entrance into the trunk of the willow. She was getting exhausted from the prodding. She gave him another memory to inspect. The trio on the train on the way home from their third year. Tiny Pig fluttering about in their compartment as Harry read his letter out loud to his friends. She could feel Regulus was amused as he focused on the little owl fluttering about.

He began to pull out of her head. Out of her memories. Hermione winced as he removed himself completely from her mind.

“You did well, Hermione. Good job,” Regulus complemented her. He wiped a bead of sweat off of his brow.

Hermione blinked a couple of times, trying to get her bearings. She gave Regulus a small smile in response. “Thank you,” she murmured. Her thoughts felt exposed. She shivered and reached for her tea. Needing comfort.

“You’re going to feel strange for a few hours. Exposed, that sort of thing.” Regulus informed her. “You need to make sure you really focus on your walls before you go to sleep tonight, alright?”

She gave him a nod as she took a sip of her tea. She shivered once more.

“Is it always like that?”

Regulus shook his head. “I was being nice. A lot of legilimens force their way in. Ripping at your thoughts, your memories. I believe Harry experienced that with Snape. Voldemort was similar in his approach. You had it better off than Harry did, without a doubt. I just nudged and prodded some memories.”

Hermione nodded again, clutching her tea.

“Do you think perhaps next time we can focus on your walls around Bellatrix?” Regulus asked her gently. Concern written on his face.

Hermione hesitated, but gave him a nod. “Alright,” she conceded. “I really don’t want to experience it again though.” She sniffed.

“I know…but I think you need to.”

Hermione frowned in thought. Her brow furrowed. “Why?”

To move on. To move passed what happened,” Regulus said gently. “You healer spoke to me about some things.” He admitted quietly. “He said that you told him that you haven’t actually spoken about what happened with anyone. Not directly. Just about your nightmares. But nothing about the real thing. Nothing about what you were feeling when you were all captured by Greyback and the other snatchers.”

Hermione’s lip quivered slightly. “I don’t want to have to relive it.” She admitted to her father. “I don’t want you to see what happened that night.”

Regulus nodded. “Okay…but you still have to talk about it. You can’t just ignore it, Hermione. It doesn’t just disappear.” He paused. “I thought you’d be talking with Theodore or someone like that about it. I didn’t realise you were keeping it all in.” He frowned. “I just want you to know that if you aren’t comfortable talking about it with him, you can talk about it with me, Hermione.”

Hermione sniffed and gave him a nod. She took a sip of tea. “I don’t want to burden him with my issues. He does so much for me already…I feel like I keep just dumping my problems on him... my insecurities. I don’t think that’s fair for him.”

Regulus hummed in agreement. He took a sip of his tea. “You’re worried about him,” he prompted her.

She sighed, looking down at her lap. “He tries to be strong all the time. Always. He hasn’t mentioned his father or his mother since the summer. And that was one time. Nothing about his life growing up. Nothing personal. It’s always school, or always about me. I worry that he is struggling but hiding it from me. I don’t know what to do.”

Regulus frowned. “What makes you think he’s struggling?”

Hermione hesitated. “I don’t know…gut feeling. Just little things here and there. I don’t know how to explain it. He just seems off. Just a bit. From the person I remember when we were younger. In classes together from our third year to our sixth. He is more reserved, now. He smiles less. They are different smiles. Fake…or strained. I don’t know. He’s just different.” She took a sip of tea. “I don’t know…maybe I’m just projecting my own issues onto him and thinking that he’s messed up like me.”

Regulus frowned as he took a sip of his tea. “People deal with things differently, you have to remember that. I know that coming from a very traditional pureblood family, that you don’t talk about what is bothering you. Ever. You generally deal with it on your own. Theo grew up in a family, with a father, who was very traditional, Hermione. That is going to stick with him. Without a doubt. Now I’m not saying he is anything like his father, quite the contrary. He has figured out how to think for himself at a very young age. He has seen through his father’s bullshit.”

Regulus paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “Theo’s grown up quickly. He has probably had to, you have to remember that. I think he has very much looked after himself, ever since his mother died. He has had no emotional support from his father. Ever. His father was one of the most terrifying men I have ever met. Ever. And I have met some really awful people, Hermione. His father was a sadistic monster. He enjoyed doing terrible things to people.”

“He was a rapist,” Hermione said quietly. She understood why Theo was so concerned about Luna being held prisoner at Malfoy Manor. About his father being around her.

Regulus nodded, a pained expression on his face. “Yeah…yes he was.”

Hermione sniffed again. “I want to be there for Theo, but I don’t know how to. I don’t know how to get him to talk to me about his life.”

Regulus gave her a smile. “Perhaps you two just need to talk with each other. Tell him that you are there for him if he needs someone to talk to. That you think it’s unfair for him to have to deal with things on his own, when you get to run your issues by him.” He paused. “I mean, I’m no relationship expert, but I think that might be somewhere to start.”

Hermione nodded, he had a point. She was just afraid she’d upset Theo. Set him off. That she’d say something wrong. She frowned, shaking her head at herself. Theo wasn’t Ron, she knew that.

“What are you thinking?” Regulus asked her quietly as he finished his tea.

“I keep thinking that I’ll set Theo off if I bring up something. That I’ll make him angry.” Hermione frowned. “He’s never been angry at me before…I don’t know why I keep worrying.”

“Theo isn’t Ron, Hermione.” Regulus told her quietly but firmly.

“I know that. I don’t know why I keep comparing them. Why I keep comparing Theo with Ron. We never even dated, me and Ron. We’re just friends. That’s all we’ve ever been.”

“But you liked him at one point more than a friend. And he the same for you,” Regulus told her. “It’s natural to compare. But…you need to remember that they are two very different people. Theo is a very different personality from Ron.”

“Less volatile,” Hermione said. “Ron would always explode if things didn’t go his way. At me and at Harry.”

Regulus nodded in agreement. “Theo is more reserved, more mature. I think it is probably his upbringing. Also, it is how it is in Slytherin. You keep things close to your chest for the most part. Nothing too personal. Nothing too damaging. Self-preservation – you don’t want anyone to see you weaknesses. People could use it against you to get a foot up.”

Hermione nodded in agreement. She placed her empty mug on the side table.

“Now…changing topics,” Regulus began. “I wanted you to work on something for me.”

“Oh,” Hermione said, curious.

“I want you to begin to work on your werewolf protection law.” Regulus explained. “I don’t mean you need to have it all written out for me to mark. Not at all. I was talking with Remus the other day through the floo. I had mentioned that you wanted to create something to protect werewolves. To help werewolves gain respectable employment. To help them in their transformations.” Regulus grinned at her. “He loved the idea, and offered to sit down with you over Winter Break to talk to you about some things, if you were interested.”

Hermione nodded enthusiastically. “I would love that! I would love to learn and bounce ideas off of Remus.”

“Good. I would say just have an outline ready to go over with him in the next few weeks. The Winter Break is coming up quickly,” Regulus told her.

Hermione agreed with Regulus and made her way back to the Gryffindor common room. Eager to work on the werewolf protection, ideas running through her head.

She smiled at the Fat Lady as she gave the password before she stepped into the common room. Eager to get to work.

Chapter Text

The second Friday night of December found Hermione and a few others in the library, attempting to get a head start on their assignments due the first week of classes after the Winter Break.

Hermione was finally feeling confident in her defence class — Regulus had given her an outstanding on her assignment on the importance of non-verbal spells, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of them. He had informed the class that they should be able to answer the question in three feet.

Hermione had answered it in just over two feet.

She had been terrified when she handed it into him — having never finished an assignment under the allotted amount of feet. Work smarter, not harder, was running through her head when she did the assignment. Regulus harping on to her about getting to the point quickly to pique the reader’s interest. To not waste the reader’s time. “Remember that people are taking time out of their busy lives to listen to you. To listen to what you have to say. Don’t waste their time. Get to the point — they will thank you for it.” He had said to her one Sunday evening. “Believe me. It will go a long way in the long run. When you push your Werewolf Protection Act through the Wizengamot, they will actually listen to you if you get to the point quickly. Members of the Wizengamot are generally from old Wizarding families — pureblood or otherwise, they know all about werewolves. You don’t need to teach them about them. Not really.”

Hermione turned her attention back to her research. Professor Clearwater had assigned the class an assignment on human to animal transfigurations. She had told them that they wouldn’t be performing the transfiguration on themselves until they had a thorough understanding of the theory behind it. They needed to know the risks involved. They wouldn’t be doing the practical lesson until the second week of January, after they returned from their Winter Break. She needed to read through their assignments to make sure they truly understood.

“Hermione, are you finished with that book?” Pansy asked her quietly from the other side of the table. She motioned to the large volume laid out in front of Hermione.

“Of course!” Hermione whispered back. She carefully turned the tomb around for Pansy to be able to read.

“Thank you,” Pansy mouthed to her as Madam Pince passed by the table, glaring at all the students as she did so.

Hermione started working her way through another transfiguration book. Occasionally making notes for herself on a spare bit of parchment to use in her assignment.

“I’m going to head back to my dorm, Hermione,” Theo whispered in her ear. “I’m not feeling great. Got a bit of a headache and I want to get some rest so I don’t get really ill for our last week before break.”

“Of course, Theo.” Hermione frowned. “I hope you feel better. Are you still alright enough for Hogsmeade tomorrow, or did you want to stay behind?” She asked him quietly.

Theo sniffed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I should be alright. I think I just need some rest, is all.”

“Some pepper-up potion might help too,” Hermione suggested kindly.

Theo nodded in agreement. “I’ll get some tomorrow morning if I still don’t feel well enough.” He bent over and gave her a kiss on her cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast, love. Have a good night, alright?” Theo grabbed his bag and quietly left the library.

Hermione watched him leave.

“You’re worried about him, aren’t you?” Pansy said to her quietly.

Hermione looked over to the brunette and gave her a nod of her head. “He just seems off. I don’t know how, but...” she trailed off.

Pansy nodded in agreement. “I think so, too.” She paused, frowning. “It’s subtle, most people who aren’t close with him wouldn’t catch it. I mean...he’s a quiet bloke, he always has been, but now it seems it’s a different kind of quiet.”

Hermione closed her eyes in relief. Finally someone understood what she was feeling. “I don’t know what to do,” she admitted quietly. “Dad said to communicate with him, to ask him how he’s doing, but he always says he’s doing well. No matter how I ask him.”

Pansy gave a snort. “Of course he says he’s doing well. He could be getting attacked by the giant squid and if you asked him he’d say all was well. No problems whatsoever. And then he’d give you a grin and a kiss on the cheek before he got pulled under the water.”

Hermione nodded. She looked around the library, to make sure they weren’t being listened in on. “I know he was drinking a lot over the summer, with Draco. He said he quit...this past June. Binging. But...I wonder if he’s drinking again.” She whispered to Pansy. “He said you and him shared a drink a little while ago, in celebration of your father’s arrest. He said that that was the only time he’s had a drink since June.”

Pansy nodded, frowning. “One of the few times that I’ve actually seen him drink. But, Hermione you have to realize...he was the one who supplied the bottle of firewhiskey. Not me. I honestly can’t stand the stuff.” She paused. “I didn’t realize he had a problem this summer. No one told me...if I’d have known I would have taken a shot of...I don’t know...pumpkin juice in celebration.”

Hermione swallowed. Her stomach churned threateningly. She thought she was going to be sick. “He supplied it? The bottle?”

Pansy nodded slowly. “It was maybe...half full, if I remember correctly.”

Hermione set her quill down and closed her book. She placed her head in her hands in an attempt to prevent herself from breaking down in tears. “How do I bring it up with him? I don’t want to come off as being accusatory,” she said from behind her hands. She peeled them away from her face to look at Pansy.

“Assuming that’s his issue,” Pansy told her. “He may have had that bottle for a while. Maybe it was in his trunk for years. I know there was alcohol during the Yule Ball in fourth year. I think the whole of Slytherin had booze on them. I barely remember the dance, if I’m being honest with you.” She frowned, hesitating. “You have to realize that he has lost everyone in his family, Hermione. Everyone. He is the last Nott around. I mean, sure, his father was an arse. But he was still his father. He was still his blood.”

Hermione nodded slowly. “He said he hated his father. That he didn’t feel bad that he died.”

Pansy hummed in agreement. “He did hate his father, and rightfully so. I’m not denying that. But his father, ever the bastard, still made sure that Theo was able to focus on his education. I know for a fact that he bargained with You-Know-Who to wait until Theo graduated before he was marked. Draco was at the meeting, Hermione. It was in his dining room just after sixth year.”

“So...you think he may be drinking because he’s the last of the Notts?”

Pansy hesitated. “Or, he may not be drinking at all. He could be stressed about something else. What did he say to you when he decided to quit his drinking this summer? His binging?”

“That he thought there was something wrong with him because he didn’t feel anything with his father’s death. Regulus came in and told him that he did feel something. That it just wasn’t what he thought was normal — what he believed he should’ve been feeling.” Hermione recited from memory. “He broke down and said he felt relief. Relief and peace,” she finished quietly.

Pansy frowned. “I don’t know...if he felt relief and peace then he probably isn’t missing his father much. But being the last Nott, being the last of any family, is stressful. There is now a lot that he’s going to have to deal with. He will have to represent the Notts at the Wizengamot, if he chooses to do so. He will have to make a name for himself that is drastically different from his father.” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “His father was an arsehole of the most epic proportions, but he was bloody brilliant. It’s a lot to live up to. It’s a lot of pressure.” She shrugged. “Perhaps he’s not drinking...maybe he’s just stressed out about that.”

Hermione nodded slowly at Pansy’s explanation. “Perhaps,” she conceded.

“Coming back to your earlier question: you both need to sit down and have a talk with each other. He’s staying with you and Regulus over Winter Break, that’s a good time as any.” Pansy gave Hermione a small smile. “Whatever his issue is, you can speak to each other about it then.” She paused. “Perhaps Regulus can give him some pointers in regards to being the last Nott. He’d understand the pressure that Theo’s under.”

Hermione raised a brow in question. “Why couldn’t I speak to him about that?”

Pansy grinned at Hermione before she pursed her lips. “Because you don’t understand pureblood culture. You haven’t lived it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione hissed at Pansy, aware of where they were. “Regulus is teaching me loads.”

Pansy rolled her eyes. “He’s teaching you about the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black. He isn’t teaching you the culture. Not really.” She shook her head at the curly-haired witch. “Nothing against you, Hermione. I mean no disrespect, but you have to realize that you are the exception. Your situation is strange, almost unheard of. You are getting to skip the bullshit.”

Hermione frowned, she knew Pansy had a point. She knew Regulus was protecting her from a lot of what she would’ve normally have faced being from the House of Black. “What am I missing? What is it that I’m skipping?” She asked the Slytherin, curious about her answer.

Pansy shrugged in response and took a look at her watch. “A lot Hermione. You never had to go to galas and other rubbish like that when you were a child. You’ve been fortunate enough to avoid being forced into a betrothal contract. You can choose your friends — can choose who you associate with. Not to mention the ridiculous classes us girls had to take before we came to Hogwarts. Manners and dance classes for example,” she snorted. “Even classes on how to walk in heels.” She looked at Hermione with kind eyes. “You’re lucky.”

Pansy began packing up her books. “I’m knackered. I’m going to head back to the dungeons, Hermione. Perhaps I’ll see you in Hogsmeade tomorrow.”

Hermione sat at the table by herself for a moment. The library would be closing in thirty minutes; she needed time for herself before she returned to the Gryffindor common room. She sighed as she began placing her notes back into her school bag. She carefully closed the textbooks strewn about on the table before her, placing them all in a neat pile for Madam Pomfrey to return to their proper spots. Library rules, she was informed repeatedly by the strict witch.

Hermione sighed once again as she thought of her Theo conundrum. While she agreed with Pansy that he was under exceptional stress being the last of his family, she knew deep in her heart that that wasn’t the main issue. The fact that Theo was the one to supply the bottle of firewhiskey for his and Pansy’s drink of celebration confirmed it in her mind. If he had truly stopped drinking, like he had assured her, he wouldn’t have had the bottle on him to begin with. She wasn’t angry at him, of that she was certain. She knew Theo, she knew he was a really wonderful person. What she was was scared. Hermione was terrified for him. She wanted to help him, to care for him. She wanted to protect him from how he was feeling.

Hermione took a quick look at her watch — the one Regulus had gotten her for her birthday, and began rising from her seat. It was time to return to her common room. She couldn’t dawdle anymore. She began the trek from the library to Gryffindor Tower, still lost in thought. She hoped she wasn’t the reason for Theo’s struggles. She hoped she hadn’t driven him to start drinking again. She knew he was worried about her nightmares, about her inability to sleep through the night. They had spoken about it regularly, Theo always supporting her through everything. Always being her shoulder to cry on when she was overwhelmed because of her lack of sleep.

Hermione reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, squared her shoulders and gave the portrait the password. She heaved a heavy sigh as she stepped through the entrance and into the lion’s den.

“There you are, ‘Mione!” Ginny called out from the other side of the room. She was sitting in a little group with Harry, Dean and Seamus. The four of them crowded around a table playing exploding snap.

“Where have you been?” Harry asked her as he leaned back quickly to avoid his eyebrows getting scorched off. Dean laughed enthusiastically as he high-fived Seamus.

Hermione gave the group a tight smile. “I was just in the library, trying to get a head start on my assignments due in the new year. I don’t want to spend my entire break doing homework.” Her gut told her she’d be spending the majority of the break talking with Theo.

Ginny was watching her closely, frowning.

“Well...I’m completely knackered. I think I’ll head off to bed for an early night, boys,” Ginny grinned at the group. She leaned over closer to Harry and snogged him passionately. She gave Harry a cheeky grin. “Don’t wait up, Mr. Potter.” She gave him another peck on the lips before she stood up from her spot on the floor. Walking the few steps closer to Hermione, Ginny raised a brow in question. “You look tired, ‘Mione...you coming too?” The redhead quietly asked.

Hermione gave her a subtle nod. “Goodnight everyone. I’ll see you all tomorrow at Hogsmeade.” The group wished her a good night, Harry watching her closely before he stood up and pulled her into his arms.

Holding her against his chest he muttered into her ear so no one else could hear them. “I may not be the most observant bloke around, but I have known you for years...I can see that you’re worried about something. If there is anything you need, anything at all Hermione, please don’t hesitate to ask me. You’ve done so much for me, it’s the least I can do for you.”

Hermione bit her lip to prevent herself from breaking down in the middle of the common room. “Thank you, Harry. I’m just a bit overwhelmed at the moment.” Her bottom lip quivered slightly as she pulled away from her best friend.

Harry nodded at her as he ran his hand through her mess of curls. “Theo?” He mouthed at her.

Hermione nodded in confirmation.

“We’ll talk more over the break,” Harry told her. “Perhaps we can talk a bit tomorrow. I’ll let you go to spend some time with Gin.”

Hermione wished Harry a goodnight and slowly made her way up the stairs to the seventh year girl’s dormitory, Ginny waiting for her in the doorway to their dorm.

“The dorm’s empty for now,” Ginny said quietly as they both entered into the room they shared with the other seventh year girls. “Did you want to talk out in the open, or something more private?”

Hermione hesitated. “Private, I think.”

Ginny made her way over to her four-poster bed and plopped down on top of it, patting the mattress beside her. Ginny pulled out her wand as Hermione sat down cross-legged on the bed and with a quick flick of her wand Ginny was able to shut the curtains. She muttered a muffliato around the bed to prevent any of the other girls from listening in.

“What’s going on?” The redhead asked her friend.

Hermione looked down at her hands in her lap. “Something has been brought to my attention that has got me questioning whether or not Theo truly quit drinking like he said he did earlier this summer.”

“What?”

“Pansy informed me in the library that Theo was the one who supplied the bottle of firewhiskey when they shared a shot of whiskey in celebration of her father getting arrested.” Hermione quietly said.

“Maybe he just had a leftover bottle, Hermione,” Ginny tried comforting the curly-haired witch. “The last year here was awful...I’m sure some students were drinking last year. The year before as well. Maybe it was left over in his trunk from a few years ago.”

Hermione shook her head. “He said he had gotten rid of everything this summer. He’s acting differently. He’s a quiet person...he always has been, but it’s a different kind of quiet. I know something is wrong, Ginny. I can feel it.”

Ginny reached out and placed a hand over Hermione’s and gave it a squeeze. “Alright, I believe you. Now what are you going to do about it?” She asked.

Hermione frowned. “I’m thinking I’ll wait until Winter Break...we leave next Saturday, only eight days from now. Pansy said it was a good a time as any to speak to him then. We barely see each other, except for in classes. I think the only time I’d be able to sit down with him is Friday, and that is the day of the Ball. Surely it can wait one more day, right?” She asked her friend with a worried look.

Ginny nodded. “Absolutely. Do you know what you’re going to say to him?”

Hermione shook her head. “Not at all. That’s another reason why I need to wait before I ask him about it. I know I don’t want to come across as being confrontational, or accusatory. I know I can come across that way if I’m not careful. I want him to know that no matter what he has my support. I think he is really hurting and he’s using the alcohol to cope. I just don’t know why he’s hurting. I don’t know what’s wrong.” She paused to wipe her eyes. “I really care about him, Gin.”

“And when you’ve asked him how he’s doing, he’s always said he’s doing just fine.” Ginny added on. Hermione nodded her head in confirmation. “Harry used to be like that. Over the summer...he was very...muted emotionally. He didn’t know how to deal with it all. He didn’t know how to react to everything that happened over the years, everything he learned over the years. It took him a while to process it, I think.”

“But he’s better now,” Hermione stated. “How...how did he cope? How did he process it?”

Ginny snorted. “I let him try to figure it out himself. But he wasn’t dealing with it. At all. He was just making sure I was alright, with Percy. He wasn’t looking out for himself. We went to our little pitch one night at The Burrow to have a fly around. Just him and I. I kept trying to bring it up, he kept trying to change the topic. He just wanted to play quidditch, he said. I may have yelled at him. Screamed, actually. I told him it was okay to be angry. It was okay to be sad or happy that everything was over. I told him it was okay to feel something, anything. I said what wasn’t okay was to feel nothing. I said he needed to react, to feel something. Anything.”

Ginny paused, thinking. “He yelled back at me. He was so angry. So hurt from what he had to deal with. What was put on his shoulders since he was a baby. He was angry that crucial things were kept secret from him. He was livid that he never got to get to know Sirius very well before he died. He told me he hated Dumbledore so much. So much for doing what he did. To a lot of people. The manipulations, the secrets, the hold he had on so many people.” Ginny swallowed, wiping her eyes. “He’s better now. I don’t think he truly hates Dumbledore, not really. He just needed to say what was bothering him. Once he did that he was more open to talking about how he felt.” She snorted. “It’s not perfect. I know the Dursley’s really did a number on him. But it is a process. I think that’s what you need to understand with Theo, with whatever is bothering him. That it’s going to be a process.”

“I mean...I’m no expert, Hermione — far from it. But...I did have to force Harry to talk about it. I don’t know if it was the right way to go about it. The yelling and screaming. Theo doesn’t seem like the type of bloke who gets angry easily. He doesn’t seem like the type of bloke who would breakdown and yell and scream at you.” Ginny said quietly. “He’s not Ron. The yelling and screaming would be a Ron thing to do. Weasley temper and all.”

Hermione chuckled dryly, wiping her eyes. “Perhaps just speaking openly with each other would suffice.”

“With no judgment, just support,” Ginny added on.

Hermione agreed. She needed to be careful not to judge him, whatever his reasoning would be. Logical or otherwise.

“Is there anything else that’s got you bothered?”

Hermione frowned, hesitating. “Just something Pansy said to me. Nothing bad,” she added on quickly as she noted the redhead’s expression. “She just said that I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I haven’t had to grow up in the typical pureblood household. That I’ve gotten to ‘skip the bullshit’ as she so eloquently put it.”

Ginny nodded slowly, biting her bottom lip. “She has a point. Not that us Weasley’s are a typical pureblood household...we never got invited to the gatherings and galas or anything like that growing up.” She paused. “But you have to understand that mum has tried to set up each of her children with a spouse. Every single one of us. It’s not a betrothal by any stretch...no family would want to have a betrothal with a poor family like ours. We have very little influence politically and very little money. We’re better now, make no mistake about it. But...” she shrugged.

“What do you mean galas and gatherings?”

Ginny sighed. “Holidays are an important part in the Wizarding world. Winter Break is for mingling with other families. Dressing up, celebrating the end of a year. Celebrating family. Mingling with others during those gatherings is how most things get done in our world. A chat over a glass of champagne, or a chat with the head of a house while you’re watching your children play around with each other. Sometimes...a lot of the times, that’s when betrothals are formed...at least in part. Most parents watch as their children interact with each other. If they seem to get along, and it’s a smart move politically, betrothals are written up. Roughly. I don’t think anything is set in stone then. Nothing really is, but...you know.”

Hermione nodded in understanding. “Are the children who are betrothed with each other forced to marry? What if when they get older, they really don’t like each other? It’s not fair to them.”

Ginny grinned. “Betrothals fall through all the time. Most of the time the two families agree to disregard it. No issue. Sometimes one family pulls out of it, for whatever reason, that can be a bit messy. It’s considered to be insulting to the other family. A giant ‘fuck you’ if you will.” She hesitated, frowning. “That’s what happened between the Prewetts and the Blacks. The Black Family pulled out for whatever reason.” She paused. “I know that the House of Black did end up marrying a Prewett...but, it wasn’t the same Prewett who was betrothed initially. I think it was a few generations later.”

“Which is why your mum doesn’t like Regulus. Why she didn’t like Sirius.”

Ginny nodded her head in agreement. “It’s stupid really. I’m glad Regulus called her out in Diagon Alley this summer. Mum can hold a grudge forever. It’s time to move on.”

Hermione hummed. “Ron’s picked up on that as well, I think.”

Ginny nodded. “He has. His hatred for Slytherins comes from mum.” She snorted. “It’s such a childish thing to hate someone for. Their house at school,” Ginny rolled her eyes. “But he doesn’t hate you, Hermione. At all. You’re friends and always will be. I know he fancied you for a while. I know he realized it would never work between the two of you. There is nothing wrong with remaining as friends. It’s probably for the better.”

The two girls spoke with each other well into the night. Not until the other seventh year girls had gone to bed did Hermione make her way over to her own bed for some much needed rest.

...


...

Hermione slowly made her way through the aisles of Tomes and Scrolls in Hogsmeade Village. She was looking for something about pureblood customs. About pureblood life. She needed to understand the customs before she was to truly enter into the magical world after she finished Hogwarts. She wanted to understand everything she could, leaving no stone unturned. Finally she found the customs section; she stopped and began taking a closer look at the titles.

“Why are you looking at this stuff, love?” Theo asked her as he gave her a kiss on the side of her head. He had gone to Madam Pomfrey early in the morning to get something for his headache, having wanted to spend the day with Hermione.

“I’m just interested in the different customs,” Hermione replied. “I want to understand the customs and way of life of most pureblood families...of most of the Wizarding families, pureblood or otherwise, even if I don’t have to experience it firsthand.” She paused. “It would be silly not to learn about the different traditions. Arrogant as well.”

She turned to look at Theo. “Do you have any recommendations?” She squeezed his hand, wanting to give him comfort. Wanting to be attentive.

Theo frowned. “I’m not entirely sure. We don’t really learn this stuff through books, Hermione.” He peered closer at the books, searching. He pointed to a smaller book after noting the name of the author. “Avoid books from this bloke. He was chummy with my Grandfather, Cantankerus Nott.”

Hermione snorted. “Does that automatically make him an awful person?” She asked him grinning slightly.

Theo nodded. He hadn’t returned her grin. “Absolutely, Hermione. I’m not having a laugh. Cantankerus was a supremacist of the highest order. He believed that anyone who associated with muggles didn’t deserve to hold a wand. He supported muggle hunting, probably participated in it too. Not to mention where he thought the ideal position for a muggleborn witch was.” At Hermione’s questioning look he added on. “On their knees. Sucking pureblood cock, Hermione.” He frowned. “He believed that muggleborn witches should be housed in a brothel of sorts. A whorehouse for all the sexually deprived pureblooded wizards. Anyone who was friends with Cantankerus is in the same boat in my opinion. No exceptions.”

“I didn’t know that about your Grandfather. I’m sorry for trying to make light of it, Theo.” Hermione frowned. She had no idea Theo’s family held those kinds of beliefs. She understood they were supporters of Voldemort. That they believed that pureblood families were better than everyone else. She didn’t know the specifics of their ideal Wizarding world.

Theo kissed her again on the side of her head in response. He reached forwards with his free hand and grabbed a book, flipping it around to read the back. “This one might be a good read.” He said to her quietly. “It’s newer, but it apparently talks about the historical significance of some of the traditions. It would be good for you to read something that isn’t so old. Something that isn’t so dated.” He paused, looking at Hermione. “You’re right for wanting to learn about this stuff. Not that you need to change the way you act — far from it. It’s good to know how other people were raised. How other families run their households. The politics behind a lot of the traditions. It’ll probably help you get a better read on some of the families in the Wizengamot for when you take that world by storm.” He gave her a grin. “You brilliant, ambitious witch, you sure you weren’t offered Slytherin when the hat was deciding where to put you?”

Hermione snickered, shaking her head. “The hat never even brought up Slytherin. It was a toss up between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw for me.”

The couple made their way into Honeydukes after paying for the book that Theo suggested. Hermione had wanted to pick up some sugar quills and a small mixture of Honeydukes chocolates, before they would head to The Three Broomsticks to meet up with the rest of the crowd for a mug of butterbeer.

After carefully selecting and paying for what she had wanted, Hermione and Theo
left Honeydukes and quickly made their way towards The Three Broomsticks. The falling snow had picked up, and the temperature had dropped significantly since the morning. Stomping off her boots once stepping inside, Hermione took a look around the pub in search of her friends. Off to her right she heard a familiar voice that made her cringe.

“My Won-Won is so brave for becoming an auror,” Lavender Brown said to the group sitting at the large booth.

Hermione shared a looked with Theo as she slowly made her way over to the table. Ginny was sitting next to Harry, leaning her head against his shoulder as she slouched in her seat. She made eye contact with Hermione and rolled her eyes while subtly shaking her head at her brother’s choice in witch.

Draco and Luna squished over to give Theo and Hermione room to sit down with the rest of them. After hanging up her pea coat and scarf Hermione sat down in the booth next to Draco. Theo slid in after her.

“But you’re still training to be an auror though. Isn’t it a one year process now before you can take the final examination?” Draco asked Ron. “After that examination you’re a probationary auror, where you’re paired with a senior auror on cases...right?.”

Ron nodded his head. “Yeah...in total it’s a three year process. Like before.” He took a long swig of his Wizard’s Brew beer. He gave a nod of his head in greeting at Hermione.

“It’s nice to see you, Ron,” Hermione smiled at the redhead.

“It’s nice to see you too, ‘Mione,” he grinned at her. Cheeks rosy from the alcohol.

“It’s quite similar to before, it’s just now you’re not needing your NEWT levels. That’s what the first year is for, before the examination. It’s a mixture of classroom and out in the field shadowing the senior auror you’ve been paired with,” Ron explained to the table. “It’s maybe a 30/70 split. Thirty percent of the time in the classroom and seventy percent in the field shadowing. Mostly watching the senior aurors question witnesses, that sort of thing. Responding to calls as well. Nothing really dangerous, the trainees don’t get called in until the scene is secure. We also train duelling and spell casting at the ministry...there’s a training room set up for that. The rest is classroom stuff. Laws, rules, paperwork...all that boring stuff.” He shrugged as he finished his Wizard’s Brew beer.

Madam Rosmerta came by their table, supplying everyone with refills of their butterbeer, or in Ron’s case, his Wizard’s Brew beer. She winked at Hermione and Theo as she handed them each a mug of the delicious butterbeer.

The group of students continued to chat over their drinks, catching up with each other after months of little communication.

“I’m surprised, Malfoy that you’re courting Loony...she doesn’t seem like your type,” Lavender blurted during a lull in conversation.

Hermione felt Draco tense beside her. She spotted Luna’s hand giving his thigh a squeeze.

“Her name’s Luna actually.” Draco coolly said to the witch. “And what do you know of my supposed type?” He raised a pale brow at the girl. “It’s not like we hung out when you were still at Hogwarts. You know nothing about me. Your short time with Blaise means nothing.” He paused, smirking at Ron’s reddening face. “Luna is an extremely intelligent woman who cares deeply for the many creatures and beings in our world. What part of that is not my type?” He queried, his voice wavering with emotion.

“It’s alright Draco,” Luna murmured to him. “She has an infestation of wrackspurts right now... she can’t help it.”

“Wrackspurts?” Draco turned his attention to his girlfriend. Amusement in his eyes. Luna nodded enthusiastically at his question, biting her bottom lip to prevent her laughter from erupting at the table.

Hermione watched the non-verbal communication between to two. This had to have been an inside joke between them. Luna’s way to insult the one of the girls who teased her mercilessly throughout her time at Hogwarts.

“I didn’t mean any offence, truly.” Lavender said to the group. Seeing that the majority of people sitting with her were in fact glaring at her for her slip of the tongue. “It was a slip of the tongue on my part. I never meant anything bad by it. I swear.”

“You spent time with Blaise Zabini?” Ron questioned her. His voice tight and curt.

“We just went on a couple of dates, we barely know each other.” Lavender tried to assure him.

“When?” Ron frowned.

“Sixth year,” Theo answered next to Hermione. He took a sip of his butterbeer. “Late in the year if I remember correctly.” He peered over Hermione’s head to look at Draco.

“Yes then,” Lavender agreed. “It was when you and I took a break, Ron.” She paused, looking between Theo and Draco. “I didn’t realize that Blaise mentioned me to you both.”

She was nervous, Hermione realized.

“He didn’t.” Draco informed her. “He has always been rubbish in charms...I think it’s his worst class.”

“Especially silencing charms,” Theo added on with a dry grin. “He’s awful at those.”

Ron choked on his drink, understanding what Draco and Theo weren’t saying.

“I — I think it’s best we get back to London, Ron.” Lavender practically pleaded to her boyfriend. “You have work tomorrow, you don’t want to be too tired.” She took a look at her watch as she began to rise from her seat. “It was nice catching up with you all,” she gave Hermione a tight grin. “You too, Granger...I mean Black,” she closed her eyes at her second slip up in as many minutes.

Hermione gave her a smile. “It’s alright, Lavender. I forget myself sometimes.”

“I’ll see you at The Burrow for Christmas dinner. You are coming, aren’t you?” Ron asked Hermione.

She gave him a nod. “Of course. I wouldn’t miss your mum’s cooking for the world.” She paused, looking at Theo. “Theo and I are looking forward to it.”

Hermione watched as the couple quickly left the pub, Ron pulling Lavender by the arm as they made their way down the lane.

“I sure hope you weren’t shaming Lavender for sleeping with Blaise. It wasn’t very nice of you, if that was the case.” She turned her attention to the two Slytherins at the table, frowning.

“We weren’t,” Draco assured her. “Just reminding her. It wasn’t late in the year of our sixth year. It was the first half of it. When she was still dating Weasley.” He finished his mug of butterbeer.

“She was cheating on him?” Ginny asked them, shocked.

“She has a reputation for that sort of stuff, Ginny.” Theo said quietly. “She has been doing that since fourth year. She fooled around on a Hufflepuff bloke, broke his heart actually. She dates to raise her status. Blaise was a step up from Weasley at that time. He didn’t care if she was with anyone. Not then. He was just pissed off about something at the time. It was strictly physical between the two of them.” Theo frowned.

“He kicks himself now about it,” Draco told the group quietly. “It’s why he left the pub as soon as he spotted her. He wants nothing to do with her. At all. She was a mistake.”

“A big mistake,” Theo agreed as he finished his butterbeer.

“Want to head back?” Theo asked Hermione quietly, watching her expression.

She gave him a nod.

“I’ll pay for everything,” Draco said to the group. “My treat. I’ll even pay for Weaselbee’s since he apparently forgot.” He made his way over to the bar to pay for everyone’s drinks. Chatting with Rosmerta who was stationed behind the bar.

“He did this last time too,” Hermione said to Theo as she bundled into her coat and scarf.

He nodded. “He likes to leave a tip for Rosmerta...a big one for all the trouble he caused for her in the past.”

The group left the pub to wait for Draco outside in the snow.

“I hate her,” Ginny growled at the group. “I mean...my brother is a git. But he deserves so much more than someone like her.”

“Gin, calm down alright.” Harry said to her, trying to comfort his girlfriend. “I’ll talk with him over break. We both will. He broke up with her for a reason back in sixth year. He couldn’t stand her by the end of it. Was avoiding her, hiding from her. We can talk with him...to see what’s going on. But here is not the place to do it.”

Theo nodded at a bloke walking slowly by the group of students. Making his way down the lane, towards the Hog’s Head Inn. Theo turned his attention back to Hermione. He grimaced. “I actually wanted to pick up something for you for Christmas...can I meet you back at Hogwarts?” He looked at his watch. “I shouldn’t be too long. I will be back before dinner.”

Hermione gave him a nod of her head. “Of course, Theo.” She stood on her tip toes to give him a kiss. “See you in a few.”

Draco and Luna stepped out into the cold, ready to head back to school.

“Come on ‘Mione. I need to rant.” Ginny dragged her away from the pub and made her way towards the castle. Harry following closely behind, chuckling at his girlfriend’s insistence. Luna and Draco following behind him, hand in hand as they made their way back to the school grounds.

...


...

Theo made his way towards the Hogs Head, head down to protect himself from the wind and blowing snow. He stopped next to the dingy pub and quickly stepped into a tight alleyway.

“How many this time?” The bloke from in front of the Three Broomsticks asked him gruffly.

Theo hesitated, pulling out his coin purse. “Three. Get another for yourself as a token of my thanks.” He handed the man the appropriate galleons.

The bloke made his way into the dingy pub.

Theo stomped his feet, trying to keep himself warm. He had tried to quit his drinking. He realized it was becoming a problem, but the headaches were awful. The only thing that seemed to work for him was booze. It was the only thing that took the edge off. The only thing that cured the excruciating pain in his head. Not to mention the sweats he would get if he didn’t get his fix. He sighed, closing his eyes. He needed help. He didn’t want to disappoint Hermione. He was tired of being pathetic.

The clearing of a throat brought Theo’s attention back to the present. The bloke had returned. He handed him his three bottles of Ogden’s Finest Firewhiskey. “Merry Christmas, Mr Nott,” the man said to him as he took a swig of the bottle he had purchased for himself. Theo watched as the man walked away from him. Making his way through Hogsmeade Village, unaffected by the falling snow.

Theo sighed again and carefully placed the firewhiskey into his cloak pockets. Careful to prevent the clanking of the glass bottles. He quickly made his way back towards the centre of the Village. He still needed to pick something out for Hermione. He needed to find her something, quickly before she got suspicious for taking too long.

Off in the distance a bundled up witch had been watching the transaction between the wizards. She had been hiding underneath a small balcony in an attempt to protect herself from the snow. London hadn’t been this cold, she had forgotten how snowy it got this far north. The witch shook her head at her stupidity. She really hated this place. Why she agreed to come with Weasley was beyond her. She couldn’t stand any of his friends. She could barely stand him, if she was being honest with herself.

She grinned as she made her way to the nearest apparition point in the village. Realizing she knew something the Know-it-all didn’t brought her joy. She chuckled, dinner at The Burrow was going to be a fun one. The witch disappeared with a soft crack.

Chapter Text

Hermione sighed as she finished the last touches of her makeup. It was technically the last day of classes before Winter Break, but the professors had all but cancelled them in preparation for the Yule Ball that would be taking place. She took a look at her hair — her updo that Ginny had helped her with, and adjusted a few of the loose tendrils. The little book that Ginny had gotten her for her birthday was a lifesaver in helping with her hair.

She was wearing a long blue gown with an open back. It was sleeveless, with lace embellishments across the bodice and had a long chiffon bottom half. It skimmed the floor as Hermione walked. Classy, but not too fancy. She wanted to be comfortable. So much so that she had opted to wear simple flats — reasoning that no one would see her feet anyway with the length of her gown. Hermione adjusted her necklace — the one Theo had gotten her, and left the lavatory.

“Ready?” Ginny asked her with a grin. The redhead had chosen an emerald green dress. Like Hermione, she had gone for comfort. Ginny scratched at the straps of her flats and ran her hands over her dress. Ginny’s dress hit her mid-calf. A full skirt was paired with a structured bodice with a high neckline.

Hermione sighed. “I guess so,” she chuckled. “I’m actually kind of nervous, to be honest with you.”

“Why?” Ginny asked her, frowning.

Hermione swallowed. “Well...the drinking in our common room started at lunch.” She frowned at the memory of Seamus and Dean and a handful of sixth and seventh years drinking openly, sprawled throughout the common room. “I am afraid of what’s gone on in the other common rooms...it’s a lot of temptation for anyone who is trying to quit their drinking.”

Ginny nodded. “I see what you mean.” She paused. “It’s just one more day, ‘Mione. Theo will be out of here this time tomorrow. You’ll be able to speak with him. Figure out all that’s going on.”

Hermione closed her eyes and gave her friend a nod in agreement. “I’ll try not to think about it tonight. I’ll try not to worry.”

The pair made their way down the stairs leading into the common room. Harry was waiting at the bottom of the steps with a grin. “Beautiful,” he said, his eyes not leaving his girlfriend.

Ginny blushed at his proclamation. Grinning as she gave him a kiss on his cheek.

“You look amazing too, Hermione,” Harry said to her, remembering that his best friend was also present. He scratched at the collar of his dress robes, uncomfortable from having to dress up.

Hermione laughed. “Thanks Harry. I feel it right now, that’s for sure.”

“Theo’s just outside the common room,” he informed her.

Hermione gave him a nod of her head and made her way towards the door. Harry and Ginny following close behind. She carefully pushed the portrait open and spotted Theo facing away from the door, standing with Blaise and an unknown girl from Slytherin, a sixth year if Hermione remembered correctly. The opening door drew Blaise’s attention from the two Slytherins. He spotted Hermione and gave her a grin and a wink.

“Hermione,” he said in greeting.

“Blaise,” she greeted him in return, giving him a small smile.

Theo turned around, his breath caught as he took in Hermione.

Hermione watched his expression as he took her in. Awe was the first thing she noticed run over his face. Followed by guilt. Oh Theo. Hermione shook her thoughts free. Tonight was a night for dancing and unity and love. She needed to focus on that. Tomorrow was another day.

She gave Theo a tentative smile as she made her way closer to him. “You like?” She asked him quietly, with a slight grin on her face as she remembered the same words said to her as he stroked himself. She fought a blush as she watched as Theo remembered the same as her.

He grinned at her, eyes dark. “Very much,” he said to her quietly. He leaned over to kiss her cheek, aware of their audience. “Beautiful,” he muttered against her cheek.

Hermione caught a whiff of minty fresh breath combined with the potent smell of Ogden’s Finest. Oh Theo.

Blaise cleared his throat at the couple. Hermione turned to look at him, questioning. He grinned at her, eyes crinkling. “This is Astoria Greengrass of the House of Greengrass,” he formally introduced his date to Hermione.

Hermione smiled at the sixth year. “It’s nice to meet you Astoria,” she said to the girl.

The blonde gave her a warm smile. “It’s nice to meet you to, Heiress Black.” Hermione swore Astoria gave her a small curtsy.

Hermione shook her head. “There’s no need for that...call me Hermione.”

Astoria’s eyes grew wide. “Of course,” she tried to fight a grin. She turned her attention to Harry and Ginny standing off to the side of the group.

Harry stepped forward, “it’s a pleasure to meet you, Astoria.” He gave her a grin.

“You as well, Heir Potter,” the sixth year held out her hand to him, palm down.

Harry frowned, looking to Blaise, unsure what he was supposed to do.

Blaise snorted. “You’re supposed to kiss her hand, Harry. Her knuckles...that’s tradition.”

Harry nodded in response, took Astoria’s hand in his own and gave her a kiss on the back of her hand. “You can call me Harry as well Astoria. There’s no need for titles here.”

She gave him a subtle nod of her head in acknowledgment and a small smile. She looked over at Ginny.

“Uh...this is my girlfriend, Gin...Ginny...Ginevra Weasley of the...uh...Weasley...Family,” Harry stumbled through his introduction. He looked to his girlfriend, worried. He didn’t know how to introduce her properly.

Ginny snorted at her hopeless boyfriend as she curtsied to Astoria. “It’s an honour to meet you in person Miss Greengrass.”

“Likewise,” Astoria said to her with a grin. “And just call me Astoria. There is no need for titles.”

Hermione watched as Ginny gave Astoria a subtle nod of her head. She realized that she had just witnessed the different hierarchies in the Wizarding world. Astoria curtsying to her and Harry, and Ginny curtsying to Astoria.

“Well...now that introductions are finished,” Blaise began as he tucked his date’s hand in his elbow, “let’s head down to the Great Hall and dance the night away.”

“I’ve heard from Daphne that there will be photographers from the Daily Prophet here,” Astoria said to the group as she and Blaise made their way down the steps. The other couples following closely behind them.

Hermione grimaced. She really didn’t like the Daily Prophet, it had lost all her respect during her fifth year. The entire paper was rotten in her opinion.

“Just photographers,” Astoria continued, “apparently the Headmistress refused to allow any reporter in. She conceded with the photographers.”

“Where did you hear that?” Ginny asked her.

“Well, Daphne heard it from a friend who has a family member that works with the newspaper,” Astoria told her. “That’s what they told her. That the Headmistress refused reporters, but allowed the photographers for the newspaper. It is a Ball after all. There are always photographers at Balls.”

Hermione sighed as she and Theo made their way down the stone steps. She supposed that was better than nothing.

Her thoughts of the newspaper were interrupted when Theo suddenly reached for the stone railing. Jerking Hermione to the side of the staircase with him.

“Are you alright Theo?” She asked him as he swayed on one of the steps. He had stopped walking entirely.

Theo blinked slowly, swallowing. He gave her an almost imperceptible nod of his head. “Uh...” he swallowed once more, “yeah...yes...I’m just a bit dizzy.”

Hermione squeezed his arm in understanding. “Perhaps you haven’t eaten enough today...there should be food at the Ball. There was in fourth year.”

“Of course,” Theo murmured to her. He didn’t make to move, still clutching the railing tightly.

“Should we continue down the stairs? We are almost there Theo. We can slip in and get a bite to eat. Get some punch...that always has a lot of sugar in it. It should help,” Hermione rambled, she was nervous. How much had he drunk for him to get dizzy...to get tipsy?

The couple slowly made their way down the remaining steps. The other couples waiting for them at the bottom. Hermione shared a look with Ginny. Worried.

“Ready?” Harry asked them all. He took a calming breath before he and Ginny made their way through the massive doorway of the Great Hall.

Hermione could see the flashing of the camera as the Boy-Who-Lived graced everyone’s presence.

Hermione’s stomach churned as she listened to the photographer ask Harry the name of his girlfriend. She turned slightly to Theo. “Are you introducing me or am I introducing you?” She grimaced. “I really don’t know how this is supposed to go.”

Theo swallowed nervously. “They should ask you...you are a Black after all.” Hermione nodded her head.

“How am I supposed to introduce you?” She queried. “Theodore Nott of the House of Nott?”

She turned her head slightly to take in Theo’s appearance. His face was damp with a thin layer of perspiration.

He gave her a nod and a smirk. “Heir Theodore Nott of the House of Nott. Almost had it.”

“Not Head?”

Theo shook his head in answer. “I haven’t gone to take over the head of my house yet. I need to do some paperwork, talk to some people before I do that.”

Blaise and Astoria stepped through the entrance into the Great Hall. Camera flashing once again.

“You look lovely Hermione,” a dreamy voice said behind the couple as they stepped closer to the doorway.

Hermione turned around and took in Luna and Draco standing close behind. Luna was wearing a gown; strapless with a full skirt. Her skirt must have extended out from her a few feet. Hermione gasped at what she saw. Luna’s dress was a bright teal colour with splashes of pink. The skirt was made of feathers. It was really quite extravagant, but it was also still very much Luna.

“You look lovely as well, Luna,” Hermione said to her with a grin. “I like the feathers...they suit you I think.”

Luna beamed at her. “Yes I think so as well. They aren’t real though. I couldn’t wear something like that.”

Hermione nodded in agreement and turned to Draco and gave him a nod of her head.

“Cousin,” she greeted him.

He smirked at her, cool grey eyes dancing with amusement. “Cousin,” he responded.

Hermione turned back around and grasped Theo’s arm. “Okay,” She said to him quietly.

The couple stepped through the entrance and into the Great Hall.

The photographer was ready for them as they made their way into the room. A few flashes went off, Hermione tried desperately hard not to blink.

“Miss Black —“

Heiress Black,” Theo corrected him curtly.

“Heiress Black,” the photographer gulped, “Can you introduce your date for the evening please, for the Daily Prophet.”

“Heir Theodore Nott of the House of Nott,” Hermione paused, her heart was racing. “He is my boyfriend, not a date just for the evening.”

“Of course,” the photographer replied. “Thank you, Miss — I mean Heiress Black. Enjoy your evening.” He gave her a smile as she and Theo left him.

They made their way further inside the Great Hall. Harry and Ginny were waiting for the two of them off to the side of the room, near the platters of food. Blaise and Astoria close by. The Great Hall was beautifully decorated with whites and silvers and golds. There were streamers placed throughout the hall in the varying house colours. Music was playing.

Hermione turned her attention to Theo, he was leaning against the table. A hand pressing onto the surface as if to keep himself upright.

“Theo,” Hermione stepped closer to him, careful not to draw the attention of the entire Hall, or the photographer. “Theo...you really need to eat something.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t see you at lunch...or dinner for that matter. Please eat something.”

He grabbed a tiny sandwich from one of the dishes on the table and bit into it. Chewed a bit and then swallowed. Hermione watched as he stuffed the rest of the little sandwich in his mouth and began to chew. She had never seen Theo this way. She could smell the alcohol radiating off of him as he continued to perspire in his dress robes. She grabbed a napkin and pressed it to his face in an attempt to help him. She didn’t know what else to do.

“Where were you at lunch...at dinner,” she asked him quietly. Well aware that the Great Hall was filling up more and more. Couples were dancing in the centre of the hall; younger students were huddling together with their friends or classmates. Only a few were near the appetizer and refreshment table. Harry and Ginny had wandered over to the dance floor to leave Theo and Hermione alone. As had Blaise and Astoria. Draco and Luna had stopped on the dance floor and began to dance to the music, Draco frowning as he watched Hermione and Theo interact off to the side.

“I was just doing homework, alright?” Theo snapped at her. “I wanted to get as much as I could finished before Break. That’s all. Nothing else.”

Hermione pursed her lips at him, not believing what he was telling her. She dabbed his forehead a few more times before tossing the napkin in a nearby rubbish bin. “Okay,” she said quietly to him. “Did you want any more food?”

Theo shook his head.

“Did you want to dance?” Hermione was reaching.

Theo sighed and held out his hand. He gently pulled her onto the dance floor as a slower song began.

The two of them rocked back and forth on the dance floor, looking at each other closely but not saying a word to one another.

Hermione sighed as another slow song began to play. “I care about you Theo. A lot,” she began as they held each other in the middle of the floor. Barely moving except for a gentle sway. “I want you to understand that no matter what is going on with you, I will always have your back. Always.”

“What makes you think there’s something going on with me?” He murmured to her.

“Because you’re not acting like the Theo I know. Because you’re moody. Not twenty minutes ago you were cheeky and flirty with me just outside my common room. Now you’re curt and harsh. Defensive, if you will.” Hermione wrapped her arms around Theo’s neck, pulling him closer to her. “I — I just want you to know...that if you’re struggling with something...if you’re hurting from something...I am here for you. So are the mind healers if you’re not comfortable speaking to me. They are really kind, Theo. Really good at what they do.”

Theo came to an abrupt stop. “I don’t need a mind healer, Hermione. I’m doing just fine,” he hissed at her, mindful of their potential audience. “People change all the time. Why would I be the same person I was in...fucking third year when you first met me? When we first spoke with each other? Maybe I’ve just grown up. Matured.” He pulled away from her. “I’m going to get more food. I’m fucking starving.”

Hermione stood in the middle of the dance floor, shocked.

“What’s going on?” Draco muttered to her and he and Luna carefully made their way over to her. Luna was watching Hermione with large, sad eyes, like she understood exactly what had just transpired.

Hermione looked over to the worried couple. “He’s been drinking,” she muttered after making sure no one else was able to hear them. “He’s being a right arse at the moment. Defensive and curt. I think I offended him for suggesting that he was struggling. That he should speak to someone about it.”

“Perhaps he’s just stressed out, Hermione,” Draco suggested to her.

“No,” Luna said to him softly. “He is really, very troubled.” She squeezed her boyfriend’s hand.

“I would’ve noticed if he started drinking again,” Draco insisted to the two girls, shaking his head. “He’s my best friend. I would’ve noticed that.”

“I can smell it on him tonight, Draco.” Hermione told him quietly. “He is already tipsy...dizzy he said. We had to stop on the stairs as we were making our way down from Gryffindor Tower. He was grasping the railing to prevent himself from losing his footing. I’ve also smelled it on him before. Pansy said he supplied the bottle of firewhiskey when they shared a drink to celebrate her father’s arrest. If he had truly stopped drinking why did he have a bottle on him?”

Draco stood there, trying to find a flaw in her argument. “I would have noticed,” he insisted to her weakly. “Why didn’t I notice?”

“Because he didn’t want you to,” Luna said to him quietly.


Hermione cautiously made her way over to Theo. She had given him time to cool off. She hadn’t wanted to push him away...or to make him feel like he was weak. She had watched him nibble on the different hors d’oeuvres set out on the table off to the side of the hall. He was now sipping some punch — his second glass of the sugary drink. He was watching her as she came closer to him.

“I’m sorry for nagging you,” Hermione said quietly to him as she stepped in front of him.

Theo finished his drink and looked down at her. “It’s fine,” he muttered to her. “It’s nice that you care.” He paused, swallowing, “I apologize for snapping at you. I’ve been stressed out about some things and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. It was uncalled for.”

“How about we just try to forget about everything...for tonight and just have a good time,” he suggested to her as he poured her some punch. He handed her the glass and then got to work refilling his own.

“And tomorrow?” She asked him carefully. She took a sip of her drink and grimaced, it was quite sweet. Her dentist parents’ warnings running through her head as she took a second sip. As long as she didn’t have too much her teeth would be fine, she figured. She would be sure to brush her teeth well tonight, no exceptions.

Theo sighed. “And tomorrow is another day...tomorrow we will be in private where we can speak with each other without anyone attempting to listen in.”

Hermione gave him a nod in agreement. “Okay,” she said quietly.

“Can I ask you a question?” She said to him after sometime. They were both standing off to the side of the Hall, watching the others dance and have fun with each other.

Theo hummed in response as he took another sip of punch.

“Why did you correct the photographer...when he referred to me as Miss Black?” She queried. “I mean...I know titles are important...I know that in Balls like this, there is a sort of expectation...but it doesn’t really matter does it? I didn’t mind that he referred to me as Miss rather than Heiress.”

Theo shook his head. “He may have just done referred to you as Miss, because he didn’t know any better...but it can be considered to be extremely disrespectful for someone to refer to the Heir or Heiress of a family as merely a Miss. Especially if that someone is the event photographer.”

Hermione frowned. “But Ginny referred to Astoria as Miss Greengrass earlier tonight...was she being disrespectful?”

“Astoria isn’t the Heiress. Daphne is,” Theo told her. “If Ginny said that to Daphne, then yes it could’ve been viewed as being disrespectful. But not with Astoria...not with the second born.”

“The spare, you mean,” Hermione muttered. Theo gave her a nod of his head. “Did me telling her to refer to me as Hermione come across as disrespectful? I only called her by her name earlier tonight...”

Theo grinned at her. “Not at all. You telling her to refer to you as Hermione was a show of friendship between the two of you. It’s one thing when you’re already friends...that doesn’t matter. But you hadn’t really met her before tonight. Not really. And not during a night like this. Tonight can be considered to be a dry run for a lot of families trying to rebuild after the War.” He paused. “It’s good that you did that. The Greengrass Family is a good family to have on your side. They are somewhat neutral in the Wizengamot. They tend to get along with most of the families there. It’s a good connection to have.”

“Oh.”

“Oh,” Theo echoed. “She will tell her father over the Break that you’ve extended an olive branch, if you will, to the Greengrass Family.”

Hermione sighed nervously. “Politics.”

Theo nodded and finished his glass of punch. “Always.” He snorted. “Regulus is playing politics as well. Have you seen it? He’s been doing it all school year so far.”

Hermione frowned and slowly shook her head. She hadn’t noticed anything.

“His clothing. The clothing he wears under his robes is always muggle. He rarely wears his robes in class...they’re always tossed across he chair.”

“What does that mean?” Hermione questioned him, still frowning.

“That he supports muggles and muggleborns. And you. Always,” Theo grinned. “It is subtle...but any of the pureblood families would notice. It’s a major thing for the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. It probably hasn’t been done before...definitely not by the Head of House. He’s giving the traditional families a warning.”

Hermione gave him a nod and a small smile. She had no idea that Regulus was doing that. That what he was wearing was saying that to the other families.

A group of student drew Hermione’s attention from Theo. Seamus and a few others were hovering around the punch bowl, chuckling with each other. The entire group grabbed glasses of the punch for themselves before they made their way back into the centre of the Hall. The younger students had left the Ball...the majority of those who remained were fifth year and older. Professor Slughorn was mingling with some of the students as he hobbled around on his cane. Professor Sprout had just left the Ball. The Headmistress with her. Regulus left earlier in the night, informing Hermione that he wanted to get some of his marking completed.

“Did you want to dance again?” Theo asked her as he set his glass down on the table. “For real this time.”

“You’re feeling better?” Hermione asked him carefully. She could still smell a slight stench of whiskey on him. She was shocked at how well he was able to carry on a conversation with her, while smelling like that. While being that drunk. It was alarming if she was completely honest with herself.

“I’m fine Hermione,” he rolled his eyes at her. “I just needed a bit of food, is all.”

“Alright,” Hermione said to him, ignoring his eye roll. “I would like to dance with you I suppose.” She raised a brow at him in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Theo smirked at her as he took her hand and led her back into the dance floor.


The groups of students were letting loose as the night wore on. The photographer had left early in the evening and the only professor present was Slughorn who was notorious for ignoring anything slightly inappropriate. Hermione and Theo made their way back towards to table of food...it was well picked over. The only thing still going strong was the punch bowl. Hermione frowned...wondering if there was a never-ending charm on the thing. She’d have to ask a house elf the next time she was around one.

Harry and Ginny had left for the night. Ginny giving Hermione a wink as she pulled Harry out of the Great Hall. Hermione snickered, remembering that they’d both be rooming at The Burrow over the break. It’d be the last night they could be together before they left.

Blaise and Astoria were swaying in time to the music still playing throughout the Great Hall. Draco and Luna doing the same.

Theo helped himself to another glass of punch...he had been drinking it all night long. Hermione watched as he took a long drink of the sickly sweet beverage. She didn’t understand how students could continue to drink the stuff. Just thinking about it hurt her teeth.

Theo was becoming more pale as the night wore on. He was constantly wiping his brow, even though he and Hermione had barely been dancing. More swaying to the music than dancing in Hermione’s opinion.

Hermione watched as Theo leaned against the appetizer table, pouring himself another glass of punch. She frowned to herself, no one else was drinking it quite so quickly as Theo. He was downing the stuff like a man parched in the desert. Like someone desperate. Her stomach sunk to her knees, remembering the group of older students hovering around the punch bowl. Remembering the older students grabbing glass after glass of the drink. Older students leaving the Hall to wander around the castle with their mates. Looking like they were having the time of their lives as they returned and hovered around the bowl...chuckling as they grabbed another glass of punch.

“No...” Hermione muttered to herself. She stepped closer to the bowl, grabbing a clean glass and pouring herself a small amount. She hesitated before taking a sip, looking at the back of Theo’s head as she did so.

She almost choked as she felt the burn of firewhiskey hit her mouth. A foul mixture of firewhiskey and fruit punch. She swallowed tightly. “Theo,” she called out to her boyfriend a few paces away from her as he took in the dancing couples.

He swung around and lost his footing, dropping his glass on the floor as he reached out to hold himself up off the floor.

“Whoops,” he muttered as he pushed himself up. He looked at Hermione, noticing the glass clutched in her hand.

“Theo,” Hermione repeated quietly. Her mouth opened but no sound came out. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to do. She felt her tears hit her cheeks as she looked at Theo.

Theo was looking at her sheepishly. Like he didn’t know what to say to her either. “I — I can explain...” he frowned.

“Really?”

“I — yes...I can. It’s barely anything...I swear...” he muttered. Frowning.

“You’ve been drinking this all night long, Theo. All night.” Hermione muttered, her voice wavering. “That’s on top of the firewhiskey you were drinking earlier today. Don’t deny it,” she cut him off before he could get a word in. “You need to go back to your dorm and sleep...get some rest from all this.” She sniffed, wiping her cheeks. “Here isn’t the place to discuss this. I want you sober when we do talk about this. I want you to remember what we say. I want you to understand. To comprehend what’s going on.”

Theo gave her a nod of his head in acceptance.

Hermione signalled to Draco and Blaise who had stopped dancing and were hesitantly making their way over to the couple. Draco frowning as he took in Hermione’s tears.

“Theo needs some help back to his dormitory,” she said shakily as the two stopped in front of her. “He’s had a lot to drink tonight and will need some help down the stairs. He can barely stand right now.” She sniffed again.

“I’m fine,” Theo muttered.

“No. No you’re not,” Hermione snapped at him. “You are not fine. You haven’t been fine in a really long time,” her voice rose an octave. “Please just make sure he gets back to his dormitory.”

She walked away from the group, her tears running freely down her cheeks. She sobbed as she passed Luna and Astoria watching from a ways away. She quickly made her way out of the Great Hall, gasping as she began running up the staircase. Her dress clutched tightly in one hand as she pulled herself up the stone steps. She needed to see her father. She needed his shoulder, his support as she broke down.

She sobbed once more as she turned the corner and ran through the hallway towards the Defence classroom.

...


Regulus woke to a pounding on his bedroom door. Fuck. He had only just gone to bed after spending the last few hours marking his first year assignments. He grabbed his wand and stumbled towards the door. Retching it open he spotted his daughter standing there. Hair falling out of her up-do, her makeup streaky. Tears. Regulus stepped back, allowing her to enter.

Hermione clutched her dress and scurried over to her chair in front the fireplace in his room and sat herself down. Her bottom lip quivering, Regulus watching her like she was about to break down at any moment. What the fuck happened?

He cleared his throat. “What’s happened? Why are you so worked up?” He paused to rub his face, frowning at Hermione’s non-answer. “What’s happened?” He repeated.

Hermione took a deep breath. Exhaled. She took another breath, trying to calm down.

“Theo...” Hermione whispered. “Theo...” Her mouth opened and no sound came out.

“Did he hurt you?” Regulus asked. His voice hard. He was looking her over, trying to spot if she had any injuries.

Hermione shook her head. She wiped her cheeks. “He’s been drinking. A lot. He got completely plastered at the Ball. Before the Ball he stunk of firewhiskey ... he could barely stand by the end of it. I told Draco and Blaise to help him back to the dungeons.” Hermione sniffed. “He told me he stopped drinking. That he quit over the summer after we talked. That he was done. I figured out that he was drinking again not too long ago. I mean, I had my suspicions, but I thought I was just being paranoid. Pansy told me something that confirmed it for me...I was going to talk to him about it during the Break.” Her voice quivered. Eyes leaking. “I’m afraid for him, dad. Terrified. I need to help him.”

Regulus frowned. “Did you see Theo drinking?”

Hermione nodded as she wiped her cheeks. “Someone spiked the punch. After the younger years left. Ten o’clock or so...maybe a bit later.” Hermione replied. “I had one drink...part of it... I realized it was spiked. I saw Theo drinking nonstop from the punch bowl...a lot of the older years were hovering around it. It was before I had mine. I didn’t know the punch was spiked until I had some. He’d been acting strange all night. He was tipsy and short with me at the beginning of the night...” Hermione shook her head.

Regulus nodded. Frowning. “Stay here until I come back...I need to make sure it’s not anything more than alcohol. I need to make sure they’ve made it to the dungeons. To see how bad it is.”

Regulus watched as Hermione held her head in her hands.

“Okay,” she muttered behind her hands.

Regulus placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. You will be okay. Both of you. We can leave early in the morning...all three of us, alright?”

Hermione gave him a nod of her head.

“I’ll be right back.” Regulus grabbed the clothes he was wearing the day before and headed to his lavatory. Quickly getting dressed he was out of the door in less than a minute.

...


...

Regulus made his way to the dungeons walking as quickly and as quietly as he could. Should he go to the Headmistress? He wasn’t sure what to do. From what Hermione had told him, he hoped Theo wasn’t suffering from alcohol poisoning. He wondered if Theo had taken something. A drug of some sort. He knew they were common when he was with the Death Eaters...that they were easy to find if you knew where to look. Who to ask. He knew some of them reacted poorly with alcohol; making it more potent for the wizard, more detrimental.

Regulus muttered to the empty wall, elated he was a professor and knew all the passwords. A door appeared and Regulus pulled it open. The common room was mostly dark. He spotted a student or two sleeping on a couch near the fireplace. He spotted a couple of elves tidying up. He quickly made his way down the stairs to the dormitories. Nodding at an elf as he went. Regulus reached the seventh and eighth year boys’ dormitory and pushed the door open.

Seventh year boys were sitting up in their beds, looking worried. Looking between the lavatory door and Regulus.

Regulus noted that neither Draco or Blaise were in their beds, but he could hear people talking in the lavatory.

“He’s in really rough shape.” A boy muttered as Regulus made his way through the room. Regulus didn’t respond to the student as he pushed the loo door open.

Theo was hanging face first over the toilet. Draco holding him in place as he emptied his stomach. Blaise was trying to clean up the floor. His scourgify charm weak, mostly just moving the vomit around on the floor.

Regulus took out his wand and cast the cleaning charm, the floor now shiny.

Blaise looked up in shock at Regulus. Draco turning his head towards him looking alarmed. Worried. Theo groaned in the toilet bowl. All three were still in their dress robes.

“Did you see what he was drinking?” Regulus asked the room calmly.

Blaise shook his head. “I had no idea he was at all. I just know he had a couple of spiked punches at the dance. So did I. I’m fine. Anything more than that I have no idea.”

“Draco?”

“I have no idea. I saw him hovering near the punch bowl for the majority of the night.” He grimaced as Theo hurled again into the toilet. “I thought he quit...before tonight, I mean. I’ve learned otherwise.”

Regulus pointed his wand at Theo and ran a diagnostic spell over him. He was searching for a poison. Or something that would heighten the effects of alcohol.

Nothing came up. He wasn’t poisoned, no drugs in his system. Regulus frowned. He was just really drunk.

Theo groaned again into the toilet bowl.

Regulus stepped closer to him. He crouched down and placed his hand on Theo’s shoulder. “Theo,” he said clearly. He felt him tense under his hand. “Theo...have you had anything other than alcohol?”

Theo coughed. He tried pulling his head out of the toilet. He moved his arm and rested his head on his forearm. He didn’t look at Regulus. “I just ate something funny. That’s all. I only had a couple of glasses of punch. That’s it. You heard Blaise and Draco.” He groaned at the effort it took to speak to Regulus.

Regulus scoffed. There was no fucking way this was food poisoning, none of the other students were sick, he would’ve heard about it. Looking at Draco and Blaise he saw that they had the same idea. Regulus frowned. “Perhaps Draco or Blaise can take you to the hospital wing. You don’t want to get dehydrated. Madam Pomfrey will be able to help.”

“I’m fine,” Theo muttered just before he began vomiting again.

“That’s bullshit, Theo. Hermione said you’d been drinking all day long,” Draco said to him. “I’ll help you to the hospital wing.”

Draco stood up and tried to pull Theo up with him. Dead weight. Theo wasn’t helping at all.

“I’m fine.” He argued. Trying to push Draco off of him. Theo rolled over from the push and fell against the wall. “I’m fine.” He said again to the room. His eyes wet.

He tried standing up. His legs refusing to work properly. Regulus watched as he pulled himself off of his behind. Grasping the toilet as he did so. Theo made it to his feet. Hand out pressing against the wall for support. “I’m fine.”

Regulus watched as the boy’s bottom lip quivered. He was hurting, Regulus could tell.

“I’m fine.” Theo muttered again. This time directly to Regulus. He clenched his lips together tight in an attempt to hide his pain. An attempt to save face.

Regulus nodded. “Alright,” he told him quietly. “How about you get some rest then? Sleep it off. We can talk at my place. You are still coming with Hermione and I for winter break, correct?” Regulus raised an eyebrow, letting Theo know that the conversation wasn’t over.

Theo gave him a nod and began the slow trek to his bed.

Regulus watched as he laid down on top of the covers, pulling the curtains around his bed shut. Regulus turned and looked at Draco and Blaise.

Draco opened his mouth, about to say something to Regulus. Regulus held his finger up to his lips. Telling Draco to keep quiet. He closed his mouth and nodded at Regulus.

Regulus quietly stepped over to the foot of Theo’s bed and slowly opened the boy’s trunk. He peered into the trunk spotting numerous books and clothing. Against the side he spotted a bag of some sort. He reached out to pull it out of the trunk. A shaving kit, he realized. A small shaving kit. Regulus frowned. Did he have any grounds to go through his things? He hesitated. Draco reached over and snatched the kit out of Regulus’ hands. Regulus watched as Draco unzipped the kit slowly.

Draco peered into the kit, frowning. He looked to Regulus as he reached into the kit. Up to his elbow.

Regulus rubbed a hand down his face. He had an undetectable extension charm on the kit.

Draco pulled out a bottle of Firewhiskey.

“When did you lot start drinking,” Regulus whispered as he took the bottle from Draco. “When was the first time?”

Draco frowned. “Fourth year,” he whispered back.

“Fuck,” Blaise muttered next to them. Putting two and two together.

Regulus frowned. He looked to the curtains hiding Theo from everyone. How long had Theo been hiding this from everyone? Regulus looked closer at the bottle. It was almost empty. Maybe an eighth of the bottle remained.

“Make sure Theo has water,” Regulus whispered to them both. “Pay attention to him for the rest of the night. Make sure he’s only sleeping.” He looked to Draco. “I’ll talk to you over break when we come to visit you and your mother, alright?”

Draco gave him a nod. “Of course.”

Regulus turned and left the dormitory, deep in thought.

Chapter Text

Hermione, Regulus and Theo sat around the kitchen table as Susan puttered about at the stove. She insisted that everyone was to have a late breakfast before they spoke with each other. The three of them had forgone breakfast at Hogwarts and instead apparated to Regulus’ place as soon as the other students began to board the train to King’s Cross Station.

Hermione sat, clutching her mug of tea and staring at a spot on the table. An old chip in the wood, long since painted over.

Theo was sitting with his eyes closed, resigned. Intermittently taking sips of his peppermint tea that Susan insisted he drink the moment she saw him. He grimaced as the scent of food cooking on the stove hit his nostrils.

Regulus reached into his suitcase on the floor next to his chair and pulled out a handful of potion vials. He peered at the labels before he handed one to Theo. “For your upset stomach,” he informed him. “I stopped by the hospital wing before we left. I wasn’t sure what you’d need. I don’t have anything left here, everything was used up after the Battle.”

“Thank you,” Theo said quietly as he downed the contents of the vial.

“What are the other potions that you have?” Hermione asked, turning to Regulus.

“A dreamless sleep for you, and a hangover potion for Theo,” Regulus said. “I won’t be giving it to you though…you don’t deserve it,” he informed Theo. “Madam Pomfrey insisted that I take it and wouldn’t let me leave the wing until I did.”

“Understood,” Theo muttered. His eyes on his hands in front of him.

“Why?”

“Because having a hangover potion is the easy way out, Hermione,” Theo said to her, his eyes meeting hers for the first time since they arrived at Regulus’ home. “It’s the reason why Narcissa refused to allow Draco and me a hangover potion this summer. You get to avoid dealing with the consequences if you have one.” He paused, frowning. “The physical consequences, at least,” he added on as an afterthought.

Hermione frowned to herself, deep in thought. She had told herself that she wanted to protect Theo. That she wanted to care for him. To make sure he was okay. But as she sat at the head of the table, her anger at him was boiling under the surface. The hurt she felt from his actions cut deep into her chest. His repeated lies to her felt like burns against her skin. Her stomach churned threateningly as she thought of the times they spent together. Intimate and open with each other. How many – if any, of those times had he been sober? She bared her soul to him. She revealed her body to him after everything she shared with him. Her insecurities from the words repeatedly said about her from people who were supposed to be kind.

He hurt her.

Her bottom lip quivered for a moment before she pressed her lips tightly together. She felt her anger building up exponentially under the surface. She wouldn’t let him see her cry. Refused to let him see her cry. To see her vulnerable.

She looked over at Theo. He was watching her carefully, knowing she was angry. He swallowed, brought a hand up to placate her. She wanted to hurt him. To make him hurt as much as she did.

His mug of steaming hot tea shattered in his other hand.

Hermione shot up from her seat. Her hands pressing hard into the table. Glaring.

“I’m not hungry,” she hissed out. Barely audible. She turned to leave the kitchen. Regulus was leaning back in his chair. Arms crossed, watching her reaction.

Her eyes began to tear up.

Regulus gave her a minuscule nod of his head – like he understood her. Like he understood exactly what she was feeling. He didn’t say anything.

She broke eye contact with him and left the kitchen. Walking into her bedroom, she let her tears fall as she softly closed the door.

She pulled her wand out of her holster on her arm and silenced her room before she slid down the door. A sob finally ripping out of her chest.


Hermione was lying on her back on her bed. It had gotten dark. She hadn’t left her bedroom for the better part of the day. She was calm now. Her anger at Theo had subsided. Her hurt, however, remained. She had realised earlier in the day that she was hurt because he had kept it a secret from her. He hid his drinking – his pain from her. Like he didn’t trust her with his secret.

She sighed. She had told him everything. Her insecurities. Her goals. Her life before Hogwarts with her muggle parents. Merlin she missed them. She didn’t even know where they were. Not specifically at least. Just that they had gone to Australia – she kept it vague for a reason. She hadn’t wanted anyone to hunt them down through her. It hadn’t been safe for her to know.

A soft knock on her door aroused her from her thoughts. She didn’t respond. She didn’t want to talk.

Her door opened anyway. Regulus stepped in before carefully closing her door behind him.

He sat on the side of her bed, looking down at her. He took her hand in his own and rubbed his thumb over the back. He cleared his throat. “Did you want Theo to leave?” he asked her gently. “He’s in the shower right now – he’s a bit of a mess. I can ask Narcissa to come and pick him up, if that’s what you want.”

Hermione shook her head. “No,” she murmured. “He can stay here…I’d like him to stay here for now.” She paused, frowning. “He can sleep on the couch.”

Regulus chuckled dryly, squeezing her hand. “Susan has already laid out blankets for him.”

Hermione gave him a nod, but didn’t respond further.

“We spoke for the better part of the day,” Regulus informed her. “He told me how long it’s been going on. He’s told me a lot.”

“Don’t tell me,” Hermione cut in. “I want him to tell me. Not you.”

Regulus nodded, squeezing her hand once more. “I understand.” He went to speak again, but closed his mouth without saying anything. He frowned. “I think you need to let him speak to you. When you’re ready. Only when you’re ready.”

Hermione’s eyes began to leak again. It hurt to swallow. She blinked, letting her tears gush out, down the sides of her face.

“Oh Hermione,” Regulus leaned over and held her in his arms. “I am so sorry that you have to deal with this,” he muttered in her ear. “I know it hurts. I know he hurt you. He knows he hurt you.”

“It hurts right here so much,” Hermione motioned to the centre of her chest. “It hurts to breathe. It feels like I’ve been stabbed right through my chest.”

Regulus pulled away from her and gave her a teary smile. “I know. I know exactly how you’re feeling. Believe me, I know.” He swallowed. “Which means that I know that you two need to speak with each other. You both have a chance to talk with each other. Don’t throw it away, that opportunity.”

“You think I should stay with him?” Hermione asked her father as she wiped her tears away.

“That’s your decision,” he told her quietly. “It is solely your decision. I respect whatever you decide. So will Theo.”

Hermione sniffed. “I’m hurt that he never told me. That he kept it a secret from me. That he didn’t trust me.” She paused, gathering her thoughts. “How can we be together if he doesn’t tell me anything? If he doesn’t trust me enough to tell me his secrets? His pain?”

Regulus sighed and gave her hand a squeeze. “Perhaps…he’s not used to telling people his secrets? Perhaps he is used to dealing with his pain on his own, Hermione.” He gave her a small smile. “It’s a difficult thing to change about yourself if you’ve never had anyone help you.

She nodded at his explanation. As much as she didn’t like it, it did make sense. She heard the loo door open and steps passing by her door to the living room. She sighed.

“I’m going to get some sleep.” Regulus told her quietly. “Try to get some sleep alright? I’ve left the vial of dreamless sleep on the kitchen table. You’ll have to leave your room to get it if you need it for tonight.”

Hermione nodded once more. “Goodnight,” she murmured as Regulus left her room, shutting her door quietly.

She sat up on her bed and swung her legs over to the floor. She needed to change into her pyjamas. She took a look at her watch, noting the late hour. She walked over to her trunk and propped it open, grabbing her sleepwear on the top of the items in her trunk. Within minutes she had changed. She kicked her clothes closer to her trunk. She’d deal with them later.

She sighed, rubbing her face. She didn’t want to have a nightmare. She didn’t want any dreamless sleep. She exhaled slowly, standing in the middle of her room. She had been attempting to clear her mind for the better part of the day. Compartmentalizing everything. Organizing everything. Protecting.

She stepped towards her door, carefully pulling it open after she extinguished the light in her room. She could see the faint light from the dying fire in the living room. Hermione stepped into the hallway and made her way quietly into the room. Theo was laying on the couch on his back. Blankets pulled up to his chin. Facing the large window at the front of the house.

He turned his head in her direction as she stepped further into the room. He made to sit up. Hermione held her hand up to stop him.

Shaking her head, she stepped closer and stood over him. Without saying a word she reached over and began pulling his blankets away from him, before she climbed on top of him on the couch. She nestled at his side. Her back pressing into the back of the couch. Her leg and arm curling around him tightly. Her head resting on his shoulder.

He pulled the blankets back up as she wiggled against him, trying to get comfy.

“I don’t want to talk tonight,” she muttered into his chest. “I just really want to sleep. I just really need to sleep.”

His arms squeezed her tightly in response. In understanding. “Okay.”

Hermione blinked a few times before closing her eyes. She was asleep in minutes.


Hermione’s nose twitched. Her hair tickling her face.

A gentle hand brushed her hair off of her face. Tucked it behind her ear.

She didn’t want to move. Her arm tightened around Theo’s torso. Rubbing her head against his shoulder before settling down once more. A sigh passed through her lips. Darkness.


“How long has she been asleep?”

“Um…” Theo’s chest rumbled under Hermione’s cheek. “She came out of her room just after you left. She was out in minutes.” A hand traveled carefully through her hair. “She stirred an hour or so ago. But other than that, nothing. She hasn’t moved.”

“Good.” A pause. “I’ll be in the kitchen marking first and second year assignments.” A sigh. “It’ll take me a while.” Steps quieting as they entered into the kitchen. A chair pulled out, scraping against the hardwood floor.

Hermione sighed. She blinked her eyes open. The room was bright, she squinted from the light beginning to shine through the window. Swallowing. “Mmm…what time is it?” she muttered into Theo’s chest.

”Eight thirty in the morning,” Theo replied quietly. His hand continuing to run through her curls.

Hermione groaned. “I have to pee,” she began peeling herself off of Theo, making her way towards the loo.

Washing her hands at the sink, Hermione took a look at herself in the mirror. Her hair was a mess – which was nothing out of the ordinary. Her sleepwear rumpled. She sighed to herself – unable to postpone the inevitable much longer. She left the room and headed to her bedroom to change. Grabbing her toiletry bag out of her trunk she returned to the loo to brush her teeth, wash her face, and tie up her hair.

She looked at herself once more in the mirror and gave herself a nod. It was time.

Theo was pulling a jumper over his head as Hermione stepped into the room. He turned to look at her as she wrung her hands together out of nervousness.

“I just need to brush my teeth, then we can talk,” he said to her. Stepping over to his trunk he reached for his shaving kit and unzipped the bag. Pausing for a moment, a frown forming on his face. He reached in and grabbed his toothbrush and toothpaste before walking into the loo to get cleaned up.

Hermione sat on the couch with her hands in her lap, waiting. Her mind running through the questions she needed to ask.

Susan puttered over to her, smiling. “Good morning Missy Hermione,” the little elf said quietly. “Here’s some toasts and tea and juice for yous and Mister Theo. If yous be wanting more, just ask and Susan will make it for you in a jiffy!”

“Thank you Susan,” Hermione said quietly to the elf. “This should be perfect, I think.”

The little elf gave a nod of her head before she returned to the kitchen.

Hermione grabbed a slice of toast from the tray and began spreading some raspberry jam. Her stomach growling as she took a bite.

Theo returned and placed his toothbrush and toothpaste back in his trunk before sitting down next to Hermione. Theo reached over and began pouring two glasses of juice.

“Did you want some tea as well?” he asked her quietly as he poured himself a cup.

“Please,” she muttered as she took another bite of toast. Theo poured her a cup of tea, adding the milk and sugar just the way she liked.

The couple ate their breakfast in silence. Hermione sighed as she finished her glass of juice. She picked up her tea and sat back on the couch, taking a sip.

Theo set his mug down on the tray before looking down at his hands in his lap. “I know that it could very well be far too late…but I wanted to apologise to you for how I’ve treated you,” his voice broke slightly. “I have lied to you and pushed you away when you were only trying to help me. I have kept secrets from you…a lot of secrets from you. And for that I am sorry.”

Hermione didn’t respond, instead she took another sip of her tea. Watching Theo closely.

“I will tell you anything you want to know. Anything at all. No more lies,” Theo’s eyes met hers. “I promise.”

Hermione frowned. “How long?” she asked. “When did you first start drinking?”

“Fourth year,” Theo told her. “I had my first taste of Firewhiskey in fourth year the day of the Yule Ball. The Slytherin common room was full of students openly drinking. A group of older students offered a bottle to me and some others. I took a drink directly from the bottle – and almost choked to death from the burn of the whiskey.” He snorted. “I was a little tipsy at the Ball…along with everyone else.”

“I wasn’t,” Hermione informed him.

Theo gave her a small smile. “You were one of the few.”

“So…that was when everything started then?” Hermione asked him, worry in her eyes.

“No,” said Theo, shaking his head. “I started drinking heavily the summer between our fourth and fifth year. Not all the time, but that was when it became a problem I suppose.” He swallowed, uncomfortable. “Father was in and out of our manor that summer. He was carrying out orders from the Dark Lord – Voldemort, I think. ” Theo shook his head. “He would come home covered in blood, scratches on his face from someone attempting to fight him off. It brought up memories from when I was a kid. Memories that I had of mum. Memories of other women.” Theo shivered. “I had compartmentalised those memories, I think. Built up walls around them so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. Seeing him in his Death Eater regalia covered in blood, sauntering around the manor shattered my walls. I didn’t know how to cope. Drinking allowed me to forget.”

“And that’s when the binging started.” A statement.

Theo nodded. “Not every day. But when I did drink I drank to forget.” He sighed. “I drank off and on until this past summer. I did stop for a bit…I did, I swear. Then we all went to the Weasley’s for dinner, and I had a couple of glasses of wine. And that’s when the cravings started. Not wine…not really. Firewhiskey. The burn of it. The taste.” He swallowed tightly. “I thought I could work through it. I thought I was stronger. I didn’t really start drinking again until we got back to Hogwarts. Then I couldn’t stop.”

“Why did you lie to me?” Hermione placed her mug of tea down on the tray in front of her.

“I – I don’t know,” Theo admitted. “I wanted to be strong. I needed to be strong for you. I didn’t want you to worry about me. I thought I could handle it myself. I was ashamed,” he put his head in his hands and rubbed his face. “Then you questioned me; asked me if I had been drinking…and I lied. I said that I shared a shot with Pansy – which I did. But…I had been drinking almost every night before I went to bed. It kept my nightmares away. My memories.”

“The Ball was more than just keeping your nightmares away though,” Hermione said to him. She reached out a hand and held onto his. “A lot more.”

Theo nodded in agreement. “I had begun drinking during the day. In between classes, before classes. After. The day of the Ball, the Slytherin common room was full of booze. I hid in my dorm and drank by myself. I hid in the toilets and drank the majority of the day.” A pause, hesitance. “I bought three bottles of Firewhiskey when we went to Hogsmeade the week before. I drank a bottle and a half the day of the Ball alone,” Theo confessed.

“And then someone spiked the punch.”

Theo nodded. “And I drank some more.”

Hermione squeezed his hand. “I knew you were drinking,” she said quietly. “I’ve known for a while. Deep down.”

Theo looked over at her, shocked.

“You’re not as sneaky as you thought you were,” she confessed. “I could smell it on you sometimes. Sometimes your eyes were glassy, dark.” She sniffed and shook her head. “I was going to confront you about it during the break,” Hermione gave him a sad smile. “I just didn’t know how to. I didn’t know what to say to you.”

“I’m so sorry,” Theo muttered, ashamed.

Hermione squeezed his hand, pulling herself close to Theo. She held him tightly as he wrapped his arms around her. She felt a soft kiss on the top of her head.

“Can I ask you something personal?” Hermione muttered into his chest.

“Of course. Anything.” Another kiss on her head.

Her stomach was churning, but she needed to know. “The times we were…together. Were you drunk?”

She felt Theo tense. Her heart began to crack.

“Sometimes,” he admitted. “Not every time.”

“When?” Hermione choked out.

Theo shrugged. “Sometimes when we were working on our assignments. I was at least slightly buzzed most of the time. Not full-fledged drunk, but I had had some firewhiskey earlier in the day. It was still in my system.”

Hermione watched as Theo hesitated even more. Her stomach was churning threateningly.

“Broom closet,” Theo muttered quietly. “I was drunk then. More than just a buzz.”

Hermione wrapped her arms around herself, pulling away from Theo. “I took advantage of you,” she told Theo. Her eyes wide.

Theo shook his head. “No you didn’t. At all. I wasn’t drunk enough to have been unable to give consent, Hermione. I knew what I was doing. I knew what you were doing. I wanted it. Liked it.”

Hermione nodded, the churning in her stomach was still threatening. “When did you begin drinking during the day?”

Theo frowned, trying to remember. “After our first Hogsmeade weekend. I had run out of Firewhiskey a few days before we went to Hogsmeade. When we went there, I got someone to pick me up a few bottles. I started drinking during the day after that.” He paused, thinking. “I think maybe a week later.”

Hermione swallowed, her throat tight. “Why?”

Theo looked at her with wide eyes. “Why?” He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“We’re a couple, correct?” Hermione began.

Theo nodded. “Of course.”

“What I am asking is why you didn’t communicate with me. Your struggles. Your pain.” A pause. “Isn’t that what being a couple is about? Having each other’s backs? Being each other’s support system?” Hermione sighed. “I know you’re hurting, Theo. But, you not trusting me enough to tell me that you are struggling has hurt me.”

“I’m sorry,” Theo murmured. His eyes on his hands in his lap.

“Does my meeting with a mind healer make me weak?”

Theo shook his head and frowned. “No…of course not.”

“Does my telling you about my struggles make me weak?”

Theo shook his head again, seeing what Hermione was getting at. “No.”

“Then why won’t you tell me about yours?” She asked him softly.

Theo sighed. “I have a lot of shit in my head, Hermione. You don’t want to see that. You don’t need to know. It’s not…good – any of it. My experiences. My memories.”

Hermione reached her hand out to Theo’s. Squeezing. “Would you be open to talking with someone else then?” She asked him. “A mind healer?” Theo gave her a nod of his head. “Maybe we can work our way up to you telling me things.” She paused. “No rush. But when you’re ready.”

Theo nodded once more. “I can do that.”

Hermione gave his hand another squeeze, which he returned. “How did you sleep last night?”

Theo grimaced. “I didn’t really. Maybe a few hours.”

“Is the couch uncomfortable?” she asked.

Theo snorted. “It’s comfy…it’s nothing to do with the couch. I just don’t sleep well sometimes. My head started hurting again last night. That and I was thinking about a lot of things.”

“Hungover still?” Hermione frowned. She thought it’d be out of his system by the end of the day.

Theo shook his head. “Withdrawal, I think. If I drink the headaches tend to go away.”

Hermione hesitated. “Maybe there is a potion that can help a bit with that. Did you want to go out with me?” she asked him. “We can wander around Diagon Alley. I need to pick up some gifts for Harry and Ginny. Ron, too. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. You…if I can find something.”

“Alright,” Theo said quietly. “You don’t have to get me anything, Hermione.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Of course I do.” She stood up from the couch. “I’m going to get my coat and let dad know what’s going on.”


Hermione and Theo strolled through Diagon Alley hand in hand. She could begin to feel Theo’s hands twitching in hers. Hands clammy. His withdrawal symptoms were getting more intense. She snuck a look at Theo as they stepped out of the cold and into the Apothecary.

A tinkling bell alerted the shopkeeper of their presence as they made their way towards the front counter. Regulus had informed both Hermione and Theo that the shop would have some ‘ready-made’ potions available for Theo if he needed it.

“Greetings,” the middle aged wizard said from behind the counter.

“Hello,” both Hermione and Theo said to him.

“I – we were wondering if you had any ‘ready-made’ potions available?” Hermione asked him quietly.

The man nodded. “Of course. What are you looking for specifically?”

Hermione turned slightly to look at Theo. Theo cleared his throat.

“Uh…something for tremors, headaches…and a fever,” he swallowed uncomfortably.

“For a flu?” the wizard questioned. “Or because of drink?”

Theo looked up sharply at the man. “The second.” A pause. “Please,” he added on hastily.

The man gave a single nod of his head before he stepped away from the counter and into the back storeroom of the apothecary. Hermione and Theo waited at the counter, unsure how long it would take. The store was relatively empty, a lull due to the holiday season.

Moments later the man returned from the storeroom, a think paper bag in his hand. He placed the bag on the counter and pulled out a vial.

“This is pepper-up potion for the fever and headaches,” he informed Theo. “There are a week’s worth in here.” He placed the vial back in the bag and pulled out another. “This here is a potion for your tremors. Again, there is a week’s worth in the bag.”

Theo nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly. He pulled out his coin purse to pay. “How much is it?” he asked, frowning.

The man shrugged and pursed his lips, watching Theo closely. “Fifty galleons.”

Theo nodded and pulled out the appropriate galleons, counting carefully before handing them to the older wizard.

The man gave Theo and Hermione a nod and a smile. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you. I’ll have more of that next week, if you still need it then, Mr. Nott.”

The couple left the Apothecary and stepped to the side, out of the way of the holiday shoppers. Theo rummaged through the bag for a moment before pulling out a vial of pepper-up potion.

Uncorking it, he guzzled it down. Grimacing at the foul taste. Shuddering as the potion got to work. He placed the empty vial back in the bag and pulled out the potion for his tremors. Hermione watched as he uncorked the vial before drinking it completely.

“Ugh…Merlin that’s foul,” Theo complained. He scrunched his eyes closed. His face frozen in a frown. He licked his lips, trying desperately to rid the taste of the potion. His eyes flickered open when Hermione snickered at his whining.

Hermione gave him a smile. “But are you feeling better?”

Theo slowly nodded. “Not one-hundred percent, but definitely manageable. I don’t feel like complete rubbish, which is a plus.”

“Good,” she said to him with a small grin.

Hermione wrapped her arm in his and began to stroll along the cobblestone street taking in the sights and shops. They would take it day by day, she decided. She knew that today was probably one of the good days that he was having. She understood that withdrawal symptoms got worse before they got better. As long as he was willing to work at it, and as long as he was willing to try to get better, she would be right next to him supporting him.

She would have his back.

Chapter Text

Hermione was nestled between Theo and George at the old, rickety table outside in the garden at the Burrow. The group was sheltered underneath a huge tent – the same one, Hermione figured, from Bill and Fleur’s wedding the year before. Although it was snowing and somewhat chilly out, someone had casted numerous heating charms throughout the tent. It was cozy and warm.

 

Hermione sighed as she attempted to get more comfortable on the hard wood bench. She didn’t understand why she and Harry hadn’t thought about a heating charm when they were on the run a year ago. The horcrux must have prevented that from happening. Messing with their minds. Weakening them and infecting them. She shivered at the thought.

 

She looked up from her finished plate of dinner and caught Harry watching her with a sad look on his face. He was thinking the same thing as her. He gave her a subtle nod and a grin. They made it through regardless.

 

“Alright ‘Mione?” Ron asked her from the other side of the table, next to Ginny. He was pouring Lavender Brown another glass of red, goblin-made wine. Her fourth and it was beginning to show.

 

“I’m great Ron…just thinking about some things. Memories.” She gave him a smile, finishing her glass of pumpkin juice.

 

She felt Theo’s arm travel around her shoulders, pulling her in for a side hug. She turned her head to take him in, giving him a grin as she did so. He really was a beautiful man. Inside and out. Smart, strong and kind – she wanted nothing more than that and he had constantly delivered. He was hers, and she was his. She felt her face heat up with the realisation that she would do anything to protect him. To show him how much she cared for him.

 

Theo, spotting her persistent blush, returned her grin and kissed the side of her head. Well-aware of their audience.

 

The large group of people were slowly finishing up their hearty meal. Molly Weasley had made a delicious feast. The group was relaxed and chatting aimlessly with those nearby. Regulus was a few places down the table next to Remus and Tonks. Teddy in her lap grinning at the bubbles streaming out of Remus’ wand. His little hands reaching out to touch them. Shrieking when he popped one in his little fists. His hair changing from black to red to blue in his excitement.

 

Theo cleared his throat, drawing Hermione’s attention. “Do you want another glass of pumpkin juice sweetheart? Or did you want something else?” he asked her quietly, motioning to the bottles of wine and firewhiskey in front of them courtesy of the Weasley twins.

 

Hermione shook her head adamantly. “Nope,” she said with a pop of her lips. “No alcohol for me. I wouldn’t mind another glass of juice though.”

 

Theo reached in front of him and grabbed the pitcher of pumpkin juice, pouring the two of them another glass. Harry and Ginny were also nursing glasses of pumpkin juice rather than alcohol. A show of solidarity and support, the couple informed them before they sat down for dinner with the rest of the family.

 

“Oh,” Lavender said, sounding sickly sweet. “I just assumed you’d have firewhiskey Theodore.” She sipped her glass of wine, trying to hide her grin.

 

Hermione looked closer at the blonde, easily spotting the proud expression on her face. Dark eyes traveling back and forth between Hermione and Theo. The witch was still trying to hide her grin and was failing miserably. A haughty look plastered on her made-up face.

 

Hermione’s eyebrows rose infinitesimally in disbelief. The bitch thought Hermione was in the dark about Theo and his drinking. Daft cow.

 

She felt Theo tense beside her. She placed a hand on his thigh to calm him down. Giving his leg a squeeze in reassurance before she grinned at the blonde girl on the opposite side of the table. She knew her eyes were cold, ruthless. She also knew Lavender wouldn’t notice – too proud of what she knew about Theo.

 

“What are you talking about Lav?” Hermione asked her dumbly. She wanted to know how much the other girl knew before doing anything.

 

“I saw your boyfriend buying Firewhiskey in the alley beside the Hog’s Head a few weeks ago. During your Hogsmeade weekend. Multiple bottles, Granger. He obviously is hiding something from you.” The witch had the audacity to look like she cared deeply for Hermione.

 

Hermione shook her head in disbelief. The blonde reminded her of Umbridge with her false empathy.

 

Lavender took a long drink from her glass of wine. “Trust me from experience Granger…he was probably celebrating the holiday season with another girl before he was forced to spend time with you,” Lavender paused for effect. “Or…maybe he needed the whiskey to be able to stand being around you. He wouldn’t be the first.”

 

The table went from a loud and boisterous affair to a muted hum in a matter of seconds. The attention of everyone was now on the two former classmates.

 

Hermione sighed dramatically. “For the last time Lavender, my family name is Black. It’s probably something you should remember before you make false claims about Theo and insult myself.” She paused for effect, well aware she had an audience. “I mean…I’m no expert or anything but if I were to try to one-up someone with information that I thought I had, I would at least try not to be inebriated and make myself look a fool. Especially in front of the heiress and head of a family as ancient and noble as mine.” She grabbed her glass of pumpkin juice and took a small sip, grinning. “And touching on your experience that you mentioned. Well…I spoke to Blaise the other day, we’re great friends you see, and he confessed to carrying out a secret relationship with you before Winter Break in sixth year. The time you were supposedly in love with my best friend. He was ashamed of his behaviour but came clean to myself, Harry and Ginny.”

 

She took a look around the table, every face was watching her. Regulus gave her a wink as he took a drink of wine. Fleur was hiding her grin behind her hand, her fiery eyes connected with Hermione’s. Molly was red-faced, about to burst in anger at the soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend of her youngest son. Hermione looked back to Lavender, sighing. “Not that I’m against sex, or casual sex for that matter. I love it as a matter of fact. It’s a healthy part of a relationship when it’s done right.” She squeezed Theo’s thigh once more. “What I am against however, is the betrayal that one commits when they cheat on their partner. Their supposed loved one.” She smirked at the pale witch across from her. “If you don’t want to be with someone anymore, break up with them. It’s not difficult to do. Of course, it may be counter-intuitive, I suppose, if you wanted to raise your status. Nothing says higher status for you, Lavender, than dating one of the heroes of the War, one-third of the ‘Golden Trio’.”

 

Ron shifted away from the witch beside him, his face red. He opened his mouth to say something to her but was cut off by his mother.

 

“You bitch!” the matronly women screeched from the far end of the table, standing up and pressing her hands into the hard surface. “Get away from my son…my family this instant.” Her voice was quivering with emotion. She went to step around the table to move closer to Lavender before Charlie stood up from his spot at the table and pulled Molly aside.

 

“I got this mum,” he said to her quietly. “Go sit down.”

 

The dragon tamer made his way down the table towards his youngest brother and Lavender.

 

“I’ll get you back for this you cunt,” Lavender hissed at Hermione as she stood up from the table, staggering as she fought to keep her balance. The centre of her face suddenly erupted into something slimy. Her bogeys were flapping victoriously against her face. Slapping her cheeks with a vengeance. Lavender shrieked, trying to wipe the enthusiastic bogey wings off of her face as she was led away by Charlie.

 

Harry cleared his throat, looking at Ginny with admiration. “Remind me to never piss you off,” he said as his kissed his girlfriend’s forehead.

 

Ginny snickered. “What can I say…I’ve been practising my non-verbal hexes for defence class.”

 

Regulus coughed, trying to cover up his laugh. “Five points to Gryffindor I think, for perfect casting.” The table collectively chuckled.

 

Hermione was watching Ron closely. His face was still red. Refusing to make eye contact with anyone. “I’m sorry Ron. I apologise for making a scene.”

 

Ron shook his head. “It’s alright ‘Mione,” he gave her a tired grin. “I was going to break up with her anyway. She’s bloody annoying. I was just going to wait until after the holidays, when I go back to work so I could avoid her.” He sighed rubbing his face. “I suppose I don’t have to deal with that fall out anymore.” He shrugged, taking a small sip of his wine.

 

“When do you go back?” Hermione asked him.

 

“Day after tomorrow. I just have the usual four days on, four days off that everyone else has. Me and Tonks lucked out with having Christmas Day off.” He gave Hermione a grin.

 

The younger part of the group continued to chat with each other, laughing and joking at Fred and George’s stories they had from their time in their shop.

 

Further down the table the older group found themselves in numerous smaller conversation groups. Arthur was talking quietly with Molly, who was still emotional from her earlier outburst. Bill and Fleur were huddled closer to Regulus, Remus and Tonks, chatting about the auror training program in place.

 

“So,” Regulus began. “Do you think everyone who’s in the program now will make it beyond their first year? The examination?” he asked Tonks as she began to feed Teddy.

 

She shook her head, hesitating. “I would say…it’s probably fifty-fifty. Not everyone is cut out for it. I don’t think the majority of the trainees realised how much paperwork there is with the aurors.” She paused, thinking. “It’s a very important part of the job. Especially today. There needs to be a paper trail for everything to help prevent corruption from occurring. There needs to be accountability for everyone’s actions. When I first started with the aurors, a fair number of the aurors already there had gotten there because of their connections. Take Yaxley for example. He was a suspected Death Eater during the first war, yet he was still there. There was no evidence – other than Mad-eye’s suspicion – that suggested he was associating with those sort of people. That suggested he was a Death Eater. I found out recently that the man had the Dark Mark for fuck sake. No one thought to check out his forearm.” She shook her head at the stupidity of the auror department.

 

Tonks sighed, looking at little Teddy. A small smile on her face as she brushed his hair with a thumb. “A lot of the kids who are in the program think we just kick down people’s doors and arrest them. But…it doesn’t work that way. Everyone gets a trial, Kingsley made sure of that. Everyone, regardless of what they are accused of doing. To go to trial there needs to be evidence that stands up to scrutiny. Nothing shady. A good lawyer would get the case thrown out for anything like that.”

 

“I take it Ron is one of the ones who you don’t think will make it,” Bill said quietly, making sure his mother wasn’t listening in on their conversation.

 

Tonks looked at Bill and shook her head sadly. “He’s a great kid…a great person but he isn’t cut out for it. His mock reports are atrocious. His paperwork is some of the worst I’ve seen. He keeps trying to get someone else to do the work for him. Wanting to check out their assignments, to see what they did.” She sighed, adjusting Teddy in her arms. “He is very aware of his environment when we are at crime scenes, which is great don’t get me wrong. But, the lack of skill at writing will prevent him from carrying on past the examination.” She swallowed, looking between Bill and Fleur. 

 

"Unless he drastically improves his reports and assignments," Bill said quietly. "Maybe I can have a chat with him. Somehow. Maybe give him some advice." He grimaced, a hand running along his face. "That or he can try out something else...another department maybe."

 

“What about Gringotts?” Fleur asked quietly, looking at her husband.

 

Bill shook his head. “I’d be surprised if he even wanted to. Gringotts is more brain than brawn…not saying my brother isn’t intelligent. It’s just not for him. They require a fair number of NEWT levels to even get an application form from them. Ron didn’t return for his seventh year. He hasn’t done his exams. Nor will he.” He shook his head again. “He’s probably safest at the Ministry in a department somewhere. There’s something for him there.”

 

The small group agreed with Bill’s assessment of his brother. Regulus hesitated, not wanting to overstep his boundaries as a father. “Hermione was thinking of Gringotts,” he informed Bill quietly.

 

Bill turned to look closer at Regulus, nodding at him. A grin plastered on his face. “That’s good to hear. I think she’d be quite good at it. Do you know what she wants to do specifically?” he asked.

 

“Right now she’s working on a translation in her Ancient Runes class. An ancient book that Gringotts allowed to be translated by some of the students.” Bill nodded, indicating he knew what Regulus was talking about. “She mentioned back in September that translating was something she was interested in.” He grinned. “I’m not sure if she still is feeling that way...”

 

Bill nodded again. “It’s a good field for her. There are a handful of translators with Gringotts but there is always room for more. Most of it though is done on a contract basis. She may not necessarily work right in Gringotts all the time; they like to hire people on a case-by-case basis if you will, but there is almost always something that needs a translation.” He paused, thinking. “I think too it could fit better with her Wizengamot aspirations than say curse breaking would.”

 

Remus hummed in agreement. “Her Werewolf Law looks interesting,” he told the small group. “She has some great ideas, what she’s told me about so far at least.” He paused, a small grin on his face as he looked at his son. “She definitely has the proper connections to get things done properly. The influence.”

 

“Time to finally use that influence for good, I think,” Regulus muttered quietly as he took another sip of his wine. Remus nodding in agreement.

 


 

 

“You handled Lavender well,” Theo muttered to Hermione as the two of them got ready for bed.

 

Hermione yawned, it had really been a long day. “I don’t know…I was quite rude to her. She did threaten me – said it wasn’t over.” She sighed, pulling on a huge t-shirt. She shrugged to herself. “I don’t know what she can do, really. Or what she thinks she can do to get me back. Honestly…the worst thing she could do is tell the Daily Prophet that you have a drinking problem.”

 

Theo shrugged, pulling his pajama bottoms up. “I’m not ashamed of it.” He huffed in amusement. “Let me rephrase that: I accept that part of me. At least, I am beginning to accept that I have a problem with alcohol. If someone outside of you and Regulus, and our friends find out about it, I don’t think it’d be the end of the world for me. I don’t think it would harm me too much. Everyone is struggling with the war, with the effects of the war. Not just me.” He grinned at Hermione. “It’s not a weakness. It doesn’t make me weak…you’ve taught me that.”

 

Hermione smiled at Theo. “I’m glad you’re beginning to see that.” Another yawn erupted from her mouth. Her hands slapped to her face in a futile attempt to hide how tired she truly was.

 

Theo chuckled and pulled back the covers of her bed. “Get some rest, love,” he stepped to the side to allow her enough room to slide under the sheets. He slid in after her, arm wrapped around her. A kiss on her forehead. A sigh.

 

“Good night love,”

 

“Good night Theo.”

 

A wave of her hand and the lights extinguished, leaving them in the dark.

Chapter Text

Hermione straightened out her dress as she looked at herself in the mirror. She, Theo and Regulus were about to floo to Malfoy Manor for dinner with Draco and Narcissa. Hermione was nervous, and rightfully so.

The last time, and only time she had been at the Manor she had been tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange. Aunty Bella, Hermione thought to herself dryly. She shivered at the thought of her psychotic relative and pulled on her thin jumper over her dress.

She had chosen a navy blue, V-neck, knee length dress that she had purchased a few summers previously, pairing it with black tights and ankle boots. She finished buttoning up her black jumper and began fiddling with her curls that she had piled up in a messy bun on the top of her head.

She couldn’t put it off any longer, she needed to leave the safety of the loo. She needed to go to Malfoy Manor. Hermione didn’t want to go – didn’t want to set foot in that place, but understood it was important for her to do so. She understood it was part of her healing.

She was being petulant. She frowned at herself in the mirror before pulling the door open and heading towards Regulus and Theo waiting for her by the fireplace.

“Alright?” Regulus said to her in greeting. A worried expression on his face.

Hermione shook her head. “No…I really don’t want to go there. But let’s just get it over with, shall we? The sooner we show up, the sooner I can leave.”

Regulus frowned and gave her a nod of his head as he grabbed a handful of floo powder, stepping into the fireplace. “Malfoy Manor!” he called out, disappearing in the green flames.

Theo squeezed Hermione tightly, trying to bring her some comfort. “She’s dead, Hermione. No one at the Manor will hurt you.”

Hermione nodded. “I know,” she said as she took a single step closer to the pot of floo powder. “I understand that, I do. I just don’t want to go there. To that place. I remember it being so cold. So lifeless. I don’t want to go back.”

“Narcissa has been able to renovate most of it. The dungeons, drawing room, and dining room are in the process of being completely changed.”

“The place is…it should be a museum. A tourist attraction for muggle tourists who point at things on display and take loads of pictures, trying to build up a fairy tale for themselves. It’s a castle…not a home.” Hermione swallowed tightly as she finished her rant.

Theo’s eyebrows were raised high on his forehead at her rudeness. “So…you don’t want to go to Malfoy Manor for dinner because it’s too…big? Too impersonal?” He looked over at Hermione. “Do you not care about what’s happened there? I honestly thought you were dragging your feet because of Bellatrix, sweetheart. I didn’t realise you were dragging your feet because the home of the Malfoy Family for the last few hundred years is not to your taste.”

Hermione looked down at her feet, ashamed. “I am nervous…uncomfortable about what happened. I’m not going to lie. I just…” She didn’t know what more to say.

“You just decided to pick apart their home?” Theo supplied to her. His eyes sad. “That’s hardly fair to Draco and Narcissa…they saved your life. Yours and Harry’s and Ron’s. Luna, Dean, and Ollivander as well. They both went out of their way, risked their lives for all of you.”

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said quietly. She couldn’t look at Theo, couldn’t meet his gaze. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I said that about the Manor.”

Theo wrapped his arms around Hermione. Holding her close. “No one has judged you because of Grimmauld Place,” he told her quietly. “Even though it is probably one of the darkest family homes in Britain.”

Hermione nodded in agreement. “Molly…Mrs. Weasley used to pester Sirius about it when we were all hiding there the summer before our fifth year.” She snorted, shaking her head. “It was like…even though he had been locked up in Azkaban for twelve years, falsely accused, on the run from the corrupt Ministry, trying to protect Harry – the fact that the house had a few questionable artifacts, and a few dark creatures scurrying about, was all Molly focused on. It was her proof that he was an awful godfather to Harry. It was all the proof she needed to convince herself that he wasn’t a good person. Even though he fucking ran away when he was sixteen.”

“But you’re not Molly Weasley, are you? You’re better than that.” Theo grinned. “I mean…you talk to classmates outside of your house, outside of Gryffindor. I’m pretty sure Molly doesn’t do that unless she is forced to. And she’s been out of Hogwarts for a while.” He peered down at her. “The fact that you are giving people outside of Gryffindor a chance…me, the Malfoy’s, Pansy, Luna, Blaise…and even Regulus, tells me that you are better than that. It shows that you understand there is more to a person than their last name. That there is more to a person than the house where they grew up. Where they live.”

Hermione nodded in understanding. “I’m sorry,” she apologised once more.

Lips met her forehead. “I know. Let’s go eat some food and spend some time with family and friends.” Theo grinned at her as he reached into the pot of floo powder. “And if you are uncomfortable because of Bellatrix, if you are scared because of her – we will leave. No hesitation. Just say the words and we will come back here.” He pulled her into the fireplace with him, wrapping his free arm around her body to hang onto her.

Hermione held him tightly and gave him a single nod. She was ready.

Theo threw the powder down. “Malfoy Manor!”

...


...

“Surprise!” Ginny greeted the couple as they tumbled out of the fireplace.

“What’re you doing here?” Hermione asked as she began dusting off both her and Theo.

Ginny and Harry chuckled at her shock.

“We thought we’d surprise you, ‘Mione,” Harry said to her with a grin. “Narcissa invited us the other day. We couldn’t pass it up.”

“I invited Mr. Potter to show my appreciation for all he has done, Hermione dear.” Narcissa stepped towards Hermione and greeted her with a kiss on both of her cheeks. “I informed him to bring Miss Weasley with him, I understand that the three of you are quite close and I wanted you to be comfortable while you are here.”

“Oh…thank you. That’s very kind of you.” She didn’t know what else to say. She was caught off guard by the presence of her friends. They hadn’t mentioned anything to her at the Burrow a few days prior. She caught Theo’s eyes and gave him a small smile.

He responded with another kiss to her forehead. “Alright?”

Hermione nodded shyly. “I’m good.”

Theo grinned. His attention turned to Draco as he stepped into the room to greet his friend.

Regulus slipped into the room behind him.

Narcissa clapped her hands together. “It’s time to eat. This way to the kitchen. I hope you don’t mind that this is a casual affair – Draco and I really aren’t comfortable eating in our dining room just yet. Too much history.” She led the group through the manor and into a large kitchen with a small table. A pair of house elves were hovering by the stove. They had made a feast.

“Don’t get any ideas, Black…they are paid and have days off.” Draco sneered at her, trying to hide his grin.

Hermione huffed, amusement in her eyes. “No ideas. I promise.”

The group dug into their meal. Salad for starters. Followed by a ham and scalloped potatoes. The group made small talk with each other – Narcissa curious about both Harry and Ginny’s plans after they finished Hogwarts.

“I’m leaning towards being an auror actually,” Harry admitted. “I needed some time to think about it more, and I think it’s the job for me. I was talking with Remus and Tonks over the break and they agreed.”

“Are your grades good enough?” Narcissa asked not unkindly.

“They are very good.” Regulus cut in. “The professors are a bit surprised at the change. Not that you were failing out of anything Harry. They have just noticed the improvement.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “It’s different not having a raging lunatic living in my head, or having said raging lunatic attempting to kill me by year end.” He frowned. “It’ll feel odd not having something happen at the end of the school year I think.”

Hermione nodded in agreement.

“And you, Miss Weasley?” Narcissa asked Ginny. “What do you plan to do once you finish Hogwarts?”

“I’d like to play quidditch professionally,” Ginny admitted to the host. “My favourite team is the Holyhead Harpies – it’d be a dream to be able to play for them.”

“Ah quidditch,” Narcissa smiled at Ginny. “Draco has said you are quite good. Good luck to you, both of you on your endeavors.” Narcissa turned her attention to Theo, frowning. “How is my favourite son doing?” She sipped her wine as she awaited his response.

Theo grimaced. “Better. Not one hundred percent, but I’m doing well.” He reached over and gave Hermione’s hand a squeeze. “I have a good support system.”

Narcissa hummed in understanding. “Cravings?”

Theo shook his head. “Not yet…it’s only been a little over a week since I’ve had alcohol. I’m a bit nervous about that though. I don’t know how I’ll react,” he admitted quietly.

“We’ll figure it out…together Theo,” Hermione informed him quietly. “You aren’t dealing with this by yourself.”

“She’s right,” Draco insisted. “I think everyone here is someone who wants to help you.”

Ginny and Harry nodded in agreement.

Narcissa gave Theo a kind smile. “It’s important to have a good support system in place. To help you through the difficult times.” A pause. “I have to ask though…when you were drinking, are you certain no one knew about it? Or could someone have figured out what was going on?”

“I – I think Lavender must have seen something.” He looked over at Hermione. She gave him a small nod of her head in agreement.

“Lavender?” Narcissa questioned.

“Brown,” Draco answered her. “Lavender Brown, Gryffindor girl that was in my year. She didn’t come back for her eighth year. I assume she’s working somewhere.”

Narcissa just nodded her head at the information she got from her son.

“Wait…” Ginny blurted out. “That rubbish she said at the Burrow on Christmas…that was true then?”

Theo nodded solemnly. “I got a bloke to purchase a few bottles of Firewhiskey for me during our last Hogsmeade visit. From the Hog’s Head. I waited outside while he went in to get me the bottles.” He frowned. “I didn’t see her around there, but I honestly wasn’t really paying much attention.”

“She brought up what she saw to get back at me,” Hermione told the occupants of the room quietly. “She really doesn’t like me very much. She hasn’t for as long as I can remember.”

Narcissa pursed her lips in annoyance. “Well then…she really is a stupid little girl. Going after the Heiress of the Black Family.” She shook her head at the daftness of the girl, rolling her eyes.

Regulus chuckled. “Hermione reminded her of that from across the table. I heard it all the way at the other end.”

“What did she say? What did you say?” Draco asked Hermione, curious about what he had missed.

Hermione sighed. “She just said that Theo was probably drinking because he had to spend time around me for the break. That he wouldn’t be the first person to need to drink to stand spending time with me.” She shrugged to herself. “That, or he bought bottles of Firewhiskey for his time spent with his other girl. Just baseless garbage.”

“And then…” Ginny cut in loudly, “Hermione reminds her that she’s a Black not a Granger like Regulus said. Lav-Lav keeps calling her Granger – probably intentionally. Hermione brought up Blaise and Lavender fuuu...being intimate…when she was still with my brother.” Ginny scowled at that. “And then mum banished her from any future Weasley shindigs. Even called her a…bitch.” She nodded as she finished the tale.

“Don’t forget your perfectly executed non-verbal bat-bogey hex,” Harry chimed in, taking a drink of his pumpkin juice.

Draco burst out laughing and turned to look at Ginny. “You’re good at that hex.” He rubbed his nose at the memory.

Ginny snickered. “I have six older brothers…I’ve had to be.”

“Are you familiar with the Brown Family?” Regulus asked Narcissa.

Narcissa hesitated. “Not particularly. We aren’t in the same social circles.” A pause. “I know of them, but never really associated with them for anything. They aren’t really considered to be an important enough family to have to associate with. They aren’t really in a position of power, so there was never a need to play nice with them.”

“What do the Brown’s do?” Hermione asked. “What does Mr. Brown do for a living? Mrs. Brown?”

Narcissa frowned once more. “Henry Brown works in the Ministry, in the Magical Transportation department – in broom regulation if I recall correctly. Lavender’s mother is a secretary in the same department – Violet is her name. The Brown Family is a pureblood family. They never put too much emphasis on the importance of being pureblood, so there are halfbloods and muggleborns married into the family quite regularly. Much like the Weasley Family.” She gave Ginny a small smile. “The family, like the Weasley’s, is quite old…but I don’t believe they’re considered to be a noble family. Just an ancient one.”

“Do they have a seat on the Wizengamot?” Hermione asked carefully.

Narcissa shook her head. “No. They have no political clout whatsoever.”

“Which was why Lavender was boink…with…Ron,” Ginny shuddered at the thought. “She wants more influence, more standing than what she has and he’s one third of the golden trio. Can’t get higher standing than that.”

Narcissa hummed in agreement, trying to hide her grin at the redhead’s poor attempt at watching her language around her. “Do you think Miss Brown will try to come after you, Hermione?” She asked her carefully. “You believe that her mentioning Theo’s drinking was to get back at you. To hurt you.”

Hermione nodded her head. “That’s entirely why she brought it up. Just to hurt me somehow.” Hermione hesitated, thinking to herself. Lavender gave her an uneasy feeling. “I do think she will try something to get back at me…I did humiliate her.”

“Twice,” Harry chimed in.

Hermione turned her attention to her best friend frowning, she couldn’t remember the first time.

“Ron muttered your name when he was unconscious from the poisoned mead or whatever that he drank of Slughorn’s in our sixth year.” He reminded Hermione. “She and Ron were technically together at the time. You were just a friend. I’m assuming Lavender figured it should’ve been her name that he muttered, not one of his friends. And especially not another girl’s name.”

“But she was cheating on him with Blaise at that time, wasn’t she?” Hermione asked. She looked to Draco and then to Theo.

Theo hesitated. “It doesn’t matter…she considered you to be competition.”

“Does she know anything that she can use against you?” Narcissa queried.

Hermione swallowed, nervously. She looked over to Regulus wanting to get his opinion. He frowned, hesitant.

“Have you done anything questionable that she may know about? Something she can blackmail you with?” Narcissa asked her. She was looking back and forth between Regulus and Hermione.

“I – I don’t know,” Hermione said quietly. Unsure. “I never told her anything. Never bragged.”

“What have you done that she could blackmail you with?” Theo asked her, disbelief in his tone.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but Harry beat her to it.

“Umbridge in fifth year – Hermione convinced her that Dumbledore’s weapon was in the Forbidden Forest. We actually left her there to get to the Ministry as quick as possible. She got dragged away by centaurs.” He looked to Hermione, “we’re both guilty about that one.” He swallowed before continuing on. “Fourth year she figured out Skeeter was an unregistered animagus, a beetle – locked her in a jar for a bit.”

“It was only a couple of weeks,” Hermione added softly, looking down at her hands in her lap.

“It was still blackmail dear,” Narcissa chimed in, amused. “Anything else?”

Hermione shook her head slowly. “No...not that I can remember.”

Narcissa nodded at her. “I don’t believe you have to worry about Umbridge and I’m almost certain you won’t have to worry about Rita Skeeter. She’s too smart to print anything derogatory about you now that it is public that you are the Heiress to the Black Family. It’s career suicide, she wouldn’t risk it.”

“But it was alright when I was thought to be muggleborn…” Hermione said snidely. “I was fifteen when she wrote that vile garbage about me. Fifteen!” She glared at Narcissa. “What kind of person gets off on writing those sorts of lies about a child?” Hermione exhaled slowly, trying to calm herself down. “I hate her.”

“And I don’t blame you for that, but you can use her if you need to,” Narcissa peered at her over her glass of wine. “If Ms. Brown comes out with something to hurt your reputation, you can use Rita Skeeter to clarify or dispel what is said. She is an asset to have in your pocket. You don’t have to like her.”

Hermione hesitated, remembering her fifth year. “I already have used her though. I forced her to conduct Harry’s interview for the Quibbler in our fifth year. Haven’t I already played my hand?”

“Not necessarily. An unregistered animagus is a very serious offence.” Narcissa shrugged, unworried. “You may have to give her some information, an exclusive if you will. But we shouldn’t worry about that unless we have to.”

The group continued to chatter with each other. Narcissa’s knowledge about the ins and outs of the wizarding world left Hermione in awe. She had always just assumed she was something of a trophy wife carrying more about fashion and appearance than anything else, but she soon realised that Narcissa was the one to pull the strings. She was the one who held the cards and played them when she deemed it appropriate.

It was slightly terrifying.

Hermione, Theo and Regulus eventually said their goodbyes – Harry and Ginny leaving earlier in the evening needing to get back to the Burrow.

“It was nice to speak with you again Hermione dear,” Narcissa said to her quietly after Regulus flooed back to his place.

“It was nice to visit with you Narcissa,” Hermione said kindly. “I’ve learned a lot from you.”

Narcissa gave Hermione a grin and a wink. “I’ll keep my ears open for anything Ms. Brown might do. But I wouldn’t worry too much.”

Hermione and Theo stepped into the fireplace, Theo throwing down his handful of floo powder before calling out their destination. Disappearing in the green flames.

...


...

Theo placed his journal and writing instruments on the table beside the bed. He had begun writing in it almost every night, bringing up concerns he wanted to talk about when he finally began meeting with one of the mind healers at Hogwarts. Psychologists was what Hermione said they were called in the muggle world.

He rubbed his face tiredly. It was well past midnight, Hermione taking her usual shower before bed and he was alone in their bedroom. He stood in the middle of the room in nothing but his pajama bottoms trying to ignore the itch in his mind. It had been present for the better part of a week and he had been able to ignore it for the most part.

He didn’t think he could do so any longer. Seeing Hermione in her little dress with the smallest hint of cleavage almost drove him to jump her in the middle of dinner with the Malfoys. The way she nibbled on her food, her lips plump around her fork made him wonder what she would look like with her lips around his cock.

It had been a goal of his since they had begun dating. One that they had yet to reach. Sure they’d done plenty, he wasn’t deprived at all. Far from it. They just hadn’t broached the subject with each other yet. He wanted her to suck his cock desperately, but he was afraid to pressure her into it. He knew from some girls in Slytherin house that not everyone liked giving blow jobs.

He hoped Hermione wasn’t one of those girls. She seemed to be the kind of person unafraid to try something more. Curious about sex. About exploration.

He loved the taste of her. Having eaten her out a handful of times in their few months of dating. He couldn’t get enough of her. She was a delicacy. Delicious. And dangerous – he could lose himself in her folds. His tongue lapping up her juices as she groaned her release again and again and again. Addictive.

He hissed as his cock rubbed against his flannel bottoms. Rock hard and desperate for a release. He moved over to the bed and sat down on the edge. He needed to forget about it. He needed to think of something else. Anything else. He took a peek at his lap and groaned in displeasure. His cock stood tall and proud, mocking him.

“Fuck,” he muttered to himself, the heels of his hands pressing against his eyes. He hadn’t allowed himself release in almost two weeks. He didn’t deserve it with the shit he put everyone through.

The shower turned off.

“Fuck,” Theo muttered again. He was doomed. She’d be here in mere seconds. There was no hiding his desire.

His hand flopped down on his stomach. Inching its way towards his throbbing appendage. Fingers sliding under the waistband. His hand moving on its own accord grasped his cock tightly.

“Fuck,” he hissed as his hand began to move. Up and down. Twisting and tugging. He groaned. Eyes clenched shut.

He heard the loo door open. Steps. The bedroom door creaked open. A gasp. The closing of the door.

He blinked open his eyes and met Hermione’s from across the room. Her face was flushed, pink from the heat of the shower. Pink from what she caught him doing on her bed. His hand continuing to move up and down beneath his bottoms. He couldn’t stop now.

She bit her lip suggestively and gave him a grin before silencing the room and locking the door.

“I’m sorry,” He muttered weakly to her. He forced his hand out of his pajamas. “I’m just so fucking horny I can’t fucking think. I can go to the loo if you want. If you don’t want to see this.” He pleaded with her.

Hermione shook her head. “What do you need?” she asked quietly. She huffed coyly. “I mean…I know what you need,” she motioned to his tented pajamas, “I mean what would you like? What would help?”

Theo just blinked at her. His brain could barely function. All he could think of was mouth, tits and pussy like a depraved cave man. His mouth opened unable to form words.

Hermione snickered as she made her way towards him. “I’m quite aroused myself, Theo. It’s been a while. So I’ll ask you again: what is it you want?”

Theo swallowed, his mouth dry. It was now or never. “Your lips around my cock sucking me as I come in your mouth. Your tits bouncing in my face as you ride me hard. My tongue lapping up your juices as you come against my mouth again and again and again.”

He heard Hermione gasp at his statement. Her face was flush. Her eyes dark. He watched as she reached the bottom of her shirt pulling it over her head. Her tits jiggling as she tossed the shirt aside.

“You like my tits?” She asked him as she began squeezing and rubbing herself. Pinching her nipples.

Theo nodded. “Yes,” he croaked. His cock jerked in agreement.

Hermione grinned at him. “Take off your bottoms…I want to see all of you.”

Theo’s hips lifted off the bed as he pushed his pajamas off of his hips and down his legs. Kicking them off ungracefully. His cock bobbing and jerking at the movement. His hand returned to his cock as he began rubbing himself once more. His eyes moving from Hermione’s tits up to her face. He needed to focus or he wasn’t going to last.

Hermione bit her lip as she watched him stroke himself. “I – I’ve never given a blow job before,” she told him quietly as she tugged her sleep shorts off.

Theo groaned. She wasn’t wearing any knickers underneath. How long had she been doing that? He removed his hand once more. Focusing on her statement rather than her bareness.

He exhaled and held out his hand to hers. “It’s alright. I can teach you if you like.” He pulled her closer to him. She kneeled on the floor between his legs.

Hermione nodded, swallowing nervously. “I’ve read about it…in a book. So I’m not entirely naïve…just inexperienced.”

Theo chuckled. “Of course you’ve read about it.” He paused. “How about you just do what you want to me. What you read about in your book. How does that sound?”

Hermione nodded before reaching out a hand.

Theo clasped his eyes shut. He was going to blow his load if he continued to watch her.

Her hand gently grabbed his cock, her soft fingers wrapping around him as best as they could before she began moving it up and down his shaft.

Theo grunted. His hips jerking of their own accord.

A twist and a pull of her hand. A tentative lick on the head of his cock.

Theo hissed.

A wet kiss on his head before she opened her mouth completely and took him in her mouth.

Theo groaned loudly. Thankful Hermione had the sense to silence the room. Her father would kill him if he knew what his daughter was doing to him right this moment. He’d lock him in a room and pick apart his mind for amusement before disposing of his body in a ditch somewhere when he was finished. And he wouldn’t get caught, Theo knew that for a fact.

Hermione began sucking him earnestly. One hand at the base of his cock while her mouth and tongue worked the rest of him. Fuck she was a quick learner.

He blinked open his eyes. He needed to watch her as she sucked him off.

Her hair was all around her face as she sucked and sucked. Tickling his legs.

Theo reached out and pulled her hair in a makeshift ponytail, reassuring her. “Fuck Hermione. Just like that baby.” His hand pressed her head encouraging her go take him deeper in her mouth.

She looked up at him. Her eyes bright and lips plump as his cock moved further in her mouth. Humming at his encouragement.

“How much can you take?” Theo grunted.

Hermione pulled her mouth off of his cock and frowned to herself before diving in once more.

He felt his head hit the back of her throat. Feeling her gag reflex tickle his cock for a moment before she pulled back.

She cleared her throat. “About that far,” she rasped with a grin on her face before running her tongue along his shaft and over his head. Sucking. Kissing. Groaning.

Hermione was enjoying this as much as he was. She was perfect.

“Fucking amazing,” he grunted. Theo focused on his witch. His one hand in her curls, his other reaching down between them to fondle her tits.

Hermione moaned as he ran his thumb over a nipple. He squeezed. Caressed her breast before pinching one of her nipples between his fingers.

“Fuck,” Hermione groaned in his lap. Her chest pressed forward in his hand, greedy for more.

Theo chuckled before moving his hand to her other breast and doing the same.

Hermione’s mouth returned to his cock. Groaning as he massaged her. Pinching and squeezing.

Theo groaned as she sucked him hard. “Fuck,” he gasped. “I’m going to come baby. Pull away of you don’t want me to come in your mouth.” His hips jerking. His hand behind her head pushing.

Hermione doubled down and sucked him enthusiastically. Her free hand began massaging his balls.

Theo groaned loudly. His hips jerking as he lost control. “Yes,” he hissed as he spurted into her mouth.

His eyes clenched tightly as he found his release.

Chapter Text

“…and then mum pulls out a baby blanket and gifts it to me in front of pretty much my entire family!” Ginny raged exasperatedly. “Poor Harry looked like he wanted the sofa to swallow him up.”

“It’s true…I did,” Harry chimed in as he took a sip of his orange juice. “Either that or face Voldemort again.”

Ginny, Harry, Hermione, and Theo had all met up for breakfast at a muggle diner. Ginny pleading desperately with Hermione through the floo the night before.

Theo was shaking in quiet laughter.

“But why…” Hermione’s voice wavered in amusement at Harry’s commentary. “Why would your mother even think that that was a good idea? Why did it even get brought up? You’re still in school – we all are!”

Ginny threw her hands up in the air in surrender. “I have no fucking clue, ‘Mione! I’m only the youngest of seven – six…surely she can bother my older siblings with her grandbaby wishes!” She paused dramatically. “Oh…that’s right…I’m the only girl. It’s my duty to pop out children. My brothers on the other hand just have to hold down respectable jobs you know…” Her eyes were getting teary.

“They also have to get married to respectable witches,” Harry stated bluntly. “She’s already trying to set Ron up with another girl. And Charlie,” he looked to Ginny, “it’s no wonder why he left for his dragon reserve a few days ago. To get away from her pestering.” He grimaced as he stabbed at his eggs. “I dunno if I can stay there after school is done, Gin – at the Burrow. I think I need to find a flat somewhere.”

“Maybe you and Ron could rent a place somewhere…surely he’s saved up enough to move out by now,” Hermione suggested as she munched on a piece of her bacon. “But…didn’t you plan to fix up your parents place Harry?”

Harry nodded. “Yep…and I will. But it will take a bit of time. I haven’t done a thing yet and Bill mentioned that curse breakers will need to walk through the place before I can even begin to rebuild.” He paused, turning his attention to Ginny. “I had wanted us to live there when we decided to start a family…it seems like a place to raise a family. I know we weren’t planning on doing that until we were much older.”

Hermione nodded in understanding.

“What happened with Charlie?” Theo asked as he worked on his breakfast.

“He let slip he was seeing a girl in Romania,” Ginny answered him. “Mum started planning their wedding already – told him they’d marry next summer at the Burrow.” She poked her fork into a sausage on her plate and took a big bite. “He basically told her to bugger off and left just after breakfast two days ago…said he couldn’t handle her anymore. I’ve never seen him like that before…he was angry. So angry.” She shook her head. “He was planning to stay until I went back to school. He wanted to see me off, spend as much time with the family before he left for his dragons again, but mum drove him away.” She rubbed her face as she chewed her breakfast. “Mum’s difficult to be around…overbearing. She always has been, it’s just worse after Percy…” She frowned to herself. “And then she pulled out that baby blanket on me last night. After I had told her I hadn’t planned on having children for years and years. That I had wanted to play professionally before having kids. And she just disregarded that completely. Said it was silly and a childish career – and waved that fucking blanket around like it was the only thing I’d be good for.”

Ginny’s lip quivered and her face scrunched up. Harry wrapping his arm around her pulling her close. “Dad said…” she squeaked before clearing her throat. “Dad said that the baby blanket was a great rag to clean all his plugs and other things in his shed. That he wanted to clean his muggle things the muggle way.” She chuckled, teary-eyed.

“And then Bill got into it with your mum,” Harry supplied quietly. “He gets aggressive around the full moon. Fleur had to…distract him.” He grimaced.

Ginny snorted. “They just kissed Harry…don’t be such a child.”

“Sucked face more like,” he shuddered. “Reminded me of Won-Won and Lav-Lav in sixth year.”

Ginny slapped his chest. “It wasn’t that awful. Bill actually has skill…same with Fleur. It was just a bit…French if you catch my drift.” She winked at Hermione.

Hermione burst out laughing drawing the attention of the other patrons around the diner. She grinned at Harry when he smiled at her, pleased with himself for distracting Ginny.

“I don’t think you should listen to your mother, Ginny,” Theo said quietly shaking his head. “You’ve remarkable skill on your broom…one of the best quidditch players I’ve seen at Hogwarts. It’d be a shame if you didn’t play professionally.” He shrugged. “Your mother’s just old-fashioned…traditional.”

Ginny nodded. “I know...I just wish she’d not be like that.” She snorted. “Narcissa is more supportive than my own mother…something I never thought I’d actually say out loud.”

Theo grinned in agreement. “She and Draco have been through a lot these past few years. She’s had to adapt...change in a way. Figure out what’s really important.” He looked to Hermione. “I think it started with Hermione, the half-blood heiress if you will.” Hermione rolled her eyes but nodded in agreement. “Regulus had a few things to say to her as well. Heard them when we were at Grimmauld Place over the summer. He basically told her to change her way of thinking or he’d banish her from the Black Family.”

“He said that?” Hermione questioned him in shock.

Theo nodded. “It’s why she allowed for the dissolution of Draco’s betrothal with Pansy. It’s why she’s accepted Luna so warmly.”

“You mean she’s only like that because she hasn’t a choice,” Hermione frowned. “She’d loose her family standing if she didn’t.”

Theo shook his head adamantly. “No…that’s not what I meant love. She’s has changed her way of thinking…Regulus might have given her a push, but she has done it. She wants what’s best for Draco. He is mad for Luna…Narcissa accepts her. It’s that simple.”

The group returned their attention to their plates, munching on their breakfast.

“This is so good,” Ginny said as she wiped her plate clean with her last slice of toast before popping it in her mouth. “I didn’t know muggles could cook like this.”

Harry chuckled. “Not all…some. Everywhere is different.” He paused, looking at Hermione. “It’s the same with magical people…some can cook, others not so much.”

Hermione snorted. “Shut up, Harry. There is only so much one can do with mushrooms, berries and the occasional fish.”

...


...

“How long has Draco fancied Luna,” Hermione asked Theo as they strolled hand-in-hand through muggle London. She turned slightly to look at Theo. “You mentioned at breakfast that he was ‘mad for her’…how long has he been like that?”

Theo grinned and rubbed his face in thought. “Officially? This summer…he admitted it before we all headed back to school. But honestly, in my opinion I think he’s liked her for longer than that. He was terrified when she was held prisoner…he’d visit her every day for hours when he was at the Manor during Winter Break. I think he fell for her confidence in being her own person…in being true to herself. Her uniqueness. With Draco, he’s always had someone tell him how to act, what to do…everything. To him it mattered what people thought of him. People viewed him as a Death Eater-in-training the moment he set foot in Hogwarts. And he lapped it up, he became what people expected of him. He became what his father expected of him.”

He squeezed Hermione’s hand as they manoeuvered around a man pushing a double stroller. “Luna showed him that he can be whoever he wants to be. She’s accepted his past. Hasn’t tried to disregard it as something he had no say in…he did have a say. Not a big say in it, but he did agree to be marked, Hermione. He offered his forearm up to the monster.” He looked at Hermione closely. “In our sixth year…he was proud of it…at least at first. He thought he was special, that the Dark Lord chose him because he was the best man for the job. It wasn’t until he almost killed Katie Bell before he started second guessing what he was doing. He didn’t want, or expect, the collateral damage – naïvely, without a doubt. He didn’t want his peers to get hurt.”

“Just Dumbledore,” Hermione said quietly.

Theo hummed in agreement. “Just Dumbledore,” he echoed.

Hermione let Theo’s words meander through her head, thinking back to her sixth year. “Harry said that he couldn’t do it when he had the chance,” she told him quietly. “Harry said that Draco hesitated…was lowering his wand when he held Dumbledore at wand point.”

Theo nodded at her statement. “Dumbledore offered him help,” he told her quietly. “No one had ever really done that before…disregarding Snape – Draco didn’t know about that until afterwards. It was just too late. Years too late. And then Snape, Bellatrix, Greyback and the others arrived in the astronomy tower.”

“And Snape did it instead.” Hermione finished. “To protect Draco as best as he could.”

Theo hummed in agreement. “Narcissa set that up…did you know?”

“Set what up?”

“Snape killing Dumbledore instead of Draco…he made an unbreakable vow,” Theo murmured.

They continued to walk in silence. Hermione mulling over what Theo said. “What about you?” she asked, barely above a whisper.

“What about me?”

“Would you have taken the…mark…if Harry hadn’t…” she tapered off. Not wanting to voice her concerns.

Theo hesitated. “I don’t know…I honestly don’t know. I like to think I would have run for it…but at the same time I know that running would’ve been a death sentence for me. I don’t think I would have been able to talk my way out of it. I’m not as convincing as Narcissa can be…and my father would’ve had none of it. He would’ve forced me to do it whether I wanted to or not.” He leaned over and kissed the side of her head as they meandered through the crowded streets. “I may have…if only to stay alive,” he admitted quietly to her. “Not because I agreed with anything my father or Voldemort believed. But just to stay alive.”

“Self-preservation and all that,” Hermione chimed in with a soft grin.

Theo chuckled, nodding in agreement. “I can’t help it…it’s the slytherin in me.”

Hermione kissed Theo’s cheek as they made their way across the street. “I’m glad we were able to prevent that from happening. I’m glad Harry was able to kill Voldemort when he did.”

“Me too.”

“Here we are,” Hermione said as they came to a stop outside of a muggle bookstore. “Hopefully I can find something Regulus would like for his birthday. I think he’s read every single magical book ever written…perhaps he’d like a muggle one.”

Theo pulled the door open and followed in behind her. “I’m sure he’ll like whatever you pick out for him sweetheart.”

...


...

“So…where were you planning on living after you finish school Hermione?” Regulus looked up from his early birthday gift from Hermione, The Count of Monte Cristo, and tucked his bookmark in place before setting the book down on the coffee table. “Not that I am kicking you out…far from it. I just assume you and Theo want a bit of privacy…”

Hermione turned beet red at his insinuation. Regulus informing Hermione quietly and embarrassingly the morning after their visit to Malfoy Manor, that he had negated the effects of the silencing charm on her bedroom after learning that she had been having nightmares every night after Bellatrix had her way with his daughter.

“You know…you could just allow me to silence my room and we could avoid this awkwardness.” Hermione met his gaze with an eyebrow raised in mock annoyance.

Regulus shook his head adamantly. “That’s not going to happen any time soon…and yes I’m pulling the father card, I know.” His expression turned serious. “I need to know you are safe.”

“Theo would never hurt me –“

Regulus raised his hand in mollification. “I know that…I’m not suggesting that at all. I mean from other people. What if someone gets passed my wards somehow and enters through your bedroom window? I wouldn’t hear anything until they left your room. Not everyone who supported Voldemort and his ideologies has been arrested. Or locked up. A lot of his supporters are still out there somewhere…somehow. People who were never marked are – for the most part walking free, Hermione. Only a select few so far have been charged or locked up.”

Hermione looked down at her hands in her lap. “Alright…I understand.” A pause. “Can you make the wards stronger?”

Regulus nodded. “I’ve been doing so every few days. Doesn’t mean I don’t think the worst will happen. I’m a little paranoid. No one knew I was alive until a few months ago. I don’t want a sympathizer looking for me to get to you.”

“Constant vigilance and all that?”

Regulus nodded once more. “Exactly.”

Hermione sighed. “Harry mentioned finding a flat somewhere after Hogwarts. He wants to get away from the Burrow after the baby blanket fiasco.”

Regulus chuckled, shaking his head at the ridiculousness of it all. “I will never pull out a baby blanket to pressure you for grandchildren. You or Theo. I promise. I am not my mother…or Molly Weasley.” He grimaced to himself.

Hermione grinned, amused at his expression. “Perhaps Theo and I could find a flat somewhere…in Diagon Alley or muggle London.” She let her mind wander at the idea of living with Theo. Shocked at herself for realising that she wanted nothing more than that. To spend time with her man. To have him by her side. To be by his side. It was a startling revelation for her, realising that he was more than just a boyfriend to her. He was her future. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. “Was there a preference that you had for us? Somewhere you’d rather us live?”

Regulus shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. We can set up wards, regardless of where you live, muggle or magical. I can get Bill or Remus to help me set some up…I know the two of them are more than proficient at wards. They might have a few ideas that I haven’t thought of for your place…wherever you decide.”

Hermione nodded in understanding. “So…train tomorrow at eleven. When would you like to leave here?”

Regulus frowned. “How about ten o’clock? We can go for coffee at a place near King’s Cross Station before we all head back to school. My treat.”

Hermione shook her head. “No…my treat…you aren’t paying for coffee or anything on your birthday…those are the rules.”

Regulus grinned, his cheeks pink. “Alright…ten o’clock tomorrow morning and then I can take you to the platform and meet you at the castle for dinner.”

Hermione nodded, hiding a yawn behind her hand. “I’m going to head to bed. I want to be well-rested for the start of the term.” She stood up from her spot on the sofa and hugged her father goodnight.

“Goodnight Hermione,” Regulus murmured to her. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” He picked up his book once more and continued his reading.

Hermione made her way into her bedroom, spotting Theo sitting on top of his trunk scratching away in his journal. She closed her door softly, not wanting to disturb him as he wrote.

“Coffee tomorrow at ten?” Theo asked her in greeting as he finished up his journal entry.

“Uh huh,” Hermione murmured as she got ready for bed. Pulling off her denims and jumper. “Then Regulus will take us to the train.” Her heart was racing from what she had just realised from speaking with Regulus.

Theo nodded. “It’ll be nice to take the train back…more time for ourselves…and our friends before we get back into the grind of school.”

“I agree,” Hermione replied as she unhooked her bra, rolling her shoulders at the relief. She quickly pulled her t-shirt over her head and tugged on her sleep shorts.

Theo stood up and made his way closer to Hermione. Wrapping her in his arms. “And what would Hermione like for our last night sharing a bed?” He nuzzled against her neck. Peppering her with kisses.

“I just…I just really want to cuddle,” Hermione murmured quietly to Theo. Nervous, but wanting to tell him what she felt. Wanting to tell him everything. She took a deep breath and let it all out. “I love sharing my bed with you. I love waking up all tangled up with you. I love spending my days with you…and my nights. And if I’m being honest, I’m not looking forward to going back to Hogwarts if only because I won’t be able to spend my nights with you.” She looked at Theo, meeting his gaze. She smiled warmly. “Dad mentioned us finding an apartment together after Hogwarts…and I realised that I want nothing more than that. I want you by my side and I want to be by yours. I want everyone to know that you are mine, just as I am yours. I want everyone to know that I have your back, just as you have mine. That I support you with all of my heart, and all of my mind. Through everything.”

Her eyes were blurry. Her voice shaking at her nervousness. She took a deep breath to try to calm her racing heart.

Theo’s bottom lip was quivering. He hadn’t said anything to her, too shocked by what she had just confessed.

Hermione took another breath and plunged right in. “I love you Theodore Nott. And I know it’s out of nowhere, I know it’s early in our relationship – that we are still learning so much about each other. But I couldn’t not tell you.” She smiled up at him with tears in her eyes. “When you ask me what I want, I just want to say: you.”

Theo grinned at her, his eyes also teary. “I love you too,” his voice broke. “Fuck Hermione…I love you so much. Your brain. Your heart. Your vision. All of you.” He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. “I love everything about you,” he murmured into her ear. “I would be honoured to have a place by your side.”

Hermione met her lips with his, pouring her love into the kiss. They stumbled against her bed, Theo plopping down on the edge and pulling Hermione down onto his lap.

“Just cuddles?” Theo muttered against her mouth.

Hermione hummed against his lips, slowly pulling away. “Yes…just cuddles…nothing more tonight.” She watched him carefully, hoping that only that was okay.

Theo grinned at her, his cheeks flush, lips plump. He pulled her closer to him as he twisted around, setting Hermione down next to him on the bed.

“That’s perfect,” he told her quietly, assuring her. He tugged the blankets up around them both before settling down next to her.

Hermione burrowed herself under the blankets, snuggling against Theo as he threw an arm around her to tug her even closer. His lips met her forehead as he hummed in content.

“So…” he began curiously, “what kind of flat are you thinking?” Another kiss.

Hermione sighed. It felt like home. She forced her eyes open, a smile permanently painted on her face. “I don’t care…I really don’t”

Theo huffed in quiet laughter. “There must be something you like…something you want besides me. Where did you want to live?”

Hermione pondered the question for a moment. She hadn’t given it much thought before. She had always focused on her career goals, or her goal to stay alive long enough to protect Harry. To help Harry defeat Voldemort. She had never actually focused on what she would like in a home. “I think…I think I’d like to live somewhere close to muggle London…but I’m not sure if I need to live right in it.” She sniffed. “I know that I don’t want to lose that connection I have with it. I don’t want to be completely isolated from it.”

“Diagon Alley?” Theo questioned as his hand traced up and down her back.

“I think so…do you want to live anywhere in particular?”

Theo shook his head, pressing further into his pillow. “I think I’d like to live in the Alley as well,” he admitted to her. “We can find a little flat and invite our friends over…your father over for tea. We’d be walking distance to the bookstore and the other shops in Diagon Alley.” He frowned, rubbing his face. “The food is pretty good there too,” he smiled at her. I tired grin. “And if we get bored of the magical world, if we need an escape from it, we can just leave through The Leaky Cauldron and explore muggle London.”

Hermione hummed in agreement, loving the idea. “I think I’d like a room for my books…our books. A second bedroom…or a study or something like that. I’m not sure what they have in Diagon Alley for flats. I’ve never visited one before.”

Theo hummed again. His eyes closed as he kissed her forehead once more. “We can make it a home…whatever it’s like. We can make it ours.”

“I’d like that,” Hermione grinned against his chest. Her arm curling around his body. She blinked her eyes closed. Exhausted. “Goodnight Theo,” she murmured, barely audible.

“Goodnight sweetheart.” His chest rumbling as he waved the lights off.

Chapter Text

Hermione scratched at her head, fingers tangling in her curls as she read through yet another tomb about the various beings and creatures in the magical world. She was attempting to find as much information as she could about werewolves — something Remus recommended to her over Winter Break, and had informed her that the library at Hogwarts should carry a fair number of informative tombs on the matter. She had set herself up in a study room within the library, knowing that eventually her friends would make their way into the room once they got a chance.

 

Hermione sighed as she scratched down a few notes on the symptoms werewolves experienced leading up to the full moon. It was something she had already read about way back in her third year, yet now she realised that she understood it better, just how encompassing the symptoms were. While she already knew of the ill health that they experienced a few days before and after the full moon, she now understood how it could affect someone outside the walls of Hogwarts. How does one hold down a job, a career, if they were undoubtedly going to have to call in sick one week or so per month? The fact that the wolfsbane potion was incredibly expensive and difficult to brew only added to the ridiculousness of it all. How was someone infected with lycanthropy supposed to afford to purchase or make the potion if they couldn’t hold down a job? Remus had informed her over the break that he always had difficulties in potions class because of the smell of brewing ingredients. It was a vicious cycle that those infected with lycanthropy were unlikely to get out of without help.

 

“What are you working on, Hermione?” A voice asked her, drawing her attention away from her notes.

 

Hermione looked up from the table spotting Draco standing on the other side, school bag in one hand as he pulled out a chair to sit down.

 

Hermione sighed, rubbing her face. “I’m trying to get as much information as possible on werewolves so I can figure out the best way to help them.” Draco nodded in understanding. “I understand better now than back in third year, that it is almost impossible for them to hold down a job and afford wolfsbane with the current laws in place. It just...frustrating.”

 

“They will need help to be able to do it,” he suggested to her quietly. “You’ll need to set up something to provide them with wolfsbane potion the week before the full moon.”

 

Hermione hummed in agreement. “Like a charity, you mean?”

 

Draco frowned. “Yeah...or just an organisation that provides the potion. A deal with the Apothecary in Diagon Alley, and the potions shop in Hogsmeade — the two of them would probably supply the potion if the law states that they have to.”

 

“It’s expensive though...difficult to brew...” Hermione started.

 

Draco nodded his head in agreement. “It is. But a skilled potion master could do it. There are a few still around, I’m sure. Snape wasn’t the only potion master able to brew it Hermione.” He paused, thinking. “I don’t think Slughorn could brew it, I don’t think he has quite the skill needed to do so, but he probably knows of someone who can.”

 

Hermione nodded, scratching a note for herself to speak to Slughorn.

 

“If you do find a few skilled potion masters to do it, they’ll need to be paid — hence the organisation or charity to set it up.” He grinned, dryly. “Most people won’t work for free, so you’ll need to pay them for the ingredients and the time it takes to brew the wolfsbane potion.”

 

“I wonder if we can set up a subsidized treatment program through the Ministry,” Hermione pondered aloud. “In the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures…” she stopped, frowning at the idea. “Although, I highly doubt that those infected with lycanthropy would feel comfortable walking through the Ministry to get the potion considering everything the Ministry has done to prosecute them in the past.”

 

Draco nodded. “I agree...but you shouldn’t completely rule it out. It is a good idea. If the Ministry were to provide the wolfsbane potion they could probably do it without cost to the individual needing it. There will be funds available to the department to cover such a thing.” He paused, pointing a finger at Hermione. “The department should also be able to provide coverage for the potion shops to provide it. Maybe it’s not free, but greatly subsidized. The Ministry could reimburse the shops for every potion they sell.”

 

“So there's an incentive for the shops to provide it in the first place,” Hermione added on, understanding what Draco was getting at. “Because no one likes to work for free.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“It’s a lot of work though...do you think it can be done?” Hermione asked the Slytherin quietly.

 

Draco smirked at her concern. “The thing with the Wizengamot is that if you have enough support from the families present, they will have to listen to you. If you have the right families supporting your cause, it will make it easier.” He pursed his lips. “Take Potter for example,” he said to her with his hands splayed. He began listing things off. “He’s the one who defeated You-Know-Who, he’s from a family that’s historically known to support beings and creatures, he will likely have support from the majority of the lighter families in the Wizengamot and probably some of the more neutral families, or grey families as well. If he openly supports your werewolf law, others will do the same because he says it’s important that they do. People are like sheep, Hermione. They need someone to lead them, they need someone to tell them what to do. It’s one of the reasons why You-Know-Who was able to gain so much support early on from the pureblood families. If you’re charismatic enough, people will believe everything you say.”

 

“But what about the darker families, or the rest of the grey families?”

 

Draco chuckled at her. “I’m a Malfoy...you’re a Black...it’d be suicide to not follow both of us. They’d lose their influence if they went against our families. I can talk to a few of the... nicer dark families, see what they think. You should probably come with me when I meet up with the Heads of Houses, it is important that you watch and understand how these things work.” He pursed his lips. “Daphne Greengrass would be another asset to have next to you. The Greengrass Family remained neutral the entire time You-Know-Who was in power. They never wavered in their beliefs. Not once. No one in the family took the Dark Mark or signed up in Dumbledore’s Order. That’s extremely important.”

 

Hermione nodded once more, jotting down more notes for herself on the matter. “You’ll support me? You’ll support helping werewolves...why?” Hermione frowned. “Is it just because we’re cousins?”

 

Draco grimaced. “No...not exactly.” He rubbed his face, swallowing before he continued his explanation. “I understand now that my father was wrong — that his beliefs were wrong. His beliefs tore apart his family. Our following You-Know-Who was, for the most part, his idea. He loved having power, and You-Know-Who knew that and used it against my father. Against my family.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “When I first met you, in our first year, you went against everything my mother and father had said about muggleborns. You are by far the smartest witch around, you have been since day one, and that in itself proved my family wrong.” He grinned dryly. “I know now that you aren’t a muggleborn witch, not technically at least, but you were raised by muggles. You knew nothing about this world until you got your letter, and you still understand it better than most everyone else. Your blood status is irrelevant to me.”

 

Hermione swallowed, her throat tight.

 

“I want to support your cause, your werewolf law because I know now that it is the right thing to do. I understand now that forcing people to live in squalor because of a condition they’ve no say in is very, very wrong. I understand that in helping these people, we can help the magical world as a whole.” Draco took a breath. “I want to be able to try to prevent another war from happening, and I think that if we don’t help those people who need it most, we will further the division amongst our world. I’ve lived through bigotry and hatred, I was consumed by it. I have experienced it firsthand, me directing it towards others and it directed at me from others. I don’t want to live that kind of life anymore. It wasn’t a good place to be, for anyone.” He grinned tiredly at Hermione. “I don’t want my children — my future children that is, to have to fight in a war that could’ve been easily prevented if we just helped each other instead of only looking out for ourselves.” He huffed. “ That is why I will support your causes — werewolves, house elves, anything and anyone — because I know that you will do everything you can to help those who need it.”

 

Hermione’s bottom lip quivered slightly before she pulled herself together. She gave him a curt nod of her head, clearing her throat. “I’m glad to hear that Draco...it means a lot.”

 

He chuckled dryly, eyes bright with amusement. “I meant what I said to Weasley this summer at Grimmauld Place — the Malfoy Family supports you one hundred percent. Publicly .”

 

Hermione nodded once more. “Thank you.” She cleared her throat once more. “Not that the war was solely due to people not helping one another...it was more to do with bigotry and power struggles, was it not?” She asked him quietly.

 

Draco nodded in agreement. “I agree...but I also think that if we remove that ignorance, if we make it difficult to remain ignorant of others, then we will have less bigotry overall.” He paused, shrugging. “It’s not perfect. It’s not a fix-all by any stretch...but I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

 

Hermione snorted as she set down her quill, clasping her hands in front of her. “You may have a point about the ignorance of the Wizarding world,” she began. “When I signed up for muggle studies in my third year, I did so wanting to learn about how the Wizarding world viewed muggles. What I soon realised was how clueless the Wizarding world really is about muggle society. About muggle culture. The things we learned in that class were either completely wrong or decades out of date. And I mean decades ...plural.”

 

Draco grinned, eyes crinkling. “It’s interesting isn’t it, how a Headmaster who was known as being ‘muggle loving’ did nothing to correct that. To correct that ignorance.”

 

“And he did nothing to fix the divisions in our school.” Hermione added on, an eyebrow raised in annoyance. “Gryffindor is good; Slytherin is bad. And the other two houses...what were their names again?”

 

Draco snorted loudly. Laughter bursting out of his chest. He was still chuckling as he pulled his quill set and notebooks out of his school bag to begin his work on his assignments.

 

Hermione, with a grin plastered on her face, turned to look at the doorway of the little study room they were situated in. Theo returned her smile as he stepped through the entry and over to Hermione’s side of the table before sitting down in the seat next to her. A kiss planted on her cheek as he got comfortable.

 

“What’s so funny?” He looked between Hermione and Draco.

 

“Former headmasters,” Draco informed him as he flipped open a textbook. “And it wasn’t an amusing funny...more of a…” he trailed off, looking over to Hermione, frowning.

 

Ridiculous funny?” She suggested with a frown. “Or...a hindsight kind of funny.”

 

Draco pointed the feather end of his quill at her. “A hindsight kind of funny...that’s the one. The one, when you look back at everything after it is done and finished, you realise just how much everyone was played.” He shrugged as he dipped his quill into his inkwell. “Can’t help but laugh at it...if you didn’t you’d lose your sanity.” He focused on Hermione, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I’m actually surprised you feel that way about Dumbledore, Hermione. He helped you, Potter, and Weasley out didn’t he?”

 

“Yes and no,” Hermione started. “He kept a lot of secrets. Secrets that would have helped us. Helped everyone really.” She snorted quietly. “He placed the future of the Wizarding world on the shoulders of a child and his two friends. He convinced us that we had to keep our... mission ...a secret from everyone. That decision, that belief that we had to keep it a secret probably prolonged the war Draco. That belief that we had to keep everything a secret led to distrust, deceit, and manipulation. It’s ruined mine and Harry’s relationship with Ron,” she told him with tears in her eyes. “We are still friends, don’t get me wrong, but it is nothing like it was before we went on the run.”

 

Theo wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, trying to provide her comfort.

 

“How?” Draco asked quietly.

 

“The same way he broke apart other friendships during the first war: with distrust, manipulation, and half truths.” Hermione said bluntly. “We had no idea what we were getting into. He didn’t deem it important enough to tell Harry, me or Ron how to do anything. We had to figure out on our own how to destroy the horcruxes...even though Dumbledore already knew how two had been destroyed. We spent months with that locket trying to figure out how to destroy it. Months .” Hermione shook her head at Draco who was watching her carefully. “Do you have any idea what prolonged exposure to a horcrux does to someone?”

 

“It fucks with your head,” Ginny said as she and Harry stepped into the room. “It causes blackouts, personality changes, and darkness to build up inside you until you find a release somehow.” She sat down on the other side of Hermione and took her hand in her own. “It possessed me...I killed roosters with my bare hands when I was eleven years old. Snapped their necks one-by-one until they were all dead. I wanted to kill people...to hurt people as much as possible because of that fucking diary. And that horcrux was the soul of a sixteen year old boy, I can’t imagine what that locket felt like being a piece of Voldemort’s soul.”

 

“But they’re the same person,” Theo said quietly.

 

Ginny nodded in agreement. “True. But that locket was made into a horcrux after Tom Riddle left Hogwarts. After he went underground and experimented even more with Dark Magic. That shit fucks with your soul, I don’t care who you are or what family you come from. It changes you, moulds you into something else...something even darker.” She shivered. “It’s sick.”

 

“I agree,” Draco said quietly. His eyes focused on a spot on the table. His mind far away. He shook his head, clearing his throat. “Your quidditch practise lasted that long? It’s been a few hours since breakfast...” he asked, changing the topic.

 

Ginny smirked. “Oh Draco...it was over ages ago. I’ve just been shagging my boyfriend since then.”

 

“Gin!” Harry protested loudly. He hid his face in his hands before setting his head on the table in a futile attempt to disappear completely.

 

The group collectively chuckled at Harry’s reaction.

 

“Where’s Luna?” Hermione asked Draco as the group settled down and began their class assignments.

 

“She was waiting in the hospital ward for a mind healer when I left my appointment just now,” Theo informed her quietly.

 

“Yeah,” Draco confirmed, rubbing his face. “She hasn’t spoken to a healer in a little while and just wanted to make sure everything was alright.” He hesitated. “She’s still a bit worried about her father. He’s still having some difficulties with everything. He’s not like his past self, and she wanted to know what more she could do to help him heal.”

 

“I can ask Luna if she would like my mum to check in on him. The Lovegood residence is quite close to the Burrow. We can see it from our home, actually,” Ginny suggested to him.

 

Draco nodded. “I’m sure she’d appreciate that.”

 


 

 

Regulus watched as the seventh and eighth years filed into his Defence classroom, eager faces peered back at him as they dropped their school bags off to the side of the room readying themselves for another practical lesson. After a quick headcount, confirming that everyone was present he threw the class a grin before beginning the bit of lecture he had prepared.

 

“Today we will be learning how to cast the patronus charm,” he began quietly. His voice carrying throughout the room. He smirked. “Or reviewing how to cast the patronus charm I suppose, for some of you. This charm is exceptionally advanced, beyond NEWT level. But...it doesn’t hurt to know. For those of you focused academically, this will be for bonus marks on your exam in June.” Regulus paused, gathering his thoughts. “Who here has produced a corporeal patronus charm in the past? A show of hands.” He looked around at the seventh and eighth years, there were more hands raised than he expected. “And how many are able to produce an incorporeal patronus? A patronus that isn’t distinct or fully formed,” he explained to the confused looks he was getting.

 

A few more students raised their hands in response.

 

Regulus nodded. Approximately one-third of the class could produce something. It was a lot for him to work with. “Good!” He grinned once more. “The patronus charm, Expecto Patronum, is cast when there are dementors present. It wards the spellcaster and those nearby from any detrimental effects of the dementors and, if strong enough, is able to drive the dementors away.” He looked over at Harry, grinning. “Harry, can you tell everyone how to produce a corporeal patronus.”

 

Harry nodded, returning his grin. “What works for me is thinking of an exceptionally happy memory. A memory that you can feel deep in your core.”

 

Regulus nodded slowly. “Is there a memory that you’d like to share that has worked for you? I know you’ve produced the patronus charm perfectly in the past.”

 

Harry snorted in amusement. “For my OWL examination I pictured Umbridge being sacked.” The class broke out in laughter. Harry shrugged, embarrassed. “I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing what I thought of the other times I casted the spell.”

 

Regulus nodded in understanding. He figured, from speaking with Remus, that it was something to do with Sirius; a life that could have been. “Are you comfortable with demonstrating to the class how you conjure your patronus?”

 

Harry nodded. “Of course. I’m not sure if I can still do it, with everything that’s gone on. But I can try.”

 

Regulus watched as Harry closed his eyes and uncliped his wand from the holster on his arm. Searching for a memory that would be strong enough. A long exhale when he found one he could use.

 

Expecto Patronum ,” Harry said quietly, yet clearly. Entirely focused on his memory.

 

A silver stag erupted from the tip of his wand.

 

Even with the warning from Remus over Winter Break, Regulus’ breath still caught at the sight of Harry’s patronus. The rest of the classroom gasped at the sight of the stag which had begun wandering around the group of seventh and eighth year students, hooves scuffling against nonexistent grass.

 

“Very good, Harry!” Regulus complimented him enthusiastically. “Ten points to Gryffindor.” He watched as the stag continued to explore its surroundings. “While being able to perform this charm is beyond what is required for your NEWT levels, those of you who are looking at a career in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement may want to practise this spell in preparation for visiting Azkaban prison.” That got everyone’s attention.

 

He gave the class a grim smile. “Dementors are no longer present in Azkaban, however their effects are still felt by those there. It has leached into the walls. Aurors are required to take on shifts at the prison, and it is highly recommended that said Aurors are able to produce at least an incorporeal patronus as they carry out their patrols.” He paused, taking in the expressions on each of his students faces. Focus. Determination. Fear. It was all there, plain to see. “Does anyone have any questions before we begin attempting this spell?”

 

Pansy Parkinson raised her hand high in the air.

 

Regulus nodded at her. “Miss Parkinson.”

 

“If the patronus charm is beyond our NEWT levels and we are learning it in February, does that mean we are finished with the new content?”

 

Regulus smirked. She was sharper than most people realised. Smarter than most of the other students in her year, yet most people — including some professors — didn’t realise it. It was her weapon. People underestimated her intelligence, and, as a result, let their guard down around her because they assumed she wouldn’t understand what was going on.

 

“That is correct,” he supplied to her. “After this we will be reviewing everything you’ve learned from your first year onwards. All of it is testable.”

 

“Good,” she replied with a cool grin. “It will be nice to have some consistency in our defence knowledge for once.”

 


 

 

Narcissa stepped into the tiny shop, wiping her boots on the welcome mat by the door. The place was cramped, full of cheap nick-nacks and jewelry. Tacky was the word she’d use to describe the place. No matter, she wasn’t really here to shop. She was strictly here to learn more about the brat threatening the reputation of her family.

 

Rita Skeeter had come to Narcissa the day prior to give her a heads up on what Ms. Lavender Brown had told her about Theodore and Hermione. Alcoholic and cheat were the terms Rita had used. Narcissa had merely raised an eyebrow in response.

 

Ms. Skeeter was smart. She knew she would get nothing out of the story the immature brat spewed to her in a jealous rage.

 

“Mr. Nott has realised he does in fact have an issue with alcohol, Rita,” Narcissa had told the reporter over tea. “I am certain he is not the only individual self-medicating in such a way given the difficult times we have all experienced over the last few years.” She had given Rita a cool smile as she sipped her tea. “He is currently focusing on bettering himself, and has in fact gotten help for his issues. He has the utmost support from the Malfoy Family as well as the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.” She paused a beat, letting that sink in. “And let’s be honest Ms. Skeeter, Hermione Black is an exceptionally intelligent witch. You know this firsthand, I am sure. Perhaps Miss Brown failed to realise that one needs to study to obtain outstanding marks at Hogwarts.”

 

Rita had laughed loudly at the obvious insult to the daft cow before Narcissa changed the topic, informing the reporter of the plans Hermione had for those infected with lycanthropy. Grateful that Draco had written her a detailed letter the day before.

 

“Hello, welcome to Witches Trinkets,” a voice called out to her from the rear of the shop, drawing Narcissa’s attention back to the present.

 

Scuffling feet could be heard making their way closer to her. Heels slapping loudly on the floor. No subtly whatsoever. Narcissa huffed to herself, it was a tasteless sound that grated on her nerves. With a little bit of practise, a decent witch walking in heels could sound powerful. Subtle, yet attention grabbing at the same time. This slapping of the heels she heard stunk of desperation. Of someone aching to be noticed. Unfortunately for Lavender Brown’s sake it was Narcissa who noticed her. And for all the wrong reasons.

 

The blonde witch peeked around the corner of a shelf, a fake smile on her face as she greeted the only customer in her store. The smile melted off instantly as soon as she realised just who was standing in the threshold.

 

Narcissa stepped forward, a smile on her face. “Ah...Ms. Brown. It is such a pleasure to find you here…” Her voice warm like honey.