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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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Jen passed the book to Neville with a grateful smile, and turned into Remus’s embrace, burying her face in his shoulder.

Neville turned to the next chapter and cleared his throat.

Chapter Thirty

And So It Begins

“Sounds like this might be the last chapter of the book.” Addie remarked.

Her future counterpart flinched violently, and Sirius tightened his grip.

Hermione stared at the burn-mark for a few seconds, just giving herself time to make sure Remus had said what she thought he did. “Sister?”

Remus nodded and, without warning, her head exploded with pain and grief, surprising her with its intensity.

Remus winced as Jen whimpered into his collar. “Sorry, Hermione.”

Hermione waved him off. “It’s not your fault. I just wasn’t expecting it. I’m just sorry for what’s about to happen.”

She cried out, vaguely feeling him grab her arm to keep her from falling, but – like after the Second Task – her empathy refused to be controlled.

“Oh Merlin …” Addie whispered. “You’re going to remember, aren’t you?”

Again, she retreated into her mind, snatches of memory flying past her, but it was Lily and Remus’s voices that stood out, and she realised she had reached further back than she ever had before.

“Yes.” Sirius answered grimly.

“What do you mean, she’s not there? She left over two hours ago, Lily – she has to be there.”

“I haven’t heard from her. Maybe she took a detour to Diagon Alley or to the Ministry or …”

Loud banging – on a door Hermione assumed, and she heard footsteps, before Lily’s voice, yet again. “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Lils – James. And Sirius.”

“Is Prongs coming too?”

“Code question.” Sirius explained with a weak smile. “We had several.”

“Don’t be ridiculous; my antlers wouldn’t fit through the door.”

“And that was the right answer.” Sirius concluded.

This bizarre exchange was clearly some sort of code, because she heard a door open and her own voice.

“Daddy!”

“Hey, Kitten. Have you been a good girl for Aunt Lily?”

His voice was strained and shaking slightly, although she was sure that, as a baby, she hadn’t noticed.

“We’d found her, hadn’t we?” Sirius asked softly.

Addie entwined her fingers with his, resting her head on his shoulder, for her own comfort as much as for his.

“James, Sirius, what’s wrong?”

Hermione heard a few quiet taps and then the sound of a fireplace roaring into life – maybe James had temporarily changed the wards to allow Remus to floo through.

“He had.” Sirius said hoarsely. “You could usually only communicate.”

“Remus …”

That was Sirius.

“Remus, when did Jen get a new wand?”

“She didn’t. She’s still using her old one.”

“No, you didn’t hear me. When did she get a new wand?”

Lily let out a choked sob, clinging to James.

“It was my only hope.” Sirius whispered. “That she’d got a new wand and someone had got hold of the old one.”

“Sirius, you’re making no sense. Jen doesn’t have a new wand. She has the same one she’s had since first year – willow and dragon heartstring, nine and three-quarter inches.”

“James … Honey, what is it?”

“The Dark Mark’s been sent up, just inside the apparition wards.”

“I know, we saw it out the window … James, you’re scaring me.”

“We found her wand underneath it, Lil. There was no sign of her …”

Regulus stood up and crossed the room to sit beside Remus and Jen, stroking his sister’s hair. He didn’t try to remove her from Remus’s arms, knowing better than to push her so quickly, but she freed a hand and grasped his tightly.

“Hermione!”

Remus’s voice cut through the memory and her eyes flew open, almost gasping for air. She was sitting down now, on the moth-eaten sofa …

“I think my legs gave out.” Hermione said.

… and Remus was kneeling in front of her, looking worried.

“Should I call Sirius?”

“You should have done.” Sirius told her.

“I was fine.” Hermione insisted. “It was just my empathy.”

“No.” Hermione whispered, taking a deep breath. “No, I’m fine. My empathy was playing up …” She ran a hand through her hair, her gaze being drawn back to the tapestry. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s hardly your fault, Hermione.” Remus told her kindly.

“I don’t think that’s what she’s apologising for.” Harry said, listening intently. Hermione had given him the gist when he’d first arrived, but not in this detail.

“It’s difficult to control that kind of …”

“No.” Hermione interrupted. “I’m sorry about Jennifer.”

“That wasn’t your fault either.” Remus said quietly. “But thank you.”
Hermione stood up slowly, taking a second to reassure herself that her legs would still hold her, and returned to the tapestry. “It’s her wand, isn’t it?”

“It was.” Remus corrected quietly. “Its allegiance has probably changed.”

“Definitely not.” Hermione said.

Hermione shook her head. “Not to me. It’s resisting me still – I can feel it. What …?” She hesitated. “What actually happened to her? I know you found it under … under the Dark Mark.”
“How did you know that?” Remus asked curiously.

Hermione traced one of the singular golden threads with her finger, linking a burn mark with the names Narcissa and Bellatrix. “I’m a natural Occlumens, remember. When I can’t control my empathy, I go into my memories. I remembered.”

“Ah.” Remus sighed heavily. “I honestly don’t know, Hermione. We never found her. It seemed … It seemed incredible that we didn’t …

“Why?” David asked. “Unfortunately, disappearances aren’t unusual.”

“Voldemort wanted Jen dead.” Sirius said flatly. “If he’d killed her, he would have paraded her body through Diagon Alley.”

“But he definitely had nothing to do with it?” Regulus asked, his voice trembling with barely-concealed rage.

Addie nodded. “You said he was furious. He did not order it.”

She was an auror – the best to pass through the Ministry … A lot of people felt that without her, we had no chance.”

“She must have been an amazing witch.” Hermione commented.

“She was.” Remus agreed, smiling sadly. “Powerful, smart, and stunning to boot.

Jen turned slightly red. “Are you trying to embarrass me?”

“You can’t get mad at me for telling the truth.” Remus said smugly.

She was older than Sirius …

“By two minutes!” Sirius protested.

Neville chuckled.

… by two minutes, and never let him forget it.”

“And you love her.” Hermione finished softly, not bothering to use past tense. “Who was that?” She asked, pointing at the second burn mark.

Remus didn’t seem to mind that the subject change was clumsy at best.

“Probably welcomed it.” Remus muttered, kissing Jen’s forehead.

“Andromeda. She was their favourite cousin, you know – not that there was much competition.

“Thank you.” Narcissa said dryly.

“Sorry.” Remus said, a little pink. “I doubt I was ever expecting you to hear me.”

Narcissa wasn’t too bad if you caught her on a good day …

“A day when you’re not keeping up appearances.” Jen put in.

… she and Lily were actually pretty good friends towards the end …

Sirius shook his head. “I still can’t believe that. Are you sure?” He asked Draco.

Draco nodded. “I’m sure that’s what Mum said. Besides, didn’t the book just confirm it as well?”

… but Bellatrix was …” He caught himself. “Well, not a very pleasant witch, to put it lightly.”

Hermione was about to ask why Andromeda was ‘blasted off’, when a thud from above them made them both jump.

“I think he’s found Kreacher.” Remus commented dryly.

“And before you ask,” Sirius said, “I didn’t hurt the little bugger, a trunk nearly fell on my head.”

Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was silent.

This wasn’t surprising – it was, after all, three o’clock on a Saturday morning …

“Uh oh.” Hermione whispered. “I know what this is.”

… and the house was almost empty. Of ten bedrooms, only three were occupied; the rest lay undisturbed.

Hermione was wide awake, trying to catch her breath. Her empathy had alerted her to a nightmare within the house, and she had somehow been pulled into it before she woke, leaving her in no doubt as to whose sleep was being disturbed.

Sirius grimaced. “You don’t think the book’s going to go into it, do you? Because no one needs to see that.”

Hermione shrugged silently.

She got out of bed and slipped her dressing gown on, trying it around her waist, before leaving her room and closing the door firmly behind her.

“Smart move.” Sirius said with a grimace. “Kreacher wanders.”

The house was even creepier at night, and she tiptoed up the stairs almost silently. There were five floors in the new Headquarters, plus an attic and a basement, which housed the kitchen (being the least infested room and of a decent size, it had been duly decided upon as the meeting place).

The first floor held one bedroom only, dedicated to other uses instead – Hermione knew there was a dining room and what could have once been a ballroom of some kind, but she hadn’t investigated. It also held the library, which Sirius had made her promise to stay out of …

Harry gasped. “And you agreed?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I had good reason.”

… until he had cleaned it out, and then to avoid the books he didn’t expressly tell her were safe. Having just watched him wrestle a book to the ground to keep it from tearing his throat out, she made that promise very quickly.

“Oh.” Harry shrugged. “Fair enough.”

The other three floors all held three bedrooms. The third floor – where Hermione slept – held Sirius’s mother and father’s rooms. Hermione had been slightly surprised there were two master bedrooms, until she remembered that it was probably an arranged marriage.

“Could barely handle being in the same room as one another.” Jen confirmed. “I couldn’t live like that.”

Both were very gloomy and very ornate. Buckbeak was in the Mistress’s Chambers …

Jen snorted, then burst out laughing. “Sirius, that’s pure gold.”

Sirius grinned. “I know.”

… as Sirius had gleefully informed his mother’s portrait …

“Of course you did.” Regulus sighed, his lips twitching.

… resulting in a slew of insults that were still ringing in Hermione’s ears.

For such a ‘refined pureblood lady’, she certainly had an interesting vocabulary.

“That she does.” Sirius agreed gravely.

Sirius had originally offered her and Remus rooms on the fourth floor, where his room was, but they had turned them down.

One had been Jen’s at one point, the other Regulus’s. Neither Hermione nor Remus felt comfortable taking Jen’s room …

“You could have done.” Jen said. “I wouldn’t have minded.”

Hermione shrugged. “I didn’t know you, and Remus knew you too well.”

… and Regulus’s … Well, it was almost eerie in there – everything was frozen in time, as though he’d simply gone out and not come back.

“I suppose I did.” Regulus muttered.

Addie stiffened against Sirius but didn’t say anything. He noticed this time, but held his peace for the time being.

Which, Hermione reminded herself, he had, and his mother, whether out grief or something else, had just let the room remain as it was, a silent shrine to her oldest son.

“Probably lost all hope of the line continuing.” Sirius frowned.

Hermione stepped on to the topmost landing, passing by the other two doors (one of which was neatly labelled with the words Do not enter without the express permission of Regulus Arcturus Black) and knocked on the third.

There was no answer, and she pushed the door open quietly, tentatively poking her head inside.

Sirius was still asleep, but he was clearly restless, and the emotion was stronger in here – a tepid mixture of fear, guilt and misery.

“That’s not good.” Alice whispered.

The architecture itself was the same as the other ‘Heir Suites’ (as Sirius had called them in a mocking tone), but the decoration was in red and gold, and Hermione couldn’t help allowing herself a smile at the reaction Sirius’s mother must have had when she saw it. There were also several pictures of motorcycles – Hermione remembered hearing an engine that Halloween night; maybe that’s what it was …

“Good guess.” Addie smirked.

… as well as Muggle pictures of bikini-clad women.

The smirk slid from her face. “Sirius Orion Black!”

“They were there when I was twelve!” Sirius protested. “I was twelve – I just put them up to piss my mother off!”

“Hmm.” Addie folded her arms. “Alright then.”

“Besides,” Sirius whispered, when the attention had mostly left them, “none of them ever held a candle to you.”

Addie smiled reluctantly, and he pressed a kiss to the side of her head.

Given that Sirius ran away after first year, Hermione doubted there was anything other than innocent mischief behind that decision, but she still admired his guile.

She crept over to his side and put a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. “Sirius?”

He didn’t wake, shivering violently. Having seen what he was dreaming, she didn’t blame him.

“Was it that bad?” James asked, sounding concerned.

Hermione shivered. “Awful.”

“Sirius! Wake up!”

Still, his eyes remained closed, his lips moving silently, and she sighed.

“SIRIUS!”

Neville grimaced. “Sorry – it looks like we’re getting the nightmare. Do you want me to skip it?”

Sirius sighed. “No, you may as well read all of it. Just … brace yourselves. My nightmares are never pretty.”

The house looked just as it always had before that night, no peel of smoke billowing from it, no sign that anything was wrong.

Lily swallowed nervously. “Is that our house?”

Sirius nodded.

Sirius sprinted towards it, praying that everything had just been some horrible dream, and burst through the front door, but everyone was quiet.

It was never quiet.

“James snores.” Sirius said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Does he ever?” Addie agreed. “It’s a miracle we get any sleep out there.”

He ran up the stairs, listening desperately for any sign of life, and paused at the nursery, pushing the door open.

Rather than smoke and rubble, he was confronted by an empty room, grey stone walls, grey stone ceiling, grey stone floor.

He stepped inside and the door swung closed behind him, leaving him in a heavy silence. His footsteps echoed and the room seemed to expand as he walked, getting larger and larger.

But still empty … except …

Something was lying up ahead, and he quickened his pace, racing towards it, only to skid to a horror-struck stop, when he realised that it was James Potter, lying spread-eagled, glasses askew, staring unseeingly at the ceiling.

Lily shuddered, clinging to her boyfriend. “But … you never found …”

“I know.” Sirius took a shaky breath. “My nightmares don’t seem to care.”

Time seemed to stop as Sirius fell to his knees, burying his face in his hands. “Merlin, Prongs, I am so sorry …”
A hand grabbed his arm, causing him to jump, and he looked up to see James grinning at him.

James relaxed. “I was expecting worse.”

“Oh, we’re only just getting started.” Hermione said darkly.

But this wasn’t James’s usual, I-just-pulled-a-prank-and-you-are-never-going-to-live-this-down grin. No, this was cold and slightly maniacal, and it sent a shiver down Sirius’s spine, because James never looked like this, not even going after Death Eaters.

“You killed us, Sirius.”

“No, you didn’t.” James said immediately. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Sirius shook his head frantically. “No! No, I didn’t, James! It was Voldemort!”

James’s hand twitched, and Sirius watched in horror as the skin began to peel away from it.

“Oh Merlin …” Lily whispered, her face pale.

“You told us to switch to Wormtail!” James whispered.

“That wasn’t your fault!” Lily protested. “You know it wasn’t your fault!”

“Again, my nightmares don’t seem to care.” Sirius repeated.

“You killed Lily! You killed me! You took away the only family Harry had!”

“He has family!” Sirius protested. “He’s got me! And Moony! And Mandy and Arabella …”

“But he’s not with you now, is he?” James’s hand, now more bone than flesh, fastened itself around Sirius’s throat. “He’s at Hogwarts, where you left him to deal with hell on his own.

“I can’t deny him that.” Sirius whispered.

“Don’t be a prat.” James said fiercely. “Mandy and Ara were with him – you didn’t leave him on his own!”

And then he’s going back to Petunia. You remember Petunia, don’t you Sirius? You remember the times Lily cried over her. Do you really think she treats Harry any better?!”

“It’s not your fault!” Harry stated firmly.

His hand tightened and Sirius gasped for air. “You deserved Azkaban for what you did to us!

James rocked back in his seat, his face pale. “Padfoot, I’d never …”

“I know.” Sirius said, managing a weak smile. “You can’t tell me all of your nightmares make sense.”

We were happy, dammit!”
“Not so tight, James.” Lily’s voice admonished, though far more coldly than Sirius remembered. “Don’t make it too quick.”

“L-Lily …” Sirius managed to turn his head as James’s grip loosened ever so slightly, but he immediately wished he hadn’t. Lily’s once vibrant hair was dull and flat, her eyes lifeless, but filled with a malicious glint that he really didn’t like.

Lily released James and jumped to her feet, racing across the room to hug Sirius tightly. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry-”

“Lily, it’s not your fault.” Sirius insisted. “This was a nightmare, nothing more.”

“You’re a traitor to the Order, Sirius.” Lily said coldly. “A traitor to your friends. A traitor to your family. How could you?!”

“Lily …” Sirius choked out. “Lily, I’m sorry! I didn’t know; I swear!”
“Face it, Sirius.” Another, chillingly familiar, voice stated. “You could have saved them.”

Sirius’s face paled. “Dammit.” He muttered. “I’d forgotten this bit.”

James finally released Sirius, shoving him away, and he spun around, praying it wasn’t who he thought it was, but, for the first time, he found himself wishing he wasn’t seeing Addie’s face before him.

“Sirius …” Addie whispered.

Across the room, their past counterparts were clinging to each other, and Lily moved away to give them some privacy.

“Just a nightmare.” Sirius whispered, his eyes closed.

Because it wasn’t her face – her smile and her eyes were colder than he’d ever seen them, and, like James, she was slowly decaying, as though she had climbed out of a grave. “You could have saved me.”

“No, you couldn’t.” Addie disagreed. “You thought I was dead.”

“Addie …”
“I loved you – I trusted you! You left me here to die!”

“Oh gods, I did.” Sirius moaned quietly.

“Stop it.” Addie said, sharper than she intended. “Just stop it, Sirius.”

“Addie, please …”

“You’re no better than them.” Tears began to spill from her eyes, and it was worse than her coldness, because he always hated seeing her cry.

Addie gave up on words, tugging on his sleeve and opening her arms. He transformed into Padfoot, and she held him close, stroking his fur softly.

“No better than Bellatrix …”
“Sirius …”

“No better than your mother …”

“Sirius! Wake up!”

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“SIRIUS!”

Hermione jumped back and breathed a sigh of relief as her last shout caused Sirius to jerk awake …

“Thank Merlin.” James breathed, taking his girlfriend back into his arms.

… flushed in a cold sweat. “Are you alright?”
“Nightmare.” Sirius gasped out, sitting up. “I’m fine.”

“I doubt that.” Jen said shakily.

“I’ll agree with the first.” Hermione said. “Maybe not the second. You’re still shaking.”
“Really bad nightmare.” Sirius amended.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Understatement.”

“What time is it?”

“About three o’clock, I think.” Hermione answered.

“Why are you awake?” Sirius asked, his breathing becoming steadier.

“You had a nightmare, I’m an empath.” Hermione said with a shrug. “And you managed to drag me into it. I would have rated that as worse than ‘really bad’.”

“I’ve had worse, but I’m sorry you had to see it.” Sirius reached out a hand and she sat next to him, letting him wrap an arm around her shoulders. She wasn’t sure if it was for her sake or his, but she didn’t care – the dream had shaken her as well.

“I’m not surprised.” Harry remarked shakily, gripping Hermione’s hand tightly.

They sat there in comfortable silence for well over twenty minutes, until movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned her head and saw a magical photograph lying on the nightstand.

Sirius had stopped shaking now, but he was still very tense and, wanting to take his mind off of his nightmare, she picked the photograph up and lit her wand to examine it.

“I doubt it will.” Jen said sadly.

There were ten people in the photograph, all about sixteen or seventeen years of age, all sitting on the bank of the Hogwarts lake, smiling and waving at the camera.

Alice smiled softly. “That was taken a few days ago, I think.”

“Wait.” Sirius frowned. “What’s that doing at Grimmauld?”

“Remus brought it.” Hermione explained. “Said the place could use some cheering up.”

“You’ll need more than a photograph.” Jen said darkly.

Hermione’s gaze was drawn first to James and Lily, on the right hand side of the photo, holding hands and exchanging loving looks.

Beside them, Sirius was laughing and joking with a girl she didn’t recognise with long blonde hair and blue eyes. Every now and then, he would say something that would cause her to smack his arm, but her smile never wavered.

“Me.” Addie murmured, raking her fingers through Sirius’s fur.

To their left, Remus was smiling tiredly at whoever was taking the picture. Maybe it had been a full moon the night before or not long ago. His arm was around the waist of a girl Hermione assumed to be Jen. Her dark hair was pulled back into a braid, her eyes the same grey as Sirius’s. ‘Stunning’, Remus had called her – and Hermione had to agree.

“Thank you, Hermione.” Jen said.

“Welcome.” Hermione responded brightly. “I think it’s just Black genetics though.”

“Tell me about it.” Addie said, rolling her eyes. “They’re so genetically blessed, it’s absurd.”

Sirius grinned weakly, still a little shaken from the nightmare. “You admit I’m good-looking then.”

“I never denied it.” Addie pointed out, smiling slightly.

Peter was next to them, and Hermione’s eyes lingered on him for a few minutes.

Harry groaned. “Do they have to?”

Hermione sighed. “Sorry. Curiosity.”

He was different than she had expected – from the encounter in the Shack, and the way McGonagall and Madam Rosmerta had talked about him in the Three Broomsticks, she had assumed that Peter had been a tagalong, not really part of the group, but if that was true, it didn’t convey itself in the picture. He held himself well – not with the easy confidence of James, or the casual elegance of Sirius – but he was there, with no sign of discomfort or the air of I-can’t-believe-my-luck that she was expecting.

Hermione shook her head. “I still don’t get him.”

“None of us do.” Addie said bluntly, ending the topic of conversation.

He was talking to Mandy, Arabella, and another girl Hermione didn’t know, but recognised nonetheless. She had curly dark hair and blue eyes, with a round face that reminded her strongly of someone she went to school with.

“That’s Neville Longbottom’s mum, isn’t it?” She asked, pointing to her.

Alice smiled, looking at Neville. “You do look a lot like me, you know. Except your eyes – you have your father’s eyes.”

“Alice Bones.” Sirius confirmed. “Well, Alice Longbottom eventually, of course.”

Alice blushed slightly.

Hermione nodded, remembering what Neville had said about his mum and Susan’s dad. “So she’s Susan Bones’s aunt, right?”

“That’s right. Susan was Edgar’s daughter – the rest of the family was killed in the first war.” Sirius told her. “I believe Susan lives with their other sister, Amelia.”

Alice relaxed slightly. “At least she wasn’t there as well when … when it happened.”

Hermione frowned, realising that Neville had only ever mentioned his mum that one time. “Sirius …” she said slowly. “What happened to her?

Hermione winced. “I’m sorry, Neville. It was really none of my …”

But Neville was shaking his head. “It’s alright, Hermione. It’s natural that you’d be curious. Out of interest, how were you going to handle it come September?”

“I wouldn’t have said anything.” Hermione answered. “If there came a time when you wanted me to know, you’d tell me.”

Because Neville lives with his grandmother, but … he’s never spoken about them …”

“She’s in St Mungo’s.” Sirius answered heavily. “In the long-term ward. Shortly after Voldemort fell, she and Frank were tortured into insanity by some of his followers.”

“Oh Merlin.” Hermione closed her eyes, thankful beyond anything that she hadn’t questioned Neville about his mum that day in December. “No wonder he doesn’t tell anyone; that must be awful …”

“She was David Potter’s goddaughter.” Sirius said absently. “She was like James’s little sister – probably the only person who could get away with calling him ‘Jamie’.” He chuckled. “He’d have gutted the rest of us.”

“Still do it though, don’t you?” James muttered.

“But that didn’t stop you, did it.” Hermione asked smirking.

“Course not.” Sirius said with a grin.

“No.” Sirius admitted grinning.

Hermione laughed, looking back at the photo. “That’s Addie, isn’t it?” She asked, pointing at the girl he was talking to.

Padfoot let out a quiet whimper, and Addie rubbed his head gently.

“Yeah.” Sirius answered, his smile fading slightly. “That’s Addie.”

Hermione tilted her head up to see his face. “It wasn’t your fault, you know. And Addie doesn’t blame you.”

“I don’t.” Addie whispered, giving Hermione another grateful smile.

“I thought you couldn’t talk to her.” Sirius said mildly.

“I can’t.” Hermione agreed. “But remember what Lily said the first time I spoke to her? She still loves you.

“You know I do.” Addie said, when Padfoot looked up at her. “Can you turn back now?”

Sirius transformed, and pulled her into his arms, kissing her head. “Love you too.”

She can’t blame you – and it’s not your fault anyway.”

“I could have …”
“So could everyone else.” Hermione interrupted. “No one knew for sure she was dead, and no one looked.

“Besides,” Addie said, “you’d seen my body. There was no reason to believe that I was alive.”

That’s not your fault. And neither was what happened to James and Lily, for that matter, so stop it.” She looked back at the photo without waiting for a response, and pointed to the girl beside Remus. “That’s Jen.”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah, that’s Jenny.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Typical.”

He sniggered. “Not that she liked me calling her that. Only Reg could get away with calling her that.”

“I thought you didn’t get along with your brother.” Hermione said curiously.

“We got along fine until Jen and I were sorted into Gryffindor.” Sirius sighed. “Suddenly we ceased to exist to him.

Regulus winced, closing his eyes.

It hurt me, it nearly killed Jen.

“Remus,” Regulus said in a measured tone, “do you mind if I borrow my sister for a bit?”

Remus released her and she wrapped her arms around Regulus, curling into his chest,

I suppose you could say she was a Daddy’s Girl, and our father was never the paternal type.”

“So Regulus filled that spot.” Hermione said softly.

Regulus kissed her forehead. “Love you, Jenny.” He whispered.

“What happened to him? There’s a date of death on the tapestry …”

“Honestly, Kitten, I don’t know.” Sirius admitted. “Two days after Jen disappeared, we got word that Reg was dead … word through the grapevine was that he’d been killed by aurors, but no one in the aurors had any knowledge of it. Personally, I think he got in so far, realised the lengths Voldemort was willing to go, and tried to back out.”

“That’s …” Addie’s voice cracked and she swallowed. “That’s not true.”

Everyone looked at her, and Regulus pulled Jen closer. “I thought you said you didn’t want to tell the story.”

“I don’t.” Addie said, her voice gaining strength. “But that story paints you as a coward, and if you were anything, it wasn’t that. Regulus knew where one of the Horcruxes was; Voldemort had used Kreacher to hide it. Kreacher only survived because Regulus ordered him to return. Were it not for Jen’s disappearance, I reckon Regulus would have sat on it until he found someone to tell. As it were …” she sighed. “He went after it. I don’t know how he got back to us, but it took an hour before he was cohesive enough to tell me what happened and that,” she shuddered, “is not something I want to repeat. He was going to apparate home, but I-I told him to stay, because he’d splinch himself … told him to get some rest first. He … He never woke up.”

Regulus looked pale, but determined. “Well, if I have to go … Do you think the full story will be in the books?”

“Assuming we get the future,” Addie said shakily, “I hope so.”

“How can you hope for that?” James asked.

“It means she’s there to tell it.” Sirius pointed out, slightly icily.

Alice looked warily at Regulus and Jen, before nudging Neville. “Go on, sweetheart.”

“You think Voldemort killed him.” Hermione concluded.

“On his orders, at the very least.” Sirius agreed quietly.

In another attempt to change the subject, Hermione asked a question that had been bothering her for the last few days. “Why Jennifer?”

“Didn’t Remus tell you that?” Sirius asked, looking puzzled.

Hermione smiled weakly. “I meant the name.”

Sirius gave her a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”

“Well …” Hermione shrugged. “Sirius, Regulus, Narcissa, Bellatrix, Andromeda … They’re all unusual. Actually, they’re all stars, except Narcissa. That’s a flower.”

“Well, Black family tradition says we name our children after stars and constellations.” Sirius explained, rolling his eyes. “But it gets a little difficult with girls, so if you can’t go star, you go Latin, flower or mythology.”

So not sticking to that tradition.” Sirius and Jen said together.

“Careful.” Sirius warned. “Andie said that, and she ended up with Nymphadora.”

“We are not calling our daughter Nymphadora.” Addie said firmly.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “What daughter?”

Addie sighed. “Alright, hypothetical daughter.”

“Still doesn’t explain Jennifer.” Hermione pointed out.

Sirius smirked. “That’s because Jennifer wasn’t her real name. It was Guinevere.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Thank you.”

“Now that sounds more like it.” Hermione remarked. “So why do you and Remus call her Jennifer then?”

“Because she didn’t answer to Guinevere.” Sirius answered simply. “It wasn’t like Andie’s daughter, Nymphadora – she’ll hex you if you insist on using it – she just blanked you until you called her Jennifer or Jen. And she was stubborn. David Potter wrote to McGonagall just before the Sorting warning her, so even the teachers called her Jennifer.”

“Would you really have ignored them?” Ginny asked.

Jen sighed. “Not for the Sorting, no. But it would have gone against every single one of my principles.”

Hermione nodded. “Andie – Andromeda’s the Healer, right? Why was she disowned?”

“She married a Muggle-born, Ted Tonks.” Sirius answered with a smile. “Nice guy.”

“I’ve never met him.” Regulus admitted, regret tinging his tone.

“He is a nice guy.” Jen confirmed.

He reached for his wand and flicked it in front of him. “Tempus.”

Glowing numbers appeared in front of them. 03:49.

“Back to bed.” Lily and Addie said in unison.

“Yes Mum.” Hermione said tiredly. “Yes Aunt Lily. Just as soon as I get my hands on a time-turner again.”

Both witches laughed, although Addie’s remained on her face, Hermione’s wording, however light-hearted, warming her soul.

“You need to go back to bed.” He told her. “It’s too early for you to be awake – you need to sleep.”

Hermione didn’t bother to argue, putting the photograph back on the nightstand. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Sirius smiled, kissing her forehead. “I’ll be fine.”

Hermione stood up, stretched, and made her way towards the door. Just as she reached it, she remembered something she’d been meaning to ask, and turned around. “What was her Marauder name? Jen, I mean.”

“Selena.” The Marauders chorused.

“Selena.” Sirius answered. “Her Animagus form was a wolf.”

Hermione smiled. “Goddess of the moon. Appropriate.”

“Thank you.” Lily said with a grin.

“Lily thought so.” Sirius agreed. “Goodnight.”

“Night, Padfoot.”

Seven hours later, Hermione was sitting down in the kitchen at the huge oak table. She had been unable to get back to sleep and, eventually, gave up, wandering down to the huge, cavernous room. She had whiled away the time by making a ridiculous amount of food for breakfast …

“How much is a ridiculous amount?” Fred asked.

“Enough to feed most of Gryffindor.” Sirius answered with a wry grin.

… and mentally listing all of the very good reasons why she couldn’t – and shouldn’t – visit the library yet.

“Good girl.” Sirius said. “It shouldn’t be long, and we’ll have it sorted.”

“Did you even go back to bed?” Sirius asked tiredly, appearing in the doorway.

Addie tutted softly. “Manners, Sirius.”

“Good morning to you too.” Hermione said flatly. “Yes, I did, but I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I gave up at about six. I figured if I came down here and made coffee and breakfast, I’d be less likely to be tempted by the library.”

“McGonagall will bring your trunk by today.” Sirius told her, sitting opposite her. “How much food did you make?”

Hermione blushed slightly. “More than necessary, admittedly. I got a bit carried away.”

“Nothing wrong with that.” Sirius told her, loading his plate up. “One can never have too much breakfast.

“Very true.” Remus agreed sagely. “I’ll probably appreciate it as well, given that it’s only a few days after the full moon.”

I’ve never known a fourth year to drink coffee before – normally that hits in the OWL season.”

“I’ve been hooked since second year.” Hermione admitted, taking a sip. “Merlin knows I needed it.”

“What actually happened during your first two years?” Sirius asked curiously, pouring himself a mug as well. “No one seems to want to answer the question. It can’t have been anything bad, can it?”

Lily laughed bitterly. “Not at all, Padfoot, why do you ask?”

Sirius shook his head. “I could have lived a lifetime without knowing the answer to that.”

Hermione considered that for a few seconds. “They were worse than third year.” She said finally. “But better than this one.”

Sirius closed his eyes. “You spent third year thinking I was trying to kill Harry.” He said in a strained voice. “What could be worse than that?”

“Oh, you know.” Harry said lightly. “Voldemort attempting a comeback, a mountain troll, and a basilisk.”

Hermione sighed heavily. “Can we wait for Harry so we can tell you together?” She asked, almost desperately. “It’s a long story, and I don’t know all of it anyway.”

“Then tell me this,” Sirius said quietly, “how bad are Harry’s aunt and uncle?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “How did you know they were bad?” He asked. “I never said anything.”

“I know you didn’t.” Sirius said, a little exasperated. “Although you should have done.”

Hermione hid her grimace by taking another sip of coffee. “What makes you think they’re bad?”

“The fact that after knowing I was innocent for an hour …

“Not even that.” Addie frowned slightly.

… he was willing to choose me over them.” Sirius answered heavily. “Plus, he’s told me about Jess in his letters – it can’t be a normal family situation for him to prefer his next-door neighbour.”

Harry sighed. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“It’s not your fault, Harry.” Lily said softly. “It’s my damn sister’s.”

Hermione heaved another sigh. “I don’t know.” She said, only half-truthfully. “Harry never talks about them. He didn’t know he was a wizard until he was eleven, and they told him James and Lily died in a car crash.”

In actual fact, Harry had told her more about the Dursleys – a lot more – but Sirius was not going to happy when he heard it, and she  would much rather have someone else there to keep him from doing anything stupid when she told him.

“Fair enough.” Sirius said reluctantly.

Sirius muttered something under his breath that sounded as though it was aimed at the Dursleys, but Hermione didn’t ask him to repeat it, because at that moment, a clanging noise echoed through the house, and Mrs Black’s portrait began screaming.

Sirius groaned. “How often does that happen?”

“A lot.” Fred said dryly. “People keep ringing the doorbell and Kreacher keeps ‘accidentally’ waking her up.”

Again.

“Bloody hell!” Sirius exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “Is that the time? The meeting starts in an hour!”

“Someone’s early.” Hermione commented, getting up as well. “I’ll get it.”

“Where’s Remus?” Sirius asked, looking up the staircase to the main hall, as though expecting his best friend to suddenly materialise.

Addie gasped in mock-hurt. “I’m not your best friend?!”

“Well, I …” Sirius stopped himself. “Of course you’re my best friend.”

“Good.” Addie said smugly.

Sirius shook his head with a fond smile. “Out of interest, Shadow, who’s your best friend?”

Addie smirked. “Well, Lily, obviously.”

“Popped out to run a few errands.” Hermione answered. “But he knows better than to ring the doorbell – stay here.”

“Plus, Remus can get in without knocking.” Hermione added.

She hurried up the stairs and into the hallway, diving for the curtains that now framed the portrait.

After much struggling, in which the word ‘Mudblood’ was screamed at least fifteen times and ignored just as many (much to Mrs Black’s mounting anger) …

“Out of interest, is it easier to fight back or not?” Jen asked.

Hermione grimaced. “Fighting back encourages her, ignoring her makes her angry. I find the latter more satisfying.”

… Hermione managed to close the curtains and the furious old woman fell silent.

Pausing to catch her breath, and to direct a Silencing Charm at the other portraits, Hermione opened the door to see Professor McGonagall standing on the step, looking very unusual in a brown Muggle house-coat. “Good morning, Miss Granger.”

“Good morning, Professor.” Hermione greeted in a whisper, stepping back to let her in. “Sorry about the wait, but our hostess isn’t very accommodating.”

Sirius snorted. “There’s an understatement if ever there was one.”

“Yes, Walburga Black was always a thoroughly unpleasant woman.” McGonagall agreed in the same quiet tone, as Hermione led her down into the kitchen.

“I knew I liked Minnie.” Sirius said cheerfully.

“I thought you liked me.” Addie responded innocently.

“Not like … I mean …” Sirius sighed. “Never mind.”

When they got there, Padfoot was sitting beside the table, wagging his tail hopefully, and wearing the most pathetic ‘puppy-dog’ eyes Hermione had ever seen.

Addie groaned. “Oh, Padfoot, you know that doesn’t work on her.”

“Not as a human.” Sirius corrected. “As a dog …”

“It doesn’t work.” Hermione finished with a smirk.

McGonagall removed her coat, revealing an old-fashioned tweed day-dress. “That won’t work on me, Black.” She said sternly, laying the coat over the back of a chair. “Professor Dumbledore told me everything.”

Padfoot whined softly, looking at Hermione, who shrugged. “Don’t look at me. She’s my head of house too, remember.”

“I still don’t know what you wanted me to do.” Hermione said.

Turning human again in one smooth movement, Sirius gave Professor McGonagall a charming smile. “Good morning, Professor – may I say how lovely you look today?”

“Nice try, Padfoot.” James sniggered. “It’s not going to work though.”

“Don’t give me that!” McGonagall snapped. “Now I would like to think that the Headmaster is mistaken on this point, but he very rarely is. Is it true that you became an illegal Animagus, right under my nose, in fifth year?!”

“Uh oh.” Remus and James said, smirking.

Sirius gulped audibly. “Well … it was towards the end of fourth year actually … but, yes ma’am, that’s true.”

“Well, I have just one thing to say to you, young man!” McGonagall paused, and Sirius flinched in anticipation.

“You’re dead.” James predicted.

Then, she smiled – the first real smile Hermione had seen her give anyone in a long time. “I am incredibly proud of you.”

James’s jaw dropped.

“Wait, what?” Sirius asked.

“What?” Sirius asked, looking bewildered, only for her to step forward and hug him, like he was her long-lost son who had finally returned home.

“What?!” Sirius repeated, as the others laughed.

Hermione picked up her coffee again, hiding her smile behind her mug, as Sirius tentatively patted McGonagall on the shoulder, looking slightly scared by this sudden turn of events.

“Slightly scared?” Sirius snorted. “Try completely terrified.”

“Really, Padfoot?” Harry asked. “Where’s your Gryffindor bravery?”

“It was McGonagall!” Sirius protested. “Hugging me!”

Addie patted his arm, grinning broadly. “We know, hun.”

As Professor McGonagall released him, the doorbell rang again, and Mrs Black’s screams echoed through the house once more.

Sirius groaned. “Professor, I don’t suppose you can remove a Permanent Sticking Charm, can you?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Clue’s in the name, Padfoot.”

Professor McGonagall didn’t quite roll her eyes, but it looked like it was difficult not to. “Believe it or not, Mr Black, the whole point of a Permanent Sticking Charm is that it is permanent.”

Narcissa chuckled. “If there’s one thing Professor McGonagall’s good at, it’s sarcasm.”

Hermione tried and failed to hold back a snigger. “Help yourself to coffee and breakfast, Professor. Sirius, you might want to stay as Padfoot until the meeting starts.” She hurried up the stairs and into the hallway, skidding to a halt in front of the painting. “Listen, you old bat, I’m not spending the entire morning shutting you up every five minutes!”

Jen, Sirius, Fred and Ginny applauded, causing Hermione to blush.

Her words seemed to startle the old woman, which gave Hermione the opportunity to force the curtains shut.

“That’s the trick then.” Ginny remarked.

Hermione sighed. “No, the trick is coming up with something that will surprise her. It gets difficult.”

So that’s the answer – say something to stun her into silence and then close the curtains.

Musing on this new development, Hermione opened the door to see a tall, bald, black man, who looked to be about Sirius and Remus’s age, with a single gold hoop in his right ear.

“Know who he is, Dad?” James asked.

David shook his head with a frown. “No idea.”

“Kingsley Shacklebolt.” Sirius supplied. “Year above us, Ravenclaw.”

The witch beside him was in her early twenties, and had bright pink hair and dark twinkling eyes that shone from a pale, heart-shaped face.

“What about her?” Narcissa asked.

Sirius smirked. “You’ll see.”

There was another man with them as well, but he was standing behind them shrouded in a travelling cloak.

“Password?”

“Good girl.” Regulus said. “Should have done it with McGonagall, really.”

Neville coughed and read the next few lines.

She should have gone through this with Professor McGonagall as well, she realised, but she couldn’t see any Death Eater willingly disguising themselves as Minerva McGonagall.

They’d never live it down.

Regulus smirked. “Good point.”

“At least someone’s got some sense.” The cloaked man growled.

Hermione’s heart seemed to stutter to a halt, and she raised her wand, her hand shaking slightly.

“Ah.” David said, realisation dawning. “It’s Alastor.”

“Password?”

“Phoenix.” The young woman supplied, with a reassuring smile. “Are you alright, miss?”

“You must be young Potter’s friend.” The other man lowered the hood of his cloak, revealing mismatched eyes, one of which was scanning the house, and a heavily scarred face.

“I suppose it would be quite daunting to suddenly encounter him.” David frowned. “Considering that the last time you saw him, he was a Death Eater in disguise.”

“I understand from Potter that you’re the one who took down the arsehole pretending to be me.”

“We were both stuck in the hospital wing.” Harry explained. “He asked me to fill him in.”

“Y-Yes, sir.” Hermione lowered her wand again. “Sorry, Professor, I wasn’t expecting you – it took me by surprise. Come in – keep your voices down in the hallway.”

“No point calling me ‘Professor’, lass.” He told her, limping over the threshold. “Didn’t get round to much teaching, did I? Just call me Mad-Eye – everyone else does.” He took out a flask from his pocket and took a swig.

Lily stiffened, and James squeezed her shoulder. “Relax, Lils. Moody drinks from that anyway, remember?”

Seeing her eyes fixed on the flask, he offered her a twisted smile and removed the lid, holding it out for her to sniff. “Firewhiskey.”

Lily nodded approvingly. “Nice of him to reassure her.”

“He was probably appreciating her suspicion.” David said.

Hermione wrinkled her nose at the smell. “Better than Polyjuice.” She turned to the other two, holding her hand out. “Hermione Granger. Fourth year Gryffindor.”

“Kingsley Shacklebolt.” The man said in a deep slow voice, shaking her hand. “Former Ravenclaw, current auror. This is Nymphadora Tonks.”

“That’s my niece?” Narcissa asked, her voice cracking. “Have I …?”

“You’ve never met her, as far as I’m aware.” Sirius said gently.

She rolled her eyes, shaking Hermione’s hand in turn. “Don’t call me Nymphadora unless you want me to hex you – Tonks is fine. Why are we whispering?”

Before Hermione could explain, the doorbell rang and the curtains flew open again.

“FILTH! SLIME! HOW DARE YOU …?!”

Hermione sighed. “That’s why. Go on down to the kitchen; there’s food and coffee if you want it. Sooner Remus gets back the better,” she muttered under her breath as the three made their way down the hall.

“Sorry.” Remus said sheepishly.

Hermione laughed. “You got back soon enough, don’t worry.”

Once they were out of earshot, she turned to Mrs Black with a bright smile. “Hi Grandma! Didn’t Dad tell you about me?!”

Sirius laughed. “I bet she loved that!”

“She looked as though she would have exploded if I hadn’t closed the curtains.” Hermione said, before adding thoughtfully, “Maybe I should have let her. It might have knocked her off the wall.”

Once again, she took advantage of the temporary silence and forced the curtains closed. “This is going to be a long day.”

An hour later, most of the Order had arrived, and there were more people than she had expected.

“Still not enough though.” Sirius sighed.

Thankfully, Remus had returned before long, and they had taken it in turns to shut Mrs Black up and let people in.

Hermione was currently leaning against the kitchen wall and trying to remember at least some names.

“To be fair,” Hermione said, “it wasn’t the names I had trouble with. It was matching those names with faces.”

Nearest her, Hestia Jones – short auburn hair with pink cheeks – and Emmeline Vance – tall, with long black hair braided down her back – were conversing cheerfully. Hestia was also an auror, she had told Hermione, and Emmeline worked elsewhere in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

“I think I know Hestia.” David said. “She’s just joined us. Lost her fiancé a few months ago.”

Sirius nodded. “That’s her. She didn’t handle his death well at all.”

“I didn’t know you knew her.” Addie said.

Sirius shrugged. “We worked together. I missed you. She missed him. We bonded – platonically.” He added hastily.

“I didn’t know she was in the Order though.” David said, frowning.

“No one knows who’s in the Order.” Sirius explained. “That’s kind of the point.”

A few seats down, Elphias Doge – almost as old as Dumbledore, but very short – and Dedalus Diggle – just as short, but slightly younger, and wearing a most peculiar violet top hat – were discussing the Ministry in very grave voices.

“They don’t surprise me.” David remarked.

Next to them, Mad-Eye was drinking from his hip-flask and watching Mundungus Fletcher – short and pudgy, with droopy blood-shot eyes, and had a smell of stale smoke and firewhiskey lingering around him – suspiciously …

Mandy grimaced. “He’s really gone downhill, hasn’t he?”

Sirius sighed. “Like I said, he went native.”

… although Fletcher seemed more interested in examining the Black Family silver than paying attention to the grizzled old auror.

Regulus sighed. “Don’t let him, Sirius. I know you can’t stand our family, and I respect that, but please don’t let him.”

“He won’t.” Addie said confidently. “Will you?”

“And why not?” Sirius asked in a whisper.

Addie smirked. “What would piss your mother off more – completely turning your back on everything that represents your family, or using the money and standing to help the war effort?”

Sirius looked at her admiringly. “You’re devious, you know that? I love you.”

Bill Weasley was talking to Kingsley Shacklebolt and Tonks, who – Hermione had remembered – was Sirius’s first cousin once removed. She couldn’t believe it had taken her so long to realise that – Sirius had mentioned her earlier that morning, but the resemblance between the two cousins was almost non-existent.

At least it was until Tonks mentioned that she was a Metamorphmagus and Hermione realised that she might not be seeing what the woman really looked like.

“What does she really look like?” Narcissa asked.

“Bit like you, actually.” Sirius admitted. “Or rather, like Andie with blonde hair, which is almost the same thing, and a bit of Ted mixed in. She just prefers having pink or purple or turquoise hair.”

Mr and Mrs Weasley were sitting next to Bill, talking in low voices, looking uncharacteristically worried.

No one was paying attention to the large black dog sitting at Hermione’s feet, except Mrs Weasley and Bill, who kept looking over warily …

“Of course.” Arabella murmured. “They haven’t been told the full story yet.”

… and Professor McGonagall, who was scribbling something on a spare piece of parchment with one hand and absently scratching Padfoot’s head with the other.

James sniggered. “Tell me you got a picture?”

Hermione laughed. “Sorry. No camera.”

Hermione smirked inwardly at what the other Marauders would have said if they’d known while they were at Hogwarts.

“Don’t you dare.” Sirius said, beating James and Remus to it.

Judging by the smirk Remus wasn’t bothering to hide, it would have been quite entertaining to witness.

But there were two people missing that Hermione had been expecting to see, and she leaned over to Remus. “Where are Mandy and Arabella?”

Hermione shook her head. “I should have known.”

“They told Albus, in no uncertain terms, that they weren’t leaving the castle until Harry did.” Remus told her just as quietly. “Not even for Order meetings. Are they here?”

Hermione shook her head, straightening up again. No, James and Lily were nowhere to be seen, and hadn’t been for a few days. She could only assume they were still with Harry.

At least, she hoped that was where they were.

“They were.” Hermione said hastily. “I’ve seen them since.”

Finally, Professor Dumbledore entered the room and the gathered Order members lapsed into silence.

“Thank you all for coming today.” Professor Dumbledore said gravely. “However much I wish we had no need to gather, we find it once again necessary.”

“He’s definitely back, Dumbledore?” A voice asked – Hermione couldn’t see who.

“Sturgis Podmore.” Sirius said. “Five years ahead of us. Ravenclaw.”

“He was a Chaser, wasn’t he?” James asked, thinking back. “Graduated after our second year.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I’m afraid so, Sturgis. I must admit, I had been expecting this to happen eventually. As I am sure you have noticed, the Ministry is doing their best to ignore what is happening, so, once again, we are forced to act in their stead. First things first, I am sure you are wondering about our headquarters.”

There was a murmur of agreement, and Emmeline shuddered delicately. “Where exactly are we, Professor? This place looks like it belonged to the darkest of Dark Wizards.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.” Jen muttered.

“It did.” Dumbledore agreed. “The Black Family, to be exact.”

Hestia gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. “But … But Professor! Sirius Black … what if he comes back here?!”

Addie scowled. “I thought you said you were friends.”

“We were.” Sirius confirmed. “Moony didn’t believe me either.”

“That’s different.” Addie insisted. “Remus knew about the Fidelius Charm. He had some form of evidence, even if it was false. She just thought you suddenly murdered thirteen people.”

Sirius rolled his eyes, but kissed her head. “It’s fine, sweetheart. Besides, Hestia was in the Order. She did know about the Fidelius.”

A flash of pain and a whimper from her feet caught her attention, and Hermione reached down to pat Padfoot’s head, not bothering to wonder – Hestia was about his age and, as an auror, she would have worked with him.

Dumbledore caught her eye and motioned her forwards. “To answer your question, Hestia, I would like to introduce you all to Hermione Granger. I am sure some of you may have met her already – to forestall your protests, I am not about to induct her into the Order; though I am sure she would make a great asset, she is still only fifteen.”

“Well, that’s something.” David muttered.

Hermione blushed slightly at the praise. “Thank you, Headmaster.”

“Hermione is here to answer that very question.” Dumbledore told them, his eyes twinkling slightly. “Miss Granger?”

Hermione stepped forward, feeling a little nervous as every face turned to look at her. She caught Remus’s eye and he nodded encouragingly; they had already discussed how she would explain all this.

“Bill,” she began, “when you were at Hogwarts, did you ever hear of a group called the Marauders?”

“Good idea.” Mandy said. “Use nicknames to tell the story and then bring in their identities.”

Bill looked a little startled. “Yeah. Yeah, I did. They were pranksters, but no one had a clue who they were. They first appeared in 197 … 5, I believe …

“January.” James confirmed, grinning. “Third year. Just after we found out what our forms were and came up with the nicknames.”

… and the pranks didn’t stop until 1981, but they were very sporadic after 1979, so most people figured they graduated that year and returned to Hogwarts every so often for … whatever reason.

“There were Order meetings held at Hogwarts every so often.” Sirius explained. “We couldn’t resist.”

No one knew what house they were in, because they targeted all houses equally – they must have pranked themselves constantly …

“We did.” Sirius grumbled.

“If we didn’t, we’d have been caught.” Remus said tiredly.

… because no one ever got spared. They only ever targeted the whole school or whole houses, unless they were retaliating for something – normally some form of bullying.”

“The Marauders always signed their pranks.” Hermione continued, when Bill stopped. “Courtesy of Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs.

“If no one knew who you were,” Harry said, “how did you get a reputation for pranking?”

“Because they pulled pranks they could get caught for as well.” Lily answered, smiling fondly at her boyfriend. “So they could have the attention and the anonymity.”

And most people were right – they did graduate in 1979. Most people also had no idea about Misses Selena, Shadow, Jade, Bastet and Talon, but that’s another story. These four boys were best friends – brothers, in fact – so when they figured out that Mr Moony was a werewolf in second year, they decided they wanted to help him.”

The room was utterly silent, every occupant intrigued, even if they didn’t know why.

“They became Animagi.” Hermione explained. “Werewolves are only a danger to humans, not to animals, and while they were there, Mr Moony kept his mind, more so than he would normally have done. In their third year, they discovered their Animagi forms and assigned themselves nicknames, which is when the pranking … not started, but became more anonymous.”

“Most of the time.” Addie smirked, confirming Lily’s earlier words.

“They did still continue pranking overtly.” McGonagall said, her lips thin. “We could just never prove they were the Marauders.

Fred shook his head. “I still find that incredible.”

Continue, Miss Granger.”

“Of course, Professor.” Hermione cleared her throat. “So they became Animagi – Mr Wormtail was a rat, Mr Padfoot was a dog, and Mr Prongs was a stag. After they graduated, Mr Prongs and Miss Jade got married and had a baby – little Pronglet.”

Harry rolled his eyes, but smiled nonetheless.

She paused for a moment. “They were very happy, until they learned that Voldemort …” she resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the squeaks and gasps of protest (Harry was right – that was really annoying)

“Thank you!” Harry sighed.

“… wanted to kill Pronglet. So they went into hiding under the Fidelius Charm. Mr Padfoot was their Secret Keeper.”

Instantly the tension in the room increased tenfold, as everyone began to realise just who the Marauders were.

“But in October of 1982, that all changed.” Hermione’s face darkened. “They changed Secret Keeper to Mr Wormtail, who betrayed them and, on Halloween, Voldemort attacked, leaving Pronglet as the Boy-Who-Lived.”

Lily closed her eyes. “It sounds even worse all set out like that.”

“So Mr Prongs,” Bill said quietly, “was James Potter. Miss Jade was Lily Potter. And Mr Wormtail was … Sirius Black?”

“Don’t insult me.” Sirius growled.

“No.” Remus answered tiredly, as Hermione put a warning hand on Padfoot’s head. “Mr Padfoot was Sirius Black. Mr Wormtail was Peter Pettigrew.”

“The next morning,” Hermione continued, before anyone could interrupt, “Padfoot tracked Wormtail down, but rather than going in quietly, he shouted, “Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?!” whereupon he blew the street apart, cut his finger off, turned into a rat and sped down into the sewers.”

“But that would mean …” Emmeline said slowly. “That would mean Sirius Black is … innocent.”

“Well, give the girl a coconut.” Addie muttered sarcastically.

“He is.” Hermione confirmed. “I saw Peter Pettigrew with my own eyes last June. Pettigrew had been living as a domestic rat.” She looked at Mr and Mrs Weasley. “Crookshanks didn’t eat Scabbers.”

Mrs Weasley gasped in horror.

“Mum came home and nearly suffocated Ron.” Fred said, looking amused.

“But …” Emmeline still looked sceptical. “This would have all come up in his trial …”

“He wasn’t given one, Em.” Hestia whispered, staring at the table in shock. “Several of the aurors protested, but I …” Guilt and what felt like affection rose in the air as she shook her head.

Addie swallowed, feeling her stomach tighten. Sirius had told her, again and again, that he still loved her. But there had been three years before he went to Azkaban.

If he’d found someone else, she couldn’t be mad at him for it.

She didn’t want him to spend his life mourning her.

She wanted him to be happy.

“I should have known. We were friends – why didn’t I know?”

“None of us did.” Remus said heavily. “I was his best friend, Hestia, and I didn’t believe him. You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about.”
“So Sirius Black will be joining us.” Kingsley concluded. “When?”

David sighed. “Didn’t Hermione tell them what the forms were?”

Hermione smiled sweetly. “Don’t tell me you all forgot what animal Padfoot was.” She looked down at the dog by her feet. “Are they always this unobservant?”

Padfoot stood up and transformed back into Sirius, slowing down the transformation so as not to startle anyone. “I think they’re out of practice, Hermione; give them a break.”

“The aurors shouldn’t be.” David muttered.

Before anyone else could say anything, Tonks stood up quickly and manoeuvred around the table with a grace that surprised even Hermione (after just an hour, she knew the woman was notoriously clumsy) …

Jen chuckled. “She gets that from Ted.”

…before throwing herself into Sirius’s arms.

“Mum never thought you did it.” She half-sobbed. “Not really.”

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s something.”

Sirius hugged her tightly, and the whole room seemed to let out a collective breath. When the cousins pulled apart, they both had red-rimmed eyes, but no one commented on it.

Kingsley stood as well, reaching across the table to shake Sirius’s hand. “Good to see you again, Sirius. I’m in charge of the search for you, you know. Apparently, you’ve just been spotted in Hawaii.” He added, winking at him.

“Well, that’s handy!” James grinned.

Addie bit her lip nervously, shaking off her earlier insecurities. “Just don’t rely on it, Sirius; please be careful.”

Sirius laughed. “Well, I hear the weather’s lovely there at this time of year.”

“The weather’s always lovely in Hawaii.” Lily said wistfully. “I’d love to go there one day.”

“Okay.” James said.

“Okay what?” Lily asked.

“Okay, we’ll go to Hawaii one day.” James elaborated.

“Are you serious?” Lily asked in disbelief. “Padfoot, don’t you dare!”

James grinned at her. “It’s not like we haven’t got the money for it.”

He turned to Hermione apologetically. “I hate to say this, Hermione, but …”
“I know.” Hermione sighed. “I can’t stay for the meeting. Do you have my trunk, Professor?”

Professor McGonagall pulled a small package out of her robes and placed it on the floor, tapping it with her wand to resize it. “There you are, Miss Granger.”

“Here.” Sirius waved his own wand over it, casting a Feather-Light Charm. “That way you can get it up the stairs. I’ll remove it later for you.” He added, with a meaningful smile.

“Thanks, Sirius.” Hermione said, hearing the unspoken reminder not to mention her use of magic in front of the Order.

“That’s good.” Sirius said. “McGonagall would have killed me.”

“Forget McGonagall.” His future self said grimly. “Molly would have killed me.”

She carried the trunk out up into the hallway, before drawing her wand and levitating up the rest of the stairs to her room. Removing the charm herself, she dug through the contents until she found a book she hadn’t read – at least in a while – before settling down and losing herself in the pages.

“Which book?” Lily asked curiously.

Hermione thought for a second. “Wind in the Willows, I think.”

Late that evening, when the Order had left, Hermione found herself down in the kitchen again, nursing a mug of hot chocolate. Remus had left that afternoon, to do … something – he hadn’t been very forthcoming with information, and Sirius, oddly, had not pushed for any.

Sirius smiled sadly. “I knew better than to try.”

They had been sitting in silence for a few minutes, when Hermione asked, “Did something happen between you and Hestia?”

Addie stiffened involuntarily and Sirius nudged her gently. “It was only ever semantics.” He whispered just loud enough for her to hear. “You’ll see.”

“What makes you think that?” Sirius responded quietly, after a few seconds.

“She was the only one I really got a lot of guilt from earlier.” Hermione answered. “And affection too. It just seemed like you were closer than just ‘colleagues’.”

“We were friends.” Sirius conceded. “Like she said.” He sighed. “And I suppose you could argue that we dated briefly, except we didn’t.”

Addie frowned, while everyone else looked over at them. “You dated, but you didn’t. That doesn’t even make sense.”

“We didn’t.” Sirius said.

Addie rolled her eyes. “It’s okay if you did, Sirius – I was dead.”

“I know that.” Sirius gave her a meaningful look that she interpreted as knowing that she wasn’t as okay with it as she insisted. “But we didn’t.”

“You dated but you didn’t.” Hermione repeated slowly.

“It’s complicated.” Sirius said, pouring himself a glass of firewhiskey.

It was a vague answer, but by no means a dismissal, so Hermione pushed on. “Did you love her?”

“No.” Sirius answered, sitting down opposite her. “Well, yeah, sort of, in that I loved Lily, Mandy and Arabella.

“So like a sister.” Addie concluded.

“Not quite that close.” Sirius admitted. “But that region of affection, yes.”

But I wasn’t in love with her. I still loved – love – Addie, and she had lost her fiancé to Death Eaters a few years previously. She was a few years ahead of us.”

Hermione frowned. “So why did you date?”

“I told you, we didn’t.” Sirius grimaced. “Just promise me you won’t tell Harry about this, alright?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with me knowing?”

“Nothing.” Sirius assured him. “It’s just really embarrassing.”

“Alright.” Hermione agreed, intrigued. “Is it … bad?”

“Not bad.” Sirius assured her. “Just embarrassing. Rita Skeeter asked me out and I turned her down.

“I don’t blame you.” James said with a grimace.

She did some digging, found out I hadn’t dated since Hogwarts, and … and outed me on the front page of the Daily Prophet.”

Addie coughed back a laugh. “I’m sorry?”

It took all of Hermione’s self-control to keep a straight face. “She told the wizarding world you were gay.”

Addie buried her face in Sirius’s shoulder, shaking with mirth.

“I can feel that, you know.” Sirius said dully. “Go ahead, you lot.”

For a few moments, the Room of Requirement echoed with laughter, James and Remus almost falling off their chairs.

Addie got control of herself first, turning to Sirius with a grin. “Padfoot, why didn’t you tell me? It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “I’m not.”

Still grinning, Addie patted his arm. “Sure you’re not.”

“I’m …” Deciding that actions spoke louder than words, Sirius pulled her to him, causing her to squeak, and kissed her deeply.

“I’m not.” He repeated, when they finally parted.

“Okay.” Addie said, a little faintly. “I believe you.”

Finally, everyone recovered themselves, and Neville kept reading.

“Yes.” Sirius confirmed, rolling his eyes. “You can laugh.”

Hermione lapsed into giggles, just in time to prevent her ribs cracking from the effort of holding them in. It took her a few minutes, but she finally managed to get them under control. “How did everyone take it?”

Sirius smirked. “Well, Mother’s reaction was almost enough to convince me to just ignore it and let them all think that …

“So why didn’t you?” Jen asked, covering a giggle. “We all knew the truth, and it’s not like you were trying to pick up witches.”

… but … Well, you’ve read Rita’s stories; one scandal just isn’t enough.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “Oh, she didn’t …”

“She did.” Sirius nodded. “Didn’t come right out and say it, but there were definite implications about the others.

“Wait.” James said, looking grey. “You mean she suggested that we …”

“I dread to think what she thought went on in that dorm.” Sirius said gravely, stroking Addie’s hair. “Have you recovered yet?”

“Just about.” Addie said, sitting up and wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. “I needed that.”

One woman actually asked Lily about it, very sympathetically, how awful it must be to read that and how did she feel about the whole thing. I think she meant the implications, but Lily, with a completely straight face, just said “I’m two months pregnant – how do you think I feel?””

“Thanks, Lily.” James muttered.

He sniggered. “James didn’t talk to her for two weeks.”

Lily giggled. “Was I actually pregnant?”

“Yeah, of course.” Sirius said. “You’d only recently found out, mind, and you were probably closer to three months.”

“Where did Hestia come into it?” Hermione asked, once the fresh wave of giggles had died down.

“Well, people were starting to pressure her about ‘getting back in the field’ as it were.” Sirius said, shaking his head.

“That’s not right.” David frowned. “There’s no right or wrong way to mourn someone.”

“I don’t know why they thought that was their place – grief doesn’t have a set time-limit. You can’t just wake up one day and say “Well, they’re gone; best get on with it!”” He sighed. “I lost Addie seventeen years ago – I still haven’t done that.”

“Don’t think I ever could.” Sirius murmured. Addie’s smile faded and she nestled into him.

Hermione patted his arm. “Hestia.” She prompted.
“Right.” Sirius took a sip of firewhiskey. “We were talking after an Order meeting, commiserating about our respective problems … I can’t even remember who suggested it, but we went out to dinner a few times.

“And that was it?” Lily asked.

Sirius nodded. “Never even kissed her.”

Her ‘friends’ stopped bugging her; Skeeter’s story was proved wrong.” He grimaced. “I still can’t stand that woman though. Someone needs to make her shut up.”

Hermione smiled secretively. “Maybe they will.” She leaned back in her chair, the humour slowly draining from her body as a sense of foreboding took its place. “What happens now?”

Lily sighed. “You shouldn’t have to worry about that.”

“I do.” Hermione said. “We all do.”

“I know.” Lily said, smiling weakly. “But you shouldn’t have to.”

“With Skeeter?” Sirius asked blankly.

“With the war.” Hermione corrected softly, staring into her mug.

“We wait.” Sirius answered grimly. “As much as I hate waiting. Did you have any plans for the summer?”

“Not really.” Hermione said with a shrug. “Viktor did ask me if I wanted to visit Bulgaria – his mother offered me a summer apprenticeship … but after all this … I need to stay in England.”

“I don’t blame you.” Jen said sympathetically.

“Well, you and Harry always have a home here.”

“See, you called it home too.” Hermione said.

Sirius told her, before sighing. “However much I wish it wasn’t here.”

Hermione nodded absently, staring into the fire as it cast flickering shadows across the walls. “Do you think we can win?” She asked finally, looking up to meet his gaze.

“We’ve got to.” Mandy whispered.

“With the team we’ve got?” Sirius asked. He grinned at her, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “We’re Marauders, Kitten. No doubt about it.”

Hermione pretended not to notice the doubt in the air and tried to believe what he said, to believe that he wasn’t trying to convince himself as much as her.

He was definitely right about one thing though. They were Marauders. And they weren’t going down without one hell of a fight.

“Damn right we’re not.” Fred and Harry chorused.

Neville closed the book. “That’s the end.”

“Already?” Addie asked shakily.

Neville nodded, but his words were stopped by the book vanishing in a flash of light.

“I guess this is … goodbye then.” Harry said slowly.

Lily choked back a sob and hugged him tightly.

Sirius and Addie stood up, excused themselves, and calmly walked into the next room. Shutting the door, Sirius turned to Addie, looking concerned. “Are you alright?”

Addie took a deep breath. “I will be. Now,” she said, sounding far more confident than she felt, “I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life, mourning me, alright? I want you to be happy.”

“I can do both.” Sirius said softly. “Until I get undeniable confirmation that you’re dead … Hell, probably long after that – as long as I draw breath, Addie, my heart is yours, and I can’t change that.”

Addie closed her eyes. “I told myself I wouldn’t cry again – I hate this!”

Sirius wrapped his arms around her, feeling his throat close up. “I know, darling. There’s still hope though.”

“You don’t know that!” Addie protested. “What if …?!”

“Sirius! Addie!” Hermione’s voice called through the door. “You’ve got to come and see this!”

Sirius sighed. “What’s wrong, Hermione?”

“Nothing!” Hermione responded. “But another book just appeared!”

Sirius and Addie stared at each other. “I guess we’ll know now.” Addie said weakly.

Sirius nodded. “Let’s just hope we don’t end up wishing that we didn’t.”