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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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No one argued, and Addie turned to the next page and chuckled.

Chapter One

Sirius Encounters

“Hmm, I wonder who’s in this chapter.” James said thoughtfully.

“I don’t know, Prongs.” Remus mused. “No one comes to mind.”

Hermione was shaken from her thoughts by the sight of Ron’s tiny owl speeding towards the house; she just managed to get the window open before he collided with it and grabbed him out of the air, removing the letter before he could to what Ginny had dubbed ‘the Pig Thing’.

“What’s the ‘Pig thing’?” Lily asked curiously.

Ginny giggled. “He’s hyperactive, so if you don’t get the letter quickly, he won’t stay still long enough for you to rescue it.”

Waving her problems aside for the moment, she focused on Ron’s letter:

Hermione,

DAD GOT THE TICKETS!!

James let out a whoop. “Yes, you’re going to the cup!”

Harry was gaping at the book. “Hang on … How come you didn’t tell me earlier?”

Ginny flinched. “I think the letter explains that.”

I don’t know if Ginny’s already written to you about this; I know she has been. Can you believe she managed to name my owl? What kind of a name is Pigwidgeon anyway?

“A good one.” Ginny scowled.

Dad’s going to come and pick you up next Wednesday morning at ten; owl back if that’s okay. Charlie and Bill are arriving in a few days. Harry’s not coming until a few days before the match; Dumbledore says he has to stay with his aunt and uncle until then, poor buggar.

Harry scowled. “I don’t know why.”

“Who is Dumbledore to tell my son where he can and cannot go?!” Lily demanded.

“It might be a blood ward.” David commented. “If it was Lily’s sacrifice – or willingness to do so – that saved Harry, Dumbledore could have set up blood wards around her sister’s house. He’d need to stay with blood relatives for at least a month every year.”

Hermione frowned. “But I’ve read about those. Don’t they need love to power them? And they don’t love him.”

Lily paled. “Does that mean that Death Eaters could find my baby at any minute?”

Harry blushed. “I’m sure there are other protections there, Mum. After all, the Death Eaters haven’t found me yet.”

Don’t tell Mum I said that. So if you could not mention we’ve got the tickets; I’ll tell him nearer the time. We were going to wait until then to invite you over too – Mum didn’t think we should deprive your parents of time with you …

“No, no.” Hermione said hastily. “Deprive away.”

… but Bill and Charlie have heard so much about you from me and Ginny – and even the twins, if you can believe that – and they want to meet their new little sister.

“They love you.” Fred grinned. “Practically adopted you and Harry straight away.”

James and Lily both beamed.

Owl back about next Wednesday, okay?

Ron

Hermione sighed, knowing that her parents were at work until late that evening.

Now what? I can’t just say yes and Dad will never let me go. It was hard enough convincing him to let me go to Diagon Alley last summer.

“Leave.” Jen said simply. “You don’t need that, Hermione – walk away.”

Hermione often acted as part-time counsellor for her two best friends …

Ginny coughed pointedly.

… three if she counted Ginny (and she often did).

“Better.” Ginny smiled.

She was the one Ginny confided in about the nightmares that plagued her after her first year.

She was the one who talked to Ron about his inferiority complex, brought on by five, very successful, older brothers, convincing him that he had just as much to offer the world.

She was the only person Harry would talk to about his aunt and uncle, at least without the dismissive tone he used around everyone else.

“And he didn’t tell me everything.” Hermione scowled. “Damn abusive …”

Harry shifted in his seat, cutting her off. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
“Harry, it is a big deal!” Hermione protested, before sighing. “We’ll talk later. Let’s get this over with.”

But none of them knew that her home-life was awful. Maybe not as bad as Harry’s, but awful nonetheless.

“No, Hermione, yours was worse.” Harry told her quietly. “They never physically hurt me. Not really.”

“Not really is still too much, Harry.” Lily told him calmly, but with an angry glint in her eye. “Both of you are living with people who are not fit to raise children.”

Her mother was somewhat distant, even though she seemed to dote on her …

“And lie to me.” Hermione murmured, running a hand through her darker hair.

… but her father was nothing short of a control freak.

“I could think of some other names.” Sirius growled.

Nothing was ever good enough for Steven Granger and though his wife bore the brunt more often than not …

Jen growled in the back of her throat and Remus tightened his arms around her.

… Hermione couldn’t always escape the backlash, hence the bruise on her face.

Until she started school, the idea of other children was a foreign concept; she had practically grown up in the library, leaving her with an almost unhealthy love of books and a lack of social skills.

If it weren’t for the ‘troll incident’, she doubted she would have any friends at all.

Harry would have hugged her if Sirius hadn’t been already. He settled for squeezing her hand instead.

Even now, her father needed to control her life, from where she went, to when she got her school supplies, to how she got to the station each year.

“Not anymore.” Hermione said quietly, satisfaction laden in her voice.

Sometimes, Jane Granger would come into her daughter’s bedroom when she thought she was asleep and apologise, although Hermione didn’t know why.

“For the memory charm, probably.” Lily commented, her voice shaking slightly.

Sometimes, when they talked about Hogwarts, Jane would look solemnly at Hermione, as though about to say something, but then change the subject.

Hermione sighed, wishing her mother had just told her the truth.

Other times, lying awake at night, if she thought very, very hard, Hermione could remember warm arms and a friendly chuckle that seemed to be more in tune with ‘Dad’ in her mind than her own father …

Hermione smiled as Sirius kissed her head.

… and she would dream that maybe there was another ‘father’ in her life, who would take her away.

“Would if I could, Kitten.” Sirius whispered. “You’re not going back there. And you’re …” he added, meeting Harry’s eyes over her head “… not going back to the Dursleys.”

“But Dumbledore …” Harry sighed.

Sirius muttered something under his breath, about where Dumbledore should go and what he should do while he was at it. Addie smacked him on the arm. “Watch your language around the children, please.”

But then logic would kick in, and she would tell herself that there was no evidence of this man anywhere, and, anyway, memories didn’t stretch back that far.

“They do if you’re a natural.” Addie said softly. “And memory-charms don’t hit your subconscious memory.”

She looked back down at the letter, scowling at the news that Harry would have to stay with his aunt and uncle. Why? They don’t give a damn about him. At least he’s got Jessica, I suppose.

To make up for the lack of care and attention Harry received from his aunt and uncle, he had a next door neighbour who apparently doted on him.

“She does.” Harry stated.

Lily smiled and leaned forward, eager to hear more about this woman.

Jessica Brown was the only reason Harry ever even mentioned Privet Drive and often sent him letters at Hogwarts.

“Good.” James whispered.

Harry had confided in Hermione in first year about how much he hated lying to Jess about his new school – unfortunately, it was against wizarding law to tell Muggles about magic unless they were immediate relatives.

However, Jessica made that leap for Harry. Throughout his childhood, she had been plagued with amazing dreams, which she had turned into stories, about magic and love and friendship, all set in a huge castle with a lake and a forest.

“I wonder …” David murmured.

“What is it, Dad?” James asked.

“Well, what we were just saying about memory charms not hitting your subconscious memory …” David nodded at Addie. “It’s possible that this woman was hit by one as well and that would explain the dreams. A truth-dreamer would explain her seeing Harry’s time at Hogwarts, but if she was already dreaming before that – there’s no way she imagined the castle, not in that much detail.”

“But who?” Sirius asked. “And how? Memory charms might not affect your subconscious, but you still need a reason to break it.”

Addie cleared her throat and kept reading, knowing they were unlikely to figure out who she was, at least without more information.

Following his first year, she had told him of a new dream she’d had, involving him this time, and how he’d gone to that castle to learn magic, and made two best friends.

When she’d finished telling him her dream – which had basically been a condensed version of his first year – Harry had confided in her, and she had become his one ally – aside from his owl, Hedwig – on Privet Drive, giving him refuge over the summer, support over the school years, and having ever-intriguing dreams, which seemed to be becoming less literal, and more prophetic.

“Definitely a witch.” David confirmed.

Hermione read the invitation again with a sigh. I could run away, I suppose. The Muggle police can’t track down anyone they can’t find.

“No, they can’t.” Lily agreed. “Good idea.”

I could stay with the Weasleys; I’m sure Ginny would hide me in her room.

“You wouldn’t have to hide.” Ginny frowned. “Mum and Dad would let you stay.”

Or I could hide in the cupboard that Harry used to live in.

Harry grimaced. “You don’t want to hide in there, Mione. Trust me.”

Or, if it comes to it, I could just find Sirius.

“Kitten, as much as I’d want you with me, I’d rather you weren’t on the run from the Ministry of Magic.” Sirius told her gently.

With a sad smile, she shook her head, her famous logic kicking back in. Like that would work.

“It would work!” Fred protested.

A knock at the door cut into her thoughts, making her jump, and she checked her reflection, pushing her hair down so it covered the bruise on her face …

“Obviously a common thing.” Narcissa frowned.

Draco gazed at the floor. He had often done the same thing, keeping his hair a little longer than he preferred it to hide any bruises his father might give him, just so his mother never found out.

… before hurrying downstairs to answer it.

A middle-aged dark-haired woman was standing on the doorstep with a biscuit tin in her hands and a little girl and large dog in tow.

“Sirius?” Jen asked. “How did you get there?”

“I thought you said you’d gone abroad.” Addie added, looking worried.

“I did go abroad.” Sirius told them. “I just got a little delayed.”

Just as Hermione realised that the dog looked familiar, he jumped up to greet her and she bit back a gasp, Catching sight of stormy grey eyes that had only recently ceased sending stabs of fear through her.

“Thanks, Hermione.” Sirius pouted.

“Well, you can’t blame her, Padfoot.” James pointed out with a smirk. “You are quite terrifying.”

“Padfoot!”

“Never been so relieved to see you in my life.” Sirius chuckled.

“What the hell were you doing?” Regulus demanded.

“Pretending to be a loveable stray.” Sirius answered.

Addie snorted. “Sweetheart, there’s no way you could pull that off.”

At this, the little girl’s smile faded into a sulky pout, but the woman looked quite relieved. “Oh, thank heavens! Is he yours?”

Addie couldn’t help the smirk that crossed her face.

“Mummy!” The little girl whined. “You said we could keep her!”

Harry, James and Remus fell about laughing as Sirius went bright red.

“Padfoot, this is the kind of thing you should have told me before we started dating.” Addie remarked, making Hermione fall into fits of giggles as well.

Hearing her laughing again, Sirius didn’t argue, but he did give Addie a loaded glance that sent her right back to intimate hours in the Room of Requirement.

Managing to get her blush under control, Addie cleared her throat and began reading again.

“I said we could keep him if we didn’t find who he belonged to.” Her mother corrected. “Is he?”

Hermione glanced down. “Sort of. I’m pet-sitting for a friend – he got out of the garden …

“Good excuse.” David complimented. “Gives him a reason to stay with you and stops the neighbours being suspicious about a new dog.”

… I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Chloe Taylor, this is my daughter Madeline. We’ve just moved into Number Ten. We found the dog in the park last week, but we couldn’t see any posters.”

“Uh oh.” Lily murmured. “How’d you get out of that one?”

Hermione didn’t let her smile slip. “Yes, Harry warned me that Padfoot was an escape artist. Apparently, he likes to disappear for a few days and then come wandering back in like nothing’s happened. He advised that I wait at least a week before panicking.”

“Very good excuse.” David corrected.

“Makings of a Marauder.” James stated with a grin. “Both of you.” He added, looking at Harry, who beamed at him.

Mrs Taylor chuckled. “Quite the character then.”

Addie snorted. “Something like that.”

“Oh, you have no idea.” Hermione murmured, scratching Padfoot’s head. “I’m Hermione Granger, by the way. Mum and Dad are the dentists in town.”

Madeline brightened at this. “I like Dr Granger!”

“That must be Jane.” Jen muttered.

“I took her in for a check-up the other day.” Mrs Taylor explained with a smile. “Your mother’s wonderful.”

Jen nodded at being proved right.

“I’ll let her know.” Hermione said. “She is great with children. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you, but I’m taking Madeline into the city today.”

“Thankfully.” Hermione sighed. “I really wasn’t in the mood for small talk.”

“Then why did you invite her in?” Harry asked in bewilderment.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “To be polite.”

Mrs Taylor ruffled Madeline’s hair. “We were just stopping by to say hello and to bring you biscuits.”

“I like her.” James announced.

Lily chuckled. “You like anyone who gives out free food. I wish I could bake.”

For some reason, this caused Sirius to start laughing and it took him a while to calm down. “Sorry,” he said eventually, still grinning. “I just forgot there was a time Lily couldn’t bake.”

“You mean I learn?” Lily asked, her eyes lighting up.

“You couldn’t take one step inside your home without smelling chocolate chip cookies.” Sirius told her with a smile. “They were the best.”

“Oh, thank you.” Hermione accepted the tin. “Welcome to Colgate.”

“Isn’t that a brand of toothpaste?” Harry asked, wrinkling his nose.

“It is.” Hermione confirmed. “It’s also a small village near Crawley, in West Sussex.”

Mrs Taylor thanked her and led Madeline away, the little girl complaining about wanting a puppy.

“Charming child.” Lily remarked.

Hermione closed the door and led the way into the kitchen, setting the biscuit tin on the side. “You can change back now; I’m the only one home.”

A soft ‘pop’ from behind her told her that Sirius had done just that. “If I’d known you lived here, I’d have found you instead.”

For a split second, it seemed he was going to say something else …

“I was going to mention that you’d moved.” Sirius explained. “But you hadn’t mentioned anything yet, so I decided to follow your lead.”

… but he didn’t. Ignoring that, Hermione leaned against the counted, smiling at him. “What are you doing here?”

Sirius shrugged. “Well, I was heading out of the country. I stopped off at Moony’s – Professor Lupin’s – place briefly, but the sooner I get abroad, the sooner I can get ‘accidentally’ spotted and get those Dementors off your back.”

Addie shuddered at the thought.
Hermione couldn’t help shuddering at the reminder. Her reaction to the cloaked demons had been nothing compared to Harry’s, but the screams in her head that started around them seemed badly-tuned and chillingly familiar, which frightened Hermione more than anything, because she had no idea what she was supposed to be remembering.

“That must have been awful.” Lily sympathised.

Hermione nodded wordlessly.

Sirius made a motion as though he was about to move towards her …

“Instinct.” Sirius admitted.

… but thought better of it. “Anyway, there’s only so far a hippogriff can fly in one journey so we landed in the woodland behind all these gardens. Buckbeak was exhausted and I was starving.”

“You’re always starving.” Addie said affectionately.

Hermione was just about to offer him a biscuit when the front door opened. Her face drained of colour. “That’s Dad.

David scowled. “No child should be that scared at the thought of their own parent.”

You’d better hide.”
Sirius transformed into Padfoot again and darted under the sideboard. If he lay flat and stayed quiet …

“Hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Sirius growled, tightening his embrace.

… he could blend in with the shadows.

Steven Granger appeared in the doorway seconds later. “What’s that?”

“What does it matter?!” James growled. Like Narcissa, he’d become very fond of Hermione over the last two days.

“Home-made biscuits.” Hermione answered, her voice shaking. “Mrs Taylor dropped them off. She’s just moved in to Number Ten. Mum treated her daughter the other day.”

“Why aren’t you doing your homework?” Her father asked sharply, moving across the kitchen to open the fridge.

“Because if I know Hermione, she’s already done it.” Harry answered, attempting a smile. “Plus a boatload of extra work.”

Sirius nodded to him as he felt Hermione smile weakly, but didn’t let go of her. He knew that Harry would need him at some point during this book, but right now, it was Hermione who needed someone.

“I’ve already done it.” Hermione replied. “Dad, the Weasleys have invited me to stay for the rest of the summer. May I go please?”

“No.” Her father answered shortly.

“That’s not fair.” Lily stated.

“But Dad, you won’t have to take me anywhere.” Hermione said tentatively. “Mr Weasley would come and pick me up.”

“And where would you be sleeping?” Steven asked bluntly.

“In Ginny’s room probably.” Hermione answered. “Because Harry shares with Ron and …”

“Oh, he’ll be there too, will he?” Steven interrupted.

“And just what is wrong with my son?” Lily asked coolly.

“Why would they even want you there?”
“Because they’re my friends.” Hermione said quietly.

Steven gave a derisive snort. “Who’d want to be friends with an insufferable little know-it-all like you?”

“Me.” Harry answered through gritted teeth.

“And me.” Neville added firmly, getting a glowing smile from Alice.

“And us.” Fred said, indicating Ginny, who nodded.

“And me.” Draco finished quietly.

Harry, Neville and Fred gaped, but Hermione lifted her head and smiled. “Thank you, Draco.”

Draco’s cheeks turned slightly pink as he stared unfalteringly at her. “Well, it’s true.”

Narcissa smiled proudly and patted his hand.

Hermione flinched, wanting to argue that he couldn’t expect her to get top marks in everything she did academically and not be a ‘know-it-all’, but she knew better than to do that.

A low growl sounded from beneath the sideboard …

Addie stiffened. “Don’t do it.” She murmured.

… and she moved in front of his, hoping to stop Padfoot from moving.

“Good move.” Addie gave Sirius a look. “You need to control yourself.”

“Not that easy.” Sirius told her darkly.

The last thing she needed was for her father to know he was there.

“Harry and Ron.” She answered quietly.

Her father lifted his hand and she flinched again …

David hissed and muttered something about child abuse and the ministry.

… but he only lifted a glass out of the cupboard. “You’re not going. End of story.”

“But …” Hermione instinctively ducked, knowing as soon as the word left her lips that she had pushed it too far, and was proved right when the glass hit the wall behind her head.

Shouts of outrage filled the room.

Hermione whimpered and buried her face in Sirius’s robes. He rubbed her back soothingly and gestured for Addie to continue as quickly as possible.

“You ungrateful little brat!” Steven spat. “Your mother and I work hard to put food in your mouth and a roof over your head and you repay us by running off to that … that … place every year …

“He’s sounding annoyingly like Aunt Petunia.” Harry growled.

… and disappearing off with those boys as soon as you get the chance. Well, I’ve had it with you – the moment you walk out of that door again, you are no longer our daughter. Do you understand?”

“What a horrible man!” Lily cried.

“How could your mother let that happen?” Addie asked shakily.

“She loves him.” Hermione murmured.
“Yes.” Hermione whispered, focusing on her feet. A sharp blow to the side of her face made her stagger backwards, clutching the sideboard for support, and amend her answer. “Yes, sir.”

“Loves him.” Addie muttered. “I don’t care if she loves him or not, if James had ever treated Harry like that …”

“James wouldn’t.” Lily interrupted fiercely. “And I’d have murdered him myself.”

“Exactly.” Addie agreed, glaring at the book in her hand.

“Good.” Steven packed the sandwiches into a bag, grabbed a bottle of cola from the fridge and left the room. “And for God’s sake, clean that mess up.”

“You do it!” Lily snapped. “You caused it.”

Hermione didn’t move until the front door had slammed shut. Then she fetched a broom from the cupboard and began to sweep up the shards of glass, hearing the tell-tale ‘pop’ of an Animagus transformation behind her. She didn’t turn, focusing instead on keeping the tears from spilling from her eyes. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“He’s the one who should be sorry!” Alice muttered.

There were quiet footsteps behind her and she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Does that happen a lot?”

“I’m surprised you were so calm.” Addie commented.

“Anger scared her when she was a baby.” Sirius explained. “So I figured I’d best go with the calm option, even if it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

“Him disowning me?” Hermione let out a shaky laugh.

“There is nothing funny about this.” Fred muttered.

“I’d rather laugh than cry.” Hermione whispered, turning her head so they could hear her. “I guess I get it from Padfoot.”

Sirius chuckled. “Probably.”

“No, that’s the first time.”

Sirius took the broom from her hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. “Him treating you like that.”

“Yeah, he does it all the time.”

There were a few muttered curses at how casual she sounded.

Hermione avoided his gaze as he swept the glass out of the back door.

Sirius shook his head. “Well, if I were him, I’d be pretty glad I’m still a wanted man.”

“Why’s that?” Hermione asked, wiping her eyes.

“Ask a silly question.” James muttered.

“Because otherwise, I wouldn’t have needed a wand to kick his arse.” Sirius answered bluntly.

“As soon as I get back, Padfoot, we have several people who need some personal attention from the Marauders.” James stated.

“I was just thinking that, Prongs.” Sirius said with a dark smirk.

Hermione giggled slightly. “It’s fine, Sirius, really.”

“It is not fine.” Addie muttered.

“No, it’s not fine.” Sirius disagreed.

No one laughed.

“Nothing gives him the right to treat you like that.”

Hermione shrugged slightly. “Maybe.” She glanced up. “What do you think I should do?”

“Call his bluff.” Jen advised. “That’s what we did.”

Sirius pulled the other chair round to sit next to her. “Honestly? Call his bluff.”

This time, James chuckled weakly at the coincidence, but no one else did.

“What if he’s not bluffing?” Hermione whispered.

Sirius smiled at her. “Then you don’t need it. Trust me, Hermione, I was disowned after my first year at Hogwarts …

“Disowned?” David repeated sharply. “I thought you just decided to stay with those second-cousins?”

“Well, it was more that we were forced into it.” Sirius admitted, glancing at Regulus, who was staring at the floor.

… never legally, for some reason …

“Means you’re the head of the family.” Jen commented.

Sirius pulled a face. “There’s nothing in those vaults that I want any connection to.”

“No, but there’s also nothing in those vaults I want Lucius Malfoy getting his hands on.” Sirius pointed out, giving Narcissa an apologetic look.

… I guess Mother and Father figured they didn’t need to since I had an older brother.

Regulus closed his eyes.

My parents were big on blood purity and the entire family in Slytherin. When I was sorted into Gryffindor, they weren’t happy. Telling them I was never going to join Voldemort pushed them over the edge.”

“Pushed them over the edge?” David repeated quietly.

Jen flinched and nestled into Remus’s arms.

Sirius was pale, but answered monotonously. “Couple of curses. Bad ones. We’d made an agreement on the way home that if one of us got the chance to escape, we would. So when I …”

“He turned up outside my house accidentally.” Lily cut in, causing James to start. At Jen and Sirius’s request, the girls had kept this completely silent. “Annie owled Jane and she came to help us. She got Jen out the house and used the information to blackmail their parents into leaving them alone.”

“They were going to disown us anyway.” Jen added coldly. “All that did was stop them from killing us.”

“They wouldn’t have killed you.” Regulus argued softly.

“They already had a bloody good try.” Jen snapped. “Face it, Reg, they’ve got their Heir Apparent …” she sneered the title in a way any Slytherin would be proud of “… Sirius and I are just extra blood, that’s all. We’re nothing to them.”

Remus kissed her forehead. “But you’re everything to us.” He whispered, causing her to relax slightly.

“Long story short,” Sirius looked at David, “we got blasted off the family tree.”

He looked curiously at her. “You didn’t flinch.”

Hermione shrugged. “Around Harry you don’t have the time.

“Still couldn’t say it though.” Harry teased.

“You can say it now.” Lily observed.

Hermione smiled weakly. “Well, a lot happened in a year.”

This did nothing for Lily’s nerves.

So you think I’ll be alright if I walk out then?”

“People that treat you like that aren’t your family.” Sirius told her firmly. “Your family are the people who love you.”

“The Marauders.”

“And Lily.” Sirius added.

“What about us?” Arabella asked jokingly.

“Mind was aimed in another direction.” Sirius admitted. “But of course, I count you two and Alice as well.”

“And me?” Addie asked softly.

Sirius gave a mock-weary sigh. “Well, alright, I can count you as a sister as well, but we are going to have a long talk about …”

Addie clapped a hand over his mouth. “Stop. Honestly, is it impossible for you to be serious for more than five minutes?”

“But I’m always Sirius.” Sirius protested.

Addie sighed. “Right, moving swiftly on.”

Hermione guessed quietly, feeling grief rise up within her.

“You remember?” Lily questioned.

Hermione shook her head. “Not yet.”

She contemplated the feeling for a few minutes, before coming to the conclusion that it was far too strong to be hers. “Sirius … is there a magical gift or creature that can sense emotions? You know, like Seers can predict the future?”

Sirius looked thoughtful. “Sounds like empathy to me. But empaths have been classified as Dark since …

Remus raised an eyebrow.

… Oh, who am I to talk? I ran around with a werewolf once a month.

There were a few chuckles at that.

“I thought you’d gone a bit crazy for a second there.” Remus smirked.

And besides, it’s our choices, not our abilities, that make all the difference.”

“Thank you, Professor Dumbledore.” James mocked.

Hermione chuckled and stood up to rummage through the fridge. “I think Dumbledore said something like that to Harry once.”

Sirius grinned. “Probably. I nicked it off him. Actually, when Harry was born, I made a list of wise-sounding sentences that I’d heard other people say.”

Lily burst out laughing. “Why on earth would you do that?”

Sirius grinned. “You’ll see.”

“Why?” Hermione asked curiously, pulling some cold stew out of the fridge and adding it to a saucepan. There was still some left over from her care package to Harry.

Lily’s amusement vanished immediately. “Care package?!”

“Relax, Mum.” Harry soothed. “It was nothing bad. Not really.”

“Well, I am Harry’s godfather.” Sirius shrugged. “Just figured I should have some profound words for him every now then.

“You have.” Harry remarked.

That’s really more Moony’s forte than mine. Why were you asking about empathy?”

“I think I might have it.” Hermione admitted, setting the saucepan on the hob and turning it on. “Lately, I’ve just been … my emotions seem to be all over the place, except half of them I swear aren’t mine.

“That’s because they’re not.” Fred told her in a spooky voice.

Like just now – I never knew James and Lily Potter, which limits my sense of grief – I mean, it’s awful what happened, but …”

“You can’t mourn for someone you don’t know.” Sirius finished quietly.

“Exactly.” Hermione agreed wearily, sinking back into her chair. Another emotion rose between them, not quite grief, but close.

“That was when I realised Jane hadn’t told you.” Sirius explained. “And I knew I’d pretty much lost you.”

She didn’t mention it, turning instead to her other piece of evidence. “And earlier, with Dad, I …” She trailed off, staring at the oven in horror.

“What?” James asked sharply. “There wasn’t anyone in the fire, was there?”
Hermione giggled. “No. We’ve got an electric oven.”

“An ecklectiric oven?” James repeated.

“There’s no fire, James.” Lily rolled her eyes. “I’ll show you over the summer.”

Sirius followed her gaze. “What is it?”

“He hates me.” Hermione whispered.

Tears seeped out of Hermione’s eyes again. Even though she had long since turned her back on her father, the thought still hurt.

“My own father hates me.” A tear slipped down her cheek, quickly followed by another, and another.

As her body shook with the first heaving sob, she heard the other chair move and his arm wrapped around her shoulders, drawing her into a hug.

“Wanted to do that the second I got there.” Sirius murmured into her hair.

“That’s because he’s crazy, Hermione. There’s nothing to hate.”

“And you’ve known me, what, a week?” Hermione sniffled.

His hold tightened momentarily before relaxing. “I’m a good judge of character.

“Didn’t want to overwhelm you.” Sirius whispered to her.

Besides you did break Merlin knows how many wizarding laws the other week to save my life.”

Hermione managed a weak smile. It didn’t escape her notice that she was picking up more affection and positive emotion from Sirius than she ever had from her father. He would have yelled at her to get over it; she couldn’t remember the last time her father had shown her any physical affection … or any affection at all, for that matter.

Hermione hugged him tightly. “I love you, dad.” She whispered.

Sirius closed his eyes, fighting back tears. “I love you too, Kitten.”

“Thanks, Sirius.” Hermione pulled away, wiping her eyes. “Harry and Ron tend to panic when I break down on them.”

Sirius shrugged. “Eh, Lily used to break down on me all the time, so I’m used to it. I think it was so she didn’t freak James out.

Lily frowned. “I never break down.”

Sirius smiled sadly, releasing Hermione. “After we graduated, as you might have guessed, we all joined the Order of the Phoenix, but that wasn’t a job. James, Jen and I all joined the aurors and Lily began studying to be a healer.”

David frowned. “Who covered the Potter accounts? I work half-time and the work still piles up.”

“Well, when I say Lily began studying, I don’t mean she actually finished.” Sirius admitted. “After she and James got married, she took over the paperwork and then she was pregnant with Harry, so she never actually worked in St. Mungo’s. The bottom line is, even though she did go out on some Order missions, it was mostly James doing the actual fighting. She never really wanted to let James know how scared she was so she used to break down on me instead.” He paused, taking in the sombre atmosphere. “Ruined quite a few sets of robes as well.”

He never did too well with crying girls.”

“And you did?” Addie asked, rolling her eyes.

Sirius grinned at her. “I did better. Mind you, Lily never cried in mourning. Not after what happened to you.”

“What?” Lily frowned. “Surely that’s a good time to cry.”
“I think Mandy snapped first.” Sirius remembered. “After Jen … disappeared, and Lily was making us all a cup of tea, Mandy asked her why the hell she wasn’t crying when her best friend was probably d-dead. And Lily told her that crying wouldn’t bring Jen back and it wouldn’t stop Voldemort. “I will cry when that son-of-a-bitch is rotting in hell and not a moment sooner”.”

Lily smiled slightly. “Sounds like a good attitude.”

“But fear got to her more than once.” Sirius added.

“Must be where Harry gets it from.”

“I’m not that bad with crying girls.” Harry protested.

Hermione and Ginny pretended they didn’t hear him.

Hermione joked, before being distracted by a low hiss as the saucepan boiled over. She grabbed a tea-towel and removed the pot from the heat, before pouring the contents on to a plate and placing it in front of him with a fork. “Eat. You look half-starved.”

“Thank you, Mrs Weasley.” Sirius joked, dodging a cushion.

“I am half-starved.” Sirius pointed out. “You didn’t have to …”
Hermione gave him a look eerily reminiscent of Professor McGonagall …

Hermione blushed. “Was it really?”

“It was like I was back in detention.” Sirius informed her.

… and he dropped his protest, thanking her quietly.

“Now,” Hermione continued matter-of-factly, “what can I do about getting you a wand?

David raised an eyebrow. “You do realise that would be arming a convicted felon, which is against the law?”

“I’m aware that I was breaking the law, yes.” Hermione said calmly. “Of course, he isn’t technically a convicted felon. But we’d already broken 11 wizarding laws to stop them from sucking his soul out; I figured one more wouldn’t make that much of a difference.”

Yours would have been snapped when you were arrested, wouldn’t it?”

“Actually, it wasn’t.” Sirius answered cautiously. “The Blacks are an Ancient and Noble pureblood family – they can’t snap my wand without the permission of my Head of House.”

Jen began to laugh. “Oh, this is fantastic.”

“What?” Lily asked, but Jen didn’t answer.

Hermione frowned. “But … didn’t you just say you were unofficially disowned?”

Sirius chuckled. “Yeah, but I was arrested after my father died and my brother was killed. That means they can’t snap my wand without my permission.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “That’s just … Wow.”

He smiled lightly at her stunned expression. “I know. They’re crazy, our laws. My wand’s in my vault.”

“Anyway I can get into it?” Hermione asked.

“No.” Sirius said.

“Yes, she can.” Jen disagreed. “They’ll let anyone in anywhere as long as they’ve got a key.”

“Well, technically, yes, but you’re not going to.

“Oh, that makes more sense.” Jen nodded.

You’ve done enough, Hermione.”

“I’ve done what’s right.” Hermione corrected. “And besides, what the Ministry doesn’t know can’t hurt them. Or, more importantly, me.”

“That’s true.” Alice conceded. “And goblins hate dealing with the Ministry, so as long as you’re respectful, they should keep their mouths shut.”

Sirius observed her for a few seconds, before chuckling. “Well played.”

“She smiled, didn’t she?” Fred asked knowingly.

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Hermione frowned.

“There’s a certain smile you have that Sirius can’t say no to.” Fred explained with a smirk. “Kinda like when Ginny bats her eyes and goes “Daddy …””

Hermione chuckled. “I’ll have to remember that one.”

“Aren’t you worried?” Addie asked softly.

Sirius shook his head. “She won’t use it that often.” He murmured back, not denying the truth of Fred’s words. “And at least she’s smiling again.”

He pulled a small golden key out of his robes. “But what do you know about Gringotts vaults?”

Hermione hesitated. “Erm … only what Harry’s told me. I know quite a bit about goblins.”

“If you’re talking about History of Magic, you know quite a bit about goblin rebellions.” Sirius corrected. “And that does nothing for goblin-human relationships, believe me. There are three types of pureblood families, Hermione.”

Sirius groaned. “You’re not really going to go through all that, are you?”

“With the protections that could be on that vault?” Sirius responded. “Wasn’t taking any chances.”

Hermione nodded. “Ancient, Noble and Ancient and Noble. I know that much.”

“Exactly.” Sirius confirmed. “You can be considered pureblood without being in one of those families, but generally, they fit into one of those categories.”

“Surely a pureblood is anyone with magical parents.” Hermione frowned.

Hermione chuckled. “Ah naivety.”

“If Muggle-borns are people like me with two Muggle parents and half-bloods are people like Seamus Finnegan with one magical parents and one Muggle parent …”

“Normally you’d be right,” Sirius agreed, “but you have to remember the people who think in terms of blood. For example, what is Harry?”

“Half-blood.” Harry answered dully.

“Pureblood.” Hermione guessed. “Because his parents were both …” She trailed off. “But his mother was Muggle-born … and to the people who care about that sort of thing …”

“You’ve got it.” Sirius nodded. “If your parents are both Muggle-born, you’re considered Muggle-born. To be considered a pureblood, you have to have at least three generations.”

Lily groaned, rubbing her head. “That’s not helpful.”

Hermione grimaced. “And no one finds this confusing?”

Sirius chuckled. “If it helps, I hate it.

“It would if you could do something about it.” Jen said.

Anyway … the more ‘important’ the family, the better protected the vaults, which was my point to begin with. If you were entering the Potter vault – that’s another Ancient and Noble family – I wouldn’t be too worried, but …”
“But surely the wands will be in your personal vault.” Hermione pointed out. “That won’t have the same protections as the family vault … will it?”

“It shouldn’t.” Sirius agreed slowly. “But I did inherit that vault from my Uncle Alpherd. He wasn’t as big on blood purity, but I still don’t know what enchantments are on it.

“Oh.” Sirius muttered. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

You might not be able to enter it.”
“Well, it can’t hurt to try.” Hermione said sensibly. “And from what I’ve read, the goblins will let you in anywhere as long as you have the right key.”

“That’s the other thing.” Sirius said grimly. “Gringotts keys cannot be taken from a person without their consent.

Lily inhaled sharply. “You’re taking a big risk, Hermione.”

Hermione smiled. “Marauder.”

That’s why I still have mine. The only way you could have this key in your possession is if I give you explicit consent to enter the vault. That puts you in direct contact with me, Hermione; it’s too risky.”

Hermione shrugged. “Only if the Ministry finds out. And from what I’ve heard, the goblins hate the Ministry.

“That is true.” Jen conceded.

Or is that another misconception?”

“No, that one’s true.” Sirius sighed. “Fine, but I want you to promise me that you’ll be careful.”

Hermione nodded. “I promise.”

Gringotts Bank was very easily the most impressive building in Diagon Alley …

“Yeah, it is.” James agreed.

… a towering building of white marble that dwarfed the shops surrounding it.

Upon entering the bank, Hermione had changed some Muggle money into sickles and galleons, before requesting a private room and a meeting with a teller upon their earliest convenience.

Her mother had dropped her off at the Leaky Cauldron that morning, under the impression that Hermione was just looking to get Harry a birthday present.

“And I did.” Hermione smiled.

“A good one.” Harry added with a grin.

But now she was sitting in one of the small rooms off of the main Gringotts lobby, her heart constricting her throat.

“I was so nervous.” Hermione admitted.

For the last two days, Sirius had been living in the woodland behind her back garden and teaching her about goblins and their customs. She had learned more than Professor Binns could ever teach her – Sirius had made the stories exciting and interesting, something their professor had never managed.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Don’t say it.”
“Maybe you could teach when we get your name cleared.” Addie teased.

“I will teach, when you’re the headmistress of Hogwarts.” Sirius said flatly.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Oh, like that’ll ever happen.”

“Exactly.” Sirius smirked.

After what seemed like an age, one of the goblins entered the room and Hermione rose to her feet to curtsey.

“Good start.” Jen murmured, grasping Remus’s hand.

She knew she had surprised her mother by donning a skirt for the day – she was much comfier in jeans – but it allowed far better movement. “Greetings. May your mines be forever full and your sword forever sharp.”

“Very good start.” Narcissa said.

Her Gobbledegook was shaky and she had only learnt that one phrase, but it sounded right, from what Sirius had taught her.

The goblin looked surprised, but bowed in acknowledgement …

“You’re safe.” Regulus stated.

… before taking the other seat and gesturing for her to sit. “Greetings, Miss Granger. My name is Griphook.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “That’s the same goblin who took me to my vault the first time I visited.”
“I know.” Hermione said simply. “Weird, isn’t it?”

Thankfully, he continued the conversation in English, apparently noting her slight hesitance. “I must admit myself impressed, Miss Granger. Very few wizards and witches bother to learn our language, especially so young.”
Hermione blushed slightly. “My curiosity is hard to sate, sir.”

Griphook nodded. “What can the Bank of Gringotts do for you today? You do not possess a vault of your own.”

“No.” Hermione admitted, taking a deep breath. “I wish to visit Vault 711.”

“Wouldn’t the wand have been put in the family vault?” Narcissa asked.

Sirius shook his head. “It’s my personal vault. After Reg …” he trailed off and cleared his throat. “I didn’t particularly want to step foot inside that place, so I got Gringotts to move everything I’d need into my vault and to make any future deposits into that vault.”

Griphook observed her for a few seconds, saying nothing, and she fought not to squirm under his gaze.

“Just keep calm, keep eye contact and don’t fidget. Goblins pick up on subtle body language far more than humans do. You have every right to be there, so don’t let him think any differently.”

“Good advice.” David nodded.

After a few moments, Griphook spoke again. “You have the key, I presume?”

Hermione nodded, handing it over, reminding herself to thank Sirius for the advice.

Silently, Griphook held it up to the light, turning it over in his long fingers. “Not a forgery. You realise that by doing this you are admitting to contact with a convicted criminal.”

Hermione took a shaky breath. “Yes, sir, I do.”
“And yet you are still willing to aid him in this way?” Griphook prompted.

Hermione nodded firmly. “I am.”

“Wise move.” David muttered.

Griphook gave her a fierce look that, thanks to Sirius, she recognised as a smile. “If there is one thing goblins value more than honesty, Miss Granger, it is bravery. And if there is one thing we value more than bravery, it is loyalty. The Bank of Gringotts has no link of the Ministry of Magic and we hold all transactions in the upmost confidentiality. Follow me.”

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and Sirius chuckled, waving his wand. “Hello? You know it goes well.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Hermione followed the goblin through a set of double doors into and into a dark stone passageway, lit by flaming torches. A small cart came rattling along a set of railway tracks and stopped beside them.

Hermione shuddered inwardly, having heard about these cart-rides from Harry – she’d never liked rollercoasters.

“Me neither.” Lily agreed. “But they’re not that bad.”

Nevertheless she climbed into the cart and took a deep breath as it took off, but to her surprise, she actually enjoyed the ride.

Griphook must have read her expression, because he said, “These carts have a goblin anti-nausea charm on them.”

“I’m surprised he told you that.” Regulus commented. “Usually, goblins try to make wizards and witches as uncomfortable as possible. He must like you.”
“Why did the ride affect Hagrid then?” Lily questioned.

“Half-giant.” Remus shrugged. “Most spells don’t work on him.”

 “Thank Merlin.” Hermione muttered as the cart came to a halt outside one of the vaults. A loud clacking sound was coming from around the corner, but she didn’t ask – Sirius had mentioned a dragon guarding the Black vaults and how the goblins used ‘clackers’ to keep them under control, although she hadn’t completely believed him until this moment.

Sirius looked slightly put out. “Thanks.”
“Hey, it sounded unbelievable.” Hermione pointed out.

Griphook unlocked the vault door and turned to her, gesturing her forwards. She stepped over the threshold tentatively, feeling a soft tingling over her skin that she assumed was the wards. She froze, waitin for something to happen.

It didn’t …

“Would that be because of my mother or because of the adoption?” Hermione asked curiously.

“Most likely both.” Sirius answered. “Although I don’t know how it would work with the adoption. By blood, you’re related to me, but not to anyone else in the family, and it doesn’t change your blood status. So I don’t know how that fits in.”

“Of course it might just be that the wards know that you had permission to be there.” Jen pointed out.

… so she allowed herself to relax, looking around the large vault. Most of it was filled with mounds of gold and silver, but across from her was a large storage box and, atop it, two familiar tubes of wood.

“That’s why you’ve got mine.” Jen realised. “I guess that makes sense.”

Hermione climbed over to it, being careful not to touch anything (“if anything else has been moved from the other vaults, it’s been cursed and I don’t want you to get hurt”), and picked them up, slipping them into her bag, unsure which was Sirius’s.

The wands had been lying on a photograph and Hermione picked that up as well. A much younger Sirius laughed up at her, baby Harry firmly in his arms. Lily Potter hovered in the background, trying to take Harry back, but the child just clung tighter to his godfather.

Harry blushed as Ginny cooed, “I remember you showing us that.”

“Have you got it on you?” David asked.

Sirius nodded, pulling it from his pocket. “Showed it to this lot a few days ago.”

David chuckled at the image. “Harry, you look just like Jamie did when he was a baby.”

James pulled a face. “Dad!”

Hermione chuckled affectionately and slipped the photograph into her bag as well, before leaving the vault to travel back to the surface.

Harry pulled a face. “Why, Hermione? Why did you have to take it?”

“Because I thought Sirius might want to take it with him while he was on the run from the Ministry of Magic with no way of seeing his darling godson for a while.” Hermione answered in one breath, an innocent expression on her face.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well played.”

That evening, Hermione and Sirius were huddled in the wooded area behind her garden. It was strange to see a hippogriff rooting for worms in the same place she used to sit and do her Muggle homework.

Lily chuckled. “I bet it was.”

Dusk was falling, but her parents were working late and would not be home for another hour at least. Sirius cast a glance at the darkening sky. “We should get on our way; it’ll be dark soon.”
“Hang on.” Hermione handed him a satchel. “I got this today in Diagon Alley; it’s got an undetectable extension charm on it. I filled it with enough food to last a while, mostly Muggle tins that won’t go off, but there’s some soup and stew in thermos flasks; I added runes to them at the beginning of the summer, so they should stay warm if I’ve done them right.

“You had.” Sirius told her.

“You’re amazing.” James told her reverently, making her blush.

Don’t do anything stupid …

“Don’t ask for miracles, Hermione.” Remus joked.

… and stay in touch – I’ve put some parchment, quills and ink in there as well.”

“You’re a life-saver, Hermione.” Sirius told her sincerely, shouldering the bag with a grateful smile.

“Oh, and before I forget …” Hermione pulled the two wands out of her pocket. “I wasn’t sure which one was yours.”

Sirius took the darker wand, tapping it against her face with a murmured incantation, healing the bruise.

“Won’t the Ministry pick that up?” Lily asked.

Sirius shook his head. “The Ministry can’t distinguish magical signatures, only that they’re there. Their records would be telling them that there were currently three magical signatures at Hermione’s house, two of which belonged to adults, and they’d assume the magic was coming from us.”

Lily scowled. “That’s not very fair.”

“Thanks. I feel a lot better with a wand in my hand.”

Sirius shuddered. “I can’t imagine being without it.”
“It’s not fun.” Sirius muttered.
“What should I do with this one?” Hermione asked.

Sirius’s eyes took on a haunted expression. “Keep it.

“Good.” Jen stated firmly, seeing Sirius look slightly guilty. “You never know when you might need a second wand.”

You never know when you might need a second wand.”

Hermione grimaced as everyone else laughed at the similarities between brother and sister. She had indeed needed that second wand … but she wished she hadn’t.

Hermione wanted to ask who it had belonged to, but the sudden surge of grief she picked up as he looked at the wand made her decide against it …

“It’s Jen’s, isn’t it?” Harry asked in an undertone.

Hermione nodded.

… slipping the wand back into her pocket. “I found this photo as well. Thought you might like it.”
“You thought right.” Sirius smiled reminiscently at the picture for a few seconds, before duplicating it and handing her back the copy. “Make sure Harry gets that?”

“Thanks.” Harry smiled. “For all the pouting earlier, it was one I didn’t have.”

“Of course.” Hermione slipped it away and patted Buckbeak’s feathery neck. “Be good, Beaky. Make sure Padfoot doesn’t do anything stupid, alright?”

“Merlin help us.” Mandy sighed. “We’re relying on a hippogriff to be the responsible adult.”
Buckbeak tossed his head with a squawk and she took that as reassurance. She turned back to Sirius and he placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Hermione, I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done this summer.” He told her in a low voice. “Just promise me one more thing.”

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Forget everything your father ever told you.”

“Smartest thing you’ve ever said.” Arabella commented.

Sirius stated, with an unidentifiable glint in his eye. “You’re an amazing young woman with a heart of gold and a mind that could give Lily Potter a run for her money.

Lily blushed as James grinned at her. She did like hearing herself called that.

And I can give you no higher praise than that.”

Lily’s blush deepened.
Hermione blushed lightly. She knew enough about Harry’s mother to take it as a compliment of the highest order as well.

And deepened.

“Lily, you look like a tomato.” Addie told her with a grin.

“Thank you.”

“No. Thank you.” Sirius hugged her tightly. “I can never repay you for what you’ve done, but …” he released her and waved his wand in the direction of her house. “That should make the rest of your summer here a little more bearable.”

Jen looked suspicious. “What did you do?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”

Jen chuckled. “Great minds think alike.”

Sirius winked at her. “Never mess with a Marauder, my dear.

“There’s an understatement.” Mandy muttered.

Enjoy the World Cup and give Harry my love when you see him.” He jumped on Buckbeak’s back and urged him forwards.

The hippogriff unfurled his impressive wings and broke into a gallop, taking off into the air. Hermione watched them fly into the distance, until they were a tiny speck silhouetted against the moon.

Going … going … gone …

“Now tell me you’re going abroad like a sensible escaped felon.” Addie said shrewdly.

Sirius chuckled. “Isn’t that an oxymoron? Yes, I went abroad. South America, to be exact.”

“Good.” Addie marked the page. “That’s the end of the chapter. Who wants to read next?”