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Defying the Enemy

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Chapter One - Summertime

Life in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was both exciting and excruciatingly boring.

Various members of the Order were in and out at all hours of the day, and most of them were happy to stay for a cup of tea and a chat, in which they patiently answered most questions Hermione fired at them. She learned more about the different job options after Hogwarts during those brief visits than she ever would during her upcoming careers consultation towards the end of her fifth year.

On the flip side, the cleaning and pest control efforts, which Hermione had expected to be over within maybe a week, were, by the middle of July, still in full swing.

It was at this point that the Weasleys were due to arrive, so that Mrs Weasley could help them wage war against their headquarters.

Part of Hermione was looking forward to this, since she loved spending time with the Weasleys, and although she’d been able to visit them at The Burrow, she felt a little guilty about leaving Sirius alone in Grimmauld Place, with only his bad memories for company.

Remus was away as often as he was around, and, now the school term was over and Harry was safely back with the Dursleys – safety being a relative term in her opinion – Mandy and Arabella were already on a mission for the Order, sounding out foreign wizards and British ex-pats in Europe, while Mandy spoke to her counterparts in the different Ministries about the European Quidditch cup, which was due to take place in Germany the following summer.

As such, Sirius and Hermione were often the only people in the house, which was doing nothing positive about Sirius’s general state of mind.

Plus, she would have preferred it if these visits weren’t punctuated by Mrs Weasley’s pointed questions about whether she was eating enough, whether the house was safe, and was it entirely proper for a young lady to be living in those circumstances?

“If I didn’t know any better,” Sirius had said, when she’d voiced this to him after her first visit, “I’d say she doesn’t trust me.”

Hermione had stifled both a laugh and a grimace at what he was implying Mrs Weasley was implying, and had changed the subject rapidly.

She could have explained to Mrs Weasley about her mother, of course, but the story had been difficult enough to tell Harry, Ron and Ginny, and Hermione didn’t entirely understand it herself yet.

Besides, the real reason for her visits to The Burrow had been accomplished during the very first, when she and Ginny had slipped away to the orchard, released the little beetle from the jar that Ginny had been keeping under lock and key, and watched with some satisfaction as she turned back into Rita Skeeter.

Hermione had listened to her ranting with a smirk, before turning to Ginny. “Do you know, Gin, I looked up the Animagus Registry in third year for my Transfiguration homework?”

Ginny had chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me, Hermione – is that how you knew Miss Skeeter was an Animagus?”

“Actually, no – she wasn’t on the list.” Hermione had turned back to Rita with a smirk of savage triumph on her face. “I’m sure the Ministry would love to know how she’s been getting all her information …”

Rita’s protests stopped as abruptly as the colour drained from her face. “What do you want?”

Hermione shrugged. “Nothing much. I just want you to keep your Quick-Quotes Quill to yourself for a year. See if you can’t break your habit of telling lies.”

“I didn’t write anything that wasn’t the truth!” Rita shrieked.

Hermione winced at the sound. “Really? So even now someone has confessed to entering Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire, you’re still standing by your statement that Harry told you he did it himself?”
Rita’s mouth opened and closed, unable to form a response.

“And that little point in the article about Hagrid – about one of the students receiving a bad bite from a Flobberworm, which don’t even have teeth?” Ginny added pointedly.

“And of course that lovely article that implied I was using love potions on my best friend.” Hermione’s smirk fell, and she could feel her own Animagus form rising inside her. She took a deep breath, forcing it down again. “Do you know how much hate mail I received for that? Do you even think about the effect your stories have on people?”

Rita seemed to find her voice, but Hermione held up a hand. “One year.” She repeated, before flicking her hand imperiously. “You can go.”

 

With that … discussion out of the way, Hermione had been perfectly content to wait for the Weasley’s arrival.

The only downside, however, was that once they were there, her own use of magic would have to stop. And she had a feeling that the war with the house would get a lot harder.

Hermione waited in the drawing room, watching carefully out of the windows. She kept as still as possible, not wanting to disturb the doxies that had made their nests in the long grey fabric (Sirius had assured her that it was once white, but she couldn’t even imagine a lighter shade of grey at the moment).

A flash of red from the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she looked down to see a flock of redheads standing in the square.

She turned and hurried from the room – in no mood to deal with Mrs Black when the doorbell rang – only to stop abruptly to keep from running over a house elf.

Despite her soft spot for house elves, even Hermione had to admit that Kreacher was distinctly unlovable. He did no cleaning, preferring to find loopholes in every order Sirius gave him and to impede their task to the best of his ability.

More than once, Hermione had suggested Sirius free him – she knew what Kady had said about house elf magic relying on having a master and a family to serve, but she honestly believed that in this case, all parties would be better off. Unfortunately, Kreacher knew too much now about the Order, and freeing him would put everyone in danger.

Most frustrating of all, he had a habit of muttering insults under his breath – Hermione had yet to determine whether he thought they couldn’t hear him and was taking the opportunity to let his feelings out, or he knew they could hear him and didn’t care.

“Miss Granger,” he greeted, before adding under his breath, “The Mudblood wandering around as though she has every right to be in this house – oh, if my mistress knew, she …”

“Good morning, Kreacher.” Hermione greeted brightly, stepping over him. She had found the best way to deal with Kreacher, as with his late Mistress, was to talk to them as politely and as brightly as possible – not only did it throw them off, it made her feel like the better person.

Hermione took a moment to ponder whether she could use that phrase in Kreacher’s case, before throwing it off, and opening the front door, just as Mrs Weasley was about the ring the bell. “Ssh!” She hissed. “Don’t say anything, come down to the kitchen, quickly.”
Mrs Weasley, looking very put out, opened her mouth to say something, but Hermione shook her head frantically, waved them inside, and ushered them down the hall and into the kitchen. Mrs Weasley hadn’t met Mrs Black yet, and she wanted to delay that meeting for as long as possible.

“Sorry about that,” she said with a wry smile, once the door was safely closed behind them, “Sirius’s mother has a portrait in the Entrance Hall and the slightest sound sets her off.”
“Is it that bad?” Ron asked.

Hermione thought for a second, pouring a mug of tea. “You remember that Howler you got in second year?”

Ginny, Ron and the twins flinched, and their mother looked momentarily satisfied.

“It’s worse than that.” Hermione finished. “She’s twice as loud and has a rather … interesting vocabulary.”

“Well,” Mrs Weasley said finally, “it’s a good thing you kept us from speaking up there in any case. How are you, Hermione, dear?”

It was only as Mrs Weasley hugged her that Hermione realised that there weren’t enough people in the kitchen. Even taking into account Mr Weasley’s work hours, and Charlie’s return Romania, it was Bill who greeted her next, whilst Percy was nowhere to be found.

“I’m fine, thank you.” Hermione answered mechanically, as Bill released her from his hug. “It might just be me, but … Don’t even think about it.” She snapped, turning her attention to the twins, who’d been about to slip something into her tea.

“Who us?” Fred asked innocently, hiding whatever it was behind his back.

“Mya, you wound us.” George added, putting a hand on his heart in mock-hurt.

Hermione narrowed her eyes and they both dropped their gaze to the floor.

“Sorry.” They muttered in not-quite unison.

Bill chuckled. “Nice one, Princess. But I still wouldn’t drink that tea.”

“Didn’t intend on it.” Hermione started to dump the tea into the sink, but the name he’d used gave her pause. “Princess?”

“Oh, the twins and Ron and Ginny told me and Charlie so much about you.” Bill explained with a smirk. “I can’t think who started using the name first.”

“You’re the Gryffindor Princess.” Ginny explained with a smile. “Even if you don’t think you are.”

Hermione cleared her throat, trying to will the blush away from her cheeks. “Tea anyone?”

There was a round of agreement, and Hermione retrieved some more mugs, pouring herself another mug as she did so.

“Did Percy get a new job?” She asked, glancing up again. “I thought …” She trailed off, as Mrs Weasley let out a choked sob, and abandoned the teapot to Ginny in favour of hurrying over to her. “Mrs Weasley, what happened?”

“Oh, Hermione, it’s terrible!” Mrs Weasley cried. “Simply awful!”
Hermione patted the woman on the shoulder and handed her a tissue, looking up for some explanation.

“A couple of days ago,” Fred began, his face like thunder, “Percy came home and told us he’d been promoted. Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. Not only had Fudge apparently made no secret of how he felt about the Weasleys, there was also that small fact of how Percy’s last employment had ended. “So he fails to notice his boss is under the Imperius Curse, and in response, they promote him? I mean that’s a really impressive position for someone only a year out of Hogwarts …” she trailed off. “Too impressive. Fudge wants to use him to spy on the family, doesn’t he?”

George nodded darkly. “That’s what Dad said. Told Percy as much as well.”

Hermione closed her eyes. She could only imagine how Percy – with his unshakable faith in authority and his high ambitions – would have taken that. “And it didn’t go down well.”

“Like a Quidditch player without a broom.” Ron confirmed. “There was a row – I’ve never heard Dad shout like that. Anyway, to cut a long story short …” he flashed a hand signal that told her he’d give her the details later, out of his mother’s earshot “… Percy’s left.”

Mrs Weasley began sobbing again and Hermione left her side, retrieved the bottle of firewhiskey from under the sink that Sirius didn’t know she knew about, and added a shot to one of the untouched mugs of tea, before pushing it into the older woman’s hand. “Here.”

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs Weasley choked out, taking a gulp. “I just … I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Percy believes the Prophet.” Ginny added.

Hermione groaned. So far, Rita had kept her end of the deal and kept her mouth shut, but it didn’t matter. The Daily Prophet had more than enough to work from. It hadn’t come out and told everyone what Harry’s version of events was, but it had implied that there was one, slipping him in to completely unrelated stories like a standing joke, intent on tearing down his credibility and making him look like nothing more than an attention-seeking brat.

Hermione was furious – and she wasn’t the only one. Lily had spent at least an hour the other evening, ranting about the injustice of it all, and what she’d like to do to the people who were saying such things about her son.

Of course, that wasn’t the only injustice of the situation – Dumbledore had informed them all, very gravely, that it simply wasn’t safe for Harry to receive mail in case it got intercepted.

Hermione had guessed that it was the Ministry Dumbledore was worried about, more than Voldemort – from what she had gathered from the hints Sirius had been not-so-accidentally dropping, they knew no more than he did.

So she had put very little of substance in her letters, something she knew would be annoying Harry greatly. She’d sent one or two letters by Muggle post as well, with a lot more information in them, but Harry hadn’t even hinted in his letters that he received them, and she could only assume that his aunt and uncle had intercepted them.

Or there’s a mail ward that’s stopping them. She thought darkly, realising that the kitchen had gone quiet.

Assuming they were waiting for her response, she patted Mrs Weasley on the shoulder. “It’ll be alright, Mrs Weasley – sooner or later, everyone’s going to realise that we’re telling the truth, and he’ll come home again.”

“I hope you’re right, dear.” Mrs Weasley mopped at her eyes, and Hermione returned the firewhiskey to its hiding place, just as the door to the kitchen opened again.

“Hermione, have you seen Kreacher?” Sirius called, descending the stairs. “I’m a little worried he’s … Oh, hello.”

“Hi, Sirius.” Ron and Ginny greeted in not-quite unison, as Mrs Weasley nodded stiffly.

“Worried he’s?” Hermione prompted.

“There’s an old necklace that used to be in my mother’s room.” Sirius explained, shaking Ron and Ginny’s hands. “I don’t particularly want the thing, but I’m a little worried it might be cursed and if he’s … er, hidden it.”

“Well, he didn’t have anything on him in the drawing room earlier.” Hermione assured him with a smile. “Oh, Sirius, this is Fred and George Weasley. Don’t bother trying to figure out which is which.”

Sirius shook hands with the only Weasleys (aside from Percy and Charlie) he hadn’t yet met. “Nice to meet you. Hermione said you were planning on opening a joke shop.”

The twins grinned. “That we are.”
“You will not.” Mrs Weasley snapped, getting up from her chair. “It’s a ridiculous idea and you’d do well to shake the notion once and for all.”

“Molly,” Sirius said carefully, “from what I’ve heard, these two have a real flair for business, and they’ve got the potential to do really well.”

Mrs Weasley swelled and Hermione, sensing trouble, set her tea down. “Come on.” She said, pushing Fred and George towards the stairs, and seizing Ron and Ginny’s hands. “Move it.”

They hurried up the stairs, and reached the hallway just as Mrs Weasley’s voice rose in indignation. The curtains fluttered, Hermione closed her eyes, and then a second voice had joined in.

“FILTH! SCUM! HOW DARE YOU …?!”
“Oh, shut up!” Hermione yelled, grasping one of the curtains. “Fred, shut the door; George, give me a hand.”

With both of them tugging at the curtains, they managed to cover the portrait again. Hermione gave the drapes a disdainful look, and headed up the stairs, the four Weasleys in close pursuit.

“Well, that was interesting.” Ginny remarked in a low voice, looking shocked. Her eyes travelled over the dismal decorations. “I thought you’d been cleaning.”
“We have.” Hermione sighed. “You want to see what it used to look like.”

“This is clean?” Ron asked bluntly.

Hermione shrugged. “Well, cleaner.”

“How did you know Mum would start yelling?” Fred asked, almost in awe. “She never yells at people like that, unless she’s related to them.”

Hermione sighed. “Sirius and Mrs Weasley don’t really get along.”

“She believes he’s innocent though, right?” Ron asked with a frown. “When we got back for summer, she wouldn’t leave me alone for days, going on and on about Scabbers being Pettigrew and …” He trailed off.

“No, she believes it.” Hermione grimaced. “She just doesn’t like him. I think it’s got something to do with Harry.”

“Harry?” Ginny repeated. “How?”

“Well, your mum’s very fond of Harry.” Hermione said slowly. “She’s practically adopted him, but at the same time, Sirius is his godfather, which makes him Harry’s legal guardian. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that Dumbledore’s given the Order strict … well, orders about what Harry can and cannot be told. Apparently, they’re not allowed to tell him more than he ‘needs to know’.”

“Except if Mum had her way, we wouldn’t tell him anything because “the poor dear, he’s been through so much, he doesn’t need any more on his plate.”” Fred concluded, finishing in a passable imitation of Molly Weasley.

“And Sirius will tell Harry quite a lot given half the chance.” Ginny added. “Because he knows that Harry has a knack of attracting trouble, and if he doesn’t know what’s happening, he can’t fight it.”
“Exactly.” Hermione nodded.

“That’s stupid.” George said finally, having been uncharacteristically quiet. “This is Sirius’s house. Not ours. Mum’s always going on about courtesy when other people open their homes to you.”

Hermione snorted. “Well, she’ll expect it from you four, I’m sure, but from what I’ve heard …” she trailed off, unwilling to voice the rest of her sentence.

“Besides,” George continued, “like you said, Sirius is Harry’s legal guardian, not her, not Dumbledore. He’s the only person who can make that decision.”

“Yeah.” Hermione agreed quietly, her eyes straying to the wand at her ankle, hidden in the swirl of her robes. “The only one.”

***

Hermione was confused.

The last thing she remembered was falling asleep, having been chatting to Ginny for at least an hour. The two girls were sharing a room, since there weren’t many bedrooms that were safe to inhabit. The twins had taken one, Mr and Mrs Weasley another, and Ron a third, on the third floor, which was the same room Harry, if he ever managed to get there, would take as well.

Bill had a flat in London, where he was staying to be closer to the bank – although part of that decision, Ginny had told her, giggling, was to do with a certain Triwizard champion who had just started work at Gringotts as well, and who Mrs Weasley didn’t approve of one bit.

She hadn’t woken up, however, in her bedroom at Grimmauld Place.

For a second, she thought that maybe someone was having a nightmare; that she had once more been pulled into their dreams, but that had been different.

Viewing Sirius’s nightmare had been like watching a film; she wasn’t really there. But here, lying on a sofa, she was very aware of her body … although it seemed smaller than it had been when she had fallen asleep.

A woman was smiling softly at her, a woman she knew, although the hand on her shoulder assured her that Lily Potter was very much solid in this room. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s get you to bed.”

Hermione blinked. “Bed?” She asked, her voice coming out very childlike.

“That’s right, sweetheart.” Lily said. “Can you be a big girl and walk so I can carry Harry?”

Harry? But Harry was fourteen, nearly fifteen – how was Lily supposed to carry him?

“You could levitate one of them.” A male voice suggested, and Hermione sat up, to see James Potter lounging on the sofa.

Lily gave him a weary look, as though they’d had this conversation before. “For the last time, James …”

Apparently, they had.

“… I don’t like the idea of levitating the children. Not this young.”

Young? The word reverberated though Hermione’s brain and with a thrill of horror, she realised that this wasn’t real, nor was it a dream.

It was a memory and the glowing Halloween pumpkin on the mantelpiece told her exactly what day it was.

Hermione tried to open her mouth, to warn James and Lily that they weren’t safe, but nothing happened – she was trapped in her own body, forced to relive the events of that night in stunning clarity.

I guess the Memory Charm broke.

Lily helped Hermione down and moved over to Harry. “Perfect timing.” She remarked with a smile.

Hermione looked over to see baby Harry opening those familiar green eyes.

“Mama?” He asked sleepily.

“Mummy’s here, pumpkin.” Lily soothed, picking him up. “Time for bed.”

Harry rested his head on Lily’s shoulder, blinking sleepily at Hermione, who gazed up at him as she took Lily’s hand, thinking how strange it was to see unmarked, unblemished skin where his scar would soon be.

She trotted along at Lily’s side until they reached the bottom of the stairs, where James bent and kissed his wife. “You take the kids to bed, sweetheart. I’m just going to check the wards.”

“James, I don’t feel comfortable with this.” Lily said lowly, despite her nod.

James frowned. “Alright. Well, do you want to check the wards while I put the kids to bed?”

Lily chuckled. “No! I meant the whole ‘Secret Keeper’ thing.”

“Lily, I trust Peter …” James began.

“I do too, James.” Lily insisted. “Don’t think I don’t. But … he wasn’t exactly acting like himself when we cast the charm, was he? Plus … he said something to me just before Dumbledore arrived … he said, “Dumbledore’s explained the dangers, right?” I assumed he meant the dangers of switching Secret Keeper – you know it can carry a risk if it’s not done right, it could have left us unprotected for a whole 24 hours – but what if that wasn’t what he meant, what if something …?”

“Lily …” James cut her off mid-flow, pressing a finger to her lips. “Would you just calm down, alright? Dumbledore would have told us if it was anything else, and Peter was probably a bit nervous.”

Hermione watched the two closely. If she had to relive this night, she might as well try to get something out of it, but they’d said nothing that she hadn’t already heard.

Lily looked down at her and smiled softly. “I just felt so much better when Sirius was the Secret Keeper. I know it was dangerous, but …”

“Well, I think the switch is a good idea, but if it makes you feel better, sweetheart, we’ll talk to Albus about switching back first thing tomorrow morning. Alright?”
“You’re humouring me.” Lily accused, with no heat. “But that would make me feel better.”
“Alright.” James kissed her. “I’ll see you upstairs.” He kissed Harry’s forehead. “Night, Harry. I love you.”

“Ni’ Daddy.” Harry murmured tiredly. “’Ove ‘oo.”

James knelt down and hugged Hermione as well. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

Hermione hugged him tightly – maybe if she didn’t let go, they’d know something was wrong – but she still wasn’t in control and she found herself releasing him. “Night, P’ongs.” Her mouth didn’t seem to want to form words properly, but apparently that was normal, because James chuckled quietly and straightened up.

Her thumb found its way to her mouth, a comforting movement she’d grown out of years ago – or, rather, been forced to grow out of years ago – and Lily took her hand and began helping her up the stairs.

It was slow-going, and they were barely halfway up, when James ran back to them. “Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him!”

His voice was calm, as Hermione had heard in her memories before, but as Lily spun around to face him, his face was anything but.

She found herself grateful that she couldn’t sense emotions in these memories, because that would not be a fun experience.

“GO!” James told her urgently. “Run! I’ll hold him off.”

Lily bent down, scooped Hermione into her arms, and hurried up the stairs. Looking over her shoulder, Hermione saw the front door shatter inwards with a shower of splinters.

Hermione closed her eyes, as James swung his wand up, and the first spell flew. She didn’t see if it hit its mark, burying her face in Lily’s shoulder; this was one duel she didn’t want to watch.

Lily darted into the nursery and turned sharply on the spot in a motion Hermione had learned to associate with disapparition, having watched Order members leave from the window enough times, but nothing happened.

Opening her eyes again, Hermione lifted her head to see Lily’s face, and she almost cried at the look in her eyes. With that one movement, Lily had proven that their protections held, and that only the Fidelius Charm had failed, ascertaining that Peter was either dead or a traitor – neither option, she felt sure, one that Lily wanted to consider.

Lily carried the two over to the fireplace, picking up a stone from the mantelpiece and holding it tightly. “Padfoot’s Place.” Her voice wavered ever so slightly and, when nothing happened again, Hermione felt her breathing begin to quicken as panic set in.

Voldemort had apparently taken the time as he approached to cut off every escape route. Harry began to whimper, and Hermione felt her own sobs begin to rise up, as Lily’s fear flooded through her and into them.

Lily turned to the fireplace now, starting a fire with a murmured incantation, not bothering with a wand.  A handful of floo powder was thrown into it, but the flames died away immediately, and Lily turned away, making for a cupboard in the corner of the room.

The door was flung open, but Lily turned away. Her heart was racing, Hermione could feel it, and her panic was palpable in the air, but her voice was casual and now unwavering. “Harry, Daddy’s left the broom in the kitchen again.”

There was no heat to her voice, no blame, and Hermione knew that her words were for the sole purpose of calming the two children in her arms.

Her calmness didn’t last long, however, because at that moment, there was an echoing bang from downstairs, and the hallway lit up with an eerie green light.

Lily screamed, but Hermione forced herself to listen closely, arming herself with one more nugget of evidence for James and Lily’s continued existence.
Sure enough, the light was followed by silence downstairs; no further noise, no further light, and, more importantly, no thud of a body hitting the floor.

Slow footsteps prompted Lily to drop Harry and Hermione into the crib and place herself in front of it, plunging her hands into her robes for her wand.

Hermione could have pinpointed the exact moment when Lily realised that she didn’t have it, just by watching her body language. She stiffened, moving back to lean against the bars of the crib, turning her head just enough that her words reached them. “Hermione, darling, I am so sorry. Harry, I love you. I love you so much, pumpkin. Just close your eyes and go to sleep.” She rocked the crib gently, and Hermione saw Harry yawn across from her, his hand curling around the embroidered blanket that lay beside him. “Go to sleep, Harry. And Mummy and Daddy will be there when you wake up.”

Her voice broke on the last word and Hermione suddenly understood – Lily knew she couldn’t hope to protect them without a wand, and she didn’t want either of them awake or alert when it happened.

“Hermione, close your eyes.” Lily whispered frantically. “Close your eyes, please!”

Hermione couldn’t help doing as she was told, even as a cold voice said, “Mrs Potter … it’s been too long.”
“Get out of my house.” Lily hissed, venom dripping from every word.

“My dear girl, you are in no position to be making any demands.”
Voldemort must have done something, lifted his wand maybe, because Lily’s calm exterior finally cracked. “Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”
“Stand aside, you silly girl! Stand aside now!”

“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead …”
“This is my last warning …”
“Not Harry! Please … have mercy … have mercy … Not Harry! Not Harry! Please … I’ll do anything …”

“Stand aside! Stand aside, girl!”

Hermione opened her eyes just a little, in time to see Lily turn to look at them. Harry’s eyes were wide open, and Lily met them, mouthing four words. Be safe. Be strong.

Green light enveloped her, though Hermione had heard no curse, and she vanished from before them.

Hermione’s eyes were fully open now, and she shrank back as Voldemort approached the crib. Harry was crying, startled by the sudden disappearance of his mother, and Voldemort paid her no heed, focussed on the screaming child in front of her.

Harry had described Voldemort in his first year, but that had been a wraith-like being on the back of someone’s head, and did nothing to prepare her for the monster that stood before her.

He raised his wand, aimed it very deliberately at Harry’s face, and chanted the curse that had taken so many other lives before their time.

Avada Kedavra!”

The green light shot towards Harry, and the room around them seemed to explode into a chaos of dust, and noise, and debris.

The crib rocked and overturned, trapping Hermione and Harry beneath it, probably saving their lives as the ceiling caved in.

Hermione couldn’t see where Voldemort had gone or what had happened to him, her focus was fixed on Harry, who was lying not feet away from her, bleeding and unmoving.

“Hermione?”

Her own screams and cries echoed in her ears, as she begged for someone to hear her, to help them.

“Hermione!”
A loud rumbling sounded from outside and her sobs quietened as footsteps sounded from downstairs.

“Hermione?!
There was a muttered curse, and a reassuringly familiar voice called out, “James! It’s Padfoot – answer me, mate!”
“DADDY!”

Her own scream jolted her awake and she bolted upright, nearly colliding with Ginny, who was bent over her, calling her name.

“Hermione, dear, whatever’s the matter?!” Mrs Weasley asked from the doorway.

Still gasping for air, Hermione looked up, seeing Fred, George and Ron standing with their mother, equal concern on their faces, and behind them …

Hermione had moved before anyone had realised; throwing off the bedcovers, she darted across the room, past Mrs Weasley’s outstretched arms and assuming smile, and into Sirius’s arms, which closed around her comfortingly.

“Hermione!” Mrs Weasley protested, sounding scandalised.

“Mum …” Ginny sighed, standing up, but Hermione paid no attention to either of them.

“I remembered.” She whispered into Sirius’s shoulder, despite knowing he probably couldn’t hear her. “I remembered them … Prongs and Aunt Lily – they d-disappeared …” Her old names for them came easily to her lips, as though part of her mind was still two years old. “Harry wasn’t moving …”

“It’s alright, Kitten.” Sirius murmured, kissing her head. “It’s okay. That was years ago. You need to finish waking up, a chuisle.”

The unfamiliar word gave Hermione something else to focus on. “What language is that?”

“Irish.” Sirius answered, somehow guiding her around Mrs Weasley so he could sit down on her bed, never releasing her.

“I didn’t know you spoke Irish.” Hermione remarked, feeling her breathing begin to return to a regular pattern.

“I don’t, really.” Sirius admitted. “Addie’s family was Irish … she taught me a little.”

Later, in the light of day and with her mind back in some semblance of order, Hermione would realise that she should have been able to guess that – ‘McKinnon’ was, after all, either a Scottish or an Irish name.

“What does it mean?” Hermione asked, shifting her head to his shoulder.

“Sweetheart, I think.” Sirius said thoughtfully. “At least, that’s how Addie used it, but she did say that the literal translation was …”

“Alright, that’s quite enough!” Mrs Weasley snapped, hands on her hips. “Hermione Granger, I’m surprised at you!”

Hermione blinked, startled, too tired and too emotionally wound to catch up with Mrs Weasley’s train of mind. Not bothering to attempt to figure it out, she closed her eyes again. “Daddy, what does she mean?”

Like her names for James and Lily, her childhood address for him slipped out as though she still called him that every day.

“I don’t know what she’s implying, Kitten.” Sirius said softly, his smile audible in his voice. “But it might help if I explained that whenever your father hurt your mum, she used to drop you off with me, and that I love you like a daughter.”

Hermione opened her eyes again, to see Mrs Weasley opening and closing her mouth, apparently in shock.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Mum.” Ginny sighed. “Hermione’s mum’s a witch. The Potters were babysitting her that Halloween, and her mum put a Memory Charm on her. I think it just broke. Even if she didn’t have that connection to Sirius, he was the first person to arrive at the house after …” She broke off.

Mrs Weasley moved to sit on Hermione’s other side, rubbing her arm comfortingly. “I’m sorry.” She said finally, to the opposite wall. “I jumped to conclusions.”

“Quite alright, Molly.” Sirius assured her. “No one can be expected to think too clearly at half past two in the morning.”

His casual mention of the time caused Mrs Weasley to look up at her children. “Back to bed, all of you.”

The boys all looked as though they’d argue, but Ginny gave them a sharp look and, combined with their mother’s glare, it caused them to turn on their heel and retreat to their bedrooms.

“Will you be alright, Hermione, dear?” Mrs Weasley asked gently.

“I’ll be fine.” Hermione assured her, catching her hand and squeezing softly. “It was a nightmare. That’s all.”

Mrs Weasley still looked worried, but patted Hermione’s cheek and left the room, bidding them goodnight.

“I didn’t mean to wake the whole house.” Hermione said, sitting up.

“Oh, don’t be silly, Hermione.” Ginny sighed, climbing back into bed. “How many times have I woken you up with nightmares?”

Hermione chuckled, slipping back under her own covers. “True.”

Sirius stood up as well, hovering beside her. “Will you be alright?”

Hermione smiled softly, extending a hand to him. “I’ll be fine.” She repeated.

Sirius leaned down and kissed her forehead. “They’re alright.” He whispered. “Harry’s alright. We’ll get them back.”

Hermione took a deep breath and let it out slowly; the tension that remained in her body flowed with it. “Thanks, Padfoot. I love you.”

It was the first time she’d voiced it, but the words were as true as they had been fourteen years ago.

Sirius squeezed her hand. “I love you too, Kitten.”

***

“It’s not fair!”

Hermione sighed, massaging her temples. Three weeks had passed since her nightmare, Mrs Weasley seemed to have come to terms with everything, Harry’s letters were getting more and more frustrated, the house was still trying eat them alive every time they opened a new door, and Ron still hadn’t grasped how things worked.

“We should know what’s going on!”

“Yes, Ron, we should, but that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t.” Hermione snapped. “And if Sirius won’t tell me, there’s no way in hell you’ll convince your mother to tell you.”

“But we should!” Ron moaned.

Hermione and Ginny exchanged a weary glance, and the latter shrugged, reclining on her bed, allowing Hermione to handle her brother.

The three were sitting in Hermione and Ginny’s room, while the Order of the Phoenix had a meeting in the kitchen, and Ron complained about not being allowed to sit in on the meetings.

Hermione loved her best friend, really she did, but if he didn’t shut up, she was going to make what she did to Draco in third year look like a pat on the cheek.

At that moment, there was a double crack and the twins were suddenly standing in the middle of the room.

Used to their constantly apparating every few feet by now, Hermione just raised an eyebrow. “Was it that much bother just to walk?”

“Well, of course, Mya.” Fred smirked, holding a long, fleshy instrument.

“Don’t let Mum catch you with those.” Ron warned. “I didn’t think you had any left.”

George scowled, obviously still furious with their mother for destroying their hard work. “We’ve still got a few, no thanks to her.”

“They won’t work anyway.” Hermione said, leaning back against her bed. “Padfoot told me they were going to put in Imperturbable Charm up – whatever this meeting’s about, it must be really important.”

A hand seized each of hers and she let out a surprised squeak as Fred and George hauled her to her feet. “What the …?”
“You know who the Marauders are?!” Fred demanded, looking more serious than she’d ever seen him. “We gave Harry the Map and everything!”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” George asked, less heatedly, but just as put out. “Who are they?”
“Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and James Potter.” Hermione listed quickly. “Respectively. So, technically, you returned the Map.”

“And technically,” Ginny added, “they’re not the only Marauders.”

Hermione chuckled. “That’s usually my line.”

“There were others?” Fred asked eagerly, releasing her hand.

Hermione sat down again, smirking up at them. “Of course. There were the girls too – by all accounts, they’re the reason the school’s still standing. Speaking of the girls, do Angelina and Alicia know what you’re planning with the joke shop?”

“They know what we want to do.” George said. “Whether they know we have the means to do it …”

Hermione smiled. “Maybe you should tell them. They’re smart girls – they might even be willing to help.”

The twins exchanged a look, holding a silent conversation, but before they could agree, Lily appeared in front of Hermione, who let out another startled squeak.

“Lily!” Hermione protested, one hand on her heart. “Don’t do that!”

“Lily?” Fred and George repeated in unison.

Hermione spared Ginny a nod to confirm that she could fill them in, the rest of her attention focussed on Lily, who was on the verge of hysterics.

“Oh, Hermione!” Lily cried. “You’re not going to believe what just happened!”

***

It was pure fluke that led Jessica Brown to her front garden that evening. Her hanging baskets were starting to droop so once she’d finished her dinner, she filled up a watering can and stepped outside to remedy that.

She was distracted from her task, however, when she spotted Harry and Dudley moving down the road towards her, accompanied by Mrs Figg.

Jess knew that Harry suspected that Mrs Figg was a relative of his mother’s friend, Arabella, but since neither was certain, they hadn’t said anything to her.

What concerned Jess most about the picture was that Harry seemed to be half-carrying Dudley home.

Concern gripped at her heart and she resolutely pushed it aside before it could morph into fear. Dudley’s ‘gang’ terrorised the neighbourhood and, with Dudley himself being a ‘Junior Boxing Champion’ – as his father was too fond of telling everyone – no one was stupid enough to mess with them.

One of them probably got their hands on some beer or something. She set the watering can down on her front step and wiped her hands dry on her jeans. Although you wouldn’t think someone so big was such a light …

Her thought process ground to a halt as she reached the end of her drive, and she realised that Harry’s wand – usually tucked into his back pocket – was in his hand.

“Harry!” Jess called, running towards them. “Harry, what happened?!”

“Dementors.” Harry gasped out, straining under Dudley’s weight. “Two of them.”

“Harry …” Mrs Figg began.

“She knows.” Harry managed to reassure her. “Cast my Patronus. Drove them away. Dudley’s … not taking it well.”

For once, Jess felt nothing but sympathy for Harry’s cousin – she wouldn’t wish the creatures Harry had described after his third year on anyone.

“Well, I had better go and await instruction.” Mrs Figg said. “Can you get him inside, Harry?”

“I’ve got it.” Harry said, managing a weak smile. “Thanks, Mrs Figg.”

“You’re welcome. Jessica.” Mrs Figg acknowledged her with a smile, and Jess raised a hand in farewell as the old woman set off down the road, her carpet bag swinging wildly.

“Harry …” Jess said softly. “Do you want me to come inside to talk to your aunt and uncle?”

Harry shook his head. “No offence, Jess, but you’d probably make things worse.”

Jess pulled a face, but didn’t begrudge him his point. “Alright …” she said reluctantly. “I’ll talk to you from the usual spot then.”

Harry nodded, heaved Dudley better on to his shoulder, and dragged him up the driveway of Number Four. Jess watched them go, remembering Harry’s stories about his parents from his latest school year. “If you two are here, Mr and Mrs Potter,” she murmured, “you might want to let Hermione know what’s happened – she’s got better connections than I do. I’ll look after him for you.” With no way of knowing whether her message had been heard, she hurried back inside her own house, locking the front door firmly, and dashed into the kitchen, pressing her ear against the wall.

Unfortunately for her, the walls were very thick, and she gave it up as a bad job, deciding to wait for Harry upstairs in one of her own spare rooms.

Halfway up the stairs, she stopped, an idea hitting her. It was all very well leaning out of their windows, but it was very difficult to have a decent conversation, and if the Dursleys didn’t lock Harry in his room for this, she’d be very surprised.

She went back downstairs and unlocked her backdoor, stepping out into her back garden. An owl swooped past her and flew straight into the kitchen window of Number Four. Hearing Vernon shouting something about owls, Jess jogged down to her garden shed and pulled the door open.

It took a few minutes of searching, but she finally found what she was looking for: a curved piece of drainpipe from when she’d had the guttering replaced.

She took it back up to the house and rinsed off the cobwebs and dirt under the outside tap. Then she went back inside, locked the back door again, and carried it upstairs to the spare bedroom, pausing only to rescue some masking tape from a kitchen drawer.

Opening the window, she leaned out, letting her gaze wander over the back gardens of Privet Drive, as she waited for Harry to go upstairs.

Finally, a door slammed. A few minutes later, the window to her left opened, Hedwig soared off, and Harry’s head popped out. “Well, that was fun.”

“What happened?” Jess asked urgently. “What was that owl for?”

“To tell me that I’ve been expelled from Hogwarts.” Harry answered dully. “Then I got another owl from Mr Weasley telling me not to surrender my wand and to stay put. Then I got an owl from Sirius telling me not to leave the house. Then I got another owl from the Ministry telling me that I haven’t been expelled, but I’ve got a trial to decide whether I should be or not.”
“But they can’t expel you for defending yourself, surely!” Jess protested. “It doesn’t make sense!”

“None of it makes sense.” Harry sighed, rubbing his scar.

Jess’s brow creased in concern. “You look tired, sweetheart.”

“I am tired.” Harry admitted. “But …” He broke off, staring down into the dark garden.

Jess glanced down as well, just to make sure he hadn’t seen something. There was nothing there, so she turned back to Harry. “Who did you write to?”

“Ron. And Hermione. And Sirius.” Harry scowled. “And I want actual news this time – not just “There’s lots going on, but we can’t tell you”.”

Jess grimaced in sympathy, as Harry yawned. “You should get some sleep, Harry.”

“But …” Again, Harry broke off, and Jess retreated inside for a second to fetch the drainpipe.

“Mind out,” she warned, threading one end out of the window and towards him.

“What’s this for?” Harry asked, grabbing hold of it.

“Well, I don’t happen to be in possession of a mobile telephone.” Jess pointed out briskly, taping her end of the drainpipe to the window sill. “And if it rains, we’ve got a problem sticking our heads out of the window. Is your bed up against the wall?” She asked, tossing the tape along to him.

“Yeah it is.” Harry caught it deftly and proceeded to copy her actions.

Jess caught the tape again when he threw it back and pulled her head back inside, settling on the bed in her own room. “Is that better?”

“I can still hear you if that’s what you mean.” Harry answered, perfectly audible through the pipe.

Jess smiled in satisfaction. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it meant she could still talk to her boy. “Now I think it’s time for you to go to bed, sweetheart.”

Harry sighed. “Alright. But …”

“Goats butt.” Jess quoted. “Birds fly. And teenage wizards who have just fought off Dementors need their sleep.”

Harry laughed weakly, becoming a little dimmer. “Alright. I’m changing first though.”

“That might be a good idea.” Jess agreed, leaning against the wall. “How did your aunt and uncle take it?”

Harry laughed again, derisively this time. “How do they take anything magical? Uncle Vernon was all for blaming me for what had happened to their Ickle Diddykins, then Aunt Petunia knows what Dementors are – apparently she heard Dad telling Mum …”

“She actually used your parents’ names?” Jess asked in surprise.

“Well, she said she heard ‘that awful boy’ telling ‘her’.” Harry amended. “I assume she meant Mum and Dad. Though why Dad thought Dementors were an appropriate subject of conversation, I don’t know.”

“It might not have been your dad.” Jess said fairly. “Your mum was a Marauder, you said – there are four boys there who your aunt might have and probably did consider ‘awful’, any one of whom could have visited her during the summer.”

“That’s true.” Harry conceded. “Oh, and then Uncle Vernon was all for throwing me out – which I’d have been all for – I’d have come to you – except those letters told me not to – and then Aunt Petunia got a Howler of all things that said, “Remember my last, Petunia,” and she said I had to stay.”

Jess let out a steady breath. “Well.” She said on the end of it. “That’s a turn up for the books. Who was it from?”

“No idea.” There was a rustle of sheets. “Alright, I’m in bed, but don’t expect me to sleep.”

Jess smiled softly. She had been looking after Harry for long enough that she knew one or two tricks to get him to sleep, no matter how wired, or how scared he might be.

“Dancing bears, painted wings,

Things I almost remember,

And a song someone sings,

Once upon a December …”

Her voice, though quiet, filled the room and floated through the drainpipe to the room next door. She had built up a repertoire of songs to use as lullabies over the years, but this was one of her favourites, simply because its background – a film about a young woman who didn’t remember who she was – had struck a chord with her.

“Someone holds me safe and warm,

Horses prance through a silver storm,

Figures dancing gracefully

Across my memory …”

She had given up trying to puzzle out her own history, and had done just weeks after waking in hospital on August 2nd, 1982, with no idea why she was there.

She had been found, doctors told her, by the postman, who had knocked on the door to deliver a package. She was a creature of habit, so when he hadn’t answered, he had become concerned and peered through the letter box to see her lying motionless at the bottom of the stairs.

An ambulance was duly called and she awoke a day later, only able to offer a tentative explanation of falling down the stairs.

The doctors gave her some pain-killers and discharged her, once they were certain that she was in no further danger.

As soon as she got home, she climbed the stairs and found the culprit in her accident – the carpet had become loose and must have tripped her on her way downstairs that morning.

“Far away, long ago,

Glowing dim as an ember,

Things my heart used to know,

Once upon a December …”

She had been able to tell the doctors her name, of course, and where she lived, and who her parents were – had been (they’d died in a car crash four years previously) – but she couldn’t actually remember anything.

She just knew it had happened.

She had been assured that her almost-amnesia would disappear over time, but so far she had seen no improvement. She could remember that she grew up in America, before moving to England to finish her schooling after her parents’ deaths, but she couldn’t actually remember doing it.

Plus she had no trace of an American accent in her voice, and her passport claimed she’d never left the country.

“Someone holds me safe and warm,

Horses prance through a silver storm,

Figures dancing gracefully

Across my memory …”

And then there were the dreams, which had been around for as long as she could remember – although that was only just over fourteen years.

Thinking of the dreams caused her eyes to flicker up towards the sky, where the moon peeked out from behind a cloud.

It would be full in just over a week, and that dream – the one she had never told Harry about – would return. The dream of pain and agony – not hers, but someone else’s, and she couldn’t help feeling that if she just knew where they were, she could help them.

“Far away, long ago,

Glowing dim as an ember,

Things my heart used to know,

Things it yearns to remember …”

Jess may have given up on figuring it out, but she still wished that she could.

“And a song that someone sings …

Once upon a December …”

The last note shook slightly as she held it, and died away into the night.

There was no sound through the drainpipe, and Jess’s smile returned; she knew that Harry would have fallen asleep, lulled by her voice into accepting his own exhaustion.

She had no doubt that the nightmares would return, but that was no reason for him to try to stay awake. However terrifying they were, that would only end badly.

She stood up and moved to the window, her eyes tracking the direction Hedwig and flown in. “You’d better be able to do something about this, Sirius.” She murmured. “Because I can’t do a damn thing. I wish I could.” Her gaze drifted upwards to the few stars that shone through in the cloudy sky. “Actually, while I’m on the subject of wishing, I’ve got a few more for you. I wish I knew what was going on – really going on, not just what Harry could tell me. I wish I could talk to the other people in Harry’s life and get someone to listen when I say he needs help. And I wish I knew who I am.”

Her voice cracked on the last word, and she turned away from the window, a tear escaping her before she could guard against it.

Little did she know, in just three days, all of these wishes would be granted.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two - Memories

Three days later, Jessica was starting to get very angry with the wizards and witches in Harry’s life. They had to know what had happened, and yet no one was doing anything about it.

Hedwig still hadn’t returned – and neither had any other owl – and Jess spent a good portion of her day in her spare bedroom, talking to Harry – or, rather, listening as he ranted about how unfair it was.

Normally, Jess would have chided him about acting like a teenager – even if he was one – but she completely agreed with everything he said.

“I guess the nightmares aren’t getting any better?” She asked softly, when he finally took a second to breathe.

Harry sighed. “No. Unless by ‘getting better’, you mean ‘getting worse’, in which case, yes. I don’t suppose you’ve had another dream telling me when I’m getting out of here, have you?”

Jess smiled. “No, but I did have another dream this morning.”

“This morning?” Harry repeated.

“This morning.” Jess confirmed. “I took a nap after breakfast for the first time in years.”

“Must have been important.” Harry commented, his frown evident in his voice. “What …?”

The sound of a door unlocking sounded through the pipe, and Jess heard Harry stand, blocking the window from view.

“We’re going out.” Vernon Dursley’s voice said.

“Sorry?” Harry asked, his voice just polite enough to cover the coldness in it.

“We – that is to say, your aunt, Dudley and I – are going out.”

Jess stifled her snort. He hardly needed to elaborate – the Dursleys had never bothered taking Harry anywhere, aside from Dudley’s birthday trip to the zoo, and those few days before Harry’s eleventh birthday, when they had fled the letters from Hogwarts. She shuddered, remembering how worried she’d been.

“Fine.” Harry said dully.

“You are not to leave your bedroom while we are away.”

“Okay.”

“You are not to touch the television, the stereo, or any of our possessions.”

“Right.”

“You are not to steal food from the fridge.”

Jess stood up and paced the length of the room, before whirling to glare at the wall, as though her gaze could pierce the brick and cement. No child should have to STEAL food from their own house just to be properly fed.

“I am going to lock your door.”
“You do that.”

Jess covered her mouth, her glare softening into a smile. She could only imagine Vernon Dursley’s face at this lack of rebellion, and she forced the image from her mind until she heard the door lock again, lest he hear her laughter.

“Nicely done.” She said softly.

“Thanks.” Harry replied heavily, and she heard him sink back onto his bed. “Just so you know, I fully intend on picking the lock and coming over when they’re gone.”

“Good.” Jess said firmly. “At least then I can make sure that you’ve got at least one decent meal inside you. Best come through the cupboard though – that new security system they’ve been bragging about probably …”

She trailed off, hearing a loud crack from downstairs.

“What was that?” Harry asked instantly.

Jess hesitated. She knew that Harry wouldn’t have heard the sound as clearly as her – her bedroom door was open, while his was shut and locked.

She didn’t want to worry him – or, worse, get his hopes up – the sound was probably a car backfiring and nothing to do with the wizarding world at all.

“Probably one of my dinner plates.” Jess sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I stacked them rather precariously earlier. Give your aunt and uncle time to leave and then come through – I’ll tell you about the new dream then.”

“Alright, see you in a minute.” Harry called as Jess left the room. She hurried down the stairs and poked her head round the kitchen door, just in case.

Sure enough, her plates were still stacked on the side, as precariously as she’d left them, no china shattered on her tiled floor.

She made her way into the living room and pulled aside the netting over her window. The Dursleys’ car was still in the driveway, but that wasn’t what caught her attention.

None of the street lights seemed to be working, and ten people were huddled in the street, shrouded in the shadows of the houses across the road. Her pulse quickened, her grip tightening on the net curtains.

Hopefully these people were here to collect Harry, finally, but what if his Ministry had decided not to wait for a trial before expelling him?

Or what if those Dementors had just been the opening act?

Jess was just about to run upstairs and warn Harry, when one of the people broke away from the rest and hobbled off down the street.

Squinting through the gathering darkness, Jess could just make out a carpet bag dangling from the figure’s arm and smiled.

Mrs Figg, which means they must be …

Her thoughts stuttered to a halt and she gasped aloud as another of the figures stepped close enough to activate her porch light.

She knew that face – had seen it in one of her dreams when Harry was nine, albeit younger – and she knew who he was.

Hurrying to the front door, she pulled it open and stepped into her front garden. “Don’t just stand there!” She hissed. “If they think you’re here for Harry, they’ll never leave!”

Looks were exchanged, along with a whispered conversation, but the man she had recognised as Remus Lupin seemed to know who she was, and led his fellows up her driveway and into her home.

She ushered them into the living room, drawing the curtains closed.

“Well,” she stated, “it’s about time you lot got here!”

“Excuse me?” One of the women asked, brushing her long dark hair away from her face.

Jess leaned against the window, her arms crossed. “Three days, he’s been sitting up there, wondering if anyone actually gives a damn about the fact that he had to fight for his soul the other night! Would it have killed you to send him a note telling him you were on your way? I mean, I’ve come to terms with the fact that you people don’t care what happens when he’s here, but this is getting ridiculous!”

“I don’t like what you’re implying, girl.” One of the men growled. This man she also recognised, from Harry’s stories rather than her own dreams, one rapidly spinning eye giving away his identity.

Jess narrowed her eyes, refusing to be intimidated. “Yeah, well, I don’t like how Harry has to live; apparently we’ll both just have to get used to it.”

Professor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody gave her a twisted smile. “I like this one, Remus. How’d you meet her?”

“I didn’t.” Remus admitted, stepping between her and the crowd of slightly confused, slightly angry witches and wizards in her living room. “But Harry has. Her name’s Jessica – correct?”

Jess nodded, favouring him a smile. “Yes. Jessica Brown.”

“She knows about magic because Harry told her after his first year.” Remus explained. “She’s a true-dreamer.”

“Is it even possible for a Muggle to be a true-dreamer?” Another of the women asked sceptically.

Jess took a moment to admire the woman’s purple hair, before slipping past them to the writing desk in the corner of the room. “I have prophetic dreams as well, if you want to talk about things that shouldn’t be possible. And I had another this morning, if you’d care to see it.”

“I would.” Remus said, as the others murmured among themselves. He took the piece of paper she handed him, and read it aloud. “‘Hidden beneath a mask so fair, the only one with heart to dare, to go against the Lord of Light, and by that act bring down the night’.”

“Are they always that cryptic?” The purple-haired woman asked, sounding more interested now.

Jess shrugged. “I’ve only had three prophetic ones. The last one was – the first was three words repeated over and over again around an image of a large black dog.”

Apparently, everyone there recognised the description, but it was a talk bald, black wizard who spoke. “What three words?”

“Innocence. Injustice. Betrayal.” Jess recited, unable to help feeling smug at the sharp intake of breath.

“I seem to recall Harry writing that you had clues last time.” Remus said, waving the piece of paper he was holding. “Words, I think?”

“Not this time.” Jess sighed. “The only thing I got was the full moon, but that could mean anything. Maybe whoever it is will be found on the full moon, or they were hidden on the full moon, or they’re a werewolf, or they’re going to find a cure for lycanthropy …” she shrugged. “The list goes on.”

“How’d you know the illness that goes with the werewolf curse?” Remus asked. “Not something that usually gets passed around the Muggle world.”

Jess smiled. “I read Harry’s school books. He leaves them with me, just in case they decide to burn them all. Not that it does his homework much good when he’s locked in his room all day.”

“Why’s he locked in his room?” The third witch asked.

Jess scowled, though not at her. “Because they were reminded rather violently that the wizarding world exists, and they’re blaming Harry for it.”

The purple-haired witch was frowning lightly. “How accurate are these dreams?”

“Well, the last two prophecies both came true.” Jess told her. “And I’ve dreamed the events of Harry’s time at Hogwarts. And there’s this …” She searched in her writing desk again, and pulled out another sheet of paper.

This one was bigger, and rather than writing, it was covered in carefully sketched pencil marks.

Jess wasn’t much of an artist usually, but the urge to draw the scene she’d dreamed one night six years ago had been too much, and her pencil had almost acted of its own accord.

She handed it to Remus, and his eyes widened as a gasp escaped him.

Jess knew why – that picture was the reason she had recognised him earlier. In it, he was sat on the bank of a lake, surrounded by several of his classmates, including (she knew now) Harry’s parents.

A minute later, his forehead creased in confusion, and he looked up at her. “Could I have a word with you? In private?”

Jess was surprised, but shrugged. “Alright.” She led him further through the house into the kitchen, shutting the door behind them, before dashing to the sink as the pile of plates threatened to topple over. “Whoops!”

“Allow me.” Remus flicked his wand and the plates soared back into their cupboard, stacking neatly.

“Thanks.” Jess sat down at her kitchen table and gestured to one of the other chairs. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Remus sat down opposite her and very carefully set the picture and prophecy in front of him. He pointed to the picture. “Do you remember having this dream?”

Jess frowned. “Well … yes. Not vividly, obviously – I have a lot of dreams, and it was six years ago. There wasn’t much to it though – just you and your friends on the bank of the lake. It was … James I was most drawn to.” She admitted. “He looked so much like Harry … for obvious reasons, but I didn’t know that then.”

“Were you there?” Remus asked. “Or were you just watching?”

“I was just watching.” Jess answered. “At least, I assume so. None of you talked to me anyway … although you did keep smiling at me.” She added pointlessly, gesturing to the picture.

Sure enough, whilst the others were silently laughing amongst themselves, Remus was smiling directly out of the paper.

“At you?” Remus asked. “Or someone behind you?”

Jess shrugged. “Could have been either. Why?”

“And there wasn’t anyone else with us?” Remus pressed.

Jess leaned back in her chair, thinking hard. “No.” She said finally. “No, I drew it as I saw it. Or rather, my pencil drew it as I saw it – I didn’t really have much of a say in the matter.”

“Because there was someone else.” Remus told her in a whisper. “Someone else who should have been there, because we were never by the lake without her.”

“Okay …” Jess said slowly. “What does that …?”

“You know what I am?” Remus asked over her half-formed query.

Jess raised an eyebrow. “I know you’re a werewolf, if that’s what you mean.” She said calmly. “Harry told me. But I don’t think the dream was talking about you, if that’s what you’re wondering – I got the feeling it was a woman actually.”

Remus closed his eyes, but couldn’t hide the emotion that passed across his face. “Her name was Jennifer.” He said slowly, his voice barely audible; she had to lean forward to hear him at all. “The woman missing from the picture. She was Sirius’s sister, Harry’s godmother … and I love her more than anything.”

Jess didn’t miss the sudden change from past to present tense. “She’s …?”

“Missing.” Remus finished. “Presumed dead. But we shared a soul-bond. I’d know if she was dead … although that in itself makes no sense, because I should have been able to find her if that were true. Because of the soul bond, she could help me keep control of myself during the transformations. Do you think it could refer to her?”

Jess hesitated. “Well … that does make sense,” she said carefully, “because normally when I dream about the full moon, it’s chaotic and pain-filled and …” she broke off with a grimace.

“You dream about the full moon a lot?” Remus asked.

“Not so much about the full moon.” Jess amended. “It’s more that I dream on the full moon. Nightmares, really, more than dreams.”

“How long have you had these dreams?”

Jess raised an eyebrow. “Harry didn’t tell you that bit?” She sighed. “A little over fourteen years. That I can remember.”

“That you can remember?” Remus repeated.

“I have amnesia of sorts.” Jess explained. “I can remember that things happened, I just can’t remember them happening.”

“Sounds like a Memory Charm.” Remus said, frowning.

Jess stiffened. “A Memory Charm?” She whispered. “Is that … Is that easily fixed? I mean, can you tell easily?”

Now it was Remus’s turn to lean back in his chair, regarding her curiously. “Most Muggles would panic if they thought a spell had been cast on them.”
“I’m not most Muggles.” Jess told him with a humourless smile. “Besides, I don’t believe what I do remember. None of it makes sense. I want to know who I am.”

“Now that sounds more like a Memory Modification.” Remus frowned. “Easier to fix, harder to confirm.”

“Can you?” Jess asked.

“I can.” Remus said slowly. “It’ll mean using Legilimency. Mind reading.” He elaborated, when she looked confused. “Except it’s not mind-reading, and Addie would give me a two-hour lecture on calling it that.” He tapped the picture and she glanced down to see that he was pointing to one of the girls talking to Harry’s mother.

Jess shifted slightly in her seat. “It’s not that I don’t trust you to go rifling through my head,” she said carefully, “because Harry trusts you and that’s good enough for me, but … at the moment, I’m just assuming that I know who you are.”

Remus chuckled. “Of course – we were never properly introduced, were we? Remus Lupin.”

Jess took his offered hand, and a jolt of static electricity shot through them. She let go quickly, barely hearing his rueful apology, as her head seemed to explode with a hundred thoughts and memories and feelings and fears.

A few things rose to the surface, however, vying for attention.

First and foremost was the man sitting across the table from her, now looking quite worried that she seemed to have retreated into her own mind.

Second of all was the sudden crushing realism of Sirius’s incarceration – it was one thing to be told what Dementors were like, but now she remembered …

Speaking of Harry, there was also the growing anger that Harry had not only been abandoned with his aunt and uncle (and James and Lily definitely didn’t request that), but that there were wards and charms around the house or on Harry himself, that prevented people from interfering, even if they knew he was being abused and neglected.

Finally, there was the knowledge that one thing still remained a mystery – who had hit her with the Charm in the first place? Whoever it was, she remembered turning her back on them, which meant – to top it all off – it was someone she trusted.

Yes, Jennifer Black was not happy, and someone was going to pay.

“You were right.” She whispered hoarsely, suddenly aware of how different her voice sounded. “You were right. I remember.”

“How …?” Remus frowned. “There’s no way it would have lifted from just shaking my …” He trailed off. “Hidden beneath a mask so fair …” he repeated slowly. “I assumed a glamour, but … it was more than that … it was the guise of a fair-haired woman … Jen?”

Looking up, Jen was tempted to reach out into his mind, but resisted, unsure of the state of the link – as he’d said, he should have been able to find her, which suggested the bond had been tampered with in some way.

The thought caused bile to rise up in her throat and she choked it down, holding out her hand. “Wand?”

Remus handed his over without a second thought, and she aimed it at her face. “Finite glamouri.”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

Jen sighed in frustration. It wasn’t the wand, she knew that – she’d always been able to use his wand as easily as hers. “Whoever put this glamour on me is more powerful than me then.”

Remus raised an eyebrow. “That’s not many people.”

“I know.” Jen tapped the wand against her throat and murmured a second incantation. “Did that one work?”

Remus smiled as her voice returned to normal, cementing the fact that it was definitely her. “Yeah. Yeah, that one worked.”

“Good.” Jen returned his wand. “Then you can start by telling me that my brother’s alright after twelve years in hell.”

Her voice cracked and he had suddenly rounded the table and pulled her into his arms. “He’s fine, Jen.” He whispered. “Still has nightmares, thinner than I’d like, but fine.”

“Thank Merlin and Morgana.” Jen breathed out, resting her head on his shoulder. “And Peter …?”

“Yeah.” Remus confirmed darkly. “Peter.”

Jen lifted her head to meet his eyes. “Is Mandy alright?”

“She’s coping.” Remus answered. “Are you alright?”
“I’m angry.” Jen admitted in a low voice. “Very angry. Whoever did this …”

“… they were on our side.” Remus finished. “Peter?”

Jen shook her head. “No. No, Peter had more power than any of us gave him credit for, but he wasn’t more powerful than me. Nowhere close. Whoever it was, they weren’t in our generation of graduates.”

Remus nodded. It had only been a few weeks ago that he’d had a similar discussion with Hermione, about the research in the Department of Mysteries that had listed the Hogwarts graduates of his generation in terms of power.

Jen had topped the list, followed closely by James, Sirius, Addie, and Lily. Although, as Sirius had remarked at the time, he could never remember which way round he and Addie came.

“I’ll need my wand back.” Jen commented, frowning. “Harry mentioned something about Hermione having a second wand and it coming from Sirius’s vault. Can I assume it’s mine?”

“You can.” Remus helped her to her feet. “It’s at Headquarters. I assume you’re coming with us?”

Jen snorted. “As if I’d do anything else. Where …?” She broke off at the sound of a car engine starting up. “The Dursleys are leaving. Come on.”

They returned to the living room, where the various witches and wizards had made themselves at home. Jen smiled, as her eyes travelled over them, now recognising them as old friends and fellow Order members, until they alighted upon the purple-haired witch.

Jen didn’t recognise her from the original Order – she was too young to have been a member – but her heart-shaped face was all too familiar.

“Guess who was under a Memory Charm?” Remus asked lightly.

“Oh please.” Jen said, rolling her eyes, as everyone reached for their wands. “As if I’d ever join Mouldy-Shorts. I don’t have my wand anyway, and I’ll leave the glamour on for now.” She winked at Remus, who grinned, knowing that she’d rather have that conversation with Sirius in private. “And don’t bother breaking in next door. Harry will be over soon anyway; you may as well wait. So, Nymmy,” she addressed the youngest witch, “what are you up to now?”

“Don’t call me …” Nymphadora Tonks, daughter of Jen’s cousin, Andromeda, paused mid-sentence. “Wait. There’s only two people who ever called me that. And you’re not Sirius.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “I should hope not.” She suddenly found herself with an armful of cousin and hugged her tightly. “It’s good to see you too.”

“Nymphadora!” Mad-Eye barked. “Haven’t I taught you better than that?! Constant vigilance, girl!”

Jen rolled her eyes. “When I was thirteen-years-old, David Potter took me, James and Sirius to work with him. You told him that I’d either be the best auror you’d ever worked with, or your worst nightmare.”

Mad-Eye looked momentarily stunned, before his face formed a twisted smile. “Good to have you back, Black. Had us all worried there.”

“There’s an understatement.” Dora muttered, pulling away to wipe her eyes.

“Well?” Jen prompted her. “What are you up to now?”

“I’m an auror.” Dora answered proudly.

“Good for you.” Jen tugged a strand of hair. “It was blue last time I saw you.”

Dora shrugged. “I like variety.”

“Your mum?” Jen asked.

“She’s fine.” Dora assured her. “So’s Dad. They’ll want to see you.”

“I’ll try to call by and see her at some point this week.” Jen said, hearing a tapping noise on the other side of the wall. “And that’s my cue.”

Pushing a coffee table out of the way, she grasped a nick in the wall and tugged sharply, causing a small door to swing open.

Harry crawled through the opening and straightened up, stretching. “Thanks, Jess; I …” He trailed off and looked around the living room, making eye contact with everyone there. “What’s going on?”

“It’s alright, Harry.” Remus told him with a smile. “We’ve come to take you with us.”

“How long do we have?” Jen asked, causing Harry to frown slightly at the use of pronoun.

“Long enough.” Remus told her. “You explain; we’ll get his things together.”

“I’ll go!” Dora volunteered brightly, disapparating.

Remus sighed. “I’ll go and fix whatever she’s broken.” He informed them, before vanishing himself with a crack.

“Jess?” Harry questioned, as she chuckled fondly – apparently Dora hadn’t changed a bit. “What’s going on?”

Jen put a hand on his shoulder and guided him through to the kitchen, where the two pieces of paper still lay on the table. “I had another dream, Harry.”

“Yeah, you said.” Harry picked it up and read it through. “Sounds like one Hermione heard last year. Who is she, do you know?”

Jen took a deep breath. “Me. It’s me, Harry.”

Harry looked up, looking bewildered. “But … But you’re not a witch.”

“Yes, I am, Harry.” Jen sighed. “I just didn’t know until about ten minutes ago. I was under a Memory Charm; my magic was escaping me.”

“You’re a witch.” Harry said softly. “You went to Hogwarts?”

Jen chuckled. “I did. I was a Gryffindor.”

Harry grinned at her. “Does that mean you’re coming with us?”

“It does.” Jen smiled back. “It also means you don’t have to go back to the Dursleys.”

Hope blossomed in Harry’s expression for a second, before his face fell. “But … Dumbledore …”

“Albus Dumbledore has no say over where you spend your summers, Harry.” Jen told him, more sharply than she had intended. “Besides, I have the legal high ground here.”

“How?” Harry asked quietly, sounding as though he wished he could believe her, but doubted it.

Jen’s smile softened. “Because I’m your godmother.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Three - Back to Headquarters

“You’re my what?” Harry asked blankly.

“Your godmother.” Jen stifled a chuckle at the stunned expression on his face. “You know, like a godfather, but female.”

“I know what a godmother is.” Harry’s face relaxed into a smile at the familiar sense of humour. “I just didn’t know I had one.”

Jen shrugged. “Well, it wouldn’t surprise me that Sirius didn’t want to talk about it. We’re twins,” she explained when he looked at her questioningly. “And while we’re at it, my name’s not Jessica, it’s Jennifer, but everyone just calls me Jen. Not Jenny, unless you happen to enjoy cleaning without magic.”

Harry shrugged. “I do that all the time here anyway.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “I know. I’ll think of something better – give me time.” She frowned slightly. “There are a few things that are bugging me, Harry – you said your parents are alright?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, but Hermione doesn’t know where they are.”

“And they said they didn’t want Dumbledore to know?” Jen asked. “Why?”

Harry thought for a second. “Hermione never said.”

Jen nodded slowly, thinking everything over in her head. “I see.”

For whatever reason, James and Lily had stopped trusting Albus Dumbledore.

Her first instinctual response was shock, and maybe a little anger. Albus Dumbledore was the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, Defeater of Grindelwald, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Light Lord against Voldemort’s Dark.

It was that last title that caused her thoughts to shudder to a grinding halt. What was it her prophecy had said?
… go against the Lord of Light and by that act bring down the night …

Jen took a moment to consider how strange it was referring to it as ‘her’ prophecy – she’d never shown the slightest inclination towards Divination – before focussing again on the wording.

I was so focussed on who she might be that I never considered what the prophecy was telling her – me – to do. Assuming I’m reading this right …

But there’s the kicker, isn’t it? I don’t know if I am. Prophecies are notoriously difficult to understand – they can have about twelve meanings at once.

If I’m wrong, and I act on it, then …

Then what? I deal with Dumbledore’s ‘I’m-Disappointed-You-Didn’t-Trust-Me’ face.

If I’m right, and I don’t act on it, then we risk losing the war. And if Dumbledore finds out and I’m right …

Jen frowned, thinking back to Harry’s first year at Hogwarts. Now she was looking at it with a witch’s perspective, she truly appreciated just how odd it was.

Moving the Stone from Gringotts to a school; giving an eleven-year-old an Invisibility Cloak, knowing he’d use it to sneak out; not realising that one of the teachers was possessed …

She shook her head. Either he’s losing it, or he’s using Harry as some kind of experimental weapon.

Neither option was one she wanted to consider, but there didn’t seem to be any alternative.

Better to act and be proved wrong, than to ignore it and be proved right.

Now, however, she had another problem.

Remus, she knew, would keep quiet if she asked him, but there were eight other people who had heard the prophecy and who would repeat it to Dumbledore.

And if I AM right …

That’s the last thing I want.

Jen heaved a sigh, making up her mind, and looked seriously across the table at Harry. “Harry, you’re not too happy with the Headmaster at the moment, are you?”

Harry snorted. “What was your first clue?” He asked bitingly.

Jen said nothing, gazing at him with a raised eyebrow until he turned slightly pink.

“Sorry.” Harry muttered. “I know it’s not your fault.”

Jen patted his hand. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. The reason I ask is … I don’t want Dumbledore to find out about this.”

Harry looked back at the prophecy. “But …” His face cleared. “The Lord of Light … That’s him, isn’t it?”

“May well be.” Jen ran a hand through her hair, surprised, for some reason, by the shortness of it. Honestly, it’s been just below shoulder length for fourteen years … “And I might be translating it wrong, but I don’t want to risk that. The problem is, Harry, Dumbledore is a Legilimens. I’m sure you know what that is?”

Harry nodded. “Hermione told me. And Mum told her.”

Jen smiled. “Good. Dumbledore … At one point, I wouldn’t have worried, because it’s technically illegal to use Legilimency without permission, especially on children. Underage young people.” She corrected, when Harry opened his mouth to protest. “But some of the stories you’ve come home with … I don’t like it, Harry. I’d like your permission to hide this prophecy from outside invasion.”

“Can you do that?” Harry asked.

“Only with small things.” Jen said with a smile. “It has to be specific – and he could still break through, but only if he knew what he was looking for.”

“So what are you going to do about the others?” Harry asked, nodding towards the living room.

“Remus was the only one who read the prophecy.” Jen told him. “And he won’t say anything.”

The secret to lying, she had learned early in life, was to tell the truth. Remus was the only one who’d read the prophecy – he just wasn’t the only one who heard it.

But the less people who knew the second part of her plan, the better.

What was it Lily always said? Best way to keep a secret: tell no one. Second best way to keep a secret: tell one other person, if you must. There is no third way.

She hid a smile. Of course, we ignored that every day. Eleven of us were in on the Animagus secret … except that’s not a secret anymore, because Peter will have told the Death Eaters.

As soon as the though materialised, Jen pushed it out of her head, unwilling to dwell on the subject of Peter Pettigrew just yet.

“May I?” She asked.

Harry nodded. “What do I need to do?”

Jen reached across the table and took his hands. “Look into my eyes. Ready?” At Harry’s nod, she whispered the spell and stepped into his mind.

Magically gathering all of the memories of the prophecy they had just discussed, she covered them in a layer of magic that took the form of black gauze, tethering it to a memory of a conversation in the common room with Hermione.

Important to Harry, but inconsequential enough that no one will bother looking too closely.

Jen blinked, breaking eye contact, and released Harry’s hands. “All done.

A crack in the living room made Harry start, his hand moving to his wand.

“It’s Remus and Dora back.” Jen assured him, standing up. “But good reflexes. Come on. I should probably introduce everyone.” She picked up the pieces of paper, folded them, and slipped them into her pocket, before leading Harry back to the living room.

“How did you get your memory back?” Harry asked curiously.

“Not now, Harry.” Jen told him, glancing at Mad-Eye. “I don’t think we have time.”

“We’ll tell you later.” Remus confirmed, crossing the room to hug Harry and hand him his Firebolt.

“Wow …” Jen sighed, reaching out to touch the Firebolt’s handle. “I knew it was a good broom, but …”

“From a witch’s perspective, it’s even better?” Dora finished.

Jen nodded, admiring it. “Very nice. I played Chaser at Hogwarts.” She explained, seeing Harry’s inquisitive look. “Now, Harry, you know Mad-Eye Moody, don’t you?”
“In a way.” Harry answered, shaking his hand. “We were stuck in the infirmary for a few days.”

Remus smiled weakly at Jen. “Apparently, Harry and Mad-Eye react in similar ways to being cooped up in hospital.”

Jen hid a smile behind her hand. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

Remus’s grin widened, and he gestured to Dora. “Harry, this is Nymphadora …”

Don’t call me Nymphadora, Remus.” Dora cut him off, shuddering. “It’s Tonks.”

Remus just managed to avoid rolling his eyes. “Nymphadora Tonks, who prefers to be known by her first name only.”

“So would you, if your fool of a mother called you Nymphadora.” Dora muttered, exchanging a wry smile with Jen, who sniggered.

“Andie wasn’t a fool, Dora. She had to put up with an unusual name, so did you.”
Dora did roll her eyes. “If you say so, Guinevere.

Jen ignored her, continuing the introductions. “This is Kingsley Shacklebolt, Harry.”

“Jennifer,” Kingsley greeted, nodding to her. “Coming back to the ranks.”

“That is yet to be decided.” Jen answered carefully, raising an eyebrow. “C’mon, Shack; we worked together for how long?”

Kingsley cracked a smile and hugged her. “Sirius will be so pleased to see you – he’s going mental.”

The statement had Jen worried, but when Kingsley released her to shake Harry’s hand, she was pulled into another hug, this one rather more tearful.

“Always fun to watch the difference between males and females in this situation.” Remus commented, his smirk audible.

Jen tilted her head to look at him over Hestia and Emmeline’s shoulders. “Exactly how many of these situations have you been in?”
Remus inclined his head to her, silently conceding her point.

“Harry, this is Hestia Jones and Emmeline Vance.” Jen told him, gesturing to red hair then dark brown, almost black, before freeing herself to greet the remainders of the party. “Dedalus Diggle, Sturgis Podmore, and Elphias Doge. Everyone, Harry Potter, as if he needs introducing.”

Harry flattened his hair over his scar, self-consciously.

“I see what you mean, Remus.” Kingsley remarked slowly. “He looks exactly like James.”

“Except his eyes.” Emmeline whispered. “Lily’s eyes. Lily and I weren’t exactly close,” she said, seeing Harry’s confusion, “but she was one of the first people to really accept me after Hogwarts – I was a Slytherin,” she smirked slightly, “and apparently, my house-mates don’t do a very good job of endearing us to the wider population.”

Harry cracked a smile. “You don’t say?” He glanced around the living room again, clearly a little unnerved by all the eyes on him.

“A surprising number of people volunteered to collect you.” Remus told him, grinning at Jen.

“Yeah, well, the more the better.” Mad-Eye growled. “We’re your guard, Potter.”

Remus glanced towards the window. “We’re just waiting for the signal to tell us it’s safe to set off. We’ve got about five minutes.”

“Very clean, those Muggles.” Dora remarked, jerking a thumb towards the wall. “My dad’s Muggle-born and he’s a right slob. I suppose it varies though, like with wizards.”

“Course it does.” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “Come on, Dora, they’re hardly a different species.”

Harry sighed, sounding irritated, apparently out of patience. “Look, will someone tell me what’s happen …”

Jen clapped a hand over his mouth before he could finish the question. “Not here, Harry.”

Harry quirked an eyebrow at her as she released him. “Who’s going to overhear us? The walls?”

“Walls can have ears, Harry.” Jen told him darkly. “And eyes, for that matter.”

“Smart girl.” Mad-Eye barked, his normal eye turning to look at her. The magical eye, however, stayed where it was, staring at the ceiling. “Damn. Keeps getting stuck – ever since that scum wore it.” He reached up and pulled the magical eye out with a loud squelching sound, like a plunger being pulled from a sink.

“Mad-Eye, you do know that’s disgusting, don’t you?” Dora asked lightly, as though she were commenting on the weather.

Mad-Eye ignored her. “Jen, be a good girl and get me a glass of water, would you?”
Jen rolled her eyes, ignoring the urge to remind him that she wasn’t thirteen anymore, and hurried into the kitchen, retrieving a glass from the cupboard and filling it with water.

“Cheers.” Mad-Eye said when she returned. He dropped the eye into the water and prodded it with his wand, making it spin around rapidly. “I want three-hundred-and-sixty degree visibility on the return journey.”

“Where are we going?” Harry asked. “The Burrow?”

“Not the Burrow, no.” Remus answered evasively. “We’ve set up Headquarters somewhere undetectable. It’s taken a while …” He coughed and changed the subject. “We’re going by broom.”

“Only way to do it, I should think.” Jen remarked, glancing curiously at him.

She had long since mastered the art of reading between the lines, and Remus had just inadvertently told her two things: firstly, the Order of the Phoenix had been regrouped – which wasn’t really a surprise, given the people in her living room, and the fact that no one was addressing how they all knew each other – and, secondly, that he didn’t want to tell her, or Harry, where Headquarters was.

Again, she resisted the urge to reach into the link, not reading to deal with it if it didn’t work.

You’re being paranoid, she told herself, if someone had ruptured the link beyond repair, we’d both be dead.

Still, this was not the time or place for that discussion.

“You’re too young to apparate,” she continued, “we’re not connected to the Floo network, and an unauthorised portkey …”

“More than our life’s worth.” Remus finished.

“Remus says you’re a good flier.” Kingsley added.

“He’s excellent.” Remus confirmed. “Flies as well as James, if not better.”

Privately, having been on a Quidditch team with James and flown with him since she was five, Jen felt that was a bit of a tall order, but, out of loyalty to her godson, she said nothing.

“We’d better get outside so we’re ready.” Remus decided. “Harry, I’ve left a note with your aunt and uncle telling them not to worry …”

“They won’t.” Harry assured him.

“… that you’re safe …”

“That’ll just depress them.” Jen muttered.

“… and that you’ll see them next summer.”

“Do I have to?” Harry asked, a slight whine detectable in his voice.

“Not if I have anything to do with it.” Jen said darkly, under her breath. “Mad-Eye,” she said, louder, “am I imagining it, or did you borrow Dumbledore’s Deluminator.”

Mad-Eye pulled the small silver instrument out of his pocket. “What of it?”

“Turn the streetlights back on.” She told him. “You can use my back garden.”

As he moved to the front door, Jen grasped Remus’s arm and pulled him out of earshot. “I need to borrow your wand.”

Remus looked quizzically at her, but handed it over. She waved it in a small circle, carefully focussing on the eight people she needed to include.

Let’s see … can’t get rid of the prophecy entirely … that’d raise too many questions about why Remus and I needed a private conversation. Let’s see … ‘Hidden beneath a mask so bright, a missing soldier for the light …’

I always hated poetry. Annie and Addie were the ones who had a way with words …

Maybe something about the full moon? Let’s see, the one in August is … the Grain Moon, I think.

‘As the grain moon nears, the haze will lift … the soul will heal; no more shall drift.’

That’ll do. And may that last part come true sooner rather than later.

Putting the words together in her head, she reluctantly whispered the spell that had ripped her own life apart.

Obliviate.

A small jet of blue light left her wand and hit each person in turn.

No one even flinched and she allowed herself a satisfied smile, handing Remus’s wand back.

“What did you just do?” He hissed.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Prophecy.” She whispered. “Last two lines.”

Remus frowned. “You don’t think …”

“I think I don’t want to take chances.” Jen finished firmly, as Mad-Eye returned. “And we’ll talk about this later.”

“Yes dear.” Remus said under his breath.

“Come here, boy.” Mad-Eye growled, jerking his wand. “I need to Disillusion you. Lupin says you’ve got an Invisibility Cloak, but it won’t stay on while we’re flying; this’ll disguise you better. Here.” He tapped Harry hard on the top of his head, and Jen watched as her godson suddenly seemed to vanish, blending in with the rest of the kitchen.

“Nice one, Mad-Eye.” Dora commented.

Jen jerked a head towards the kitchen. “Come on.” She led them to the back door and stood back to let them out, switching off the appliances before following them.

I’ll have to get a house-elf to pick up the mail or something.

“Clear night.” Mad-Eye grunted, surveying the sky. “Could have done with a bit more cloud cover. Right!” He barked suddenly at Harry, but directing his words partly at Jen as well. “We’re going to be flying in close formation, so keep close on Tonks’ tail, got me? If one of us is killed …”

“Is that likely?” Harry asked, startled.

Mad-Eye ignored him. “… the others keep flying; don’t stop, don’t break ranks. If they take out all of us and you survive, Harry, just keep flying east; the rear guard will take over.”

“Stop being so cheerful, Mad-Eye; he’ll think we’re not taking this seriously.” Dora chided, strapping Harry’s trunk and Hedwig’s cage into a harness below her broom.

“I’m just telling the boy the plan!” Mad-Eye growled. “Our job’s to deliver him safely to Headquarters and if we die in the attempt …”

“No one’s going to die.” Kingsley interrupted calmly.

“Mount your brooms.” Remus said sharply, before Mad-Eye could retort. “There’s the first signal.” He pointed into the sky where, high above them, a shower of red sparks was just evaporating into the air. “You alright sharing a broom, Jen?”

“Don’t really have much of a choice, do I?” Jen asked wryly, mounting the broom he offered her. As he climbed on behind her, she glanced over at Harry, feeling apprehensive.

It was all very well Dora joking about it, but Mad-Eye did have a point – if Voldemort had got wind of Harry’s movements … She shuddered at the thought.

“Relax.” Remus whispered, leaning forward to cover her hands with his. “Even if Voldemort did know, he won’t break cover for this.”

Jen nodded, knowing he was right. The Minister’s denial was the best thing that could have happened to Voldemort, and he’d want to take full advantage of it while he could.

“Second signal!” Remus called as green sparks exploded above them. “Let’s go!”

Ten broomsticks rose into the sky, and Jen closed her eyes as the night air rushed passed her face. She had always loved flying – maybe not as ardently as James – but it felt wonderful to be back on a broom.

As she opened her eyes, Harry and Dora soared above them, and, looking up, Jen could see that Remus was right – Harry seemed to belong in the air.

“Hard left, hard left; there’s a Muggle looking up!” Moody shouted, and they all veered to the side as one unit.

“I’m glad you’re controlling the broom.” Jen commented, pitching her voice to be heard above the roar of the wind in her ears. “It’s been years since I last flew in formation.”

It was a statement of the blindingly obvious, given her whereabouts for the last fourteen years, but Remus didn’t comment, or maybe he just didn’t have time, because at that point, Moody barked, “We need more height … give it another quarter of a mile!”

By this point, night had well and truly fallen, and, looking down, all Jen could see were tiny pinpricks of light denoting houses and cars.

“Beautiful view, isn’t it?” Remus remarked.

Jen nodded with a smile, hearing Harry’s laughter high above them. She hadn’t seen him truly smile in weeks, so hearing him laugh was somewhat of a relief.

“Bearing south!” Mad-Eye yelled. “Town ahead!”

They soared to the right, skirting the edge of the large cluster of lights that were all they could see of the nearest town.

“Bear south-east and keep climbing; there’s some low cloud ahead that we can lose ourselves in!”

“We’re not flying through clouds!” Dora protested, beating Jen to it. “We’ll get soaked, Mad-Eye!”

“Thank Merlin someone’s got some sense.” Jen sighed, more to herself than to Remus. “I don’t think Harry put a coat on.”

***

Half an hour later, and it wasn’t just Harry’s body temperature Jen was worried about. She could still feel her hands, but only because Remus’s were covering them.

I should have put a coat on.” She commented, tilting her head back so he could hear her. “I just hope Harry doesn’t catch pneumonia.”

“He’ll be fine.” Remus assured her. “Molly will get him warmed up and he’ll be fine. When we get there …”

“I’ll take Harry to wherever the others are.” Jen finished. “And get my wand back. You explain everything to Dumbledore and ask him to keep it quiet – I’ll talk to Sirius after the meeting.”

“Don’t scare him.” Remus warned gently. “He’s got enough on his plate.”

Jen grimaced, knowing he couldn’t see her. Why do I get the feeling he’s not just talking about Azkaban? She asked silently. And why do I have a bad feeling about Headquarters?

“Because you’re observant and subtlety was never my strong point.” Remus answered.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Jen mused. “You could be pretty subtle when you …” She trailed off.

Unless she was very much mistaken, she hadn’t asked either of those questions aloud; she’d only thought them. And if he’d answered …

Remus, can you hear this? She thought, matter-of-factly.

“Wind’s not that loud.” Remus answered. “Why, can’t you hear me?”

Jen laughed aloud, giving him a mental prod. Try again.

“What are you …?” He trailed off, and his voice appeared in her head. You’re not talking aloud, are you?

No, I’m not. Jen answered. It’s back.

You’re back. Remus corrected, his arms tightening slightly around her. How’s the rest of it your end?

Jen closed her eyes to step back into her mind to see what her visualisation of the bond looked like now. She wobbled slightly, and her eyes shot open. Not while we’re flying. Look later.

Fair enough. “We should be nearly there.” Remus said aloud.

“We ought to double back!” Mad-Eye shouted, contradicting him. “Make sure we’re not being followed!”

“ARE YOU MAD, MAD-EYE?!” Dora screamed from above them. “We’re all frozen to our brooms! If we keep going off-course, we’re not going to get there until next Tuesday!”

“Time to start the descent!” Remus called, effectively ending the argument. “Follow Tonks, Harry!”

“That’s London, isn’t it?” Jen asked, as they soared towards the largest mass of glittering lights they had seen all evening.

“Yes.” Remus confirmed, flinching. “And, for the record, I think this is a really bad idea and I had nothing to do with this.”

“What?” Jen asked, worry filling her.

“You’ll see.” Remus replied ominously.

By now, she could pick out individual houses, and they swooped along a dark street, before coming to rest in a small square, dimly lit by street lamps.

Dora and Harry landed beside them, and Jen dismounted, looking around the square curiously.

It reminded her of something from long ago, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what. Whatever it was, she didn’t like it, and she moved closer to Harry, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Mad-Eye rummaged in his cloak and pulled out the silver Deluminator, using it to remove the lights from the few working street lamps.

“That’ll take care of anyone looking out of the window.” He growled, pocketing it again. “Come on.”

Jen and Harry followed Mad-Eye across the road and on to the pavement, Remus and Dora carrying Harry’s trunk between them, the rest of the guard flanking them, wands in hand.

“Here.” Mad-Eye held out a piece of parchment, holding up his wand so they could see it. “Read and memorise.”

Remus set his hand of the trunk down and moved to stand behind her, taking her hand in his.

Jen glanced at him, but he nodded to the parchment, an unspoken apology in his eyes. She squinted at it, just able to make out the words in the wand-light.

The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four - The Lost Black

As soon as the words sank in and the Fidelius Charm did its job, Jen was flooded with a thousand memories, ones she’d much rather have forgotten entirely.

She took an involuntary step backwards, bumping into Remus as she did, and his hand contracted around hers.

I’m sorry. His voice said in her mind. I’m so sorry. Like I said, I don’t like it either.

Sirius is in there? She asked in horror. Stuck back in that place? He must be …

He’s not too bad. Remus hastened to assure her. Not yet anyway.

“Jen?” Harry asked worriedly. “What is it?”

“Nothing.” Jen said, smiling tremulously in his general direction. “Well, nothing I’m willing to get into right now, at any rate.”

Harry looked back at the parchment. “What’s the …?”

For the second time that night, Jen clapped a hand over his mouth, guessing its location from his voice. “Not here, Harry.” She repeated, as Mad-Eye set fire to the parchment and let it burn to ash. “Think about what you just read.”

As they did so, Number Twelve appeared from between Numbers Eleven and Thirteen, pushing them apart.

Jen forced back a shudder as they climbed the steps; the last time she had left this house was at twelve-years-old, half-unconscious, half-hysterical, in the arms of a Healer.

A Healer, she realised, who was the mother of her godson’s best friend.

It really is a small world.

Remus tapped his wand on the door a few times; the locks clicked from deep within it, and it swung open. “Get in, quick – but don’t go far, and don’t touch anything.”

Jen didn’t need telling twice and she ushered Harry into the hallway, taking his hand comfortingly (although whether it was her comfort or his, she wasn’t sure).

Mad-Eye rapped Harry on the head again and he reappeared, as though his camouflage had melted from his body.

“Now stand still while I get us some light in here.” He whispered.

Why are we whispering? Jen asked Remus privately.

Portraits. Remus answered bluntly. Don’t want them to wake up.

Jen shuddered again at the thought, and Harry squeezed her hand, causing her to give him another smile. The gas-lamps flickered to life, and she grimaced as the hallway came into view, more threadbare, but every bit as gloomy and dark as she remembered.

I never wanted to come back here.

A door at the end of the hallway – the door that led to the basement kitchen, if Jen remembered correctly – opened, and a red-haired woman emerged.

Jen recognised her as Molly Weasley, but she was much thinner than the last time she’d seen her. Although that would have been … Probably Fabian and Gideon’s funeral … Lily saw her after that, because she used to baby-sit the twins, but I didn’t …

“Oh, Harry, dear, it’s good to see you!” Molly whispered, pulling Harry into a hug, before holding him at arm’s length and examining him. “You’re looking very thin, dear, you’ll need feeding up, but you’ll have to wait a while for dinner, I’m afraid.” She turned to the others. “He’s just arrived, the meeting’s just started.”

The wizards and witches behind them began to make their way down the hall, Remus ruffling Harry’s hair and giving Jen a smile as he passed.

Harry made to follow them, but Jen seized his arm. “Oh no you don’t, young man.” She said, managing to sound stern, even through a whisper. “Those meetings are not for your ears.” She extended a hand to Molly, who looked confused. “Jennifer Black, Sirius’s sister, Harry’s godmother. I’ve been under a Memory Charm, and it’s only just lifted. Don’t tell Sirius yet – we’ll never get anything done; I’ll tell him after the meeting.”

“Of course.” Molly said with a weak smile. “Are you alright taking Harry upstairs? Second floor, third door on the right.”

Jen nodded, taking a second to remember which room that was. I wonder if Sirius did that on purpose, or if it was Dumbledore’s idea – that’s the room with Phineas Nigellus in. Direct link to the Headmaster’s office.

“Got it.” She said aloud. “I’ll see you in the meeting.”

Steering Harry towards the stairs, Jen eyed a pair of moth-eaten curtains with distaste. She couldn’t remember a door or window there before, but maybe her mother had renovated before she died. She put it out of her mind, and skirted the umbrella stand at the bottom of the stairs.

I’d forgotten how much I hated that thing. Remus, how long do we have?

About five minutes. Remus answered. Everyone knows you’re a witch, but they don’t know who you are. And Dumbledore’s been told whatever prophecy you put in their heads, and he seems to have figured it out.

Oh? Jen let some of her curiosity seep through the link and got a mental chuckle in return.

Yes, he’s twinkling at us, but … Honestly, Jen, he seems worried.

Worried, is he? Jen asked grimly. That’s not good.

“Jen, where are we?” Harry asked softly, drawing her from the internal conversation.

“My old family home.” Jen answered reluctantly, not looking at him. “The Blacks weren’t the Lightest … Actually, they were as Dark as sin. Sirius and I … Well, I’ll explain later. Here we are.”

Harry pushed open the door she indicated. There was a beat of silence, then a shriek, and a brunette flung herself on him, hugging him tightly.

“HARRY! Ron, he’s here! Harry’s here!”

The rest of her words tumbled out in a jumbled rush of greetings and apologies, but even with her experience translating her brother’s and James’s rambles back at Hogwarts, Jen was lost.

“Let him breathe, Hermione.” The room’s other occupant said with a grin, shutting the door behind them. He was looking at Jen curiously, however. “Who are you?”

“Jennifer Black.” She told him. “Just call me Jen. You must be Ron, right? Molly’s youngest?”

“Second youngest.” He corrected, shaking her hand. “Ginny’s younger than me.”

“Oh of course.” Jen nodded. “Sorry, I’ve been under a Memory Charm for fourteen years, and I’m trying to put both sets of memories together – Jessica knew that Ginny was your younger sister, but Jen disappeared before she was born, you see?”

“I think so.” Ron answered slowly. “Hermione!”

Hermione released Harry and turned to face them, and Jen sucked in a breath. “Sweet Merlin, Hermione, you look like your mother.”

Hermione smiled at her. “So I’ve heard. You’re Jess? And you’re Jen?”

“Memory Charm.” Jen repeated. “And I believe you have something of mine.”

“Does she?” Harry asked bewildered.

Hermione put a foot up on Ron’s trunk and rolled one leg of her jeans up high enough to extract a wand from an ankle holster. “Here.”

Jen took it, closing her eyes as it warmed in her hand, as though it was rejoicing at being reunited with her finally. “Thank you for taking care of it.”

“It was my pleasure.” Hermione said with a smile. “It saved our lives, you know.”
“Good.” Jen said firmly, moving towards the door. “Now, I have a meeting to get to. Harry, play nice; I … Hermione, did you say you sent letters with Muggle post?”

Hermione nodded. “Dumbledore said we couldn’t send too much information with owls, in case they got intercepted, so I sent a couple via Muggle mail, but Harry kept pressing, so I figured he wasn’t getting them.”

“I wasn’t.” Harry said with a frown. “Maybe Aunt Petunia was keeping them.”

Jen shook her head. “Don’t think so. You know our postman, Harry; he used to stop by for a cup of tea every morning – he’d have mentioned it if you had a letter.” She shrugged. “I’ll work it out – don’t be too hard on them; they tried.”

She closed the door behind her, and set off downstairs, again eyeing the large curtains warily as she passed.

She entered the kitchen mid-sentence, and waited for Dumbledore to finish before closing the door. “Sorry about that, Professor.”

“Quite alright – er – Jessica.” Dumbledore said, with a smile and a wink.

Jen returned the smile, slipping into the empty seat beside Remus, opposite Sirius, slipping her wand into her pocket as she did.

Glancing up, she was amused to see that Sirius had recognised the wand and was glancing between her and the ceiling, as though wondering what had possessed Hermione to hand his sister’s wand over to a stranger.

He’s got no idea. She thought sadly.

Can you blame him? We all thought you were dead.

Even inside their heads, his words were hollow, and she pressed his hand once under the table, before turning her attention to the others there. Dora was the only new face, although there were a couple missing that she realised, with a shock, could well have died after she disappeared.

Either that, or they don’t believe Voldemort’s back.

I never thought I’d say this, but I hope it’s the latter.

“Jessica?” Dumbledore asked, catching her attention.

“Professor?” She responded, glancing up.

As soon as he caught her eye, she was forced to throw up her Occlumency shields, and there were a few minutes in which neither of them spoke, fighting a silent battle.

Remus caught her hand again and squeezed, silently asking if she needed help.

Not breaking concentration, she squeezed back, and shifted her grip to tap his wrist, assuring him that she could handle it.

Dumbledore broke the connection first, and she raised a politely enquiring eyebrow, as though nothing had happened. “Was there something you wanted, Professor?”

“I was wondering if you had noticed anything else unusual other than the Dementors around Privet Drive.” He asked blandly.

Jen thought for a moment. “Unless you mean Harry’s cousin turning his layers of fat into muscle and engaging in exercise willingly, no, I hadn’t.” A few people chuckled, and she allowed herself a smile, before turning serious. “I didn’t even see the Dementors – or sense them for that matter. They weren’t just straying from Azkaban; they were there specifically for Harry.”

Again, she felt a pushing at her Occlumency shields, and this time, she let part of the memory through, just enough for him to see Harry and Dudley’s return through Jess’s eyes.

Dumbledore nodded and turned to Hestia for whatever report she was due to give, and Jen relaxed.

How did I never see it? Remus asked her. Has he always been this manipulative?

I don’t know. Jen answered honestly. I just know that James and Lily asked Hermione to keep them a secret for a reason.

The rest of the meeting passed quickly, with a lot of reports about what sounded like nothing in particular.

Remus? Mind filling me in?

Not much TO fill in. The kids are complaining that no one will tell them anything, but we don’t really know anything ourselves. We’re trying to convince people that Voldemort’s back, but the Ministry’s been doing a good job of slandering Dumbledore’s name, and Harry’s …

WHAT?!

Remus just managed to hide a grimace. Not so loud please. Didn’t Harry tell you about the articles last year?

Well, yes. Jen admitted, sending a soft wave of apology through the link as she did. But they were hardly slander – gossip, yes, but …

He didn’t tell you about the last one then. Harry Potter: Disturbed and Dangerous, and it only got worse.

When I find her, Jen said darkly, I am going to squash Rita like a bug.

Remus’s face remained impassive, but the emotion that passed through the link translated into a smirk. Well, she’s gone quiet all of a sudden, and I won’t say that I think Hermione had something to do with it, but every time we mention it, she looks very smug. The problem is, she gave them a platform – they stick Harry in like a standing joke, and make it sound like he’s either delusional or making it up for attention.

Jen closed her eyes, taking a few calming breaths, in the hopes of preventing herself from standing up and apparating straight to the Daily Prophet headquarters.

They’re closed now. Remus reminded her, sounding amused. Go tomorrow.

Oh, I will. Jen said darkly. Go on. So we can’t convince anyone Voldemort’s back. What else?

Hagrid’s on a mission to contact the giants, obviously. Bill’s trying to get the goblins onside, but at the moment, it sounds like they’ll stay neutral …

Well, they won’t actively support Voldemort, because they’ve had losses too. Jen said. On the other hand, a lot of the Death Eaters are high-paying clients.

Exactly. Remus agreed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants me to approach the werewolves again …

Jen clamped down on the shiver of fear that wanted to pass through the link. Even though she knew that Remus could take care of himself, the few times he had entered the underground to gain allies were some of the worst of her life. What about the rest of us?

Guard duty?

Harry?

Haven’t the foggiest. Remus admitted. There have been people looking out for Harry. In case you were wondering, it was Mundungus Fletcher on duty the night the Dementors attacked.

Really? Jen asked, glancing at Dung out of the corner of her eye. He seemed to have fallen asleep. I’ll have to have a word with him about that.

Sirius already did.

Then I’ll have another one. Why don’t you know what we’re guarding?

Well, I know we’re guarding the Department of Mysteries. Remus conceded. But I don’t know why.

Their internal discussion was interrupted when chairs scraped back, and everyone began to get up – clearly, Dumbledore had dismissed the meeting.

As everyone made their way up the stairs into the hall, talking in hushed whispers again and stepping over the dungbombs that had mysteriously appeared outside the kitchen door, Jen pushed through the crowd until she reached Sirius. “Could I have a word with you?” She asked. “In private?”

What’s with the dungbombs?

I think I overheard Tonks telling Ginny how to check for the Imperturbable Charm. I’ll explain later.

Sirius regarded her for a moment. “Alright.” He took her arm and guided her into the small chamber next to the drawing room, where their parents used to receive guests. “How can I help?”

“Well, I’m sure you know about the Memory Charm by now.” Jen said carefully. “I’m having a bit of trouble getting the glamour off – whoever cast it was more powerful than me. I was wondering if you’d be willing to lend a hand.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Why me?”

Jen smiled sweetly. “I just have a feeling our magic might be a bit more compatible than most.”

Sirius still looked puzzled, but shrugged and drew his wand. “Very well. On three then?”

Jen nodded, aiming her own wand at herself. “One … two … three …”

Finite glamouri.”

Two spells combined did what one spell could not, and Jen felt a rush of magic pass over her, settling into her bones. When she opened her eyes, Sirius was gaping at her and she glanced at the large ornate mirror that almost covered the entire wall, oddly relieved to see long black hair, almost to her waist, framing highly distinctive facial features and stormy grey eyes, identical to those of the man staring at her.

Smirking slightly, she turned back to face him. “I hope you don’t mind if I keep using your sister’s wand.”

“Jen …” Sirius took a shaky step towards her, almost in a trance, and she mirrored his actions almost unconsciously.

This seemed to reassure him that he wasn’t hallucinating, because she suddenly found herself in his arms, her face buried in his chest and her shoulders shaking with the sobs that had threatened her composure the moment the Memory Charm first lifted.

Sirius held her tightly, shaking himself, but when he loosened his grip slightly, just enough to allow her to lift her head and meet his eyes, they were dry, though very bright. “What happened?!” He asked, almost harshly.

“I went to visit Lily.” Jen answered. “I remember reaching the apparition point and walking to the house, but … I’d only been walking for about five minutes when someone else was there.”

“Who?” Sirius prompted.

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “Whoever it was, they hit me with two spells – one modified my memory and one removed the memory of them from my head. I know they were there, I know what they did, but I don’t know who they are!”

Sirius squeezed her shoulder and kissed her forehead. “We’ll figure it out, Jen. Love you.”

“Love you too.” Jen leaned back to better see his face. “You need a haircut.”

Sirius grimaced. “Yeah, I know. Molly’s only too keen to remind me.”

Jen smirked. “And you agree. You just don’t want to agree with her.”

“I have nothing against Molly Weasley.” Sirius insisted. “But we have several differences of opinion and there are a few things she has yet to get her head round. Namely that this is my house and that Harry is my godson.”

Jen cleared her throat.

Our godson.” Sirius amended. “You’re alright, aren’t you, Jenny?”

For once, she didn’t scold him for the name. “I’m fine. Are you?”

Before he could answer, a sudden crash out in the hallway made them both jump, and Sirius’s head fell onto her shoulder as he groaned. “Oh, here we go.”

“Tonks!” Molly’s voice cried.

“I’m sorry!” Dora wailed. “It’s that stupid umbrella stand; that’s the second time I’ve tripped over …”

But the rest of her words were drowned out by a painfully familiar voice.

“FILTH! SCUM! BY-PRODUCTS OF DIRT AND VILENESS!”

Jen turned to Sirius, her eyes wide with horror. “Mother?”

“Mother.” Sirius confirmed grimly.

Rolling her eyes, Jen hurried from the room, aiming her wand at the portrait, which had been hidden behind the curtains she’d noticed earlier, and trying to blast it from the wall. “Oh, shut up!”

The painting didn’t budge, and at the sight of her, Mrs Black seemed to become even more incensed. “YOU! BLOOD TRAITOR! ABOMINATION! SHAME OF MY FLESH!”

“Shut up, you miserable old hag; shut up!” Sirius seized one of the curtains and attempted to force it closed.

Molly was silencing the other portraits, Remus was helping Dora to her feet, and Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys were standing at the bottom of the stairs, watching them wide-eyed.

As her mother’s voice grew even louder, Jen abandoned her wand and seized the other curtain. “I SAID, SHUT UP!”

She and Sirius finally forced them closed, and she drew her wand again, placing a Silencing Charm over the curtains.

“Now why didn’t I think of that?” Molly wondered aloud.

Sirius ignored her, turning to Harry with a wry smile. “Hello, Harry. I see you’ve met our mother.”

“Your mother?” Harry repeated in surprise, stepping forwards to hug him.

“My dear old mother.” Sirius confirmed. “Entire family was like that; couldn’t stand any of them.”

“I am right here.” Jen pointed out acidly.

Sirius released Harry and turned to her. “My apologies, sister dearest. I assure you that any time I couldn’t stand you, it was for another reason entirely.”

The Weasleys and Hermione chuckled, and Jen let out a relieved laugh. If Sirius still had his sense of humour, things couldn’t be too bad.

Harry turned to her and she smiled as he did what amounted to a double-take. “Je-Jen?”

She didn’t blame him for stumbling over the name – he’d been calling her ‘Jess’ for fourteen years, after all. “We finally got rid of the glamour charm.”

“Hey, why couldn’t you do it on your own?” Sirius asked. “Or were you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“I was trying to not give you a heart attack.” Jen corrected, rolling her eyes. “And whoever cast it was more powerful than me.”

Hermione made a small noise in disbelief, and Sirius nodded in agreement. “Hermione’s right – there’s no way …”

“I’m sorry about my mother, Harry.” Jen interrupted, talking over her brother, and flashing him a hand signal warning him to shut up because they’d talk about it later. “I should have warned you. Mind you, I didn’t realise the old cow had done that.”

“Jennifer!” Molly admonished.

Jen raised an eyebrow at her. Given how Walburga Black had treated them when they were children, she felt perfectly justified in calling her that, and even if she wasn’t, it was hardly Molly’s place to tell her off for it. Nevertheless, here and now was not the time to call her on it.

“I’m sorry, Molly.” She said. “You’re right. That’s an insult to cows; I’ll come up with something better.”

To Molly’s credit, she seemed to realise that she’d been out of line, and she chuckled. “Oh good Lord, there’s two of you.”

Sirius laughed. “That’s my sister.”

Jen nudged Harry towards the kitchen door, and down into the basement, where Bill and Arthur were talking in low voices, and Dung was asleep at one end of the table, doing a very good impersonation of a pile of dirty old rags.

While Harry greeted the two Weasleys, Jen sat down at the table, feeling more than hearing Remus sit beside her.

Everything alright?

Is Molly always that …?

Controlling? Remus finished, as Molly snapped at Bill for leaving building plans out on the table. She can be, yes. Her heart’s in the right place; she’s just lost so much, and she wants to make sure her family’s safe, but she also has a habit of believing that she knows best. As far as she’s concerned, she loves them, so she must know what’s best for them.

That’s not the way it works. Jen sighed mentally. I don’t think she likes me.

That’s because she adores Harry. It’ll all blow up now he’s here – you watch.

At that moment, Hermione slipped into the seat beside her. “Harry told me about the prophecy.” She whispered, not looking at her. “There’s another one.”

“What?” Jen asked. She’d be amazing undercover.

She’s not even sixteen yet. Slow down.

A piece of parchment was pushed into her hand beneath the table, and Hermione rose to her feet. “Do you need any help, Mrs Weasley?”

Molly shoved the last of the plans into Bill’s arms, told him to Vanish them, and turned to Hermione. “Yes please, dear. Could you get the plates for me?”

Hermione moved away, and Jen looked down at the prophecy she’d been given, as Sirius introduced Harry to Mundungus.

At the sound of his name, the man in question jolted awake. “Some’n say m’name? I ‘gree with Sirius …”

Funnily enough, he’s been agreeing with Sirius ever since Harry was attacked.

Imagine that. Jen said dryly. What happened to that nice boy we were at Hogwarts with?

Too much undercover work. Remus answered, although he knew it was a rhetorical question. What does that say?

‘The true leader of the light is hidden … her mind is locked away, but her gift is not … answers shall be revealed in the place where the fire maid almost met her doom’. She sighed. Great, so I not only have to take Dumbledore down, but I have to take his place.

Seems that way. Remus agreed. What’s the last bit about though?

The Chamber of Secrets. Jen said, after she’d read it through a few more times. Ginny nearly died down there. She’s a redhead.

I thought the Chamber of Secrets was a myth. Remus said.

Jen glanced at him. Didn’t it hit the papers?

Didn’t what hit the papers?

The basilisk that was set loose in Hogwarts and Petrified four students, a cat and a ghost.

Remus stared at her in shock, and Sirius slipped into the seat beside her. “What’s with you two?”

“Nothing.” Jen said. Don’t mention the petrifying. Hermione was one of them.

“Dung,” she said aloud, beating Molly to it, waving away the thick smelly smoke that was emanating from his pipe. “Would you kindly refrain from smoking that in here? Especially when we’re about to eat.”

“Sorry, Jen.” Mundungus muttered, slipping the pipe away.

Molly sniffed and went back to what she was doing. Jen raised an eyebrow. “What did I do?”

“It’s not a good idea to take over in Molly’s kitchen.” Sirius told her in an undertone.

“Last I checked,” Jen said, “it was my kitchen.” She stood up and ruffled Harry’s hair as she passed. “Potatoes. Want to give me a hand, kiddo?”

Harry nodded with a grin, following her over to the cupboard she knew had a freezing charm on it.

“Harry, dear, sit down.” Molly fussed. “You’ve had a long flight.”

“I gave him the option, Molly.” Jen said calmly, pulling out some cream. “He’s always enjoyed helping me cook.”

Harry’s smile widened. “Are we making what I think we’re making?”

“Yes, we are.” Jen told him. “Molly, are those potatoes par-boiled?”

Molly followed her gaze to the saucepan. “Yes, but I was just going to put them out with the stew …”

“Trust me.” Jen said cheerfully. “This works too.”

Harry peeked into the cauldron as he passed it. “Will we have time?”

“Magic speeds everything up, Harry.” Jen pointed out, whisking the cream in with some garlic. “Slice those potatoes for me please.”

If there was anything Jen and Sirius had in common, it was the ability to absorb themselves in a task, looking as if they weren’t paying attention to anything, but all the while observing and taking in every little detail about everything and everyone around them, and Jen used this to her advantage now.

At some point, if she was going to come up against Dumbledore, she would need allies, and Sirius and Remus, as much as she loved them, wouldn’t be enough.

Mundungus, obviously, was a lost cause – even without the Dementor incident, he was too unreliable.

Dora would listen, and Jen knew that Andie would have taught her the Occlumency skills to keep it secret.

Molly and Arthur, Jen would have to reserve judgement on. She would teach the Occlumency and start dropping hints, but she was a little worried that Molly would refuse, just because Jen’s approach would mean warning Harry he was in danger and teaching him to defend himself, which, she had a feeling, would clash with Molly’s approach, given Sirius’s earlier comment and Remus’s explanation.

Bill, on the other hand, seemed weary of his mother’s constant chastising, and she knew he would have to have decent Occlumency skills – it was a requirement to work as a curse-breaker, at least it had been when she was in fifth year.

And Fred and George, for all their joking around, reminded her too much of James and Sirius for her to brush them off as immature pranksters.

“Fred, George, NO, JUST CARRY THEM!”

Jen spun around, just in time to see Sirius and Mundungus dive away from the table; the twins had bewitched the cauldron of stew, a flagon of butterbeer, and a heavy wooden breadboard – complete with knife – to hurtle towards them.

Alright, so maybe they are a little immature, but they’re more than that. And that did not help.

Startled by their mother’s shout, the twins lost control of the spell. The stew skidded the length of the table, leaving a burn-mark behind it; the butterbeer fell with a crash, spilling everywhere; and the bread-knife fell from the board and landed, point down, exactly where Sirius’s right hand had been seconds before.

Jen grimaced and turned back to the dish she was heating with her wand, Harry watching her, fascinated. The cheese had just started to bubble and brown, so she cut the heat quickly.

“FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!” Molly stormed at the twins. “THERE WAS NO NEED – I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS! JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE ALLOWED TO DO MAGIC NOW, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WHIP YOUR WANDS OUT FOR EVERY LITTLE TINY THING!”

Bloody hell, she’s louder than Mother.

Just let her run herself down. Remus advised; even with her back turned, she could sense him wincing at the volume.

“We were just trying to save time!” Fred protested, hurrying forward to wrench the bread knife out of the table. “Sorry, Sirius, mate – didn’t mean to …”

“’S’alright.” Sirius grinned, hoisting himself to his feet. “I’m left-handed.”

“Boys,” Arthur said, lifting the stew back to the middle of the table. “Your mother’s right. You’re supposed to show a sense of responsibility now you’ve come of age.”

Wait … aren’t the twins seventeen?

Oh, of course; you weren’t around for the law change, were you? They changed the legal age from eighteen to seventeen in the early eighties – can’t remember what year it was.

Well, it’s about time.

“None of your brothers caused this much trouble!” Molly ranted, slamming another flagon of butterbeer on to the table, and spilling nearly as much herself.

“I highly doubt that.” Jen interrupted, flicking her own wand to send the dish in front of her over the table, a mat sliding neatly beneath it. “Everyone uses magic for everything as soon as they’re allowed. Remember James?” She asked Sirius and Remus.

As the two men laughed, Bill raised an eyebrow. “I seem to remember James Potter’s coming-of-age party when I was a second year – wasn’t it in March?”

“Yeah – don’t know why he was so excited, since he could do magic at Hogwarts anyway.” Sirius grinned. “But he decided to Summon his glasses that morning.”

“Except he couldn’t see to catch them,” Remus smirked, “and they poked him in the eye.”

There was a round of laughter, as Molly, looking highly disapproving, reached for Harry’s plate.

Jen beat her to it, ladling him some of the stew and a little more of the potato dish (since she knew it was one of his favourites). “Is that enough, sweetheart?”

“Of course it’s not!” Molly protested. “Look at him; he looks half-starved.”

Jen kept looking at Harry, who took the plate with a nod and a ‘thanks’. “He is half-starved, Molly, which means his stomach is smaller than it should be, which means you can’t just shove food down his throat until he’s ‘fattened up’, because if you do, it will make him throw up.”

Molly looked indignant. “It’s what I’ve done every summer and there’s never been a problem …”

“Actually there has.” Fred interrupted. “He’s just too polite to tell you.”

Molly looked at Harry, who had turned red. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Harry, dear. I thought I was helping.”

“I know, Mrs Weasley.” Harry said, his blush fading ever so slightly. “That’s why I didn’t say anything – I really do appreciate it.”

Molly smiled weakly and patted Harry’s cheek, before taking a seat between Bill and Arthur.

“Let’s eat.” Bill suggested quietly,

She can’t be blamed for something she wasn’t aware of. Remus pointed out gently. Simmer down, Selena. He’s fine.

Jen took a deep, calming breath, telling the wolf within her that her cub was safe and that Molly wasn’t really a threat to him, just misguided. “I only know that because Lily was a Healer.”

Molly seemed to hear the unspoken olive branch, because she smiled across the table at her.

“Didn’t you say Mum was an Unspeakable, Mr Weasley?” Harry asked.

“I thought she was.” Arthur admitted. “I ran into her at the Ministry once – she said she was going to the Department of Mysteries. There’s no other reason she’d be going there.”

“I think she did have an interview there.” Jen remarked. “But she decided against it.”

“Why?” Hermione asked curiously.

“Well, first of all, Lily had her heart set on being a Healer.” Jen said with a smile. “Secondly, to be an Unspeakable, you have to swear utter secrecy – not even your family could know what you were working on. Lily wouldn’t have lied to James like that.”

Hermione nodded, and the table lapsed into quiet for a few minutes.

“This potato is delicious, Jennifer.” Molly remarked after a while. “You must give me the recipe.”

“Of course.” Jen said with a smile, accepting the returned branch. “I picked it up in the Muggle world.” She glanced along the table, counting Weasleys, frowned, and opened her mouth, but Remus’s voice in her mind stopped her.

Don’t!

Don’t what? I was only wondering where the others were. Molly and Arthur had seven, didn’t they? I count five.

Charlie’s in Romania; he’s a dragon-handler, although I’m sure Harry told you that.

He did. He also said that Charlie had come back for the Tournament.

He’s recruiting foreign wizards, or trying to. Bit like Mandy and Arabella. Mandy’s the Head of Magical Games and Sports now.

I heard. Jen hid a smile. She deserves it. I guess she’s preparing for the European Quidditch Cup, right? Must be next year if the World Cup was last.

It is, in Germany.

Wait, that only explains one. What about the other boy? Percy?

Percy is, shall we say, in agreement with the Ministry. Apparently, there was a huge row and he stormed out. It’s not a good idea to mention his name in front of Molly – she’s gone to try to talk to him several times, but he just slams the door in her face.

Good Lord …

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you, Sirius,” Molly said, oblivious, “there’s something trapped in that writing desk in the drawing room; it keeps rattling and shaking. Of course, it could just be a Boggart, but I thought we ought to ask Alastor to have a look at it before we let it out.”

“Whatever you like.” Sirius said flatly.

“And those curtains are infested with doxys.” Molly added. “I thought we might try to tackle them tomorrow.”

“I look forward to it.” Sirius said, only just hiding his sarcasm.

Jen kicked him under the table and gave him a warning look. “Play nice.” She muttered.

“Hypocrite.” Sirius muttered back.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five - Disagreements and Discussions

After dinner, Molly brought out a delicious rhubarb crumble and, by the time, that had disappeared, everyone was feeling very relaxed.

There was a warm, comfortable feeling emanating through the kitchen, despite the still dark and dismal atmosphere, and Jen could almost forget that she was in a house she hated.

“Nearly time for bed, I think.” Molly remarked, yawning.

“Not just yet, Molly.” Sirius said, turning to Harry. “You know, I’m surprised at you. I thought the first thing you’d do when you got here would be to start asking questions about Voldemort.”

The relaxed atmosphere evaporated so fast that Jen almost thought a Dementor had entered the room. So that’s what Azkaban took. Any sense of tact. Or subtlety.

You’re assuming he had any to start with. Remus gave her a slight smile. You’re projecting again, love.

Sorry. Jen responded absently. But I would not have had this conversation here.

Too late. Remus sighed mentally. We’re having it.

“I did!” Harry protested. “I asked Ron and Hermione, but they said we’re not allowed in the Order, so …”

“And they’re quite right.” Molly interrupted sharply. “You’re too young.”

Jen sighed. She hadn’t been planning on having this discussion in front of Molly, but clearly Sirius had decided to, so it was her prerogative to back him up. “You don’t have to be in the Order to ask questions.” She said fairly. “Harry’s been trapped in that house for over a month. He has the right to know …”

The twins erupted into protests, and Ron and Ginny looked set to join in – Jen could sympathise with them; the twins were of age, after all.

“It’s not my fault you haven’t been told what the Order’s doing.” Sirius said calmly, once the initial outburst had died down. “That’s your parents’ decision. Harry, on the other hand …”

“It’s not down to you to decide what’s good for Harry!” Molly snapped.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Molly ignored her. “You haven’t forgotten what Dumbledore said, I suppose?”

“Which bit?” Sirius asked politely.

Uh oh. When Sirius gets polite … It wasn’t easy to wince mentally without betraying it outwardly, but Remus managed it. Think we should step in??

After that? Jen asked acidly.

“The bit about not telling Harry more than he needs to know.” Molly said intensely.

And how much is that?

No idea. Dumbledore won’t elaborate.

Meaning Molly’s translated it as ‘nothing’.

“I don’t intend on telling him more than he ‘needs to know’, Molly.” Sirius said patiently. “But as he was the one who saw Voldemort return, he has more right than most to …”

“He’s not a member of the Order of the Phoenix!” Molly interrupted, her voice rising. “He’s only fifteen and …”

“And he’s dealt with as much, if not more, than most people in the Order.” Sirius finished.

Out of the corner of her eye, Jen saw Fred and George seemingly taking scores, and fought back a grin. She could remember James and Sirius doing that when McGonagall argued with some of the more stubborn members of the Order back in the first war.

She caught Hermione’s eye and signed something across the table, hoping that the girl knew enough Marauder sign language to understand the question. James and Lily?

Hermione smiled weakly and signed something back. Here. And in complete agreement with you and Sirius.

“No one’s denying what he’s done!” Molly said. “But he’s still …”

“He’s not a child!” Sirius said impatiently.

“He’s not an adult either!” Molly snapped. “He’s not James, Sirius!”

Jen and Remus both inhaled sharply at the same time. That’s it …

Wait … Remus urged her. You talk to her now, you’ll rip her throat out. You haven’t listened to Selena in too long.

He was right – it was the second time in as many hours that she’d needed to drag her Animagus side back.

“I’m perfectly clear who he is, thanks, Molly.” Sirius said, his voice so cold that it could have frozen hell.

“I’m not sure you are.” Molly said. “Sometimes, the way you talk about him, it’s as though you think you’ve got your best friend back!”

Jen raised an eyebrow at Remus, who shook his head.

All he’s said is how he can’t wait to see Harry again, get a chance to really tell him stories about his parents, and learn more about him. We did have a discussion the other day about whether he’s more like James or Lily, but then we also dissected each of the Weasley kids as well and decided whether they were more like Arthur or Molly.

“What’s wrong with that?” Harry asked.

“What’s wrong, Harry, is that you are not your father, however much you might look like him.” Molly said heatedly. “You are still at school, and adults responsible for you should not forget it!”

“Meaning I’m an irresponsible godfather?!” Sirius demanded. It was only now that his voice rose to match hers.

“Meaning you have been known to act rashly, Sirius, which is why Dumbledore keeps reminding you to stay home and …”

Act rashly?! Jen demanded, as Sirius told Molly to keep Dumbledore’s instructions to him out of the equation. At what … When?

I think Molly’s talking about going after Peter. Remus told her tiredly.

That’s one instance. Sirius wouldn’t do anything reckless, not while he’s got Harry and Hermione to think about.

Molly had rounded on her husband, demanding he back her up, but he didn’t look at all inclined to do so. Neither did anyone else.

“It might be a good idea, Molly.” Remus said gently, “that Harry gets the facts – not all the facts, but the general picture – from someone who knows, rather than a garbled version from … others.”

What’s that supposed to mean? Jen asked, as Molly seemed to concede.

Fred and George have a joke-shop planned, did Harry tell you?

He did. Also said he invested his winnings.

Ah … Remus glanced at Harry, who looked about ready to vanish under the table. That explains a lot. Anyway, they’ve created Extendable Ears – eavesdropping tools. That’s why Ginny was testing for the Imperturbable Charm. Molly found out a week or so ago and burned all the ones she could find, but I’m fairly sure they’ve still got some left. They weren’t nearly upset enough.

That confused Jen immensely, but at that moment, Sirius interrupted Molly’s speech, as she started to go on about how she had Harry’s best interests at heart.

“He’s not your son.” He said softly.

“He’s as good as!” Molly said fiercely. “Who else has he got?!”

What am I, chopped liver?

“He’s got me!” Sirius reminded her.

“Yes.” Molly agreed acidly. “The thing is, it’s been rather difficult for you to look after him while you’ve been locked up in Azkaban, hasn’t it?”

Jen shot to her feet. “Alright, that’s quite enough! Sirius, sit down!

Sirius sank slowly back into his chair, his face as white as chalk.

“Remus, would you take Harry up to the drawing room please, and put up an Imperturbable Charm on the door?” She requested, mentally asking him to leave the charm off. As she did so, she gave the tiniest wink to Fred and George. “The rest of you kids, upstairs to bed please; it’s late. Molly, come with me.”

Against her protests, she took Molly firmly by the arm and led her to the other end of the kitchen, putting up a Silencing Charm.

“I’m sorry.” Molly said, before she could speak. “I shouldn’t have said that; I crossed the line.”

Jen narrowed her eyes. “It’s not me you need to apologise to. And you’re so far past the line you can’t even see it, Molly – there is one very important thing you need to remember. James and Lily named Sirius Harry’s godfather, and they named me his godmother. Therefore, there are only two people who have the right to ‘decide what is right for Harry’.”

Molly flinched slightly at her own words being flung back in her face.

“It is not you.” Jen concluded. “Or Dumbledore. Tomorrow, I will contact him and I will find out what his reasoning is. If he refuses to provide any, or I am not satisfied with it, I will tell Harry everything, Molly, because Sirius is right – he’s not a child. His childhood ended the night James and Lily were attacked.”

“But he’s only fifteen!” Molly whimpered.

“Do you think Voldemort cares about that?” Jen asked rhetorically. “He was only fourteen in June, and yet Voldemort was perfectly willing to torture and attempt to kill him.” The words stuck in her throat and her voice shook, as she realised what spells Voldemort must have used. She had experienced one of them herself, and had hoped with all her heart that Harry never would. “I am not losing him because he wasn’t prepared, Molly; I just can’t. I’d never forgive myself.”

“But …”

“And another thing,” she interrupted, “you understand the concept of Animagi, right?”

Molly looked almost insulted. “Of course.”

“Good.” Jen smiled. “Then you’ll know that when you become an Animagus, part of your mind becomes that animal. Sirius and I are both canine. Pack animals. Pack mentality says that cub of one is cub of all.”

“Meaning?” Molly asked politely.

“Meaning first of all that Harry is, as far as Padfoot’s concerned, Sirius’s son as much as he is James and Lily’s.” Jen told her. “Telling Sirius that he can’t distinguish between Harry and James is like telling you that you can’t distinguish between Fred and George, and Fabian and Gideon. I’m sure you’ve compared the two.”

Molly blushed slightly. “Well, yes, but …”

“The same goes for me as well.” Jen said, cutting her off.  “Harry is, in all but name and blood, my son, Molly, and Selena agrees with me, which brings me to my second point – it is never a good idea to get between a cub and his pack.”

She kept her tone purposely light, because she genuinely wasn’t trying to threaten Molly, just give her a friendly warning.

“I appreciate that you care for Harry.” Jen said softly, when Molly didn’t respond. “And I appreciate everything you’ve done for him. But we’re here now. We are his legal guardians, so let us do our job.”

With a wave of her hand, she removed the Silencing Charm, and walked away, noticing that Arthur was the only person left in the kitchen.

“I apologised to Sirius on her behalf.” He said quietly. “I’ll make sure she does the same tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you.” Jen said. “Could you also convince her to listen to what I just said and accept it? I don’t expect her to like it.”

“I will.” Arthur assured her. “She means well, Jen.”

“I know.” Jen said softly, climbing the stairs up to the hallway, glimpsing a flesh-coloured piece of string dangling from the landing. She smirked and decided not to mention it.

Harry was sitting in the drawing room alone, and she took a moment to remind herself how much she hated those walls. “Remus went to talk to Sirius.” He told her when she’d closed the door. “Er … something about ‘defusing the situation’?”

Jen chuckled. “Well, if anyone can do it, he can.”

Your faith in me is astounding … and a little disconcerting.

Just tell me he’s not going to blow anything up.

He’s not going to blow anything up.

Thank you. Deciding to deal with whatever word games he might be playing later, Jen focused all her attention on Harry. “Okay, Harry, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have dealt with all this tonight, in front of everyone, but there is something you need to remember. It is not up to Dumbledore or Molly Weasley what you are told or what you do, alright? It is for Sirius and I to deal with and, while we’re on the subject, we both know the difference between you and your father. You’re shorter for a start.”

Harry laughed, knowing full well she was joking. “Well, that’s good. It’d be kind of weird if you couldn’t.” He fixed her with a hopeful look. “You’re going to tell me everything, right?”

Jen grimaced. “Not right now, Harry, no.” She held up a hand to forestall his protest. “First of all, I don’t know everything myself. Second of all, for all I know, Dumbledore has a good reason for not telling you everything. Tomorrow, I will speak to him, and if I don’t feel that it’s a good reason, I will tell you everything. Alright?”

“What if you do?” Harry asked.

“I’ll tell you what the reason is so you understand.” Jen assured him. “I won’t just leave you in the dark, Harry; that’s not fair. Now,” she pulled him into a hug, “try to get some sleep. Come and find me if you have another nightmare.”

Harry nodded into her shoulder. “Jen,” he said slowly, “there is another dream I keep having. I keep dreaming about a long corridor and a locked door.”

Jen felt a thrill of foreboding run through her, and she felt the presence at the back of her mind grow a little larger, signalling that Remus had started listening in. “Can you describe it for me, sweetheart?”

Harry frowned. “There’s not much to say. It’s pretty dark; there aren’t any windows or any other doors. The door’s right at the end of the corridor and it’s plain black – it doesn’t even seem to have a handle. But I think it’s locked … at least, I always wake up before I get there.”

Jen thought for a second. Remus?

That’s not good, Jen. Remus said tiredly. Look.

An image popped up in her mind, unbidden, of a corridor exactly as Harry had just described, and now Jen recognised it.

That’s the door to the Department of Mysteries. And Harry’s dreaming about it.

Exactly.

“Jen?” Harry asked. “What does it mean?”

Jen hesitated, then smiled. “Probably nothing, Harry. Just … if that door ever does open, tell me immediately, alright?”

Harry nodded, and she kissed his forehead.

“Alright then. Bed, cub. Go on.”

Harry stood up. “Cub?”

Jen’s smile became stronger. “That’s what Remus and I used to call you.”

Harry looked as though he wanted to ask something, but clearly the lure of sleep was too tempting, so he nodded. “Alright. Goodnight.” He crossed the room and opened the door. “Oh, Jen? Remus never put any charm up. And you didn’t either.”

Jen raised her eyebrows. “Oh dear. What an oversight. Goodnight, Harry.” She received an understanding smile and a wave, and then he was gone.

For a while, Jen just sat there, staring into the fire, her mind mulling everything over.

Eventually, she decided that she would drive herself mad like that, and made her way upstairs, extinguishing the fire with a flick of her wand.

She headed straight for the top floor, bypassing her old room in favour of Sirius’s, where Remus was leaning against the wall, and her brother was pacing up and down.

“Did you tell him?” Sirius demanded.

“Tell him what exactly?” Jen asked coolly. “The mountains of information I don’t know? The fact that the Order is doing absolutely nothing? The fact that the Daily Prophet is regularly slandering Harry’s name and no one – no one has gone to remind them that he is underage and the heir to an Ancient and Noble family?! If James and Lily were here, they’d never get away with it!”

“Then go to the Daily Prophet tomorrow and give them a piece of your mind.” Sirius suggested. “I can’t exactly walk in there, and they’re hardly Moony’s biggest fans.”

At that, Jen turned to Remus, who sighed.

“I’m sure Harry told you about his third year.” He said dully. “Snape accidentally let slip to the students about my furry little problem. It wasn’t exactly plastered all over the papers, but they know.”

Jen stared at him. “That bastard.”

“We’ve always known that.” Sirius said lightly. “Enough about Snape, Jen; just thinking about him turns my stomach. Why didn’t you tell Harry?”

“Well, first of all, Molly has a point – Dumbledore has a reason for why he doesn’t want Harry to know things.” Jen said, perching on the edge of the bed. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow and decide whether I think it’s a good reason. However, that brings me to my second point – I think I know what it is.”

“Harry’s dreaming about the Department of Mysteries.” Remus told Sirius.

Sirius looked bewildered. “But … how?”

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “But combine that with the dreams he had last year and it sounds like he could well have some form of connection with Voldemort. If I’m right, there’s every change that Voldemort could use that connection to see what Harry’s seeing or thinking as well.”

Sirius shuddered. “Well, we don’t want that.”

“No, we do not.” Jen agreed. “We’ll need to teach him Occlumency.”

“You’re better of waiting until after the trial.” Sirius advised. “He won’t have as much on his mind then. Now tell me honestly, Jen … you do have some idea who cursed you. Don’t you?”

Jen sighed. “You said it yourself, Sirius. There aren’t many people who are more powerful than me. Whoever it was … I turned my back on them. They were on our side.”

“But …” Sirius stared at her. “Why? And who?!”

“And then there’s this.” Jen said, ignoring his queries. She pulled both prophecies from her pocket and handed them to her brother. Did Hermione say who made the second prophecy?

Not tonight, but I think she’s mentioned it before. His mind nudged against hers, opening the link slightly, and a memory floated into her mind.

She closed her eyes, listening carefully, as Hermione explained her meeting with the founders and subsequent discoveries.

Well … She said once it had finished. That’ll throw a spanner in the works! Can you imagine the looks on those Death Eaters’ faces if we told them that the ‘noble work of Salazar Slytherin’ didn’t involve hating Muggles or Muggle-borns at all?

Remus laughed aloud. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“The hell you hadn’t.” Jen muttered, grinning at him.

Sirius looked up from the words he was perusing. “Oh sweet Merlin, you’re at it again. I take it the bond’s still there then.”

“If it wasn’t, we’d be dead.” Jen said flatly. “But he’s got a point,” she said, turning to Remus with a frown, “you should have been able to find me.”

“Believe me, I tried.” Remus sighed. “Someone …”

“Someone must have interfered with it.” Jen finished, shuddering. The very idea made her feel violated in the worst way.

“Jen,” Sirius said, cutting through her thoughts, “am I reading these right?”

“If you’re questioning it,” Jen grimaced, “probably.”

“But it’s Dumbledore.” Sirius protested. “If we can’t trust him, who can we trust?”

“Me.” Jen reminded him. “And Harry. I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Sirius nodded reluctantly. “Me too.”

“Not a word.” Jen warned him.

Sirius held up a hand as he returned the prophecies to her. “Marauders’ Oath. I do so solemnly swear.”

Jen smiled as she set fire to the parchment and paper with her wand, watching it burn to ash. “That’ll do.” She yawned. “Now if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen; it’s been a long day.”

We need to talk. She said privately, as both men bid her goodnight.

She made her way down the hall to her old room, and stood in the dark for a moment, unwilling to light the lamps.

But the darkness had never made her family home any easier to deal with, so she flicked her wand and grimaced as the décor was illuminated.

Unlike her brother, Jen had never gone out of her way to annoy their parents – of course, a lot of what he did was to draw their attention away from her and on to him, however much she protested.

With another wave of her wand and a muttered incantation, the green had turned to scarlet, and the silver to gold. It didn’t improve the room much, but at least it looked less gloomy.

Throwing herself on to the sofa in the corner of the room, Jen closed her eyes, and mentally returned to the back of her mind where the manifestation of the soul bond resided.

It took, as it always had since the bond had formed in seventh year, the form of a door, with a small window at the top. Opening the door fully would allow their minds to merge as one, but that could get a little distracting, not to mention it meant they had no privacy whatsoever, so they tended to keep it closed most of the time.

The window, however, was almost always open, allowing them to control what passed through to the other person. They could close the window, temporarily shutting off the bond, and indeed they had, whenever one of them was on a mission for the Order, partly so they weren’t distracted, and partly so …

Well, there was a downside to sharing each other’s pain.

The longer the window was closed, the harder it was to open again, and the more tenuous the link had become. The more tenuous the link, the more dangerous it was.

The very first extended auror mission Jen had ever taken had given them their limit – Jen had only just managed to return home, plagued by an illness that had only stopped short of becoming crippling because she had the presence of mind to force the window open and use the link to apparate home.

After that, they kept the window ajar if they knew they would be gone for a long time. This had to be decided beforehand, because the link, whilst easily closed by one person, was very difficult to open alone.

This time, it would be even more difficult, because there was something blocking the door. Jen examined it closely, not willing to touch it just yet.

It looked like someone had nailed several pieces of wood across the door to keep it from opening.

There were also residues around the window. It had been kept ajar for the last fourteen years, but some sort of net had kept anything from passing through it.

A soft tapping sound came from outside her room, but she didn’t open her eyes. Come in. It was Legilimency.

What was? Remus asked. She felt him sit beside her, but still she kept her eyes shut.

Whoever blocked the link, they used Legilimency. And they must have kept the window ajar.

To anyone else, this would sound strange, but Remus understood what she meant. We never told anyone. Whoever it was wanted you out of the way, but not me. But we never told anyone what happened that first time, or what we did to … He trailed off, and she opened her eyes to see him staring at her in horror. But we did. We told Albus, and he …

He swore an oath to keep it to himself. Jen finished. We didn’t ask him to, but he did anyway. We both felt it take effect.

It was the final piece in a very ugly puzzle. Albus Dumbledore was the only person with the knowledge and the motive to block the link without killing them, and he was the only person more powerful than Jen who she would have trusted enough to turn her back on.

Are we telling Sirius? Remus asked.

No. Jen decided. Dumbledore can’t know. We need to go on acting like we have no idea, or … She trailed off, hardly able to believe what they were saying.

Dumbledore had always been the dependable – the nightlight the children flocked to for protection from the monsters under the bed.

She choked back a sob. I trusted him!

We all did. Remus slipped an arm around her shoulders, and she gratefully curled into him, taking a deep breath and feeling Selena rumble in contentment. He didn’t want us dead.

No. She agreed. He just wanted me out the way. Why?

I don’t know. But he’s likely to try again. His arm tightened around her as his words reached her, and she lifted her head as his scent changed slightly.

Deep breaths, hun. Moony’s not due for another week.

Contrary to certain beliefs, not all werewolves could access ‘the wolf’ all the time.

Others, like Remus, rejected it, and were, as they should be, more man than wolf.

However, if ‘the wolf’ felt a member of its pack was threatened, especially one of the cubs or the females, they were liable to take over, at any time of the month – the closer the full moon, the more like this was to happen.

Thankfully, as long as the moon wasn’t full, ‘the wolf’ could be controlled, with the proper amount of mind power.

Remus relaxed, and she rested her head on his shoulder again. You’ve been keeping track of the lunar cycle?

Jen smiled slightly. I told you, remember? I had dreams on the full moons. Her smile faded. Nightmares, really. I … I knew that there was somewhere I needed to be … that someone was hurting, and if I could get to them … but I couldn’t.

I missed you.

I know.

She could sense him rolling his eyes. That’s not the line, Jen.

Jen laughed. I know. She sighed. I missed someone. I just didn’t know it was you.

The reminder of the Memory Charm brought them up short again, and any laughter evaporated.

Remus, Jen picked her words carefully, we can’t just walk away.

The hell we can’t.

No, we can’t. Jen said firmly. As long as Dumbledore thinks he’s got us on side, we can operate under the radar. As soon as he knows we’re not, we have to combat him, Voldemort and the Ministry.

Good point. Remus conceded. It won’t be easy. It wasn’t just your memory he took.

I know. Jen nudged at the link. He took fourteen years from us as well.

We should open the door.

We should. Jen agreed. Is it okay that I’m a little nervous?

Only if it’s okay that I am too.

A soft shiver of love passed through the link and she smiled, sitting up. “Ready?” She asked aloud.

Remus sat up as well, shifting to face her. “When you are. Do you want to push or pull?”

The question may have sounded stupid, but the actual direction the door opened changed depending on their mood.

Jen thought for a second. “Pull.” She decided. “I opened the window. By myself.”

“That has yet to be proven.” Remus told her with a smirk. “On three?”

Jen nodded, closing her eyes and returning to the door. On three. One …

Two …

Three!

He pushed, she pulled, and the spells barricading the door, with some protesting, were forced aside, allowing the link to open fully for the first time in fourteen years.

Two minds flooded into one, thoughts and emotions and memories swirling together in an eclectic mix, until it was almost impossible to decipher from whom they had originally come.

Their lips met without conscious decision, reaffirming the bond that was so strong between them, allowing some of the emotions coursing through them to spill out before they exploded.

After a few minutes, the whirlwind within their minds settled down, and they were able to push the door back into place, leaving it open just a little – neither was willing to close it again completely just yet.

Breathing a little erratically, they parted reluctantly. Grey eyes met brown, their smiles mirroring each other, and she nestled against him again, perfectly content to fall asleep right there on the sofa in his arms (given that she hadn’t seen Kreacher’s head above the stairs when she glanced up, she didn’t entirely trust the bed anyway).

The room was silent, but inside their heads, two voices spoke in unison.

I love you.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six - Family

Ted and Andromeda Tonks lived in a modest three-bedroom house in the countryside outside Brighton, as they had since they had graduated.

They had managed to keep their relationship quiet throughout Hogwarts, with no one outside Ted’s immediate group of friends even guessing that they were anything more than casual acquaintances through their Arithmancy class.

The night after she graduated, Andromeda gathered her family together and informed them that she had no intention of following through with her betrothal to Adalricus Parkinson (aside from anything else, she’d said, trying to lighten the mood, she couldn’t say his name without giggling) and, rather, intended to marry the man she loved.

That, in itself, caused trouble – when she admitted that he was Muggle-born, all hell broke loose.

Luckily, Andromeda had anticipated this, and she fled the house, summoning a charmed trunk with all her belongings from the gate.

Then, she jumped on the Knight Bus and left.

She had travelled all night, unwilling to put Ted in danger, before finally conceding defeat and showing up on his doorstep, on the verge of tears.

His family had welcomed her with a warmth she had never really experienced, and it took her a few days to relax completely, terrified that her parents would find her – and them.

But they never did, and after a week, she received a letter officially disowning her from the Ancient and Noble House of Black, informing her that she would not get a knut.

But she didn’t care.

Ted’s parents bought them a house as a wedding gift, Ted got a job in the Department of Magical Law, occasionally working as a news anchor man for the BBC for the more bizarre stories to help cover up magical involvement, and Andie entered the Healer programme at St Mungo’s.

The house was quiet now that Nymphadora had moved into her flat in London, but she popped by most days, especially when Andromeda had the day off, as she did today.

Dora and Jen (under Harry’s Invisibility Cloak) apparated into the front garden, the double crack echoing off the fields and hedgerows like a gunshot.

“We never use the term ‘Order’ around Mum and Dad.” Dora told Jen in a whisper. “They know I’m in it, but if they’ve never heard the word, they don’t have to lie if the Ministry decides to go digging.”

“Got it.” Jen whispered back.

Dora led the way up the path and unlocked the door with a tap of her wand. “Mum! It’s me!”

Andromeda came hurrying out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a tea towel. “Nymphadora! I wish you’d floo before you decide not to turn up for dinner!” She chided, abandoning the towel in favour of hugging her daughter.

Dora winced at the use of her full name, but didn’t protest it. “Sorry, Mum. I was catching up with an old friend, and got distracted. I would have come afterwards, but it was late, and the group suggested I sleep over. Listen, Mum … maybe we’d better go into the sitting room. I have some news.”

Andromeda allowed herself to be led into the other room, perching on the edge of the chair Dora indicated. “Sweetie, what is it? The last time you sounded this excited, you told me Sirius was innocent.”

Dora took a deep breath. “It’s about Jen, Mum.”

Andromeda turned a very pale white and sat back hard against the sofa cushions. “Have they found her?” She whispered, her voice broken. “Did she … Did she suffer, Dora? She didn’t, did she? She can’t have done …”

“Mum …” Dora interrupted. “She’s not dead. She was under a Memory Charm.”

The colour returned rapidly to Andromeda’s face, and she stood up. “Where is she? I’m going to see her.”

“No need, Mum.” Dora grinned. “She’s right here.”

Jen took that as her cue to pull the Invisibility Cloak off. “Hi, Andie!”

Andromeda took one look at her and burst into tears. Jen winced, thrusting the Cloak into Dora’s arms, and hurried to embrace her cousin.

“I’m sorry, Andie.” She whispered. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Startle me?” Andromeda repeated shakily. “You nearly gave me a heart attack! Does your brother know?”

Jen laughed. “Yeah, he knows. He cried about as much as you are.”

Andie pulled away to wipe her eyes. “I’m not crying, Jen. I have something in my eye.”

“Sure you do.” Jen checked her watch. “Listen, Andie – we’ve got loads to catch up on … are you free for dinner next week?”

“Of course!” Andie answered immediately. “Wednesday at six?”

Remus?

No meeting that night.

“Sure.” Jen agreed. “Meet in the Leaky Cauldron as usual?”

“Nonsense, dear.” Andie said bluntly. “Come here, and I’ll cook; Ted will want to see you as well.”

Jen smiled. “Well, I never turn down your cooking, Andie.”

Andromeda chuckled fondly. “You and Sirius both.” Her smile faded into a look of familiar concern. “You are both alright, aren’t you?”

Jen hesitated. Truth be told, she wasn’t as happy with Sirius’s well-being as she’d like. “I’m fine. Sirius … he’s getting there.”

“I’d like to see him.” Andie said softly. “I’d feel better if I could check him over.”

Jen sighed. “Me too, Andie, but I’m not the Secret Keeper. I’ll find some way of getting us both somewhere safe; I don’t want to stay in that place any longer than I have to.”

“I don’t blame you.” Dora muttered.

Andie looked as though she wanted to ask, but thought better of it. “Will you stay for breakfast, Jen?”

Jen sighed, folding Harry’s Invisibility Cloak carefully and stowing it away inside her robes. “I’d love to, Andie, but I can’t. I’ve got to go to the Ministry and see a man about a broom. Mind if I use your floo?”

“Of course not.” Andie assured her, showing her to the fireplace. “Keep in touch. Give Sirius and Remus my love.”

“You know I will.” Jen gave her one last hug and threw a pinch of powder into the flames. “Ministry of Magic Atrium.”

She stepped out in front of the familiar sight of the Fountain of Magical Brethren, and rolled her eyes as always, stepping up to the watch-wizard’s desk.

“Name?”

“Jennifer Black.”

“Wand?”

Jen – reluctantly – handed over her wand and the watch-wizard weighed it. “Willow and dragon heart-string, nine-and-three-quarter inches been in use twenty-four years?”

“That’s correct.” Jen confirmed.

“Your receipt.” He said monotonously. “And your wand. The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day.”

“Thank you.” Jen stowed the slip of parchment away with her wand and made her way to the lift. That was frighteningly easy.

Be fair, Jen – you do have your own wand. That’s not so easy to fake.

Yes, but still … Jen stepped into the lift, shaking her head in exasperation. I could have given him any name; he wouldn’t have known the difference.

She took the lift up to Level Two, where the Department of Magical Law Enforcement resided. She wasn’t quite sure where to report to – she was fairly certain there was no protocol for coming back from the dead.

However, since Remus had told her that Amelia Bones was now the Head of the DMLE, she figured that was a good place to start, since Amelia was one of the few people she could prove herself to.

As she approached the office, Jen took a moment to wonder about Amelia’s sister, Alice Longbottom. She knew that Neville was a Gryffindor in Harry’s year, but neither Alice nor her husband, Frank, were present at the Order meeting.

And neither of them were the type to bury their heads in the sand.

Hopefully they’re on a mission, and Remus just didn’t know so he didn’t tell me. She thought, taking care to keep it private.

It was hardly the best example of Gryffindor bravery, but Jen didn’t believe that for a second, and she wasn’t ready to hear the truth just yet.

***

An hour later, officially alive according to the Ministry of Magic – which wasn’t easy; if it weren’t for Amelia, she was fairly sure she would have strangled either Fudge or herself, which was easiest – Jen was walking through the Daily Prophet Headquarters, towards the editor’s office.

“Er, excuse me, ma’am!” His secretary called as she passed. “You need an appointment!”

Jen paused for just a moment. “Is he otherwise engaged?”

“Well, no, but …”

“Then this will just take a minute.” Jen interrupted, letting herself in.

The editor – a short, portly man named, according to the plaque on his desk, Stanley Plumb – jumped to his feet at her entrance. “You can’t just barge in here.”

“It won’t take long.” Jen said sweetly, pulling a few newspapers out of her cloak. The first hadn’t been easy to get hold of, but she’d managed to find it without too much trouble in the Department of Magical Records. “My name is Jennifer Black,” she continued, placing it on the desk. “I trust you remember me?”

Waving a hand at his secretary, Plumb pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket and set them on his nose to peer at the paper she’d given him.

A photograph of the Dark Mark was emblazoned across the front page, accompanied by a picture of Jen herself at a Ministry function a few months before, talking to James. It had been taken by Lily, if she remembered correctly, and as they watched, she looked towards the camera and blew a kiss towards them with a smile.

Above the picture were the words STAR AUROR CONFIRMED MISSING AFTER DARK MARK SIGHTING and below, slightly smaller, the question Is this the end of our hopes to defeat You-Know-Who?

“Well done for keeping the morale up in my absence, by the way.” Jen added sarcastically.

Plumb merely gaped at her for a few seconds.

“Sir?” His secretary asked. “Do you want me to call security?”

That seemed to shake him out of his stupor and he shook his head hastily. “No! No, Tracy, she’s fine!” He seized Jen’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Get Miss Black a cup of tea, Tracy, and tell them to stop the presses …”

“I’m not here for an interview.” Jen told him firmly, managing to free her hand. “If you’re lucky, I might give you a statement. And don’t worry about the tea.” She added, glancing at ‘Tracy’.

Plumb deflated slightly, but gestured to the seat in front of his desk. “Very well, Miss Black. Thank you, Tracy.”

The woman gave a sniff and marched out, closing the door behind her.

“How can I help you, Miss Black?”

Jen took a deep breath, replacing the paper on the desk with the others she had gathered from around Grimmauld Place. Every fibre of her being was urging to rip into this man for victimising her godson over something completely out of his control, but she knew that would do nothing but alienate the Prophet even more.

And she would need a favour from them.

No, it was easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar and, besides, it had been all too long since she had let her Slytherin side out to play.

Giving Plumb a charming smile, she laid the papers out on the desk. “Well, Stanley – can I call you Stanley – I’m just a little concerned that maybe you aren’t as aware of what is printed in your papers as you should be.”

Plumb’s brow creased in confusion, but she didn’t give him a chance to ask.

“You see,” she continued, waving her wand over the papers, highlighting the extracts that concerned Harry, “someone has been slipping Harry Potter in as a standing joke. Now, I understand that the Ministry position is in direct contrast with Harry’s …”

“… which we still haven’t been given.” Plumb interrupted dryly.

Jen fought the urge to roll her eyes. “That’s because we also understand that the Ministry has a controlling share in the Daily Prophet, and if you printed Harry Potter’s story, you’d be out of a job. I would never want to be the cause of that, and neither would Harry. However,” she said, effectively cutting off his next words again, “there is something that maybe your writers have forgotten.”

“And what is that?” Plumb asked politely.

“That Harry Potter is the fourteen-year-old heir to the Most Ancient and Noble House of Potter.” Jen said.

The reaction to her words was quite amusing to watch, and it was only years of experience that kept her face as blank as ever.

Plumb turned white and began stammering explanations and apologies.

“Stanley,” Jen said soothingly, “I don’t blame you. Why, I’m sure that you hadn’t even noticed these were in here. And I’m sure that you’re about to tell your writers to leave my godson’s name out of the papers without my express permission, aren’t you?”

“Of course!” Plumb yelped, grabbing a quill and some parchment. “Of course, of course! He won’t be mentioned again, Miss Black, you have my word!”

“Thank you.” Jen said sweetly. “I don’t expect a printed apology of course, since the Ministry seems insistent on removing freedom of the Press, but I think OWLs are quite enough for one young man to be getting on with, don’t you?”

Plumb nodded emphatically, scribbling down the memo to his writers. Once he’d finished, he looked up timidly. “About that … ah … statement?”

Jen thought for a second. She’d made sure that the Ministry wouldn’t announce her return, but she’d rather Voldemort didn’t find out until he had to. “Well …” she said slowly. “There is a tiny stipulation on it. You can’t print it until I give you the nod.” She flashed him a coy smile. “I have a few friends who don’t know I’m back yet and I’m looking forward to … surprising them. You wouldn’t spoil my fun, would you?”

You are terrifying, you know that? Remus asked dryly.

Jen kept her smirk solely mental. Oh, I know.

***

Harry and Ron were alone in the kitchen when Jen returned – already exhausted, and it was only nine o’clock in the morning – bolting down pieces of toast like it was the first meal they’d had in weeks.

Admittedly, for Harry, it was somewhat true, but that didn’t make it a more pleasant sight.

“Chew your food please, Harry.” Jen chided, hanging her cloak up. “We are not a waste-disposal unit.”

Harry swallowed his mouthful. “Sorry, Jen. But Mrs Weasley wants us in the drawing room as soon as possible.”

Ron nodded in agreement. “There are more doxys than she thought and there’s a nest of dead puffskeins under the sofa.”

Jen sighed. “Oh, joy. All of the Black Family properties and they had to pick this one.”

“Well, isn’t this the one with the best security?” Ron asked.

Jen shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Because my parents actually lived here. But wards aren’t that difficult to put up ... although this is probably the biggest as well.” She frowned. “I should probably look into it.”

“Your family had more than one house?” Harry asked.

“Of course.” Jen said absently, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “So did yours.”

“They did?”

Jen frowned slightly. “Harry … what do you know about your Gringotts vault?”

“That I have one?” Harry shrugged. “Is there anything else to know?”

Jen hesitated. Good Merlin, he knows absolutely nothing! James is going to kill me …

The Potters had never been prejudiced against Muggles or Muggle-borns, but that didn’t mean they didn’t hold pride in their family, holding a relatively high social standing in the Muggle world, as well as the magical one.

The Potters had a long and noble history – noble because of their actions, rather than their breeding.

In 971 AD, when magic and Muggle lived side by side, Edwin Potter saved the life of King Edgar, who was attempting to unite all of England under one ruler. Two years later, the Northern kings submitted at Chester, and Edgar was crowned officially, whereupon he granted Edwin the title of Earl of Richmond.

With this title, cunning worthy of any Slytherin, the Gryffindor bravery to take sometimes reckless risks, and a shrewd business sense that seemed to be inherited from father to son, the Potters had amassed quite a fortune over the years, somehow never losing their moral compass in the process.

Six months after graduation, after losing his father to the war, James had stepped into those shoes admirably, refusing to let the war intimidate him out of standing up for those without a voice.

It was a family history that deserved her full attention, rather than a quick rundown in the kitchen.

Jen checked her watch, taking a sip of her coffee to stall for time, only to nearly spit it out again. “We’d better get moving before Molly kills us. Later, Harry.”

Harry looked disappointed, but nodded, following her up the stairs and along the hall into the drawing room, where Molly, Fred, George, Ginny, and Hermione were gathered, various cloths and towels covering their faces.

“Oh, Jen, you’re back.” Molly greeted. “How did it go at the Ministry?”

Jen was taken aback by the pleasantness in Molly’s voice, almost as though they’d never argued. “It went. Swore an oath that I was who I said I was, and Fudge had to concede. Oh, and I convinced the Daily Prophet to leave Harry out of it.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “How did you do that?”

Jen smirked. “I have my ways, my dear. Right, boys; cover your faces and grab some Doxycide.”

Molly shook her head. “I’ve never seen an infestation this bad; what that house-elf’s been doing for the last twelve years …”

Hermione gave Molly an obviously reproachful look, even through a tea towel.

Don’t be fooled. Remus told Jen, sounding amused. Hermione hates Kreacher as much as the next person.

Eavesdropper. Jen accused lightly. Where are you anyway?

Oh, here and there. Remus responded in the same tone. Some of us have to work, you know.

The link opened a little so she could see through his into a small Muggle bookshop she recognised from the nearest town to the cottage. I see. Do you want to have some time alone with your first loves?

Funny. Have fun getting rid of doxys.

Touché. Jen conceded, blowing a mental kiss through the link. Have a good day.

“Kreacher’s really old!” Hermione was protesting, as Jen tuned back in. “He probably couldn’t manage …”

“You’d be surprised what Kreacher can manage when he feels like it, Hermione.” Sirius cut in, beating Jen to it and nearly giving her a heart attack in the process.

Jen recovered herself, and turned around to see that her brother was holding a bag of dead rats. “Sirius, what have I told you about playing with dead rodents?”

“But Mummy, they’re so much fun!” Sirius grinned. “How was the Ministry?”

“About as useless as usual.” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “I could have told that watch-wizard I was Morgana and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.”

“They didn’t ask you about me?” Sirius asked.

Jen shook her head, frowning slightly. “No. I was surprised, but I don’t think Fudge made the link between us, and Amelia just didn’t bother, which is odd. The Prophet is going to keep my return quiet until I tell them otherwise, and they’ve promised to keep Harry out of it. Oh, and Andie sends her love.” She folded her arms and fixed him with a stern look. “Now what about those rats?”

“I’ve been feeding Buckbeak.” Sirius explained. “You know, my hippogriff – I’ll have to introduce you. I keep him in Mother’s room.”

Jen stared at him for a second, before laughing. “Sirius, that’s the best news I’ve heard all week!”

Sirius grinned and tossed the bag on to one of the armchairs. “Anyway, this writing desk …” he knelt in front of the shaking desk and examined him closely. “Well, Molly, I’m fairly sure it is a Boggart. Jen?”

Jen joined him, waving her wand over it. “I think you’re right, but I’d still feel better if we got Mad-Eye to take a look before we let it out. How’d he lose his eye anyway?”

“Better off asking him.” Sirius told her, getting to his feet. “It’s one of his favourite stories; he won’t begrudge telling you. And Jen’s right, Molly. Knowing our mother, it could have been something a lot worse.”

“Right you are, Sirius.” Molly said with a nod. Then … “I made an extra batch of chocolate chip cookies this morning. I know my boys have been at them, but I hid some in the cupboard above the sink.”

It wasn’t quite an apology, but Sirius took it as one anyway, smiling at her. “I’m impressed you managed to rescue any.”

Molly laughed. “Honestly, with the way these three eat, so am I!”

A loud clanging bell sounded in the hallway, and their mother started screaming again.

“That charm didn’t last long.” Jen remarked with a frown. “I’m losing my touch.”

“I keep telling them not to ring the doorbell!” Sirius groaned, hurrying out of the room.

“Close the door please, Harry.” Molly said, raising her voice slightly so he could hear her.

Harry hurried to the door and closed it slowly, obviously trying to overhear what was going on at the front door.

Jen cleared her throat, and Harry pushed the door shut, returning to her side with a sheepish grin.

“Try not to be quite so obvious about it, Harry.” She murmured, just loud enough for him to hear. She looked back at Molly, who was perusing a book, and did a double take. “Gilderoy Lockhart? Molly, I’m disappointed.”

“You may scoff, dear,” Molly said, “but the information is useful. Even if he is a fraudulent, lying, disgusting …” she broke off, taking a deep breath.

Jen shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Molly straightened up and surveyed them all, like a general surveying her troops. Jen found herself subconsciously standing to attention, feeling like she was back in the aurors. “Right, you lot,” the Weasley matriarch announced, “you need to be careful, because doxys bite and their teeth are poisonous. I’ve got a bottle of antidote, but I’d rather no one need it. When I say the word, start spraying immediately. They’ll come flying out at us, I expect, but it says on the sprays that one good squirt will paralyse them. When they’re immobilised, just throw them in this bucket.” She stepped out of their line of fire and raised her own spray. “Alright … squirt!”

***

The de-doxying of the curtains took all morning, and it was past midday when they finally set down their sprays and removed their protective masks.

“We’ll tackle those after lunch.” Molly stated decisively, pointing at two glass-fronted cabinets.

Jen sighed, casting an Air-Freshening Charm. “Do we have to? I really don’t feel like being reminded how evil my parents were.”

Molly gave a look that just erred on sympathy, but, before she could say anything, the doorbell rang again. “Stay here.” She picked up the bag of rats she’d almost sat on earlier, and stalked out of the room, as Mrs Black’s shrieks started up again. “I’ll bring up some sandwiches.”

The moment the door was shut, Hermione dashed to the window and peered out. “Mundungus!” She informed them, sounding surprised. “With a load of cauldrons! What’s he doing here with them?”

“Probably looking for somewhere to hide them.” Harry scowled. “Isn’t that what he was doing the night he was supposed to be watching me? Picking up stolen cauldrons?”

Jen gritted her teeth. “Thank you for reminding me. I still need to talk to him about that.”

“Not now though.” George advised, glancing out the window. “Mum’s not going to be happy.” He and Fred crossed to the door and pressed their ears against it. Someone had obviously closed the curtains, because Mrs Black had stopped screaming.

“Mundungus is talking to Sirius and Kingsley.” Fred told them quietly, opening the door just a little. “Can’t really hear them … d’you reckon we can risk the Extendable Ears?”

“Might be worth it.” George agreed. “I could sneak upstairs and …”

“WE ARE NOT RUNNING A HIDEOUT FOR STOLEN GOODS!”

Jen winced. “You’re not going to need them, boys.”

“I love hearing Mum shout at someone else.” Fred grinned, opening the door a bit wider. “It makes such a nice change.”

“… COMPLETELY IRRESPONSIBLE … AS IF WE HAVEN’T GOT ENOUGH TO WORRY ABOUT WITHOUT YOU DRAGGING STOLEN CAULDRONS INTO THE HOUSE …”

“Wouldn’t be the first stolen items.” Jen muttered under her breath.

George sighed and shook his head. “The idiots are letting her get into her stride. You’ve got to head her off early – otherwise she builds up a head of steam and goes on for hours. And she’s been dying to have a go at Mundungus for weeks – and there goes Sirius’s mum again.”

“She’s not our mum.” Jen disagreed, as Molly’s voice was lost amidst fresh shrieks. “She’s our mother – there’s an important difference. Close the door, will you?”

George went to do just that, when a horribly familiar house-elf edged into the room, muttering quite audibly under his breath.

“… smells like a drain, and a criminal to boot, but she’s no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my mistress’s house, oh my poor mistress, if she knew, if she knew the scum they’ve let into her house, what would she say to old Kreacher …”

“Last time I checked, Kreacher,” Jen said loudly, closing the door with a snap, “I was your mistress.”

Kreacher jumped in surprise. “Mistress Jennifer has returned!” He flung himself into a ridiculous bow and Jen was too preoccupied to chide him for it.

Jennifer? Mother always used my birth name. Since when does he …

“… nasty blood traitor that she is … Kreacher thought she was dead …”

“Sorry?” Jen said innocently, pushing her confusion to the back of her mind to deal with later. “Didn’t quite catch that last bit.”

“Kreacher said nothing.” Kreacher said with another bow. “And there’s the blood traitor brats, unnatural little beasts they are, and there’s the Mudblood standing there, bold as brass, oh, if my mistress knew, oh, how she’d cry, and there’s a new boy, Kreacher doesn’t know his name, what is he doing here, Kreacher doesn’t know …”

“This is Harry, Kreacher.” Hermione said brightly. “Harry Potter.”

Jen stifled a smirk, recognising the method of dealing with the elf.

Kreacher began muttering faster than ever. “The Mudblood is talking to Kreacher …”

“Kreacher, I forbid you from using that word.” Jen snapped, her humour dissipating. “And you know full well which word I mean.”

“As Mistress Jennifer wishes.” Kreacher croaked, bowing to her yet again. “Is it true? Is it Harry Potter? Kreacher can see the scar, it must be true; that’s the boy who stopped the Dark Lord; Kreacher wonders how he did it …”

“Don’t we all, Kreacher?” Fred interrupted.

“What are you doing anyway?” George asked.

“Kreacher is cleaning.” Kreacher answered evasively.

“A likely story.” Sirius remarked from the doorway, startling them; no one had heard the door open. He was leaning on the door-frame and glowering at the elf, and Jen noticed that the noise had diminished; Molly had probably moved the argument into the kitchen.

At the sight of Sirius, Kreacher flung himself into another strange bow.

“Stand up straight!” Sirius snapped impatiently. “Now what are you up to?”

“Kreacher is cleaning.” Kreacher repeated. “Kreacher lives to serve the Ancient and Noble House of Black …”

“And it’s getting blacker every day.” Sirius cut in. “It’s filthy.”

“Master always liked his little joke.” Kreacher said with a bow, before muttering, “Master was an ungrateful swine who broke his mother’s heart.”

“Our mother didn’t have a heart, Kreacher.” Sirius snapped.

“She kept herself alive out of pure spite.” Jen added.

“Whatever Master and Mistress say.” Kreacher bowed once more, making them both roll their eyes. “Master and Mistress is not fit to wipe slime from their mother’s boots, oh, my poor mistress, what would she say if she saw Kreacher serving them, how she hated them …”

“My brother asked you what you were doing.” Jen interrupted coldly, unable to help the pang of hurt in her chest.

“Every time you show up pretending to be cleaning,” Sirius added, “you sneak something off to your room so we can’t throw it out.”

“Kreacher would never move anything from its proper place in Master’s house.” The elf protested, then muttered, “Mistress would never forgive Kreacher if the tapestry was thrown out, seven centuries it’s been in the family, Kreacher must save it, Kreacher will not let Master and Mistress and the blood traitors and their brats destroy it …”

“I thought it might be that.” Sirius cast a disdainful look at the family tree Jen had been trying to ignore. “She’ll have put another Permanent Sticking Charm on it, no doubt, but if I can get rid of it, I certainly will. Now go away Kreacher.”

Kreacher gave the two of them a look of deep loathing, and shuffled out of the room, all the while muttering to himself. “… comes back from Azkaban, ordering Kreacher around, oh my poor mistress, what would she say if she saw the house now; scum living in it, all her treasures thrown out, she swore he was no son of hers, and he’s back, they say he’s a murderer too …”

“Keep talking and I will be a murderer!” Sirius called after him, shutting the door.

“Padfoot!” Hermione protested. “He’s not right in the head! I don’t think he realises we can hear him!”

“He’s been alone for too long.” Sirius conceded. “Taking orders from Mother’s portrait, talking to himself … But he always was a foul little …”

“Sirius.” Jen said warningly, wandering over to the tapestry. “Kreacher raises a valid point. How are we here? Even in Azkaban, Regulus is still Head of the Family, right?”

Behind her, Sirius and Hermione exchanged a worried look, and the latter promptly dived into conversation with the Weasley twins about the joke shop, dragging Ron and Ginny into it.

Sirius set up a Privacy Charm and pulled Harry inside of it. “Jen …”

“Merlin, I hate this thing.” Jen whispered, her eyes travelling over it. “What is it, Sirius?”

“It’s about Reg.” Sirius swallowed. “Selena, can you look at me?”

“What about him?” Jen asked, turning to face him. “You’re not telling me he walked free, are you? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised, since Malfoy somehow managed it, but we wouldn’t be able to be here if he …”

“He’s dead, Jen.” Sirius cut her off gently.

Jen stared at him. “No, he’s not.”

“He is.” Sirius took a step towards her. “I’m sorry.”

“No, he’s not.” Jen repeated, turning back to the tapestry, searching for the main line. “He can’t …”

But there it was.

To the left of where her name should be, the only name still present on the main branch glittered mockingly up at her.

Regulus Arcturus Black

B. November 14th 1957; d. August 3rd 1982

Jen’s legs seemed to give out and Sirius caught her hastily, drawing her into a tight hug, and she buried her face in his shoulder, desperately trying to regain her composure.

The significance of the date was not lost on her, though she knew it would be on Sirius, except for its close proximity to her own disappearance.

He couldn’t know that five days previously …

No. She told herself firmly. I am not going there.

“Jen?” Harry asked softly, touching her arm. “Are you alright?”

“Not particularly.” Jen admitted, pulling away from Sirius. “I hate this house at the best of times, but …”

“Regulus was our older brother, Harry.” Sirius explained to him. “And a much better son, I was constantly reminded. He was older than us by three years. We got on fine until we got sorted into Gryffindor.”

“You’re not on here.” Harry remarked, frowning.

“We used to be there.” Sirius told him, pointing to the burn marks beside Regulus’s name. “Our sweet old mother blasted us off after we ran away from home – Kreacher’s quite fond of muttering the story under his breath.”

Harry gaped at him. “You ran away from home?!”

“Just after first year.” Jen confirmed. “Although I wouldn’t call it ‘running away’. The entire family was in Slytherin, so we’d already bucked the trend, and we knew there’d be hell to pay when we got back here and told them we weren’t going to follow any other family … ah, traditions. So we made a pact that if one of us got the chance to run, we would. Sirius got that chance, after Mother decided to curse us into oblivion, and I stayed unconscious, until Healer Princeton came to get me.”

“Hermione’s mother.” Sirius elaborated.

“Where did you go?” Harry asked. “Dad’s place?”

Sirius smiled slightly. “I considered it, but I was too out of it to think of calling the Knight Bus. No, I stumbled due south, across the fields, until I came to a neighbourhood, and started knocking on doors. The first two houses didn’t answer, but the third did, just as I was about to give up.”

“But weren’t they Muggles?” Harry asked. “How’d they know to call a Healer?”

“It was a Muggle house.” Sirius conceded. “But they weren’t in; their daughter was. And their daughter happened to be a witch by the name of Lily Evans.”

“Mum?” Harry questioned with a grin.

Sirius nodded, grinning. “Most of the other girls in our year were staying with her for the summer, so Annie owled her Mum who was there in minutes.”

“She came to get me.” Jen added. “And we stayed at your mum’s place for the rest of the summer. After that, we lived with Mum and Dad. Well, they were third cousins, but we called them Mum and Dad.”

“They’re not on here, surprisingly.” Sirius said flatly. “I wonder why.” He sighed. “We would have run away eventually, even if that hadn’t happened.”

“Why?” Harry asked.

Sirius smiled bitterly. “Because we hated the lot of them, with their pureblood mania, convinced that being a Black made you practically royalty. Our brother, not quite so much, although he was the trigger for the night we left …”

“What happened?” Harry asked tentatively.

“He joined the Death Eaters.” Sirius answered. “Stupid idiot.” He winced, as Jen let out another choked sob. “Sorry, Jenny.”

“Don’t call me that!” Jen snapped, smacking his arm. She had let the name go when they were children, before they had started Hogwarts, because Reg called her that. But once they were officially Gryffindors, the name hurt too much to hear, simply because of the last time she had heard it.

Ironically she had always been closer to Regulus than Sirius, until their Sorting, and the first thing she had done after receiving her Hogwarts letter – and once their parents had finished lecturing them on how to ‘conduct themselves in a manner befitting of their station’ – was sprint up four flights of stairs to Regulus’s room, pausing only to knock once.

The conversation seemed to echo through the years, and she closed her eyes, succumbing to the memory for the first time since she had locked it away back in first year.

“I got it, Reg! I’m going to Hogwarts!”

“See, Jenny – I told you to be patient. What did Mother and Father say?”

“The usual. We’re not squibs. That’s the important part.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, Jenny, even if they’re not. Now get over here and give me a hug.”

“Reg … what if I’m not in Slytherin.”

“You will be, sweets. All Blacks are.”

“But just say I’m not.”

“You listen to me, Jenny. No matter what house you’re sorted in to, you are going to be an incredible witch. And I love you, alright? No matter what.”

“You’re kidding!” Harry’s voice cut through the memory, and Jen blinked the memory away, relieved for a distraction. She didn’t particularly want to think about that right now, nor the fact that it took Regulus less than twenty four hours after the sorting to break that promise.

Instead, she looked at Harry, and tried not to smile at his obvious confusion. It was difficult for anyone to enter Grimmauld Place and not realise that Blacks were, on the whole, the Darkest of the Dark, and yet Harry appeared to have done it.

“Come on, Harry, haven’t you seen and heard enough to tell you what kind of wizards our parents were?” Sirius asked, not unkindly.

Harry seemed intrigued, rather than unnerved. “Were they Death Eaters as well?”

“No.” Sirius admitted. “But they definitely thought Voldemort had the right idea; they were all for the purification of the wizarding race, getting rid of Muggle-borns and having purebloods in charge. They weren’t alone, either – quite a few pureblood families thought he had the right idea to start with. Then he started killing off other purebloods who didn’t agree and they started getting cold feet.”

“Our parents thought Reg was a right hero for joining up first.” Jen said softly, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice. “He was only fifteen …”

“Fifteen?” Harry repeated. “Surely Voldemort didn’t want fifteen-year-old Death Eaters!”

“Oh, he didn’t.” Jen agreed. “But back then, he was still new on the scene, and needed as much backing as he could get. They were given a sort of junior Dark Mark and inducted in properly once they graduated.”

“We’re lucky they came of age at eighteen back then.” Sirius said darkly. “Can you imagine the damage they’d have done if they were full Death Eaters and still in Hogwarts?”

Jen shuddered, hardly needing him to elaborate. The war had crept into the halls and classrooms at Hogwarts quite enough during the first war. She dreaded to think what would happen this time.

Once again, her gaze was drawn back to Regulus’s name, as Harry voiced the question she was too scared to ask.

“Was he killed by aurors, Sirius?”

“Oh no.” Sirius answered. “No, he was murdered by Voldemort. Or on Voldemort’s orders, more likely.”

Jen closed her eyes, fighting back a fresh wave of tears. She wanted to scream, demand to know why Regulus didn’t come to them, if he was starting to lose faith in the Dark Side, but she had the awful feeling that he had tried.

“Is there anything else I missed,” she asked, somehow managing to keep her voice steady, “that I should know about?”

“We only lost one member of the Order between you and that Halloween.” Sirius told her slowly.

Jen sighed, opening her eyes again. “There weren’t exactly many of us left though, were there? Who?”

“Dorcas Meadowes.” Sirius answered. “Voldemort killed her personally – it … it wasn’t the cleanest either.”

Jen grimaced, swallowing back the bile that threatened her composure. Oh, Cassie … Still, that means she went down fighting, which is how she would have wanted it.

“I’m sorry, Jen.” Harry said quietly. “Was she a friend of yours?”

“Not … Not really.” Jen answered. “As much as I hate to admit it. We got along alright; we were hardly on meeting-for-coffee-and-a-gossip terms, but she was a lovely woman. Several years older than us, Hufflepuff, if I remember correctly.”

“Think so.” Sirius confirmed. He paused, looking seriously at her. “Jen … there is something else …”

Jen’s stomach seemed to disappear, and she leaned against the tapestry. “It’s Frank and Alice, isn’t it? They’re …”

“They’re not dead.” Sirius told her gently. “They’re in St Mungo’s. About a week after Voldemort fell, a couple of Death Eaters found them … either they thought they knew where Voldemort was or …” His eyes strayed to Harry, and Jen nodded understandingly.

There was a possibility they’d been trying to find Harry that night.

“Long-term ward?” Jen asked, her voice shaking.

“Yeah.” Sirius sighed. “I haven’t had a chance to visit them, but Remus …”

Remus?

They’re not good, Jen. Remus informed her, betraying the fact that he’d been eavesdropping. I would have told you yesterday, but you weren’t …

I wasn’t ready. Jen finished. How bad is ‘not good’?

They don’t even recognise Neville when he visits.

Jen cursed under her breath, and buried her face in her hands, feeling Sirius pull her into his arms again.

“Lunch!” Molly called, backing in with a tray of sandwiches.

The twins didn’t move, and Harry stayed by their side, hovering slightly awkwardly, as though not sure what to do to make her feel better.

“I haven’t looked at this thing in years.” Sirius remarked presently. “We used to have to recite it, remember, Jen?”

Jen grimaced, pulling away to wipe her eyes. “Unfortunately. Of course, anyone halfway decent was blasted off.”

“I’m on here!” Harry exclaimed.

“Are you really?” Jen asked, examining it.

Sure enough, beneath the names Aemilia Dorea Black and David Charlus Potter, the name James David Potter was still linked with a double line to Lillian Caroline Evans, with Harry’s name in gold beneath it.

“Incredible.” Jen remarked, smirking. “How much do you reckon that cost Mother’s restraint?”

Sirius laughed. “I’m half tempted to ask Kreacher.”

“Your grandmother,” Jen explained, seeing Harry looking lost, “went by the name of Emily, by the way, and was our mother’s cousin. They weren’t a main branch of the family, so her older sister, Cedrella, was the only one with a betrothal contract. She broke it, to marry Septimus Weasley – yes, those Weasleys.” She smiled, as Harry glanced over his shoulder. “They were Arthur’s parents, which makes you and Ron second cousins. I don’t know if Ron knows, I always got the impression Aunt Emily wasn’t very close with her sister. Cedrella was disowned, because the Weasleys were blood traitors, and then Aunt Emily met David Potter …”

“Aren’t we blood traitors though?” Harry asked, frowning.

“Yes.” Sirius said slowly. “But you do have quite a bit of money and power behind you, so the Blacks complained privately, but never actually did anything. Which is why your dad managed to marry a Muggle-born without getting disowned. Something Andie didn’t manage.” He added, pointing to the relevant burn mark.

“Our favourite cousin; Tonks’s mum.”

“Sirius …” Jen murmured, pointing to James and Lily’s name. “Do you see what I see? Or don’t see, more to the point?”

Sirius looked closer. “Well, I’ll be …”

Beneath James’s name, inscribed in gold, were the words B. March 27th 1961, but nothing else. Likewise, beneath Lily’s name, there was a date of birth, but no date of death.

“And the tapestry’s self-updating.” Jen said with a grin. “As though we needed any more proof that Hermione’s not mental.”

“Solid proof is always good.” Harry murmured, touching his parents’ names. His gaze ran over the rest of the tapestry, and Jen braced herself for the next question.

“So, Andie … was she the cousin that became a Healer?” Harry asked.

“Hermione.” Sirius said, in answer to Jen’s questioning look. “Yeah, that’s her. Her sisters both made nice, traditional, pureblood marriages, but Andie refused to marry … Oh, who was it, Lena?”

Jen smirked. “Adalricus Parkinson, Paddy, as if you don’t remember.  You only spent two full hours making jokes about his name.”

“Oh, yeah.” Sirius grinned. “Anyway, she married Ted Tonks, and …” he mimed blasting a name off with his wand.

Harry smiled awkwardly, as though not sure how to respond, and looked at the other names. “I forgot you’re related to the Malfoys.”

“Cissy dropped a note in Hermione’s pocket at the World Cup.” Sirius explained, when Jen looked at him again. “I was right and she’s sorry.”

Jen frowned slightly. “I’ll have to talk to her at some point. And we’re related to the Malfoys.” She reminded Harry gently. “All pureblood families are interrelated. If you’re only going to let your children marry purebloods, the choice is limited. You and Draco are something like … sixth cousins. Maybe fifth.” She sighed, when he pulled a face. “Don’t get along with him, huh?”

“He’s the bane of my existence.” Harry stated, almost deadpan.

Sirius snickered. “Your father would be glad to hear that.”

Jen gave him a quelling look. “Lily wouldn’t. She and Narcissa were friends.”

Sirius’s laugh died away and he raised an eyebrow. “You’re kidding.”

Jen shook her head and turned to Harry. “Your mum was Muggle-born. Did you never wonder why Voldemort didn’t just blast her out of the way too?”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven - Persuasion and Politics

For a second, Harry stared at her in something akin to shock. “It … It was because of her?”

“Hang on!” Sirius said. “First of all, Jen, back up and explain that little ‘friends’ remark! Because I’m fairly sure Lily and Narcissa never even talked to one another!”

“Not in Hogwarts, no.” Jen agreed. “Cissy was a year older than us,” she told Harry, “and I don’t think she ever really believed in what her parents said, but she never had a reason to argue.”

“Slytherin.” Sirius sighed. “What’s in it for me?”

“Exactly.” Jen said. “Plus, Cissy was all about family; she was the only one who kept talking to us after we were disowned … and she’d seen what happened to Andie when she bucked tradition.”

“So she went along with it.” Harry concluded.

Jen nodded, smiling sadly. “She went along with it.” She traced Narcissa’s name, fighting the urge to draw her wand and blast away the name on the other end of the double line. “And she honoured the betrothal. And she gave up her independence and her dreams to become the wife of a man who …” She broke off and took a deep breath, counting backwards from ten in her head. “Anyway, Lily bumped into her in Diagon Alley while she was pregnant with you, and Cissy was pregnant with Draco, and they got to talking, and ended up meeting to have tea quite regularly.”

“Why?” Harry asked. “I mean, I guess Mum was just being a nice person, and liked her, but she was Muggle-born, so what was in it for Narcissa?”

“I think her friendship with Lily was one of the few things that was exactly what it seemed like.” Jen admitted. “But there was also the fact that Cissy needed help. Pureblood women aren’t expected to be too attached to their children; they give birth and then give their children to the house-elf or a nurse to raise them. At one time, they would have hired a wet nurse as well, but there are very few ‘acceptable’ options anymore.” She shook her head. “I never understood it. Neither did Cissy, apparently. She wanted to be a mum, but she had no frame of reference. The Potters were influential enough that she could get away with it.”

Harry nodded slowly. “Okay … I think I get it. But what does that have to do with … that night?”

“James and Lily knew they were in danger … that you were in danger.” Jen said, her throat tightening.  She, Remus and Sirius had watched Harry while his parents went to see Dumbledore, and she could still remember James’s fury when they returned, and the way Lily had practically flown up the stairs to Harry’s nursery and refused to let him go for hours. “The one thing they didn’t know – or at least didn’t tell us – was why. The only thing we could tell was that it might not be you at all. Frank and Alice were warned as well.”

“Neville’s parents?” Harry asked, frowning. “But why? Neville and I don’t have that much in common – we’re both in Gryffindor, I guess, and we both live with relatives … but that’s it.”

“I don’t know, Harry.” Jen sighed. “That was about a month after you were born. A few months later, however, Narcissa arrived on my doorstep. She told me that she couldn’t stay long, but that I needed to do something. She didn’t give me a reason, but she told me that Voldemort had definitely singled you out. Lily … Lily was one of her few true friends, and she had begged Lucius to see if Voldemort would at least spare her life. James had too much political power and, of course, you were the intended victim, but she could, at least, save Lily.”

“It would have killed her.” Sirius said flatly. “If Voldemort had killed James and Harry, but left Lily alive …”

“I know.” Jen said heavily. “Cissy admitted as much to me.”

Harry shook his head. “Lucius Malfoy actually went to Voldemort and asked him to spare the life of a Muggle-born? I thought you implied he didn’t love her?”

Jen snorted. “He doesn’t, Harry. But if he refused, Narcissa threatened to leave, and take Draco with her. The Black family has a little more standing than the Malfoys, and she would have managed it with very little scandal. If Draco left, so did his chances to continue the family name.”

Sirius closed his eyes. “I’m guessing Voldemort agreed to spare Lily unless she got in the way, but … Lucius would have paid for it. He would have made her pay for it.”

Jen reached for his hand, squeezing gently. “I’ll write to her.” She whispered. “She never told me … and I never asked, but …”

Harry’s gaze moved back to the tapestry, apparently searching for a change of topic. Jen knew what it would be before he opened his mouth, knew his eyes had fallen on the name to Narcissa’s right, but made no attempt to distract him.

“Lestrange …” Harry read softly. “I know that name.”

“They’re in Azkaban.” Sirius said.

“Oh, thank Merlin!” Jen breathed. “How … When?”

“About a week after Voldemort fell.” Sirius answered.

Jen stared at him. The timing couldn’t just be a coincidence. “She was the one who put Frank and Alice in St Mungo’s, wasn’t she?”

“She was.” Sirius sighed. “Her, Rudolphus, Rabastan, and Barty Crouch Jr.”

Harry shuddered, and Jen reached out to grasp his shoulder. She had known, of course, the story behind Junior’s escape from Azkaban – Harry had told Jess at the beginning of the summer – but now making the connection …

“Didn’t Alice know Junior at Hogwarts?” She asked in a hushed voice.

“I think so.” Sirius scowled. “She used to tutor him occasionally. Hell of a way to repay her. Bella, of course, was dragged into Azkaban screaming her allegiance.”

“Of course she was.” Jen muttered.

Harry was still staring at the family tree. “You never said she was your …”

“Does it matter?” Sirius cut him off. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re not my family. She is definitely not my family.”

“Sirius!” Jen chided. “Harry’s just surprised. Don’t bite his head off.”

Sirius heaved a sigh, clapping Harry on the shoulder. “Sorry, pup.” He said absently. “I just … I never thought I’d be back here.”

Jen smiled sadly. “Me neither.”

“Hey, you don’t have to stay here.” Sirius reminded her.

“Yes, I do.” Jen disagreed.

“No, you don’t.” Sirius said. “And don’t say you’ve got nowhere else to go, because the cottage is still standing, so you can just …”

“No, I can’t.” Jen said fiercely. “You’re stuck here, Padfoot. And as long as you’re here, I’m not going anywhere. What kind of sister would I be otherwise?”

“A sane one.” Sirius tried to scowl at her, but failed miserably. “Fine. But at least spend the full moons there. Moony’s too paranoid to transform here, even with your help, but someone needs to be there.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “No, Padfoot, I thought I’d just leave him to it.”

“You’re an Animagus too?” Harry guessed. “Mum told Hermione about the others; she never mentioned you.”

“Probably too difficult.” Jen sighed. “Yes, I am, Harry; I take the form of the wolf, that’s why the girls called me Selena.”

“Roman goddess of the moon, right?” Harry asked.

Jen nodded with a smile. “Someone knows his mythology.”

Hermione knows her mythology.” Harry corrected with a grin.

“I still say you need a different Marauder name, Mrs Moony.” Sirius remarked absently.

“Remus and I share a soul-bond.” Jen explained to Harry. “Because we can share magic, I can help him keep control on the full moon.”

“That’s cool.” Harry commented, as his stomach growled loudly.

Jen chuckled. “You are your father’s son. Go on, sweetheart; get something to eat. You as well,” she added to her brother.

Sirius lingered for a moment. “Are you alright?”

Jen nodded, turning resolutely away from the tapestry. “I’ll be fine.”

***

By the morning of Harry’s hearing, not even a week later, Jen was a nervous wreck for reasons she couldn’t quite identify.

It was a simple hearing, and Harry had a perfectly sound defence.

But something was niggling at the back of her mind, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

Arthur was taking Jen and Harry to work with him, but neither of them would be allowed to accompany Harry into the hearing. At fifteen, he would be expected to be able to speak for himself.

Jen was sitting down in the kitchen, with Arthur, Sirius and Remus – who had got up to see Harry off, Dora – who had turned up for breakfast after her ‘guard duty’, and Molly – who was still in her dressing gown.

“Breakfast!” Molly announced suddenly, jumping to her feet, and Jen realised that Harry had just walked in, dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt.

“Morning Harry.” Dora yawned. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah.” Harry shrugged; Jen knew he was lying, but didn’t call him on it.

“I’ve been up all night.” Dora said, with another huge yawn, pulling a chair out and knocking the one next to it over. “Come and sit down.”

“What do you want, Harry?” Molly called from the oven. “Porridge? Muffins? Kippers? Bacon and eggs? Toast?”

“Just toast, thanks.” Harry answered quietly.

Remus squeezed Harry’s shoulder, and turned back to Dora. “What were you saying about Scrimgeour?”

Was she? And what’s Rufus Scrimgeour got to do with anything?

You were miles away. And he’s the Head Auror now.

Great. I never liked him.

“Hmm?” Dora shook herself out of her fatigue-induced daze. “Oh, right. We need to be a bit more careful; he’s been asking me and Kingsley funny questions …”

Molly placed a plate of toast and marmalade in front of Harry and he thanked her quietly, beginning to eat automatically. Jen tuned out the rest of Dora’s words, tucking the label of Harry’s shirt in and smoothing down some of the creases. “How are we getting to the Ministry?”

“I figured we’d go the Muggle way, rather than apparating or flooing.” Arthur told her. “Makes a better impression, given what he’s doing there.”

Jen nodded understandingly. In that case, she’d wait until they were at the Ministry before transfiguring Harry’s clothes. It might make a better impression to arrive at the Ministry Muggle-style, but it would also make a better impression if Harry was dressed in something other than jeans.

Admittedly, it was Amelia who was in charge of the hearing, and she wouldn’t pay any attention, but they had no idea who would be in there with him, and there were certain members of the Ministry who would use Muggle clothes as an excuse.

“Amelia’s lovely, Harry.” Jen assured him. “You’ll be fine. She’s fair; she’ll hear you out.”

“Don’t lose your temper.” Sirius advised. “Just be polite, and stick to the facts.”

Jen laughed shakily. “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, Padfoot.”

“Doesn’t it ever lie flat?!” Molly demanded, now attacking Harry’s hair with a comb.

“Sorry, Molly.” Jen said, downing the rest of her coffee and faintly wishing it was something stronger. “Potter hair never cooperates.”

“We’d better go now.” Arthur said, checking his watch. “We’re early, but you’re better off hanging around the Ministry than here.”

Dora patted Harry’s arm with a tired smile. “You’ll be alright.”

“Good luck.” Remus said with a smile. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“And if it’s not,” Sirius added grimly, “I’ll have a word with Amelia for you.”

“Sirius Orion Black, you will do no such thing!” Jen snapped.

Sirius held his hands up. “I was only trying to lighten the mood, Jen.”

Hugs and well-wishes followed them out into the grey dawn, and they travelled mostly in silence, until, eventually, they reached the telephone box that served as the visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic.

“That’s it?” Harry asked incredulously.

“That’s it.” Jen confirmed, opening the door.

“But there’s three of us.” Harry protested.

“Don’t worry.” Jen said, smiling wryly. “It’s bigger on the inside.”

Harry laughed, a genuine smile lighting up his face, and followed her inside. Arthur stepped in after him and closed the door, looking like he didn’t quite get the joke, but didn’t question it.

“Jen, you’re closer.”

“I know.” Jen shifted slightly, and managed to dial the right numbers. 62442 … Huh, never realised that spelt out magic. Wonder why Lily never mentioned it.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business.”

Seeing Arthur look a bit puzzled – he’d told her earlier that he’d never come via the visitors’ entrance before – Jen spoke for all of them. “Arthur Weasley, Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, and Jennifer Black here to escort Harry Potter for a disciplinary hearing.”

“Thank you. Visitors, please take the badges and attach them to the front of your robes.”

Jen caught the badges that slid out of the chute, handing one to Harry.

“Visitors to the Ministry, you are required to …”

“…submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium.” Jen finished in unison, rolling her eyes. “Never changes.”

The wand-check went smoothly, although Jen did have to pointedly clear her throat to make sure that Harry got his wand back and didn’t spend ten minutes being gawped at instead, and Arthur led them to one of the lists, where they waited patiently in the crowd, beside a man carrying a smoking box.

“What you got there, Bob?” Arthur asked curiously, trying to peer inside.

“We’re not sure.” The wizard admitted. “We thought it was a bog-standard chicken, until it started breathing fire.”

The lift arrived, the golden grill slid back, and the three stepped inside with everyone else, Jen pulling Harry closer when people began glancing curiously at him.

Finally, they reached Level Two and Arthur shepherded them out. “This is us. My office is on the other side of the floor.”

“Jen?” Harry whispered, as they followed Arthur through a sunlit corridor. “Aren’t we still underground?”

Jen smiled. “They’re enchanted windows, Harry. Magical Maintenance decide what kind of weather they get every day.”

“We had two months of hurricanes last time they were angling for a pay-rise.” Arthur added.

Jen grimaced. “Lovely. I think we had thunderstorms when I worked here. Ah,” she said, her grimace fading into a smile as they rounded the corner. “Auror headquarters. My home away from home.”

“You were an auror too?” Harry asked.

“Graduated top of my class.” Jen told him, just a little smugly. “Ahead of James and Sirius, which I enjoyed rubbing in their faces every chance I …”

“Morning, Weasley!” Kingsley greeted, cutting her off. They turned to see him leaning casually against his cubicle, and he caught her eye, his smirk giving her a split-second warning. “Well, I heard a rumour that your disappearance was due to a Memory Charm, but Jennifer Black, is that really you?”

As though her name had triggered some kind of Summoning Charm, they were suddenly surrounded by aurors, and Jen pushed Harry behind her automatically, but none of them looked remotely threatening. On the contrary, every face was smiling, most clamouring to be heard, and Jen stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled sharply, effectively shutting them up.

“I’ll take that as a ‘welcome back’.” She said dryly, earning a few chuckles. “From the top, yes, it was a Memory Charm. Yes, it’s really me. Thank you; it’s very nice to be back. No, I don’t know if I’m coming back to the corps. Miss anything?”

There was a murmured negative, and she smiled brightly. “Then I suggest you all get back to work before your boss finds you all standing around.”

As the aurors dispersed, Jen gave Kingsley a look that very clearly promised retribution, but he hardly seemed worried. Instead, his smile widened. “I’ve been wanting a word with you, Weasley. Have you got a moment?”

“Yes, if it really is a moment.” Arthur said briskly. “I’m in a hurry.”

Kingsley beckoned them into his cubicles, and Jen caught Harry’s hand and squeezed it in a specific pattern. She did it automatically, not even thinking that Harry might not get the code, but in any case he didn’t greet Kingsley and he kept his face neutral.

Jen stopped just inside the cubicle and stared at the walls, where Sirius scowled down at her from every available space, apart from that which was occupied by a world map covered in little glowing pins.

Kingsley followed her line of sight. “That’s right; he’s your brother, isn’t he?”

“He is.” Jen confirmed coolly.

“When was the last time you saw him?” Kingsley asked.

“Let me see …” Jen said slowly. “We had dinner. He came to my house – I told him to take a shower, because it looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks.”

“And when was that?” Kingsley asked.

“July 30th 1982.” Jen answered flatly. “No, I tell a lie, I saw him the next day at the Potters’ cottage for Harry’s first birthday.”

“And you haven’t seen him your return?”

Jen rolled her eyes. “I live in a cottage in the middle of a wood, Auror Shacklebolt. I hardly see anyone.”

Kingsley nodded, tipping her a wink, and extracted a sheaf of parchment from a pile on his desk. As he and Arthur exchanged a few words about Muggle firearms and motorcycles, Jen smirked to herself, knowing that she’d managed to avoid actually lying.

That was the last time she’d seen him – before the attack. And, according to the Ministry, her address hadn’t changed.

Kingsley and Arthur wrapped up their discussion, and the latter gestured for Jen and Harry to follow him. Nodding to Kingsley, Jen steered Harry out of Auror Headquarters and down a shabby corridor, that consisted of a broom cupboard and the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office – which was slightly smaller than the broom cupboard.

Jen glanced around in distaste as they entered. “How does the Ministry expect any kind of decent Muggle-Magical relations when they do stuff like this?!”

It was barely big enough for the three of them to squeeze between the two desks. “Have a seat.” Arthur said cheerfully, conjuring a third chair. “Doesn’t look like Perkins is in yet. We haven’t got a window, I’m afraid; we’ve asked, but they don’t think we need one.”

“You’re completely underappreciated, you know that?” Jen frowned. “This department does so much to keep the Statute of Secrecy in place, and you’re treated like this – it’s disgusting.”

“You’re one of the few people who thinks that way, unfortunately.” Arthur said, rifling through the parchment Kingsley had given him, finally extracting a copy of The Quibbler. “Ah, yes. Yes, he’s right; Sirius will find this very amusing.”

Jen took the offered magazine and glanced at the cover. Sirius: Black as he’s painted? “Well, well. Has someone finally caught on to the lack of a trial?” She flicked through to the article. Notorious mass-murderer or … “Innocent Singing Sensation?” She read aloud.

Can he sing?” Harry asked.

“Well, yes.” Jen admitted. “Quite well, actually, but he’d never admit it to anyone. Actually, he tended to pretend he couldn’t sing.”

“Why?” Harry asked, sounding confused.

“To annoy us.” Jen answered, smiling ruefully. “Your mother had a beautiful voice though. She was always singing.”

“Oh dear, what now?” Arthur sighed, as a paper aeroplane flew through the door and hovered in front of him.

“Finally got rid of the owls then?” Jen remarked.

Arthur nodded, reading the memo. “Droppings everywhere. Really … Third regurgitating toilet in Bethnal Green; please investigate immediately. This is getting ridiculous!”

“Regurgitating toilet?!” Harry repeated incredulously, beating Jen to it.

Before Arthur could elaborate, a stooped, timid-looking wizard rushed in, panting. “Arthur!” He gasped, grabbing hold of his desk to keep himself from collapsing. “Thank goodness! I sent an owl to your home, but you’ve obviously … an urgent message came ten minutes ago …”

“I know about the toilet, Perkins.” Arthur interrupted soothingly, as Jen conjured a glass of water for the almost-hyperventilating wizard.

“It’s not that!” Perkins yelped, taking a gulp of water. “Thank you, ma’am. It’s the Potter boy’s hearing! It’s been moved to eight o’clock, down in Courtroom Ten!”

“Courtroom Ten?!” Jen repeated. “But …”

“Great Merlin!” Arthur cried, jumping to his feet. “We should have been there ten minutes ago!”

Perkins hastily flattened himself against the wall as the three of them sprinted from the room and towards the lifts.

“Why have they changed the time?” Harry asked.

“No idea.” Arthur admitted, pummelling the ‘down’ button. “But thank goodness we got here early! It would have been catastrophic if we’d missed it!”

The grill lifted and they ducked into the lift. Jen hardly paid attention to the other occupants, or to Arthur frantically jabbing the ‘9’ button every time the lift stopped. Her heart seemed to have disappeared somewhere into the region of her stomach, and, despite her earlier misgivings to Molly, she tried to flatten his hair.

“Jen?” Harry whispered, as they reached the Atrium. “If I do get expelled … you’re not going to make me go back to the Dursleys, are you?”

Jen pulled him into a hug. “You are not going back to that house even if I have to kidnap you and take you to Australia. But you’ll be alright, Harry.”

Finally, they reached Level Nine, and hurried down the corridor, turned left, and down a flight of stairs.

“The lift … doesn’t even … come down this far!” Arthur panted. “Why they’re … doing it … down here …”

They emerged into another corridor, lined with heavy doors, doors that still sent shivers down Jen’s spine. She had sat in on enough Death Eater trials to have seen enough of this place for a lifetime.

She could only assume that Fudge had managed to influence the hearing process and had moved it to try to intimidate Harry.

“Just tell the truth.” She told him, as they skidded to a halt outside Courtroom Ten. “Hold still.” She waved her wand and transfigured his clothes into smart robes. She debated adding the Potter crest, but decided against it – it was one thing to make a good impression, but he hardly needed anyone to think that he’d received the proper training, or else they’d be expecting too much of him.

“Good luck.” Arthur said. “In you go.”

Harry looked from Jen to Arthur. “Aren’t you …?”

“We’re not allowed, Harry.” Jen said regretfully, kissing his forehead. “You’ll be fine, sweetheart. In you go.”

Harry pushed the door open and disappeared from sight.

“What now?” Arthur asked hopelessly.

Jen sighed, leaning against the wall. “We wait.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight - Sense and Sensibility

Twenty minutes later, Jen had given up standing, and was seated on the stone floor, staring at her knees. Dumbledore had already appeared, but hadn't even acknowledge them, much to Jen’s annoyance – she’d been trying to talk to him since her return, but he seemed to be avoiding her.

Much to Jen’s surprise, Mrs Figg had been with him. She supposed the elderly woman must have been serving as a witness – but surely a) Harry wouldn’t need one, and b) would they really take the word of a squib?

When Mrs Figg had left, Jen had exchanged a few words with her, but the woman couldn’t predict what would happen – Fudge seemed patronisingly sceptical.

“Jen,” Arthur said presently, “why aren’t you in there?”

“I can’t be.” Jen sighed. “Harry’s fifteen, and it happened when he was fifteen. By law he needs to defend himself. The only way I could be in there is as a member of the Wizengamot, but the Wizengamot isn’t in session – it can’t be. They’d never get away with it.”

Unable to sit still any longer, Jen got to her feet and began pacing up and down the corridor.

This could not be happening.

James and Lily’s son – her godson – expelled from Hogwarts?

Calm down, Jen. Fudge might be an idiot, but Amelia’s there as well.

At that moment, Dumbledore left, but swept past them without a word and disappeared.

“Don’t worry, sir.” Jen said into the empty corridor. “We didn’t need to know what happened.” She moved towards the door as it opened, and Harry ran out, almost colliding with her. “What happened? Dumbledore didn’t …”

“Cleared!” Harry told her with a grin. “Of all charges.”

“Oh, Harry, that’s fantastic!” Jen said in one relieved breath, hugging him tightly.

“They can’t have found you guilty.” Arthur told him, clapping his shoulder. “Not in those circumstances. But I can’t deny I wasn’t …”

But Jen held up a hand, silently asking him to stop talking. Voices and footsteps were approaching the door – too many for a simple underage magic hearing.

Drawing Harry behind her, Jen stepped back as the door opened and a crowd of witches and wizards filed out.

“You were tried by the full court?!” Jen hissed.

“Er, yes?” Harry answered unsurely.

People only just seemed to be realising her presence, and she automatically schooled her expression into a neutral mask.

The warlock in front stepped forward with hand outstretched. “Ah, Miss Black … Although, I suppose it’s Lady Black now, isn’t it?”

“It will be once I get around to taking the title by proxy.” Jen confirmed sweetly, shaking his hand. “How are you, Lord Ashford? And your wife? I think she had the flu last time we spoke.”

“By Jove, she did.” He said, chortling. “She’s fine, she’s fine. Heard a rumour you were back – was surprised not to see you in there today. I know some of the lesser families didn’t attend, but as a Black …”

“I assure you, Lord Ashford, I would have attended.” Jen told him calmly. “But I hadn’t been informed that there was a gathering today. And I assumed that the full court wouldn’t assemble for something as trivial as an underage magic hearing.” She side-stepped Ashford to fix Fudge with a stern look that would have done her Head of House proud. “Why did the full court assemble for something as trivial as an underage magic hearing, and why was I not informed there was a gathering today?”

Fudge looked suitably uncomfortable. “Yes … well …” Apparently stalling for time, he pulled a pocket watch from his robes. “Gracious, I have an appointment in five minutes! Dolores?”

As Fudge practically fled, Jen found herself face to face with a woman she had hoped never to see again. “Dolores, how … interesting to see you again.”

As always, Dolores Umbridge – dressed in her trademark pink fluffy cardigan – made Jen think of a particularly large toad, and she was looking at Harry as though he was a fly. “Jennifer,” she simpered, “I’m sure you understand the severity of this, and that Mr Potter has escaped unpunished …”

“I’m sure Harry explained about the Dementors.” Jen said calmly. “That seems like a perfectly good reason to perform a Patronus Charm to me.”

“You saw the Dementors?” Amelia asked sharply. “Well, why weren’t you in there?”

“Well, Amelia, I was under the impression that it was just you and one or two others.” Jen said. “I was also under the impression that Harry would be permitted to submit a Pensieve memory. I’m assuming he was not, given that Madam Umbridge is still questioning the validity of his statement. But, no, I didn’t see the Dementors, but I did feel them. Of course I was under a Memory Charm, and far enough away that they didn’t completely affect me … but there’s not many things that can make a warm August night turn so cold so quickly …” She trailed off, and shook her head. “In any case, Dolores, Harry has been cleared of all charges, and you still have not explained why I was not informed of the gathering today.”

Umbridge cleared her throat. “Hem, hem. Under the Beasts and Beings Act of …”

Jen cut her off with a laugh. “That old chestnut? Really, Dolores, I know that I was very outspoken about equal rights for magical creatures before the attack, but need I remind you that several witnesses have seen me at the Ministry during the full moon, very clearly not homicidal and furry.” She sent a mental apology to Remus, as she spoke.

Don’t bother. He responded. Keep going; I’m enjoying this.

Eavesdropper. “Need I remind you all the position my family holds in this society?” Jen asked, now directing her words to everyone else, who seemed to have frozen to watch the confrontation – either that, or Umbridge’s rather large behind was blocking the corridor, so they didn’t have a choice. “The House of Black has stood as a pillar of our community for centuries, and I do not intend that to change. I trust that I will be kept informed of future events?”

“Of course.” Dolores said sweetly, but through gritted teeth. “And I trust you will keep a close eye on Mr Potter tomorrow night? We wouldn’t like any accidents, would we?” She waddled off down the corridor, followed closely by a red-haired young man with glasses, who carefully avoided looking at them.

That must be Percy. Jen realised, when Arthur merely gritted his teeth and pretended he hadn’t seen him. It’s worse than I thought.

Slowly, the other wizards and witches dispersed, Amelia lingering to wring Jen’s hand and apologise to Harry for all the fuss.

Once they were alone, Jen let out a steady breath. “Alright, Arthur, be honest with me. On a scale of one to, say, Lucius Malfoy, how much of a pureblood snob did I sound just then?”

Arthur looked thoughtful. “About a three.”

Jen nodded. “Three. So James when he was playing politics then … I can deal with that.”

“Who was that woman?” Harry asked, not bothering to ask about her comment. “The one that looked like a toad, I mean.”

Jen forced herself not to snicker. “Dolores Umbridge. She works in the Minister’s office …”

“Senior Undersecretary.” Arthur confirmed. “She’s responsible for some of the most bigoted laws I’ve ever heard.”

“Yes, she was trying to get them pushed through when I was …” Jen trailed off  as they rounded the corner to see Fudge talking with none other than Lucius Malfoy.

It didn’t escape Jen’s notice that they were standing in the same corridor as the Department of Mysteries, but she didn’t allow her concern to show.

“Well, well,” Lucius said softly. “Patronus Potter.”

Jen cleared her throat lightly, drawing his attention away from her godson, who had visibly stiffened – not that she blamed him, given that the last time he saw Lucius Malfoy, it was through a Death Eater mask.

He didn’t look surprised to see her, but the spark of almost fear in his eyes let her know how this encounter was going to play out.

Oh great … Time to play politics.

“Ah, Lady Black.” Lucius greeted smoothly, taking her hand and kissing the back of it. “The Minister was just informing me – allow me to be the first to congratulate you.”

“Why, thank you, Lord Malfoy.” Jen responded demurely, dipping the tiniest of curtsies. She had long since learned it was a bad idea to start confrontational, but that no reason to lower herself further than she needed to. “Might I enquire as to your business at the Ministry?”

Lucius smirked. “A private matter between myself and the Minister.” He smoothed his robes down and Jen fought the urge to roll her eyes at the sound of galleons clinking together.

“Of course.” Jen said, nudging Harry towards Arthur along the corridor. “I would remind you, however, that the Minister’s office is on the fourth floor, not the ninth.”

Lucius’s eyes flitted apparently unwittingly to the door of the Department of Mysteries and she hid a triumphant smirk. So whatever was in there, Voldemort definitely wanted it.

But what?

“In any case,” Jen continued, before Lucius could say anything, “we really must be going, so I shall leave the two of your with your … business.” She finally allowed the smirk to sidle ever so slightly into place. “Do give Cissy my regards.”

Lucius hastily bit back whatever veiled insult he was going to throw and bowed ever so slightly in her direction. “Of course, Lady Black.”

Jen nodded to Fudge, took Harry’s arm and steered him up the corridor to the lift.

This time round, it was empty, and once the grill closed, Harry turned to her. “Jen, I thought you said last week that you hated Malfoy?”

Jen smiled wryly. “I do, Harry. But confrontation often causes more problems than it solves. Besides, he started it, so short of making him look like the better person, I had no choice but to play politics.”

“Which means being nice to awful people?” Harry asked.

“Which means smiling to someone’s face,” Jen corrected, “and stabbing them in the back, before they stab you in yours.”

“That doesn’t sound very Gryffindor.” Harry commented, with a frown.

Jen patted his shoulder. “That’s because Slytherins made the rules, dear.”

“Why did he start it?” Arthur asked curiously. “I shouldn’t think Malfoy likes you any more than you like him.”

Jen smirked. “He doesn’t. But I’m currently his wife’s head of house, and if I should choose to dissolve the marriage, then Lucy might just find himself a tad out of favour with Voldemort. The Malfoys aren’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but take away the Black family money Cissy can access and there’s no way he can keep funding their campaign the way he is now.”

“What was he doing down here anyway?” Harry asked.

Jen and Arthur exchanged a glance, before the latter cleared his throat. “Probably sneaking down to listen in on your trial, Harry. Speaking of, Jen, don’t the Malfoys have a seat in the Wizengamot?”

“They do.” Jen frowned. “But as Ashford said, many of the lesser families weren’t there. They don’t need to be for trials, only for the Wizengamot; they can pick and choose trials.”

“So if Malfoy could have sat in on the trial, why sneak down?” Harry asked.

Jen sighed inwardly. He would have inherited Lily’s ability to pick up complicating details. “Don’t ask me to fathom the way Death Eaters’ minds work, Harry. There’s nothing else along that corridor of interest.”

Liar.

I’m not lying. The Department of Mysteries is the next corridor along. And if Voldemort can see into Harry’s mind, the last thing we need is for him to find out we’re guarding the place, assuming Snape hasn’t already told him.

“If Fudge is meeting with Death Eaters in private,” Harry said slowly, “how do we know he’s not under the Imperius?”

“Don’t think we haven’t considered it, Harry.” Arthur told him kindly. “But Dumbledore thinks that Fudge is acting of his own accord at the moment …”

“… which is hardly a comforting thought.” Jen finished, as the golden grill opened.

They stepped out into the Atrium, bid goodbye to Arthur, and she slid an arm around Harry’s shoulders, guiding him towards the exit. “We’re going straight home so we can tell everyone the good news.”

“Jen,” Harry whispered, as they stepped into the phone box, “he’ll know you’ve got your memory back now.”

“He would have found out eventually.” Jen said. “I’m damn well going to fight this war – I was hardly going to keep it quiet. I should probably send that owl to the Daily Prophet though … Won’t keep them quiet for much longer.” She glanced down at Harry, who was looking very pale. “I’m not going anywhere, Harry.”

“Promise?” Harry asked in a small voice.

“I can’t do that.” Jen said heavily. “You know I can’t do that. We’re in a war, Harry.” She slipped her other arm around him, drawing him into a hug. “But I promise that I will do everything in my power to make sure that we all walk away on the other side, alright?”

Harry nodded into her shoulder. “Love you, Jen.”

Jen kissed his forehead. “I love you too, cub.”

***

Perhaps not surprisingly, lunch turned into an impromptu ‘he got off’ party, when Mrs Weasley gave up trying to get her children to settle down.

Hermione found herself sitting quite contentedly at the edge of the kitchen, picking at the food on her plate. She wasn’t really very hungry, and it was more interesting to watch Mrs Weasley trying to stop the twins from juggling butterbeer bottles.

The atmosphere seemed to completely transform the gloomy room, and it was infectious, so Hermione was the only person who noticed when the fireplace lit up green.

She set her plate on the chair next to her, and went to kneel in front of the flickering flames, grinning when she saw Mandy’s face smiling back on her. “Hi, Mandy! How’s Europe?”

“Hot.” Mandy answered. “How are you, Hermione?”

Hermione shrugged. “Can’t complain really. Harry had to fight off Dementors and had a hearing today about using underage magic, but he got cleared.” She moved to the right slightly so she could see. “Obviously.”

“Hang on.” Mandy’s head turned to look behind her, and then Arabella’s head appeared next to her. “Now explain that again, properly this time.”

Hermione explained about the Dementors and the hearing, leaving both women looking furious.

“That man …” Mandy hissed. “He’s not a god, for Merlin’s sake!”

“And there’s something else you should know.” Hermione said, smirking slightly. “You remember Jess? Well, she was under a Memory Charm …”

As if on cue, Jen extracted herself from the crowd of people, and turned towards them. “Hermione, are you sure you don’t want any dessert? Molly’s made apple pie.”

“Jen?!”

Hermione winced, and rolled her eyes at Lily, who had burst out laughing. “I was going to break it to you a little more gently than that.”

***

That evening, after most people had gone to bed, Jen found herself to wired to sleep, so she didn’t bother trying, making her way down into the kitchen.

She found herself face to face with a glass of firewhiskey. “What’s this?”

“Sorry, Jen.” Sirius muttered. “I was expecting Remus.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” Jen said, taking the glass from thin air. “You two are still carrying on behind my back then?”

“You know, that joke got old in sixth year.” Remus remarked from behind her.

Sirius waved his wand, and another glass flew over to him. “Pull up a chair, Moony.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “You know, Padfoot, the polite thing to do would be to offer me a seat too.”

“She’s right, Sirius.” Remus agreed, pulling out a chair for her.

“Show off.” Sirius muttered.

Remus smirked at him, setting his glass down on the table. “So why are we drinking firewhiskey?”

“Dumbledore’s calling by to discuss Harry’s living arrangements next summer.” Sirius said darkly.

Jen observed her glass, and the amount of liquid left on the table. “We’re going to need another bottle.”

Before either man could argue, the fire turned emerald green, and Dumbledore stepped out, siphoning ash from his robes.

“Good evening, sir.” Jen greeted. “Firewhiskey?”

“No, thank you, Jennifer; this really is a quick visit.” Dumbledore said. “I simply wanted to advise you not to make any arrangements for next summer.”

“Arrangements, sir?” Jen asked, although she had a feeling she knew what this was about. Follow my lead. Shut Sirius up.

Got it.

“I’ve been examining the wards around Privet Drive, and I think it best if Harry returns for the full two months next summer to recharge them.” Dumbledore told them pleasantly.

Jen examined her glass to avoid looking him in the eye. “Surely there’s another way, Headmaster.”

“I’m afraid not, Jennifer.”

Jen shrugged. “Well, I suppose I can just put the glamour back on and move back.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Dumbledore told her gently. “After all, Voldemort’s followers know about that now.”

“But they don’t know her name or where she lived.” Jen refuted, waving her wand and transforming back into Jessica before their eyes. “How would they?”

“Nevertheless, Jennifer, I really must insist.” Dumbledore said firmly.

Jen took a deep breath, removing the glamour easily. “I don’t like it, Headmaster, but … you’re sure Harry will be safe?”

“It’s for the best, Jennifer.” Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling slightly.

Manipulative old … Jen sighed. “Very well, sir. It is only eight weeks, I suppose.”

Dumbledore smiled at them. “Wonderful. Now if you’ll excuse me …”

“Actually, sir, there is one more thing.” Jen interrupted. “Why does Harry known nothing about his heritage? Because James is turning in his grave.” If he was in one, that is.

“Ah.” To his credit, Dumbledore did look a little sheepish. “I had any books that might mention it removed from the school library before Harry’s first year. After all, he had grown up not knowing about the wizarding world, he had just discovered that he was famous … I didn’t want to overwhelm him. I must ask you not to say anything either.”

“Of course, sir.” Jen said, still gazing at her glass. “That does make sense. Goodnight.”

Once the fire had flared green again, Jen downed the firewhiskey, and stood up to pace around the kitchen. “You can take the Silencing Charm off now.”

Remus waved his wand, and Sirius glared at him. “What did you Silence me for?!”

“I didn’t need you putting your feet in your mouth.” Jen answered. “So I asked Remus to keep you quiet.”

“Jen!” Sirius protested. “Did you hear any of that?! Harry can’t go back to those people! Do you have any idea …”

“Actually, Sirius, believe it or not, I do!” Jen snapped, interrupting her pacing to glare at him. “I lived next door, remember? If it weren’t for me, Harry wouldn’t even be here right now!”

Sirius turned a shade of white that she hadn’t seen since seventh year. “What do you mean?”

Jen sighed. “You remember how Lily talked about her sister, Padfoot. Lily never talked about someone like that unless they deserved it.” She began pacing again. “How dare he? How dare he?! Does he really think that he’s above the law?! If James doesn’t get back, Harry’s going to be expected to be the family head – how dare he leave a future Lord of the Wizengamot unprepared like that?!”

“Jenny, you’re starting to sound like our family.” Sirius told her lightly.

Jen spun around and fixed him with a glare even stronger than the last. “Don’t … call … me … that!”

“Jen …” Remus stepped between them, blocking her view, and put his hands on her shoulders. “What’s really bothering you?”

Jen closed her eyes, the anger seeping out of her only to be replaced by crippling sadness. A tear escaped her, swiftly followed by another, and she took a deep breath, trying to keep herself from breaking down completely. “He’s not going back there.”

“Of course not.” Remus agreed calmly. “But you couldn’t have told Dumbledore that – he’d have stopped you. This way, Harry’s somewhere safe by the time he finds out.”

“Assuming I can find somewhere safe.” Jen muttered, wiping her eyes.

“Jen,” Sirius said slowly, “what did you mean when you said Harry wouldn’t be here?”

Jen sank back into her chair, and poured herself another glass of firewhiskey. “He’d been with them a week when Petunia first asked me to watch him. They were going into London for some … thing, and she just turned up on the doorstep. She wasn’t holding him, he was just sitting at her feet, so I picked him up, managed to get his name and his age … she couldn’t even tell me if he was on solid food or not.”

“Didn’t Dumbledore tell her when he dropped Harry off?” Sirius asked.

Jen snorted. “Oh, you’re going to love this, Padfoot. He didn’t drop Harry off – he left him in a blanket on the doorstep in the middle of the night for them to find when they put the milk out. I wondered what that scream was.” She added thoughtfully.

“It was November!” Sirius protested in a whisper.

“Oh, it gets better.” Jen warned him. “It seemed like they hadn’t fed or changed him since they got him – I ended up just putting him straight in the sink; how he didn’t get nappy rash, I don’t know. And things only got worse. The following summer, I ended up house and baby-sitting while they went on holiday …”

“They didn’t take Harry?” Remus asked.

Jen laughed humourlessly. “Don’t be ridiculous. Why would they do that? And that’s when I found out … he slept in the cupboard under the stairs. I don’t know why they didn’t care about me knowing – maybe they figured I couldn’t do anything about it. And I couldn’t! Everyone I spoke to agreed that it was neglect and abuse, but as soon as Harry’s name was mentioned, or the address, it was like everything was fine!”

“Wards.” Sirius said darkly. “Someone had put wards up to make sure Harry didn’t leave that house, no matter what the circumstances.”

“Dumbledore can’t have known about the abuse.” Remus whispered.

Really? Jen asked silently. After what he did to me?

It’s one thing to play the members of the Order like puppets, but to leave a child in an abusive environment?

“I talked with Ara’s grandmother all the time.” Jen said aloud. “She knew. Dumbledore must have done. Now maybe he played it down in his head, convinced himself we were exaggerating, because he couldn’t possibly be wrong.”

“Jen, how bad did it get?” Sirius asked in a hoarse whisper. “How bad did it get there?”

“When he was three …” Jen’s voice cracked. “When he was three, I didn’t see him for a week … and then they asked me to watch him … He was running a temperature and I rushed him to the hospital …”

Losing her battle, she buried her face in her hands, and pushed the information into Remus’s head, silently pleading with him to finish for her.

Remus cursed loudly at the knowledge now available to him, and wrapped his arms around her so she could cry into his shoulder rather than her hands. “He had meningitis, Padfoot.” He said grimly. “He nearly died.”

“He didn’t m-move for th-three d-days.” Jen choked out. “I thought … I thought we’d lost him, but he pulled through s-somehow.”

“And the Dursleys didn’t give a damn either way.” Remus growled. “Dammit. I guessed it was bad from your – Jess’s – reaction when we got there, but …”

“Oh Merlin …” Sirius whispered, moving rub her back soothingly. “He’s safe, Jen. He’s with us now.”

Jen pulled away abruptly and ran from the kitchen, the boys close behind her. She reached Ron and Harry’s room and unlocked the door with a tap of her wand, before flicking a Silencing Charm in Ron’s direction.

She didn’t blame them for locking the door in the first place – Kreacher had always had a habit of creeping in the night.

Harry was sleeping, though not soundly. He was fidgeting in his sleep, a frown creasing his sweat-beaded brow. Sirius slipped past her, and perched on the edge of Harry’s bed, running a soothing hand through the boy’s hair. He stilled, his face clearing and relaxing into a more peaceful sleep.

Jen stood frozen in the doorway, gazing at her godson, just reminding herself that he wasn’t three anymore, and that he was alright.

The discussion about Harry’s medical past had reminded her of a fleeting thought that had crossed her mind a few days previously.

Hermione had made a comment about Harry spending so much time in the hospital wing that she was surprised Madam Pomfrey hadn’t permanently reserved him a bed.

At the time, Jen had laughed, and joked that she was still surprised Madam Pomfrey hadn’t done that for Remus either, but she had also been unable to keep from wondering how the Hogwarts Healer had never brought Harry’s physical condition to the attention of Wizarding Child Services.

As she stood now in the dark room, she raised her wand again, hesitated for a second, and cast a medical scan over her godson.

You don’t have any medical training. Remus warned.

I have enough. Jen assured him. Lily taught me that one so she had some help when people got back from Order or auror raids.

The white light that left her wand travelled over Harry’s body and returned to it, and she tapped it against the piece of parchment Remus had pushed into her hand.

Lines of writing appeared, and Jen ran her gaze over it. To her relief, there was nothing there she hadn’t known about …

Wait. Remus, do you see that?

Yes. Yes, I do.

Beneath his medical history, there was a list of magical bonds on Harry’s magic.

I think James performed that one. Remus told her, pointing to the first. Remember? Lily wasn’t happy about it, but then he blew up a cake when he was crying and …

And it took her all day to get the cake off the ceiling. Jen finished. That’s one’s broken anyway – it probably helped cause the explosion in Godric’s Hollow; Sirius said the nursery was …

It was. Remus confirmed shortly. But this one …

Placed just before he arrived at the Dursleys. Jen scowled. It’s stronger too.

Harry fought off about a hundred Dementors at the end of third year. And he did that at half-power?

It makes sense. Jen admitted reluctantly. He’s underperforming at school – you and Minerva have both said that. I just assumed it was a side-effect of the Dursleys – they never liked their Ickle Duddikins being shown up.

Remus choked back his laughter. Ickle Duddikins?

Hey, they said it; not me. Jen frowned. What’s worrying me is this one. She pointed to the last block on the list. If I’m right, it stops him from using Occlumency.

Why would Dumbledore want Harry to see into Voldemort’s head? Surely it makes more sense to stop that, in case Voldemort uses it to spy on us?

Jen pulled a face. I don’t know, Remus, but … But that explains why Hermione came with Sirius. She wouldn’t have left Harry’s side; she’d have recognised the block.

And Mandy and Arabella wouldn’t? Remus asked sceptically.

Jen frowned. They would have been happy leaving Harry with Dumbledore for a few minutes. If Hermione gave some indication that she didn’t trust him …

And she’d be more likely to stay anyway, out of sheer curiosity. Remus finished.

“We’re going to fix this.” Sirius said in a low voice, drawing them out of their silent debate. “Aren’t we?”

Jen moved closer, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Of course, Sirius, but we have to give it time …”

“Time?” Sirius hissed. “With Harry going back …”

“He has to.” Jen said firmly. Her eyes flickered towards the blank portrait on the opposite wall, where she was sure Phineas Nigellus was lingering out of sight, doubtlessly reporting to Dumbledore, and he followed her gaze, before sighing.

“I suppose it’s for the best.” He said dully.

Now he gets it.

Sirius leaned down and pressed a kiss to Harry’s forehead. “Love you, kiddo. I’m sorry.” He whispered something too quiet for Jen to hear, and got up, leaving the room.

Jen took his place, and mimicked his movements and his words, before lowering her voice, and repeating what she was sure her brother had just told him.

“You’re not going back there. Ever.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine - Foundations

The cottage had belonged to Remus’s parents, and when they graduated Hogwarts, he and Jen didn’t even debate whether she would move in there with him.

It had been standing in the same place for over a hundred years, since Remus’s great-great-grandfather had built it himself after buying the land cheaply.

It had been handed down from father to son ever since, a small, one-storey building with a spacious basement that had changed from a storage room to a transformation room after Remus had been bitten.

The evening after her revelations about Harry’s treatment, Jen stepped out of the fireplace and into the comfortingly familiar living room. She had left Sirius and the others at Grimmauld Place, reminding Sirius that she would be back in the morning, so could he please not do anything stupid?

Remus was waiting for her, not looking as drawn as he used to before the bond formed, but looking far more tired than she’d become used to before the Memory Charm.

Jen sighed heavily. “You look like hell.”

Remus snorted. “Thank you so much.”

Jen rolled her eyes, kissing him in greeting. “You know what I mean. This place doesn’t look any different than the day I left it.”

Remus glanced around. “Couldn’t bring myself to change anything. Ready?”

“When you are.” Jen responded lightly, taking his offered arm. “It would be perfectly safe to transform at Headquarters you know.”

“I don’t want to take any chances.” Remus insisted, as they reached the basement. “For that matter, I’d feel better if you transformed first as well.”

“You’re paranoid, love.” Jen said lightly, pushing the heavy door closed behind them. “But if you insist.” She sighed, glancing around the room. “There was a time this room was more comfortable.”

“There was a time I didn’t want to focus on the pain.” Remus said darkly.

Jen paused in the act of conjuring a mattress. “You wanted it to hurt?”

“The full moons were actually a relief.” Remus admitted. “Moony knew you were missing, but he didn’t know why. It hurt like hell, yeah, but I wasn’t thinking about it. The only thing I cared about was that you weren’t there when I woke up.”

Jen slipped her wand away and wrapped her arms around him. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Remus met her kiss for a few seconds, before releasing her. “It’s time.”

He knelt down on the mattress, and Jen shifted into her wolf form, placing her paws over his hands and closing her eyes tightly, so she didn’t have to watch the actual transformation.

Retreating into her mind, she pushed the door open, allowing some of his pain to flow through into her, just enough to keep it at a bearable level for both of them.

Two minds flowed into one, as the werewolf rose within him, and they pushed back, fighting its influence until it settled down with a submissive whine, and his hands turned to paws beneath hers.

Selena opened her eyes to see Moony blinking mournfully up at her. Safe?

Safe. Moony confirmed, and she shifted back to human form.

“I haven’t done that in a while.” She remarked, stretching.

Are you alright?

Yeah, I’m fine. Jen assured him. It’s just been awhile. She conjured a few more cushions, and settled back, resting a hand on his head as he curled up beside you. It’s weird … just the two of us.

It’s been just the two of us before. Remus pointed out.

Not the whole night. We always knew James or Sirius or someone would turn up at some point.

True. Moony nudged his nose against her hand, and she moved it down to his shoulders, pressing down a little harder than normal, gently coaxing the muscles into relaxing. Thank you.

One day, Jen whispered, as she always had, always did, I’ll invent a potion to take the pain away.

Sweetheart, I love you, but you’re safest around a cauldron when you’re sticking religiously to the recipe.

Jen laughed, but didn't begrudge him his point. Ouch. Fine, I’ll get Mandy to invent one.

She’s been trying. Remus sighed. The closes we’ve got is the Wolfsbane, but it’s so complicated not even Mandy can manage.

Jen grimaced. I won’t even bother looking then.

It didn’t get rid of the pain though. Remus told her. This is better. When you’re here, the pain dulls. The Wolfsbane made it worse.

How does that work? Jen asked, concerned.

Well, first of all it tastes disgusting … Remus shuddered. Difficult to describe, but the description I gave Hermione works well enough: a mixture of sweat and sprouts, with a dash of James and Sirius’s lucky Quidditch socks come back to haunt me.

The analogy had Jen shuddering; the inadvertent memory that slipped through nearly reintroduced her to her dinner.

And you drank that three  times a month? Jen shook her head. Good Merlin … And it made the pain worse?

Well, technically, no it didn’t. Remus admitted. But whereas usually, I have you – and you dull the pain – or I have the pain through the transformation, but then I lose my human mind, so I don’t focus on it, with the potion, the pain is just as bad, but I’m then stuck with it all night.

Jen grimaced. I’m sorry.

It’s not your fault. Remus nudged her again. Behind the ears please?

Jen chuckled, moving her hand to scratch his head. You really are just a big puppy, aren’t you?

Moony rested his head on her lap and looked up at her. What are you going to do about Harry?

Jen heaved a sigh. I don’t know. I need to teach him Occlumency, but I don’t have time … Did I hear something about Hermione knowing it?

She’s a natural. Remus confirmed.

Jen nodded slowly. So she could teach Harry … I’ll remove the Occlumency block and then … She grimaced. What if there’s another reason for the block?

I don’t see how there could be. Remus said honestly. But anything’s possible, I suppose … How are you going to find out without asking Dumbledore?

I’m going to ask the one person who won’t follow Dumbledore blindly. Jen answered, heaving a heavy sigh.

Snape? Remus asked.

Jen nodded reluctantly. Snape.

***

The following evening, as the Order made their way out of Grimmauld Place, Jen somehow managed to corner Snape before he could leave (which wasn’t easy, as he tended to escape as soon as possible).

“I need a word.” She said firmly, her tone brokering no room for argument.

Somewhat reluctantly, Snape followed her into the drawing room, and waited for her to set up a Silencing Charm. “Let me guess,” he sneered, “Potter’s complained.”

“No.” Jen paused. “Actually, yes. That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about, but while I’ve got you here, what exactly justifies you to treat a child like that?!”

Snape rolled his eyes. “I know that you and your brother are somewhat biased on this subject, but surely even you must have noticed that Potter is exceptionally like his father.”

Jen raised an eyebrow, leaning against the wall. “I see more of Lily in him, actually. And you say that like it’s a bad thing. According to Harry,” she said evenly, over his retort, “you singled him out from the moment he stepped into your classroom. Now, I’m the first to admit that James wasn’t an angel to you back at school, but you gave as good as you got. Are you really so petty that you’re still trying to get one up on a dead man?”

Snape glared at her. “I am doing what I am instructed to do. For some reason, Dumbledore seems to think that Potter – mediocre as he is – is some kind of key in the fight against the Dark Lord, and he is concerned about Potter’s arrogance …”

“Arrogant?” Jen repeated. “Harry’s one of the humblest people I’ve ever met! Is that Dumbledore’s words or yours?”

“Dumbledore’s.” Snape answered, his sneer dropping. “One thing you’ve always been, Black, is realistic. Is there something I’m missing?”

Jen sighed, weighing up the options in her mind. Harry would not be happy, she knew, but it was also the only way to convince Snape that she was telling the truth. Lifting her head, she met his eyes and dropped her Occlumency shields, knowing he would take the opportunity.

He did, and she grimaced as flashes of memory passed through her mind’s eye.

When Snape had emerged as a spy during the first war, Jen had been sceptical at best. He had been up to his eyeballs in the Dark Arts at Hogwarts, and she found it difficult to believe that he had changed his tune now.

However, since her return, Sirius had confessed to her that he had slipped a mild Truth Potion into his goblet at one of the meetings.

Snape had nearly killed him, apparently, but the end result was the same – he was definitely on their side, but Jen would eat Buckbeak if he wasn’t just following Dumbledore because he was the lesser of two evils.

After less than two minutes, he pulled out of her mind, looking horrified.

“Did he know?”

“I assume so.” Jen answered, not bothering to ask who ‘he’ was. “He told you Harry was spoilt?”

“A pampered little price who’d need his head deflated.” Snape confirmed. “Having gone to school with his father, it was hardly difficult to believe.”

Jen didn’t protest that – James was an arrogant little twit in first year.

And second.

And third.

And fourth.

And fifth, for that matter, until Lily finally managed what she’d been threatening to do since they were eleven and stuck a pin in it.

He and Sirius just egged each other on. That was the problem.

“Why would Dumbledore tell you that Harry was a spoilt brat if he knew he wasn’t?” She wondered aloud. “Unless … Unless he wanted to make sure that you hated Harry, so you wouldn’t influence him.”

“And why would I influence him?” Snape drawled. “And in what?”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Tell me you trust Dumbledore completely.”

Snape folded his arms. “Do you?”

“Not in the slightest.” Jen admitted. “And I know you don’t either. Did you know he placed a magical block on Harry after that Halloween?”

Snape frowned. “No. Although that does make sense. Loathed though I am to admit it, Potter Senior was of above average power, so was Evans. I just assumed Potter Junior was holding back in class … messing around.” He hesitated for a split-second. “I did know about another block, though he doesn’t know I do.”

“The one that stops him from learning Occlumency?” Jen checked, receiving a nod. “That’s why he asked Hermione to accompany Sirius back, right? Because she’d stay out of curiosity.”

“Exactly.” Snape confirmed. “This was not what you wanted to talk about though. You already knew about the blocks and who placed them.”

“You heard the prophecy that ‘Jessica’ made?” Jen asked.

“I did.” Snape said. “It was not the real one though, was it?”

Slowly, Jen recited the real prophecy, watching his expression carefully.

“Does that mean what I think it does?” He asked, once she’d finished.

“If you mean that we have to go against Dumbledore to bring down Voldemort, then yes.” Jen said darkly. “I have reason to believe that he was behind the Memory Charm placed on me.”

Snape stared at her. “You’re kidding.”

Jen shook her head grimly. “Unfortunately not. I still don’t know why, but he’s the only one with the ability to …” She broke off, and took a deep breath. “Look we need to fight back. Are you in?”

Snape smirked slightly. “You’re having a Slytherin moment, aren’t you?”

Jen grinned. “You bet your arse I am. Okay, first of all, we can’t tell Harry about this yet – until he’s learned Occlumency, Dumbledore will just lift it out of his head.”

“I agree.” Snape said. “I will have to keep treating Potter the same way regardless – there are students at Hogwarts who will report to their parents …”

“… who will report to Voldemort.” Jen finished, seeing him flinch at the name. “Why do Death Eaters hate hearing the name?” She asked curiously.

Snape observed her silently for a few minutes, and she didn’t think he’d answer, but then he said, “The Mark burns … when we hear it or say it.”

Jen nodded, changing the subject. “So I think Dumbledore will ask you to teach Harry at some point, if he doesn’t think you know about the block. You won’t be able to; it will push more of a wedge between you …”

“And Potter won’t come to me if he starts doubting Dumbledore.” Snape concluded. “He’ll go to you or Lupin, and you, as far as Dumbledore thinks, will reassure him.”

Jen nodded. “Exactly. He’s playing us all like puppets and most of us are letting him.”

“Some of us don’t have a choice.” Snape scowled. “Do you really think I want to teach?”

“It’s that or Azkaban, right?” Jen asked, frowning. “Well, I don’t think you teaching Harry Occlumency is a good idea – nothing personal; he just doesn’t trust you and that’s key in Occlumency … Hermione can teach him.”

“Granger knows Occlumency?” Snape asked sceptically. “Who taught her?”

“No on.” Jen smirked. “She’s a natural. Then by the time Dumbledore asks you to teach him, all you have to do is check his shields.”

Snape nodded. “That should work.”

“Good.” Jen pushed herself away from the wall, and then had another thought. “Do you know what we’re guarding?”

Snape hesitated. “I can’t tell you.”

Jen narrowed her eyes. “Unbreakable Oath? Dumbledore or V … You-Know-Who?”

Snape gave her a scathing look tinged with just a hint of respect. “Do you really think I’m stupid enough to make an Unbreakable Oath to the Dark Lord?”

Jen smirked slightly. “No, I suppose not. Do you know why You-Know-Who’s targeting Harry?”

Again, Snape hesitated. “I can’t tell you that either.”

Jen frowned. “Okay. Can you tell me this: are they related? Just nod or shake your head.”

Snape thought for a second, apparently taking the time to work out whether he could tell her that without breaking the oath. Then he nodded.

“Alright …” Jen’s mind was racing. There were a lot of things in the Department of Mysteries, but what among them could have led to a baby being targeted by a mass-murderer?

“Okay, don’t worry about saying anything else.” Jen said. “There’s someone else who I think might know and I’m fairly sure isn’t under any magical obligation to keep quiet …”

***

The rest of the summer passed in a blur, and Hermione found herself on the morning of August 31st, unwilling to fully wake up, wondering where all the time had gone.

“Hermione …” Ginny called.

Hermione didn’t move, keeping her eyes closed for as long as possible. She wasn’t particularly looking for another day of grime-fighting.

“Hermione?” Ginny sighed. “Lily, if you’re there, could you give me a hand? Please?”

Hermione groaned, burying her head into her pillow, but Lily could reach her where Ginny’s voice couldn’t.

“Hermione?” Lily wheedled. “The book-lists are finally here and yours looks very thick …”

Hermione sat bolt upright, her heart thudding. She’d start fifth year tomorrow, and if her Hogwarts letter was thick, it meant only one thing. “Where?”

Ginny laughed. “Mum decided to let us have a lie-in this morning, and dropped the letters off, but it’s only a matter of time before she comes to get us. Here.”

Hermione caught the letter the redhead tossed in her direction, and ripped open the envelope, getting out of bed as she did. She pulled the letter out with shaking hands, and skimmed it quickly. “Dear Miss Granger … term begins September 1st … enclosed book list … Congratulations on making prefect!”

Ginny squeaked, grabbing the envelope and tipping it upside down, so a small red and gold badge tipped out into her hand. “Hermione, that’s fantastic!” She hugged Hermione tightly. “I mean, there wasn’t much competition between you, Lavender and Parvati, but well done! Who do you think the male prefect is?”

Hermione’s eyes widened – she hadn’t thought of that. “I don’t know.” She grabbed the offered badge and, closely followed by Lily, dashed out of the room and down the stairs, bursting into the boys’ bedroom.

Fred and George were in there as well, and all four were staring at the identical badge in Harry’s hand.

Hermione let out a shriek equal to Lily’s, and flung her arms around Harry’s neck. “Harry, me too!”

“No.” Harry said quickly, shoving the badge into Ron’s hand. “It’s Ron, not me.”

“What?” Lily asked, surprised.

“What?” Hermione echoed.

“Ron’s prefect, not me.” Harry repeated.

Hermione knew her mouth had dropped open, and she tried desperately to close it. “Ron? But … But I thought … Are you sure?”

“Quit while you’re ahead, dear.” Lily advised.

“It’s my name on the letter.” Ron told her defiantly.

Hermione turned red. “I’m sorry, Ron … I just assumed …”

“You just assumed no one in their right mind would make me prefect.” Ron finished moodily. “Yeah, I get it.”

“No!” Hermione protested. “No, I came in and Harry was holding the badge, so I assumed he was the prefect. If you’d been holding the badge, I’d have guessed it was you. I’m sorry.” She crossed the room and hugged him as well. “Well done, Ron; it’s really …”

“Unexpected.” Fred finished.

“Ye … No!” Hermione glared at him. “Ron’s done loads of stuff; he’ll be a great prefect.” At that moment, to her considerable relief, she heard footsteps on the stairs. “I think that’s your mum coming – I’ll just …”

“Wait!” Harry caught her arm, as she went to leave. “How are … How are they taking it?”

“I’m surprised.” Lily said honestly, when Hermione looked at her. “After everything that’s happened, I was expecting Harry to be the prefect, but as you said, Ron will be a great prefect, and that he got the badge over Harry should be a reflection of his assets, not Harry’s short-comings, whatever they may be. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been very happy if Harry had the badge, but I’m hardly about to disown him because he doesn’t.”

“They’re proud of you, no matter what.” Hermione summarised. “She’d have been happy if you had the badge, but she’s not disappointed that you don’t.”

Harry broke into a relieved grin. “Are you going down to tell the others?”

“Yeah.” Hermione paused at the door. “You want me to tell them about this as well?”

Harry nodded. “Could you?”

“Course.” Hermione smiled at Ron. “Congratulations, Ron. Don’t listen to these idiots.” She jerked her head at the twin, who made joint noises of outrage, and left the room, almost bumping into Mrs Weasley. “Sorry, Mrs Weasley.”

“Quite alright, dear.” Mrs Weasley peered at her over the laundry basket. “Are you alright, Hermione? You look a little flushed.”

“I’m fine.” Hermione assured her. “Do you have tissues on you, by any chance?”

Mrs Weasley frowned in confusion. “I’m afraid not, dear, why?”

Hermione moved out of her way. “You’re going to need one.” She left Mrs Weasley standing outside the boys’ door, and made her way downstairs, hearing the woman’s shriek float down after her.

Mrs Black’s curtain twitched, but, fortunately, stayed closed.

“Guess she knows.” James remarked, appearing beside her.

***

Down in the kitchen, Sirius, Remus and Jen were already awake, discussing the lateness of the school letter. “We never got ours this late.” Jen was saying, when Hermione stepped into the kitchen.

“Guess Dumbledore finally got …” Sirius trailed off. “Morning, Hermione.”

“Morning.” Hermione said brightly. “Finally got what?”

“Defence teacher.” Sirius answered. “He’s been having some trouble finding someone – that’s why the letters were so late.”

“Speaking of the letters,” Jen said slowly, “I’m afraid that you lot aren’t going to Diagon Alley. Molly’s going for you.”

Hermione grimaced. “Jen, we haven’t left this house for weeks!”

Jen sighed. “I’m sorry, Hermione. But we have to pick our battles, and …” She trailed off. “You’re off to Hogwarts tomorrow, which means you, at least, get to leave the house.”

Hermione nodded. “I know.” Her face lit up again. “But I got it!”

“Got what?” Sirius asked blankly.

Jen rolled her eyes, smacking her brother over the head as she got up. “She’s in fifth year, Sirius. She’s the Gryffindor prefect, aren’t you?” She directed at Hermione.

Hermione nodded, accepting her hug. “Me and Ron.”

“Oh, Hermione, I’m so happy for …” Jen trailed off, and released her. “Ron?”

“Ron.” Hermione confirmed. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear Mrs Weasley’s reaction.”

“Ah, is that what that was?” Sirius asked.

Hermione laughed. “Anyway, Harry asked me to tell you. He’s a bit …”

“I bet.” Jen frowned. “I could have sworn it’d be Harry.”

“Maybe Dumbledore thinks Harry’s got enough on his plate.” Remus suggested. “Or that Ron could do with a confidence boost.”

“Maybe.” Jen conceded. “You’ll have to talk to him, Sirius.”

“Me?” Sirius asked. “Why me?”

“Because you’re the most convincing.” Remus told him drily. “Just pretend we’re back in fifth year and you’re responding to my badge.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “I’m not fifteen anymore.” He stood up, and pulled Hermione into a hug. “Whatever I say to Harry, I’m proud of you.”

Hermione smiled. “Thanks, Padfoot.”

The kitchen door opened again, and Fred and George stalked in, the latter nicking a piece of toast off the table, before sinking into a chair. “That woman,” he announced, “is unbelievable.”

“Congratulations, Hermione, by the way.” Fred said.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “You hate prefects.”

Fred shrugged. “We hate annoying prefects. You won’t be that annoying. You’re practically a Marauder heir; it’s your prerogative not to be.”

“Besides,” George added, “just because we don’t want to be prefects doesn’t mean you don’t. And we know it means a lot to you, so well done.”

“So why tease Ron?” Hermione asked, frowning.

“Because we knew what was coming.” George scowled. “You should have heard Mum.” He put on a high-pitched voice. “Our little Ronnie, a prefect! That’s everyone in the family!”

“What about you two?” Jen asked. “And Ginny.”

“Mum sees what she wants to see.” Fred scowled. “There’s nothing like a prefects badge to get Mum nagging us again.”

Remus? Jen asked. What exactly happened with Percy?

How did you get there? Remus responded, sounding bewildered.

Call it a hunch. Jen said.

Well, I don’t know the full story, but from what I can gather …

***

Hermione patted Fred’s shoulder as she passed. “Sorry about that. Look at the bright side, you’ve only got one day of it, and then …” she trailed off. “Sirius, why do Jen and Remus seem to be in a trance?”

Sirius glanced at them. “Didn’t Harry tell you about the bond?”

Hermione frowned, shaking her head. “And I don’t think Remus ever mentioned it either.”

“They share a soul-bond.” Sirius explained. “They’re probably having a private conversation. It is possible for them to do that and talk out loud as well, about something completely different, but sometimes they just …”

They can hear you.” Jen interrupted tartly.

Sirius shrugged at Hermione. “See?”

“How long has it been there?” Hermione asked.

“Since the beginning of seventh year.” Jen answered, smiling. “At one time, there were various legal repercussions – although why they’re called repercussions, I don’t know, because it’s not like you choose to bond …”

Hermione frowned. “Then how do you do it?”

“It just happens.” Jen explained. “A soul-bond is … just that. Two souls … bonding. Oh, shut up, you.” She directed at Remus, who – for all appearances – had been keeping a perfectly straight face. “Let’s see you explain it any better.”

“You’ve heard of soul mates, I assume?” Remus asked Hermione, who nodded. “In the magical world, they actually exist. But just being soul mates doesn’t necessarily mean that you will bond with that person; a lot of soul-bonds go unformed. There’s no fall-out from that, and it’s perfectly possible for those people to end up in a relationship with someone who isn’t their soul mate without forever feeling like something’s missing like they do in the stories.”

“However, if one person has experienced a magical surge or is suffering from magical exhaustion,” Jen continued, “in our case, the transformation one full moon, and they make physical contact, preferably skin to skin, the bond will form, leaving them with a shared mind.”

“Wow …” Hermione whispered. “I guess that’s because only someone you trust would be that close to you after something like that.”

“Exactly.” Remus confirmed. “Because of the shared mind, Jen can help me keep control of myself at the full moon. If we keep contact throughout the transformation, I never lose my human mind.”

“It’s almost like the Wolfsbane Potion, except I …” Jen stopped, glaring at Remus. “I am not saying that!”

“I will then.” Sirius smirked. “You taste better.”

Hermione pulled a face. “I could have gone my entire life without knowing that.”

“Sorry, Hermione.” Jen said, switching her glare to her brother. “Hey, Remus? Remember when Sirius couldn’t watch us hold hands without pretending to vomit?”

“Yes.” Remus sighed. “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss those days.”

“Mya!” Fred sang, apparently ignoring the byplay (although with the twins, you could never be sure). “You might want to go and get dressed, love.”

Hermione glanced down, only just realising that she was still dressed in the nightdress she’d slept in – thankfully, it was fairly modest.

“Oops, sorry.” James said, with an innocent expression she didn’t believe for a second. “Should I have warned you about that?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Would have been nice, James, yes. Thanks for telling me, Fred – although you could have said something upstairs – no wonder Harry looked like he was about to have a coronary.” She added, on the way out of the kitchen.

Chuckling, Jen hurried after her, guiding her into the drawing room. “I need to talk to you quickly.”

“Alright.” Hermione perched on the edge of the sofa. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Jen assured her. “I just need to ask you for a favour. I need you to teach Harry Occlumency.”

“Okay.” Hermione agreed slowly. “Why, out of interest?”

Jen sighed. “I think that there might be a link between Harry and Voldemort, which is the reason for the dreams Harry had last year. I’m worried that Voldemort might be able to use that link to see what Harry’s thinking.”

“Well, that’s not good.” Hermione stated unnecessarily.

“No, it is not.” Jen agreed. “But, to be honest, I’m more worried about Dumbledore than Voldemort. At the moment, we don’t know anything about Voldemort; there’s nothing for him to find, but …”

“You don’t trust Dumbledore, and you don’t need him to find that out.” Hermione finished, standing up. “No problem – I’ll see what I can do. You’ll have to check his shields though, because I’ll just step right through them.”

“Of course.” Jen assured her. “Alright, you can go and get dressed now.”

“Thanks.” Hermione made her way back upstairs to her room, where Ginny, already dressed, was rifling through her trunk.

“Just to warn you – I think Mum’s planning on throwing you and Ron a party tonight.”

“Wonderful.” Hermione said with a sigh. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the sentiment – she just knew her best friend and she knew that, despite his inevitable protests to the contrary, Harry was disappointed that he didn’t get the badge. “Ginny …” She said slowly. “Do you think I should try to write to Mum?”

The question had been eating at her since she opened her letter. Her mother, she knew, would be thrilled that her daughter was a prefect.

Ginny bit her lip. “Send it with Hedwig.” She suggested after a few minutes. “She’s smart enough to avoid him.”

Hermione nodded, dressed quickly, and once again traced the route down to Harry and Ron’s room.

Harry was alone now, sitting on his bed with his back against the wall, staring at his feet. He looked up quickly when she entered. “Hermione …”

“I’m really sorry, Harry,” Hermione said, beating him to it. “I was expecting you to get it.”

“I’m fine.” Harry insisted.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t lie to me, Harry James. You’re jealous.”

“I’m not …” Harry began, then sighed. “Alright, maybe I am a little jealous. My parents were both prefects and …”

“Harry, stop it.” Hermione said, nudging him gently. “You do not have to do everything your parents do to make them proud of you, alright? And, besides, your dad wasn’t prefect in fifth year,” she added, remembering James’s reminiscing. “He got the badge in sixth – Merlin knows why they changed. Maybe McGonagall was trying to instil some sense of responsibility.”

Harry snorted. “Something tells me it didn’t work.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Hermione shrugged. “He got Head Boy, didn’t he?” She patted his hand. “My point is that your mum and dad love you and you don’t need a prefect badge to make them proud of you.”

“Thanks, Hermione.” Harry slung one arm round her shoulder to give her half a hug. “Now what are you really doing here?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Can’t get anything past you, can I? Can I borrow Hedwig to send a letter? I want to tell Mum I’m a prefect.” She sighed. “I could use Muggle post, I suppose, but as soon as Father sees my handwriting, he’ll burn the letter. At least this way, she might actually read it.”

Harry hesitated, even as Hedwig fluttered down from the top of the wardrobe to perch on his knee. “Well … alright, but she needs to stay away from your father, alright?”

Hermione nodded, and Hedwig hooted reassuringly, nipping Harry’s finger affectionately before flying up to Hermione’s shoulder.

“Thanks, Harry.” Hermione squeezed his hand lightly, and returned to her room, which was now empty, Ginny having disappeared somewhere.

Sitting down at the desk, Hermione let Hedwig fly to the widow sill, and found a piece of Muggle paper and a pen. She had to shake the pen several times to get it to work, because it hadn’t been used in so long, but finally she managed to muster up enough ink to make it work.

Using Muggle instruments to compose the letter was automatic rather then by conscious choice – Hermione had always had the impression that her mother was a little intimidated by the wizarding world, so kept her interactions with and letters to her as Muggle as possible.

Dear Mum,

I’m sorry I haven’t written for so long. Honestly, I didn’t trust Father around owls. I trust Hedwig to stay away from him, and she will fly straight back after delivering this letter.

Hermione paused, chewing the end of her pen, trying to word the rest of the letter.

If you want to write back, there’s a Post Office in Diagon Alley – you know where the Leaky Cauldron is. Tom will help you get in if you’re having trouble.

I wanted to tell you that I’m the fifth year prefect for Gryffindor! Ginny says there wasn’t much competition, but I’m really happy all the same.

Now, Mum, I have some bad news. You-Know-Who isn’t as dead as we thought. The Ministry of Magic is refusing to admit it, but he’s back, Mum.

Don’t worry though – I spent the summer somewhere safe, with Moony and Selena, and I’m back at Hogwarts tomorrow.

Again, Hermione paused, but pressed on.

You might have guessed that I know what you’ve been keeping from me – the Memory Charm broke last summer. I don’t know why you felt the need to lie to me, but I’m sure you had your reasons.

I love you, Mum, and I’ll write again when I can.

Hermione x

Hermione put her pen down, and read through the letter again. “Alright, that should do.”

Hedwig flew over to her, holding her leg out, and Hermione tied it on, her gaze sliding to a letter half-buried on her desk. She didn’t have to read it again to know what it said, in hurried yet neat handwriting.

Granger,

Correspondence not as safe as it could be – proceed with highest caution or not at all. Mother has convinced Father to hold off on Mark, should stay that way until September.

Plan?

DM

She had received it not even a day after the holidays started, but she had yet to reply.

Hedwig hooted softly, alerting Hermione to the fact that she was still there.

“You know where my parents live, Hedwig.” Hermione murmured, glancing at the window to make sure that, yes, it was open.

Hedwig hooted again, pecking at Draco’s letter.

“You think I should reply?” Hermione asked. “How?”

With a third hoot, Hedwig began pulling at another piece of parchment, and Hermione retrieved it, realising that it was the Marauders Map, which she had rescued from the Defence Against the Dark Arts office while Barty Crouch Jr. was confessing all under the influence of Veritaserum. The Map had still been in her pocket when she left with Sirius, and had been in her possession ever since.

A smile crossed her face, and she mentally berated herself for not thinking of it earlier. “Hedwig?” She asked. “Do you mind making another delivery?”

***

Footsteps again.

As they approached the door, and passed on by without stopping, Draco Malfoy breathed a shaky sigh of relief. His mother was a force to be reckoned with and his father, however much Draco loathed him, generally knew to pick his battles.

That didn’t mean that he might not decide that it was time for his only son to follow in his footsteps and receive the Dark Mark.

He’d managed to get one letter out to Hermione Granger, but, really, what could she do?

Whatever his father and his ‘colleagues’ said about Muggle-borns, Draco had to admit she was highly intelligent, but she was still a fifteen-year-old.

At this rate, I’ll end up a Death Eater and married to Pansy Parkinson. He paused, grimacing. I don’t know which is worse.

A tapping sound at his window roused him from his thoughts and he looked up to see a snowy owl sitting on his window sill. He got up to let her in, and she swooped across the room to land on his desk, hooting smugly and looking very proud of herself.

“Did you get inside without getting caught?” He asked, before catching himself. And now I’m talking to owls. Brilliant.

The owl, however, hooted again and bobbed her head as though she was nodding.

“Okay …” Draco approached her. “Can I have that then?” He took the letter from the leg she held out, and tore it open.

Malfoy,

I can’t believe i’m actually writing thiS but you’ve left me no choice. Can i please have my potions book back? Have you any idea how much homework snape gave us? I supposE you think this is Funny, holding this over my head, but it’s not.

There was no signature.

Draco frowned. He was fairly sure he hadn’t packed anyone else’s books when he returned home for the summer holidays, and anyway …

That’s Granger’s handwriting. But her grammar’s meticulous usually – this is a mess. Capital letters all over … the … place …

He narrowed his eyes at the letter, picking out the capitals. M … I … S … C … H … I … E … F …

Drawing his wand, he tapped the letter. “Mischief.”
The ink seemed to soak into the parchment for a second, before reappearing into a very different message.

Draco,

Hopefully you figured out the code – admittedly, it wasn’t my best, but I was running on short notice! I’m sorry I haven’t been able to reply until now, but it wasn’t until this morning that I realised I could use this method. Hedwig is Harry’s owl – but he thinks she’s with my mum, so please send her back quickly!

I’m afraid I don’t have a plan as of yet, but I am in contact with people who are forming one. I think they’re planning on kidnapping – for want of a better word – Harry next summer, and I will talk to them about you.

I’m the Gryffindor prefect, by the way – hope I don’t have to give out too many detentions!

Hermione Granger

Draco read the letter through three times, before he convinced himself he hadn’t imagined it. “How did she do that?” He asked Hedwig. “She’s Muggle-born; she can’t do magic at home.”

Another tapping sound, this time at the door, and it opened to admit his mother, clad in elegant grey robes. “Who are you talking to, Draco?”

“Hedwig.” Draco said, gesturing to her. “I was thinking aloud.”

“Of course.” Narcissa set up a Silencing Charm, and stroked Hedwig’s feathers. “She is a beauty. Who does she belong to?”

“Harry Potter.” Draco smirked. “She was bringing me a letter from a mutual acquaintance.”

If his mother was surprised by the owl’s origins, she didn’t show it. Instead, she asked, “Who is this mutual acquaintance, and could your father have read that letter?”

“I got the impression she hadn’t been intercepted.” Draco assured her. “Even if she had, the charm on the letter hadn’t been broken.”

Narcissa took the letter from her son and read it through. She mouthed the name at the bottom with a slight frown. “That’s the young lady who translated for Minister Fudge in the Top Box last summer, isn’t it?”

Draco nodded.

“I wonder if she managed to get my message to my cousin.” Narcissa murmured.

“Mother?” Draco questioned.

“Hermione Granger, for all your father’s beliefs, is not a Muggle-born, Draco.” Narcissa told him. “She is a half-blood, heir to the Thompson Family.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Draco frowned. “She takes a lot of stick from my house-mates – and me, in the past – about her blood status; why not just tell the truth?”

“Maybe she thought you wouldn’t believe her.” Narcissa said dryly. “It’s possible she doesn’t even know. Her mother left the wizarding world after her first husband was killed.”

Draco tilted his head towards the door, silently asking if Death Eaters were the cause of his death. He knew that the Thompson name was one he should know, but the familiarity danced just out of reach.

Narcissa nodded. “Exactly. But my cousin was very fond of her as a child, which was why I thought she might be able to get a message to him.”

Draco had half a mind to ask what his mother had needed to tell her cousin so desperately. She spoke very little of her family – it was his father who had taught him of the various bloodlines and family trees – and he had a feeling that his knowledge was incomplete, but he did know that her cousin was the supposed mass-murderer Sirius Black (and, given the hilarity he had overheard at a dinner party shortly after the man’s escape from Azkaban, it was supposed), and that he was her Head of House.

However, before he could open his mouth, there was a timid knocking at the door, and he opened it to find one of the house elves standing there.

“Master Draco, I is sorry to be disturbing you, sir!” He squeaked, wringing his hands. “But a letter is coming for Mistress, sir, and I is not finding her!”

“I am right here, Twitch.” Narcissa said, stepping out of Draco’s room. “We will speak later, Draco.”

“Of course, Mother.” Draco nodded.

***

Narcissa sighed as she closed the door behind her. It was so rare that she could have an uncensored discussion with her son, but she enjoyed every one of them. “Where is the letter, Twitch?”

“Master has it, Mistress, in the drawing room.” Twitch told her with a low bow. “It is having the Black family crest, Mistress.”

Narcissa hid a grimace. “Thank you, Twitch.”

Twitch bowed again and disappeared with a loud crack. Narcissa made her way down the stairs, her heart thudding.

Who would be writing to her with the family crest?

Sirius wouldn’t risk it surely, and Andromeda – her heart clenched painfully – had been disowned, but there was no one else, unless …

Unless the whisper of Jen’s return had not been unfounded.

Despite her racing thoughts, she did not rush – a lady in her position was not supposed to rush, even if she dearly wished to.

Smoothing down her robes, she reinforced her Occlumency shields and tapped on the door of the drawing room.

“Enter.”

Narcissa pushed the door open and stepped inside. “The elf said I had received a … Oh!” She sank into a hasty curtsey, only just seeing the person seated in one of the high-backed chairs by the fire. “Forgive me, my Lord, I was not aware of your presence.”

The Dark Lord merely smiled thinly. “That is no surprise, Narcissa. I did ask Lucius to keep my presence quiet.”

“You have a letter, Narcissa.” Lucius said coolly. “Have you contacted your family recently?”

“Not that I am aware of.” Narcissa responded. “Of course, if the rumours of my blood-traitor cousin’s return are true, she will take the Head of House position by proxy, which means it is her prerogative to contact members of the family to inform them. May I?”

Lucius handed the letter over and she broke the seal, glad that he had at least respected her privacy enough to not open the letter himself. Sure enough, it was Jen’s handwriting, and she read the letter aloud, as was expected, hoping her voice remained steady.

Cousin,

As I am sure your husband has informed you, my disappearance was due to nothing more sinister than a Memory Charm – very well-placed and very well-planned; I salute the mind of whoever was responsible.

With our Lord Black currently wanted for mass murder, I have taken the decision and the liberty to accept the duties of Baroness Blackmoor by proxy.

With this in mind, and with fourteen years of society news to catch up on, I ask that you meet me – alone – outside the Leaky Cauldron at midday tomorrow.

Lady Jennifer Black

Acting Baroness Blackmoor

Narcissa looked up, meeting Lucius’s icy gaze. “If that was all?”

“You can’t possibly be thinking of going.” Lucius said sharply.

Narcissa was about to remind him of their position, when the Dark Lord, to her surprise, spoke up.

“Now, Lucius, be reasonable. I cannot see that Narcissa has any choice but to attend.”

Narcissa dipped another curtsey in his direction. “Thank you, my Lord.” She turned to Lucius. “Jennifer was always, if nothing else, honourable. If she wants to meet me alone, she will be also. If I do not attend, she will assume that you have stopped me, and that would leave us with quite a dilemma on our hands. You know how … sentimental she is.”

Lucius frowned slightly, but nodded, conceding her point. “Very well. You feel confident that she will not ask too many questions?”

“She will ask.” Narcissa said coldly. “I am capable of lying. As I said, she is sentimental. She will believe that I know nothing.”

“Very well.” Lucius turned away from her, clearly indicating that the discussion was over, and she curtsied once more, before backing out of the room.

As soon as she was out of earshot (and out of mind), she abandoned restraint and hurried to her bedchamber to compose a reply. Only when that door was firmly shut and locked behind her, did she allow herself to smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten - Departures

True to Ginny’s guesses, dinner that evening turned into a party in Ron and Hermione’s honour. Harry spent the evening unusually quiet, even after Jen, Remus and Sirius had reminisced about the stick Sirius and James had given Remus when he got the badge in fifth year (conveniently leaving out how Remus got his own back when the badge passed to James in sixth).

As he sat on the side lines, watching Ron talk to Tonks about his new broom, Harry became aware of Mrs Weasley talking to her husband. “Well, I’m going to sort that Boggart out and turn in. Arthur, I don’t want this lot up too late, alright?” She got to her feet and caught Harry’s eye. “Night, Harry, dear.”

Harry lifted a hand in acknowledgement, and was about to follow her example, when Moody sat down next to him. “Alright, Potter?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Moody took a swig from his hipflask, eyeing Harry in a way that clearly stated that he didn’t believe it. “Got something that might interest you here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old photograph, tattered around the edges. “Original Order of the Phoenix,” he explained, as Harry peered at it. “Found it last night when I was looking for my spare Invisibility Cloak – since Podmore hasn’t had the manners to return my best one. Thought people might like to see it.”

“What’s that, Mad-Eye?” Jen asked, wandering over. “Oh, I remember that day. New Year’s, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right.” Moody grunted. “That’s me,” he said unnecessarily. “There’s Dumbledore beside me, Dedalus Diggle on the other side … Hestia Jones, you know her. That’s Frank and Alice Longbottom …”

Jen’s stomach clenched, as the two smiled and waved up at them, Alice’s baby bump only just visible. She still hadn’t gone to St Mungo’s – she wasn’t sure she could face it.

“Neville looks like her.” Harry whispered, just loud enough for her to hear, and her hand found his shoulder and squeezed.

“Poor devils.” Moody growled. “Better dead than what happened to them … and that’s Emmeline Vance, you’ve met her, and that’s Lupin obviously …”

“And me.” Jen added with a smile. “And Mandy and Arabella.”

“Benjy Fenwick,” Moody continued, pointing to the next wizard along, “he copped it – we only ever found bits of him.”

Jen flinched; she remembered finding those bits. “Mad-Eye …”

“That’s Edgar Bones,” Moody said, ignoring her as he prodded the photo with his wand to get its occupants to move around. “Brother of Amelia Bones and Alice Longbottom, they got him and his family too, he was a great wizard … Sturgis Podmore, blimey, he looks young …”

“Yeah, he does.” Jen agreed, squeezing Harry’s shoulder. “Mad-Eye, don’t you think …”

“Caradoc Dearborn,” Moody went on, as though she hadn’t spoken, “vanished six months after this, we never found his body … Hagrid, of course, looks the same as ever … Elphias Doge, you’ve met him – I’d forgotten he used to wear that stupid hat … Fabian and Gideon Prewett, it took ten Death Eaters to kill them, they fought like heroes … Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, only time I ever met him, strange bloke … that’s Dorcas Meadowes, Voldemort killed her personally … Sirius, when he still had short hair, and … there you go, thought that would interest you!”

Jen closed her eyes. James and Lily, the latter glowing just as much as Alice, were standing either side of Peter, laughing and joking with him. Her stomach was churning at the sight – she dreaded to think what Harry was feeling.

Before she could ask Moody why he thought that was appropriate topic of discussion, Sirius asked, “What have you got there, Mad-Eye?”

With Moody sufficiently distracted, Harry slipped out of the kitchen.

What was all that about? Remus asked.

Mad-Eye decided that showing Harry a picture of the Order and telling him exactly what happened to them all would cheer him up.

You know what Mad-Eye’s like, love – he doesn’t think the same way the rest of us do.

There’s an understatement. Jen hurried out of the kitchen after Harry, catching up with him outside the living room on the first floor and steering him inside. “You okay?”

Harry shrugged. “I guess. It just took me by surprise, that’s all. I knew the last war was bad, and I knew a lot of people died, but to see them like that …”

Jen sighed. “I know. I don’t know what Mad-Eye was trying to achieve, but …” She broke off, shaking her head. “I was talking about the prefect thing as well, you know.”

Harry walked over to the window, staring out over Grimmauld Place. “If I’m jealous of Ron, does that make me a bad person?”

“No.” Jen answered immediately.

“But …” Harry fidgeted slightly. “It’s always me who gets the attention – shouldn’t I be happy that he’s getting recognised for once?”

“Aren’t you?” Jen asked in response.

“Well, yeah, but …”

“But nothing.” Jen interrupted. “Honey, jealousy is an emotion – and emotions are irrational. They often have no rhyme or reason behind them. And there is nothing wrong with wanting recognition for your own achievements for once.” She leaned against the wall. “Now, Harry, there’s something very important that I need to talk to you about.”

Harry turned quickly to look at her. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

Jen wished she had another answer for him. “No. I’m going to tell you why I can’t.”

“Oh.” Harry wrinkled his nose. “Next best thing, I suppose.”

Jen smiled. “That’s the spirit.” Her smile faded quickly, however. “Harry, we think the reason you keep having strange dreams is that you have a connection with Voldemort – a mental connection.”

Harry turned white. “B-But …”

“Harry, listen to me.” Jen said urgently, crossing the room to take hold of his shoulders. “It does not mean you’re helpless in this, alright? Hermione is going to teach you Occlumency – I need you to promise me that you will do absolutely everything she tells you to do.”

Despite his obvious concern, Harry managed a weak smile. “I do that anyway.”

Jen chuckled. “Smart boy. As far as I know, Voldemort hasn’t figured it out yet, but if he does …”

“He can just find out what the Order knows from my mind, can’t he?” Harry concluded gloomily. “That’s why no one will tell me anything.”

Jen sighed. “I can tell you what he already knows, Harry. There’s something in the Department of Mysteries – that’s the door you keep dreaming about. You’re dreaming about it because Voldemort’s thinking about it.”

“What does he want?” Harry asked in a whisper.

“I can’t tell you, Harry.” Jen admitted. “I don’t know myself. But that’s why you need to tell me if that door opens, because we need to know.”

Harry nodded. “I will, Jen, I promise.”

“I know you will, cub.” Jen said softly. “Listen, can I just take a look? I want to see if I can remove the link – I don’t think I can, but I don’t want to end up kicking myself later.”

“Sure.” Harry agreed easily.

“Thank you.” Jen caught his gaze and held it. “Legilimens.” She plunged into his mind once more.

This time, knowing it was there, it was easy to see the link with Voldemort – like a lightning bolt shaped crack in the wall of his mind, oozing something that looked like black tar.

Jen examined it as closely as she could without actually touching it – the last thing she wanted to do was alert Voldemort to its presence.

It was immediately obvious to her that there was nothing she could do, and she retreated, staying in Harry’s mind just long enough to remove the block preventing him from learning Occlumency.

“Did you get rid of it?” Harry asked, when she blinked and broke eye contact.

Jen frowned. “No. Why, did you feel a difference?”

“I feel more relaxed.” Harry said. “Ever since he came back, I’ve felt really tense and on edge all the time.”

Jen grimaced. “No, cub, it’s still there, I’m afraid. I did remove …” She trailed off. “Can’t tell you that yet. Work on that Occlumency, then we’ll talk.” She hesitated for a second more, before deciding to leave the other block in place for the time being.

James and Lily had both been incredibly powerful and, if Harry had even a fraction of that, the backlash from unleashing it would be bigger than she could deal with right now – at least without blowing Headquarters to smithereens.

The idea itself wasn’t that unappealing to Jen – but she had a feeling that the Muggles either side of them wouldn’t be too happy and it might – might – just be a little difficult to explain to Dumbledore without tipping her hand.

“Alright, kiddo, it’s late and you’ve got school tomorrow.” She said, pulling Harry into a hug.

“Okay, I’ll …” Harry trailed off, lifting his head. “Do you hear that?”

Jen frowned, listening intently. There was a low throbbing sound, almost like someone was crying. “I do.” She left the living room, Harry close behind her, and followed the noise down the stairs to the drawing room.

“Hello?” Harry called, quietly, so as not to wake Mrs Black.

Jen pushed the door open and froze, barely biting back a scream as Harry stiffened beside her. Molly, wand in hand, was cowering against the wall, staring in horror at Ron, who was lying motionless in the middle of the room.

For a second, Jen thought the house had finally done what it had been threatening to do all summer and actually killed someone. Then logic kicked back in. Remus? Is Ron with you?

Yeah, still going on about his broom. Want us to send the kids up to bed then?

Not yet.

Realisation and relief flooded through her, as Molly aimed her wand at Ron and croaked, “R-R-Ridikulus!”

With a crack, Ron turned into Bill, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.

Molly’s sobs increased. “R-R-Ridikulus!”

“Mrs Weasley!” Harry called from behind her. “Let someone else handle it.”

Crack. Arthur’s body appeared instead, glasses askew, a trickle of blood slowly making its way down from his forehead.

“No …” Molly whimpered. “Ridikulus! Ridikulus!”

Crack. Dead twins, slumped over each other as though they’d both tried to take a curse for the other. Crack. Dead Percy, with a look of dawning horror in his eyes, as though he’d realised they were right just a little too late.

“Molly!” Jen said loudly, moving forward. “Let me …”

Crack.

Jen stopped dead, this time unable to hold back the scream of horror that escaped her, as Percy became Harry, lying spread-eagled and obviously dead in the moonlight.

“What’s going on?” Remus ran in, closely followed by Sirius and Moody. He took one look at the scene before him, pushed Jen behind him and drew his own wand. “Ridikulus!”

With a crack, the full moon was floating in the air in front of them, and he flicked his wand again, almost lazily. “Ridikulus.”

The Boggart vanished in a puff of smoke, and Molly collapsed, sobbing hysterically.

Alright? Remus asked, as he moved to comfort Molly.

Surprised me. Give me a minute. Look after her.

“Molly, don’t … It was just a Boggart, that’s all.” Remus soothed as Molly began crying into his shoulder. He rubbed her back comfortingly. “Just a Boggart.”

“I s-see them d-dead all the time!” Molly sobbed. “All the t-time! I dream about it!”

“We all do.” Jen said softly, finally forcing her legs to move her over to Molly’s side.

“D-d-don’t tell Arthur.” Molly pleaded. “I d-don’t want him t-to know … being s-silly …”

Remus handed her a handkerchief and she blew her nose loudly. Sirius shook himself out of the trance that seeing Harry’s dead body seemed to have put him in and moved forwards, putting a comforting hand on Molly’s shoulder.

“Harry, I’m so sorry.” She said quietly. “What must you think of me? Not even able to get rid of a Boggart.”

“Don’t be silly.” Harry smiled. “Hermione once panicked that we couldn’t light a fire because we didn’t have any wood.”

Molly attempted a smile, but tears spilled out of her eyes again. “I just s-so worried! H-Half the family’s in the O-Order; it’ll b-be a m-miracle if we all come through this … and P-Percy’s not talking to us … what if something d-dreadful happens and we never m-made it up with him? And what’s g-going to happen if Arthur and I are killed; who’s g-going to look after Ron and G-Ginny?”

“Molly, that’s enough!” Remus told her firmly. “This isn’t like the last time. The Order are better prepared, we’ve got a head start, we know what Voldemort’s up to – come on, it’s time you got used to hearing the name – look, I can’t promise that no one’s going to get hurt, nobody can promise that, but we’re much better off than we were last time. You weren’t in the Order then, you don’t understand. Last time, we were outnumbered twenty-to-one by Death Eaters and they were picking us off one by one …”

“Don’t worry about Percy.” Sirius cut in. “He’ll come around. It’s only a matter of time before Voldemort moves out into the open; once he does, the whole Ministry’s going to be begging us to forgive them. And I’m not sure I’ll be accepting their apology.”

Jen sent him a scolding look, then smiled comfortingly at Molly. “And as for who’s going to look after Ron and Ginny if something happened to you, what do you think we’d do; let them starve?”

Molly smiled shakily. “Being silly.”

“You’re not being silly, Molly.” Jen said firmly. “You’re being a mum.” She looked up at her brother. “Sirius, can you send the kids up to bed …”

“They’ve already gone.” Sirius told her. “We sent them up ahead of us.”

“Alright.” Jen squeezed Molly’s shoulder. “I’ll make sure they’re in bed, Molly. You take your time.” She stood up and ushered Harry out of the room. “Bed, Harry, go on.”

Sirius followed them up the stairs. “Jen, Molly said you disappeared into the Post Office today – who were you writing to?”

Jen paused on the first floor, allowing Harry’s footsteps to fade on his way up to the second. “Narcissa. We’re meeting for lunch tomorrow.”

Sirius frowned. “Why?”

Jen rolled her eyes. “First of all, she’s my cousin, and I want to have lunch with her. Second of all, I want to know if she knows what we’re guarding.” She sighed. “I want to know what Voldemort would know about the Department of Mysteries anyway. He didn’t have any Unspeakables on side last I heard.”

Sirius scowled. “Augustus Rookwood. Outed as a Death Eater after Voldemort fell.”

Rookwood was a Death Eater?

Is. He’s in Azkaban. Doubting your brother?

No. It just explains a lot. We knew that Addie and Leona’s parents were in the Order, right?

Right. Remus agreed. But it didn’t make sense that they were attacked, because the Order was top secret and the McKinnons were generally a neutral family – there were more outspoken families for Voldemort to start with.

Exactly. Marlene McKinnon was an Unspeakable, and Addie mentioned that Rookwood was coming to dinner during the Easter holidays.

You think Marlene was supposed to try to recruit him? Remus guessed. I suppose that would make sense.

“Jen?” Sirius prompted. “You alright?”

“Hmm?” Jen faked a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I need to check on the kids. I’ll see you later.” She jogged up to the third floor and knocked on the girls’ door, letting herself in.

“Is Mum okay?” Ginny asked immediately, already in bed.

“She’s fine.” Jen assured her. “A bad encounter with a Boggart, that’s all.” Automatically, she tucked the covers around the redhead, before crossing the room and doing the same with Hermione.

“I can’t remember the last time someone tucked me in.” Hermione murmured.

“Sirius, two nights ago, when you fell asleep in the drawing room.” Ginny supplied sleepily.

“Not what I meant, and you know it.” Hermione shot back.

Jen smiled, leaning down to kiss Hermione’s forehead. “Sorry, sweetheart.”

“Not your fault.” Hermione yawned. “Jen, I keep meaning to tell you. Draco Malfoy needs help; he doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps.”

Jen closed her eyes. She had been hoping that Narcissa’s son was more like his mother, but this was the first indication of it – after Harry’s remark a few weeks ago, she’d begun to think it was over. “Alright, leave it to me.” She straightened up. “Night Hermione. Night Ginny.”

“Goodnight, Jen.” They chorused, in near-unison.

Jen paused in the doorway and dimmed the light. “Sweet dreams.” Quietly, she made her way downstairs to the next floor, and stuck her head into the boys’ room as well.

“Is Mum okay?” Ron asked, unknowingly echoing his sister.

“She’s fine.” Jen repeated, as he wriggled down under the covers in a manner that reminded her of a puppy. Ignoring Ron’s slightly-embarrassed sputter, she smoothed his covers down and moved across the room to do the same with Harry. “Now you two need to get some sleep.”

“I can’t sleep now!” Ron protested. “Prefect! Me!”

“Don’t argue.” Harry advised. “She has her ways.”

“Damn right I do.” Jen teased, kissing her godson’s forehead. “Go to sleep.”

“No, I can’t.” Ron insisted.

Jen sighed. “Fine. Suit yourself. Don’t blame me when you get dragged out of bed tomorrow morning.” On her way out of the room, she scooped up the clothes Harry had left on the floor, and perched on the edge of his bed to fold them.

Then, very softly, she began to sing.

Stay awake, don’t rest your head,

Don’t lie down upon your bed,

While the moon drifts in the skies,

Stay awake; don’t close your eyes.

Glancing over Harry’s shirt, Jen’s sharp eyes spotted the yawn that Ron stubbornly tried to hide. Harry’s eyes were already drifting shut – he’d long since given up trying to fight her on this point.

Though the world is fast asleep,

Though your pillow’s soft and deep,

You’re not sleepy as you seem,

Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.”

Harry was completely asleep now, his chest rising and falling in the even rhythm of slumber, and Ron wasn’t far off. She sent the clothes to Harry’s trunk with a silent flick of her wand, and tiptoed to the door.

Stay awake, don’t nod and dream.

As the last note died, she shut the door with a soft snap, and made her way back downstairs.

On the next floor down, she bumped into Kreacher, quite nearly literally, as he shuffled out of the library. He fixed her with a look just short of loathing, but gave a deep bow.

“Mistress Jennifer.”

“Kreacher!” Jen called sharply, as he made to shuffle off again. “Mother always insisted on calling me Guinevere. Why have you started calling me Jennifer?”

“Does Mistress wish me to stop?” Kreacher asked, almost innocently.

“No.” Jen grimaced. “But I doubt Sirius ordered you to call me Jennifer, so who did?”

Kreacher didn’t answer.

“Tell me, Kreacher.” Jen said sternly. “That’s an order.”

“When Mistress’s father died, Master Regulus became Lord Black.” Kreacher croaked. “Master Regulus strived to uphold the noble traditions …”

“I know Regulus was the favourite child, Kreacher.” Jen snapped, rolling her eyes. “Get to the point.”

Kreacher bowed. “After Mistress disappeared, Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to provide him with any news as soon as it arrived. He ordered Kreacher to refer to Mistress as Mistress Jennifer.”

Jen frowned. I supposedly died … and Regulus ordered Kreacher to stop using my birth name? “Did he say why, Kreacher?”

“Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to never speak of this to Mistress.” Kreacher said evasively.

Jen rolled her eyes again. “Was that me or my mother? Why did Regulus give you that order, Kreacher?”

“Master Regulus said that he did not wish to think of how much Mistress Jennifer hated her birth name.” Kreacher answered, almost sulkily.

“Thank you, Kreacher.” Jen said, her heart clenching in her throat. She stepped past the elf and continued downstairs, walking straight into the drawing room, to the tapestry.

Her fingers brushed against Regulus’s name, and she closed her eyes. Oh, Reg … what happened?

“Jen?” Molly asked softly, making her jump slightly.

“Molly.” Jen returned, turning to face her. “I didn’t realise you were still here.”

Molly dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “I wanted to gather myself before going to bed. Are you alright, dear?”

“Molly, what Sirius said earlier,” Jen said in a low voice, “about the Ministry coming crawling back and not forgiving them … don’t listen to him.”

“I wasn’t planning to.” Molly said, sounding confused.

“Because Percy might have made a mistake,” Jen continued, “but it’s so much easier to forgive someone for being wrong than for being right. And if he has the courage to admit to his mistakes …”

“Jen.” Molly interrupted. “What’s really bothering you?”

“Our older brother,” Jen said slowly, “was a Slytherin. I was closer to him than to Sirius when we were children. He was three years older than us. He picked me up when I fell, dried my tears when I cried, fought off whatever imaginary monsters I had concocted … and a few real ones.” She added, her eyes flickering to her parents’ names. “When I went to Hogwarts, he promised me that it wouldn’t matter what house I was in …”

“He broke that promise.” Molly guessed quietly. “Didn’t he?”

“Didn’t even last a day.” Jen confirmed, a little bitterly. “He joined the Death Eaters the next summer and Sirius and I ran away.” She turned away from the tapestry, feeling tears prick at her eyes as Molly approached her.

“He died two days after you disappeared.” She observed.

Jen closed her eyes. “It’s worse than that. Three days before I disappeared, I was in the Leaky Cauldron. I was supposed to be observing the comings and goings of the Alley – we’d had a tip that there was a wanted fugitive sneaking in and out. Regulus came and sat next to me; didn’t say anything, but had a drink and left. When he did, he left a note that said that we needed to talk, with a location to meet him in private.”

“I assume you didn’t go.” Molly said.

Jen shook her head. “No. I didn’t go. He’d never treated me like anything more than another auror … so why should I treat him like anything more than another Death Eater.”

“Jen, you couldn’t have done anything.” Molly told her gently.

“Couldn’t I?” Jen asked, opening her eyes to reveal the tears within them. “He died because he turned his back on Voldemort, Molly – what if he’d been asking me for help? And even if he wasn’t …” She caught Molly’s arm, as she lost her battle with tears. “Don’t give up, Molly, and don’t be stubborn when Percy does come back, because I did and I was, and now I’ll never see my brother again, and I’ll never tell him …”

Molly wrapped her into a hug, even as Remus’s voice chimed into her subconscious.

Are you alright?!

Fine. Jen managed to assure him, sobbing into Molly’s shoulder. This has been coming for a while.

Remus’s voice came again, this time out loud, and she felt a hand touch her shoulder. “I’ve got her, thanks, Molly.”

Molly released her, and Remus pulled her into his arms instead, resting his cheek atop her head. The redhead squeezed her shoulder and slipped out of the room.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Remus murmured into her hair.

I hate it. Jen admitted silently, not trusting her voice. I should be glad that Reg left them, that he turned his back on them, but he died thinking I hated him. If I’d just met him …

“Stop.” Remus said firmly, releasing her just slightly to catch her eye. “You will drive yourself crazy if you keep dwelling on the ‘what ifs’. One of you is quite enough.”

Jen managed a very watery, very weak laugh. “There was just so much I should have told him …” she whispered, resting her head on his shoulder. “That I love him … that I missed him … that I’d forgiven him …”

***

Rather predictably, the morning of September 1st dawned with nothing short of chaos, as the students rushed around, trying to gather everything and indulging in the inevitable last-minute packing.

The general commotion was made worse, when Fred and George, in an effort to save time, bewitched their trunks to fly downstairs, with the unintended result that they flew straight into Ginny and knocked her down two flights of stairs into the entrance hall.

Luckily, Sirius was on hand to catch her, thereby saving her from a broken neck. Molly nearly suffocated him in gratitude, and was now trying to make herself heard above Mrs Black’s yells.

“… FILTHY HALF-BREEDS, BESMIRCHING THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS …”

“… COULD HAVE DONE HER A SERIOUS INJURY, YOU IDIOTS …”

“If Sirius has any self-preservation, he won’t make that damn pun.” Hermione muttered to herself, up in her room. She finished pulling her hair into a half-controlled ponytail, just as Hedwig swooped through the open window. “Hello, Hedwig. Safe flight?”

Hedwig hooted and held out her leg, allowing Hermione to take the note tied to it.

Keep your hair on – it was an honest mistake. You can have the bloody book back tomorrow – but don’t think this CHANGES ANYTHING.

DM

Hermione glanced at the door to make sure the hallway was deserted, and grabbed her wand and tapped it against the parchment. “Changes anything?”

Nothing happened.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at the note. Maybe it means that the password hasn’t changed. “Mischief.”

This time, the ink sank into the parchment and reformed into different words.

Hermione,

Interesting spell – I don’t think it was the one I used. Thank you for letting me know. I trust you will keep me informed through the year as events develop.

Congratulations on your badge – you may have guessed I have the badge for Slytherin, so believe me when I say that I will match you detention for detention.

Draco Malfoy

Hermione chuckled. “Who knew he had a sense of humour?” Her eyes flickered to the top of the page again. “He called me Hermione.”

Crookshanks let out an irritated meow from his carrier, and she stuck a finger through the wire to scratch his head.

“I know you hate it, sweetie, but we need to catch the train.”

She put the letter in her trunk, closed the lid, and lifted one end, but before she could drag it from the room, James appeared in front of her.

“Don’t bother.” He told her. “Someone’s coming to get it. Hurry up; you’re going to be late. And there was something else …”

“Lily send you?” Hermione asked, abandoning her trunk in favour of carrying Crookshanks’ basket downstairs, Hedwig perched on her shoulder.

“Yeah, she’s outside Hogwarts, making sure that you’re not going to get ambushed when you get there.” James said with a smirk, before smacking his forehead. “Hogwarts! That’s what I needed to tell you. Dumbledore’s upgraded the wards again – we can’t get past the gates.”

Hermione cursed under her breath, as she pushed open the door to Ron and Harry’s room. “That’s not good.”

“What?” Harry asked, fastening his trunk. Ron was nowhere to be seen.

“Well, for one, you’re not going to be able to lift that on your own.” Hermione smirked, as Hedwig flew over to her cage. “Secondly, your parents can’t get into Hogwarts anymore.”

Harry straightened up. “Why not?”

“The wards have been changed.” Hermione answered. “Spirits can’t get through them. I guess Dumbledore’s taking precautions so Voldemort can’t get spirits to spy for him.”

“Right.” Harry frowned. “Forgot he was an empath. So … how are we supposed to know they’re okay?”

Hermione shrugged, a traitorous lump in her throat. “We’re not.”

“Great.” Harry muttered, shoving his glasses on. “Is Ginny alright?”

“Mrs Weasley patched her up.” Hermione answered, waiting a second for James to tell her. “But now Mad-Eye’s complaining that we can’t leave until Sturgis Podmore gets here, otherwise the guard will be one short.”

“Guard?” Harry repeated. “We have to go to Kings Cross with a guard?”

You have to go to Kings Cross with a guard.” Hermione corrected.

“Why?” Harry asked irritably. “I thought Voldemort was supposed to be lying low. Or are you telling me he’s going to jump out from behind a dustbin and try to do me in?”

“I don’t know; it’s just what Mad-Eye says.” Hermione said, not bothering to berate him. She checked her watch. “But your mother’s right. If we don’t leave soon, we’re going to …”

“WILL YOU LOT GET DOWN HERE NOW PLEASE?!”

***

In the hallway, Jen had given up Silencing her mother, when she realised that the charms just weren’t holding. Instead, she had resigned herself to losing a good portion of her hearing, as they tried to gather everything together. She also resigned herself to the fact that she couldn’t Silence Molly either, however tempting that thought was.

Hermione and Harry arrived in the hall, completing the gaggle of students, and they could finally start the process of leaving the house.

“Harry, you’re to come with me, Jen and Tonks!” Molly shouted, over the repeated howls of “MUDBLOODS”, “SCUM”, “CREATURES OF DIRT”, and whatever else Mrs Black was coming up with. “Leave everything here; Alastor’s going to deal with the luggage … oh, for heaven’s sake, Sirius – Dumbledore said no!”

Jen felt her heart drop into her stomach, as a familiar black dog appeared and began clambering over the trunks already in the hall.

Can’t you control him?

He’s your brother. Remus reminded her. Besides, the only people aside from the Order who know he’s an Animagus are Death Eaters – they can’t tell the Ministry without telling them how they know. And all Kingsley has to do then is report a sighting abroad.

“That’s true.” Jen said aloud, but no one paid any attention – Molly was berating Sirius for being reckless, finally giving up and wrenching the door open. Jen ushered Harry out into the sunlight, stepped out behind him, Padfoot at her heels, and pushed the door closed again, abruptly cutting off her mother’s wails.

“Where’s Tonks?” Harry asked, as the house vanished behind them.

“She’s waiting for us just up here.” Molly asked, her lips pursing as Padfoot jumped up at a bird that flittered past them.

“Lighten up, Molly.” Jen said, with a forced grin. “It’s a beautiful day and he’s been cooped up all summer. Besides, do you really think I’d have let him leave the house if I thought something bad was going to happen?”

“Well, no …” Molly admitted.

Jen ignored Padfoot’s bark, which sounded suspiciously like laughter. He was right, admittedly – short of physically restraining him, there wasn’t much she could have done to make him stay in the house. “Look, if we don’t let him do this today, he’s more likely to do something even more stupid tomorrow.” She said, dropping all pretences of humour. “And I’d like to keep my brother alive, thank you very much.”

Molly didn’t respond, but seemed to cheer up considerably, even laughing with Harry, when Jen told Padfoot to settle down because she wasn’t above conjuring a collar.

An elderly woman with tightly curled grey hair and a purple pork-pie hat met them on the corner. “Wotcher all.” She greeted with a wink, identifying herself as Dora. “Better hurry up, hadn’t we?”

“I know.” Molly groaned. “But Alastor wanted to wait for Sturgis … if only Arthur could have got us cars from the Ministry again … but Fudge won’t let him borrow so much as an empty ink bottle these days … how Muggles can stand travelling without magic …”

As it turned out, it only took them about an hour to reach Kings Cross, but it was an uneventful hour, unless you counted Padfoot gambolling about, snapping at pigeons, chasing his own tail, and generally having a good time.

Jen let him bounce off his energy until they reached the station itself, whereupon she grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. “Settle down now, Snuffles; behave.” She cast a quick wandless Confundus Charm on the guard as they went past – she hated doing it, but there was no other way Padfoot would get into the station without her putting him on a lead.

That wouldn’t be too much of a tragedy – if anything, it would give Jen a laugh – but it would result in Sirius sulking for at least a week afterwards.

They reached the barrier without any trouble, and Jen gestured for Harry to copy her, leaning casually against it.

A second later, they had fallen through on to Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters, and Jen took the opportunity to cast a quick Colour-Changing Charm on Padfoot’s fur to make it brown instead of black – not only would it make him less recognisable to any Death Eaters, but it would also stop any potential suspicious witch or wizard crying Grim and drawing attention to them.

Molly and Tonks appeared behind them, but Jen’s focus was on the smile that lit up Harry’s face – not that she could blame him; a very pleasant wave of nostalgia and fond memories had washed over her as well, and she fleetingly wished she was returning to Hogwarts as well.

Everything had seemed so much simpler back then.

“I hope the others make it in time!” Molly fretted, staring towards the archway.

“Nice dog, Harry!” A seventh year with dreadlocks called over.

“Thanks, Lee!” Harry called back with a grin, as Padfoot’s tail wagged frantically.

“Oh good!” Molly sighed, catching Jen’s attention. “Here’s Alastor with the luggage.”

Sure enough, Mad-Eye was pushing a trolley laden with trunks towards them, Hedwig, Pig, and Crookshanks balanced on top. He had a porter’s hat pulled down over his fake eye. “All clear.” He muttered to them. “Don’t think we were followed.”

Arthur emerged seconds later with Ron and Hermione, and the trio had just extracted their trunks when Remus turned up with Fred, George and Ginny.

“No trouble?” Mad-Eye asked gruffly, as they helped the students get their trunks on to the train, if not into an actual compartment.

“None.” Remus assured him, exchanging a weary smile with Jen. They had both agreed that there was unlikely to be any trouble that morning, but it was better safe than sorry, and arguing with Mad-Eye seldom got anyone anywhere.

“I’ll still be reporting Sturgis to Dumbledore.” Moody informed them gravely. “That’s the second time in a week he’s not turned up. Getting as unreliable as Dung.”

Jen grimaced, but didn’t say anything.

I know that look. What’s your gut telling you?

It’s telling me that it’s really not like Sturgis to be this unreliable.

You think there’s something going on with him?

I think I’m reluctant to brush it off as ‘a lot on his mind’ a second time.

Remus didn’t respond, shaking Fred, George and Ron’s hands, and hugging Ginny, Hermione and Harry. “Well, look after yourselves.” He told them. “Be careful.”

“Yeah, keep your heads down and your eyes peeled.” Moody agreed, shaking everyone’s hands. “And don’t forget – be careful what you put in writing. If in doubt, don’t put it in a letter at all.”

“It’s been great meeting you all!” Dora said brightly, hugging Ginny and Hermione. “We’ll see you soon, I expect.”

The Hogwarts Express whistled loudly, and the remaining students surged for the train. While Molly hugged her brood, Jen embraced Harry tightly. “Be safe; eat properly. Write when you can; try to stay out of trouble.”  She released Harry to hug Hermione as well. “Stay safe.” She repeated. “Keep an eye on Harry for me.”

“Will do.” Hermione assured her. She knelt down to hug Padfoot as well. “We’ll be careful.” She whispered. “Just promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

Padfoot barked softly, and nudged her cheek with his nose.

“I’d take that as a promise, Hermione.” Jen said with a smile.

Harry knelt to hug Padfoot as well, the other students scratched his head, and they scrambled on to the train, as doors started slamming shut.

Great puffs of steam began emerging from the engine, and the Hogwarts Express slowly began to move. The Weasleys, Harry and Hermione hung out of the windows to wave, while Padfoot chased the train for as far as he could, until the great scarlet locomotive had vanished, leaving behind nothing but a cloud of steam.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven - Back Together

“He shouldn’t have come with us.” Hermione murmured, almost to herself, as the platform and Padfoot faded from view.

“Oh, lighten up!” Ron told her cheerfully. “He hasn’t seen daylight in months, poor bloke!”

Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but Fred cut her off with a warning look. “Well, can’t stand around chatting all day – we’ve got business to discuss with Lee.”

Hermione caught his arm before he could leave. “Just remember what I suggested about the girls.”

“Will do.” Fred assured her with a wink; she released him, and the twins left.

The train rounded a corner, the carriage shaking with the movement, and Hermione stumbled, falling into Harry, who steadied her. “Sorry.” She muttered straightening up.

Ginny narrowed her eyes at her friend – she hadn’t missed the faint blush that had stained Hermione’s cheeks when Harry caught her.

“Don’t worry about it.” Harry said. “Shall we go and find a seat then?”

Sufficiently distracted from what might or might not have been running through Hermione’s mind at that moment, Ginny winced. “Er, Harry? The prefects have a meeting, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Harry said with a chuckle. “Forgot about that. Do you want us to take your trunks for you?”

Hermione, who had been watching Harry apprehensively, and had clearly been expecting an awkward conversation, sighed in relief. “Yes please, Harry. Hang on.” She pulled her wand and cast a Shrinking Charm on her and Ron’s trunk, before handing Crookshanks to Ginny.

Ginny scooped up the now pebble-sized trunks and put them in her pocket. “I’ll take Pig as well, Ron. Harry’s got Hedwig to juggle.”

Ron handed Pig’s cage over, and the two new prefects hurried away.

“Well,” Ginny said, hoisting Crookshanks’ basket under her arm, “we’d better start looking or we’ll never find a seat.”

“Right.” Harry agreed, and they began to struggle down the corridors, Ginny dimly wishing that she’d asked Hermione to Shrink their trunks as well, because she didn’t know the spell, and she doubted Harry did either.

After a few minutes, as they passed a particularly lively compartment, Harry sighed heavily. “I just realised that these people spent most of the summer reading about how I’m a lying, attention-seeking prat.” He said glumly.

“Ignore them.” Ginny said, giving a particularly vicious glare to two sixth years who edged past them, muttering to each other. “They don’t matter. You know the truth, and we know the truth.”

Harry gave her a smile that would have made her swoon a year ago. “Thanks, sis.”

In the very last carriage, they came across Neville Longbottom, sweating with the effort of dragging his trunk, and desperately clinging to his toad, Trevor, who seemed intent on making yet another bid for freedom.

“Hi Harry, hi Ginny!” He panted. “Everywhere’s full; I can’t find a seat.”

Ginny peered into the compartment beside them. Contrary to Neville’s words, it was empty except for a girl her age with long blonde hair, buried behind a copy of The Quibbler. “What are you talking about? There’s room in this one – there’s only Luna Lovegood in here.”

Neville rubbed the back of his neck. “Don’t want to disturb anyone …” he muttered.

“Don’t be silly!” Ginny laughed, although she could understand his hesitance – Luna was certainly unique, and could be rather … difficult to handle if you weren’t used to her. “She’s alright.” She slid the door open, and dragged her trunk in. “Hi, Luna. Okay if we sit here?”

Luna’s pale blue eyes peered over the top of her magazine – which was upside down – and she glanced at Harry and Neville, before nodding.

“Thanks.” Ginny levitated her trunk into the luggage rack, and pulled out her wand and the pebble-sized trunks from her pocket. “Finite Incantatem.

The trunks returned to their original size, and she levitated them up above them as well, before stowing Pig next to them.

By now, Harry and Neville’s trunks were in the other luggage rack, beside Luna’s, and Ginny sat down opposite her, a little out of breath. She undid the straps of Crookshanks’ basket, and the fluffy ginger feline leapt out onto her lap, purring.

“Had a good summer, Luna?” Ginny asked cheerfully.

“Yes.” Luna answered dreamily, her eyes still fixed on Harry over her magazine. “Yes, it was quite enjoyable, you know. You’re Harry Potter.”

“Yes, I know I am.” Harry responded, sounding mystified, which caused Neville to snigger quietly.

Luna turned to him. “And I don’t know who you are.”

“I’m nobody.” Neville said hurriedly.

“No, you’re not!” Ginny argued, scowling. “Neville Longbottom – Luna Lovegood. Luna’s in my year,” she added, seeing Harry look confused as well. “But she’s in Ravenclaw.”

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.” Luna quoted in a sing-song voice. She disappeared behind the magazine again, and Ginny covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing out loud at Harry and Neville’s faces.

Neville stared at the magazine for a moment, before turning to Harry and changing the subject. “Guess what I got for my birthday.”

Harry shrugged. “Another Remembrall?”

“No.” Neville said, then paused. “I could do with one though; I lost the old one ages ago. No, look at this!” With the hand that wasn’t clutching Trevor, he dug around in his bag for a few minutes, before withdrawing some kind of lumpy grey cactus. “Mimbulus Mimbletonia.” He said proudly, as though they were expected to know exactly what that was and be incredibly impressed by it.

Ginny stared at it. She was sure she’d heard that name in Herbology, but it didn’t look like any plant she’d seen in the greenhouses – if anything, it looked like some bizarre, pulsating, diseased organ.

Neville beamed at them, clearly not put off by their lack of excitement. “It’s really, really rare. I don’t even know if there’s one in the greenhouses at Hogwarts – I can’t wait to show Professor Sprout! Great-Uncle Algie got it for me in Assyria; I’m going to see if I can breed from it.”

“Does it … er … do anything?” Harry asked tentatively.

It seemed like a bizarre question to ask about a plant, but Neville’s excitement – even for a rare breed – was a little over the top if it didn’t.

Sure enough, he nodded eagerly. “Loads of stuff! It’s got an amazing defence mechanism – watch …” Neville dumped Trevor in Harry’s lap, and pulled out a quill.

Harry and Ginny exchanged a concerned glance, and he handed Trevor to her, inching closer as he did. Even Luna lowered her magazine to watch what was about to happen.

Carefully and with precision, Neville lifted the Mimbulus Mimbletonia up in front of his face and prodded it with the end of his quill.

As though it had exploded, liquid squirted from every pulsing boil, thick, stinking, dark green jets of it, coating the compartment.

Thankfully, with the unerring reflexes of a Seeker, Harry had pulled Ginny into his side and covered them with his cloak, which was a relief, as the liquid smelled like rancid manure.

“Sorry!” Neville gasped, shaking the worst of it out of his eyes. “I hadn’t tried that before – didn’t expect it to be quite so … It’s alright, though! Stinksap’s not poisonous.”

“No, it just stinks.” Ginny muttered, as Harry lowered his now drenched cloak.

At that moment, the door slid open, and they looked up to see Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw Seeker, standing in the doorway. “Oh, hello, Harry. Um … bad time?”

Ginny winced. She knew that Harry had a crush on the girl (at least, she knew that he thought he did), and she could sort of understand why. Cho was a pretty girl, just starting her sixth year – but she had also been Cedric’s girlfriend.

To Harry, Ginny knew, Cho would sound nervous, maybe a little embarrassed. Ginny, however, could see the slight narrowing of the older girl’s eyes as she looked at them, and the calculation in her expression.

Why, you … Cedric died in June, you conniving bitch! Ginny closed her eyes, taking a deep steady breath, forcing herself to stop looking at the situation like an overprotective sister. Calm down, Ginny. Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe she really does like him and Cedric just got there first last year.

“Oh … hi.” Harry said blankly.

“Um … well … just thought I’d say hello …” Cho blushed, although Ginny was sure it was fake. “Bye then …”

“I didn’t know people could blush on cue.” Luna said dreamily as the door closed again, just loud enough for Ginny to hear.

Harry dropped his head into his hands and groaned, and Ginny choked back her laugh. “Never mind.” She said soothingly, drawing her wand. “Scourgify!

“Sorry.” Neville repeated morosely, as the disgusting liquid vanished.

It was over an hour before Ron and Hermione returned, and the food trolley had been and gone. Ginny had sandwiches, but she knew that her mother would have packed corned beef again for Ron – which none of her children liked, let alone Ron – so she bought a few pumpkin pasties and held them back.

When the prefects finally arrived, Luna was still buried in her magazine, and Ginny, Harry and Neville were swapping chocolate frog cards.

“I’m starving!” Ron announced, gratefully taking the offered pasties and throwing himself into the seat beside Harry. He took a bite and leaned back, closing his eyes, as though he’d had a very trying morning.

“Something happen?” Harry asked, glancing up.

“Well, there are two prefects from each house.” Hermione said, looking as though she wasn’t sure whether to be amused or disgruntled. “Boy and girl from each, as you know.”

“And guess who the Slytherin prefect is.” Ron added darkly.

“Malfoy.” Harry said immediately.

“That won’t be too bad.” Ginny commented, regretting it almost immediately.

“Are you mad?!” Ron demanded, jerking upright.

Ginny sighed, and tilted her head slightly towards Hermione. She wasn’t about to remind Ron of Hermione’s thoughts on the matter around Neville and Luna, but her empathy had to count for something. “I know he’s a complete arsehole when the other Slytherins are around, but …”

Ron narrowed his eyes at her. “And when have you ever been around him alone?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “If you must know, Ron, my bag split at the end of last term, he was the only other person in the corridor, and he helped me gather everything up. And, before you ask, nothing was missing, added, or hexed, and the whole thing happened without any insults.” She was wasting her time, she knew – she wasn’t going to get anywhere. “Besides, he’s better than Crabbe or Goyle. Or Theodore Nott – he gives me the creeps.” She turned to Hermione. “Who’s the other Slytherin prefect?”

“That complete cow, Pansy Parkinson.” Hermione spat, with uncharacteristic cattiness. “How she got to be a prefect when she’s thicker than a concussed troll …”

Ginny caught her eye and flicked her gaze towards Ron for a second. Hermione’s scowl fell, and she giggled.

“Hufflepuff?” Harry asked, grinning slightly. Apparently, he’d caught the byplay, even if Ron was still oblivious.

“Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbott.” Ron answered through a pasty.

“And Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil are the Ravenclaw prefects.” Hermione finished, swatting Ron’s arm in response to his eating habits.

“You went to the Yule Ball with Padma Patil.” Luna remarked, her gaze fixed on Ron.

“Yeah, I know I did.” Ron responded, looking bewildered.

“She didn’t enjoy it very much.” Luna informed him matter-of-factly. “She doesn’t think you treated her very well because you wouldn’t dance with her. I don’t think I’d have minded.” She added thoughtfully. “I don’t really like dancing very much.”

Ron stared at The Quibbler for a few seconds after she disappeared behind it again, before turning to Ginny expectantly, waiting for an explanation.

Ginny, however, avoided his eyes and stifled a giggle – it was just too difficult to explain. “That’s Luna Lovegood.” She said to Hermione in an undertone. “She’s a Ravenclaw in our year, lives near The Burrow. Her father’s the editor of The Quibbler.

Hermione snorted, but didn’t say anything.

Ginny didn’t blame her – The Quibbler was famous for its eccentric articles – one only had to look at the article about Sirius in early August, claiming that he was really Stubby Boardman of the Hobgoblins and couldn’t possibly be a mass-murderer, because he’d been indulging in a romantic candlelit dinner at the time.

Ginny still hadn’t figured out if the woman in question was actually convinced they were one and the same person, or if she was just mad – after all, who had a candlelit dinner at eleven o’clock in the morning (which was when the murders had taken place)?

She and Luna had known each other for years, but had only really become friends in second year, because neither had friends after their first – Ginny because of the diary, and Luna because she was just so odd, as the others had undoubtedly realised by now.

Luna was in Ravenclaw for a reason – she was highly intelligent – and people seemed to think that meant that she shouldn’t believe many of her father’s outrageous theories.

But Luna was open-minded – while most people waited for evidence to prove that something was true, she tended to ask for evidence to prove that it was not, and it was a mind-set that Ginny often envied.

Despite the constant bullying she encountered, Luna was always upbeat and smiling, and she didn’t care what anyone thought of her, as was evidenced by her rather blunt comments – although Luna had once confided in Ginny that she also found people’s reactions to these comments quite amusing to watch, and the redhead was willing to bet that, behind the magazine, Luna was sniggering to herself.

Ron shook his head, apparently giving up on understanding what just happened. “We’re supposed to patrol the corridors every so often.” He told them. “And we can give out punishments if people are misbehaving. I can’t wait to get Crabbe or Goyle for something …”

As Hermione began to lecture Ron about use of the badge and abuse of power, Ginny tuned her out and turned instead to the window, watching the British countryside speed by, thinking ahead to the upcoming welcoming feast. I wonder who the DADA teacher is this year … can’t be worse than a Death Eater, I suppose …

***

Once the train was out of sight, the parents and families of students began disapparating or heading back for the barrier.

Tonks and Moody said their goodbyes and disapparated, and Molly and Arthur did the same – Arthur to the Ministry, Molly back to The Burrow now the children were back at Hogwarts.

Remus, Jen and Padfoot, however, left the station via the main entrance, and began walking back.

At the end of the road, Jen checked her watch. “I’d better go and meet Cissy.”

“I thought you weren’t meeting her until midday.” Remus said. “You’ve got forty-five minutes yet.”

“I’m not, but Cissy tends to be early, and I’d prefer to be the one waiting for her.” Jen admitted. “I still have no idea how this is going to play out. Besides, I’ll walk.” She reached down to scratch Padfoot’s head. “Keep the charm on and take him home – the long way, so he gets a bit of fresh air – just don’t let him do anything stupid.”

Remus raised an eyebrow. “I am one man.”

Padfoot barked, sounding insulted.

Jen rolled her eyes, kissed Remus goodbye, and they parted, Jen going right, Remus going left. Half an hour later, Jen turned into Charing Cross Road, where she stopped outside the Leaky Cauldron.

Not five minutes after that, the door to the Leaky Cauldron opened and Narcissa stepped out. Much to Jen’s surprise, she was wearing a Muggle dress, rather than robes.

“Cousin.” Narcissa greeted coolly. “You wished to speak with me.”

“I did.” Jen responded in the same tone, taking her arm and guiding her down the street. “Might I suggest somewhere a little more private?”

They side-stepped into an alleyway a few shops down from the Leaky Cauldron, Narcissa shifted her hand to grip Jen’s arm, and Jen turned sharply on the spot.

With a soft crack, they had vanished.

They reappeared in another alleyway, roughly two hundred miles away. This routine was familiar – Narcissa could never be sure that Lucius would not have her followed and, since Lucius and most of his fellows never mastered how to track apparition and Jen was the only one who knew where they were going, it was just an extra layer of privacy.

Here in the Muggle world, where no one would recognise them, the masks were dropped, and the two cousins embraced warmly, Narcissa as fair as Jen was dark.

At first glance, it was difficult to believe that Narcissa was a Black, there were only a few who had been born with blonde hair – James’s mother, Emily, for one, and, though she rarely used her natural form, Nymphadora Tonks for another – and neither had been as fair as Narcissa.

But the clue was in their faces: Jen and Narcissa had – as did every other Black – stormy grey eyes and highly defined facial features that left them both with a kind of aristocratic beauty.

“Oh, Jen, I was so worried!” Narcissa confessed, as she released her. “We had no idea what had happened to you – the Dark Lord ordered that  you were to be left to him, so I didn’t think it was a Death Eater who had … not that I would have put it past Bella, but not even she’s …”

“I’m fine, Cissy.” Jen interrupted soothingly. She couldn’t help being taken aback though – there no love lost between her and Bellatrix, and she was glad the woman was in Azkaban, but did Bella really hate her enough to go against the Dark Lord’s wishes just to murder her? “Just a Memory Charm, that’s all. Very well-placed, as I said, but, in essence, harmless.”

“Who?” Narcissa asked.

Jen grimaced. “Maybe we’d better find somewhere for lunch and discuss this there. I seem to recall a rather nice café round the corner.”

Jen’s memory served her correctly – the café hadn’t changed hands since she and Lily had last been in the area.

The two women ordered, and once their food had arrived, Jen discretely put up a Wandless Privacy Charm to allow them to talk. “So, before I catch up on the gossip, is there anything you need to talk to Lady Black about?”

“Actually, there is.” Narcissa set down her fork very deliberately, and took a deep breath. “I need your help.”

“With?” Jen prompted.

“Draco.” Narcissa whispered. She met Jen’s eyes openly, not bothering to hide the fear in them. “I convinced Lucius to keep him from taking the Mark this summer, but it won’t work next year – I don’t want my son to get caught up in that, Jen, I don’t!”

Jen reached across the table and squeezed her hand, before handing her a hanky. “Well, that makes it easier.”

“Makes what easier?” Narcissa asked, dabbing at her eyes.

Jen smiled brightly. “Telling you that I’m planning on kidnapping your son next summer. I always forget how good the food is here.”

“Jen …” Narcissa sighed, shaking her head with a small smile. “Where are you planning on taking him?”

“You’ll know it when I know it.” Jen told her. “At the moment, I’m still planning, and I don’t want to rush it. Now I have a question to ask you.”

“I can’t.” Narcissa whispered. “I appreciate that you want to help, Jen, but I chose my path a long time ago.”

Jen smiled sadly. “I know, Cissy. I don’t agree with it, but I know that your sense of duty won’t allow you to take that option. I respect that for now …”

“For now?” Narcissa repeated sharply.

Jen sighed. “Cissy, there’s going to be another war. Hell, we’re in another war. You’ve got no say over what happens in that house, and when we win …”

“Of course.” Narcissa said with a nod. “When that happens, I will gladly accept your help. But right now, don’t you think it’s a good idea if you lie low?”

Jen frowned, but she knew Narcissa was right. Taking action now would only succeed in drawing attention from the three places she wanted to keep in the dark for as long as possible – Voldemort, the Ministry, and Dumbledore.

Hating the feeling of helplessness that rose up in her, Jen hastily changed the subject. “I do still have a question to ask though, Narcissa. You were the one who told me that James and Lily were in danger. Do you know why?”

Narcissa sighed. “There’s a prophecy.” She said quietly. “It was made during the summer after you graduated, by the woman who now holds the Divination post at Hogwarts.”

“Professor Trelawney?” Jen asked, remembering Harry’s stories.

“The very same.” Narcissa confirmed. “I believe it was heard by Professor Dumbledore, but they were overheard by a Death Eater – although I do not know who,” she added.

“So Voldemort knows the prophecy?” Jen asked, her heart sinking.

“Not all of it.” Narcissa assured her. “The Death Eater only heard the first part, before he was discovered and thrown out.”

“Do you know the first part?” Jen asked.

“‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies …’” Narcissa repeated.

Jen took a sip of tea, thinking it through. “There weren’t many people who defied him three times.” She said slowly. “But Frank, Alice, James and Lily all did. Neville was born July 30th and Harry was born July 31st. As the seventh month died.”

“The Dark Lord wants to know the rest of the prophecy.” Narcissa confided in her. “He believes there’s something else, which is why he’s reluctant to go after Potter again until he knows.”

Which is why we’re guarding the Department of Mysteries, Jen thought, taking care to keep the words private for now. It could also explain why Dumbledore wanted me out of the way. He seems to be mapping Harry’s life out for him. Maybe he did the same with the war – heard the prophecy and assumed, or knew, that Harry had to finish Voldemort off. But I came pretty close a few times – I had to disappear for the Greater Good.

“Jen?” Narcissa prompted. “Are you alright?”

Jen managed a small smile. “Just fine, Cissy. Wool-gathering. Now … tell me what I’ve missed.”

The rest of lunch passed with no more mention of the war, as Narcissa cheerfully filled Jen in on everything that had happened since she disappeared, including Mrs Black’s rather entertaining reaction to Sirius’s arrest (Jen made sure she remembered every word so she could relay it to her brother later).

An hour and a half later, Jen and Narcissa stepped back out of the alleyway down the road from the Leaky Cauldron, and returned to the pub.

They embraced once more at the fireplace – although this was much cooler than the first – and Narcissa dipped a small curtsey, before taking a pinch of floo powder, and disappearing into the flames.

Jen was just about to leave herself, when she spotted red hair at a table by the window. Percy Weasley apparently didn’t stop working for lunch – he was scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment in between bites.

Jen wandered over to the bar. “Afternoon, Tom. Cup of tea please?”

“Certainly.” Tom said cheerfully. “Everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine.” Jen responded brightly. “And yourself?”

“Can’t complain.” Tom said, fetching some milk. “My niece went back to Hogwarts today – she’s a prefect.”

“Oh congratulations.” Jen closed her eyes, thinking hard. “That would be … Hannah, wouldn’t it?”

“It would.” Tom confirmed, handing her the cup. “Little bit of milk, no sugar, correct?”

“I haven’t been in here in fourteen years.” Jen chuckled. “Your memory astounds me.” She handed him the money, and carried the cup over to the window. “Excuse me. Do you mind?”

Percy moved his parchment without looking up. “Of course not.”

“Thank you.” Jen sat down, smoothing down her skirt. “You’re Percy, aren’t you?”

Now Percy looked up. “Oh, Lady Black – I apologise, I wasn’t …”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Jen said, waving off his stutters. “And, please, call me Jen. I never was one for airs and graces. Besides, we are family.”

“Are we?” Percy asked, sounding surprised.

Jen nodded. “Your paternal grandmother was my mother’s cousin,” she told him, “which makes me sound old, but never mind.”

“Let’s cut to the chase.” Percy said, looking down at his work again. “You were with my father when you brought Potter for his hearing. You’re going to tell me that You-Know-Who’s back and that I did a horrible thing by leaving my family, aren’t you?”

Jen leaned back in her chair, setting up a Privacy Charm with a flick of her hand. “Nope.”

Percy stared at her for a few seconds. Then he set his work aside, finally giving her his full attention. “You’re not?”

“You decided that you didn’t agree with your parents and decided to leave home because of it.” Jen summarised. “It would make me a hypocrite to condemn you for doing exactly what I did”

“Weren’t your parents blood purists?” Percy asked tentatively.

Jen nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, that’s the part I start having trouble with it. Because I didn’t have a choice. They would have killed me for not agreeing with them. Your parents, on the other hand, would have agreed to disagree. But that’s not why you left is it?”

Percy raised an eyebrow. “Why would you say that?”

“Oh, a little observation over the last month or so.” Jen answered casually. “A few stories from Harry. An unbiased observer telling me what happened the night you left home. The way I see it,” she continued, talking more to the window than to Percy, “is you’re quite unlucky. Because Bill and Charlie had each other. They were, what, ten and eight when you were born? So you were all on your own, and if the twins had been one child, you’d probably have been okay, but they were twins. And they had each other. And then Ron and Ginny were born close together. So where did you fit?”

Percy didn’t answer, but he made no move to stop her either, so she continued.

“Then you get to Hogwarts. And it’s already hard, isn’t it? Because Bill was Head Boy, and Charlie was Quidditch Captain, and you’ve got to live up to them, because maybe then you’ll get the attention. Because I bet it wasn’t easy – the twins were always playing up, so they got attention, and Ron was their favourite target, so he got attention, and, of course, Ginny was the only girl.”

“I tried to be perfect.” Percy murmured, almost to himself. “That’s what Mum wanted, but … then she started comparing them to me, and they started to resent me for it.”

“Of course they did.” Jen said sympathetically. “You can hardly blame them for that, because you did exactly what Bill did – you got prefect, you got Head Boy – but Bill was a curse-breaker by then, so in their eyes, he was ‘cool’.”

“Unlike me.” Percy muttered bitterly.

“And then you graduated, and you got a job in International Magical Co-Operation.” Jen went on. “And a very impressive job it was too, for someone who’d only just graduated. But they didn’t understand that, did they? For Ron and Ginny, it didn’t make sense after hearing Bill and Charlie’s stories of their work, and the twins … Well, they’d go mad in a desk job – it didn’t occur to them that you might have different interests.”

“I just wanted them to be proud of me.” Percy said, scowling. “You’d think they could at least manage that, but oh no, we can’t do that, can we?”

Jen looked sadly across the table at him. “And then the mess with Mr Crouch. Should you have known something was wrong? Maybe. But then you weren’t the only person in that department – who would expect an eighteen year old, just out of Hogwarts, to recognise an Imperius Curse?”

“Exactly!” Percy agreed. “I was doing as I was told! I did question a few people about his illness, but they all insisted it was alright!”

“And then you get a job in the Minister’s office.” Jen finished, smiling slightly. “Congratulations, by the way – that is really impressive for someone only a year out of Hogwarts.”

Percy beamed at her. “Thank you!” His face fell. “Mum and Dad didn’t think like that though.”

“I know.” Jen said softly, reaching across the table to pat his hand. “They didn’t even consider that it might have been on your own merits. I mean, I can understand some of their concerns, but I can’t see the Minister putting someone in a position like that just to spy on Dumbledore – it doesn’t make sense.”

Percy suddenly looked wary. “What do you mean- you can understand some of their concerns?”

Jen grimaced. “Percy, I think you got that job because you had the talent and the skills to do it. And I think your parents know that as well. But even you have to admit that the Minister might – might – take advantage of the situation to keep an eye on your family.”

Percy sighed. “I know. I know Dad’s worries, I do. What really made me angry was that … I don’t believe You-Know-Who’s back – I don’t believe the Minister would lie about something like that. But that doesn’t mean I’d betray my family. If the Minister does ask that of me, I will refuse. He can’t fire me for it; it’s not in my contract.”

Jen couldn’t help thinking that Percy was being a bit naïve, but she didn’t say so, opting to remain a sympathetic ear.

“I just wish they hadn’t just jumped to the conclusion that it was the only reason I was hired.” Percy said. “I just want them to be proud of me.”

“Of course they’re proud of you.” Jen said immediately. “They love you, Percy, no matter the disagreements you may have had. Just …” she hesitated, “and forgive me for getting too preachy … just don’t let your pride get in the way. Maybe you’re right about Voldemort, maybe we are. But whatever happens, Percy, do not forget that you have parents who love you, no matter whether you’re right or wrong. And you have no idea how lucky that makes you.”

***

Hermione was not happy.

Her discontentment had originally begun when they had first approached the carriages, and Harry had exclaimed over the horses that pulled them.

Hermione had worried about her best friend’s mental state – especially when Luna Lovegood had reassured him that she could see them too – until Neville had stepped in and calmly, although with a shaky voice, told them that the strange creatures were Thestrals, which could only be seen if one had experienced death.

Then, true to James’s warning, he and Lily had vanished as soon as the carriages had trundled over the threshold of the wards. She wasn’t sure whether Harry had fully realised the extent of her worry over this, and she wasn’t going to ask, just in case he hadn’t.

But without James and Lily to reassure her, she had no idea if they were alright, and if Voldemort remembered that they and their companions were still alive, before Jen and Remus could figure out the location of the island, it would not end well for anyone involved.

The Sorting Hat hadn’t helped, providing a longer-than-usual song, warning that danger was coming and that the houses would have to unite, or risk the school falling apart.

Then there was the fact that Hagrid was missing. It was Professor Grubbly-Plank who had met the first years at the station, and no mention had been made of his absence.

Hermione had a feeling he was on Order duty, but surely Professor Dumbledore would have planned for him to arrive back before the start of the school year, so as not to acquire suspicion from the Ministry.

Speaking of the Ministry, it was the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who was currently setting off every single one of Hermione’s warning bells.

Dolores Umbridge – the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, according to Harry – looked rather like a toad in a fluffy pink cardigan, and had actually interrupted Dumbledore’s welcoming speech.

After addressing the students in a voice that suggested they were all five-years-old, she had launched into a monologue that sounded like she had learnt it by rote.

Not many people were paying attention – most of the students were chatting amongst themselves.

There were a few exceptions – Draco was staring at Umbridge with narrowed eyes, as though he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her, and Ernie Macmillan was sitting up straight, his chest puffed out, but his eyes were glazed over, and Hermione was fairly sure he was just trying to live up to his badge.

The teachers, too, were watching Umbridge attentively, but it was obvious from their expressions that they didn’t like what she was saying one bit, and Hermione didn’t blame them at all.

Finally, she sat down, and Dumbledore began clapping, startling the students out of their stupors, before standing up to continue with his own speech.

“Thank you very much, Professor Umbridge, that was most illuminating. Now as I was saying, Quidditch try-outs will be held …”

“Yes, it certainly was illuminating.” Hermione said in a low voice.

Ron turned to her incredulously. “You’re not telling me you enjoyed that?! That was the dullest speech I’ve ever heard – and I grew up with Percy.”

“I said illuminating, not enjoyable.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “There was some important stuff in there – ‘progress for progress’s sake must be discouraged’ … ‘pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited’ …”

“What does that mean?” Harry asked.

“It means,” Hermione answered, as Dumbledore dismissed them, “that the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts. Come on, Ron. We have to take the first years up to the Tower.”

“Oh, right.” Ron stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled. “Oi! Midgets!”

“Ron!” Hermione protested. “You can’t call them midgets!”

“Why not?” Ron asked. “They’re titchy!”

Hermione rolled her eyes again. “Honestly … first years! First years over here please.”

It was a bigger year group than her own, she realised, or maybe that just had more Gryffindors. About eighteen first years approached them, all looking incredibly nervous.

Hermione gave them a kind smile. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you up to Gryffindor Tower. Ron, can you bring up the rear and make sure no one gets left behind.”

Ron saluted her. “Right you are.”

“Alright, come on then.” Hermione turned and led the group out of the Great Hall, stopping every so often to make sure she had everyone.

Normally, she would have chattered away to them about the school, but she remembered her own first night – everyone was too tired to take anything in.

Finally, they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, and Hermione turned to them as they huddled around her. “This is the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room. Please do not tell anyone from other houses where it is. The password at the moment is Mimbulus Mimbletonia, but that will change in a few weeks, so keep an eye on the house noticeboard.”

When she’d said the password, the Fat Lady had swung forward, and Hermione climbed through into the Common Room.

It was strangely crowded for the first night back – normally, people just went straight to bed – but Hermione didn’t dwell on it, leading the first years over towards the stairs. “Boys, your dormitories are to the right; girls, to the left. Boys are not allowed in the girls’ dorms, and girls are not allowed in the boys’ dorms.” She gave Ron a glare over their heads, as he threatened to snicker. “Anything to add, Ron?”

“I think you’ve covered it.” Ron shrugged.

“Alright then, the sixth year prefects will meet you down here tomorrow, to walk you to the Great Hall for break …” she broke off, realising that the room had gone silent.

Harry was standing near the portrait hole, apparently as unnerved at the sudden quiet as she was. She saw one of the first years nudge the boy next to him and point at Harry, and resisted the urge to snap at him.

He’s just a child. He doesn’t know any better.

Before Hermione could move, someone else did – and it wasn’t who she expected.

Lee Jordan left Fred and George, and approached Harry, clapping him on the shoulder. “Good summer, mate?”

Harry shrugged. “It was alright. You?”

“Not bad, not bad. Went to the States with my dad – you want to see the girls on some of those beaches.”

Fred and George wolf-whistled, but the tension didn’t break.

Lee rolled his eyes and walked over to one of the coffee tables, jumping on top of it. “Alright, Lions! Can I have your attention please?! Everyone here? Everyone see me?”

There was a murmur of ascent, as most of the attention shifted to him.

“Now I’m sure our prefects should be handling this,” Lee said, sketching a bow towards Ron, Hermione, and the others, “but I thought I’d give it ago. At the end of the last school year, something awful happened. Cedric Diggory was a good bloke. He did not drop dead of his own accord. Whether you want to believe Professor Dumbledore and Harry that You-Know-Who murdered him – that’s up to you. It’s not my place to tell you what to think. But, first years, what did McGonagall say about the houses?”

The group in front of Hermione jumped at being addressed so directly, and shifted nervously. Finally, one of them piped up: “They’ll be like your family.”

“Exactly.” Lee agreed kindly. “Family.” He repeated, now addressing the rest of the room. “At the end of the day, we support family, whether we agree with them or not. Harry’s going to get enough grief from the rest of the school over this, without his own family acting like a bunch of bloody Slytherins! If you don’t agree, keep it to yourself. If you do, show your Gryffindor bravery, and say so!” He jumped down from the table. “I believe you, Harry, even if no one else does.”

“So do we.” Angelina added, Alicia and Katie nodding in agreement.

“And me.” Neville stated, with uncharacteristic boldness.

“You know where we stand.” Fred and George said in unison.

“And us.” Ron and Hermione added.

“Quite frankly,” Ginny said loudly, “I think anyone who believed the Prophet over the summer should have a good think about why anyone who lost their entire family to Voldemort would ever say he was back if they didn’t believe it one hundred per cent.”

Hermione could have kissed Lee and Ginny both for that, but she settled for smiling brightly, and saying, “Well, now that’s sorted, if the girls could follow me; Ron can take the boys up to their dorm.” She led the girls up to the first year dormitory and opened the doors. “Your trunks have already been sent up and, as you can see, there are two dorms, both with five beds, so you can split however you want.”

There were eight girls and ten boys in this year, so Hermione hadn’t been surprised to see two doors on this floor. The same had happened in the Marauders’ year, she knew, when the ten girls had been split into two groups of five.

“What if there were only five of us?” One of the girls asked curiously.

Hermione smiled. “Then there’d only be one dorm. One of the wonders of magic. The Tower has the ability to be bigger on the inside. Oh, one of the things we didn’t say downstairs – simply because we don’t want to sound like we’re issuing a challenge – is that the spells to these dormitories are charmed to stop the boys coming up here. Right, if there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask me or one of the other prefects. Goodnight.” She continued up the stairs, a murmured response floating up behind her.

When she reached her own dorm, Hermione collapsed onto her bed, rubbing her hands over her face. She was more tired than she had any right to be, given that she’d spent most of the day sitting down.

A tapping at the window caught her attention, and she forced herself to get up again.

Hedwig was perched on the windowsill, and she smiled slightly, opening the window to let her flutter inside. “I hadn’t even decided if I was going to send a letter yet.” She murmured. “You’re ahead of me.”

Hedwig hooted and swooped on to the canopy of her bed, as the door opened and Lavender and Parvati came in.

“Evening girls.” Hermione greeted, still watching Hedwig. “Good summer?”

“Eventful.” Lavender answered, following her gaze. “Isn’t that Harry’s owl?”

“Yes, she’s taken quite a liking to me.” Hermione said. “What was eventful about it?”

Parvati looked awkward, but Lavender simply sighed. “My parents. They’ve decided to believe everything the Daily Prophet came out with. Oh, I don’t,” she added hastily, when Hermione looked startled. “I don’t pretend I know Harry really well, but I know enough to know that he wouldn’t lie about You-Know-Who.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. It was surprisingly mature of Lavender, especially since, just six months ago, she ate up everything in the Prophet like it was fat-free chocolate. “What changed your mind about them?”

Lavender looked embarrassed. “That last article on the day of the Third Task. I mean, what they said! It was awful! Harry’s the least Dark person I’ve met! And I realised – we realised,” she amended, glancing at Parvati, “that they weren’t using proper sources.”

“Especially that stuff about consorting with werewolves and giants!” Parvati added. “I’m not Hagrid’s biggest fan, I’ll admit, but there’s nothing Dark about him!”

“And Professor Lupin was the best teacher we’ve had.” Lavender agreed. “Much better than Moody – he was just creepy. And I’d much rather have him this year instead of that … woman.”

“She works for the Ministry.” Hermione said darkly. “She’s interfering.”

“Interfering?” Parvati asked blankly. “Why?”

Hermione sighed. “Fudge thinks that Dumbledore’s lying about V- You-Know-Who,” she corrected hastily, unwilling to deal with the hysteria the name would produce, “to cause trouble. He’s sent her in to keep things under control. I bet she’ll have owls intercepted.” She added thoughtfully.

“They can’t do that!” Lavender protested. “It’s illegal!”

“We can’t stop them.” Hermione pointed. “How could we? Any letter we send telling anyone would never reach them.”

“Well, I hope you’re wrong.” Parvati stated, moving towards the bathroom.

Hermione turned back to Hedwig. “So do I.” She murmured.

Hedwig hooted again, and a smile spread across Hermione’s face. She couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of it earlier.

***

It was late evening before Jen arrived back at Grimmauld Place. After leaving Percy, she had replaced the glamour and returned to Privet Drive to collect Jess’s mail, which had piled up on the doormat. She had a quick chat with Mr. Next-Door, about her new journalism assignment (apparently, Jess was a better wordsmith than Jen was as well), and left for Muggle London.

She was hoping that, if she procrastinated for long enough, that she would return to Grimmauld Place less upset with her brother.

It wasn’t that she didn’t agree that he needed to get out of the house – everything she had said to Molly was completely and utterly true.

However, she wished he had spoken to her earlier – with some forewarning, she would have been able to concoct a better disguise than a quick Colour-Changing Charm.

Unfortunately, when she walked through the front door that evening, she was still on edge.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” She hissed, when she finally found him in the library, playing chess with Remus.

“Jen, I needed to get out of the house.” Sirius said, without looking up.

“Sirius, Padfoot doesn’t disguise you from everyone – Lucius Malfoy was on that platform …”

Sirius sighed. “Jen, like you said to Molly …”

“I said that to shut her up so she wouldn’t draw attention to us!” Jen hissed. “And everything I said is entirely beside the point!”

Sirius smirked slightly. “So what is the point, Mrs M?”

Jen glared at him, told him in no uncertain terms what he could do (and where he should go while he was doing it), turned on her heel and stalked out of the room, up the stairs to her bedroom.

She collapsed on to her bed with a groan, covering her face with her hands, unknowingly mirroring Hermione’s actions over four hundred miles away.

She wasn’t entirely sure why she was so upset herself – the last thing she wanted was to become her brother’s keeper, and she’d never ask him to stay confined in the house.

But did he really not understand how scared she was?

Did he really not get how pivotal his wellbeing was to her state of mind?

Frustration and irritation flooded her, and her fingers twitched with the urge to play something. There were certain Muggle items that even the elitist of purebloods liked to pretend weren’t Muggle – the piano was one of them and, like all purebloods, Jen had been taught to read and play music from an early age.

It was one of the few lessons she had been grateful for, and she and Addie – who had undergone similar tuition as a child – had often sought refuge in the Room of Requirement with a piano when school work and worries about the future got on top of them.

She found herself wishing for a piano now, just to play out her frustrations, and was just considering whether to conjure one, when Remus’s voice floated into her head, a little fainter than usual.

You’re blocking me, love. Everything alright?

Jen sighed. Sorry, didn’t realise I was. She pushed open the link again, but didn’t address his question, so she was unsurprised when there was a light knock on the door, and Remus stuck his head in. “Okay?”

Jen stood up, running a hand through her hair. “Frustrated. Am I getting uptight?”

Remus wrapped his arms around her waist, grinning at her. “Do you want an honest answer?”

“Not now.” Jen sighed, resting her forehead on his shoulder. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Sorry.” Remus kissed her head. “No, you’re not. You’re worried about him, and it’s understandable. But he’s fine, Kingsley will leak another sighting in Tibet tomorrow, and we’ll all move on.”

“You’re right.” Jen said softy. “As usual. I’m just glad Molly went back to The Burrow; she’d have had Sirius’s guts if she’d come back here. With any luck, she’ll have calmed down by the next meeting.”

“Owl the twins and ask them to cause havoc.” Remus suggested. “That’ll shift her focus.”

Jen sniggered. “You’re awful, you know that? Where is Sirius, anyway?”

“Went to feed Buckbeak.” Remus answered. “He was losing rather badly.”

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me.” Jen smirked. “Sirius was always hopeless at chess.”

“You’re breaking the rule.” Remus said sombrely.”

“What rule?” Jen asked, confused.

“Never mention your brother when I’m about to kiss you.” Remus recited.

“But you’re …” Jen broke off, sufficiently distracted. “Once a Marauder …” she murmured, when she’d regained the ability to speak.

“The house is empty.” Remus whispered. “How pissed off would they be?”

He didn’t elaborate who ‘they’ were, but he didn’t need to – Jen knew full well that her family would disown her all over again for even thinking like this in the family home, let alone acting on it.

“Very.” She purred. “What did you have in mind?”

“I haven’t quite decided yet.” Remus said, trailing kisses across her cheek and down her jaw-line.

Flicking her hand towards the door, Jen cast a wordless locking and silencing charm, tilting her head back to give him better access. She backed up until she could feel her mattress behind her and sat down; he took advantage of the change in position to transfer his lips back to hers and kiss her deeply.

At that moment, however, there was a tapping sound at the window, and they parted with wry smiles.

“We have the worst luck with owls.” Remus said ruefully.

“That’s because my brother has terrible timing.” Jen said. “Who is it?”

“Harry.” Remus answered, opening the window to let Hedwig in. “No … Hermione. It’s her handwriting. And it’s addressed to you.”

Jen was a little confused that Hermione would write to her – surely Sirius would be the more obvious choice – but she took the letter and broke the seal, projecting the words to Remus as she read.

Dear Jen, It was very nice to meet you over the summer – I’m glad Harry has someone now; those relatives of his are a little stuffy. I’m writing to ask for some help organising a study schedule for Harry. It’s OWL year this year, and he’s a little overwhelmed by everything – I think a schedule might help him map out his studies better. Yours sincerely, Hermione Granger.

Remus raised an eyebrow. Code letter, do you think?

Must be. Jen frowned. But I can’t for the life of me figure it out.

The last phrase seems weird. Remus remarked.

How do you mean? Jen prompted.

‘Map out his studies better’. Remus recited. That’s terrible grammar – especially for her. I think I once heard Ron joke that she was going to do correcting someone’s pronunciation of the Killing Curse. And she told him it was proNUNciation, not proNOUNciation.

Jen reread the letter carefully. The rest of the grammar is fine – it’s just that … She groaned out loud and grabbed her wand. “Of course … Why didn’t I think of that?” She pressed the tip of her wand to the letter. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

Instantly, the letter blurred and the words changed.

Dear Jen,

Sorry about any confusion – I had to write a letter that wouldn’t make anyone suspicious. I know we all thought Moody was being paranoid, but guess who the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is?

One Professor Dolores Umbridge, who looks like a toad and talks like a nursery school teacher. She interrupted Dumbledore to give a speech at the welcoming feast – I think most people zoned out, but there was some important stuff in there – things like ‘pruning wherever we find practices which ought to be prohibited’.

And, to top it off, even some of the Gryffindors are doubting Harry. Lee Jordan gave them a talking-to this evening, so hopefully they’ll keep their mouths shut, but it’s so difficult.

I’ve got to do something – the founders were pushing for unity last year, and now the Sorting Hat’s joined in: “our Hogwarts is in danger from external, deadly foes, and we must unite inside her, or we’ll crumble from within”.

But what am I supposed to do if all the houses hate each other?!
Hopefully, it’s safe to send letters this way – if not, don’t reply and I’ll think of something else.

Hoping you have some ideas,

Hermione

“Clever girl.” Remus remarked, reading over her shoulder. “I hadn’t even thought of adding passwords to letters.”

“Neither had I.” Jen admitted. “But we should have done. I don’t like the sound of that speech.”

“Well, Umbridge …” Remus trailed off, pulling a face. “That woman is evil. Evil in a pink cardigan. There’s no way she’s not a Death Eater.”

“I don’t think so.” Jen disagreed. “She definitely agrees with Voldemort’s campaign, but Voldemort would be perfectly willing to work with ‘half-breeds’ if it got him what he wanted. Umbridge, from what I’ve heard, can barely manage to walk into Gringotts. Besides, she wouldn’t want to get her hands dirty.

“True.” Remus conceded. “That’s true. What do we do now?”

Jen smirked. “Write back.” She checked her watch. “Actually, make dinner, then write back. If I don’t cook something soon, we risk Sirius attempting it and blowing the house up.”

“I hate to say it, Jen,” Remus said gravely, “but that may be the only way to get it clean.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve - Making Contact

By lunchtime of the first proper day of term (Monday), Hermione was already fed up. She had a feeling, of course, that the day had gone better for her than for Ron and Harry, but it had hardly been the most amazing start to the week.

The day had started, as it always had, at eight, when breakfast started appearing in the Great Hall. The food would stay there until half past nine, even though the first lessons of the day began at nine o’clock, because some of the older students, who had more ‘free time’ (although it was technically study time), tended to wander down later rather than earlier.

At nine, they had made their way to History of Magic, in which Binns bored them all stupid with yet another goblin rebellion.

Hermione wasn’t an expert, nor did she pretend to be, but she was fairly sure that if there had been that many goblin rebellions, the wizarding world would be a tad more reluctant to entrust all of their wealth to the goblin nation. She was also certain that she would be cornering Sirius over the Christmas holidays – when he’d given her a hand with her summer homework, he’d made the material sound much more entertaining than it actually was.

An hour later, the Gryffindors had stumbled down to the dungeons for Potions with the Slytherins. It was a double session, which meant that, at eleven, they had a thirty minute break. On the one hand, this allowed them to try more complicated potions, which needed brewing time; on the other hand, it led to a highly uncomfortable conversation with Cho out in the courtyard. To give Harry credit, it wasn’t his fault it was uncomfortable – Ron had decided to pounce on the girl about her Quidditch team – but something about her rubbed Hermione the wrong way, and she knew Ginny agreed.

Potions hadn’t been too bad – at least for Hermione. She was quite good at Potions, although she had been forced to admit over the summer (much to her consternation) that she would never achieve a Mastery in the subject. Potions Masteries required you to be able to invent your own potions as well as skilfully brewing pre-existing ones and Hermione, like Jen, needed a recipe in front of her. She had talked to Sirius about this over the summer, and he had finally managed to make her see that her own constant need for perfection was due to her father’s controlling ways, and that she could let some things go without it being the end of the world.

However, she did enjoy brewing, so she could get through Potions without too much trouble, since Snape … Well, she wouldn’t go so far as to say he liked her, but he tolerated her.

Harry, on the other hand, had a terrible time of it, since his potion went horribly wrong. Snape had berated him for his mistake but – rather than Vanishing the potion as he would have at the end of the previous year – had barked out an instruction for fixing it. He had done it in such a way that most of the Slytherins still sniggered disparagingly, but Harry still walked out of the class with a somewhat decent potion.

After Potions, Hermione had made her way to Ancient Runes, and Ron and Harry to Divination (she was eternally grateful that she’d dropped the stupid class), and they had met up again an hour later, at half past one for lunch.

She had eaten as quickly as she could, and then left Ron and Harry to it, wandering outside for some air before facing Umbridge at half past two for double Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Hermione wasn’t quite sure of the emotions she was picking up from Umbridge – there didn’t really seem to be any, and she wondered if maybe her own disgust was overriding her empathy.

Either way, she knew she wasn’t imagining the whispered complaints of the other students who had already experienced one of Umbridge’s classes.

It was raining slightly, but Hermione didn’t turn back. She pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and settled down under the beech tree by the lake, sheltered by the branches and shielded from the prying eyes of the castle.

Jen’s return letter was in her pocket, but she didn’t remove it. She hadn’t even bothered reading the cover letter, other than a cursory glance – she would remove the charm later, in private.

Much to her concern, her worries the previous evening had been proven when Hedwig arrived at breakfast looking thoroughly irritated, and not just a little ruffled. The seal on the letter had been broken, and no one had bothered trying to disguise the fact.

Hermione wasn’t sure if they were intercepting all mail, or if someone had been on the look-out for Hedwig specifically, but she didn’t like it.

She didn’t like it one bit.

A soft trilling noise caught her attention and she glanced up, seeing Fawkes soaring over the lake. She smiled slightly – it was unusual to see phoenixes like this – but it faded into an expression of shock, when he swooped down and settled beside her.

Hermione hastily closed her mouth and tentatively reached out towards the phoenix. “Hello Fawkes.”

Fawkes blinked and regarded her beadily, reminding her of his close observation the night of the Third Task. Again, he seemed to find what he was looking for, but rather than leaving, he hopped onto her knee, allowing her to pet his head.

“You are beautiful, you know.” Hermione said conversationally, earning a crooning sound that may – or may not – have been a smug agreement. “Were you looking for me?”

Fawkes chirped in an affirmative sort of way.

“Why?” Hermione asked.

Fawkes shuffled around to face her, carefully keeping his head under her hand, and gave her a withering look that would have been more at home on McGonagall than a phoenix.

Hermione smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. How are you supposed to answer that, right?”

Fawkes chirped again, closing his eyes.

Hermione frowned. “Alright, I’ll just have to resort to guessing. Is it something to do with the war?”

Fawkes opened his eyes again and cocked his head to one side.

“You don’t know?” Hermione asked.

Fawkes gave a low whistle that Hermione decided meant ‘no’.

“Sort of?” Hermione guessed.

Chirp.

“It sort of has something to do with the war.” Hermione concluded, earning another chirp. “Something to do with Voldemort?”

A whistle, and a very definitive one at that.

“Not Voldemort.” Hermione frowned. “Dumbledore?”

A chirp.

“Are we right to be worrying about him?” Hermione asked, praying for a negative response.

Fawkes blinked sadly at her, and chirped.

“Oh dear.” Hermione sighed. “I wish there was some way I could understand what you’re saying. Dumbledore’s involved in so many things, you could be trying to tell me anything! I could guess forever and never get it.”

Fawkes looked thoughtful then hopped up and down on her knee, chirruping excitedly.

“I take it you have an idea.” Hermione said, smiling slightly at the phoenix’s excitement.

Fawkes finished hopping directly in front of her and caught her eye, much as he had that night in Dumbledore’s office. Hermione met his eyes openly, and brown stared into black for a few seconds, before Fawkes began to sing.

Hermione had only heard Fawkes sing once before, but that was nothing compared to this. It was a hauntingly beautiful melody that made her want to laugh and cry at the same time. Then she suddenly realised that the music was transforming into her head – not into words, but into an understanding she had come to associate with her ‘conversations’ with the castle.

From the understanding she gained, Hogwarts held a great deal of power. It could only be properly accessed by her heirs, if she chose to accept them, but the headmaster could access quite a bit as well. Fawkes’s concern, she realised, was that Dumbledore was somehow becoming addicted to it.

“Power corrupts.” She whispered miserably. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” She sighed. “Why are you still there, Fawkes?”

Fawkes bobbed his head and kept singing, but the tune changed slightly and it gave Hermione at least a little hope. As dark as some of Dumbledore’s actions had been – and Fawkes seemed either unwilling or unable to reveal them – he truly believed he was doing it all ‘for the greater good’.

It didn’t excuse him at all, but it relieved her to know that he wasn’t entirely Dark … although, unbidden, the words of one of a favourite Muggle books came to mind: if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.

As a child, Hermione had been confused by this and had asked her mother for an explanation. “It means, darling, that evil deeds, done in the name of good, are still evil deeds.

Hermione groaned, rubbing her forehead. “That doesn’t make it better, Fawkes.”

He crooned softly in agreement.

“I didn’t think phoenixes could bond with humans if …” She broke off. “Unless you’re not bonded? You’re just his companion, no magic between you?”

Fawkes chirped again, looking almost pleased that she’d figured it out.

“So why are you still here?” Hermione asked. “Unless you’re hoping that he’ll come to his senses?”

Fawkes trilled in a way that made her think she had it only partly right.

“Well, what else is there?” Hermione asked blankly.

Fawkes squawked in an almost insulted way and flapped his wings towards the castle.

Hermione mentally slapped herself. “The students! You stay to protect the students!”

Fawkes trilled again, rubbing his head against her hand.

“Of course you do.” Hermione continued softly. “Because you’d have been a Gryffindor. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it is; you’ll protect your own.”

Fawkes chirruped, crooning as she scratched his head.

A bell tolled somewhere in the castle, startling them both, and Hermione gasped sharply. “Already? Oh dear – I’m going to be late!”

Fawkes took flight, allowing her to leap to her feet. Before she could dart towards the castle, he fluttered to hover in front of her.

She eyed his tail feathers hesitantly. “Are you sure?”

Fawkes trilled reassuringly, and she took hold of them, finding them as warm as his head. With a flash of fire, they appeared in an alcove, just down the corridor from the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.

“Thanks, Fawkes.” Hermione whispered, sticking her head out to check for other students. They all seemed to be still on their way from the Great Hall. “Wait, before you go – how can I understand you?”

Fawkes gave a trill that sounded like laughter, before disappearing in another flash.

Hermione sighed, frustrated, and headed for the classroom. Maybe Umbridge won’t be that bad.

***

“And maybe I couldn’t have been more wrong.” Hermione groaned, her head falling on to the table, just missing her dinner.

A hand grasped her shoulder and pulled her back up. “Careful, Hermione.” Harry said cheerfully. “Don’t ruin your brain cells over that bitch.”

“Language.” Hermione chided half-heartedly.

It was half-hearted because she didn’t need to be an empath to know that his cheerfulness ended after his voice.

The lesson had started badly – Hermione loved reading more than the average student, but even she had trouble with a two-hour lesson comprised of reading the text-book.

Especially when she’d already read it.

So she had given herself time to read the ‘course aims’ that Madam Umbridge (who still seemed insistent on treating them like three-year-olds) had put on the board.

Giving up on dinner (her stomach was churning), Hermione closed her eyes, making sure she had the aims committed to memory so she could relay them to Jen.

It hadn’t escaped Hermione’s notice that they said nothing about using defensive magic, and she had pointed this out to their professor, who had gleefully seized the opportunity to goad Harry into digging his own grave.

To Hermione’s immense pride, Harry had held his tongue – she was ready to snap after the first sentence, but Harry’s hand had gripped hers under the desk and had stayed her temper.

Then again, maybe it had the same effect on him.

However, Harry could only do so for so long – he could ignore her insinuations that he was a bare-faced liar – Lee’s steadfast defence of him the night before had settled him somewhat – but when she implied that Cedric’s death was nothing more than a tragic accident, he snapped.

Umbridge had gleefully given Harry a week of detention for spreading ‘rumour and panic through the student body’ and Hermione didn’t like the gleam that had been in their teacher’s eye.

Harry didn’t seem to have noticed it and informed the woman that, if she thought Cedric’s death was anything less than cold-blooded murder, she was clearly delusional.

At this, Umbridge had called Harry to the front of the class and given him a note for Professor McGonagall.

“What did McGonagall say?” Hermione asked.

“Advised me not to antagonise Umbridge if I can help it and offered me a biscuit.” Harry answered, toying with his dinner. “Ginger newts are quite nice actually.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow, before glancing up at the Head Table, where Professor McGonagall was quite pointedly ignoring Umbridge’s attempts at conversation. “Don’t get used to it. I think she just hates Umbridge more than she hates back-chat.”

At this point, they received an interruption in the form of a very angry Angelina Johnson. “Harry!” She hissed, sitting down opposite them. “What the hell did you do?!”

“It wasn’t me.” Harry said automatically. “Wait, what?”

Angelina glared at him. “Detention, Harry! You have detention every night this week!”

“Yeah, I know, because …” Harry trailed off. “Oops.”

“Yes, oops!” Angelina said, rolling her eyes. “I told you this morning that try-outs were Friday evening, and I specifically told you that I needed the whole team there! What the hell did you do?!”

“She told us that there was absolutely no reason to learn defensive magic, because there was nothing that would harm us in school or in the real world.” Hermione said, more calmly than she felt. Beneath the table, she took hold of Harry’s hand again, knowing he would regret it if he snapped. “Then she said she knew we must all be on edge after Cedric’s ‘tragic accident’ …”

The people around them, who were unashamedly eavesdropping, sucked in a breath.

Even Seamus, who Hermione had it on good authority believed the Prophet, looked angry.

Angelina rocked back on the bench, looking shell-shocked. “Oh Merlin …”

“I’m sorry I won’t be there on Friday,” Harry said, “but I won’t apologise for what I did to get detention.”

Angelina sighed. “I understand, Harry.”

Hermione frowned. “If you want, Angelina, I’ll come and watch try-outs – I’ve seen Harry play enough that I could give some kind of insight as to how he’d work with other players.” For some reason, this made Ron choke beside her. “Besides, the Keeper doesn’t have that much interaction with the Seeker, does he?”

Angelina nodded slowly. “That’s true.” She stood up. “Alright, I’ll let you off the hook. You’d better be there at practice though.”

Harry saluted her and she returned to her friends down the table, whereupon he breathed a sigh of relief. “You know, Mione, Angie’s like an older sister to me, but she can be terrifying when she wants to be.”

“I think she’s channelling Oliver, personally.” Fred remarked from a few seats away. “I’ll talk to her; see if I can convince her to relax.”

“How are you going to do that?” Hermione asked.

Fred gave her a salacious wink. “Never you mind, Mya.”

Hermione shook her head, and turned back to Harry, who was muttering about keeping his mouth shut. “It wasn’t your fault, Harry.” She said soothingly. “If anything, it’s mine – I shouldn’t have questioned her.”

“If I can’t blame myself, then you can’t blame yourself.” Harry said, running a hand through his hair and making it stick up even more. He dropped his fork. “It’s no good. I’m not hungry.”

“Worried about detention?” Hermione asked.

Harry nodded. “I mean, I’ve had detentions before, but Snape generally keeps his mouth shut. Umbridge is trying to get under my skin.”

Hermione frowned, and abandoned her own dinner. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” Harry asked, as she pulled him to his feet.

Hermione didn’t answer, leading him through the school to the seventh floor. “We’re going to start your You-Know-What.” She tapped her head and turned to face him. “You need to activate the room – it needs to be somewhere you feel relaxed. Not necessarily happy or content, but relaxed.”

Harry nodded, pacing up and down the corridor. On his third pass, the door appeared, and, to Hermione’s surprise, it led to a dark library, with squashy chairs surrounded by soft orange lamps, just bright enough to read by.

“Are you sure I didn’t come up with this?” She asked.

Harry smiled weakly. “When I was a kid and Dudley was chasing me, the library was the one place I could hide. He wouldn’t set foot in a library if you paid him.”

“I see.” Hermione ushered him into one of the chairs and sat across from him, thinking hard. “How am I going to do this?” She thought back to Improving Mind Magics and the preliminary chapter she had read. “Alright, close your eyes and just focus on my voice.”

“Easy enough,” Harry said, “it’s the only thing I can hear.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Focus, Harry.”

“Sorry.” Harry murmured, closing his eyes.

“Breathe deeply.” Hermione whispered. “In … out … in … out … Relax … Let your muscles go.” She watched Harry’s expression become peaceful – far more so than she had seen it in months. “Harry, I’m going to enter your mind and guide you to the perimeters. Nod if that’s alright.”

Harry nodded, without opening his eyes.

“Alright.” Hermione closed her own eyes and stepped into his head. Carefully, she tiptoed around the edge, leaving a trail of magic for him to follow, carefully stepping around the darkness. Then she withdrew and opened her eyes again. “Okay, Harry, what I want you to do is follow the trail I just left and create a wall. Make it as tall and as strong as you can. Nod when you’ve finished.”

Leaning back, she Summoned a book from one of the shelves and opened it, keeping one eye on her best friend. Twenty minutes later, he nodded, and she set the book aside. “Alright, I’m coming back into your mind, alright?”

At his second sign of consent, she stepped forwards once more, but this time, she stayed where she appeared.

“Harry?” She called. “Harry, can you hear me?”

After a few seconds, Harry appeared, looking confused. “How did you get past that?” He asked, gesturing behind her.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder to find a wall of pure black. “Impressive. I’m a natural, Harry. The wall won’t affect me. Come on.” She took his hand, and pulled him through the wall to the other side.

“I’m not a natural.” Harry said, blinking in the darkness. “How did I do that?”

“It’s your head, Harry.” Hermione reminded him. “This part of the wall has to be special. It’s the entrance. What I need you to do is create a guardian. Something to fight your corner if someone tries to invade your mind, and preferably something that stops them from getting in anywhere else.”

“And this is all I need to do?” Harry asked sceptically.

Hermione smiled. “No. Later we’ll work on organising the inside of your mind, but it’s best to do that with a shield. I’m going to leave you to it. When you’ve finished, open your eyes.”

Harry nodded, and Hermione pulled out of his mind once more, picked up the book again, and settled down to read it, taking note of the time.

After twenty minutes, she looked up to find Harry watching her with a fond smile.

“How long have you been done?”

“About five minutes.” Harry answered.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. “You just looked so … content, I guess. Didn’t want to disturb you.”

Hermione didn’t respond, taken aback, not by the response, but the look in his eyes. It was accompanied by the same waft of emotion that she had picked up at the Yule Ball the year before, and on the night they made the oath to stand by him.

It both warmed her heart and terrified her, and she looked away, unsure how to handle it, fussing with the book on her lap and smoothing out some of the pages. “Thank you. But you could have done – we don’t have much time before your detention.”

“Well, I’d have poked you in another couple of minutes.” Harry said, apparently oblivious.

Hermione set the book to one side and looked up, somewhat relieved to find that everything seemed to have returned to normal. Some Gryffindor I am. “Alright, can I take a look?”

Harry nodded, and Hermione entered his mind for a third time, this time aiming for the outside of the wall. She found herself shrouded in darkness, surrounded on three sides by grey stone, leaving her no option but to walk forwards. The air was cold and hostile, and she shivered slightly, despite being protected from the worst of her environment by her unique abilities.

After a few seconds, she reached the wall of solid black, but it had changed. White marble ran through it, culminating in the centre in a carved statuette of a woman cradling a baby that reminded Hermione of a portrait of the Virgin Mary she had once seen in a church.

But Hermione had a feeling there was nothing religious about this particular icon – she was willing to bet that, had the statuette not been pure white, her hair would have been red, and her eyes green.

Somehow, this ‘guardian’ didn’t surprise Hermione, and neither did the others – in front of the statuette, four figures paced.

The first was a stag, uncannily similar to Harry’s Patronus, but dark brown, almost black, in colour. He stood directly in front of the statuette, his breath forming clouds in the hair, one hooved foot pawing at the ground.

The second was a dog – Padfoot – but larger, much larger, and snarling in a way that reminded Hermione of the first night they’d met Sirius, under the Whomping Willow in third year. He circled her – not directly threateningly, since the guardians were unaware of her presence – a constant warning to any who dared attempt to enter. As he passed through her blind spot, she caught a flash of gold in the corner of her eye and, though his fur stayed as black as ever, she couldn’t help remembering Lily and James’s first story about Addie. Sirius’s Animagus form, but blonde. I wonder if Harry did that on purpose.

And if Addie was here as well, then … Hermione’s eyes returned to the statuette, and this time noticed what she had missed at first – a tabby cat curled up at Lily’s feet, a falcon perched on her shoulder.

The last two figures stood together; Jen leaned against the wall, her off-hand resting on the head of the large brown werewolf who stood beside her. She looked almost bored, but her wand was out, and from what she’d heard, Hermione didn’t envy anyone who tried to get past her.

Hermione broke the connection, beaming. “Excellent, Harry! That’s fantastic!”

“You didn’t test it.” Harry pointed out, sounding disappointed.

“It won’t work against me.” Hermione explained. “Work on that barrier every day, okay? Go back in, polish some things up, and so on. Then we’ll start on the next bit.”

Harry nodded. “What was the letter you got this morning? Hedwig didn’t look too happy.”

“She was intercepted, that’s why.” Hermione said darkly, pulling the letter from her pocket. “There was nothing in it that would cause trouble though.”

Harry frowned. “You don’t think they hurt her?”

“I think most of her irritation came from the fact that she had to fly from here to London and back again in one night.” Hermione admitted, shaking the letter out so she could read it.

Harry moved to sit on the arm of her chair, reading the letter over her shoulder. “Ideas for a study schedule? Why’s Jen sending you those – the OWLs aren’t until June!”

Hermione smirked. “I know. But you need to study and, besides,” she tapped the letter with her wand, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

“That’s alright then.” Harry grinned, as the words changed.

“Do you mind?” Hermione asked, as he leaned closer to read this one as well.

Dear Hermione,

Well done! Remus sends his compliments – that, my dear, was an idea worthy of the Marauders. It’s not perfect – if they decide to intercept mail and look more thoroughly, they may well break the charm – but it will do until we come up with a more permanent solution. From now on, though, get Harry to write the cover letters – make sure they’re nothing of substance – but it will look less suspicious for him to write to me.

Watch out for Umbridge – she’s not a Death Eater, but she’s definitely sympathetic, and she’s a Slytherin in the worst sense of the word. She’s highly loyal to the Minister, and she will do ANYTHING to keep him in power, probably because he’s easy to manipulate.

So saying, DO NOT LET HARRY SPEND ANY TIME ALONE WITH HER! Tell him to keep his head down, and his mouth shut, and he should be fine. If this warning comes too late, send details in your next letter. And, Hermione, don’t let Harry hold back – we both know he will.

As for the houses, Remus suggests an inter-house study group – sound out the people you know believe Harry to start with and branch out from there. Best keep it something like Charms though – something that isn’t going to spark debate.

Debate can be good, but you need to work on cohabitation first.

Oh, and tell Draco I’m working on it – try and smooth the ground between him and Harry, or next summer is not going to be fun.

Take care, both of you.

Jen (and Moony)

“Well, that was illuminating.” Hermione remarked, wiping the letter and returning it too his pocket.

“What about Draco?” Harry asked. “Malfoy?”

“How many other ‘Draco’s do we know?” Hermione asked lightly, looking up. Their eyes met and she momentarily forgot that he’d asked her a question.

“Well?” Harry prompted.

Hermione blinked. “Well, what?”

“Malfoy?”

“Oh.” Hermione stood up, needing to put some space between them. She wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but she did know that it was completely confusing her. “Well, I can’t explain completely – it’s not my story to tell – but Draco can’t go home next summer.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

Hermione sighed. “Can’t you just take that as an explanation?”

Harry folded his arms. “No.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Okay, you remember Jen and Sirius telling us about why they ran away from home?”

Harry frowned, his arms dropping to his sides. “Yeah … Yeah, they said their parents wanted them to join Voldemort, but they …” He trailed off, his face clearing. “Oh …”

“Exactly.” Hermione said darkly. “Harry, this can’t get out, alright?”

“My lips are sealed.” Harry assured her, glancing up at the clock that had appeared on the wall. “I need to go.”

Hermione followed his gaze, and nodded in agreement. “Just remember to work on that shield – and don’t look Dumbledore in the eye.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard.” Harry muttered. “He’s avoiding me.”

“Trust me, that’s a good thing.” Hermione said, more to herself. “I’ll write back to Jen – you can add the cover letter when you get back. Go on, quickly!”

***

The Order of the Phoenix were halfway through a meeting the following night, when Hedwig flew through the kitchen window and settled on the back of Jen’s chair. She looked a little ruffled, but incredibly pleased with herself.

“Reckless …” Snape muttered, not quite under his breath.

“I just hope the boy’s got some sense.” Moody growled. “Looks like the owl was intercepted.”

Jen stroked Hedwig’s feathers. “Alright, girl?”

Hedwig hooted in a self-satisfied way.

“Avoid them, or just give them a good pecking?” Jen asked, taking the letter.

Hedwig hooted again, and it sounded like laughter.

Jen opened the letter, frowning briefly when she realised the seal had been broken, and read it aloud. “‘Dear Jen. Thanks for the study tips you sent Hermione – although I think I could see my free-time vanishing into the distance when she got them. We’ve got a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – she’s nearly as nice as your mum. I’m glad we got to spend some time together over the summer – it was good to hear stories about my parents; got any more? Love Harry.’” She smiled, folding the letter up and putting it in her pocket. “Sorry, Kingsley – what were you saying?”

But Kingsley didn’t return to the report in his hands. “Is that really all it says or are you just messing with us?”

“That’s really what it says.” Jen told him truthfully.

Dora frowned. “Then why does Hedwig look so pleased with herself?”

Remus chuckled. “Come on, Jen – stop messing with them.”

“Oh, you want to hear the real letter!” Jen shook her head. “Why didn’t you say so?” She pulled the letter from her pocket, wandlessly activating the charm as she did, and read the newly revealed letter. “‘Dear Jen. As you can see, we took your advice on the first matter. Given that Hedwig arrived a little flustered yesterday morning, and the seal was broken, I was going to take the precaution of sending this with a different owl, but Hedwig refused to let another owl take the job – I think she’s trying to protect them.’”

Here, Hedwig hooted in confirmation.

Jen smiled, stroking the owl’s head, and kept reading. “‘Unfortunately, the warning about Umbridge came a little too late – Harry’s got detention every night this week for ‘spreading rumours’. He kept quiet about Voldemort’s return, but it all went pear-shaped when she called Cedric’s death a ‘tragic accident’. I know you said to avoid DADA for a study-group, but I think it might be necessary. These are the course aims we’ve been given:

Understanding the principles underlying defensive magic.

Learning to recognise situations in which defensive magic can be legally used.

Placing the use of defensive magic in a context for practical use.

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s nothing there about using defensive magic – the first time we use these spells will be in our practical OWL exam; it’s ridiculous.’” Jen paused to allow the others to complain, and to allow her eye to run over the next paragraph.

Jen? Remus prompted.

‘I’ll try to pass the message on to Draco and get him and Harry sat down at some point. Also, had a chat with Fawkes yesterday lunchtime; he’s worried that Dumbledore’s getting addicted to the power of Hogwarts. He says Dumbledore has done some really dark things – wouldn’t tell me what – but that he’s convinced himself it’s ‘for the greater good’.’

Crap. Remus sighed. They’re looking at you.

“Sorry.” Jen said aloud, folding the letter up again. “That’s it really. Just ‘give everyone our love, Harry and Hermione’. Now,” she leaned back. “What were you saying, Kingsley?”

***

“Alright.” Sirius said, closing the door behind them. “Let’s see that letter.”

They had just seen the last of the Order out of the door, Jen assuring Molly that she’d make sure Sirius and Remus didn’t starve, and had retreated to the study on the first floor.

Jen handed him the letter and hopped up on to the desk, ignoring the tutting that was coming from the portrait on the wall. Thankfully, it was a long-dead relative, who had been painted back when the Black family kept their mouths shut (most of the time), so it didn’t start screaming.

Sirius turned the parchment over in his hands several times, before looking up. “This is the first letter you read.”

“I know it is.” Jen said cheerfully.

Sirius sighed. “Jen, you’re getting as cryptic as Dumbledore, and that’s saying something. Where’s the real letter?”

Jen laughed. “I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out, Padfoot.”

With a flourish, she and Remus drew their wands and tapped the parchment. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?” Sirius groaned.

“Because you never think.” Remus answered, stowing his wand away.

Sirius ran an eye over the letter, stopping when he reached the bottom to take in the paragraph Jen had withheld. “What message for Draco?”

Jen flicked a Silencing Charm at the door, just in case. “That I’m going to kidnap him.”

Sirius frowned, leaning against the wall. “Cissy know?”

“Cissy asked me to.” Jen admitted. “Do you want to know what else she told me?”

“That’s she’s not leaving.” Sirius guessed heavily.

“Yes.” Jen sighed. “Says it will draw too much attention.”

“She’s probably right.” Remus pointed out, conjuring two chairs.

“Yeah.” Sirius agreed absently, sinking into one of them. “What else did she say? You ask about the Department of Mysteries?”

“Didn’t need to.” Jen said. “Asked if she knew why James and Lily were targeted and got two answers for the price of one. There was a prophecy,” she explained, before they could ask, “made the summer we graduated, by Professor Trelawney.”

“She made the prophecy about Voldemort’s return as well.” Remus frowned. “No wonder Dumbledore keeps her around. And Voldemort heard the prophecy?”

Jen shook her head. “Only the first part, which is why we’re guarding it. I guess Dumbledore doesn’t want him to get his hands on the rest.”

Sirius ran a hand through his hair. “But that makes no sense. The only people who can remove prophecies are the people they’re made about. So Harry and Voldemort. Harry’s not going to the DoM, and Voldemort can hardly walk into the Ministry if everyone’s so intent on denying his revival.”

Jen shrugged. “Look, I’m not the one insisting on guard duty.” She raised an eyebrow. “How did you know that prophecies could only be removed like that?”

Sirius hesitated for a second. “Addie mentioned it once.”

“There is another way Voldemort could get the prophecy.” Remus said, hastily changing the subject. “If he can get thoughts out of Harry’s head through the link, could he somehow possess him and make him go to London?”

“I don’t think so.” Jen said slowly. “It’s possible he could possess Harry,” the thought sent a shiver down her spine, “but I don’t think he could do it from a distance. And Lily’s protection would push him out before Harry had a chance to leave the Common Room, let alone get to London.”

“Maybe not.” Sirius disagreed. “Voldemort used Harry’s blood to bring his body back – wouldn’t that render the protection null and void?”

“Or what if he sends Harry a false dream?” Remus asked. “Harry’s seen into his head before – if Harry thinks someone’s in trouble and that no one else can get to them …”

Jen closed her eyes, a shiver of horror running through her. “Right, we’ll warn him of that possibility.”

“What does the prophecy say?” Sirius asked. “The part that Voldemort knows, I mean, or didn’t Narcissa know?”

“‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies …’” Jen recited.

Sirius frowned. “That doesn’t say that Harry will defeat Voldemort, just that he might. And how do we know it’s Harry, and not Neville?”

“I think in many ways it doesn’t matter who the prophecy was talking about.” Remus sighed. “Voldemort thinks it means Harry, ergo it means Harry. Unless the rest of the prophecy is more specific, he’s not going to stop going after Harry.”

“And that’s why Dumbledore didn’t warn Alice or Lily before the boys were born.” Jen said. “Because Alice could have been late, and Lily wasn’t due until mid-August, so it might not have meant them at all.”

“Harry was due mid-August.” Sirius repeated softly.

“Yeah.” Jen frowned. “You know that, Sirius – you practically had a heart attack when Lily went into labour early. Wasn’t she with you?”

Sirius nodded. “And Peter, in Diagon Alley. And Peter was the one that panicked – kept worrying about it being the end of July. I thought he was worried because she was early, but what if …?”

“What if he knew the prophecy?” Remus finished quietly.

“Apparently, he had a heart once.” Sirius muttered.

“Of course he did.” Jen said sadly. “You can’t deny how he felt about Mandy.”

“No.” Sirius sighed. “No, I can’t. That’s what I don’t get.

“When did that even happen?” Remus asked. “I know they were together by the time Harry was born, but when …?”

“James and Lily’s wedding.” Jen answered. “Apparently he’d been trying to work up the courage to ask her out for ages.”

Sirius shook his head. “I don’t get it. If he loved her that much, why …?”

“I don’t know.” Jen said, more snappily than she intended. “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

Sirius nodded jerkily, but he didn’t answer, his eyes falling to the letter.

He’s thinking about her again. Remus said.

Jen smiled sadly. When is he not?

“Hang on,” Sirius said slowly, “what’s Dumbledore done that’s ‘Dark’? Unwise, certainly, but Dark?”

Jen and Remus exchanged a glance, not needing words – verbal or mental – to make a decision. Remus moved to stand in front of the door, and Jen sighed. “Sirius, Dumbledore was the only person with the ability and the knowledge to cast the Memory Charm.”

Sirius looked over at Remus, as though hoping he would laugh and tell him she was kidding.

But he didn’t.

“But … Are you sure?” Sirius asked hoarsely.

Jen sighed again, running a hand through her hair. “There’s a … knack to closing the link,” she explained briefly, “and we never told anyone except Dumbledore.”

“Maybe he told someone …” Sirius said hopefully, but Remus shook his head.

“He took an oath to keep it secret.” He said quietly. “Even though we never asked for one. And he’s the only person powerful enough to put a glamour that strong on Jen.”

“How can he argue that’s ‘for the greater good’?!” Sirius demanded, getting up to pace.

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “I think it might have something to do with the prophecy – for whatever reason, he decided Harry would have to kill Voldemort, and it couldn’t be me, or something like that.”

“But Harry’s just a boy.” Sirius groaned, running a hand through his hair. “It’s not right!”

“I didn’t say it was right.” Jen pointed out calmly. “I’m trying to figure out what he’s thinking.”

“Is it a good or a bad thing that he thinks it’s for good?” Remus asked.

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “On the one hand, at least he hasn’t turned evil, but on the other …”

“Someone who thinks they’re justified aren’t going to listen to their conscience.” Sirius finished darkly. “We need someone in Hogwarts.”

“That’s not necessary.” Jen disagreed. “We need a way of contacting the kids without owls.”

The three sank into a contemplative silence for a few minutes, before Remus groaned. “Of course! Jen, how much can that charm hide?”

“I can probably modify it enough to hide a small package.” Jen answered. “Why?”

Remus grinned. “I’ve got an idea.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen - Secrets

Several weeks passed, and Hedwig still hadn’t returned.

Hermione didn’t deny she was starting to worry, but as long as Umbridge remained in a foul mood, she was confident that they were safe.

And Umbridge was still in a foul mood. Harry had not said a word to her about Voldemort, Cedric, the Dark Arts, or anything else that might set her off since that first lesson, and yet he was winding up in detention almost every night, for the strangest of reasons.

Hermione was concerned that she had some type of sinister motive for this, but Harry insisted that she had him doing lines, and that was it.

Tedious, but hardly dangerous.

More than once, Hermione had been tempted to reassure herself during their Occlumency lessons, but she had promised Harry after that first lesson that she would not look for anything whilst in his head – all she needed to do was check his organisation.

His mindscape – rather predictably – now resembled the Quidditch locker rooms. His everyday thoughts were on the backs of the Quidditch uniforms, in place of the name and number. More private thoughts were secured in lockers. And the most important secrets he had were locked away in the captain’s office.

This mental organisation had the side benefit of increased focus, and Harry’s marks had greatly increased, especially in Potions, where he now found he could blank out Snape’s scathing comments.

Obviously, he had also managed to do that in Defence, but, again, it was to no avail.

Angelina was starting to get very upset with him, when he had no choice but to constantly miss practice. It didn’t help that Ron was the new Keeper – whilst very capable, he had a habit of freezing up under pressure.

And with their first match against Slytherin in November, there would be a lot of pressure.

Angelina had confessed to Harry and Hermione that two of the other hopefuls had flown better than Ron in the try-outs, but one was always whining about something, and the other had too many other commitments.

Hermione had advised her not to mention that little titbit to Ron, and set about helping her draw up a practice schedule around Harry’s detentions.

But Hedwig’s absence still worried her.

To ease her mind, she set about trying to find the room where the founders had appeared to her the year before. She walked, and walked, and was just about to give up, when she found herself wandering down an familiar corridor, with a familiar door standing ajar just ahead of her.

A relieved smile touched her lips, and Hermione knocked lightly, before pushing the door open.

There was none of the initial formality of her last visit – aside from anything else, only one founder was present.

Rowena Ravenclaw was reclining in a squashy armchair, which looked out of place in room of sparse wooden furniture, reading a book.

She looked up when Hermione entered, and gave her a smile, setting her book aside. The chair vanished as she rose to her feet. “Hello Hermione. I was wondering when you’d return.”

“Hello, ma’am.” Hermione greeted, bobbing a curtsey almost automatically, staring at the book. It looked solid. “Is that … I mean, how could you … Are you …?”

“Solid?” Rowena finished, smiling kindly at her. “Technically, at the moment, I’m not solid. Take a seat, dear.”

With a wave of her hand, a chair appeared behind Hermione and she sank into it gratefully.

“As we explained last year,” Rowena began, “we haven’t appeared to anyone before. Our heirs have always been able to communicate with the castle – provided they know, of course – but no one has been quite like you. You have realised that Hogwarts is sentient, and you interact with her daily, without even realising you’re doing it. In doing that, you give us strength.”

“So …” Hermione hesitated. “What are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Rowena chuckled. “The closest I can get to a description is a poltergeist. We aren’t solid, but we can affect the natural world. The next step, of course, is to form solid bodies.”

“So you’d be walking around Hogwarts, like you were alive again?” Hermione asked.

“Not quite.” Rowena corrected. “We believe we would only actually be solid in here and in the Chamber of Secrets. Anywhere else, we’d be like ghosts. If you’re asking if everyone else will be able to see us … quite possibly. As I said, we hadn’t expected this to happen. Not that it’s unwelcome. It does get so frustrating reading over people’s shoulders.”

Hermione wasn’t a spirit, but she couldn’t help nodding in agreement – it had always annoyed her in primary school when she was forced to share a book with someone, and she finished reading the page long before they did. Then she remembered Hedwig. “Erm … ma’am, I have a question.”

“Then by all means, ask away.” Rowena told her. “If one never asks, they never learn. And please, Hermione, call me Rowena. Or Grandmother, if you prefer.”

If Hermione hadn’t already been seated, she was sure her legs would have given out. “Pardon?” She squeaked.

Rowena looked innocently surprised. “Oh, didn’t you know? We had all agreed not to tell our heirs until they’d figured it out for themselves. Oh bother.”

All of a sudden, Hermione could see the family resemblance – the twinkle in Rowena’s eye was one she had seen in her mother’s occasionally … when she had shaken the seemingly constant misery that seemed to surround her.

“Grandmother, did you know that I hadn’t guessed?”

“Of course not, dear.” Rowena said with a wink. “I am, however, surprised that Lady Potter didn’t tell you when she informed you about your mother.”

Hermione frowned lightly at the title. “Lady Potter?”

“The Potters are an Ancient and Noble family and hold an earldom as well,” Rowena explained, “which makes your Aunt Lily both Lady Potter and the Countess of Richmond.”

Hermione let out a low whistle. “Is that why Dumbledore had the books about the Potter family removed from the library?”

“Quite possible.” Rowena confirmed. “Even probable, I’d say. The Potter family have a great deal of political power that Dumbledore wouldn’t want Harry to have.”

“Why not?” Hermione asked. “What’s Dumbledore planning?”

Rowena sighed. “I’m afraid I don’t know, Hermione. The castle is not omniscient – we don’t know everything that happens within people’s heads.”

Hermione nodded. It crossed her mind to use her Legilimency next time she saw Dumbledore, but she dismissed it almost instantly. It wasn’t yet necessary, she decided, and she hated the idea of it anyway. “Does Lily know, then?”

“I don’t know.” Rowena said thoughtfully. “That’s a good point actually – I’m assuming that her husband knows, and it’s possible he doesn’t. He definitely would have been taught his own family history, but that’s no reason he’d know yours as well. Now, what was your question, dear?”

It took Hermione a few seconds to remember. “Oh! Yes. Hedwig’s taking quite a while to return – I don’t suppose you know if she’s alright?”

"Well, after the first incident,” Rowena said, pursing her lips disapprovingly, “Hogwarts began using her magic to hide the owls as they left. Whether or not something happened after she left the wards …” she trailed off. “No, she’s just crossed the boundaries – no problem. Hogwarts will hide her until she reaches you or Harry.”

“Thank you.” Hermione whispered, directing her words towards the castle as well.

“You should be able to do that as well without claiming.” Rowena told her. “As well as ask Hogwarts to hide you and your friends from Mr Filch and other teachers – I trust you not to take advantage of that.”

“Of course not, Grandmother.” Hermione said, her brow crinkling slightly. “Claiming?"

Rowena smiled at her. “Hogwarts Castle used to be Ravenclaw Castle, if you remember. This castle is your birth-right, and one I fully encourage you to claim if you are to win this war. However, I advise that you do not do so just yet – the last thing you want to do is tip your hand.”

Hermione nodded. “Of course. Now …”

Before she could finish the sentence, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin appeared, their words falling over each other and making them unintelligible, and, as such, it took Hermione a few minutes to realise that they were not, as she had first thought, arguing.

“Boys!” Rowena’s sharp tone cut through their tirades, and they turned to her, suitably chastened. “We have company – where are your manners.”

“Ah, Hermione!” Godric greeted cheerfully, although there was still a hint of anger in his eyes. “Just the witch we wanted to see!”

“R-Really?” Hermione asked, flattered and more than a little disbelieving.

“Good Lord, your self-esteem is almost as bad as that best friend of yours.” Godric said, shaking his head pityingly.

“And while we’re on that subject,” Salazar put in, “tell him to stop being such a bloody idiot! I swear, he’s just like you.” He added to Godric.

Something about his tone of voice made Hermione gasp. “Harry’s the heir of Gryffindor?”

The two men glanced warily at each other and donned unconvincingly innocent expressions. “No.”

Rowena sighed. “You might as well tell her. I managed to slip.”

“You don’t slip, Rowena.” Godric stated. “You told her on purpose.” He shook his head and turned to Hermione. “Yes, Harry is my heir, but Rowena and I took precautions.”

“We four had strong power and quite a legacy to pass to our descendants.” Salazar explained. “Helga didn’t feel the need, and I was a little … preoccupied, but Rowena never told her daughters everything.”

Rowena sighed a little sadly. “One of my daughters had already proven flighty and her sister … Well, as much as I loved her, I regret to say I failed to trust her after … certain events. I wanted to be sure I could trust my heir with the family secrets. Godric, on the other hand, had to be dramatic.”

Godric smiled ruefully. “I made a stipulation that my heirs had to earn their birth-right – prove themselves true Gryffindors. So far, none of them have.”

Hermione frowned. “But … James … you can’t tell me he wasn’t brave.”

“Oh, he is.” Godric agreed. “He was the first in a long time that I thought might actually manage it. But there is a difference, my dear, between bravery and Gryffindor bravery.”

“But then, hasn’t Harry managed it?” Hermione asked. “Your sword presented itself in second year – Dumbledore said only a true Gryffindor could have pulled it from that Hat.”

“Any student who proves their worth as a member of my house may pull forth the sword.” Godric told her. “I dare say the sword would have presented itself to you as well.”

“We’ve gone completely off topic.” Rowena said sternly. “And,” she added to Godric, “you’re embarrassing her; stop it.”

“Make me.” Godric shot back childishly.

“I can do that.” Helga said, materialising behind him and making him jump.

Hermione got her blush under control and rubbed her head. “Not that I don’t love listening to all this, but could you please tell me what Harry’s done this time?”

“It’s not what he’s done.” Salazar growled. “It’s what he’s not doing that’s the problem.”

Damn Slytherins. Only answer what’s asked and never give away anything useful. “Okay …” Hermione said with false calm. “What hasn’t be done?”

“Your Defence teacher, who, by the way, is the foulest person I’ve ever had the misfortune to be in the same room as,” Godric said through gritted teeth, “is making students use a blood quill in detentions.”

Helga and Rowena gasped in horror, but Hermione was lost – she was sure she’d heard of a blood quill before, but she couldn’t quite remember were. She closed her eyes, and tried to jog her memory. It must be something bad – the word ‘blood’s a dead giveaway. And I know it wasn’t mentioned in class … Don’t think I read about it. So I must have seen one or heard about it somewhere else … Maybe at Grimmauld Place ...

And then, quite suddenly, she did remember, standing in the study at Grimmauld Place, staring between the sharp black quill in Sirius’s hand and the look of disgust on his face.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s a blood quill. It uses your blood to write with and carves the words into the back of your off hand.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“No arguments here.”

“There was one at Headquarters.” She whispered. “Sirius wouldn’t let me touch it in case it was cursed. He said they’d been outlawed by the Ministry for at least twenty years.”

“Well, I can’t confirm that,” Rowena conceded, “but use on minors has always been illegal – they were invented to be used on official documents to make them magically binding.”

“They still are used for that.” Hermione said absently. “But only under exceptional … Harry said she was making him do lines …” Her eyes widened as the severity of the situation struck her. “Excuse me – I have to go and see an idiot about a broom.”

Bidding them farewell with a hurried curtsey, she stormed from the room, not even stopping when she ran into Ron and Ginny a few corridors away.

She ignored their greeting in favour of grabbing Ginny’s arm – the girl yelped and grabbed hold of Ron, as Hermione had expected, allowing her to drag both Weasleys along behind her.

Remembering Rowena’s words, she reached out to Hogwarts and was guided to the fourth floor, where Harry was walking towards her.

“Hey, Mione …”

Before he could finish, Hermione’s wand was in her hand. “Seventh floor. Now.”

Harry eyed her wand warily, but spun around without another word and led the way to the seventh floor. The Room of Requirement opened without any prompting, and Hermione held the door open as her friends scuttled in and Hedwig soared in after them.

She locked and Silenced the door, asked Hogwarts to keep Umbridge away from the corridor for good measure, and turned to face Harry, hands on hips. “Sit.”

Harry didn’t move. His wand was now in his hand and his eyes were narrowed. “What gift did the founders give you last year?”

“My Animagus form.” Hermione answered easily. “I’m a lioness, now sit!” As Harry stowed away his wand and sat down, never taking his eyes away from her, she pondered her form in light of her new knowledge.

If she was the heir of Rowena Ravenclaw, who was associated with the eagle, why was her form a lioness, the animal most associated with Gryffindor?

She supposed Godric being the one to give her the form had something to with it – and then there was his comment just now, about how the sword would have presented itself to her as well. Then she remembered seeing a strange expression on Rowena’s face after she transformed – a cross between pride and amusement.

“Er, Hermione?” Ginny asked cautiously, catching her attention. “Can you put your wand away now?”

Realising belatedly that her wand was still pointed at Harry – no wonder he felt the need to check it was me – Hermione complied, but didn’t look away from her best friend. “I was just having a little chat with the founders, Harry, and I found out something very interesting.”

“You’re the true Heir of Slytherin?” Ron quipped in an attempt to ease the tension in the room.

“Ravenclaw, actually.” Hermione corrected bluntly. “And don’t interrupt. Godric and Salazar aren’t very happy with you, Harry.”

“What did I do?!” Harry demanded.

“You’ve just finished another detention, haven’t you?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah.” Harry frowned. “But there’s nothing for anyone to worry about, Hermione. It’s just lines.”

“Just lines?” Hermione repeated. “Using your own quill, I assume.”

Harry shifted in his seat. “Er, no. No, I use one of hers.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Not a long black quill, perchance?”

Harry swallowed, looking increasingly nervous. “Maybe.”

“You mean like the one we found in the study at Grimmauld Place?” Hermione asked, unable to help the anger that had crept into her voice. “The one that Sirius said had been outlawed for twenty years?!”

“I can handle it!” Harry protested.

“Give me your hand.” Hermione told him, sitting beside him as the chair he was on turned into a sofa. “Now, please.” She added, softening her tone.

Reluctantly, Harry held out his left hand, palm up. Rolling her eyes, Hermione took it and gently turned it over. She almost dropped it again when she realised that it was worse than she had anticipated.

The words I must not tell lies glared up at her, carved into Harry’s skin, so deeply that Hermione was surprised she couldn’t see bone.

Tears pricked at the backs of her eyes and she wiped them away furiously. “That evil, sadistic, conniving bitch!”

Ginny and Ron moved closer, staring at his hand, horror-struck, the latter wrapping an arm around his sister as though he could protect her from the woman’s evil methods.

Harry tugged his hand back hastily. “It’s fine. I can handle it!” He repeated, when they looked disbelieving. “Besides, she’s from the Ministry. What can anyone do?”

“Don’t underestimate your godmother, Harry.” Hermione warned, holding out an arm for Hedwig to hop on to. “Speaking of which, let’s see what she’s got to say.” She took the letter, noticing immediately that it was heavier than it should have been.

Before she could open the letter, Hedwig pecked at her fingers gently.

“I don’t have any treats on me, Hedwig.” Hermione told her, stroking the snowy feathers. “You’ll have to go up to the Owlery, I’m afraid.”

But Hedwig hooted, and pecked at the sleeve of her robe, tugging her hand away from the letter.

Hermione hesitated, frowning. “What’s wrong, Hedwig? The letter hasn’t been cursed, has it?”

Hedwig hooted reassuringly, but hooked Hermione’s wand from her pocket with her talons.

Hermione caught it before it could fall to the floor, and looked at Hedwig questioningly. “Do you want me to cast the charm before I open the letter?”

Hedwig hooted again, looking almost proud, and Hermione shook her head. “Harry, are we sure Hedwig’s not an Animagus?”

Harry chuckled weakly. “No, she’s just a very clever owl.”

Hermione let Hedwig hop across to her master’s shoulder, and tapped her wand on the letter. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

Instantly, the letter changed to a small thin package with two envelopes attached to it, the words Read me first! scrawled across one of them.

“What are they up to?” Hermione murmured, opening the letter.

Dear Harry and Hermione,

Sorry for the delay in reply, but Remus had an excellent idea, and it took a while to organise. Padfoot and Moony have explained that in the other letter. I think you’re right about Defence Against the Dark Arts, and we’ll send you tips as soon as you get set up.

Make sure you start as soon as possible – aside from the war, you’re right about your OWL exams and you all deserve the best chance to do well. Do NOT let Dumbledore or Umbridge know what you’re up to.

Now she’s got him in detention once, I don’t think you’ll keep him out of it – let me know EVERYTHING that happens – that’s not a request, that’s an order!

Speak to you soon,

Love Jen

Hermione read the letter aloud, frowning slightly at the last line. “Does she know something we don’t?”

“By the sounds of it, she knows a lot of things we don’t.” Ginny remarked. “What’s she on about?”

Hermione stood up, leaving the second letter and the package to one side for a moment, and began pacing up and down. “We need to do something about Umbridge. And I don’t just mean these detentions – she’s an awful teacher. Just awful.”

“Yeah, but what can we do?” Ron asked. “She’s from the Ministry, Hermione, and Merlin knows we’re hardly they’re favourite people right now. The curse will kick in at the end of the year anyway; it always does.”

Hermione scowled. “Yeah, but not before we’ve all failed our exams. And if something happens before then …” she shuddered, breaking off. “I think the time’s come when we should just … do it ourselves.”

“You want us to do extra work?!” Ron asked incredulously. “We’re already behind on …”

“This is more important than homework and more important than the OWLs!” Hermione snapped. “It could be the difference in keeping ourselves alive, Ron! Look at the last four years – something has always happened at the end of the school year!”

“Always after the exams.” Ginny chimed in. “So at least we know Voldemort cares about Harry’s schooling.”

Harry sniggered. “I don’t think that’s why he’s timed it like that, Gin, but thanks anyway.”

Hermione relaxed a little and allowed herself a smile. “My point is that I don’t want to get caught off-guard again.”

“But what can we do?” Ron repeated. “Aside from what we did before the third task – sorry, mate,” he added when Harry shivered involuntarily, “and get jinxes out of books and stuff, what else is there? I mean, we don’t even have James and Lily to correct us anymore, do we?”

Hermione grimaced, having been trying to avoid mentioning the Potters around Harry as much as possible. Aside from anything else, she didn’t want to think about them either. “No, we need an actual teacher.” She agreed, sitting down again. “We’re way past the book stage. We need someone who can show us the spells and then correct us when we go wrong.”

“Yeah, but who?” Harry asked. “If you’re talking about Remus …”

“No, this has to be below board, so it can’t be someone in the Order, and Umbridge wouldn’t let him in the castle anyway.” Hermione met Harry’s eyes, taking the opportunity to check his shields and finding them stronger than ever. “I’m talking about you, Harry.”

“Me?” Harry looked helplessly at Ron and Ginny for support, but found none.

“There’s an idea!” Ginny said, her eyes gleaming. “You’d be a great teacher, Harry!”

“Come off it!” Harry laughed. “Me? Surely Hermione … you’ve beaten me in every test …”

“No, I haven’t.” Hermione disagreed. “In second year they were cancelled, you were exempt last year, and the first year exam was solely theory. The only exam we both took that was set by a competent teacher was third year, and you beat me by a mile. And,” she added, “you’re a better teacher than I am, anyway. I get too theoretical – you just … get it. You managed to teach us the Patronus Charm, remember?”

“Only because Remus taught me!” Harry protested.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “And how do you think he knew it? Plucked it out of thin air? Someone taught him as well, Harry; it didn’t mean he wasn’t a good teacher. It was miraculous that you managed the Charm, let alone taught it to us as well.”

“Even if you were the only one to get a corporeal form.” Ron grumbled good-naturedly.

Hermione smiled at him. Given Ron’s previous jealousy issues, she had been a little worried about his reaction when her Patronus took form and his didn’t, when she and Harry outperformed him yet again.

But she had been pleasantly surprised when his only reaction was a whoop and a hug, congratulating her.

Harry still looked like he was waiting for the punch line, so she slid from the sofa to kneel in front of him, looking imploringly up into his eyes. “Harry, we need you. We need to know what it’s like to face him. You’re going to fight, right?”

“Well, yeah.” Harry answered with a sigh. “Hell, if my life keeps going the way it has been, it’ll be the last thing I ever do.”

Hermione felt a shiver of horror run through her, and grasped his hands, squeezing tightly. “Don’t say that, Harry. We’re not going to leave your side. If you taught us, we’d be more prepared, wouldn’t we?”

It was a cheap shot, she knew, but not one she was above taking.

Harry sighed irritably. “You’re a pain in my arse, Granger.”

Hermione smiled hopefully. “Is that a yes?”

Harry sighed again and nodded. “Alright I’ll do it.”

Hermione beamed, using her grip on his hands to pull herself to her feet and kiss his cheek. “Thank you! Now let’s see what Padfoot and Moony are up to.”

“Do we want to know?” Ron quipped. “I heard some of those stories.”

“Stories?” Harry asked.

“The other reason Mum hates Sirius.” Ginny smirked. “He gave the twins way too many ideas.”

Hermione laughed. “I think half of the stories were simply to get under your mum’s skin.” She pulled the letter out and read it silently to herself, noting immediately the two different kinds of handwriting.

Kitten,

While we were at Hogwarts, Prongs and I had two-way mirrors we used to talk to one another when we were in separate detentions (among other reasons), and Moony had the fantastic idea to send one to you kids in Hogwarts, so we could circumvent the floo network, but we couldn’t find James’s mirror. See, he left it in Potter Manor when he and Lils moved to Godric’s Hollow, and he never needed it after that, but …

Padfoot, we’ll be here forever at this rate! Long story short: we couldn’t find it, so we charmed another one, which, in hindsight, makes sense, because we’d have needed to re-charm James’s anyway. All you need to do is say mine, Sirius or Jen’s name into the mirror and ours will activate.

Moony, you’re no fun. Talk to you soon, Kitten.

Padfoot and Moony

Hermione chuckled, folding the letter up and opening the package to reveal a square mirror in a black frame with two handles either side.

“Why would we want a mirror?” Ginny asked, puzzled.

“Magic mirror.” Hermione corrected.

“On the wall.” Harry finished with a smirk. “Who’s the fairest one of all?”

“You what?” Ron asked as Hermione sniggered. “Am I missing something?”

“Muggle moment.” Hermione told him, turning her attention to the mirror. “Sirius?”

The surface of the mirror shimmered for a second, then Sirius’s face appeared, displacing her own reflection. “Hey, Kitten. You’re just in time.”

“Just in time for what?” Hermione asked, just a little suspiciously.

“Sirius!” Jen hissed. “You’re not supposed to tell them!”

“Tell us what?” Harry asked, peering over Hermione’s shoulder. “What are you up to?”

“Up to?” Jen repeated breezily, having procured the mirror from her brother. “Why would we be up to anything? How’s the Occlumency going?”

Hermione sighed, knowing they weren’t going to get any information out of them. “Fine. Really well. Do you all have a mirror, or is it just this one?”

Jen laughed. “At the moment, it’s just this one. It’s a particularly difficult charm …”

“Even for you?” Hermione asked curiously.

Sirius laughed, out of sight. “Jen might have power, Hermione, but she has her weaknesses just like any other witch. Charms was never her strong point.”

“Well, can’t you do it?” Harry asked.

Sirius chuckled. “Yeah, but like Jen said, it’s a difficult charm and we can work just as well with one.”

“Like the letter said, you can use any name to activate it.” Jen told them. “But it will probably be me or Sirius who has it. To end the call you just say ‘out’.”

“Will it work for nicknames?” Harry asked curiously.

“Good question.” Jen smiled. “Yes, it will. And the mirror can tell whether you’re calling or just talking about us. It’s charmed so that people around you can’t hear or see us unless you draw their attention to it if you absolutely have to use it in public, but please try not to. And whatever you do, don’t tell Dumbledore you have it, understand?”

“Yes.” Four voices answered together.

“Good.” Jen said. “Now tell us what’s been going on.”

“Well,” Hermione said heavily, “let’s just say Harry’s detentions aren’t as uneventful as he’s been leading me to believe ...”

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen - Halloween and Houses

Before 1982, the Marauders had loved Halloween.

The holiday had always held an important place in the Wizarding calendar, even before the downfall of Voldemort, and was marked at Hogwarts by one of the greatest feasts in the year, second only to the Christmas feast (and, maybe the welcoming feast as well).

Every year at Hogwarts, the boys had pulled at least one prank – after the ‘Marauders’ had formed, they had pulled two, one they allowed themselves to get caught for, and one – the more impressive – to go down in history as being executed by the anonymous pranksters that had become the bane of the teachers’ lives.

The pranks didn’t stop after graduation, not that the girls had expected them to. Their last Halloween prank had taken place three months after Harry’s birth, and had led to the baby’s clothes spontaneously transfiguring into a pumpkin costume, with his head sticking out of the top, and his arms and legs poking out of the sides. It had also provided Lily, Jen, Mandy and Arabella with a new nickname for Harry.

There was a certain tragic irony that it was on Halloween that Peter had shown his true colours and left his fellow Marauders to flounder in the aftershocks, because it was on Halloween in first year that the four boys had pulled their first prank as a quartet.

On the same day he was finally accepted, he left forever.

Jen stared into the amber liquid in the glass in front of her. She had never been a great believer in ‘drowning her sorrows’, but Sirius had, and she knew from experience that he was less likely to have too much if he had company.

There was an Order meeting in just under an hour, but none of the Marauders had bothered to prepare for it, and for once Jen felt grateful for Molly’s mothering, since the woman had arrived early and was bustling around the kitchen making dinner, with none of her usual remarks about Sirius’s drinking habits.

Jen was also grateful for the fact that Snape had a series of detentions to oversee so would therefore not be attending the meeting – she was never particularly inclined to hold her brother back when the snide comments started, but today she wasn’t sure she’d even pretend to.

From what she was aware, there was no reason to actually hold a meeting, and she wouldn’t be surprised if it turned into a general memorial service for those who had been lost in the first war.

And, unfortunately, there was not much good news to be found lately.

Dolores Umbridge had been named ‘Hogwarts High Inquisitor’ by the Ministry of Magic, which meant she would be bringing in ‘Educational Decrees’ if and when she felt them necessary, and would be inspecting all teachers to make sure they were up to standard.

That, in itself, wasn’t a bad idea, Jen had to admit – there were substandard teachers at Hogwarts, as much as Dumbledore liked to pretend there weren’t – but Umbridge performing the inspections?

Talk about the blind leading the blind.

Of course, looking on the bright side, Minerva had chosen them as her audience when ranting about the subject, and watching Minerva lose her temper was always amusing – at least, when it was directed at someone else.

And then there was Sturgis.

Jen’s gut feeling on the station that something wasn’t right had been proven correct not even a week later – Sturgis had been arrested trying to break into the Department of Mysteries.

The majority of the Order seemed to have decided that the Ministry had noticed him in the corridor, knew he had an association with Dumbledore, and made up a charge to arrest him for.

You don’t believe that.

Jen didn’t even bother rolling her eyes. And you’re eavesdropping.

Because you’re projecting. Remus shot back. Your turn.

I think we’re over-estimating the Ministry and underestimating the Death Eaters. It would be easy to put Sturgis under the Imperius, get him to try to break in, and get him arrested. That gets him out of the way, the Order comes to exactly the conclusion that they have, and we’re none the wiser that the Death Eaters know what we’re up to.

Remus raised his glass to her. “You should have been a Slytherin.”

Jen smirked, acknowledging it as a compliment.

“Can you two either talk all out loud, or just in your heads?” Sirius asked. “It’s hard trying to follow bits and pieces.”

“Sorry.” Jen said. “It was a rather depressing topic anyway.”

“You’re not going to get away from depressing.” Sirius sighed. “It’s Halloween.”

Jen reached across the table, and took his hand, squeezing gently. The day was hitting Sirius harder than the other two. Jen had, in a way, always known that James and Lily were alive, so she could focus on that, and Remus had had time to mourn.

Sirius hadn’t.

Although, to be fair, Jen still hadn’t decided whether knowing James and Lily and Addie were alright was making the situation any better, especially when their only insight was Hermione, and her abilities were not much use with the new wards around Hogwarts.

They could only hope that Voldemort’s sadism stayed constant – whilst she herself had received no confirmation, she was sure that the reason he had chosen to abduct and not kill the Potters was purely so he could gloat about Harry’s murder first.

If she was right, he would keep them alive until then.

And since I don’t plan on letting anything happen to Harry, he’s in for a long wait.

No, Jen was fairly sure that James and Lily were safe, at least for now.

It was Addie and Leona she was worrying about, although she’d never dare mention this to Sirius – she was sure it was already constantly running through his mind.

They knew from Hermione that the girls were alive – but ‘alive’ was very different from ‘alright’, and Jen had seen what could happen when Death Eaters were bored and could take their time.

Ice flooded her veins, and she cast around desperately for something else to think about. At a loss, she began running through a list of class-mates who hadn’t vanished or been killed.

Let’s see … Laura Peters, Hufflepuff, emigrated to Australia. She was Muggle-born I think, dated Peter in seventh year. Mary Banhold, Ravenclaw Quidditch captain … worse than James, if I remember, now playing for the Holyhead Harpies. Then there were the Grey Sisters in Slytherin – if only I could remember their names …

“Anyone remember the Grey Sisters?” She asked aloud. “They were our year, in Slytherin.”

“Grey sisters?” Sirius repeated, his brow furrowing. “No. There weren’t any Greys in our year.”

“They weren’t blood sisters.” Remus reminded him. “Everyone just called them that – they were neutral and proud of it. Eleanor Rosewood was one of them … but I only remember her because she was Muggle-born and somehow got away with it.”

“Oh yeah.” Sirius nodded. “Calliope Westbrook and Cassandra Prince were the other two. Why …?”

“Just trying to think of people who survived the war.” Jen shrugged. “You know, think positive before the others get here. They did, didn’t they?”

“Think so.” Sirius said, sounding more upbeat than he had all week. “I didn’t hear anything, but I couldn’t tell you where they are now. Roxy O'Malley and Henrietta Brown, Hufflepuff, are both fine as well. Both teaching in the Muggle world, I think, somewhere down South.”

“Winchester.” Remus supplied. “Bumped into them a few years ago. Henrietta was dating a Muggle last I heard.”

Jen took a sip of her firewhiskey, thinking back to her time at Hogwarts. “Whatever happened to Isabelle Edwards?”

Sirius frowned. “Edwards … Edwards … I remember the family – weren’t they from France originally? Isabelle was a Ravenclaw, right?”

“No, she was a Slytherin.” Jen corrected. “Her sister was a Ravenclaw, year below us.”

“What was her name?” Sirius asked.

Jen smiled slightly. “Phoenix.”

Sirius shook his head. “Alright, now I know you’re pulling my leg!”

“She was!” Jen protested. “Isabelle called her Fire-Wing, so that’s what everyone else called her as well.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Then why ask if I remember a Phoenix? Honestly, Jen, that’s like me asking the Hufflepuffs if they know a ‘Guinevere’.”

Jen sighed. “You remember her, then?”

“I remember Fire-Wing, yes.” Sirius confirmed. “I think we pranked her once.”

“You pranked the whole bloody school.” Jen reminded him with a fond smile.

“Became a Healer I think.” Sirius frowned. “Wait, what side was Isabelle on?”

“I don’t know; that’s what I’m asking.” Jen said. “She always seemed to just melt into the background.”

“She was a Death Eater.” Remus said softly. “She and her sister fled the country just after Voldemort fell. Went back to France.”

“Was she a friend of yours, dear?” Molly asked.

“No.” Jen sighed. “Just trying to keep my mind off of the date. And Lily. And James. And … everything, really.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang, setting Mrs Black off again, and signalling the arrival of the first Order members.

Almost immediately, the sombre mood from before returned, and the three sat quietly as the Order filed in in dribs and drabs.

Some members avoided their eyes, others went out of their way to talk to them. When Hestia arrived, she hugged each of them in turn.

The only empty chair was beside Sirius, and she narrowed her eyes. “The last time I sat next to you at an Order meeting on Halloween, I ended up with green hair.”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “That was James, Hest, not me.”

As Hestia sat down, Jen leaned over and plucked Sirius’s wand out of his hand. “Be nice, Sirius.”

“Spoilsport.” Sirius muttered.

Dumbledore swept in at that moment, causing everyone to fall silent, and Jen sighed, her head dropping on to Remus’s shoulder as the preliminaries began.

As predicted, it didn’t take long before Dumbledore was asking for final messages. Normally, no one had anything today, but tonight, Mundungus Fletcher stood up.

“I got somethin’ interestin’.” He said groggily. “I was down in the ‘Og’s ‘Ead on Saturday, an’ there was a group of students there.”

“That’s not interesting.” Sirius disagreed. “Students go in there all the time. They seem to think Abe’ll give them the good stuff.”

“Nah, this lot weren’t tryin’ to get firewhiskey.” Dung told them. “They was ‘avin’  a meetin’, like – plannin’ a defence study group. Don’t reckon Umbridge’ll be too pleased with ‘em.”

“And I suppose Harry, Ron and Hermione were at the forefront.” Remus remarked.

“Obviously.” Dung scratched his head. “Wasn’t very smart to do it at the ‘Og’s ‘Ead. Anyone could over’ear.”

“Anyone did.” Jen said tartly. “Where do you think that ‘Educational Decree’ came from? All clubs, teams and groups disbanded without the express permission of the High Inquisitor, or whatever rot she’s drivelling now.”

“Do you think they’ll continue?” Minerva asked.

“Certainly not!” Molly answered abruptly. “I forbid it!”

“Molly, they’re not here, they can’t hear you.” Jen said tiredly.

“They’ll get into trouble, and …”

“Molly!” Jen interrupted, in no mood to let the woman continue. “You can try to forbid your four all you like, though I doubt it will work. You can’t stop the others. I, for one, think it’s a wonderful idea.”

Molly scowled. “Well, of course you do!”

Jen raised an eyebrow, putting a calming hand on Sirius’s arm. “And just what is that supposed to mean?”

“Simply that your time at Hogwarts was hardly smooth!” Molly said. “In fact, you all seemed intent on causing as much trouble as possible!”

“We were all intent on living as much as possible, Molly.” Sirius corrected in a low voice. “None of us had any doubt that we were going to fight the war, and none of us ever doubted the reality of that. So, yeah, we messed around and caused trouble and lived, because if you’re not living, you might as well give up. But they’re not doing it to cause trouble, Molly, they’re doing it because they need that knowledge, because if you think Voldemort’s going to leave them all alone because they’re underage, you’re more naïve than I thought.”

And,” Jen said hastily, before Molly could retort, “they need the practical work if they’re going to pass their exams. Umbridge is a cruel, nasty piece of work, Molly, and I know that you didn’t raise your children to bend under tyranny like that.”

“No, we did not.” Arthur agreed firmly. “I know you’re worried, Molly, but sometimes rules are made to be broken, and this is one of those times.”

“Exactly,” Jen nodded, standing up. “Now, if there’s nothing else, Albus, I’ll have to ask you to excuse me – my head’s been killing me all day.”

Remus’s voice in her mind overrode the headmaster’s dismissal, his smirk audible. Say hello to the kids for me.

***

November was cold that year, a foreboding sign of the winter to come. In Grimmauld Place, where the Warming Charms had long since died, Jen found herself constantly renewing them, as Kreacher ‘accidentally’ countered them again and again.

It mattered not how many times she ordered him not to; each time, he found a new loophole.

But the cold was only one of her concerns – it was a different kind of ice that crept into her veins, every time she looked at her brother, who seemed grow quieter as the days progressed.

Her macabre thoughts before the Order meeting on Halloween had not entirely deserted her, and she wondered more than once if the same thoughts had occurred to Sirius as well.

Losing Addie had torn his life apart in mere minutes, and Jen remembered well the mess he had been in the weeks afterwards.

Some would argue that he had never fully recovered, and it was true that it was only around Hermione and Harry that she had seen him smile – at least the way he did in Hogwarts.

The house was not helping matters, for either of them.

Jen stayed for her brother, ever steadfast in the loyalty that had spurred her Animagus form, even though the memories secreted within the paint and panelling haunted her like restless ghosts.

Remus was there as often as possible, but his company did little to aid either of them. Both aware of Sirius’s presence and predicament, they avoided physical touch when around him, even though every inch of her was screaming for him to hold her and hide her from the echoing years.

It was on November 22nd that Jen finally snapped.

Nothing in particular had happened – maybe it was the fact that she and Sirius had both woken screaming in the early hours of the morning, maybe it was the fact that her mother had somehow managed to gather all of the portraits into the hall and whip them into a frenzy.

Whatever the reason, at half past nine, Jen calmly stood from the kitchen table and made her way out into the hallway, and the screaming chorus they had been unable to silence.

Remus and Sirius weren’t too worried, until the first bang, which, in the momentary silence that followed, sounded more like an explosion than anything else.

The two men sat frozen for a split-second, until the shouts restarted, and another bang sounded, followed by another, and another, this time not deterring them in the slightest.

Jen, what are you doing? Remus asked, already on his feet and heading for the stairs.

When he received no response, he quickened his pace to a sprint, flinging open the door into the hall and skidding to a halt almost immediately, Sirius grasping his shoulder to keep from knocking them both to the floor.

Some of the portraits were silent now, but not out of choice. Jen was walking calmly down the hallway and aiming her wand at each portrait in turn, the accompanying spell leaving them blackened and unrecognisable.

Finally, the only portrait left screaming was Mrs Black, and she was not happy.

“HOW DARE YOU?! HOW DARE YOU DEFILE THE HOUSE OF BLACK IN THIS MANNER?! YOU DARE TREAT YOUR ANCESTORS WITH SUCH DISRESPECT THAT …”

“What ancestors?!” Jen shouted back. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Mother, you decided that Sirius and I weren’t worthy of being part of your family! And don’t play the wounded parent – you probably didn’t even wait an hour before blasting our names off of the tapestry!” She raised her wand. “Although, I have to admit … this is fun.”

“Jen.” Sirius said softly. “Stop. I tried blasting her off the wall already. It won’t work.”

Jen flicked her wand and the curtains flew shut, but she gave no other sign that she’d heard him. She stared at the drapes for a few seconds, before waving her wand again.

Catching her cloak as it flew down the stairs, she turned to Remus. “Don’t let him do anything stupid.” She said flatly. “I’m going to Gringotts, should be back for lunch.”

Without waiting for a reply, she pulled open the front door and stepped out into Grimmauld Place, disapparating from the doorstep.

She arrived in the designated apparition spot in Diagon Alley, a little nook between Flourish and Blotts, and Eeylops Owl Emporium.

The Alley was quiet, it being a weekday, and she made her way quickly to the bank, her steps quick with intent.

The goblins at the doors bowed her in, and she stopped at the nearest teller’s desk. “Good morning. I wish to speak with Bloodnut.”

“Do you have an appointment?” The goblin asked, not looking up from his ledger.

Jen cursed mentally. “I’m afraid not. If he is unavailable, I will, of course, return another day.”

Now the goblin looked up, and sniffed. “I will go and see if he is available.”

“Thank you.” Jen said softly.

He was back fairly quickly, and waved her in front of him. “Bloodnut is available, Miss Black.”

“Thank you.” Jen repeated, following him to the office. She had never actually been to visit the Black Account Manager, aside from once with her mother when she was very young.

“Miss Black,” Bloodnut greeted, as the door closed behind her.

“Bloodnut,” Jen returned, with a deep curtsey, “I thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

“Hmm.” Bloodnut leaned back in his chair. “Your thanks is received. Have a seat and do not make a habit of it. Your brother was much the same.”

Jen wanted to ask when Sirius had visited – she had the impression that he had ignored the fact that he was Head of House for as long as possible. “Speaking of my brother …”

“You wish to claim Ladyship by proxy.” Bloodnut finished. “Lord Black did write and warn me of this fact. With his permission, Lady Black, I see no problem.”

“Thank you.” Jen sighed. “I was wondering if I could see a list of Black family properties.”

Bloodnut got up and walked over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room. “Would you like the properties Lord Sirius inherited upon Lord Regulus’s death, or the properties you inherited upon your uncle Alpherd’s death?”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware Uncle Alpherd had left us anything.”

Bloodnut scowled. “I apologise, my Lady, your parents were informed and led us to believe that you had been informed in turn.” He returned to the desk, and handed her two sheets of parchment. “On top is the list of holdings in the main line. The other is your inheritance.”

Jen ran an eye down both lists. Ideally, she wanted a place that no one could find, that was impossible to locate, and that had pre-existing wards.

The only one that stood out was on the list from Uncle Alpherd, and was the only property that wasn’t included on both lists.

“What do you know about Ravenscroft Manor?” Jen asked.

“Ah,” Bloodnut reached into one of his drawers and withdrew a scrap of parchment. “Only enough to give you these instructions of how to access the house. Your uncle hired a team to ward it, and all traces of its existence were wiped from the records.”

“The Ministry?” Jen asked.

Bloodnut smiled toothily. “We saw no reason to involve the Ministry in any stage of the operation.”

Jen smirked. “Thank you, Bloodnut. I promise I’ll make an appointment in future.” She rose from her chair, dropped another curtsey, and left the bank, tucking the two lists inside her cloak. She would study them at another time, but right now her curiosity had been peaked.

Stepping into the apparition spot, she opened the piece of parchment Bloodnut had handed her. At the top were several numbers she assumed to be apparition coordinates.

Alright … three ‘D’s … determination, destination, deliberation …

Turning sharply on the spot, the unmistakable sensation of apparition overtook her, and she opened her eyes to find herself in a deep, dark forest. Warily, she drew her wand. “Homeneum revelio.

Nothing happened.

Reassured that she was alone, she relaxed. Well, she thought, projecting it to Remus, it’s not quite what I was after.

What were you after? Remus asked, a touch impatiently. You’ve been blocking me since you left!

Oops, sorry. Jen blew him a mental kiss, accompanying it with the memories of her meeting.

Let me see? Remus requested after a few minutes.

Hang on. Jen opened the link a bit further, allowing him to see through her eyes. Anything.

Well, I don’t see a house. Remus retreated slightly. What do the instructions say?

Jen mentally slapped herself for forgetting, and looked back down at the piece of parchment, lighting her wand to be able to see clearly. “You should have arrived in a forest. Walk twenty paces North, then another twenty paces East.” It’s like a treasure hunt.

Go on then. Remus prompted.

Jen sighed aloud and placed her wand on her outstretched palm. “Point me.”

The wand spun around to point to her left, and she headed in that direction, counting twenty paces, avoiding a tree here and there, before turning sharply to her right and counting another twenty paces.

Lighting her wand again, she held it up to the parchment. “In front of you, there should be a flat stone. To access Ravenscroft Manor, simply step on to the stone (there can be as many of you as you wish), and speak the password. The current password is “Toujours Pur”. To change this, and to claim this property, add a drop of blood to the middle of the stone, and speak the new password.”

I thought your uncle didn’t subscribe to blood purity.

He didn’t. Jen confirmed. But he did subscribe to family, no matter what he’d done. Using her wand, she made a small cut in the tip of one finger, and dropped the blood that accumulated on to the grey stone. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

The stone glowed for a second. She healed her finger, stepped on to the stone, and repeated the password.

It was a journey unlike anything she’d experienced before.

The forest seemed to blur around her, until it reformed into an entrance hall. The stone itself had changed to a polished wooden platform, and Jen stepped down, looking around with some satisfaction.

There was no door behind her, even though she was standing where the front door should have been. Ahead of her, a sweeping staircase led to the upper floors, with two doors either side of it.

She repeated her earlier spell, just to check the house was empty, then, ignoring the upper floors for the time being, proceeded to make her way through the ground floor.

She started on the left side of the staircase, stepping in to a bright drawing room with three more doors, two on her left, one on her right.

Since she was on the left hand side of the house, Jen decided to try those doors first, to see if she could find a window that might tell her where she was.

The first door opened into a wide, open ballroom with a high vaulted ceiling. It reminded Jen of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, without the enchanted sky, right down to the raised dais at the far end. Another door stood ajar to her right, perpendicular to the one through which she’d entered.

One wall seemed to be made entirely of windows, long curtains of green velvet sweeping the floor. They looked out on to a sweeping green lawn that led down to a sparkling stream, but Jen did not need to check for charms to know that this had to be an enchanted view – the sky hadn’t been that blue for months.

Or that stone, whatever it was, took you out of the country. Remus suggested. Just because the stone was in the forest doesn’t mean the house is too.

Good point. Jen conceded, flicking her wand at the windows. But they’re definitely enchanted. Hang on.

She gave another flick. “Tempus.

Gold ribbon slithered from the end of her wand, forming words in the air. November 22nd 1996, Scotland.

Well done. Remus said dryly. You’ve narrowed it down to a country.

Shut up, you. At least it corresponds with the apparition coordinates. Jen retorted, trying the spell again. No, it’s no good. I don’t know where I am. Wherever it is, they held parties at one point. And big ones.

Are you surprised? Remus asked. I’ll drag Sirius to the library – see if we can find anything.

Alright, but if Uncle Alpherd was as thorough as Gringotts thinks he was … Jen trailed off, and left the ballroom in favour of the other door.

This next room was much smaller, and cosier. The wall opposite was covered with a tapestry, although not the family tree. Again, there was a door to her immediate right. The room also had a fireplace, which Jen immediately checked for the floo network.

We’re not connected. She reported. But it has its own private network. We wouldn’t even need to alert the Ministry – we’d have to connect to specific fires, not the whole network.

That must be some kind of reception room then. Remus suggested.

Not just a reception room. Jen corrected, approaching the tapestry. This thing’s moving too much to be attached to a wall.

Careful, Jen.

There’s no one else here. Jen reminded him.

No other humans. Remus agreed. What about house-elves?

Jen frowned. Remus had a point – the house was spotlessly clean for a place that had been empty for years. “Hello?” She called aloud.

When she gained no response, she pulled the tapestry back and smiled. Nothing here. But the tapestry wasn’t covering a wall, it was hiding a storage space. This was also a music room. She ducked under the tapestry, jumping slightly as the rest of the room automatically lit up. A window on the back wall stood slightly open, explaining the movement of the heavy fabric. The view corresponded with that of the ballroom, but, again, Jen knew that meant nothing.

There was quite an array of musical instruments here – strings, woodwinds, even a harp and a grand piano – as well as shelves filled with works of music.

Running a hand along the tapestry, Jen found a split in the middle and ran a hand down it, causing the material to part and pull back, like curtains framing a stage.

She found herself drawn to the piano, and lifted the cover to reveal the keys. They were completely devoid of dust, and Jen pressed a few keys to find it perfectly in tune.

Someone or something must have been here. Unless … Jen waved her wand, silently requesting a list of spells that had been left on the house.

A piece of parchment appeared in her hand, covered in writing, but she tucked it in her pocket for now, wanting to see the rest of the ground floor before examining the wards.

She left the music room through the second door, and found herself back in the drawing room, closing the second door she’d originally seen. Crossing the floor, she pushed open the third door and found herself in a long, ornate dining room.

The table was highly polished, gleaming in the sunlight that streamed through the window at the far end. This window looked out on to pasture, where Jen could see horses grazing.

I wonder if they’re ours, or if it’s just another enchanted view.

This room had three doors, one to her left and two to her right. One of the doors on her right, the one that stood closest to her, was open and she could see out into the entrance hall.

So that must be the door on the right of the staircase.

Right or left?

Left.

Thanks. Jen walked the length of the table and pushed open the door on the left hand side of the room, finding herself in a huge kitchen.

It was quiet, negating the house-elf theory for good. One wall was almost entirely taken up by a huge open fireplace, pots and pans hung from the ceiling, and it looked like it belonged, on a smaller scale, in a country cottage, rather than a large manor house.

Unlike the rest of the rooms, however, this one contained another platform, like the one where the front door should have been.

Jen approached it warily, retrieving the instructions from inside her cloak. There was nothing mentioned, but she was a Gryffindor for a reason, so she closed her eyes, stepped on and said the password.

When she opened her eyes, she was standing in a large garden, with a vegetable plot to her right and neat flowerbeds to her left. Ahead of her, she could see what looked like a paddock, and possibly stables beyond that, but with no sign of life. She twisted her head to look behind her, but saw only trees, the forest she had originally apparated to.

How the hell did your uncle do this? Remus asked, sounding awestruck.

I have no idea. Jen admitted. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” She closed her eyes again, this time out of necessity rather than apprehension. She wasn’t quite sure how to describe the journey between the stones, but the way her surroundings blurred from one to the other made her feel slightly dizzy.

When she was back in the kitchen, she noticed there was another door at the other end of the room, but a quick peak revealed a pantry – and an empty one at that – so Jen returned to the dining room, and tried the other door.

This led to a large living room, more comfortable than reception/music room – that room, of course, would have been for entertaining guests, whilst this room would traditionally be used for immediate family.

There was a fireplace in this room too, but Jen was sure (and a quick spell confirmed it) that it could not be connected to other fireplaces like the other. The fireplace in the kitchen, of course, was used solely for cooking, and nothing else.

One point of entry.Jen concluded, pulling the parchment from her pocket again. Two if you count the arrival stone, but I think … She nodded, scanning the parchment. Yeah, that’s under the Fidelius and I became the Secret Keeper when I claimed the property. I’m also the only one who can hook up the fireplace and create portkeys in or out. She fell mentally silent for a few minutes, checking over the other wards on the house. Yes. She said finally. Yes, this is perfect. No one knows where it is, not even me. Now all we have to do is …

Figure out what to do about Dumbledore? Remus finished darkly.

Jen sighed. Crap.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen - Over the Rainbow

A week after the discovery of Ravenscroft Manor, as December began to make its icy entrance, Jen and Sirius remained, to their annoyance, at Grimmauld Place.

For the moment, Jen wasn’t too worried – the knowledge that they had somewhere else to go had lifted Sirius’s spirits, and that would last at least a week longer.

After that, however, she could well find it necessary to blatantly defy Dumbledore’s orders to get her brother out of there.

Of course, at the end of the day, she would have to do that anyway, but waiting until he was fully preoccupied by other matters would, hopefully, mean that he wouldn’t think too hard about her actions.

Needing a break from the still-oppressive darkness that seemed to linger in her childhood home, Jen was strolling through the streets of London, no particular destination in mind, taking advantage of what threatened to be the last day of decent weather until spring.

It was still bitingly cold, the sky iron-grey above her, but she hardly noticed, her mind ticking over everything that had happened recently.

If she was the headmistress of Hogwarts, she would already be preoccupied, but Dumbledore seemed highly unconcerned about Umbridge’s actions.

The Hogwarts High Inquisitor had passed another Educational Decree allowing her free reign over punishments, and after a scuffle following the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, Harry, Fred and George had been banned from playing Quidditch ever again.

Jen had promptly written to Mandy, who was still in Germany and would be returning with Arabella shortly before Christmas. She wasn’t sure if that ban had been written to include situations outside or after Hogwarts, but she was fairly sure it wasn’t above-board anyway.

When Harry had told her what had happened, Jen had been surprised. Harry was generally a non-violent person, especially when someone else risked getting into trouble.

He freely recounted how Theodore Nott had started mouthing off about Ron (who had managed to keep his nerves together, but wasn’t playing his best), and how those insults had spread to the rest of the Weasley family. He admitted that he and Alicia had held back Fred and George from hitting him – and Jen didn’t blame the boys their reaction – but that didn’t explain how the fight had happened.

“You’re pretty strong when you want to be – and stubborn too. How did Fred fight you off?”

“He didn’t. I let go.”

“Oh, Harry … Didn’t I always teach you to take the high road?”

“You didn’t hear what he said about Mum.”

Hermione had – reluctantly – repeated the words the following day, and Jen could only hope that Harry got in at least a few punches.

Punishment for fighting, she understood – banning Harry and Fred for life was ridiculous – and including George because “he would have joined in if he hadn’t been held back”?

That woman … I actually hope she is a Death Eater. Then I have a legal reason to curse her.

Umbridge’s actions had not stopped there. Hermione had called them on the mirror just two days ago to tell them that the woman had fired Professor Trelawney and had taken great delight in how the woman fell to pieces right in the middle of the Entrance Hall.

Dumbledore had apparently hired the centaur, Firenze, to teach Divination, which was either genius or stupid, Jen wasn’t sure.

Umbridge hated so-called ‘half-breeds’, and that she was now working alongside a centaur would infuriate her, but Divination was hardly an important subject, and Jen couldn’t help feeling that Dumbledore would have been better saving his passive-aggressive style of argument for something that really mattered.

The only thing Jen was glad about when it came to Dumbledore’s reaction was that Trelawney had been allowed to stay in the castle. Prophecy or no prophecy, the woman had nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to.

Although Jen couldn’t help wondering whether Dumbledore would have insisted she stay if she hadn’t made the prophecy they were so worried about, she was more focussed on Hermione’s description of Umbridge’s reaction.

“She was disappointed … really disappointed that Trelawney was cheered up.”

Wrapped up in a thick hooded jacket, no one saw Jen’s scowl – she had always hated people who took pleasure in other people’s suffering, which was one of the many reason she loathed Bellatrix as much as she did.

Speaking of reasons to hate Bellatrix …

Jen slowed down, realising that her feet had taken her directly to the visitor’s entrance of St Mungo’s. She hesitated for a second, but knew she had put this off for far too long.

Stepping towards the glass, as though she was just checking her reflection, she whispered, “I’m here to visit Frank and Alice Longbottom.”

The mannequin in the window nodded and beckoned her forwards. Casting a furtive glance around her to make sure that no Muggles were paying attention, Jen stepped through the glass and into the reception area.

The hustle and bustle of the hospital was much calmer and less chaotic than it had been when she was an auror, but, still, her blood froze in her veins for a few seconds.

She hated hospitals. Just the sight of the help-desk brought memories of her auror days flooding back, memories of hysterical witnesses, gory murder scenes, and, of course, those awful house-calls she’d had to make, telling people that their husbands and wives had been murdered, that their sons and daughters wouldn’t make it, that their mothers and fathers weren’t coming home.

Shaking it off, Jen bypassed the help-desk and approached the floor guide. Let’s see … artefact accidents … no … creature-induced injuries … Well, I don’t think you could call Bella entirely human anymore, but I doubt St Mungo’s would put them there … Magical bugs … definitely not … Potion and plant poisoning, no … Spell damage – fourth floor. Okay … She took a deep breath, and strode towards the stairs, taking them slowly, each step taking her closer and closer to something she had only imagined.

She’d seen people who had been driven to madness by the Cruciatus Curse before, seen the damage it did, and she couldn’t fathom Frank or Alice in that position.

Part of her was praying that she was exaggerating it in her mind, and that she would find them much better than she’d feared.

But the rest of her knew that, if that were the case, they would have been released from St Mungo’s a long time ago.

Before she knew what was happening, she was standing in front of the reception desk on the fourth floor. The only other person around was a medi-witch filling in a form behind the desk.

“Excuse me.”

“One second please.” The medi-witch requested, holding up a finger. She finished her sentence, set her quill down, and looked up with a bright smile. “Good morning, madam, how can I help?”

“I’m here to visit someone.” Jen told her. “Although I’ve just realised that I’m probably not within visiting hours …”

“It depends on who you’re visiting.” The medi-witch said. “I might be able to let you in if the Healers aren’t with them.”

Jen took a deep breath. “Frank and Alice Longbottom.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed, almost with suspicion, and Jen sighed, almost able to see the connections forming in her mind.

“My name is Jennifer Black. I’m a former auror with the Ministry of Magic. I went to school with both of them, and I was a bridesmaid at their wedding.”

The smile was back, and the medi-witch rounded the desk. “Oh, yes, I read about your return in the papers – such a relief! My supervisor came in the day that story was printed, and she said to me “Becky,” she said, “you mark my words …””

Jen drowned out her voice as they approached the ‘Janus Thickey Ward’, which was locked, presumably to keep those who could from wandering out and getting locked. The medi-witch stopped her rambling, maybe sensing that her companion wasn’t paying attention, and tapped her wand against the lock, letting them in.

Thankfully, all the beds were empty, aside from two men and a curtained-off area. One of the men was asleep and Jen recognised him from Harry’s school-books a few years previously.

“Yes, that’s Gilderoy Lockhart.” The medi-witch confirmed softly. “Such a shame – such a wonderful man as well.”

“Very proficient at Memory Charms, oddly enough.” Jen commented dryly. Her gaze slid to the other man, steadfastly avoiding the curtained-off area for as long as possible. “I know him … Isn’t he an Unspeakable?”

“He was.” The medi-witch sighed. “Still no idea what happened to him. Behind that curtain, dear.”

“Thank you.” Jen barely paid attention to the medi-witch’s exit, approaching the curtain, feeling slightly nauseous.

Taking one last deep breath, she stepped through the gap in the curtain.

In the bed nearest her, Frank seemed to be asleep, his face far more worn than it had been when she last saw him. Alice, however, was sitting up, fiddling with something in her hands.

Jen knew she should be glad about this – the ability to concentrate was a good thing in situations like these – but she couldn’t bring herself to be so, not when Alice looked so … drained.

She looked up at Jen’s appearance, but aside from that gave no reaction, no sign of recognition. Like Frank, her face was worn and tired, her hair, once thick and brown, was thinning and pale blonde, almost white, and she was thin, so thin.

Dammit, why? Why did this have to happen? I know Sirius and Remus said they were looking for Voldemort … or Harry. But … Neville was born July 30th … What if Bellatrix decided to go after Neville? She sighed inwardly. Oh, what does it matter why she was there? Azkaban’s still too good for her.

“Hi Alice.” Jen greeted, trying hard to keep the tremors from her voice. “How are you?”

Alice didn’t answer, but then Jen didn’t expect her to. She dropped the piece of parchment she was fiddling with, and picked up the hairbrush from the bedside table, running it across her head.

Forcing movement back into her legs, Jen sat beside her. “Would you like some help?” She took the offered brush and gently began to work out some of the tangles. “So it’s your birthday soon. Thirty-six. You’re getting old, my dear. I’ve seen Harry – he looks so much like James, Ally, you wouldn’t believe it. He’s been living with Petunia, but that’s going to change now.” She lowered her voice, more so the medi-witch wouldn’t hear if she returned than for Alice’s benefit. “He’s started a rebellion at Hogwarts. Umbridge is teaching Defence, and we both know what she’s like. So Harry’s started up a Defence group. The DA – stands for Dumbledore’s Army.” She grimaced. “I don’t like the name, but it’s what the Ministry fears at the moment. Hermione’s not happy either – you remember Hermione.”

Jen caught herself before she really started to ramble. She could tell Alice was listening, but the woman wasn’t really interested – the words washing over her as though they were being spoken in another language.

She was almost scared to mention the most important part – to Alice, at least. If she did, and Alice didn’t respond – as Remus had warned her she wouldn’t – Jen wasn’t sure she could hold it together.

“Neville’s joined them.” She said softly.

Alice didn’t turn her head, but began humming to herself, almost absent-mindedly.

Jen sighed, closing her eyes, but as she did, the tune Alice was humming caught her attention. She leaned closer, straining her ears. “He’s a good boy, Neville. Harry says he’s very good at Herbology, just like you. You’d be very proud of him.”

The humming grew louder, and a smile touched Jen’s lips, just as a voice stated, “She doesn’t know who you’re talking about.”

Jen looked up, seeing a stern looking woman standing in the gap between the curtains. “Good morning, Mrs Longbottom.”

Augusta Longbottom ignored the greeting for the time being, in favour of brushing the hair from her son’s face and kissing his forehead. Then she sat down in the chair between the two beds, setting her large, red handbag at her feet. “I was wondering if I’d run into you here eventually, Jennifer.”

“Had to get up the guts.” Jen admitted, unable to meet her eyes. “I am so, so sorry.”

Mrs Longbottom sniffed. “I don’t know why you’re apologising, dear. It wasn’t you that put them here.”

“Yes, but …” Jen trailed off under the woman’s stern gaze. “I’ll stop.”

“Thank you.” Mrs Longbottom said primly. “There is no point in talking to her, though; she can’t understand a word of it. Neither of them can.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Jen said slowly. “How is Neville?”

“He’s doing fine.” Mrs Longbottom answered. “What do you mean ‘you wouldn’t be so sure’?”

Jen smiled. “Listen.”

For a few seconds, all they could hear was Alice’s humming.

“Does she do that a lot?” Jen asked.

“Hum?” Mrs Longbottom frowned slightly. “She often does when I’m here.”

“And if Neville’s not with you,” Jen said, hope filling her, “do you talk about him?”

“Yes, of course.” Mrs Longbottom sighed. “Like I said, I know they can’t understand me, but …”

“I understand.” Jen interrupted. “And she’s humming. She understands too.”

Mrs Longbottom raised an eyebrow. “And what makes you say that?”

“Alice had a beautiful voice.” Jen confided. “But she was very self-conscious about it. She only ever sang in front of five people: Lily, myself, Amelia, Susan, and Neville. And Neville loved hearing her sing. She used to sing him lullabies, but there was one in particular that never failed to get him to go to sleep.” She set the brush down and began to work out one of the bigger tangles with her fingers, singing along to Alice’s tentative humming.

Somewhere over the rainbow,

Way up high,

There’s a land that I’ve heard of,

Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow,

Skies are blue,

And the dreams that you dare to dream,

Really do come true.

Some day, I’ll wish upon a star,

And wake up where the clouds are far behind me,

Where troubles melt like lemon drops,

So high above the chimney tops,

That’s where you’ll find me,

Somewhere over the rainbow,

Bluebirds fly,

Birds fly over the rainbow,

Why then, oh why, can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly,

Beyond the rainbow, why,

Oh, why, can’t I?

“I didn’t know.” Mrs Longbottom whispered into the silence that followed.

“Very few people did.” Jen responded, setting the brush down. “She didn’t start until I mentioned Neville’s name.”

“She knows.” Mrs Longbottom concluded. “She recognises the name, but that’s the only way she can show it.”

Alice yawned and lay down.

“She’s tired.” Mrs Longbottom said, unnecessarily.

Jen stood up and eased the covers out from beneath her friend, tucking her in. “Has she ever spoken?” She asked softly.

“Sometimes.” Mrs Longbottom admitted. “Never around Neville. And I don’t tell him, because … Well, she makes no sense.”

“Bonded.” Alice said suddenly. Her eyes were wide, staring at Jen, but with a vacancy that would suggest she was saying nothing of importance. “Secrets. Family. Heart. Solemnly. Manage. Forever.”

“See?” Mrs Longbottom sighed.

Jen closed her eyes, a smile spreading across her face. “Actually, she’s making perfect sense to me.”

Love? Did you hear that?

I did. They’ve always been asleep when I’ve visited, and I know Mandy and Arabella can’t have heard it. What does it mean?

I don’t know. Bear with me.

“You understand her?” Mrs Longbottom prompted.

Jen opened her eyes again, and nodded. “Perfectly.”

Alice pointed to the bedside table, and Jen moved the brush to get to the sheets of parchment beneath it, leafing through them.

“The Healers decided to try some kind of art therapy to see if they would communicate that way.” Mrs Longbottom explained. “But it didn’t work. She just kept drawing the same thing.”

Jen stopped rifling through them at that, returning to the first picture. It was a simple sketch in black ink, the lines tentative and unsure, and she could understand why Alice’s mother-in-law and the Healers had considered the exercise a failure.

But, to Jen, the large circle, sharp lines, and simple shapes spoke volumes. Making up her mind, Jen set the pictures back on the small table, and leant down to press a kiss to Alice’s forehead. “Madam Longbottom,” she said formally, turning to the matriarch, “would you be so kind as to accompany me to Amelia’s office?”

Mrs Longbottom narrowed her eyes. “If I’ve told you to ignore formalities and call me Augusta once, Lady Black, I’ve told you a thousand times. And certainly.”

Jen let out a relieved breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. “Thank you. I’d prefer to say this only once.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen - Admissions and Allies

Together, the two women made their way out of the word and down to the main lobby, flooing to the Ministry of Magic and taking the golden lift up to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

Amelia’s office was right at the very back of Auror headquarters, just behind the Head Auror office. Her secretary, a young girl who looked like she’d only just graduated Hogwarts, sat at the desk just outside, her feet up, filing her nails.

Augusta strode over to her and rapped on the desk. “Tell Amelia we need to see her, there’s a good girl!”

Jen sniggered as the poor girl nearly fell of her chair in haste and darted into the office. “Nicely done.”

Augusta smiled, reverting from ‘old battle-axe’ to ‘kindle grandmother’ in the blink of an eye. “Thank you, dear.”

The secretary returned to her desk. “M-Madame Bones will s-see you now.”

“Well, this is a welcome surprise.” Amelia remarked, when the door closed behind them. “I’m up to my ears in paperwork.”

“Eurgh, paperwork.” Jen muttered, wrinkling her nose, embracing her. “How are you, Amelia?”

“Just fine, but you two didn’t drop by for a casual chat.” Amelia responded, shaking Augusta’s hand. “Tea?”

“Yes please.” Jen answered. “I need to speak with you in complete privacy.”

“Very well.” Amelia waved her wand and set up Silencing and Fogging Charms, before disconnecting the communications device with her secretary.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “That was scarily trusting of you.”

Amelia chuckled. “Give me some credit, Jen. Any Glamour Charms would have fallen when you walked through the door, and an alarm would have gone off if it had detected the Polyjuice potion.”

Jen nodded. “I apologise. I think I was worried about the general air of idiocy in this place infecting you as well.”

“Perfectly sound concern.” Amelia agreed gravely. “Sugar?”

“Two please.” Jen responded.

“None for me.” Augusta added.

Amelia handed them their cups and settled behind her desk. “So? What can I do for you ladies today?”

“Jen thinks,” Augusta hesitated. “Jen thinks that Alice might be more aware of her surroundings than the Healers think.”

Amelia set her cup down with a sharp intake of breath. “Okay. What makes you say that?”

“Well, first of all, when I mentioned Neville, she started humming the only song that could always get him to sleep.” Jen explained. “Secondly, what she keeps saying …”

“Jen, it’s nonsense.” Amelia said, deflating slightly. “No one can make a lick of sense of it.”

“That’s because the right people.” Jen told her gently. “I understand her perfectly. So would Remus, Mandy and Arabella, but she was always sleeping when they visited.”

“Why you four?” Amelia asked. “I know you were all friends at Hogwarts, but she had other friends. What have you got that they don’t?”

Oh good, an easy one.

Pipe down, you … What do I do?

It’s all or nothing, Jen. Just tell them.

Jen sighed. “Alright … There’s something else I need to talk to you about, and it all ties in together, so I’ll need to go back to the beginning.”

“Very well.” Augusta set her cup down in its saucer. “Take your time.”

Where do I start? Jen asked helplessly.

The beginning always helps.

Oh, you’re no help! Jen refrained from rolling her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Okay. This has a lot to do with … Well, with my brother.”

“With Sirius?” Amelia asked sharply. “Jen, do I need to get an auror in here?”

“No!” Jen said hastily. “No, you don’t. It starts in Hogwarts. In third year. Well, actually, it starts way before that, but third is the easiest starting point. Sirius, as you may know, was best friends with James Potter, Remus Lupin …”

“And Peter Pettigrew.” Amelia finished with a nod. “That’s what makes this whole thing so tragic.”

“Yes.” Jen agreed darkly. “It does.”

Remus …

I know. Just tell them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amelia knows, or at least suspects.

“The four of them were inseparable.” Jen said, smiling fondly. “And it wasn’t long before James, Sirius and Peter figured out that Remus … Well, that he … He’s a werewolf.”

True to Remus’s guesses, Amelia nodded. “I thought as much.”

Augusta looked shocked, but not horrified. “I can’t believe Neville didn’t tell me … Of course, he must have not wanted me to worry … But as if I would … The change in Neville after his third year … I assume that’s why he left?”

Jen scowled. “Yes. Professor Snape let it slip to the Slytherins at the end of the year.”
Amelia tutted. “That man …”

“Anyway,” Jen continued, “back to my third year. They’d known for a while, told him about it. We, as in the girls, knew, but we didn’t confront him or anything. Figured if he wanted to tell us, he would. The boys realised that lycanthropy only infects humans, and that there was something they could do to make things easier. We figured out what they were up to, and we … Well, we did it without them, since they weren’t going to let us help.”

“Did what without them?” Amelia asked warily.

“Animagi.” Jen answered, almost reluctantly. “We became Animagi.” She caught Amelia’s hand before she could reconnect with her secretary. “Hear me out. Please.”

“Jen, it’s not you I’m worried about!” Amelia protested.

“I know.” Jen released her. “But you shouldn’t be worried about Sirius either.”

Amelia sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “This had better be good, Jen. So you were all … Define ‘all’.”

“Sirius, James, Peter, Lily, Addie, Mandy, Arabella.” Jen listed. “And me, obviously.”

Amelia sighed again, reaching in to one of her desk drawers. “Here’s three forms. Fill one out, get Mandy and Arabella to do the same when you see them – I didn’t hear that until I’ve got them in my hands.”

“Thank you.” Jen tucked the forms inside her jacket. “Mandy’s a falcon. Arabella’s a cat – perhaps unsurprisingly. I’m a wolf. Sirius and Addie are dogs. James is a stag. Lily’s a doe. Peter’s a rat.”

Augusta frowned. “I can’t help but notice that you used the present tense.”

Jen nodded. “That’s because none of us are actually dead.” She held up a hand, forestalling their arguments. “I’ll explain about Addie, James and Lily in a minute. First, let me ask you this: given that Peter Pettigrew was blown into such tiny smithereens that the biggest part anyone found was his finger, why were his robes perfectly in tact?”

The two women stared at her for a second.

“I’ll get the trial reports.” Amelia said faintly.

“Let me finish.” Jen requested. “There are three other names. Now James and Lily’s bodies were never found. I know an empath – and, no, the Ministry definition holds about as much truth as one of Rita Skeeter’s articles – who has spoken to both of them, and they have confirmed that both Addison and Leona McKinnon are with them. There’s an island apparently, a small one.”

“Do you have any more proof?” Amelia asked.

“Black family tapestry.” Jen answered promptly. “It’s self-updating and James was never disowned, even if he did marry a Muggle-born. There’s no date of death, for either of them.”

Amelia nodded, and turned the intercom back on. “Cathy, could you fetch Auror Shacklebolt and ask him for the files on Sirius Black?”

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped in to the room. “You wanted to see me, Director … Madam Longbottom, Lady Black.” He greeted, obviously taken aback.

“Drop the titles, Shack.” Jen said lazily. “We’ve known each other for years. Remus and I have having a little get-together tomorrow night for old friends. You in?”

Kingsley nodded, hearing the code for what it was. “Wouldn’t miss it. Here are the files, Director.”

“Thank you, Shacklebolt.” Amelia said crisply. “That will be all.”

Kingsley nodded to Augusta and Jen, and left. Amelia read through the reports. “No trial. I didn’t think there was.” She sighed. “Just a prelim … Dumbledore gave evidence that Black was their Secret Keeper …” She frowned. “Miss Arabella Michelle Figg testified that Headmaster Dumbledore had re-cast the Fidelius Charm protecting Lord and Lady Potter at approximately 11:30 on the morning of October 27th 1982, changing the Secret Keeper from Lord Sirius Orion Black to Peter Calvin Pettigrew. Her testimony was thrown out on the grounds that Headmaster Dumbledore discovered a Confundus Charm.”

Augusta scowled. “Given that he was implicated in her testimony, he shouldn’t have been allowed to make that decision.”

Amelia nodded in agreement. “She wasn’t Confounded, was she?”

“No.” Jen said softly. “Peter was James and Lily’s Secret Keeper. Sirius tracked Peter down, Peter shouted for the street to hear that he’d betrayed them, cut his finger off, blew the street apart, transformed and fled. He was seen alive in June 1995, he murdered Cedric this last June, and my godson is not mental.”

“We never said he was.” Augusta said gently. “From what Neville tells me, he seems to be a perfectly sensible young man, with a good head on his shoulders.”

“So Sirius … is innocent?” Amelia asked.

“Yes.” Jen answered heavily.

Amelia’s expression didn’t change, and she picked up the teapot to peer inside. “I’ll make some more.”

“Tea?” Augusta asked. “After that? Pish-tosh, Amelia; firewhiskey, that’s what we need. You must have some around here somewhere, dealing with that buffoon we call a Minister.”

With a faint smile, Amelia waved her wand and Summoned a bottle and three glasses from the corner of the room. “So how does all this tie in with Alice then?”

“Right.” Jen conjured a piece of parchment and jotted down the seven words Alice had said. “In third year, after they discovered their Animagus forms, we all came up with nicknames for each other. Well, the boys did, and we did, and never spoke about the reasoning.” She smirked. “We knew about them, you see, but they didn’t know about us, not until sixth year.”

“Is that why they called you Selena?” Amelia asked.

Jen nodded. “After the moon goddess. Remus, Peter, Sirius and James, or Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, were also known as …”

“The Marauders.” Augusta finished. “I remember Frank telling me about them. He seemed to think no one knew who they were.”

“No one did.” Jen confirmed. “No one knew there were actually nine Marauders, either. Annie and Alice weren’t Marauders technically, but they provided their fair share of alibis. Anyway, in fourth year, we sort of earmarked one of the compartments on the Express as ‘ours’.”

“Most people did that.” Amelia agreed. “My friends and I favoured the one right in the middle of the train.”

“Ours was right at the far end.” Jen said. “During fifth year, they found a way to charm it – if you put your hand on the panel outside and give the right password, it gets a lot bigger, which helped when there were ele … ten of us in there.”

Augusta looked a little puzzled, but Amelia made a soft noise of understanding. “That was just before Annabelle passed, wasn’t it? When she started pulling away, Alice said.”

Jen nodded. “It was. In sixth year, Addie made a remark about how they should leave something in that compartment for people to remember them by. They thought about leaving the ‘courtesy of’ message that they left at every other prank, but they settled on the logo that went with it, and a poem that Addie came up with that came to be known as the ‘Marauders’ Mantra’. It’s etched under the luggage rack.” Underneath the seven words, she sketched a picture – a large circle, surrounded by a set of antlers, both encircling two paw prints, a rat’s and a dog’s.

“That’s what Alice keeps drawing.” Augusta whispered. “And the words?”

Jen closed her eyes, slowly reciting the words that had been long-since etched on to her memory.

Bonded by secrets,

Sworn never to part,

Our blood doesn’t matter,

We’re family at heart.

So we’ll solemnly swear

To be up to no good,

Forever and always,

As Gryffindors should.

Our name will live on –

Marauders together

Till the time comes to manage

Our mischief forever.

“So Alice does have her memory.” Amelia concluded shakily. “She just can’t communicate it.”

“Well, possibly.” Jen conceded. “She’s certainly more aware than the Healers think.”

“Do you think Frank …?” Augusta trailed off, looking hopeful.

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “I was never as close to him as I was to Alice, and I don’t know the details of the attack. I hope so.” If nothing else, Alice will be heartbroken if we manage to get her back, and he’s incurable.

“How can we be sure?” Amelia asked. “I mean, the Healers haven’t found anything.”

“Hermione.” Jen murmured absently.

Slightly bewildered, the two women waited for a few seconds to see if she would elaborate. When she didn’t, Amelia cleared her throat pointedly.

Jen shook herself, and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. Hermione’s Harry’s best friend, Annabelle’s half-sister? She’s the … She’s the empath I mentioned earlier. I’m just wondering if she’d be able to pick up something we can’t.”

“It’s possible, I suppose.” Augusta agreed slowly. “At Christmas maybe? If Neville agrees, that is. I don’t think he’s told his classmates about his parents.”

“You can’t blame him for that.” Jen said gently, seeing her disapproving expression. “He probably just doesn’t want the pity that comes with that.”

Amelia sighed, looking over Sirius’s records again. “I must admit, I’m worried. Alice doubted Sirius’s guilt, you know.”

Distracted from thoughts of Neville and Hermione, Jen’s head snapped towards Amelia. “Pardon?”

“I visited them a few days before they were attacked.” Amelia said heavily. “Alice said it didn’t make sense what Sirius had done and that they were going to push for a trial. After the attack …” she closed her eyes. “I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t give it another thought.”

Jen reached across the desk to pat her hand. “I don’t blame you, Am – it wasn’t that long after you’d lost Edgar as well. Why did they come out of hiding, do you know?”

Amelia shook her head. “I think they were told it was safe, but … None of this makes sense, Jen. Now I’ve had time for everything to sink in … James and Lily’s Will was read at the Wizengamot, I remember it. And Gringotts won’t release the Will until all of the charms release, which won’t happen …”

“Until James and Lily die.” Jen finished, frowning. “But the Will can’t have been read, Am; I counter-signed that Will. Unless James and Lily changed their Will after I disappeared … But even then, the Dursleys wouldn’t have been included. They never wanted Harry anywhere near Petunia – she hated magic and she hated Lily. Although …” she trailed off, her mind racing. “There are wards around that house to make sure Harry can’t be removed, I’m sure of it. I was living next door under the Memory Charm, any other child would have been removed under the Child Protections Act.”

Amelia gasped. “Are you saying he was abused?”

Jen nodded grimly.

“Let’s say – hypothetically – that Albus faked the Will to put Harry with his aunt and uncle.” Augusta said. “Why?”

“Dumbledore’s argument is that Lily’s sacrifice saved Harry’s life, and that he’s placed blood wards around Privet Drive.” Jen explained. “I’m no expert in warding, but from what I remember …”

“That’s not how blood wards work.” Augusta scowled. “Second question, why would Albus say that Arabella was Confounded when she wasn’t? Her testimony hardly put him in the wrong – no one knew Pettigrew was a traitor.”

“Unless he wanted to keep Sirius in Azkaban.” Jen said slowly. “Sirius was the only person who could legally stop him from taking Harry to the Dursleys, Will or no Will. And if he wanted to keep Sirius in Azkaban, is it possible that he told Frank and Alice it was safe to come out of hiding when it wasn’t?”

“He wouldn’t …” Augusta whispered. “Surely, he wouldn’t. He may have known that Sirius wasn’t the Secret Keeper, but that didn’t necessarily mean he hadn’t killed thirteen people. He wouldn’t sacrifice an innocent family …”

“For the Greater Good?” Jen finished bitterly. “He was the one who modified my memory.”

“Oh, Merlin.” Amelia muttered, pouring herself another glass of Firewhiskey and downing it in one gulp. “What now?”

“Well, as much as I would love to just break away from Dumbledore entirely,” Jen sighed, “I need to play this Slytherin.”

“Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.” Augusta nodded.

Jen smirked. “Exactly. I have a house ready – Ravenscroft, it’s been completely wiped from any records, thanks to my Great Uncle. It has a private floo connection and, with your permission, I would like to add your fireplaces, just in case.” Receiving nods from both women, she continued, “I’m also going to ask Bill Weasley to check the wards around Privet Drive, just for my own curiosity, and Potter Manor as well. Dumbledore told James that the wards were failing, and I doubt he bothered checking for himself, but I don’t buy it. Those wards were too good, and it would have been a hundred times safer than Godric’s Hollow.”

“There may not be anything sinister there.” Augusta pointed out. “You know how Albus likes to be in control of things.”

“True.” Jen conceded. “I want to have moved everyone into Ravenscroft by the summer, but it would be nice to be able to spread out. Plus, there’s history in Potter Manor that Harry needs to be aware of – the poor boy’s completely oblivious …”

“And what was Albus’s excuse for that?” Augusta asked sharply.

“Didn’t want to overwhelm him.” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “Even had all the books removed from the Hogwarts library.”

“Didn’t want to overwhelm him, my arse.” Amelia hissed. “Didn’t want Harry to realise he didn’t need him, more like!” She took a deep breath. “On another note, is there any way I can speak to Sirius? I owe him an apology.”

“As do I.” Augusta put in. “Do you know where he is?”

Any time you want to get a plan together, Jen. There’s too much Firewhiskey in this damn house.

“In London.” Jen answered with a grimace. “In the kitchen, probably, stopping just short of drinking himself into a stupor.”

No, I’m stopping him just short of drinking himself into a stupor.

“You know exactly where he is?” Amelia asked.

“No.” Jen admitted. “Well, yes, but I’m not the Secret Keeper, so I can’t tell you. Let’s just say, it’s not a pleasant place, and the sooner I can get him to Ravenscroft, the better.” An idea formed in her head. “I’ve got a better idea. You know, sooner or later, you’re both going to be in danger, right?”

“Of course.” Augusta said impatiently, waving it off. “What of it?”

Jen smiled. “Have either of you thought of a change of address?”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen - Bonding

It had been a long term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Umbridge seemed to have sucked the life right out of the castle. No one laughed too loudly, smiles were short and stifled.

But in one place, one group of students refused to bow to the new regime. The Defence Association (those in the know refused to use the name ‘Dumbledore’s Army’, even in their heads) had just finished up a gruelling session, and they were making their way out of the room in twos and threes.

With only a few stragglers left (Cho and her best friend Marietta Edgecombe), Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were left alone to talk, all of them slightly exhausted.

Ginny couldn’t help noticing that Harry seemed on-edge, and had been since November. She clearly wasn’t the only one who had noticed, and, as he paced up and down, ignoring the sofa that had appeared, Hermione sighed wearily.

“You’re still upset about the Nott debacle, aren’t you?” She asked gently.

“Wouldn’t you be?” Harry shot back. “The bastard insults you, me, Ron and Ginny’s mum, and my mum, and I’m the one that gets kicked off the team. And, honestly, I couldn’t care less about the ban – I just want my broom back.”

Hermione patted his arm. “I know, Harry. I didn’t mean to sound blasé about the whole thing.”

Harry ran a hand over his face. “I reckon you might be on to something with the whole Malfoy thing though – he didn’t say a word.”

“Your faith in me is overwhelming.” Hermione said dryly.

Over by the door, Cho and Marietta’s conversation rose loud enough for them to hear it.

“Fine!” Marietta snapped, stalking out of the room.

“What was all that about?” Ron muttered.

Hermione stood up, smiling kindly. “Everything alright, Cho?”

“Oh, yes.” Cho sighed. “Marietta’s still a bit edgy about the whole thing – her mum works for the Ministry, you know.”

They did know, and it made them uneasy.

“Erm,” Cho scuffed her foot against the carpet, looking unsure of herself, “Harry? Could we talk?”

To Ginny’s surprise, Hermione, seeing Harry’s slightly startled expression, gave the boy a gentle nudge in Cho’s direction. “Ron and I are heading on Prefects’ rounds in a minute, Harry. Why don’t you walk Cho back to Ravenclaw Tower? You could talk on the way.”

“Oh … Oh, right!” Harry waved a hand at the door. “Good idea.”

“Poor bloke.” Ron sniggered, when the door had closed behind them. “He’s got no idea what to do.”

“Like you would.” Ginny retorted. “Hermione, why did you do that? She’s a complete cow.”

“Yes, but Harry likes her.” Hermione said softly. “He’ll realise that sooner or later, hopefully before he gets hurt, but he needs to realise that on his own.” She stretched wearily, and checked her watch. “Come on, Ron. I wasn’t lying about those Prefect rounds. Gin, are you heading back to the Common Room?”

Ginny glanced at the time as well. “No, I want to finish my Potions essay before curfew – I’ve got an hour or so still.”

“Alright.” Hermione reached into her pocket and pulled out the two-way mirror. “Can you hang on to this, then? Jen’s going to call in this evening, and I don’t want to risk Umbridge catching us with it.”

“Fair enough.” Ginny took the mirror and tucked it inside her own pocket. She saw them out the door, and turned back to face the room, turning it into a Potions lab, before pulling some parchment and a quill from her bag, along with the ingredients she needed for that particular potion.

Humming under her breath, she set about making the potion her essay was based on. In a perfect world, she wouldn’t need to brew the potion to understand how the ingredients worked together, but Snape never explained Potions like that, much to her frustration.

Theoretically, Ginny quite liked Potions – it was one of the subjects her mother had been able to start teaching her before Hogwarts – being the youngest and fed up with being left behind, Ginny was quite eager to learn, unlike Ron.

While Harry was in the Hospital Wing at the end of the previous term, Ginny had chatted with Mandy who had given her quite a few tips on what to do if she got stuck.

But while Ginny enjoyed brewing potions, like Hermione, she did not have the intuitive ability to tweak and change recipes to make them better, or to just know which ingredients would work best with what.

When she went wrong, she didn’t attempt to fix it – she cut her losses, Vanished the potion, and started again.

Three times.

The third time, when the potion once again refused to turn the colour it was supposed to, Ginny set her hands on her hands and glared at the cauldron. “I don’t care if you don’t want to work – I’ve got an essay to write!”

The door flew open, slamming against the wall, and Ginny spun around, her hand flying to her wand.

Apparently oblivious to her presence, Draco Malfoy stormed in, flinging his bag into a corner and throwing himself on to the sofa that appeared with uncharacteristic emotion.

Ginny relaxed, and folded her arms, leaning against the desk. “Trouble in paradise, Malfoy?”

Draco stiffened, turning to face her. “What are you doing here?”

“Potions essay.” Ginny answered, nodding towards the cauldron. “I didn’t know anyone else knew about this place.”

“Found it by accident.” Draco said shortly. “Wanted a place where the others couldn’t find me?”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “You’re hiding from your housemates?”

“Don’t you?” Draco shot back.

Ginny frowned. “No, not really. If I want to be alone, I just close the hangings.” She smirked. “I guess that’s why Gryffindor’s better.”

Draco opened his mouth to argue, then apparently caught on to the humour in her voice. “Yeah, of course. You keep telling yourself that, Weasley. I didn’t know there was a Potions lab up here.”

“There isn’t.” Ginny said, before she could stop herself. She hesitated, knowing she probably shouldn’t divulge the secret to a Slytherin, but Hermione did say they could trust him. “It’s called the Room of Requirement. It becomes … Well, what you require. I required a Potions lab.”

Draco nodded understandingly. “While we’re on the subject, isn’t an essay usually written with a quill and parchment?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I find it easier to understand way the ingredients work if it’s there in front of me. Professor Snape never explains things properly.”

“Yeah, he is a bit of a bastard, isn’t he?” Draco agreed lightly, standing up and walking over to peer into the cauldron. “Isn’t it supposed to be green?”

Ginny frowned. “How on earth do you know what colour it’s supposed to be?”

“Well, the recipe’s sitting on the desk.” Draco drawled, gesturing to it.

“Well, obviously.” Ginny muttered. “But it turns about eight different colours in the course of the brewing, how do you know I’ve reached the point when it should be green, when it’s actually orange?”

Draco smirked. “The ingredients on the desk. You’ve set them out in the order that you need them. And you’ve lowered the heat, because otherwise it’ll explode when you add that venom.” His smirk softened into a smile. “Try adding some armadillo bile – it’ll neutralise the potion.”

Ginny retrieved some from her bag and added a few drops into the cauldron, watching it turn bright orange. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Draco stepped back to give her some room, but he seemed to be struggling with something. He was uncharacteristically fidgety, and he kept opening and closing his mouth as though he wanted to say something.

“Spit it out, Malfoy.” Ginny said, after several minutes of watching him out of the corner of her eye. “You’ll make yourself hyperventilate at this rate.

“I’m sorry.” Draco blurted out, more to his feet than to her. “I know I’ve said and done a lot of things over the years, and I don’t really have an excuse for them … just that my father is a terrible excuse for one. A father, I mean.”

“It’s fine.” Ginny told him, adding the next ingredient to the cauldron and stirring it carefully. She was silent for a few seconds, as she counted. Finally removing the stirrer and lowering the heat, she turned to face him. “I know what it’s like to feel controlled.”

“Never took your parents to be the controlling kind.” Draco remarked.

Ginny chuckled darkly, checking her watch. She had to leave the potion to simmer for eight minutes. “Who said I was talking about my parents? Do you remember the year the Chamber of Secrets was opened?”

“Well, yes, of course, but …” Draco stopped short, staring at her with something akin to horror. “You were the first year who was taken down there, weren’t you? The one that Potter apparently rescued from a manticore with the sword of Gryffindor.”

“Where did the manticore come from?” Ginny asked tiredly. “Krum asked Harry about that as well last year. It was a basilisk. But other than that, there’s no ‘apparently’ about it.” She sat down on the sofa, tucking her feet under her. She had never told anyone what happened during her first year, never even mentioned it to anyone who didn’t already know.

Not even her older brothers knew the extent of what had happened.

But something told her to confide in Draco. Maybe it was Hermione’s instincts, maybe … something else.

“Do you remember bumping into us in Diagon Alley over the summer?”

“How could I forget?” Draco responded. “Your father punched mine in the face. I never thanked him for that.” He added thoughtfully.

Ginny managed a small smile. “I’ll pass that along. Your father slipped a diary into my cauldron. We can’t prove it, admittedly, but he as good as confessed to Harry. At first I thought it just got caught up in with some of the second-hand books – it was a Muggle diary that had belonged to a TM Riddle, but it was empty.”

Draco frowned, sitting down beside her. “What does this have to do with the Chamber of Secrets?”

“I’m getting there.” Ginny sighed. “I started writing in it and … it started writing back.”

Draco stiffened. “What?”

“Tom Riddle wrote back to me.” Ginny shuddered involuntarily at the memory. “I was such an idiot. My father always told me never to trust something that could think for itself if I couldn’t see where it kept its brain. But Tom was so nice to me … so charming … I thought it was just … just a spell on the diary, but … then I started blacking out … I’d find myself in places I couldn’t remember going to … with blood down my robes and not knowing why.” She closed her eyes, trying to force back the tears that stung the back of her eyes. “I tried getting rid of it, but it didn’t work.”

“What are you saying?” Draco whispered.

“He possessed me.” Ginny said, far more calmly than she felt. “Tom Riddle … was Voldemort.” To his credit, he didn’t flinch at the name, but maybe that was just shock. “I opened the Chamber … I set the basilisk on those people … And then he used me to lure Harry into the Chamber so he could kill him. Fawkes came, with the Sorting Hat … Harry pulled out Gryffindor’s sword and killed the basilisk, but …” She was painfully aware that she was crying now. “But the basilisk bit him, and … he stabbed the diary with one of the fangs and got rid of Riddle, and I woke up … Harry told me to go and find Ron … he knew he was dying and didn’t want me to see it …”

Draco conjured a handkerchief and handed it to her. “But he’s alright. Remember?”

Ginny nodded, mopping at her eyes. “Fawkes cried on the wound and healed him.” She took a deep breath, and looked down at her lap. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump on you.”

Draco didn’t respond, watching her curiously. “You know pureblood rituals and traditions, right?”

“Of course.” Ginny answered, a little indignantly. “We might be ‘blood traitors’, but we’re still purebloods.”

Draco nodded jerkily, and rose from the sofa to kneel before her. Drawing his wand, he presented it to her, handle first. “Miss Weasley, in the absence of my father, and as Heir Apparent to the Most Noble House of Malfoy, I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do humbly beg your forgiveness for this slight against your family, and attempt upon your life and well-being.”

Ginny gaped at him for a split-second, before recovering her composure. Thankfully, she had listened when Arthur taught them pureblood customs, or she would have been lost. With great poise, she took the offered wand, knowing that she could either forgive him, or enact some form of punishment.

Turning the wand to present it back to him, she took a deep breath. “On behalf of the Weasley family, I, Ginevra Molly Weasley, do grant you forgiveness, and declare any debt you feel necessary to be null and void.” She smirked slightly. “Your father, on the other hand …”

“I’ll help.” Draco said, a little darkly, rising to his feet again. He tucked his wand away. “Your potion’s ready.”

Ginny checked her watch and jumped up to tend to the cauldron, and jot down the next part of her essay. “Thank you.”

“I am sorry.” Draco said sincerely.

“And I do forgive you.” Ginny responded, her handwriting becoming messier than usual in her haste. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Her back was turned, but she could almost feel his gaze boring in to her. “You haven’t told many people that story, have you?”

“No one.” Ginny confirmed, blowing on the ink to dry it.

“So why tell me?” Draco asked curiously.

“I don’t know.” Ginny admitted. “It just happened. I suppose it’s because I trust Hermione, and she trusts you. It all adds up.” She wrote the last few words of her conclusion with no shortage of relief. “Done.”

Draco came to stand beside her, reading over her shoulder. “Looks good. If Snape doesn’t give that an ‘O’ …”

“Then I’ll know that all is right with the world.” Ginny finished. “I don’t even think Hermione gets ‘O’s in Potions.”

“Hermione?” Jen’s voice called.

Ginny jumped, hurrying over to her bag. “Damn! Forgot about that!” Ignoring Draco’s bewildered expression, she extracted the mirror, seeing Jen’s face reflected in the glass. “Hi, Jen! Mione’s got rounds so she asked me to stand by so that Umbitch didn’t catch her with the mirror.”

Jen faked a gasp. “Ginny! What would your mother say to language like that?”

“I don’t really care.” Ginny admitted. She caught Draco’s eye. He was smirking – probably at the name – but still looked confused. “Want to have a word with your cousin?”

“Cousin?” Jen repeated.

Ginny nodded. “Draco.”

In London, Jen sat down heavily, memories washing over her, unbidden.

“I’m having a baby, Jen – isn’t it wonderful?”

“It’s a boy … I’m sorry I haven’t visited earlier.”

“I’m so sorry to just drop in like this … I didn’t want Draco seeing that.”

“Leave him, Cissy – you don’t have to live like that!” “I’ve got no choice, Jen. I chose this path a long time ago, just as you chose yours.”

Jen closed her eyes, a feeble barrier against the gathering tears. “Yes.” She said calmly. “I would like a word.”

As she opened her eyes again, the image in the mirror blurred for a moment, and there was a murmur of voices at the other end – probably Ginny explaining how the mirror worked – before a teenage boy appeared.

At first glance, he looked exactly like his father, pale skin, blonde hair, and aristocratic good looks. But as Jen looked at him, she could see the Black in him, most notably in his eyes, which seemed ice-blue at first, but were actually the same stormy grey as her own, except maybe a little lighter.

“Draco.” She greeted shakily. “Did you know you have your mother’s eyes?”

Draco seemed genuinely surprised. “No. Most people comment on my resemblance to Father.”

Jen wrinkled her nose. “That was my second comment, and you have my sympathies, but it can’t be helped.”

Draco laughed, all resemblance to Lucius washing away in a second, and Jen was reminded painfully of her brothers – Regulus more than Sirius, for reasons she couldn’t quite pinpoint. Maybe it was the Slytherin robes.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard my name before, but I’m Jennifer, your mother’s cousin.”

“Lady Black.” Draco realised.

Jen laughed. “We’re family, Draco – call me Jen.”

“Alri – Wait, are you Hermione’s plan to get me out of there?” Draco asked.

“I think I might be.” Jen said cheerfully. “You do still want out, right?”

“Yes, of course.” Draco said hastily. “Do you have a plan?”

“Not yet.” Jen admitted. “I’m working on it, I promise.” She checked her watch, and grimaced. “Have you two realised the time?”

“Oh shite.” Ginny muttered, glancing at her own watch. “I’ve missed curfew.”

“Prefects’ curfew is still twenty minutes away.” Draco reminded her. “I’ll walk you back to Gryffindor tower, if you like. Umbridge is hell to deal with.”

For some reason, Ginny couldn’t muster up surprise at the offer. “Thank you.” She said after a slight hesitation. “I’d appreciate that.”

“I hate to cut this short,” Jen said, “but I don’t want you two to get into trouble. It was lovely talking to you, Draco.”

“Likewise.” Draco returned, handing the mirror back to Ginny.

“You had a message for Hermione?” Ginny prompted.

“Not really for Hermione, just in general.” Jen corrected. “Susan Bones and Neville Longbottom need to stick with Harry and Hermione on the train ride home – no one’s hurt, but they’re coming home with us.”

Ginny frowned. “But, Jen … we floo home for Christmas, from the Head of House offices.”

“Not this year.” Jen said grimly. “The Ministry has shut down the Hogwarts floo network – the only fireplace that’s connected is Dumbledore’s office, and there are too many students to go from there. So the Hogwarts Express is making an unscheduled journey.”

“I’ll tell them.” Ginny assured her.

“Thanks, Ginny.” Jen said. “Goodnight.”

“Night, Jen.” Ginny waited for the mirror to turn blank again, and tucked it back inside her robes.

“What was that?” Draco asked, interested.

“Two-way mirror.” Ginny answered. “Harry’s dad helped make it when he was in school.” She stood up, stretching. “How the hell did I manage to stay here nearly two hours without realising?”

“You’re awful at Potions.” Draco pointed out, with no hint of malice. “Don’t forget your essay.”

“Thanks.” Ginny rolled it up and set it in her bag, before glancing at the work-surface. “At least I don’t have to clean up.”

“What do you … Oh, I suppose the room would do it for you, wouldn’t it?” Draco asked. “I knew Granger had a plan, but I didn’t realise she had something to do with it.”

“Hmm.” Ginny smirked. “You called her Hermione earlier.”

“No I didn’t.” Draco disagreed.

“Yes, you did.” Ginny said cheerfully. “Blood-traitor cousin, and you didn’t think she might be involved.”

“The only ‘blood-traitor cousin’,” Draco said, rolling his eyes, “that I was aware of until this summer was Sirius Black. I didn’t know Mother had another cousin until she wrote, claiming the Black line by proxy.”

Ginny shook her head. “I can’t imagine not knowing about my family. We got long family history lessons.”

“So did I.” Draco said. “Father just focussed on the ‘more agreeable’ parts.”

Ginny nodded in understanding, as she shouldered her bag and they left the room. “I’m guessing you at least know that your mother had another sister.”

“You mean aside from Aunt Bellatrix?” Draco asked.

Ginny smiled slightly. “Andromeda. Haven’t met her personally, but her daughter, Nymphadora, is an auror. Nice woman. Metamorphmagus, former Hufflepuff.”

“Why wouldn’t Father have told me about another aunt?” Draco asked, sounding perplexed.

“Probably because Andromeda was disowned for marrying a Muggle-born.” Ginny answered. “We learnt some interesting things about the Black family this summer.”

“Really?” Draco drawled. “You’ll have to tell me all about it some time.”

“Maybe I will.” Ginny said, mimicking his tone. She slowed down as they reached the corridor that held the Fat Lady. “I can take it from here.”

“Worried about me finding the Gryffindor common room?” Draco asked lightly.

“Well, I don’t mind, but my brother’s a very paranoid fellow.” Ginny smirked.

Draco chuckled. “Alright then. Goodnight, Ginny.”

This did give her pause, but she recovered herself quickly, smiling at him. “Goodnight, Draco.”

Draco turned on his heel, and walked back down the corridor, and Ginny hurried the rest of the way to the portrait, whispering the password.

“You’re late.” She huffed, swinging open.

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Ginny muttered, climbing into the common room.

It was mostly empty now, and she headed over towards the fireplace, where Harry was sat on the floor, Ron was sprawled on the sofa, and Hermione was sitting at one of the tables.

“Did you get into trouble?” Hermione asked immediately. “You’ve missed curfew.”

“No, it’s fine.” Ginny assured her. “Malfoy walked me back, and he’s a prefect.” She shoved Ron’s legs off the sofa, and sat down, handing Hermione the mirror as she did. “Jen did call, and …”

“You were alone with him?” Ron cut in, dropping his legs back on to her lap.

“Excuse you.” Ginny said, pushing them off again. “Yes, I was. We talked, I wrote my Potions essay, Jen called. Can I continue?” Without waiting for a response, she turned back to Hermione. “Neville and Susan Bones need to stick with you and Harry when we go home for Christmas. No one’s hurt, but they’re spending Christmas with you, for some reason.”

“Okay.” Hermione nodded slowly, and Ginny could almost see her mind racing. “Got it.”

While Hermione got lost in her thoughts, Ron nudged Ginny with a foot. “Forget about that – Malfoy! What?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “He came in mid-way through my Potions essay. He helped me out, we had a conversation about how Snape’s a git, he apologised about his father, and then offered to walk me back so I didn’t get into trouble. He was perfectly civil.”

“Told you so.” Hermione muttered absently.

Ginny rolled her eyes, and turned to her surrogate brother, who was staring into the fire, apparently not listening to a word she had said. “Harry? Are you alright?”

Harry looked up. “Oh, Ginny, you’re back. You didn’t get into trouble, did you?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “No, I didn’t. What’s with you? Did something happen on your walk with Cho?”

Harry nodded silently, looking slightly shell-shocked.

Ron sniggered, and Hermione reached over and smacked him over the head. “So what did she want?” He asked, his face now miraculously straight.

“She …” Harry cleared his throat, and tried again. “She … she …”

“Did you kiss?” Hermione asked bluntly and – Ginny thought – with all the subtlety of the Knight Bus. She handed Harry the two-way mirror as she did, and Ginny remembered it was Harry’s turn to hang on to it.

At this, Ron sat up abruptly. “Well?!” He demanded.

Harry turned and interesting shade of red and nodded. Ron hooted with laughter, Hermione made a small noise of disgust – either at Cho or at Ron’s reaction, it was hard to tell – and Ginny felt incensed.

It wasn’t that she wanted Harry for herself – oh no, that ship had long since sailed. But she could see what Hermione – so intelligent, so ready to spot the tiniest mistakes in essays – seemed unaware of.

Hermione Granger was head over heels for Harry Potter, Harry Potter was besotted with Hermione Granger, and both were completely oblivious to the whole thing.

“How was it?!” Ron demanded.

Harry seemed to ponder this for a few minutes. “Wet.” He said finally, before hastily adding, “She was crying!”

Ron looked bewildered. “Crying? I know it was your first and everything, but you can’t be that bad, can you?”

“Of course he’s not.” Hermione answered matter-of-factly.

Ron and Ginny exchanged a glance, for once on the same level, but a quick look at Harry told them that, unfortunately, he looked just as perplexed.

“Cho’s always crying these days.” Hermione continued, explaining her certainty. “She still misses …” She cut herself off abruptly, but they all knew what she was going to say.

Ginny scowled. “I don’t buy that. If she missed Cedric – truly missed him – she wouldn’t be going after Harry this early.”

“Then why was she crying?” Harry asked, bewildered.

“Maybe she’s confused.” Hermione suggested kindly.

“Or maybe she was expecting, you know, Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived.” Ginny added, not quite as willing to see the best in Cho. “You are a hero, after all – who better to be than the damsel in distress?”

“But I’m not a hero!” Harry protested. “I’m just Harry!”

“Well, if you want her to see ‘just Harry’,” Hermione said, beating Ginny to it, “sit her down tomorrow and talk to her about it. Explain that you like her, but you feel uncomfortable with the whole Cedric thing.”

Ginny sighed inwardly. Sometimes, she wondered whether Hermione actually did know how she felt for her best friend – the witch was an empath, after all.

Maybe she was living by the age-old proverb “If you love something, let it go. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with”.

Maybe this was a mistake Harry had to make, to realise that the perfect girl for him was right beside him all along.

Either way, Ginny was too tired to try to figure the logic running through Hermione’s mind. She yawned widely, shouldering her bag again, and stood up. “Well, good luck with that, Harry. I’m wiped – off to bed. Night, everyone.”

Her friends’ voices followed her up the staircase to her dormitory. Her dorm-mates were all fast asleep, so she changed quickly and quietly, and fell into bed, sleep washing over her almost immediately, a welcome relief after a long day.

Unfortunately, she wouldn’t stay in that state for long …

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen - Visions

Back in London, Grimmauld Place was cloaked in darkness, everything still and silent, but in Number Twelve, one person lay away. Try as she might, Jen just could not sleep, a problem Remus did not seem to have.

Time was running out – she had to get Sirius out of that house soon, or he might never recover from it. Slowly, but surely, things were moving from Grimmauld Place to Ravenscroft, but soon Jen would have no choice but to blatantly defy Dumbledore’s orders to get her brother somewhere safe.

Ideally – and she hated even thinking it – she needed something to happen that would distract Dumbledore from what they were doing, but she couldn’t afford to wait much longer.

Finally giving in to the thoughts chasing each other around her head, she got up, leaving Remus sleeping soundly, and padded downstairs to the library.

Wrapped in a hastily-conjured blanket, Jen settled in the window seat, gazing out at the snow that gently fluttered down on the square outside. It wouldn’t settle, she knew, melting and then freezing into the horrible ice that seemed to be the closest England got to a white Christmas.

She thought longingly of winters at Hogwarts – thick blankets of snow, cinnamon-y hot chocolate, evenings spent toasting marshmallows in the fire in the common room … For a second, she was back there, weak with laughter, leaning against Remus for support. Rich red and gold hangings surrounded them, Lily curled up in James’s arms on one side of them, Addie telling Sirius how awful the joke was on their other side, only to give in, laugh, and kiss him anyway, as Mandy and Arabella and Peter told the three of them to get a room …

But she had to blink eventually, and the scene faded, returning to the dark, chilly library. Jen debated casting a Warming Charm, but she knew from experience there was no point.

The library was always freezing – or maybe it was the topic of her father’s lessons that had made her shiver all those years ago.

Jen caught herself quickly – she knew better than to allow her mind to wander to those dark places, especially when she was back in this house.

Quickly, she forced her thoughts ahead to the Christmas holidays. In a week’s time, Harry and Hermione would be arriving to spend Christmas with them. She hoped to get them in to Ravenscroft in time, but even if she didn’t, she had a feeling even Sirius would find it hard to feel gloomy with those two around. Their very presence seemed to lift a weight from his shoulders, the weight that had been there long before Azkaban, the weight that had settled when they lost Addie, and that had caused Jen such worry for her brother in the first war. Hermione’s appearance in his life, and Harry’s not even a year later, had made him smile again, and Jen thanked Merlin for them every day.

So much for lightening the mood, she mentally chided herself, taking care to keep her thoughts private.

Obviously, the Weasleys would be returning home for Christmas as well, and would be dropping by on Boxing Day, but they would be spending Christmas at home as a family.

As it should be.

Amelia and Augusta, although still living at home as far as the Ministry was concerned (and a couple of house elves had remained to continue the illusion, and to collect mail and floo calls and so on), were happily situated at Ravenscroft Manor. The manor was big enough that the two women had been given two separate wings all to themselves, which were, in effect, self-contained homes in themselves.

Jen had figured out how to make another transport stone, and had put one in the Bones wing, as well as giving Amelia her own mirror, so Amelia could get out of the manor and go to work without having to walk all the way to the front door.

After the first visit, trips to St Mungo’s became … not easy, but certainly not as difficult. The only thing that remained as hard as ever was watching the Healers interact with them. Unlike Jen, Remus, Augusta and Amelia, they spoke to the two patients as though they were either very young or very stupid.

It was embarrassing to watch, and if Frank and Alice were truly aware of what was happening, just unable to communicate, it must also be incredibly humiliating.

Augusta and Amelia seemed resigned to this, but Jen found it increasingly difficult to watch, so much so that she was considering moving the two to Ravenscroft Manor – they weren’t receiving actual treatment anymore (since there was none) and St Mungo’s wasn’t doing anything other than keeping them alive.

That’ll have to wait until summer though. Hopefully by then, the Ministry will have got their heads out of their arses and I can make the move without attracting too much attention. But they should be with family.

Thoughts of family turned her mind back to her conversation with Draco earlier in the evening. His resemblance to Lucius was only slight when he smiled, and now she had time to dwell on it, she recognised the heart that shone from his eyes when he smiled – not just Sirius and Regulus, but the Narcissa she knew as a child, before her parents’ expectations had fallen upon her instead of Andromeda, forcing her into the role of the perfect heiress. But, at the same time, she could also the young boy shining in his eyes, still desperate for the affection that would have been denied to him growing up, so much like Harry.

A soft prickling at the back of her mind alerted her to the fact that Remus had woken, and she sent a gentle brush of air in that direction, broadcasting her location.

True to her guesses, a few minutes later, the library door opened. “Can I come in?”

“Why couldn’t you?” Jen asked in response, still gazing out of the window, but shifting forwards slightly to leave a gap between her and the wall. She heard the door close with a soft snap, then soft footsteps across the carpet, before he settled behind her, an arm slipping around her waist as he pressed a kiss to the side of her head.

“Didn’t mean to wake you.” Jen murmured, leaning back against his chest.

“You didn’t.” Remus said, linking his fingers through hers. “It just suddenly got cold.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “So I did wake you.”

Remus chuckled behind her. “What are you doing in the library at three in the morning?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” Jen answered. “Too much on my mind, I guess.”

“Want to offload a few things?” Remus offered.

“Careful what you wish for.” Jen muttered, but took the request, letting the night’s train of thoughts run through his mind.

Remus was silent for a few minutes, then … “Bloody hell – one person can’t deal with all that, Jen …”

Jen smirked slightly. “You forget, my love, that I am a woman. We can multitask.”

“Draco though …” Remus shook his head. “That’s a far cry from the kid I taught.”

“He was genuine.” Jen insisted.

“Never said he wasn’t, love.” Remus said, squeezing her hand. “Just saying he’s changed.”

“Or he’s stopped trying to be something he’s not.” Jen sighed. “He’s staying with us next summer.”

“Okay.” Remus agreed automatically. “How?”

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “I’ll kidnap him if I have to.”

“Alright.” Remus said. “Just remember the Ministry won’t take me for an alibi.”

“That’s because they’re prejudiced bastards.” Jen said matter-of-factly. “Your turn.”

“My turn for what?” Remus asked, sounding bewildered.

“To tell me what’s bothering you.” Jen answered.

“Nothing’s bothering me.” Remus said.

Jen resisted the urge to roll her eyes and turned her back to the window, leaning against the glass so she could see his face. “Remus, even if we weren’t in each other’s heads, I’ve always known when there’s something wrong.”

Remus sighed, but met her concerned gaze openly. “You know what I did during the last war. You know Dumbledore asked me to approach various werewolf packs, to see how the land lay.”

“Yes …” Jen said slowly. “I know that.”

Remus sighed again. “Dumbledore wants me to go and scope out Greyback’s pack.”

Despite their fourteen-year separation, they were both well-practiced in the art of keeping each other away from certain thoughts and memories, and the revelation came as a complete surprise.

Her hands flew to her mouth, just managing to muffle the scream that slipped from her lips, fear flooding her body.

It must have flooded through the link as well, because he sent a rush of love back to her, tightening his grip. “I’ll be careful, love, I swear.”

“It’s not a case of being careful!” Jen protested, fighting to keep her voice lowered. “I was an auror, for Merlin’s sake – I’ve seen what Greyback’s capable of! For him, killing is better than sex, and yes I know that for a fact – I’ve seen young women with their throats ripped out two weeks before the full moon, and you don’t want to know what was covering them! And you know he’s been after you since the bite – if he suspects you for even a second …” She trailed off as a choked sob escaped her, and he pulled her into his arms, rest his head atop hers.

“He won’t, Jen.” Remus said in a low voice, rubbing her back. “Order vow or not, if I get even the slightest hint that he suspects something, I’ll be back home before he can blink. I promise. I’m a werewolf myself, remember – I do know what we’re capable of.”

“I love you.” Jen whispered, her tears subsiding. She had never been one to cry in the face of adversity, at least not for very long – tears never solved anything. “You know that.”

“I know.” Remus murmured, kissing the side of her head. “And I love you. You know that.”

Jen smiled despite herself and lifted her head. “I’ve seen your transformations before and after we found out we could control them, and I can honestly say that I trust you with my life, and those of everyone around us.”

“You’d be one of the few.” Remus muttered, earning a light swat to the stomach.

The two sank into silence for a few minutes, before Remus asked, “Did you ever think about the future? You know, back at Hogwarts?”

“Yes.” Jen said softly. “It was never as dark as this.”

“I mean did you ever think about having a family.” Remus corrected.

“Yes.” Jen repeated, quieter. “Quite often. You?”

Remus nodded into her hair. “Whenever I seemed to zone out while we were studying … that’s usually what I was thinking about.”

Jen tilted her head back to meet his eyes. “Was I in those thoughts?”

Remus smiled, dropping a kiss on her lips. “Every time.”

They fell into a companionable silence once again. It was the first time either of them had mentioned anything of the sort since they had graduated – even in their heads, the subject was one they both avoided.

They both knew that, as the first war had pushed on, and pushed many people into marrying as soon as possible, many of their friends had questioned (although not to their faces) why they hadn’t taken that step as well.

Only Lily had known, and that was only because she had caught Jen at a bad moment …

“Jen! Selena, this is an emergency! I’m getting married in an hour, and I can’t find my …” Lily came to a halt just outside the back door of the cottage, clad only in a towel and slippers.

Remus had vacated the cottage the day before in favour of keeping James sane and Sirius sober over at Potter Manor, while Jen and Lily stayed there.

As her maid of honour, Jen was supposed to have been responsible for helping Lily into her wedding dress. Instead, she was in the garden.

Wearing it.

Luckily, it hadn’t been raining recently, and the ground was hard and dry, so there was no risk of the ivory silk getting muddied.

“Jen?” Lily asked, probably more calmly than she felt. “Why are you wearing my wedding dress?”

“Just trying it on, Lils.” Jen answered softly, smoothing out the skirt. “With my family the way they are, it’d be suicide to wear my own.”

“Oh, Jen …” Lily whispered. “Is that why …?”

“Partly.” Jen admitted, turning to face her. “My mother wrote to me just before we graduated. She didn’t come out and say it, but she definitely implied that she knows about … about Remus’s furry little problem.”

“So …” Lily hesitated. “She hasn’t said anything though.”

“Not yet.” Jen said darkly. “Most of my family want me dead. I know that. I’ve accepted that. Most of them want him dead too, solely because he’s a half-blood and on our side. I know that as well. But if we take that next step … it would ruin his life, Lils. You know what they Ministry’s like.”

“Remus would probably say you’re worth it.” Lily pointed out gently.

Jen smiled slightly. “Probably.” She agreed. “But I think he’s got his own reasons. And I’d bet anything that they begin with ‘Grey’ and end with ‘back’.” She sighed. “We’re fine. I just want this stupid war to be over.”

Lily walked across the lawn and enveloped Jen in a hug, taking care not to wrinkle her dress. “We all do.”

Jen closed her eyes, feeling Lily rub her back, and fought the few tears that burned at her eyes and in her throat. For a few minutes, the two women clung to each other in silence. The war had taken too much from them and even on a day like this, they couldn’t help taking a moment to reflect on that.

“Jen?” Lily whispered after a few minutes.

“Yeah?”

“Give me my dress back.” 

Jen smiled a little to herself as the memory danced through her mind. It had, of course, entered her mind that her mother was now dead and, with Remus’s secret out in the open anyway, there was nothing stopping them from moving forwards (aside from Umbridge’s ridiculously bigoted laws, but Jen had no intention of obeying those anyway).

But she also knew that neither would say anything aloud – even mentally – until Remus returned. She silently and privately sent a silent prayer to Merlin knew what, before allowing the yawn that had been lurking just out of reach to creep over her.

“Tired?” Remus asked.

“A little.” Jen admitted, feeling her eyes growing heavy.

“We’d better get you back to bed then.” Remus said. He moved one of his arms under her legs and stood up, lifting her with him.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “I can walk, you know.”

Remus grinned at her. “I know. But it’s not often I get a chance to sweep you off your feet.”

Jen laughed softly, but didn’t protest further (it had been token anyway). Now she had shared everything that was bothering her, she felt wonderfully light and languid, and she wondered why she hadn’t done it earlier. As they reached the second floor, she was on the verge of slumber, lulled by his steady footsteps, when he suddenly came to a halt.

“Do you hear that?”

“Mmm?” Jen forced her eyes open, and listened hard. She was just about to answer in the negative, when a muffled voice floated out from behind one of the closed doors. “It’s just one of the portraits.” She said dismissively, but her fatigue was disappearing as she spoke. The voice was alternating between calling her name and Sirius’s, and there was only one portrait in that room. “But that’s … Uh oh.”

“What?” Remus asked warily, setting her back on her feet.

Jen stared at the door. That’s Phineas Nigellus. She said, reverting to their private channel automatically. Dumbledore never uses him to contact us. Something must have happened.

Remus cursed under his breath. I’ll wake Sirius up.

Good luck with that. Jen felt rather than heard him depart for the stairs, and pushed open the door to the room Harry and Ron had occupied over the summer.

Her great-great-great-uncle glowered at her from the portrait, and she pasted a bright smile on her face. “Good evening, sir. Or good morning, I suppose it is now.”

“Good morning, Jennifer.” He greeted curtly. “Was it really necessary to keep us from visiting other portraits in this house?”

“It’s nothing against you, sir. I can just do without the rest of them following me around.” Jen answered absently, her stomach disappearing.

Phineas Nigellus was slightly fonder of Jen than he was of Sirius – she assumed it was because she reminded him of his only daughter, who died very young without marrying – but he still attempted her birth name at least twice before resorting to her chosen name.

“Is there something wrong?” She asked tonelessly.

“Ah, there it is.” Phineas Nigellus said, almost affectionately. “You and that brother of yours were always so proud of your Gryffindor sorting. And yet when your backs are against the wall, you revert to the Slytherin upbringing you so hated.”

Jen gritted her teeth. “Get to the point.”

Sirius probably would have blown up, but Jen knew he was right – she did resort to the emotionless mask she had learnt as a child when she was particularly worried or upset.

“Your manners have certainly dwindled since we last spoke.” Phineas Nigellus continued lazily. “Get to the point what?”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Get to the point or that canvas is going up in flames.”

Phineas Nigellus narrowed his eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me.” Jen challenged. “There are faster methods of communication with Dumbledore. And the worst he’ll do is look disappointed.”

Phineas Nigellus sighed. “Arthur Weasley has been gravely injured and his wife, children and Harry Potter will be arriving shortly.”

Jen closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Kindly inform the Headmaster we will be delighted to have them.”

Phineas Nigellus inclined his head to her – the closest he’d ever get to a bow – and walk sideways out of his frame.

Jen took another few deep breaths to regain her composure, then turned to leave the room.

“You know …”

Jen sighed and turned back to the portrait. He hadn’t completely re-entered it, just his head and shoulders, but he was watching her curiously. “Yes?”

“He was proud of you.” Phineas Nigellus said. “Your brother. He was proud of you.”

Jen swallowed hard and lifted her head. “And why would you tell me that?”

“Because I am as well.” He said. “Your politics are a little skewed. But you might just be the person to make the House of Black great again. Just … don’t let your brother screw it up.”

Choosing to ignore his beliefs that her politics were skewed (this, after all, was the man who tried to ban Muggle-borns from attending Hogwarts while he was headmaster), Jen took the compliment for what it was, and smiled. “I’ll try not to.” She left the room, and shut the door behind her, leaning against it for a second.

Regulus was proud of me. And Phineas Nigellus knew. That means he talked about me in that room. Maybe he said something else.

Jen fought the urge to turn back and press Phineas for details. It would do no good, she knew.

Her brother was dead, and dealing with Phineas Nigellus’ riddles and turns of phrase would not change that.

Right now, she had five teenagers about to turn up in her kitchen, and at least four of them would be very upset.

She found Remus and Sirius sitting at the kitchen table – they must have come downstairs while she was talking to the portrait. Not bothering to make a joke about how quickly Sirius had woken up, she sunk into a chair beside Remus, taking his hand automatically. “Arthur’s been attacked.” She informed them gravely. “Harry and the Weasleys are on their way.”

“Why Harry?” Remus asked. “The Weasleys, I understand, but Harry as well? And how did Dumbledore find out? Arthur’s alone on guard duty, and there shouldn’t be anyone at the Ministry to inform him.”

“And it must be bad.” Sirius continued absently. “Or Dumbledore wouldn’t be sending the kids home. Which brings us back to Moony’s question – why Harry as well?”

“We won’t have to wait long to find out.” Jen predicted.

Sure enough, as the last word left her lips, Harry, Ginny, Ron, Fred and George appeared, all clutching an old kettle.

“Back again, the blood-traitor brats.” Kreacher muttered from the doorway, as the three adults got to their feet. “Is it true their father’s dying?”

“OUT!” Sirius roared, causing the elf to scuttle away.

Sensing danger, Jen darted to the door. “You are forbidden to leave this house!” She called. “Do you understand?”

There was a pause, and then a disgruntled, “Yes Mistress.”

Satisfied, Jen shut the door and returned to help Harry to his feet, seeing Sirius do the same with Ginny. “What’s going on?” She asked anxiously. “Phineas Nigellus said that Arthur’s been injured …”

“Ask Harry.” Fred said shakily.

“Yeah.” George agreed. “I want to hear this for myself.”

Jen looked from one twin to the other, completely bewildered, and then back at Harry. He was pale and shaking, and when she pressed a hand against his forehead, it was cold and clammy. “What happened, sweetheart?” She asked again.

Harry took a shaky breath. “It was … I had kind of … Well, a vision, basically.”

Shit. Jen and Remus said in unison.

“What did you see, Harry?” Sirius prompted gently.

“A corridor.” Harry answered quietly. “The same corridor I started dreaming about over the summer. Mr Weasley was there, asleep … it looked like he was under an Invisibility Cloak. There was a snake … it bit him … three times, I think …” He shuddered. “There was blood everywhere. Then my scar started to hurt and Ron woke me up.”

“He was screaming.” Ron muttered, deathly white. Fred, George and Ginny were staring at Harry as though they’d never seen him before.

Do you get the feeling Harry’s not telling us everything? Remus asked.

Oh, definitely. Jen agreed, squeezing her godson’s shoulder. Lily all over again.

Fred finally seemed to regain his voice. “Is Mum here?” He asked, turning to Jen.

“She probably doesn’t even know what’s happened yet.” Jen said, wincing inwardly. It was a good thing it was the middle of the night – or Molly would have found out by glancing at the family clock.

“The important thing would have been to get you out of Hogwarts before Umbridge could interfere.” Sirius explained. “I’m sure Dumbledore’s letting her know right now.”

Jen saw Ginny glance down at her slippers, and she grimaced, flicking her wand towards the door under the table, silently locking it. She had been in many similar situations as an auror and she recognised the warning signs.

“We’ve got to go to St Mungo’s.” Ginny muttered distractedly, proving her right. “Do you have some cloaks we can borrow?”

“Hang on!” Sirius protested, looking faintly alarmed. “You can’t go tearing off to St Mungo’s!”

And here I thought his instincts hadn’t suffered.

“Course we can.” Fred argued. “He’s our dad!”

“And how are you going to explain how you knew he was hurt before the hospital even let your mother know?” Remus asked calmly.

“Why does that matter?!” Fred demanded.

“Enough!” Jen commanded. “Sit down. All of you. Now.” She added, when Fred and George looked like they would argue.

Though it looked like it was against their better wishes, they did as they were told, sinking into chairs. Ron followed suit, and Ginny sat down where she was, cross-legged, on the floor.

“I know you’re worried.” Jen said softly. “Believe me, I know. There’s nothing worse than waiting. The waiting has always been and will always be the worst part.”

“We’ve got a right to see him!” Fred began, rising to his feet.

“Sit down!” Jen repeated sharply. “First of all, if you go rushing into St Mungo’s now, you won’t be allowed to see your dad anyway. You’ll be left waiting in a corridor somewhere, and that tends to bring out the morbid thoughts. Not that this place doesn’t.” She added, under her breath.

“Secondly,” Remus continued flawlessly, acting as though he hadn’t heard her muttered comment, “your dad was hurt while on duty for the Order. The circumstances are fishy enough, without you lot knowing about it seconds after it happened. You have to pretend that you don’t know anything, or you will cause a lot of trouble for your Dad, and for Harry.”

“But …” George began.

“You wanted to help the Order.” Sirius interrupted. “This is it. This is how you can help. Stay put, at least until you hear from your mother, alright?”

“Okay.” Ginny agreed quietly, and Jen breathed a sigh of relief. She had a feeling that their sister agreeing would sway the boys.

Sure enough, the twins exchanged a glance, and nodded jerkily. “Yeah, alright.” They muttered, not quite in unison.

“That’s the spirit.” Sirius told them bracingly. “Accio butterbeer.

Eight somewhat dusty bottles burst from the cupboard on the other side of the room and skidded across the table to stop directly in front of each of them.

“Nice one.” Jen muttered distractedly, passing one down to Ginny and taking a sip of her own. She could still feel Harry shaking beside her, and took his hand, rubbing the back of it soothingly.

Suddenly, there was a burst of fire in mid-air, and a scroll of parchment fell to the table, accompanied by a single, golden feather.

“Fawkes.” Sirius breathed, grabbing the parchment. “Not Dumbledore’s writing – must be from Molly.”

Jen pried it from his trembling hands, and handed it to George, who hurried ripped it open and read it aloud. “Dad is still alive. I am setting out for St Mungo’s now. Stay where you are. I will send news as soon as I can. Mum.” He turned the letter over twice, as though trying to find any hidden words, before looking up. “Still alive … but that makes it sound …”

Ron was staring at the back of the letter, as though hoping it would hop out of George’s hands and start speaking to him. Fred took the letter from his twin and read it for himself, as though the words would miraculously change once he had hold of it. Harry just avoided their gaze altogether.

For the next two and a half hours, they sat there in almost continuous silence, speaking only to reassure one another. At four o’clock, after one hour, Jen had half-heartedly suggested they go to bed and try to get some sleep, but none of them moved, and she hadn’t expected them to.

By now, she had relinquished the task of comforting Harry to Sirius, and was sitting on the kitchen floor, leaning against the wooden dresser that held the Black Family silverware, Ginny curled up on her lap, almost asleep.

Ron was sitting beside them, clutching his sister’s hand. When he had first joined them half an hour ago, he had sat stiffly, staring straight ahead at the wall, but he had slowly crumpled towards them and, when Jen slipped an arm around him, his head had come to rest on her shoulder.

She was pretending not to notice the dampness that was soaking into her dressing gown.

Fred and George were on the other side of the kitchen, not talking, but their very presence – much like James and Sirius – seemed to reassure each other.

Harry was leaning against Sirius, and Remus was rubbing his back gently. Like Jen, the two men knew that something more than the dream and Arthur’s predicament had shaken him.

Harry may not have been a carbon copy of either of his parents (despite his uncanny resemblance to James), but his mannerisms, especially when he was upset or worried, were so much like both his parents, that the three Marauders could read him like a book.

Finally, at half past five, the kitchen door swung open and Molly entered, extremely pale, but smiling brightly. “He’s going to be alright.” She announced to the room at large. “He’s sleeping; we can all go and see him later. Bill’s sitting with him at the moment – he’s going to take the morning off work.”

Everyone reacted differently. Fred exhaled loudly and sat back in his chair, his hands covering his face. In contrast, George got up, walked swiftly over to their mother, and hugged her tightly.

Ron lifted his head and hurriedly wiped his eyes, before downing the rest of his butterbeer with a laugh. Jen got to her feet, lifting Ginny with her, and hugged the younger witch comfortingly, before hurrying across the kitchen to embrace Molly as well. She could only imagine what Molly must have been going through, getting news like that in the middle of the night, facing an agonising wait for news at the hospital …

With Remus’s upcoming mission, it hit closer to home than she’d have liked.

Transferring Harry’s head from his own shoulder to Remus’s, Sirius jumped to his feet. “Breakfast!” He announced cheerfully. “Kreacher!”

When the house-elf didn’t appear, Jen sighed. “Probably pretending not to hear you again – he can’t leave the house, I forbid him. Probably for the best – he most likely poison us all.”

“Oh, forget it then.” Sirius muttered. “Let’s see, breakfast for … nine – bacon and eggs, I think, and some tea and toast …”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake!” Jen snapped, releasing Molly in favour of dragging her brother away from the oven. “You know you can’t cook to save your life, Sirius – how you survived in that flat without Ad …” She broke off hastily, and there was an awkward silence, in which she tried not to meet her brother’s eye. She had been careful not to even mention Addie’s name around Sirius since her disappearance; he, himself, had only used it once that she could remember, and that was a few months ago when they had been talking about the Department of Mysteries.

The others in the kitchen watched the two, Remus warily, the Weasleys and Harry in confusion.

“Lily.” Sirius said after a few minutes.

“Pardon?” Jen asked, startled.

“Lily.” Sirius repeated. “She used to bring over enough food to feed half the aurors. That’s how I survived.”

Jen cracked a smile, breathing a sigh of relief. “Just sit down and try not to break …”

“… kill, maim, curse, prank, hurt, or poison anyone.” Her brother finished with a smirk.

Jen laughed, remembering the warning their mum had given them frequently when they were teens. “Exactly.” She said with a wink.

Seemingly giving up on reading between the lines of the twins’ interaction, Molly swept Harry into a tight hug. “I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t been for you, Harry. They may not have found him for hours and then it would have been too late, but thanks to you he’s alive and Dumbledore’s been able to think up a good cover story; you’ve no idea what trouble he would have been in otherwise, look at poor Sturgis…” She let go of Harry and turned to Sirius. “Thank you so much for looking after the children.”

“You’re very welcome, Molly.”  Sirius told her warmly. “Think nothing of it.”

Jen nodded in agreement. “And you’re more than welcome to stay here for as long as you need.”

Molly beamed at her. “Well, the Healers think that Arthur should be out of hospital the day term ends, as long as he takes it easy at home, but if you don’t mind us staying until then …”

“The more the merrier!” Sirius insisted, and he said it with such heartiness that Molly threw on an apron and took over breakfast.

“Jen!” Harry muttered, tugging her sleeve urgently. “Can I have a word with you and Sirius? Now?”

Jen caught her brother’s eye and jerked her head towards the pantry. “Of course, sweetheart.” She put a protective hand on his shoulder, and followed Sirius into the small room off the kitchen.

Sirius shut the door behind them. “What’s wrong, kiddo?”

Harry took a deep breath, staring at the floor. “In the dream … I was the snake.”

“Have you told Dumbledore about this?” Sirius asked immediately.

“Yes, but he didn’t tell me what it meant.” Harry answered.

Jen reached out and drew Harry to her, stroking his hair softly. “It’s alright, Harry. I’m sure Dumbledore would have told you if it was something to worry about.” She winced inwardly. That was the first time she had blatantly lied to her godson, and she didn’t like it.

“He hasn’t even looked at me since June.” Harry whispered.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Jen muttered, thinking about Legilimency.

“And I think I’m going mad!” Harry added, as though he hadn’t heard her (and he may not have done). “Back in Dumbledore’s office, just before we took the portkey … For a couple of seconds, I thought I was the snake again … I felt like one … my scar really hurt when I looked at Dumbledore … I wanted to attack him …”

Jen caught sight of Sirius’s startled expression. “Maybe I should handle this.” She suggested.

Sirius nodded, squeezing Harry’s shoulder. “Jen’s definitely the best person to handle this, Harry.”

“What if something’s gone wrong inside me?” Harry whispered, seeming not to hear him. “What if, after everything, I’m becoming bad?”

Before Jen could say anything, Sirius had moved to kneel in front of Harry. “I want you to listen to me very carefully, Harry. You are not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to him. Besides, the world isn’t black and white – we’ve all got light and dark inside of us. Jen and I know that more than most.” He added, glancing at his sister, who nodded gravely. “What matters is the part you choose to act on.”

“Sirius, you need to stop being so philosophical, or I’m going to start thinking there’s something wrong.” Jen said lightly, getting a weak smile from Harry.

“Very funny.” Sirius said, ruffling Harry’s hair. “Just work your magic, Lena.”

“Be glad to, Padfoot.” Jen gently turned Harry to face her. “Now I know that having someone else in your head is the last thing you want right now, but I need to check your shields, okay?”

Harry nodded, and Jen met his eyes openly. “Legilimens.

The dark corridor startled her, but the guardians at the door completely wrong-footed her. Facing herself with a wand was quite unnerving, not to mention the animals backing her up, and she was soon forced to pull out of Harry’s mind without proceeding any further.

“Excellent, Harry.” She praised. “I’ve never seen shields like that; they’re incredible.”

“Then how did Voldemort get in?” Harry asked hoarsely. “That’s where the dream came from, right?”

Jen nodded, frowning. “I don’t know, Harry. Maybe Occlumency won’t help …” she traced his lightning scar with a finger, noting that it felt hot compared to the rest of his skin. If it’s something to do with his scar … “Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s internal as opposed to external.”

“What’s going on with Dumbledore?” Harry asked. “I know you don’t trust him, but why?”

“I can’t tell you, Harry.” Jen admitted. “With Voldemort able to access your thoughts so easily … I’m going to find you a different teacher, someone who knows the same branch of Legilimency as Voldemort. The moment he agrees that your shields are strong enough, we will tell you everything, alright?”

Harry nodded. “Alright.”

Jess smiled, kissing his forehead. “Good. Now you need to get some sleep, pumpkin. You’re going to have some breakfast, then go straight upstairs to bed. We’ll go and see Arthur after lunch, with the Weasleys.”

Harry nodded again, taking a steadying breath. “I don’t know why I’m shaking.”

“You’re in shock.” Jen said, her eyes following his hand as he ran it through his hair. “Let me see it.”

Harry looked perplexed for a second, before his expression cleared and he held his hand out with a sigh. Jen examined it closely, her jaw clenching when she realised just how deep the cuts were. “Oh, Harry … How do these things happen to you?”

Harry shrugged. “Bad luck, I guess.”

“Come on.” Jen wrapped an arm around his shoulders and guided him back to the kitchen, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Breakfast.”

As Harry moved over to join the Weasleys, Sirius nudged Jen’s shoulder with his own. “New teacher?” He asked quietly. “Who’d you have in mind?”

Jen smirked slightly. “Leave that to me.”

Sirius sighed. “I’m beginning to see why you hated me and James saying that.”

Chapter Text

Unsurprisingly, when the news broke of Harry and the Weasleys’ disappearances the next morning, Hogwarts was abuzz with gossip.

At first, Hermione had worried that Umbridge had something to do with it, but the woman’s anger seemed to contradict that theory.

Wherever they had gone, Harry had taken the mirror with him, although the rest of his belongings remained, so she had no way of contacting them to find out.

In hindsight, Hermione would realise that her best course of action was to have asked Professor McGonagall if she was aware of what had happened, but, in her defence, she had been sufficiently distracted when Hagrid – back from his Order mission – had caught her after Care of Magical Creatures and told her that he needed to talk to her about something.

‘Something’ turned out to be the fact that he had returned from the giant colonies with his little brother in tow – except Grawp was a fully-fledged sixteen-foot giant. Grawp – who was introduced to Hermione as ‘Hermy’ and seemed more interested in pulling up trees than saying hello – was being picked on because he was undersized, Hagrid explained.

It was a matter of time before Umbridge went after him like she had Trelawney, and would it be too much trouble for Hermione and the others to pop in from time to time to check on Grawp?

Hermione had faintly agreed that she would – but with the centaurs becoming increasingly hostile, it would be difficult.

Two days after Harry’s disappearance, Hermione found herself in the Room of Requirement, waiting for the DA to arrive.

In dribs and drabs, they entered the room, only for their faces to fall when Harry wasn’t waiting for them. She tried not to feel to insulted by this – it made sense that they were worried about Harry, and without him and Ron, Hermione had nothing.

Finally, everyone had assembled – well, almost everyone, Hermione amended, running an eye over the group. Marietta was missing, although Cho didn’t look too concerned by this, so Hermione brushed it off.

Big mistake.

“Where’s Harry?” Cho asked.

“Haven’t the foggiest.” Hermione answered more calmly than she felt. “So …”

“So what?” Zacharias Smith sneered. “You’re teaching us.”

“You have a problem with that?” Lee asked aggressively.

“I’m doing what Harry would want me to do.” Hermione said firmly, bestowing a grateful smile on the seventh year. “He promised that you would start the Patronus Charm before Christmas, so that is what we are going to do. Now, the most important part of the Patronus Charm is a happy thought …”

“Any happy little thought?” Colin and Dennis Creevy chorused.

Hermione burst out laughing and couldn’t calm herself for several minutes. Finally Alicia produced a glass of water for her, and Hermione regained her control. “Thank you. Sorry about that – Muggle-born moment. And, yes, boys, any happy thought. Once you have the happy thought, the incantation is Expecto Patronum. Realistically, all you’re expecting at the moment is a silver mist; it’s very rare for a Patronus to take a corporeal form this quickly.”

“But yours does.” Angelina said confidently. “Or is Fred blowing smoke?”

Hermione sighed. “Yes, my Patronus has a form. Now, what I suggest …”

“Prove it.” Smith challenged.

Hermione sighed again, this time irritably. I must not curse the annoying Hufflepuff, no matter how much of a Slytherin he may be. She lifted her wand, imagined the war ending, and flicked it. “Expecto Patronum!

Silver mist shot from the end of her wand and formed into a shape – but it was not the shape of the otter she had become accustomed to.

Padfoot wagged his tail at her, his tongue lolling from his mouth, and darted to and fro before her, as though inviting her to play.

“Your Patronus is a Grim?” Lavender asked.

Hermione cleared her throat and schooled her expression. “Obviously.” She said dryly. “Now what I suggest is that you pair off and try to …”

But before her sentence could finish, pain seared through her head as Hogwarts screamed a warning. Her knees buckled as she cried out, but the pain passed as quickly as it had appeared, even as several people moved to help her.

Waving them off, Hermione hastily rearranged the Room, replacing the DADA aides with Charms text-books and study manuals. “Umbridge is coming!”

“How do you …?” Katie began.

“Forget how I know!” Hermione snapped. “Just put your wands away and settle down.” She grabbed a startled Dennis and tugged him into the seat next to her, opening the book that appeared before them. “You see, where you’re going wrong is intent; you have to want it …”

The door flew open, interrupting her yet again, and Umbridge burst in, looking triumphant, her ‘Inquisitorial Squad’ at her heels. “A-ha!”

“Good evening, Professor.” Hermione greeted politely, getting to her feet. “Is there a problem?”

“Problem?” Umbridge repeated. “Of course there’s a problem! Everyone back to your Common Rooms this instant! You lot, make sure they get there – I’ll deal with them later. Draco, make sure Miss Granger comes with us.”

As Umbridge turned to waddle away, Draco took Hermione’s arm in what looked as though it should have been a painful grip. “Sorry.” He muttered in her ear.

Hermione winced for effect, but shook her head ever so slightly. The two students followed Umbridge all the way to Dumbledore’s office, where – Hermione’s heart sank – Dumbledore was waiting with Professor McGonagall, Cornelius Fudge, Percy Weasley, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and another auror Hermione didn’t recognise.

It was obvious to Hermione that Fudge and Umbridge were highly disappointed that Harry wasn’t caught up in this little ‘bust’, but she was clearly a good enough second-best.

“Well, well, well …” Fudge said with a smirk. “Well done, Draco – I must remember to tell Lucius.”

Draco forced a half-smirk on to his face, but Hermione could feel the revulsion emanating from him.

“What’s her name?” Fudge muttered to Umbridge.

“Hermione Granger.” Umbridge supplied, smiling widely.

“I’m the girl you asked to translate for you last summer at the Quidditch World Cup.” Hermione reminded him sweetly. “You wouldn’t mind telling me why I’m here, would you, Minister? Professor Umbridge was very vague.”

Fudge gaped at her for a few seconds. “Why you … But surely you know why you’re here, Miss Granger.”

Hermione pulled her arm from Draco’s grip, giving him a fake dirty look as she did. “No, Minister. I haven’t the foggiest.”

“So you have no idea why Professor Umbridge has brought you to this office?” Fudge asked, his voice laden with sarcasm. “You are not aware you have broken any school rules? Or Educational degrees?”

Hermione thought for a moment. Remember what Jen said. First rule of a successful lie is to make sure you convince yourself it’s the truth. “No, sir. I can’t say that I am.”

“It’s news to you then, is it, that an illegal Defence group has been discovered in this school?” Fudge pressed.

Hermione gasped. “What?”

“Miss Granger, I just caught you hosting it!” Umbridge snapped.

Hermione rolled her eyes, holding up the book she was still holding. “If you’re referring to the group you just burst in on, Professor, you’ll notice that this is a Charms text-book, not Defence. It was a one-off event, to see if we could better inter-house unity.” She gave Draco another glare. “I doubt this is going to help.”

Umbridge narrowed her eyes. “Maybe it would help, Minister, if we brought in our witness.”

“Yes, yes, do!” Fudge agreed. “Nothing like a good witness, is there, Dumbledore?”

“Indeed not.” Dumbledore said gravely. Hermione was tempted to read his thoughts, but decided that she had enough on her hands. She knew that the hex she had placed on the member list would mean that she would have discovered their betrayer sooner or later, but she had a hunch that…

Sure enough, Cho Chang’s best friend, Marietta Edgecombe, followed Umbridge into the office, her face in her hands. She had been one of the more reluctant members, though quite why Cho felt the need to bring a friend along was beyond her. The identity of the traitor had been a toss-up, really, between her and Zacharias Smith, but Hermione knew that Smith was too scared of what she and Harry (and Fred and George to an extent) would do to him.

“Don’t be scared, dear; don’t be frightened.” Umbridge patted her back with a simpering smile that Hermione assumed was supposed to be comforting, but was actually quite frightening. “It’s quite alright now. You’ve done the right thing. The Minister is very pleased with you; he’ll be telling your mother what a good girl you’ve been…”

As Marietta lifted her head, the Minister leapt backwards in shock, forcing her to wail and cover her face with her robes, but not before everyone had seen the pimples on her forehead, spelling out the word SNEAK. Hermione glanced sideways at Draco and saw him shoot her an admiring look.

“Never mind the spots now, dear.” Umbridge prompted. “Just tell the Minister…oh, very well, I’ll tell him. Well, Minister, Miss Edgecombe here came to my office shortly after dinner this evening and told me she had something she wanted to tell me. She said that if I proceeded to a secret room on the seventh floor, sometimes known as the Room of Requirement, I would find out something to my advantage. I questioned her a little further and she admitted that there was to be some kind of meeting there. Unfortunately, at that point this hex,” she waved impatiently at Marietta’s concealed face, “came into operation and upon catching sight of her face in my mirror the girl became too distressed to tell me any more.”

“What happened at this meeting?” Fudge asked immediately.

“I’ve already told you, Minister,” Hermione answered, with an air of impatience, “we were studying Charms.”

“I didn’t ask you.” Fudge snapped. “Haven’t we got a counter-jinx so the girl can speak freely?”

“I haven’t been able to find one yet.” Umbridge admitted and Hermione felt a surge of pride. “But it doesn’t matter; I can take up the story from here. You will remember, Minister, that I sent you a report back in October that Potter had met a number of fellow students in the Hog’s Head in Hogsmeade…”

“And what is your evidence for that?” Professor McGonagall interrupted.

“I have testimony from Willy Widdershins.” Umbridge answered smugly. “He heard every word Potter said and hastened straight to the school to report to me…”

“Oh, so that’s why he wasn’t prosecuted for setting up all those regurgitating toilets!” Professor McGonagall cut in again, raising her eyebrows. “Wonderful to know how our justice system works these days!”

“Minister Fudge, Professor Umbridge, that meeting was my fault.” Hermione admitted. “I’m probably more worried about my OWLs than anyone in this school; it’s just who I am. Despite Professor Umbridge’s assurance that learning the theory would enable us to perform the practical when the time comes, I felt, and I knew a lot of other students did as well, that waiting until then could have serious ramifications on my exam results. Harry’s always been very gifted at Defence Against the Dark Arts and I persuaded him to set up a group to teach us the spells. However…” she pressed on hastily, seeing them about to interrupt. “The Ministry decree was put into effect two days later, which left us unable to continue.”

Umbridge smiled sweetly. “That’s true, Miss Granger, but the meetings afterwards were certainly illegal.”

“They certainly would be.” Dumbledore agreed, apparently annoyed that Hermione didn’t seem to need rescuing from this situation. “If they had continued. Do you have any evidence that they did?”

Hermione gritted her teeth, trying not to show her irritation. Marietta wasn’t going to say anything – of course they had no proof.

“As a matter of fact,” Umbridge said sweetly, “we do.” She reached into her pocket and withdrew the member list Hermione had written back in October.

Well, that explains why she just let the others go. She knows who they are.

“That’s not proof of further meetings.” She said calmly. “That was written up in October, at the meeting at the Hogs’ Head. Obviously, the list was lost after the plans were abandoned. Merlin knows how Miss Edgecombe got hold of it.”

“And why exactly would this list have been cursed?” Umbridge asked.

“Who says it was cursed?” Hermione retorted. “Because of Marietta’s little acne problem? You’re holding it, Professor, I don’t see you breaking out.”

“Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said softly, almost warningly.

Hermione glanced at her Head of House, and took a deep breath. “I apologise for my tone, Professor Umbridge, but this is quite frustrating. There have been no ‘regular meetings of three or more students’,” she made sure to quote the decree directly, “and, as Professor Dumbledore has pointed out, you cannot prove I am not telling the truth.”

There was a soft whisper from behind her that might have come from Kingsley, and Hermione felt something brush past her. She would have ignored it, but at that moment, Umbridge turned to Marietta. “Miss Edgecombe, were there, or were there not more meetings after that initial meeting in October? Just nod or shake your head, dear, that won’t make them worse.”

I wouldn’t count on it, Hermione thought viciously, but Marietta shook her head.

“Why are you shaking your head?” Umbridge asked.

“Normally, when someone shakes their head,” Professor McGonagall said tartly, “it means ‘no’.”

Hermione coughed to cover up her laugh, and glanced at Kingsley. Now she thought about it, the whisper had sounded rather like the word ‘confundus’.

“No matter.” Umbridge said, turning back to the Minister. “Look at this Minister, look at what they’ve called themselves.”

“By Jove …” Fudge breathed. “Dumbledore’s Army.”

“Yes.” Dumbledore said, to Hermione’s utter bemusement. “Dumbledore’s Army. Not Potter’s Army.”

Hermione widened her eyes, catching on to what he planned to do. “Although one of the rejected names was ‘Potter’s Pals’.”

“I can see why you went with Dumbledore’s Army.” Draco muttered, just loud enough for her to hear.

“You mean … You mean …” Fudge stuttered. “You? It was you?”

Dumbledore smiled benignly. “It’s like losing a knut and finding a galleon, isn’t it?”

“Weasley!” Fudge barked, almost quivering with delight. “Have you got all that?”

“Yes, sir, I’ve got it all!” Percy responded eagerly, his nose smudged with ink; Hermione resisted the urge to hex him.

“The bit about how he’s been trying to build up an army against the Ministry?” Fudge checked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. If Percy did have that, it would be impressive, since Dumbledore hadn’t said anything of the sort.

“Yes, sir; all of it!” Percy answered, scanning his notes.

Fudge was radiant with glee. “Duplicate your notes, Weasley, and send a copy to the Daily Prophet at once. If we send a fast owl we should make the morning edition!” As Percy dashed from the room, Fudge turned to Dumbledore. “You will now be escorted back to the Ministry, where you will be formally charged, then sent to Azkaban to await trial!”

“Ah.” Dumbledore nodded. “Yes. Yes, I thought we might hit that little snag.”

“Snag?” said Fudge, his voice still vibrating with joy. “I see no snag, Dumbledore!”

“Well,” said Dumbledore apologetically, “I’m afraid I do.”

“Oh, really?”

“Well - it’s just that you seem to be labouring under the delusion that I am going to – what is the phrase? – come quietly. I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius. I have absolutely no intention of being sent to Azkaban. I could break out, of course – but what a waste of time, and frankly, I can think of a whole host of things I would rather be doing.”

Umbridge’s face was growing steadily redder; she looked as though she was being filled with boiling water. Fudge stared at Dumbledore with a very silly expression on his face, as though he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. He made a small choking noise, then looked round at Kingsley and other man. The latter gave Fudge a reassuring nod and moved forwards a little, away from the wall.

“Don’t be silly, Dawlish.” Dumbledore told him. “I’m sure you are an excellent Auror – I seem to remember that you achieved ‘Outstanding’ in all your NEWTs — but if you attempt to — er — bring me in by force, I will have to hurt you.”

The man called Dawlish blinked rather foolishly. He looked towards Fudge again, but this time seemed to be hoping for a clue as to what to do next.

“So…” Fudge sneered, recovering himself, “you intend to take on Dawlish, Shacklebolt, Dolores and myself single-handed, do you, Dumbledore?”

“Merlin’s beard, no,” Dumbledore smiled, “not unless you are foolish enough to force me to.”

“He will not be single-handed!” Professor McGonagall cried.

“Oh yes he will, Minerva!” Dumbledore said sharply. “Hogwarts needs you!”

“Enough of this rubbish!” Fudge snapped, pulling out his own wand. “Dawlish! Shacklebolt! Take him!”

A streak of silver darted around the room, a noise like a gunshot echoed from the walls, the floor trembled, the portraits yelled, Fawkes screeched, and dust filled the air.

Rowena Ravenclaw appeared beside Hermione, grabbed her arm and pulled her to the ground. Instinctively, Hermione grabbed Draco and pulled him down with her. Pulling her wand, she mouthed an apology and sent a weak Stunning Spell at him, just enough to knock him out for a few minutes.

There was a shriek and a thud, someone shouted, “No!” Then there was the breaking of glass, the shuffling of feet, and then … silence.

“Is everyone alright?” Dumbledore asked.

“Yes, thank you, Professor.” Hermione answered, lifting her head. Dust still filled the air, but she could see that Professor McGonagall had pulled Marietta down as well.

“Who Stunned Draco?” Dumbledore prompted.

“I did.” Hermione admitted. “I didn’t want him to do anything stupid. It was only a weak Stunner though …” She was cut off by Draco groaning and opening his eyes.

“Thanks for that.” He muttered sarcastically.

As she stood up, Hermione surveyed the wreckage of the office. The desk had overturned and many of the silver instruments were smashed on the floor. The four from the Ministry lay unconscious as Fawkes circled overhead, singing loudly.

Hermione tuned out Dumbledore’s words in favour of listening the Fawkes’s song. Like the first day of term, she could understand him – he knew she was the Heir of Ravenclaw.

Of course he knew – that’s why you can understand him. He knew before you did.

Hermione glanced towards Rowena. Clearly, she was solid, but no one else seemed to be reacting to her presence. “No one else can see or hear me.” Rowena explained gently. “Tell Fawkes to go with Albus for now. He will know if Hogwarts needs him.”

Hermione relayed the message to Fawkes mentally, missing Dumbledore’s parting words as he grasped the phoenix’s tail feathers and disappeared in a flash of fire.

Almost immediately, the four from the Ministry stirred. Fudge recovered first, leaping to his feet. “Where is he?!”

“I don’t know!” Kingsley answered, following suit. Hermione had to admire his acting – she supposed that Dumbledore had to Stun him as well, so as not to arouse suspicion.

“The stairs!” Dawlish decided, racing for the door, Kingsley hot on his heels.

“Well,” Fudge said smugly, “I suppose that’s the end of your old friend, Minerva.”

“You think so, do you?” Professor McGonagall asked tightly. “We shall see, Cornelius. Mr Malfoy, Miss Granger, Miss Edgecombe, I will accompany you back to your dormitories …”

“No, no, Minerva.” Umbridge disagreed with a titter. “I shall do that myself. If you’ll excuse me, Minister.”

Fudge bowed his head to her. “Not at all, Headmistress.”

Professor McGonagall’s mouth was thinner than Hermione had ever seen it, but she couldn’t argue. The three students were left with no choice but to follow Umbridge out of the office and down the corridor.

When they reached the staircase, Umbridge turned to Marietta. “Off to your Common Room, Miss Edgecombe.”

“Yes, Professor.” Marietta said softly, almost monotonously. Apparently the Confundus Charm hadn’t quite worn off yet.

“Draco, Miss Granger, follow me.” Umbridge instructed, waddling off.

The two exchanged a wary glance, but did as they were told, following the woman to the Defence classroom.

“Lock the door, Draco.” Umbridge said, a gleam in her eye that Hermione was not comfortable with at all.

Face impassive, Draco did so, tucking his wand into his belt when he had.

“You had a lucky escape tonight, Miss Granger.” Umbridge said quietly. “But no matter. Where is Harry Potter?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione answered.

“Surely you don’t expect me to believe that.” Umbridge said.

Hermione sighed. “I saw Harry three nights ago in the Common Room. We talked about his Potions homework. I went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. I don’t know where he is.”

Umbridge narrowed her eyes, seemingly trying to decide whether or not she believed the fifth year. “Very well.” She said finally. “Where is Sirius Black?”

The question about Harry was to be expected, but this one was completely out of the blue, and it was only Hermione’s Legilimency that kept her shock from showing on her face. Taking a second to remind herself that, not being the Secret Keeper, she wasn’t technically lying, she repeated, “I don’t know. Why should I?”

“Oh, don’t think we haven’t guessed, Miss Granger.” Umbridge sneered. Her usual saccharine tone had disappeared a few sentences ago. “You and Potter came up with some stupid cock-and-bull story a few years ago about Black being innocent, and I know you’re helping him!”

“Oh really?” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “First of all, why would an adult, fully-trained ‘Dark Wizard’ need the help of two untrained teenagers? Second of all, I thought Minister Fudge was convinced Harry and I had been Confunded into believing he was innocent? Any Confundus Charms should have disappeared by now, which means your logic is flawed.”

“Enough!” Umbridge snapped. “Where is he?!”

“I told you, I don’t know!” Hermione retorted, her voice finally rising.

Umbridge stared at her for a second. “In that case, Miss Granger, I will have to resort to regrettable action.” She raised her wand, and Hermione felt a thrill of foreboding. “Follow my lead, Draco. Crucio!

Her eyes widening, Hermione glanced at Draco, reassured for a split-second that his shocked expression seemed to mirror hers, before the spell slammed into her chest.

Pain unlike anything Hermione had experienced before seared through her, and she fell to the ground, unable to stop the scream of agony that ripped from her mouth.

It felt like every nerve ending was on fire and a thousand white-hot knives were stabbing her over and over again. Just when she thought she would pass out from the pain, it lifted and she felt as though she was flying.

Then she suddenly collided with something hard, something she assumed was the floor … except hadn’t she already collapsed?

An arm looped around her waist, holding her up, and she suddenly understood. Draco must have Summoned her out of the path of Umbridge’s spell.

Her theory was confirmed a second later, when his voice sounded close behind her. “You forget, Madam Umbridge, that my name is Draco, not Lucius.”

Now that the pain had lifted, Hermione’s cognitive abilities were returning, but she didn’t open her eyes. She stayed limp in Draco’s arms, focussing on her Legilimency and pushing a thought behind her. Draco, can you hear me?

To his credit, Draco didn’t seem to outwardly react to the sudden voice in his head. Yes. What do we do?

Make a deal with her. Hermione told him quickly. You won’t tell if she doesn’t. The last thing we need is for you to be targeted by the Slytherins.

“The way I see it,” Draco continued aloud, “is that we find ourselves at an impasse. You don’t want anyone to find out about what you just did, and I don’t want anyone to find out that I stopped you.”

“Then what do you suggest, Mr Malfoy?” Umbridge asked sweetly.

“A truce.” Draco suggested. “I won’t say anything if you don’t say anything.”

Umbridge was silent for a few minutes. “Very well. If you give me your word, we will never speak of this again.”

Do it. Hermione urged. You won’t have to break it.

“I give you my word as a pureblood.” Draco said reluctantly.

There was another silent moment, in which Hermione fought the urge to open her eyes. Then Umbridge’s voice came again, soft and dangerous. “Obliviate.”

Draco made no attempt to move, and Hermione winced mentally as the spell shattered against her Occlumency shields.

Enervate.

This time, Hermione reacted to the spell, blinking confusedly. Pushing Draco’s arms away from her, she staggered slightly as the after-effects of the Cruciatus hit her without his support. “What happened?”

“You fainted, Miss Granger.” Umbridge simpered. “I suppose you’re not used to being in such trouble.”

“No, Professor.” Hermione answered, her eyes downcast.

“You can inform the rest of your cohorts that you all have detention every night until the end of term.” Umbridge told her. “If I can take your prefect badge, I certainly will.”

“Not much point, Madam Umbridge.” Draco said. “Your other Gryffindor options are Lavender Brown or Parvati Patil, both of whom were on that list Edgecombe gave us, neither of whom has a brain cell between them.”

“That’s true.” Umbridge said slowly. “We shall have to see, Miss Granger. Now, Draco, escort her back to Gryffindor Tower, and then get to your common room.”

“Yes, Professor.” Draco said quietly, as Umbridge left the room.

As soon as the door closed, Draco rounded on Hermione, the colour draining from his face. “Bloody hell, Hermione, are you alright?! I’m sorry – I had no idea she’d go that far.”

“Neither did I.” Hermione lifted a hand to her head, grimacing at the movement. “I feel like I’m about to pass out.”

With a flick of Draco’s wand, one of the chairs skidded over to them and he guided her into it, kneeling in front of her. “Shall I get Madam Pomfrey?”

“No.” Hermione said, shaking her head. “Oh, that was a bad idea.” She stopped moving abruptly and closed her eyes, willing her head to stop spinning. “Thank you, but no. Otherwise that deal with her goes south.”

“Who cares about the deal?!” Draco demanded. “You were hit with the Cruciatus curse!”

“This is war!” Hermione retorted. “Sacrifices are inevitable. It was only one curse, I’ll be fine.”

Before Draco could argue, Rowena appeared beside her again, sweeping her into a hug. “Sweet Circe, Hermione, are you alright?!”

“Grandmother!” Hermione gasped, partly in pain, partly because the tightness of the embrace had winded her. “Air! And Draco can’t see you, remember?”

Rowena released her, but ignored the second part of a sentence for the time being in favour of checking the girl over. “That woman should not be allowed around children – what the Ministry will do next!”

“Okay, I’m confused.” Draco stated bluntly, watching Hermione’s robes indent where invisible hands pressed against her.

“I’m not surprised.” Hermione said with a reassuring smile. “I thought you said you’d be like ghosts everywhere else.”

“I thought we would.” Rowena said. “But, as I said, this is new territory for all of us.” She tilted her head slightly, looking curiously at Draco. “I’ll be right back, dear.”

“Hermione?” Draco prompted, as she faded from view.

Hermione smiled weakly. “Later, the fact that you’re using my first name is going to mean something, but my head’s pounding. Do…Kady?” She stopped mid-name, realising that calling Dobby to the same room as Draco would not, at the moment, be wise.

The small house-elf who had told Hermione the history of the elven nation appeared in the room and curtseyed deeply. “What can Kady do for Miss Mione?”

“Is there anyway you could get me a Pain Reliever and a Headache Potion without telling anyone?” Hermione asked.

Kady thought for a moment, then nodded. “Kady is being right back, Miss.” She disappeared and reappeared with a series of pops, handing Hermione two bottles upon her reappearance.

“Thank you, Kady.” Hermione said gratefully.

Kady curtseyed again, and returned to the kitchen.

Hermione drank both potions, feeling her mind clear almost instantly, and tucked the bottles into the pocket of her robes. “Right. First of all, I’m not a Muggle-born.”

“Mother told me.” Draco said. “Who were you talking to?”

Hermione sighed. “I’m an empath and a natural Legilimens. No, we don’t feed off emotions; yes, we can speak to living spirits. I have a link with the castle, I can see the spirits of the founders, and Rowena Ravenclaw …”

“… is your great-grandmother.” Draco finished softly. “I knew the Thompson name sounded familiar! It’s through your mother, right?”

Hermione nodded. “Because I’m a natural Legilimens, I could talk to you earlier without eye contact, and I could stop Umbridge’s Memory Charm. Anything I’ve missed?”

“Don’t think so.” Draco answered. “Is she still here?”

Hermione was about to shake her head, when Rowena reappeared, accompanied by Salazar Slytherin. “She is now. And she’s not alone.” She made to get up, but Salazar put a hand on her shoulder.

“Stay there, Hermione.” He told her, his voice gentle, but his eyes blazing with fury. “Rowena told me what happened. Besides, I think we can drop the formalities now, don’t you?”

“Probably.” Hermione agreed. “I’m alright though. One of the house-elves brought me a couple of potions.”

Salazar nodded, his eyes falling on Draco, who was evidently trying to follow the conversation from the parts he could hear. “Him?” He asked Rowena incredulously. “After the last four years?”

“He’s changed.” Rowena chided. “And look properly.”

Salazar sighed and narrowed his eyes at Draco, gazing so intently at him that the fifth year began to fidget.

Hermione sniggered. “You’re making him nervous.”

“Yes.” Salazar murmured absently. “Yes, the Slytherin spirit is strong. Cunning, ambitious, willing to do anything to make ends meet, but in a good way. True regret for the way he has acted previously. And, all the while, brave, intelligent, and loyal to those he cares about. He’ll do.”

“He’ll do for what?” Hermione asked.

“Hermione?”

Hermione shrugged. “Well, on the bright side, Draco, Salazar Slytherin seems to approve. I’m just not sure what that means.”

“Lord Slytherin’s here?” Draco asked, straightening almost unconsciously.

“Yeah, and it’s a long story, but he’s not the evil bastard the history books say he is.” Hermione answered.

“Thank you, Hermione.” Salazar said graciously, still regarding Draco. “Yes. Yes, he’ll do very well, Rowena – you’re right.”

“I always am.” Rowena said smugly.

Hermione sighed impatiently. “Would one of you please ...?”

But Salazar raised his hands and she fell silent, sensing the magic that was about to happen. “I, Salazar Matthias Slytherin,” he intoned, his voice deeper than usual, “do hereby disown my Heir, Tom Marvolo Riddle, the self-styled Lord Voldemort, for his crimes against magic, against the innocent, and against humanity. I name Draco Lucius Malfoy, Heir to the Most Noble House of Malfoy, as my new Heir in magic and in name. So I intent, so mote be it.”

Hermione and Draco both gasped, Hermione from his words, Draco from the sudden rush of magic that washed over him.

“Bloody hell.” He whispered. “What was that?”

Hermione stood on only slightly trembling legs. “He disowned Voldemort and named you his new heir.”

Draco gaped at her. “Excuse me?”

“You are the new Heir of Slytherin.” Hermione said, with a slight curtsey in his direction. “Now, I hate to break up the party …”

“That’s it?” Draco interrupted. “That’s the extent of your reaction to this?”

Hermione shrugged. “I don’t really get surprised anymore.”

“Surprised?” Draco repeated. “Surprise is an understatement.”

“Tell him it will come gradually.” Rowena said. “Nothing will happen all at once.”

“It’ll be a slow transition.” Hermione complied. “You’ll have time to get used to it, Grandmother says.”

“Well, that’s good.” Draco said, a little faintly. “Not that I’m not flattered. It’s just a lot to take in.”

“I know.” Hermione muttered, remembering her own bombshell. “Look, we need to get back to the Common Rooms.”

Draco nodded, still looking stunned. “Want me to walk you back?”

Hermione smiled slightly. “Thanks, but I’ll be alright. I’ll ask the castle to hide me until I get up there.” She turned to the two founders. “Unless there’s anything else?”

“Nothing else, Hermione.” Rowena said with a smile. “Just take it easy. Adults have trouble dealing with the aftershocks of that curse – they hit you when you least expect it.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.” Hermione assured her. She curtseyed to the two, and steered Draco out of the room. They parted at the staircase, Hermione broadcasting her request as she made her way up to the seventh floor.

By the time she reached the portrait, her body was aching again, and she thanked the castle weakly before giving the Fat Lady the password.

“You don’t look too clever, dear.” She trilled, swinging open.

“Yeah, yeah.” Hermione mumbled, climbing inside. “I know.”

“She’s back!” A voice shouted and, a second later, the Common Room was echoing with cheers.

Hermione was taken aback. She always thought the Gryffindors merely tolerated her because of her friendship with Harry, or because the twins had threatened them.

But, no, here they were, cheering for her, and with Harry and the Weasleys nowhere in sight.

It was quite overwhelming, especially with her current condition, and it was Seamus, of all people, who produced a chair for her and let out a few bangs from his wand to quieten the crowd.

“Let the girl speak!” He chided in his Irish brogue. “What happened, Hermione?”

“I suppose you’ve all heard what happened?” Hermione asked.

“We know that you were involved in some kind of secret Defence league.” One of the seventh years answered. “And that Umbridge found out. You could have told us, you know.”

“I got the word to as many people as I knew I could trust.” Hermione protested. “Basically Professor Dumbledore took the blame from the group and Fudge nearly passed out from euphoria.”

“I bet he did.” Neville said darkly. “So Dumbledore’s been arrested?”

“No.” Hermione said, smirking slightly. “He has, to use a common phrase, done a bunk. Knocked out Fudge, Umbridge and two aurors and disappeared on the tail of a phoenix. Unfortunately,” she continued, raising her voice over the mutters, “Madam Umbridge is now our Headmistress, for which I apologise.”

“It’s not your fault.” Lee said, glaring at the Gryffindors as if daring them to argue. “They’d have got rid of Dumbledore eventually.”

“Oh,” Hermione said tiredly, “and if you’re in the DA, we have detention every night until the end of term.”

“Great.” Dean muttered sarcastically. “That’ll be fun.”

As Gryffindor separated into small groups to discuss this latest development, Lee, Angelina, Alicia and Katie converged on Hermione, the latter shooing Seamus out of the way.

“Hermione, you look awful!” Alicia exclaimed.

“Thanks.” Hermione said. “Just what I wanted to hear.”

“No, she’s right.” Angelina said, over Alicia’s apology. “You’re as white as a sheet and …” she pressed a dark hand against Hermione’s forehead. “You’re clammy … You’re not well – you should go to the hospital wing.”

“No!” Hermione insisted, a little too quickly. “I mean, I’m fine, really. Good night’s sleep, that’s all I need.”

“What did Umbridge do?” Lee asked in a low voice.

Hermione closed her eyes, feeling tears spring to them. What she really wanted right now was a Harry-hug – one of his warm embraces that seemed to cut her off from the rest of the world and protect her from it, even if her independent streak argued that she didn’t need it.

But Harry wasn’t here, and neither was Ron, or Ginny, or Fred, or George, who would have been her next calls.

“She wanted to know where Harry was.” Hermione said quietly, so quietly that the four needed to lean closer to hear her at all. “I said I didn’t know. And then she asked about … someone else.” She opened her eyes, knowing they could see the tears in them, but needing them to see the unspoken apology that she couldn’t elaborate.

Katie squeezed her hand understandingly. “Then what?”

“I said I didn’t know.” Hermione repeated. “And then she … She cursed me.”

“With what?” Angelina asked.

“Cruciatus …” Hermione whispered.

Four voices rose in outrage, thankfully not above the rest of the din. “WHAT?!”

“Keep your voices down!” Hermione pleaded. “She thinks she obliviated me, but I have really strong Occlumency shields and I blocked it – she thought I was unconscious.”

“Hermione …” Alicia began.

“Don’t.” Hermione said heavily. “It comes down to her word against mine, and Minister Fudge has made it quite clear which one he’ll believe, proof or no proof.”

Katie put an arm around her and pulled her into a hug. It wasn’t a Harry-hug, but it was a good enough substitute, especially when Angelina and Alicia joined in, engulfing her in a warm cocoon.

“Say the word.” Lee said darkly. “Say the word, Mya, and we’ll make her life hell.” Her confusion must have shown on her face, because he smiled at her. “Fred and George are our brothers, Mya – well, generally,” he added, smirking at Angelina and Alicia, “and you’re their sister. Which makes you our sister as well.”

“Thanks.” Hermione whispered. It wasn’t nearly enough, but they seemed to understand nonetheless.

“Stay in our dorm tonight.” Alicia said softly. “Our dorm-mates will leave us alone, I doubt yours will do the same.”

“Thank you.” Hermione repeated with a nod, relaxing.

With these four around, she’d make it the two weeks to the Christmas holidays. The question was what state her hands would be in when she, Neville and Susan finally boarded the Hogwarts Express.

Chapter Text

If there was one person who was happy about Dumbledore’s disappearance – outside the Ministry and the Death Eaters of course – it was Jen.

When Minerva had delivered the news to Grimmauld Place, with a grim expression, Jen had nearly mentally deafened Remus in her attempt to keep her elation internal.

The Secret Keeper could not reside under their own Fidelius Charm, which meant Dumbledore would have find somewhere other than Grimmauld Place to stay, something that would occupy him entirely for at least a few days.

As soon as her former Head of House had left, Jen had rounded up her brother, Remus, Harry and the Weasleys, and taken them to Ravenscroft Manor.

At five o’clock on the first day of the Christmas holidays, Jen was waiting on Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters with Remus and Dora for the Hogwarts Express to arrive.

Arthur was due to be released from St Mungo’s that evening, and Molly was at The Burrow, making sure everything was ready for his return.

The Weasleys and Harry were at Ravenscroft, under the watchful eyes of Amelia and Augusta. Jen had made the decision to bring the Weasleys along for the ride partly to keep the twins for eavesdropping on meetings, and partly because Harry had been acting out of sorts since they had visited Arthur in St Mungo’s.

Jen was starting worry. He had locked himself in his room and rarely emerged, even to eat, despite her pleas.

She was drawn out of her worry by the arrival of the Hogwarts Express. The great scarlet engine came to a halt, releasing a great whoosh of steam that evaporated in the cold air.

There they are. Jen said privately, as Dora called, “Hermione!”

Hermione caught sight of them and waved, before saying something to the two students accompanying her and leading them over, all three dragging heavy trunks.

“Put them down.” Jen said with a smile, shrinking the luggage with a well-practiced hand. Popping the now pebble-sized trunks in her pocket, she hugged Hermione tightly. “You look exhausted.”

“Spent the train-ride memory searching.” Hermione muttered, burrowing her face into Jen’s shoulder. “Tell you later – found something disturbing.”

A thrill of foreboding sent a shiver through Jen’s body. Looking at Hermione up close, it was clear that something other than exhaustion was wrong with the girl. Resolving to ask when they got home, Jen released her and turned to the two students standing rather awkwardly behind Hermione. “You must be Neville and Susan. I haven’t seen either of you in so long. I knew your parents.” She elaborated, directing her words at both of them.

Hermione turned to face her classmates. “Nev, Susan, this is Jennifer Black and Tonks – we don’t use her first name, she’d kill us.”

“I’m not that bad!” Dora protested.

“Are to.” Hermione retorted. “And, of course, you know Remus.”

“Hello again, Professor.” Susan greeted politely.

Although cousins, Jen thought as Remus told them not to bother with 'professor' anymore, Neville and Susan didn’t look alike at all.

In fact, the only thing they had in common was the scar on the back of their left hand. Jen wasn’t close enough to read it, but a quick glance at Hermione’s hand told her that, like Harry’s, it said I must not tell lies, although nowhere near as deep as her godson’s.

The words puzzled Jen, because she would have thought the detentions were for being involved in the DA – no lying there, surely.

Putting it out of her mind, Jen turned back to her observation of the two students standing before her. Neville clearly got his looks from the Bones side of the family; he was almost the spitting image of Alice – tanned round face, dark brown hair – but with Frank’s warm brown eyes instead of his mother’s blue. His mother’s face but his father’s eyes, she thought fondly, like the opposite of Harry.

In contrast, Susan was very pale with startlingly blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair, so fair that it almost couldn’t be called ‘strawberry’-blonde at all, and Jen recalled that her mother (Melinda Fawcett, if Jen remembered correctly), had looked very similar. Neither of them were stick thin, but while Neville seemed to be holding on to ‘puppy fat’ that Jen was sure would become muscle one day, Susan had curves that many women would kill for.

“Right,” Jen said, when she realised that all eyes had landed on her, “time to go.” She caught Hermione’s arm before the girl could move towards the barrier. “We’re apparating.”

“It’s only an hour’s walk.” Hermione frowned.

“Not going there.” Jen said with a wink. “Found somewhere else.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank Merlin.”

“Indeed.” Jen agreed. “Now we’ll need to side-along you, so Remus, if you wouldn’t mind taking Hermione?”

“Right you are, Jen.” Remus offered his arm to Hermione, who took it nervously, and they disappeared with a crack.

“Now, Neville,” Jen began, “don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’re anything like your father, you’re not exactly … graceful on your feet.”

“Dad was clumsy?” Neville asked curiously. “But he was an auror!”

“So am I.” Tonks piped up. “Still got two left feet though.”

Jen nodded in agreement. “When he was duelling, Neville, you’d never have guessed. Any other time, however …” she shook her head. “That man managed to fall over things I would have thought impossible to fall over.” She smiled. “So saying, Susan, if you don’t mind going with Dora – that’s Auror Tonks – and Neville, you can come with me.”

“Don’t look so nervous.” Dora said cheerfully, taking Susan’s arm. “Your aunt would kill me if something happened to you.”

Susan relaxed and laughed, as the two disappeared.

Jen smiled reassuringly at Neville. “Relax – I haven’t splinched yet.”

Neville gulped. “No offence, but that’s not very comforting.”

Jen chuckled. “No, I suppose it’s not.” Making sure he had a firm grip on her arm, she focussed on the apparition point and turned sharply, catapulting them back up to Scotland.

They materialised alongside the other four, and Jen hurriedly shifted her grip to stop Neville from toppling over.

“So that’s apparating.” Hermione said faintly.

“Yeah, it takes some getting used to.” Jen agreed. “Everyone alright? No limbs missing?”

“Not that I can tell.” Susan answered.

“Brilliant.” Jen said brightly. “Thanks for the help, Nymmy.”

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,” Dora growled, “don’t call me that!

Jen just laughed. “You and your parents are coming over Christmas Day, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Dora said. “Mum can’t wait to suffocate Sirius – I’ll try to hold her off the medical exams at least until after lunch.” She checked her watch. “Well, duty calls. See you later, everyone.”

“Right.” Jen said, when Dora had disapparated. “Follow me.” She pulled her wand and placed it on her palm, quickly muttering the point me spell to get her bearings.

“Erm, Lady Black?” Susan asked uncertainly.

“Oh, call me Jen.” Jen told her airily, counting the paces North as they followed her. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re Sirius Black’s sister, right?” Susan asked.

Jen raised an eyebrow at Hermione over her shoulder. “You didn’t tell them?”

“I did.” Hermione insisted.

“You told us he was innocent.” Neville corrected. “You never mentioned spending Christmas with him.”

“Relax.” Jen repeated. “My brother doesn’t bite. Much.”

“Where are we?” Hermione asked.

“Scotland.” Jen answered, turning right. “Don’t ask me where, I have no idea. It’s an old Black family property and my Uncle put so many wards around it that …” she quickened her pace as the stone came in sight. “Right, everybody on.”

Remus grinned when the three teens looked at her as though she had lost it. “She only sounds mad. It works, really.”

Hermione shrugged and stepped on to the rock beside him, Neville and Susan following suit after just a few seconds’ hesitation.

Jen grinned “Okay, keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times. I’d close your eyes as well, if I were you. I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

Taking her own advice, she squeezed her eyes shut, until Remus told her they had arrived – for some reason, he could keep his eyes open on the trip without getting nauseas.

“Wow …” Hermione whispered, her eyes sweeping across the Entrance Hall.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Jen asked. “That’s how I reacted when I first saw it.” She ushered them down from the platform and to the right towards the living room, which looked appropriately festive, with a roaring log fire and a magnificent Christmas tree, strung with tinsel and real fairy lights, presents piled haphazardly beneath.

“I like it.” Hermione stated.

“Good to know.” A male voice said from behind the tree.

Hermione’s face lit up and Sirius stepped away just in time to catch her, wrapping her in his arms.

“Welcome home, Kitten.” He greeted, kissing her head. “What happened?”

“What makes you think something happened?” Hermione asked.

Sirius frowned concernedly, holding her at arm’s length. “You look almost grey, and …” he lifted her left hand, running a thumb over the scar. “Detention?”

Hermione nodded, looking at her feet.

“What caused that line?” Jen asked finally. “Hardly makes sense for breaking Ministry decrees.”

“I’d like to know that as well.” A female voice said from the doorway.

“Auntie!” Susan greeted with a bright smile.

“Hi Auntie Am.” Neville echoed.

Amelia swept the two into a hug, before examining their hands closely. “What happened?”

“Well, the first detention was for the DA.” Hermione explained. “And she had us write ‘I must not break Ministry decrees’. But then …”

“We had Defence Against the Dark Arts.” Susan frowned. “For some reason, the timetables changed so that Hufflepuff and Gryffindor had the class together.”

“That’s odd.” Remus observed. “It’s normally one house at a time for DADA.”

Hermione shrugged. “Like Sue said, we had no idea why. It just happened. Anyway, half way though the chapter Umbridge started going off on one about our previous teachers.”

“Oh dear.” Jen sighed. “What did she say about Remus?”

“Nothing I’d repeat.” Hermione said, giving the man an apologetic smile. “She’s awful. Really terrible. Anyway, as hard as it was, I figured I’d better keep my mouth shut.”

“Good girl.” Jen said. “There’s a time and a place.”

“I didn’t.” Neville admitted.

Susan beamed at him. “He stood up, and told her that Professor Lupin was the best teacher we’ve ever had.”

There was a bit of a shocked silence, in which Neville went bright red.

Then Jen enveloped him in a hug. “Your mum would be so proud of you.” She whispered. “Your dad too, but that is exactly what Alice would have done.”

As she released him, Neville gazed at her in wonder. “Really?”

“Really.” Jen confirmed, ruffling his hair.

“So much for ‘a time and a place’.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “That wasn’t the best part though.”

Susan nodded in agreement. “She told Neville he didn’t know what he was talking about and carried on, then Ernie – one of my housemates – stood up and told her that Professor Lupin was the best teacher we’ve ever had.”

“Basically,” Hermione continued, “this carried on until we’d all said it at least once, so she put us all in detention and changed the lines for the DA members to ‘I must not tell lies’, just like everyone else.”

Jen smiled, seeing the emotion Remus tried to hide. “Normally, I’d tell you to try to stay out of trouble, but in this case, I have to congratulate you.”

Before any more could be said, thundering was heard on the stairs, before Fred, George, Ron and Ginny hurtled into the room, throwing themselves upon Hermione and Neville (primarily Hermione) with shouts and greetings.

After a few minutes in which the general chaos made it impossible to ascertain who was saying what – and, indeed, what was being said in the first place – Hermione gave a weary sigh.

Seeing her expression, Neville hastily clapped his hands over his ears, which prompted Susan to do the same, just in time for Hermione to stick two fingers in her mouth and let out a shrill whistle that made the Weasleys shut up and the three Marauders applaud spontaneously.

Hermione gave them a mock-bow. “I can only listen to one person at a time.” She said, grinning – a grin that disappeared at Ginny’s next words.

“Harry’s having a melt-down.”

“He’s what?!” Hermione and Jen demanded in unison.

“Wait.” Hermione continued, turning to Jen. “You didn’t know?”

“No. When did this start?” Jen asked them.

“At the hospital.” Ron answered quickly. “When Mum kicked us out so you could talk Order business …”

“Would someone tell me what the hell’s going on?” Hermione interrupted. “Why were you at the hospital? And where did you all disappear to?”

“Didn’t McGonagall tell you?” Fred asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be asking.”

“Then why didn’t you call us on the mirror?” Ron asked.

“Because Harry took it with him.” Hermione answered slowly. “What happened?”

“Harry had a … vision.” Jen explained, hesitating only slightly to gauge Neville and Susan. “He saw Arthur being attacked by Voldemort’s snake.”

Hermione gasped. “Is he …?”

“He’s fine.” Ginny assured her, tucking herself under the older girl’s arm. “He gets out of hospital today. The next day, after we’d left Hogwarts, we went to visit him. It got to the point, like Ron said, that the adults kicked us out, but the twins had some Extendable Ears on them …”

“One of the downfalls of eavesdropping.” Sirius said sombrely. “You often hear something you wish you hadn’t.”

“Yeah, well, in this case it was Moody talking about how Harry could have been possessed and how Dumbledore had been worried about it happening for a while.” Fred said.

“So when we got home, Harry locked himself in his room.” George added. “You must have noticed.”

“I didn’t know that was why!” Jen groaned. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“We tried!” Ginny insisted. “But Mum was yelling at the twins for the Ears, so we gave up.”

“Besides,” Ron added, “when Harry gets like this, he won’t listen to anyone, not even you.”

“Well,” Hermione said with certainty, “he’ll listen to me.” Without letting go of Ginny, she made her way towards the stairs, dragging the younger girl with her.

“Why am I going to?” Ginny yelped.

“Because you’re the only other person who can knock some sense into him.” Hermione said firmly.

“What happened?” Ginny asked.

“When?” Hermione frowned.

“To you.” Ginny elaborated. “You’re shaking.”

Hermione cursed under her breath. It had been two weeks, but occasionally her grip would waver, or her legs would threaten to give out. “Tell you later.” She muttered as they reached the second floor. “Where’s Harry’s room?”

“Third on the left.”

That was not Ginny’s voice, although Ginny echoed it a split-second later.

Hermione spun around, nearly collapsing in relief when her suspicion was confirmed by the woman standing behind her, shimmering slightly – as spirits were wont to do – her green eyes weary but bright.

“Lily …” Hermione whispered. “Thank Merlin and Morgana. Are you alright?”

“We’re fine.” Lily assured her. “Really, we are. So far, so good. Hopefully, we can try to have a chat with everyone later. First of all, if Harry won’t let you in, tell him I will tell you every single embarrassing thing he did as a baby, starting with the time he got away from me after a bath and ran around the cottage naked.”

Hermione choked back a laugh and Ginny eyed her warily. “That smirk is scaring me.”

Hermione shrugged and knocked on the door Lily had identified.

“I’m fine.” Harry’s voice said monotonously.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, you’re not fine. Let me in.”

“I’m fine.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at the door. “Harry James, if you don’t open this door, I will get your mother to tell me every single embarrassing thing you did as a baby, and I promise I will get it printed in the Daily Prophet. Stop sulking and open the bloody door!”

There was a moment of silence, then the door opened slowly to reveal her best friend. “What do you want?”

“Hello Harry, nice to see you too.” Hermione greeted, walking past him with Ginny. “I want – nice room, by the way – I want you to come out and stop locking yourself away.”

It was a nice room. Unlike the one at Grimmauld Place, it was obvious Harry didn’t share it with anyone, and that it was his room, rather than a spare.

It was decorated in red and gold, but tastefully so, with Puddlemere United posters on the wall and several photographs – most of the Marauders, but there were one or two that Hermione recognised from their time at Hogwarts.

“Hermione, have they told you what I did?!” Harry demanded.

“You didn’t do anything.” Hermione said firmly. “Voldemort did. You saw it. Harry, if Voldemort could get you out of Hogwarts to turn you into a snake and attack Mr Weasley, do you really think he’d then drop you home again?!”

Harry scowled at the floor. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, that’s funny.” Ginny commented, folding her arms. “Seeing as I’m the only person we know who actually has been possessed by Voldemort.”

Harry shifted guiltily, his tense muscles seeming to relax in front of their eyes. “I forgot.”

“Lucky you.” Ginny said coolly. “Do you have gaps in your memory? Moments when you can’t remember what you were doing or how you got there?”

Harry shook his head. “No.”

“Then you haven’t been possessed.” Ginny said simply.

Harry stared at her for a few seconds, then his legs seemed to give out underneath him. Hermione was at his side in an instant, wrapping her arms around him, feeling him sob into her shoulder with sheer relief. “It’s okay, Harry.” She whispered into his hair. “We’re all here, it’s alright.”

Ginny – seeming to sense that the two needed a private moment – signalled that she’d wait downstairs. Hermione gave her a grateful smile, but didn’t take her attention away from Harry, who was still clinging to her.

“Never leave me, Hermione.” Harry muttered. “I don’t think I could do this without you.”

Hermione wasn’t sure whether she was supposed to have heard, so she didn’t respond, waiting for Harry to stop shaking, which only took a few seconds.

“Hermione? Do you mind if we don’t mention this to the others?”

Hermione smiled, pulling Harry to his feet. “Of course not. My lips are sealed. Don’t keep things like this bottled up though – we can help.”

“I know.” Harry said, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

She wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but his lips seemed to linger on her skin longer than was strictly necessary.

She could only hope she wasn’t blushing.

“What was that for?” She whispered.

“For being my best friend.” Harry answered. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Hermione chuckled. “Neither do I. Let’s not find out.”

“An excellent idea, Miss Granger.” Harry said pompously. “Might I escort you downstairs?”

Hermione took his offered arm with a smile. “An even more excellent idea, Mr Potter. Your mother wants a word, and it sounds important.”

Chapter Text

Arm in arm, Harry and Hermione made their way downstairs to the living room. Just outside the door, Harry stopped her. “Hermione, did you bring the you-know-what?”

“You mean their Christmas present?” Hermione asked. “No, I thought I’d leave that at Hogwarts.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Just checking.”

When he pushed the door open, everyone was waiting for them. Ginny was sitting with her brothers on one sofa, Neville, Susan and Amelia were on the other sofa with a formidable-looking woman Hermione assumed was Neville’s grandmother, and Sirius, Remus and Jen were in armchairs by the fire.

Jen jumped up when they walked in and swept Harry into a hug. Hermione moved away to give them some privacy, only to be waylaid by Neville.

“Hermione, this is my grandmother. Gran, this is Hermione Granger.”

Mrs Longbottom exchanged an almost-regal hand. “Miss Granger. Your class-mates have very high opinions of you.”

“Rightly deserved, I like to believe.” Hermione returned. “Pleasure to meet you, Madam Longbottom.”

The woman smiled far more kindly than Hermione expected, given Neville’s previous descriptions. “Please, call me Augusta. We will all be spending far too much time together to worry about Mrs’s and Madam’s and any other titles.”

Hermione nodded in agreement. “Then, please, call me Hermione.”

Jen finally pulled away from Harry, smoothing his hair down. “Harry, please, please come to me if something like that’s worrying you.”

“I’m sorry, Jen.” Harry whispered. “I was just convinced that was what was going on, and I didn’t want to hear it confirmed.”

“Do you really think I’d just give up on you?” Jen asked softly, too quiet to be heard by most of their company. “I would have had a solution, Harry, even if that was the truth. Has Hermione talked some sense into you now?”

Harry nodded, slightly shame-faced, and Jen ushered him towards the armchair she’d been sitting in, enlarging it to seat two with a wave of her wand.

For his part, Sirius drew Hermione to sit on the arm of his chair, and she smiled, glancing around the room. “Where’s Mrs Weasley?”

“Dad’s getting out today.” Ginny reminded her. “She’s making sure The Burrow’s ready for us – we’ve been here until now.”

“They’re coming back on Boxing Day.” Jen added. “And we’ll have lunch, exchange presents, and so on.”

“Mum says it’ll be nice to let someone else cook for once.” Ron added with a grin.

Jen smiled. “Well, my cooking isn’t a touch on your mum’s – or Lily’s, for that matter – but I like to think I’m not too bad.”

“You’re wonderful, Jen.” Remus told her loyally. “No one’s cooking can touch Molly’s or Lily’s – it’s nothing personal.”

Jen inclined her head. “True.”

Ginny checked her watch. “We need to go soon, actually.”

Jen held up a hand. “Before you go, Weasleys, I think it might be a good idea if Hermione explains just what’s happened at Hogwarts since you left.”

Hermione nodded, taking a moment, both to order her thoughts and to check the four newcomers to their group, although she was certain they weren’t a problem.

Sure enough, her empathy turned up nothing unexpected, and she took a deep breath. “Alright, before I start, and I apologise if you’ve heard all this before, I need to explain something.”

She gave a brief overview of her empathy, and explained about the founders, adding in her newest discovery about her heritage.

By the time she’d finished, everyone – except Ginny, Harry and Ron, who had already known – was gaping at the newly announced heir of Ravenclaw.

Sirius recovered first and, in an attempt to rescue her from the increasingly-uncomfortable attention, asked, “What happened to get rid of Dumbledore then, Hermione? Because he’s been very vague about the whole thing.”

Hermione smiled weakly. “Well, it started with the DA – I carried it on, started Patronuses.” She hesitated, considering showing them her new Patronus, but decided that it could wait. “Except we hadn’t started before Hogwarts warned me. I changed the Room and the books and everything, but Umbridge didn’t listen when she turned up, and dragged me to Dumbledore’s office.”

Recounting the story to her captive audience, Hermione didn’t falter until she reached the empty classroom, whereupon her voice died.

“Hermione?” Jen asked, leaning forwards. “Are you alright, sweetheart? You’ve gone very pale.”

Hermione shook her head, closing her eyes. “She told Draco to close the door and asked where Harry was. I told her I didn’t know. Then she asked me where Sirius was.”

“What?” Sirius asked sharply. “What did you say?”

Hermione opened her eyes in order to roll them. “That I didn’t know, obviously. I may have also pointed out that her logic was flawed, but she asked again, I repeated myself, and she decided to see if she could … coax out another answer.”

She could feel Sirius stiffen beside her. “Hermione,” he said lowly, “what did she do?”

Hermione shot a desperate look at Harry, but he didn’t seem inclined to help her. In fact, he was glaring at the fireplace in a way that suggested that, no matter what she said, he would floo to Hogwarts to take care of Umbridge, probably with Ron, Fred and George right behind him.

“Hermione,” Sirius prompted.

Hermione’s gaze dropped to her hands. “Cruciatus Curse.” She mumbled.

“Pardon?” Sirius asked, although it was clear that he had heard her. “Didn’t quite catch that.”

Hermione sighed, still staring at her knees. “She used the Cruciatus Curse.” She said, louder.

One of the twins cursed loudly and violently, but everyone else seemed to be in shock. After a few minutes, Hermione lifted her head and looked at Sirius, who was gazing at her in horror. “Padfoot?” She asked softly.

Her voice seemed to break him out of his stupor, and he pulled her off of the arm of the chair and on to his lap, where she cuddled into him, taking a deep, calming breath.

“Are you alright, Kitten?” He whispered.

Hermione nodded. “I’m fine. I was a little shaken, but I’m fine now.”

Everyone else seemed to be recovering now as well. Hermione was a little surprised that Augusta, at least, hadn’t scolded whichever twin it was for his language, but then she remembered, with a pang, that it was the same curse that took her son and daughter-in-law from her.

Jen rose from her chair, wand in hand, and cast a diagnostics charm on her. “No permanent harm done.” She announced grimly. “Amelia …”

“No.” Hermione interrupted. “Please don’t do anything yet.”

“Hermione, the Cruciatus Curse …” Amelia began.

“… is an Unforgiveable, I know.” Hermione finished. “But as far as Umbridge knows, she Obliviated me, which means if you arrest her, you must have heard from Draco.”
“Right, Malfoy!” Ron exploded. “He was there! I bet he just stood there and laughed, didn’t he?!”

“Actually, he Summoned me out of the way.” Hermione snapped. “But if it gets out that he helped me, the other Snakes will slaughter him!”

Jen sighed, sinking back into her seat. “Dammit, she’s right.”

“We have to do something.” Sirius protested, holding Hermione tightly. “She can’t get away with this!”
“Hello?!” Hermione said, raising her left hand. “I’m fairly sure this is illegal as well. And it’s not like the staff won’t help you.”

“No one likes her.” Neville agreed. “Aside from Filch, of course, but she’s talking about letting him bring whipping back, so that doesn’t surprise me.”

“She can’t!” Jen protested.

“You forget that our ‘esteemed Headmistress’ has the backing of the Minister.” Susan reminded her. “But they’re right. The staff can’t stand her.”
Hermione giggled. “The other day, I saw Peeves unscrewing one of the chandeliers. McGonagall was coming the other way, and I swear I heard her tell him that it unscrewed the other way.”

Sirius chuckled. “That’s our Minnie.”

“Sirius, you know she hates it when you call her that.” Remus chided mildly.

“That’s why I do it.” Sirius said with a shrug.

Jen rolled her eyes. “Anything else we should know, Hermione?”

“Other than Salazar Slytherin disowning Voldemort and choosing Draco to carry on the family name if not bloodline,” Hermione said, “no. Pass me one of those butterbeers, would you, Ron?”

Ron did as he was asked, looking about as shocked as if Snape had suddenly appeared with pink hair and a sudden wish to join the Marauders. The very mental image caused Hermione to snort with laughter, earning her more than a few strange looks.

“Sorry, I just had a funny thought …” Hermione cleared her throat. “Anyway, at the risk of changing the subject, Harry, do you remember what happened last Halloween with your mum?”

“The thing that did work, or the thing that didn’t?” Harry asked, to even more bewildered looks.

“The thing that didn’t.” Hermione smirked. “She reckons we can try again.”

Harry’s face lit up. “Really?”

“Really.” Hermione confirmed. “Sirius, I need to get up.”

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Sirius asked.

Hermione smiled. “I’m fine. Really, I need to get up, or this is going to be spectacularly awkward.” She slid out of his loosened grip and stood up, catching Lily’s eye. “Ready when you are.” She took a swig of butterbeer and set her bottle down, dropping her Occlumency shields.

Jen watched in confusion as Hermione stood very still her eyes closed for a few minutes. Beside her, Harry was almost quivering with excitement.

“Harry?” She asked quietly. “What …?” She trailed off with a gasp, as Hermione’s eyes opened, and Lily’s green eyes looked out at them.

“Oh, Harry.” Lily’s voice said, through Hermione’s mouth. “Oh, Harry, you have the worst luck, don’t you?”

“Not always.” Harry said. “Hi Mum.”

Lily/Hermione stepped forwards, and pulled Harry into a hug, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “Hello, sweetheart.”

With a sudden jolt, Jen realised that Lily’s spirit was literally inhabiting Hermione’s body. There had been many things she had been considering after Harry and Hermione’s cryptic conversation.

This was not one of them.

It had been so long since she had heard her best friend’s voice, and she hadn’t realised just how much she missed Lily until this moment.

Lily/Hermione glanced up and extended an arm, pulling Jen into the hug as well. “You gave us quite a scare, Jen. Thank you so much for looking after Harry.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Lils.” Jen whispered. “I’m his godmother.”

Lily smiled and released them to walk over to Sirius, kneeling in front of him to take his hands. “Now, I was going to ask James to do this, but he refused point-blank to inhabit a woman’s body, so as always, he’s delegated to me. None of this was your fault, Sirius, I mean it. There are more factors at play, and I’m sure Hermione will explain everything in a minute.” She glanced over at Amelia. “I don’t suppose my testimony’s going to count for much at the moment, is it?”

Amelia shook her head. “No.” She said faintly. “I’m afraid not.”

Lily sighed, and turned back to Sirius. “But I know you and you would blame yourself for anything given half a chance. You need to stop.  We forgive you.”

Sirius seemed to break at her words. Closing his eyes, he took a deep, shaky breath, visibly trying to keep his composure.

Turning away to give him some privacy, Lily straightened to address the room. “Unfortunately, we didn’t return to the island and our bodies until Hermione and Harry crossed the threshold of Hogwarts. Several things had changed since we were last there- nothing bad,” she hastened to add, “but Addie isn’t in exactly the same place as us anymore.”

As though her name was some sort of Pepper-Up Potion – which it may well have been, Jen reasoned – Sirius’s head snapped up. “Why?! Where is she?”

“I don’t know.” Lily sighed. “Just like our bodies aren’t aware of what’s going on with us, we have no idea what’s going on there until we return to them. I think – and this is just a guess – that she nearly found a hole in the wards to apparate through, but it only took her to another part of the house, and now she can’t get back to us. She’s not alone, though – Cedric’s with her.”

“Cedric Diggory?” Jen asked sharply. When Lily nodded, she let out a low whistle. “What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall. Isn’t he Amos Diggory’s son?”

“Isn’t he dead?!” Ginny asked in bewilderment.

“That’s a better question.” Jen frowned. “Forget mine.”
“I saw him die, Mum.” Harry said shakily. “He can’t be there.”

Lily smiled comfortingly at him. “He is, Harry. He wasn’t hit with the real Killing Curse, but the fake one. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what the incantation is or if there’s any way of telling if that’s what it is. It’s the same one Addie was hit with when …” she broke off when Sirius shuddered violently. “Anyway, he’s fine.”

“Is she alright?” Jen asked, knowing that Sirius wouldn’t dare. “I know she’s alive, but that …”

“She’s fine.” Lily said quickly, looking at Sirius. “She never elaborated, but I got the impression that something or someone was keeping her safe.”

“Why?” Sirius asked, his voice trembling. “Why would a Death Eater keep her safe?”

Lily sat on the arm of his chair. “Sirius, Addie might be a natural, but she has never been able to lie to me. I won’t tell you she was never tortured, because I’d be lying and you wouldn’t believe me anyway. But it didn’t do too much damage that I can tell …”

“Without a wand?” Sirius asked. “You know as well as I do, Lily, that the majority of damage is internal …”

“And would have manifested by now.” Lily finished calmly. “It didn’t do too much physical or mental damage – emotionally, she’s a little shot, but then we all are by now. When we got there, it took a while to get her to tell us what had happened, because she was too busy being relieved about what hadn’t. They didn’t lay a finger on her, Sirius, and all she and Leona would say about it was that they had a ‘guardian angel’.”

“And the torture wasn’t too bad.” Remus asked, gripping Jen’s hand.

Lily sighed. “Well, it was torture. Hello, Remus, by the way.”

“Lily?” Sirius prompted.

Lily smiled grimly. “They found it a rather boring affair, apparently. She never let them hear her scream.”

Despite the rather dismal topic of conversation, Sirius couldn’t help his own, albeit watery, smile. “That’s my girl.”

Lily cocked her head to the side, eyeing Sirius contemplatively, as though deciding something. “They’ve been talking.” She said slowly. “Cedric’s filled her in on everything that’s been going on. I wasn’t there when she first found out about you, but she doesn’t believe it.”

“What?” Sirius asked, sounding disbelieving. “But he will – he’ll have told her all the evidence against me! And if I know Amos, he’ll have told him about the Secret Keeper thing as well!”

“Which would be a point in your favour.” Jen pointed out. “James and Lily would have …”

“We never told her about the Fidelius Charm.” Lily said flatly. “Cedric’s argument is that if we thought Sirius was dead or had betrayed us, we wouldn’t tell her to spare her the pain. Which is probably true.” She added thoughtfully.

Jen frowned. “And she still doesn’t believe it?”
“About a month ago,” Lily said with an amused sigh, “she announced that she trusts Sirius more than Amos, so he’ll have to forgive her if she takes Sirius’s word over his father’s. Besides, the man she loves would never have done something like that, and she still loves him, so he can’t have done it.”

“I love female logic.” Ginny said with a smile, clearly trying to lighten the mood.

“It is incredible, isn’t it?” Lily agreed.

Seeing that Sirius needed a moment or two to regain his composure, Jen hurriedly changed the subject. “What can you tell us about the island, Lily?”

Lily pulled a face that was painfully familiar, and yet completely strange to see on Hermione’s face. “Not much, I’m afraid. We’ve never left the house we’re in, so we can’t see the horizon on three sides.”

“And on the fourth?” Amelia prompted.

Lily smiled. “Jen, can I borrow some parchment and a quill – pencil if you have one.”

Jen jumped to her feet, and hurried over to the desk in the corner of the room, pulling some parchment from one of the drawers and transfiguring a quill into a pencil.

She had a feeling she knew what Lily was planning and, sure enough, when she handed the implements over, the other woman settled down to sketch something, concentration etched into her face.

Lily had always had a passion for art, even as a child. If she hadn’t attended Hogwarts, she probably would have ended up in art school, in spite of her parents’ hopes for a high-powered career,

Even once she was trained as a Healer, she had continued sketching – one of the best pictures they had of Harry was a black and white pencil drawing Lily had done when he was three days old and she couldn’t sleep.

Knowing from experience how much Lily hated people watching her draw over her shoulder, Jen began talking about Hogwarts, drawing everyone’s attention to her instead.

After about fifteen minutes, Ginny leaned in and asked something that Jen could tell had been bugging her since the subject first arose. “Why is it such a big deal that Addie and Cedric are stuck together?”

Jen shot a quick look at Sirius, and leaned in even closer. “Addie dated Amos Diggory when we were in fourth year and he was in seventh – to cut a long story short, he cheated on her and broke her heart.”

“To make matters worse,” Remus added, when Ginny growled, “he then spent a good three weeks bragging loudly to his mates about their dates in graphic detail.”

“That’s bad enough.” Jen finished. “But they hadn’t done anything for him to get graphic about.”

“That’s just not on!” Fred hissed, being close enough to hear the conversation. “What happens between you and a girl stays there, and you don’t just … slander her like that!”

Remus smirked. “Don’t worry – we all thought like that. The Marauders spent some time – ah – correcting his behaviour.”

“Didn’t quite take.” Lily said dryly, inserting herself into the conversation. “But how that man had a son as decent as Cedric, I will never know. I’m done.”

The huddle dispersed and Lily held the parchment up so they could all see it. At each end of the parchment, waves lapped at the ground, the ground itself getting narrower as it progressed up the page, only to then be obscured by a tower that loomed over the rest of the landscape – sparse and barren but for a few trees – and that reminded Jen of the main building at Azkaban.

Thoughts of the prison sent an involuntary shudder running through her body, and she quickly forced her thoughts in another direction. “So this is what you can see?”

“That’s the view from the front window.” Lily confirmed, flexing her hand. “The actual house we’re in …”

“You keep saying house.” Amelia interrupted. “Strange choice of words.”

Lily shrugged. “That’s what it is. Seems to be a perfectly normal detached cottage. Reminds me of our place in Godric’s Hollow actually. Quite nice, until you consider the location.”
“Yes, I’m sure regular Death Eater rallies bring the desirability down a bit.” Amelia agreed dryly, taking the parchment to look it over. “Do you know anything about the wards?”

“I’m not a warder.” Lily admitted. “But Marlene McKinnon was an Unspeakable – she had ward sight. I don’t know if Addie inherited it or learned it, but she can see them. It’s pretty much what you would expect – anti-Apparition, ant-Portkey, anti-everything. Just before Voldemort returned, they almost got low enough to apparate over, she told Cedric, but then they returned.”

George frowned. “But she couldn’t have apparated anyway, could she? I doubt you’ve got wands.”

Lily smirked. “Normally, you’d be right, but Addie’s spent the last fourteen years or so teaching herself wandless magic. She’s pretty good, too. If anyone could do it, it’d be her.” She paused to take a breath, and grimaced slightly. “Right, I really don’t have long left before I start running the risk of damaging Hermione’s magical core, but this is very important, so pay attention.”

All eyes were on her now, including Sirius.

“Addie did not give us the details of Regulus’s death.” Lily said slowly, watching Jen closely. “But I did get the impression that she knew more than she was telling us. What she did say, however cryptically, was that there is a locket somewhere in your old family home. Old, golden, with an ‘s’ engraved on it. She didn’t say why it’s dangerous, but it needs to be kept somewhere safe until you figure out what to do with it – all I know is that getting that away from Voldemort was the last thing Regulus did. So it must have been pretty damn important.”

Jen nodded, her eyes bright. “I’ll find it.”

“Alright.” Lily reached out and pulled Harry into a tight hug, kissing his head. “We love you so much, sweetheart.” She whispered into his hair.

Harry closed his eyes, clinging to her as though it really were his mother’s body. “Love you too, Mum.”

Reluctantly, Lily released him and turned to the Weasleys. “You’ve been so wonderful.” She said in a low voice. “Really. I could only ever hope that Harry would make friends like you. I could never thank you enough for …”

“You don’t have to thank us.” Fred interrupted.

“He’s our brother.” George continued.

“It’s what brothers do.” Ron finished, beating Fred to it.

Lily smiled at them and turned to Jen, Sirius and Remus. “At the risk of sounding even more sentimental,” she said softly, “we love you. Try not to get yourselves killed before we get back. And say hello to Mandy and Arabella for me – we won’t be able to do this for a while.”

“We will.” Sirius said hoarsely.

Jen rose to her feet, embracing Lily tightly. “Love you, Jade.” She murmured. “Stay safe.”

“I’ll do my best, Selena.” Lily returned, squeezing her for a split-second before releasing her. “Alright, time to go.”

With a shudder that seemed to run through Hermione’s entire body, her eyes faded from green back to their original chocolate brown. She stood very still for a second.

“Hermione?” Jen asked quietly. “Are you alright?”

Hermione nodded, breathing deeply. “Yeah, just … takes it out of you a bit.”

Sirius enlarged the armchair he was sitting in and pulled her to sit beside him, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “Take a rest, Kitten.”

Jen checked her watch. “Oh, Merlin, Molly wanted you back ten minutes ago.”

Ginny checked her own watch and jumped to her feet. “Mum’ll have our heads at this rate.”

“My head.” Jen corrected with a smile.

“We don’t really want you to lose your head though.” George said.

“It’s sort of important.” Fred agreed.

Jen rolled her eyes. “Come on, you lot.” She waited for them to say their goodbyes, then led them through the house to the reception room. “Tell your mother I’ll floo her about Boxing Day.” She said, offering them the floo powder. “Also, tell her that I’m expecting a visitor who will need to floo from your kitchen. It is someone I trust, despite others’ concerns to the contrary, and I apologise for the delay in informing her.”

“Okay.” Ginny said, frowning in confusion.

The Weasleys said goodbye and flooed home, one by one. While she waited for them to do so, Jen sent a Patronus to Sirius, suggesting they all move to the reception room.

She didn’t really want her visitor in the house longer than necessary, and it was probably best if he flooed into the same room as them.

A few minutes after the last Weasley (Fred) had disappeared into the flames, the others had joined her.

“This is the only fireplace that’s connected to a network.” Jen explained. “But it’s private, so at the moment the only fireplace that can be reached or that can reach us is The Burrow.”

“That’s clever.” Hermione said. “How did you do that?”

“I didn’t.” Jen admitted. “My great-uncle did, and I have no idea.” She settled down in one of the armchairs, and surveyed them all sombrely.

Amelia, Susan, Augusta and Neville were all grouped on one sofa, as before. Remus and Harry were sitting on a two-seater to her left.

Sirius and Hermione were, once again, in an enlarged armchair. Her eyes were closed, her head resting on his shoulder, but Jen could tell that, contrary to appearance, the girl was wide awake and alert.

“Now that they’re gone,” Jen said softly, “I have something very important I need to talk to you about.” Normally, she would have worried about Neville and Susan, but Hermione’s earlier disclosure assured Jen that they could both be trusted.

Even so, it was a difficult thing to say aloud, not because of the potential reactions, but because of the sheer weight behind it, because in four months of suspicion, she had never once actually verbalised the truth.

“I don’t trust Albus Dumbledore.”

Chapter Text

Jen’s words, though blunt, did not seem to particularly worry anyone, Hermione noticed – except for Neville and Susan, who looked both surprised and slightly indignant.

“That’s alright.” Hermione said, when the silence dragged on just a little too long for her liking. “I don’t either.”

Unlike Jen’s admission, this seemed to startle everyone, but it was Augusta who asked, “I assume you have a reason?”

“I do.” Hermione got to her feet, running a hand through her hair. “Jen, do you have a Pensieve I could borrow? I could project the memories, but it’s a bit exhausting, especially after what just happened.”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Jen admitted, gesturing to one of the cabinets.

While Hermione retrieved the Pensieve, Harry cleared his throat. “Do I need to leave, Jen? You know, in case …” He trailed off and tapped his head.

Jen frowned. “I don’t think so, Harry. Voldemort won’t be looking for this sort of thing, and you know better than to look Dumbledore in the eye. Just file it as securely as you can as soon as you can, alright?”
“Captain’s office with the Snitch.” Hermione added, when Harry looked at her. She set the stone basin down on the coffee table and stared into it for a few seconds.

It was empty, so she could clearly see the runes etched into the stone, and part of her wondered what they meant. Resisting the urge to start translating them, she pulled out her wand and placed it against her temple, extracting the thin silvery strands of memory and depositing them in the Pensieve.

“Is there a way of just playing the memory?” Hermione asked. “Or do we all need to enter it?”

“If you tap your wand against the side, it should appear above, like a video on pause.” Jen explained. “Then you can make it bigger or smaller as you like before you play it.”

“Okay.” Hermione sighed, and glanced at Lily, who nodded encouragingly. “The first memory is one I’ve had for a while, but I never told anyone, because Lily and James asked me not to for the time being. It takes place on that Halloween, just before Voldemort arrived.” She looked over at Harry to gauge his reaction – he was very pale, but gave no sign of wanting to opt out of seeing it.

With a tap of her wand, a silver cloud rose above the Pensieve, showing James and Lily standing at the foot of the stairs with Harry and Hermione.

Jen may have described it as a video on pause, but it was a much better pause than that on the VCR at her parents’ house – it was actually not moving for a start.

Concentrating, Hermione slowly expanded the cloud so that it was big enough for everyone to see, before asking it to play.

The hallway was dark, the hour late. Lily cradled her baby close to her with one arm, and held Hermione’s tiny hand in hers as the little girl stood beside her. Her hair looked darker than it was now, but maybe that was just the dim light of the hallway.

As they stood at the bottom of the staircase, James bent and kissed his wife softly. “You take the kids to bed, sweetheart. I’m just going to check the wards.”

Lily nodded slowly, but something was bothering her – it was obvious to the onlookers. “James, I don’t feel comfortable with this …”

Everyone watched, entranced, as Lily admitted her concerns and James tried to put her mind at ease. When the memory had finished – just before James suggested they change Secret Keeper back to Sirius – the cloud sank back into the Pensieve.

“Is it just me,” Amelia said slowly, “or did that sound like Dumbledore knew Peter was the Secret Keeper?”

“He did.” Hermione said heavily. “He was the one who cast the Fidelius, and then put a Memory Charm on Sirius to make him forget. That’s why you don’t remember me being there.” She added to him.

“I do.” Sirius said in a low voice. “I do now. The Memory Charm broke after your nightmare over the summer. I remember getting to the house, and finding you, but …” He shook his head. “I still don’t know why I left you. Either of you.”

“It’s not your fault.” Hermione said gently.

“It is my fault!” Sirius protested.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s not. I’ll show you.” She tapped her wand against the Pensieve again, and another cloud rose into the air.

Again, she expanded it, so they could all see the ruins of a nursery. Although both children were, for the moment, frozen, Hermione’s eyes were open and her face stained with tears, while Harry was lying beside her, his eyes closed.

Sure enough, when Hermione played the memory, it was only Hermione that was moving.

The crib had overturned in the explosion, which was probably lucky, because pieces of brick and plaster littered the floor.

Where the ceiling should have been, there was a gaping hole, left open to the night sky.

Harry was lying motionless, the cut on his forehead bleeding, but only slightly. Hermione was crying, great gulping sobs that racked her entire body.

Like a fighter jet soaring past, there was a low rumbling sound outside the house, which rose to a roar, then disappeared completely.

Hermione’s tears didn’t stop, but her cries quietened, and she seemed to be listening slightly. The watchers heard footsteps downstairs, then Sirius’s shaky voice. “James? It’s Padfoot – answer me, mate!”

Relief greater than any child should ever know spread across Hermione’s face. “DADDY!”

Here, Hermione paused the memory, sitting down beside Sirius again. “Until the train-ride, that was all I remembered. This next bit’s new to me as well.”

Feet hurtled up the stairs, and Sirius burst into the room, wand at the ready. He froze for a split-second, staring at the scene in horror, before bolting forwards to pull her out of the crib-turned-cage.

She wasn’t crying anymore, but she clung to him, shaking violently.

“It’s alright, baby-girl.” Sirius whispered. “It’s okay, Kitten. Daddy’s here, it’s alright.” His words of comfort never stopped, spewing from his lips as though they could turn back time, but his gaze had fixed upon Harry’s motionless form.

“Hermione?” Sirius whispered. “Kitten, where’s Aunt Lily?”

“G-Gone.” Hermione said shakily. “Nasty man … Harry … green …”

Sirius’s face crumpled as the obvious implications hit him, and he buried his face in Hermione’s hair, his own sobs escaping now.

“It felt like we were there forever.” Sirius whispered.

“About twenty minutes.” Hermione confirmed, curled up next to him. “I didn’t put the whole thing in.”

Sure enough, the scene shimmered for a second, before a noise was heard downstairs. Sirius lifted his head, eyes wet and bloodshot, and reached for his wand, but relaxed a moment later when a familiar voice was heard.

“Gulpin’ gargoyles, what happened? JAMES? LILY? YOU ALRIGH’?”

“We’re up here, Hagrid!” Sirius called, his voice shaking. “They’re gone …”

Thundering footsteps greeted this, and Hagrid’s huge form stopped in the doorway, staring at the scene in horror, just as Sirius had done.

“Sirius …” Hagrid trailed off, staring at the crib. “Oh, no, Harry …”

Sirius wiped his eyes and stood up, Hermione in his arms, stopping Hagrid from going any further. “I’ll get him out, Hagrid. I need to … I’ll get him.” He repeated firmly.

Hagrid nodded, his eyes awash with sympathy beneath the excessive hair. “I unnerstan’. Dumbledore sent me, see – wanted me to check on ‘em. Guess he’d been tipped off somethin’ might happen.”

“Too late.” Sirius muttered. “It already did. Hermione, sweetheart, can you go to Hagrid for minute?”

It wasn’t an easy transfer – Hermione did not want to leave him, but she consented eventually, letting Hagrid wrap her in his thick moleskin coat, as Sirius turned back to the crib.

“Is this all … Can you remember this?” Jen asked, as they watched Sirius carefully dismantle some of the bars to pull Harry out.

Sirius frowned. “This, I can, yes. I remember seeing the cut on his head and hoping that maybe it wasn’t the Killing Curse, because that doesn’t leave a mark.”

Sure enough, Sirius was waving his wand over Harry’s still form, hope dawning in his eyes, only to be dashed callously from his expression when the results returned exactly as he feared.

His shoulders slumped and he bowed his head, another tear escaping before he could close his eyes to guard against it.

Then, amazingly, Harry wiggled and opened his eyes.

“Harry?” Sirius asked in a hushed whisper.

“Pa-foo’.” Harry whimpered, one hand flinging up beside his head, obviously feeling pain but not understanding why.

“Oh, Harry …” Sirius held him close, more tears falling from his eyes. “Hagrid, he’s alright! He’s alive!”

“Bu’ … how’s tha’ even possible?” Hagrid whispered, bouncing Hermione gently in his arms. “Tha’ was the Killin’ Curse, tha’ was!”

“I know.” Sirius pressed a kiss to Harry’s hair, gently wiping away the blood. “I know. But he’s alright.” He stood again, on shaky legs. “I’d better get them out of here.”
“No, Dumbledore gave me orders.” Hagrid disagreed. “I got ta take Harry’s ta Hogwarts, he said.”

As Sirius hesitated, Harry’s lower lip began to tremble. “Mama?”

The pain on Sirius’s face was clear for all to see. “Mummy’s not here, Pronglet.”

“Mama!” Harry shouted, beginning to cry.

“Hagrid, he won’t go with you.” Sirius argued. “He’s upset; he needs me. I’m his godfather.”

“Dumbledore gave me orders.” Hagrid repeated.

“I remember,” Sirius said hoarsely, hugging Hermione to him, “I remember thinking that if I kept Harry with me, I’d need to get Andie in, and make sure he was somewhere safe, and then sort things out with the Ministry … Hogwarts just seemed safer, and …”

“It’s alright, Sirius.” Jen said softly. “No one could blame you for that.”

“James and Lily don’t.” Hermione agreed, seeing Lily nodding in agreement.

“Alright.” Sirius agreed reluctantly. “But take my bike; it should get him to sleep and she’ll get you there faster.”

Somehow, they managed to swap children, although Harry, like Hermione, took some convincing, and Hagrid took the keys.

And then Sirius and Hermione were alone again, in the wreckage of what was once such a happy room.

Sirius shook his head. “This is where it starts getting fuzzy. I remember realising that Peter must have betrayed them, because there were no signs of struggle at his flat. I remember being angry, but then I looked down at Hermione and I knew I needed to think rationally. So I decided to go to the Ministry and explain everything to Moody – I knew he’d hear me out.” He frowned. “Your father was on a business trip, I think, so I took you home, because the Ministry would be chaos, and I didn’t want Death Eaters to find out you were involved and targeted you, but … I don’t remember anything else.”

“Luckily for you,” Hermione said with a humourless smile, “I do.”

Sirius held a now-sleeping Hermione tightly against his chest and apparated out of the nursery. The watchers were taken along for the ride, landing in a sleepy Muggle street, the pinkish hues of the rising sun just beginning to creep over the horizon.

The sound of the apparition was unnaturally loud in the early dawn, but nothing stirred. The journey had startled Hermione awake, and Sirius paused to soothe her.

“Sirius.”

Sirius tensed, his hold on Hermione tightening protectively as one hand reached for his wand, but he relaxed almost instantly, when he turned to see Albus Dumbledore standing behind him.

“I thought I’d find you here.”
Sirius looked down at Hermione with a sigh.
“Well, as much as I hate to admit it, she’ll be safe here until I can collect her. Sir, James and Lily … are they really …?”

“The instruments in my office indicate that they are.” Dumbledore said heavily. “But they are not alone.”

“There … There was another attack last night?” Sirius asked.

“No.” Dumbledore answered, a small smile appearing on his face. “It appears that when Lord Voldemort attempted to kill Harry and failed, the curse somehow rebounded upon him.”

“You mean … he’s gone, sir?”

“It certainly seems that way.” Dumbledore said, nodding. “There will be a great deal of celebrating today.”
Sirius snorted. “Celebrating … while James and Lily are gone? You’ll have to excuse me, Headmaster, if I don’t feel like throwing a party.”

“I hate to say it, Sirius.” Jen said. “But you and James would have been out there had it been another family.”

“Not the day after.” Sirius disagreed. “Not if we knew them. Complete strangers, I’ll forgive, but members of the Order were doing it.”
“That’s true.” Remus sighed, when his girlfriend looked at him. “They were still going when Mandy and I got home.”

“What do you intend to do now?” Dumbledore asked gravely.

“I’m going to drop Hermione off home, and then go to the Ministry to talk to Moody.” Sirius answered, a note of challenge in his voice. “And to get custody of Harry. It’s what James and Lily would have wanted.”
“I’m sure they would.” Dumbledore agreed. “But it might be best, Sirius, to take Peter with you, as proof. After all, no one knows you changed Secret Keeper.”

“You know, sir.” Sirius said flatly. “That’s enough for me. With all due respect, I want this sorted as quickly as possible, and going on a rat-hunt doesn’t exactly sound like a quick job.”

Sirius sighed in frustration. “Then why …?”

“Ssh!” Hermione hissed. “Watch!”

Sirius turned away from Dumbledore, but Hermione, who was sat on his hip by now, was still looking back at the man, which mean that she saw what happened next, which, in turn, meant that the watchers did too.

Drawing his wand, Dumbledore waved it in a circle, muttering an incantation under his breath.

The spell made contact, and Sirius stopped dead for a second. “Actually, sir,” he said darkly, turning back to the headmaster, “I think I will go and find Peter. Merlin knows I’ll do a better job than the aurors.”

Dumbledore smiled slightly. “Wise choice, Sirius. Good luck.”

“Thank you, sir.” Sirius knelt down, as Dumbledore disapparated, and looked seriously at Hermione. “Kitten, I need you to be a very brave girl for me, can you do that?”

Hermione nodded, her face set.

“Prongs and Aunt Lily got hurt tonight, by a bad wizard.” Sirius swallowed hard. “And I need to sort some things out, so you need to stay with Mummy for a while.”

Tears filled Hermione’s eyes, but they didn’t fall. “You said stay.”

“I know I said you’d stay this time, sweetheart.” Sirius whispered. “But it’s only for tonight. I’ll come back tomorrow morning to get you.”

Hermione sniffed. “P’omise?”

Sirius rooted in his pocket and pulled out his auror badge. “Do you know what this is, Kitten?”

Hermione nodded. “Badge.”

“That’s right.” Sirius smiled weakly. “This is my auror badge, which means that I need it when I go to work tomorrow. I want you to look after it for me, can you do that?”

Hermione nodded again, taking it very carefully and putting it in her pocket. “Get it ‘morrow?”

Sirius nodded as well. “And I’ll come to get you as well.” He hesitated, then waved his wand over her.

Hermione frowned as she watched her hair lighten considerably. She had noticed it when she first watched the memory, but she still couldn’t understand what had happened. Even in the street, the light was not yet bright enough to see them clearly.

I’ll ask him later, she decided, as the memory dropped back into the Pensieve.

“That was a Compulsion Charm.” Jen said darkly. “That’s why you went after Peter, and that’s why you don’t remember.”

Hermione reached into her pocket and pulled out the auror badge she had found way back at the beginning of fourth year. “See, Padfoot? You didn’t abandon me – you didn’t abandon either of us. It made sense to you.”

Sirius hugged her, kissing her forehead. “And that’s why you don’t trust Dumbledore?”

“No, that’s the icing on the cake.” Hermione corrected. “The first four years at Hogwarts had done that.”

“Well, before we get there,” Jen said, “I think we need to take a look at what we just learned in relation to what we already know. Dumbledore cast the Fidelius Charm, which means he let Sirius rot in Azkaban, knowing he was innocent.”

“He lied to the Wizengamot twice as well.” Hermione added. “He told them that Sirius was the Secret Keeper, and he said that Arabella was Confounded when she obviously wasn’t.”

Jen nodded in agreement. “So he wanted Sirius in Azkaban – why?”

“So he could send Harry to the Dursleys.” Amelia answered. “We’ve already thought this through, Jen – we did suspect it.”

“He wanted to manipulate him.” Hermione said dully, smiling sadly at Harry. “The Dursleys made it easy.”

“But he hasn’t manipulated me.” Harry protested.

Hermione sighed. “Jen, may I?”

Jen sat back, gesturing to the floor. “By all means.”
Hermione got up and paced around the room once, trying to order her thoughts. “Alright, let’s start from the beginning. Harry arrives at Hogwarts. Everyone’s expecting huge things from him, which creates an enormous amount of pressure, because he hasn’t been prepared for it, so he’s willing to take any help from any corner.”

“The students who are likely to mistrust Dumbledore are the ones who are expecting Harry to have been filled in about Wizarding customs and traditions,” Neville added, “so they’re expecting him to act accordingly.”

“Is that bad?” Harry asked tentatively.

“Well, anyone who would have provided you with an alternative view was either respectful enough to wait for you to suggest an alliance,” Neville explained, “or you inadvertently severely insulted. It’s not your fault – you weren’t taught the customs, but it’s a miracle you haven’t caused any blood feuds yet.”

Jen winced. “We’ll talk later.” She said firmly. “Go on, Hermione.”

“Dumbledore had moved the Philosopher’s Stone from Gringotts to Hogwarts.” Hermione said. “Why? The security around the vault would have caught the intruder if it had still been there – the only reason they weren’t caught was because the vault was empty. If you know the Stone’s in danger of being stolen, why move it to a school? I know Hogwarts is the most secure building in Britain, but there is also a load of children there! He didn’t even keep it in his office, he kept it under the third floor corridor, and warned us away by saying it was “off-limits to those who do not wish to suffer a most painful death”.”

Sirius snorted. “That would have been our first cue to get our arses up there and take a look.”

“Language, Sirius.” Augusta scolded, but Hermione looked thoughtful.

“I’m wondering if that’s why Dumbledore said it, to push Harry on his way.” She said slowly. “Anyway, moving on. Why did Dumbledore give Harry the Invisibility Cloak? Yes, I know it was an heirloom,” she said, forestalling Sirius’s argument, “and I know you or James would have given it to Harry at that age, but Dumbledore’s not you or James – he’s the Headmaster, and as such it was bloody irresponsible of him. Then he watched Harry sneak out, find the Mirror of Erised, and waited until he was completely entranced before explaining exactly how it worked.”
“And then he moved it to the end of the obstacles.” Harry frowned.

“I’ll come back to the obstacles in a minute.” Hermione said. “In the meantime, the Forbidden Forest, our detention. Who gets detention for being out of bounds and serves that detention out of bounds? Especially since nothing in the Forest would hurt a unicorn. But isn’t it convenient that Harry was out there, and could work out that it was Voldemort after the Stone? And those obstacles – are you honestly telling me that they were the best the teachers could do? Three first years got past with minimal trouble, Voldemort’s supposed to be one of the greatest wizards that ever lived!”
“I … hadn’t thought of that.” Harry muttered.

“Why did Dumbledore leave the school because of an owl?” Hermione asked. “If it was that urgent, Fudge would have flooed him. And then there’s the obstacles themselves. Fluffy – anyone who knows Hagrid can wheedle the truth out of him. Devil’s Snare – a Lumos Charm is hardly taxing. I’m wondering,” she added, “if you were supposed to come with us, Neville. You’d have known what it was straight away, I took a few minutes.”

Neville blushed, but Hermione didn’t give him time to speak.

“Then there were the flying keys – Harry’s the youngest Seeker in a century. Enchanted chess set – Ron’s aptitude for chess is almost legendary. Within weeks, rooms cleared if he walked in with a set. Then there’s the troll – Quirrell took that out for us. Then the potions task – I’m the most logical person I know. As for the mirror, Dumbledore had already told Harry how it worked. Plus, he uses Legilimency to regularly scan the students and the staff – he must have known that Quirrell was possessed.”

“He set us up.” Harry said, white-faced. “I knew that he hadn’t stopped us, but … it was set up, wasn’t it? Why?”

“My guess would be to make sure you hadn’t turned Dark.” Jen said grimly. “Your upbringing could well have pushed you like that.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to confirm Voldemort’s continued existence as well.” Sirius added. “Moving the Philosopher’s Stone to the same place as ‘The Boy-Who-Lived’ would prove irresistible to Voldemort.”

“Damn it to hell!” Remus growled. “The man’s running a school! What’s he playing at?!”

Jen took his hand, running a soothing thumb across his skin. “Second year, Hermione?”

Hermione grimaced. “Well, there’s not as much evidence, but, again, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know Ginny was possessed. And all those rumours that Harry was the Heir of Slytherin – Dumbledore could have put those to rest, but he did nothing. Plus, he always knew that Voldemort was Tom Marvolo Riddle; why not just tell people that? Ginny would have recognised the name and never used the damn diary!”

“Plus, I doubt he would have got as many followers as he did.” Harry added. “Not if they knew he was a half-blood.”

“Mother definitely wouldn’t.” Sirius agreed. “None of the Blacks would, for that matter.”
“Bella would.” Jen said darkly.

“Bella’s obsessed with blood purity.” Sirius reminded her.

“And she was one of the few Death Eaters who never tried to talk her way out of Azkaban.” Jen pointed out. “She could have done, if she’d tried, so why didn’t she?”

“Because she was fanatically loyal.” Sirius answered, glancing at Neville. “Why else?”
“Loyalty can convince us to do some crazy things.” Jen conceded. “But love is a far more powerful motivator.”

Sirius’s mouth fell open. “You don’t really think …”
“Being a crazy psychotic bitch doesn’t make her incapable of love.” Jen said flatly.

“So, Hermione,” Neville said, “what about third year?”

Hermione gave him a sympathetic smile, guessing that Bellatrix Black-Lestrange was hardly a topic he wanted to dwell on for too long. “Well, third year is mostly self-explanatory. He’d used the mail wards to keep Mandy, Arabella and Remus from contacting Harry before then and, if I had to take a guess, he was hoping that they wouldn’t tell Harry that they tried to contact him before Harry found out they knew James and Lily.”

Remus closed his eyes. “Of course. Lily’s stubbornness and James’s temper, he’d never have forgiven us.”

“Then we found out the truth about Sirius.” Hermione scowled. “Could have stepped in, but didn’t. He didn’t even help.”

“He came up with the plan to help get me out of there though.” Sirius pointed out.

Hermione snorted. “No, I did. In case you hadn’t noticed, Padfoot, it’s not just Harry he’s trying to manipulate. When you got away, that was the only thing he could do to salvage the situation. He told us there wasn’t enough time to help you, and it was enough for me to take us back three hours to give me time to think.”

“We came up with the plan.” Harry agreed, nodding at her. “Dumbledore had nothing to do with it.”

“And then there’s last year.” Hermione concluded. “He couldn’t break the contract, no, but he could have declared the Tournament a draw and resubmitted the names.”

“Or used three harmless tasks as the ‘official’ tasks, and then just had the other three compete.” Jen added.

Amelia closed her eyes. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Hermione sighed. “Instead, he used Harry as bait to figure out who it was. Although, while I’m on the subject, how exactly did Crouch Jr manage to fool Moody’s oldest friend?” She flung herself back into her seat, folding her arms. “Alright, I’m done.”

“You really think he’s manipulating all of us as well?” Remus asked.

Jen rolled her eyes. “Honey, he’s been manipulating you for years. He’s made damn sure you know what a ‘favour’ he did you letting you attend Hogwarts, and because of that, you can’t say no to him.”

“He does it so subtly that you don’t notice he’s doing it.” Augusta said, scowling.

Silence settled over the room, as they all tried to get their minds round the extent of Dumbledore’s manipulations – not even Jen had realised it was as bad as this.

Manipulating Harry and the Order was bad enough, but he was dragging the entire student population of Hogwarts into it as well.

Before anyone could break the silence, the fireplace did it for them, by howling loudly.

The tension broke, and Sirius and Harry sniggered, as Remus turned to Jen, looking put out. “You said you were going to change that!”

“No, you said I was going to change it.” Jen said brightly, standing up.

The fire had turned green and a dark shape was spinning in the flames. Positioning herself directly between her brother and the fireplace, Jen waited for her visitor to step out on to the heart. “Ah, Severus. Thank you for coming.”

Chapter Text

Neville let out a nervous squeak and Susan looked like she’d been slapped in the face.

That was nothing, however, compared to the expression on Sirius’s face. “Him?! Jen, what in Merlin’s name …?!”

"Sirius!” Hermione interrupted. “We need to put our trunks away.” She gestured to Neville and Susan. “Where are we going?”

Jen smirked to herself as Hermione added a pleading look to her query, and pulled the pebble-sized trunks from her pocket. “Good idea, Hermione. Sirius, would you show them where to go please?”

Go with them please, Remus. Try to keep Sirius distracted until I give you the signal.

You knew better than to spring it on him in the first place. Remus responded, mildly chastising, but dragged Sirius to his feet regardless. “Come on, Padfoot.”

Hermione, Neville and Susan took the trunks from Jen and followed the two men out of the room, the latter two looking extremely relieved.

Amelia and Augusta made their excuses as well, leaving Jen alone with Harry and Snape.

Harry looked mutinous, and Jen winced at the expression on his face, ignoring Snape for the time being. “Harry, I know that you and Professor Snape don’t get along.” She said, crouching down in front of him and ignoring his snort. “But you trust me, right?”

Harry looked momentarily puzzled. “Yeah, of course.”

Jen smiled at him. “Then trust that I would never – ever – do anything to put you in danger. If I had even the slightest doubt as to his allegiance, I would not let him anywhere near you, okay?”

Harry relaxed slightly. “Okay.”

“Good.” Jen straightened up, ruffling his hair as she did so. “Severus is the only person I know who knows the same brand of Legilimency as Voldemort. He’s going to check your shields for us, is that alright?”

Harry looked nervous, but nodded. “I think so.”

Jen moved out of the way and Snape drew his wand. “Clear your mind, Potter.  Legilimens!

Harry staggered back a few steps with the force of the spell, but held his ground. In the ensuing silence, Jen tapped her foot against the ground anxiously.

She had never been fond of this brand of Legilimency, simply because it was so invasive. Very few wizards and witches bothered to learn it, because there was no point – discrete, it was not.

Several minutes passed before Snape lowered his wand, staring at Harry with a mixture of annoyance and – dare she say it? – admiration.

“Well, Potter, I’m impressed.” He admitted grudgingly.

Harry gaped at him. “Who are you, and what have you done with Professor Snape?”

Jen coughed to cover a laugh. “Well? What’s the verdict?”

Snape sighed. “His shields, though it pains me to admit it, are exceptional. He’s one of the most accomplished Occlumens I’ve come across.”
“So how did Voldemort get in then?” Jen asked.

“He can’t.” Snape said.

Harry frowned. “What about the dream? Sir?” He added, when Jen gave him a pointed look.

“Were it not for the connection through your scar,” Snape drawled, “the dream would not have happened. As it is, he cannot extract thoughts or feelings or memories, but he can provide them.”

“Connection?” Jen asked sharply. “What kind of connection?”

“I’m afraid I do not know.” Snape admitted. “It is not one like any I have encountered before. I would say, Black, that his mind is secure against Dumbledore and the Dark Lord.”

“Good.” Jen said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Go ahead then.”

Snape glared at her for a second, before turning back to Harry. “Mr Potter, I owe you an apology.”
“Alright, now I know there’s something going on!” Harry announced.

Snape’s mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. “The Headmaster led me to believe that you led a pampered life at home and that you would need your ego deflating. Having attended Hogwarts with your father, it was hardly a stretch to believe it.”

“My father …” Harry began, slightly heatedly.

“Could be an arrogant prat at times.” Jen finished calmly. “I love James dearly, Harry, he’s like a brother to me, but do not believe for one second that he was perfect.”

Harry looked a little shell-shocked. “Wait, why would Dumbledore say that?”

“Probably because Severus is one of the only teachers who will question him.” Jen answered. “He didn’t want the two of you to form an alliance.”

“Unfortunately,” Snape said, “I will still need to treat you like you are the bane of my existence – and in many ways, you are – lest Dumbledore realises that something is wrong or any of my more … committed Slytherins report back to their parents, do you understand?”
Harry nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Harry, we think that Dumbledore might ask Severus to teach you Occlumency next term." Jen said. “As far as he is aware, you are incapable of learning it.”

Harry frowned. “Why?”

“At the end of last year, after Hermione had left with Sirius, he placed a magical block on you to prevent you from being able to learn.” Jen explained grimly. “I removed it over the summer.”

“Why would he do that?” Harry asked slowly.

“I don’t know yet.” Jen admitted. “There’s also another block on your magic, preventing you from performing at the level you should be, but I don’t want to remove that just yet – it could be dangerous and you’ll probably need more than two weeks to recover.”

Harry nodded, his face set. “How are we going to get around the Occlumency lessons then?”
“We will still hold the Occlumency lessons.” Snape said. “However, if you were to be behind on your homework and could finish it in relative silence, I could be persuaded that the pile of marking on my desk is a far more pressing matter.”
Harry nodded again, smirking slightly. “I understand, sir.”

“Good.” Snape glanced at the clock. “I must be going. Albus will be expecting me back shortly.”

“Of course, Severus.” Jen responded. “Thank you for dropping by.”

Snape nodded to them and left through the fireplace. Susan, Neville and Hermione returned just as the flames died down.

“Why is Dumbledore so intent on manipulating me?” Harry asked tiredly, sinking into one of the armchairs.

“Well, Snape couldn’t tell me.” Jen said, waving the other three in. “But another of my sources could. Before you were born, there was a prophecy made. Now Voldemort only heard the first part, and that’s all I know: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies …”

Neville gasped, cutting off any response from the other three. “B-But Mum and Dad defied him three times – Gran told me – and my birthday’s the day before Harry’s!”
“I know.” Jen said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “It could have very easily meant you, Neville. Your parents and Harry’s all went into hiding. For whatever reason, Voldemort decided on Harry.”

“Do you think that’s why they were attacked?” Neville whispered. “Mum and Dad, I mean?”

“I think, by then, it was obvious that the prophecy referred to Harry.” Jen said gently. “I can think of several reasons why Bellatrix did what she did, but there’s no point in dwelling on them.”

“Does anyone know the full prophecy?” Hermione asked.

“Only Dumbledore.” Jen answered. “But there is a copy in the Department of Mysteries. The only person or people who can remove a prophecy are the people it’s about.”

“So either Harry or V-Voldemort,” Susan concluded, stuttering slightly over the name, “would have to go in and get it.”

Jen nodded, focussing her attention on Harry. “Your dream about Arthur was a vision, Harry, but I do not believe it happened by accident. I believe Voldemort intentionally sent you that dream.”

“Why?” Harry asked. “Surely Voldemort would want Mr Weasley dead, why tell someone who could save him?”
“Because if you have another dream like that, you’ll assume that’s true as well.” Hermione answered, face pale. “And if you couldn’t contact anyone to warn them, you’d go yourself. Maybe even to the Department of Mysteries, if you could get there.”

“Exactly.” Jen confirmed. “Now I might be wrong, Harry, but I want you to promise me that if you have another dream like that, you will do everything in your power to confirm its validity. If you cannot do so, find a teacher. I know Dumbledore’s not there, but Snape and McGonagall are – go to Flitwick if necessary; he’ll hear you out. Whatever you do, do not leave the castle. Do I make myself clear?”

Harry nodded. “Yes Jen.”

“Even if it is me or Sirius in the vision.” Jen pressed. “I want you to promise me that you will leave it to the Order.”
“But Jen …” Harry protested.

“No buts.” Jen interrupted firmly. “We are the adults in this scenario, not you. And if, Merlin forbid, the vision is real, and you act and get hurt, it will mean that we have failed. Our job is to keep you safe. I don’t want to treat you like a child, cub, because you’re not, but your job at the moment is to take your OWLs. Ours is to fight the war. Alright?”

Harry sighed. “Alright. But,” he added hastily, “you have to promise that you’ll be careful.”

“I promise.” Jen said immediately, drawing him into a hug. “You are far too important for us to lose.” She whispered. “Not because of the prophecy, not because you’re the Boy-Who-Lived, but because you’re Harry. You’re as good as my son, pumpkin, and I don’t want to have to bury you.”

Harry nodded into her shoulder and she pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

“Besides,” she continued, releasing him, “if I let something happen to you, Lily’s going to murder me.”

Harry laughed, which was her aim, and she smiled, but Hermione still looked worried.

“This is starting to look hopeless.” She said quietly. “I’m surprised Voldemort hasn’t just taken over yet.”

Jen was surprised. Generally, Hermione was quite optimistic. “What do you mean?”

“United we stand, divided we fall.” Hermione quoted. “Ministry, Order, us. We’re divided.”

“No.” Jen said firmly, shaking her head. “They might be, but the Marauders are still standing strong.” She crossed the room and gave Hermione a hug. “And we’re united by a bond that can’t be broken, Hermione, however much Dumbledore tried to.”

“You see,” Harry said contemplatively, “this is why you’re the leader of the light.”

Jen looked up sharply. “Excuse me?”
“The prophecy?” Hermione reminded her. “Grandmother’s, I mean, not yours. “The true leader of the light is hidden”.”

Jen sighed. “Don’t remind me. There’s some extreme pressure there – I’d rather cross that bridge when I come to it. Although …” She frowned thoughtfully. “Am I imagining that it said something about Chamber of Secrets?”

“No, you’re not.” Hermione answered. “It said that answers would be revealed there.”

Jen frowned. “I wonder if we can get Dumbledore away from Hogwarts next summer long enough to sneak in.”

Hermione smirked. “No need. Heir of Ravenclaw, remember? I can ask the castle to hide us and direct Dumbledore away from us. Getting in is going to be a problem.”

“I’ll think of something.” Jen assured her, glancing at the clock. “Sweet Circe, is that the time? Right, you lot, the wards cover us, so you can do magic here – just for Merlin’s sake, use it responsibly, or Augusta and Amelia will have my head.” She paused. “Might want to hold off if Molly’s here as well, just for my sanity. Hermione, the dining room is through that door and straight across, if you wouldn’t mind setting a table. Harry, follow me, I’ll need some help in the kitchen.” She directed her wand at her throat. “Sonorous! Boys, if you want dinner before midnight, I suggest you get down here to help me!”

***

A few days later, Augusta and Neville were getting ready to go to St Mungo’s to visit Frank and Alice. Neville had been quite tight-lipped about the visit, and he looked vaguely panicked when Jen, Harry and Hermione appeared in the Entrance Hall.

“Mind if we tag along?” Jen asked with false cheeriness.

“Actually,” Sirius said from the top of the stairs, “Harry, would you mind staying? I need to talk to you about something.”
Hermione exchanged a puzzled look with Harry, but neither of them argued. It was probably best of only one of them went anyway.

“I know you’re going Christmas Day,” Jen added, as Harry jogged up the stairs, “but that should be family only, and I would like to see them before Christmas.”
“Of course, dear.” Augusta agreed. “Neville, close your mouth and remember your manners.”

Neville shut his mouth with a snap. “Of course, Gran.” He offered Hermione his arm. “May I?”
“Certainly.” Hermione slipped her arm through his and they followed the two women towards the transport stone. She waited until they were in the forest and walking towards the apparition point, before squeezing his arm and purposely slowing her steps so they fell behind a little. “Neville, if you have a problem with me coming along, I won’t be offended.”

“Not a problem.” Neville said, his voice shaking. “Just … They’re pretty bad, Hermione.”

“I know.” Hermione said softly. “I won’t pity you, Neville, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll be sympathetic, but I really will try not to pity. I know Harry hates that as well.”

Neville nodded jerkily. “Is there a reason …?”

“Your mum was friends with Annie – you know, my half-sister.” Hermione said. “I guess I’d just like to meet her. And I vaguely remember them from when I was a baby.” She hesitated, unsure whether she should get his hopes up. “And when Jen went to visit the first time, she got the impression that they were … well, a little more alert than the Healers thought. Since I’m an empath, she’d like me to take a look.”

Neville took a deep breath. “Okay. Just – Just try not to be shocked.” He said, as they caught up with Jen and Augusta. “And …”
“No pitying.” Hermione finished. “I promise.”

They parted, Hermione to take Jen’s arm, Neville to take his grandmother’s, and, with that unpleasant squeezing sensation, they apparated up to London, appearing in an alleyway.

“This is St Mungo’s?” Hermione questioned.
“No.” Neville answered, managing a small smile. “This is the apparition point. It’s got Muggle-repelling Charms on it.”

The entrance to St Mungo’s turned out to be the most interesting magical entrance Hermione had seen so far. She had walked past the same department store with her mother several times as a child – it had never occurred to her that it had magical connections, despite never being open.

Now she knew, she realised that Jane had always looked a little sad when they passed – as a child, Hermione had assumed that she remember when it was open.

But Mum was a Healer, Lily said. She must have been remembering something else. She would have worked here.

None of them said anything as they made their way to the fourth floor. The medi-witch on duty gave Augusta and Neville a sympathetic smile as she unlocked the doors for them, directing them to the curtained-off area at the end of the ward.

As they approached, Neville slipped his hand into Hermione’s and she squeezed it gently, silently reaffirming that she was there if he needed her.

Not that he hasn’t done this a hundred times before.

Frank and Alice were both awake when they stepped through the curtain, although neither of them looked up. Alice was playing with her hair, and Frank was poking a stain on his sheet.

“Hello dear.” Augusta greeted, sitting on Frank’s bed. “It’s lovely to see you awake for once.”

“Hi Mum.” Neville said softly, dropping Hermione’s hand to approach her. “How are you?”

Alice looked up at his voice and began humming softly, dropping her hand to allow him to braid it for her.

“Frank’s almost never awake.” Jen explained in an undertone. “And Neville’s been braiding her hair since he was old enough to. He’s quite good at it, don’t you think?”

But Hermione didn’t answer. She was frozen to the spot, tears springing to her eyes, and she turned away hastily to hide them.

“Pull it together, Hermione.” Jen said, softly but firmly. “You promised Neville you wouldn’t pity him, remember?”
Hermione shook her head. “I’m not pitying him, Jen.” She insisted. “It’s my empathy … it’s only faint, but … they’re terrified, Jen. Both of them. They’re trapped and they can’t get out.”

Jen’s breath caught in her throat, and she closed her eyes. “Oh Merlin …”

“We can help them, right?” Hermione asked.

Jen swallowed. “I don’t know, sweetheart. I’d love to say yes, but … I don’t know where to start. I need time to think.”

“Hermione?” Neville asked nervously. “Is everything alright?”

Hermione took a steady breath and pasted a smile on her face. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She moved forward to stand behind him. “Hi Mrs Longbottom. I’m Hermione, I go to school with Neville. I’m Annie’s sister. It’s really nice to meet you.”

Alice didn’t look anything like the girl in the photograph she’d seen in the summer. Or maybe she did – it was hard to tell when she was so pale.

“I don’t know if anyone’s told you.” Hermione continued. “But Neville’s amazing at Herbology. Really wonderful. He could probably teach the class if he wanted.”

Alice didn’t seem to hear her, but her humming got slightly louder.

Raising an eyebrow, Hermione looked at Neville. “Is she humming Over the Rainbow?”

“Yes.” Jen answered, leaning past them to kiss Alice’s head. “Hi sweetie. She used to sing that to get Neville to sleep when he was a baby.”
Neville looked up at her in awe. “Really? Gran never …”

“She didn’t know.” Jen said gently. “Ally was quite shy when it came to singing. Didn’t do it in front of a lot of people.”

They didn’t stay much longer. After five minutes, Frank yawned and Jen left Alice’s side to help Augusta get him into bed.

Then they all bid Alice goodbye, though she didn’t respond, and started to make their way towards the ward doors.

“Well?” Neville asked Hermione. “What did you get?”

Augusta sighed. “Neville, you can’t get your hopes up …”

“They’re definitely aware of what’s going on.” Hermione interrupted. “But I don’t know how to help them.”

Augusta looked taken aback, and Hermione could swear there was a tear sparkling in her eye. “It’s a start, at least, we’ll just need to … Yes, Alice, dear, what is it?”

Hermione turned around. Alice, still dressed in her nightgown, had followed them and was edging along the ward towards them. She seemed unsteady on her feet, but she was gesturing timidly towards Neville, reaching out towards him.

“Again?” Augusta asked. “Alright, Alice – Neville, take whatever it is.”

Neville hadn’t needed prompting, reaching out towards his mother, and Alice dropped something into it. “Thanks, Mum.”

Alice wandered back towards her bed, humming again, and Neville turned back towards them, displaying a Drooble’s Best-Blowing Gum wrapper.

“You must have enough to paper your bedroom by now.” Augusta remarked.

“Probably.” Neville agreed, slipping it into his pocket regardless.

“I’m not surprised.” Jen said. “They always were her favourites.” She gave Hermione another, slightly cautionary glance, and Hermione smiled weakly, taking Neville’s arm again and blinking back tears.

She may have promised not to pity him, but it was one of the hardest promises she’d ever have to keep.

Chapter Text

As Christmas approached, a voyeur into Ravenscroft Manor would be forgiven for thinking that there was no war. Any trace of it seemed to have been vanished by the festivities, swept away in a wave of laughter and gaiety and tinsel and gingerbread.

On Christmas morning, Jen woke slowly, awareness creeping over her. She blinked sleepily a couple of times before sinking back into the pillow.

Upon visiting Grimmauld Place the day before to drop of cards and presents for the rest of the Order, she had found Kreacher intimidating two house-elves, who had promptly clung to her.

Both were Hogwarts elves who had been dismissed from their previous families. One wanted a family to serve again, the other just wanted to work for ‘Harry Potter sir’, so she had happily hired them.

And, since she didn’t need to make breakfast, she didn’t need to get up.

You awake?

No.

You answered.

No I didn’t.

I heard you.

You’re imagining things.

Jen …

It’s Christmas morning. I’m allowed to sleep in. Jen rolled over, still keeping her eyes stubbornly shut.

“Jen.” Remus tried again, out loud this time. “We might want to get up.”
Jen groaned. “Remus, it’s Christmas.”
“I know.” Remus said soothingly, pressing a kiss to her shoulder. “And you know what that means.”

As though he’d been waiting for the cue, Sirius burst through the door, turning into Padfoot mid-leap and landing on Remus’s stomach with a bark.

Jen’s eyes flew open just in time for her to push him away. “Padfoot, don’t you dare.” She sat up and glared at him. “One day, you’re going to do that and see something you really don’t want to see!”

Padfoot jumped down from the bed and transformed again. “Then lock the door.”

“I did.” Jen said through gritted teeth. “What time is it?”

“Five thirty.” Sirius said cheerfully.

“Five …” Jen fell back on to her pillow with a sigh, her hair settling around her head like a halo. “We normally can’t get you out of bed until eight! Sometimes later!”
“Usually later.” Remus added.

“It’s Christmas!” Sirius reminded them. “Tis the season for waking up early.”

“If you’re not careful, it’s going to be the season for fratricide.” Jen muttered.

Remus snorted. “Sirius, you’re thirty-five.”

Sirius glared at him. “No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.” Remus argued. “Harry is fifteen, Hermione is sixteen. Therefore you are thirty-five.”

“Yeah, well …” Sirius seemed to struggle with a comeback for a few minutes before … “So are you!”

Remus rolled his eyes. “I know that. I, however, act my age.”

“But that’s …”

“Alright, children, that’s quite enough.” Jen interrupted. “Sirius, go and wake Hermione and Harry. I believe the Longbottoms and the Bones’ are spending this morning just themselves, so try not to wake them as well. We’ll meet you in the living room.”

“Yes ma’am.” Sirius said with a salute.

Jen ran a hand through her hair as the door closed behind him. “So much for a lie-in.”

“Maybe next yet.” Remus said with a grin.

“Don’t jinx it.” Jen cautioned, then sighed. “Well, if I’m up, I’m up.”

Remus caught her arm as she moved to get out of bed. “Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas.” Jen responded, meeting his kiss for a few seconds. “We’d better move fast if we want to beat him downstairs.”

“I know.” Remus said. “Do you want the shower?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Jen answered, making her way towards the bathroom. Care to help me save water?

***

On the next floor down, Hermione, too, had been anticipating a lie-in.

She, too, found herself disappointed.

“WAAAAAAAKE UPPPPP!”

With a soft scream, Hermione jolted awake and promptly fell out of bed, landing with a thud on the carpet. Struggling to her feet, she glared, bleary-eyed, at Sirius, who was leaning casually against the door frame, grinning at her.

“Why?!” She asked.

“It’s Christmas!” He said happily.

Hermione looked at the clock. “It’s six o’clock!”

“It’s Christmas!” Sirius repeated. “So get dressed and get downstairs. And can you try and get Harry up? I’ve been trying for the last half an hour.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “That’s good.”

Sirius frowned slightly. “How is it good?”

“Harry’s normally a really light sleeper.” Hermione explained. “The fact that he’s sleeping heavily here means he feels safe.”

“Well, that’s …” Sirius cleared his throat. “That’s good. Can you?”
Hermione smiled. “Yeah, sure.” She waited until Sirius had left, changed into some jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt, then made her way across the house and into Harry’s room without bothering to knock.

“Harry! Time to wake up now!”

No response.

“Harry!”

This time, she got a groan, but nothing else.

Heaving a sigh, Hermione carefully moved his wand out of his reach, climbed on to the bed and began jumping up and down, hoping the motion would shake him awake.

“Harry! Wake – up – before – I – hex – you!”

“Good luck with that, dear.” Lily’s voice said from behind her.

Without pausing in her jumps, Hermione looked over her shoulder. “Hi Lily. Everything alright?”

“Fine.” Lily said, laughing at Hermione’s efforts to wake her son. “Try telling him that there’s chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.”

Hermione stopped jumping, continuing to bob up and down for a few seconds afterwards. “Harry? There’s chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast?”

Harry’s nose wiggled and he finally opened his eyes, blinking drowsily up at her. “Pancakes?”
Hermione looked over at Lily. “How did you know?”

Lily smiled smugly. “A mother always knows.”

Hermione jumped down from the bed and seized his arm, trying to drag him out of bed. “Come on!”

Harry groaned. “Hermione! It’s too early!”
“It’s Christmas Day!” Hermione said. “Come on, or we’ll start without you!”

“Alright!” Harry protested, getting out of bed. “I’m up! Would you at least let me get dressed?”
“You have five minutes.” Hermione informed him, leaving the room. “I’m timing you.”

Four minutes and fifty eight seconds later, Harry emerged, dressed similarly to her, and they ran downstairs to the living room, where Jen and Remus were waiting near a large table filled with food.

“Thought we’d have breakfast in here this morning.” Jen said by way of greeting, embracing them both. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!” They chorused.

“Lily promised me chocolate chip pancakes.” Hermione said, as Sirius emerged from the dining room.

“Then you’re in luck.” Jen said cheerfully. “We have chocolate chip pancakes, regular pancakes and blueberry pancakes. We have fried eggs, scrambled eggs and poached eggs. We have three different types of bacon, as well as sausages, grilled tomatoes, black pudding and a funny grey thing, but I’m not entirely sure what it is.”

“Looks like porridge to me.” Hermione said, dipping a cautious finger in to taste it. “Better add some sugar and honey to it though.”

Harry was gaping at the table. “Jen, did you do all this this morning?”

Jen chuckled. “Well, I had help.”

“Who?” Hermione asked. “Not Kreacher, surely.”
“No.” Jen said with a shudder. “No, I found two house-elves at Grimmauld Place yesterday looking for work, and I think you might know them.”

“Dobby?” Harry questioned with a grin.

There was a double-crack, and the elf in question ran into Harry’s legs, hugging him tightly. “Harry Potter sir!”

To Hermione’s delight, Winky had appeared with him, and she knelt down to say hello. “Hello, Winky, you’re looking much happier.”

Winky smiled shyly. “Thank you, miss. Winky is happy to be being part of a family again, miss.”

“Well, this is a rather strange family, Winky, but we’re happy to have you both.” Jen said cheerfully. “And breakfast looks wonderful, thank you.”

It took several minutes to calm the elves down, but once they had, they popped back into the kitchen, both far happier than Harry and Hermione had ever seen them.

“Right,” Jen caught her brother’s arm as he made for the tree. “Breakfast first. Then presents.”

“At least we don’t have the pressure of a Ball today.” Hermione remarked, as she helped herself to scrambled eggs.

“We had a Ball when we were at Hogwarts.” Jen remarked.

“I know.” Hermione said. “Lily told me all about it.”

“And today was the day Frank proposed to Alice in seventh year.” Jen continued.

“That, I didn’t know.” Hermione admitted.

“And yesterday was the day Lily found out she was having Harry.” Sirius added.

Harry perked up. “Really? She didn’t know for two months?”

“More like six weeks.” Sirius corrected. “She was early when she had you. I’d finished work earlier than Jen and James, so James asked me to pop in, just to make sure everything was okay. Well, she wasn’t too well, and refused to let me take her to St Mungo’s, so we tried a little self-diagnosis.”

“And she realised she was pregnant.” Hermione concluded.

Jen laughed. “James invited me and Remus over for dinner, and Lily suggested we open a present early. James and Sirius were practically bouncing off the walls.”

“Lily’s gift to James was a Christmas tree ornament with ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ on it.” Remus said.

“Dragged me through Muggle London to find that.” Sirius added. “Took us forever because she was still feeling sick so we had to keep stopping.”

“And James, bless him, took about ten minutes to catch on!” Jen finished, laughing.

The rest of breakfast flew by with more stories of Christmases past and, by the time Jen sent all the empty dishes and plates back to the kitchen with a wave of her wand, everyone was feeling much more awake.

“Presents!” Sirius said cheerfully, waving his wand at the tree. Four wrapped gifts lifted from the pile and shot to the intended recipient. “Start without me, I have to go and …” He waved his hand towards the Entrance Hall and disappeared in that direction.

Hermione watched him leave with a frown, then turned to the present that had landed in her lap. It was thin and flat, more like an envelope than a parcel, and she opened it carefully, finding a handwritten letter.

Kitten,

I know you remember the day I dropped you home – better than I do, in fact – and I’m sure you heard me say that I said you’d stay. You’ve probably also realised that I wouldn’t make an empty promise like that, but that I couldn’t legally keep you from your mother.

Well, I found a way, and I can only apologise that I didn’t tell you before now.

Love, Padfoot

Hermione glanced at Harry, who was ignoring the present in his lap in favour of grinning at her. “Do you know what this is?”

“Do you know what it is?” He asked in response. “Go on.”

Removing the letter from the envelope, Hermione found another piece of parchment, this one bearing the Gringotts sign, but it wasn’t a letter.

It was a certificate.

This is to certify, it stated, in bold black ink, that on this day, the 27th day in October in the year 1982, Miss Hermione Jane Granger (September 19th 1980) has been formally adopted, by blood, by magic, and by law, into the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black.

Hermione sucked in a breath and let it out shakily. “Harry, did you know?”

“Yeah, Hermione, I knew.” Harry said, his grin softening. “He told me while you were at the hospital. Wanted to ask me how best to tell you.”

Tucking the letter into her pocket, Hermione jumped to her feet and followed Sirius’s path out of the room. She found him in the music part of the reception room, gazing out of the window.

He didn’t turn at her approach, but she knew he knew she was there.

“That’s what the Glamour Charm was for.” She said. “And why my hair looked darker. A blood adoption would have changed my appearance.”

“I wouldn’t have wanted Jane to realise and run.” Sirius said by way of explanation. “That’s probably why I …”

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Hermione asked.

“I was worried.” Sirius admitted, finally turning to face her. “Still am worried. I’m hardly a model parent, Hermione-”

“No one,” Hermione said, cutting him off. “No child would ever be ashamed to claim you as a dad, Padfoot.” He still didn’t look convinced and she took a step towards him, laying the certificate on the piano. “You remember me saying that I started teaching the DA the Patronus Charm?”

Seemingly taken aback by the sudden change of subject, Sirius nodded. “I do. You never got round to it.”

“But Harry taught me the Patronus Charm last year.” Hermione continued. “So I do know it.”
“I know that too.” Sirius said, a smile touching his face. “You showed me over the summer.”

“An otter.” Hermione said, nodding. “Except that’s not the form it took when I demonstrated for the DA.” She drew her wand and waved it firmly. “Expecto Patronum!

Once again, the silver Grim-like dog shot from the tip of her wand, bounding around the room eagerly.

Expecto Patronum.” She repeated quietly. “I expect a protector.”

As the Patronus disappeared, she slipped her wand away again and stepped into his open arms, which closed around her tightly.

For a few minutes, neither of them spoke. Her hands gripped the back of his shirt tightly, as though afraid he might disappear, and he mentally cursed Dumbledore and Wormtail and Crouch, and every other person he could blame for causing him to abandon his baby girl.

“Oh, Hermione.” He whispered into her hair. “I love you, Kitten.”

“Love you, Dad.” Hermione lifted her head. “It’s going to take time to get my head round it.”

“I know.” Sirius said, kissing her forehead and loosening his grip, albeit reluctantly. “Take your time.”

Hermione pulled away, picked up the certificate, and walked back to the door, turning back to say, “Are you coming?”
Sirius smiled weakly at her. “Yeah, of course. Just give me a few minutes, alright?”

Hermione nodded and left the room, leaving Sirius to turn back to the window, gazing out at the rising sun, even if it was an enchanted view. “You’d love her too, Ads.” He murmured. “Hope your Christmas isn’t too bad out there.”

***

Unbeknownst to Sirius, almost 10,000 miles away, Addison Marlene McKinnon was gazing out at the same sky, rapidly darkening above her, since they were fourteen hours ahead, her eyes fixed on the star that had only just appeared.

If she ever escaped and if he ever found out, Sirius would find it hilarious that she resorted to staring at his namesake when she missed him, but there was nothing else she could do.

After fourteen years, Addie was well-versed to boredom.

Not that she liked admitted that she was bored – being stuck where she was, boredom was far preferable to torture.

But it was … well, boring.

She hadn’t seen James or Lily or Leona for over six months, since she had tried to apparate through a hole in the wards. Spending fourteen years teaching herself wandless magic was finally paying off, but it hadn’t helped her.

When she had found the hole, she had ignored it for at least a week.

What good was it?

She could possibly save herself, yes – but what about the others?

Of course after fourteen years, James knew were well enough to know when she was hiding something – Lily had always been able to read her, and Leona (for all their disagreements) was not her twin sister for nothing.

When they had learned what she had found, they had urged her to take the chance and escape – there was no point, they said, in all four of them waiting around for Merlin knows what to happen, when she could escape and get help.

But it had done her no good, transporting her, instead, to another room with no way back. She knew from looking out the window that she was still on the island. She had just been glad there was a separate bathroom, even more so now that she had company.

Undeterred by her sudden change in location, she had continued to watch the wards closely, waiting for her chance to escape.

But with Cedric’s arrival, the wards had shot back up to full strength, just missing the point where they would be low enough to apparate over.

He was sitting across the room, staring at his feet, looking much smaller than his eighteen years.

She knew why.

Death Eaters had started reappearing on the island. They didn’t stay long, and they hadn’t approached the house (Addie assumed they were still in the house), but they were there.

They hadn’t been there in over fourteen years.

It was happening again.

And none of us have wands …

Last time, Addie had been somewhat protected, and James and Lily were satisfied that she and Leona hadn’t been hurt too badly.

I swear to Merlin, if one of those bastards hurts my baby sister … Hurts any of them for that matter … I won’t need a freakin’ wand.

Addie had always preferred anger to fear – it was one of the things that got her into trouble at Hogwarts.

Technically, Addie and Leona were twins, but being four minutes older, Addie fully considered Leona her little sister, and the girl did act it sometimes.

Leona wasn’t a dueller or a fighter. She would stand up for what was right, yes, but she’d do it from the side lines, which was one of the reasons why Addie was so angry that her sister had been dragged into it.

She wasn’t a threat. They could have let her go. She didn’t have to go through that.

Because, the truth was, they had been hurt.

Addie had tried not to let that show to James and Lily, although she wasn’t sure that they had completely believed her.

She hated lying to them, but they were already so worried about Harry that she couldn’t bring herself to worry them further.

When she had first told Leona, privately, to keep the extent of the damage private, Leona had not looked convinced – not because she didn’t agree, but because James and Lily were both intelligent and stubborn enough to know that they were hiding something and to keep asking until one of the girls snapped.

Incredibly, though, this hadn’t happened. James and Lily, after their initial flurry of concern, had taken their word for it.

Addie’s theory had been that neither wanted to dwell on the past, and the way Lily’s eyes occasionally lingered on them the morning after nightmares seemed to agree.

Lily wouldn’t want to think about it. James – probably – didn’t want to hear how he’d ‘failed them’.

Even as the thought crossed her mind, Addie rolled her eyes. She loved James dearly – he had grown to become her older brother – but he had a tendency to get very protective over the women in his life, even if he knew they could handle themselves.

Idiot, she thought fondly. It’s not like it’s his fault. I swear he’d blame himself for everything if he could – him and Sirius, both.

Now the Death Eaters were returning, it was highly likely that Leona had given in and told James and Lily exactly what to expect.

She hoped.

Even the few things they had confessed had been kept very vague.

“I never let them hear me scream.”

She tried not to.

Stubbornness had always been one of her less endearing traits.

But she did.

Sometimes at night, her own screams woke her up and she jolted back to consciousness with spasms of pain rocking her body, and it would take her a few moments to realise that the pain wasn’t real, just very vivid souvenirs from yet another nightmare.

Across the room, Cedric shifted, and she glanced at him for a split-second, before looking back at the sky.

At first, Addie had been wary of him, reluctant to believe that he was any different from his father (damn him to hell), but within hours, he had proved her wrong, and she found herself resisting the urge to cross the room and comfort him.

He wouldn’t take it well, though.

She was fairly sure he thought she was mad.

Maybe she was.

After fourteen years, they all had cabin fever.

Numerous times, over the last fourteen – nearly fifteen years – she had found herself laughing herself to sleep, caught up in some kind of hysteria.

The star twinkled in the sky as the rest of the consolation slowly appeared around it.

Sirius. The dog-star. Sometimes I really wonder if it was fate.

Her feelings for Sirius had undergone a great deal of internal scrutiny since James and Lily had arrived. They hadn’t said much on the subject, only that he had never moved on, but she got the feeling that he was not handling her disappearance well.

But dammit to hell if that’s what I want for him. He thinks I’m dead; he’s allowed to fall in love again.

Until Cedric had arrived, Addie had tried not to think about Sirius Black. She and Leona and James and Lily had formed a family of sorts – it wasn’t perfect, and the location left much to be desired, but they were about as content as they could be, given the circumstances.

Besides, Sirius would have moved on by then.

Sometimes Addie would dream about escaping, about going to find him, only to look in on a happily family scene – a woman (her appearance changed with each dream and her face was never clear enough to see) making breakfast, a small child balanced on her hip, while two other children chased each other around the breakfast table, before Sirius came in and scooped them both up, kissing his wife as he passed.

Every time, Addie awoke gasping, before curling up into a ball and sternly telling herself not to be so selfish – that Sirius had the right to love and be loved, that she would probably die out there on that island, and that she wanted Sirius to be happy.

If that wasn’t with her, so be it.

She had long since made up her mind that, if she returned to that scene, she would not intrude, but walk away, disappearing again, this time of her own free will.

Then Cedric arrived and Addie had finally asked about the rest of her friends, and Sirius’s fate had shocked her.

“He’s a murderer. He murdered thirteen people with one curse, and he laughed about it. He’s a Death Eater, You-Know-Who’s second-in-command. And I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

Her initial reaction had been to laugh, thinking that it was a joke. When he hadn’t laughed with her, just looked very solemnly at her, she had slipped into a kind of numb shock.

“But Sirius would never do that.”

The words had become a kind of mantra in her head, over and over again.

If Cedric didn’t think she was mad, then he pitied her. Pitied her for her steadfast belief in someone that so many others had given up on.

Cedric was a Hufflepuff, though. He had admitted that he admired her loyalty.

If stubbornness was one of Addie’s less endearing traits, loyalty was one of the more endearing.

Her Animagus form was canine, after all, and she had taken his admission as a compliment.

It was a compliment, she felt, she did not deserve.

Since her first year at Hogwarts, Sirius had been constant.

Annoying, yes, but constant.

It had taken her so long to believe in his feelings for her.

Her mother and father, for all she loved them dearly, had been very aware when they were children that Leona was not as bright as Addie, and had done all they could to make sure she didn’t feel bad because of this.

In saving Leona’s self-esteem, they inadvertently crushed Addie’s underfoot.

She had hurt Sirius terribly, she knew, several times at Hogwarts, due to her inability to believe that he truly wanted her when so many other girls would kill to be with him.

When she did finally surrender her heart, she did it fully.

Cedric had given up trying to convince her of Sirius’s guilt by now – they didn’t even discuss it.

“You hadn’t seen him in three years – people change.”

Don’t I know it?

Addie had changed. She liked to think she hadn’t, that she had never been as naïve as she must have been at Hogwarts, but she couldn’t escape the fact that she had.

“Maybe the Potters didn’t tell you about him because they didn’t want to hurt you.”

Cedric had told her about how Sirius had been James and Lily’s Secret Keeper – they hadn’t even mentioned it. It was possible, Addie had to concede, that they thought Sirius was dead, and had been trying to protect her.

But surely they wouldn’t have been able to keep that act up for that long.

James and Sirius were practically brothers, and Lily was as good as Sirius’s sister.

Surely there must be another explanation.

“Maybe you didn’t know him as well as you thought.”

Definitely not.

Sirius knew Addie better than anyone living, and she knew him just as well.

Although how true that is now he’s been in Azkaban for twelve years …

Just the thought sent a shudder through her body. Given the reality, she wished he had moved on, married, and given his heart to someone else.

Anything but that hellhole.

No, they may have been young.

They may have only been together for six months.

But Addie still loved Sirius, and it was that love that kept her belief strong.

In fact, it wasn’t even love – it was necessity.

Voldemort and his Death Eaters had taken everything from her – her family, her freedom … her life.

She had long since accepted the fact that she would probably die there.

To believe, much less accept, that Sirius had done the things Cedric said … that he was inadvertently responsible for what had happened to her …

It would kill her.

Addie may have been a Gryffindor, but even Gryffindors get scared sometimes.

And Addie was terrified.

Sirius would never do that. Her mind finished firmly, changing the inflection to finish her train of thought. Now stop it. If I’ve been counting the days right, today was …

She faltered.

Had she really spent another Christmas here?

Remember to make your Christmas wishes, Addie, her mother’s voice seemed to whisper.

Addie closed her eyes. Please let the others be alright. Please, please let them be alright.

As she opened her eyes, the star twinkled even brighter, and a smile touched her lips. What the hell? She blew a kiss towards it. Cedric thinks I’m mad anyway. Merry Christmas, my love, wherever you are.

***

“What was all that about?” Jen asked Remus in an undertone, when Hermione returned.

“Not quite sure.” Remus admitted.

Harry stood up, setting the present on his lap aside. “Are you okay?”

Hermione nodded, wrapping her arms around him. “Yeah, thanks.” Catching sight of their bewildered expressions, she passed over the piece of parchment in her hand.

Glancing at it, Jen leapt to her feet and swept both of them into a hug. “I always wondered why he never did something like that!”!

Jen,Remus said warningly, I think she might be a little overwhelmed.

Right, of course. Jen released them both, smiling brightly. “Harry, I believe you have a present to open.”

Hermione gave her a grateful smile, as Harry picked up the package again and ripped off the covering to reveal another photo album.

This one bore pictures of his parents and the other Marauders as well, but something was different about them …

“Jen, are these Muggle photos?”

“No.” Jen said with a smile. “They’re frozen due to the magic in them, watch.” She turned to a picture of Lily in the Great Hall, looking completely shocked, and tapped it with her wand.

Instantly, the picture began to move, but unlike regular wizarding pictures, sound accompanied it.

“Don’t just sit there!” Jen’s voice said. “Go after him!”

They watched Lily jump to her feet and run out of the Hall, while Sirius and Remus, seemingly unconcerned with what had just happened, took a seat at the Gryffindor table.

A third girl stayed standing, blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail. “You only hexed that seat, right?” She asked suspiciously, an Irish lilt tinting her voice.

Harry frowned slightly, paying closer attention as Sirius put a hand on his heart with an innocent expression. “Addison, darling, I’m hurt you’d think anything else.”

His words caused the girl to roll her eyes, but she sat down regardless. “So you two hexed James’s seat so he’d say the first thing that came into his head when Lily sat down, knowing that he’d confess how he feels about her?”

Harry chuckled over the ensuing conversation. “Did you really?”

Remus shrugged modestly. “Well, he’d been asking your mum about for a while, but she hadn’t caught on to the fact that he was serious yet, so we gave him a bit of help.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Addison’s voice rose just a little. “Sirius Black is a waste of your breath, Leona – forget about him.”

Harry’s eyes snapped back to the photograph, seeing an identical blonde girl gazing at his teenage godfather. Her sister’s words, though scathing, had an underlying tone of … something. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“Addie, I feel I must point out that you, yourself, just wasted some of your own heavenly breath on me.” Sirius said airily.

Harry leaned over to Hermione. “Didn’t Mum say they were dating?”

“She did.” Hermione confirmed softly. “So did Sirius … I think.”

“Hello!” Sirius said cheerfully. “What have we here? Are they? Aren’t they?”

“Stop being so dramatic, Sirius.” Addie chided, as James and Lily re-entered the Hall. “Well, they’re both smiling – that’s a good sign.”

“Well?!” Sirius demanded when they’d sat down. “Are you or aren’t you?”

James smiled goofily and kissed his new girlfriend. “We are.”

The photograph froze again, and Hermione smiled. “That’s really sweet.”

“Yeah.” Harry agreed faintly. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart.” Jen said, hugging him. “Something bothering you?”

“That was Addie, right?” Harry asked. “Mum said she and Sirius were dating when …”

“That’s her.” Jen said hastily, glancing at the living room door cautiously.

“How come she went out with him?” Harry asked, bewildered. “She hated him!”

Jen chuckled. “Nah, she didn’t. She could be damn stubborn at times, and she’d been hurt once before …”

“When she spoke to her sister,” Harry said slowly, “she sounded, I don’t know …”

“Short?” Jen finished. “Leona tended to get on Addie’s nerves quite a bit.”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “Well, yes. Under that, I mean. She sounded … I couldn’t figure out if it was jealous or worried.”

“Probably both.” Remus said, entering the conversation.

Jen nodded in agreement. “Addie was quite insecure back then, came from Amos cheating on her in fourth. She could never quite understand why Sirius was so enamoured with her, when Leona would have given her right arm to date him. On the flip side, she didn’t entirely trust Sirius at that time, and I don’t blame her entirely – he went through a phase in fifth year …” She trailed off. “Anyway, Leona could be a little naïve at times; I think Addie was worried about her getting hurt.”

“When was that?” Harry asked.

“Middle of November, sixth year.” Jen answered. “She and Sirius didn’t get together until September of seventh. Don’t be fooled, Harry – she loved Sirius very much, and they were …”

“Nauseating.” Remus finished.

“Crazy about each other.” Jen finished, giving him a stern look.

“Who were crazy about each other?” Sirius asked, appearing in the doorway.

“No one.” Jen said hastily. “Forget I said anything.” She jumped to her feet. “I’d better go and get a start on dinner.”

“Didn’t you hire Dobby and Winky for a reason?” Sirius asked.

“I like cooking.” Jen said simply. “They think I’m crazy, but there you go.”

“You’re changing the subject.” Sirius said. “Who were you talking about?”

“You and Addie.” Remus answered, ignoring his girlfriend’s mental chastisement. “We gave Harry the photo album and watched the day James and Lily got together. He asked about her.”

“Thank you Moony.” Sirius said, still looking at Jen, who had sunk back into her chair again, watching him worriedly. “You can say her name, you know. I’m not going to break. It’s been eighteen years.”

Jen lowered her voice, and Harry and Hermione, getting the hint, busied themselves with the photo album. “Are you saying you’re over her?”

“Over her?” Sirius let out a bitter laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous, Jenny. How could I ever be ‘over her’? She’s my everything, Jen; part of me died the day we lost her. That doesn’t mean you need to treat me like I’m going to explode every time I hear her name.”

“Speaking of love,” Remus said quietly, “am I the only one who sees it?”

The twins followed his gaze to where Harry and Hermione were bent over the photo album.

“Ten galleons says they’re dating by the time they come home for the summer.” Sirius murmured.

“No way.” Jen said, shaking her head. “They’re both as oblivious as James and Lily. It’ll take at least until next Christmas.”

“No, you’re not giving Ron and Ginny enough credit.” Remus insisted. “Easter, at the latest.”

“Deal.” The other two agreed, just as a present landed on Jen’s lap.

“What’s this?” She asked.

“It’s a Christmas present.” Harry answered with a grin. “Apparently, you’re supposed to give them out at this time of year.”

“You’ve got your father’s sense of humour.” Jen sighed. “I meant, who’s it from?”

“Both of us.” Hermione said. “And technically, it’s for all three of you.”
Jen glanced warily at the two men beside her. Both teens’ grins were a little too Marauder-like for comfort. Nevertheless, she carefully pulled the paper off to find a framed portrait of a forest clearing, illuminated by a full moon.

“Oh, that’s lovely.” She remarked. “Is it the Forbidden Forest?”

Harry nodded, still grinning. “We got Dean to paint it for us and then Hermione tweaked it. It needs to be activated though.”
“How do we activate it?” Remus asked cautiously. “And what does it do?”
“Nothing bad.” Hermione assured him. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

Jen would have made a comment about predictability, but she was too busy watching the portrait come to life. The trees began swaying in a wind they couldn’t feel and night-sounds came from the frame, the rustling of leaves, the soft hooting of an owl, and then the howl of a wolf, so chillingly realistic that it gave Jen goosebumps.

As the howl died away, a brown werewolf came trotting out of the trees, with a black wolf at his side. He looked around, then lifted his head and howled again. A barking answered him, a barking that swiftly became yelps as a large black dog was shunted from behind another tree by a stag’s antlers. The werewolf lowered his head and leapt at the dog, who rolled out the way and they started a furious game of chase with the other wolf, the hunter becoming the hunted at a second’s notice and tussling like puppies when they caught each other. The stag watched, every now and then sticking out a hoof to trip the dog up, as a doe trotted out of the trees to stand beside him.

“Do you like it?” Harry asked, sounding anxious.

“It’s incredible.” Jen breathed. “That is exactly how the boys acted on the full moon. How did you get it so realistic?”

“Well, we asked Dean to paint a picture of a forest clearing for us.” Hermione explained. “And then asked him to add two wolves, a black dog, a stag and a doe. Then I altered it magically, using the castle to guide me.”

“The castle?” Sirius repeated.

“I can communicate with her, remember?” Hermione asked. “She can’t talk, but she can give me a vague feeling as to whether I’m right or not. Like playing the hot or cold game.”

“Muggle game.” Jen explained, when Sirius looked even more lost. “You hide something and the other person has to find it. You help them, by saying ‘warmer’ as they get closer and ‘colder’ as they get further away.” She flicked her wand and the portrait fastened itself to the wall above the fireplace.

Harry and Hermione exchanged a smile as they were swept into another hug, this one much less awkward.

“Thank you.” Jen whispered, releasing them and checking the clock. “I’d better get started on dinner.” She announced, as Remus and Sirius thanked them as well. “Andie and Ted are arriving by the front door, Sirius, so just listen out, okay?”

“I’d better go and get changed.” Hermione remarked, getting to her feet as well.

“Why?” Harry asked obliviously. “You look fine.”

Hermione and Jen exchanged an eye-roll. “We have guests coming, Harry.” Hermione said gently. “I’d just like to be dressed in something smarter than a tracksuit.”

Jen waved her wand at the tree and another gift shot into Hermione’s hands. “That should help. It’ll adjust.” She added, when Hermione looked puzzled. “Go on.”

Ushering Hermione towards the stairs, she bypassed the dining room in favour of the kitchen. Remus caught up with her in the small passageway that she had found between the two rooms.

“What was that?”

“A dress.” Jen answered. “We were talking over the summer, and she mentioned the only decent dress she has didn’t fit her anymore. What’s wrong?”

“Does something have to be wrong?” Remus asked in mock-hurt. “Is that really the only time I choose to talk to you? When something’s gone wrong?”

“No.” Jen leaned against the wall, smiling up at him. “Just wondering why you’ve cornered me.”

Remus looked pointedly up and down the passage. “Doesn’t look like a corner to me.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “It’s an expression and you …” She cut herself off as he kissed her softly “… know it.”

“I’m a little insulted you could still finish that sentence.” Remus said lightly.

“Don’t be. I’ve always been very good at multitasking.” Jen responded. “Now truthfully, this time. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Remus said. “I just need to pop to Grimmauld for a bit.”

“It’s Christmas.” Jen reminded him.

“I know.” Remus said soothingly. “But I’ve had a thought and I need to chase it before it gets away.”

Jen tilted her head, narrowing her eyes. “Is it an important thought?”

“Very.” Remus confirmed.

“Alright.” Jen kissed him quickly, and carried on her way towards the kitchen. “Don’t be too long please.”

“I won’t.” He called after her. She heard him leave the passageway, greeting Susan and Neville in the Entrance Hall.

Dobby and Winky had, as requested, left the Christmas dinner preparations up to her, and were cleaning up after breakfast.

With a flick of her wand, the potatoes started peeling themselves, leaving Jen free to sort the turkey out. She had just set it in the oven, when Hermione returned, practically glowing. “Jen, I love it!”

Jen turned to survey Hermione with a smile, running an eye over her quickly. As a rule, she tended to avoid buying clothes as gifts, because she could never guarantee that they’d fit or that they’d suit that person. Luckily, Twilfitt and Tattings had started adding a new charm to garments so they would automatically adjust to whoever was wearing it.

The dress was almost identical to one Jen had received for her sixteenth birthday, given to her by Andromeda, except that one had been red, as opposed to pale pink.

Speaking of Andie …

“We’re here!”

Jen gave Hermione a quick hug, and ushered her out of the kitchen and towards the Entrance Hall. She saw Dora’s hair before anything else – red and green in honour of the season.

“Slytherin colours, Nym?” She asked in mock-horror. “Sirius won’t be happy.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Slytherin.” Andromeda said loftily, embracing Jen. “And this must be Hermione.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs Tonks.” Hermione said, smiling nervously.

As Jen expected, Andie chuckled and waved her off. “Please, Hermione, just call us Andie and Ted; we’re all family after all. Now, Jen, where’s your brother?”

“Living room.” Jen answered, kissing Ted’s cheek in greeting. “To your right.” She led them through to where Sirius was now chatting to Amelia and Augusta.

He looked up when they entered – which was lucky, because as soon as Andromeda saw him, she hurled herself across the room, and he was forced to leap to his feet in order to catch her so neither of them went flying into the Christmas tree.

“You know, if he wasn’t her cousin, I’d be worried.” Ted quipped.

“But he is her cousin.” Jen reminded him, pulling a face. “So I’ll thank you not to mention that again.”

Jen? I’m in the reception room, could you come here a minute?

Jen frowned slightly, confused as to why Remus would ask. I’ll be right there. “Make yourself at home, Ted.” She said aloud, giving Amelia and Augusta a smile and a wave. “I won’t be long.”

Upon crossing the house, Jen pushed the door to the reception room open, only to stop dead in the doorway, her jaw dropping.

Remus was standing in front of the fireplace looking incredibly pleased with himself, gripping the arms of two very familiar people, and apparently holding them back. “Okay,” he said, grinning, “I lied earlier. So sue me.”

“I don’t care.” Jen said faintly, gripping the doorframe for support. “Just let them go, Moony. Talon looks like she’s about to hex you.”
“I was.” Mandy said, freeing her arm and diving forwards to hug Jen. “I don’t know why you look so pale – you’re the one that was supposedly dead.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Jen said dryly, as Arabella joined in the hug as well.

“Don’t make jokes now.” Arabella chided. “Thank Merlin you’re alright.”
“What are you two even doing here?” Jen asked. “You’re supposed to be in Europe!”

“Well, we weren’t going to spend Christmas all on our own,” Arabella said.

“Again.” Mandy interjected.

Arabella rolled her eyes. “Exactly. We didn’t say anything, because we didn’t think we’d be able to get away, but here we are.”

“Here you are.” Jen repeated, grabbing their hands and pulling them towards the living room. “Come and say hello.”

The three women ran through the house, giggling like teenagers, Remus following at a more sedate pace.

When they reached the others, Andie had released Sirius, but was still clinging to his hand, her eyes fixed on him as he spoke.

When they were younger, Andromeda had been very protective of Jen and Sirius, because she felt partly responsible for giving them the courage to break away from their family.

Sirius seemed to be in the middle of a story, probably from Hogwarts judging by the way Neville and Harry were shaking with laughter, and probably about one of the Marauders’ more … questionable pranks, judging by the way Hermione and Susan didn’t seem to know whether to find it funny or disapproving.

As they entered, Harry glanced towards them, and his face lit up when he realised who was there. Jen stepped back to let Mandy and Arabella greet him and the others, turning to Remus.

“You knew.”

Remus shrugged. “Not really. I picked up a floo call at Headquarters a few weeks ago. We didn’t want to get your hopes up – like they said, they weren’t sure they’d make it.”

“Thank Merlin we did.” Arabella remarked, alerting them to the fact that the conversation had lulled.

“What exactly are you doing in Europe?” Hermione asked curiously, perched on the arm of Harry’s chair to make room.

“Ah.” Mandy said mysteriously. “We can’t tell you that – orders and all.”

Jen smirked. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Haven’t a clue.” Mandy admitted. “Theoretically, we’re sounding out the foreign Ministry’s, but Albus keeps contacting us and giving us such bizarre questions to ask …”
“We’re not entirely sure that we’re not speaking in code.” Arabella said. “Except we don’t know the code if we are, which makes things all the more complicated.”

“Yes, I’d imagine it would.” Jen agreed.

“Did you run into Hagrid at all?” Hermione asked.

Mandy and Arabella exchanged a glance. “No.” Arabella said slowly. “Is he not back yet?”

“Oh, he’s back.” Hermione said with a sigh. “It’s just … he’s not alone.”

“He pick up a girlfriend or something?” Harry asked, grinning.

“No, a brother.” Hermione corrected. “Grawp is about sixteen foot tall, enjoys pulling up trees, and knows me as ‘Hermy’.” She gave Harry a stern look. “Try it and I’ll break your arm.”

Harry held his hands up in surrender. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Hermione,” Jen said faintly, “is there a reason why you know this?”

“Hagrid introduced us.” Hermione said. “Wanted to know if Harry and I would take over English lessons if Umbridge drives Hagrid from the castle.”

Sirius went slightly pale. “The giant can look after himself; you two stay out of it.”

“I don’t think he’s dangerous.” Hermione said thoughtfully. “Just … unaware of his own strength.”

“That makes him dangerous.” Sirius corrected.

Jen checked her watch, and excused herself to go and check on the turkey. As she had half-expected, Dobby and Winky seemed to be on the verge of having a panic attack at having nothing to do while she did the work. Taking pity on them, she said, “Could you two go and get two of the spare rooms ready please? We’re going to have two extra people for a few days.”
The two elves cheered up almost immediately and disappeared with soft pops, while Jen pulled the turkey from the oven to baste it.

She had just returned it to its warm cocoon, when Neville came dashing in. “Jen, we need help!”
“Why?” Jen asked worriedly, spinning round to face him.

“Well, I don’t know what Sirius has done, but the living room’s snowing and there are snowmen, and I think they’ve come to life! Every time I turn around, they’ve moved, and I think they’re going to – Ow!” Neville broke off, rubbing the back of his head as a snowball collided with it. “And now they’re throwing –” He broke off again, turning to look behind him. “Never mind – that was Harry. Excuse me.”

As he raced off, presumably to exact revenge, and Sirius took his place, beaming smugly, Jen burst out laughing. “Mischief managed, indeed.”

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, least of all Christmas, and before Hermione knew what was happening, she was back at Hogwarts.

If anyone thought the atmosphere at Hogwarts couldn’t get worse, they had swiftly been proved wrong. All the fun and laughter and joy seemed to have been sucked right out of the castle, as though a Dementor had come calling over the holidays.

Everyone was on edge, waiting for the next move, and it came on the first Wednesday of term, while the Gryffindor fifth years were in the middle of Astronomy.

Hermione didn’t pay much attention when the castle doors opened, spilling light across the dark grounds, nor when five or six people crossed the grounds, focussed as she was on her view of Jupiter and four of its moons, almost unrivalled by any other night of the year.

A few minutes later, however, any thoughts of Astronomy were driven from her mind by the sound of a distant roar that seemed to be coming from Hagrid’s hut.

Hermione froze, abandoning her telescope to peer towards the forest, but it was too dark to see anything.

Professor Sinistra cleared her throat from across the room, and she cast a sheepish glance behind her, returning to her star-chart.

BANG!

It wasn’t just Hermione who jumped this time. Ron nearly poked himself in the eye with his telescope in his haste to see what had happened.

“Do try to focus please.” Professor Sinistra called.

But the door to Hagrid’s hut had burst open, the light from inside illuminating the grounds around it, and providing the worried students with an explanation. A large figure stumbled out, roaring and brandishing his fists at six smaller figures, who – judging by the thin jets of red light weaving and flashing around them – were trying to stun him.

“No!” Hermione cried.

“Miss Granger!” Professor Sinistra began, crossing the floor. “I … Good Heavens!” She broke off, mid-sentence, her hands flying to her mouth.

At their teacher’s exclamation, the rest of the class abandoned their work to gather around them, eager to find out what had happened.

“Be reasonable, Hagrid!” A man’s voice shouted.

“Reasonable?!” Professor Sinistra repeated incredulously. “It doesn’t not take six people to …” She was cut off when one of the Stunning Spells caught Fang mid-air and the dog crumbled to the ground.

Hagrid let out a howl of pure fury, and Professor Sinistra drew her wand. “Stay here.” She commanded. “I’m going to see if I can sort this out.”
But before she could move, the doors to the castle flew open again, and another figure sprinted out towards the fracas.

“How dare you?!” They screamed, identifying themselves as Professor McGonagall. “How dare you! Leave him alone! Alone, I say! On what grounds are you attacking him?! He has done nothing to warrant such-”

Hermione, Parvati and Lavender, for once united, all screamed.

No fewer than four Stunning Spells had flown towards McGonagall and collided hard, lifting her off her feet. She lay still, unmoving, as Hagrid let out another howl of rage.

“Good Merlin!” Professor Sinistra cried, racing towards the stairs.

She didn’t repeat her earlier command not to move, even when the Gryffindors followed suit, keeping close behind her until they burst out of the front doors, in time to see Hagrid running from the grounds, Fang over one shoulder, ignoring the Stunning Spells still raining down on him.

Sinistra came to a halt, but Hermione ran past her to kneel beside her Head of House, pressing two trembling fingers to her pulse point.

“She’s alive!” She called. “But barely!”

Professor Sinistra joined her, taking her colleague’s hand and squeezing gently. “Minerva? Minerva, can you hear me?”

When she received no response, she looked up at Hermione. “Miss Granger, kindly escort your classmates back to Gryffindor Tower. No doubt the Ministry and others will receive a less-than-truthful version of tonight’s events, but if you did happen to have some way of contacting the outside world without using owls, I would urge you to do so.”

“What makes you think I can?” Hermione asked.

Professor Sinistra smiled weakly. “I may have been a few years older, but I did go to school with Jennifer Black. I’d be very surprised if you can’t.”

Hermione nodded and straightened up. “Come on.” She said thickly. “Let’s get back inside.”
“But …” Ron began.

“There’s nothing we can do.” Hermione said firmly. “Professor McGonagall wouldn’t want us to get ourselves expelled over this. The other teachers will handle it.”

***

Back at Ravenscroft, the atmosphere had also changed. Now that Christmas was over, Remus’s departure seemed to loom over them.

Well, over Jen – Sirius still didn’t know that he was leaving.

Jen knew her brother wasn’t stupid. He was bound to figure out that something was wrong sooner or later, and she found herself wishing that something would distract him.

They say you should be careful what you wish for.

Jen was alone when it happened. Remus was in the library, trying to find some mention of the mysterious island Lily had described.

Jen hadn’t forgotten the rest of Lily’s advice. It had taken a lot of searching at Grimmauld Place, as well as more than a few well-worded orders for Kreacher, but Jen had finally found the locket that Lily had described.

She still didn’t know what was wrong with it, but Jen didn’t need power to sense the Dark magic surrounding the item. Her instinct was to get it as far away from her as possible, but until she knew what it was, she knew it wasn’t wise.

It now sat on the mantelpiece, surrounded by a great number of protective wards – although Jen wasn’t sure if she needed to protect it or them. She had tried every diagnostic spell she could think of, but she couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, just that whatever it was, it went beyond the usual evil.

She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to know what Addie and her brother had to do with such an evil item or not.

Speaking of brothers, Sirius had disappeared upstairs a few hours ago. Jen wasn’t too worried.

This wasn’t Grimmauld Place – Sirius could be alone for a few hours without getting dragged under by the memories.

Jen herself had curled up on the sofa with a book, and was just on the verge of drifting off  to sleep when Hermione’s voice sounded from the mirror, wrought with worry.

“Jen!”

Started from her stupor, Jen grabbed the mirror from the coffee table, her heart pounding when she spotted Hermione’s white, tear-stained face. “What happened?!”

“Umbridge.” Hermione answered shakily. “She t-tried to fire Hagrid, b-but took five aurors with her, and M-McGonagall tried to stop them and … Oh Merlin … They Stunned her, Jen – four of them … and she wasn’t m-moving and …”

Horror coursed through Jen’s body, and she leapt to her feet. “Alright, sweetheart, calm down. I’ll find Amelia and get to the bottom of this – try to get some sleep, alright?”

Hermione wiped her eyes. “Easier said than done, that.”
“I know.” Jen said soothingly. “Just … try, alright?” She was halfway up the staircase before the mirror had gone blank, mentally alerting Remus and calling for Amelia simultaneously.

***

Not even an hour later, Jen and Remus were standing outside a room in St Mungo’s, staring in at their comatose former Head of House.

Luckily, Amelia had just received an owl from the auror that hadn’t Stunned Minerva, telling her what had happened. She was currently in her office with the aurors who had been present, trying to find out who had given the order to visit Hogwarts in the first place.

(“It sure as hell didn’t come from me, and it sure as hell didn’t come from Scrimgeour!” She had been yelling, when they left. “We are the only people you take orders from, so who the hell made that call?!”
“I don’t believe it.” Jen murmured aloud.

Remus wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder as a tear rolled down her cheek. “She’ll be alright.” He said firmly. “She’s strong, stubborn … She’ll be alright.”

The Healer finally left the room, shaking his head. “Family for Minerva McGonagall?”
Her two former charges looked around the waiting room. When no one stepped forward, they did. “I don’t think she has any.” Jen said softly. “Would we count?”

“Two of her cubs, I’m guessing.” He said, attempting a smile but failing. “She was always very protective of her Gryffindors. Yes, you’ll do, since there’s no one else here. I doubt Albus Dumbledore’s going to walk in.”

“No.” Jen agreed. “I should think not. Will she be alright?”

The Healer sighed heavily. “She’s stable. And she’s alive, which is more than what I’d have thought when she came in. Four Stunning Spells at her age …” He trailed off. “It’s disgusting.”

“It is.” Remus scowled. “But will she be alright?”

“I don’t know.” The Healer admitted reluctantly. “She’ll certainly be in a coma for quite a while. If she makes it through the next week, I’d say there’s a high chance of a full recovery.”

“Can we see her?” Jen asked. “I mean, go in and see her, not just look through the window?”

“Of course.” The Healer moved back to allow them into the room, and Jen stepped through the door, moving towards the hospital bed as though in a dream.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Minerva look so peaceful or relaxed.

That’s not necessarily a good thing in this situation. Remus remarked, taking her hand. But it is weird, you’re right.

Sinking into the chair beside the hospital bed, Jen reached out with her free hand and took hold of Minerva’s. “Professor? I don’t know if you can hear me, but … we’ll look after them, alright? Your cubs will be just fine; we’ll look after them.”

***

Concern for Professor McGonagall occupied most of Jen’s time for the next few days, but once the week the Healer had allowed had passed, and she remained in a stable condition, her worries shifted once more, to something a little closer to home.

It was at dinner time two weeks after Christmas that things finally came to a head.

Amelia and Augusta had joined them, and were chatting with Sirius, when they seemed to realise, as one, that Remus and Jen were not joining in.

In fact, Jen wasn’t even eating, pushing her food around her plate in a rather amateur attempt to disguise the fact that none of it was entering her mouth, let alone her stomach.

Sirius cleared his throat. “Jen, Moony? You know where Dumbledore’s got to?”

Jen shrugged, not looking up from her plate. Remus didn’t even acknowledge him.

Sirius tried again. “Hermione would know if he was still at Hogwarts.”

“He wouldn’t …” Amelia began, but Sirius hushed her. He knew that Dumbledore wouldn’t stick around Hogwarts – he just wanted to get a response.

All he got was another shrug.

Sirius exchanged a bewildered glance with the two women. “I think Gilderoy Lockhart is the most talented wizard in the world.”
When all he got was yet another shrug, he set his fork down. “Alright, you two, what’s going on?”

This time, he seemed to get through to them, and Remus cleared his throat. “Dumbledore’s sending me on a mission.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“Yes. I can’t tell you where, what, who or why, but let me assure you right now that I am not a Death Eater.” Remus said dryly.

Jen managed a small smile. The secrecy surrounding the Order during the first war had led to a great deal of mistrust among the Marauders after she died, with Sirius and Remus both pointing the finger at each other.

“Funny.” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “When do you leave?”

“In a couple of days.” Remus answered.

“And when were you planning on telling the rest of us?” Sirius asked.

“In a couple of days.” Remus repeated.

Sirius flicked a pea at him, and Remus retaliated with a spoonful of mash potato. The three women pushed their chairs back from the dining room table, more inclined to let them battle it out than try to stop them (a fruitless and potentially messy endeavour), but before the food fight could properly take hold, a flash of light filled  the room and a phoenix feather appeared above the table, a note tightly attached.

Sirius caught the feather before it could fall to the polished oak surface and removed the letter. “For you, Moony.”
Remus took the letter and read it silently, before standing abruptly. “Change of plans. I’m leaving tonight.”
Jen’s heart stuttered to a halt, and Sirius gaped at him. “What? But … you …” He sighed. “Just go and get your things together. We’ll see you when you say goodbye.”

Jen watched Remus leave the room, but stayed where she was, returning to her earlier activities of food-arranging. The other three watched her closely and, when she got up and left after less than five minutes, they exchanged knowing smiles.

Now? He’s leaving now?

Jen knew she was being a little ridiculous as she climbed the stairs. No matter how much time passed before Remus’s departure, she would never have been able to make her peace with what he had to do.

She reached the room they shared on the third floor and stopped in the doorway, leaning against the frame tiredly.

Remus had already packed in preparation, so it didn’t surprise her that he was sitting still, head in his hands.

“Yes, I have to do this.” He said, his voice muffled.

“I didn’t say anything.” Jen said quietly.

Remus lifted his head, smiling weakly. “You were projecting, love. C’mere.”

Crossing the room, Jen sat down beside him, curling herself under his arm and pressing her face into his shoulder. “I’m worried.”

Remus kissed her forehead. “I’ll be fine.”
Jen closed her eyes hastily, trying to safeguard against the sudden rush of tears, but it was to no avail. “Please be careful. Promise me you’ll be careful …” She broke off as the first sob racked her body, and he tilted her face up to meet his.

“I swear, Jen,” he said lowly, “the second I think there’s something wrong, I’ll be back here.” He paused, drinking in the sight of her face. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” Jen met his kiss, allowing it to calm her and still her tears.

Remus was a very capable dueller, and an intelligent wizard. He would be alright.

He had to be.

“We have to cut the connection.” She whispered, when they parted.

Remus heaved a sigh. “I know. Ready?”

Jen snorted. “No. You’d better do it.”
Although technically, it didn’t matter which of them closed the connection, they found that the one who didn’t could still get bits and pieces of the one who did.

If Remus closed the connection, Jen should still be able to know that he was alright, while he wouldn’t be distracted by any stray emotions.

The second the connection closed, Jen felt a shiver run through her body, part of her mind going dreadfully cold. She took a moment to readjust, focussing on the soft glowing light behind the closed door, the light that reminded her that he was still there.

“Alright?” Remus asked.

Jen nodded, opening her eyes. “Will be. Let’s not drag this out.”

Together, they made their way down to the entrance hall, where the others were waiting.

Amelia stepped forwards first, wrapping him in a hug. “Order be damned, something goes wrong, you send a Patronus and get the hell out of there, wherever it is.”

“I will.” Remus said, kissing her cheek.

Augusta shook his hand firmly. “You’re a good man, Remus.”

“Thank you.” Remus said, turning slightly pink.

“Never could take a damn compliment.” Sirius muttered, pulling Remus into a brotherly hug. “You be careful, you hear me? Come back in one piece.”

Remus smiled shakily as Sirius released him. “I’ll do my best.” He turned to Jen and kissed her once more.

She couldn’t help noticing that there was a certain amount of desperation in the act, and she clung to him tightly, as though her grip could change orders and make him stay. But all too soon, they had to part, and he hugged her fiercely. “I love you.” He whispered. “Never ever forget that.”

“I love you.” Jen repeated, feeling her voice catch. His embrace loosened, and her brother pulled her into his arms instead, whereupon she buried her face in his chest, unable and unwilling to watch the man she loved leave Ravenscroft Manor for what could well be the last time.

“It’ll be okay, Jen.” Amelia said soothingly. “He’ll be alright.”
Jen nodded into Sirius’s robes, took a deep breath, and pulled away. “I know he will. Now,” she wiped her eyes, “if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to lie down.”

As she left, Sirius made his own excuses to the two women and followed her up the stairs. “Are you alright?”

“I’ll be fine.” Jen said briskly.

“Jen, talk to me.” Sirius said. “It’s okay to be worried, I’m worried.”

“I’d be worried if you weren’t.” Jen retorted. “I’m aware that it’s okay to be worried, Sirius, I never said I wasn’t. I said I will be fine. And I …” She trailed off, coming to a halt in her bedroom door again.

An owl was standing on her desk, a letter attached to his leg. Her bedroom window was open, explaining how he’d got in, but that didn’t explain what he was doing there.

“How did an owl find us?” Sirius asked. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

“The manor’s warded against unfriendly owls.” Jen corrected, approaching warily nonetheless. “We’ve just never had need to. The Order tends to send Patronuses, Dumbledore sends Fawkes, and Harry and Hermione have the mirror.”
“And Mandy and Arabella’s letters ended up at Headquarters.” Sirius added, nodding in understanding. “Hey, maybe it’s from them.”

“Maybe.” Jen conceded. “But unlikely. They’d use a post office owl, and this doesn’t have any markings to show that.” She drew her wand slowly. “I’m just going to use magic to remove your letter, alright?”

The owl hooted softly, not flinching when her wand sent a stream of silver light towards it. The light settled into the parchment, unwinding it from the owl’s leg and lifting it into the air.

Freed of its burden, the owl took off, swooping back out of the open window.

“Whoever it is, they’re not expecting a reply.” Sirius noted, coming to stand beside Jen as she examined the floating letter. “Anything?”

“Nothing.” Jen answered. “No hexes, no curses, no Portkey.”

“No address.” Sirius frowned. “That’s odd. Who’s it for?”
Jen shrugged. “Only one way to find out.” Taking the letter out of the air, she ripped it open, to find a message hastily scrawled in black ink.

Selena -

The Dark Lord plans a raid on Azkaban in February. His most loyal will be freed.

There was no signature.

“He’s going to break into Azkaban?” Sirius whispered in horror. “You know what that means.”

“Bellatrix.” Jen said darkly. “That’s the last thing we need.”

“What do we do?” Sirius asked. “Can we trust it?”

“I don’t know.” Jen admitted. “On the one hand, this could have come from anyone or anywhere.”

“Can’t be any harm in acting, can there?” Sirius asked. “Talk to Amelia, get her to step up security.”

“Except that’s never going to happen.” Jen reminded him. “Amelia might listen, but no one else will. Where’s she going to get the extra security from? They’re working with the bare minimum as it is.”

“So we’re going to ignore it?” Sirius questioned incredulously.

“No.” Jen said firmly. “I’ll tell Amelia, and raise it at the next Order meeting, but I don’t see how there’s anything we can do without the Ministry. I’d go myself, but there’s the Dementors to consider.”

Sirius shuddered, and she gripped his hand tightly. “On the other hand?” He asked, after a moment’s silence.

Jen blinked, confused. “Pardon?”

“You said that on the one hand, it could have come from anyone.” Sirius reminded her. “I’m just wondering what’s on the other hand. Do you recognise the handwriting or something?”

Jen examined it carefully, but shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. But then it could have been a pre-charmed Dicta-quill.”

“Then what?” Sirius asked. “What makes you think we can trust it?”

Jen looked at him wearily. “Selena, Sirius. How many people call me Selena?”

***

While Jen and Sirius puzzled over the mystery letter late into the night, Gryffindor Tower at Hogwarts was playing host to a vivid nightmare.

And, for once, it wasn’t Harry’s.

Gasping for breath, Hermione sat bolt upright, her heart pounding and sweat beading on her forehead. She hadn’t stopped having nightmares since they returned to Hogwarts, but she could never remember what they were about when she awoke.

Tonight, she hadn’t even managed an hour’s sleep before she was forced back to consciousness again.

The dormitory was quiet – too quiet. Her dorm-mates didn’t seem to be having the same problems she was. Unable to cope with the stifling silent darkness, Hermione grabbed a blanket and made her way down to the empty common room, where a fire still flickered in the grate.

Curling up in one of the armchairs, she stared into the flames, wondering if maybe sleep would be easier down there.

“Hermione?”

Hermione jumped, her head snapping towards the sofa. Consumed by her thoughts, she hadn’t noticed Harry in the other chair, one hand in a bowl of liquid, the other clutching his quill. “What are you still doing up?”

“Detention.” Harry reminded her, explaining the bowl – it must have been Murtlap Essence. “And then I figured I’d better get some homework done. You?”

“Nightmare.” Hermione answered, stifling a yawn. “At least I got some sleep.”

Vanishing the liquid, Harry set his quill down very deliberately and walked over to her. “Come on.”
“Harry, where … Harry!” Hermione protested, as he lifted her into his arms.

“You need to sleep.” Harry said firmly, carrying her up to the boys’ dorm. “And the girls’ staircase doesn’t like me.”

“It doesn’t like boys in general.” Hermione corrected, giving in.

Harry set her down on his bed, placing Privacy Charms on the drapes, and tucked her in. “Try to get some sleep?”
“I can never sleep after nightmares.” Hermione admitted.

“Okay then.” Harry said, flicking his wand. “Accio schoolbag!” He caught it nonchalantly with one hand, and nudged her with the other. “Budge over.”
“What?” Hermione said up. “Harry …”

“You don’t mind when I have a nightmare.” Harry pointed out. “What, don’t you trust me all of a sudden?”
“Of course I trust you.” Hermione muttered, shifting over to make room for him. “I was just surprised.”

Harry settled down beside her, tugging her wrist until she curled up against him. “What was the nightmare about?”

“I don’t remember.” Hermione answered truthfully. “But I’ve been having them for the last two weeks.”

Harry nodded absently, stroking her hair. “This might be out of the blue,” he began, “but it’s the first chance I’ve really had to ask you. How do you feel about the whole adoption thing?”

Hermione bit her lip. She had been hoping she wouldn’t have to answer that question. “I don’t know.” She admitted finally. “I’m happy, obviously. My father’s a bastard, and Sirius … Well, he’s my dad.”

“But?” Harry prompted.

“I don’t know how to handle it.” Hermione said with a sigh. “Not even a year ago, I had no idea I had any connection to Sirius outside of him being your godfather. I needed to get my head around everything – I still need to get my head around everything – and now … I don’t know, it just feels like I’m under pressure to do that.”

“Hey.” Harry’s arm contracted around her for a second. “You don’t have to figure anything out, Mione. The situation hasn’t changed. You just know about it now.”

Hermione smiled sheepishly. “I know. I’m being silly, aren’t I?”

“No.” Harry said firmly. “Of course you’re not. You need to figure things out – what I meant was that you’re not on a timer any more now than you were before Christmas.”

Hermione nodded slowly. “I guess you’re right. I’ve got until June to get my head around it, I guess.”

“That’s the spirit.” Harry said sleepily. “Feel better?”

“Much.” Hermione assured him. “Though I still don’t know how well I’ll sleep. Don’t stay up on my account.”

“I won’t.” Harry said, kissing her forehead. “Night.”

“Goodnight.” Hermione returned softly.

Harry fell asleep almost immediately, but Hermione lay awake long into the night. It was no longer the nightmare that plagued her, but the mounting confusion that such a platonic act could cause such a racing heart.

Chapter Text

Meanwhile, in Romania ...

Charles Septimus Weasley could not believe his eyes.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Charlie had always had a gift for Care of Magical Creatures, so much so that a visiting speaker from a Romanian dragon sanctuary had offered him an internship when he was in seventh year.

No matter how much his mother cried and complained and begged otherwise, Charlie had accepted without a second thought.

He liked Romania. It was quiet, yet rugged; relaxed, yet adventurous.

Rather like him.

He still visited home on a regular basis, though – like Bill, he had always felt a certain amount of responsibility over his younger siblings.

Getting time off at Christmas was particularly difficult, because so many people wanted to spend it with their families.

Sometimes, Charlie sent his apologies to his parents and didn’t bother trying – there were colleagues who had children to spend the holidays with, and he considered their situation much more important than his own.

Some of his most treasured childhood memories were set at Christmas. It had never mattered to him that they did not have much – as long as his mum and dad were there, that was all that mattered to him.

He was sure that his colleagues’ financial situation was not as dire, but that was still no reason for children to be away from their parents on the most family-oriented of the magical holidays.

No, he could wait to see his parents, so he sometimes – if not usually – let the others take up the holiday time.

This past Christmas, however, with Percy’s estrangement from the family, Charlie made sure to get home. His mother needed as many of her children around her as possible, to take her mind off of Percy’s absence, and Charlie and Bill even put up with her standard fussing, which tended to focus on the length of their hair, their lack of a girlfriend, and their lack of children.

Both boys had always brushed off the hair fussing – Charlie’s wasn’t particularly long anyway, compared to his brother’s.

The children … Well, they’d come in time, if they were to come at all.

It was the girlfriend that starting to get awkward.

Bill, Charlie knew, was dating a girl from Gringotts, but their mother tended to pretend he wasn’t.

She didn’t approve of Fleur – Charlie wasn’t sure whether it was the French part or the Veela part that put her off, but Molly Weasley did not like Fleur Delacour one bit.

Ginny’s theory was that, for all their mother’s fussing, she was not ready to lose her babies to marriage just yet, however old they were.

Bill had laughed and told her not to get ahead of herself – he had no plans to propose to Fleur, at least not yet.

Charlie was a different matter.

Unbeknownst to his parents, he had fallen in love.

Katherine Masters was a fellow dragon-handler, with long wavy brown hair and light blue eyes. She was three years younger than him, and had grown up in Romania, but the only sign of this was the slight accent in her voice – her English was superb.

They had met on her first day at work, but didn’t really have much to do with each other, until 1993, when Charlie had received a letter from his youngest brother, asking for help smuggling an illegal dragon out of the country.

It was with some trepidation that Charlie had approached Katherine, who had been planning on attending a series of seminars in England. Katherine was an alumnus of the Durmstrang Institute, and Charlie had been fairly sure that their reputation was not unfounded.

To his relief, she agreed to help without a second thought, and when she and her fellows returned with a baby Norwegian Ridgeback, Charlie took the opportunity to thank her for her discretion, while they were getting the dragon situated.

“Not at all.” She’d said flippantly. “I like a bit of adventure. It was like being in James Bond or something. Muggle action film.” She’d added, seeing his confusion.

“Muggle?” He’d repeated dumbly.

“Yeah, those people without magic.” She’d said teasingly. “Let me guess – you heard Durmstrang and leapt to ‘bigoted pureblood’ without a second thought?”

Charlie had tried to hastily stammer out an apology, but she had laughed. “I’m a half-blood.” She’d said. “My father was a Muggle. And Durmstrang isn’t as bad as its reputation.”

“Still,” he’d said doggedly, “thank you. If there’s anything I can do …”

“You can buy me a drink tomorrow night.” She’d said, with a twinkle in her eye, and he’d agreed.

One drink had turned into two, which had turned into dinner, which had turned into a walk home that neither wanted to end.

Charlie had long since accepted that he had fallen in love with Katherine, and he only seemed to fall deeper every day.

Although he had said nothing to his family – not even Bill or the twins, who knew about her – Charlie knew she was the one, and when he returned to Romania, it was with the decision that he would ask her to marry him before the year was out.

He never expected what he found.

The sanctuary was in shambles, the aftermath of a vicious Death Eater attack. The mess hall had completely collapsed, and there seemed to be some kind of forest fire not far off.

The Dark Mark still glittered in the sky, sending a thrill of fear through him, but there were at least some survivors – several of his colleagues had started clean-up duty.

One of them, a young man by the name of Edmund, spotted Charlie as he stood gaping at the chaos, and quickly approached him. “Charlie, you’re back!”

“Edmund.” Charlie grasped his shoulder, partly in consolation, partly for his own support as is legs threatened to buckle beneath him. “What … What happened?”

“Death Eaters.” Edmund said darkly, unnecessarily. “It seems to have been untargeted – more to cause trouble than anything.”

“They were probably trying to get their hands on some of the tamer dragons.” Charlie remarked, leaving his valise where it was and hurrying towards the pens. “They get any?”

“None.” Edmund answered, following him. “Three dragons were killed, another four died as a result. Six handlers were murdered and another twenty are in critical condition.”

Charlie cursed under his breath. “And You-Know-Who’s not back?”

Edmund smirked slightly. “Not at all. Why do you ask?”

Charlie shook his head, vaulting the fence in the Ridgeback’s territory. “What about the fire?” He asked.

“Under control.” Edmund assured him. “Be careful, Charlie.”

“Relax.” Charlie said. “I know what I’m doing.”

The dragon Katherine and the others had rescued from Hogwarts had turned out to be female, not male, and was one of the few dragons that would let humans near her.

Right now, she was roaring terribly, which was what had pulled him in that direction, and Charlie approached slowly, hands up. “Whoa, Norberta! Steady girl!”

Norberta lowered her head, sniffing the air. Apparently liking what she smelt, she rested her head on the ground, and Charlie stepped up to her, stroking her scales. “She hurt?”

“No, just wound up, I think.” Edmund answered, keeping his distance. “But you know she’s picky about who goes near her.”

“Couldn’t Katherine sort her out?” Charlie asked, giving Norberta a quick once over. Satisfied that she was alright, he Summoned one of the carcases they kept on hand, allowing Norberta to snap the cow out of the air.

Normally, the dragons hunted for themselves, but sometimes that just wasn’t possible, whether due to injuries or eggs. In this case, Norberta was perfectly capable of hunting, but, as with most creatures, food was the fastest way to settle her down.

Only once she had swallowed did Charlie realise that Edmund hadn’t answered him. “Ed? Why couldn’t Katherine do anything?”

Edmund shifted nervously. “Er … Charlie … I think … I think you’d better come with me.”

Charlie’s heart dropped to his stomach and he left Norberta’s side to run after Edmund, who had begun striding back towards the base. “Tell me she wasn’t one of the six!”

“No, she’s still alive.” Edmund said with a grimace. “But only just.” He grabbed Charlie’s arm and turned sharply on the spot, apparating them to Katherine’s cottage.

All of the dragon handlers who lived at the sanctuary were provided with small cottages that Charlie found a bit frilly but that Katherine loved.

“Why’s she here?” Charlie asked.

“You saw the sanctuary – we don’t have anywhere to put a makeshift infirmary.” Edmund answered. “Lia’s staying with her – she can call the Healer if they’re needed.” He tapped his wand against the door and it clicked open. “Guess who’s home!”

Footsteps sounded on the stairs and Lia Thomas appeared, immediately pulling Charlie into a hug. “Good Christmas?”

“Drop the small talk.” Charlie said flatly. “How is she?”

Lia sighed, sweeping her blonde hair out of her face. “It’s not good, Charlie. She fought hard – it took about ten of them to take her down. For a moment there, I really thought …” She broke off with a sob, and Edmund put an arm around her.

“I’ll put the kettle on.” He said. “You want anything, Charlie?”

“Yeah, a time-turner.” Charlie muttered rubbing a hand over his face. “She’s upstairs?”

Lia nodded with a watery smile. “I’m sure you know where her room is.”

Charlie ignored her weak attempt at lightening the mood, taking the steps two at a time. He forced himself to slow down as he approached her bedroom door, not wanting to burst in and give her a heart attack.

So he knocked first, pushing open the door without waiting for a response, only to sag against the door frame.

Katherine was conscious, which was more than what he had expected, but she was deathly pale. Her eyes, normally so bright and full of laughter, were dull and lifeless, and she seemed too weak to even lift her head.

She smiled when she saw him though, however weak her smile was. “Hey you.” She whispered.

“Kat …” Charlie staggered forwards, sinking into the chair beside her, the chair Lia must have abandoned when she came downstairs. “Oh, Merlin, Kat, I should have been here.”

“Hey, what were you going to do?” Katherine chided weakly. “It’s not … your fault … you know.”

“Are you alright?” Charlie asked, alarmed by the breathlessness in her voice. “Do you need anything?”

Katherine hesitated, then sighed. “No.” She smiled weakly. “Sorry, I keep trying to … shake my head … and I don’t … have the energy.”

“Don’t apologise.” Charlie said firmly. “So what else did I miss?”

“Nothing much.” Katherine answered. “You probably … have work … to do.”

“No.” Charlie disagreed, before she could elaborate. “I have nowhere else to be, other than right here.”

Katherine smirked slightly. “Liar.”

“Alright, so maybe I’m technically supposed to be at work.” Charlie admitted. “But I want to be here, with you.”

Katherine averted her eyes. “Charlie …”

“I love you.” Charlie said, softly but firmly. “More than anything. Why wouldn’t I want to be here? I want to be with you all the time anyway, let alone when you’re hurt like this.”

“Careful.” Katherine warned. “That could … be construed … as a … proposal.”

Charlie blushed slightly, cursing his fair skin – even under the tan, he blushed easily. He hadn’t imagined this moment like this at all, but since she’d brought it up … “If it was, what would you say?”

Katherine closed her eyes. “No.”

“Oh.” Charlie said numbly, feeling his stomach disappear again. “Okay.” He cleared his throat, feeling simultaneously awkward, embarrassed, and heartbroken. “Can I … Can I ask why?”

“Because it’s not fair.” Katherine answered, opening her eyes again.

Charlie was startled to see tears swimming in their oceanic depths, because Katherine never cried. Even the few times they had fought, she hadn’t cried.

Yelled – certainly.

Thrown things – a few times.

But she had never cried.

“What’s not fair?” He asked.

“It’s not fair on you.” Katherine elaborated.

“Why?” Charlie pressed.

“Because I’m dying.” Katherine said bluntly.

The words hit him in the stomach like a series of bludgers, and he rocked back in his chair, all the blood draining from his face. “No … No, Kat, you’re not … you can’t be.”

A noise from the doorway caused him to look up, seeing Lia standing there, tears streaming down her face. “Lia, tell her!” He said desperately. “Tell her she’s wrong!”

“The Healer …” Lia took a deep breath and tried again. “The Healer says that within the next forty-eight hours, the curse will either disappear or kill her.”

“Then it’s going to disappear.” Charlie said firmly.

Lia shook her head. “You don’t get it, Charlie. If the curse was going to disappear, her symptoms would be lifting already, not getting worse. There’s a chance,” she conceded, seeing the desperation in his eyes, “a minuscule tiny chance, because nothing’s impossible, that she’ll recover, but …” she broke off again, clapping a hand to her mouth, and Edmund, who had clearly followed her upstairs, led her out of the room, talking to her quietly.

“When I’m gone,” Katherine said, “you have to … get those two … to hook up.”

Charlie smiled for a split-second, then looked at her sternly. “You’re not going anywhere, Kat.”

“I am.” Katherine insisted. “I can’t … get my hopes up … You heard Lia … it’s almost impossible.”

“They said it was impossible to tame a Norwegian Ridgeback.” Charlie reminded her. “Look at Norberta.”
“Doesn’t count.” Katherine disagreed. “Look, we just … have to accept that … this is … going to happen … You don’t … need to deal with this …” She broke off, coughing, and Charlie helped her sit forward, handing her the towel she gestured for, flinching when flecks of blood appeared on it. “Just leave …”

“No.” Charlie answered, helping her lie down again. “I’m not going anywhere, Kat. I love you.”

“It’s not fair.” Katherine whispered.

“You’re damn right it’s not fair.” Charlie agreed, taking her hand in both of his. “But that’s not going to make it better.” He sighed. “Kat, you know I’m not good with words. I’m not too good with people. But I love you, alright? So, so much. And I realised … being in England for a month … I realised just how much I love you, and how I can’t imagine life without you.” He released her hand to swipe furiously at his eyes. “And I don’t want you to think that I’m saying any of this because you’re … because I’m going to lose you. I promised myself on New Year’s Eve that I’d do this this year … I just …”

“Charlie, you’re rambling.” Katherine murmured. “Spit it out, love.”

“Very well then.” Charlie said, lifting her hand to his lips to kiss it. “I want to spend forever with you, even if your forever is only a few more days. Katherine Linsey Masters, will you marry me?”

“You’re sure?” Katherine asked in whisper, tears shining in her eyes.

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.” Charlie said firmly. “Will you?”

“On one condition.” Katherine answered. “No, two. First of all … after I’m gone … I don’t want you … to mourn your entire life away.”

“I’ll try.” Charlie assured her, though he couldn’t see himself doing anything else. “Secondly?”

Katherine’s grip tightened on his hand, but only slightly – she didn’t have the strength to do more. “If we’re going to do this … we’re going to do it right … and get married before … before it happens …”

Charlie’s face broke into a smile, however bittersweet it was. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

***

Two days later, the new Mr and Mrs Charlie Weasley lay together in Katherine’s bedroom, clinging to each other, the only light the flicking fire. Despite the pain, she was curled up in his arms, watching the end of her life tick ever closer.

While Charlie insisted on thinking positively, Katherine couldn’t bring herself to. She couldn’t help wondering what it would feel like.

Would it be quick and painless?

Would a sudden pain strike her and slowly drain her life from her?

She had expected to be on her way by now, but still her heart thudded in her chest, its beats inexplicably strong.

“I’m scared.” Katherine whispered into the darkness.

Charlie shifted beside her, and kissed her forehead. “Me too. You tired?”

“Yeah.” Katherine laughed weakly. “I don’t want to sleep.”

“No, sleep.” Charlie told her firmly. “If you’re going to … I mean, wouldn’t it be better …”

“It would.” Katherine admitted. “I just … don’t want … to leave you.”

“I know.” Charlie whispered, running his fingers through her hair. “I love you.”

With great effort, Katherine tilted her head back to see his face. “I love you too, Charlie. So much.”

Their lips met, but only briefly – she had no energy for anything more.

Neither of them said anything more.

There was nothing more to say.

Charlie stayed awake, stroking his wife’s hair as she slept beside him, staring up at the ceiling. He didn’t want to sleep, couldn’t stand to wake in the morning with her cold and still body in his arms.

The minutes ticked into hours, the darkness becoming more and more stifling, until Charlie’s entire body hummed with frustration, and he fought the urge to start pacing or go flying or …

Anything that didn’t involve waiting for the woman he loved to die.

Then the screaming started.

With no warning whatsoever, Katherine’s eyes flew open, and a scream of pure agony escaped her lips.

Charlie released her instantly, afraid that maybe he had jostled her or done something to cause her pain, but the screaming continued. “Hang on, Kat – I’m going to get help, alright? Just hold on.” Climbing out of bed, he dived across the room to the fireplace, fumbling with the flower pot on the mantelpiece in his haste.

He finally managed to extract a pinch of floo powder and tossed it into the flames, sticking his head into their comforting warmth and calling the name of the sanctuary Healer.

Despite the late hour, he was still awake, scratching out paperwork at his desk, and he looked up at Charlie’s appearance, upending the ink pot as he leapt to his feet. “Weasley! What’s happened?”

“She’s screaming!” Charlie gasped out. “A lot – Something’s wrong – is this … is this it?”

Fernando Gunter’s face set into grim lines. “It may well be. I’ll come through – see if we can’t make her more comfortable.”

Charlie pulled his head back out of the fire, turning back to look at Katherine. She was still screaming, her body stiff and rigid. “As if she’s being tortured.” He whispered, as the Healer came through.

“She may well be.” Gunter said grimly. “There’s not a lot known about this particular curse, and its effects are not well-documented.”

Charlie sat beside Katherine, taking her hand, watching the Healer wave his wand over her, muttering to himself. “What can you do?” He asked anxiously.

“Nothing.” Gunter said blankly. “There’s nothing I can do, but … Good Lord, that’s not a bad thing.”

“How is that not a bad thing?!” Charlie demanded. “She’s screaming! She’s in pain, dammit – there has to be …”

“She’s in pain because her body’s fighting the curse!” Gunter interrupted, a smile breaking onto his face. “The curse is trying to kill her, but her body’s fighting it!”

“She’s …” Almost disbelievingly, Charlie’s gaze snapped back to his wife, and he squeezed her hand tightly. “C’mon, Kat. Stay with us!”

“I shall go and alert Lia and Edmund.” Gunter said. “Stay with her and keep talking.”

Charlie didn’t acknowledge his words – in fact he barely heard them, or the Healer’s departure.

The rest of the world had disappeared, and all that remained was the woman still screaming in pain.

“Come on, Katherine.” He whispered. “Come on, baby – fight it! Please … I don’t care what they say about the curse … You can do this, sweetheart! Stay with me!” He swallowed hard, not bothering to wipe away the tears that were coursing down his cheeks. “We’ll go to England one day – you can meet my family … Mum’ll throw a fit that I did this without telling her.” He lifted her left hand to his lips and kissed it. “You’re worth it though – she’ll get over it. And we can visit Scotland – I’ll take you to Hogwarts – you always said you wanted to see it …”

And then, as abruptly as it had begun, the screaming stopped.

Katherine laid still, her face suddenly serene, as though the pain had never been there. Charlie stopped talking immediately, staring at her, willing her to move … take a breath … something.

He reached out a hand, his fingers hovering over her pulse point, needing to know for certain and yet fearing what he would find.

“It’ll have to wait.”

Charlie jumped, automatically looking towards the door and then the fireplace, assuming at first that he had imagined the origin of the voice.

But they were both empty, so he turned back to his wife, his heart pounding. Her eyes were closed again, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t alive – or conscious. “What’ll have to wait?” He asked, more calmly than he felt.

“England.” Katherine murmured, her eyes flickering open. “Think Norberta’s getting ready to nest –she won’t want anyone else round her.”

Charlie let out a shaky laugh, burying his face in his hands. “Merlin, Kat, I thought …” He lifted his head, not bothering to hide the tears in his eyes. “I thought I’d lost you”.

“Charlie!” Lia’s voice called from downstairs, sounding hysterical.

“You can come up!” Charlie called back, his face breaking into a grin. “She’s okay!”

“Charlie …” Katherine began sombrely. “Sweetheart, you know that’s not …” She broke off. “I’m not out of breath anymore.”

“Your body fought off the curse.” Charlie told her, cupping her face. “That’s why you were in so much pain. You did it, Kat – you’re going to be alright.”

“Let’s not count our dragons before they hatch.” Katherine warned. “Get a Healer to check first.”

“That’s what I’m here for.” Gunter said, as he walked in, Edmund and Lia close behind him. “Good to see you awake again, Mrs Weasley.”

Katherine smiled rather dreamily. “I like that.”

“What, being called Mrs Weasley?” Charlie asked, grinning. “I like it too.”

“You can’t both be Mrs Weasley.” Edmund told him. “That’d get confusing.”

Reaching behind her, Katherine retrieved one of the pillows and handed it to Charlie, who used it to hit his friend over the head. “What’s the verdict?” She asked anxiously.

“Well, I still think you should take some time off work.” Gunter said grimly. “You went through a great ordeal. However, I’d consider it a chance to get used to being a married couple, because you two are going to be stuck together for a long time.”

“I’m okay?” Katherine asked, eyes wide.

“You’ve done the impossible.” Lia whispered.

“Not impossible.” Gunter chided. “Improbable. Certainly not as impossible as taming a Ridgeback.”

“Why does everyone keep fixating on that?” Katherine asked.

“Because you managed it?” Edmund asked.

Katherine rolled her eyes. “Alright, look, I know you’re all relieved I’m okay – believe me, I am as well – but it’s the middle of the night; can we do this tomorrow morning?”

“We’re giving you two a proper wedding at some point.” Lia informed them, as Edmund dragged her away. “See you tomorrow!”

“We’ve got time!” Charlie called back, grinning.

Gunter bid them goodnight and left through the fireplace, and Charlie returned to bed, his grin widening even more when Katherine curled up into his arms again, without hesitation. “How do you feel?”

“Sore.” Katherine admitted. “My legs feel like they’d collapse if I tried to walk …”

“Then don’t.” Charlie said. “Start of small and take it one step at a time. Any pain?”

Katherine hesitated. “A little. But less than what it has been, so … Charlie?”

Charlie kissed her forehead. “Yeah?”

“That first condition for marrying me isn’t really applicable anymore.” She said sleepily.

“It’s not.” Charlie agreed. “You want another one? Just to make it fair?”

“I notice you didn’t give any conditions.” Katherine said.

Charlie snorted. “I got you.”

“And I got you, that makes it fair.” Katherine said with finality. “But since you’re asking …” She tilted her head back to look at him. “Can I have forever?”

Charlie smiled at her. “Not long enough.”

Chapter Text

Back in England …

February brought the beginning of nice weather and the beginning of a revolution. After several months under Umbridge’s tyranny, it seemed that the students of Hogwarts had had enough.

The Gryffindors, of course, had snapped after McGonagall’s attack, especially when Umbridge acted as though a) nothing had happened and b) there was nothing wrong with it, even if it had.

As the happiness was slowly sucked out of the castle, the Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs slowly joined in and, by the time February arrived, there was a silent war going on.

Hogwarts, as well, was outdoing herself.

Doors appeared out of nowhere when students were being followed and then disappeared just as rapidly, the staircases kept her away from the Great Hall for a whole week, the Head’s office had sealed itself from her, the suits of armour had stopped moving around, and (most shockingly) Peeves had stopped causing trouble for anyone who wasn’t Umbridge or Filch.

In fact, Filch was the only person who was happy with the new regime – Umbridge seemed happy to give him the free reign on punishment he’d been requesting for so long.

Not only were students ignoring the Educational Decrees, but they were going out of their way to break them, and none of the teachers were doing anything to stop them, not even Hermione’s Arithmancy teacher, Professor Vector, who, in addition to being extremely strict anyway, had been given the job of teaching Transfiguration as well as her own subject.

Even Snape, who had to side with Umbridge because she was inadvertently helping Voldemort, punished wrong-doers more lightly than normal.

In Gryffindor Tower, Harry’s dreams had more or less stopped. Hermione warned him not to let his guard down – it could well be a trap to lure him into a false sense of security so he panicked at the next one.

But the next attack – albeit mental – from Voldemort came in the form of a blinding pain in his scar that knocked him off-balance, despite only lasting a few seconds.

Harry had waved off all help, and grimly informed his friends that the only thing he managed to get out of the whole thing was that Voldemort was happy – very happy – and they all went to bed that evening wondering, with great trepidation, what could have happened to make Lord Voldemort the happiest he’d been in fourteen and a half years.

They got the answer the next morning at breakfast when Hermione received the Daily Prophet.

Since Lee’s staunch defence of Harry in September, when the Gryffindors were forced to take a good, hard, logical look at the situation, the number of Gryffindors who received the newspaper had been steadily decreasing.

Hermione was one of the few who still got it, only because she liked knowing what ‘the enemy’ was saying, and when the paper arrived, the surrounding students fell silent so she could summarise the news for them.

“You should start charging.” Harry joked. “Be one of those news anchors.”

“Could do.” Hermione agreed, grinning as she unfolded the paper. “But … HOLY SHIT!”

Her scream wasn’t quite loud enough to be heard at the teachers’ table, fortunately, but it quickly shut up the rest of the Gryffindors, who definitely weren’t used to Hermione swearing.

“What is it?” One of the older girls asked shakily.

“Mass breakout from Azkaban.” Hermione read, her heart pounding. “Ministry fears Black is ‘rallying point’ for old Death Eaters.”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, because that makes sense.”

“It does.” Another of the older Lions pointed out.

“No, Harry’s right.” Hermione said, running her eye over the rest of the article. “First of all, the Prophet reported ‘highly credible’ information just yesterday that Black was in Tibet, nowhere near Azkaban. Second of all, none of the prisoners in Azkaban can receive mail, so how’s he contacting them? Thirdly, if he was going to be a ‘rallying point’, why wouldn’t they break out after him, rather than wait for two and a half years?”

“What does it say?!” Neville demanded, before anyone could dispute Hermione’s points.

“The Ministry of Magic announced late last night that there has been a mass breakout from Azkaban.” Hermione read. “Speaking to reporters in his private office, Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, confirmed that ten high-security prisoners escaped in the early hours of yesterday evening and that he has already informed the Muggle Prime Minister of the dangerous nature of these individuals. “We find ourselves, most unfortunately, in the same position we were in two and a half years ago when the murderer Sirius Black escaped,” said Fudge last night. “Nor do we think the two breakouts are unrelated.”” She paused to exchange a dark look with Harry.

“Terrible grammar.” Ginny said sniffily. “Go on, Mione.”

Hermione cleared her throat, finding her place again. ““An escape of this magnitude suggests outside help …””

“Not even Sirius Black could sneak ten people past the Dementors.” Lee said dismissively. “Unless …” he glanced towards Umbridge, who looked furious, and lowered his voice. “Unless they’re not loyal to the Ministry anymore.”

“What else does it say?” Fred asked.

Hermione shook her head, reading the rest of the article. “A load of stuff about the last escape and carefully avoiding mentioning that the ten who escaped were some of Voldemort’s most loyal followers.”

“Who was it?” George asked sharply.

“Augustus Rookwood,” Hermione read, “Philip Mulciber, Andrew Travers, Rod-” She faltered, glancing at Neville, who whitened and stared at his plate, nodding slightly. “Rodolphus Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange, Bellatrix Black Lestrange – didn’t think her name was hyphenated.”

“Probably wanted to draw attention to the relation.” Harry said, scowling. “That’s six – who are the others?”

“Alexander Selwyn, Katherine Gibbon, Oliver Taderman and Antonin Dolohov.” Hermione listed, frowning at the last name. “Where have I heard that name before?”

“He helped murder the McKinnons.” Harry reminded her, as Neville jumped to his feet. “Nev …?”

“Library.” Neville muttered, practically sprinting from the hall.

“Going to be sick, more like.” Harry said, moving to get up.

“Don’t worry.” Susan said from behind him. “I’ll go. And you may as well explain.”

Hermione looked back at the Gryffindors, who all looked perplexed. “The Lestranges, along with Barty Crouch Jr., were responsible for an attack on Neville’s parents that left them in a mentally unstable state in St Mungo’s.” She said coolly. “Anyone who bothers Neville about this will find out exactly why I am known as the brightest witch of my age.”

“Anything else happen?” Ron asked tiredly.

Hermione flicked through the paper. “No … It’s all fairly … Good Merlin, an Unspeakable’s been murdered!”

“By one of the Death Eaters?” Angelina asked.

Hermione shook her head. “It doesn’t say. He was in St Mungo’s after a workplace ‘accident’ apparently, and was delivered a Devil’s Snare disguised as a pot plant for Christmas. No idea who sent it or how it got there.” She relinquished the paper to Ginny, who took over Hermione’s self-imposed role of news distributor.

Hermione’s mind was racing. The Ministry were either panicking or really, really stupid when they used Sirius as a scapegoat – the holes were remarkable.

And surely there were others in the Wizarding World who could see them too.

Surely now was the perfect time to get their side of the story out …

Hermione stood abruptly, swinging her bag over her shoulder.

“Where are you going?” Ron asked, startled by her sudden movement.

“I need to contact Jen.” Hermione said briskly. “And then I need to send a letter. It … Well, I don’t know whether … But it’s worth trying … And I’m the only one who can …” Giving up on verbalising her thoughts, she gave him and Harry a quick wave and dashed off towards the Owlery.

She wasn’t sure anyone would write Harry’s story if they had a choice, so she needed to find someone who didn’t.

And she had just the beetle for the job …

***

Dating a prankster was not something to be taken lightly, especially when that prankster was one of the Weasley twins.

Never let it be said that Fred or George granted immunity to anyone, even their long-suffering girlfriends.

Despite their carefree and somewhat irresponsible attitudes to life, Fred and George were the first of the Weasleys to fall in love and, like most things in their lives, they had done it together, in their second year of Hogwarts, the second Oliver Wood had introduced them to their new team-mates.

Two Beaters, two Chasers.

Of course, the boys had known of them – Angelina and Alicia were in their year, after all, so in most of their classes, but that was the first time the boys had really paid attention.

And once they started, they couldn’t seem to stop.

They may have fallen at the same time, but they handled it in very different ways.

Fred, being the older and marginally more confident twin, approached Angelina almost immediately and asked her out.

It wasn’t until the Yule Ball in their sixth year that the rest of the school really found out about their relationship, and it had also taken George that long to tell Alicia how he felt.

Even then, he needed a bit of a nudge.

Lee and Katie, knowing how George felt, had decided that enough was enough and, both being single, took action. Lee invited Alicia to the Ball, which she accepted, earning him days of stony silence from a furious Weasley twin, who eventually agreed to accompany Katie.

Halfway through the second song, Katie and Lee had spun their partners into each other, forcing George to grab Alicia’s waist to keep her from falling.

When she blushed a brilliant pink, he finally realised what Fred had been insisting for years, and Lee and Katie spent the rest of the evening congratulating each other on a job well done.

Angelina and Alicia were incredibly fond of Fred and George, but they also knew to be wary of them, because pranks could – and often did – come from nowhere.

So when the boys intercepted them on the way back from Quidditch practice a couple of days before Valentine’s Day and led them to the Room of Requirements, they were understandably suspicious.

Their suspicion, however, quickly turned to concern, when they realised that the twins had never been so serious, not even when they had taken them aside at the beginning of the school year and confided in them about the joke shop.

“Ladies,” Fred began gravely, “the time has come …”

“… for Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes to come into their own.” George finished.

The two girls exchanged a look, and Alicia sat back slightly, silently yielding the floor to her best friend.

“Hasn’t it already?” Angelina asked. “The few things you’ve sold here are being out to very good use.”

“Well, yeah.” Fred conceded. “But that’s not what we meant.”

“Then what did you mean?” Alicia asked. “George?”

George smiled at her – not his usual grin, but a genuine smile all the same. “Our offer was accepted. We are now the proud owners of Number Ninety Three Diagon Alley.”

Alicia felt a gust of air escape her, as though a Bludger had hit her in the stomach.

They were planning on leaving Hogwarts.

Pride and disappointment warred in her mind for a second, before pride won out and a beaming smile spread over her face. “That’s fantastic!”

George’s smile widened and she realised how worried he’d been about her reaction. “Yeah, it’s pretty great. But it does mean that we won’t be able to accompany you two lovely ladies to Hogsmeade on Saturday.”

“However,” Fred continued with a wink, “we will meet you there. No one should be alone on Valentine’s Day.”

The girls exchanged another wary glance. Theoretically, the twins could just sneak out of the castle and not come back.

But there was no way it would be that simple.

“What are you going to do?” Alicia asked finally.

Fred smirked. “If we told you that, Lyssa, we’d have to kill you.”

She scowled at him. “Don’t call me that.”

“He calls you that!” Fred protested, pointing at his brother. “How did you know I’m not him?”

“The same way we’ve never kissed the wrong twin.” Angelina answered, standing up. “We’re the only people who can tell you apart.” Taking Fred’s hand, she led him away from the other two, a door appearing in the wall as another room was created.

As the door swung closed behind them, George dropped into the seat beside Alicia, covering his face with his hands.

“Big step?” Alicia asked quietly.

George snorted softly. “Yeah, just a bit. Honestly, we knew we weren’t going to last the year. Not with that bitch in charge. We just needed to get the shop.”

“You knew?” Alicia asked.

George sighed. “Yeah, babe, we knew. Sorry we never said anything … I will be there on Saturday, I swear.”

Alicia smiled, her hand brushing his cheek. “I know you will. So … what happens now?”

“Well, we leave, you and Angie stay here and take your NEWTs,” George smirked slightly, “maybe give Umbridge hell from us …”

Alicia smirked back. “Oh, you know we will.”

George chuckled, leaning in to brush a kiss against her lips. “That’s my girl. Then when you leave here, you make your way to the shop, and we’ll introduce you both to a couple of old friends who are going to take on Lord Banana-Face.”

“Old friends …” Alicia gasped. “You mean the Marauders?”

George nodded.

“You found out who they are?!” Alicia pressed. She knew that discovering the Marauders’ identities was almost as big an ambition for the twins as opening the shop.

George winced. “Actually, we found out last summer. And I’m sorry we never said anything, it sort of slipped our minds what with everything else that’s been happening.”

“That’s under …” Alicia trailed off again as another part of George’s statement registered. “Lord Banana-Face?”

“Inside joke.” George said with a grin. “It’s Hermione’s idea, really – all this You-Know-Who crap just generates fear. So if you can’t use his name, take the piss. Would you rather me call him He-Who-Must-Be-Hyphenated? Actually, we’ve come up with another product – how does this sound?” He cleared his throat and adopted an advertising voice. “Are you worrying about You-Know-Who? You should be worrying about You-No-Poo – the constipation sensation that’s sweeping the nation!”

Alicia let out a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a sob. “You’ll get murdered in your beds.”

“No we won’t.” George said, grinning. “We’ve got more sense than that.” His smile faded a little when she didn’t smile and the worry in her eyes stayed as strong as ever. “Hey …” he took her hands and squeezed them gently, gazing into her eyes with a sincerity that would seem strange to anyone else, but Alicia knew him and she knew the side of him that few people got to see. “We’ll be alright.” He whispered.

“You don’t know that.” Alicia said.

“No.” George admitted. “But you knew I was going to fight, Lyssa. And I know you will too.”

“I know.” Alicia agreed. “And I will. That doesn’t mean I can’t be scared.”

“I know.” George pulled her into his arms, pressing a kiss to her head. “I know.”

***

The following evening found Jen and Sirius back in Grimmauld Place, cleaning up after the Order meeting. Jen knew she could have called Dobby and Winky from Ravenscroft to do it for her, but Dumbledore had been making his irritation with her and Sirius’s relocation quite clear, so she felt it best if they remained past his departure.

Not that she had no faith in Ravenscroft’s defences – she just didn’t feel like avoiding him today.

Plus, the cleaning gave her something take her mind off the fact that Remus was Merlin knew where with Merlin knew who doing Merlin knew what.

“Jenny?” Sirius called from across the room. “You’ve been wiping that same plate for twenty minutes now.”

“Hmm?”

Sirius sighed. If Jen wasn’t going to tell him off for the nickname, she was definitely in a headspace. Flicking his wand at the sink, he finished the job magically. “Jen, you need to shake it off, alright? Remus will be fine – he’s tough.”

“What if he’s not fine?” Jen asked shakily. “Anything could have happened, Sirius. I can feel him in the back of my mind, but I can’t talk to him and …” She ran a hand through her hair. “Dammit, you’d think I’d be used to this by now.”

Sirius wrapped an arm around her shoulders, kissing her temple. “It never gets easier, Lena. You know that.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang, sending their mother into ear-splitting shrieks that seemed to shake the whole house.

Jen groaned, pulling away from her brother. “I do not have the energy to deal with this right now!” Storming up to the hallway, she sent a spell at her mother’s portrait, shutting her up with a loud bang, before pulling the door open. “For the last bloody time, don’t ring the …” She trailed off, staring in bewilderment at soaking wet boys, both clutching brooms with chains still attached to the handles. “What are you doing here?”

“Can we come in?” Fred asked. “We’re cold.”

Maternal instinct kicked in and Jen hastily summoned to blankets from upstairs, ushering them inside and closing the door. “Come on – down to the kitchen, both of you, before you catch pneumonia.”

George raised an eyebrow, leaning his broom against the wall. “Didn’t know it was possible to sound motherly and flustered in a whisper.”

“Hush!” Jen chided gently, her earlier worry vanishing now she had something to focus on. She hurried them downstairs to the kitchen and started making hot chocolate. “Get those wet cloaks off, for heavens’ sake.”

Sirius gaped at them for a few seconds, before saying weakly, “I’ll floo Molly.”

“No!” The response was immediate and unanimous, and stopped Sirius on his way to the fireplace.

“You can’t.” George continued, his voice low but intense. “If Mum gets her hands on us any time soon, she’ll kill us.”

“I doubt that.” Jen said calmly.

“Please.” Fred said pleadingly. “Let us set up the shop first, get on our feet.”

“You’re not leaving this house until I know you’re not going to get sick!” Jen insisted.

“Please!” They chorused, almost desperately.

Sirius and Jen exchanged a wary glance. “What happened?” Jen asked finally.

“Hogwarts has gone mental.” Fred announced. “But you knew that. We finally got confirmation that we had the shop in Diagon Alley …”

“… so we decided it was about time to say bye-bye.” George finished. “But you know us – we couldn’t just sneak out. So we turned the Entrance Hall …”

“… into a swamp!” Fred beamed. “Just in time for lunch too! Umbitch was furious – began threatening to let Filch do everything he’s been wanting to for years, and just as he turns up with the ‘approval for whipping’ form-”

Jen inhaled sharply.

“She turns to us, and says “You two are about to learn what happens to wrongdoers in my school.” George continued, in an uncanny impression. “And Fred says …”

“You know what? I don’t think we are.” Fred complied. “George, I think we’ve outgrown fulltime education.”

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling that way myself.” George responded.

“Time to test our talents in the real world, d’you reckon?” Fred asked.

“Definitely.” George answered.

“And then,” they said in unison, “we summoned our brooms, told everyone where to find us, told Peeves to give her hell, and took off.”

Sirius burst out laughing. “Nice!”

“Sirius!” Jen chided, unable to help the grin that crossed her own face. “And you didn’t think to land and apparate? You just flew all the way here?”

“Adrenaline.” George said with a shrug, accepting the hot chocolate she handed him.

Sirius shook his head, still laughing. “You’ve outdone the Marauders, boys, and I salute you.”

“So did Peeves.” Fred said with false modesty. “Not that I’m bragging.”

“I would.” Jen said, raising an eyebrow. “Peeves doesn’t show that kind of respect to anyone.”

“Please don’t tell Mum.” George said softly. “She’ll kill us.”

“It’s a matter of time before she finds out.” Jen warned. “I’m not giving her a heart attack by telling her I haven't seen you.”

“Then don’t.” Sirius suggested. “Tell Molly they’ve already left and we don’t know where they went, just that they were going somewhere safe.”

Jen thought about this for a moment. It wouldn’t be nearly enough for Molly, but the twins were adults now. “Alright, fine. How long will it take you to set the shop up?”

“Not long.” Fred said, looking relieved. “We have the premises, and there’s a flat above it and everything.”

“Well done.” Jen approved. “Not that I thought you’d leave without a back-up plan in the first place, but it’s good to know my faith isn’t misplaced.”

Sirius grinned, pulling the two-way mirror from his pocket. “Before you go though, boys, I should think there are some people who’d like to say hello.”

***

The atmosphere in the Gryffindor Common Room that evening could only be described as euphoric.

Yes, the twins had gone and, yes, that made a lot of people quite sad – they would be missed, of course – but they had left a wave of chaos that could only make life hell for Umbridge in the wake of their exit.

And what an exit it had been.

In fact, there were only three people who weren’t joining in the festivities, and the first was due to the other two. Hermione was pretending to study, but her attention was on Angelina and Alicia, who were obviously trying to look happy but failing miserably.

Finally giving up the charade, she abandoned her books and joined them by the fire, gazing into the embers.

Neither acknowledged her, but after a few seconds, Alicia sighed. “Shouldn’t we be happier? I mean, we love them and their dreams just came true.”

“You can be happy for them and miss them at the same time.” Hermione pointed out. “Besides, you’re seeing them Saturday, right?”

“They did say they’d meet us there.” Angelina conceded. “Although they didn’t say where.”

“Oh, they’ll find some way of letting you know.” Hermione said confidently. “Those two have …”

“Hermione?”

Hermione glanced over her shoulder, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention, not even Harry and Ron, who were talking to Lee Jordan.

“Hermione?!”

“Was that Fred?” Angelina asked in a whisper.

“I don’t know.” Hermione answered absently, finally locating the source of the noise as her pocket. Casually, she withdrew the two-way mirror and pretended to check her reflection, pretending she couldn’t see Fred’s face. Under the pretence of brushing some hair from her face, she flashed a hand signal at him, one of the few the twins had learned.

“Yes, we’re alone. The others stepped out so we could talk.”

Hermione grinned. The boys had been smart enough to make sure they were standing in front of a blank wall; there was nothing that could identify their location, although she was fairly certain it was Grimmauld Place. She let her empathy expand, carefully skirting around the excitement, searching for any sign of untrustworthiness.

Hogwarts? Help me out here?

As if on cue, a few sixth and seventh years got up and left the Common Room, either heading for the dormitories or out of the portrait hole.

Once they were gone, Hermione turned to the girls. “They found a way of letting you know.”

Both automatically turned to the window, shut and bolted to keep the cold out. “How?”

Smiling, Hermione turned the mirror to face them. “Say hello.”

“FRED!”

“Who am I?” George’s voice asked, as the room fell silent at Angelina’s cry. “Chopped liver.”

“George …” Alicia breathed.

“What’s going on?!” Lee demanded.

“Here.” Hermione said, flicking her wand. The mirror rose into the air and enlarged until the twins could be seen properly. “If you have any questions, comments, or critiques, now would be the time to …” She was cut off by a loud cheer that resonated around the Common Room. “Or that.”

“How did you do that?!”

“Are you really not coming back?”

“Is this another one of your products?”

One of the twins whistled loudly.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Fred beamed, bowing to the crowd. “The display today was courtesy of our Portable Swamps, by Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.”

“We won’t be returning.” George added. “But once again, come and visit us at Ninety Three Diagon Alley.”

“For your pranking needs before the holidays,” Fred continued, “Lee has order forms, and I would be surprised if Hermione has a few squirrelled away.” He grinned at the girl in question as she went bright red. “And despite her protests, she wouldn’t mind giving them away, would you?”

Hermione sniffed. “Well, since you’re no longer testing on first years, how can I refuse?”

“10% discount to everyone who swears the products will be used on Umbridge.” George put in. “Another 10% refund to anyone who sends us photo evidence.”

“This isn’t one of their products.” Hermione said, indicating the mirror. “At least not yet. It was created by a mutual friend, who may or may not let them in on the secret. For now, it is imperative that Umbridge does not find out about it, alright?”

No one was brave enough to disagree with the glare on Hermione’s face, even if they were all Gryffindors.

“If Umbridge doesn’t find out,” Hermione continued, “I might be able to convince that mutual friend to let them in on the secret, and products like this will be available to the general public. If she does find out, we’re done for.”

This time, the nodding was slightly more vigorous. Everyone was transfixed by the mirror, and if there was a possibility the twins could mass-produce them, no one was about to jeopardise that.

Besides, anything to get one up on Umbridge.

“Remember,” Fred said, “Ninety-Three Diagon Alley. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we need a word with Mione and the boys.”

“What am I?!” Ginny asked in mock-outrage. “Chopped liver as well?”

George sighed. “Fine, Gin-Gin, I suppose you can come too.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, flicking her wand at the mirror to shrink it. “Angelina, Alicia, you two come up as well. Say goodbye, boys.”

“Goodbye, boys!” The twins chorused.

Hermione sighed, leading the other three girls up the dormitory staircase. “Oh good grief.”

Once they entered the fifth year dorms, Hermione handed the mirror to Angelina and pulled the Marauders Map from her pocket, spreading it out on Harry’s bed.

“Problem is,” Ginny said quietly, as the two Chasers chatted with their boyfriends, “how do we find Harry and Ron? The Map shows everyone.”

“Don’t worry.” Hermione responded. “Jen told me about a little trick over Christmas.” She touched her wand to the parchment. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” The Map formed before their eyes, little wriggling dots all over the place, and she smiled. “Oh Merlin, they’re at it again. Show me Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.”

Immediately, two of the dots turned the same green as the writing at the top of the map, which twisted and morphed into the words Misses Jade, Shadow, Selena, Talon and Bastet, Willing Participants of Magical Mischief Making, are proud to present the Marauder Search Function.

“That’s new.” Ginny remarked.

“Not really.” Hermione said. “The girls charmed it in their seventh year. They’ll be here in a few minutes.” She tapped the Map again. “Trouble diverted. Mischief managed.”

“Hermione?” Alicia asked. “Any idea where we can meet the boys in Hogsmeade so they don’t get swamped?”

Ginny snickered. “Nice one.”

Alicia grinned. “Thanks.”

Hermione thought for a second. “How about Snuffle’s Gate?” She asked, before realising that the girls wouldn’t know the name they’d created for it. “Sorry – the gate right at the end of the village, before you reach the mountains.”

“We’ll be there.” Fred said. “Hate to drop out on you, but we kinda need to talk to them in private …”

“It’s fine.” Angelina said. “We’ll talk tomorrow. Love you.”

“Love you too.” Fred returned, disappearing from the mirror.

“See you tomorrow.” George added. “I …” He coughed awkwardly. “Yeah.”

“Me too.” Alicia agreed quietly. “See you tomorrow.” She handed the mirror to Hermione, and the two Chasers left the dorm, passing Harry and Ron on the way in.

“Just tell her.” Hermione said, when the door was safely shut.

“Not through a two-way mirror.” George said stubbornly.

“Is Sirius there?” Hermione asked.

“Of course.”

The picture blurred slightly as the mirror was passed over, then Sirius’s face appeared. “How are you doing, Kitten?”

Hermione smiled. “We’re alright. Is Remus back?”

“Not yet.” Jen answered grimly, from somewhere behind the mirror.

“Does Mum know yet?” Ron asked eagerly, hurrying to Hermione’s side. “Have they told her?”

“Thanks, Ron.” Fred grumbled. “Good to know we’ve got your support.”

“Not yet.” Jen answered, taking the mirror from Sirius. “Which reminds me, boys, you need to get going. I will lie to your mother and tell her I don’t know where you’ve gone, but I can’t do anything if she turns up here.”

“Good point.” George said, and they could hear the wince in his voice. “We’d better …”

“Wait!” Ron said urgently. “Where’d you get the money?”

“What?” Hermione asked.

“They’ve got the shop.” Ron pointed out. “I know they’ve been selling products here, but there’s no way they made enough to get an actual shop.”

Harry sighed, and Hermione knew what he was going to say before he said it. As it was, she had suspected it all along. “I gave them my Triwizard winnings.” He met Jen’s eyes through the mirror. “I didn’t want them!”

Jen smiled. “You don’t have to defend your decision, Harry. It’s not like you needed the money, and I completely understand. If James and Lily were here, they would have invested by now. We have.” She hesitated. “Don’t tell Molly that though.”

“Now what kind of repayment would that be?” Fred asked rhetorically. “Jen’s right – we’d better go before Mum turns up.”

“And we’d better head back to Ravenscroft.” Jen added. “Before we go, Hermione, what’s the progress on the thing we discussed last week?”

“Meeting tomorrow.” Hermione answered, much to the others’ confusion.

Jen nodded. “And Luna …?”

“Everything’s good.” Hermione confirmed.

Jen smirked. “Wonderful.”

“Uh oh.” Sirius said. “I know that smirk. I invented that smirk. What are you two up to?”

“Nothing.” Jen said airily. “Don’t worry about the fall-out, Hermione, dear. Amelia and I have it covered.”

“Thanks, Jen.” Hermione said gratefully. “See you later.”

“What was all that about?” Harry asked, when the mirror had faded back to blank.

“Forget that.” Ron said with a scowl. “You gave my brothers 10,000 galleons and completely ignored me?!”

“It wasn’t a gift!” Harry protested. “It was an investment!”

Ron barely managed to hold up the scowl for more than a few more seconds, before he burst out laughing. “The look on your face.” He sniggered. “I was kidding, mate.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “Harry, can you meet me in the Three Broomsticks at noon tomorrow?”

Ron stopped laughing abruptly and exchanged a startled look with Ginny. “Mione, tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day!”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I know that, Ron. It’s on the same day every year. Oh … Harry, do you have a …?”

Harry turned slightly pink. “Yeah, I’ve got a date with Cho.”

“Blimey, you kept that quiet.” Ginny said.

Harry shrugged. “Well, you two don’t like her very much.”

Hermione sighed. “I’ll be honest and agree with you, Harry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to us. I’m sorry, Harry, but it really does have to be tomorrow – it won’t take very long. Bring Cho with you.”

Ron snorted. “Yeah, because that’ll go down well.”

Chapter Text

The next day, Hermione found herself waiting nervously in the Three Broomsticks, a mug of butterbeer sitting in front of her.

Luna was sitting beside her with a Gillywater, stirring it absently with a cherry as she hummed under her breath.

The two girls attracted several second glances from other students – not only were they not talking, but there was probably not a more bizarre pairing in Hogwarts (okay, so maybe that was a slight exaggeration – but only slightly).

Luna was, of course, completely oblivious to these looks, but Hermione wasn’t, and she didn’t really want the attention, especially not today.

She would have preferred somewhere more private for this meeting, but there wasn’t really anywhere else, save for the Shrieking Shack. She’d learned her lesson regarding the Hog’s Head last October, and Madam Puddifoot’s was best avoided at the best of times, let alone on Valentine’s Day.

Hermione couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty for interrupting Harry’s first date with Cho (assuming it was their first date, but she was sure he’d have told her otherwise by now), but there really wasn’t another time this could happen.

Very astutely, Harry had realised that Hermione and Ginny weren’t too fond of Cho, but then Cho didn’t like Hermione very much either. Hermione would never ask Harry to choose between them, but Cho would.

Hermione knew that Harry would never make a choice like that, but Cho knew that too, and the older girl was smart enough to manipulate things so that Harry wouldn’t even realise what was happening.

That was what made Hermione feel less guilty than usual for interrupting their first date, and was the sole reason for the sick feeling she got every time she thought about them being on a date in the first place.

At least, she thought it was.

“Thank you for coming along, Luna.” Hermione said, hoping to distract herself from thoughts of Harry and Cho. “I know this isn’t the sort of thing your father usually publishes.”

“Daddy says it’s nice to branch out every now and then.” Luna responded dreamily. “And thank you for inviting me. It’s nice to have someone to sit with, even if it is for business. It’s like having friends.”

There was nothing bitter or accusatory in Luna’s voice – Hermione doubted she knew the meaning of the words – but they made Hermione feel ashamed nonetheless.

Luna was a little eccentric, definitely, but that was no reason for her to be as treated as harshly as she was by many of her housemates.

“You do have friends.” Hermione said firmly. “We’re your friends.”

Luna looked up sharply, an almost unnatural action for her, but any response was interrupted by the clicking of heels on the flagstone floor, and both girls looked up to see Rita Skeeter approaching them.

Unemployment had not been kind to Rita. Although at first glance, she seemed as well-groomed and immaculately made-up as she had during the Tournament, but a closer glance revealed chipped nails, frown lines, and dark circles under her eyes.

“Good morning, Rita.” Hermione greeted amicably. “Do sit down.”

“I still don’t see why you ‘summoned’ me here of all places.” Rita complained, sitting opposite Hermione.

“On the contrary, Rita,” Hermione smiled, “my wand was in my pocket the whole time. This is Luna, by the way. Luna Lovegood.”

“Charmed.” Rita muttered, eyeing Luna’s radish earrings with distaste. “I don’t suppose you’re going to tell why I’m here?”

“All in good time.” Hermione said sweetly. “I’m sure you’ll find it mutually beneficial.” At that moment, she caught sight of Harry entering the pub – without Cho. “Harry! Harry, over here!”

Harry approached them, doing a double take when he saw Rita.

“You’re early.” Hermione said, handing him a butterbeer. “Where’s Cho?”

“Cho?” Rita asked eagerly. “A girl?”

“You can put that away for a start.” Hermione said sharply, seeing the Quick-Quotes Quill emerging from the reporter’s crocodile skin handbag.

“What are you up to?” Harry asked, staring at the three witches in confusion.

“Little Miss Perfect was just about to tell me when you arrived.” Rita threw a scathing glance at Hermione. “I suppose I’m allowed to talk to him.”

“Yes, I suppose you are.” Hermione said coldly.

Rita took a sip of her drink. “Pretty girl, is she, Harry?”

“One more word about Harry’s love life and the deal’s off.” Hermione snarled.

“What deal?” Rita asked. “You haven’t mentioned a deal yet, you just told me to show up. Oh, one of these days …”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Hermione interrupted in a bored tone. “You’ll write more horrible stories about me and Harry. Find someone who cares.”

“They’ve written plenty of horrible stories about Harry without my help.” Rita pointed out snootily. “Although they’ve stopped now, for some reason.”

“The Daily Prophet was kindly reminded that Harry’s a minor.” Hermione said with a cold smirk. “His godmother – Lady Black – made a point of visiting the editor.”

“Still, they were nastier than anything I came up with.” Rita said with relish. “How did they make you feel, Harry? Betrayed? Distraught? Misunderstood?”

“Angry, of course.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “Because he told the Minister of Magic the truth and the Minister’s to much of an idiot to believe him.”

“So you actually stick to it, do you, that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back?” Rita asked, but she didn’t look sceptical at all. “You stand by everything Dumbledore’s been saying, about You-Know-Who returning and you being the sole witness.”

“I wasn’t the sole witness.” Harry scowled. “There were a dozen Death Eaters there as well. Want their names?”

“I’d love them.” Rita breathed, diving in her bag for her quill again. “I can see the headline now: Potter Accuses!” Then she sighed, dropping her quill back in her bag. “But the Prophet wouldn’t print a story like that. And of course Little Miss Perfect wouldn’t want that now, would she?”

“Actually,” Hermione said sweetly, “that’s exactly what Little Miss Perfect does want.”

Harry and Rita both stared at her, while Luna stirred her drink, humming Weasley is our King under her breath.

“You want me to report on this?” Rita asked finally.

“Yes.” Hermione answered. “The true story – the facts, exactly as Harry tells them. No embellishment, no lies. Hell, some of those names are so scandalous, you won’t need to embellish it.”

Harry cleared his throat. “Miss Skeeter, would you excuse us for one moment? Hermione? A word?” Without waiting for a response, he grasped her elbow and pulled her away from the table and into a corner of the pub. “What the hell are you playing at?!”

“We need to get our side of the story out, Harry.” Hermione pointed out. “That story about the Azkaban breakout had more holes than Swiss cheese, for Merlin’s sake! People are willing to listen, and they’ll listen to you.”

“And, what, you’ve just been planning this behind my back?!” Harry hissed.

Hermione froze. She had been so focussed on making sure everything pulled together that she had forgotten the most important part. “Oh, Merlin, Harry, I’m so sorry! I didn’t even think … I was so busy planning …” She sighed, looking at the floor. “I don’t even have a decent excuse. I’m sorry, Harry.”

As she spoke, Harry seemed to relax, and he took her hand squeezing it softly. “It’s okay, Hermione. I know how you get when you get an idea.”

Hermione sniffed. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re like a dog with a bone.” Harry smirked. “Must run in the family.”

Hermione smacked his arm lightly, fighting a smile. “I am sorry.”

“I know.” Harry said. “At least I know you weren’t doing it on purpose.”

“Never.” Hermione vowed. “So are you up for it?”

Harry sighed. “Why not? Can’t make things worse.

They returned to the table, and Harry slid into the seat beside Hermione. “Alright, I’ll do it.”

“Lady Black?” Rita asked cautiously.

“Has provided her written permission.” Hermione said, handing her the cryptic note Jen had owled her. “For this interview only. Provided you report the truth exactly as Harry says it.”

“I told you,” Rita told her, a little sulkily. “The Prophet won’t print a story like that.”

“I know.” Hermione said tiredly. “They’re all in Fudge’s pocket. Luna’s father is the editor of The Quibbler; he’s agreed to print the story …”

The Quibbler?” Rita snorted. “You really think people will take him seriously if it’s in The Quibbler.”

“Some people won’t.” Hermione conceded levelly. “But the Daily Prophet’s story on the Azkaban breakout had some gaping holes. Aside from anything else, why would Sirius Black wait three years to break out the others if he had a way out?”

“That’s true.” Rita murmured thoughtfully. The other three watched her with bated breath – well, Harry and Hermione did; Luna didn’t seem too fussed one way or the other – waiting for her response. “Alright, I’ll do it.” As the two Gryffindors breathed a sigh of relief, she opened her bag and once again withdrew the acid green quill.

“Umbridge is going to murder me for this.” Harry warned Hermione.

“Let the others deal with that.” Hermione told him with a wink. “They’ve got a plan. Ready?”

Harry nodded, looking determined. “Ready.”

“Fire away then, Rita.” Hermione instructed serenely.

***

It took several hours for Harry to explain everything to Rita’s satisfaction, leaving out the fact about the wands linking (since no one wanted that little fact plastered across the country). He gave her the names of the Death Eaters Voldemort had forgiven, told her what they said to him, and explained what happened to Cedric.

Once Rita had read over her notes once more and arranged things with Luna, they all parted ways, and Harry and Hermione made their way back towards the school.

“So why did your date end so early?” Hermione asked.

“I have no idea.” Harry admitted with a sigh. “One minute, everything was fine. Then I mentioned that you wanted us to meet you at the Leaky Cauldron, and she started going on about how Roger Davies asked her out and how Cedric used to take her to Madam Puddifoot’s. Then she started crying, said “I’ll see you around, Harry”, and ran for it.”

Hermione had a fair idea about what had gone wrong. “How exactly did you tell her I wanted to meet you.”

“I said “Hermione wants us to meet her in the Leaky Cauldron.”” Harry recited.

Hermione sighed, shaking her head. “Oh, Harry …”

“What?” Harry demanded. “What did I do wrong?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day, you idiot.” Hermione said gently. “Of course she was upset! You should have told her that I’d come up with some crazy plan and that I’d made you promise to meet me, but that you’d much rather spend the day with her, so would she come with you and maybe you could get away faster. It would have been a good time to mention how ugly you find me as well.” She added thoughtfully.

“But you’re not ugly!” Harry protested. “You’re really pretty!”

“Not the point, Harry.” Hermione mumbled, feeling her face heat at the compliment. Something inside her fluttered at the same time, and she squashed it hastily, changing the subject. “I was thinking, Harry. Maybe you should show the DA the memory of Voldemort’s return. We need to talk to Draco as well at some point.”

With Hogwarts’ help, the DA had been restarted right under Umbridge’s nose – Hermione’s growing connection with the castle was able to add an extra layer of protection to that already provided by the Room of Requirement.

“With you on the Draco front.” Harry agreed. “But the memories are personal, Hermione. I don’t know if I want everyone to see them.”

“I realise that, Harry.” Hermione said, catching his arm and making him stop and turn to face her. “But they’re all risking expulsion by doing this and we’ve technically offered them no proof that we’re telling the truth.”

Harry sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I suppose you’re right. We do owe them the truth. Cho, at least, deserves to know …”

“Damn right I do!”

Cho was standing a few feet away from them, cheeks flushed from cold or anger, Hermione couldn’t tell. Jealousy swirled in the air as she stared at them, and Hermione bit back her retort, at least until Harry did it for her.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” He groaned. “I can’t win, can I? I’ll see you back at the castle.”

“What the hell is going on?” Cho demanded, when Harry had stormed off.

“You tell me.” Hermione suggested scathingly. “Seeing as you’ve clearly got all the answers here – you’re the one that ditched Harry mid-date.”

“Oh please, we all know you’re the one he actually wants to be with!” Cho shrieked.

Hermione rolled her eyes, walking away from her. “Calm down. You’re making a scene.”

“Why did you let him go out with me?” Cho asked, striding after her. “Pity?”

Hermione laughed derisively, turning to face her. “I don’t ‘let’ Harry do anything – he’s not my boyfriend and, even if he was, there’s such a thing as free will that I happen to be a great fan of.”

“Then what truth were you talking about just now then?” Cho asked, with the air of someone who had proved their point.

“How Cedric died.” Hermione said bluntly. “I was suggesting Harry show certain members of the DA his memory of Voldemort’s return.”

Cho fell silent, her face paling. “Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh’.” Hermione scowled. “Look, I understand that you’ve been through a lot, Cho, but you’re either still mourning Cedric or you want Harry, you can’t do both; it’s not fair. Either date Harry or don’t, but stop messing him around!”

***

The following day, Hermione stood outside the Room of Requirement with her eyes closed, asking Hogwarts to guide Draco towards them, alone.

Harry, Ron and Ginny were with her, the latter far more relaxed about the plan than the first two. Harry agreed that it was the right thing to do, but wasn’t looking forward to it, whereas Ron was likely to just throw a spanner in the works.

After waiting for what felt like ages, they heard footsteps coming along the corridor. Hermione pushed herself away from the wall, as Draco came into view. He slowed as he saw them, a smirk quirking on his lips.

“Why am I not surprised?” He drawled. “I thought I felt something pulling me here.”

“You felt the castle?” Hermione asked, surprised but pleased. “Good. Maybe I won’t have to translate all the time.”

“Is there a reason we’re all hanging around the seventh floor?” Draco asked.

“Hermione thinks we should all talk.” Ginny explained. “Since we’re likely to have to deal with each other this summer.”

“That’s probably a good idea.” Draco admitted, as Hermione opened the door on to a small sitting room. “I’m willing to give it a try if you are.”

Ginny grabbed Ron’s arm before he could protest, dragging him into the room. “Wonderful.”

Hermione met Draco’s eyes for a split-second and they exchanged a wry smile, before they stepped into the room behind Harry.

“How did your essay go?” Draco asked.

“Oh, I passed.” Ginny answered. “Comparing it to Hermione’s scores now, I got an Acceptable.”

“And Snape always grades Gryffindors down, so that’s an Exceeds Expectations.” Draco concluded. “Not bad.”

Ginny smiled. “I know.” She glanced at Harry and Ron out of the corner of her eye, seeing their uncertainty. Neither of them had been in the same airspace as Draco without a fight breaking out for …

Well, since they started at Hogwarts.

Before they started, if Ginny was correct about that first train ride.

“What’s your Quidditch team?” She asked suddenly. “I’ve always wondered.”

“Falmouth Falcons.” Draco answered, a little warily. “You?”

“Holyhead Harpies.” Ginny responded immediately. “But if they’re not playing, I have a list of preferences.”

“Mostly due to how attractive the players are.” Hermione smirked.

Ginny gave her a mock-wounded look. “That’s not true. I support according to skill. However, on saying that, there are certain players that just shouldn’t get in the way of Bludgers.”

Hermione could see Ron itching to join in the discussion, and Harry’s almost pained expression as he tried to work out whether it was best to join in or let Ron take the first step. “If you support according to skill, I’m guessing the Cannons are at the bottom of that list then?”

Ginny laughed, but Draco looked thoughtful. “I don’t know … I find myself rooting for them if the Falcons aren’t playing.”

“Really?” Ginny asked in surprise.

Draco shrugged. “Yeah, I mean … they’re rubbish, but at least their games are exciting to watch.”

“That’s what I keep saying!” Ron blurted out. “Did you see the one the summer before we started, against Puddlemere?”

“That was one hell of a game.” Draco agreed. “I actually thought they’d pull it off that time.”

“Bill and Charlie came home and took me for my birthday.” Ron remembered. “Had me convinced for a while that they’d arranged for the Cannons to win.”

“I don’t think even Bill and Charlie could manage that.” Harry quipped. “I guess Puddlemere won then.”

“Blimey, I keep forgetting that you grew up without Quidditch.” Ron said morosely. “I don’t know how you did it.”

“Neither do I.” Draco said, looking faintly horrified. “Wait, so that first flying lesson … that was your first time on a broom?”

“Yeah.” Harry answered. “Thought you knew that.”

Draco snorted. “I was blowing smoke most of that year. No wonder you made the team.”

“Thanks for the help by the way.” Harry smirked.

Draco flipped him off lazily. “You have a team now at least, right?”

Harry shrugged. “Ron’s trying to make me into a Chudley fan, but I’m more of a Puddlemere guy.”

“That’s only because Jen told you your dad was.” Hermione reminded him gently.

“Okay, so I don’t really know any professional teams, so sue me.” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve never seen them play.”

Draco and Ron launched into a run-down of the different teams (something Ron, in his loyalty, had never done), listing the pros and cons of each, and the different plays they were famous for.

Ginny jumped in with gusto, staunchly defending the Harpies every time one of the boys jokingly insulted them, and Hermione sat back with a satisfied smile.

Yes, this could work very well.

Chapter Text

Two days later, after dinner, Dumbledore’s Army (the name now made Hermione feel slightly nauseas, but she couldn’t do much about it) gathered in the Room of Requirement, watching Harry curiously.

Between Hermione’s charm work, her connection with Hogwarts, and the room itself, she had managed to set it up so that the rest of the DA could remember what happened and confirm it, but not repeat any of the details outside of the room – after all, Harry wasn’t planning on holding anything back, and the last thing they needed was certain titbits being broadcast among the student body.

Just to be safe, as she waited for Harry to begin, she let her empathy expand, gently checking each member. Since Harry had neglected to invite Marietta Edgecombe (for obvious reasons, although watching her realise the truth might be quite amusing), the only person she was a little nervous about was Zacharias Smith, but it became clear that, as obnoxious as he was, he wouldn’t be a problem.

“Today’s going to be a little bit different.” Harry announced, just as the crowd started to fidget. “We’re not exactly learning anything per se.”

“Then why are we here?” Zacharias sneered immediately.

Well, not much of a problem.

“Oh, hush.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “You’re about to get your wish.”

“This,” Harry continued, tapping the basin that sat beside him, “is a Pensieve. For those of you who don’t know, it is a device that allows you to store and watch memories. You keep asking, and believing, and it’s about time I offer you some proof, so I’m going to show you what happened after I left that maze.”

There was a sharp gasp through the room.

“What you’re about to see will not be easy to watch.” Harry said grimly. “If you don’t want to see it, leave now – I certainly won’t hold it against you.”

No one moved, staring at the Pensieve.

“Alright.” Harry tapped the basin with his wand, muttering, “Engorgio.” The Pensieve grew bigger, allowing the DA to crowd around it.

“On the count of three, I want everyone to dip a finger into the memory.” Harry told them. “One, two, three …”

Hermione poked the memory with a finger and felt a sharp tug behind her naval, a bit like a Portkey. They’d tried earlier to project memories the way they’d done before Christmas, but a quick check with Jen told them that only certain Pensieves were capable, and even the Room of Requirement had its limits.

They landed as a group in a dark and dingy graveyard, a few feet away from Memory-Harry and Cedric, who was getting to his feet, the Triwizard Cup lying at their feet.

“I’ll have to ask you to hold any questions.” Harry said quietly.

“Where are we?” Harry asked quietly.

Cedric shook his head, helping Harry to stand. “No idea. Did anyone tell you the Cup was a Portkey.”

“No.” Harry answered slowly. “Is this supposed to be part of the task?”

“I dunno.” Cedric said, sounding nervous. “Wands out, do you reckon?”

Harry nodded, drawing his wand, his eyes scanning the graveyard. “Someone’s coming.”

The real Harry pointed, and everyone followed his gaze to see a figure moving towards them, shrouded in a cloak and clutching something.

“Run.” Harry said suddenly. “Cedric, get out of here. Now!”

Before Cedric could ask, Harry let out a painful scream, falling to the ground. A high voice, a voice that sent shivers running down Hermione’s spine, filled the air. “Kill the spare!”

“AVATA KETAVRA!”

As the air lit up green and the jet of light collided with Cedric, many of the DA screamed as one. Cho attached herself to Harry, sobbing, and for once he didn’t seem panicked, too lost in his memories to do anything other than hold her.

Hermione, knowing that Cedric was safe(ish) with Addie, narrowed her eyes, watching Wormtail grab Harry and tie him to one of the headstones.

There was no sign when the spell connected that anything other than death had occurred, but that definitely wasn’t the Killing Curse.

If she hadn’t been listening, she would have missed it, but Lily was right – the pronunciation was almost identical, but not quite, the ‘d’s becoming ‘t’s.

She wondered again how Wormtail had the power to pull the spell off, and what his incentive was to do so.

The ritual was painful and horrifying to watch, especially when Wormtail willingly sliced off his own hand. Hermione flinched, closing her eyes, remembering the photograph of the Marauders down by the lake.

What happened?

When she opened her eyes again, all was still, Wormtail gasping for air beside the cauldron. Smoke was billowing from within, and everyone seemed to be waiting with bated breath.

Suddenly, a tall figure rose from the cauldron, like a nightmare looming from the shadows, commanding Wormtail to forget his pain and robe him.

Wormtail did as he was told, before collapsing once more to tend to his bleeding stump of a hand.

Lord Voldemort stepped out of the smoke and Hermione swallowed hard. She had heard descriptions from Harry, of course, and she’d seen him when he tried to kill Harry as a baby, but he seemed even worse now.

Glancing around at the rest of the DA, they seemed similarly horror-struck. Zacharias Smith looked like he was about to throw up. At the back of the group, shaking with fear, she caught sight of little Dennis Creevey and heaved a sigh.

Dennis had been the one DA member she had argued with Harry about. He was only a second year, after all, and this was a great burden to bear.

Harry’s argument was that they should at least give him the right to decide for himself, which Hermione had a hard time refuting – except Dennis had ambitions beyond his capabilities and, like his brother, would do anything to keep up with Harry.

Colin was doing his best to comfort Dennis, but he himself was shaking, and Hermione grimaced. “Dennis.” She called softly.

Both brothers looked up, and she beckoned the younger over. Colin looked relieved, nudging Dennis towards her, and the young boy almost flew to her side, moulding himself to her as she wrapped her arms around him.

Voldemort had been talking for a long time, but was waylaid slightly by the arrival of the Death Eaters.

It was disturbing, to say the least, to watch these grown men (and some women, Hermione guessed, although it was hard to tell with masks and loose robes) grovel at the feet of such a disgusting creature. She wondered if they saw the hypocrisy in their actions, going on about their superiority and the pureblood doctrine, only to bow to the whim of a half-blood.

Voldemort’s monologue continued, berating and threatening the Death Eaters for ever believing he was gone, rewarding Wormtail with a hand made of silver. Was the material set in stone, or had Voldemort chosen it specifically knowing that one of Wormtail’s former friends was a werewolf?

“May your loyalty never waver again.”

“There’s a catch if ever I heard one.” Lee Jordan muttered behind her.

Hermione nodded in agreement, unable to help the slightly morbid curiosity of what would happened if Wormtail’s loyalty did ‘waver again’.

As events unfolded, she was struck once more by something Harry had quoted when he was relaying the story for Dumbledore.

“I, who have travelled further than any other down the path of immortality …”

Obviously something had gone wrong the night he disappeared, or the rebounding Killing Curse would have killed him, but had Voldemort used Dark Magic to ensure that he could never die, let alone be killed?

Unfortunately for Hermione, she was dragged rather painfully from her musings, when the Cruciatus Curse struck the memory of her best friend and he let out a heart-wrenching scream of agony.

Hermione choked back a sob, burying her face in Dennis’s hair as he clung to her, still shaking. She would have preferred to hold on to Harry, but since Cho seemed to have turned into a limpet, that seemed unlikely for the time being.

Voldemort toyed with Harry like a cat playing with a mouse, until – finally – the Killing Curse flew, colliding with Memory-Harry’s Disarming Charm in mid-air.

Hermione lifted her head, awestruck by the way the now golden light formed a dome around the two wizards and lifted them away from the Death Eaters.

As the small bead of light began travelling up and down the length of gold, clearly being forced away from each wand, the DA began to shout out encouragement, even if the memory couldn’t hear them, drowning out the shouts and jeers of the Death Eaters.

Everyone applauded when the light was absorbed into Voldemort’s wand, rather than Harry’s, but fell silent immediately as music filled the air.

“Phoenix song.” Hermione whispered.

Beneath the song, they could hear screams of pain, then shadowy smoke emerged from Voldemort’s wand, forming into a hand before dissipating.

“What’s going on?” Lavender squeaked.

More smoke appeared, but this didn’t dissipate, instead forming itself into Cedric, who straightened up and looked straight at Memory-Harry. “Hold on, Harry.”

“I don’t understand.” Cho whimpered, as an old man appeared, expressing surprise at the existence of magic and urging Harry to fight.

“Priori incantatum.” Harry explained flatly, but loud enough for everyone to hear. “Much to my disgust, my wand and Voldemort’s both have the same core – a feather from the same phoenix. If you force wands with brother cores to duel, one will force the other to emit shadows of the last spells performed.”

“That’s Bertha Jorkins!” Hannah Abbott shrieked, as a woman appeared. “She used to work with my mum. Oh good Merlin, she’s dead?!”

Terry Boot patted her shoulder, looking sad. “Apparently so.”

Not many in the DA recognised the next woman who appeared, but Hermione and her friends did. Lily Potter, unlike the others, walked right over to the memory of her son. “Your father’s coming. He wants to see you. It will be alright … hold on.”

Any doubts as to who Lily was were swiftly dispelled when James Potter was dispelled from the wand, also moving to Harry’s side when he was able. “When the connection is broken, we will linger only moments … but we will give you time. You must get to the Portkey, it will take you back to Hogwarts. Do you understand?”

Memory-Harry nodded hastily, and Cedric called his name, drawing his attention away from his parents.

“Harry … take my body back, will you? Take me home?”

“I will.” Memory-Harry gasped.

“We’ll be back as soon as we can.” James said softly.

“Sweetheart, you’re ready.” Lily told him, as the strain of holding the connection began to take its toll. “Let go!”

At his parents’ signal, Memory-Harry jerked his wand upwards, breaking the connection. As the shadowy figures converged on Voldemort, blocking his view, Harry dove through the crowd of Death Eaters, dodging curses right and left, grabbed Cedric’s arm and Summoned the Portkey.

As soon as he caught the Cup, the memory ended, and the DA were catapulted back into the Room of Requirement.

Hermione instantly asked the Room for some comfy chairs and some chocolate, practically forcing a mug of cocoa into Dennis’s hands.

For a few seconds, they just absorbed the information, most people crying.

“Any questions?” Harry asked hoarsely.

“They were your parents, weren’t they?” Lavender asked. “The last two people who came out of the wand?”

Harry nodded, swallowing hard. “Yeah, they were.”

“Who was it?” Michael Corner asked shakily. “The man who killed Cedric? Who was it? You-Know-Who only referred to him as Wormtail.”

“Wait.” Lee said slowly. “Not Wormtail, as in Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs?”

“The very same.” Hermione said heavily. “Those four boys were known as the Marauders,” she explained to the room at large. “Fred and George Weasley could give them a run for their money, but which were the better pranksters … Well, I wouldn’t know.”

“We’ve been idolising Death Eaters?” Lee asked, horrified.

“No!” Hermione snapped, before taking a deep breath. “Sorry. It’s just … Wormtail betrayed them. Prongs was Harry’s dad, James. Wormtail was their Secret Keeper, and betrayed them. His real name was Peter Pettigrew.”

“But Pettigrew’s dead!” Zacharias protested. “Sirius Black killed him, didn’t he?”

“Oh, he tried.” Hermione said darkly. “See Sirius Black was Padfoot, James Potter’s best friend. When he realised what Pettigrew had done, he hunted him down,” under compulsion, “and was going to kill him, but Pettigrew – for once – got the better of him. Remember Voldemort saying that Wormtail had an affinity for rodents?” She received several nods. “He’s an Animagus, a rat. He shouted for the street to hear that Si-Black betrayed James and Lily, cut off his finger, blew the street apart, transformed and fled down into the sewers.”

“Because he was unregistered, everyone believed that Black had blown him to smithereens.” Ginny finished.

“But all of that would have come out at a trial.” Ernie MacMillan said pompously. “Not that I’m accusing you of lying, Hermione.”

Hermione smiled sadly. “It would have come out at the trial if he had one, Ernie. Barty Crouch decided he was so clearly guilty there was no need for one.”

“Who was Moony?” Lee demanded. “And how do you know all of this?”

“Moony was Remus Lupin.” Hermione smirked. “Moony, full moon, werewolf. Obvious, really.”

Zacharias sniffed. “He should never have been hired.”

“And you should never be allowed to talk.” Lee shot back scowling. “Quit being a bigot, Smith – that’s the Slytherins’ job.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “As for how I know … Well …”

“We could show them that memory as well.” Harry said slowly. “They can’t repeat it outside the Room …”

“Alright.” Hermione agreed, adding two memories to the Pensieve. “Throw in Junior’s confession while we’re at it.” She left the memory of the time-turner out of it though. Too many people knew about that thing already.

This time, she stayed behind, not wishing to watch everything again. It had been hard enough the first time around.

Wandering over to the wall, she let her eyes travel over the photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix. Most members of the DA had no idea what it was, just that many of the people in the photograph were victims of the first war, which was reason in itself for it to be present.

Did they ever think, Hermione wondered, as they posed for that photograph, just how useless the organisation they believed so passionately in would become?

From what she could tell, the Order weren’t actually doing anything, aside from guarding the prophecy – but was there any point in guarding it?

From what Jen said, only Harry or Voldemort could retrieve the prophecy, and Voldemort was hardly about to waltz into the Ministry of Magic and pay the Department of Mysteries a visit.

Although, she thought wryly, given the state of denial at the Ministry, he probably could and everyone would just assume they were hallucinating.

Noise behind her caught her attention and she turned to realise that the memories had ended. Everyone sat down again, no longer crying, but all very shaky.

“Okay?” Hermione asked.

Neville was deathly white, his hands clenched so tightly he was in danger of bleeding. Susan was rubbing his back, looking equally upset. “He deserved the Kiss.” He said hoarsely. “I know it means he couldn’t testify, but he deserved the Kiss.”

“No one’s arguing with that, Nev.” Ron said, uncharacteristically sensitively.

“Why did he do it?” Lee asked softly. “Wormtail, I mean. From what I gathered, they were best friends. Why did he betray them?”

Harry shook his head wordlessly, and Hermione glanced back at the picture of the Order.

James and Lily, either side of Peter, raised their glasses, beaming at her.

“I wish I knew.”

***

The following Saturday, it was very clear to Ginny that Hermione was up to something. The older witch was oddly cheerful, and kept glancing at Umbridge and towards the ceiling.

Yes, Hermione had something planned, and that made Ginny nervous. She was still waiting for Hermione’s Marauder heritage to come out and play, and the longer it took, the more Ginny worried that it was going to explode out instead of venture.

Across the Hall, Draco had apparently also noticed Hermione’s strange behaviour, watching her surreptitiously over his eggs.

For a second, his eyes met Ginny and she raised an eyebrow in question. He gave an almost unnoticeable shrug, and they both returned to Hermione-watching.

A screech above them caught everyone’s attention, and the owl post soared in. An owl landed in front of Harry with a copy of The Quibbler, followed by several others who all jostled for position.

Hermione took the magazine to allow Harry to attend to the other letters, and Ginny peered over her shoulder to see that the front page was a picture of Harry with the words Harry Potter Speaks Out At Last – an exclusive interview with Rita Skeeter.

“Oh, not that cow again!” Ginny moaned.

“Ginny, Ginny, Ginny.” Hermione said with a smirk. “Give me more credit.”

Hem-hem.”

“Here we go.” Hermione whispered, as Umbridge descended on the Gryffindor table.

“Mr Potter, what is going on?”

“Crime to get mail now, is it?” Ron asked loudly.

“I bumped into Rita Skeeter in Hogsmeade last Saturday.” Harry said cheerfully. “She asked me about last June and I told her. Should have known she’d do something like this, really. How is it, Hermione?”

“Very accurate.” Hermione answered, scanning the article. “Almost word-for-word.”

The entire Hall was listening now, several people scribbling orders for The Quibbler on spare pieces of parchment.

Umbridge snatched the magazine, and Hermione watched in mounting satisfaction as Umbridge’s face slowly turned a very interesting shade of purple.

“How … dare … you?!” She hissed, each word visible in the now silent Hall. “Detention, Mr Potter! And no more Hogsmeade visits! Anyone hereafter found with a copy of The Quibbler will be expelled immediately! Mr Potter’s lies must spread no further!”

If anything, Hermione’s smirk grew even wider. The best way to convince the students of Hogwarts to do anything was to tell them not to do it.

“They’re not lies!” Neville shouted, standing up. He caught Hermione’s eye and she nodded slightly. “I’ve seen Harry’s memories of that night, Madam, and he’s telling the truth. Voldemort is back.”

“Detention for you too, Mr Longbottom!” Umbridge shouted.

“Certainly Professor.” Neville said, crossing his arms. “I’m sure my grandmother and Aunt Amelia will be very interested to hear how the words ‘I must not tell lies’ got etched into my hand.”

A loud gasp came from the teacher’s table – even Snape looked troubled – but before anyone could do anything, Amelia’s rang out from the doors to the Great Hall.

“That won’t be necessary, Neville.” She nodded to the aurors accompanying her, who made their way towards Umbridge. “Dolores Jane Umbridge, you are hereby relieved of your positions as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Hogwarts High Inquisitor, Headmistress, and Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic. You are under arrest for child abuse, possession of an illegal Dark artefact, namely blood quills, and grievous bodily harm.”

Umbridge swelled with indignation. “Cornelius will hear of this, Amelia!” She shrieked. “He will have your job for this! How dare you …?!”

“Madam!” Amelia interrupted. “You have the right to remain silent, I suggest that you use it.”

Laughter and cheers rang out in the Great Hall as the aurors Silenced and bound Umbridge and escorted her from the room.

“Why didn’t she add the curse?” Ginny hissed under the noise.

Hermione shook her head. “I’m not supposed to remember, remember? She will add the curse, once Draco’s safe. At the moment, he’s the only one who could have squealed.”
Ginny glanced over at the Slytherin table (the only one who looked put out), and saw that Draco looked highly relieved under his guise of anger.

“When’s Dumbledore coming back?!” Someone shouted over the cheers.

Amelia held up her hands for quiet and the noise slowly died down. “Unfortunately, there is still an arrest warrant out on Albus Dumbledore. In the meantime, a senior Ministry official, Mr Albert Runcorn, has stepped in as the Hogwarts High Inquisitor, but will not be living here at the castle. He will be paying the occasional visit to make sure that subjects taught are appropriate and teaching standards are high. He will also be covering the administrative aspect of the Headmaster’s job. He will not be allowed to give out punishments. We ask the teachers to band together to see to the day-to-day running of the school, in the absence of both the Headmaster and deputy Headmistress. All previous Educational Decrees are, unfortunately, still in place, but no more will be made without all of the teachers’ approval.”

Another cheer rose in the Hall.

“The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has agreed to provide one of our aurors to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts for the rest of the year.” Amelia continued, waving Hestia in from the Entrance Hall. “Professor Jones has been with us for nineteen years, and is more than qualified to provide a suitable education. The Minister of Magic would like to make it clear that neither he nor his office condones the actions of Madam Umbridge, or the methods used in her detentions.”

Her voice took on a rather robotic tone, leaving no one in any doubt that Fudge really wasn’t bothered by Umbridge’s methods but was trying to save face.

Nodding to her underling, Amelia swept out of the Hall, leaving Hestia to make her way up to the staff table. As she passed, a piece of parchment fluttered into Hermione’s lap, and she glanced down at it.

With no prior warning as to Runcorn’s visits, I am unfortunately unable to stray from the ‘Ministry-approved curriculum’. However, if I were to come across a group practicing practical Defence, I may forget that such a group is illegal and be available for help.

Hermione smiled to herself and slipped a hand into her pocket to tap the DA coin. A second later, Ginny’s warmed in a pocket.

***

A month later, everything was running smoothly for the Minister of Magic (much to the Order’s dismay), and for the Order (much to the Ministry’s dismay).

The Quibbler had sold a record-breaking number of copies, and Harry and Hermione reported that the feedback they had received suggested that quite a few people believed Harry’s version of events over the Ministry’s.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

And Remus still hadn’t returned.

Once again, just like the night of the Weasley twins’ appearance, Jen was washing the dinner things by hand. Augusta had retreated to her quarters after dinner, having some family paperwork to see to, and Amelia was working late.

Sirius had stayed with Jen for a while, but he had disappeared by now as well, unable to cope with Jen’s mood for much longer.

Jen couldn’t blame him – she had reached a state of worry that seemed to suck the energy out of everyone around her, and she hated it.

Her mood hadn’t been improved by the news that Umbridge had somehow escaped from the holding cells at the Ministry. Fudge had been claiming he knew nothing about it, but Jen didn’t buy that for a second.

She was trying to keep her mind off of Remus’s absence by thinking about Umbridge, all the places she could be and all the things she could be doing.

It was a rather distressing train of thought, but as she rhythmically soaped, rinsed and wiped plates, it kept her mind occupied.

For a while.

Eventually, she could fight it no longer, and her mind spun back in that direction. She knew well the dangers of dealing with Greyback, and that two full moons had passed with no news left her with a crippling fear for his well-being.

At least ten times a day, she resisted the urge to tap into the other conscience within her mind, the only thing that reassured her that he was still alive, if not unharmed. She couldn’t re-open the link – it took both of them to do that safely, but she could at least get a general idea of how he was.

But that was a bad idea, she had to remind herself. Doing that could cause his mask to slip, and if Greyback got suspicious …

In a way, she supposed, she was very lucky – she could vividly remember Lily almost having a nervous breakdown whenever James was away on a mission or on Order business.

But James had never walked unarmed into Voldemort’s inner circle, and Remus had done the werewolf equivalent.

Her thought raced each other through her head, faster and faster, louder and louder, until she completely missed the creak of a floorboard behind her.

Even if she had heard it, she wouldn’t have been too worried.

The extensive wards meant that no one with bad or malicious intentions could enter the house, if they could even find it in the first place.

He stopped in the doorway and leaned against the doorframe, smiling a greeting to Winky, who was cleaning the surfaces and throwing her mistress the occasional worried look, unused to witches and wizards who insisted on helping and not just ordering.

For a few minutes, he watched her work methodically, a fond smile on his face. Still saying nothing, he helped her open the link – slowly so as not to startle her.

Gradually, it dawned on Jen that his presence in her mind was growing larger and she froze. Remus?

Honey, I’m home.

A hand brushed against her back and she spun around, the dish in her hand falling to the floor and shattering against the tile.

They paid it no heed as she threw her arms around him and kissed him soundly, thanking every deity that might exist that he was safe.

“Hi.” He whispered when she pulled away.

“Thank Merlin.” Jen breathed, releasing him slightly to check him over. “Are you alright? Are you hurt? Any injuries?”

“None that I’m aware of.” Remus assured her with a smile. “And this isn’t just a quick stop. I’m back for good. As long as Greyback’s alive, the pack’s a lost cause – mission got pulled.”

“Thank Merlin.” Jen repeated, melting back into his arms. “I’ve been a wreck. You’re not allowed to leave me again.”

“Duly noted.” Remus said, dropping a kiss on her head. Loosening their embrace a little, he cupped her face. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the last two months. Greyback has had too much control over my life for too long. He’s always been there, in the back of my mind, a distant threat that if I let myself get too comfortable, he’ll be back. When we got together, it took me months to stop worrying about you.”

“Remus …” Jen sighed. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t want to worry you.” Remus said. “I thought that I got past that … and then we graduated, and the fear came right back. I never said anything then because … Well, you were worried about your family, and it was having the same effect, but … They’re gone now, Jen. And life’s too short for me to worry constantly about him, because if I do … Well, Greyback wins.”

“We can’t have that.” Jen said lightly. “Didn’t you already know that?”

“Apparently not.” Remus admitted. “Or I would have done this a long time ago.”

“Done what …?” Jen began to ask, but the question died in the air as he released her and knelt before her.

“Jennifer, I love you so much.” Remus said softly, both aloud and mentally. “You are the most important thing in my life – I don’t have a clue how I even functioned without you. I lost you once, and I never want to lose you again. Will you marry me?”

As she dropped to her knees as well, Jen’s response was non-verbal but thoroughly enthusiastic. It wasn’t a question that had ever required an answer (or even needed to be asked), but, as was so often the case, they had both needed it.

“Moony, old man, you’re back!” Sirius greeted from the kitchen doorway, gaining no reaction. “Moony? Remus! Stop snogging my sister and say hello! You’ve been gone for two months – what the hell’s going on?”

Remus broke their kiss and winked at her, helping her to her feet. Completely straight-faced, he turned to face Sirius. “Sirius, as Baron Blackmoor, you are the Head of the House of Black, are you not?”

Sirius blinked. “Er, yeah, that is kind of the point.”

Remus nodded thoughtfully. “So all members of the Black family are under your protection and ruling, are they not?”

“Yes …” Sirius said slowly. “What are you getting at?”

Remus wrapped an arm around Jen’s shoulders. “So I’d need your permission to marry your sister, would I not?”

“Yes, you would.” Sirius answered, before freezing, the words visibly permeating him. “What?”

“We’re getting married!” Jen blurted out, beaming.

Sirius’s face broke into a smile. “Well, it’s about bloody time!” He announced, clapping Remus on the back and kissing Jen’s cheek. “Welcome to the family, mate. We’re all insane; you’ll fit right in. When’s the wedding? Haven’t had time to discuss it yet, never mind. What’s the strategy, what’s our next move?”

“Blimey, Sirius, calm down!” Jen laughed. “He’s only just asked me.” She waved her wand at the broken dish and it repaired itself, soaring back into the cupboard. “But I suppose the next move is to tell Harry.”

“Hang on.” Sirius said, pulling the two-way mirror from his pocket. “Harry? Harry Potter?”

The mirror’s surface shimmered for a second, before clearing and showing a face, but it wasn’t Harry they were looking at.

***

Despite the late hour, Hermione was sitting out by the lake trying to do her homework in the gathering dark. The Common Room was buzzing with noise, despite the approaching exams, and she simply couldn’t concentrate in there, so she had retreated outside to see if the fresh air would help.

It hadn’t.

Hermione was far too on edge to concentrate on anything for too long – everyone in the DA was. Everyone was waiting, terrified, for Voldemort or the escaped Death Eaters to do something.

Not that they wanted the Death Eaters to do anything, but anything was better than the anticipatory sense of lingo they had been left in.

It was really taking its toll on Harry, who had started dreaming about the Department of Mysteries again. True to Jen’s guesses, he had received a nightmare the week previously that Voldemort was torturing Sirius in the Department of Mysteries.

Thankfully, a quick mirror call had assured him that Sirius was safe and sound at Ravenscroft, but it had still shaken him.

On top of that, following Harry’s revelations to the DA, he and Cho had officially started dating, something Hermione was not happy about in the slightest.

Obviously Harry was happy, so she was happy in that respect, but Cho was …

Well, she was possessive.

Very possessive.

And the sooner Harry saw that, as far as Hermione was concerned, the better.

“Harry? Harry Potter?”

Hermione jumped, hearing Sirius’s voice floating from her pocket. It was Harry’s turn to look after the mirror, but since he was with Cho, she had hung on to it, just in case.

Good job, too – although Cho technically knew the truth about Sirius, Hermione didn’t trust her one little bit.

Retrieving the mirror from her pocket, she answered it, smiling as Sirius’s face came into view.

“Evening, Kitten.”

“You want to be careful doing that, Padfoot.” Hermione said chidingly. “I could have been in the middle of the Common Room.”

“Are you?” Sirius asked knowingly.

Hermione frowned. “No, but that’s hardly the point.”

Sirius chuckled. “Not that I’m not pleased to see you, but where’s Harry?”

“With his girlfriend.” Hermione answered, almost sulkily. “And she doesn’t like me very much.”

Sirius frowned. “And Harry’s putting up with that?”

“Not exactly.” Hermione said with a sigh. “She’s very possessive, but she’s also very sneaky with it. He hasn’t realised what she’s doing yet, and I don’t really want to tell him.” She grimaced. “It’s ridiculous! I’m his best friend – we’ve been best friends since first year – and she keeps acting like if he spends too much time with me, he’ll realise it’s me he really wants and run off with me to Canada or something!”

“That’s ridiculous!” Sirius scoffed.

Hermione nodded emphatically. “I know!”

“Canada? Hawaii, Kitten – the weather’s way better.” Sirius told her with a wink.

Hermione chose to ignore this and deal with it later. “Were you just calling for a chat or has something happened?”

“Hang on.” Sirius’s face disappeared and Jen’s took his place.

“We’re getting married!”

“Jen, that’s fantastic!” Hermione squeaked. “How? When? What?”

Jen laughed. “Remus just got back and asked me. You’ll know everything when I do.” She hesitated. “I know Mandy and Arabella will be back by then, and I’m going to ask them too, but … would you be one of my bridesmaids?”

Hermione beamed. “Jen, I would be honoured.” Voices caught her attention and she glanced up to see a group of third years wandering towards her, laughing and joking with one another. “I’m about to have company; I have to go. I’ll pass on the news. Congratulations again.”

“Thank you, Hermione.” Remus and Jen chorused, before the mirror went blank.

Tucking the mirror away again, Hermione leaned back against the tree behind her. Whilst a wedding would be a very welcome distraction from the current climate, it was Sirius’s comments that captured her attention right now.

Was it really the location that was the ridiculous aspect of Harry running off with her, or was he joking?

Hermione wasn’t stupid. She had heard the three Marauders taking bets on Christmas morning about when she and Harry would get together, and she had convinced herself at the time that they were joking, but …

What if they weren’t?

Then they were losing it, she decided firmly.

Harry didn’t have any kind of non-platonic feelings for her. That was just … It just was.

Although … Hermione had picked up something around Harry, aimed at her, on a few occasions – the Yule Ball, the night they swore to stand by Harry no matter what …

No. Don’t think it, Hermione. Harry is your friend. There’s nothing there, on his side or yours. He’s dating Cho, for Merlin’s sake.

With that in mind, Hermione gathered up her books and set off back to the castle, fully intent on filling Ginny in on this new development.

Maybe then she could convince herself that the thought of Harry and Cho didn’t hurt as much as it did.

***

Due to Umbridge’s threat before she was arrested back in February, the whole school had read The Quibbler wondering what is was that she didn’t want them to see. The majority had been convinced that Harry was telling the truth, along with the DA telling people that they’d seen the memory; they couldn’t go into detail, but it was still damning evidence. They had also started to spread the story of how Sirius was innocent which, although received sceptically, hadn’t been overturned yet.

By May, however, the whole school seemed to have forgotten that they were potentially on the brink of war, since Voldemort was still not doing anything and the escaped convicts seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth, although whether that was a good or a bad thing, no one knew.

Only the DA still seemed worried.

Draco was beginning to feel Hogwarts respond to him as well and, between him and Hermione, they had managed to help Hogwarts hide the Slytherin for a few hours every now and then so they could all spend some time together.

Since their initial conversation back in February, the three boys were getting along quite well, although Hermione and Ginny still kept a close eye on them when they did, just in case – Ron and Draco were both very volatile personalities after all, and they were taking no chances.

Hermione had given Draco a DA coin, and modified it, along with hers, Harry’s and Ron’s (and, because they’d walked in on her doing it, Susan’s, Neville’s and Ginny’s), so they had a private channel of communication over the summer.

This way, when tapped with a certain frequency, these six would heat and guide them to wherever the instigator needed them. She wasn’t sure about the last three; if she had to choose other members of the DA, it wouldn’t be them. But, she supposed, they were in it as deep as her and Ron.

One evening in early May, Harry was outside the castle, listening to Cho rant about Hermione. The conversation had started innocently enough – he and Ron had been talking about OWLs and Ron had made a remark about them being lost without Hermione, triggering one incredible blow-up.

Ron had escaped as quickly as possible, and Harry was trying to work out how to calm her down without causing even more of a scene, but he was swiftly running out of patience.

“Alright, stop!” He said finally. “Hermione is my best friend. She is the one person who has always stuck with me through thick and thin, and she is always going to be in my life. End of discussion.”

Everyone has always stuck by you!” Cho protested. “You’re Harry Potter for Merlin’s sake!”

“My second year ring any bells?” Harry asked sarcastically. “Last year? Yes, I’m Harry Potter, but I’m not the ‘Boy-Who-Lived’. That is a mythical figure who was created as a symbol of hope at the end of the last war, and I happen to look just like him. And I hate it.”

“But …”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “I’m sorry, Cho, but … you and I … we’re just not going to work. I can’t be the person you want me to be.”

Cho opened and closed her mouth a few times, apparently lost for words, before spinning on her heel and storming off.

Harry shook his head and turned to walk in the opposite direction. He hadn’t been planning on breaking up with her, but he didn’t feel very upset about it. He saw now that his attraction to Cho had always been physical. She was very pretty, yes, but that was it.

Even if there was more to it, he would have ended things anyway – Hermione was his best friend, and he wasn’t going to shut her out of his life over some girl.

Besides, no one would ever be as special as Hermione. He wondered sometimes if everyone else felt like this about their best friend, or if it was just him.

It felt like she was never far from his thoughts, no matter what he was doing or who he was with. Dancing with her at the Yule Ball last year felt as natural as flying, unlike his slightly awkward dances with Ginny (awkward due to his lack of dancing prowess as opposed to the company).

Laughter up ahead cut into his thoughts and he glanced up to see the Slytherin Quidditch team leaving the pitch, broom in hand. He slowed his steps to avoid them, in no mood for a confrontation, wondering why they were still practicing.

In what was possibly the biggest twist of the season, the Lions had won the Quidditch Cup a week ago, beating Ravenclaw to victory (between last-minute Beaters and Ron’s performance nerves, it was a miracle they’d even reached the final, let alone won it).

Maybe the Slytherins were just playing for fun – it wasn’t uncommon for the Gryffindor team to step out after the season was over.

Six figures set off quickly back towards the castle, but the seventh lagged behind.

Harry frowned slightly. It wasn’t just him on whom the situation was taking its toll. Draco was also beginning to show signs of strain – not that Harry could blame him.

At least his house-mates wouldn’t turn on him, knowing he was against Voldemort.

As Draco walked towards the castle, he happened to glance in Harry’s direction. Harry saw him freeze, his broom falling to the ground, and begin to wave frantically at him.

Dread creeping over him, Harry spun around, his hand flying to his wand, but it was too late. A scarlet jet of light filled the air and everything went black.

Chapter Text

While Harry was breaking up with his girlfriend – and getting kidnapped – Hermione was in the Room of Requirement, talking to Ginny about the upcoming wedding.

The date had finally been set for the beginning of July, a few days after the students would return from Hogwarts. “They’re doing it at Ravenscroft, in the ballroom.” Hermione explained. “Amelia’s going to preside, which should mean it stays quiet.”

“I suppose they couldn’t do it in public.” Ginny remarked with a sigh. “Sirius wouldn’t be able to be there.”

“It’s not just that.” Hermione said, scowling. “Umbridge’s laws still haven’t been overturned, and they state that werewolves aren’t allowed to marry.”

“Bitch.” Ginny muttered. “But she’s a fugitive – that must mean something.”

“Well, Amelia’s trying.” Hermione said. “So is Amos Diggory – he works in Magical Creatures, and Remus was Cedric’s favourite teacher apparently. But they don’t think it’ll be done by July.”

“Probably won’t be, knowing the Ministry.” Ginny sighed. “Still, the ballroom will be lovely.”

“It will.” Hermione agreed. “And Jen’s going to take us dress-shopping in the Muggle world.”

Ginny brightened. “I’ve never been shopping in the Muggle world.”

“You’ll love it.” Hermione told her with certainty.

“What else are you doing this summer?” Ginny asked. “You’re not going …?”

“Do I look stupid?” Hermione asked sardonically. “No, I’m staying at Ravenscroft.”

“Harry?” Ginny asked quietly. “He’s not going back to the Dursleys, is he?”

“Well, they don’t want to go against Dumbledore just yet.” Hermione admitted. “And Jen has talked to Harry. He says he’ll be fine for a short while, but she wants to get him out of there as soon as possible.”

Ginny nodded, looking at her feet. “And Draco? What’s he going to do?”

Hermione sighed. “Honestly, Gin, I have no idea. Jen’s probably got something up her sleeve – she usually does.”

Ginny nodded again, still not looking up, and Hermione tilted her head inquiringly.

“Why are you asking about Draco? You worried?”

To Hermione’s surprise, Ginny blushed bright red, muttering something.

“Ginevra Weasley!” Hermione gasped. “Do you have a crush?”

Ginny glared at her. “No.”

“You do!” Hermione sang. “You’ve got a crush!”

“Even if I did,” Ginny said primly, “which I do not, it’s smaller than the one you’ve got on Harry.”

Hermione stopped smirking instantly. “I don’t have a crush on Harry.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Ginny agreed, shrugging. “You’re in love with him, and you don’t even know it.”

“I am not in love with him!” Hermione yelped. “I mean, I like Harry as much as the next person – he’s my best friend and I love him more than anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m …” She trailed off, her heart pounding in her chest.

Suddenly, so many things made sense.

The way she fitted in his arms like she belonged there.

The way her heart raced when he touched her.

The way her head span when he complimented her.

The way his smile made her day so much brighter every time she saw it.

The way seeing him with Cho hurt like a white-hot poker was being plunged into her chest.

“Oh my God …” Hermione whispered. Grabbing a cushion from the sofa, she threw it at Ginny, who caught it, laughing. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“We thought you knew!” Ginny protested, still giggling.

“We?” Hermione repeated dangerously.

“Yeah, the whole school knows.” Ginny told her cheerfully. “There’s a betting pool going.”

“The whole school …” Hermione repeated, the colour draining from her face. “Does Harry know?”

Ginny snorted. “You’re kidding, right? Harry’s as oblivious as you are. He hasn’t figured out how he feels, let alone you.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

“Why would we?” Ginny asked. “It’s so obvious. It’d be like telling Ron, “Hey, you like chess.””

Hermione rolled her eyes. “If you’re quite finished, I have prefect rounds.”

“I’m finished.” Ginny assured her. “Just … do something about it by his birthday, will you?”

“Why?” Hermione asked, dreading the answer.

“Because I owe quite a few people money if you don’t.” Ginny admitted.

Hermione sighed irritably. “Curfew’s in twenty minutes. Don’t get caught.” She stalked out of the Room of Requirement, feeling slightly annoyed with herself.

How had it taken her this long to notice what was happening?

How long had it been going on anyway?

Admittedly, Hermione had had a small crush on Harry in first year, after he saved her from that troll, but those feelings had settled and disappeared – or so she thought.

Was it possible the crush had just graduated to full-blown love without her realising it?

And what was she going to do about it?

Harry was dating Cho, he didn’t feel the same way about her.

He couldn’t.

Suddenly, her head exploded without warning and she staggered sideways, colliding with the wall, almost bent double as Hogwarts screamed a warning.

While Umbridge had been around, she had managed to upset the castle at least twice a day, so Hermione had become quite good at shaking the pain off, but this was unlike anything she had ever felt before.

“Hermione!”

Gasping for air, Hermione straightened up, hastily clamping down on her empathy as Draco sprinted up to her, skidding to a halt.

“What happened to you?”

“Hogwarts.” Hermione muttered, rubbing her head. “And apparently, I’m in love with my best friend.”

“Harry?” Draco questioned. “You’ve only just noticed?”

Hermione groaned. “Of course you know. When’s your bet in for?”

“Christmas, if you don’t mind.” Draco said, looking seriously. “But that’s not important. Harry’s just been taken by Death Eaters, two of them. Stunned by the looks of things.”

“What?” Hermione gasped out. She suddenly felt very dizzy, grasping the wall with one hand as the corridor seemed to sway. “Are you sure?”

“I was leaving the Quidditch pitch and he was walking by the Forest.” Draco explained hurriedly. “I ran, but they must’ve had a Portkey, because they disappeared. This was on the ground.” He added, holding up Harry’s wand.

Hermione took it reverently, feeling it warm slightly in her hand, not the way her own did, but in a way that suggested it recognised her all the same.

Her hand tightened around the holly, her eyes closing of her own accord as she took a few calming breaths. ‘Winging it’ had never been her strong point and she knew it – it was more Harry’s forte; she tended to panic.

She couldn’t afford to panic, not now.

Slipping the wand into her pocket, Hermione pulled out the two-way mirror, holding it up. “Padfoot.”

There was no answer.

“Selena?” Hermione called. “Jen? Remus? Someone?”

Still there was no answer.

“Do you think something’s happened?” Draco asked softly.

“It can’t have done.” Hermione said, with more certainty than she felt. “They’ve left it lying around somewhere, that’s all. Or they’ve gone for a meeting and they all think the other one has it.” Putting the mirror again, she set off running. “We’d better get help.”

“Who?” Draco asked, close on her heel.

“Good question.” Hermione muttered. With Dumbledore MIA and McGonagall in St Mungo’s, their options were severely limited. “Where’s Flitwick?”

“Away for the weekend.” Draco answered. “Don’t know why, but he asked Sinistra to cover the Ravenclaws in his absence.”

“Hestia?” Hermione asked. “Er, Professor Jones?”

“Family emergency.” Draco responded. “She left this afternoon.”

“Which means there’s an Order meeting tonight.” Hermione muttered. “Let’s hope Snape’s still here.”

“There’s something I never thought I’d hear you say.” Draco commented.

Pulling out her DA coin, Hermione tapped it with her wand, calling the private channel to the Entrance Hall. No sooner had they reached it than Draco caught her arm and dragged her back into an alcove. “Look!”

Hermione peered around the corner and saw Snape standing by the hourglasses, talking to a tall, thin man with greying hair. “Who’s that?”

“Albert Runcorn.” Draco whispered. “The new High Inquisitor.”

Hermione frowned. “That’s the first time I’ve seen him … Seems strange that he’s here tonight of all nights.”

“You think there’s a connection?” Draco asked.

“I think someone created a whole in the wards to allow Harry to be portkeyed out.” Hermione answered grimly. “The wards don’t allow it – they only managed it last June because Ministry officials were coming and going all day so the wards were lowered temporarily. And he’s officially headmaster, so he would have control of the wards.”

“It’s possible.” Draco conceded. “I think Father’s had him over for dinner a few times.”

“Then it’s probable.” Hermione muttered. “Stay here.” Straightening her uniform, she stepped into the Entrance Hall, pretending to falter as the two men looked up, her footsteps catching her attention.

“Miss Granger,” Snape said by way of greeting, “curfew is in fifteen minutes. I suggest you make your way back to Gryffindor Tower.”

“Oh.” Hermione said hesitantly. “Very well, Professor.”

Snape sighed. “Was there something you wanted?”

“Well, I don’t want to interrupt …” Hermione began.

“Spit it out, girl!”

“I wanted to ask you about slow-acting poisons and their antidotes.” Hermione said quickly. “You see, my book says a bezoar should be sufficient, but I know they don’t work for all poisons, so how can you distinguish …”

“Perhaps I should leave.” Runcorn interrupted, as Hermione knew he would – not even Harry pretended to listen when she got started. “Evening Severus.”

“Albert.” Snape returned with a brisk nod.

As soon as Runcorn had left the castle, Hermione waved Draco over. “Harry’s been kidnapped.”

“That’s absurd.” Snape told her. “There’s no way Death Eaters could enter this castle without been seen.”

“I saw it happen, Professor!” Draco insisted. “They weren’t in the castle, they were by the Forest. They had a Portkey!”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “Mr Malfoy, I expect my Slytherins not to stoop to pranks in the first place, let alone continue them when they have been called out. I have a very important meeting to get to, so take Miss Granger to wherever you’ve left Potter and get back to your Common Room.”

“But …!” Hermione called, as he swept out of the doors.

“He didn’t believe us.” Draco said numbly. “Now what?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione admitted helplessly. “Hopefully, he’ll raise it at the meeting, but … Dammit, why didn’t we tell him about you! He knows everything else!”

“What happened?!” Ron’s voice called.

They spun around to see Ron sprinting towards them, Susan, Ginny, Neville and Luna in tow.

“We were talking when the coin burned.” Neville explained breathlessly. “Couldn’t …”

“Don’t worry.” Hermione said hastily. “We have a problem.”

“What kind of problem?” Ginny asked warily.

“Harry just got taken by Death Eaters and we can’t get hold of the Order.” Hermione answered, causing five faces to pale – for once, Luna seemed completely on the ball. “Snape knows, but doesn’t believe us, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll tell anyone.”

“Then what can we do?” Ron asked helplessly. “They could be anywhere.”

“Department of Mysteries.” Susan said quietly. “That’s where Jen said the prophecy was stored?”

“Prophecy?” Ron and Ginny questioned in unison.

“There’s a prophecy about Harry and Voldemort.” Hermione explained quickly. “It’s the reason the Potters were attacked, but Voldemort only ever heard the first part. But he and Harry are the only people who can remove the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries and …”

“He can’t walk into the Ministry.” Ginny finished. “So how do we get there?”

“We?” Hermione and Ron repeated.

“Well, of course.” Luna said matter-of-factly. “We’re coming too.”

Hermione sighed. Like with the coins, if she’d had to choose a group of students to accompany them, it wouldn’t have been this one. She glanced at Ron and he shrugged. “Your call, Mione.”

Hermione ran a hand through her hair, thinking. Draco had said it was only two Death Eaters who had taken Harry … but there had to be more waiting at the Ministry.

Aside from anything, they would be expecting the Order to turn up.

“We’re going to need all the help we ca