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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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“Here.” David took the book and turned it to the next page.

Chapter Fourteen

Revelations

Everyone sat up straight, wondering what was going to be revealed in the next few pages.

The rest of the summer passed in a blur of activity, Ginny’s birthday …

“August 11th.” Ginny put in, seeing a few curious glances her way.

… and trying to figure out how possessions had spread across the house so thoroughly.

Addie laughed. “Ours always do that.”

Illusions to something happening at Hogwarts were made several times …

“That’s just mean.” James frowned.

… but, unfortunately, by September 1st, they were no closer to figuring out what this mysterious event was.

Lily looked thoughtful. “Any ideas?”

David shook his head. “If it’s what I think it is, I dread to think what the Ministry’s thinking.”

“The Ministry can think?” Addie asked innocently. She knew what had happened, thanks to Cedric’s tale, but she still didn’t have all the details.

Nor did she want to hear them, given that the Tournament had ended with the Killing Curse.

It had taken every ounce of control she had not to grab Harry in a tight hug when she first arrived and not let go.

Hermione really wasn’t that bothered about what was going to happen. She was far too distracted by Jess’s dream, by Malfoy’s emotions and by Narcissa’s note.

“So sorry.” Draco drawled. “I didn’t mean to confuse you.”
“But it’s a welcome side effect?” Hermione guessed with a smirk.

At Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters, Fred made one last-ditch effort. “Tell us what’s happening at Hogwarts!” He called out of the window as the train began to move.

“Not going to work.” Sirius chuckled. “Nice try though.”

But Molly, Charlie and Bill just waved and, before the Express had rounded the corner, they had disappeared.

Disappointed, Fred and George disappeared to find Lee Jordan and Ginny wandered off with her friends. Hermione, Ron and Harry found an empty compartment and stowed their luggage away, trying to ignore the rain pounding on the window.

Remus grimaced. “Sounds like a nice day to go back to school.”

“At least they don’t have anyone eavesdropping this time.” Jen murmured to him, causing her boyfriend to grin sheepishly.

Ron grumbled something under his breath, but Hermione didn’t hear what he said …

“Oh, I heard.” Hermione smirked. “I just wasn’t paying attention.”

… she was too busy staring at the horrible maroon, lacy … thing that he’d thrown over Pig’s cage in an attempt to shut the tiny owl up. “What in Merlin’s name are those?”

“My dress robes.” Ron answered …

“Oh dear.” Lily sighed, as Fred sniggered at the memory.

… glaring at her as if daring her to make a comment.

Hermione nodded with a slight smirk. “They’re interesting.”

“Oh, shut up!” Ron snapped.

Hermione began to retort that her own weren’t exactly the epitome of fashion …

“Mum bought me some.” Hermione explained, seeing everyone’s questioning glances. “But they had to meet my father’s approval first, so …”

“Hello, turtleneck.” Jen rolled her eyes.

“Exactly.” Hermione agreed.

Addie chuckled. “I guess Jen never got that memo.”
Sirius sighed. “You are never going to let me live that down, are you?”

“What happened?” Jen asked, half-intrigued, half in dread.

Addie smirked. “They had a Christmas Eve Ball in seventh year. Now I would not have said your dress robes were that low-cut, but you and Mr. Overprotective here had a blazing row in the Common Room about how appropriate they were. Long story short, I came down in robes with exactly the same neckline and he promptly shut up.”

Jen chuckled. “Well, he’s always been a bit of a hypocrite.”

… when…

“Ssh!” Harry hissed suddenly.

A familiar voice was floating through the open door. “… Father actually considered sending me to Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts. Well, you know his opinion of Dumbledore … the man’s such a Mudblood lover and Durmstrang doesn’t admit that sort of riff-raff. But Mother didn’t like the idea of me going to school so far away.

“Or to a school like that.” Narcissa frowned.

Father says Durmstrang students actually learn them, not the Defence rubbish we do.

“Not really.” Jen frowned. “It’s definitely not what the Ministry would sanction, but then very little is.”

Far more sensible, in his opinion …”

Now she was aware of it, Hermione could hear the mocking tone in his voice when he talked about ‘Mudbloods’ and quoted his father’s rather scathing view of their headmaster.

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Was it that obvious?”

“No.” Hermione answered.

Thoroughly irritated that she didn’t know what was going on with Draco Malfoy, Hermione got up and slid the door closed. “So he thinks Durmstrang would have suited him, does he? I wish he had gone, then we wouldn’t have to put up with him.” She muttered …

Hermione winced. “Sorry.”

Draco shrugged. “You’ve wounded me.” He told her flatly. “I may never recover.”

… feeling uncharacteristically vindictive.

“Durmstrang’s another wizarding school?” Harry asked.

“Read, Harry.” Hermione sighed.

“Yes.” Hermione answered, sitting down again. “According to An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe, it puts a lot of emphasis on the Dark Arts.”

“That’s true.” Sirius conceded.

“I think I’ve heard of it.” Ron added casually. “What country’s it in?”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Well, nobody knows, do they?”

“Er … why not?” Harry asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “There’s traditionally a lot of rivalry between all the magic schools. Durmstrang and Beauxbatons like to conceal their whereabouts so nobody can steal their secrets.”
“It’s not so much rivalry as it is paranoia.” Jen commented with a smirk.

“Come off it!” Ron started to laugh. “Durmstrang’s got to be about the same size as Hogwarts, how are you going to hide a dirty great castle?”

Fred groaned. “Oh Merlin …”

“Your brother’s name’s Ron, Fred.” Hermione reminded him teasingly.

“But Hogwarts is hidden.” Hermione stated, surprised, as always, by Ron’s lack of knowledge.

“I don’t know why anymore.” Hermione sighed.

I’m the Muggle-born one here.

“We’re both as bad as each other.” Harry pointed out. “But sometimes I wonder why Ron doesn’t know things.”

“Because he doesn’t pay any attention.” Fred sighed. “The whole ‘being pureblood doesn’t matter’ thing sank into his head and he didn’t bother listening to anything else.”

“Everyone knows that … Well, everyone who’s read Hogwarts: A History, anyway.”

Lily chuckled. “Unfortunately, Hermione, that’s not many people.”

“Just you then.” Ron concluded. “So go on – how d’you hide a place like Hogwarts?”

“Same way you hide a place like Grimmauld Place but without the Fidelius Charm.” Sirius answered.

“Or the dark magic.” Jen added.

Sirius chuckled. “The place is the Headquarters of the Light Resistance. We got rid of the dark magic.”
“It’s probably safer with it.” Jen muttered.

Several people gave her a funny look, but Sirius gave a humourless smile. “You’re probably right.”

“It’s bewitched.” Hermione explained. “If a Muggle looks at it, all they’ll see is a mouldering old ruin with a sign over the entrance saying DANGER, DO NOT ENTER, UNSAFE.”

“There have to be Muggle-Repelling Charms on it as well.” Lily commented. “A lot of Muggles – especially teenagers – would take that as a challenge.”

“So Durmstrang’ll just look like a ruin to an outsider too?”

“Unlikely.” Jen disagreed. “They’ll have something similar, but they won’t want exactly the same.”

“Maybe.” Hermione shrugged. “Or it might have Muggle-Repelling Charms on it, like the World Cup Stadium. I bet they’ve made it Unplottable …” She added as an afterthought.

“Probably.” James nodded.

“Come again?” Harry interrupted.

Hermione sighed. “Well, you can enchant a building so it’s impossible to plot on a map, can’t you?”

Harry blinked. “Er … if you say so.”

Lily chuckled fondly. “Oh Harry …”

Hermione shook her head and thought back to Ron’s original question. “I think Durmstrang must be somewhere in the north. Somewhere very cold, because they’ve got fur capes as part of their uniform.”

Harry stared at her. “I don’t even want to know how you know that.”

“I read, Harry.” Hermione sighed.

Ron, of course, wasn’t paying any attention. “Ah, think of the possibilities. It would’ve been so easy to push Malfoy off a glacier and make it look like an accident.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I love Ron, but I swear he doesn’t think before he speaks sometimes.”
Draco shrugged. “I’d have said the same thing about him.”

Shame his mother likes him.”

Hermione bit back a disapproving remark …

“That must’ve been hard.” Harry teased.

… and went back to staring out of the window. The further north they went, the heavier the rain became.

Mandy sighed. “Good start to the term.”

“Not particularly.” Hermione grimaced, rubbing her neck. “Peeves decided it would be a good time to throw water balloons.”

“One of them hit you?” Lily asked sympathetically.

“No, McGonagall came running out to yell at him, skidded across the floor and grabbed hold of me for balance,” Hermione answered, Harry sniggering next to her.

By mid afternoon, the lanterns had been lit just to allow them to see clearly. Seamus, Dean and Neville had joined them and the boys were sitting among empty sweet wrappers, talking nothing but Quidditch.

“What else is there to talk about?” Draco asked flatly.

Harry pointed to him. “Exactly my point.”

Uninterested with the conversation, Hermione was buried in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4.

“You’ve got time.” Harry told her. “You’re smart enough to not need the whole train journey to study.”

Hermione just smirked.

However, she wasn’t reading it.

“Wait, what?” Harry frowned. “But you … we … if you …”

David chuckled. “Why don’t I put you out of your misery, Harry?”

Instead, she was composing a letter to one of her year-mates and trying to disguise her handwriting. She’d have to be careful, though; Harry and Ron might trust her judgement, but they still wouldn’t be happy about her corresponding with Draco Malfoy, of all people.

Harry shook his vehemently and Hermione rolled her eyes.

“How were you planning on getting it to him?” Narcissa asked curiously.

Hermione smiled. “He’s predictable.”

She vaguely heard Neville telling the others how lucky they were, because his grandmother hadn’t let him go, and saw, out of the corner of her eye, Ron showing him the model of Viktor Krum.

Harry and Hermione exchanged a smirk.

“Saw him right up close too.” Ron was saying excitedly. “Show him what he gave you, Harry! Hermione translated for the Bulgarian Minister.” He explained to the other three. “He introduced them.”

“How’d you end up doing that?” Dean asked, when Hermione glanced up at her name.

Hermione turned slightly pink. It hadn’t been a conscious decision.“He was giving me a headache.” She grimaced. “It just sort of happened. He spoke English anyway – just didn’t like Fudge.”

Over the sniggering, Harry pulled a Snitch out of his trunk. “Look.”

Dean gasped. “That’s not …”

“That is!” Seamus gaped. “He gave you the game-Snitch?!”

Harry nodded, a broad grin on his face.

Hermione buried her face back in her book, hiding a frown.

“How can you frown about that?” James asked faintly.

It wasn’t the action that bugged her, but the exchange that followed …

“Ah.” James sighed.

Hermione sighed, pushing her concern about Ron out of her mind, and focused her attention back on disguising her handwriting. Now the only problem lay with actually getting the note to him.

Shouldn’t be too hard.

“We were right up in the Top Box …” Ron was saying.

“For the first and last time in your life, Weasley.”

“Like I said,” Hermione said as everyone turned to look at Draco, “he’s predictable.”

Hermione glanced up and suppressed a smirk. Draco Malfoy and his two cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, had predictably appeared in the doorway.

“Don’t remember asking you to join us, Malfoy.” Harry said coolly, putting the Snitch back in his trunk.

“Weasley, what is that?” Draco asked, pointing at Pig’s cage. Ron’s dress robes were still covering it, one lacy sleeve swaying with the motion of the train.

The boys winced.

“Bad timing.” Jen grimaced.

While he was distracted, Hermione flicked her wand and floated the disguised note into the pocket of his robes. Trouble with your father? You’re not alone. A friend.

“Subtle.” Regulus commented sarcastically.

Hermione rolled her eyes, taking the remark with as much malice as had been intended. “Gimme a break – I was a fourteen-year-old Gryffindor.”

Ron turned red and tried to stuff the robes out of sight, but Draco was too quick for him and grabbed them.

“Look at this!” He held them up to show Crabbe and Goyle. “Weasley, you weren’t thinking of wearing these, were you? I mean, they were very fashionable in about 1890 …”

“Of course he wasn’t.” Hermione cut in, before Ron could say anything.

“I really wish you wouldn’t do that.” Draco sighed. “It’s fun riling him up.”

Hermione gave him a stern look, before Narcissa could. “That doesn’t make it right.”

Draco’s lips twitched. “Yes, Mum.”

“He’s going to magically alter them. Just because he has manners and isn’t about to insult a great-aunt when she sends him gifts doesn’t mean he’s stupid.”

“No, but leaving them out on the train where people like me can see them?” Draco raised an eyebrow.

Hermione inclined her head. “You have a point.”

Draco raised an eyebrow at her and threw the dress robes back. “So, going to enter, Weasley? Going to try and bring a bit of glory to the family name? There’s money involved as well, you know …”

“No …” David broke off. “They didn’t!”

“They did.” Harry said glumly, picking at the frayed denim of his jeans.

“Did what?” James asked. “Dad, what’s happening at Hogwarts?”

David shook his head. “Something incredibly stupid. Whose bright idea was this?”

Hermione shrugged. “Barty Crouch’s, I think.”

“What are you talking about?” Ron snapped.

“Are you going to enter?” Draco repeated. “I suppose you will, Potter; you never miss a chance to show off, do you?” A smile spread across his face. “You don’t know, don’t you? Father heard about it from Cornelius Fudge himself, but then he’s always associated with top people at the Ministry.”

“Seems the Minister isn’t paying too much attention to classified information.” Lily commented.

“That explains so much.” Hermione sighed.

“Oh, you must be talking about what Mr. Bagman was on about.” Hermione said coolly. “Too bad Mr. Crouch stopped him before he could tell us.”

“Now that’s more like it.” Regulus remarked.

“I wouldn’t call that subtlety.” Hermione frowned. “Wasn’t what I was going for, to be honest.”

“No, but still very Slytherin.” Regulus told her with a smile. “Must be the Black in you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Hermione chuckled, as Sirius laughed.

She turned to the other three boys. “Apparently, it’s ‘classified information, until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it’. Clearly, some people have more respect for Ministry guidelines than others. But, in answer to your question, Malfoy, no, I don’t think any of us will enter. The rules have been changed and the only thing that would make Mrs. Weasley that relieved would be if we couldn’t enter.

David looked up.

“Seventeen and over only.” Hermione said, in answer to his unspoken question.
“I really wish you’d stop talking in riddles.” Sirius muttered.

So thank you for your concern; good day.” She watched smugly as the three Slytherins walked out, stunned shock on their faces.

Draco grimaced. “It wasn’t that obvious, was it?”

“Yes.” Harry smirked. “It was a good look for you.”

Ron stood up and slid the door shut so hard that the glass fell out and shattered.

“Sirius.” Addie ‘coughed’ loudly.

“Ron!” Hermione snapped reproachfully. She pulled her wand out and pointed it at the glass. “Repairo!” The glass flew back into the door.

“Well, making it look like he knows everything and we don’t …” Ron snarled.

“Oh, so I did get under his skin.” Draco commented. “That’s good.”

Father’s always associated with the top people at the Ministry. Dad could’ve got a promotion any time he likes; he just likes it where he is!”

“Of course he does.” Hermione soothed.

Hermione grimaced. “That sounded more patronising than I intended it to be.”

“I want to know why he hasn’t made any comment yet about you undermining his father in the Top Box.” Harry frowned.

Draco shrugged. “Didn’t see the point. I quite enjoyed it.”

“With the Bulgarian Minister, do you mean?” Ron checked. “I was wondering that. Unless he doesn’t care.”

Hermione laughed. “I’m a Muggle-born, Ron; of course he’ll care. At least his father will.”

“And we have a winner.” Draco muttered.

“There’s something off about that.” Seamus agreed. “Any ideas?”

“A few.” Hermione admitted cautiously. “But I’d rather keep it to myself for now.” She glanced at Ron. “Just don’t let him get to you.”

“Him! Get to me! As if!” Ron picked up a Cauldron Cake and squashed it into a pulp.

Remus rolled his eyes. “I see he was really taking your advice to heart.”
“He always does.” Hermione agreed solemnly.

By the time they reached the Great Hall, all the students were soaking, but Hermione, Ron and Harry had, unfortunately, been caught up in Peeves’s water-balloon attack. In addition, Hermione’s neck was aching, because, in an effort to stop Peeves, McGonagall had skidded on the wet floor and had grabbed Hermione to stop herself from falling.

Hermione rubbed her neck again.

The Sorting and the feast were uneventful, except for Nearly-Headless Nick revealing that house-elves worked in the kitchen.

“So Hermione decided to stage a one-woman protest and refused to eat.” Harry finished.

Hermione sniffed. “That was not what I was going to do.”

Hermione’s original plan was to find out what house-elves really were and if the Hogwarts elves were treated well; a hunger strike was not originally on her list. But watching Ron eat was enough to put anyone off their food.

Harry grimaced. “True. That’s why I usually sit next to him, rather than opposite.”

When everyone had reached the ‘toying-with-desert’ stage, the puddings disappeared and Dumbledore stood up, beaming at them as he did every year and everyone stopped talking.

“So! Now we are all fed and watered …”

Regulus rolled his eyes. “What are they, horses?”

Hermione snorted. What are we? Horses?

Regulus blinked in surprise as Sirius burst out laughing. Addie sniggered. “Must be the Black in you.” She said, repeating Regulus’s earlier comment.

“… I must once more ask for your attention, while I give out some notices. Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended …

“When has it not?” James sighed.

… to include Screaming Yo-Yos, Fanged Frisbees and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs.

“Damn, they’re good as well.” Sirius frowned.

“I’m surprised they’re not already on the list.” Alice commented.

The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr Filch's office, if anybody would like to check it.”

“We should totally do that.” James grinned.

“Why?” Lily asked. “To freak Filch out or to work out what you need to smuggle in?”

James thought for a second. “Both.”

Dumbledore’s eyes seemed to twinkle even more than usual. “As ever, I would like to remind you all that the Forest in the grounds is out-of-bounds to all students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.

Harry frowned. “I don’t remember that ever being mentioned before.”

Hermione shrugged. “Neither was the forbidden objects list, I don’t think.”

It is also my painful duty to inform you that the inter-house Quidditch Cup will not take place this year.”

“WHAT?!”

Lily and Addie both winced. “Ow!”
“Sirius!”

“Sorry Lils.” James muttered automatically, still staring in horror at the book.

“They … Quidditch … cancelled … Why?!” Sirius demanded.

Addie sighed, squeezing his hand. “I don’t know. It’ll be okay. I’m sure there’s a reason for it.”

Hermione winced …

“Really?” Mandy asked. “I didn’t think you liked Quidditch that much.”

“I don’t.” Hermione smirked. “It was everyone else I was worried about.”

… and shut her empathy off – she’d been getting better at doing this on command – and prepared her eardrums for the expected outburst to erupt.

“Ah.” Mandy nodded. “That makes sense.”

But it didn’t. Everyone in the Great Hall appeared too shocked for words.

“I don’t blame them.” James whispered, rubbing his chest as though a heart attack was imminent.

“This is due to an event that will be starting in October, and continuing through the school year, taking up much of the teachers’ time and energy.” Dumbledore explained; Hermione felt a stab of foreboding.

“You and me both.” David sighed. “I can’t believe they were so stupid …”

“I’m sure you will enjoy it immensely.

“I’m not.” Harry muttered.

I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts …”

At that moment …

“No!” Sirius groaned. “What’s happening at Hogwarts?”

… the Headmaster was cut off by a deafening rumble of thunder and the doors of the Great Hall flew open.

Shadowed in the doorway, shrouded in a black travelling cloak, a man stood, leaning on a staff.

Lily gasped. “Who …?”

As a flash of lightning illuminated the Hall, the man lowered his hood, shook out long grizzled, dark-grey hair, then made his way up to the head table; a dull clunk sounded on every alternate step. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling as the man limped towards Dumbledore, throwing his face into relief and Hermione gasped.

“Oh Merlin …” Addie whispered.

“Relax.” Hermione said calmly. “It’s just our Defence teacher.”

Harry snorted under his breath.

It looked as though it had been carved out of weathered wood by someone who had no idea how to use a chisel and had never seen a human face.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Interesting description.”

Every inch of skin seemed to be scarred. The mouth looked like a diagonal gash and a large chunk of his nose was missing.

“What happened?” Jen asked.

David frowned. “I don’t know. He could well be an ex-auror … which would make him a good choice for DADA, but it sounds like I’d work with him and I don’t recognise that description. Do I know him?”

Hermione smirked slightly, remembering what James had said about Moody during the first book. “Yes, you know him.”

But it was the man's eyes that made him frightening.

One of them was small, dark and beady. The other was large, round as a coin, and a vivid, electric blue. The blue eye was moving carelessly, without blinking, and was rolling up, down and from side to side, quite independently of the normal eye – and then it rolled right over, pointing into the back of the man's head, so that all they could see was whiteness.

Lily shuddered. “That must be creepy.”

“Oh, it is.” Hermione agreed fervently. “But you get used to it.”
Harry gave her a funny look.

“Mad-Eye’s in the Order.” She explained. “I’ve seen him over the summer.”

“Mad-Eye?” James repeated. “Appropriate nickname. Know him, Dad?”

David shook his head. “No. Not by that name, anyway. He’s probably not lost his eye yet.”

Hermione shuddered slightly as the man shook Dumbledore’s hand, exchanged a few quiet words with him, then took the seat next to him, spearing a sausage on a knife he pulled from his pocket. His blue eye darted around the Hall all the while.

“Allow me to introduce our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” Dumbledore announced into the silent Hall.

David’s eyes widened. “I don’t believe it.”

“What?” James asked.

“Professor Moody.”

“Moody?” James repeated. “As in your boss?”

“Must be.” David looked at those from the future questioningly, and they nodded. “Well, his appearance makes sense then – he’s never been one to stand on the side-lines. But surely he’s retired by now?”

Hermione smiled slightly. “Technically, yes. He got incredibly paranoid.”

“CONSTANT VIGILENCE!” Fred and Ginny shouted together.

Everyone jumped, except David, who laughed. “He’s still on about that?”
“He’s become more paranoid over the years.” Sirius informed him with a smirk.

“Didn’t think that was possible.” David murmured, finding his place again.

Dumbledore and Hagrid clapped, but everyone else – even the other teachers – seemed to be in too much shock to react. Moody seemed completely oblivious to this, as he pulled a hip-flask from his pocket and took a swig, revealing, as he did, several inches of wooden leg.

Jen winced. “He’s really been through the wars, hasn’t he?”

“He’s a bit of an extreme example.” Sirius conceded. “Most aurors aren’t nearly that bad.”

“Moody?” Harry muttered. “Not Mad-Eye Moody? The one your Dad went to help this morning?”

“Ah, the exploding dustbins.” Hermione remembered under her breath.

David looked up. “What?”

“Dad got a floo call to say that Mad-Eye had heard intruders and his dustbins had been booby-trapped to explode.” Fred explained.

“Shouldn’t MLE have been called in?” Remus asked.

“With Moody’s paranoia, it was probably a cat.” Hermione explained. “It was best to just skip the middle man and send Mr Weasley straight in so he could smooth everything over, since Muggle law enforcement had been pulled in.”

“Must be.” Ron nodded, sounding awed.

Hermione shook her head. “What happened to him? What happened to his face?”

“Death Eaters.” Harry answered bluntly.

“Dunno.” Ron whispered.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, but all eyes were still on the new teacher. “As I was saying, we are to have the honour of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months, an event which has not been held for over a century.

David scowled.

It is my great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year.”

“What’s the Triwizard Tournament?” Lily asked curiously, as James and Sirius cheered.

“It’s a competition between the three main schools in Europe – Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.” Jen answered, looking excited. “A champion is selected from each school and competes in three tasks. Winner gets a thousand galleons.”
“It was cancelled because the death toll got too high.” David said sharply, causing everyone’s excitement to dim.

“Harry, I forbid you to even think about entering that tournament!” Lily told him in a high voice.

Harry smiled slightly. “Don’t worry, Mum. I vaguely wondered what it’d be like to win, but I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime to want to enter.”

Two weeks later …

Harry raised an eyebrow. “They missed the uproar over ‘of age only’.”

“What’s to miss?” Hermione shrugged. “Everyone in sixth year who turned seventeen after October argued and Dumbledore warned us that the ‘impartial judge’ couldn’t be hoodwinked.”

… Hermione found herself walking down a corridor she had never been down before, thinking over everything. Maybe she was taking the house-elf thing too far. She still didn’t know everything about the wizarding world; maybe Ron was right.

Fred gasped. “No! Say it isn’t so!”

“They’re used to it!”

She rolled her eyes. That doesn’t make it right.

“That’s true.” Lily agreed.

Still, maybe the library would yield evidence that house-elf magic worked that way.

“It will.” Regulus said. “Or at least it should.”

Maybe she could just protest about how some people treated them … yes, that was a good idea.

“You’re ambitious.” Narcissa commented. “I’ll give you that.”

But she couldn’t still shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen.

“Still?” Jen asked.

Hermione nodded. “It wouldn’t leave me alone.”

 Maybe it was Hagrid’s new pets; Blast-Ended Skrewts.

“I’m sorry, what?” Lily asked.

“Blast-Ended Skrewts.” David repeated. “I’ve never heard of them.”
“That’s because they’re not entirely legal.” Hermione said with a slight groan. “Hagrid thought it would be a good idea to cross a manticore with a fire-crab.”

“What?” Jen asked faintly.

“Yeah, they burnt, stung, bit and travelled around by exploding their tails and propelling forwards.” Harry frowned. “I think it was their tail. They didn’t seem to have faces.”

“You forgot that the females sucked blood.” Hermione said with a straight face.

“It’d be alright if they turned out to cure cancer or something though, wouldn’t it?” Draco asked with a smirk.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You know full well I just said that to shut you up.”

Hermione wouldn’t have minded this nearly as much if it weren’t for the fact that she couldn’t find any mention of the damn things anywhere in the library.

Draco developed a mysterious coughing fit. “Illegal cross-breeds.”

Maybe it was the Tournament, she reasoned. Maybe she was still caught up in the ‘death toll’.

The rules had changed; Dumbledore wouldn’t allow students to get hurt on Hogwarts grounds anyway.

Jen gave a derisive snort. “Yeah, there was just the jinxed broom, the three-headed dog, the troll, the chess set, the basilisk, Lockhart, Dementors and a mass-murderer hiding in the Gryffindor dorms.”

But the prize …

It wasn’t the money that worried her; it was the cup. “Touch of cup brings respite’s end.”

Lily shuddered. “Oh, I’d forgotten about that.”

Of course, it could also have had something to do with Moody teaching them about the Unforgivable Curses …

“What?!” David broke off and looked up. “You were in fourth year!”
Harry nodded, staring at the floor. “He demonstrated them on spiders. Said we needed to know.”

Lily looked furious. “He cast the Killing Curse in front of you?!”

Harry nodded again. “And made a point of telling me that I was the only person to survive it. I just kept seeing you and Dad …”

Lily wrapped her arms around him, stifling her own sob.

Alice was staring at Neville in horror. “He showed you the … the Cruciatus …?”

Neville flinched, but nodded.

Closing her eyes, Alice mimicked Lily’s movements, holding the boy close despite their close ages. “Do I … Do I recognise you at all?”

“Sometimes …” Neville whispered, clinging to her. “Sometimes I think you might. You give me a gum-wrapper whenever I go to see you.”

“Droobles?” Alice guessed with a smile. “My favourite.”  She squeezed his shoulder. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“’m alright.” Neville mumbled. “Professor Moody took me for a cup of tea in his office afterwards – we didn’t talk about it, but he told me that Professor Lupin had mentioned that I’m really interested in Herbology and that he had a book I might be interested in.”
Alice beamed. “That was nice of him.”

Harry leaned over to Hermione. “Did we ever tell Neville about …?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “How am I supposed to know? I left early, remember?”

“He demonstrated the Unforgivables in front of fourth years?!” David scowled. “He hates performing them in front of aurors.”

“Times change.” Harry shrugged. “People change.”

Hermione hid a smirk at another ambiguous statement. Harry was getting good at these.

David didn’t look happy, but accepted this answer and kept reading.

Hermione …

Hermione started as her name echoed through the corridor. Who said that? And where am I?

Everyone sat up straighter. “Is this when you …?” Harry trailed off.

“When you what?” Neville asked, slightly confused.

Hermione smiled apologetically at him. “I would’ve told you, but I knew the story would bring it up soon and I’d already explained it twice.”

Neville nodded understandingly. “That’s fine.”

Tentatively, she kept walking, glancing around her. A door stood open at the end of the corridor and she peered around it. Four people, shimmering like ghosts, were standing in front of her.

“Did you know?” Harry asked.

Hermione shook her head. “The shock came from knowing they weren’t ghosts. Ghosts don’t have colour unless they’re poltergeists.”

“Holy Merlin…” Hermione whispered, taking a few steps forward. A gust of wind blew the door shut behind her and she jumped.

“Hermione Jane, welcome.” One of the men greeted solemnly.

“Er, thank you, sir.” Hermione curtsied, having read a lot of period stories when she was younger. “May I ask who you are and why I’m here?” Wherever ‘here’ is.

“Surely it was a part of Hogwarts.” James pointed out.

Hermione shrugged. “Not on the Map.”

The Marauders gasped as though she had personally offended them.

Hermione rolled her eyes with a fond smile. “I think it only appears when they want it to.”

The four smiled at her, instantly putting her at ease.

“You may.” The man agreed. “Please, take a seat.”

“Thank you.” Hermione seated herself in the chair that appeared behind and took a good look at the people in front of her, under the cover of adjusting her robes.

“Sneaky.” Jen smirked.

The man who had spoken had wild red hair and a beard; he reminded her a little of the lion Aslan in the Narnia stories …

Hermione pointed at the book that was still on the table in the middle. “Those stories.”

… in that there was an air of strength around him that made one respect him and yet he seemed kind and gentle. The other man was bald, but with a long beard that almost reached the floor.

Regulus sucked in a breath, but said nothing.

Of the two women, one was tall and willowy with long dark hair, the other was short and plump with tightly curled red hair. She’d seen them somewhere before, or maybe she hadn’t, but either way, they seemed familiar.

“Had you?” Harry asked.

Hermione frowned. “That’s the odd thing – I’m sure I haven’t. I think it’s just the fact that they’re so … ingrained in the castle that you know them subconsciously.”

“As to our identities,” the dark-haired woman began, “you know of us, but have never met us.”

“And once she said that, I knew.” Hermione said quietly. “Like it just popped into my head.”

And suddenly, Hermione did know who they were, as though she’d known all along.

Hermione nodded emphatically, ignoring the fact that she’d just said much the same thing.

“Lady Ravenclaw …” She whispered. “Lady Hufflepuff. Lord Gryffindor. Lord Slytherin. May I enquire as to why you are appearing to me, of all people?”

“You may.” Rowena smiled. “But you can drop the formality, my dear.

“Thank Merlin.” Hermione laughed. “I didn’t think I could keep it up for much longer.”
“You’ll have to when you reach the Wizengamot.” David pointed out.

Hermione stopped laughing. “Erm … pardon?”

Sirius nudged her. “You may well need to take the Black seat.”

“Oh.” Hermione repeated faintly.

We wanted to warn you.”

“Warn me?” Hermione asked.

“You’re an empath.” Salazar told her. “More importantly, you’re the first pure-of-heart empath to pass through these doors.

“Why’s that important?” James asked.

“Because I’m the first that the castle will allow to pick up on her responses.” Hermione answered automatically.

You’ll be more sensitive to the magic of the castle, because we put some of ourselves into her. Unlike your empathy, you can’t shut this out. It will be painful, but we have no doubt that you can handle it. Hogwarts needs someone to listen to her.”

Sirius let out a low whistle. “Bloody Hell. That’s a big ask, isn’t it?”

“We sorted students, because there were certain qualities we knew how to nurture.” Helga continued. “Hogwarts is no longer united. Our history has become so warped, you can no longer distinguish truth from rumour.”

Hermione swallowed hard. “As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can unite the houses on my own.”

“Of course not.” Godric agreed.

“Oh good.” Arabella commented. “At least they realise that you have your limits.”

“But you can make a start. You already have.”

Hermione frowned in thought. Then it hit her. “You mean the note?

“They saw that?” Draco asked in surprise.

Hermione shrugged. “Probably sensed you had it when you walked in. She’s good at doing that.”

“Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff?” Lily asked.

Hermione shook her head. “Neither; the castle.”

But I don’t even know if he read that.”

“It’s still a start.” Salazar told her. “Now we’ll give you a tool to deal with the pain of listening to Hogwarts in a minute.

“What was it?” Neville asked.

“You’ll see.” Hermione smirked, seeing everyone else’s confused expressions – she knew she’d told them this already.

Of course, a lot had happened since then.

First of all … Rowena?”

Helga smiled faintly at Hermione. “Rowena’s a Seer. Thankfully, it was never passed down to her descendants.”

Rowena had stiffened; she closed her eyes and her voice became flat. “The true leader of the light is hidden … her mind is locked away, but her gift is not … answers shall be revealed in the place where the fire maid almost met her doom …

“Okay …” Lily frowned. “What?”

“Well …” Jen looked thoughtful. “The last part must refer to the Chamber of Secrets. Fire maid – red hair – Ginny. Sorry,” she added as an aside to the girl in question.

Ginny smiled at her. “It’s fine.”

“As for the first part …” Jen shook her head. “The leader of the light is supposed to be Dumbledore, but … the prophecy seems to be disagreeing with that.”

“And a woman at that.” Regulus commented. “That’ll shake things up.” He held up his hands at the glares he received from the females in the room. “Because the magical world is a predominantly patriarchal society. Some people will have trouble accepting that.”

Her eyes flew open and she started coughing harshly. “I hate it when that happens.”

Hermione pulled a piece of parchment from her bag and scribbled the prophecy down. “Won’t the Ministry now have a copy of this?”

“I’m dead, remember?” Rowena winked at her. “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.”

Hermione smiled. “I…er…I don’t suppose you know what this all means.”

Arabella chuckled. “Don’t think you’ll get that lucky, dear.”

Helga laughed. “Oh, I like this one. No, dear, you’ll have to figure it out yourself. As for how we’re here, we put so much magic into the school that we can’t really leave it. But we’re not ghosts, so we may only be seen by empaths and our heirs, if we choose to appear to them. You’re the first, actually, now I come to think about it.”

“Impressive.” Regulus commented.

“Now to dull the pain. Stand up, my dear.” Godric stated, waving his hand. “Think the words Animagus Transformo.

Hermione did as instructed and heard a small pop, similar to when Sirius turned into Padfoot.

“Damn, that’s a lot easier than what we did.” Jen grimaced.

Her vision appeared to have changed, her sense of smell was sharper and her posture was different; she was now crouched on all fours.

Helga conjured a full-length mirror and Hermione saw that she was now a dark-brown lioness with chocolate-brown eyes. She concentrated on her human form, hoping it would turn her back, and, with a soft pop, it did. “Thank you, sir.”

“And now that you’ve transformed once, you won’t need the incantation next time.” Salazar told her kindly.

“Whoa, really?” Harry asked. “Is that possible?”

Hermione swatted his shoulder. “Be nice.”

“Ordinarily, we would have advised you to study the transformation progress first, but with the other schools arriving and the wards being lowered, you really don’t have the time.”

Hermione couldn’t help herself. “Sir, I have to ask … don’t you hate Muggle-borns?”

Everyone perked up. Aside from Neville, they had all been told his answer, but they were all interested to hear it first-hand.

Rowena and Helga exchanged a mysterious smile …

“What was that for?” Harry asked.

Hermione shrugged. “Probably because they knew I wasn’t Muggle-born.”

… but Salazar shook his head. “I never hated Muggle-borns, Hermione. Given the circumstances at the time, I did suggest that maybe Muggle-borns should be taught in a different school for the first year to introduce them to the wizarding world without putting the rest of us at risk.”

Lily nodded. “That makes sense.”

James frowned. “No it doesn’t.”

Lily sighed. “Maybe not now, James, but when Hogwarts was first founded, Muggles would kill people for having magic, even if they didn’t actually have it.”

“We disagreed because there was already tension between purebloods and Muggle-borns.” Godric sighed. “We thought it would cause more of a problem. One young girl ran away after one term because she was bullied – not for being Muggle-born, but because she was a lot more intelligent than everyone else.”

Lily flinched, knowing what that felt like. James pulled her closer, kissing the side of her head.

Hermione felt a pang of sympathy for the girl. She knew how lonely that could be.

“Her family formed a mob and came after us.” Helga continued, resting a gentle hand on Salazar’s shoulder. “They couldn’t get through the wards, of course, but Salazar’s Muggle-born wife was returning from a trip and they killed her, and their unborn daughter.”

“Poor woman.” Narcissa sympathised.
Hermione gasped in horror, any sympathy dissipating in an instant. “Sweet Merlin!”

“I know.” Rowena agreed heavily. “We were all shocked. Elizabeth was a wonderful young woman and it was an honour to have known her. That was when we developed the Memory Charm to …”

“They developed the Memory Charm?” Jen asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“Neither did I.” David agreed.

“You developed that?” Hermione asked. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Rowena smiled at her. “It’s fine, Hermione. Yes, that was us. We began using it on students who decided to leave. Immoral, maybe, but we had the other students to think of.

David sighed with a grimace. “I guess it was for the best.”

But after that, Salazar left the school to travel the world.”

“Wait, so there was no great argument?” Hermione asked, remembering the story Professor Binns had told them.

Salazar chuckled. “My dear girl, I have argued no more with my friends and colleagues than any other wizard. I assure you that any reports of any altercation have been grossly exaggerated.”

“That was the memory you showed us in the first book.” James realised.

Hermione nodded.

Hermione was now very confused. “But what about the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets?”

“I did build the chamber, that’s true.” Salazar confirmed. “I felt we should have a private library, but never got around to telling the others where to find it.”

“Or how to get into it.” Rowena muttered darkly. “It was my castle.”

“Was it really?” Lily asked. “I always thought it was Gryffindor’s.”

“A lot of people do.” David smiled. “But Hogwarts was originally Ravenclaw Castle.”

Salazar shrugged. “You offered. But I certainly did not put any basilisk in there. That was courtesy of my charming great-grandson.”

“Of course, that’s when the rumours started.” Hermione murmured.

At that moment, the air around her began to shimmer and she jumped.

“A warning. We’ve kept you long enough, my dear.” Rowena said softly. “Tell only those you trust of your encounter with us.”

“Because that’s the sort of thing you normally go around shouting from the rooftops.” Sirius muttered.

“You would.” Addie pointed out sweetly.

“Of course.” Hermione agreed shakily. As if anyone else would believe me.

The room brightened for a moment, making her shield her eyes. When the light had vanished, so had the four founders.

Hermione picked up her bag and left the room, almost in a daze. Had that just been a figment of her imagination?

“I don’t think you could imagine that.” Jen commented. “Even if you tried.”

As she recapped the conversation she’d just had, trying to find something that might tell her that it was all a practical joke, she walked straight into the twins, who caught her before she hit the ground.

“Careful, Mya.”

“Sorry.” Hermione murmured, glancing around and trying to place her location. “Caught in my thoughts.”

“House-elves again?” Fred asked with a sigh.

“You could have told us.” Fred told her.

Hermione smiled sheepishly. “I know. But how was I supposed to tell you what happened when I couldn’t explain it to myself?”

“Good point.” Fred conceded.

“They’re all happy here, Mya. Ask them.”

“I would.” Hermione told him, glad of something to take her mind off the meeting. “But I can’t find any.”

“Quick!” Sirius cried. “Educate her!”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Or just tell her where the kitchens are.”

Fred and George exchanged a loaded glance, before the latter grabbed her arm and steered her down a corridor into the Entrance Hall, then down a flight of stairs into a stone corridor towards a painting of a fruit bowl. “Gred, if you would?”

“Certainly, Forge.” Fred reached out a hand and tickled the pear in the painting. The pear giggled and turned into a handle, which Fred seized and pulled, opening a door into a large kitchen. Five tables were placed exactly like the house tables; Hermione assumed the food was placed on them down here and sent up.

Harry gasped. “You mean you didn’t already know?!”
“As I may have mentioned before,” Hermione said with poise, “Hogwarts: A History never mentions the kitchens. Maybe I should write a revised version.”

“House elves.” George called. “Could I have your attention please?”

The chatter and noise in the kitchen quietened.

“Thanks.” Fred grinned. “Hermione here doesn’t quite understand the wizarding tradition of house-elves at the moment. Are you all happy here?”

“Bit of a trick question, that.” Regulus commented. “Most house-elves would say they were even if they weren’t.”

“But the ones at Hogwarts are very happy.” James added hastily.

“Oh, yes, sirs, miss.” One of the house-elves spoke up. “We is very happy.”

House-elves throughout the room nodded vigorously.

“And you’re well-treated, aren’t you?” George added, sitting down.

More nods.

Hermione sighed in relief and caught sight of the twins’ faces.

Fred looked a little insulted. “What about our faces?”

Hermione sniggered. “You both had that ‘now will you drop it?’ look.”

“Alright, I’ll stop. I guess it’s just because the only two house-elves I’ve ever met weren’t treated very well by their families … but I suppose that’s just from my point of view.”

“No, they weren’t.” James agreed. “But Lucius Malfoy can’t exactly be held up as the average house-elf owner.”

“Neither can Crouch.” Sirius added.

“Sometimes, miss,” the house-elf who had spoken before said hesitantly, “sometimes, miss, masters are cruel and some of us have family who is treated very badly miss, but clothes is a big dishonour, miss.”

Hermione sat down. “What if …” She hesitated. “What if someone could make it so that people had to treat their house-elves well?

“It’ll take some powerful persuasion to get the Wizengamot to agree to it.” Jen warned.

“Careful.” Harry joked. “That sounds like a challenge. And it’s never a good idea to challenge Hermione.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked.

“Just that when you come up against a challenge, you beat it tenfold.” Harry answered with a smile. “Challenge you to win house-elf rights and you’ll probably win rights for every other magical creature as well.”

Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?”

“A good thing, miss.” The house-elf answered. “But not if we was given clothes.”

“What about a uniform?” Fred asked, sounding interested. “You may be on to something, Mya. I don’t think a lot of wizards even know how house-elves became … well, house-elves.

David paused with a frown. “That’s a good point, actually. Anyone here know?”

“We do.” Fred sang, gesturing to Hermione.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “We’ll tell you when we break for lunch, if it’s not said in here.”

Do you know, Kady?”

The house-elf nodded hard. “Oh, yes, sir. We is told of our history by our mothers and they by their mothers.”

“Could…Could you tell us?” Hermione asked. “That is, if you haven’t got work to do.”

Kady looked delighted. “Oh, no, miss. No witch or wizard has ever wanted to know our history before, miss!”

“That’s because most witches and wizards think that house-elves are beneath them.” Hermione muttered.

“We couldn’t have some of those éclairs while you’re telling us, could we?” George asked hopefully.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

Several house-elves appeared next to him with a tray and the three Gryffindors settled down to hear a story that very few wizards cared about.

After the trip to the kitchens …

Lily sighed. “Bother.”

“I’ll tell you later.” Hermione repeated.

… Fred and George escorted Hermione to the library, before disappearing off to do … Merlin knows what.

“Don’t ask.” Arabella advised.

Hermione did a bit more research and found out that there was nothing in wizarding laws about treating house-elves fairly. She tried to find out how to go about getting a law introduced, but there was nothing in the library about the Wizengamot or – when she tried to satisfy her curiosity about the heirs – the Hogwarts founders.

David frowned. “Now that’s very odd. Although I doubt you’d find any mention of the heirs there normally, there were at least five books in my time.”

“There’s more now.” Lily added.

After she had browsed the shelves for half an hour, Madam Pince came over to her. “Miss Granger, what are you looking for?”

Hermione sighed. “Anything about the Hogwarts founders or the Wizengamot.”

Madam Pince raised an eyebrow. “Professor Dumbledore had all books like that removed several years ago. Come to think about it, I think it was the summer before you came. Yes, it was, because Professor McGonagall and I were rather annoyed about it and we had a good chat about that and the fact that Harry Potter would be attending in September, because everything that even mentioned the Potter family was removed as well.”

David’s frown deepened as he read.

“Why were the books removed?” Hermione asked.

“I don’t know.” Madam Pince admitted. “Professor Dumbledore never told me. If it’s absolutely necessary, Flourish and Blotts take owl orders.”

James looked put-out. “She’s never that helpful with us!”

“That’s because you never give her any reason to be.” Lily pointed out sweetly.

“Thank you, Madam Pince.” Hermione walked back to her table and was about to give up, when she was hit with a brainwave.

“Uh oh!” Harry yelped. “She’s had an idea! Duck and cover!”

Hermione rolled her eyes and dragged him out from behind the sofa. “Get up.”

By the time Hermione got back to the Common Room she had decided what she was going to do about house elves. Balancing the box of buttons she’d made in one hand …

“Oh Merlin!” Harry groaned. “Here we go!” He caught Hermione’s eye and hastily added, “Thank goodness! Because someone needs to draw attention to this issue, but for the love of Merlin, Hermione, change the name!”

… and a sheaf of parchment in the other, she picked her way across the Common Room to where Ron and Harry were finishing their Divination homework.

“Translation: trying to work out how many ways they could possibly die.” Fred said dryly.

Crookshanks jumped off of Harry’s lap and wound himself around her legs.

“Hello!” She greeted. “I’ve just finished.”

“So have I!” Ron announced triumphantly, throwing his quill down.

Hermione sat down, dumping her cargo onto the table and pulled Ron’s predictions towards her. It started with developing a cough and got steadily worse. “Not going to have a very good month, are you?” She commented, Crookshanks curling up in her lap.

“That’s the point, Mya.” Fred smirked. “The more misery in there, the happier Trelawney will be.”

“She was ecstatic.” Harry grinned, before scowling. “But then she made us do the next month’s predictions as well.”

Fred grimaced. “Yeah, don’t make it too bad. Otherwise she thinks you’ve actually got the gift and gives you extra work.”

Ron yawned. “Well, at least I’m forewarned.”

Hermione tutted. “You seem to be drowning twice.”

Harry raised an eyebrow and glanced at Hermione, who shrugged. It was a coincidence, that was all.

“Oh, am I?” Ron asked, seeming surprised. “I’d better change one of them to getting trampled by a rampaging hippogriff.”

The Marauders sniggered.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think it’s a bit obvious that you made these up?”

“How dare you?!” Ron gasped. “We’ve been working like house elves here!

“Bad choice of words.” Regulus commented.

It’s just an expression!” He added hastily.

Harry sighed. “Hang on…decapitation!”

Lily winced. “Harry, dear, please try to refrain from predicting your own death.”

He decided, scribbling it down. Dropping his quill and stretching, he pointed at the box Hermione had dropped on the table. “What’s that, Hermione?”

“I’m glad you asked.” Hermione shot a nasty look at Ron and opened the box.

Harry picked up one of the badges. “Spew?

Sirius chuckled. “Yeah, I think Harry has a point with the name.”

“It’s not spew!” Hermione protested, but David read over her.

What’s this about?”

“Not spew.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “S.P.E.W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.”

“Might want to take ‘elf’ out.” Regulus advised. “You’ll get more backers.”

“But ‘Society for the Promotion of Welfare’ doesn’t make sense.” Hermione pointed out.

“Never heard of it.” Ron told her.

“Of course you haven’t.” Hermione agreed. “I’ve only just started it.”

“Anyone want to join?” Hermione asked sweetly.

Fred and Harry both waved their arms behind her, mouthing the word ‘no’ and miming slow painful deaths.

She rolled her eyes. “Just because you’re behind me doesn’t mean I can’t see you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ron sounded interested. That, or surprised.

“Probably surprised.” Ginny said.

Hermione tested the air and sighed. Surprised.

Ginny nodded. “Thought so.”

“How many members have you got?”

This was the hard part. “Well, if you two join, three.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “You think we want to walk around with badges saying ‘spew’, do you?”

“S.P.E.W!” Hermione repeated. “I was going to call it Stop the Outrageous Abuse of Our Fellow Magical Creatures …

“SOAOFMC.” Fred frowned. “That’s actually catchier.”
“Wouldn’t fit on the badges.” Hermione smiled.

… but it wouldn’t fit, so that’s the heading of our manifesto. I’ve been researching and I talked to the house-elves in the kitchens …”

“Hermione, open your ears!” Ron groaned.

“Would he let me finish?” Hermione grumbled.

“They … like … being … enslaved!”

“Yes, they do.” Hermione agreed. “We’re not campaigning to free them. We’re campaigning to change the laws so that they’re treated properly.”

“And how are we going to do this?” Harry asked.

Now that was interested.

Lily beamed at him. “Well done, Harry.”

“We start by recruiting members. I thought two sickles to join – that buys a badge – and the proceeds can fund our leaflet campaign.”

“Not a bad idea.” David commented. “But you’ll need a lot of people behind you before the Ministry listens.”

Harry fished in his pocket and pulled out two sickles. “I’m in.”

Hermione beamed at him. “Thanks, Harry.”

“No problem.” Harry told her, fixing the badge to his robes. “I hated the way Dobby was treated.

“You and me both.” James frowned.

Freeing them isn’t the way to go though.”

“Of course not.” Hermione agreed. “If we can get a mistreatment clause pushed into the contract it’ll be a start. Ron?”

Ron sighed. “Fine. But you’ll have to wait because my money’s in my dorm and I can’t be bothered to move.”

Fred rolled his eyes. “Go with it, Mya; it’s the best you’re going to get.”

“Deal.” Hermione closed the box and leaned forwards. “Harry, can I borrow the Map?”

“Why?” Arabella asked.

“Wanted to find the room I’d been in earlier.” Hermione answered.

“Why?” Harry asked, sounding confused.

Hermione didn’t blame him. She didn’t have a problem with him using the Map (especially since it had been made by his father), but had never used it herself. “I found a room earlier and I don’t think it’s on there.”

Harry frowned. “I thought everything was on there …

“So did we.” James scowled.

“This Room isn’t on it.” Harry pointed out.

James waved it off. “That’s different. I’m fairly sure this Room’s Unplottable.

“And the Chamber of Secrets isn’t on there.” Hermione smirked.

James sighed. “Fine. Sorry none of us wanted to go looking for Slytherin’s monster.”

… but here.”

“Thanks.” Hermione waved her wand over the piece of parchment, whispering the password. The Map formed and she quickly found the kitchens.

“The kitchens?” Jen questioned.

Hermione shrugged. “I figured it was easier to work backwards.”

Let’s see. Fred and George led me down one corridor to the Entrance Hall, so I met them … there. And I came down that flight of stairs … from that corridor … turned right … crossed that empty classroom … along that corridor … up another flight of stairs and …

Hermione frowned. Her finger, tracing her route backwards through the school had come up against a wall.

Remus raised an eyebrow. “You were right. It’s not on the Map.”

“I was right.” She murmured, drawing her wand and tapping it against the markings on the Map. “Unless there’s something hidden there …” Remembering Harry’s story about Snape’s battle with the Map, she decided to try something. “I, Hermione Granger, would like to know if there is any room hidden behind that wall.”

The Marauders straightened up at this.

“You expecting something to happen?” Regulus asked.

Sirius nodded, staring at the book. “Hopefully. We’re not sure what, though. It’s programmed to respond with insults to certain people …”

“Like Snape.” Addie put in dryly.

“… and it recognises pranksters – we’d have given Fred and George hints …” Sirius glanced at Fred, who nodded. “But we’ve never tested this before, except with us.”

As though responding to her question, the Map vanished and writing began to appear on the page. Mr Padfoot would like to inform Miss Granger that the Marauders know of no hidden room in that part of the castle.

James sighed, sitting back. “I was expecting something more … something.”

David smiled. “I’m not done yet.”

Mr Prongs would like to add that if Miss Granger has found a hidden room in that part of the castle, then he takes his hat off to her. Or would if he was wearing one.

Lily giggled.

Hermione giggled. “No, it’s not on here.”

Harry read the words over her shoulder and tapped the parchment with his own wand. “My name is Harry Potter.”

“I wonder how you’ll respond to that.” Mandy whispered. “Would you recognise the name?”

Immediately the words changed:

Mr Prongs would like to enquire whether Mr Potter is his son.

“Apparently.” James grinned.

Mr Moony would like to point out that, having no time-frame, Mr Potter could be Mr Prongs’ grandson.

“Moony!” James whined. “Stop it.”

Mr Prongs would like to ask Mr Moony to stop making him feel old.

“Exactly!” James nodded emphatically.

“James, you do realise you’re agreeing with yourself, don’t you?” Lily asked sweetly.

Mr Padfoot suggests that it sounds like Miss Jade may have finally said yes and asks if Miss Shadow may have followed suit.

“Eventually.” Sirius answered himself with a smile.

Addie was focussing on something else. “That’ll confuse you.”

Mr Moony suggests that Mr Padfoot might want to get over it and welcomes Mr Potter to the Marauders.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Who’s Miss Shadow, do you think? I didn’t think there were any female Marauders.”

“And there are five of us.” Mandy shook her head in mock-sorrow. “See what you’ve done, Remus? You’ve confused the poor kids.”

“Sirius explained as well.” Remus protested.

“No, I was too busy glaring.” Sirius disagreed with a smirk.

“Not asking about Miss Jade then?” Harry asked.

Hermione laughed. “Harry, I’d say that’s obvious. Miss Jade was your mother.”

“How …?” Lily began, but David read over her, predicting her question.

“How’d you know?” Harry pressed. “For all we know, Dad had another girlfriend when they wrote the Map.”

“No.” James answered, seeing Harry look at him. “As much as some people like to think differently …”

Lily, Jen and Addie promptly came down with coughing fits, all of which sounded suspiciously like various girls’ names.

“… I have only ever had eyes for your mother.”

“Sirius only ever had eyes for me, but he dated other girls.” Addie pointed out.

“I wouldn’t call that dating.” Sirius disagreed.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Sweetheart, take my advice – you are never going to win this. Don’t even bother trying.”

Sirius looked at Harry, “Take my advice – always do what women tell you.”
“Sirius, I already knew that.” Harry said with a smile. “I know Hermione.”

He pulled a face. “Not that I want to think about that.”

“Green eyes.”

Lily nodded with a smile. “The girls wanted to call me Emerald, but I thought it sounded more like a cat’s name.”

Hermione pointed at his face. “I’m sure it was her.” She frowned. “Although … I can’t help but feel I knew that anyway.

“We used it in front of you when you were a baby.” Sirius told her. “Although you never took to it. She was always Lily to you … Actually, I think you may have even called her Aunt Lily.”

“I did.” Hermione confirmed.

“Was I Uncle James then?” James asked.

Sirius shook his head with a grin. “No, you were Prongs. Except she couldn’t pronounce her ‘r’s yet, so you were just Pongs.”

Professor Lupin – sorry, Remus and Sirius never said anything, did they?”

“No.” Remus answered.

Harry frowned. “I’m sure they didn’t. Although now you mention it, I can’t help feeling like I’ve heard that nickname before.”

“That’ll be subconscious as well.” Sirius told him.

“Well, I haven’t.” Ron stated, finally joining the conversation. “I know they never mentioned it in the Shack. How’d you find this room, Mione?”

Hermione sighed. “Well, you’re never going to believe me.”

“You won’t know unless you try.” Mandy commented.

“Try us.” Ginny suggested, taking a seat next to her. “Wait, what are we not going to believe?”
Hermione sighed again, and launched into the story of what happened in the small room with the founders. When she’d finished, the other three sat in thoughtful silence, while she waited with bated breath to see if they would believe her.

Finally, Harry let out a deep breath and waved his wand over the Map. “Mischief managed.” He looked up to meet her eyes. “Are you sure you just haven’t been working too hard?”

“I’ve never worked so hard as to hallucinate something like that.” Hermione said, shaking her head.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, how can I imagine that I’ve met the founders when I didn’t even know what they look like.”

“But you could have imagined that.” Ron pointed out.

Fred raised an eyebrow. “Did Ron just make a logical argument?”

“He did.” Hermione nodded. “I was just as surprised.”

“Wow, that was actually logical.” Ginny teased him, before turning to Hermione. “Hermione, I don’t want to think you’re crazy, but it is a little unbelievable.”

“A little?” James asked incredulously.
“A little?” Harry muttered.

“He’s got a point.” Neville agreed, over the snickers. “If I hadn’t just read it, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Ginny elbowed him. “Can you prove it? What about the Animagus thing?”

Hermione stood up and paced around the common room, making sure they were the only people still awake.

“Smart move.” David approved.

Satisfied, she returned to the fireside and gestured for them to stand up. “I don’t want to be seen by anyone coming down the stairs.”

David nodded approvingly.

The three stood as one and formed a wall between her and the staircases. Hermione closed her eyes and focused on the lioness she’d seen in the mirror. With a soft ‘pop’ she felt herself transform. She held the form for a few seconds, then transformed back, opening her eyes to see three stunned expressions. “Well?”
“I believe you.” Ginny said faintly, falling back into her chair.

“Be stupid not to.” Ginny smiled.

“Me too.” Ron and Harry seconded in unison.

Hermione smiled gratefully. “Thanks, guys.” She pulled the prophecy out. “What do you think then?”

“Gin?” Ron looked over at her. “You did pretty well on the last one.”

Ginny read it through. “Chamber of Secrets.”

“Great minds think alike.” Jen grinned.

“Pardon?” Harry asked.

Ginny sighed, slightly pale. “I almost died down there and I’m a redhead. ‘Fire maid almost met her doom’.”

“She’s right.” Hermione realised. “Now?”

Hermione winced. “Sorry, Ginny. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s fine.” Ginny assured her.

“No!” Ginny answered quickly, shaking.

Harry put a comforting arm around her shoulder. “We’re not going down there yet.”

“Of course not.” Ginny agreed, recovering quickly and with only a hint of pink in her face. “We have to wait for the leader of the light.”

“Who is she?” Ron asked with a frown.

“Well, it’s someone who’s hidden.” Ginny scowled at the parchment. “But has a gift that won’t be …”

David paused. “Jess.”

“What?” James asked blankly.

“We think she’s under a memory charm.” David elaborated. “Her real identity is hidden, but her magic is escaping through her dreams.”

“But who is she really then?” Jen asked with a frown. “And how are they going to find her? You’d have to be a pretty powerful mind healer to break through a Memory Charm like that and not kill her – or worse.”

“Harry?” Hermione prompted. “What is it?”

Harry was staring at Jen with an expression of wide-eyed realisation. “That’s who you remind me of.” He said blankly. “You remind me of Jess.”

Jen smiled at him. “Do I?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I mean you really remind me of her.”

Hermione frowned slightly. “Harry, are you suggesting that Jessica is actually Jennifer?”

The atmosphere in the room seemed to tighten and everyone looked at Harry.

“Harry …” Sirius sighed. “As much as I wish that was the case, the chances …”

“We know she’s a witch.” Harry interrupted. “And she must have been at school with you, because she sketched a picture of all of you down by the lake when I was nine …”

“Jen is pretty good at that.” Lily said slowly.

“But anyone could have seen us.” Jen pointed out reluctantly.

“All of you, but you.” Harry finished. “You’re not in the picture.”

“Maybe I wasn’t there that day.” Jen suggested.

Addie shook her head. “No, there’s never been a time when we were all at the lake but you. Unless it happened after I left?”

“No, you are in the picture.” Harry told her. “Plus, she always has nightmares on the night of the full moon – she never tells me about them, but she’s always really tired the next day; I can tell. Didn’t you say she and Remus …?”

“They share a soul-bond.” Sirius finished in a whisper. “How long has she lived on Privet Drive?”

Harry grinned triumphantly. “Well, Aunt Petunia says she’s lived there for years. But she doesn’t remember a day before August 2nd 1982.”

“That’s the day after I disappeared.” Jen stated unnecessarily. “Hang on a second, I’m not a Seer, though.”

“But we do have Seer blood in the family.” Sirius said. “And you were very powerful, which would explain the dreams – some magic would have to escape or you’d end up seriously hurt.”

Remus squeezed her hand. “Why aren’t you looking happier about this?”

Jen sighed. “Because I don’t want to get my hopes up. And even if it is me … how am I supposed to get my memory back?”

“Soul bond.” Sirius answered. “As long as Moony meets you at some point … And I think he’s going with the group to pick Harry up as soon as Dumbledore …” he rolled his eyes “… informs us that my godson can spend the rest of the summer with me.”
“Hang on, you’re his legal guardian!” Lily argued. “Dumbledore shouldn’t have anything to do with it!”

“Shouldn’t.” Sirius agreed. “But he does. Anyway, as long as Harry introduces them …”

“… which I probably will.” Harry said. “Because she’ll notice me leaving.”

Draco cleared his throat. “Since we can’t actually figure out whether we’re right or not, maybe we should keep reading – we’ll find out eventually, right?”

“He’s right.” Jen stated, effectively ending the discussion, and David found his place again.

“Let’s sleep on it.” Harry suggested.

“Yeah, because it’ll be so much clearer tomorrow.” Ron rolled his eyes.

“What?” Sirius asked when Lily giggled. “Kid’s got a point.”

“It’s a Muggle term.” Lily told him. “It means to put something aside until you’ve had time to think about it.”

Hermione sighed. “Muggle term, Ron.” Before she could explain, Hedwig …

Addie breathed a sigh of relief. “Sirius’s answer.”

… dropped a letter off, landing on the table.

Harry read it aloud. “Harry, I’m flying north immediately.

“What?!” Regulus demanded. “Are you mental?!”
“Yes.” Addie answered. “He is. Be more specific.”

“Why the hell would you come back?” James asked.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “You mean, aside from the fact that Harry needed me? That’s about it.”

This news about your scar is the latest in a series of strange rumours that have reached me.

“Rumours like what?” David asked.

“The Dark Mark, the Death Eaters getting restless, Bertha’s disappearance.” Sirius listed. “Not a good combination.”

If it hurts again, go straight to Dumbledore – they’re saying he’s got Mad-Eye Moody out of retirement, which means he’s reading the signs, even if no one else is.”

“You thought Voldemort was getting stronger?” Jen guessed.

Sirius nodded grimly. “Unfortunately, most of the Ministry were either missing the connection, or refusing to see it.”

“What signs?” Ron asked in bewilderment.

Harry shrugged. His eyes strayed to Hermione’s and she knew that he was as worried as she was.

“I’ll be in touch soon. Give my best to Ron and Hermione. Keep your eyes open, Harry. Love, Sirius.”

Hermione suddenly remembered Narcissa’s note and smacked herself for forgetting it so easily. “Harry, if you’re not comfortable with including Mrs. Malfoy’s note, I’ll put it in my next letter.”

“That’s probably a good idea.” Narcissa conceded.

“Right.” Harry cocked his head and observed her. “You never did tell me why you were writing to him.”

“Well, now there’s an obvious reason.” Harry pointed out at the questioning looks. “We didn’t know about this back then.”

“He stopped off in the summer.” Hermione told him. “I went and got his wand from Gringotts; it was in his vault.”

“The common room was empty, wasn’t it?” Mandy asked.

Harry smiled. “Yeah, of course. We wouldn’t have started the conversation if it wasn’t.”

“Not to mention I would never have transformed.” Hermione added.

Mandy chuckled. “Right. Forgot about that.”

”Bit risky, isn’t it?” Ron frowned. “I mean, they’d never prove the whole …” he lowered his voice “… time-turner thing. But,” he said normally, “that?”

Hermione shrugged. “May as well be hanged for a dragon as for an egg.”

“Hey, you’re picking up on wizarding slang!”

“It’s a proud moment, isn’t it?” Addie said, wiping a fake tear from her eye. “I remember when Lils first slipped into it. I was … so proud of her …” She dissolved into ‘tears’ on Sirius’s shoulder.

Lily shook her head in disbelief. “Good Merlin … you’re perfect for him.”

“We already knew that.” Jen reminded her with a smirk.

Ginny hugged her. “You’re in!”

“Maybe it’s just me,” Harry sighed, “but what does that mean?”

“Muggles have a similar saying.” Hermione told him. “If you’re going to get punished for doing something, you may as well do the thing properly. There were two wands in the vault, though. He told me to keep hold of the other one; you never know when you’ll need a spare wand.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like something Moody would say.”

Sirius laughed. “Where does he think I learnt it?”

“Of course it does.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sirius was an auror too, wasn’t he?

“At least one of you pays attention.” Sirius muttered.

Where do you keep it?”

“Well, I don’t have a wand holster.” Hermione admitted. “I thought I’d get one next summer at Diagon Alley…”

“Or at Hogsmeade.” Ron suggested. “There’s got to be somewhere.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Hermione replied. “Anyway, I improvised.” She pulled her robes up slightly, pulled her sock down and removed her wand from the band holding it in place.

“Not bad.” David commented.

“Here.”

“What’s it made of?” Harry asked.

“I’m not sure.” Hermione examined it. “If I had to guess, I’d say willow and dragon heartstring.

“Good guess.” Jen smiled. “Bet you couldn’t tell me what kind of dragon though.”
Hermione laughed. “Not likely. Do you know?”

Jen nodded. “Hungarian Horntail.”

Harry shuddered. “My least favourite.”

“You have a favourite?” Draco asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No.” Harry admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a least favourite.”

But I’m not a wand-maker, so I wouldn’t like to say. Merlin knows who it belonged to.”

“Well, I didn’t know that Malfoy’s mother was a Black.” Harry confessed. “So you know more than I do.”

“Well, that’s the thing.” Hermione frowned. “There’s not much about the Black family in the library.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Regulus shrugged. “Our ancestors have always been rather paranoid. Oh, they’d advertise all the parts that made them look good,” he added, seeing Hermione’s questioning look, “but they’d be too worried about the – er – white sheep being exposed.”
“There are more of us than they like to admit.” Jen agreed dryly.

I know that it’s an incredibly old pureblood family, like the Potters,” she nodded to Harry, “but they were on the darker side.”

“What; the Potters?” Ron frowned.

“No, the Blacks.” Hermione sighed. “But I know that Mrs. Malfoy has two sisters.”

Narcissa flinched imperceptibly.

“Maybe it belongs to one of them.” Ginny suggested.

“Plausible guess.” Regulus said.

“I don’t think so.” Hermione disagreed. “I got grief, so I think whoever it belonged to is dead and they’re both alive. Plus, one of them, I believe, is a healer, so has her wand …

“Andromeda.” Narcissa whispered.

… and the other one is in Azkaban and will have had her wand snapped.”

“Bellatrix.” Jen spat.

Neville started. “You … You know her?”
Sirius smiled sympathetically. “Unfortunately, she’s our cousin, but we haven’t considered her family since we were sorted.”
“It was before then.” Jen stated darkly.

“She’s my sister.” Narcissa added, shaking her head. “I knew she absorbed what our parents told her, but I never imagined …”

“It’s not your fault.” Alice told her quietly, squeezing Neville’s hand. “Any of you.”

“But you need a special wand to become a healer.” Ginny told them. “So she might have put her first wand in the family vault and she believes that Sirius is a mass-murderer and that’s why he’s sad.”

“Also well reasoned.” Regulus approved.

“Maybe.” Hermione agreed tentatively. “I’ll ask. But I doubt he’d be able to give that wand away.”

“Well, I could,” Sirius said, “but I wouldn’t.”

At that moment, something Harry had read hit her full-force. “Wait. He’s flying north? He’s coming back?!”

“Took you a while, didn’t it?” Fred teased.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Gimme a break; I’d had a long day.”

“And what signs?” Ron repeated. “Harry, what’s up?”

Harry had suddenly hit his forehead. “I shouldn’t have told him.”


 

Ginny sighed. “And here we go.”

Sirius frowned. “What’s he on about?”

“What are you on about?” Ron asked in surprise.

“Ron agrees with you.” Addie chuckled.

“I’ve made him think he’s got to come back.” Harry said …

“Harry, don’t flatter yourself.” Sirius said with a teasing smile, before looking serious. “I was on my way back anyway.”

… slamming his fist on the table, causing Hedwig to flutter to the back of Hermione’s chair, hooting indignantly.

“Harry!” Lily chided gently.

“He’s coming back because he thinks I’m in trouble and there’s nothing wrong with me!

“At some point, we need to have a chat about the role of adults in your life.” Sirius told him.

Harry sighed. “Sirius, I can …”

“Take care of yourself, I know.” Sirius finished patiently. “But that’s not the point, Harry. The point is, at fifteen, you shouldn’t have to. It’s my job to protect you, not the other way round, understand?”

Harry nodded with a small smile. “Yeah.”

And I haven’t got anything for you!” He snapped at Hedwig. “You’ll have to go to the Owlery if you want any food!”

“Harry!” Lily repeated.

Harry looked sheepish. “Sorry.”

Hermione gave him a reproachful look and gave Hedwig an Owl Treat.

Lily smiled approvingly.

Hedwig nibbled her finger affectionately and took off for the open window, cuffing Harry with her wing as she did.

Neville chuckled. “Talk about an owl with attitude.”

Turning back to Harry, Hermione laid a soothing hand on his arm. “Harry …”

“I’m going to bed.” Harry interrupted, pulling away abruptly and stalking up the stairs.

Harry grimaced. “Sorry.”

Hermione smiled at him. “Forget about it.”

Ron shrugged apologetically, bid her goodnight and left as well.

Ginny shook her head in exasperation. “Boys! Night, Hermione.”

“Night.” Hermione stared at the fire for a few minutes, hearing Ginny make her way up the girls’ staircase, then grabbed a quill and began to write her own letter.

“Smart move.” Addie smiled.

Padfoot,

Harry reacted quite badly to the news that you’re coming back. Hopefully, you’ll get this letter before his; he’ll probably write to you immediately tomorrow morning.

Harry gave her a mock-frown. “Thanks, Hermione.”
“I wouldn’t have paid attention to it anyway.” Sirius told him with a smile.

Don’t take it personally; he’s just worried about you. I’m worried about you.

“Me too.” Addie whispered.

Sirius rubbed her shoulder gently. “I was fine.”

Did you know that the Triwizard Tournament is being held again this year?

“I didn’t until then.” Sirius admitted.

I think Harry’s relieved that under 17-year-olds can’t enter; he isn’t under any pressure.

About the second wand, was it one of your cousins?

Jen winced. “I bet that was fun.”

I know one – Andromeda, is it – is a Healer, so she’d need a specialty wand.

I doubt it’s hers, but I promised Ginny I’d ask. Ginny’s Ron’s younger sister – yes, she knows. No, she won’t tell anyone.

Speaking of cousins, I saw Narcissa Malfoy at the World Cup and I think she may have given me a note. It says ‘Tell SB I’m sorry. He was right. NBM.’ Makes no sense to me, but hopefully you’ll understand it.

“I did.” Sirius confirmed with a smile. “It was a relief.”

“Why?” Narcissa asked curiously.

“Because I’d lost Jen, and Andie thought I was guilty.” Sirius answered. “It was good to know that you, at least, were on my side and that Lucy hadn’t completely ruined you.”
Draco sniggered. “Please call my father that to his face.”
“I have.” Sirius said cheerfully. “He tried to kill me. Mind you, he was wearing a mask and I was trying to arrest him at the time, so that may have had something to do with it.”

Harry and I were looking at the Map today and you, Prongs and Moony had a little discussion when Harry said his name. Was Jade Mrs Potter’s Marauder name? Because I’m fairly sure it is, even though I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned it.

“That was fun too.” Sirius remarked.

Here, Hermione paused, wondering whether to ask about ‘Miss Shadow’. She decided not to …

“Thanks.” Sirius said. “I think you might have given me a heart attack.”

… it didn’t seem to fit Arabella or Mandy, which meant that the owner of that nickname was most likely dead.

“Close.” Addie curled up into Sirius’s side.

And given that she’d just thrown the Potters in there without warning, it was probably best to leave that can of worms unopened for the moment.

“Smart move.” Sirius muttered, dropping a kiss on Addie’s head.

On a more important note, Sirius, be careful. I won’t try to convince you not to come back – I think Harry needs the support, personally – but please, please be careful. I don’t know how or even if Harry would cope if you were recaptured and I’m fresh out of last-minute, law-breaking escape plans.

There were a few half-hearted chuckles.

With love,

Hermione

PS. I mean it, Padfoot. Take care of yourself.

David looked up. “Well, that was a cheerful end to the chapter.”

Addie shivered, moving closer to Sirius. “Please be careful.”

“Ads, this hasn’t happened yet.” He reminded her gently.

“I was fine.” Sirius repeated. “Still here, aren’t I? Who’s reading next?”