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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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After a few moments of silence, in which everyone tried to work their heads around what had just happened, Regulus cleared his throat. “Here,” he said softly, “I’ll take it Cissy.”

Chapter Thirteen

Dreams and Dreads

“Is that Harry’s dreams or Jessica’s?” Lily asked, remembering Harry telling Hermione that Jess had had another dream.

“Both.” Harry answered.

“What’s going to happen to Winky?” Hermione asked, the moment they had left the clearing.

“She’ll be alright.” David said. “With any luck, she’ll end up at Hogwarts. That’s where a lot of freed house-elves go.”

“I don’t know,” said Mr Weasley.

“The way they were treating her!” Hermione scowled. “Mr Diggory, calling her ‘elf’ all the time … and Mr Crouch! He knows she didn’t do it, and he’s still going to sack her! He didn’t care how frightened she’d been, or how upset she was – it was like she wasn’t even human!”

“Well, she’s not,” said Ron.

James sighed. “Not the smartest thing to say.”

Beside Hermione, Arabella gave a small cough that sounded suspiciously like ‘Padfoot’.

“Hey!” Sirius protested. “I’m not that heartless!”

“But you are that tactless.” Addie pointed out.

Hermione rounded on him. “That doesn’t mean she hasn’t got feelings, Ron, it’s disgusting the way …”

“Not the best time to be debating elf rights, Kitten.” Sirius said softly.

“Hermione, I agree with you,” Mandy interrupted, beckoning her on, “but now is not the time to discus elf rights.

There were a few chuckles and Mandy shrugged. “Great minds think alike.”

I want to get back to the tent as fast as we can. What happened to the others?”

Lily stiffened. “Oh, Merlin, I forgot about that!”

“We were fine.” Ginny assured her quickly.

“We lost them in the dark,” said Ron. “Dad, why was everyone so uptight about that skull thing?”

“Skull thing.” Narcissa repeated. “I’m not sure whether to be relieved or irritated.”

“I’ll explain everything back at the tent,” said Mr Weasley tensely.

“Good.” David murmured. “Don’t get into it there.”

But when they reached the edge of the wood, their progress was impeded.

“What now?” Arabella asked with a groan.

“I’m sure it’s just frightened campers.” Remus said calmly, his arm still tight around Jen’s shoulders.

A large crowd of frightened-looking witches and wizards had congregated there …

Jen smiled, though it looked forced. “Thank Merlin you were right.”

… and when they saw Mr Weasley coming towards them, many of them surged forwards.

“Of course, they’ll want answers.” Alice whispered, glancing at Neville. “You weren’t there, were you?”

Neville shook his head. “No, Gran wouldn’t get tickets, especially after what happened with the passwords in third year.”

Sirius flinched under Alice’s glare. “Sorry, Neville. I didn’t know who the list belonged to – Crookshanks brought it to me.”
“I’ve already had a stern word with him.” Hermione added, her lips twitching slightly. “But he knew Sirius was innocent, you see, and that Scabbers – Wormtail – was in the tower.”

“Oh.” Neville blinked. “Alright then.”

“What’s going on in there?” “Who conjured it?” “Arthur – it’s not – him?”

“I think you’d know if it was.” James commented, causing Hermione to snort quietly.

“Of course it’s not him,” said Mr Weasley impatiently. “We don’t know who it was, it looks like they Disapparated. Now excuse me, please, I want to get to bed.”

Hermione, Harry and Ron followed him through the crowd and back into the campsite, accompanied still by Mandy and Arabella. All was quiet now; there was no sign of the masked wizards …

“The Mark must have frightened them off.” Regulus commented, pausing in his reading.

“How?” James asked. “Wouldn’t they want to see it?”

“If they got out of Azkaban, they denied any contact with him.” Jen disagreed. “If he comes back – when he comes back – it’ll be the loyal ones in Azkaban he rewards. No, they’d be just as scared to see him come back.”

… though several ruined tents were still smoking.

Charlie’s head was poking out of the boys’ tent.

“Dad, what’s going on?” he called through the dark. “Fred, George and Ginny got back okay, but the others …”
“I’ve got them here.” Mr Weasley assured him, bending to enter the tent.

Bill was sitting at the small kitchen table, holding a bed-sheet to his arm, which was bleeding profusely.

Lily gasped, but didn’t say anything.

Charlie had a large rip in his shirt, and Percy was sporting a bloody nose.

“That’s not bad.” David commented. “Especially since none of them has auror training.”

Fred, George and Ginny looked unhurt, though shaken.

Mandy pointed her wand at Percy’s face. “Episky.

“At least one of you knows your healing spells.” David commented.

“No, that’s about the only one Mandy knows.” Sirius said. “Arabella and Lily were the ones who really picked them up – Lily more so of course.”

“Thanks,” Percy touched his nose gingerly.

Arabella pulled a seat next to Bill and began waving her wand over his arm, muttering under her breath.

“I see your point.” Arabella smiled.

“Did you get them, Dad?” said Bill sharply, as new skin began forming over his wound. “The person who conjured the Mark?”

“No,” said Mr Weasley. “We found Barty Crouch’s elf holding Harry’s wand, but we’re none the wiser about who actually conjured the Mark.”

What?” said Bill, Charlie and Percy together.

“Harry’s wand?” Fred repeated.

Mr Crouch’s elf?” said Percy, looking thunder-struck.

“Yeah, because that’s the important part.” Lily rolled her eyes. “Honestly!”

“Lily, calm down.” James soothed. “You’ve got to remember that Percy is, what, a year old right now?” He glanced at Fred, who thought for a second and nodded. “That makes him five or six when the war ended – he won’t have any scope for the situation.”

With some assistance from Mandy and Arabella, Mr Weasley explained what had happened in the woods. When they had finished their story, Percy swelled indignantly.

“Why didn’t we silence him?” Fred groaned. “Git.”

“Well, Mr Crouch is quite right to get rid of an elf like that!” he said. “Running away when he’d expressly told her not to …

“She was hiding!” Lily snapped. “She was scared – being a house-elf doesn’t mean she doesn’t get scared!”

… embarrassing him in front of the whole Ministry …”
“For the love of Merlin, Percy, someone conjured the Dark Mark and that person is still unknown!” Mandy snapped. “Believe it or not, Barty Crouch getting a little embarrassed is not the worst thing that happened tonight!”

“You tell him.” Lily muttered, as Arabella clapped Mandy on the back.

“Look, can someone just explain what that skull thing was?” Ron asked impatiently, before Percy could respond. “It wasn’t hurting anyone … why’s it such a big deal?”

“Again,” James said before anyone could interrupt, “he would have been a child when it happened. He hasn’t lived through what we have.”

“Yet.” Hermione muttered under her breath. She doubted it wouldn’t get just as bad when Voldemort finally moved out into the open.

From the look on his face, Remus heard her, but he didn’t say anything.

“I told you before, it’s You-Know-Who’s symbol, Ron.” Hermione answered, before anyone else could answer. “I read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.

“And it hasn’t been seen for thirteen years.” Mandy added, sinking onto the old sofa, which creaked slightly. “Of course people panicked.”

Lily closed her eyes. “So Harry dreams about Voldemort and then his sign appears for the first time in thirteen years?”

“Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.” Harry said casually.

“I don’t get it.” Ron frowned. “I mean, it’s still only a shape in the sky …”

“No, it was so much more than that.” Addie whispered, shuddering.

Everyone from the past exchanged a glance, but it was her younger counterpart who cleared her throat. “When …?”

“It was over their house the night …” Sirius trailed off, remembering the sight of her motionless body illuminated by the sickly green of the Dark Mark “… that night.”

“Ron …

Regulus hesitated, but managed to get the name out.

… Voldemort …” Arabella rolled her eyes when everyone but Hermione, Harry and Mandy flinched. “It’s just a name, people.

“Every time you call him by a misnomer, you pander to his ego.” Addie stated, her voice deceptively calm. “He can’t even be called human anymore.”

Voldemort and his followers sent that mark into the sky when they killed. The terror it inspired …” She looked at Mr Weasley. “May I use an example?”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” David asked with a frown. “They’re just kids.”

Mandy shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t done it yet.”

Mr Weasley shrugged. “As long as they don’t tell Molly. I think they need to understand.”

“We did.” Ginny agreed softly. Fred reached over and took her hand, squeezing softly.

“James – Harry’s father – was an auror, as you may know.” Arabella reached across the table and took Harry’s hand. “So he was right in the thick of it. One day, before Harry was born, we were at Hogwarts, talking to Dumbledore about something, when he got a floo call telling him that the Dark Mark had appeared over a small village in the Midlands.”

“Lily nearly fainted.” Mandy continued. “That village was the site James and the others had been called out to earlier that day …

Lily moved her grip from Harry to James and he wrapped his arms around her, staring at the book.

… and if the Mark was in the sky …”
“It meant that someone was dead.” Ron finished, realisation crossing his face.

“You could stop the story there.” Narcissa said quietly. “They get it.”
“We won’t.” Mandy predicted. “Not until it’s finished. And something tells me it’s only just beginning.”

Arabella nodded, taking up the story again. “Lily begged Dumbledore to let her go, but she was pregnant with Harry by now and he reminded her that James would have wanted her to stay put …

“Damn right I would.” James muttered.

… so we stayed with her.”                   

“Thanks.” Lily whispered.

“Where was I?” Jen asked.

“With me and James.” Sirius answered heavily. “I remember that attack. It was awful.”

“It felt like hours.” Mandy whispered, staring at the wood-grain of the table. “We sat there in silence, waiting.

Sirius winced. “Waiting was the worst part.” He sighed. “That’s why James, Jen and I preferred being on the same shifts.”

After a while, Lily started crying, which she really didn’t do often. We’d taken her home by now and she just curled up on the sofa and cried.”

James buried his face in Lily’s hair, pressing a kiss there.

“Then there was a knock at the door.” Arabella smiled. “And a voice said, “it’s me.” And Lily looked up, still crying and said, “What am I thinking right now?””

“Interesting security question.” David commented.

“Most of us had ones like that.” Sirius explained. “The Ministry suggested that you ask people’s favourite ice-cream flavour or their mother’s maiden name. But if you’re going to impersonate someone, you’re going to find that out. So a lot of us had fixed question and answers, that were very personal and that the enemy wouldn’t be expecting.”

Mandy laughed. “And James said, “James Potter, you arrogant toe-rag, I’m going to kill you for scaring me like that.””

Lily burst out laughing. “Yeah, that’d work.”

“That reminds me.” Harry said suddenly. “When did you ever call Dad that?”

Lily gave James a fond smile. “All the time before sixth year. It was either that or I carried a pin everywhere so I could deflate his head.”

The tension broke and several people chuckled.

“We let him in and …” Arabella trailed off. “He was covered in blood.

Lily’s smile faded as quickly as it had come and Regulus kept reading quickly.

Not his,” she added hastily when Hermione gasped.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief and smacked James on the arm. “That’s for scaring me.”

“But he was covered in it. Nearly gave Lily a heart attack. She yelled at him for that and sent him off to the shower, while he muttered something about not being able to win.”

“I know the feeling.” James muttered, rubbing his arm.

“You see why everyone was scared now?” Mandy asked Ron.

Ron nodded, looking abashed. “Who died?”

Narcissa rolled her eyes. “Subtle.”

“Ronald!” Hermione hissed.

But neither woman looked offended or that strongly affected by the question.

“They would have been.” Sirius said heavily. “But not as badly as some people.”

Instead, they looked at Mr Weasley, who sighed and removed his glasses, nodding.

“Fabian and Gideon Prewett.” Mandy answered in a quiet voice. “Your uncles.”

The Marauders looked down. The Prewett twins were a few years above them and the forerunners to the Marauders.

“They were our idols.” Fred whispered. “Even before we found out about the Marauders. They were planning on opening a joke-shop as well, but then the rest of the family was killed so they became aurors.”

“They died heroes.” Arabella added. “Took about twenty Death Eaters with them.”

“How they would have wanted to go.” Remus said quietly.

Fred took a shaky breath. “I know. Doesn’t make it any easier though.”

“But the Dark Mark … it represented everyone’s worst fears …” Mandy whispered. “The very worst.”

Everyone was quiet for a few minutes. A tear rolled down Addie’s face, swiftly followed by another, and another, until she buried her face in Sirius’s shoulder, shaking slightly. The most terrifying part of that night – until Sirius had arrived and the curse had started taking effect – was lying in the pool of green light, staring across at her sister’s apparently-dead body, knowing that she was the only one still breathing. Leona had turned out to be alive, but she would still never see her parents again.

Sirius rubbed her back soothingly, guessing that she hadn’t had the chance to grieve yet. Her choked sob cut through the silence and he smiled weakly as everyone looked up. “Bad memories.”

“I’m fine.” She mumbled into his robes. “Keep going.”

Sirius nodded at Regulus and he found his place again.

There was silence for a moment, as the Weasleys remembered the fun-loving twins Fred and George so resembled.

Then Bill, removing the sheet from his arm to examine the newly-healed cut, said, “Well, it didn’t help us tonight, whoever conjured it. It scared the Death Eaters away the moment they saw it.

“We were right.” Jen murmured.

They all disapparated before we’d got near enough to unmask any of them. We caught the Roberts’ before they hit the ground though.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s good.”

They’re having their memories modified right now.”

“Death Eaters?” Harry asked. “What are Death Eaters?”

Harry snorted. “I can’t believe there was a time I didn’t know.”

“It was only last year.” Hermione commented with a sigh. “Doesn’t seem possible.”

“It’s what You-Know-Who’s supporters called themselves.” Bill explained. “I think we saw what’s left of them tonight – the one’s who managed to keep themselves out of Azkaban anyway.”

“We can’t prove it was them, Bill,” said Mr Weasley. “Thought it probably was,” he added hopelessly.

“Who else would it be?” Lily asked.

“Not everyone who believes in pureblood supremacy joined the Death Eaters.” Sirius admitted. “As much as I’d love it to be true, the world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters. There are people who weren’t Death Eaters who would do that after a few drinks, and would wear the garb just to throw people off. But I’m with Arthur – I’d bet a good amount of money it was Death Eaters.”

“Yeah, I bet it was!” Ron said suddenly. “Dad, we met Draco Malfoy in the woods, and he as good as told us his dad was one of the nutters in masks. And we all know the Malfoys were right in with You-Know-Who!”

“How did he get away with it?” David asked suddenly. “Surely a trial would have proven that Lucius wasn’t under Imperius.”

“Well, a large amount of money was conveniently donated to the Minister’s office,” Draco explained innocently, “and the Minister granted Father a full pardon. Can you believe it?”

“But what were Voldemort’s supporters …” Harry began, making the Weasleys flinch again.

“Just a name.” Arabella repeated, rolling her eyes.

“What were they up to, levitating Muggles?” Harry asked. “I mean, what was the point?”

“There’s no point.” Sirius stated darkly. “It’s a bit of fun for them.”

“The point?” Mr Weasley gave a hollow laugh. “Harry, that’s their idea of fun. Half the Muggle killings back when You-Know-Who was in power were done for fun. I suppose they had a few drinks tonight and couldn’t resist reminding us all that lots of them are still at large. A nice little reunion for them,” he finished disgustedly.

“Idiots, the lot of them.” Addie muttered scathingly, causing several people to jump. Her red-rimmed gaze was still fixed on the floor and she still leaned heavily against Sirius, taking comfort in his presence.

“But if they were the Death Eaters, why did they Disapparate when they saw the Dark Mark?” said Ron. “They’d have been pleased to see it, wouldn’t they?”

“Use your brains, Ron,” said Bill.

“Does he have any?” Ginny asked innocently.

“If they really were Death Eaters, they worked really hard to keep out of Azkaban …”

“Wasn’t that hard.” Sirius snorted. “They bribed officials – it doesn’t take much. Maybe I should have tried it,” he added thoughtfully. “Might have made it easier.”

Mandy snorted. “Because it takes so much effort to move money around.” She muttered, before raising her voice so they could hear her clearly. “Bill’s right. They’d be even more frightened than the rest of us to see him come back. They’d denied they’d ever been involved with him when he lose his powers and went back to their daily lives … I don’t reckon he’d be over-pleased with them, do you?”

“Definitely not.” Regulus murmured, thinking back to what Hermione had said – he’d been killed by Voldemort in her time. What had he done? Or not done?

“So … whoever conjured the Dark Mark …” said Hermione slowly, “were they doing it to show support for the Death Eaters, or to scare them away?”

“Good question.” David sighed. “One I doubt you’ll get an answer to anytime soon.”

“Your guess is as good as ours, Hermione,” said Mr Weasley. “But I’ll tell you this … it was only the Death Eaters who ever knew how to conjure it. I’d be very surprised if the person who did it hasn’t been a Death Eater once, even if they’re not now …

“Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater.” David scowled.

“That’s not true.” Addie disagreed calmly. “Regulus was no more a Death Eater than I am when … it happened.”

“When what happened?” Sirius asked, though he knew the answer. Did she know how his brother had died?

“Don’t make me say it.” Addie sighed. “It’ll come up at some point, I’m sure. Assuming I ever get back.”

“You will.” Sirius stated. “You have to.”

Listen, it’s very late, and if your mother hears what’s happened she’ll be worried sick.

“She’ll hear.” Lily predicted. “They won’t keep something like this quiet.”

We’ll get a few more hours’ sleep and then try to get an early Portkey out of here.”

“That was a nightmare.” Fred commented. “Everyone had the same bloody idea.”

“I don’t blame them.” Lily muttered.

Hermione and Ginny went back to their tent and stared at the bunk-beds for a few seconds. Without a word, they both climbed into the bottom bunk, two sisters seeking comfort from each other.

The Gryffindor girls exchanged a sad smile, remembering the times they had done the same – after Annabelle had passed away and Mandy and Arabella’s parents had been killed.

Hermione knew she ought to feel exhausted; it was nearly three in the morning, but she felt wide awake – wide awake and worried.

“Who wouldn’t?” Jen asked quietly.

Ginny was shivering next to her …

“I was terrified.” Ginny whispered, leaning against Fred as he hugged her.

… and didn’t stop for a long time, but long after her breathing had evened out, Hermione lay awake, staring at the empty bunk above her, thinking …

“What were you thinking?” James asked curiously.

Hermione shrugged. “Wondering who cast the Dark Mark, how they got Harry’s wand, what was happening at Hogwarts, did anyone else have the same bad feeling as me …”

“Alright, I get it.” James cut her off with a chuckle. “Just generally worrying then?”

“Pretty much.” Hermione agreed with a laugh.

The next morning, the Weasleys, Harry and Hermione took the earliest Portkey they could back to Ottery St. Catchpole.

“They’ll be talking about this one for years.” Ludo Bagman had said, after Bulgaria’s shock victory – and they certainly would, though not for the right reasons.

The team mascots had started a brawl on the pitch, a group of wizards and witches – who may or may not have been the Death Eaters who escaped Azkaban – had kidnapped a family of Muggles and gone on the rampage, and the Dark Mark – Voldemort’s sign – had been fired into the sky metres from where Hermione, Ron and Harry had been standing.

“Not the greatest experience, really.” Arabella commented, frowning.

But the thing that preyed on Hermione’s mind happened in the woods around the camp site while they were hiding from the rioting crowd …

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Really? The thing that happened with me was worrying you more than anything else?”

“It shouldn’t.” Hermione conceded. “But I did keep revisiting it, yes.”

It was quite unnerving, realising that she had misjudged someone who she had gone to school with for three years, especially someone who regularly inserted himself into their lives without invitation or provocation.

Harry sniggered. “That’s a nice way of putting it.”

Draco sighed. “You were supposed to misjudge me, Hermione. That’s the point.”

How many other people have I done that to?

Draco shrugged as everyone looked at him. “No idea. I can tell you that Zabini and Greengrass are neutral and that Nott and Parkinson will take the Mark as soon as they have an opportunity, but other than that …”

Mrs Weasley was, understandably, frantic by the time they arrived home …

“Who wouldn’t be?” Jen murmured.

… and it was only once she’d been given a cup of tea with a shot of firewhiskey in it …

David chuckled, albeit a little sadly. “I used to have to do that with Emmy when I got home after raids.”

James looked down at the floor with a sad smile. Even after eight years, memories of his mother were bittersweet. He glanced at Harry, who was having a silent conversation with Hermione, and instantly felt guilty. He’d had nine years with his mother – Harry hadn’t even had two.

… and Arthur and Percy had gone to work that Hermione had a chance to talk to the others.

Harry, Ron and Ginny followed her up to the boys’ room and the trio told Ginny about the events in the woods, elaborating where they hadn’t the night before. Like Harry and Ron, Ginny was intrigued at the speed with which Hermione had managed to drag Harry and Ron away from Draco …

“You have to admit, that was weird.” Ginny pointed out.

“I’ve tried loads of times.” Hermione protested.

“Key word: tried.” Harry agreed. “You’ve never been so … adamant before.”

… which was usually at least a three-person job (one to talk Harry down and two to grab hold of Ron).

Hermione sighed. “It’s not my fault they’re so stubborn.”

“That’s a good point, Hermione.” Harry agreed. “You’ve never managed to get us to do that before.”

“I’d say it wasn’t the time, but I’d be lying.” Hermione sighed. “I’m an empath.”

“Direct – best way to do it.” Remus commented.

“And how would you know?” James asked lightly. “We had to nudge you into telling us and even then you stammered over it so much that we did it for you.”

Ginny and Ron’s expressions didn’t change, but their emotions changed from curiosity to worry laced with panic.

Ginny winced. “Sorry, Hermione.”

Hermione waved it off. “I’m fine.”

Hermione collapsed on Harry’s bed. “Come on, guys; I’m still me.”

“What is an empath?” Harry asked.

“A Dark Creature that feeds of other people’s emotions.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “What books were you reading?”

“The Ministry-sanctioned ones.” Ginny answered dryly.

Sirius snorted. “That explains so much.”

Ginny answered quietly. “A bit like a Dementor, but doesn’t focus on happy thoughts.”

Hermione laughed.

“I couldn’t help it.” Hermione sniggered. “That was the biggest load of bollocks I’d ever heard.”

“Ginny, that’s ridiculous! Empaths don’t feed on emotions!”

“They don’t?” Ron asked. “That’s what the legends say.”

Remus rolled his eyes. “Yeah, because all legends are true.”

“Yeah, well, the legends say that werewolves eat small children even when it’s not the full moon, don’t they?” Harry frowned.

“Good example.” James commented.

“Besides Hermione’s not dark.”

Hermione beamed at him, as the panic in the air receded rapidly.

“Of course she’s not.” Ginny agreed. “I’m sorry, Hermione – I should have known those stories weren’t true.”

“You really should.” Fred frowned slightly, glancing at her.

“Leave her alone.” Hermione told him. “She apologised.”

“Yeah, we should.” Ron seconded, his ears bright red.

Harry sighed wearily. “We still haven’t established what an empath actually is.”

Hermione chuckled and told them everything she’d read and found out …

“Which wasn’t much.” Hermione conceded, looking slightly put out.

“I think there’s something in the library at Grimmauld Place.” Sirius told her. “But I’d prefer it if you let me take a look and check for curses first.”

… before explaining what had happened in the woods. “Malfoy wasn’t making any sense.”

“Does he ever?” Ron asked blankly.

There were a few sniggers, and Draco cracked a grin. “Well, I do make a mission of confusing him.”

Hermione stifled a snigger. “I mean his emotions weren’t making any sense. At the match, it was like he hates his father.”

“I do.” Draco said coldly.

Ron frowned. “How can you hate your own father?

“Easily.” Sirius drawled. “Our father would have handed us over to Voldemort himself if he thought it would increase his favour.”
“I didn’t think your parents were Death Eaters.” Hermione commented.

“Only because they have the power and the money to be useful without actively participating.” Sirius corrected.

“And children to hand over to the cause.” Jen added darkly.

Besides, Hermione, we were there in the woods with you, remember? He loved what was happening.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “He’d never make it in Slytherin, thank Merlin.”
Hermione shook her head. “He was scared, Ron. When he warned me …”

“Threatened you, you mean.” Ron growled.

“Self-loathing.” Hermione corrected. “He was genuinely concerned and he was telling us that his father was in that crowd. Lucius Malfoy knows who I am; he would know I was Muggle-born, even if the others didn’t. Oh!”

Lily looked startled. “What?”

“What?” Harry asked sharply.

“In the Top Box, someone passed me a note while everyone else was distracted by the Veela.” Hermione rummaged through her pockets, and finally found the crumpled piece of parchment.

Narcissa leaned forwards, interested to know if the note was from her.

“Tell SB I’m sorry. He was right. NBM.”

“I was right.” Jen smiled. “It was from you, Cissy.”

“Right about what?” Sirius asked. “Aside from the obvious, of course, but …”
“Before she married Lucius, I visited her,” Sirius said softly, “I told her that she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life and would she please just let Jen and I help her.”

Narcissa smiled weakly, laying a hand on Draco’s arm. “Well, at least one good thing came out of it.”

Ginny’s eyebrows rose into her hairline. “What?”
“Well …” Hermione frowned. “SB … Those are Sirius’s initials.”

“Wait, someone knows …”

“I never figured out how that was.” Hermione commented.

“Father heard from Fudge how you three had been ‘Confunded’.” Draco told her. “Mum would have known that Sirius wasn’t a Death Eater – she must have guessed that you’d still be in contact with him.”

Harry’s face paled. “What if …”

Hermione held up a hand. “NBM – Narcissa Malfoy.”

Ron snorted. “What’s her middle name? Betty?”

Narcissa rolled her eyes. “I know that the Weasleys don’t hold any stock in blood purity – and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – but surely it’s to your advantage to at least be aware of the different families and their politics?”

“Dad does teach us.” Fred told her. “Ron just never listened.”

“No, he thought you never listened.” Ginny corrected. “You and George messed around so much that he thought what we were being told was useless.”
Fred groaned. “I’ll knock some sense into him when we get back.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “That’s not a middle name, Ron; it’s a maiden name. Narcissa Black-Malfoy. She’s one of Sirius’s cousins.”

“She is?” Harry asked blankly.

“What was Sirius right about?” Ginny asked.

Hermione shrugged. “He’ll know.”

“But what if they’re watching?” Harry protested.

“Good.” David whispered. “Don’t let your guard down.”

“We’ll send it with a school owl.” Ginny said. “They’d be less conspicuous than Hedwig.

“You should do probably do that anyway.” Jen commented.

Speaking of Hedwig, why’d you ask Mum if she’d come with a letter?”

“There’s something I haven’t told you.” Harry admitted. “On Saturday morning, I woke up with my scar hurting.”

“Well, it’s about time.” Lily commented. “You should have told them straight away, Harry.”

“Yeah.” Jen agreed with an innocent smile. “Because Lily tells us straight away when she’s worried about something. Oh, no, wait a second … Sorry, she hides it until it eats away at her and she starts snapping at us. Close enough.”

Lily rolled her eyes and turned to Harry. “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Harry hid a smirk. “Yes Mum.”

Hermione gasped and Ron looked dumbstruck.

“You had their reactions down.” Remus chuckled.

“It might just be me.” Ginny spoke up. “But what’s so terrible?”

“I thought they were speaking in code or something.” Ginny admitted with a laugh. “That, or they’d gone mad.”

“The last time my scar hurt, Voldemort was at Hogwarts.” Harry explained in an undertone, causing Ginny to turn white.

“But…But You-Know-Who couldn’t have been near you, could he?” Ron asked.

Fred rolled his eyes. “Again, Ron, I think Harry would have known.”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t think he was in Privet Drive, but I had this weird dream, about Voldemort and someone else …

“You could have told us.” Hermione muttered.

Harry shrugged. “Well, I don’t know whether it was instinct or not, but you hate Wormtail as much as I do. I was kind of scared to.”

… and they were talking about a plan. I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be. But they’d definitely killed someone.”

Ginny gasped. “Tell someone!”

“Who?” Ron asked. “Who is going to believe…?”

“Write to Dumbledore.” Hermione interrupted. “Did you? Is that why you wanted to know if Hedwig had come?”

“No, I wrote to Sirius.” Harry corrected.

Ron’s face immediately cleared. “Good idea! He’ll know what to do!”

Addie smirked. “There’s something I never thought I’d hear.”

“I’m sure I knew exactly what to do.” Sirius said in a slightly haughty tone.

His future self hid a smirk. “Yep. I wrote to Dumbledore.”

Sirius deflated. “Seriously?”

“Can I do anything in any other way?”

Addie groaned. “So this is where it all ends. Sirius Black, locked in a never-ending pun war with himself. We’re doomed.”

“But I haven’t heard back yet.” Harry sighed. “I’m worried.”

“About Sirius?” Ginny asked sympathetically.

“No.”

“Yes.” Harry corrected. “But that wasn’t what I was talking about.”

Harry sighed again. “They were plotting to kill someone else. Me.”

“At least you told us.” Hermione sighed.

Hermione and Ginny looked worried, but Ron clapped him on the back. “It was just a dream! A nightmare!”

“Did he really believe that?” Jen asked.

Hermione shrugged. “I think it was wishful thinking.”

“Yeah, but was it?” Harry asked, turning to look out of the window at the brightening sky. “It’s a weird coincidence, isn’t it? My scar hurts and, three days later, Death Eaters are on the march and Voldemort’s sign appears in the sky for the first time in thirteen years.”

Lily shuddered.

“Don’t say the name!” Ron hissed.

“It was awful.” Ginny shuddered. “And it’s only a name.”

The Marauders beamed at her and she blushed slightly.

“How can you say it?” Ron asked. “And how did you know what the Dark Mark was?”

Ginny flinched. “Tom already had that sign made when he was sixteen.”

James opened his mouth, but Lily smacked him in the chest, cutting off whatever he was going to say.

Harry gave her a comforting smile and turned back to Ron. “And remember what Trelawney said at the end of last year?”

Hermione gave a derisive snort. “Oh, Harry, you aren’t going to believe anything that old fraud says?”

“This was a real prophecy though.” Jen pointed out. “Though I agree about her being an old fraud.”

“You weren’t there.” Harry reminded her. “It was different. You didn’t hear her. She was in some kind of trance; a real one. She said that the Dark Lord would rise again – greater and more terrible than before – and he would manage this because his servant would return to him … and that night Wormtail escaped.”

Hermione changed the subject hopefully. “Speaking of prophecies, what about this dream, Harry? Jess’s, I mean.”

“It was nice you were finally letting me in and all,” Ginny smiled, “but I would have appreciated some sort of explanation.”

“Who?” Ginny asked.

Ron explained about Jessica’s propensity for true/prophetic dreams while Harry searched his trunk, eventually pulling out piece of Muggle paper, half-covered in neat handwriting.

Hermione took it and read it through. “The pits of dark are seeded, this warning must be heeded, touch of cup brings respite’s end, and love and strength are keys to mend.”

“What?” James asked.

Lily frowned. “That’s a bit more prophetic than the one in third year, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s a warning about something …” Jen said with a frown.

“Thanks, Jen, we hadn’t noticed.” Sirius muttered, rolling his eyes.

Jen glared at him and continued, “Something that will happen at the touch of a cup. But what cup?”

“Maybe it’s a warning about the Dark Mark.” Remus suggested. “‘Pits of dark are seeded’ could be referring to the Death Eaters getting restless. And the cup could be the Quidditch World Cup.”

Regulus sighed. “You do realise that I’m about to read about this lot trying to figure it out as well, don’t you?”

“Go on then.” Jen said neutrally, not looking at him.

She pulled a face. “You’re right, Harry. This is much more cryptic than the last one. Although you did tell me that one in hindsight, which may have made it a bit easier for us.

“That’s true.” Lily conceded.

Anything else?”

Harry sighed. “Well, yes and no. She said that she couldn’t see anything, just hear it. It was like a voice talking in her ear, but before and after that poem was recited, the voice was too quiet to really hear, except a few words that were shouted.” He pointed to the next line.

“Red … rat … grim … heed warning …” Hermione pulled a face “… betrayal … end respite … cup.”

Lily frowned, mouthing the words to herself. “Well, red, rat and grim obviously refer to the end of third year, possibly …” She shook her head. “I’ve got nothing though.”

She sighed. “I honestly have nothing.”

“You’re not the only one.” James said with a weak smile.
Ginny held out her hand. “Can I try?”

Hermione shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”

Ginny ran her gaze over the page several times. “When did she have it?”

Harry frowned thoughtfully. “June, I think.”

“So about the time you found out about Sirius.” Ginny concluded, frowning at the page. “Is that ‘grim’ with a capital letter?

“Is there a difference?” Sirius asked.

“A large one, dear.” Addie rolled her eyes. “Between an adjective and a noun.”

Because if it is,” she continued, not giving Harry a chance to respond, “then it could refer to everyone’s favourite fugitive.”

“I’m your favourite?” Sirius asked, pretending to be overly flattered.

Ginny smiled. “Well, of course you are. Of course, you are the only fugitive I know, so that might have something to do with it.”

“Probably.” Addie agreed.

“How?” Ron asked blankly.

Hermione sighed wearily. “Grim without a capital letter is an adjective, Ron, meaning dismal or gloomy. Grim with a capital letter is a proper noun, meaning a large black dog. As in the kind Trelawney insisted was following Harry all last year.”

“Don’t say that!” Lily groaned. “You’ll prove Harry right, and I really don’t want to think about that prophecy!”

“And he was.” Harry put in slightly smugly. “Makes that prophecy seem a bit more genuine, doesn’t it?”

“See?” Lily sighed.
Hermione just rolled her eyes. “You’re right, Gin. And running with that line, the red would be your family – redheads …

“Missed the obvious.” Hermione admitted with a smile.

… and the rat would be Wormtail.” She stood up from Harry’s bed and began pacing, which wasn’t easy in the small space. “Harry, did Jess write those words down in the order she heard them?”

“I think so.” Harry confirmed.

“With flashes of colour.” Harry added. “Rather than pictures. She said there was a lot of red, but also some black, brown, green and grey.”

“Why?”

Hermione sighed. “Because ‘heed warning’, coupled with that poem, seems to refer to something that’s going to happen. Now, if the word ‘betrayal’ came first, then it could refer to Wormtail. But it came afterwards.” Her gaze swept over them, resting on Ron a fraction of a second longer than Ginny and Harry.

Fred raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“I’d picked up more bad emotions from him than the other two.” Hermione shrugged. “Well, from Ginny, really. Obviously it wasn’t Harry, or Jess wouldn’t be warning him.”

“There may well be a split here.”
“Never.” Harry stated simply.

“That’s what I would have said.” James murmured, glancing at the empty seat beside Mandy, where Peter had once sat.

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Harry,” she said gently, “don’t you think that’s what the Marauders once said?”

“Come on, Hermione.” Ron rolled his eyes. “None of us is going to betray him to You-Know-Who.”

“There are different kinds of betrayal, Ron.” Ginny said quietly.

Ron looked uncomfortable. “Well, maybe. But some of those words are repeated in that poem. What cup’s it talking about?

“Could be the House Cup.” Sirius suggested. “Or the Quidditch Cup.”

And what’s a respite?”

“It’s a temporary suspension of something.” Hermione recited.

Ron shook his head. “I swear you’re a walking dictionary.

“Just like Moony.” Sirius joked.

Addie swatted him over the head. “Shut up, Padfoot.”

In English, please?”

Ginny rolled her eyes and swatted her brother on the head. “Honestly, Ron. A respite is when there’s a pause in something. In this case, this temporary holiday you three have had from danger is going to end, and you’ll be right back in the thick of it.”

Lily sighed, resigning herself to the fact that her son would be in danger yet again. “Oh, alright! But I don’t like it.”

“Story of my life.” Harry muttered. “Do you think it means the Quidditch World Cup? Could it be a warning about the Death Eaters?”

Remus and Harry exchanged a smile.

“I don’t think so.” Hermione sighed. “That first line – the pits of dark are seeded – I think it’s talking about the prophecy, Harry.”

“Oh, so you believe in Trelawney now then.” Harry teased.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I believe Jess, Harry. Besides, what happened at the Cup wasn’t personal. All through the summer, I’ve felt that something awful’s going to happen, and I still have that feeling.”

“You weren’t the only one.” Harry muttered.

As the four sank into silence, Hermione sank back onto the bed and closed her eyes. As much as it pained her to admit it, she knew she was right. This ride was only just beginning.

“And we have yet another cliff-hanger.” Regulus commented, closing the book.