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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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Neville nodded, handing her the book. “Are you reading next?”
“Think so.” Arabella frowned in thought. “Anyone remember the reading order?”
James shrugged. “Just go ahead, Arabella.”

Chapter Seventeen

Comfort in the Common Room

Lily smiled. “That sounds like a nice chapter.”

Arabella glanced at the next line. “Yep, you’re going to like this one.”

Miss Jessica Brown …

Lily brightened and sat forwards. “It’s about time”

… of Number Six Privet Drive, was proud to say she was perfectly abnormal, thank you very much. She had as much to do with anything strange or peculiar as she possibly could, because the Dursleys, who lived next door, just couldn’t stand that sort of thing.

Arabella paused. “I’ve read that before.”

“Yeah, you have.” Hermione agreed. “That’s the opposite of how the Dursleys were introduced in the first book.”

One cold November morning, Jessica was hanging out her washing, resolutely ignoring Mrs Dursley as she chattered away about her son.

“Oh, Petunia …” Lily sighed.

“… and I do worry about him so, I really don’t like the sound of that school food – and did I tell you they told us to put him on a diet!”

“Good.” Jessica responded, shaking out a pair of jeans. “I was starting to worry you’d have to rush him to hospital for a heart bypass.”

Harry’s mouth fell open. “She’s normally quite polite to them.”

“In front of you.” Hermione reminded him. “Besides there’s probably only so much of them she can take.”
Mrs Dursley seemed to swell with indignation. “My Dudders is a perfectly healthy normal child!”

Lily snorted. “‘Normal’.”

Jessica rolled her eyes. “If you say so, Mrs Dursley.”

“She doesn’t use her first name?” Lily asked.

“Jess doesn’t like Aunt Petunia at all.” Harry explained. “One of the things she hates is how Aunt Petunia talks to her like she’s a child, so she always calls her ‘Mrs Dursley’ in the hopes that she’ll catch on and stop acting so familiar.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a flash of white in a nearby tree …

“Hedwig probably.” Harry concluded, before anyone could ask.

… and fought the urge to go and investigate. “But no child who is wider than he is tall can possibly be considered healthy. Face it, he’s a spoilt, overweight bully and you’re going to be the one dealing with the fallout.”

The girls applauded. “Thank you!”
“How dare you?!” Mrs Dursley shrieked, storming back into the house.

Jessica allowed herself a smirk, as her neighbour on the other side poked his head over the fence. “’Bout time someone told her that.” He grunted.

“So the neighbours do realise that they’re ridiculous?” Jen asked.

“Must do.” Harry shrugged. “They’ve never said anything to me though.”

Jessica shrugged. “I have no patience with her anymore, quite frankly. All those lies about her nephew.”

He nodded in agreement, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm in the cold November air. “Where is it she says he goes?”

Lily snorted. “Apparently they all like their gossip.”

“There’s nothing much happening in Privet Drive.” Harry explained. “So they tend to latch on to anything that might possibly be considered exciting or dramatic.”
“St Brutus’s Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys.” Jessica answered, her tone dripping with disgust.

“Not likely.” Her neighbour snorted.

Lily beamed. “Oh thank Merlin!”

“I’ve seen him helping you in the garden. Never met a more polite young man. Now Dudley … You seen the damage to the bus stop down the road?”

Jessica shook her head. “Broken glass all over the floor, spray paint over anything they couldn’t tear down.

Lily sighed. “And this is my nephew.”

That boy could have done with being turned over her knee.”

“Don’t think you could turn him over anything.” He quipped.

The boys sniggered.

“Makes you wonder what else they’re lying about. You know where the other boy does go?”

Regulus grimaced. “Oh, this could be a problem …”

“Harry?” Jessica hesitated. “Don’t know the name of it. It’s his parents’ old school apparently, his name’s been down since he was born.”

“That won’t put him off.” Narcissa murmured.

“Yes it will.” Lily disagreed. “Because he knows nothing about us; his focus will shift.”
“His parents?” His interest was peaked now, and he leaned on the fence, abandoning whatever gardening task had previously held most of his attention. “The way she harped on about it when he first arrived …”

“Harped on about it?” James repeated in bewilderment. “I thought Petunia never talked about you.”

Lily frowned. “She doesn’t. Harry?”

Harry shook his head. “No idea. I guess it’s the same rubbish she spouted to Aunt Marge.”

Lily grimaced. “Harry, dear, please stop calling her that. She’s not your aunt.”

Harry nodded with a smile. “Alright, Mum.”

“I know.” Jessica agreed, stepping closer. She never held much stock in gossip, personally, but the drivel that Petunia Dursley spread around Privet Drive when Harry first appeared was awful, even if his parents had been like that.

James and Lily exchanged a dark look and the redhead cuddled into her boyfriend, blinking back tears at the thought of what her sister was saying about her.

Now she knew they weren’t …

“A friend of his parents gave him a photo album his first year.” She smiled slightly. “And I can tell you right now that that couple adored their son and each other.

The aforementioned couple beamed.

As for a car crash …” She sighed. “Well, I’m still not sure of all the details. From what I can gather, it was a home invasion.”

“Good cover-up.” Jen murmured.

“You mean they were …” He trailed off, looking horror-struck. “Oh, the poor kid.

Harry grimaced, not like pity, but said nothing.

Was he there?”

Jessica nodded, a throat tightening. “He was. You’ll have to excuse me.” She heard him respond, but the words didn’t register, as she picked up the laundry basket and hurried into the house.

The snowy owl in the tree would have to wait for a few minutes, at least until Mr-Next-Door had gone inside for lunch. Whatever letter she carried must have been important though, because Hedwig usually timed her arrival for after-dark, so no one in the Muggle neighbourhood would see her.

Arabella smiled. “That really is a very clever owl.”

Harry nodded proudly.

Once inside, Jessica allowed herself to relax, paying no attention to the few tears that fell. Over the summer, Harry had confided in her the details of that horrible night.

It seemed to pain her on two levels.

“Two?” Lily asked. “Harry, obviously … but she didn’t know us.”

“Maybe she feels for your sister.” James suggested.

Lily snorted. “I think it’s obvious my sister doesn’t give a damn.”

First, of course, was her sympathy for Harry. To witness something so awful and so young and yet still emerge as the well-adjusted kind-hearted young man he was today was nothing short of amazing. But she couldn’t help but remember a time when a baby Harry had woken screaming for his parents when she first started looking after him.

Harry turned red and Hermione slipped her hand into his, though didn’t say anything.

This new knowledge gave the nightmares a whole new perspective.

Secondly, despite not knowing the woman, her heart went out to Harry’s mother.

Lily raised an eyebrow, not sure if she was grateful or not.

She had already had a very high opinion of the woman before Harry started Hogwarts – anyone the Dursleys considered ‘abnormal’ instantly went to the top of Jess’s ‘people to invite for dinner’ list.

James sniggered.

She only wished she’d had a chance to, just to see the look on the Dursleys’ faces when the Potters’ arrived in the street.

Sirius joined in.

She doubted they’d look like anything other than ‘normal’ Muggles, but she did so enjoy watching Mrs Dursley lose her composure and make a fool of herself.

Finally, Lily let a smile through. “Something we have in common.”

Harry’s story only increased her respect for Lily Potter. She didn’t want to imagine how terrifying that must have been, forced to listen as her husband was murdered and knowing that her son had just minutes left to live.

The smile vanished instantly, and Lily closed her eyes as James pulled her on to his lap.

Any mother would make the same decision. But that wouldn’t make it easy.

“I’d do it in a heart beat.” Lily whispered.

It had been altogether easier, Jessica decided, when she couldn’t put a name to a face. Now she couldn’t help feeling a little guilty, as though she was replacing Lily in Harry’s life.

Lily wiped her eyes. “She shouldn’t.” She said softly. “I’m glad she was there for Harry.”

Whenever this feeling of guilt occurred, however, it vanished as soon as she had to deal with the Dursleys again.

Now if I was a mother, what would I prefer? A young woman who loves my son like I do or those people?

Lily said nothing, but her answer was clear in her expression.

“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would choose the latter.” Jen murmured.

Jessica peered out of the kitchen window and saw that her neighbour had retreated back inside the house. She opened the back door and whistled quietly, whereupon the snowy owl took off from the tree and swooped down into the kitchen, landing on the back of a chair.

“Hello Hedwig.” Jess greeted, glancing at the clock. “You’re early, you know.”

“She’s taken to magic very well.” Jen remarked. “For someone who doesn’t have it, that is.”
“She has the dreams though.” Remus reminded her. “It’s more accessible for her than for most Muggles.”

Hedwig let out an impatient hoot and held her leg out.

“Alright, alright.” Jess removed the letter and Hedwig took off again, flying into the living room.

Earlier that summer, before Harry had gone to stay with the Weasleys, Jess had taken him to London and he, in turn, had taken her to Diagon Alley.

While they were there, they had purchased an owl perch …

“We had great fun when we got back.” Harry grinned. “We had a nice conversation about the sorts of birds that might like to use it. Aunt Petunia nearly had a heart attack when we mentioned owls. We mentioned dodos beforehand,” he added, when David opened his mouth, “so only someone who knew about the wizarding world would make the connection.”

… and it now sat in her front room, where Hedwig, she assumed, had just gone to take a nice nap.

Jess chuckled quietly at the rather typical Hedwig-behaviour …

Ginny smiled. “She knows her well.”

… and opened the letter, sitting down at the kitchen table to read it.

Dear Jess

Hermione’s making me write this, just so you know – I didn’t want to worry you.

Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes and swatted Harry upside the head.

But she guilt-tripped me into it. Plus, I can’t use Hedwig to write to Sirius because she stands out too much and she’ll get mad at me if I try to use another owl.

James laughed. “You wrote an extra letter just to keep Hedwig happy?”

Harry shrugged. “She’s rather good at giving me the silent treatment.”

Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament this year. It’s an ancient competition between the three main European magical schools – Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. A champion is selected from each school and they compete in three tasks, but we don’t know what yet.

The champion for Durmstrang is Victor Krum, the Bulgarian Seeker. The champion for Beauxbatons is Fleur Delacour. And the champion for Hogwarts is Cedric Diggory.

Thing is, Jess, my name came out as well, and now I have to compete. I still don’t know what the first task is, but I promise that I’ll be careful and I’ll write again as soon as it’s over.

Love, Harry

“Well summarised.” Regulus observed.

By the end of the letter, Jess was shaking, though she wasn’t entirely sure why she was so scared.

“Could be another sign of the Memory Charm.” David said. “Though it’s unusual for the subconscious to push forwards so much. There must be something else.”

“Like a soul-bond.” Sirius finished with a nod. “The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that Jessica could be Jen.”

“But wouldn’t Remus know?” Jen asked. “The bond would tell him, wouldn’t it?”
Sirius frowned. “It should, but then it also should have killed him by now, just from being away from you.”

“Puts a whole new spin on the phrase ‘I can’t live without you’.” Hermione murmured. “So something’s gone wrong?”
“Someone blocked the link.” Sirius confirmed. “But that makes no sense … a Death Eater would have to know about the link … but they wouldn’t bother blocking it …”

“They couldn’t have done it anyway.” Addie argued. “Because whoever it was needed to be able to make a pureblood think she was a Muggle. Means they know something about Muggles.”

“Someone who wanted Jen out of the way, but not Remus.” Sirius frowned. “That sounds like …”

“It’s someone on our side.” Addie finished darkly. “The only question is …”
“Why?” Sirius asked.

Arabella cleared her throat, glancing at Jen, who was very white, and Remus, who looked very angry. “If you two are done trying to figure out who attacked Selena, I’ll continue, shall I?”

She’d never even heard of the ‘Triwizard Tournament’ before now – for all she knew the ‘tasks’ were a Quidditch game, a chess match and some form of written exam.

“I wish.” Harry muttered.

Addie scowled. “She’s got a point.”

“Unfortunately, the tasks are traditionally more dangerous.” David sighed.

Addie shrugged. “So? Hold three tasks like that, tie them to the Tournament and have the four champions compete. Harry will have technically competed in the Tournament, and that would leave the three dangerous tasks for the actual champions.”

Everyone stared at her for a few seconds, before Sirius sighed and said, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Do you really want me to answer that question?” Addie asked teasingly. “Any idea why they didn’t do that?”

“Because it would involve the Ministry actually doing something right for once?” Hermione guessed. “And they wanted to know who entered Harry’s name, so they thought they’d dangle him on a hook and see what took a nibble.”

“I’m not a worm, Hermione.” Harry protested.

“You’re about as scrawny as one though.” Fred put in mildly, ending the discussion.

She doubted it though, especially looking back at the first line. I didn’t want to worry you.

Harry sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have added that part.”

Folding the letter up, Jess made her way to her living room and stopped beside Hedwig’s perch, stroking the owl’s feathers softly.

“What now, Hedwig?” She asked softly.

Hedwig hooted softly, tucking her head under her wing.

Jess smiled, recognising the dismissal and wandering over to the sofa, where she collapsed with a sigh. Now what?

“There’s not really anything she can do.” Addie whispered, leaning into Sirius again.

She ran a hand through her curly blonde hair, closing her eyes. Without magic, the only thing she could do was be there when Harry needed someone.

Lily smiled. “I’m glad that there’s someone there.”

And, with any luck, that would be enough.

“It was.” Harry said quietly.

There weren’t many people Hermione could say she genuinely hated, but Rita Skeeter …

Harry groaned, letting his head fall back against the wall.

… was well on the way to becoming one of them.

“Who’s Rita Skeeter?” Lily asked in puzzlement. “The name sounds familiar, but …”

“She was a Slytherin a few years above us.” Sirius answered in distaste. “She became a reporter for the Daily Prophet.”

“‘Reporter’ is a loose term, Padfoot.” Hermione disagreed. “She takes a few facts and then twists them until she has more of a scandalous story.”

Her article in the Daily Prophet – supposedly covering the Triwizard Tournament and the ‘Weighing of the Wands’ – was nothing more than an exposé on Harry’s life …

“What?” James asked in a low voice.

… and not a very accurate one at that.

“Did you give her an interview?” David asked.

Harry grimaced. “If by that you mean, did she drag me into a broom cupboard, ask me a load of questions and then completely ignore my responses, then yes.”

“And no one stopped her?!” David demanded.

Harry shrugged. “Everyone seemed okay with it, why?”

“You’re underage, and therefore she had to have a legal guardian present when interviewing you.” James explained with a scowl. “And Dumbledore should have known that.”

Much to Harry’s annoyance, Cedric had been overlooked completely and Fleur and Victor’s names had been misspelled.

Lily huffed. “Well, really!”

Harry was annoyed, Hermione was furious.

“I don’t blame you!” Jen agreed.

Not only did it give the two visiting schools a horrible image of wizarding Britain, it gave the rest of the school even more of a reason to dislike her best friend.

What really grated at Hermione, though, was the part of the article that talked about Harry’s parents.

Lily stiffened. “She didn’t.”

Skeeter may have ‘interviewed’ Harry, but she was willing to bet anything she owned that he never said what the article said he did, if for no other reason that he was a teenage boy:

“I suppose I get my strength from my parents. I know they’d be very proud of me if they could see me now … Yes, sometimes at night I still cry about them; I’m not ashamed to admit it … I know nothing in this Tournament will hurt me, because they’re watching over me …”

“She did.” James closed his eyes and took deep breaths.

“I said nothing like that.” Harry insisted. “She said, “how do you think your parents would react” and I said, “I guess they’d be quite worried”.”

“Very worried.” Lily corrected.

Hermione had read the article with mounting disbelief, hearing the sniggers erupting from all over the Great Hall.

Lily gritted her teeth, but didn’t say anything.

Just like second year, Dumbledore was doing nothing to squash the rumour mill, but Neville and Dean had had a very loud conversation at breakfast the next day about how they’d never seen Harry cry and that only an idiot would believe that Harry would ever say something like that.

Alice hugged her son, kissing his forehead. “You’re a good boy.”

“Thank you, Neville.” Lily said sincerely.

Neville turned red. “It was nothing, really.”

Even Cedric – who seemed to have recovered from the shock of being one of two Hogwarts champions – had told everyone who’d listen that Harry hadn’t talked to Skeeter for long enough to provide an interview as detailed as the one in the paper.

“That was nice of him.” Addie commented with a smile. “Must get that from his mother.”

Hermione could have kissed him …

Hermione promptly turned bright red as Fred wolf-whistled across the room. “Oh, shut up!”

… when he approached the Gryffindor table that morning, as she tossed the Daily Prophet back at Lavender …

“Tossed it?” Ginny repeated, amused. “You threw it so hard that she screamed and ducked.”

… and loudly told Harry that he believed him about not entering his name – it was obvious from the way Harry had practically disappeared under the table that he didn’t want the attention.

Addie smiled. When she had first realised who she was sharing her accommodation with, she had been convinced that he would be just like his father, but within an hour he had proved her wrong, and she had become quite fond of the young man over the last few weeks.

After that, the Hufflepuffs in her year hurried over in Herbology to wring his hand and apologise for not believing him before – Ernie Macmillan looked particularly guilty as he had been rather vocal about Harry in second year as well, and felt he should have known better.

“He should.” Lily said primly. “But at least he realised that.”

The rest of the school, however, remained convinced.

Someone in Slytherin – Harry blamed Malfoy …

Draco rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure whether I’m flattered or insulted.”

… Hermione had other suspicions – had created badges with the words “Support Cedric Diggory – the REAL Hogwarts champion”.

James frowned. “That’s not too bad.”

When pressed, the badges – which had travelled around the school – changed to the message “Potter Stinks”.

“And that’s why I’m insulted.” Draco decided. “Did you really think I couldn’t come up with anything better?”

“And what’s the best insulting name you’ve come up with so far?” Harry asked in response.

“Scarhead.” Ginny answered, when Draco turned slightly pink.

“So yes, that’s what I thought.” Harry smirked. “It wasn’t you then?”

“It was Nott.” Draco told him.

Hermione had resisted her original reaction to the badges when she first saw them – knowing that Harry wouldn’t take her bursting into fits of laughter in any positive way.

“Thanks, Hermione!” Harry said, rolling her eyes.

“And that’s why I didn’t.” Hermione smiled.

But really, Potter Stinks?

She’d met five-year-olds who could come up with better insults.

“Three-year-olds.” Draco corrected. “Nott’s not the most intelligent out there. Not with insults anyway.”

Harry’s reaction, fuelled, she was sure, by Malfoy – problems or not, he still seemed determined to cause trouble – and both boys ended up with wands drawn.

“Of course they did.” Lily muttered.

Unfortunately for Hermione, their curses met in mid-air and she and Crabbe ended up in the cross-fire.

“Sorry Hermione.” Harry and Draco said in unison.

Trying to get to the hospital wing with front teeth that reached the floor was not easy.

Hermione sniffed. “It was Snape that wasn’t helping.”

“What did he do?” Sirius asked darkly.

“Took ten points off Gryffindor and sent Crabbe to the Hospital Wing.” Draco answered. “Then looked at Hermione and said, “I see no difference.””

“Why that …” Sirius made to stand, but Addie slid sideways onto his lap.

“Don’t even think about it.” She said sharply. “He’ll get his. After you get back to our time.”

On the bright side, it did give her the chance to get her teeth shrunk to a normal, and more flattering, size, something she’d been begging her mother to let her do for months to no avail.

“And it only took Harry a month to notice.” Hermione remarked.

Harry blushed. “I’m a guy, Hermione. We don’t tend to notice things like that.”

Far too soon, it was the Saturday before the first task, which would take place the following Tuesday. Hermione and Harry had ventured into Hogsmeade together (the latter under his Invisibility Cloak), but not before she had run into Ron and been given a very odd message – the brunt of which was that Hagrid wanted to talk to Harry that night.

Harry snorted. “Took me about five minutes to understand it though.”

So it was, late that evening or, more accurately, very early the next morning, that Hermione found herself curled up in an armchair, reading a Muggle fantasy novel, waiting for Harry to get back from Hagrid’s.

Thankfully, she had not had to resort to dropping dungbombs to clear the room, or the weight would have been much more unpleasant.

“Why would you need the room empty?” James asked, frowning. “There is such a thing as a quiet conversation.”

“For the same reason I was waiting for Harry.” Hermione answered with a smile.

There was, of course, a reason why Hermione waiting for Harry to get back, and that reason soon appeared in the flickering flames in the fireplace.

“Sirius!” James, Lily and Addie said in unison, the latter with concern, the former with excitement.

“Hermione?”

Hermione closed her book, alerted by the change in glow from orange to green before she heard his voice, and vacated the chair, kneeling in front of Sirius’s floating head.

“Sirius, what were you thinking?!” Addie demanded. “Where did you even get to a fireplace anyway?”

Sirius cleared his throat. “Well, the most amazing thing happened …”

“He broke into a wizarding home to use the fire.” Hermione finished.

Addie gaped at him for a few moments, before smacking his arm.

“Ow!”

“Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?!” She demanded. “You could have been caught! You could have been seen!”

“They were out that evening.” Sirius protested, ducking her next hit. “I’d been watching the house, to make sure it was safe. I even set up temporary wards so I was forewarned when they got back.”   

“Evening, Sirius. Harry should be back soon, but he had to do something. Ron told me this morning that Seamus told him that Parvati told Dean that Hagrid needed to talk to him.

“What?” Sirius asked, bewildered.

Sirius looked bewildered. “You what?”

“I’d laugh,” Mandy said, “but I didn’t get it either.”

“Don’t make me say it again.” Hermione said with a groan. “He’s talking to Hagrid; he’ll be back soon. Whatever it was, Ron said, it sounded important.” She paused, contemplating whether to tell Sirius now about James and Lily.

“No.” Sirius answered. “Not now. Not like that.”

“Hermione?” Sirius called. “Are you alright? You spaced out for a minute.”

“I’m fine.” Hermione assured him with a smile. “I was just thinking about whether to tell you something …”

“Not now.” James whispered, his eyes fixed on the fire. “You can’t tell him like his, Hermione.”

“Thanks, Prongs.” Sirius murmured.

Hermione shook her head in agreement. “No, it’s really something I should tell you in person … it’ll have to wait. It’s good news, I promise.”

“There’s the understatement of the century.” Sirius commented cheerfully, glancing at the woman in his arms.

“Okay.” Sirius didn’t look convinced, but he dropped the matter anyway. “How’s everything going?”
Hermione sat back against the sofa, drawing her knees up to her chest. “Something awful’s going to happen.” She whispered. “I can feel it.”

“You too?” Sirius asked knowingly.

“Thanks for that.” Hermione said softly. “Most people would have just brushed me off … told me I was being silly …”

Hermione nodded, her gaze falling to the Marauders’ Map, which was lying beside her. A dot was moving rapidly towards the Common Room and she smiled. “Harry’s coming.”

However worried she was about Sirius, Lily couldn’t help smiling at the fact that he was there for her son.
The portrait hole opened almost as soon as the words left her mouth, and Harry stumbled in, pulling the Invisibility Cloak off as he did. His face was paler than she’d ever seen it …

The smile slid off Lily’s face immediately. “Why? What happened?”

“You’ll see.” Harry met James’s eyes over her head and the future father nodded slightly, understanding his unspoken warning that the following information would be difficult for her to hear.

… and she leapt to her feet, hurrying to his side. “Harry, what happened?”
Harry didn’t answer. He moved to the rug and fell to his knees, greeting Sirius almost automatically.

“That’s not good.” Addie murmured.

“Harry?” Hermione asked worriedly.

“Pup, what’s wrong?” Sirius prompted, sounding just as concerned. “You alright?”

“I’m …” Harry began.

“Fine.” The girls finished in unison.

“Don’t you dare say ‘fine’!” Hermione snapped …

Sirius laughed. “Thank Merlin you were there, Hermione.”

…at the same time as Lily …

Lily smiled gratefully at her.

… much to the latter’s amusement.

Harry blinked at her for a second. “I wasn’t going to say that.”

Fred snorted. “Yeah, right.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“No.” Harry insisted. When her expression didn’t change, he sighed. “Fine.”

Sirius chuckled. “We need to induct you into the Marauders, Hermione; that was flawless.

“It was.” Jen agreed.

Miss Jade couldn’t have done any better.”

Lily chuckled. “It’s slightly unnerving how I’m a measuring stick all of a sudden.”

“Well, that’s how you used to get all of our pranks out of us.” Sirius said with a smile.

“Why, thank you, Mr Padfoot.” Hermione smirked, bowing slightly to the fireplace. “Now be a good boy, Harry, and tell your godfather what’s bothering you.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest again, but she narrowed her eyes at him and the events of the last few weeks came pouring out.

“Good.” Lily said firmly.

Satisfied, Hermione sat back, giving Harry some privacy. She already knew all of this, after all, and it was good he was finally getting it off his chest.

But she was focusing on something else, the way Sirius had spoken of Lily as another Marauder.

“She is.” James said with a grin. “It’s one of the many things that makes her utterly amazing.”

That in and of itself wasn’t too surprising, considering that Harry had referred to ‘Jade’ as a ‘Marauder name’ and Lily hadn’t corrected him – but she couldn’t help remembering her earlier thoughts about Lily not being an angel at Hogwarts.

How did I know? Or was it just a lucky guess? After all, if the Marauders were anything like the twins, you couldn’t be too rule-abiding to marry one of them – it would drive you mental!

Lily burst out laughing. “Well, I won’t argue with that; I’m slightly concerned that by the time you get me back, I will have lost whatever sanity I have left.”

“You’re implying that you had sanity when you agreed to marry him in the first place.” Addie smirked, ignoring James’s outraged ‘hey!’

Hermione was satisfied with this logic, but whether she would have pursued it further she would never know, because her thought process was lost as soon as Harry’s voice cut into it.

“… and Hagrid just showed me the first task – it’s dragons, Sirius, and I’m a goner!”

“WHAT?!”

For a few seconds, it was chaos. Jen and Sirius – both of whom knew quite a lot about magical creatures – had leapt to their feet, only to simply stare at the book, because there was nothing else they could do. Remus and Addie, white-faced, were trying coax them to sit down again. David was cursing out the Ministry.

Lily simply screamed and darted out of James’s arms, flinging her own around Harry.

“Mum, it’s okay!” Harry somehow managed to move so that he could hug her. “It’s fine. I’m here, aren’t I? Do I look permanently disfigured to you?”

Lily choked out a laugh. “No. No, you don’t.” She pulled away, cupping his face. “Tell me you get out without getting hurt.”

Harry hesitated. “I got a little hurt. But nothing bad.”

Lily didn’t look happy, but relaxed anyway, releasing her hold on him. Jen’s knees seemed to have buckled and she sank onto Remus’s lap, where he wrapped his arms around her waist, kissing the side of her head.

Sirius was still standing and Addie rose to her feet as well, taking his hand. “Sirius …” Her gaze slid to her future counterpart, who had taken the whole thing very calmly. Maybe Sirius had filled her in the night before. “Sirius, Harry’s obviously alright.”

“I know.” Sirius muttered. “It’s just … dragons …”

Addie squeezed his hand. “I know. Come on.”

Sirius nodded numbly and allowed her to lead him back to the sofa. Once everyone had settled again, Arabella found her place and continued.

“Dragons?!” Hermione repeated incredulously, trying to keep from shrieking the word.

“I bet that was difficult.” Mandy commented, white-faced.

Hermione chuckled weakly. “It really was.”

Within seconds, she had pulled Harry to his feet and drawn her wand, aiming it threateningly. “Harry James Potter, I swear to Merlin that if you don’t start laughing and tell me you’re joking in the next thirty seconds, I will hex you into the next century!”

“You’re scary when you’re mad.” Harry stated, causing her to blush slightly in embarrassment.

Harry sighed wearily, fought off her arm and drew his own wand. “Expelliarmus!”

“Try not to rely too heavily on that spell.” Sirius advised. “As useful as it is, it’s easily overpowered and you can never guarantee that your opponent doesn’t know wandless magic.”
“Very few people can though.” David pointed out. “Although you’re right.”

“I never learnt wandless.” Sirius conceded. “But James did. And Jen was bloody terrifying, with or without a wand.”

Caught off-guard, Hermione’s wand flew into Harry’s hand. “What the …?”

“I’m not joking.” Harry whispered, looking old beyond his years.

Lily squeezed Harry’s hand.

“See, Hermione, this is where the second wand comes in handy.” Sirius joked.

“I wasn’t really going to hex him.” Hermione muttered.

Harry sank back to the rug, tossing Hermione’s wand back. “I’m sure Hermione wouldn’t want me in the hospital wing on Tuesday.”

“If it stops you facing a dragon.” Hermione muttered, slipping her wand away again and letting her eyes drift back to the fireplace.

Sirius was watching the exchange with a smile on his face, but it was a smile that didn’t reach his eyes …

“You reminded me of James and Lily.” Sirius remarked with a smile. “Or me and Addie, I couldn’t quite decide.”

“Sounds more like you and me.” Addie said pensively. “Lily rarely resorted to hexes.”

As everyone chuckled, Hermione fought not to blush. She seemed to be the only one to catch on to the unspoken implications.

… which still held the deadened, haunted look that Azkaban had given them.

Addie’s smile faded and she closed her eyes, turning her head into his chest.

“Dragons we can deal with, Harry, but we’ll get to that in a minute …”

“Wait a second.” James frowned. “You’re telling me that there’s something more important than dragons?”

“There were things I had to warn him about.” Sirius sighed, stroking Addie’s hair.

Hermione couldn’t help interrupting. “You what? There’s something more important that dragons?! Are you serious?!”

Several people groaned.

Sirius’s smile widened slightly. “Yes, actually. You’d think you’d know my name by now.”

Addie smacked his arm. “That joke stopped being funny years ago.”

He cleared his throat. “As I was saying, I haven’t got long to be here; I’ve broken into a wizarding house to use the fire, but they could be back any minute. There are things I need to warn you about.”

“What now?!” Harry groaned.

“Karkaroff.” Sirius stated.

“Oh, that makes sense.” Jen nodded.

“He’s a Death Eater. He was caught; he was put in Azkaban a month or so before me …

“What?” David asked. “How’d he get out?”

… but got released.

“Why the hell would they release a Death Eater?!” David demanded.

“I’ll tell them in a minute.” Sirius assured him.

I’d bet everything that’s why Dumbledore wanted an auror at Hogwarts this year – to keep an eye on him. Moody caught Karkaroff. He and James put him in Azkaban in the first place.”

James pulled a face. “I’m not sure whether I’m proud or pissed off.”

“Be both.” Jen suggested. “I would be.”

The words took a few seconds to sink into Hermione, but when they did she leapt to her feet once again, pacing up and down. “I knew it! I knew it! That’s why … that son of a … I could just … when I … no wonder she’s so …” Thoroughly frustrated with her own ability to articulate her anger, she whirled around to face the fireplace again. “Why the fuck isn’t he still there?!”

James and Sirius applauded as Hermione blushed heavily.

“That’s your fault.” Addie informed Sirius.

“How can it be my fault?” He asked. “I wasn’t there, remember?”

Addie’s stern look softened, hearing the dark tone of his voice. “It’s in the blood, that’s how.”
“Hermione!” Harry cried, sounding impressed.

“I was!” Harry nodded. “It’s really not like her. It was like when she smacked Draco all over again.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Let’s just keep bringing that up, shall we?”

“Okay, we will.” Fred responded cheerfully.

“Language!”

“Calm down, Hermione.” Sirius said quietly. “He did a deal with the Ministry of Magic. Said he’d seen the error of his ways …

“Bullshit.” David muttered.

… and then he named names …”

“So they let him out?!” Lily demanded.

“One of those names must have been golden.” Jen murmured. “It’s the only explanation.”

“Dammit!” James snarled. “I was wondering how he got out.”

Hermione let out an uncharacteristic growl that sounded more like Padfoot than her own lioness.

Addie just smiled.

“That’s ridiculous! He practically admits to being a Death Eater so they let him go?! What the hell’s wrong with these people?!”

“Down, Catwoman.” Harry muttered with a smirk.

Lily chuckled, but everyone else just looked puzzled.

“Muggle thing.” Harry said.

“He put a lot of other people in Azkaban.” Sirius allowed himself a triumphant smirk that made him look years younger. “He’s not very popular in there, I can tell you.

“I bet he’s not.” David muttered.

And since he got out, from what I can tell, he’s been teaching the Dark Arts to every student who passes through that school of his. So watch out for the Durmstrang champion as well.”

“My empathy hasn’t picked anything up.” Hermione commented, beginning to calm down. “Just annoyance with all the girls that follow him into the library.”

“He was annoyed by the attention?” James questioned. “But he’s a celebrity.”

“So am I, technically.” Harry sighed. “I got the impression that Viktor was in it for the flying and the actual thrill of competing, rather than the fame.”

Harry’s attention was focused elsewhere. “Are you saying that Karkaroff put my name in the Goblet? Because if he did, he’s a really good actor. He seemed furious. He wanted to stop me competing.”

Hermione rolled her eyes impatiently, but she couldn’t help glancing at James and Lily, who shrugged. “Harry, if he wasn’t a good actor, he’d never have been released.”

“She has a point,” Jen conceded, “but we’ve already established that it isn’t Karkaroff, because Hermione would have seen him on the Map.”

“Unless …” Regulus said slowly, “and I’m not saying I think it is Karkaroff, because I don’t, but there may well have been another Concealment Charm created after you graduate that the Map can be fooled by.”

The eight Marauders exchanged glances, but no one could refute that fact.

“Great.” James sighed. “Now we’re back to where we started.”

“Exactly.” Sirius smiled proudly at her. “You should be an auror. Now I’ve been keeping an eye on the Daily Prophet, Harry …”

“You and the rest of the world.” Harry muttered bitterly.

“… and, reading between the lines of that Skeeter woman’s article last month, Moody was attacked the night before he started at Hogwarts.” Sirius finished flawlessly.

“Wasn’t that a false alarm though?” James asked. “Hermione said it was a false alarm.”
“No, she didn’t.” Jen said, thinking back. “She said that he’d heard intruders so often that they sent Arthur in straight away. She implied it was a false alarm, but never actually said it was.”

Hermione opened her mouth to correct him, but he pushed on hastily. “And, yes, I know they said it was a false alarm. But it all seems far too convenient to me, for him it to happen the night before he started at Hogwarts. Mad-Eye’s heard intruders a bit too often. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still spot the real thing.

“Someone was trying to stop him from getting to Hogwarts.” David concluded. “But who?”

Moody was one of the best aurors the Ministry ever had.”

One of? Hermione questioned in her head. She would have asked, but Sirius’s expression had held grief for a second and she assumed the other was James.

Sirius shook his head. “Jen. Although James was pretty damn good.”

David looked over at Jen, who was still very white. “Better than Moody?”
“Better than Moody.” Sirius confirmed, smiling proudly.

“So … what are you saying?” Harry asked, dragging her from her thoughts. “Karkaroff’s trying to kill me?

“That’s not what we said.” Hermione murmured, smiling at him.

But … why?”

Sirius paused, as if wording what he wanted to say in his head. “I’ve been hearing some very strange things.” He said carefully and Hermione sat forward eagerly, hoping for some sort of answers for her never-ending curiosity.

Draco chuckled. “Typical.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. His tone was almost … affectionate.

“The Death Eaters seem to be a bit more active than usual lately. Someone set of the Dark Mark … and there’s that Ministry of Magic witch who’s gone missing.”

“Bertha Jorkins?” Hermione asked.

“Exactly.” Sirius confirmed. “She disappeared in Albania, and that’s definitely where Voldemort was rumoured to be last … and she would have known the Triwizard Tournament was coming up, wouldn’t she?”

David was nodding, looking impressed.

“Yeah, but …” Harry seemed desperate to discount this as a theory.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, I’m sorry if I don’t want to think that Voldemort’s trying to kill me again.”

“It’s not very likely she’d have walked straight into Voldemort, is it?”

Sirius sighed. “Listen; I knew Bertha Jorkins. She was at Hogwarts when I was, a few years below me. And she was an idiot. Very nosy, but no brains, none at all.

“How do you know her?!” Lily asked, sounding frustrated. “I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up.”

Sirius shrugged. “No idea. I can’t think who she is. Not in that detail anyway.”

“May as well tell them.” Addie sighed. “Or they’ll drive themselves mad.”

“Fine.” Sirius turned to the students. “Bertha may have happened upon a rather … private moment between the two of us and spread it around the school.”

“We didn’t know it was her.” Addie smirked. “Well, not until she came and told us it was her. Never did know when to keep her mouth shut.”

It’s not a good combination, Harry. I’d say she’d be very easy to lure into a trap.”

Hermione couldn’t help feeling that he spoke from Marauder-experience …

“I did.” Sirius confirmed. “But we never targeted her like that.”

… but focused on the problem at hand. “So He-Who-Must-Be-Hyphenated could have found out about the Tournament?”

James sniggered. “Good name.”

Harry sniggered. “Where’d you get that?”

“Well, calling him You-Know-Who all the time gets a bit tiring, but I can’t seem to be able to call him by his proper name yet, so I thought I’d stick with this one.” Hermione admitted. “Do you think that Wormtail could have had something to do with it?”

Mandy stiffened and stared at the floor.

“Wormtail?” Sirius asked, his face darkening. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, if you were very nosy, as you say, and you ran into someone who was supposed to be dead, wouldn’t you want to know what they were up to more than you wanted to alert the Ministry?” Hermione asked logically.

“Good girl.” David whispered, as Sirius gave her a smile.

“Wormtail doesn’t worry me.” Harry admitted. “He’s miles away. Do you think that Karkaroff is here on Voldemort’s orders?”

Again, Sirius hesitated before answering. “I don’t know. I just don’t know … Karkaroff doesn’t strike me as the type who’d go back to Voldemort unless he knew Voldemort was powerful enough to protect him.

“Not unless he was desperate.” Regulus nodded. “Or had some way of covering his backside.”

But whoever put your name in that Goblet did it for a reason and I can’t help thinking the Tournament would be a very good way to attack you and make it look like an accident.”

Lily shuddered. “Well, the dragons are a good start.”

Regulus frowned. “No, that can’t be it.”

“What do you mean?” Jen asked.

“Remember Harry’s dream?” Regulus responded. “If we’re right about the ritual, then the Dark Lord needs Harry’s blood – he won’t want him dead. Not yet.”

“Which means there’s either another plan or Voldemort’s not behind this.” Jen realised. “Crap.”

”Looks like a really good plan from where I’m standing.” Harry whispered. “They’ll just have to stand back and let the dragons do their stuff.”

Hermione winced at the reminder of the first task and put an arm around Harry’s shoulders.

“Right – these dragons.” Sirius began speaking quickly. “There’s a way, Harry. Don’t be tempted to try a Stunning Spell – dragons are too strong and too powerfully magical to be knocked out by single stunner. You need about half-a-dozen wizards at a time to overcome a dragon …”

“Yeah, I know. I just saw.” Harry shuddered and Hermione tightened her arm.

“But you can do it alone.” Sirius told him. “There is a way and a simple spell’s all you need.

“What are you thinking?” Jen asked.

“Conjunctivitis Curse probably.” Sirius answered. “Dragon’s eyes are its weakest point, after all.”

Jen frowned. “True … But that’s a NEWT level spell. Harry’s only  a fourth year.”

Sirius cursed under his breath. “Sorry, Harry, I didn’t even think about that.”

Harry grinned. “It’s fine. Worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

Just …”

“Ssh!” Hermione hissed suddenly.

Everyone froze, as though the danger was in the room with them.

Footsteps were coming down the stairs.

Addie paled, glancing at Sirius.

A glance at Harry’s pale face told her that he had heard them as well. In seconds, Hermione had sprung to her feet, hiding the fireplace from view.

“Why didn’t you check the Map?” Lily asked.

Hermione blushed. “I honestly forgot I had it.”

“Go!” Harry whispered. “Someone’s coming!”

“Take care!” Hermione added, just before a tiny ‘pop’ signalled Sirius’s departure.

The two Gryffindors stared at the staircase, wondering just who was wandering about at one o’clock in the morning.

“Do you think someone heard them?” Addie whispered, shifting closer to Sirius.

“What’s our excuse?” Harry muttered.

Hermione shrugged helplessly. There were several reasons why they might still be awake and in the common room, and each seemed as unbelievable as the one before.

“I could think of a good reason.” Fred remarked, winking at the two fifth years, both of whom blushed darkly.

As she tried to think of something plausible, her gaze fell on the Marauders’ Map, still lying on the sofa, and she cursed herself for not looking at it earlier. Too late now. She waved her wand over it. “Mischief managed.”

Seconds later, the interrupter emerged from the girls’ staircase.

It was Ginny …

“Sorry.” Ginny sighed.

“We’ve been through this.” Harry reminded her quietly.

… her face white as snow and tears trickling down her cheeks.

Ginny shuddered. She had assumed that the nightmares had stopped until that night.

“Were you alright?” Lily asked kindly.

Ginny nodded. “Had a nightmare, that’s all.”

She didn’t seem to see them, moving towards them like a ghost.

The two fourth years exchanged a glance, wondering if, perhaps, she was sleep-walking, before Harry stepped forwards. “Ginny? You okay?”
Ginny blinked several times, as though only just focussing on him. She shook her head slowly, her body beginning to shake with the force of her sobs, and as her knees buckled, Harry caught her and half-led, half-carried her to the sofa.

Fred reached over and took her hand. “Why didn’t you tell us you were still having nightmares?”

“Every time I mentioned the Chamber, Mum burst into tears and Dad looked like he wanted to hit something.” Ginny said softly. “So I just pretended I was alright now.”

Fred sighed. “Gin, you don’t have to do that. Even if you can’t talk to Mum or Dad, you could have come to us.”

Hermione sat beside them, rubbing her back as she cried into Harry’s robes. He caught her eye over Ginny’s head, silently asking the question.

Should they get Ron?

“But he wasn’t talking to you.” Ginny pointed out.

Harry shrugged. “I figured you might need your brother.”
Ginny smiled at him. “I had my brother.”

After a few minutes, Hermione was just about to venture up the boys’ staircase – more inclined to fetch one of the twins than Ron …

“Wise move.” Fred smirked. “Ron’s not the most tactful of people.”
Hermione snorted. “You can say that again.”

… when Ginny sat up, wiping her eyes. “Sorry.” She muttered.

“Don’t worry about it.” Harry squeezed her hand and Hermione couldn’t help noticing the resemblance between them and James and Lily, who were standing by the fireplace, looking concerned.

One more reason why I doubt they’d ever date. He’d have to have a serious Oedipus complex to fall for someone who looks so much like his mother.

Harry couldn’t help shuddering. “I love you and all, Gin, but please never say anything like that again, Mione.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I thought it, Harry; I didn’t say it. Believe it or not, I didn’t know our lives would be written into books.”

Amazingly, Ginny didn’t seem that bothered by the fact that she’d just been crying in Harry Potter’s arms …

“I was over it.” Ginny said, waving it away. “Didn’t realise until then.”

… and she managed a wry smile when he asked what was wrong.

“Nightmare.” She explained. “Back in the Chamber. Haven’t had one for a while … it took me by surprise.”

“I still have nightmares about it sometimes too, sis.” Harry said in a low voice. “If you want to talk …”
“I’m fine.” Ginny accepted the tissue Hermione handed her and blew her nose, before giving Harry a questioning look. “Sis?”

Lily smiled. She had caught on to Harry’s nick-name for Ginny during the third book.

Harry turned slightly pink. “It’s a nick-name I have for you in my head. Do you mind?”

To Hermione’s surprise, Ginny beamed at him. “Of course not. I can always do with another big brother.

“One more person to beat up the boyfriends.” Fred said cheerfully.

Ginny gave him a cold look. “Don’t even think it.”

What are you two doing up anyway?”

“We’ll tell you tomorrow.” Hermione said, checking her watch. “Later today, I suppose.” She put an arm around Ginny’s shoulder. “Do you want to sleep in the extra bed in our dorm tonight?”

“There’s an extra bed?” Lily questioned.

Hermione nodded. “There’s always been four beds in our dorm. I don’t know why. Maybe the average number of students per house worked out as eight, so they put four beds in each dorm and adjusted accordingly.”
Ginny thought for a second, then nodded. “Thanks. Goodnight Harry.”

“Night Harry.” Hermione echoed.

“Night ladies.” Harry gathered up his Cloak, bag and the Map and made his way up the boys’ staircase.

Hermione and Ginny jogged up the girls’ staircase until they reached the fourth year dorm. Tiptoeing past Lavender and Parvati’s beds, they slipped into bed, leaving the curtains between them open, and bid each other goodnight.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened; during her second year, Ginny had been plagued with nightmares …

Fred squeezed her hand.

… and had spent most nights in Hermione’s dorm, so Lavender and Parvati wouldn’t be surprised when they awoke.

Hermione couldn’t get to sleep, unable to close her eyes without thinking of dragons and Harry and Death Eaters.

“Sorry, Hermione.” Harry said, smiling wryly. “Didn’t mean to keep you awake.”

“And how well did you sleep that night?” Hermione asked knowingly.

Harry didn’t answer, proving her right.

Finally, exhausted, her eyes closed of their own accord and she slipped into a fitful sleep.

“That’s the end of the chapter.” Arabella told them. “And I’m really, really hungry.”

“Me too.” Several people seconded.

“It’s probably time we stopped for lunch.” Hermione remarked. “Are we cooking or are our illustrious hosts going to grace us with a meal?”

As she spoke, a table appeared in the corner of the room laden with food and a note floated into Harry’s hands, whereupon he snickered and read it aloud. “Mya, there’s no reason to sound so sarcastic. Dig in, everybody.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Fred.”

“Actually,” Harry smirked, “it’s in your handwriting.”