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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

Chapter Text

The last thing Hermione did before she went to sleep was ask the Room for an alarm clock and set it for early the next morning.

It went off sooner than she would have liked and she got up, pulling on a set of robes. She left the dormitory and made her way down to the small corridor, emerging into the reading room.

Her intention was to ask the room for a novel and wait on the sofa for the next reader to arrive, but her plan was thwarted by the fact that Addie and Sirius were fast asleep on said item of furniture.

Hermione dropped into one of the beanbags and picked up the book that appeared, opening it to the first page. Almost immediately, there was a flash of light and a thud, and Neville Longbottom appeared in the middle of the floor, looking quite dishevelled.

The two sleeping Gryffindors didn’t stir and Hermione put the book down and stood up. “Neville!”

“Hermione?” Neville looked nervous, but accepted the hug she offered gratefully. “What happened? I was just looking in on the greenhouses and …”

“Relax.” Hermione soothed. “And sit down. I’ll explain everything.”

They settled back on the beanbags and Hermione outlined their first three years of Hogwarts, all about the Philosopher’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets and Sirius’s innocence. Then she explained about Voldemort coming back – Neville assured her that he didn’t believe a word written in the Prophet – and how they had all be sent back in time.

By the time she’d finished, Neville was gaping at her in astonishment. “So the next book we read will be all about our fourth year?”

Hermione nodded.

“And Malfoy’s here?”

Hermione nodded again. She hadn’t bothered explaining her empathy to him, since it would probably be explained today. “He won’t do anything.” She assured him.

“So why am I here?” Neville asked.

Hermione reached across and touched his hand gently. “Neville, Sirius – our Sirius, that is – told us what happened to your parents.”

Neville stiffened, his face turning white. “You-You know?”

Hermione nodded a third time, trying to keep any pity out of her expression. If he was anything like Harry, he wouldn’t take kindly to it. “We know. I’d apologise, Nev, but I know that won’t help. The reason I’m bringing this up is … Well, your mum was friends with Harry’s and she’s reading with us.”

The expression on Neville’s face changed from pain to shock to hope and lingered there. “Really?”

“Yes.” Hermione answered gently. “She is only seventeen though and you haven’t been born yet. On saying that, she and Lily both have a very strong maternal instinct, so you should be okay.”

A soft noise from the sofa alerted them both and they looked up to see Addie beginning to wake.

***

“Ads?” Sirius asked quietly, as the last door slammed. He knew that she now knew the extent of how he felt about her, and part of him was terrified of her reaction.

The rest wouldn’t let him sleep without hearing it.

Addie took a deep breath and turned to face him with a smile. “Well, I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Sirius.”

Sirius caught her arm as she passed. “No. No, Addie, I know what she just told you. You can’t just walk away from that. Please …”

“Walk away from what?” Addie asked flatly.

Sirius was already on edge after the day’s events and his patience had been stretched to the limit. “You know full well what I mean, Addie! I love you, alright? I’ve been in love with you since first year and every moment I’m not with you physically hurts.” He pulled her to him and kissed her, pouring everything he felt into it.

When he pulled away, her eyes were brimming with tears. “I’m scared, Sirius.” She whispered. “I don’t want to get hurt again.”

The conversation echoed vaguely in Addie’s mind as she woke up, but what came next was a blur, probably because of the tears she’d shed.

She blinked away the sleep from her eyes, wondering why her vision was dark still, only to realise that she had fallen asleep in Sirius’s arms, her face buried in his chest.

Someone cleared their throat and her cheeks burned as she sat up, disentangling herself as he stretched, still half-asleep.

Hermione was smirking at her from one of the beanbags. A teenage boy sat beside her, who looked very familiar …

“You’re Neville, aren’t you?” Addie asked. “Alice’s son?”

Neville looked startled, but nodded. “Yes – how’d you guess?”

“Family resemblance.” Addie answered, wishing for a mirror to appear on the wall. The blush had receded somewhat and she turned to nudge Sirius awake. “Padfoot?”

“’M awake!” Sirius started violently, falling off the sofa.

Luckily, Addie had already stood up and she giggled at the sight. “Neville’s here.”

“Neville?” Sirius looked puzzled for a second or two, before his face cleared. “Oh, Frank and Alice. Ads, you know I’m no good with names when I’ve just woken up.”

“Sirius, you’re no good with anything when you’ve just woken up.” Addie sniggered. “I’ll go and get her.”

“Is Frank not joining us then?” Sirius asked, shaking Neville’s hand heartily.

“I don’t think so.” Hermione answered with a frown. “The note said that Neville was our last reader.”

Addie ran into the room reserved for Alice, Mandy and Arabella, running to the nearest bed and shaking her. “Alice! Alice, you’ve got to wake up!”

Alice jolted awake. “What?!”

“Neville’s here!” Addie told her with a grin. “Come on, you have to get up!”

Alice threw the covers off her and jumped out of bed. “Why didn’t you say so?!” She rushed from the room, skidding to a halt when she spotted Neville, talking to Hermione.

Hermione caught her eye and smiled, turning Neville to face her. “Alice, this is Neville, Nev, this is your mother, Alice.”

Seeing Frank’s eyes in a face so much like hers caused Alice to burst into tears and throw her arms around him, holding him close, apologising over and over again for leaving him.

Hermione chuckled to herself, as Neville’s terrified expression softened and he patted Alice on the back gently, trying to calm her.

Leaving them to get acquainted, Hermione jogged down the hall, knocking on doors as she passed, before returning to the newly-appeared kitchen to start breakfast.

Once everyone had eaten and Neville had been introduced to and greeted by everyone – including Draco, who shook him firmly by the hand and apologised – they all settled back down in the reading room and waited.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, another note appeared in Addie’s hand. ““Good morning, everyone.”” She read aloud. ““First of all, Neville, we’re sorry for kidnapping you, but we thought you should be here. Second of all, we feel an explanation is in order about these books. After everything happened, the rumours that spread were interesting, to say the least. These books were created to explain everything. Originally, we put the information into the head of a Muggle author, but that backfired spectacularly. Not with the books you’ve already read, or even with the fourth and fifth (although they began to stray from the truth), but the sixth and seventh … Well, best not get into that. As such, we will not be sending you Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Instead we will be sending the books that we wrote using a complicated mixture of potions and charms – no, Hermione, we’re not going to tell you.””

Hermione sniffed. “I didn’t want to know anyway.”

“Somehow I doubt that.” Addie chuckled, before beginning to read again. ““So from now on, the books aren’t just from Harry’s point of view. Sincerely, your friends.””

“We’ve progressed.” James commented. “We’re getting goodbyes now.”

The note glowed and turned into a book.

“Uncovering the Truth.” Addie read. “Sounds interesting.”

“Well, let’s get going then.” Lily said, settling back onto a beanbag.

Chapter Text

Addie cleared her throat.

Prologue

“Doesn’t sound like too much will be in this chapter.” James commented.

“It’s probably a recap for people who didn’t read the first three.” Harry shrugged. “Especially since they were written by different people.”

“And it’s from Hermione’s point of view.” Addie added.

Hermione choked on her coffee. “What?!”

Harry just smirked. “Payback time, Mione.”

Hermione Granger’s room was just like that of any other teenage girl. Maybe a few more books than clothes, but all in all there was nothing about the room that suggested that strange and mysterious things often happened to the girl that occupied it …

“To me?” Hermione repeated. “Try Harry – it’s not my fault.”

… except that the titles of the books included Hogwarts: A History, A History of Magic and Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.

“Trust you.” Fred smirked.

Hermione smacked him over the head.

On the nightstand, there stood a photograph of three teenagers: a girl with bushy brown hair, with her arms around two boys, one with red hair and freckles …

“Ron.” Fred grinned.

… the other with messy black hair and bright green eyes …

“Me!” Harry added.

… all three waving at the camera. This was Hermione and her two best friends, Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, and, truthfully, strange and mysterious things happened to all three of them, not just her.

“Thank you.” Hermione said smugly. “It’s not just me.”

“We didn’t disagree with you.” Lily chuckled.

Avoiding strange and mysterious things when you attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was like trying to get Harry’s hair to lie flat.

Hermione eyed Harry’s head. “Yeah, well, I’m not giving up on that yet.”

“I would.” David advised. “Countless women have tried.”

It just wasn’t possible. She should know; she’d tried it enough times.

Hermione glared at the book, not wishing to concede defeat yet.

To be completely honest, it may have been more possible to avoid those things, if it weren’t for Harry.

Harry looked down, looking a little sheepish. Hermione smacked him upside the head, picking up the sense of guilt in the air.

Harry’s penchant for trouble had started when he was just fifteen months old …

“Oh, here we go.” Lily sighed.

… when Lord Voldemort – the most evil wizard since Grindelwald – had murdered his parents before turning his wand on the young child. Somehow, the curse had backfired, reducing Voldemort to a mere spirit and leaving Harry with a lightning bolt scar and the nickname ‘The Boy-Who-Lived’.

Harry rolled his eyes.

Trouble followed Harry around like a plague, but she wouldn’t swap him for the world.

“Damn right I wouldn’t.” Hermione growled, glaring at Harry.

In fact, it was because of this trouble that they were even friends in the first place: Voldemort had possessed their first year Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Quirrell, in an attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone – a rare gem that could create the Elixir of Life and was hidden at the school.

On Halloween night, in an attempt to lure Headmaster Dumbledore and the other teachers away from the hiding place, Quirrell/Voldemort let a mountain troll into the school – a mountain troll that trapped Hermione in the girls’ bathroom.

“Don’t remind me!” Sirius muttered.

“Sorry.” Harry whispered.

Hermione grabbed a pillow again and hit him on the head. “Stop it.”

“But, Hermione, if it weren’t for me, Voldemort wouldn’t have been there!” Harry protested.

“Oh, so you put the Philosopher’s Stone in the castle?” Hermione asked, raising an eyebrow.

“But it’s my fault!” Harry protested.

Hermione hit him again.

“Ow!” Harry ducked. “Hermione!”

“It’ll keep happening.” Hermione warned. “If you don’t stop.”

“You’ve never asked anyone to do anything.” Neville added, a little nervously. “You don’t have the ability to control other people’s actions.”

Harry and Ron, realising in the panic that she was missing, went to find her and, through sheer dumb luck and a cleverly placed Levitation Charm (even though Ron swore it was just the first spell that came into his head) …

“It was.” Fred sniggered.

… saved her life.

The three young Gryffindors became best friends …

“Bloody hell.” Draco muttered. “That’s how you became friends?”

Hermione was momentarily startled, but then remembered. “Of course. You weren’t here for the first book. Yes it was.”

… and went on to help save the Philosopher’s Stone from Voldemort’s clutches, escaping with only the slightest of injuries …

“Slightest of injuries?!” Lily repeated, slightly hysterically. “Harry nearly died!”

Addie chuckled slightly. “I wasn’t finished.”

… (except for Harry, who nearly died, but Hermione had become abnormally used to that as well).

It didn’t do anything for Lily’s nerves, but everyone else sniggered.

“You don’t get hurt this year, right?” Lily asked fretfully.

Harry didn’t answer, avoiding her eyes, and she nestled into James with a groan.

Addie glanced at Ginny as she read ahead. Fred noticed and caught on, grabbing Ginny’s hand.

In their second year, Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, had been possessed by a diary that had belonged to Tom Riddle, Voldemort’s alter-ego.

Ginny shuddered and Draco rubbed her arm awkwardly.

As a result, the Chamber of Secrets had been opened and several students, including Hermione, had been Petrified.

Despite a fake as a DADA teacher and Professor Dumbledore’s temporary removal from the school, Harry and Ron had discovered what had been going on and Harry had saved Ginny’s life.

“Huh.” Harry commented. “It didn’t mention about slaying a giant basilisk with Gryffindor’s sword.”

Hermione chuckled. “You know, if anyone but you said that, it would sound really conceited.”

Last year, it had seemed that Harry’s life was, once again, in danger.

“But I wasn’t.” Harry put in.

A dangerous criminal had escaped from Azkaban Prison and was supposedly after Hermione’s best friend.

However, as always with Harry’s luck, it swung both ways.

“Of course it did.” Hermione said affectionately.

In response to this threat, Professor Dumbledore hired Remus Lupin as the DADA teacher, a man who quickly became the favourite of most students.

Despite the intimidating presence of Dementors around the school and the inability to visit Hogsmeade with the rest of his class-mates, Harry’s year only improved with the arrival of the first Quidditch match ….

Addie hesitated. “Erm, the next part’s a flashback, but we read it in the last book about Mandy and Arabella arriving, so I’m just going to skip it.”

Mandy shrugged. “That’s fine. We know what happened.”

Addie scanned down the page to the next part. “Okay …”

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Harry’s luck to swing back to bad again, and he was soon plummeting fifty feet from his broom …

Hermione, Lily and Sirius all shuddered.

… paralysed by the crippling effects of the Dementors. Thankfully, Dumbledore was able to slow Harry’s descent, saving his life, even if his broom did fly into the Whomping Willow and end up match-sticks.

Harry bowed his head. “Poor thing.”

Hermione sighed. “Let it go, Harry. You’ve got a Firebolt now.”

This was then followed by the discovery of the extent of Sirius Black’s crimes: he had betrayed his best friends, and Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter, to Voldemort and, when confronted by Peter Pettigrew, another of their friends, had blown the street apart, killing Peter and twelve Muggles.

Addie paused, glancing at the next few paragraphs. Making a swift decision, she left Sirius’s side and settled down next to Hermione, wrapping an arm around the girl’s shoulders. Everyone was slightly startled by her actions, but her next words explained everything.

That year had been one of the worst of Hermione’s life.

Harry sighed, feeling very guilty, but Hermione squeezed his hand and gave him a soft smile.

Her cat, Crookshanks, seemed intent on eating Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, and Ron had stopped talking to her, especially when Scabbers disappeared, leaving only drops of blood and ginger hairs on Ron’s bed.

Hermione knew her cat was innocent – he’d been ill in her dorm all day – but Ron – and, even worse, Harry – refused to listen to her.

Harry flinched. “Sorry …”

“Stop it.” Hermione told him.

Harry’s silent treatment started at Christmas, when he had received a Firebolt – the best racing broom money could buy – with no note. Worried that it might be a ploy by Black to harm her best friend, Hermione had informed their Head of House, Professor McGonagall, who had confiscated the broom for testing.

Hermione was used to being alone and ignored – she had spent her childhood like that – but now she had friends, the experience hurt. On top of the sudden loneliness, she had to deal with the utter exhaustion of taking all of the electives offered by Hogwarts.

Hermione squeezed Harry’s hand again, but said nothing, accepting the comfort Addie offered her.

However, the ‘Golden Trio’, as they had come to be known, were reunited for a common cause when Hagrid’s hippogriff Buckbeak was to be executed by the Ministry of Magic. Upon visiting their large friend, they were pulled into another adventure – Ron quite literally – by a large black dog that turned out to be Sirius Black himself.

Addie gave the room a warning glance, wanting to get it all over with at once.

Despite an interruption by their Potions teacher, Professor Snape, Sirius and Professor Lupin managed to tell them what really happened that day:

Peter had betrayed Harry’s parents and, when confronted, faked his death, killing twelve people in the process, and spent the next twelve years hiding as Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, who had been found in Hagrid’s hut that evening.

Pettigrew unfortunately escaped and knocked out when the moon rose and Lupin transformed into a werewolf. Saved by Harry’s Patronus, the two conscious teens used a time-turner to travel back in time and rescue Buckbeak from execution and Sirius from the Dementor’s Kiss, helping the two fugitives escape together.

“That was amazing, by the way.” James grinned, sensing that the hard part was over.

Currently, Hermione was sitting at her bedroom window, her head pounding and a fresh bruise on her face.

“Where did the bruise come from?” Narcissa asked sharply. Trying to keep the balance at home was never easy and, as a result, she was forced to abandon the disowned members of her family, however much she wished she wasn’t.

It was nice to be able to spend time with Sirius and Jen again, and she found herself feeling just as protective over her cousin’s ‘daughter’ as she did her own future child.

Hermione looked at the floor. “I think you’ll find out.” She now knew how Harry felt with his home-life being broadcasted.

Her face was bruised because her father had overreacted a little when she’d told him she was dropping her two extra classes.

“That is not a good reason.” Sirius growled, pulling Hermione into his arms again. She didn’t protest, burying her face in his robes as Harry rubbed her back, looking furious.

“Over-reacted.” James muttered with a scowl. “Shouting about it would be ‘over-reacting’; this is just …” He trailed off, wrapping an arm around Lily’s shoulders to calm her.

Her head was pounding because … Actually, she didn’t know why her head pounding. Recently her emotions seemed completely out of her control, things she didn’t understand, things she wasn’t even sure belonged to her.

“Your empathy?” Jen guessed, seeing how uncomfortable Hermione was with all the attention.

Hermione nodded.

Added to all that, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something awful was about to happen.

What was going on?

Addie glanced up. “That’s the end. Since it was so short, anyone have any objections if I read the next one as well?”

Chapter Text

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

Chapter One

Sirius Encounters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione,

DAD GOT THE TICKETS!!

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

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

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

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

“A good one.” Ginny scowled.

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

Harry scowled. “I don’t know why.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James and Lily both beamed.

Owl back about next Wednesday, okay?

Ron

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

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

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

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

Ginny coughed pointedly.

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

“Better.” Ginny smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione smiled as Sirius kissed her head.

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

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

“But Dumbledore …” Harry sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

“She does.” Harry stated.

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

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

“Good.” James whispered.

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

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

“I wonder …” David murmured.

“What is it, Dad?” James asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Definitely a witch.” David confirmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It would work!” Fred protested.

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

“Obviously a common thing.” Narcissa frowned.

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

… before hurrying downstairs to answer it.

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, Hermione.” Sirius pouted.

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

“Padfoot!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very good excuse.” David corrected.

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

Mrs Taylor chuckled. “Quite the character then.”

Addie snorted. “Something like that.”

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

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

“That must be Jane.” Jen muttered.

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

Jen nodded at being proved right.

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

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

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

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

Hermione rolled her eyes. “To be polite.”

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

“I like her.” James announced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Charming child.” Lily remarked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That must have been awful.” Lily sympathised.

Hermione nodded wordlessly.

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

“Instinct.” Sirius admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

… he could blend in with the shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” Her father answered shortly.

“That’s not fair.” Lily stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me.” Harry answered through gritted teeth.

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

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

“And me.” Draco finished quietly.

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

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

Narcissa smiled proudly and patted his hand.

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

A low growl sounded from beneath the sideboard …

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

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

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

“Not that easy.” Sirius told her darkly.

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

“Harry and Ron.” She answered quietly.

Her father lifted his hand and she flinched again …

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

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

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

Shouts of outrage filled the room.

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

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

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

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

“What a horrible man!” Lily cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sirius chuckled. “Probably.”

“No, that’s the first time.”

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

“Yeah, he does it all the time.”

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

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

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

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

“Ask a silly question.” James muttered.

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

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

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

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

“It is not fine.” Addie muttered.

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

No one laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… never legally, for some reason …

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

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

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

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

Regulus closed his eyes.

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

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

Jen flinched and nestled into Remus’s arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can say it now.” Lily observed.

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

This did nothing for Lily’s nerves.

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

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

“The Marauders.”

“And Lily.” Sirius added.

“What about us?” Arabella asked jokingly.

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

“And me?” Addie asked softly.

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

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

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

Addie sighed. “Right, moving swiftly on.”

Hermione guessed quietly, feeling grief rise up within her.

“You remember?” Lily questioned.

Hermione shook her head. “Not yet.”

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

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

Remus raised an eyebrow.

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

There were a few chuckles at that.

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

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

“Thank you, Professor Dumbledore.” James mocked.

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

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

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

Sirius grinned. “You’ll see.”

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

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

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

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

“You have.” Harry remarked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An ecklectiric oven?” James repeated.

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

Sirius followed her gaze. “What is it?”

“He hates me.” Hermione whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily frowned. “I never break down.”

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

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

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

He never did too well with crying girls.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Must be where Harry gets it from.”

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

Hermione and Ginny pretended they didn’t hear him.

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

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

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

Hermione blushed. “Was it really?”

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

… and he dropped his protest, thanking her quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” Sirius said.

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

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

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

You’ve done enough, Hermione.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione chuckled. “Ah naivety.”

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

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

“Half-blood.” Harry answered dully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione smiled. “Marauder.”

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

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

“That is true.” Jen conceded.

Or is that another misconception?”

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

Hermione nodded. “I promise.”

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

“Yeah, it is.” James agreed.

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

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

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

“And I did.” Hermione smiled.

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

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

“I was so nervous.” Hermione admitted.

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

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

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

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

“Exactly.” Sirius smirked.

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

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

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

“Very good start.” Narcissa said.

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

The goblin looked surprised, but bowed in acknowledgement …

“You’re safe.” Regulus stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good advice.” David nodded.

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

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

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

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

Hermione nodded firmly. “I am.”

“Wise move.” David muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn’t …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James pulled a face. “Dad!”

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

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

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

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well played.”

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

Lily chuckled. “I bet it was.”

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

“You had.” Sirius told her.

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

Don’t do anything stupid …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily scowled. “That’s not very fair.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Forget everything your father ever told you.”

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

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

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

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

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

And deepened.

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

“Thank you.”

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

Jen looked suspicious. “What did you do?”

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

Jen chuckled. “Great minds think alike.”

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

“There’s an understatement.” Mandy muttered.

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

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

Going … going … gone …

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

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

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

Chapter Text

“I will.” Her younger counterpart answered, taking the book.

Chapter Two

The Burrow

Fred, Ginny and Harry cheered.

It didn’t take long before Hermione realised what Sirius had done. Every time her father came within two feet of her, he was overcome by the inescapable need to vomit.

“Oh dear.” Narcissa remarked with a smile. “How very unfortunate.”

Thankfully, he had put this sudden illness down to food poisoning …

“Food poisoning my arse.” Jen muttered, exchanging a high five with her brother.

… although her mother had pulled her aside one morning and asked very seriously if she’d had anything to do with it.

Hermione smiled brightly. “But Mummy … I’m not allowed to use magic outside school.”

Hermione had rolled her eyes and reminded her that she wasn’t allowed to do magic out at school, so her mother had dropped the subject, not really upset about the turn of events.

“I doubt she would be.” Mandy commented.

The lack of Ministry owl had bothered Hermione for a while, but she soon forgot about it; she’d heard whispers of bias in the underage magic law …

Lily snorted. “Biased. Understatement.”

… and she could look it up when she arrived back at Hogwarts.

“Or I would have, if they hadn’t removed the bloody books.” Hermione muttered.

Hermione spent her last three days at home preparing to leave for good. All she could take to The Burrow without arousing suspicion was her school trunk, which was fine for clothes and school books, but that was it.

However, she had picked up another magically expanded satchel in Diagon Alley, which held everything else. She had also bought a book on empathy, hoping for some sort of explanation. The people at Flourish and Blotts had seen her so often that no one batted an eyelid at her purchase.

“Why are empaths considered dark?” Lily asked curiously.

“It says in a minute.” Addie said, scanning the next few lines.

That, or it was because she also bought a set of DADA books at the same time as Harry’s birthday present.

“They were amazing.” Harry grinned.

“Is DADA your favourite lesson then?” Lily asked eagerly.

Harry pulled a face. “It’s my favourite subject. Depends who’s teaching it.” He grinned at Remus. “And unfortunately, we only ever had one good teacher. But I’ve always been fascinated by it – I think it has something to do with who I am.”

“And you always wind up having to defend yourself against the Dark Arts.” Hermione finished.

Unfortunately, and Hermione made sure to read it at least three times before admitting it, the information it offered was quite poor.

Fred gasped loudly. “Say it isn’t so!”

Hermione rolled her eyes again and smacked him on the arm.

In the mid-1800s, the Ministry of Magic had released a report that named empaths as Dark Creatures. Empaths at the time had tried to argue that there was a political agenda – after all, reading emotions also meant detecting lies …

“Of course.” Jen scowled. “Merlin forbid the public get the truth, right?”

but it was to no avail and, with prejudice worse than that against werewolves …

Remus raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

Hermione nodded. “Some werewolves actually did what they were being accused of, whereas the information about empaths was completely false.

… empaths went ‘underground’.

With that in mind, all the book could tell her was that she could sense other people’s emotions – which she already knew – and ‘see and communicate with living spirits’.

“What does that mean?” Neville asked in bewilderment. He had taken her empathy remarkably well for someone who had been raised pureblood with all the prejudices. Then again, he had taken Remus’s lycanthropy remarkably well as well.

The book went on to explain:

Since no empaths have offered their services for study ...

“Hmm, I wonder why.” Hermione mused.

“Couldn’t be because the prejudice against empaths is even worse than the prejudice against werewolves, could it?” Ginny asked innocently.

Hearing the emphasis she put on the word, Jen glanced at Remus and grabbed his hand, finally vocalising the question she had been too afraid to ask. “How bad is it for werewolves?”

“Put it this way, if Sirius hadn’t broken out of Azkaban and Dumbledore didn’t have a lot of swing, there’s no way Remus would have taught in third year.” Hermione answered grimly. “Some of the laws are just …” She shuddered.

“It’s better not to ask.” Sirius advised. “You really don’t want to know.”

… this is merely a theory. Theoretically, every magical human has a body, a soul and a spirit. In life, the soul and body are joined together and can survive without each other, but will no longer be alive. The existence of the spirit, however, is debated for the above reason. If true, the spirit can leave the body and travel elsewhere; this would be extremely rare, since the body and soul exist separately and, while they have an effect on the spirit’s behaviour, it is a one-way relationship.

“Why is there a spirit then?” Neville asked, sounding even more bewildered.

“The spirit is only present in magical beings.” Hermione explained, slipping into lecture-mode. “It’s the part of being that becomes a ghost if one chooses not to ‘go on’.”

So, Hermione supposed, if her spirit went to Australia, she still wouldn’t know what was going on there. She couldn’t really see how this would affect her, so she put it out of her mind for the moment.

By Wednesday, her room was barren, but for her bed, wardrobe and desk. All that was left to empty was one of the desk drawers, which contained memorabilia from her childhood – certificates, old letters, Muggle school records.

“I’ve got one of those.” Lily commented.

Right at the back, however, Hermione found a badge that looked like a police shield, but the emblem was two crossed wands shooting sparks.

David frowned. “That’s an auror shield.”

“I know.” Hermione said with a smile.

“Why do you have an auror badge?” Regulus asked.

Hermione shrugged. “No idea.”

She sat on her bed and stared at it, trying to understand what it was and where it had come from. The shield was attached to a leather wallet and she flipped it open to find an ID card.

Ministry of Magic Auror Division

Sirius Orion Black

July 1979 –

“Mine?” Sirius asked in bewilderment, running a hand through his hand. “Why on earth do you have that?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione shrugged. “Slipped my mind earlier – I was hoping you would.”

“Maybe you gave it to her.” Addie suggested. “You don’t remember taking her home, right? Maybe you gave her your badge as a promise you’d come back. It sounds like something you’d do.”

“Maybe.” Sirius agreed pensively. “But I still don’t understand why I don’t remember Hermione being there.”

Hermione’s eyebrows rose into her hairline. She had known Sirius was an auror … but what was she doing with his badge?

“Keeping it safe.” Harry answered matter-of-factly.

“Obviously.” Hermione added.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing loud and shrill downstairs.

“I’m surprised Dad knew how to use one.” Ginny commented.

“What’s a doorbell?” Draco asked.

“You press a button outside the house and it rings a bell inside to let the inhabitants know there’s someone outside.” Hermione explained. “Like knocking, but louder.”

Hermione didn’t hurry, knowing that Arthur Weasley would relish the chance to play with the doorbell for a while …

“He loved you for that.” Fred said fervently.

… and slipped the badge into the satchel with everything else. Then she slipped the satchel into her trunk on top of her school robes and closed the lid, before scooping Crookshanks up as he threatened to slip out the door.

“Oh no you don’t, darling,” she cooed to the fluffy orange part-Kneazle. “I need you to come with me.”

“He’s much calmer now.” Hermione commented. Now there’s not a mass-murderer hiding in the boys’ dorms.

Depositing Crookshanks into his carrier, she dragged her trunk out on to the hallway, left the note to her mother on her pillow …

“Good.” Alice murmured. “She needs to know you’re not coming home.”

… and shut the door firmly.

Hermione hurried down the stairs, placing the pet-carrier on the side table where the telephone resided, before opening the door.

Mr Weasley rang the doorbell once more, beaming at the now-louder sound. “Remarkable!” He said cheerfully.

Ginny chuckled fondly. “Dad …”

“It’s good to see you again, Hermione.”

“Hello, Mr Weasley. Thank you for letting me stay for the rest of the summer.”

“Oh, not at all!” Mr Weasley assured her. “Think nothing of it! Now by some amazing miracle, we’ve managed to get a car for today. I don’t know how we’ll get Harry though; we’ll never get a car that close to the match.

“I’m glad they didn’t.” Harry snickered.
Lily groaned. “Oh, what happened?”

“Nothing bad.” Harry assured her.

“I know it’s nothing bad, Harry.” Lily sighed. “But that’s the same look your father gets when he’s planning something.”

“And it wasn’t my fault.” Harry added.

Are your parents here?”

“They’re at work.” Hermione said calmly, despite the pang of sadness in her chest.

“You could have told them.” Arabella said.

“We said our goodbyes this morning. I’ll just go and get my trunk.”

“Don’t worry.” Another voice said from behind Mr Weasley. “We’ll get it. Good to finally meet you, Hermione.”

Hermione didn’t need an introduction to know that this was one of Ron’s eldest brothers.

“Didn’t need to be told which one either.” Hermione commented.

“Don’t tell me.” Fred closed his eyes, pressing his fingers to his forehead. “He had dragon-burns on his hands.”

“Yes.” Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Since when do you know anything about sci-fi?”

“What?” Fred asked blankly.

“Never mind.” Hermione said quickly. She really didn’t feel like explaining it right now.

He was closer to the twins build, still tall, but stocky with it. His face was even more freckled than Ron’s and, when she shook his hand, she could feel numerous callouses. “You as well, Charlie, right?”

Charlie raised an eyebrow. “How’d you guess?”
“Probably the burns.” Yet another unfamiliar voice teased. “You know Ron tells all and sundry what you do for a living.”

This had to be the eldest Weasley brother, Bill. But Hermione had to admit that he wasn’t a bit like she’d pictured him. Knowing that Bill had been Head Boy at Hogwarts, she had assumed that he was like Percy, but Bill was tall, like Ron, with long hair pulled back in a ponytail and an earring with what looked like a dragon fang dangling from it.

“Cool.” Sirius remarked.

“I was expecting someone more boring.” Hermione commented.

“I was Head Boy!” James protested. “Or will be, I should say.”

“But so was Percy.” Harry pointed out. “And unfortunately, we know him better.”

“Good point.” James conceded.

Then again, she realised as he shook her hand with a friendly greeting, she probably should have known better than to assume head students had to be as stuffy and overbearing as Percy was.

“Thank you.” James nodded.

After all, James Potter had been Head Boy and he had been a Marauder.

“First and foremost.” James grinned.

“Don’t we know it.” Lily muttered.

“Oh, like you’re any better.” James said, nudging her.

And Lily Potter …

Lily smiled to herself.

… had been Head Girl, and she hadn’t exactly been an angel …

Lily raised an eyebrow. “Where did that come from?”

Hermione shrugged. “I think it was around about then the memory charm started to lift. It wasn’t so much remembering as it was already knowing.”

“It may well have been the badge.” David told her. “If it acted as a key to unlock the memory charm, then the memories wouldn’t return all at once.”

Wait – where did that come from? I don’t think I really know anything about Mrs Potter …

“About as much as I did.” Harry said softly.

… she was Head Girl … probably a prefect. Red hair, green eyes …

“Beautiful eyes.” James whispered, making her blush.

… Gryffindor, Muggle-born … Good at Charms, I remember Harry saying … Very intelligent according to Sirius … But that’s all.

Lily sighed, sad that her son knew so little about her. “I used to paint when I was younger.”

James gave her an odd look. “That’s … nice?”

But Lily was looking at Harry. “If I hadn’t been a witch, I would have gone to an art school, even though my parents wanted me to do something academic, because I had the brains for it. When I got my Hogwarts letter, my dad fainted and my mum burst into tears. I got my prefects’ badge in my room just before I went to bed and spilt hot chocolate all over the floor because the owl made me jump. Until third year, I needed the girls’ help to get my robes on straight.”

“She had a pet cat for the first four years of Hogwarts, even though she really wanted an owl.” Jen chimed in, realising what Lily was doing. “Her Animagus form’s a doe and we call her Jade, because the only distinguishing marks she has are her eyes.”

“She can’t stand rats.” Addie continued with a smile. “So even though they were the cutest of the things the boys let loose in our dorm last Halloween, she refused to leave her bed until they’d all gone and made James carry her out even then.”

“In fourth year, the boys got detention for a prank, even though they’d signed it ‘Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs’ and no one knew they were the same people.” Mandy remembered. “While they were in detention, Lily pulled another prank and signed it with the same names to give them an alibi.”

“That wasn’t just me.” Lily pointed out with an easy smile. “That was Addie as well.”

Sirius gave the blonde beside him a reverent look. “That was you?”

Addie smirked at him. “You’re not the only prankster in the room, Padfoot. Didn’t we establish that last February?”

“Yeah, but … wow …” Sirius looked slightly dazed.

Addie was watching the two of them in amusement, but was quickly distracted by Sirius leaning in to whisper, “I knew there was a reason I was crazy about you.”

“That was you?” Sirius asked, unable to find anything else to say.

Addie nodded. “Yes.”

Sirius stared at her for a few more minutes. “… That was you?”

Jen sniggered. “Addie, I think you broke him.”

Addie rolled her eyes and smacked him upside the head. “Snap out of it!” She picked up the book and found her place again.

Where did I get the idea that she caused trouble at school?
“Us probably.” Sirius smirked. “We never did let Lily keep up her image.”

“Hermione?” Bill prompted. “Where’s your trunk?”

“Hmm?” Hermione shook herself from her thoughts. “Oh, sorry. It’s at the top of the stairs. I was just mentally running through everything I’d packed to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything.”

“Organised.” Bill commented. “Ron must drive you crazy.”

Hermione snorted. “There’s an understatement.”
“Why do you put up with him then?” Fred asked blankly.

Hermione sighed. “Because, much like you and George, I love him too much to give up on him. And Harry’s my best friend and I love him too much to let Ron being a prat push me away.”

“Not really.” Hermione shrugged.

Fred raised an eyebrow in question.

“Ron’s his brother.” Hermione pointed out.

“Ron’s my brother.” Fred responded.

“Yeah, but I know you. Bill and Charlie were unknowns at the time.” Hermione turned back to Addie, clearly putting an end to the conversation.

“I like a challenge.”

“Gryffindor.” The two Weasley boys concluded in unison.

“And this must be Crookshanks.” Charlie added, bending down to see into the basket. “Did he really eat Scabbers?”

James’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing.

Hermione rolled her eyes, somehow hiding the anger she felt towards Wormtail. “Is he still on about that?”

Bill sniggered. “Been moaning about it for the last few weeks.”

Remus raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

Hermione couldn’t help feeling surprised. Ron wasn’t usually one for tact and she knew that he had taken the news about Scabbers very personally. That he had explained away his absence to his brothers without letting that shine through was quite impressive.

“Why didn’t you tell them the truth?” Sirius asked curiously.

“No one believed us.” Harry answered. “Besides, what good would it have done? Mr and Mrs Weasley couldn’t do anything.”

“And Ron didn’t want to get into trouble.” Hermione added. “I think that had something to do with it.”

“Well, I don’t know what happened to Scabbers, but Crookshanks hadn’t left my dorm all day. He was sick, weren’t you, Crookshanks?”

Despite his irritation at being confined, Crookshanks let out a purr, nuzzling his mistress through the bars.

“Smart cat.” Charlie remarked, as Bill levitated the trunk down the stairs. “Might be half-kneazle.”

“He is.” Sirius confirmed.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “We’ve established that by now, I think.”

“I think he is.” Hermione agreed, picking up the basket.

“You’ll have to carry it the rest of the way, boys.” Mr Weasley told them.

Jen chuckled. “I should hope they’ve got the hang of the Statute of Secrecy by now.”

Charlie rolled his eyes. “Muggle neighbourhood. We know, Dad.” He took one end of the trunk, Bill took the other, and they carried it out to the waiting car.

Hermione followed Mr Weasley out the front door, pausing only to lock it, leaving her childhood home for what would – hopefully – be the last time.

“Will be if I have anything to say about it.” Sirius muttered.

“I’m not going back there if I can help it.” Hermione assured him.

Hermione had never been to the Burrow before …

“Oh of course you hadn’t.” Fred murmured. “I’d forgotten about that.”

… electing to meet the Weasleys in Diagon Alley instead, but Harry absolutely loved the place …

“I do.” Harry agreed happily.

… and it turned out to be exactly how she’d imagined it – a house that looked like it had stepped right out of one of her childhood story books, with chickens pecking around the yard and so many pieces jutting out that it appeared to be held up with magic. Hermione couldn’t help but feel, however, that this brand of magic was that of love and family, rather than Charms and Transfiguration.

Ginny smiled. “I much prefer your description than Harry’s.”

“Harry’s wasn’t bad.” Hermione argued.

“No, it wasn’t.” Ginny agreed. “I just prefer yours.”

Ginny met her at the door with a tight hug. “Hermione, it’s so good to see you! Here, let’s get him out.” She undid the latches and gently lifted Crookshanks from the basket Hermione was carrying. Once freed, the grumpy-looking cat …

“Hey!” Hermione protested. “Crookshanks is not grumpy-looking.”

… settled down in Ginny’s arms, purring contentedly.

“Hey Mione!”

Hermione rolled her eyes, but didn’t argue the nickname, as Ron came running into the kitchen, his hair smoking slightly.

“What did you do?” Jen asked Fred.

“What makes you think we did anything?” Fred asked innocently.

“I know these three.” Jen pointed at the Marauders.

Fred shrugged, dropping the pretence. “Don’t remember.”

“Twins.” He explained briefly, gesturing to the singed areas.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Hermione sighed, hugging him in greeting. She had barely let go, when two other set of arms encircled her, almost lifting her off the ground.

“Mya!” Two voices chorused.

“And the damn nickname appears.” Hermione grumbled good-naturedly.

“Why do you call me that?” Hermione asked, unable to hold back a giggle. “And put me down!”

Fred and George set her down and gave her identical grins.

“Well, Hermione …” Fred began.

“… is too long to say …” George continued.

“… so we decided …” Fred explained.

“… to call you Mya.” George finished.

“That’s alright, isn’t it?” They asked in unison.

Addie raised an eyebrow. “Do they always talk like that?”

Hermione nodded with a weary sigh. “It drives me crazy.”

Hermione gave herself a moment to connect the snippets into one sentence and nodded. “If you must. Do you have to talk like that? I feel like I’ve been watching a tennis match.”

“What’s a tennis match?” James asked curiously.

“It’s a Muggle sport.” Harry answered. “Difficult to explain. Two people have a racquet each and use them to hit a small bouncy ball to each other across a net. The ball can bounce once on the other side of the net, but more than that and the person that missed it loses. It’s more complicated than that, but …”

“The rules are hard to understand unless you play.” Hermione finished.

“It’s a twin thing.” George told her.

“What’s a tennis match?” Fred asked.

Hermione shook her head. “Never mind. It’s too complicated to explain.” She was swiftly pulled away by Mrs Weasley, who hugged her tightly before holding her at arm’s length.

“Hermione, how wonderful to see you again!” Mrs Weasley paused. “You’re very thin, dear.”

“You see, to most women that’s a compliment.” Mandy laughed.

“No, Mum always says that as a bad thing.” Ginny grinned. “It’s just who she is.”

“According to you, Mum …” Fred began.

“… everyone is thin.” George finished.

Hermione bit back a laugh at their antics, knowing there was no point in arguing with the Weasley matriarch, despite the fact that she knew she was a healthy weight for her age. “Well, we sent a lot of food to Harry.”

“Ah, well played.” Fred smirked.

There may well have been a better way of redirecting Molly Weasley’s attention, but it had yet to be found. Sure enough, Mrs Weasley’s demeanour changed immediately.

“Of course it did.” Fred snickered. “No matter how thin Hermione is, she’ll never be in as much need as ickle Harrikins.” He picked Harry’s cheek and the raven-haired boy swatted his hand away.

“Never do that again.” Harry growled.

“Oh the poor boy! I don’t know why Professor Dumbledore insists on sending him to those people!”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “She’s questioning him? She’s spent the entire summer telling me that Dumbledore’s word is law and we need to wait until he says we can bring Harry to us.”
“She’s mad at Dumbledore for leaving Harry there, yes.” Ginny said flatly. “But she disapproves of you more.”

Hermione was slightly startled at the venom in her voice. She had always assumed that Mrs Weasley believed that everything Dumbledore said was the word of Merlin.

Sirius nodded in agreement.

After all, last year, she had been very much in agreement that Harry shouldn’t be told that Sirius Black was supposedly trying to kill him.

Of course, to be fair, that was more because Mrs Weasley felt that Harry ‘didn’t need to know’ …

Harry rolled his eyes. “At this rate, that’s what’s going to kill me – people withholding information I ‘don’t need to know’.”

… than because Dumbledore told them not to tell him.

Or was that the Ministry’s decision?

“I think it was both.” Harry told her.

At one time, Hermione too would have taken Dumbledore or the Ministry’s word as law, but after the chaos of last year, she wasn’t so sure. Dumbledore knew everything that happened at Hogwarts, or so it seemed, and yet he still didn’t see fit to warn Harry about the ‘mass-murderer’ trying to kill him.
She had seen how reckless Harry had acted …

“Hey!” Harry protested. “I’m not reckless!”

Hermione patted his knee. “Of course you’re not. You’re a Gryffindor.”

“Which is more or less the same thing.” Regulus put in with a smirk.

… last year – and he had known. She dreaded to think how bad he would have been if he hadn’t.

Realising that Mrs Weasley was still talking, she tuned back in hastily.

“You didn’t miss much.” Fred told her. “Just Mum deploring over how Harry’s wasting away.”

“Ginny and I were going to make a couple of birthday cakes for him …

Lily beamed at them. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Ginny and Hermione chorused.

… would you like to help?”

Harry nudged her with a grin. “Good job you started listening again.”

Just in time . “Of course.” Hermione said with a smile. “Wouldn’t miss it.” She glanced around, noticing that there was one face missing. “Where’s Percy?”

“In his room.” Ron told her.

“That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?” James asked with a frown. “He should at least have come downstairs to say hello.”

“That’s Percy.” Fred muttered with a scowl. Ginny elbowed him lightly, seeing Hermione’s glance.

“Speaking of, we’ll show you yours.”

“You’ll have to share with me, I’m afraid.” Ginny added, as they led her up the rickety staircase that zig-zagged through the house. “We haven’t got much room. Bill and Charlie are sharing with the twins …

“Brave of them.” Remus commented, being well-versed in the dangers of living with two pranksters.

“Nah, we got it from somewhere.” Fred grinned. “And not just Uncle Fabian and Uncle Gideon either.”

… and Harry will be sharing with Ron when he gets here. Percy gets to keep his room, because he’s got to work.”

“Oh, I wonder what he’s doing.” Lily said, sounding interested.

“Probably something really boring.” James answered.

“James!” Lily scolded.

“No, he’s right.” Fred grimaced. “It was excruciatingly boring.”

Hermione couldn’t help but notice the light blush that spread over Ginny’s face at Harry’s name …

“Thanks, Hermione.” Ginny muttered, turning pink.

Harry nudged her with his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Sis.”

… but hoped that she’d get over it soon. Harry saw the Weasleys as siblings and would never see her as anything more than a sister.

“That’s because she is my sister.” Harry stated.

“And he’s my brother.” Ginny added firmly. “And that’s all I want.”

And Hermione was sure – despite having no frame of reference – that your sister having a crush of you tended to put a strain on your relationship.

Sirius snorted. “Just a bit I’m sure.”

“What does Percy do then?” Hermione asked, as they approached the second landing. “I don’t think you mentioned it.”

“He only got the job a few days ago.” Ron explained. “He’s a junior in the Department of International Magical Co-Operation.”

“That’s pretty good.” David commented, impressed. “Especially for someone only just out of Hogwarts.”

“But he’s a tad obsessed.” Ginny warned. “So keep your voice down.”

At that moment, a door just ahead of them opened and a head popped out. “Would you keep your voices…Oh, hello, Hermione.” Percy was always polite to Hermione, probably because she was the only one who pretended to be interested during his lectures.

“Thank Merlin!” Fred sighed. “I thought you actually were interested.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Maybe in first year, but no. I’m just polite.”

“Hello, Percy.” Hermione replied. “Congratulations on your new job.”

“Thank you.” Percy puffed up importantly. “At least someone has their priorities straight.” He shot a nasty look at his younger siblings and disappeared behind his door again.

“Weren’t you supportive?” David asked.

“We were.” Ginny insisted. “We all congratulated him when he got the job. He just didn’t understand that there’s only so much of Crouch-worship that we can take.”

“Barty Crouch?” David asked. “He’s the Head of DIMC? Why didn’t he get the Minister’s job?”

Hermione vaguely remember him asking the same thing two books ago, but no one had answered. “Well … it’s explained in this book.”

“Mental, that one.” Ron muttered under his breath, leading the way up the next flight of stairs to Ginny’s room. “Ladies, your humble abode. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go and play Quidditch with the others.”

Hermione moved aside to let him pass, rolling her eyes in the process, and followed Ginny into her room. “Charming! Do they ever ask you to play?”

“No.” Ginny scowled, crossing her arms.

“Ginny, you can’t fly.” Fred reminded her.

“Oh, yes, I can.” Ginny argued. “I’ve been sneaking out to borrow your brooms since I was six years old.”
Fred just gaped at her and Hermione and Ginny exchanged a high-five over Harry’s head.

“Never.” Ginny sighed, gesturing to one of the beds. “That one’s yours.”

The room was quite small, just big enough to allow the two girls movement around the two beds, but it was comfortably so and still bigger than Hermione had expected, given the size of The Burrow and the placing of the door.

“Magic.” Ginny smirked.

Hermione blushed lightly. “Oh, shut up.”

The walls were painted a pretty pale yellow colour, and the soft green bedclothes gave the room the image of spring-time, which was amplified by the jar of wild flowers on the window sill.

“That sounds pretty.” Lily remarked.

The beds themselves were identical, but one (the one Ginny hadn’t pointed at) had a trunk at the foot and a worn hand-knitted stuffed rabbit sat on the pillow.

Now it was Ginny’s turn to blush. “Mum made it for me.” She muttered.

“I still have a dragon my mother gave me when I was born.” Draco whispered, just loud enough for her to hear.

Ginny was slightly startled, but smiled gratefully all the same.

“What do you think?” Ginny asked, a slight trace of nervousness in her voice.

“I think it’s really pretty.” Hermione answered, almost wistfully. Her bedroom at her parents’ house had always been plain white, with smart mahogany furniture – hardly interesting for a young girl.

“Mine was pink until I was five.” Lily remembered. “Then I asked for mint green instead. Petunia kept hers pink forever though.”

“Hermione’s room at my flat was pink as well.” Sirius added.

“She had her own room?” Addie asked quietly.

“When I realise how much time she was going to spend there – I couldn’t let her sleep on the sofa.” Sirius pointed out, glancing at her. “You look like you want to hug me later.”

Addie leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Not just hug you.” She murmured.

Feeling slightly awkward, Addie cleared her throat loudly and continued.

It took Hermione a few minutes to realise that she had referred to it as ‘her parents’ house’ and not ‘home’.

“That’s because it wasn’t home.” Harry said. “Bit like me and Privet Drive.”

Ginny smiled brightly. “We’ll get your trunk brought up and it’ll fit under your bed.”

“I’m ahead of you, Gin.” Charlie floated the trunk in and landed it in the middle of the room. “Do you two want to play with us?”

“You think Charlie heard you or was he just being polite?” Jen asked curiously.

Ginny shrugged. “Knowing Charlie, it could’ve been either.”

Hermione grimaced slightly. The last time she’d been in the air was on the back of a hippogriff and she wasn’t too excited about getting up there again.

“Normally, I’d say yes.” Ginny answered. “But Hermione’s scared of heights.”

“I am not scared of heights.” Hermione protested.

Harry ‘coughed’ loudly. “Liar.”

“I’m just not particularly fond of them. Besides, you can go, I don’t mind.”

“I know.” Ginny said. “But I need a girl talk.”

Charlie blanched slightly. “Right. I’ll leave you to it then.” He practically fled down the stairs.

The girls sniggered.

“Wait.” James frowned. “Does that mean, when you say that, you don’t always need a girl talk?”

“Uh huh.” Lily smirked. “But do you want to take that risk?”

James greyed slightly. “Er, no. Not really.”

Hermione giggled. “Works every time, that.”

Ginny nodded in agreement. “I don’t often use that excuse, but it’s the only way I can get any privacy with six brothers. Did you bring that book you said I could borrow? The Lion and … something?”

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” Hermione remembered.

“Oh, I love that book!” Lily sighed.

“It’s really good.” Ginny agreed. “It’s the first Muggle book I ever read.”

“What’s it about?” Regulus asked, curious despite himself.

“It’s about four children who are evacuated to a huge manor house during the war.” Hermione explained. “While they’re there, they find a magical land called Narnia, hidden inside an old wardrobe. Narnia is in the grips of an eternal winter, thanks to the ‘White Witch’, but the creatures who live there believe the four children are ones spoken of in an old prophecy who will save Narnia and bring it back to its former glory.”

The book in question appeared on the coffee table in front of them.

“I might take a look at that at lunch time.” Narcissa commented. “It sounds interesting.”

“Yeah, hang on.” She opened her trunk and dug through her books. “Not in here. Hang on.” She opened her satchel and dug around in it. “Well, that’s the weirdest thing I ever saw; I’m sure it’s in here somewhere.” She stuck her head right in …

Lily sniggered. “Mary Poppins.”

Hermione chuckled. “It was a bit like that.”

“Who’s Mary Poppins?” Remus asked in bewilderment.

Lily took this one. “Mary Poppins is another Muggle story about a nanny for two children in 1910 London. She’s not a witch as we’d describe her, but she uses magic to tidy the nursery and takes them into paintings and so on. She has a carpet bag that holds loads of things, just like that.”

… and finally extracted it. “Ah, here it is.”

Ginny stared at her. “What on earth is in that bag?”

“Everything but the kitchen sink.” Hermione replied jokingly, handing her the book.

“Muggle phrase.” Lily said quickly, fielding any questions. “No idea where it comes from.”

“Muggle World War II.” Hermione said automatically. “When the houses were bombed and families used to have to evacuate, they used to pack up everything to take with them, because anything left behind would have been looted. The only things left were the kitchen sinks, because they were bolted to the wall.”

“Thanks. Seriously, what is in that bag?” Ginny repeated. “Are you planning on moving in or something?”

Hermione shrugged. “Not really. I just…can’t go home next summer, that’s all.”

“I’m glad you told me.” Ginny said softly, squeezing her hand.

“Why not?” Ginny pressed gently.

Hermione took a deep breath, closed her eyes and began to talk, slowly admitting everything about her home life and her father. At one point, she started crying and the younger witch moved off her bed to sit beside her, rubbing her back soothingly. When she’d finished, they sat in silence for a few minutes, Hermione assumed while Ginny took in what she’d said.

“I needed to take it in.” Ginny smiled weakly.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, Ginny spoke, her voice low and shaking with anger. “First of all, you’re not going back even if I have to hide you in my trunk and smuggle you back here. Second of all, what were you thinking letting Sirius Black into your house?”

Hermione shook her head. “Note to self: watch what you say.”

Hermione froze. “Pardon?!” Terror and concern was rising around her, tainted with a bit of anger …

“Gotta love empathy.” Hermione commented.

… and she realised too late that her method of coping with her past, of shutting off all conscious thought while she talked, had led to more than she had anticipated being revealed.

Hermione groaned, rubbing her head. “I really need to stop doing that.”

“Ginny will hear you out.” Addie said softly.

Her heart thudding, she grasped Ginny’s arm. “Ginny, I need you to hear me out and not tell anyone, understand?!”
Ginny fought off her arm and closed her bedroom door, fixing Hermione with a stern look she had inherited from her mother. “Explain. Now.”

“I knew you never did anything without good reason.” Ginny said.

“Harry’s going to kill me.” Hermione muttered, before launching into the story of the Marauders, four boys who had become brothers and who were ripped apart by the terror of war.

There was a silence in the room and James, Sirius and Remus looked down.

“Bloody hell, Hermione, you’ve sure got a way of bringing the mood down.” Harry joked weakly.

“Like you don’t.” Hermione shot back. “And Ginny’s no better.”

By the time she’d finished, Ginny was almost in tears herself. “Poor Professor Lupin.”

Ginny flinched. “I’d forgotten about that.”

Hermione had to admit that she hadn’t thought about it from that angle; her thoughts had lain firmly with Sirius – and with Mr and Mrs Potter when the shock had worn off – and she was ashamed to admit she’d never even thought about how the whole debacle had affected the other remaining Marauder.

“It can’t have been easy for him.” Ginny continued softly. “Werewolves have it hard enough without losing his entire family and then to find out that he didn’t have to be alone for the last thirteen years …”

Remus tried to hold back a shudder, feeling Jen curl into him. He couldn’t imagine life without her – without any of them, for that matter.

“He wasn’t alone.” Arabella said quietly. “He had us.”

“At least he had Mandy and Arabella.” Hermione commented softly, falling easily into the way Harry had addressed them outside of class.

The two girls nodded with smiles.

“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Not a soul.” Ginny assured her. “I promise. Are you going to talk to my parents about your parents?”

Hermione sighed. “Only if I need to. I don’t want to put them out or anything; you know, make them feel like they have to have me next summer.”

“They won’t.” Fred said softly. “Yeah, they’ll offer, but that won’t be why.”

“I knew that.” Hermione sighed.

Logically, she knew that wouldn’t be the case, but that was how it would feel, she knew, if Mrs Weasley immediately extended an invitation.

Jen nodded in agreement. “I can understand that.”

“Me too.” Harry added.

Ginny looked like she wanted to argue, but she just smiled comfortingly and jumped to her feet. “Come on; let’s go and help Mum make birthday cakes.”

Hermione smiled as well, relieved that Ginny wasn’t going to push the subject. “Good idea. Baking always makes me feel better; it’s therapeutic. Only if you do it the Muggle way though.”

“Oh, Mum always makes birthday cakes the Muggle way.” Ginny told her. “She says it adds more love to them.”

“It does.” Lily smiled. “What were my cakes like?” She asked Sirius.

Sirius smiled. “Lily, everything you cooked was outstanding. It’s just that your chocolate chip cookies were heaven on a plate.”

“That’s an interesting description.” Addie teased. “You and your food.”

Harry perked up and looked at the ceiling. “Any chance you can send some back?”

A note appeared in his lap and he read it aloud. “We can. However, these were baked by someone else, not Lily, using the same recipe, so you’ll have to judge and tell me – I mean, us – how they are.””

“Your handwriting, Mione.” Harry told her, as a plate of still-warm chocolate chip cookies appeared on the table in front of them.

Everyone took one and Sirius nodded. “Just as good as I remember. I’d be interested to know how they got the recipe though. Lily never wrote it down and the only other person who knew it was Jen.”

Harry perked up. “Does that mean we get Mum and Dad back?”
“How else would we get the recipe?” Ginny asked.

Hermione held up her hand. “Hello?”

Harry deflated somewhat. “Oh yeah.”

“It does.” Hermione agreed absently. “Strawberry or chocolate …”

As the two girls made their way downstairs, Hermione pushed the feeling of unease to the back of her mind …

“Unease?” Lily repeated.

“You know, that gut feeling you get that says something bad’s going to happen.” Hermione grimaced. “Wouldn’t leave me alone.”

… but it wouldn’t disappear, as it very rarely does. What she didn’t know was that, in a few weeks time, Harry, and, by default, Sirius, would be getting that very same feeling …

Addie sighed. “That’s the end of the chapter.”

“Can you not have one quiet year?” Lily asked. “Just one? That’s all I ask.”

Harry chuckled. “Sorry, Mum. I’m a danger-magnet.”

Chapter Text

Jen took the book from Addie and opened it to the next chapter. “Well, that’s strange.”

“What is?” James asked.

“Well, it seems to have switched perspectives, but …” Jen frowned. “I can’t work out whose point of view this is.”

Chapter Three

The Riddle House

“Riddle?” David repeated sharply. “As in Tom Riddle? Voldemort?”

“Must be.” Jen looked at Harry and Hermione, but they looked just as confused. “No idea?”

Harry shook his head. “No. Not that I can think of right now anyway.”

“Alright.” Jen cleared her throat and started reading.

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it ‘the Riddle House’, even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict and unoccupied.

During the description, Harry’s face had paled. That was the same manor house he had seen above the graveyard.

“Harry?” Lily called softly. “Are you alright?”

Harry nodded jerkily. “I’m fine, Mum. I think that might be where Voldemort’s father grew up.”

Everyone from the past exchanged a glance. How did Harry know that from a description? No one asked, though – they knew they wouldn’t get an answer.

The Little Hangletons all agreed that the old house was ‘creepy’.

“Much more succinct description.” Sirius joked.

Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce.

Lily snorted. She had no patience for gossip, unlike her sister.

The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was any more.

“And that’s why rumours should never be believed.” David said calmly.

Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: fifty years before …

Lily frowned. “So that would be … the 1940s?”

“Around then.” Hermione confirmed.

… at daybreak on a fine summer’s morning, when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, and a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.

“All three?” Remus repeated.

“Well …” Mandy said slowly. “Either Riddle’s father married and had a child or he still lived with his parents.”

The maid had run screaming down the hill into the village, and roused as many people as she could.

“Lying there with their eyes wide open! Cold as ice!

“Killing Curse?” James asked his father.

David nodded grimly. “Sounds like it.”

Still in their dinner things!”

“Who wears their dinner things when it’s just family?” Ginny rolled her eyes.

“We have to.” Draco answered gloomily.

The police were summoned, and the whole of Little Hangleton had seethed with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement.

Lily scowled, muttering about horrible neighbours under her breath.

Nobody wasted their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles, for they had been most unpopular.

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel sad when someone murders them!” Arabella protested.

Elderly Mr and Mrs Riddle had been rich, snobbish and rude, and their grown-up son, Tom, had been even more so.

“So Voldemort’s father and grandparents are dead.” Sirius concluded. “Who’d do that though? It can’t be a coincidence who they’re related to.”

“You don’t think Voldemort did that, do you?” Lily asked sceptically. “He’d still have been in Hogwarts.”

“Remember what Hermione said in the second book?” Addie asked darkly. “Riddle killed at sixteen.”

“I looked him up.” Hermione explained, at Harry’s questioning look. “Over the summer before third year.”

“How do you know it was Voldemort though?” Lily pointed out.

Hermione didn’t answer and Jen kept reading.

All the villagers cared about was the identity of their murderer – plainly, three apparently healthy people did not all drop dead of natural causes on the same night.

The Hanged Man, the village pub, did a roaring trade that night; the whole village had turned out to discuss the murders. They were rewarded for leaving their firesides when the Riddles’ cook arrived dramatically in their midst, and announced to the suddenly silent pub that a man called Frank Bryce had just been arrested.

Harry closed his eyes. He had never quite remembered the name of the Muggle in his dream afterwards, but now he heard the name again it was suddenly as clear as day in his mind.

“Frank!” cried several people. “Never!”

Frank Bryce was the Riddles’ gardener. He lived alone in a run-down cottage in the Riddle House grounds. Frank had come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises, and had been working for the Riddles ever since.

There was a rush to buy the cook drinks, and hear more details.

“Always thought he was odd,” she told the eagerly listening villagers, after her fourth sherry. “Unfriendly, like. I’m sure if I’ve offered him a cuppa once, I’ve offered it a hundred times. Never wanted to mix, he didn’t.”

“That’s not uncommon!” Hermione protested. “If he was in the war, he probably had PTSD! Loads of servicemen were a little antisocial afterwards!”

“Ah, now,” said a woman at the bar, “he had a hard war, Frank, he likes a quiet life. That’s no reason to …”

“Who else had a key to the back door, then?” barked the cook. “There’s been a spare key hanging in the gardener’s cottage far back as I can remember! Nobody forced the door last night! No broken windows! All Frank had to do was creep up to the big house while we was all sleeping …”

“And managed to overpower three people without making a sound?” James finished, rolling his eyes. “The Riddles were all awake when they were killed or they wouldn’t have been wearing their dinner things still.”

The villagers exchanged dark looks.

“I always thought he had a nasty look about him, right enough,” grunted a man at the bar.

“War turned him funny, if you ask me,” said the landlord.

“Told you I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of Frank, didn’t I, Dot?” said an excited woman in the corner.

“Horrible temper,” said Dot, nodding fervently, “I remember when he was a kid …”

“What happened to “never”?” Sirius asked bitingly. He felt a certain camaraderie with this Muggle, since both of them had been accused of a crime they didn’t commit.

By the following morning, hardly anyone in Little Hangleton doubted that Frank Bryce had killed the Riddles.

But over in the neighbouring town of Great Hangleton, in the dark and dingy police station, Frank was stubbornly repeating, again and again, that he was innocent, and that the only person he had seen near the house on the day of the Riddles’ deaths had been a teenage boy, a stranger, dark-haired and pale.

“Voldemort.” Mandy whispered. “That’s how you knew?”

Hermione nodded. “Frank’s statement was in an old newspaper.”

“You really do your research, don’t you?” Draco commented.

Nobody else in the village had seen any such boy, and the police were quite sure that Frank had invented him.

Then, just when things were looking very serious for Frank, the report on the Riddles’ bodies came back and changed everything.

“Right, there’d be no Muggle explanation for their death.” Lily realised.

“They could have been poisoned.” James suggested.

“Well, yes, but …” Lily frowned. “Well, there are ways of finding those things out now. I don’t know if there were back then.”

“They didn’t have the same blood tests.” Hermione said. “But they had various tests for common poisons, as well as being able to check for needle marks, rashes or ulcers in the mouth.”

The police had never read an odder report. A team of doctors had examined the bodies, and had concluded that none of the Riddles had been poisoned, stabbed, shot, strangled, suffocated or (as far as they could tell) harmed at all. In fact, the report continued, in a tone of unmistakeable bewilderment, the Riddles all appeared to be in perfect health – apart from the fact that they were all dead. The doctors did now (as though determined to find something wrong with the bodies) …

James and Sirius couldn’t help sniggering.

… that each of the Riddles had a look of terror upon his or her face – but as the frustrated police said, whoever heard of three people being frightened to death?

“Anyone who’s had the Killing Curse thrown at them.” Addie answered with a shudder.

As there was no proof that the Riddles had been murdered at all, the police were forced to let Frank go. The Riddles were buried in the Little Hangleton churchyard, and their graves remained objects of curiosity for a while. To everyone’s surprise, and amidst a cloud of suspicion, Frank Bryce returned to his cottage in the grounds of the Riddle House.

“Where else would he go?” Lily asked sadly. “It’s likely he hasn’t got any family.”

“’S’far as I’m concerned, he killed them, and I don’t care what the police say,” said Dot in the Hanged Man. “And if he had any decency, he’d leave here, knowing as how we knows he did it.”

“Cow.” Lily muttered, folding her arms.

But Frank did not leave. He stayed to tend the garden for the next family who lived in the Riddle House, and then the next – for neither family stayed long. Perhaps it was partly because of Frank that each new owner said that there was a nasty feeling about the place …

“Probably a curse or a jinx of some sort.” James frowned.

… which, in the absence of inhabitants, started to fall into disrepair.

The wealthy man who owned the Riddle House these days neither lived there nor put it to any use; they said in the village that he kept it for ‘tax reasons’, though nobody was very clear what these might be.

“Voldemort, do you think?” Addie asked.

The wealthy owner continued to pay Frank to do the gardening, however.

“No, probably not.” She decided. “I can’t see Voldemort paying a Muggle to do anything.”

Frank was nearing his seventy-seventh birthday now, very deaf, his bad leg stiffer than ever, but could be seen pottering around the flowerbeds in fine weather, even though the weeds were starting to creep up on him.

“Oh, he really shouldn’t still be working at that age.” Lily fussed.

He’s not anymore. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand.

Weeds were not the only things Frank had to contend with, either. Boys from the village made a habit of throwing stones through the windows of the Riddle House. They rode their bicycles over the lawns Frank worked so hard to keep smooth. Once or twice, they broke into the old house for a dare. They knew that old Frank was devoted to the house and grounds, and it amused them to see him limping across the garden, brandishing his stick and yelling croakily at them.

The girls bristled almost as one, furious at their behaviour.

Frank, on his part, believed the boys tormented him because they, like their parents and grandparents, thought him a murderer.

“Or they’re disrespectful sods.” Mandy muttered.

So when Frank awoke one night in August and saw something very odd up at the old house, he merely assumed that the boys had gone one step further in their attempts to punish him.

“Oh, I’ve got a bad feeling.” Arabella murmured. “They wouldn’t mention it otherwise.”

It was Frank’s bad leg that woke him; it was paining him worse than ever in his old age. He got up and limped downstairs into the kitchen, with the idea of re-filling his hot water bottle to ease the stiffness in his knee. Standing at the sink, filling up the kettle, he looked up at the Riddle House and saw lights glimmering in its upper windows.

The room was quiet, everyone waiting on tenterhooks to find out what was about to happen.

Frank knew at once what was going on. The boys had broken into the house again, and judging by the flickering quality of the light, they had started a fire.

“That’s not good.” James murmured. “Could be squatters – but who breaks into a house like that to squat?”

Frank had no telephone, and in any case, he had deeply mistrusted the police ever since they had taken him in for questioning about the Riddles’ deaths. He put down the kettle at once, hurried back upstairs as fast as his bad leg would allow, and was soon back in his kitchen, fully dressed and removing a rusty old key from its hook by the door. He picked up his walking stick, which was propped against the wall, and set off into the night.

“Why do I get the feeling he just signed his death warrant?” Regulus commented dryly.

No one answered.

The front door of the Riddle House bore no sign of being forced, and nor did any of the windows.

“Wizards.” Alice whispered, clutching Neville’s hand.

Frank limped around to the back of the house until he reached a door almost completely hidden by ivy, took out the old key, put it into the lock and opened the door noiselessly.

He let himself into the cavernous kitchen. Frank had not entered it for many years; nevertheless, although it was very dark, he remembered where the door into the hall was, and he groped his way towards it, his nostrils full of the small of decay, ears pricked for any sound of footsteps or voices from overhead. He reached the hall, which was a little lighter owing to the large mullioned windows either side of the front door, and started to climb the stairs, blessing the dust which lay thick on stone, because it muffled the sound of his feet and stick.

Harry couldn’t help shivering as the memory of the dream became more vivid.

On the landing, Frank turned right, and saw at once where the intruders were: at the very end of the passage a door stood ajar, and a flickering light shone through the gap, casting a long sliver of gold across the black floor. Frank edged closer and closer, grasping his walking stick firmly. Several feet from the entrance, he was able to see a narrow slice of the room beyond.

The atmosphere changed slightly from rapt attention to apprehension.

The fire, he now saw, had been lit in the grate. This surprised him. He stopped moving and listened intently, for a man’s voice spoke within the room; it sounded timid and fearful.

The three Marauders narrowed their eyes, but didn’t say anything.

“There is a little more in the bottle, my Lord, if you are still hungry.”

“Voldemort’s there.” Alice whispered.

“This won’t end well.” Lily predicted. “I wonder what he’s drinking.”

“Somehow I doubt it’s firewhiskey.” James frowned.

“Later,” said a second voice. This, too, belonged to a man – but it was strangely high-pitched, and cold as a sudden blast of icy wind. Something about that voice made the sparse hairs on the back of Frank’s neck stand up.

Jen’s eyes darkened. “You’re not going to like this.”

“Move me closer to the fire, Wormtail.”

To everyone’s surprise, there was no outburst of anger.

The three Marauders had already guessed who Voldemort’s companion was, so it wasn’t a shock to them. The only indication that Wormtail was anything more than just another name was the tightening of three jaws.

Mandy closed her eyes. She and Peter had been nothing more than friends, but they talked a lot more than the others, when the other three Marauders were with their girlfriends – or harassing Addie, in Sirius’s case – and she had thought that she knew him. To find that he had betrayed them all like that hurt now, let alone after a relationship that had apparently caused her to fall in love with him.

Frank turned his right ear towards the door, the better to hear. There came the chink of a bottle being put down upon a hard surface, and then the dull scraping noise of a heavy chair being dragged across the floor. Frank caught a glimpse of a small man, his back to the door, pushing the chair into place. He was wearing a long, black cloak, and there was a bald patch at the back of his head.

“Is there a cure for baldness?” Harry asked suddenly. He was met by several incredulous looks.

“Really, mate?” Fred snickered.

Harry blushed, but protested, “The wizarding world can mend broken bones in a second – I just find it weird that we still suffer from hair-loss.”

Sirius was openly grinning at his godson, who was doing a good impersonation of a tomato. “There is a potion regime you can go on, but it’s quite expensive.”

Harry nodded understandingly.

Then he disappeared from sight again.

“Where is Nagini?” said the cold voice.

“Who’s Nagini?” Sirius asked.

“Not who, what.” Regulus corrected with a slight shiver. “She’s the Dark Lord’s familiar. Three guesses as to what animal – and the first two don’t count.”

“How did you know that?” David asked suspiciously.

Regulus’s left arm twitched, but few people noticed. “My cousin’s betrothed to one of the Dark Lord’s most faithful followers, Potter. Do I really need to answer?” He knew they knew he became a Death Eater in the future, but as far as he was aware, the auror had no idea he already had the Mark. He wasn’t about to advertise it.

“I – I don’t know, my Lord,” said the first voice nervously. “She set out to explore the house, I think …”

“I hope Frank watches himself.” Lily murmured. “With a giant snake on the loose.”

“Yeah, the snake’s what he wants to watch out for.” Sirius snorted. “Never mind the two murderers on the other side of the door.”
“You will milk her before we retire, Wormtail,” said the second voice. “I will need feeding in the night.

“How do you milk a snake?” James frowned.

“It means to extract the venom.” Lily explained. “Though why he’s drinking snake venom …”
Regulus looked pensive. “Well …” he said slowly, “there is a ritual that would allow the Dark Lord to regain a body … and I’m fairly sure the preparation includes snake venom.”

The journey has tired me greatly.”

“Journey from where?” Mandy asked curiously. “Where did he go?”

Hermione and Harry exchanged a glance and waited for a letter to tell them they couldn’t. When none appeared, Hermione answered, “Albania.”

“That’s where I was when James and Lily were attacked.” Mandy stated.

Sirius nodded. “We believed that was where Voldemort’s HQ was. Never thought it might in the middle of the ocean,” he added slightly bitterly, glancing at Addie.

“It’s not.” Addie disagreed. “It’s very sparse for a Headquarters. There’s a huge tower out there, but I’ve never seen anyone go in or out. And there were never that many Death Eaters there at once. Besides I don’t think they’d have taken us there, in case we escaped and could lead people back. Though whether we could …”

“Wasn’t it dangerous sending Mandy on her own to Albania if you thought that was where HQ was?” Arabella asked with a frown.

“We weren’t sending an assassin.” Sirius smirked weakly. “Just a scout. Besides, she wasn’t alone – Hestia Jones was with her.”

“Hestia?” Lily repeated. “I know that name.”

“Ravenclaw a year above us.” Sirius supplied. “Dark hair.”

Sirius nodded. “That’s her. We worked together as aurors.”

Brow furrowed, Frank inclined his good ear still closer to the door, listening very hard. There was a pause, and then the man called Wormtail spoke again.

“My Lord, may I ask how long we are going to stay here?”

“He’s got guts.” Sirius commented idly. “Most Death Eaters don’t dare ask a question.”

“Most Death Eaters aren’t relied upon for his continued existence.” Harry pointed out.

“A week,” said the cold voice. “Perhaps longer. The place is moderately comfortable, and the plan cannot proceed yet. It would be foolish to act before the Quidditch World Cup is over.”

Frank inserted a gnarled finger into his ear and rotated it. Owing, no doubt, to a build-up of earwax, he had heard the word ‘Quidditch’, which was not a word at all.

James gasped and Lily hit him on the arm. “He’s a Muggle, James. He won’t have heard of Quidditch.”

“The – the Quidditch World Cup, my Lord?” said Wormtail. (Frank dug his finger still more vigorously into his ear.) “Forgive me, but – I do not understand – why should we wait until the World Cup is over?”

Remus groaned. “Was he always this much of an idiot or has he gotten worse?”

Sirius gave a tight smile. “We were always pretty easy on him.”

“Because, fool, at this very moment wizards are pouring into the country from all over the world, and every meddler from the Ministry of Magic will be on duty, on the watch for signs of unusual activity, checking and double-checking identities. They will be obsessed with security, lest the Muggles notice anything. So we wait.”

Frank stopped trying to clear his ear out. He had distinctly heard the words ‘Ministry of Magic’, ‘wizards’ and ‘Muggles’. Plainly, each of these expressions meant something secret, and Frank could think of only two sorts of people who would speak in code – spies and criminals.

“Smart man.” David commented.

Frank tightened his hold on his walking stick once more, and listened more closely still.

“Your Lordship is still determined, then?” Wormtail said quietly.

“Certainly I am determined, Wormtail.” There was a note of menace in the cold voice now.

“Uh oh.” James murmured, not sure whether to smirk or not.

A slight pause followed – and then Wormtail spoke, the words tumbling from him in a rush, as though he was forcing himself to say this before he lost his nerve.

“It could be done without Harry Potter, my Lord.”

“I’m sorry.” Lily said in a deceptively calm voice. “Did he just say Harry Potter?”

“Er, yes?” Harry answered carefully.

Lily melted into James’s arms. “Not again.” She whispered. “Not again.”

Another pause, more protracted, and then –

“Without Harry Potter?” breathed the second voice softly. “I see …”

“My Lord, I do not say this out of concern for the boy!” said Wormtail, his voice rising squeakily. “The boy is nothing to me, nothing at all!

“Thanks Peter.” James said softly. “Good to know how much we mean to you.”

It is merely that if we were to use another witch or wizard – any wizard – the thing could be done so much more quickly! If you allowed me to leave you for a short while – you know that I can disguise myself most effectively – I could be back here in as little as two days with a suitable person –”

“Unbelievable.” Mandy muttered, looking disgusted.

“I could use another wizard,” said the first voice softly, “that is true …”

“And what, exactly, does he want to use you for?” Lily asked shakily.

“Out of interest,” Regulus said, “do you really want to know, or am I going to get yelled at if I tell you and give you a heart attack?”

Lily glared at him. “Why does he want my son?!” She hissed.

“The ritual I mentioned earlier,” Regulus answered quickly – even he was slightly intimidated, “requires blood of the enemy. Of course, there’s a chance I’m completely off the mark.”

“My Lord, it makes sense,” said Wormtail, sounding thoroughly relieved now, “laying hands on Harry Potter would be so difficult, he is so well protected –”

“And so you volunteer to go and fetch me a substitute? I wonder … perhaps the task of nursing me has become wearisome for you, Wormtail?

“Wouldn’t it anyone?” James asked.

“Out of interest,” Hermione commented, turning to Harry, “is it weird that we refer to Peter as his Marauder name? We don’t do it with Remus and Sirius – and I don’t do it with James. And yet Peter’s the one who betrayed them.”

Harry shrugged. “Wormtail’s the rat. Peter’s the man.”

Hermione nodded thoughtfully.

Could this suggestion of abandoning the plan be nothing more than an attempt to desert me?”

“My Lord! I – I have no wish to leave you, none at all –”

“Do not lie to me!” hissed the second voice. “I can always tell, Wormtail! You are regretting that you ever returned to me. I revolt you.

“Oh, you revolt everyone.” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

I see you flinch when you look at me, feel you shudder when you touch me …”

“Well, he’s not a complete idiot.” Fred stated.

“No! My devotion to your Lordship …”

“Your devotion is nothing more than cowardice.

“True.” Harry muttered.

You would not be here if you had anywhere else to go. How am I to survive without you, when I need feeding every few hours? Who is to milk Nagini?”

“But you seem to much stronger, my Lord –”

“Liar,” breathed the second voice. “I am no more stronger, and a few days alone would be enough to rob me of the little health I have regained under your clumsy care. Silence!

Wormtail, who had been spluttering incoherently, fell silent for once. For a few seconds, Frank could here nothing but the fire crackling. Then the second man spoke once more, in a whisper that was almost a hiss.

“I have my reasons for using the boy, as I have already explained to you, and I will use no other.

“Why Harry though?” Sirius frowned. “If Reg is right, surely any enemy would do. And as much as I hate to admit it, Wormtail’s got a point.”

“It could have something to do with Lily’s protection.” David answered slowly. “If Harry’s blood runs in Voldemort’s veins, the protection would no longer work, because Harry’s blood, of course, is Lily’s blood.”

“So if this works, Voldemort would have the same protection Harry does?” Lily asked quietly. She shuddered at the thought of Voldemort taking something as pure as her love for her son and desecrating it like that.

“Well …” David thought for a second. “It’s difficult to say, Lily. Blood magic is incredibly difficult to predict, which is one of the reasons the Ministry considers it dark. Of course this was unintentional,” he added hastily. “But it’s really only sanctioned to be used as wards and even then you need permission. It could give Voldemort protection or, on the flip-side, it could actually weaken him.”

I have waited thirteen years. A few more months will make no difference. As for the protection surrounding the boy, I believe my plan will be effective. All that is needed is a little courage from you, Wormtail …

“Hasn’t exactly got any of that lying around, has he?” Addie asked scathingly.

…courage you will find, unless you wish to feel the fill extent of Lord Voldemort’s wrath –”

“My Lord, I must speak!” said Wormtail, panic in his voice now. “All through my journey I have gone over the plan in my head – my Lord, Bertha Jorkin’s disappearance …

“Bertha Jorkins?” Addie repeated. “Not that nosy little cow in Hufflepuff two years below us?”

“That’s the one.” Sirius sighed.

“How she got to be a Hufflepuff when she’s got no loyalty whatsoever …” Addie muttered.

“Now, Addie, don’t speak ill of the dead.” Hermione murmured.

Addie looked stunned. “She’s … really?”

“Really.” Sirius confirmed in an undertone.

… will not go unnoticed for long, and if we proceed, if I curse –”

“If?” whispered the first voice. “If? If you follow the plan, Wormtail, the Ministry need never know that anyone else has disappeared.

“That doesn’t sound good.” David frowned. “How is someone going to disappear without anyone noticing?”

“Polyjuice.” Regulus answered softly. “If someone were to impersonate that person, then no one, theoretically, would realise.”

You will do it quietly, and without fuss; I only wish that I could do it myself, but in my present condition … come, Wormtail, one more obstacle removed and our path to Harry Potter is clear. I am not asking you to do it alone. By that time, my faithful servant will have rejoined us –”

“I wonder who that is then.” Sirius commented.

“I can think of a few names.” James scowled.

“No, Sirius is right.” Jen gazed at the book. “Voldemort wouldn’t consider those who bought their way out of Azkaban faithful. Unless someone else is planning on breaking out of Azkaban …”

“Honey?” Remus prompted when she lapsed into thought. “You’re the one reading.”

I am a faithful servant,” said Wormtail, the merest trace of sullenness in his voice.

“Wormtail, I need somebody with brains, somebody whose loyalty has never wavered, and you, unfortunately, fulfil neither requirement.”

Despite the person speaking and who they were speaking to, no one could help sniggering at that.

“I found you,” said Wormtail, and there was definitely a sulky edge to his voice now. “I was the one who found you. I brought you Bertha Jorkins.”

“I can’t believe he’s sulking because he’s not getting praise for leading an innocent woman to her death.” Harry growled. He’d forgotten about the mention of Bertha Jorkins and was mad that he hadn’t been able to tell anyone earlier.

“That is true,” said the second man, sounding amused. “A stroke of brilliance I would not have thought possible from you, Wormtail – though, if truth be told, you were not aware how useful she would be when you caught her, were you?”

“I – I thought she might be useful, my Lord –”

“Liar,” said the first voice again, the cruel amusement even more pronounced than ever. “However, I do not deny that her information was invaluable. Without it, I could never have formed our plan, and for that, you will have your reward, Wormtail. I will allow you to perform an essential task for me, one that many of my followers would give their right hands to perform …”

“Oh, that’s not good.” Regulus murmured.

“What do you mean?” Lily asked hastily.

“The ritual I mentioned earlier …” Regulus began.

Jen cut him off with a gasp, although still avoided actually looking at him. “Oh, I know the one you mean now!” She caught sight of Sirius’s expression. “Oh, come on, Padfoot, I know you were there for this.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “I try to block out as much as possible of what I learned at that house. I’ll never understand why you don’t do the same.”

“In case of situations like this.” Jen answered coolly. “You can’t fight the Dark Arts if you don’t know about them.”

“Well said.” David agreed quietly. “That’s the downfall of many an auror – even Alastor Moody, as good as he is, has that one flaw, a flaw I fully admit to as well, mind you.”

“She’s right.” Sirius added. “That’s what made Jen such a good auror.”

“Go on then.” Sirius prompted. “What this got to do with Voldemort just said?”

“The ritual involved bone of the father, blood of the enemy and flesh of the servant.” Jen answered. “There’s a chance that Peter will literally have to give his right hand.”

“R-really, my Lord? What –?” Wormtail sounded terrified again.

“Ah, Wormtail, you don’t want me to spoil the surprise? Your part will come at the very end … but I promise you, you will have the honour of being just as useful as Bertha Jorkins.”

“You … you …” Wormtail’s voice sounded suddenly hoarse, as though his mouth had gone very dry. “You … are going … to kill me, too?”

There was a hushed silence as it was confirmed by a second source that this poor woman was dead.

“Wormtail, Wormtail,” said the cold voice silkily, “why would I kill you? I killed Bertha because I had to. She was fit for nothing after my questioning, quite useless.

“Torture, do you think?” James asked in a hushed voice.

“Possibly.” Alice answered shakily, clutching Neville closer to her.

In any case, awkward questions would have been asked if she had gone back to the Ministry with the news that she had met you on her holidays. Wizards who are supposed to be dead would do well not to run into Ministry of Magic witches at wayside inns …”

Wormtail muttered something so quietly that Frank could not hear it, that Frank could not hear it, but it made the second man laugh – an entirely mirthless laugh, cold as his speech.

We could have modified her memory?

Though no one said it, several people were quite relieved that Peter had suggested that, since it gave a glimpse of the boy they knew, trying to spare a life, rather than a murderer intent on taking one.

But Memory Charms can be broken by a powerful wizard, as I proved when I questioned her.

“Now that’s interesting.” David commented. “I wonder why her memory had been modified.”

“She must have found something out that no one wanted found out.” Regulus agreed.

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me.” Addie admitted. “The girl was a terrible gossip.” She and Sirius exchanged a wry smile, remembering the same Hufflepuff catching them behind the greenhouses and spreading it around the school. Out of principle more than anything, they’d both hexed her, although only Sirius’s had taken hold.

It would be an insult to her memory not to use the information I extracted from her, Wormtail.”

Out in the corridor, Frank suddenly became aware that the hand gripping his walking stick was slippery with sweat. The man with the cold voice had killed a woman. He was talking about it without any kind of remorse – with amusement. He was dangerous – a madman. And he was planning more murders – this boy, Harry Potter, whoever he was – was in danger –

Frank knew what he must do. Now, if ever, was the time to go to the police.

“That’s not a good idea.” Narcissa whispered.

“Why not?” James retorted. “He needs to get help!”

“And what help will Muggles be to take out a wizard?!” Narcissa demanded. “He’d kill all of them!”

“Probably not all of them.” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I don’t know how effective a shield charm would be against a bullet.” Seeing the looks of confusion, she elaborated, “A bullet is used in a Muggle weapon called a gun, which is a metal, L-shaped object. It uses force and something called gun-powder to fire a bullet – a small metal projectile – out of the cylinder at great speed. It’s highly dangerous and can cause grievous bodily injury and, in some cases, death.”

The purebloods stared at her in amazement.

“Is that what Vernon had in the first book?” Alice asked.

Hermione thought back. “He had a rifle, which is a type of gun, yes. They come in various sizes and shapes and the bullets vary from very small to very large. The speed they fire at differs as well – some can only fire one before needing to ‘reload’ and others – machine guns – can fire many bullets very quickly.”

He would creep out of the house and head straight for the telephone box in the village … but the cold voice was speaking again, and Frank remained where he was, frozen to the spot, listening with all his might.

“One more curse … my faithful servant at Hogwarts … Harry Potter is as good as mine, Wormtail. It is decided. There will be no more argument. But quiet … I think I hear Nagini …”

And the second man’s voice changed. He started making noises such as Frank had never heard before; he was hissing and spitting without drawing breath.

“Parseltongue.” Hermione concluded.

“Is that really what it sounds like?” James asked.

“Here.” Hermione raised her wand and pointed it at an empty patch of carpet. “Sperpensortia.

A green garden snake appeared and Harry knelt down before it. He opened his mouth, but instead of English, a strange hissing noise escaped it.

“Harry, I love you,” Lily told him, “but that’s really creepy.”

“I know.” Harry grinned. “Now how do we get rid of it?”

Hermione blushed. “I don’t know.”

Sirius chuckled and waved his wand, causing the snake to vanish. “Never cast a spell you don’t know how to reverse, Hermione.”

Frank thought he must be having some sort of fit or seizure.

And then Frank heard movement behind him in the dark passageway. He turned to look behind him, and found himself paralysed with fright.

Something was slithering towards him along the dark corridor, and as it drew nearer to the sliver of firelight, he realised with a thrill of terror that it was a gigantic snake, at least twelve feet long.

“Merlin …” Lily whispered.

Horrified, transfixed, Frank stared at it as its undulating body cut a wide curving track through the thick dust on the floor, coming closer and closer – what was he to do? The only means of escape was into the room where two men sat plotting murder, yet if he stayed where he was the snake would surely kill him …

“It won’t.” Harry disagreed. “Voldemort’s calling her in; she won’t stop for food.”

But before he had made his decision, the snake was level with him, and then, miraculously, it was passing; it was following the spitting, hissing noises made by the cold voice beyond the door, and in seconds, the tip of its diamond-patterned tail had vanished through the gap.

“I wonder what kind of snake it is.” Arabella murmured.

Mandy gave her an incredulous look. “Why does that matter?”

There was sweat on Frank’s forehead now, and the hand on the walking stick was trembling. Inside the room, the cold voice was continuing to hiss, and Frank was visited by a strange idea, an impossible idea … This man could talk to snakes.

“On the ball, this one.” Remus commented.

“I wonder if he already saw magic and was obliviated.” Lily mused. “The Muggle Second World War and the war with Grindelwald did cross paths quite a few times. And it would explain why he’s so open-minded,”

Frank didn’t understand what was going on. He wanted more than anything to be back in his bed with his hot-water bottle. The problem was that his legs didn’t seem to want to move.

“No, move.” James whispered.

As he stood there shaking, and trying to master himself, the cold voice switched abruptly to English again.

“Nagini has interesting news, Wormtail,” it said.

“He’s dead.” Addie sighed.

“In-indeed, my Lord?” said Wormtail.

“Indeed, yes,” said the voice. “According to Nagini, there is an old Muggle standing right outside this room, listening to every word we say.”

Frank didn’t have a chance to hide himself. There were footsteps, and then the door of the room was flung wide open.

A short, balding man with greying hair, a pointed nose and small, watery eyes stood before Frank, a mixture of fear and alarm on his face.

“I don’t know why he’s looking scared.” Mandy scowled. “He’s not the one who’s about to get murdered!”

“Invite him inside, Wormtail. Where are your manners?”

“Yes, we must show manners before we commit murder, mustn’t we?” Lily asked sarcastically.

Harry shivered. Bow to death, Harry.

The cold voice was coming from the ancient armchair before the fire, but Frank couldn’t see the speaker. The snake, on the other hand, was curled up on the rotting hearth-rug, like some horrible travesty of a pet dog.

Wormtail beckoned Frank into the room. Though still deeply shaken, Frank took a firmer grip upon his walking stick, and limped over the threshold.

“What do you think?” James asked. “Honorary Gryffindor?”

Sirius and Remus nodded in agreement.

The fire was the only source of light in the room; it was casting long, spidery shadows upon the walls. Frank stared at the back of the armchair; the man inside it seemed to be even smaller than his servant, for Frank couldn’t even see the back of his head.

“Or he’s not a man.” Harry said in a low voice.

“You heard everything, Muggle?” said the cold voice.

“What’s that you’re calling me?” said Frank defiantly, for now that he was inside the room, now that the time had come for some sort of action, he felt braver; it had always been so in the war.

“Definitely a Gryffindor.” Sirius agreed. “Sounds like James and I before raids.”

David chuckled. “You mean waiting for the go-ahead practically crapping yourself and then suddenly sinking into a headspace?”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah, that about sums it up. Once you add the ‘oh shit’ moment afterwards.”

“What’s that?” Lily asked.

“It’s the moment after a raid when you suddenly realise how many times you nearly died and your legs give out and you think ‘oh shit …’” Sirius answered. “Isn’t always immediate either. I remember once we got through a whole debriefing and were in the middle of Diagon Alley when James suddenly fell sideways. Took me, Moony and Jen to hold him up. Lily would have helped, but she wasn’t much better.”

“I thought you said I wasn’t an auror and why were we both so shaken?” Lily asked quickly.

“It was an Order mission and there’s not many people who can have Voldemort appear in front of them and walk away unscathed.” Sirius answered calmly. “James and Lily – and Alice and Frank now that I think about it – did it three times.”

James, Lily and Alice gaped at him. “Three times?” James repeated quietly.

Sirius nodded, before gesturing hurriedly for Jen to start reading again.

“I am calling you a Muggle,” said the voice coolly. “It means that you are not a wizard.”

“I don’t know what you mean by wizard,” said Frank, his voice growing steadier. “All I know is I’ve heard enough to interest the police tonight, I have. You’ve done murder and you’re planning more! And I’ll tell you this, too,” he added, on a sudden inspiration, “my wife knows I’m up here, and if I don’t come back –”

“No good.” Regulus sighed. “The Dark Lord is a Legilimens – he’ll know.”

“You have no wife,” said the cold voice, very quietly. “Nobody knows you are here. You told nobody that you were coming. Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows … he always knows …”

“Is that right?” said Frank roughly. “Lord, is it? Well, I don’t think much of your manners, my Lord. Turn around and face me like a man, why don’t you?”

“But I am not a man, Muggle,” said the cold voice, barely audible now over the crackling flames. I am much, much more than a man.

“No, you are much, much less.” Addie hissed, nestling into Sirius’s side. Memories of Regulus’s last hours and his final request swam through her mind, but she couldn’t bring herself to utter the words. If she did that, she would have to elaborate and she wasn’t ready to do that.

However … why not? I will face … Wormtail, come turn my chair around.”

The servant gave a whimper.

“You heard me, Wormtail.”

Slowly, with his face screwed up, as though he would rather have done anything than approach his master and the hearth-rug where the snake lay, the small man walked forwards and began to turn the chair. The snake lifted its ugly triangular head and hissed slightly as the legs of the chair snagged on its rug.

And then the chair was facing Frank, and he saw what was sitting in it. His walking stick fell to the floor with a clatter. He opened his mouth and let out a scream. He was screaming so loudly that he never heard the words the thing in the chair spoke, as it raised a wand. There was a flash of green light, a rushing sound, and Frank Bryce crumpled. He was dead before he hit the floor.

Silence fell for a few minutes, as they paid their respects to the brave man.

Two hundred miles away, the boy called Harry Potter woke with a start.

“Harry?” Lily questioned sharply. “Did you dream that?”

“Not the beginning bit.” Harry sighed. “But the last bit, yes.”

“How?” David asked.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. No one seems to be able to answer that question.”

Chapter Text

Jen cleared her throat. “Well, that’s the end of the chapter.”

“I’ll take it.” James said. “I want to know what’s going on.”

Chapter Four

The Scar

Lily cast a worried look at the lightning-bolt mark on Harry’s forehead.

Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running. He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed over his face. The old scar on his forehead, which was shaped like a bolt of lightning, was burning beneath his fingers as though someone had just pressed a white-hot wire to his skin.

Mandy gasped. “Isn’t that what happened in first year? But Voldemort isn’t in Privet Drive, is he?”

“No.” Harry answered, but didn’t elaborate.

He sat up, one hand still on his scar, the other reaching out in the darkness for his glasses, which were on the bedside table. He put them on and his bedroom came into clearer focus, lit by a faint, misty orange light that was filtering through the curtains from the street lamp outside the window.

“Harry, it’s too early for you to be awake.” Lily whispered.

Harry smiled. “I can’t sleep after nightmares, Mum.”

Harry ran his fingers over the scar again. It was still painful. He turned on the lamp beside him, scrambled out of bed, crossed the room, opened the wardrobe and peered into the mirror on the inside of the door. A skinny boy of fourteen looked back at him, his bright green eyes puzzled under his untidy black hair. He examined the lightning-bolt scar of his reflection more closely. It looked normal, but it was still stinging.

Harry tried to recall what he had been dreaming about before he had awoken.

“You couldn’t remember?” Jen asked.

“The more I tried, the more I forgot.” Harry explained, rubbing his forehead.

It had seemed so real … there had been two people he knew, and one he didn’t … he concentrated hard, frowning, trying to remember …

The dim picture of a darkened room came to him … there had been a snake on a hearth-rug … a small man called Peter, nicknamed Wormtail … and a cold, high voice … the voice of Lord Voldemort. Harry felt as though an ice cube and slipped down into his stomach at the very thought …

Lily reached out and took Harry’s hand, squeezing softly.

He closed his eyes tightly and tried to remember what Voldemort had looked like, but it was impossible … all Harry knew was at the moment when Voldemort’s chair had swung around, and he, Harry, had seen what was sitting in it, he had felt a spasm of horror, which had awoken him … or had that been the pain in his scar?

“Oh Harry …” Lily whispered.

And who had the old man been? For there had definitely been an old man; Harry had watched him fall to the ground. It was all becoming confused; Harry put his face into his hands, blocking out his bedroom, trying to hold on to the picture of the dimly lit room, but it was like trying to keep water in his cupped hands; the details were now trickling away as fast as he tried to hold on to them … Voldemort and Wormtail had been talking about someone they had killed, though Harry could not remember the name …

“If only I had …” Harry sighed.

“No one would have listened, Harry.” Hermione told him comfortingly. “Maybe Dumbledore, but the search would have continued.”

… and they had been plotting to kill someone else … him

“Yeah, that didn’t scare me as much as it should have done.” Harry commented.

“Well, it scares me.” Lily retorted.

Harry took his face out of his hands, opened his eyes and stared around his bedroom as though expecting to see something unusual there. As it happened, there were an extraordinary number of unusual things in this room. A large wooden trunk stood open at the foot of his bed, revealing a cauldron, broomstick, black robes and assorted spell-books. Rolls of parchment littered that part of his desk that was not taken up by the large, empty cage in which his snowy owl, Hedwig, usually perched. On the floor beside his bed a book lay open; he had been reading it before he fell asleep the previous night. The pictures in the book were all moving. Men in bright orange robes were zooming in and out of sight on broomsticks, throwing a red ball to each other.

James groaned, looking up from the book. “Tell me you haven’t become a Cannons fan!”

Harry chuckled. “No, I support Puddlemere United, but Ron’s the one who buys me Quidditch stuff.”

“Why Puddlemere?” Lily asked curiously.

Harry grinned. “Oliver’s on the reserve team. Call it Gryffindor loyalty.”

Harry walked over to this book, picked it up and watched one of the wizards score a spectacular goal by putting the ball through a fifty-foot-high hoop.

“Spectacular goal? The Cannons?” Remus sniggered. “Doubtful.”

Then he snapped the book shut. Even Quidditch – in Harry’s opinion, the best sport in the world …

“There’s the Potter genes.” Jen chuckled.

…couldn’t distract him at the moment. He placed Flying with the Cannons on his bedside table, crossed to the window and drew back the curtains to survey the street below.

Privet Drive looked exactly as a respectable suburban street would be expected to look in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“It looks like that all the time.” Harry sighed.

All the curtains were closed. As far as Harry could see through the darkness, there wasn’t a living creature in sight, not even a cat.

And yet … and yet … Harry went restlessly back to his bed and sat down on it, running a finger over his scar again. It wasn’t the pain that bothered him; Harry was no stranger to pain and injury.

Lily tightened her grip at the memory.

He had lost all the bones from his right arm once, and had them painfully regrown in a night. The same arm had been pierced by a venomous foot-long fang not long afterwards.

“That reminds me, Harry,” James said, looking up, “Lockhart? Why would you go to Lockhart?”

Harry blushed lightly. “Wishful thinking.”

Only last year Harry had fallen fifty feet from an airborne broomstick. He was used to bizarre accidents and injuries; they were unavoidable if you attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and had a knack for attracting a lot of trouble.

“I don’t attract trouble!” Harry protested. “Trouble attracts me!”

“That’s even worse.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “At least we both agree on where the trouble seems to gravitate.”

No, the thing that was bothering Harry was that the last time his scar had hurt him, it had been because Voldemort had been close by … but Voldemort couldn’t be here, now … the idea of Voldemort lurking in Privet Drive lurking in Privet Drive was absurd, impossible …

“If the blood wards work, he wouldn’t be able to get there.” David stated.

“And even if they don’t, Dumbledore must have some sort of wards there.” Hermione added. “There’d be aurors all over the place if you were in any danger.”

Harry listened closely to the silence around him. Was he half expecting to hear the creak of a stair, or the swish of a cloak? And then he jumped slightly as he heard his cousin Dudley give a tremendous grunting snore from the next room.

Harry shook himself mentally; he was being stupid; there was no one in the house with him except Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley, and they were plainly still asleep, their dreams untroubled and painless.

Asleep was the way Harry liked the Dursleys best; it wasn’t as though they were ever any help to him awake.

“You can say that again.” Harry muttered.

Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley were Harry’s only living relatives. They were Muggles (non-magical people) who hated and despised magic in any form, which meant that Harry was about as welcome in their house as dry rot.

“You’ll like it at Grimmauld Place then, Harry.” Fred said innocently.

“Why?” Harry asked, a wary expression on his face.

“There’s already plenty of dry rot there – the position’s filled.” Fred grinned. “You’ll just have to take the job of scrawny superhero instead.”

Harry laughed. “I’m hardly a superhero, Fred.”

They had explained away Harry’s long absences at Hogwarts over the last three years by telling everyone that he went to St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. The only person who knew the truth – and Harry’s only human ally on Privet Drive – was their next door neighbour Jessica, who adored Harry about as much as the Dursleys hated him.

Lily beamed at the book. “I want to meet this woman.”

“She’s the best.” Harry agreed. “She’s … Well, she’s the closest thing I have to a mother.”

Lily’s smile faded slightly and she squeezed his hand.

“She could never replace you though.” Harry added in an undertone. “She never tried.”

His relatives knew perfectly well that, as an underage wizard, Harry wasn’t allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, but were still apt to blame him for anything that went wrong about the house.

Lily scowled, but said nothing.

Harry had never been able to confide in them, or tell them anything about his life in the wizarding world. The very idea of going to them when they awoke, and telling them about his scar hurting him, and about his worries about Voldemort, was laughable.

“That’s awful, mate.” Neville sympathised. “Gran can be hard to deal with at times, but she’s nowhere near that bad.”

And yet it was because of Voldemort that Harry had come to live with the Dursleys in the first place. If it hadn’t been for Voldemort, Harry would not have had the lightning scar on his forehead. If it hadn’t been for Voldemort, Harry would still have had parents …

“Oh, not again!” Lily sighed.

James’s jaw clenched, and he read as quickly as possible.

Harry had been a year old the night that Voldemort – the most powerful Dark wizard for a century, a wizard who had been steadily for eleven years – arrived at his house and killed his father and mother. Voldemort had then turned his wand on Harry; he had performed the curse that had disposed of so many full-grown wizards and witches in his steady rise to power – and, incredibly, it had not worked. Instead of killing the small boy, the curse had rebounded upon Voldemort. Harry had survived with nothing but a lightning-shaped cut on his forehead, and Voldemort had been reduced to something barely alive. His powers gone, his life almost extinguished, Voldemort had fled; the terror in which the secret community of witches and wizards had lived for so long had lifted, Voldemort’s followers had disbanded, and Harry Potter had become famous.

“Unfortunately.” Harry muttered.

It had been enough of a shock for Harry to discover, on his eleventh birthday, that he was a wizard; it had been even more disconcerting to find out that everyone in the hidden wizarding world knew his name. Harry had arrived at Hogwarts to find that heads turned and whispers followed him wherever he went. But he was used to it now: at the end of this summer, he would be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts; and he was already counting the days until he would be back at the castle again.

But there was still a fortnight to go before he went back to school. He looked hopelessly around his room again, and his eye paused on the birthday cards his two best friends had sent him at the end of July.

“Oh, that reminds me.” Sirius commented. “Happy birthday, Neville.”

“It’s your birthday?” Alice asked. “You never mentioned that.”
Neville blushed. “I turned fifteen yesterday. Oh, happy birthday, Harry. Slipped my mind.”
Harry grinned. “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t know your birthday was the day before mine.”

Sirius chuckled. “Alice and Lily were in the same ward. Of course, Harry was early.”

“I was early?” Harry asked.

Sirius nodded. “You were due mid-August. James and Jen were at work and Lily had gone to Diagon Alley with me and … Peter. We were in the middle of the Alley when her waters broke. Peter was panicking. “Not now! Not now! You’re too early! Quick, close your legs and hold him in!” Lily nearly murdered him.”

Despite the freshness of the wound, no one could help laughing, especially the Marauders, since Sirius’s impersonation had been extremely accurate.

“I got there in time, right?” James asked once everyone had calmed down.

“Yeah, of course.” Sirius assured him. “Well in time. Enough for you to irritate Lily so much that she kicked you out until it was actually time and for you to pace a hole in the corridor until we threatened to kick you out.”

Lily giggled. “He was nervous?”

“Terrified.” Sirius confirmed. “I ended up giving him a shot of firewhiskey-laced tea. Jen told me in no uncertain terms that I’d better have enough to share with the rest of the class. But, yes, I distinctly remember Frank sniggering at us from the next room, and inviting us all in to see Neville while we were waiting.”

Everyone wished Neville a belated happy birthday and James continued reading.

What would they say if he wrote to them and told them about his scar hurting?

At once, Hermione Granger’s voice filled his head, shrill and panicky.

“Excuse me?” Hermione raised an eyebrow.

“I mean that in a nice way.” Harry smiled weakly. “You know, you always look after me and worry about me. That’s what I meant.”

“Whatever.” Hermione huffed, but she was smiling.

“Your scar hurt? Harry, that’s really serious … Write to Professor Dumbledore! And I’ll go and check Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions … Maybe there’s something in there about curse scars …”

Hermione smile turned to laughter. “You know me too well, Harry.”

Yes, that would be Hermione’s advice: go straight to the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and in the meantime, consult a book. Harry stared out of the window at the inky, blue-black sky. He doubted very much whether a book could help him now.

“Honestly so do I.” Hermione frowned. “But you’re the only person to survive a curse like that, so I doubt I’d have suggested Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. How did you think of that book anyway?”

Harry shrugged. “Read it in second year. Wanted to learn how to mend broken bones – didn’t want another Lockhart disaster.”

“Harry, you can’t mend your own bones.” Hermione told him.

“I know now.” Harry rolled his eyes. “I did read the book.”

As far as he knew, he was the only living person to have survived a curse like Voldemort’s; it was highly unlikely, therefore, that he would find his symptoms listed in Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. As for informing the Headmaster, Harry had no idea where Dumbledore went during the summer holidays. He amused himself for a moment, picturing Dumbledore, with his long silver beard, full-length wizard’s robes and pointed hat, stretched out on a beach somewhere, rubbing suntan lotion into his long crooked nose.

Sirius laughed. “I love your imagination, Harry.”

Wherever Dumbledore was, though Harry was sure Hedwig would be able to find him …

“Hedwig can find anyone anywhere.” Harry said proudly.

… Harry’s owl – his other ally, this time of the feathered variety – had never yet failed to a letter to anyone, even without an address. But what would he write?

Dear Professor Dumbledore, Sorry to bother you, but my scar hurt this morning. Yours sincerely, Harry Potter.

Jen rolled her eyes. “You have to write to someone, Harry, but I hope you’re a little more detailed than that.”

Harry laughed. Again, he couldn’t help feeling that she reminded him of someone. Not physically – although she did remind him of Sirius (being his sister would do that though) – but there was something else … her sense of humour, the way she held herself … it wasn’t exactly the same, but he knew it was familiar …

Even inside his head the words sounded stupid.

And so he tried to imagine his other best friend Ron Weasley’s reaction, and in a moment, Ron’s long-nosed, freckled face seemed to swim before Harry, wearing a bemused expression.

“Your scar hurt? But … but You-Know-Who can’t be near you now, can he? I mean … you’d know, wouldn’t you?

“Probably.” Harry agreed sarcastically. “He’d be trying to do me in for one.”

“Harry, you do realise that not only are you talking to a book, but you’re talking to your own imagination.” Fred smirked.

Harry flushed. “Shut up.”

He’d be trying to do you in again, wouldn’t he?

“So, Harry, did you remember or do you and Ron just think alike?” Ginny teased, dodging with a laugh as he poked her side.

I dunno, Harry, maybe curse scars always twinge a bit … I’ll ask Dad …”

Mr Weasley was a fully qualified wizard who worked in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, but he didn’t have any particular expertise in the matter of curses, as far as Harry knew.

“No, Dad has quite a bit of experience.” Fred told him. “The curses some people put on Muggle stuff – it’s unbelievable. Don’t know how much help he’d be with a curse scar though.”

In any case, Harry didn’t like the idea of the whole Weasley family knowing that he, Harry, was getting jumpy about a few moments’ pain. Mrs Weasley would fuss worse than Hermione, and Fred and George, Ron’s sixteen-year-old twin brothers, might think Harry was losing his nerve.

Fred smacked Harry upside the head. “Don’t be a berk, Harry. If you’d just explain why it’s concerning – you’re our brother, why would we think that?”

The Weasleys were Harry’s favourite family in the world …

Fred and Ginny cheered.

… he was hoping that they might invite him to stay any time now (Ron had mentioned something about the Quidditch World Cup), and he somehow didn’t want his visit punctuated with anxious enquiries about his scar.

This time, it was Ginny who smacked him. “Prat.” She muttered.

Harry kneaded his forehead with his knuckles. What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like – someone like a parent

“Harry, you shouldn’t be ashamed of that.” Lily said quietly. “Everyone has the right to a parent.”
“James is seventeen now, he still comes to me for advice.” David agreed.

… an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had experience of Dark Magic …

“Should I be insulted that it’s taking you so long?” Sirius asked lightly.

Harry chuckled. “No, I’m not good when I’ve just woken up.”

He could – and probably would – talk to Jessica about the dream at some point. Jess had strange dreams of her own, knew his experiences with Voldemort, and could be counted on to deliver some comfort, without being overly stifling.

“I’ll give you that about Mum.” Fred conceded. “She wouldn’t have let you breathe.”

However, she was a Muggle and had never encountered Dark Magic …

And then the solution came to him. It was so simple, and so obvious, that he couldn’t believe it had taken so long – Sirius.

“Took you long enough.” Sirius muttered good-naturedly.

Harry leapt up from the bed, hurried across the room and sat down at his desk; he pulled a piece of parchment towards him, loaded his eagle-feather quill with ink, wrote Dear Sirius, then paused, wondering how best to phrase his problem, and still marvelling at the fact that he hadn’t thought of Sirius straight away. But then, perhaps it wasn’t so surprising – after all, he had only found out that Sirius was his godfather two months ago.

“He’s got a point.” Addie noted.

There was a simple reason for Sirius’s complete absence from Harry’s life until then …

“Oh, here we go.” Sirius sighed.

… Sirius had been in Azkaban, the terrifying wizard gaol guarded by creatures called Dementors, sightless, soul-sucking fiends who had come to search for Sirius at Hogwarts when he had escaped.

“See, I’m not the only one who can bring down a mood.” Hermione smirked.

Yet Sirius had been innocent – the murders for which he had been convicted had been committed by Wormtail, Voldemort’s supporter, whom nearly everybody now believed dead. Harry, Ron and Hermione knew otherwise, however; they had come face to face with Wormtail the previous year, though only Professor Dumbledore believed their story.

“But did nothing.” Jen scowled.

Nevertheless, Sirius had been of some help to Harry, even if he couldn’t be with him. It was due to Sirius that Harry now had all his school things in his bedroom with him. The Dursleys had never allowed this before; their general wish of keeping Harry as miserable as possible …

Lily frowned, but said nothing, settling for squeezing Harry’s hand.

… coupled with their fear of his powers, had led them to lock his school trunk in the cupboard under the stairs every summer prior to this. But their attitude had changed since they had found out that Harry had a dangerous murderer for a godfather – Harry had conveniently forgotten to tell them that Sirius was innocent.

Everyone chuckled.

Harry had received two letters from Sirius since he had been back at Privet Drive. Both had been delivered, not by owls (as was usual with wizards) but by large, brightly coloured tropical birds. Hedwig had not approved of these flashy intruders; she had been most reluctant to allow them to drink from her water tray before flying off again. Harry, on the other hand, had liked them; they put him in mind of palm trees and white sand, and he hoped that wherever Sirius was (Sirius never said, in case the letters were intercepted) he was enjoying himself.

Addie chuckled. “Sneaky.”

“What?” Harry asked, obliviously.

Addie smiled at him. “Your godfather, Harry, is rather gifted in the art of misdirection. Even if he was somewhere tropical, they still use owls. He used those birds to distract you from the fact that he was still on the run. And it worked, didn’t it?”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Give away all my tricks, why don’t you?”

Somehow, Harry found it hard to imagine Dementors surviving for long in bright sunlight; perhaps that was why Sirius had gone south. Sirius’s letters, which were now hidden beneath the highly useful loose floorboard under Harry’s bed, sounded cheerful, and in both of them he had reminded Harry to call on him if Harry ever needed to. Well, he needed to now, all right …

Hermione nudged him. “About time you actually asked for help.”

Harry’s lamp seemed to grow dimmer as the cold grey light that precedes sunrise slowly crept into the room. Finally, when the sun had risen, when his bedroom walls had turned gold and when sounds of movement could be heard from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia’s room, Harry cleared his desk of crumpled pieces of parchment, and re-read his finished letter.

Dear Sirius,

Thanks for your last letter, that bird was enormous, it could hardly get through my window.

Things are the same as usual here. Dudley’s diet isn’t going too well.

“Well, it’s about time!” Lily stated. “Wait, she’s not making you follow it as well, is she?” She added, eyeing Harry. “You’re already skinny enough as it is!”
Harry shrugged. “Why do you think I asked for food?”

My aunt found him smuggling doughnuts into his room yesterday. They told him they’d have to cut his pocket money if he keeps doing it, so he got really angry and chucked his PlayStation out of the window.

“PlayStation?” James repeated.

Lily frowned. “No idea. Harry?”

“It’s a computer thing that you hook up to a television and you can play games on it.” Harry explained. “Difficult to explain without one in front of me.

That’s a sort of computer thing you can play games on. Bit stupid really, now he hasn’t even got Mega-Mutilation Part Three to take his mind off things.

“Well, Dudley’s never been intelligent.” Harry sniggered.

Lily looked disapproving. “That sounds like a horrible game for a fourteen-year-old.”
“Yeah, it’s aimed at older teens and adults.” Harry agreed. “But Dudley wailed, so they caved.”

I’m okay, mainly because the Dursleys are terrified you might turn up and turn them into bats if I ask you to.

Sirius sniggered. “Just say the word, Harry.”

A weird thing happened this morning, though. My scar hurt again. Last time that happened it was because Voldemort was at Hogwarts. But I don’t reckon he can be anywhere near me now, can he? Do you know if curse scars sometimes hurt years afterwards?

I’ll send this …

“Hang on.” Jen frowned. “What about the dream?”

Harry blushed and muttered something under his breath.

… with Hedwig when she gets back, she’s off hunting at the moment. Say hello to Buckbeak for me.

“Sweet of you to remember.” Lily smiled.

Harry

Yes, thought Harry, that looked all right. There was no point putting in the dream, he didn’t want it to look as though he was too worried.

Sirius sighed. “Harry, things like that are important. Very important.”

Harry nodded. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologise.” Sirius told him quietly. “Just trust me in future, alright?”

He folded the parchment up and laid it aside on his desk, ready for when Hedwig returned. Then he got to his feet, stretched and opened his wardrobe once more. Without glancing at his reflection …

“Nothing like Jamie then.” Alice sniggered.

James rolled his eyes. “Allie, don’t call me that.”

“I’m allowed to call you that, you’re my god-brother.” Alice smirked. “So there.”

… he started to get dressed before going down to breakfast.

“And that’s the end of the chapter.” James finished, marking his place.

Chapter Text

Lily took the book without a word and turned it to the next page.

Chapter Five

The Invitation

James perked up. “To the World Cup?”
“Maybe.” Harry grinned.

By the time Harry arrived in the kitchen, the three Dursleys were already seated around the table. None of them looked up as he entered or sat down. Uncle Vernon’s large red face was hidden behind the morning’s Daily Mail

“Of course they read the Daily Mail.” Hermione muttered.

“Isn’t there only one paper?” Narcissa asked curiously.

Hermione shook her head. “No, it’s not like the wizarding world. There are many different papers, some that come out every day and some that only come out on Sundays or the weekend. But they all have different political stands, which affect how they approach stories. While not the worst, the Daily Mail tends to be a little more right-wing and, well, racist for want of a better word.”

“For example,” Harry added, “say a shopkeeper is robbed and injured in the process. One paper might have a headline like ‘shopkeeper injured in robbery’, whereas the Mail is more like to say ‘illegal immigrant in callous attack’.”

Hermione sniggered. “Yeah, that’s about right. Because, of course, no one else ever does anything illegal. It just doesn’t surprise me that someone like Vernon reads it, that’s all.”

… and Aunt Petunia was cutting a grapefruit into quarters, her lips pursed over her horse-like teeth.

Dudley looked furious and sulky, and somehow seemed to be taking up eve more space than usual. This was saying something, as he always took up an entire side of the square table by himself.

Lily shuddered. “Poor kid.”

James gave her an incredulous look. “Lil, are you kidding me?”

“Bully or not, he is still my nephew.” Lily said sternly. “And it’s not entirely his fault – if Petunia didn’t baby him and spoil him, they wouldn’t be having this problem.”

When Aunt Petunia put a quarter of unsweetened grapefruit onto Dudley’s plate with a tremulous “There you are, Diddy darling”, Dudley glowered at her. His life had taken a most unpleasant turn since he had come home for the summer with his end-of-year report.

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had managed to find excuses for his bad marks as usual; Aunt Petunia always insisted that Dudley was a very gifted boy whose teachers didn’t understand him, which Uncle Vernon maintained that ‘he didn’t want some swotty little nancy boy for a son anyway’.

“Sounds like they’re contradicting themselves.” Arabella commented.

They also skated over the accusations of bullying in the report – “He’s a boisterous little boy, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly!” said Aunt Petunia tearfully.

“Well, he wouldn’t.” Harry agreed to general confusion. “Flies are too fast for him to catch.”

However, at the bottom of the report there were a few well-chosen comments from the school nurse which not even Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia could explain away. No matter how much Aunt Petunia wailed that Dudley was big-boned, and that his poundage was really puppy-fat, and that he was a growing boy who needed plenty of food, the fact remained that the school outfitters didn’t stock knickerbockers big enough for him any more.

“Sweet Merlin!” Narcissa gasped. “Who on earth lets their child get that big?!”

“Aunt Petunia.” Harry answered flatly.

The school nurse had seen what Aunt Petunia’s eyes – so sharp when it came to spotting fingerprints on her gleaming walls, and in observing the comings and goings of the neighbours – simply refused to see: that, far from needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.

Lily looked ill. “Oh, Petunia, what are you doing? I know you hate me and my son, but why do you insist on driving your own into an early grave?!”

Ginny grimaced. “Mum loves feeding us all, but she’d never let us get that big.”

“I don’t think you could.” Hermione commented. “You’ve all got amazing metabolism. I mean, Ron never stops eating, but he’s still skinny.”

So – after many tantrums, after arguments that shook Harry’s bedroom floor, and many tears from Aunt Petunia – the new regime had begun. The diet sheet that had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge, which had been emptied of all of Dudley’s favourite things – fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate bars and burgers – and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts of things that Uncle Vernon called ‘rabbit food’.

David frowned. “No wonder the son’s a nightmare – it’s inherited behaviour.”

To make Dudley feel better about it all, Aunt Petunia had insisted that the whole family follow the diet too. She now passed a grapefruit quarter to Harry. He noticed that it was a lot smaller than Dudley’s.

Lily narrowed her eyes. “My son is not the one who needs to lose weight, Petunia!”

Aunt Petunia seemed to feel that the best way to keep up Dudley’s morale was to make sure that he did, at least, get more to eat than Harry.

Addie looked worried. “That’s not good. At least before ‘less’ was still quite a lot.”

But Aunt Petunia didn’t know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs. She had no idea that Harry was not following the diet at all.

James grinned. “Atta boy, Harry.”

Lily sighed. “James …”

“What?” James asked innocently. “Aren’t you glad Harry’s not starving?”

The same thought seemed to have occurred to Lily and she settled for glaring at James and continuing to read without another word.

The moment he had got wind of the fact that he was expected to survive the summer on carrot sticks, and knowing that he couldn’t get away with relying on Jess for more than one meal a day …

“I’m sure you could.” Jen commented. “I doubt she’d begrudge you the food.”
Harry shook his head. “She wouldn’t. But she has to put up with them for the rest of the year.”

… Harry had sent Hedwig to his friends with pleas for help, and they had risen to the occasion magnificently.

Lily beamed at them.

Hedwig had returned from Hermione’s house with a large box stuffed full of sugar-free snacks (Hermione’s parents were dentists) and several ever-warm flasks of home-made soups and casseroles.

“They were lovely.” Harry remembered with a smile.

Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, had obliged with a snack full of his own home-made rock cakes …

“Why did you write to Hagrid?” Hermione asked in bewilderment. “Hagrid can’t cook!”

“I wasn’t thinking straight.” Harry admitted sheepishly.

… (Harry hadn’t touched them; he had had too much experience of Hagrid’s cooking). Mrs Weasley, however, had sent the family owl, Errol, with an enormous fruitcake and assorted pasties. Poor Errol, who was elderly and feebly, had needed a full five days to recover from the journey.

“She should have borrowed Hermes.” Ginny chuckled.

“What? And leave Percy without an owl for his ‘very important work’?” Fred gasped. “Perish the thought!”

And then on Harry’s birthday (which the Dursleys completely ignored) …

Lily scowled, but didn’t interrupt herself.

… he had received four superb birthday cakes, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid and Sirius.

“Sirius,” Addie sighed, “where’d you get the cake?”

“I had a wand now, remember?” Sirius grinned. “I was able to apply a glamour charm and get into Muggle shops.”

“That was risky.” Addie frowned.

“Not that risky.” Sirius assured her. “News of my escape never broke in South America. I kept to solely Muggle places just in case. I’ve got an account out there anyway, so money wasn’t an issue.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’d been planning for a prison break.” Hermione smirked.

Sirius chuckled. “You got me.”

Harry still had two of them left, and so, looking forward to a real breakfast when he got back upstairs, he started eating his grapefruit without complaint.

“Harry, birthday cake is not a real breakfast.” Lily told him.

“Mum, I don’t think you quite appreciate how small this piece of grapefruit was.” Harry sighed. “It was barely two mouthfuls.”

“Eat the cake.” Lily told him.

Uncle Vernon laid aside his paper with a deep sniff of disapproval and looked down at his own grapefruit quarter.

“Is this it?” he said grumpily to Aunt Petunia.

“Well, you could do with losing some weight too, you fat lump.” Mandy hissed.

Aunt Petunia gave him a severe look, and then nodded pointedly at Dudley, who had already finished his own grapefruit quarter, and was eyeing Harry’s with a very sour look in his piggy little eyes.

“Don’t you dare.” James growled.

Uncle Vernon gave a great sigh which ruffled his large, bushy moustache, and picked up his spoon.

The doorbell rang. Uncle Vernon heaved himself out of his chair and set off down the hall. Quick as a flash, while his mother was occupied with the kettle, Dudley stole the rest of Uncle Vernon’s grapefruit.

“Brat.” Alice muttered.

Harry heard talking at the door, and someone laughing, and Uncle Vernon answering curtly. Then the front door closed, and the sound of ripping paper came from the hall.

“That’s odd.” Hermione frowned. “That sounds like a delivery, but most things wrapped in paper come through the letter box – there’s no need to ring the doorbell.”

Aunt Petunia set the teapot down on the table and looked curiously around to see where Uncle Vernon had got to. She didn’t have to wait long to find out; after about a minute, he was back. He looked livid.

“Oh, that’s not good.” Ginny murmured.

“You,” he barked at Harry. “In the living room. Now.”

Bewildered, wondering what on earth he was supposed to have done this time …

“Do they blame you for a lot?” James asked sharply.

Harry nodded. “Anything and everything they can think of.”

… Harry got up and followed Uncle Vernon out of the kitchen and into the next room. Uncle Vernon closed the door sharply behind both of them.

“So,” he said, marching over to the fireplace and turning to face Harry as though he was about to pronounce him under arrest. “So.

“So what?” James asked darkly.

Lily chuckled.

Harry would dearly loved to have said “So what?” …

Sirius smirked. “There’s your father’s wit.”

… but he didn’t feel that Uncle Vernon’s temper should be tested this early in the morning …

“And your mother’s intelligence.” Jen added.

… especially when it was already under severe strain from lack of food. He therefore settled for looking politely puzzled.

“Good boy.” Lily approved, pausing. “I’m glad you learnt some manners in that house.”

This just arrived,” said Uncle Vernon. He brandished a piece of purple writing paper at Harry. “A letter. About you.”

“Oh, it’s from Mrs Weasley.” Hermione realised. “Although why he rang the …” She groaned. “Oh, I know what she did.”

Harry’s confusion increased. Who would be writing to Uncle Vernon about him? Who did he know who sent letters by the postman?

Hermione coughed.

“You’ve never sent letters that way.” Harry pointed out.

“That’s because you’ve got a very smart owl who shows up when she’s needed.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “I do, however, send general letters by the post.”

Uncle Vernon glared at Harry, then looked down at the letter, and began to read aloud:

Dear Mr and Mrs Dursley,

We have never been introduced, but I am sure you have heard a great deal from Harry about my son Ron.

As Harry might have told you, the final of the Quidditch World Cup takes place next Monday night, and my husband, Arthur, has managed to get prime tickets through his connections at the Department of Magical Games and Sports.

“It still amazes me that Uncle Vernon read the letter aloud without having a heart attack.” Harry commented.

I do hope you will allow us to take Harry to the match, as this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity …

“Yeah, it is.” James agreed. “They’d better let him go.”

Fred sniggered. “We weren’t going to take no for an answer. This was just a formality.”
…Britain hasn’t hosted the Cup for thirty years and tickets are extremely hard to come by. We would of course be glad to have Harry to stay for the remainder of the summer holidays, and to see him safely onto the train back to school.

It would be best for Harry to send us your answer as quickly as possible in the normal way …

“They won’t like that.” Arabella predicted.

… because the Muggle postman has never delivered to our house, and I am not sure he even knows where it is.

Hoping to see Harry soon,

Yours sincerely,

Molly Weasley

P.S. I do hope we’ve put enough stamps on.

Hermione sighed. “I knew I should have helped her.”

Uncle Vernon finished reading, out his hand back into his breast pocket, and drew out something else.

“Look at this,” he growled.

He held up the envelope in which Mrs Weasley’s letter had come, and harry had to fight down a laugh. Every bit of it was covered in stamps except for a square inch on the front, into which Mrs Weasley had squeezed the Dursleys’ address in minute writing.

Hermione and Lily laughed. “Oh dear.” Lily giggled. “No wonder the postman rang the doorbell.”

“What is a stamp?” Regulus asked.

“Well, in the Muggle world, we don’t use owls.” Hermione explained. “We have post boxes where we drop off our letters and then a man – or woman – comes and collects them. Then they’re taken to the post office, sorted into areas and delivered by other postmen, or postwomen.”

“Like if you hire an owl in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, you need to pay a small fee to deliver the letter.” Lily continued. “But because you don’t hand the letter to the post office yourself, you put a stamp – which is a small sticky square of paper with a picture on it – on the envelope to prove that you’ve paid.”

“So you only need one stamp per letter then.” Regulus concluded.

Lily nodded. “Exactly.”

“She did put enough stamps on then,” said Harry, trying to sound as though Mrs Weasley’s was a mistake anyone could make.

“Well, it is.” James said fairly. “I’m willing to bet most of us would have made it.”

His uncle’s eyes flashed.

“The postman noticed,” he said through gritted teeth. “Very interested to know where this letter came from, he was. That’s why he rang the doorbell. Seemed to think it was funny.

“Then laugh it off as a practical joke.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “It’s not difficult.”
Harry didn’t say anything. Other people might not understand why Uncle Vernon was making a fuss about too many stamps, but Harry had lived with the Dursleys too long not to know how touchy they were about anything even slightly out of the ordinary. Their worst fear was that anyone would find out that they were connected (however distantly) with people like Mrs Weasley.

Regulus snorted under his breath, but didn’t comment.

Uncle Vernon was still glaring at Harry, who tried to keep his expression neutral. If he didn’t do or say anything stupid, he might just be in for the treat of a lifetime.

“Oh, you’re going.” Sirius stated darkly. “Just tell him I’ll turn him into a yak or something.”

“A yak?” Addie questioned. “Why not a walrus?”

“Too easy.” Sirius dismissed. “I like a challenge.”

He waited for Uncle Vernon to say something, but he merely continued to glare. Harry decided to break the silence.

“So – can I go, then?” he asked.

A slight spasm crossed Uncle Vernon’s large, purple face. The moustache bristled. Harry thought he knew what was going on behind the moustache: a furious battle as two of Uncle Vernon’s most fundamental instincts came into conflict. Allowing Harry to go would make Harry happy, something Uncle Vernon had struggled against for thirteen years.

Lily’s voice became slightly cold as she tried to control her anger at her ‘family’.

On the other hand, allowing Harry to disappear to the Weasleys’ for the rest of the summer would get rid of him two weeks earlier than anyone could have hoped, and Uncle Vernon hated having Harry in the house. To give himself thinking time, it seemed, he looked down at Mrs Weasley’s letter again.

“Who is this woman?” he said, staring at the signature with distaste.

“Our mother.” Fred scowled. “So watch it.”

“You’ve seen her,” said Harry. “She’s my friend Ron’s mother, she was meeting him off the Hog – off the school train at the end of last term.”

“Well saved.” Hermione commented.

He had almost said ‘Hogwarts Express’, and that was a sure way to get his uncle’s temper up. Nobody ever mentioned the name of Harry’s school aloud in the Dursley household.

Uncle Vernon screwed up his enormous face as though trying to remember something very unpleasant.

“Dumpy sort of woman?” he growled finally.

“Excuse me?” Ginny asked icily. “Have you looked at your son recently?”

“Load of children with red hair?”

Harry frowned. He thought it was a bit rich of Uncle Vernon to call anyone ‘dumpy’ …

“Exactly.” Ginny agreed.

… when his own son, Dudley, had finally achieved what he’d been threatening to do since the age of three, and become wider than he was tall.

Lily paused again and closed her eyes as if praying for strength, before carrying on.

Uncle Vernon was perusing the letter again.

“Quidditch,” he muttered under his breath. “Quidditch – what is this rubbish?”

“It’s not …”

Silencio.” A jet of light hit James and Lily tucked her wand away. “Sorry, sweetheart, but I’d like to get through this chapter today, which I can’t do if you’re ranting about Quidditch.”

Harry felt a second stab of annoyance.

James began waving his arms, evidently in agreement.

“It’s a sport,” he said shortly. “Played on broom …”
“All right, all right!” said Uncle Vernon loudly. Harry saw, with some satisfaction, that his uncle looked vaguely panicky. Apparently his nerves wouldn’t stand the sound of the word ‘broomsticks’ in his living room.

“Muggles use broomsticks too, you know.” Hermione rolled her eyes again. “Just for sweeping rather than flying.”

He took refuge in perusing the letter again. Harry saw his lips form the words ‘send us your answer in the normal way’. He scowled.

“What does she mean, the normal way?” he spat.

“Owl post.” Sirius answered, taking pity on James. “Finite Incantatem.”

“Thanks.” James turned to Lily. “I wouldn’t have ranted for that long. But Quidditch is not rubbish.”

“We know, dear.” Lily smiled.

“Normal for us,” said Harry, and before his uncle could stop him, he added, “you know, owl post. That’s what’s normal for wizards.”

Uncle Vernon looked as outraged as if Harry had just uttered a disgusting swearword. Shaking with anger, he shot a nervy look through the window, as though expecting to see some of the neighbours with their ears pressed against the glass.

“Yes, because they’re all that obsessed with you.” Hermione shook her head. “These people are unbelievable.”

“How many times do I have to tell you not to mention that unnaturalness under my roof?” he hissed, his face now a rich plum colour. “You stand there, in the clothes Petunia and I have put on your ungrateful back –”

“Only after Dudley finished with them,” said Harry coldly, and indeed, he was dressed in a sweatshirt so large for him that he had to roll back the sleeves five times so as to be able to use his hands, and which fell past the knees of his extremely baggy jeans.

“We’re taking you shopping.” Ginny informed him. “Right, Hermione?”

“Run for it.” Sirius advised him in an undertone. “I’ll take you shopping later, but you do not want to get into that torture. Trust me.”

“I will not be spoken to like that!” said Uncle Vernon, trembling with rage.

But Harry wasn’t going to stand for this.

“Go Harry!” Fred and Ginny cheered.

“You know, Gin, you make quite a good Weasley-twin stand-in.” Hermione commented.

“I’ve had practice.” Ginny smirked.

Gone were the days when he had been forced to take every single one of the Dursleys’ stupid rules. He wasn’t following Dudley’s diet, and he wasn’t going to let Uncle Vernon stop him going to the Quidditch World Cup, not if he could help it.

Harry took a deep, steadying breath and then said, “OK, I can’t see the World Cup. Can I go now, then? Only I’ve got a letter to Sirius I want to finish. You know – my godfather.”

“Nicely done.” Hermione smiled.

He had done it. He had said that magic words. Now he watched the purple recede blotchily from Uncle Vernon’s face, making it look like badly mixed blackcurrant ice-cream.

Remus wrinkled his nose. “Well, that’s me put-off blackcurrant ice-cream for life.”

Jen chuckled. “But you always pick chocolate ice-cream anyway.”

“Good point.” Remus conceded.

“You’re – you’re writing to him, are you?” said Uncle Vernon, in a would-be calm voice – but Harry had seen the pupils of his tiny eyes contract with sudden fear.

Sirius smirked. “Good.”

“Well – year,” said Harry, casually. “It’s been a while since he heard from me, and, you know, if he doesn’t, he might start thinking something’s wrong.”

“Damn right I would.” Sirius agreed.
He stopped there to enjoy the effect of these words.

“You’ve got a dark sense of humour, Potter.” Draco sniggered.

“Wouldn’t you?” Harry asked in response.

He could almost see the cogs working under Uncle Vernon’s thick, dark, neatly parted hair. If he tried to stop Harry writing to Sirius, Sirius would think Harry was being mistreated. If he told Harry he couldn’t go to the Quidditch World Cup, Harry would write and tell Sirius, who would know he was being mistreated. There was only one thing for Uncle Vernon to do. Harry could see the conclusion forming in his mind as though the great moustached face was transparent. Harry tried not to smile, to keep his face as blank as possible. And then –

“Well, all right then. You can go to this ruddy … this stupid … this World Cup thing.

James and Sirius cheered, ignoring the slight against their beloved sport.

You write and tell these – these Weasleys they’re to pick you up, mind.

“Oh, we will.” Fred smirked.

I haven’t got time to go dropping you off all over the country. And you can spend the rest of the summer there. And you can tell your – your godfather … tell him … tell him you’re going.”
“OK then,” said Harry brightly.

He turned and walked towards the living-room door, fighting the urge to jump into the air and whoop. He was going … he was going to the Weasleys’, he was going to watch the Quidditch World Cup!

“You lucky thing.” James grinned. “Wish we’d had the chance to go.”

“We did.” Sirius smirked. “The final was in France the year we graduated. Can’t remember how we got tickets, but we all got an international portkey to Calais and travelled by broom the rest of the way. Well,” he glanced at Addie, “not all of us.”

Addie squeezed his hand. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“I don’t really remember much of it.” Sirius confessed.

“Dementors?” Jen asked softly.

Sirius chuckled. “No, firewhiskey.”

Outside in the hall he nearly ran into Dudley, who had been lurking behind the door, clearly hoping to overhear Harry being told off. He looked shocked to see the broad grin on Harry’s face.

“Serves him right.” Neville scowled. He hated bullies.

“That was an excellent breakfast, wasn’t it?” said Harry. “I feel really full, don’t you?”

“Now, Harry,” Lily chided. “Don’t antagonise him.”

“But, Mum,” Harry said innocently, “Dudley’s so stupid he wouldn’t realise.”

Laughing at the astonished look on Dudley’s face, Harry took the stairs three at a time, and hurled himself back into his bedroom.

The first thing he saw was that Hedwig was back. She was sitting in her cage, staring at Harry with her enormous amber, and clicking her beak in the way that meant she was annoyed about something.

“Could be anything.” Fred chuckled. “Harry has a very temperamental owl.”

Exactly what was annoying her became apparent almost at once.

“OUCH!” said Harry.

What appeared to be a small, grey, feathery tennis ball had just collided with the side of Harry’s head.

“Pig.” Hermione, Ginny and Fred concluded together.

Harry massaged his head furiously, looking up to see what had hit him, and saw a minute owl, small enough to fit into the palm of his hand, whizzing excitedly around the room like a loose firework.

“That’s the Pig Thing.” Hermione smiled.

Harry then realised that the owl had dropped a letter at his feet. Harry bent down, recognised Ron’s handwriting, then tore open the envelope. Inside was a hastily scribbled note.

Harry – DAD GOT THE TICKETS – Ireland versus Bulgaria, Monday night. Mum’s writing to the Muggles to ask you to stay. They might already have the letter, I don’t know how fast Muggle post is.

“Within a day or two usually.” Hermione answered the unasked questions. “Depending on how much you pay and how far it’s going.”

Thought I’d send this with Pig anyway.

Harry stared at the word ‘Pig’, then looked up at the tiny owl now zooming around the lampshade on the ceiling. He had never seen anything that looked less like a pig. Maybe he couldn’t read Ron’s writing.

Ginny chuckled.

He went back to the letter:

We’re coming to get you whether the Muggles like it or not, you can’t miss the World Cup, only Mum and Dad reckon it’s better if we pretend to ask permission first. If they say yes, send Pig back with your answer pronto, and we’ll come and get you at five o’clock on Sunday. If they say no, send Pig back pronto and we’ll come and get you at five o’clock on Sunday anyway.

“Why not just say ‘we’re coming at five o’clock on Sunday’?” Sirius asked.

Fred shrugged. “It’s Ron.”

Hermione’s already here. Percy’s started work – the Department of International Magical Co-operation. Don’t mention anything about Abroad while you’re here unless you want the pants bored off you.

See you soon – Ron

“Calm down!” Harry said, as the small owl flew low over his head, twittering madly with what Harry could only assume was pride at having delivered the letter to the right person.

“No, just excitement about delivering a letter.” Ginny smirked.

Addie shook her head. “Only you, Sirius.”

“Come here, I need you to take my answer back!”

The owl fluttered down on top of Hedwig’s cage. Hedwig looked coldly up at it, as though daring it to try and come any closer.

Harry seized his eagle-feather quill once more, grabbed a fresh piece of parchment, and wrote:

Ron, it’s all OK, the Muggles say I can come. See you five o’clock tomorrow. Can’t wait.

Harry.

He folded this note up very small and, with immense difficulty, tied it to the tiny owl’s leg as it hopped on the spot with excitement. The moment the note was secure, the owl was off again; it zoomed out of the window and out of sight.

Harry turned to Hedwig.

“And now Hedwig’s going to act even more professional than usual just to prove to Harry how it should be done.” Hermione predicted.

“Feeling up to a long journey?” he asked her.

Hedwig hooted in a dignified sort of way.

“Can you take this to Sirius for me?” he said, picking up his letter. “Hang on … I just want to finish it.”

He unfolded the parchment again and hastily added a postscript.

If you want to contact me, I’ll be at my friend Ron Weasley’s for the rest of the summer. His dad’s got us tickets for the Quidditch World Cup!

“Buckbeak couldn’t understand your excitement.” Sirius informed him. “I don’t think he’s a fan of Quidditch.”

“Sirius, he’s a hippogriff.” Addie smirked. “Of course he’s not.”

The letter finished, he tied it to Hedwig’s leg; she kept unusually still, as though determined to show him how a real post owl should behave.

“Told you so.” Hermione sang.

“I’ll be at Ron’s when you get back, all right?” Harry told her.

She nipped his finger affectionately, then, with a soft swooshing noise, spread her enormous wings and soared out of the open window.

Harry watched her out of sight, then crawled under his bed, wrenched up the loose floorboard, and pulled out a large chunk of birthday cake. He sat there on the floor eating it, savouring the happiness that was flooding through him.

“A novel feeling.” Harry commented.

Lily sighed and grabbed his hand again.

He had cake, and Dudley had nothing but grapefruit; it was a bright summer’s day, he would be leaving Privet Drive tomorrow, his scar felt perfectly normal again, and he was going to watch the Quidditch World Cup. It was hard, just now, to feel worried about anything – even Lord Voldemort.

“Really, Harry?” Hermione asked in amusement.

“What can I say, Quidditch solves everything.” Harry joked.

“You are your father’s son.” Lily sighed. “Right, that’s the end of the chapter.

Chapter Text

“I’ll read next, Mum.” Harry took the book she offered and turned to the next chapter. “Looks like we’re back to Hermione’s point of view.”

Chapter Six

Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes

Fred cheered.

“What are Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes?” James asked, looking amused.

“Didn’t we tell you?” Fred asked. “It’s the joke-shop George and I are planning to open.”

“You mentioned a shop, I think.” Jen told him. “But not a joke shop.”

Fred’s eyes lit up and Ginny groaned. “Now you’ve done it. Fred, just show them the snack-boxes and be done with it.”

Fred stood up and asked the room for a bucket. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the next generation. Don’t you just hate it when you’re stuck in class, unenthusiastic and unmotivated? Don’t you wish you could escape? Well, fear not, because we have a range of sweets on offer for just this purpose. Hermione, would you be so kind as to join me?”

“Oh dear.” Hermione sighed, getting to her feet. “Alright, but get on with it.”
Fred pulled a small sweet from his pocket. “Allow me to present Puking Pastilles. In class, simply bite down on the yellow half and chew …” He demonstrated, handing the other half of the sweet to Hermione. After a few seconds, his face paled to a sickly green colour and he hunched over the bucket, emptying his stomach.

“Your co-conspirator,” Hermione continued, letting him suffer for a few minutes, “helps you from the room and aids you in eating the other half.” With difficulty, she pushed the purple half of the sweet into his mouth and helped him to chew it.

Again, within seconds, his complexion was back to normal and he straightened up, Vanishing the bucket. “And hey presto! It restores you to full fitness, enabling you to pursue the leisure activity of your choice, during an hour that would otherwise have been devoted to unprofitable boredom.”

“That was incredible.” Sirius said fervently. “You invented those?”
Fred nodded, sitting down again. “We’ve also got Nosebleed Nougat, Fainting Fancies and Fever Fudge.”

“However,” Ginny said, “the sweet in question this time was the Ton-Tongue Toffee, which …”

“Makes your tongue weigh a ton?” Jen guessed.

Fred nodded with a grin. “Get reading, Harry. I’m sure it’ll be explained.”

During the last few weeks, Hermione had realised that Sirius had been right.

“Always the tone of surprise.” Sirius muttered with a smile.

It wasn’t that she’d ever really doubted that, but blindly acting on the word of someone she’d only known for a few weeks wasn’t exactly a smart thing to do, even if that someone was your best friend’s godfather.

“You really had no idea, did you?” Lily asked sadly.

Hermione shook her head. “Couldn’t remember it at all.”

The Weasleys were the kind of family that anyone would want to belong to. Even when sibling arguments erupted – which they frequently did – it was always more fond bickering that full-blown rows.

“Well, most of the time.” Ginny smirked at Fred, remembering the number of times her mother had screamed herself hoarse at the twins over that summer.

After a couple of days, Ginny convinced Hermione to tell her brothers about her parents and all five – Percy had been at work and wasn’t really the kind of person you could tell something like this anyway – promptly adopted her as an honorary Weasley, just as they already had with Harry. Bill and Charlie then talked Hermione into telling their parents.

“Good.” David turned to Sirius and Jen. “I don’t know why you didn’t tell anyone.”

“We did!” Sirius protested. “Mum and Dad know.”

“I meant me.” David elaborated. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The twins shrugged in unison, their gazes fixed on the floor. Recognising their discomfort, James gave his father a look pleading for him to drop it, and gestured for Harry to start reading again.

Like she thought, Molly immediately invited her to stay with them the following summer as well, despite Hermione’s insistence that she would find other arrangements.

On Sunday evening, the day before the World Cup, Arthur, Fred, George and Ron went to get Harry from the Dursleys via floo

“Floo?” Lily repeated. “If I know my sister, they won’t have an open fireplace.”

Fred grinned. “They didn’t.”

Hermione was sure the Dursleys wouldn’t have an open fireplace, but Arthur had gone to such trouble to get the house hooked up to the network she didn’t say anything.

Fred flung his arms around Hermione, fake-sobbing about how proud he was.

Besides, Harry’s aunt and uncle deserved to have people show up in their chimney and have to blast the living room apart …

Sirius grinned. “Yeah they do!”

… which was exactly what happened.

James and Sirius burst out laughing, and Lily’s lips twitched traitorously. “What happened?”

“Well,” Harry began with a grin, “they were a little late, so Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia …” He trailed off as another piece of paper appeared in his hands with a note. Just read it. He cleared his throat. “This will probably do a better job.”

Ten past five … then a quarter past five … Harry was starting to feel anxious himself now. At half past, he heard Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia conversing in terse mutters in the living room.

“Where were you?” Lily asked.

“In the hallway.” Harry answered. “I was expecting them to come through the front door and figured then we could get the whole thing done without too much interaction with Uncle Vernon.”

“No consideration at all.”

“After fifteen minutes?” Lily rolled her eyes. “Typical.”

“We might’ve had an engagement.”
“Maybe they think they’ll get invited to dinner if they’re late.”

Fred snorted. “What? And miss out on Mum’s cooking? Not likely.”

“Well, they most certainly won’t be,” said Uncle Vernon, and Harry heard him stand up and start pacing the living room. “They’ll take the boy …

“He has a name!” Lily hissed.

… and go, there’ll be no hanging around. That’s if they’re coming at all. Probably mistaken the day.

“Hey!” Ginny protested. “We’re not stupid. We just had to wait for Dad to get home from work.”

I daresay their kind don’t set much store by punctuality. Either that or they drive some tinpot car that’s broken d-AAAAAARRRRGH!”

James and Sirius burst out laughing again.

Harry jumped up. From the other side of the living room door came the sounds of the three Dursleys scrambling, panic-stricken across the room. Next moment Dudley came flying into the hall, looking terrified.

Addie smirked. This kid needed to be taken down a few pegs.

“What happened?” said Harry. “What’s the matter?”
But Dudley didn’t seem able to speak. Hands still clamped over his buttocks …

“Why?” Neville asked in bewilderment, as the rest of the room sank into laughter.

“When Hagrid came to tell Harry he was a wizard, Vernon made the mistake of insulting Dumbledore in front of him.” Hermione explained, having kept at least some of her composure. “He gave Dudley a pig’s tail.”

Addie burst out laughing. “I knew I liked Hagrid for a reason!”

… he waddled as fast as he could into the kitchen. Harry hurried into the living room.

Loud bangings and scrapings were coming from behind the Dursleys’ boarded-up fireplace …

“Why was it boarded up?” Regulus asked, realising what the book had meant by an ‘open’ fireplace.

“Very few Muggles have open fires any more.” Hermione told him. “Coal’s too expensive and wood isn’t exactly high in supply. Most of them have fake fires that run on gas or electricity.”

… which had a fake coal fire plugged in front of it.

“Electricity in this case.” Hermione concluded.

“What is it?” gasped Aunt Petunia, who had backed into the wall and was staring, terrified, towards the fire. “What is it, Vernon?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh, honestly! Our house is hooked up to the floo network – she’s seen me floo before! Hell, that’s probably why she made sure their house had a fake fireplace – just so I couldn’t drop in to visit like that.”

But they were left in doubt barely a second longer. Voices could be heard from inside the blocked fireplace.

“Ouch! Fred, no – go back, go back, there’s been some kind of mistake …

“No, really?” Remus asked with a snigger.

… tell George not to – OUCH! George, no, there’s no room, go back quickly and tell Ron –”

“Maybe Harry can hear us, Dad – maybe he’ll be able to let us out –”

“Good idea.” Mandy agreed, giggling.

There was a loud hammering of fists on the boards behind the electric fire.

“Harry? Harry can you hear us?”

The Dursleys rounded on Harry like a pair of angry wolverines.

“Hey!” Lily snapped, humour evaporating.

“What is this?” growled Uncle Vernon. “What’s going on?”

“They – they’ve tried to get here by Floo powder,” said Harry, fighting a mad desire to laugh.

The Marauders weren’t bothering.

“They can travel by fire – only you’ve blocked the fireplace – hang on –”

He approached the fireplace and called through the boards.

“Mr Weasley? Can you hear me?”

The hammering stopped.

“I’d take that as a yes.” Jen smirked.

Somebody inside the chimney-piece said, “Shh!”

“Mr Weasley, it’s Harry … the fireplace has been blocked up. You won’t be able to get through there.”

“Damn!” said Mr Weasley’s voice. “What on earth did they want to block up the fireplace for?”

“You should have lied.” Fred sighed. “We never shut Dad up.”
“They’ve got an electric fire,” Harry explained.

“Really?” said Mr Weasley’s voice excitedly. “Ecklectic, you say?

Lily giggled. “It’s not that hard.”

With a plug? Gracious, I must see that …

“Good old Arthur.” James grinned fondly.

… let’s think … ouch, Ron!”

“I guess George didn’t go back.” Arabella chuckled.

Fred mock-gasped. “What? And miss all the fun? Of course not.”

Ron’s voice now joined the others’.

“What are we doing here? Has something gone wrong?”

Sirius shook his head, his voice weak from laughter. “Oh, no, of course not. That’s where they wanted to go.”

“Oh, no, Ron,” came Fred’s voice, very sarcastically. “No, this is exactly where we wanted to end up.”

“Great minds.” Sirius stated, giving Fred a high five.

“Yeah, we’re having the time of our lives here,” said George, whose voice sounded muffled, as though he was squashed against the wall.

“He was.” Fred sniggered. “Although I’m slightly confused how you could tell us apart through plaster.”

Harry shrugged. “I couldn’t. I’m guessing the author used poetic license.”

“Boys, boys …” said Mr Weasley vaguely. “I’m trying to think what to do … yes … only way … stand back, Harry.”

“Don’t worry and stand back.” Hermione repeated with a smile. “Apparently, it’s hereditary.”

Harry retreated to the sofa. Uncle Vernon, however, moved forwards.

“Idiot.” Remus muttered.

“Wait a moment!” he bellowed at the fire. “What exactly are you going to -?”

BANG.

“Yes!” James and Sirius exchanged a high five.

The electric fire shot across the room as the boarded-up fireplace burst outwards, expelling Mr Weasley, Fred, George and Ron in a cloud of rubble and loose chippings. Aunt Petunia shrieked and fell backwards over the coffee table; Uncle Vernon caught her before she hit the floor and gaped, speechless, at the Weasleys, all of whom had bright red hair, including Fred and George, who were identical to the last freckle.

Harry was reading through laughter, and nearly everyone else was shaking with amusement.

“That’s better,” panted Mr Weasley, brushing dust from his long green robes and straightening his glasses. “Ah – you must be Harry’s aunt and uncle!”

Harry put down the manuscript, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

Following his son’s example, James stood up and shook Fred’s hand heartily. “Thank you so much.”

“You are more than welcome, Mr. Prongs.” Fred grinned. “Anything for our littlest brother.”
Harry grinned and picked up the book again. “Now where was I?”
“Which was exactly what happened.” Hermione quoted.

“Oh, yes.” Harry found his place again. “Thank you.”
Hermione and Ginny were just walking downstairs, discussing Ginny’s class choices for her third year …

“What did you take?” Lily asked.

“Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures.” Ginny answered. “I’ve never been good with numbers, can’t stand Divination, and I’d learn more about Muggles from Hermione than Professor Burbage. Besides, Bill and Charlie influenced me. I just took their favourite classes.”

… when Molly’s voice came floating out of the kitchen.

“Tell me what, Arthur?”

“Uh oh.” James murmured with a smirk.

“Uh oh.” Ginny muttered with a grin. “Dad’s going to get it.”

“What do you think happened?” Hermione asked.

“Well, Dad only ever threatens the twins with Mum.” Ginny reflected. “I bet they pranked Harry’s cousin.”

“We did.” Fred confirmed.

“How?” Sirius asked eagerly.

“We ‘accidentally’ dropped a Ton-Tongue Toffee on our way to get Harry’s trunk.” Fred explained. “It was four foot long before they let Dad shrink it.”

Everyone roared with laughter, even the Slytherins smirked at the mental image.

“So why is your father going to get it?” Hermione pressed.

“Because ‘wait until I tell your mother’ is always an empty threat.” Jen answered simply.

“Because when Dad says, “Wait until I tell your mother,” he never intends to tell her anything, so Mum will keep at him until he does.” Ginny explained. “We’d better go and rescue Ron and Harry.”

“Thanks, Gin.” Harry grinned. “I wasn’t sure we wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire.”

When they opened the kitchen door, Molly was glaring at her husband, who was stuttering excuses, Bill and Charlie were openly grinning, Fred and George looked worried and Ron and Harry seemed to be trying to fade into the background.

“And failing.” Hermione added.

The two girls smiled at Harry, who grinned back at them. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Ginny flush pink and elbowed her lightly.

Ginny glared at Hermione, the effect ruined by the pinkness of her face. “Thanks a lot.”
“I noticed, Sis.” Harry told her softly. “I just didn’t mention it.”

“Tell me what, Arthur?” Molly repeated.

“It’s nothing.” Arthur mumbled. “The twins just … but I’ve had words with them …”

“What have they done this time?” Molly asked in exasperation. “If it’s got anything to do with Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes …”

Fred sighed. “Mum doesn’t want the joke shop to happen. Says it’s a stupid dream and that we’ll never succeed.”

“Are you kidding?” James asked. “With those things you just demonstrated? You sell just those and I guarantee you’ll make it. You two were born to do this.”

Fred perked up. “Really?”

Hermione poked the side of his head.

“What was that for?” Fred asked.

“A Marauder just complimented you.” Hermione shrugged. “I figured I’d deflate your head before you took off.”

Fred rolled his eyes and turned back to James. “You think so?”

“Hell, yeah!” James agreed. “You need a start-up, we can get you a start-up – Harry …” he trailed off. “You won’t be able to access the vaults, will you?”

“Not until he’s seventeen.” David shook his head. “Unless you gave him permission before you were attacked.”

“Permission?” Harry asked.

“You can’t enter a family vault without the Head of House unless they’ve given you permission.” Sirius explained. “Not even if you’re the heir. It’s a bizarre rule, but there you go.”

“I did.” Hermione frowned.

“Well, that wasn’t the family vault.” Sirius explained. “Even if it was, verbal permission counts. The family vaults don’t have keys.”

“Thanks guys.” Fred grinned. “But we’ve already got a start-up.”

Lily turned to Harry, who was staring at the ceiling. “Tell me you didn’t take the money from your trust vault.”

“I didn’t take the money from my trust-vault.” Harry told her.

“Then where’d you get it?” Lily asked.

Harry smiled weakly. “You’ll see.”

“Ron, why don’t we show Harry where he’s staying?” Hermione suggested, sensing danger.

Ron looked confused. “In my room. He knows where that is; that’s where he stayed last time.”

Ginny groaned. “Oh, Ron …”

Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “We can all go.”

Ron’s eyes widened in understanding. “Right! Follow us, Harry!”

“Yeah, we’ll go too!” Fred added.

“Like that’s going to work.” Remus chuckled.

Fred shrugged. “It was worth a shot.”

“You stay where you are!” Molly snapped.

Ducking away from the twins’ attempts to use them as human shields, Harry and Ron hurried out of the kitchen and the quartet made their way up to Ron’s attic room.

“What are Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes?” Harry asked.

Fred sighed. “I’d forgotten there was a time when you were so uneducated.”

“Well, I don’t think anyone in Gryffindor can ask that now.” Neville commented. “Not after that little demonstration.”

Fred grinned at him. “Did we ever thank you for helping with that?”

“No, but then you didn’t tell me I was helping with it either.” Neville replied dryly.

Ron and Ginny began laughing. Hermione’s mouth twitched, but she fought her own laugh back for the sake of appearances.

Fred gasped and hugged her. “I knew you loved us!”

“Fred, get off!” Hermione protested.

“Mum found a stack of order forms when she was cleaning the twins’ room last week.” Ron explained. “Price-lists for things they’ve invented; joke stuff. Fake wands …

“Fake wands?” James questioned.

Hermione rooted around in her bag. “I think I’ve got one in here somewhere.”

“Here.” Fred took the bag from her and aimed his wand somewhere into it. “Accio fake wand!”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Fred handed James the wand. “Here.”

James examined it. “Just looks like a normal wand to me.”

“Yeah, but try to use it.” Fred smirked.

James gave it an experimental wave and burst out laughing when it turned into a rubber chicken. “Nice! Simple, but effective.”

… trick sweets … loads of stuff. We’d been hearing explosions coming from their room for ages, but we never thought they were actually inventing things; we thought they just liked the noise.”

Fred snorted. “Yeah, that’s what it was. Actually, some of it was that.”

“I knew.” Ginny smirked. “Mind you, they hadn’t really tested properly and a lot of the stuff was, well, dangerous …

“It’s not dangerous!” Fred protested.

“Not in theory, no, but none of it was tested yet, was it?” Ginny repeated. “So some of it was dangerous. Still is, actually. You two proved that when you tested the Fainting Fancies the other week and George didn’t wake up for six hours even with the antidote.”

… and they were planning to sell it at Hogwarts …”

“Not just at Hogwarts.” Fred corrected. “We just knew we should start small.”

“Mum went mad at them.” Ron continued as they reached the first floor. “Told them they weren’t allowed to make any more and burnt all the order forms. She was furious with them anyway; they didn’t get as many OWLs as she expected.”

“We got enough.”

“And then there was this big row.” Ginny sighed. “Because Mum wants them to go into the Ministry of Magic like Dad and Percy and they told her that all they want to do is open a joke shop.”

“She really needs to stop comparing you to your brothers.” Lily stated. “It’s not fair. I can’t see either of you behind a desk and you’d be really good at this.”

“Mind you, Bill said your parents wanted him and Charlie to go into the Ministry too.” Hermione added. “And she’s fine with that now.”

“No, she’s not.” Ginny shook her head. “She’s always going on about how Bill should get a job closer to home or how Charlie needs a safer job – things like that.”

Before Harry could comment on that, Percy’s door flew open and his head poked out again, just as it had on the day Hermione had arrived.

“Hi, Percy.” Harry greeted.

“Oh, hello, Harry.” Percy frowned. “I was wondering who was making all the noise. I’m trying to work in here, you know – I've got a report to finish for the office – and it’s incredibly difficult to concentrate when people keep thundering up and down the stairs.”

“Thundering?” Jen repeated. “Dramatic, isn’t he?”

“We’re not thundering.” Ron rolled his eyes irritably. “We’re walking. Sorry if we’ve disturbed the Top Secret workings of the Ministry of Magic.”

“Well, DMIC is a very important department.” David said fairly. “Although I doubt Percy was doing anything that important just yet.”

“What are you working on?” Harry asked, obviously trying to sound interested.

Percy looked smug. “A report for the Department of International Magical Co-Operation. We’re trying to standardise cauldron thickness.

“A good idea.” David conceded. “But it’s not too important as long as you buy British products.”

Some of the foreign imports are just a shade too thin – leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three per cent a year …”

“Merlin, does he ever shut up?” Sirius asked.

“No.” Fred answered in a dull voice. “Eventually, he just sort of fades into a dull buzz in the background.”

“That’ll change the world; that report will.” Ron interrupted. “Front page of the Daily Prophet, I expect, cauldron leaks.”

The Marauders sniggered.

Percy’s ears went slightly pink, just like Ron’s did when he was embarrassed.

“Weasley curse.” Ginny sighed, running a hand through her vivid hair.

“No, the rest of you blush on your face.” Hermione told her. “It’s just Ron and Percy whose ears turn.”

“You might sneer, Ron, but unless some kind of international law is imposed we may very well find our markets flooded with flimsy products that could well endanger …”

“Yeah, alright.” Ron began to walk off and Percy slammed the door.

As Harry followed Ron, Ginny smirked suddenly. “Three … two … one …”

Shouts from the kitchen echoed up to them …

“Good timing.” Jen chuckled.

… it sounded like Arthur had told his wife what had happened.

“Good timing, Gin.” Hermione complimented.

Jen and Hermione exchanged a smile.

They followed the boys up to Ron’s attic room, faintly hearing Ron explaining to Harry about the new sleeping arrangement and trying to shut Pig up.

“That’s never easy.” Fred smirked. “Easiest thing to do is feed him an Owl Treat and his beak gets stuck together.”

Addie shook her head with a chuckle. “Only you, Sirius.” She repeated.

“Alright, can we stop picking on me for the owl?” Sirius asked. “He seemed eager to do the job, so I got him to do the job.”

“Why are you calling that owl Pig?” Harry asked.

“Because he’s being stupid.” Ginny answered, squeezing into the room. “Its real name is Pigwidgeon.”

“Yeah, because that’s not a stupid name at all.” Ron snorted sarcastically. “Ginny named him; she thinks he’s sweet.

“He is sweet.” Ginny protested.

I tried to change it, but it was too late; that’s all he answers to now. And I’ve got to keep him up here because he annoys Errol and Hermes. He annoys me too, if I’m honest.”

Hermione avoided Harry’s eye, knowing he was thinking the same thing. Fury and betrayal heated the air and Hermione took a deep breath to stay calm, laying a hand on Harry’s arm.

“Scabbers?” Mandy guessed quietly.

Harry nodded. “Ron used to say that all the time, but he was still pretty damn upset.”

Harry glanced sideways at her, clearly surprised that she’d read his feelings …

“Actually, I thought you’d read my mind.” Harry admitted. “Which, apparently, you could have done.”

… but didn’t mention it. Instead, he asked, “Where’s Crookshanks, Hermione?”

“Out in the garden, I expect.” Hermione answered. “He’s never seen gnomes before; he loves chasing them.”

“So do my cats.” Arabella chuckled. “Really annoy the little buggers.”
Ginny laughed. “Mum wanted to keep him just to keep them under control.”

Harry sat down on his bed. “So Percy’s enjoying work then?”

Fred snorted. “There’s an understatement.”

Ginny laughed out loud and Ron snorted. “Enjoying it? I don’t think he’d come home if Dad didn’t make him. He’s obsessed! Just don’t get him started on the subject of his boss. According to Mr. Crouch … Mr. Crouch was telling me … As I was saying to Mr. Crouch … Mr. Crouch is of the opinion … They’ll be announcing their engagement any day now.”

Sirius frowned. It was no wonder Percy had been sucked in by the Ministry, if his first experience was Barty Crouch.

Ginny and Harry laughed. Hermione tried to look disapproving, but gave up after a few minutes and cracked a smile. “Have you had a good summer, Harry?” She asked. “Did you get our food parcels and everything?”

Harry grinned at her. “Yeah, thanks. They saved my life, those cakes.”

Hermione rolled her eyes fondly.

Trust Harry to remember the cakes.

“I remembered the other things to.” Harry insisted. “But … cake …”

Hermione laughed, taking pity on him. “I know.”

 “They’d better have done.” Hermione teased. “We laboured over those.”

Ginny nodded in agreement, the pink flush spreading across her face again. “I think they’ve stopped fighting; we’d better go and help.”

“That was nice of you.” David commented.

Ginny laughed. “No, it was either we went of our own accord or Mum dragged us down anyway.”

“How’s Jessica?” Hermione asked, as they made their way downstairs again.

“Oh, she’s fine.” Harry answered. “Says hello.”

Jessica was the only way Hermione could get Harry to talk about Privet Drive, but it didn’t look like it was going to work this time. She sighed, knowing that she’d have to tell Harry about her parents; it was only fair, since Ron and Ginny knew.

“Yeah, it is.” Harry muttered.

Harry threw a friendly arm around her shoulders. “You alright?”

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

Harry narrowed his eyes at her. “Promise?”

Hermione chuckled. “You know, for someone who answers every single question with ‘I’m fine’, you’re very picky about our well-being.”

“Promise.” Hermione nodded.

They found Molly alone in the kitchen, looking extremely bad-tempered.

“We’re eating in the garden.” She told them shortly. “There’s just no room for eleven people in here. Could you take the plates outside, girls?

“Lucky.” Harry muttered. “You escaped the rant.”

“Let me guess.” Fred sighed. “She doesn’t know where she went wrong with us – she never had this sort of trouble with the other three.”

“That’s not fair.” Narcissa frowned. “Everyone’s different.”

Bill and Charlie are setting the tables up.”

“That’s one way of putting it.” Hermione murmured.

Ginny and Hermione grabbed the plates and walked outside as Molly told the boys to collect knives and forks.

“How long do you think it will take Ron and Harry to follow us?” Hermione asked, knowing her best friends tended to dawdle.

Ginny laughed. “If they’ve got any sense, it won’t take long. Mum’s in a … What on earth was that?”

Lily stiffened. “Oh dear …”

Harry chuckled. “Don’t worry, Mum. It wasn’t anything bad.”

A loud crash from up ahead had made both of them jump. They hurried around the corner to see Fred and George laughing while Bill and Charlie made the two tables, about ten feet in the air, crash into each other, each trying to knock the other one out of the air.

“Table Wars!” Sirius and James cheered.

Ginny joined Fred and George and, by the time Ron and Harry joined them, Hermione was hovering by the hedge, trying to decide whether she should laugh or worry.

“Lighten up, Mya.” Fred grinned. “They wouldn’t let anyone get hurt.”

Her decision was made for her, however, when Bill’s table caught Charlie’s with a bang and knocked one of its legs off.

“Laugh.” Hermione sniggered.

Before anyone could comment, Percy’s window clattered open and his head appeared. “Will you keep it down?!” He demanded.

“Spoilsport.” Fred muttered.

“Sorry, Perce!” Bill grinned. “How are the cauldron bottoms coming along?”

“Bill’s the only one who could manage to say that without making it sound mean.” Ginny commented.

 “Very badly!” Percy snapped, slamming the window shut.

Chuckling, Charlie reattached the table leg with a wave of his wand and he and Bill settled the two tables on the lawn end to end and conjured tablecloths out of nowhere.

As always, Mrs Weasley outdid herself with dinner. Hermione tucked in to chicken-and-ham pie, potatoes and salad …

A loud growl echoed through the room and Lily sighed. “Sirius, we only just ate breakfast.”

Sirius blushed slightly. “It wasn’t just me.”

Everyone turned to Remus, who shrugged. “Full moon’s in a week. Speaking of, how does that work?”

Another note appeared. You’re in a time-locked room, which basically means the phase of the moon stays the same until you exit it.

Remus breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”

… only half listening to the conversations around her.

At the far end of the table, Percy was telling his father all about his report on cauldron bottoms.

“Poor Arthur.” Sirius said solemnly.

“I’ve told Mr Crouch that I’ll have it ready by Tuesday,” Percy was saying pompously. “That’s a bit sooner than he expected it, but I like to keep on top of things.

“That, and it’s the only thing you’ve got to do.” Fred muttered.

I think he’ll be grateful I’ve done it in good time. I mean, it’s extremely busy in our department just now, what with all the arrangements for the World Cup.

“Which means he won’t have time to read it.” David said kindly.

We’re just not getting the support we need from the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Ludo Bagman –”

“Ludo Bagman?!” James asked eagerly. “Do they mean the Beater for the Wimbourne Wasps?”

Sirius snorted. “Trust you to support them now they’ve pulled ahead.”

“I don’t support them.” James scowled. “But he’s a damn good player.”

“Pity he’s not as amazing as a Head of Department.” Fred snorted.

“I like Ludo,” said Mr Weasley mildly. “He was the one who got us such good tickets for the Cup.

“I like him.” Sirius decided.

“I don’t.” Fred scowled.

“Fred, let it go.” Harry advised. “He got his.”

“What did he do?” Regulus asked curiously. Support of the Wimbourne Wasps was one of the only things he and Sirius had in common.

“You’ll find out.” Fred sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Hermione swatted his shoulder. “Then stop bringing it up.”

I did him a bit of a favour: his brother, Otto, got into a spot of trouble – a lawnmower with unnatural powers – I smoothed the whole thing over.”

“Oh, Bagman’s likeable enough, of course,” said Percy dismissively, “but how he ever got to be Head of Department … when I compare him to Mr Crouch!

“Barty Crouch is not a saint.” Sirius muttered.

I can’t see Mr Crouch losing a member of our department and not trying to find out what’s happened to them.

“That’s true.” Sirius conceded.

“Why don’t you like Barty?” David asked.

Sirius pondered his answer. “I admire his dedication.” He said finally. “But as much as we need to fight back against the Dark Side, we have to be careful – plus, I happen to have a personal reason for despising him. I go into it in great detail later, I’m sure.”

You realise Bertha Jorkins has been missing for over a month now?

There was a sharp intake of breath.

Went on holiday to Albania and never came back?”

“Albania.” David muttered. “And that’s where she ran into Wormtail.”

 “Yes, I was asking Ludo about that,” said Mr Weasley, frowning. “He says Bertha’s got lost plenty of times before now – though I must say, if it was someone in my department, I’d be worried …”

“Oh, Bertha’s hopeless, all right,” said Percy.

Fred scowled, muttering something under his breath.

“I hear she’s been shunted from department to department for years, much more trouble than she’s worth … but all the same, Bagman ought to be trying to find her. Mr Crouch has been taking a personal interest …

David narrowed his eyes at that. It was unlike Barty Crouch to do something like that unless there was something in it for him.

“Guilty conscience.” Harry whispered in Hermione’s ear.

… she worked in our department at one time, you know, and I think Mr Crouch was quite fond of her – but Bagman just keeps laughing and saying she probably misread the map and ended up in Australia instead of Albania.

“That’s not Bertha.” Addie said quietly. “She had a big mouth and no sense of when to keep it shut, but there’s no way she’s that stupid.”

However,” Percy heaved an impressive sigh, and took a deep swig of elderflower wine, “we’ve got quite enough on our plates at the Department of International Magical Co-operation without trying to find members of other departments too. As you know, we’ve got another big event to organise right after the World Cup.”

“I wonder what that is.” James mused. “Must be important if it’s mentioned.”

He cleared his throat significantly and looked down towards the end of the table where Harry, Ron and Hermione were sitting. “You know the one I’m talking about, Father.” He raised his voice slightly. “The top-secret one.”

“That’s just mean.” Jen said. “It’s obvious they don’t know what’s going on.”

Ron and Hermione rolled their eyes. “He’s been trying to get us to ask what that event is ever since he started work.” Ron muttered to Harry.

“Even if we had, he wouldn’t have told us.” Fred said.

“Probably an exhibition of thick-bottomed cauldrons.”

“No, something tells me it’s a little more exciting than that.” Arabella disagreed.

Lily sighed. “But I don’t want it to be exciting. I want it to be a quiet year.”

“Not possible with me, Mum.” Harry grinned.

In the middle of the table, Mrs Weasley was arguing with Bill about his earring, which seemed to be a recent acquisition.

“It was.” Ginny confirmed. “He didn’t have it when we went to Egypt the summer before.”

“… with a horrible great fang on it, really, Bill, what do they say at the bank?”

“They won’t care.” Jen said. “As long as he keeps bringing home the gold, they won’t give a damn how he’s dressed.”

“Mum, no one at the bank gives a damn about how I dress as long as I bring home plenty of treasure,” said Bill patiently.

“And your hair’s getting silly, dear,” said Mrs Weasley, fingering her wand lovingly. “I wish you’d let me give it a trim.”

“What is it with mums and hair?” Hermione asked. “It’s like an obsession.”

“I’d say it’s a course in the hospital.” Lily answered, eyeing Harry’s hair. “But I already have the urge to grab a comb and try to tame that mess, so it must just be an intuition thing.”

“I like it,” said Ginny from beside Hermione. “You’re so old-fashioned, Mum. Anyway, it’s nowhere near as long as Professor Dumbledore’s …”

“No one’s is as long as Professor Dumbledore’s.” Draco pointed out.

Next to Mrs Weasley, Fred, George and Charlie were all talking spiritedly about the World Cup.

James, Sirius and Regulus perked up.

 “It’s got to be Ireland,” said Charlie thickly, through a mouthful of potato. “They flattered Peru in the semi-finals.”

“Sounds like a good team.” Regulus mused.

“Bulgaria have got Viktor Krum, though,” said Fred.

“Seeker.” Hermione said, anticipating the question.

“A good seeker can make all the difference.” James commented.

“But if the Irish chasers are good enough …” Regulus argued.

“Stop!” Lily sighed. “Debate later, read now.”

“Krum’s one decent player, Ireland have got seven,” said Charlie shortly.

“That’s what I …” Regulus trailed off, catching Lily’s eye. “Never mind.”

“I wish England had got through, though. That was embarrassing, that was.”

“What happened?” James asked eagerly.

“What happened?” said Harry eagerly …

“Alright, I’m saying ‘like father, like son’ one more time.” Jen smirked. “No one else say it again.”

… regretting more than ever his isolation from the wizarding world when he was stuck in Privet Drive. Harry was passionate about Quidditch. He had played as Seeker on the Gryffindor house Quidditch team ever since his first year at Hogwarts and owned a Firebolt, one of the best racing brooms in the world.

“Only you, Sirius, would buy a thirteen-year-old an international racing broom.” Addie chuckled.

“Went down to Transylvania, three hundred and ninety to ten,” said Charlie gloomily.

“How in Merlin’s name does that happen?!” James demanded.

Fred shook his head. “Don’t ask, James. You really don’t want to know.”

“Shocking performance. And Wales lost to Uganda, and Scotland were slaughtered by Luxembourg.”

“So Ireland really is our only hope.” Sirius summarised.

Mr Weasley conjured up candles to light the darkening garden before they had their pudding and it was while they were finishing up some delicious home-made strawberry ice-cream that Harry fixed Hermione with a stare and said, “It’s later.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “For someone who’s more cryptic than a crossword sometimes, you’ve certainly got something about opening up to people.”

“Hermione, stop repeating yourself.” Ginny teased.

She took a deep breath and told the bowl in front of her – which was somehow easier to look at than Harry’s expression – everything that had happened with her father in an undertone. Even though the other Weasleys knew what had happened, they didn’t know about the physical abuse that she’d suffered, because she’d only told Ron and Ginny.

“I wish you’d told us.” Fred said in an undertone. “We’d have sorted him out for you.”

By the time she’d finished, his arm was around her shoulders again and he’d abandoned his ice-cream.

“If I ever meet him …” Harry trailed off ominously.

“Get in line.” Fred muttered.

“Get in line, mate.” Ron muttered.

Fred smirked at their expressions. “We’re brothers. We’re bound to say the same thing sometimes.”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at her best friends’ protectiveness. “So I decided to do what Sirius suggested and …”

“Hermione!” Harry hissed, nodding almost unnoticeably at Ginny.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “What do you take me for?”

“Someone who accidentally let it slip?” Harry guessed innocently.

Hermione blushed slightly. “I’m allowed to make mistakes.”

“You’re about three weeks too late.” Ron told him. “Ginny knows.”

Hermione sighed. “In my defence, I was a little distraught when I told her.”

Harry squeezed her shoulder lightly, before removing his arm. “You won’t tell anyone, will you, Ginny?”

Ginny rolled her eyes as well. “Come on, Harry. Would I?”

“Just checking.” Harry muttered.

Ginny mimed doing up a zip across her mouth. “Not a soul. I swear.”

“Solemnly swear?” Harry asked and Hermione knew immediately that he wasn’t really upset.

“You had a glint in your eye.” Hermione smirked. “Wasn’t till I got here that I realised it was a Marauder trait.”

“Yeah.” Ginny looked a little confused. “Was that a joke? Because, if it was, you might want to warn us in future, so we remember to laugh.”

“Ron and I chuckled.” Hermione reminded her.

“That’s how I knew it was a joke.” Ginny grinned.

Harry grinned at her. “Inside joke, Gin. We’ll explain everything after the World Cup.”

“Why not now?” Ginny asked curiously.

“I don’t know the Silencing Charm.” Harry explained. “I’d rather tell you when we can actually talk about it.”

“Smart move.” David nodded. “You never know when people are listening in.”

Ginny nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Speaking of …” Hermione searched her pockets and pulled out the photo that Sirius had duplicated. “Long story.”

Harry smiled at the picture. “Thanks.”

Ron leaned in. “Harry, have you heard from …” he glanced up and down the table “… Padfoot at all?”

“Dramatic.” Draco commented. “You’d already mentioned his name once.”

“That’s Ron for you.” Ginny responded.

“A couple of times.” Harry answered. “Big birds though.”

Hermione laughed quietly. “Tell me about it. He’s written to me a couple of times as well.”

“Oh, that’s who the other letters were for.” Harry nodded. “That makes sense. I wrote to him the day before yesterday, so he might write back while I’m here.”

Lily frowned. “I’d forgotten about that.”

Hermione felt a strange expression rise briefly in the air; worry mixed with … grief? Fear?

“You couldn’t tell back then?” Harry asked.

Hermione chuckled. “I never can with you, Harry. You and Draco are polar opposites in that regard.”

“What do you mean?” Draco asked.

“Well, you have amazing facial control.” Hermione explained. “It’s very difficult to read you with a glance, but your emotions are so easy to find that I don’t need to look for them – it’s like you’re throwing them in my face. Harry, on the other hand, is harder to break into than Gringotts, but he wears his heart on his sleeve, so I don’t usually need to.” She smiled at their expressions. “So, no, Harry, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was picking up. Might have been both.”

“You okay, Harry?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Fine.”

Hermione smirked. “See what I mean? That’s your answer to everything, Harry.”

“No, you’re not.” Hermione accused.

Harry sighed. “I’ll tell you after the Cup, okay?”

“How did you do that?” Ginny whispered.

Hermione paused, wondering how to tell them that she was a classified Dark Creature.

“We …” Ginny broke off mid-protest and Hermione smirked at her. Her fears had been justified, at least partly, by Ron and Ginny’s reactions.

She had just steeled herself for it, when the adults stood up.

“Time for bed.” Mrs Weasley announced. “You’ll be up early tomorrow.”

“How early is early?” Sirius groaned.

“Before five.” Hermione answered.

Hermione jumped to her feet, glad for the distraction, and they followed the Weasley matriarch inside and up to their rooms. Outside their room, Hermione hugged both boys goodnight and the two girls slipped into bed.

“Well?” Ginny asked into the darkness.

Hermione grimaced, knowing her room-mate couldn’t see her. “After the Cup.”

“Telling people things like that is never easy.” Remus sympathised.

“End of the chapter.” Harry announced.

Chapter Text

“Here.” Sirius summoned the book to his hands and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Seven

Tents and Water-Taps

“That …” Jen frowned. “That is a very bizarre chapter title.”

Portkeys were definitely not Hermione’s favourite mode of transport …

James grimaced. “I’m with you on that one.”

“Potter Portkey Genes.” Sirius explained to the future students. “I’ve yet to know a Potter who could stay on their feet after a Portkey trip. In fact, the first time Lily took a Portkey, she stayed on her feet – James had done it at least twenty times and he ended up falling over.”

“Does the same apply to Floo trips?” Hermione asked with an innocent smile. “Because Harry always falls out of them as well.”

David chuckled. “Yes, it does. It’s the flip-side of being born fliers. We’re not quite as well-coordinated on the ground.”

… she decided as she disentangled herself from Ginny and Fred. It was just past five o’clock in the morning and she’d just hiked over a moor, held on to an old boot for five minutes and been forcefully thrown halfway across the country to land on her backside.

Everyone laughed. “Hermione, I love your descriptions!” Harry sniggered.

“Like you’re any better, Mr. Happy Balloon.” Hermione shot back.

Harry looked confused. “What?”

Hermione thought back. “Oh, sorry, Harry. Forgot you weren’t here for the first two books. Let’s just say you’ve got some interesting descriptions as well.”

On top of all this, the feeling that something awful was going to happen hadn’t gone away; if anything, it had grown. She’d mentioned something to Ginny that morning and the only response she’d had was, “Well, you are Harry’s best friend.”

“I had a point.” Ginny pointed out.

Of course, Ginny had a valid point, but Hermione wasn’t going to admit that. Not to her face.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

Sirius pulled a face at the book. “Does he have to be in it?”

“Who?” Addie asked.

Sirius hid the book so she couldn’t read over his shoulder. “Does he?”

Hermione frowned. “Erm … Going by reactions in the last book, I’m going to guess you mean Amos Diggory? I wouldn’t worry. He basically turns up after an event and then makes a complete prat of himself.”
“Oh, no change there then.” Sirius said cheerfully.

Meeting Amos and Cedric Diggory at the portkey only reinforced her feelings. Well, to be fair to Cedric – who was quite a nice guy (not to mention good-looking) …

“Hermione!” Fred and Harry protested.

Hermione turned pink. “Well, he is! I didn’t say I fancied him or anything – it’s just an observation!”

… it was just his father. It was blindingly obvious that Harry must have awful memories to fall off a broom around Dementors and to flaunt it like that …

Lily scowled. “What did he say?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Just kept going on about how Cedric beat me at Quidditch. Cedric tried to point out that I fell off my broom and he just said something about proving who the better flier was.”

Hermione was shaken from her thoughts when Cedric, who had stayed on his feet, reached a hand down and helped her to her feet.

“See?” Hermione asked, her blush receding. “He’s a nice guy.”

“Thanks.” She muttered. “Do you ever get used to those?”

Cedric laughed. “Eventually.”

“Unless you’re James.” Sirius put in happily.

Fred and George lifted Ginny to her feet and Harry and Ron stood up as well, the latter shooting glares at Cedric.

“Why?” James asked. “He didn’t blame Cedric for what his father said, did he?”

“No, Hufflepuff beat us at Quidditch.” Hermione sighed. “So, obviously, it makes Cedric the devil incarnate.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. She loved Ron to pieces, but he was awfully immature sometimes, especially when it came to Quidditch. It wasn’t like Cedric had stopped Gryffindor winning the Cup or anything.

“An excellent point.” Jen conceded.

Brushing her clothes down, Hermione squinted through the half-light and mist. Two wizards were standing in front of them, dressed very inexpertly as Muggles.

“Oh, this is always fun.” Lily smirked.

One, who was holding a large gold pocket watch, was wearing a tweed suit with knee-length galoshes and the other, who had a long piece of parchment and a quill, was wearing a kilt and a poncho.

Lily burst out laughing.

“What?” Regulus asked with a frown. “They’re Muggle clothes, right?”
“They’re not supposed to be worn in those combinations.” Addie explained with a smile. “It’s like …” She trailed off, trying to think of a good comparison with the magical world.

“It’s like wearing slippers with work robes.” Lily supplied.

“Or a day-cloak over dress robes.” Mandy added.

“Isn’t a cloak a cloak?” Harry asked.

Hermione chuckled. “No, Harry. The cloaks we wear for school, for example, you wouldn’t wear over dress robes to a formal ball.”

“Oh, right.” Harry nodded. “I get it.”

“Morning, Basil.” Mr Weasley greeted, handing over the portkey.

“Morning, Arthur.” The kilted wizard threw it into a box. “Not on duty, eh? It’s alright for some; we’ve been here all night. You’d better get out of the way – we’ve got a big party coming in at five-fifteen from the Black Forest.”

“Merlin, it really was early, wasn’t it?” Arabella grimaced.

“Who cares?” James asked. “It’s the World Cup!”

Hermione, who was trying not to laugh at their clothes, chanced a glance at Harry, who caught her eye before turning away quickly.

“Hang on, I’ll find your campsite. Weasley … Weasley …” He ran his finger down the list. “About a quarter-of-a-mile’s walk over there; first field you come to. Site manager’s called Mr. Roberts. Diggory; second field. Ask for Mr. Payne.”

“Guess we know which one he prefers.” Jen smirked.

“Can you blame him?” Sirius muttered.

“Thanks, Basil.” Arthur beckoned to the others and they followed him across the moor. Hermione squinted to see that hundreds and hundreds of tents were beginning to loom out of the fog, rising up a gentle hill towards a dark wood on the horizon.

“Camping!” Lily said suddenly.

“Er, yeah.” James responded. “That’s what you do in tents.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “No, the chapter title – tents and water-taps. That’s what it refers to.”

“Well, Arthur, this is where we leave you.” Amos Diggory said cheerfully.

Cedric bid goodbye to them, before following his father into the mist. Harry, Hermione and Ginny waved, but Fred, George and Ron, still sore after Gryffindor’s last defeat, simply nodded coolly.

Fred looked down at his feet, regretting how he had treated his class-mate.

Together, they approached the stone cottage, where a man stood surveying the tents. He was very obviously the only real Muggle for several miles.

Narcissa grimaced. “In that case, he’s bound to get suspicious. Why didn’t someone put a Compulsion Charm on him to make him go on holiday or something?”

 “Morning!” Mr Weasley said brightly.

“Morning.” The Muggle replied shortly.

“Wasn’t one for small talk, was he?” Fred commented.

Mr Weasley glanced apprehensively at the others. “Would you be Mr. Roberts?”

“Aye.” Mr. Roberts nodded. “And who would you be?”

“Weasley; two tents, booked a couple of days ago?” Mr Weasley told him.

“Aye.” Mr. Roberts repeated, checking the list tacked up by the door. “You’ve got a space up by the wood there. Just the one night?”

“That’s it.” Mr Weasley confirmed.

“You’ll be paying now then?”

“Ah…certainly.” Mr Weasley retreated a little way and gestured for Harry to follow him. From their whispered conversation, Hermione guessed that Harry was helping him figure out Muggle money.

“It’s not that difficult.” Hermione sighed. “The amount is written on it.”

 “You foreign?” Mr. Roberts asked abruptly when they returned with the correct money.

“Foreign?” Mr Weasley repeated, looking puzzled.

Mr. Roberts observed the group with narrowed eyes. “You’re not the first one who’s had trouble with money.

“Uh oh.” David murmured. “He’s too observant.”

I had two try and pay me with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago.”

Lily groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Why? Why would anyone do that?”

“Why would anyone do that?” Ginny hissed to Hermione.

“They’re probably pureblood bigots who are too up themselves to realise that Muggles have their own currency.” Hermione muttered out of the corner of her mouth.

“Nice one.” James smirked. “And very well worded.”

“This guy’s too observant.”

“Or most wizards are just too ignorant.” Lily sighed.

“Never been this crowded.” Mr. Roberts commented suddenly, rummaging around in a tin for some change. “Hundreds of pre-bookings. People usually just turn up.”

“That’s not good.” Regulus frowned. “You’re right, Cissy. Someone should have removed him from the equation early on.”

“Is that right?” Mr Weasley asked, trying to sound casual.

“Aye.” Mr. Roberts looked thoughtful. “People from all over.” He was still holding the change he owed Arthur. “Loads of foreigners. And not just foreigners. Weirdoes, you know. There’s a bloke walking around in a kilt and a poncho.”

“Shouldn’t he?” Mr Weasley asked anxiously.

“No.” Lily answered, still looking very put-upon. “How the Statute of Secrecy hasn’t been broken yet …”

Mr. Roberts frowned, staring out at the tents. “It’s like some sort of … I dunno … some sort of rally. They all seem to know each other. Like a big party.”

Hermione heard a collective sharp intake of breath beside her and held herself back from nodding in agreement. She hadn’t thought about how odd it would appear to Muggles.

“No one does.” Arabella frowned. “That’s not good.”

Before Mr Weasley could reply, a wizard in plus-fours apparated next to them and pointed his wand at Mr. Roberts’s face. “Obliviate!”

“There’s the answer, Mum.” Harry shrugged.

“Memory charms should not be used to remedy wizards’ ignorance and stupidity!” David protested.

The man’s eyes slid out of focus and a dreamy look came upon his face. “A map of the campsite for you.” He said. “And your change.”

“Thank you.” Mr Weasley nodded to him, and his children, Harry and Hermione hurried after him, as the other wizard accompanied them to the gate.

“The poor man looks exhausted!” Ginny whispered to Hermione, who nodded in agreement.

“He really did.” Hermione sighed.

“Been having a lot of trouble with him.” He was saying to Mr Weasley. “Needs a Memory Charm ten times a day to keep him happy.

“That’s not right.” David frowned. “Too many Memory Charms can cause permanent damage on a person’s mental health.”

And Ludo Bagman’s not helping. Trotting around talking about Bludgers and Quaffles at the top of his voice …

David followed Lily’s example and sighed into his hands. “What happened to the Ministry?”

… not a worry about anti-Muggle security.” He heaved a sigh. “Blimey, I’ll be glad when this is over.

“He’ll be the only one.” Mandy chuckled, glancing at James’s outraged expression.

See you later, Arthur.”

When he had disapparated with a crack, Ginny quickened her pace to catch up with her father, a look of surprise on her face. “I thought Bagman was Head of Magical Games and Sports? He should know better than to talk about Bludgers near Muggles, right?”

“He should.” Fred answered. “But he doesn’t.”

“He should.” Mr Weasley agreed with a smile, opening the gate and leading them through. “But Ludo’s always been a bit … well … lax about security. You couldn’t wish for a more enthusiastic Head of the Sports Department though.

“I bet you couldn’t.” Addie agreed.

He played Quidditch for England himself, you know.

Sirius perked up. “Wow! He gets better!”

And he was the best Beater the Wimbourne Wasps ever had.”

“And apparently they don’t.” James smirked.

“One player doesn’t make the team.” Regulus argued. “They’re nowhere near as bad as the Cannons.”

“True.” James conceded.

Hermione closed the gate behind them and walked straight into Harry. “Hey!”

“Sorry.” Harry moved out of the way, not taking his eyes off the scene in front of them. “Hermione, does something seem … odd about these tents to you?”

“Oh, here we go.” Harry smirked.

Hermione shielded her eyes from the rising sun so she could see the rows of tents on either side of them. Most of them looked like regular Muggle tents and she was about to ask what Harry meant, when she caught sight of a weather vane sticking out the top of one of them.

“What’s weird about that?” Regulus asked.

“Muggle tents don’t have weather-vanes.” Harry answered.

A few pitches down, there was a chimney and a bell-pull. Dotted among them, here and there, were tents that were so magical that Hermione wasn’t surprised that Mr. Roberts was getting suspicious. One tent looked like a miniature palace complete with several peacocks tethered outside.

“Lucius.” Sirius concluded, rolling his eyes.

“How’d you know?” Draco asked.

“Your father has a rather strange fascination with peacocks.” Sirius answered.

Draco pulled a face. “Well, I won’t argue with that.”

Ron rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded a bit like “Malfoys”.

“Always the same.” Mr Weasley chuckled. “We can’t resist showing off when we get together.”

“That, or half these people think that Muggle tents really do look like this.” Harry murmured.

“I think that’s more likely.” Lily agreed with a smile.

Hermione sniggered and nodded in agreement, just as they reached their spot; a small empty space with a sign hammered into the ground that read Wheezly.

Sirius sniggered. “It’s spelt W-H-E-E-Z-L-Y.” He explained.

“Couldn’t have a better spot.” Mr Weasley said happily. “The pitch is just on the other side of that wood there; we’re as close as we could be.”

James brightened up. “Brilliant!”

He dropped his backpack on the ground. “Right, no magic allowed, strictly speaking; not when we’re out in these numbers on Muggle land.

Remus laughed. “Who wants to bet Arthur’s the only one to stick to that rule?”

“No, a lot of people did.” Draco informed him. “Father was not happy.”

“Really?” Narcissa asked. “What did he say?”

“I wouldn’t repeat it.” Draco grimaced. “On and on and on about pandering to Muggles and did the Ministry really expect us to live like that and …” He trailed off.

“That explains so much.” Hermione commented darkly.

We’ll be putting these tents up by hand! Shouldn’t be too hard … Muggles do it all the time. Here, Harry, where do you think we should start?”

“Merlin knows why he asked me.” Harry sniggered.

Harry stared at the tent pieces in front of them. “Hermione?”

“When in doubt, turn to Hermione.” Draco smirked. “Sounds like a good rule.”

“It’s served me well.” Harry agreed solemnly.

Hermione started. “Don’t you know?” She picked up a few of the pegs. “Let’s see …”

“Like the Dursleys ever took me anywhere.” Harry muttered.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I was talking about Jess, Harry. Remember her?”

“Didn’t Jess used to take you on holiday?” Hermione asked, as she pictured a tent mentally and tried to place everything.

Harry shrugged, holding a piece of canvas for her to slip a tent pole through. “Sometimes, but we never went camping. And only when I was old enough to realise that telling the Dursleys that I had fun with Jess meant that I’d never go back.” He paused thoughtfully. “I reckon that’s why Mrs. Figg was such a nightmare to deal with.”

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about her.” Hermione remembered, wincing as Arthur hit his thumb with the mallet.

Lily winced as well. “That’s not a fully-wizard mistake though. Dad’s done that about twenty times.”

“Do you think she knows you’re a wizard?”

Harry glanced at her. “Why do you ask?”

“Her first name’s Arabella, right?” Hermione asked. “Isn’t your Mum’s friend Arabella Figg?”

“Well-reasoned.” Arabella smiled.

Harry frowned. “You’re right. Can’t be the same person though … maybe a grandmother? I’ll ask Arabella next time I write to her.”

“You were writing to us then?” Arabella asked happily.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, of course.”

“Good idea.” Hermione slid another pole in. “Is Jess still having weird dreams?”

“Yep.” Harry answered. “And if you thought the last warning was bad, this one’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I’ll tell you when we get back.” He straightened up. “Got it!”

Hermione stood back and joined him. The two shabby two-man tents certainly didn’t look like they belonged to wizards. But once Charlie, Bill and Percy arrived, they would be a party of ten.

Sirius chuckled. “They’re magical tents, Kitten.”
Hermione sighed. “I know.”

She looked quizzically at Harry, who looked just as bewildered, as Mr Weasley dropped to his hands and knees and crawled inside.

“We’ll be a bit cramped.” He called out. “But I think we’ll all squeeze in. Come and have a look.”

Harry and Hermione exchanged a dubious glance, before he lifted up the tent flap to allow her to enter before him.

Lily gave Harry a proud smile.

As she stood up, her jaw dropped. She had walked into what looked like a fully-furnished, three-bedroom flat, complete with bathroom and kitchen, but which seemed to have a distinct smell of cats. She had heard of enlargement charms, but never dreamed they’d look like this.

“What are Muggle tents like inside then?” Regulus asked.

Hermione shrugged. “They’re just the inside of canvas. They can be quite big, but there isn’t furniture in them or anything. People use sleeping bags. It’s really quite uncomfortable.”

Lily winced. “Tell me about it. Unlike Petunia, I enjoy camping – probably because she doesn’t come with us anymore – but I hate sleeping in tents.”

A sharp intake of breath from behind her told her that Harry had reacted in the same way.

“Well, it’s not for long.” Mr Weasley said cheerfully, mopping his bald patch with a handkerchief. “I borrowed this from Perkins at the office. Doesn’t camp much anymore, poor fellow; he’s got lumbago.”

Sirius interrupted himself. “What on earth …?”

“Back pain.” Addie answered.

He had picked up the kettle while he talked. “We’ll need water …”

“There’s a tap marked on this map the Muggle gave us.” Ron’s voice broke in, causing Hermione to start slightly. He was standing behind her, completely at ease with his surroundings.

“Before you say anything,” Hermione sighed, “yes, I’m aware Ron grew up with magic. It was just an observation.”

“It’s on the other side of the field.”

“Why don’t you, Harry and Hermione go and get us some water then?” Mr Weasley suggested, handing him the kettle and passing two saucepans to Hermione. “And the rest of us will get some wood for a fire.”

“But we’ve got an oven!” Ron protested. “Why can’t we just …?”

“Ron, anti-Muggle security!” Mr Weasley interrupted. “When real Muggles camp, they cook on fires outdoors; I’ve seen them at it!”

“That is true.” Hermione conceded. “Although a lot of Muggles take disposable barbeques with them.” She caught sight of confused expressions and didn’t wait for the questions. “It’s sort of like a small box with a grill over it. You put charcoal inside the box and light it and then cook the food on the grill.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Come on, Ron. You too, Harry.” She handed him one of the saucepans. “Let’s go and see if Ginny wants to come with us.”

They ducked into the girls’ tent, which was decorated in the same way though, thankfully, without the smell of cats.

“Lucky.” Harry muttered.

“What’s wrong with cats?” Arabella asked.

“Nothing.” Harry answered. “But you know that smell when the litter tray hasn’t been emptied yet …?”

Arabella pulled a face. “Never mind.”

Ginny was stowing her backpack away. “Bottom bunk alright, Hermione?”

“I actually prefer the bottom bunk.” Hermione commented. “I never got why the top bunk was such a treat.”
“You get to climb it!” James answered with a grin. “All those times your parents tell you not to climb on furniture get ignored!”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

“Fine.” Hermione answered. “We’re going to go and get some water; you coming?”

Ginny shrugged. “Yeah, alright then.”

They set off across the campsite. By now, the sun had risen and the mist had lifted, and they could see the tents that stretched in every direction. Edging slowly through the rows, Hermione stifled a laugh at the bewildered expression on Harry’s face. It was evident that he’d never realised that there must be wizards and witches in other countries.

Harry blushed. “I just hadn’t thought about it, that’s all.”

“Oh, Harry.” Lily chuckled.

She would have given anything to stop and talk to them, but she knew that, at this time in the morning, they weren’t likely to be very hospitable.

“No, I shouldn’t think they would be.” Remus agreed. “Having tried to wake these two up every morning.”

“It’s not that difficult.” Sirius protested.

Addie rolled her eyes. “It is, Padfoot, and you know it.”

Families were beginning to emerge from tents on either side of them, mostly ones with small children. A tiny boy, no older than three, was crouched next to a tent prodding a slug, which was slowly swelling to the size of salami, with a wand.

Sirius sniggered. “Harry got hold of James’s wand once.”

“What did I do?” Harry asked eagerly.

“Well, by the time I got there, James was hanging upside down and Lily had turned completely pink.” Sirius answered with a smirk.

As they reached him, his mother came hurrying out and snatched the wand back. “How many times, Kevin! You don’t … touch … Daddy’s … wand … Yeuch!” She had trodden on the slug, which burst. Her scolding, mingled with the little boy’s screams, floated after them on the still air.

“Why was he screaming?” Lily asked.

“She didn’t hurt him.” Hermione assured her. “He was upset about the slug.”

A little further on, they came across two witches, barely older than Kevin, riding toy broomsticks just high enough for their toes to skim the grass.

“And if the Muggles had seen them?” David asked, shaking his head. “Honestly.”

A Ministry wizard had seen them and hurried past them muttering, “In broad daylight! Parents having a lie-in, I suppose.”

“Poor bloke.” Jen murmured. “He must be exhausted.”

“If it’s any consolation, you’re doing a great job!” Ginny called after him.

“You made his day, I should think.” David chuckled.

He shot the group a grateful smile over his shoulder and continued on his mission.

“Suck-up.” Ron muttered.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I was just trying to be nice.”

Ginny stuck her tongue out at him, but any retort was cut off by a shout.

“Harry!”

Lily brightened. “Oh, who is it?”

“No idea.” Sirius answered. “That’s the end of the chapter.”

Chapter Text

“Here.” Hermione took the book with a smile.

Chapter Eight

Peers and Parents

“I guess you’re going to run into people from school.” Jen commented.

The quartet spun around, expecting to see someone from Hogwarts, but they were being hailed by two women a few years older than Bill, one with honey-coloured hair, the other with blonde.

“That’s us!” Arabella and Mandy chorused.

“We get to go to the Cup?” Mandy grinned. “Wicked!”

“You do work in Magical Games and Sports.” Sirius reminded her. “I think that’s how you got the tickets.”

“How do Professor Cotswold and Professor Figg know Harry?” Ginny asked.

“Ron, Hermione and I were the only ones who knew.” Harry explained.

“Along with everyone in the Quidditch team.” Ginny reminded him, rolling her eyes.

“They were friends with Mum.” Harry answered, jogging over to them.

“Hey, sweetheart.” Arabella greeted, embracing her surrogate nephew. “Hey, everybody.”

“Hello, Professors.” They chorused.

“There’s no need to call us Professor anymore.” Mandy told them. “Just call us Mandy and Arabella; everyone does.

“That would be because they’re our names.” Arabella sniggered.

“I was probably referring to mine.” Mandy elbowed her. “I would have been introduced as Amanda, wouldn’t I?”

We won’t be teaching anymore.”

Hermione couldn’t help but pick up the strange emotion floating around her. She seemed to be grieving for someone or something, though outwardly hiding it well.

“Peter probably.” Lily frowned.

Mandy sighed.

“Oh, why not?” Ginny asked.

“Because we were only covering for Remus.” Arabella explained, finally releasing Harry so that Mandy could hug him. “And he’s not teaching anymore either.”

“I think that sucks.” Ron admitted. “He was the best teacher we had.”

Remus smiled at that.

“Thank you, Ron.” The four jumped and turned to see Remus Lupin standing behind them, smiling at them.

“Moony, you get to go too!” James cheered. “Why don’t I get to go?”

Everyone carefully avoided answering that question.

“Good morning, Professor.” Hermione greeted.

“Hermione, you don’t need to call me Professor anymore.” Remus said gently.

“Habit.” Harry grinned. “Hey, Moony.”

“That works.” Remus nodded, giving Harry a brief hug.

“You don’t want to know how long it took for us to convince Remus to come with us.” Arabella whispered to Hermione.

“But you love Quidditch.” Jen frowned.

Arabella and Mandy both coughed, sounding suspiciously like the word ‘charity’.

“Oh.” Jen sighed. “Not that again.”

 “Oh, Arabella,” Harry hesitated, “I have a babysitter called Mrs. Figg. Is she any relation?”

Arabella frowned. “Does she have a lot of cats, is an awful cook and smell of cabbage?”

Arabella chuckled. “That about sums her up.”

“That’s her.” Harry nodded.

“She’s my grandmother.” Arabella confirmed. “Squib. Merlin knows what she’s doing there.”

“Keeping an eye on Harry?” Mandy guessed.

“Well, she’s not doing a very good job.” Lily frowned. “No offence to your grandmother, Ara.”

“It’s fine.” Arabella assured her. “I’m sure she just doesn’t know everything.”

“But Jess looks after me more than her.” Harry disagreed. He had already told the two women about her in his letters, and Arabella had met her over the summer.

Arabella raised an eyebrow. “When was this?”
“When Jess found out I was technically blackmailing the Dursleys into being nice to me, she decided to test them a little.” Harry smirked. “She can’t stand them, you see. She borrowed me for a day to help her with a bit of shopping in London – she took me to the London Aquarium instead. That afternoon, after lunch, we were talking about places we could go, when I had the idea to go to Diagon Alley.”

Lily smiled at him. “That was nice of you. How’d you hide your scar?”

Harry shrugged. “Wore a hat. And Jess took me to get prescription sunglasses years ago, so I could wear them and still be able to see properly. Since Arabella was working that day, I dragged Jess into Creature Comforts to say hi.”

“And did I seem to think she was under a Memory Charm?” Arabella asked.

Harry frowned. “You didn’t say anything to me if you did. Of course, I only told you and Mandy about the dreams while I was at Hogwarts, not before, so you don’t have the full story.”

“She had a new dream by the way. I’ll send you the details when we’ve looked at it.”

Ron checked his watch. “Guys, Dad’s going to send a search party after us in a minute.”

“Oh, yeah!” Harry turned to the others. “Sorry; we’ve been sent on a water mission.”

“Make it sound more dramatic than it was.” Hermione teased.

Mandy laughed. “Off you go then. We’ll see you all later.”

Departing with a wave, the four teenagers jogged off through the tents. Adult wizards were beginning to emerge and cooking breakfast. Some were lighting fires with their wands, after furtive looks around; others were striking matches with dubious looks on their faces as though sure it would never work.

Lily rolled her eyes.

“Honestly.” Hermione hissed. “Muggles do without magic all their lives; they can’t do without it for a few days?”

“Thank you.” Lily agreed.

One wizard who overheard her held up a box of matches. “You do it then!”

Hermione rolled her eyes, took the box, struck a match and lit the fire. “You’re welcome.” She re-joined the others, giving Harry a warning glare when he started to snigger.

“Look on his face.” Harry laughed. “He’d have looked less surprised if you’d lit the match and it’d turned into an elephant.”

“An elephant?” Fred asked. “Not likely. A snake maybe …”

Hermione recognised the lead-up to a new product and groaned. “Now you’ve done it.”

As excitement in the air mounted, Hermione began to worry about that evening. Would she be able to stay conscious with all the emotions around her?

Sirius looked worried. “Hermione?”

“I can shut them off.” Hermione assured him. “I was fine.”

She’d noticed that negative emotions took the most out of her, giving her a terrible migraine. Would that be the same for positive emotions?

“Is it?” Lily asked.

Hermione shrugged. “I don’t get as tired with positive emotions, but too much at once can cause havoc with my head.”

“Er … is it my eyes or has everything gone green?” Ron asked.

“Irish supporters.” James grinned.

Shaken from her thoughts, Hermione glanced around and saw that it wasn’t just Ron’s eyes. They had walked right into the midst of the Irish supporters; a patch of tents that were all covered with a layer of thick shamrocks. They had scarcely gone three paces, when they heard their names again.

“Harry! Ron! Hermione!”

Seamus Finnigan, another fourth year Gryffindor, was sitting in front of his own shamrock-covered tent with his mother, and his best friend, Dean Thomas.

“That was nice of them.” Mandy commented. “To take Dean with them, I mean.”

“Nah, that’s what friends do.” James told her with a grin.

They greeted them happily, introducing Ginny as well.

“Like the decorations?” said Seamus, grinning. “The Ministry’s not too happy.”

“Oh, come on.” James grinned. “Why shouldn’t they? I bet the Bulgarians are doing the same thing.”

“Ah, why shouldn’t we show our colours?” said Mrs Finnigan. “You should what the Bulgarians have got dangling all over their tents.

“What’s the emblem for Bulgaria?” Lily asked thoughtfully.

“I don’t think there is one.” Remus frowned. “Might be the flag, I suppose.”

You’ll be supporting Ireland, of course?” she added, eyeing them beadily.

“What else are they going to say?” Sirius asked with a smirk.

When they had assured her that they were indeed supporting Ireland, they set off again, though, as Ron said, “Like we’d say anything else surrounded by that lot.”

“I wonder what the Bulgarians have dangling over their tents.” Hermione mused out loud.

“Let’s go and have a look.” Harry suggested, gesturing to a patch of tents up-field that had the Bulgarian flag fluttering overhead.

The tents here had no plant-life, but every tent had the same poster attached to it; a poster of a very surly face with heavy black eyebrows that was blinking and scowling at them.

“Must be that player they were talking about at dinner.” Regulus realised.

“Krum.” Ron said quietly.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Viktor Krum.” Ginny elaborated, gesturing to the poster. “The Bulgarian Seeker.”

“He looks really grumpy.” Hermione commented, glancing at the many posters.

Hermione held back a snigger. Viktor had confided in her at Christmas that he hated the publicity (rather like Harry) – magical photographs had a way of knowing when their subject didn’t want to be there.

At least his photos weren’t like Harry’s and needed someone to drag him into the frame.

“Grumpy?” Ron repeated incredulously. “Who cares what he looks like? He’s unbelievable! He’s really young too. Only just eighteen or something.”

Regulus gaped at the book. “Eighteen and he’s playing internationally?”

Harry gave a low whistle. “That is impressive.”

“Yeah, it is.” James agreed.

Ron nodded. “He’s a genius. You just wait until tonight; you’ll see.”

Ginny leaned over to Hermione. “Changed his tune, didn’t he?”

“Ron’s in love.” Ginny whispered to Hermione.

There was already a queue for the tap, so they came to a halt right behind two men who were arguing loudly.

Hermione and Ginny began sniggering at the memory.

Hermione wasn’t paying much attention to them until Ginny elbowed her ribs with a slight giggle, causing her to glance at them and her mouth to drop open. One of them was a very old wizard wearing a flowery nightgown.

Lily burst out laughing.

“I saw this in a Muggle shop!” Ginny insisted in a gruff voice, before falling into giggles again.

The other was a Ministry wizard, who was holding a pair of pinstripe trousers and almost crying with exasperation.

“Muggle women wear them, Archie, not the men! Men wear these! Put them on, Archie, there’s a good chap!” Hermione couldn’t continue, using Harry for support. She fought to regain her breath and started reading again.

In utter shock, the quartet watched as the Ministry wizard tried desperately to convince his companion to change his outfit, but ‘Archie’ steadfastly refused, finally insisting that “I like a nice, healthy breeze around my privates, thanks”.

Everyone had lost it by now. Even Narcissa and Regulus were sniggering.

Hermione and Ginny were, at this point, overcome by giggles, so they ducked out of the line …

“Smart move.” Addie gasped out through laughter.

… leaning on each other for support, until Archie had collected his water and moved on.

Once they had their water, they walked back to their tent a lot more slowly. Here and there, they saw other familiar faces; other Hogwarts students and their families. Oliver Wood, the old captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team who had just graduated, dragged Harry over to introduce him to his parents.

“Best part about that was I knew it had nothing to do with the Boy-Who-Lived thing.” Harry remarked. “Just because I’m a good Seeker.”

Ernie Macmillan, a fourth year Hufflepuff, hailed them next and, a little further on, they saw Cho Chang, the fifth year Ravenclaw Seeker. She smiled and waved at them, causing Harry to slop water down his front as he waved back.

Harry turned bright red. “Thanks, Hermione.”

Hermione stared at the next paragraph and was about to skip it, but Ginny tugged the book out of her hands and read it for her.

Ginny and Hermione exchanged an amused glance, but Hermione wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

Harry looked at Hermione questioningly, but she stared at the ground.

She, Ron and Harry had always been a trio. Could she and Ron handle Harry dating someone?

Hermione grimaced. “That sounded more selfish than it did in my head.” She looked at Harry. “I only mean that it’s always been the three of us and I’m worried that whoever you date – hell, whoever any of us date – won’t be able to handle that and we’ll pull apart.”

“Never.” Harry stated. “Come on, Hermione, we need you too much. We’re the ones who need to worry.”

Hermione chuckled. “Oh, Harry, I’m not going anywhere. You need me too much.”

Harry nudged her lightly, rolling his eyes. “Look, neither of us is dating anyone – let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“Fine.” Hermione took the book back from Ginny.

She shook herself out of it; the emotions around the two of them were only slightly stronger than platonic. There was nothing to worry about yet.

Before Ron could comment, Harry pointed out a large group of teenagers who didn’t go to Hogwarts. “Who d’you recon they are? They don’t go to Hogwarts, do they?”

Harry blushed. “Yeah, I know. Didn’t realise there were foreign schools, I’m an idiot.”

“No you’re not.” Lily chided. “You’re just your father’s son.”

“Exact – Hey!” James protested.

“’Spect they go to some foreign school.” Ron answered, still smirking. “I know there are others; never met anyone who went to one though.”

“Bill had a pen-friend at a school in Brazil.” Ginny reminded him. “Years and years ago. He wanted to go on an exchange trip, but Mum and Dad couldn’t afford it. His pen-friend got all offended when he said he wasn’t going and sent him a cursed hat. It made his ears shrivel up.”

“That’s not very nice.” Lily frowned. “It was hardly Bill’s fault.”

Ron laughed. “I’d forgotten about that.”

Hermione saw Harry glance at her and nodded a confirmation that Ron and Ginny weren’t pulling his leg about foreign wizarding schools.

“Would we do that?” Ginny asked innocently.

“Yes.” Harry answered flatly. “In a heartbeat.”

“You’ve been ages!” George called when they reached the Weasley tents.

“Met a few people.” Ron explained shortly, setting the pots down. “You got the fire started yet?”

Fred rolled his eyes. “What do you think?”

“Dad’s having fun with the matches.” Fred explained, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Mr Weasley looked like he was having the time of his life …

“He was.” Ginny smiled fondly.

… splintered matches littering the ground around him. “Oops!” He finally managed to light a match and dropped it in surprise.

“Come here, Mr. Weasley.” Hermione took the matches from him and showed him how to do it.

“That was nice of you.” Lily smiled.

“No, I was hungry.” Hermione admitted.

Once the fire was lit, it was another hour before it was hot enough to cook anything.

“About par for the course.” Lily commented.

“Par for the what?” James asked in bewilderment.

“It’s …” Lily sighed. “Muggle sport analogy and far too difficult to explain. It basically means, that’s normal.”

However, there was plenty to watch while they waited. Their tents were pitched right next to what seemed to be the thoroughfare to the pitch and Ministry members kept hurrying past, greeting Arthur as they did so. Arthur kept a running commentary going, mainly for Harry and Hermione’s benefit. The other Weasleys didn’t seem that interested …

“We’d heard it all before.” Fred shrugged.

… probably, Hermione reflected, because they already knew the ins and outs of the Ministry.

“That was Cuthbert Mockridge, Head of the Goblin Liaison Office …

“That’s changed.” David murmured.

… here comes Gilbert Wimple, he’s with the Committee on Experimental Charms …

“Ah, he’s there now.” David said. “Had a bit of a mishap a few weeks ago. Wonder if he’s still got those horns.”

… he’s had those horns for a while now …

“Guess so.” James sniggered.

… Hello, Arnie … Arnold Peasegood, he’s an Obliviator – member of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, you know …

“They have to have people who’s only job is to Obliviate Muggles?” Lily asked in surprise.

“Not at the moment.” David frowned. “Normally the AMRS officials take care of it. Things must be getting worse.”

… that that’s Bode and Croaker … they’re Unspeakables …”

“They’re what?” Lily asked.

“It’s explained.” Hermione interrupted before anyone could answer.

“They’re what?” Harry asked.

Lily smiled. There’d been several instances where Harry had said the same thing as James, but this hadn’t been common.

Hermione nodded in agreement. She’d heard of most of the other positions, but this one had her flummoxed.

“From the Department of Mysteries.” Arthur elaborated. “Top secret; no idea what they get up to. I do believe your mother was one for a short while.”

Lily raised an eyebrow. “Really? I thought you said I trained as a Healer?”

“You did.” Sirius frowned. “I didn’t know … Oh, wait a second. There was a short time after graduation when Lily used to disappear into the Ministry. She said she was looking for a job, but we never saw her.”

“Wouldn’t I have told you?” Lily asked.

“Not if you were just trying it out.” Sirius answered. “Unspeakables aren’t allowed to tell anyone what they do at work, not even their own families. It wouldn’t have surprised me if they did try to get Lily into the department …”

“Why?” Lily asked in surprise. “There’s nothing special about me.”

“I’d disagree.” James muttered.

“Well, Jen, James and I already had our hearts set on the Auror Squads.” Sirius explained. “Addie was … unavailable. After the four of us, you’re the next most powerful of our generation. You’d have made a good addition to the department, but I can’t see Lily keeping more secrets …”

“More secrets?” Remus asked.

“A lot of what we did with the Order was kept secret.” Sirius admitted. “Even amongst Order members. Part of what caused the cloud of suspicion and probably part of the reason Peter was able to fool us all so easily. When he said he needed to run errands for his mother or something, we believed him, because we were all using similar excuses. Anyway, Lily wouldn’t have been comfortable not being able to tell us what she was doing at work.” He concluded. “So that’s probably why she went into Healing instead.”

“Really?” Harry asked in surprise. “Any idea what Dad did?”

“You didn’t know?” James asked sadly.

“Who would have told me?” Harry asked in response.

Arthur laughed.

“It’s not a laughing matter.” Lily frowned.

“Ask a silly question.” Harry shrugged. “From what I’ve heard, Dad was really good.”

“Oh, Harry, James was an Auror. One of the youngest to graduate the Auror School, actually.

David smiled proudly. “Really?”

“Well, that was less to do with James and more to do with the Ministry condensing the training.” Sirius admitted. “But James and I graduated second and third of our class.”

“Who came out first?” James asked.

“Jen.” Sirius answered with a smirk. “I told you – she was damn good.”

They’d condensed the training, you see, to one year, because of the war.” He jumped to his feet and began cooking sausages and eggs.

“Auror?” Harry asked Hermione quietly.

“A Dark-Wizard catcher.” Hermione explained. “It means that your father would have been near the front-line in the war against You-Know-Who. Didn’t you know that?”

“That my father was an Auror?” Harry asked. “No. Did you?”

“No.” Hermione shook her head. “I knew Sirius was one …

“Because of the badge.” Harry finished. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Hermione shrugged. “I wanted to figure it out myself first. And I already knew he was an auror.”

“How?” Harry asked.

Hermione blushed. “I did a lot of research over third year. Only found one mention of it though.”

“Probably because the Ministry didn’t want to draw attention to it.” Harry muttered.

… but everything about your family seems to have been removed from the library.”

David frowned. “That’s odd.”

“Maybe Dumbledore didn’t want people to have more of an excuse to talk about Harry.” James suggested.

“No.” Hermione shook her head. “No one bothered trying to look things up. Well, except for me, of course.”

Harry paled. “Do you think I really am an Heir of Slytherin?”

“No.” David and James answered together.

“We can trace our family tree back far enough to know that there’s no trace of Slytherin.” David explained. “Even if there is, it’s too small to be recognised.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Potters have always been in Gryffindor; I know that for certain.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean much.” Jen pointed out. “Look at our family.”

“Your family aren’t heirs though, are they?” Hermione asked. “It’s one thing to get sorted into a different house than the rest of your family, but something tells me having the actual bloodline might have something to do with it.”

But Harry had made a good point.

What was it about the Potter family that Dumbledore didn’t want anyone to know?

“Dad?” James asked. “Any dark secrets you haven’t been telling me?”

“Not that I can think of.” David answered, still frowning. “Unless … Harry, who’s the Earl of Richmond?”

Harry frowned, glancing at Hermione. “Well … I didn’t do much history like that at school, but I thought there was only a Duke of Richmond …”

“Charles Gordon-Lennox.” Hermione filled in. “I think. I went to Goodwood House a few years ago during the summer. What’s this got to do with the Potters?”

“Because there is an Earl of Richmond.” David answered with a sigh. “And in your time, it would be James. The Potters are an Ancient and Noble House – you should have been informed of all this on your eleventh birthday, especially since the magical world considers you the head of the family.”

“So Dumbledore doesn’t want me to know that.” Harry frowned. “And that’s why there aren’t any books in the library.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to overburden Harry.” Lily suggested, looking faintly overwhelmed.

“Legally, he has to be informed.” James told her. “And Dumbledore’s not above the law. It’s a duty thing.”

“So Dumbledore’s illegally denying Harry access to his inheritance and family history.” Hermione concluded. “And that’s the end of the chapter.”

Chapter Text

“Succinct summary.” Fred commented as he took the book.

“Were you ever going to tell me any of this?” Lily asked James weakly.

James grinned at her. “Eventually.”

“After you get married.” Sirius corrected. “I flooed in in the aftermath – Lily needed a rather strong glass of firewhiskey. Of course, I think that was because you’d just received a ‘congratulations on your wedding’ card from the royal family.”

The remaining colour drained from Lily’s face and she closed her eyes. “That was probably the reason. The royal family recognises it?”
David nodded. “The royal family and the Muggle prime minister are all aware of magic, although the latter has to be obliviated as soon as he leaves office.”

Sirius disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a strong cup of tea, handing it to Lily. “Looks like you need this.”

Lily took it but hesitated. “Is this the same strength tea you said you gave James when Harry was born?”

Sirius smiled. “Not quite, but it does have a small shot of firewhiskey in it.”

Lily shrugged. “What the hell, I think I need it.”

Fred turned to the next chapter. “Well, now that our future Mrs Potter …” Lily blushed “… has calmed down a little, I shall continue.”

Chapter Nine

Bagman and Crouch

“You meet Bagman?” Sirius asked.

Harry nodded. “And Crouch, unfortunately.”

Before Hermione could really think this through, Percy, Bill and Charlie came strolling out of the woods towards them.

“Just apparated, Dad!” Percy called in his usual pompous manner.

Fred rolled his eyes. “He can be a complete idiot sometimes. Shouting that where Muggles could hear.”

“Ah, excellent; lunch!”

About halfway through their lunch, Arthur jumped to his feet, waving and grinning at a man who was striding towards them. “Ah, the man of the moment! Ludo!”

Hermione glanced up and choked on her sausage …

James and Sirius sniggered.

Addie rolled her eyes and smacked them both over the head. “Mind, gutter, out!”

… Harry patted her on the back, a look of something close to shock on his face.

“Why?” James asked.

Ludo Bagman was the most recognisable person they’d seen all day, including Archie in his flowery nightgown. Bagman looked like a powerfully built man who had slightly gone to seed; his robes were stretched across a large belly Hermione was sure he wouldn’t have had when he played professional Quidditch.

“I should say not.” Sirius frowned, looking slightly betrayed.

His nose was squashed …

“Bludger.” Sirius and James said together.

… but his round blue eyes, short blond hair and rosy complexion made him look like an overgrown school-boy.

“You saw it too then?” Harry sniggered.

But his robes were the most noticeable thing about him.

David groaned. “No wonder that Muggle’s getting suspicious.”

They were long Quidditch robes in thick horizontal stripes of black and yellow and there was an enormous picture of a wasp splashed across his chest.

“Wimbourne Wasps.” Addie and Sirius said in unison.

He was walking as though he had springs on his feet and was clearly in a state of wild excitement.

“Ahoy there! Arthur, old man!” He huffed as he reached the campfire. “What a day, eh? What a day! Could we have asked for more perfect weather? A cloudless night coming …

“Good conditions.” James said happily.

… and not a hiccup in the arrangements … Not much for me to do!”

“Somehow I doubt that.” Ginny murmured near Hermione’s left ear.

As if to prove Ginny’s point, a group of haggard-looking Ministry wizards went rushing past them, pointing at some sort of magical fire in the distance which was sending violet sparks twenty feet in the air.

Lily sighed. “Wonderful.”

To Hermione’s surprise, Percy, who had been saying just the day before how much he disapproved of the way Ludo Bagman acted and ran his department, hurried forwards with his hand outstretched.

“Suck-up.” Jen muttered bitterly.

Harry caught her eye and they both grinned. Apparently his disapproval didn’t stop him from wanting to make a good impression.

“Ah, yes!” Arthur grinned.

“Dad saw right through it too.” Ginny grinned.

“This is my son, Percy; he’s just started at the Ministry. And this is Fred – no, George, sorry – that’s Fred …

Fred shook his head. “He had it right the first time.”

… Bill, Charlie, Ron – my daughter, Ginny – and Ron’s friends, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter.”

Bagman, who had shaken hands with everyone as their names were mentioned, did a tiny double-take at Harry’s name and his eyes performed the familiar flick upwards to his scar.

Harry rolled his eyes. “I swear people don’t think I notice.”

“Everyone,” Arthur continued, oblivious to the exchange, “this is Ludo Bagman. You know who he is; it’s thanks to him we’ve got such good seats.”

Bagman waved his hand beaming, as if to say that it had been nothing. “Fancy a flutter on the match, Arthur?”

Lily raised an eyebrow, setting her empty cup on a nearby table. “He is not gambling in front of my son.”

He asked, eagerly rattling his pockets, which seemed to be full of a large amount of gold.

“I think he is.” James told his outraged girlfriend.

“I’ve already got Roddy Pontner betting me Bulgaria will score first – I’ve offered him nice odds, considering Ireland’s front three are the strongest I’ve seen in years – and little Agatha Timms has put up half-shares in her eel farm on a week-long match.”

David rolled his eyes. “Bit much, that.”

“You know, Lily Potter would skin you alive if she was here now.”

“Damn right, I would.” Lily muttered.

Bagman turned around. “Mandy! Arabella!

“We’re on first name terms with him?” Arabella asked in surprise.

“Mandy works with him.” Sirius reminded him. “Or for him, I suppose.”

Lily smiled at them. “Thank you!”

Good to see you! Er … why?”

Mandy nodded to Harry. “Gambling in front of her son.” She turned to Arthur. “I don’t believe we’ve met.

Amanda Cotswold; a friend of Lily’s.”

“Didn’t we say last book that Lily babysat the twins?” Mandy asked.

“You did.” Sirius confirmed. “But it was always Molly who dropped them off.”

“And Arabella Figg; same.” Arabella put in.

Arthur shook their hands. “Arthur Weasley.”

“I just remembered a promise I made to James if Harry’s first professional Quidditch game happened without him.” Mandy continued, holding up a camera with a cheerful smile.

“Oh!” Hermione dived into her bag. “I have that picture! No, I don’t.”

There was another flash of light and Harry picked it up. “But I do.”

“That doesn’t sound like something I’d ask for.” James commented as the photograph was passed around. “Lily, definitely, but something tells me that wasn’t the promise.”

“Scrunch together everyone and smile!”

“That was the promise?” Hermione asked, once the photo had been taken.

“No.” Arabella admitted.

James smirked. “Told you so.”

She fished a few galleons out of her pocket and handed them to Harry. “Get yourself a souvenir.”

That sounds more like me.” James nodded. “Although he’s got the money …”

“It’s the principle of the thing.” Arabella finished. “I get it.”

“You don’t need to …” Harry protested.

“Nonsense.” Arabella cut him off breezily. “It is my constitutional right as your God-Crazy-Cat-Lady.”

The girls burst into giggles.

“I never understood that.” Harry admitted.

“Inside joke.” Lily told him, catching her breath. “You kind of had to be there.”

“My what?” Harry asked.

“Another time.” Mandy grinned. “We need to go and rescue Remus from the matches.

“I’m a half-blood, Mandy.” Remus reminded her. “I’m sure I can handle it.”

Enjoy the game everyone!”

They waved until they were out of earshot, then Bagman turned back to Arthur. “So what do you say?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “I see you two made an impression.”

“Oh … go on then.” Arthur relented. “Let’s see … a galleon on Ireland to win.”

“A galleon?” Bagman looked a bit disappointed, but recovered quickly. “Very well; any other takers?”

“They’re children!” Lily hissed.

“Bill, Charlie and Percy aren’t.” James pointed out fairly.

“They’re a bit young to be gambling.” Arthur pointed out. “Molly wouldn’t like …”

“We’ll bet thirty-seven galleons, fifteen sickles and three knuts,” Fred interrupted, as he and George quickly pooled all their money, “that Ireland wins – but Viktor Krum gets the Snitch.

There was a sharp intake of breath.

“That’s a risky bet.” Regulus commented. “But it might just work.”

“How so?” James asked. “That hardly ever happens.”

“But the book’s mentioned that Ireland has a particularly strong team and that Bulgaria has a particularly good Seeker.” Regulus pointed out. “It’s possible.”

Oh, and we’ll throw in a fake wand.”

“Is that possible?” Hermione asked quietly, while Fred dug around in his pockets for the wand.

Harry nodded. “If Krum gets the Snitch when Ireland are more than a hundred and fifty points ahead.”

“You don’t want to be showing Mr. Bagman rubbish like that!” Percy hissed, when Fred had finally extracted it, but Bagman didn’t seem to think it was rubbish at all.

“Man after our own hearts.” James chuckled. “Why don’t you like him?”

Fred scowled. “I’ll tell you later.”

On the contrary, his boyish face shone with excitement as he took the wand from Fred and, when it gave a loud squawk and turned into a rubber chicken, he roared with laughter.

“Excellent! I haven’t seen one that convincing in years! I’d pay five galleons for that!”

“Who wouldn’t?” James asked.

Percy froze in what seemed to be stunned disapproval.

“Boys …” Arthur murmured. “I don’t want you betting … that’s all your savings … your mother …”

“I’m surprised Molly didn’t kill you.” Sirius commented.

“She never found out.” Fred told him.

“Don’t be such a spoilsport, Arthur!” Bagman boomed, rattling his pockets excitedly. “They’re old enough to know what they want!”

“You weren’t of age though, were you?” Lily asked.

“No.” Fred admitted. “But we would be the next April.”

Ginny frowned. “I don’t think he should be encouraging them.”

“He shouldn’t be.” David agreed.

Ron hushed her. “It has to be legal, Gin …

“It’s legal.” David admitted, when everyone turned to him. “But not advised.”

… or he wouldn’t let them. And they might actually be on to something.”

“You recon Ireland will win, but Krum will get the Snitch?” Bagman repeated with a grin. “Not a chance, boys, not a chance … I’ll give you excellent odds on that one. We’ll add five galleons for the wand, shall we?”

Arthur shrugged helplessly at Bill and Charlie …

“He could stop them.” James pointed out.

“No, Dad tends to pick his battles.” Ginny shrugged.

… as Bagman jotted the twins’ names down in a notebook.

“Cheers.” George took the slip of parchment and tucked it away inside his shirt.

Bagman turned cheerfully back to Arthur. “Couldn’t do me a brew, I suppose? I’m keeping an eye out for Barty Crouch. My Bulgarian opposite number’s making difficulties and I can’t understand a word he’s saying.

Hermione hid a smile, remembering the Bulgarian Minister’s response to Cornelius Fudge.

Barty’ll be able to sort it out. He speaks about a hundred and fifty languages.”

“That’s impressive.” James commented.

Hermione was about to comment on this, when Percy suddenly abandoned his poker-stiff stance of disapproval and began practically writhing with excitement.

“Writhing with excitement?” Jen repeated in amusement. “Really?”

“Mr. Crouch? He speaks over two hundred! Mermish and Gobbledegook and Troll …”

 “Anyone can speak Troll.” Fred interrupted, waving his hand dismissively. “All you do is point and grunt.”

The Marauders laughed and James, being closest, gave Fred a high-five.

Percy gave Fred a nasty look and vigorously stoked the fire.

“Any sign of Bertha Jorkins?” Arthur asked, as Bagman settled himself next to them on the ground.

“Not a dickey bird!” Bagman answered, cheerfully.

“You’d think he’d be a bit more concerned.” Lily frowned.

“But she’ll turn up. Poor old Bertha … memory like a leaky cauldron …

“That’s not Bertha.” Addie stated. “She had an excellent memory.”

“How do you know her?” Remus asked. “I can’t think who she is.”

Addie turned slightly pink and glanced at Sirius. “It’s a … long story.”

… and no sense of direction. Lost, you take my word for it! She’ll wander back into the office in October, thinking that it’s still July.”

“You don’t think it might be time to send someone to look for her?” Arthur suggested tentatively, handing Bagman his tea.

“Barty Crouch keeps saying that!” Bagman admitted, his eyes widening. “But we really can’t spare anyone at the moment …

“Surely the safety of a young woman is more important than Quidditch!” Lily protested. “Why haven’t DMLE launched an investigation yet?”

“There’s no proof she’s missing.” David answered. “Especially since she’s abroad.”

… Ah, talk of the devil! Barty!”

A wizard had just apparated next to the campfire; a wizard who couldn’t possibly have made more of a contrast with Ludo Bagman, sprawled on the ground in his Quidditch robes. Crouch was a stiff, upright, elderly man dressed in an impeccably crisp suit and tie, with an almost unnaturally straight parting in his grey hair and a moustache that looked as though it had been trimmed using a slide-rule.

“Sounds boring.” James commented. “No wonder Padfoot doesn’t like him.”

Sirius smiled weakly. “Trust me, Prongs; I wish that was the reason.”

Hermione exchanged a disbelieving glance with Harry. It was clear that he too had seen why Percy idolised him: Percy was a strict believer in following the rules and Crouch had complied with the rule of Muggle-dressing so thoroughly, that Hermione doubted that even a Muggle aware of the magical world would have guessed Crouch for what he really was.

“He was very well disguised.” Harry conceded. “I don’t think even Uncle Vernon would have guessed.”

“Pull up a bit of grass, Barty!” Bagman offered brightly, patting the ground beside him.

“No, thank you, Ludo.” Crouch said impatiently. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. The Bulgarians are insisting we add another twelve seats to the Top Box.”

“Oh, is that what they’re after?” Bagman asked. “I thought the chap was asking to borrow a pair of tweezers. Bit of a strong accent.”

“How on earth do you get those two mixed up?” Remus asked incredulously.

“Mr. Crouch!” Percy had sunk into a kind of half-bow that made him look rather like a hunchback, in Hermione’s opinion. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Suck-up.” Jen ‘coughed’ again.

“Oh!” Crouch seemed surprised to see Percy there. “Yes – thank you, Weatherby.”

“And he can’t even get his name right.” Sirius sniggered.

Fred, George, Hermione, Harry, Ron and Ginny snorted into their own cups, while Percy, red around the ears, busied himself with the kettle. Bill and Charlie were too mature to laugh at something so trivial, but they were still smirking at him.

“Oh, and I’ve been wanting a word with you too, Arthur.” Crouch added. “Ali Bashir’s on the warpath. He wants a word with you about your embargo on flying carpets.”

“There’s always one.” Regulus sighed.

“It’d be a good idea if Muggles couldn’t get hold of them.” David added.

“Why can’t they just be given a Muggle-repelling Charm?” Lily asked.

“Well, because …” David trailed off. “Actually, Lily, that’s a very good question.”

“Because they wear off too regularly and you need Ministry approval to cast them.” Regulus answered. “Mother had to apply for new permission to cover Grimmauld Place.”

“Do we have Ministry approval?” Hermione asked curiously.

“No.” Sirius answered. “But then, as far as the Ministry are concerned, the place doesn’t exist anymore.”

Arthur sighed heavily. “I sent him an owl about that just last week! If I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a hundred times: carpets are defined as a Muggle Artefact by the Registry of Proscribed Charmable Objects, but will he listen?”

“I doubt it.” Crouch took the cup from Percy. “He’s desperate to import here.”

“Well, they’ll never replace brooms in Britain, will they?” Bagman asked.

“No.” James and Sirius answered.

“Ali thinks there’s a niche in the market for a family vehicle.” Crouch explained.

“Well … that’s true.” David conceded. “But most people floo everywhere or take the Knight Bus.”

“I remember that my grandfather had an Axminster that could seat twelve – but that was before carpets were banned of course.” He added sharply, as though not wanting leave anybody in any doubt that his family had always abided strictly by the rules.

“His son says that.” Alice commented.

Harry nearly choked. “Really?”
Alice nodded. “Yeah, he’s a few years below us, Hufflepuff. I tutor him in Herbology sometimes.”

Neville seemed ready to have a heart attack, but he hid it well.

“So, been keeping busy, Barty?” Bagman asked breezily.

“Fairly.” Crouch answered dryly.

Sirius snorted. “Who knew he had a sense of humour?”

Addie squeezed his hand to get his attention. He glanced at her and she raised an eyebrow, silently asking permission. He nodded slightly and she concentrated, his voice floating into her head. “He was the one who sent me to Azkaban – without trial.”

Addie gasped. “Bastard! You know what – that’s too kind – it’s an insult to all the others. I could … why that …”

“Calm down.” Sirius soothed, tweaking her hair gently. “I think you’re scaring people.”

“What did he do?” Addie whispered.

Her future counterpart shook her head grimly. “Don’t ask.”

“Organising Portkeys across five continents is no mean feat, Ludo.”

“I suppose you’ll both be glad when this is over?” Arthur offered.

“Glad?” Bagman repeated incredulously. “Don’t know when I’ve had more fun! Still it’s not as though we haven’t got anything to look forward to, eh, Barty? Eh? Plenty left to organise, eh?”

James raised an eyebrow. “Think that’s the Top Secret event that Percy was on about?”

Hermione glanced at Harry, Ron and Ginny; the latter shrugged in confusion.

“We agreed not to make the announcement until all the details …”

“Oh, details!” Bagman interrupted, dismissing the word easily. “They’ve all signed, haven’t they? They’ve agreed, haven’t they? I bet you anything these kids’ll know soon enough. I mean, it’s happening at Hogwarts …”

Jen looked thoughtful. “So it’s something to do with Hogwarts that involves Magical Games and Sports and International Cooperation. Any ideas?”

“Only one.” David frowned. “But that can’t be it – it’s been banned for over a century.”

“Ludo, we need to meet the Bulgarians, you know.” Crouch cut him off sharply …

“Well, whatever it is, Crouch doesn’t want it getting out yet.” Sirius commented.

… handing his un-drunk tea back to Percy. “Thank you for the tea, Weatherby.”

Bagman struggled to his feet, swigging down the last of his tea, the gold in his pockets clinking merrily. “See you all later! You’ll be up in the Top Box with me; I’m commentating!” He waved, Crouch nodded curtly and the two wizards disapparated.

“What’s happening at Hogwarts, Dad?” Fred asked at once. “What’s happening?”

“They’re not going to tell you.” Remus predicted.

Arthur smiled mysteriously. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

“It’s classified information, until such time as the Ministry decides to release it.” Percy added stiffly. “Mr. Crouch was quite right not to disclose it.”

George groaned. “Oh, shut up, Weatherby.”

There were a few snickers as Fred grinned in remembrance. “He beat me to it.” He said ruefully. “Right, who’s next?”

Chapter Text

“I think I’d better.” Alice decided. “Since this probably has the match and someone’s got to keep the fans calm.”

“You don’t like flying then, Mum?” Neville asked quietly.

Alice chuckled. “I’m a decent flier, but I prefer having my feet firmly on the ground.”

Neville grinned. “Me too.”

“Frank, on the other hand,” she added with a smirk, “seems to only have to look at a broom and he falls over.”

Chapter Ten

The Quidditch World Cup

“Alice, can you read French?” Hermione asked suddenly.

“I can read it, but I’m not fluent.” Alice told her. “Why?”

“Comes up.” Hermione answered vaguely, catching Draco’s eye. She tapped her head and he closed his eyes, apparently catching on to her warning that his emotions could well be about to get broadcast.

That evening, pushing the encounter with Bagman and Crouch and what might possibly be happening at Hogwarts out of their minds, Harry, Hermione and the Weasleys took their seats in the Top Box …

“You were in the Top Box?” James groaned enviously.

“Yep.” Harry answered casually. “Great view.”

… clutching their souvenirs. All of them had green shamrocks attached to their hats that were screaming the names of the Irish players, but Ron had bought a tiny model of Viktor Krum as well.

“Which ended up snapped under my bed.” Harry added under his breath.

Hermione put a hand over her mouth to hide the smile that slid onto her face.

Harry had insisted on buying the four of them a pair of Omnioculars each, assuring Ron that he wouldn’t be buying him any Christmas presents for the next ten years in compensation (Ginny and Hermione just hadn’t complained).

“Well, of course not.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “That’s just the way Harry is. If he wants to buy us things, then why not let him?”

“I’m glad.” Harry told her. “I like being able to do things like that.”

“Don’t worry about it, mate.” Fred assured him. “Ron’s just touchy.”

Hermione wasn’t paying much attention to anything other than the massive stadium they were sitting in and the excitement in the air – it wasn’t as bad as she’d thought – until Harry spoke.

“Dobby?!”

“No way …” Remus muttered.

Hermione and Ron’s heads whipped around. They’d never met the house-elf who had tried to save Harry’s life and ended up putting him in more danger than he would have been otherwise, but the house-elf seemed confused.

“Did sir just call me Dobby?” She squeaked from between her fingers.

“Not Dobby then.” Lily concluded.

“Sorry.” Harry said. “I just thought you were someone I knew.”

“Well, the chances of it being Dobby were rather low.” James commented.

Harry shrugged. “I didn’t know how many house-elves there were back then.”

“But I knows Dobby too, sir!” The elf squeaked.

“Small world.” Jen remarked.

She was shielding her face, even though the Box wasn’t brightly lit. “My name is Winky, sir, and you … You is surely Harry Potter!”

“Yeah, I am.” Harry grinned.

“About time you had a proper response.” Fred joked. “Better than ‘oh, him’.”

Harry rolled his eyes, remembering the incident. “Shut up.”

“But Dobby talks about you all the time, sir!” Winky said, lowering her hands slightly.

“I bet he does.” Jen commented. “Given the circumstances.”

“How is he?” Harry asked. “How’s freedom suiting him?”

“Ah, sir,” Winky shook her head. “Ah, sir, meaning no disrespect, sir, but I is not sure you did Dobby a favour, sir, when you is setting him free.”

“Why not?” Lily asked in confusion.

“Most house-elves don’t take freedom well.” James explained quietly.

“Why?” Harry asked, clearly taken aback. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Freedom is going to Dobby’s head, sir.” Winky answered sadly. “Ideas above his station, sir. Can’t get another position, sir.”

“Why not?” Harry pressed.

Winky lowered her voice. “He is wanting paying for his work, sir!”

Regulus winced. “Yeah, that’s not good.”

“Well, why shouldn’t he get paid?” Lily asked practically. “If we hired human cleaners or cooks, they’d expect to be paid.”
“I agree with you,” Regulus said, to everyone’s surprise, “but the majority of families would rather take on a house-elf that doesn’t want paying.”

Hermione looked at Ron in confusion and saw that he was nodding in understanding.

“Paying?” Harry repeated blankly. “Well, why shouldn’t he be paid?”

“Ah, there’s the Lily in him.” Jen said cheerfully. “I was beginning to think she got lost.”

Remus chuckled affectionately. “You’ve got a strange sense of humour sometimes.”

“Sometimes?” Sirius questioned in an undertone.

Winky looked horrified and covered her face again. “House-elves is not being paid, sir! No, no, no. I says to Dobby, I says, go and find yourself a nice family and settle down, Dobby. He is getting up to all sorts of high-jinks, sir, what is unbecoming to a house-elf. You goes racketing around like this, Dobby, I says, and next thing I hear you’s up in front of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, like some common goblin!”

James pulled a face. “So you’ve gone from Dobby at one extreme to Winky at the other. Not the best experience with house-elves.”

“Well, it’s about time he had a bit of fun.” Harry maintained.

“House-elves is not supposed to have fun, Harry Potter.” Winky stated firmly. “House-elves does what they is told. I is not liking heights at all, Harry Potter,” she glanced at the edge of the Box and gulped, “but my master is sending me to the Top Box and I comes, sir.”

“That’s horrible!” Lily protested.

“Why’d he send you up here if you don’t like heights?” Harry asked the question that was flashing in Hermione’s head and making her blood boil.

“Probably doesn’t realise she has fears.” James stated grimly.

“Master … master wants me to save him a seat, Harry Potter, he is very busy.” Winky tilted her head to the empty seat next to her.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. That seat wasn’t empty.

“Winky is wishing she is back in master’s tent, Harry Potter, but Winky does as she is told. Winky is a good house-elf.” She cast another frightened look at the edge of the Box and closed her eyes completely.

Which would allow that bastard to steal my wand. Harry stifled a sigh. It was bizarre hearing about everything with hindsight.

“So that’s a house-elf.” Ron muttered. “Weird things, aren’t they?”

“Not usually.” David smiled slightly. “But she is a little strange, yes.”

“Dobby was weirder.” Harry told him.

“True.” James conceded.

Hermione frowned and began skimming through her programme, while Ron tested his Omnioculars. “Weird!” He said, twiddling a knob on the side. “I can make that guy down there pick his nose again … and again … and again.”

Arabella rolled her eyes. “And here we have the maturity levels of the average fourteen-year-old boy.”

Hermione was about to make a disgusted comment, when something in the velvet-covered programme caught her eye. “‘A display from the team mascots will precede the match.’”

“Oh, that’s always interesting.” Arthur agreed. “National teams bring creatures from their native land, you know, to put on a bit of a show.”

“That should be interesting.” Lily commented. “I wonder what they’ll bring.”
“Well Ireland will bring leprechauns probably.” Jen said. “Always a crowd-pleaser. Bulgaria … can’t think of anything off the top of my head.”

Over the next thirty minutes, the box filled around them and Mr. Weasley shook hands with several obviously important people. Percy reminded Hermione of a Muggle jack-in-the-box.

“A what?” Narcissa asked.

“It’s a box with a handle on the side.” Hermione explained. “You crank the handle and the lid pops open and plays a tune while a puppet on a spring jumps out at you. It’s a child’s toy.”

“And that’s considered entertainment?” Regulus asked sceptically.

“Well, apparently it’s rather amusing when you’re four.” Hermione said dryly.

He kept jumping up and down to greet people.

When Cornelius Fudge arrived, he greeted Harry like a favourite nephew …

Harry snorted, but didn’t say anything.

… much to the annoyance of Percy, who had bowed so low that his glasses had shattered.

James pulled a face. “I’d joke, but I feel his pain.”

Fudge seemed to be having some trouble with the Bulgarian Minister.

“Harry Potter! You do know who he is!” He repeated, loudly for the fifteenth time.

“Did he?” James asked.

Hermione nodded. “Yeah, he’s pretty much famous everywhere. Not so much in America, because Voldemort never got over there, but in Europe, definitely.

“He’s not going to suddenly understand.” Ron muttered to Harry. “Show him your scar, why don’t you?”
Harry self-consciously flattened his hair over his scar. “I’d rather not.”

“Would have been quicker.” James pointed out.

Harry pulled a face. “Probably.” He conceded. “But I hate it when people stare at my scar.”

“Harry Potter!”

Hermione stood up suddenly …

What are you going to do?” Lily asked curiously

… her head pounding. Excuse-moi, Monsieur. Parlez-vous français?

“Good evening, sir. Do you speak French?” Hermione translated. “I had to do something or I’d end up hitting Fudge – he was giving me a headache.”

The Bulgarian Minister nodded. “Ah, oui. Je parle anglais aussi, mais votre ministre est un idiot. Vous semblez pour avoir un cerveau. Peut-être que vous pourriez traduire, Mademoiselle?

As all the Blacks – having been forced to take French lessons growing up – fell about laughing (or merely snickered, in Regulus and Narcissa’s cases), Hermione smirked. “Ah, yes. I speak English as well, but your Minister is an idiot.”

Everyone else began laughing.
“You seem to have a brain.” Hermione continued. “Perhaps you could translate, Miss.”

“Certainement.”

“Certainly.” Hermione put in.

Hermione turned to Fudge. “Sir, he doesn’t speak a word of English …

Harry gasped. “Hermione!”

Hermione shrugged, a glint in her eye. “Who am I to ruin the man’s fun?”

… but he’s fluent in French. Would you like me to translate?” She didn’t intend to volunteer, but Fudge was being unnecessarily loud and her head wasn’t thanking him for it …

“No, it wasn’t.” Hermione muttered.

… with the already heightened emotions around them.

Despite the annoyance in the air …

“Of course.” Ginny sneered. “Can’t have a Muggle-born interacting with the Ministers, can we?”

“Is Fudge that prejudiced?” David asked with a frown.

“You heard the book.” Fred scowled. “Dad’s really popular in the Ministry, but his department consists of two wizards in a room the size of a broom cupboard. Fudge won’t begrudge them any more space.”

… Fudge sighed in relief. “Thank you, young lady. I’m no good with languages; no good at all. I really need old Barty for this.”

Hermione turned back to the Bulgarian Minister – Mr. Oblansk – and introduced herself and Harry, then, at Fudge’s request, everyone else in the box. Mr. Oblansk seemed to be entertaining himself by insulting everyone in French …

“I like this guy.” James decided with a grin.

… except for the Weasleys, whom he seemed to like …

“He didn’t like Percy though.” Hermione put in. “He liked the rest of you because you weren’t trying to suck up.”

… and Hermione had to fight not to laugh.

It wasn’t long, however, before an unwelcome – to her, at least – visitor entered the box: Lucius Malfoy and his wife and son.

Draco grimaced. “Here we go.”

Hermione barely heard Lucius introducing his wife and son to Fudge; she was focusing on the emotions around him.

Hermione blushed slightly. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Narcissa told her. “That’s what I’d do in that situation.”

He obviously felt himself better than Fudge …

“Well, irritatingly, he’s got a point.” Sirius admitted with a grimace.

… then again, who wasn’t – and, oddly enough, there was very little affection towards his wife and son.

“Betrothal.” Narcissa stated without a hint of concern. “Affection would have had nothing to do with it.”

Jen sighed, nestling into Remus’s arms. “I couldn’t live like that.”

Mrs. Malfoy – Narcissa, Hermione remembered from her extra reading in the library, one of Sirius’s cousins – felt no affection towards her husband at all, but seemed to dote on her son.

Narcissa smiled, squeezing Draco’s hand.

And Draco … Hermione wasn’t sure whether to be worried or relieved that he appeared to hate his father, although he did still love his mother.

“Relieved.” Draco and Narcissa told her.

She was shaken back to reality when Fudge addressed her.

“I’m sorry, young lady; I didn’t catch your name.

“That’s because you didn’t bother to ask for it.” Hermione muttered, rolling her eyes.

A charming young lady offered to translate for me. This is Minister Oblansk of Bulgaria.”

Hermione didn’t bother telling Fudge her name; she knew he didn’t really want to know. Seeing Lucius sneering at her, she focused her energy on keeping her expression blank instead.

“You did a good job.” Draco told her.

Monsieur Oblansk, permettez-moi de présenter Lucius Malfoy, sa femme, Narcissa, et leur fils, Draco.

Hermione didn’t bother to translate that sentence – it spoke for itself.

Mr. Oblansk shook their hands and turned to Hermione. Mademoiselle, pourquoi est-il ici? Il est un Mangemort. Même je sais ceci. Et pourquoi pas il vous aime?

Narcissa raised an eyebrow. “Oh, that’s interesting.”

“Very.” Hermione agreed.

“What did he say?” Lily asked.

“Why is he here?” Hermione recited. “Then a sentence I didn’t quite understand. Followed by ‘even I know this and why doesn’t he like you?’”
“What was the sentence you didn’t understand?” James asked.

“It says in a minute.” Alice told him.

Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Lucius and Draco looking lost, but Narcissa seemed … worried?

“I doubt worried.” Narcissa commented.

Hermione tested the air. Not worry, but an odd kind of triumph.

Narcissa smirked slightly. “That sounds more likely.”

Clearly, she understood, but Hermione had no idea what one of the words meant. Hang on. “Manger” is “to eat” and “Mort” is “death”. So “Mangemort” must mean “Death Eater”.

“Very good.” Narcissa confirmed.

“You’re right.” David agreed. “That’s very interesting.”

Oui, il était, mais maintenant il est un bon ami de Monsieur Fudge.

“That was decent of you.” Draco commented. “Mother told me later.”

Hermione shrugged. “No evidence.” Catching the others’ expressions, she smiled. “Yes, he was, but now he’s a good friend of Mr. Fudge.”

“Ambiguous.” David remarked. “Could mean he reformed, could not. You’d do well in politics.”

Hermione paused, wondering how to answer the second question. She glanced at Narcissa. The emotions around her led Hermione to believe that she could trust her.

“You can.” Narcissa stated. “At least, at the moment you can, and I’m hoping that doesn’t change.”

Should she stain the whole family in Mr. Oblansk’s eyes because of the head? Je ne sais pas pourquoi il ne m’aime pas.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t like me.” Hermione supplied. “Of course, I don’t know how to say ‘I’m Muggle-born’ in French, so that had something to do with it.”

Surprise and gratitude flared in the air and on Narcissa’s face for a second, before her expression was back to one of carefully schooled neutrality.

Just then, Ludo Bagman bounded into the Top Box. Fudge thanked Hermione casually and sat down, but Mr. Oblansk shook her hand once more. Merci beaucoup encore, Mademoiselle. Appréciez le jeu.

“Thank you again, Miss. Enjoy the game.”

Merci. Et vous aussi.

“Thank you. And you as well.”

Hermione bowed her head respectfully and re-joined Harry and the Weasleys, grinning at the look of shock on their faces.

“We had no idea she could do that.” Fred smirked.

“I like to keep my cards close to my chest.” Hermione said with a smile.

“Since when do you speak French?” Ginny asked.

Hermione laughed. “My cousin lives in France.”

“Whereabouts?” Lily asked curiously.

“Nice.” Hermione answered.

Lily smiled. “Oh, it’s lovely down there.”

“Everyone ready?” Bagman asked, his face shining like a large Edam.

Regulus chuckled. “There’s a description.”

“Accurate though.” Harry commented.

“Minister, ready to go?”

“Ready when you are, Ludo.” Fudge said comfortably.

Ludo directed his wand at his throat. “Sonorous.” When he spoke again, his voice carried over the roar of sound filling the stadium. “Ladies and gentlemen … welcome! Welcome to the final of the four hundred and twenty-second Quidditch World Cup!”

The Quidditch fans cheered and Lily sighed. “Look, I get that you’re all very excited but can we try to keep the commenting down to a minimum? Otherwise we’ll still be here when I give birth.”
Harry grimaced. “There’s an image I really didn’t need, Mum.”

The spectators cheered and screamed. Special flags waved, adding the two national anthems to the racket. The giant board opposite the Top Box, currently advertising Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, wiped clean and flashed Bulgaria: Zero; Ireland: Zero across the crowd.

“And now, without further ado,” Bagman announced, “allow me to introduce the Bulgarian National Team Mascots!”

While the right hand side of the stadium roared their approval, Arthur leaned forwards. “I wonder what they’ve brought. Ah!” He whipped his glasses off and wiped them hurriedly. “Veela!”

James, Remus and Sirius exchanged a quick glance and determinedly kept their mouths shut, but Regulus smirked. “That’ll be interesting.”

“What are Veela?” Lily asked.

Jen frowned. “Well, I wouldn’t call them ‘creatures’. They’re women, very, very beautiful women, who possess an incredibly strong allure that causes men to … not really fall in love with them, but they cause men to lose control of their free-will and … it’s difficult to explain.”

Hermione and Ginny exchanged a confused look as a hundred Veela glided onto the pitch; women with pale blonde hair, who were just too beautiful to be human. And then they began to dance.

“It’s the dance that gets people.” David explained. “That’s usually what pushes the allure, with the music.”

“Can you block it?” Lily asked.

“Men who have particularly strong minds can.” David told her. “As well as men who are already in love.”

Ginny shrugged at Hermione. Neither of the two girls could see what was so amazing about the Veela, except they were clearly more attractive than either of them.

Harry frowned. “I don’t think comparing yourselves against Veela is fair. You’re both beautiful.”

Hermione and Ginny both blushed, and Lily beamed proudly. “That’s my boy.”

Hermione was momentarily distracted by a note being pushed into her hand from behind her.

“Who’d give you a note at a time like that?” Lily asked.

“Well …” Jen said slowly. “It would have to be someone who couldn’t talk to her at any other time, which rules out the Weasleys and Harry. It’s unlikely to be a man, because they’d have been hit with the Veela allure, unless they’d blocked their ears, but I doubt it … So someone who was taking advantage of her male companions’ distraction …”

“You think it’s me?” Narcissa concluded. “Possible, I suppose.”

She looked back, but no one seemed to be watching to see if she’d received it.

“Not even me?” Narcissa asked.

Hermione bit back a smirk. “You were talking to Draco. I wasn’t sure what you were saying at the time, but looking back, you might have been trying to stop him doing anything stupid.”

“Like what?” Lily frowned.

She shoved the note into her pocket, before glancing at Harry to tell him what had happened, but the note was instantly forgotten as her blood ran cold.

“Why?” Addie asked quickly.

Arthur, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred and George had their hands over their ears, but Ron and Harry hadn’t bothered.

“No one warned us.” Harry muttered.

“Too much fun, little bro.” Fred told him casually.

Ron was in a spring-board position and Harry was standing with one leg on the wall of the Box, as though he was about to jump.

“Like that.” Hermione smirked.

Lily gasped. “Harry!”

Harry winced. “Sorry, Mum. Wasn’t thinking.”

“It would have been the Veela, Lily.” Jen told her, looking faintly amused. “And I’m sure Hermione won’t let him actually jump.”

“Harry, what are you doing?” Hermione asked in alarm.

The Veela had stopped dancing and the stadium was filled with angry shouts. Harry shook his head slowly, taking his leg off the wall, but stayed standing. Ron was mindlessly shredding the shamrock on his hat, staring open-mouthed at the Veela.

“You managed to shake the allure quicker than Ron.” Hermione commented.

Arthur tugged the hat out of Ron’s hand with a smile. “You’ll be wanting that once Ireland have their say.”

“Huh?” Ron asked eloquently, still gawping.

Jen rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

Hermione tutted and tugged Harry back into his seat, hitting him over the back of his head for good measure.

Lily smirked. “Thank you, Hermione.”

“Honestly!”

“And now!” Bagman roared. “The Irish National Team Mascots!”

What appeared to be a green and gold comet …

“You were right, Jen.” Sirius grinned. “Leprechauns.”

“Well, what else were they going to bring?” Jen asked rhetorically. “Banshees?”

… came hurtling into the stadium and circled it once, before separating into two smaller comets. As the leprechauns flew up above the stadium to form a giant shamrock, gold showed over the crowd.

Ron shoved a fistful of gold coins into Harry’s hand. “There you go! For the Omnioculars! Now you’ve got to get me a Christmas present!”

James grimaced. “Leprechaun gold vanishes after a few hours.”

“I didn’t notice.” Harry shrugged. “It was fine.”

“Yeah, but when Ron finds out, he’ll be …” James trailed off. “I don’t know.”

The shamrock dissolved and the leprechauns settled on the other side of the pitch to watch the game.

Hermione took a deep breath and managed to block out the majority of the emotions around her. “Let the games begin.”

“Again, boys, try to keep it to a minimum.” Lily requested.

Jen coughed pointedly.

“And girls.” Lily added.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, kindly welcome – the Bulgarian National Quidditch Team! I give you – Dimitrov!”

A scarlet-clad figure on a broomstick, moving so fast it was blurred, shot out onto the pitch from an entrance far below, to wild applause from the Bulgarian supporters.

“Ivanova!”

A second scarlet-robed figure zoomed out.

“Zograg! Levski! Vulchanov! Volkov! Aaaaaand – Krum!”

“There’s our prodigy.” Regulus muttered.

“That’s him, that’s him!” yelled Ron, following Krum with his Omnioculars; Hermione and Harry quickly focused their own.

Viktor Krum was thin, dark and sallow-skinned, with a large curved nose and thick black eyebrows. He looked like an overgrown bird of prey.

“Mind you, that’s what you look like.” Hermione said to Harry. “I don’t know whether it’s the mark of a good Seeker or a good flier.”

It was hard to believe he was only eighteen.

“I still can’t get over that.” James muttered.

“And now, please greet the – the Irish National Quidditch Team!” yelled Bagman. “Presenting – Connolly! Ryan! Troy! Mullet! Moran! Quigley! Aaaaaaand – Lynch!”

The Quidditch fans cheered.

Seven green blurs swept onto the pitch and Hermione, momentarily slowing them down through her Omnioculars, saw the word Firebolt neatly printed on each of their brooms.

“Wow!” James grinned. “I knew it was good, but …”

“And here, all the way from Egypt, our referee, acclaimed Chairwizard of the International Association of Quidditch, Hassan Mostafa!”

Hermione stifled a giggle. “Hakuna Matata.”

“What a wonderful phrase.” Harry agreed solemnly.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Careful – you’re confusing everyone again.”

“Muggle thing.” The two chorused with a smirk.

As Hermione spun the dial on her Omnioculars to return to normal speed, a small and skinny wizard, completely bald, but with a very big, thick moustache …

“Sounds attractive.” Arabella muttered.

“Oh yes.” Ginny agreed. “Women were swooning all over the stadium.”

“Yeah.” Hermione agreed. “From laughter.”

… wearing robes of pure gold, strode out onto the pitch. A silver whistle was protruding from under the moustache, and he was carrying a large wooden crate under one arm, his broomstick under the other. Mostafa mounted his broomstick and kicked the crate open – four balls burst into the air: the scarlet Quaffle, the two black Bludgers and (though Hermione didn’t see it) the minuscule, winged, Golden Snitch.

“I saw it.” Harry frowned. “For a split-second.”

“Then you must be an outstanding Seeker.” David commented.

With a sharp blast on his whistle, Mostafa shot into the air after the balls.

“Theeeeeeeeey’re OFF!” screamed Bagman. “And it’s Mullet! Troy! Moran! Dimotrov! Back to Mulley! Troy! Levski! Moran!”

“Couldn’t he be a bit more descriptive?” James frowned.

“Didn’t have the time.” Harry snorted. “You’re underestimating the Chasers.”

Hermione had watched several Quidditch matches, but she had never seen anything like this before. The speed of the payers was incredible – the Chasers were throwing the Quaffle to each other so fast that Bagman only had time to say their names.

James let out a low whistle. “Impressive.”

“TROY SCORES!” roared Bagman, and the stadium shuddered with a roar of applause and cheers. “Ten – zero to Ireland!”

“What?” Harry yelled, looking wildly around through his Omnioculars. “But Levski’s got the Quaffle!”

“You were watching the play-by-play, weren’t you?” Hermione asked knowingly.

“What was the play-by-play?” Regulus asked. “The Omnioculars we have now only have a slow-motion option.”

“Well, it slowed everything down.” Harry told him. “And then told you the name of the play or the strategy.”

“Harry, if you’re not going to watch it at normal speed, you’re going to miss things!” shouted Hermione …

“She’s right.” James nodded seriously.

Harry hid a smile. “Thanks, Dad.”

… dancing up and down while Troy did a lap of honour of the pitch. The leprechauns watching from the side-lines had all risen into the air again and formed the great glittering shamrock. Across the pitch, the Veela were watching them sulkily as play resumed.

Hermione didn’t know much about Quidditch, but she knew enough to see that the Irish Chasers were superb. They worked as a seamless team, appearing to read each other’s minds by the way they positioned themselves …

Jen groaned, catching sight of James’s face. “I’d better warn the others. The Captain’s plotting again.”

… and within ten minutes, Ireland had scored twice more …

Jen’s annoyance vanished and she straightened up. “Woah, that’s good!”

… bringing their lead to thirty–zero, and causing a thunderous tide of roars and applause from the green-clad supporters.

The match became still faster, but more brutal.

“Isn’t that always the way?” Sirius commented.

Volkov and Vulchanov, the Bulgarian Beaters, were whacking the Bludgers as fiercely as possible at the Irish Chasers, and were starting to prevent them from using some of their best moves; twice they were forced to scatter, and then, finally, Ivanova managed to break through their ranks, dodge the keeper, Ryan, and score Bulgaria’s first goal. Thankfully, Harry and Ron stuffed their fingers in their ears this time …

“Smart move.” Mandy sniggered.

… until the Veela stopped dancing and play resumed, with Bulgaria once again in possession of the Quaffle.

“Dimitrov! Levski! Dimitrov! Ivanova – oh, I say!” roared Bagman.

One hundred thousand wizards and witches …

“Blimey that’s a lot!” Lily cried. “There’s only room for a thousand at Hogwarts!”

… gasped as the two Seekers, Krum and Lynch, plummeted through the centre of the Chasers, so fast that it looked as though they had just jumped from aeroplanes without parachutes.

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Interesting analogy.”

“Accurate though.” Hermione defended. “Actually, Draco, that reminds me. In third year, that whole ‘attaching a parachute’ thing … do you even know what a parachute is?”

“It’s something that stops Muggles falling.” Draco answered. “Though why they need that …”

Hermione chuckled. “It’s too hard to explain.”

Hermione couldn’t see the Snitch …

“Neither could I.” Harry agreed.

… even through the Omnioculars, but she could see something else. “They’re going to crash!”

She was half-right – at the very last second, Viktor Krum pulled out of the dive and spiralled off.

“He was feinting.” Regulus realised.

Lynch, however, hit the ground with a dull thud that could be heard throughout the stadium.

James winced. “Ouch.”

A huge groan rose from the Irish seats.

“Fool!” moaned Mr Weasley. “Krum was only feinting.”

“It’s time out!” yelled Bagman’s voice. “As trained medi-wizards hurry onto the pitch to examine Aidan Lynch!”

“He’ll be OK, he only got ploughed!” Charlie said reassuringly to Ginny, who was hanging over the side of the box, looking horror-struck. “Which is what Krum was after, after all, of course …”

“Give himself time to search for the Snitch.” Regulus muttered.

“A Wronski Feint.” Harry muttered, looking through his Omnioculars.

James raised an eyebrow. “That’s the more dangerous – that’s why you mentioned it in the last book.”

Harry nodded. “I didn’t think I’d already done it.”

Hermione had seen Harry fool other Seekers like that at Hogwarts …

Not exactly like that.” Hermione corrected herself.

… especially when the other Seeker decided to tail him rather than look for the Snitch himself. But she had never seen anything like that.

“Stop repeating yourself.” Ginny teased.

Lynch got to his feet at last, to loud cheers from the green-clad supporters, mounted his Firebolt and kicked back off into the air. His revival seemed to give Ireland new heart. When Mostafa blew his whistle again, the Chasers moved into action with a skill unrivalled by anything Hermione had seen so far.

After fifteen more fast and furious minutes, Ireland had pulled ahead by ten more goals.

Jen gaped at the book. While there were four members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team in the room, she was the only Chaser and, judging by the expression on James’s face, she was going to bear the brunt of his strategy rants when they next had a break.

They were now leading by one hundred and thirty points to ten …

“Just a little one-sided then.” Remus quipped.

… and the game was starting to get dirtier.

“Starting?” Draco repeated. “Were you watching the same game I was?”

“Probably.” Hermione smirked. “I was too busy watching you and Ron rooting for the same team.”

As Mullet shot towards the goalposts yet again, clutching the Quaffle tightly under her arm, the Bulgarian Keeper, Zograf, flew out to meet her. Whatever happened was over so quickly, Hermione didn’t see it, but a scream of rage from the Irish crowd, and Mostafa’s long, shrill whistle blast, told her it had been a foul.

“It was.” Harry scowled. “A bad one.”

“And Mostafa takes the Bulgarian Keeper to task for cobbing – excessive use of elbows!” Bagman informed the roaring spectators. “And – yes, it’s a penalty to Ireland!”

The leprechauns, who had risen angrily into the air like a swarm of glittering hornets when Mullet had been fouled, now darted together to form the words ‘HA-HA-HA!’

“They’re playing a dangerous game.” Jen grimaced. “You don’t want to anger Veela, if you can help it.”

The Veela on the other side of the pitch leapt to their feet, tossed their hair angrily and started to dance again.

“Block your ears, boys.” Arabella chuckled.

“Do I want to know what you’re thinking?” Mandy enquired, seeing the smirk on her face.

Arabella turned to Remus. “Do you think you blocked your ears? We could probably do with a laugh.”

As Remus blushed and everyone else chuckled, Addie smirked. “Sorry to ruin your fun, but the Veela wouldn’t affect him, not with the soul bond.”

As one, the Weasley boys and Harry stuffed their fingers in their ears, but Hermione didn’t bother …

“Well, of course she didn’t.” Sirius rolled his eyes. “The allure only works on men.”
“Does it target gender or sexuality?” Hermione asked absently. On seeing their expressions, she shrugged. “I’m just wondering if gay men would be just as affected.”

Harry gaped at her for a second. “What … Why … How did you come up with that?”

“They are.” Fred answered.

“How can you tell?” Hermione asked.

“Roger Davies.” Fred smirked. “Crooked as a lightning bolt …” he ducked Hermione’s slap “… and very susceptible to the Veela charm.”

… and was soon tugging on Harry’s arm, staring at the pitch. He turned to look at her, and she pulled his fingers impatiently out of his ears.

“Hermione!” Lily protested. “I don’t want my son to make a fool of himself.”
“He doesn’t need Veela to do that.” Draco smirked.

“Shut up, Malfoy.” Harry shot back, taking the barb in the light-hearted way it had been intended.

“Look at the referee!” she said, giggling.

“Oh dear.” Jen giggled. “What now?”

Hassan Mostafa had landed right in front of the dancing Veela, and was acting very oddly indeed. He was flexing his muscles and smoothing his moustache excitedly.

“Now, we can’t have that!” said Ludo Bagman, though he sounded highly amused. “Somebody slap the referee!”

“And do it quickly,” Regulus added, “before the game descends into a free-for-all.”

A medi-wizard came tearing across the pitch, his fingers stuffed in his own ears, and kicked Mostafa hard on the shins.

“It looked hilarious.” Ginny laughed.

“Maybe a medi-witch would have been better suited.” Lily chuckled.

Mostafa seemed to come to himself, looking extremely embarrassed, and started shouting at the Veela, who has stopped dancing and were looking mutinous.

“Uh oh.” Sirius sang. “This should be fun.”

“And unless I’m very much mistaken, Mostafa is actually attempting to send off the Bulgarian Team Mascots!” said Bagman’s voice.

“Can they even do that?” James asked.

Lily gasped, grabbing Harry’s arm. “Make a note, Harry. This may be the first and only time we find something about Quidditch your father doesn’t know.”

“Now there’s something we haven’t seen before … oh, this could turn nasty …”

“It will.” Sirius predicted. “Let’s just hope the players get involved or it could get even worse.”

It did: the Bulgarian Beaters, Volkov and Vulchanov, had landed either side of Mostafa, and began arguing furiously with him, gesticulating towards the leprechauns, who had now gleefully formed the words ‘HEE-HEE-HEE’.

“While I’ll agree the leprechauns are being a little insufferable,” Narcissa drawled, “they’re hardly interfering with the game.”

Mostafa was not impressed by the Bulgarians’ arguments, however; he was jabbing his finger into the air, clearly telling them to get flying again, and when they refused, he gave two short blasts on his whistle.

James winced. “They won’t like that.”

Two penalties for Ireland!” shouted Bagman, and the Bulgarian crowd howled with anger. “And Volkov and Vulchanov had better get back on those brooms … yes … there they go … and Troy takes the Quaffle …”

Play now reached a level of ferocity beyond anything they had yet seen. The Beaters on both sides were acting without mercy: Volkov and Vulchanov in particular seemed not to care whether their clubs made contact with Bludger or human …

Addie gave Sirius a meaningful look.

“What?” Sirius asked innocently. “I always make sure I hit the Bludger.”

“Unless we’re playing Slytherin,” she pointed out coolly, “in which case there tend to be a lot of ‘accidents’.”

“Now, be fair, Addie,” James said with a smile, watching his best friend deflate, “that hasn’t happened since fifth year …”

“… when, ironically enough, I was the Seeker.” Regulus added dryly. “Imagine that.”

… as they swung them violently through the air. Dimitrov shot straight at Moran, who had the Quaffle, nearly knocking her off her broom.

“Skinning.” James called. “That’s a foul.”

“Skinning?” Lily repeated.

“Deliberately flying to collide.” James elaborated.

“Foul!” roared the Irish supporters as one, all standing up in a wave of green.

“Foul!” echoed Ludo Bagman’s magically magnified voice. “Dimitrov skins Moran – deliberately flying to collide there – and it’s got to be another penalty – yes, there’s the whistle!”

The leprechauns had risen into the air again and, this time, they formed a giant hand, which was making a very rude sign indeed across the pitch towards the Veela.

Jen grimaced. “That’ll do it.”

At this, the Veela lost control. They launched themselves across the pitch, and began throwing what seemed to be handfuls of fire at the leprechauns. Hermione pulled a face – they didn’t look remotely beautiful now.

Lily raised an eyebrow.

“It’s part of their magic.” Jen explained. “Anger pushes them into a transformation.”

On the contrary, their faces were elongating into sharp, cruel-beaked bird heads, and long, scaly wings were bursting from their shoulders …

“Lovely.” Lily commented dryly.

Hermione was reminded of the sirens in Greek mythology – she made a mental note to look them up and see if they really did exist.

“They do.” Jen informed her. “But only in Greece.”

“Thanks.” Hermione smiled. “That completely slipped my mind.”

“And that, boys,” yelled Mr Weasley over the tumult of the crowd below, “is why you should never go for looks alone!”

“Good advice.” Lily stated.

Harry squirmed under her gaze. “Yes, Mum.”

“Besides, when you find the right girl, it won’t matter.” James told him. “Lily happens to be the most beautiful girl in Hogwarts, but that’s not the reason I fell in love with her. And all those little things are what makes her beautiful to me.”

If Lily had been one to swoon, she would have done. As it was, she smiled, blushing prettily, and reached over to kiss his cheek.

“He’s right.” Sirius said quietly to Harry. “Addie and her sister are identical. But she always outshone Leona to me.”
Addie smiled, managing to keep all but a faint dusting of pink from her cheeks. “Careful, darling, or you’ll give everyone cavities. I thought we agreed that we’d stop doing that after the candy-floss incident.”

“What was the candy-floss incident?” Addie and Harry asked together, the latter with a grin, the former with a groan.

“A few weeks after we started dating, James and Remus decided we were just too nauseating.” Addie told them with a smile. “So every time Sirius kissed me for a week, candy floss would start sprouting from his ears.”

Harry laughed, but, to be fair, so did most people.

Ministry wizards were flooding onto the field to separate the Veela and the leprechauns, but with little success …

“They’ll be talking about this one for years.” Regulus commented. “But not for the right reasons.”

… meanwhile, the pitch battle below was nothing to the one above. Hermione turned this way and that, trying to keep up, as the Quaffle changed hands with the speed of a bullet …

“Levski – Dimitrov – Moran – Troy – Mullet – Ivanova – Moran again – Moran – MORAN SCORES!”

But the cheers of the Irish supporters were barely heard over the shrieks of the Veela, the blasts now issuing from the Ministry members’ wands, and the furious roars of the Bulgarians. The game recommenced immediately; now Levski had the Quaffle, now Dimitrov …

The Irish Beater Quigley swung heavily at a passing Bludger and hit it as hard as possible towards Krum, who did not duck quick enough. It hit him hard in the face.

Everyone groaned, some from sympathy.

“Curse of the game.” James grimaced.

There was a deafening groan from the crowd; Krum’s nose looked broken, there was blood everywhere, but Hassan Mostafa didn’t blow the whistle.

“Why not?” Lily asked. “He’s injured.”

He had become distracted, and Hermione couldn’t blame him; one of the Veela had thrown a handful of fire and set his broomstick alight.

“That’d do it.” James smirked. “He’ll be alright, Lily. It’s just a broken nose.”

Hermione wanted someone to realise Krum was injured …

“Worried?” Fred asked, with a hint of a smirk.

Hermione didn’t grace that with a response.

… even though she was supporting Ireland, she had seen Harry play too many times to be truly comfortable with the injuries that came with Quidditch. To her surprise, Ron apparently felt the same.

“Nah, he was just the most interesting player on the pitch.” Harry told her.

“Time out! Ah, come on, he can’t play like that, look at him …”

“Look at Lynch!” Harry yelled.

He was right – the Irish Seeker had suddenly gone into a dive …

“Another feint?” James asked, leaning forwards.

… and – although Hermione couldn’t tell – from the way Harry was jumping up and down, she was quite sure this was no Wronski Feint, or whatever it was called, this was the real thing.

Regulus gave Harry an appraising look. “Have you ever thought of playing professionally?”

Harry blushed slightly, but shook his head. “I love Quidditch, but making it a career would put too much pressure on me – it’d take the fun out of the game. Besides, I’d rather stay close to home, rather than travel everywhere. I’ve spent too much time away from my family.”

Lily smiled proudly. “That’s my boy.” There was a hint of sadness in her tone, though – a fifteen-year-old should not be able to speak with such wisdom.

“He’s seen the Snitch!” Harry shouted. “He’s seen it! Look at him go!”

Half the crowd seemed to have realised what was happening, the Irish supporters rose in a great wave of green, screaming their Seeker on … but Krum was on his tail. Hermione had no idea how he could see where he was going – there were flecks of blood flying through the air behind him …

“A good Seeker can work through that.” James stated.

… but he was drawing level with Lynch now, as the pair of them hurtled towards the ground again …

“They’re going to crash!” shrieked Hermione.

“They’re not!” roared Ron.

“Lynch is!” yelled Harry.

And once again, he was right – for the second time, Lynch hit the ground with tremendous force, and was immediately stampeded by a horde of angry Veela.

“That probably hurt more than the crash.” Jen winced. “Poor guy. He’s really had a bad game, hasn’t he?”

“Are we sure he didn’t play for the Cannons?” Harry asked innocently.

“The Snitch, where’s the Snitch?” bellowed Charlie, along the row.

“He’s got it – Krum’s got it – it’s all over!” shouted Harry.

“So Bulgaria won.” James stated sadly.

“Don’t be so sure.” Regulus frowned. “They mentioned more Irish goals than Bulgarian – there’s still a chance.”

Krum, his red robes shining with blood from his nose, was rising gently into the air, his fist held high, a glint of gold in his hand.

The scoreboard was flashing BULGARIA: ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY, IRELAND: ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY …

“I don’t believe it.” James whispered. “The twins were right.”

“Wish we’d made a bet now.” Regulus grumbled.

“What did you spend your winnings on?” Lily asked.

Fred scowled. “Nothing. Mr. Bagman had his own gambling debts and paid us in leprechaun gold.”

There was a sharp gasp.

“He didn’t!” David frowned.
“He did.” Fred confirmed. “Then refused to pay us because we were too young to be gambling in the first place.”

“No wonder you don’t like him.” Sirius muttered, put-out that his hero was dirty.

… across the crowd, who didn’t seem to have realised what had happened.

“I bet that was interesting.” Jen snickered.

Then, slowly, as though a great jumbo jet was revving up …

“A what was what?” Draco asked blankly.

“Muggle thing.” Hermione told him. “Explain later.”

… the rumbling from the Ireland supporters grew louder and louder, and erupted into screams of delight.

“IRELAND WIN!” shouted Bagman, who, like the Irish, seemed to have been taken aback by the sudden end of the match. “KRUM GETS THE SNITCH – BUT IRELAND WIN – good Lord, I don’t think any of us were expecting that!”
I know two people who were. Hermione looked down the row to where Fred and George seemed to be dancing some kind of jig on the seats.

Fred heaved a heavy sigh. “Back before the bubble burst.”

“What did he catch the Snitch for?” Ron bellowed, even as he jumped up and down, applauding with his hands over his head. “He ended it when Ireland was a hundred and sixty points ahead, the idiot!”

“Knew they weren’t going to catch up.” James answered heavily. “Wanted to end it on his terms.”

“He knew they were never going to catch up,” Harry shouted back over all the noise, also applauding loudly, “the Irish chasers were too good … he wanted to end it on his terms, that’s all …”

James and Harry exchanged a grin.

“He was very brave, wasn’t he?” Hermione said, leaning forward to watch Krum land …

“Do I detect a small crush?” Lily asked slyly.

Hermione chuckled. “No. Not at all. Harry’s my best friend – I can’t get sucked in by celebrity – it would make me a hypocrite.”

… and the swarm of mediwizards blasting a path through the battling leprechauns and Veela to get to him. “He looks a terrible mess …”

Beside her, Harry aimed his Omnioculars at the pitch. It was hard to see what was happening down there, thanks to the leprechauns zooming all over the place but Krum was still recognisable, surrounded by medi-wizards. He looked surlier than ever, and refused to let them mop him up.

“Now that’s just being stubborn.” Lily rolled her eyes. “What is it about men and injuries?”

“Not just men.” Remus told her, glancing at Jen. “I think it’s Quidditch players in general.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Name one injury I’ve refused treatment for.”
“This one.” Remus answered promptly, poking her side gently, where he knew a nasty scar resided. “I once heard McGonagall say that the Gryffindor team should play in different colours because you can’t see blood on red robes and we’re the most likely to keep playing.”

His team-mates were around him, shaking their heads and looking dejected; a short way away, the Irish players were dancing gleefully in a shower of gold descending from their mascots. Flags were waving all over the stadium, the Irish national anthem blared from all sides …

“What is the Irish national anthem?” Mandy asked.

“No idea.” Hermione admitted. “I just assumed that’s what it was.”

… the Veela were shrinking back into their usual, beautiful selves now, though looking dispirited and forlorn.

“IRELAND WINS!” Bagman announced again, still sounding shocked. “KRUM GETS THE SNITCH, BUT IRELAND WINS!”

“I think he thought if he said it enough it might change.” Fred commented darkly.

“Vell, ve fought very bravely.” Mr. Oblansk sighed, as the cheers quietened slightly.

Fudge gasped. “You do speak English!” He turned to Hermione. “Did you know that?”

Hermione coughed. “No, sir.”

“Did he buy it?” Sirius asked.

“Oh yeah.” Hermione assured him. “Idiot that he is, he just went along with it.”

To her immense relief, during the game, since she had shut her empathy off, it hadn’t been as painful as she’d thought it would be.

The Top Box was suddenly illuminated as the Cup was brought in, flanked by six security wizards.

As his team made their way up, Mr. Oblansk turned to Harry who was standing next to Hermione. “Mr. Potter, do you play Quidditch?”

Harry smirked. “I’d almost forgotten this bit.”
Hermione chuckled. “So had I.”

“What bit?” James asked.

Harry seemed surprised at the question, but nodded. “Yes, sir. I play Seeker for my house team at Hogwarts.”

“He was the youngest player in a century.” Hermione added proudly.

“You proud of me, Mione?” Harry teased.

“Someone has to be.” Hermione answered primly. “You’re just so modest.” She pinched his cheek and he swatted her hand away.

“Let’s have a really loud hand for our gallant losers – BULGARIA!” Bagman announced.

“That is very impressive.” Mr. Oblansk commented, applauding with them as his team shook hands with Fudge.

Hermione couldn’t help but flinch at the sight of Viktor Krum. His nose was bloody and two black eyes bloomed spectacularly above it.

“He looked rather like a clown.” Fred observed.

“Be nice.” Ginny chided.

Mr. Oblansk called him over. “Viktor, I vould like you to meet Hermione Granger and Harry Potter.”

“You’re actually getting to meet him!” James whispered.

“I’m surprised you didn’t say anything.” Hermione commented, looking at Draco.

“I was in shock.” Draco admitted. “I think Mum silenced Father though.”

Narcissa grimaced. “Bet I heard about that later.”

Viktor’s eyes widened as he shook their hands. “Harry Potter, you are indeed a legend.”

“He thinks you’re a legend.” James whispered, a grin forming on his face. “Star Quidditch player … my son …”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh here we go.”

Harry looked slightly star-struck. “Thank you. That Wronski Feint, by the way …”

“Don’t even think about it!” Lily snapped.

“Erm, Lily.” James said carefully. “That dive Harry did yesterday … that was a Wronski Feint.”

“Don’t even think about it.” Hermione told him.

Harry chuckled. “Yes, Mum.”

“I already get a heart attack every time you play, without that added in.”

“You are a Seeker as vell?” Viktor asked. “Are you any good?”

Harry shrugged modestly. “Well …”

“He’s amazing.” Hermione answered. “The only time he’s lost a game is when he’s been unconscious. Even with a jinxed broom and a cursed bludger.”

“Someone had to do it.” Hermione shrugged at Harry’s faux-annoyed look. “You’re too humble.”

Viktor looked impressed and pressed the Snitch into Harry’s hand.

“He gave you the game Snitch!” James gasped, tears springing to his eyes. “That’s my boy …”

Lily smiled at him. “You know, Harry, I think James is more proud of this than he is you beating Voldemort.”

James shook himself out his funk. “Don’t be silly, Lily. Of course beating Voldemort’s more important. But this is a very close second.”

“In that case, ve may vell be playing each other in a few years.”

As the Bulgarian team filed out, Harry turned to Hermione. “Do you realise what just happened?!”

“The unbelievable.” James answered.

Lily swatted his arm. “Stop now.”

Hermione nodded. “You just got the game Snitch! Let me see?”

Harry held it out. “How cool is this?”

“So cool!” Ron answered from behind him. “I am so jealous!”

Harry laughed. “Well, I’m glad you can tell me that. Apparently, when you keep stuff like that bottled up, it can cause problems.”

“Just a bit.” Remus agreed.

Hermione winced slightly …

Harry raised an eyebrow and she nodded.

… Ron may have been joking, but there was definitely envy bubbling away beneath the surface. She just hoped it stayed there.

“It’d better.” James frowned. “You don’t need that coming between best friends.”

“That’s the end of the chapter.” Alice announced.

Addie, who had been watching her younger counterpart for a while, stood up. “It’s too soon for lunch, but I’m going to get a snack. Anyone want anything?”

There was a flurry of requests and she made her way to the kitchen, pushing a thought into Addie’s head as she passed.

Slowly, and with a little reluctance, Addie nudged Sirius and nodded to the door that had just appeared. He followed her almost warily into the other room and she pushed the door shut with a sigh.

“Ads, if you’re going to push me away again, please don’t.” Sirius whispered.

Addie leaned against the wall wearily. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

“No.” Sirius rolled his eyes. “We broke up weeks ago, Ads – I’ve given up trying to replace you – it’s not possible.”

Addie smiled slightly. “You know we’re all going to end up forgetting all this.”

“I don’t care.” Sirius told her. “I’ll take what I can get. I love you.”

Finally she heard the truth of his words and let her guard drop, pushing herself away from the wall and into his arms. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

When Sirius and Addie exited the room they looked suspiciously smug, but no one questioned them because Addie had returned with bowls of popcorn and a tray full of tall glasses of iced lemonade.

“So who’s going to read next?” Alice asked, licking salty butter from her fingers.

“I will.” Ginny offered, taking the book.

Chapter Eleven

Uprising

The mood in the room took an immediate turn for the worse.

“Uprising of what?” David asked slowly.

The future students exchanged a glance, but didn’t answer.

Don’t tell your mother you’ve been gambling,” Mr Weasley implored Fred and George, as they all made their way slowly down the purple-carpeted stairs.

Fred snorted. “As if we would.”

“Don’t worry, Dad,” said Fred gleefully, “we’ve got big plans for this money, we don’t want it confiscated.”

Mr Weasley looked for a moment as though he was going to ask what these big plans were, but seemed to decide, upon reflection, that he didn’t want to know.

“Wise move.” Ginny smirked.

They were soon caught up in the crowds now flooding out of the stadium and back to the campsites. Raucous singing was borne towards them on the night air as they retraced their steps along the lantern-lit path, and leprechauns kept shooting over their heads, cackling and waving their lanterns.

“I bet the Irish had fun that night.” James grinned. “Wouldn’t want to be the Ministry officials trying to keep the peace.”

When they finally reached the tents, nobody felt like sleeping at all …

“Who would?” Sirius asked.

… and, given the level of noise around them, Mr Weasley agreed that they could all have one last cup of cocoa together before turning in. They were all soon arguing enjoyably about the match; the main topic of conversation, despite Ireland’s win, was Viktor Krum and the game-winning Snitch, which was passed around several times before returning safely to Harry’s backpack.

“Keep that safe.” James advised. “It’ll be worth a fortune one day.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “But James, you’re already worth a fortune.”

“True.” James conceded.

“There’s no one like Krum!” Ron was saying a few hours later. “He’s like a bird the way he rides the wind. He’s not an athlete, he’s an artist!”

“Given what we heard, I’ll believe that.” Regulus commented.

“Think you’re in love, Ron?” Ginny smirked.

“Viktor, I love you!” Fred and George sang. “Viktor, I do!”

Harry joined in with a grin. “When we’re apart, my heart beats only for yoooou!”

Fred and Harry had joined in the song with matching smirks and everyone chuckled.

A loud bang echoed outside, causing them all to jump, and Ginny winced. “I wouldn’t fancy having to tell the Irish to stop celebrating.”

At that moment, a voice floated through the flap. “What are you all still doing here? Can you not hear anything?”

“What were they supposed to be hearing?” Lily asked with a frown, inching closer to Harry.

Hermione’s head snapped up, fatigue vanishing in an instant. Mandy’s head was poking through the flap, looking worried. The sounds in the campsite had changed; cheers and singing had changed to screams and shouts. Her empathy kicked in seconds later, picking up panic and terror.

David cursed under his breath.

Lily turned white and grabbed Harry’s hand.

Arthur paled. “Bill, Charlie, Percy; wands now. You others, grab a jacket and get outside. Quickly.”

Everyone complied and they huddled outside the tent, shivering. Hermione could see a few people fleeing into the woods, by the light of the few fires that were still burning, fleeing something that was moving across the field towards them, something that was emitting odd flashes of light and sounds like gunfire.

“Death Eaters?” Jen asked in a hushed voice.

“Can’t be.” Regulus frowned. “Surely they wouldn’t be that stupid.”

An eerie green light illuminated the thing …

No one was sure who screamed, but James, Remus and Sirius pulled the girls closer to them anyway.

“It wasn’t the Killing Curse.” Hermione assured them quickly. “Just a green light.”

… and it was revealed to be a crowd of wizards that tightly packed and moving together, marching across the field, levitating what seemed to be a family of four above their heads.

“Muggles.” James concluded with a grimace.

“Children?” Remus asked sharply.

Hermione nodded, looking pale. “Two of them.”

For a second, Hermione thought they were faceless, but then she realised that they were all wearing white masks.

“Death Eaters.” Jen confirmed. “Clearly they would be that stupid.”

Addie shuddered and Sirius pulled her closer, planting a kiss on her hairline.

More wizards were joining them …

“How many got away?” Lily asked shrilly.

“Lily, I doubt they were all real Death Eaters.” David told her. “Probably the ones that got away and a lot of wizards who had too much to drink.”

… tents were getting blasted out of the way.

The floating people were suddenly illuminated by the light of a burning tent and Hermione realised with an unpleasant lurch that it was Mr. Roberts and what must have been his wife and children.

“That’s sick.” Ron muttered, as the smallest child began spinning like a top.

Even Regulus looked ill at this.

“That poor child.” Lily whimpered, tightening her hold on Harry’s hand.

“That is really, really sick.”

“We’re going to help the Ministry.” Arthur told them, gesturing to his three older sons. “You lot into the woods and stick together!

“Listen to him.” Sirius whispered, stroking Addie’s hair to comfort her.

“Be careful.” Mandy added, hurrying after them.

Arabella frowned. “You be careful.”

“We’ll come and get you when we’ve sorted this out!”

Ministry wizards were sprinting towards the crowd, which was slowly getting closer.

“Come on.” Fred grabbed Ginny’s hand and began pulling her towards the woods. Hermione, Harry, Ron and George followed, glancing behind them as they did. The Ministry wizards seemed unable to reach the masked wizards in the centre.

“How do things get that bad?” David asked, shaking his head.

The coloured lanterns that had lit the path earlier in the evening had been extinguished. Figures were blundering through the trees; children were crying; shouts and cries were reverberating around them. Hermione felt Harry grab her hand, her head almost bursting with the swirling sea of emotion, as they were buffeted around by terrified campers.

“Thanks for that.” Hermione smiled weakly. “I don’t think I’d have stayed on my feet.”

Then they heard Ron cry out in pain.

Fred stiffened, but swiftly reminded himself that Ron hadn’t been hurt when they got back to the tent.

Lily whimpered and James tightened his arm around her shoulders.

“What happened?” Hermione asked, her stomach feeling as though it had disappeared. “Ron, where are you? Oh, this is stupid! Lumos!” Illuminating her wand, she directed its beam across the path.

Ron was sprawled on the ground. “Tripped over a tree root.” He explained irritably, climbing to his feet.

“Well, with feet that size, hard not to.” A voice drawled.

“Sorry.” Draco muttered.

Hermione smiled. “Don’t be.”

They all spun around to see Draco Malfoy, leaning casually against a tree. He was watching the carnage out on the field, a smirk on his face.

“How can you …?” Lily began, but Ginny read over her.

Despite this, Hermione could sense nothing but fear and disgust coming from him. Putting this aside to think about later, she grabbed Harry’s hand before it could reach for his wand.

“Smart move.” Addie murmured. “Not the time to get into a duel.”

“Oh, fuck off!” Ron snapped.

Fred raised an eyebrow. “I suddenly have much more respect for my little brother.”

“Language, Weasley.” Draco smirked. “Hadn’t you better be hurrying along, now? You wouldn’t like her spotted, would you?” He nodded at Hermione.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sirius challenged.

“Simply that my father knows Hermione is Muggle-born.” Draco answered calmly.

Narcissa’s eyes flashed. “Lucius was in that crowd?”
Draco shrugged. “Does that surprise you?”

Narcissa frowned. “No, but I would like to believe he didn’t engage in those sorts of activities around you.”

At the same moment, a blast like a bomb sounded from the field and the air momentarily lit up green.

“Not the Killing Curse.” Hermione repeated.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked defiantly, inwardly marvelling at how steady her voice was. She could sense concern in the air…but was that Draco’s himself or were Ron and Harry’s emotions over-riding his?

“Bit of both probably.” Draco conceded.

“Granger, they’re after Muggles.” Draco elaborated. “Do you want to be showing off your knickers in mid-air?

“A warning disguised as a threat.” Regulus concluded. “Nicely done.”

Because if you do, hang around … they’re moving this way and it would give us all a laugh.”

Again, Ginny kept reading quickly.

Disgust again. Harry and Ron’s? No, Hermione thought. It was self-disgust. Could it be that Draco only acting like this because of his father?

“We have a winner.” Draco smirked.

“Hermione’s a witch!” Harry snarled, moving in front of her protectively.

“Good boy.” James murmured.

“Have it your own way, Potter.” Draco grinned. “If you think they can’t spot a Mudblood…” the self-disgust escalated briefly “…stay where you are.”

“Why not just not talk like that?” Harry asked.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Aside from the fact that you’d think I was up to something?”
“Oh yeah.” Harry muttered sheepishly.

“It’s easier to get you three to respond when you’re angry.” Draco told him simply. “I knew Hermione would be more likely to get you moving if she was trying to avoid a confrontation.”

“You watch your mouth!” Ron shouted.

Hermione grabbed his arm. “Never mind, Ron.”

“And I was right.” Draco added.

Another bang sounded from the other side of the trees, causing several people to scream.

Draco chucked. “Scare easily, don’t they? I suppose your daddy told you all to hide? What’s he up to – trying to rescue the Muggles?”

“Where’re your parents?” Harry snapped, his temper flaring; Hermione put a calming hand on his shoulder. “Out there wearing masks, are they?”

“Sorry.” Harry said to Narcissa.

She smiled at him. “Quite alright, Harry. I highly doubt I’m in that crowd.”
“No, you were at the tent.” Draco confirmed. “You told me to run for it though.”

Draco smirked. “Well, if they were, I wouldn’t be likely to tell you, would I?” He turned his gaze back to Hermione, seeming to read the expression of concern and curiosity on her face.

“I did.” Draco pulled a face. “Confused the hell out of me.”

Hermione chuckled. “That’s my plan in a nutshell.”

He was still smirking maliciously, but the emotion swarming around him was … Hermione couldn’t place it.

“Was what?” Lily asked.

Hermione shrugged. “Pass. A complicated mixture of fear, anger, helplessness, guilt and envy.”

Draco thought about that for a second. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

“Come on.” She said uneasily. “Let’s go and find the others.”

“Keep your head down, Granger.” Draco called with a slight sneer in his voice.

“Come on!” Hermione repeated, tugging Ron’s arm.

“Good.” Lily murmured. “Keep going.”

The trio jogged away, up the path.

“I’ll bet you anything that his dad is one of that lot.” Ron accused.

“He was.” Draco muttered.

“Well, with any luck, the Ministry will catch him.” Hermione soothed. “But he is.”

Draco smiled slightly. “I was hoping you’d catch on.”

“You can’t say that.” Harry reminded her. “Malfoy never actually said …”

Hermione gasped. “Wait, since when are you the one saying we shouldn’t accuse without proof?”

“I’ll tell you when we get home.” Hermione told him, glancing behind her.

“That’s right – they don’t know yet.” Lily remembered.

“There’s something wrong.” She slowed down and looked around. “I don’t believe this. Where have the others got to?”

“That’s not good.” Jen whispered. “Not a good time to get lost.”

“Is there ever a good time to get lost?” Sirius asked.

Fred, George and Ginny were nowhere to be seen, but the path was swarming with other people. A group of teenagers were huddled together, but one hurried over to the trio and spoke quickly.

Ou est Madame Maxime? Nous l’avons perdu.

“What?” Harry asked. “I still don’t get it.”

Hermione sighed. “Where is Madame Maxime? We have lost her.”

“Who’s Madame Maxime?” Lily frowned.

“She’s the Headmistress of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in France.” Hermione answered.

James shook his head. “How many books have you read?”
Hermione shrugged with a smile, not bothering to tell him she hadn’t read it in a book.

“Er…what?” Ron asked. “Hermione?”

Hermione sighed . “Je suis désolée. Nous ne pouvons pas vous aider.

“I’m sorry. We can’t help you.” Hermione paused. “I’m surprised I got it right, given how shaken I was.”

“I wonder why Beauxbatons were there with their headmistress.” Lily frowned.

“Well, given the Cup was in England, the school may have held a summer trip.” David said. “I know Hogwarts did that once when the Cup was in France.”

“Oh…” The girl nodded to her and walked away and they distinctly heard her mutter, “’Ogwarts.”

“Beauxbatons.” Hermione muttered.

“Sorry?” Harry asked.

“They must go to Beauxbatons.” Hermione elaborated. “You know … Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. I read about it in An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe.

“You really have read everything, haven’t you?” Regulus asked, though he sounded more impressed than scathing.

“Of course you did.” Harry teased, to cover his embarrassment.

“Saw through it then?” Harry asked.

Hermione smirked. “You blushed.”

“They can’t have gone far.” Ron said, reverting to their original problem and pulling his wand out.

“Good move.” Jen murmured.

“Hey!” Harry said suddenly. “I don’t believe it; I’ve lost my wand!”

Lily made a sound crossed between a whimper and a scream.

“How do you lose your wand?!” James demanded. “You should keep it with you at all times!”

“I do!” Harry protested. “I put it in my pocket that morning and didn’t take it out!”

“You’re kidding!” Ron and Hermione lifted their wands to spread the light, but there was no sign of it on the ground.

“It must have fallen out.” Jen whispered. “Try summoning it.”
“We didn’t know the Summoning Charm.” Hermione admitted.

“Of course not.” Jen groaned. “It’s a fourth year spell.”

“Would have made everything easier.” Harry muttered darkly.

“Maybe it’s back at the tent.” Ron frowned.

“Maybe it fell out of your pocket when we were running.” Hermione suggested, feeling worried.

“I don’t like this.” Lily murmured. “I really don’t like this.”

“Yeah, maybe …” Harry trailed off. Hermione glanced at Ron and they instinctively closed in around him.

“Good.” David looked just as worried as anyone.

There was a rustling noise to their left and they jumped, Hermione and Ron aiming their wands at the sound.

Winky the house-elf was fighting her way out of a clump of bushes. “There is bad wizards about! People high – high in the air! Winky is getting out of the way!” She ran across the path, but it was as though an invisible force was holding her back.

Mandy frowned. “That doesn’t sound right.”

As she disappeared into the bushes on the other side, Ron turned to the others. “What’s up with her? Why can’t she run properly?”

“Bet she didn’t ask permission to hide.” Harry answered promptly.

“No …” Jen said slowly. “No, that would just cause her to punish herself afterwards. It wouldn’t stop her from being able to hide. Unless he said, “I forbid you to hide”, in which case her magic wouldn’t let her.”

“You know, house-elves get a very raw deal.” Hermione mused.

“Here we go.” Fred sighed.

“It’s slavery, that’s what it is! That Mr. Crouch made her go to the top of the stadium and she was terrified, and he’s got her bewitched so she can’t even run when they start trampling tents! Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?”

“Well, the elves are happy, aren’t they?” Ron asked casually.

“Not always.” Jen disagreed.

“You heard old Winky back at the match … “House-elves is not supposed to have fun” … that’s what she likes; being bossed around.”

“They like having work to do.” James corrected. “But that doesn’t mean they enjoy being abused – that’s not right.”

Hermione glared at him. “It’s people like you who prop up the system, just because you’re too lazy to …”

Another loud bang from the edge of the woods cut her off.

“Move.” Lily whispered. “Please. Debate later.”

“Let’s just keep moving.” Ron suggested.

Hermione saw him glance worriedly at her. Was there some truth in what Draco said?

“A little.” Fred scowled. “But only because Lucius Malfoy would recognise you as a Muggle-born.”

Harry took her hand and squeezed it comfortingly …

“Thanks.” Hermione whispered. “I needed that.”

… still searching his pockets for his wand with his other hand.

They followed the path deeper into the wood, past a group of goblins cackling over a sack of gold, past a gaggle of Veela and their admirers.

Hermione couldn’t help giggling. “That was funny.”

Harry nodded, grinning. “Stan Shunpike insisting he was about to become the youngest ever Minister for Magic.”

“Ron claiming he’d invented a broomstick that reached Jupiter.” Hermione laughed.

“I guess Ron’s particularly susceptible to Veela then?” Jen guessed with a smile.

“You might say that.” Hermione agreed, remembering his disastrous attempt to ask Fleur Delacour to the ball.

It was once both of these groups were out of earshot that the trio found themselves alone, in the heart of the wood, the sounds of the campsite too far away to hear.

Lily shivered. “I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not.”

Harry glanced around. “I reckon we can stay here. We’ll be able to hear anyone coming a mile off.”

“That’s true.” David agreed slowly. “But no one else will hear if you get into trouble.”

Hermione had just nodded in agreement, when Ludo Bagman emerged from behind a tree right ahead of them.

“What’s Bagman doing there?” Sirius asked.

“Probably worrying about paying off the goblins.” Fred snorted. “He gave them leprechaun gold as well.”
Regulus groaned. “What an idiot.”

The jubilant man they’d met earlier had disappeared; he was pale and strained, emanating worry.

“Not surprised if he was that stupid.” Regulus commented dryly.

Hermione had just begun to feel sorry for him, when he spoke. “Who’s that? What are you doing in here, all alone?”

“Has he really not noticed?” Sirius asked disbelievingly. Any and all respect he had for the man had washed away.

Any sympathy she could have felt was washed away by suspicion and she exchanged a glance with the two boys, before Ron cleared his throat. “Well, there's a sort of riot going on.”

“What?” Bagman stared at them.

“At the campsite.” Harry elaborated. “Some people have got hold of a family of Muggles.”

Bagman swore loudly.

“Oi!” Lily snapped. “Watch your language in front of my son!”

“Damn them!” He disapparated without another word, looking quite distracted.

Hermione frowned at the spot he’d vacated. “Not exactly on top of things, Mr. Bagman, is he?”

“He was a great Beater though.” Ron responded cheerfully.

“Leave it to Ron.” Ginny gave a small smile. The events of that night were still at the forefront of her mind.

He led them into a small clearing and sat down at the base of a tree. “The Wimbourne Wasps won the league three times in a row while he was with them.”

Sirius brightened up. “That means we win twice more.”

“And then that’s it.” James finished cheerfully.

He fished the model of Krum from his pocket and the three of them watched it march up and down, scowling up at them.

“He was doing the pacing for us.” Hermione remarked, trying to smile and failing.

“I hope the others are okay.” Hermione whispered.

“They’ll be fine.” Ron assured her, but his voice was shaking.

“Imagine if your dad catches Lucius Malfoy.” Harry said, trying to lighten the mood.

“Wish he had.” Draco muttered.

“He’s always said he’d like to get something on him.”

“That’d wipe the smirk off Draco’s face alright.” Ron agreed …

Draco snickered. “No, it’d put the smirk on my face.”

… scooping the toy up and putting it back in his pocket.

Hermione frowned and changed the subject. “Those poor Muggles, though. What if they can’t get them down?”

“They will.” James assured Lily, who had turned white at this. “Few modified memories – they’ll forget it even happened.”

“They’ll be fine.” Ron repeated, confidently this time.

“Mad, though, to do something like that tonight, when the whole Ministry’s here.” Hermione commented.

“Good point.” Alice frowned. “What were they thinking?”

“How were they expecting to get away with it?

“Drinking.” David sighed. “Adrenaline. Quite a few probably won money as well.”

“Anger at wizards living like Muggles.” Draco put in. “That had a lot to do with Father.”

Were they just drunk or …?” A noise behind her caused her to break off abruptly.

Lily tightened her grip on Harry’s hand and he shifted it slightly to stop her from cutting off the blood-flow.

Harry and Ron looked around as well, the latter scrambling to his feet; it sounded as though someone was staggering towards their clearing.

When the footsteps came to a sudden halt, Hermione and Ron pulled their wands out again.

“You shouldn’t have put them away.” Sirius said, sharper than he’d intended. He’d managed to grasp both Harry and Hermione’s hands in one of his, reassuring himself that they were both okay.

“Hello?” Harry asked …

James sighed. “Harry …”

… peering around the tree. “Who’s there?”

And then a voice sounded, a voice that none of them recognised. It wasn’t a cry of pain or a panicked shout, but a calm incantation.

MOSMORDRE!

Regulus cursed loudly and violently, but Ginny kept reading before anyone could scold or ask him.

Something vast and glittering green flew up into the dark sky to form a huge green skull with a serpent protruding from its mouth.

Lily gasped. “Sweet Merlin – that’s the Dark Mark!”

“What the …?” Ron staggered back and Harry gasped, but Hermione was paralysed with fear and shock. It appeared that she alone knew what the sign was and what it meant. The Dark Mark …

Addie shuddered again, remembering the sickly green light that illuminated her home.

The sign of Lord Voldemort.

As everyone stared in shocked silence at the book, Ginny cleared her throat. “That’s the end.”

Chapter Text

“Here.” Narcissa took the book hastily and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Twelve

The Dark Mark

No one spoke, sitting on the edge of their seats.

The wood around them erupted with screams, while Ron – who clearly knew that the sign was bad, if not how bad – and Hermione pulled Harry back from the tree.

“Ron knew it was Voldemort’s sign.” Hermione said softly. “But that was all. I’d read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, but it seemed to feel worse to me.”

“You were with Lily on August 1st.” Sirius told her softly, glancing at Jen.

Jen swallowed. “What happened? The full version this time please.”

“You went to visit Lily and Harry.” Sirius began heavily. “And told Remus that if Mad-Eye needed you, that’s where you were. The Dark Mark was in sight of the house when it went up. When Mad-Eye called you in, Remus flooed Lily to tell her, but she told him that you weren’t there…”

“Why didn’t I just floo to them?” Jen asked softly.

“Because you couldn’t.” Sirius answered. “They had communication network and an outward connection, but no one could floo in. You would’ve had to apparate to the apparition point, which was, I think, about an hour away, and walk.”

“Wouldn’t I have been there though?” Harry asked. “Why didn’t I know?”

“Two reasons.” Hermione answered. “First of all, my memory was more subconscious and it was triggered by learning about it, whereas you don’t pick up a book unless I make you. Second of all, I was nearly two and you were just past one.”

“Barely.” Jen sighed, noting the date.

“Who’s there?” Harry called again.

“Harry, get out of there!” Lily groaned. “Please!”

“Harry, come on; move!” Hermione hissed.

“Listen to her.” James murmured, hugging Lily with one arm and clutching Harry’s shoulder with the other hand.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked, having caught sight of her face.

“It’s the Dark Mark, Harry!” Hermione explained, her voice wavering. “You-Know-Who’s sign …”

“Still not saying it?” Jen asked, her voice deceptively light.

Hermione shrugged. “Give it time.”

“Voldemort’s?” Harry gasped.

“Harry, come on!” Hermione repeated, with a slight groan, her head pounding with the terror around them.

Hermione grimaced. “It was awful.”

The three of them hurried across the clearing, but after two steps, a series of cracking noises announced the arrival of about twenty wizards, all of whom had their wands pointed directly at them.

“Hey!” Lily protested. “They didn’t do it!”

“DUCK!” Harry yelled, seizing their hands and forcing them to the ground.

Stupefy!” Twenty voices shouted …

“Merlin, that many stunners …” David trailed off, seeing his son’s white face and Lily’s expression.

… Hermione hit the ground heavily as a series of jets of red light skimmed the tops of their head, causing their hair to ripple.

“Good instincts, Harry.” Sirius commented. “That was close.”

Sirius was muttering something under his breath about Ministry officials who fired first and asked questions later. Catching his words, Addie squeezed his hand. “You’d do the same thing,” she whispered, “and you know it.”

“STOP!” Arthur’s voice shouted. “STOP! THAT’S MY SON!”

“Thank Merlin Arthur’s there.” Narcissa sighed.

Hermione’s hair stilled. She lifted her head warily, Ron and Harry doing the same, to see that the wizards had lowered their wands. She rolled over, coughing slightly, as Arthur strode towards them, looking terrified.

“Ron … Harry … Hermione … Are you alright?”

Before they could respond, there was a double scream from the back of the group of wizards.

“What now?” Lily asked in a high voice.

Narcissa smiled, glancing at the next line. “It’s fine.”

They parted quickly and Mandy and Arabella ran through the gap.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“Of course we’d be there.” Arabella told her, her face white. “You don’t have to thank us.”

“Harry!” Arabella cried, pulling him into a hug. “Sweet Merlin, are you alright?”

Mandy began checking him over. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“He was fine.” Hermione assured them quickly.

“Out of the way, ladies; Arthur.” A curt voice commanded.

Lily’s mouth dropped open. “They can’t honestly think they had anything to do with it, can they?”

“I’m sure they don’t.” David assured her. “But they are the only three there, which makes them witnesses. The sooner they can get their statement, the better.”

Mr. Crouch and the other Ministry wizards were closing in on them.

“Which one of you did it?” Crouch snapped …

“Alright, maybe they do think that.” David frowned. “What happened to the Ministry?”

“Fudge took over.” Sirius answered flatly. “I firmly believe that was when common sense started disappearing.”

“Can’t have been.” Hermione disagreed. “That was after they arrested you.”

“Point taken.” Sirius nodded.

… his eyes darting between them. “Which one of you conjured the Dark Mark?”

“Honestly.” Regulus rolled his eyes. “Three fourteen-year-olds, two of whom are Muggle-raised, would not know how to conjure the Dark Mark.”

“We didn’t do that!” Harry protested, gesturing to the skull.

“We didn’t do anything!” Ron added, rubbing his elbow. “What did you want to attack us for?”

“Do not lie, sir!” Crouch roared, his wand pointed at Ron.

“Oi!” Fred protested.

“You have been discovered at the scene of the crime!”

“What the hell’s wrong with him?” Alice asked with a frown. “That doesn’t sound like the guy Barty describes. He says his dad’s always calm and in control.”

“He hates the Dark Arts.” Sirius said calmly. “Could get quite … over-excited.”

“Barty!” Mandy gasped, pulling Harry to her protectively. “They’re kids! They wouldn’t know …”

“Where did the Mark come from, you three?” Arthur asked quickly.

“Good – at least some people are on the ball.” Jen muttered.

“Over there.” Hermione answered shakily, pointing in the direction the voice had been. “There was someone behind the trees … they shouted words … an incantation …” She trailed off, her head still burning.

Sirius looked concerned and she smiled slightly.

She took a deep breath and the emotions around her dimmed; the pain followed swiftly.

“That made everything easier to deal with.” Hermione murmured.

“Oh, stood over there, did they?” Crouch repeated disbelievingly. “Said an incantation, did they? You seem very well informed about how the Dark Mark is summoned, missy.”

“Yeah, because no other spells need an incantation.” James said, sarcasm lacing his tone.

Arabella rolled her eyes. “Yes, it does indeed take a genius to work out that a spell needs an incantation.

Everyone chuckled.

Surely it proves that Hermione, a fourteen-year-old witch, is well-versed on the Death Eater way of life. Too bad they wouldn’t welcome her with open arms!”

“Careful.” David warned, his lips twitching. “I don’t think they’re in the mood for sarcasm right now.”

“Arabella!” Mandy hissed.

But the other wizards clearly agreed with her, because they lifted their wands and were peering through the trees.

“It’ll be too late by now.” James sighed. “Won’t it?”

“Well, the stunners did go right through the trees.” David said thoughtfully. “The book didn’t mention a crack, so no one disapparated. Could well have been hit.”

“Of course, the screams could have masked the sound of apparition.” Regulus pointed out.

“We’re too late.” Mandy sighed, going back to checking Harry for any injuries. “They’ll have disapparated.”

“I don’t think so.” Amos Diggory disagreed.

“Him again.” Sirius murmured.

Addie smiled slightly and squeezed his arm. “I never felt this way about him.” She whispered, causing him to smile.

“Is this where he makes a complete prat of himself?” Arabella asked, remembering Hermione’s words earlier.

Hermione smirked slightly. “Just a bit, yeah.”

“Our stunners went right through those trees … there’s a good chance we got them …”

“Amos, be careful.” A few of the wizards warned, as he squared his shoulders and strode of into the darkness.

Hermione watched him disappear, shaking. Arabella put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“Thanks.” Hermione muttered. “I hadn’t even realised I was shaking.”

“Yes!” They heard Diggory shout after a few seconds.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

“We’ve got them! There’s someone here! Unconscious! It’s … but … blimey!”

“Someone unexpected?” James guessed.

“Must be.” Jen frowned.

“You got someone?” Crouch asked, sounding highly disbelieving. “Who? Who is it?”

With a lot of snapping twigs and rustling leaves, Diggory emerged back into the clearing with a tiny figure in his arms.

Narcissa raised an eyebrow at the next words.

It was Winky.

“That’s not possible.” Regulus said immediately. “An elf wouldn’t be able to cast that spell, unless she was ordered to. But no Death Eater would order an elf to do that – it’s considered an honour.”

David gave him a searching look, but didn’t say anything.

Hermione frowned. That was impossible. That voice … it was human … not an elf’s voice.

“That too.” Addie frowned. “He doesn’t seriously think the elf did it, does he?” She pointed at Sirius. “Don’t do it.”

Diggory deposited the tiny elf on the floor in front of Crouch, who stared at her in shock, while the other wizards watched him closely.

“No …” Crouch murmured. “This … cannot … be.” He moved around Diggory and strode into the trees himself.

“Now that’s an odd reaction.” David frowned. “The house-elf getting caught by a stunner means nothing – she was hiding.”

“No point, Mr. Crouch!” Diggory called. “There’s no one there!” He turned back to the other wizards, as Crouch continued to search. “Bit embarrassing. Barty Crouch’s house-elf …

“That makes more sense.” David nodded.

“So Winky is Crouch’s house-elf?” Addie scowled. “Figures.”

… I mean to say …”

“Come of it, Amos!” Arabella interrupted.

“Thank Merlin you’re there.” Lily said seriously. “I think you might be the only people with any sense.”

Mandy smiled at her. “Arthur Weasley’s there.”

“Aside from him.” Lily conceded.

“You don’t seriously think it was the elf? The Dark Mark is a wizard’s sign!”

Mandy nodded in agreement, apparently satisfied with Harry’s well-being. “It requires a wand for one thing.”

“Another good point.” David agreed.

Hermione couldn’t help but feel that the two women didn’t like Amos Diggory very much …

Arabella snorted. “That’s an understatement.”

… she extended her empathy just slightly.

Hermione blushed slightly. “I was curious.”

“It’s fine.” Mandy told her with a smile.

No, they definitely didn’t like him, but it was for personal reasons. What had he done?

Addie leaned over Sirius to whisper in her ear. “We dated in fourth year and he cheated on me.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “That’ll do it.”

“And she had a wand.”

“What?” David frowned.

“I can’t see Winky using a wand.” Jen commented. “Not given how she acted in the Top Box.”

Diggory said quietly, breaking into Hermione’s thoughts.

“What?” Arabella asked sharply.

Diggory held it up. “Had it in her hand. No non-human creature is permitted to carry or use a wand.

“That’s ridiculous.” Remus frowned. “Technically, werewolves and Veela are classed as ‘non-human’ by the Ministry.”

“But it doesn’t apply to them anymore.” Sirius said. “It hasn’t for years.”

“That law is seriously out-dated.” Mandy muttered, but was drowned out by Ludo Bagman apparating with a crack.

“Probably for the best.” Mandy admitted with a sheepish smile.

“The Dark Mark!” He gasped.

“Really on top of things.” Lily rolled her eyes, loosening her grip on Harry a little now she knew he’d be alright.

“Who did it? Did you get them? Barty? What’s going on?”

Crouch had re-emerged from the woods, empty-handed.

“Where have you been, Barty?” Bagman pressed. “Why weren’t you at the match? Your elf was saving you a seat – Gulping Gargoyles!” He appeared to have just noticed Winky. “What happened to her?”

Sirius shook his head. “Keep up, Bagman.”

“I have been busy, Ludo.” Crouch answered jerkily. “And my elf has been stunned.”

“Stunned?” Bagman repeated. “By you lot, you mean? But why …?” He gaped at them. “No! Winky? Conjure the Dark Mark? She’d need a wand for a start!”

“Oh, so he’s not a complete idiot.” Jen said lightly.

“I don’t think he believes it.” Mandy murmured from behind Hermione.

“I don’t think I believe it.” Arabella retorted, just as quietly.

There were a few sniggers and Mandy and Arabella smirked at one another.

“And she had one.” Diggory repeated impatiently. “I found her holding one, Ludo. If it’s alright with you, Mr. Crouch, I think we should hear what she’s got to say for herself.” When Crouch stayed silent, he pointed his own wand at Winky. “Enervate!

Feebly stirring, Winky opened her eyes and blinked bewilderedly. She pulled herself up into a sitting position, looked slowly up at Mr. Diggory, up at the Dark Mark, around at the watching wizards, and then burst into noisy sobs.

“Oh the poor thing.” Lily cooed. “She must be terrified!”

Hermione moved instinctively to comfort her, but Arabella tightened her hold and shook her head warningly.

“Good move.” David said. “You don’t want to get involved.”

“Elf!” said Mr Diggory sternly. “Do you know who I am? I’m a member of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!”

Winky began to rock backwards and forwards on the ground, her breath coming in sharp bursts. Hermione was reminded of Harry’s stories of Dobby in his moments of terrified disobedience.

“Could she be disobeying?” Lily asked curiously.

“It might be like Harry said earlier – that she didn’t ask permission to hide.” James answered. “But that still wouldn’t keep her from running properly, like they said earlier. Something’s going on.”

“As you see, elf, the Dark Mark was conjured here a short while ago,” said Mr Diggory. “And you were discovered moments later, right beneath it! An explanation, if you please!”

Addie scowled, muttering something under her breath that only Sirius heard, but he just smirked.

“Power trip.” Hermione heard Arabella mutter behind her …

Addie scowled. “She’s right. Bastard.”

“Now, Ads, you know you can’t kill him.” Sirius said calmly, lightly tugging a strand of hair playfully.

Addie pouted slightly. “Can you do it for me then?”

Sirius chuckled. “No, Ads, I can’t.”

“You once said you’d do anything for me.” Addie reminded him in a sing-song voice, only half-joking. “Or does that not stretch that far?”

“It does.” Sirius told her calmly. “But that favour’s been called in. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Harry looked utterly confused, so Hermione swiftly explained about Dolohov. His gaze hardened. “I’ll help.”

“Harry!” Hermione protested in a whisper.

“That’s one of my godmothers we’re talking about.” Harry hissed back. “Whether Mum and Dad made it official or not.”

Unbeknown to the two, Sirius and Addie had overheard their hushed conversation and he conjured a tissue quickly so she could wipe her eyes.

“I’ll talk to him later.” She murmured.

Narcissa caught their eye and kept reading.

… and couldn’t help agreeing.

“I – I – I is not doing it, sir!” Winky gasped. “I is not knowing how, sir!”

“You were found with a wand in your hand!” Diggory brandished it.

Harry gasped. “Hey – that’s mine!”

“What?!” Several people asked.

“But you didn’t go into that part of the woods.” Lily whispered, clinging to Harry again.

“Someone must have picked it up and used it to conjure the Dark Mark.” Sirius said with a frown. “Smart really.”

“How is that smart?” James demanded.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Because, Prongs, the aurors check people’s wands for the last spells they do – using their own wand would give them away.”

James turned a bit red. “Right, of course.”

Everyone looked at him.

“Excuse me?” Diggory sounded incredulous.

“That’s my wand!” Harry said. “I dropped it.”

“You dropped it?” Diggory repeated. “Is this a confession? You threw it aside after you conjured the Dark Mark?!”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Has he always been this much of an idiot?”
“Yes.” Sirius answered immediately. “He has.”

“Amos, think who you’re talking to!” Mandy cried.

“Thank Merlin you’re there.” Lily murmured yet again.

“Is Harry Potter really likely to conjure the Dark Mark?!”

“Of course.” Draco answered flatly. “Haven’t they realised it’s all a ruse to lull them into a false sense of security?”

Harry stared at him for a second, before grinning. “Apparently not. But I congratulate you on being the first to figure out my rather ingenious master plan. Care to be my left-hand when I push for world domination?”

Draco smirked. “Why not? But isn’t it usually right-hand?”

“Usually.” Harry conceded. “But I’m right-handed and Hermione might kill me if I don’t save that hand for her.”
“Damn right I would.” Hermione agreed.

“Er … of course not.” Diggory mumbled. “Sorry … got carried away.”

“Just a bit.” Addie muttered.

“I didn’t drop it there anyway.” Harry added, slightly coolly. “I missed it right after we got into the woods.”

At this, Diggory brightened slightly and turned back to Winky, who was still crying. “So! You found this wand, eh, elf? And you picked it up and thought you’d have some fun with it, did you?”

“No elf as neurotic as she was in the Top Box would do something like that.” James disagreed. “And she wouldn’t even know how to conjure the Dark Mark.”

Hermione couldn’t help it; she had to say something. “It wasn’t her!”

“Brave girl.” David murmured, as Sirius gave her a proud smile.

Her voice still shook slightly, but she felt a lot calmer. “Winky’s got a squeaky little voice and the voice we heard was much deeper!” She looked at Harry and Ron. “It didn’t sound like Winky, did it?”

Harry shook his head. “No, it didn’t sound like a house-elf at all.”

“Yeah, it was definitely a human voice.” Ron agreed. “A man.”

“Well, we’ll soon see.” Diggory didn’t sound convinced.

“You’ve got three reliable witnesses.” David protested. “That should tell you Winky didn’t do it.”

“Sounds like someone wants a scapegoat.” Regulus drawled.

“There’s a simple way of discovering the last spell a wand performed, elf, did you know that?” Winky shook her head frantically, as Mr. Diggory lifted Harry’s wand and placed it tip-to-tip with his own. “Prior Incantato!

Hermione gasped, horrified, as a thick grey ghost of the Dark Mark floated out the point where the two wands met.

“You know, I’m surprised someone was able to do that.” Addie commented. “The wand chooses the wizard – you shouldn’t get as good results with someone else’s.”

“But the Dark Mark isn’t difficult to conjure if you know how.” Sirius told her. “It can’t be – people like Crabbe and Goyle have to produce it.”

Deletrius.” The echo vanished and Diggory looked down at Winky again, with a type of savage triumph.

“That doesn’t prove she did it!” Fred shouted.

“I is not doing it!” Winky squealed in terror. “I is not, I is not, I is not knowing how! I is a good elf, I is not using wands, I isn’t knowing how!”

“Oh the poor thing.” Lily whispered again.

“You’ve been caught red-handed, elf!” Diggory roared. “Caught with the guilty wand in your hand!”

“Amos!” Arthur cut in, exchanging a disgusted look with Mandy and Arabella. “Think about it! Precious few wizards know how to do that spell … where would she have learnt it?”

“Exactly!”  James agreed.

“Perhaps Amos is suggesting,” Crouch said icily, “that I routinely teach my servants to conjure the Dark Mark?”

Alice smirked. “This should be fun.”

Diggory looked horrified. “Oh, no, Mr. Crouch! Of course not …!”

“Well, you kind of were.” Draco said innocently.

“You have now come very close to accusing the two people in this clearing who are least likely to conjure the Dark Mark!” Crouch barked. “Harry Potter and myself! I trust you are familiar with the boy’s story?”

“Of course …” Diggory muttered. “Everyone knows …”

“And don’t I know it.” Harry muttered.

“And I trust you remember the many proofs I have given, over a long career, that I despise and detest the Dark Arts and those who practice them?” Crouch continued.

Sirius snorted. “Yeah, we know. He always hated Jen.”

“I don’t practice the Dark Arts.” Jen said in a low voice. “I know them – unfortunately – but I’d never use them.”

Sirius sighed. “No, but there’s magic that you and I know of that makes what the Ministry considers dark look like fairy magic. Some of the spells you used in fights with Death Eaters definitely toed the Ministry line, which is why Voldemort considered you such a threat.”

“And Crouch hated her for that?” Harry asked sounding confused. “Surely it doesn’t matter as long as the magic wasn’t illegal, right?”

“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” Sirius agreed. “That was definitely the line we all took. Most of us thought Crouch was being a bit hypocritical – he was alright with aurors killing Death Eaters and using the Killing Curse to do it, but Jen using a grey spell that captured them but left them alive was out of order.”

“That doesn’t sound very grey.” Lily commented.

Sirius gave a vicious smirk. “I didn’t say they were unharmed. Just that they were alive.”

Mr. Diggory was turning red behind his beard. “Mr. Crouch, I … I never suggested you had anything to do with it.”

“But you did.” Draco smirked. “She wouldn’t have picked it up anywhere else.”

“If you accuse my elf, you accuse me, Diggory!” Crouch shouted. “Where else would she have learnt to conjure it?!”

“She … She might have picked it up anywhere!” Diggory protested weakly.

“Exactly.” Mandy spoke up. “She might have picked it up anywhere. Winky?” She asked kindly, but the elf flinched as though she were being shouted at.

“Poor thing.” Lily repeated. “She must be really abused at home.”

“Where exactly did you find Harry’s wand?”

Winky twisted the hem of her pillowcase. “I … I is finding it … finding it there, miss … there in those trees, miss …”

“You see?” Mandy asked, looking up. “Whoever conjured the Dark Mark could have disapparated right after they’d done it, leaving Harry’s wand behind. A clever thing to do, not to use their own wand, which could have betrayed them.”

Mandy raised an eyebrow. “That didn’t even cross my mind until Sirius mentioned it.”

“Well, future-you did work in the Order.” Sirius pointed out. “You had a bit more experience by then.”

“But then she’d have been feet from the real culprit!” Diggory pointed out. “Elf? Did you see anyone?”

“Honestly, she’s not a suspect anymore!” Lily protested. “She’s got a name!”

“Must you keep addressing her like that?” Arabella asked. “It’s rather off-putting.”

Arabella nodded in agreement with herself.

Diggory glared at her, as Winky twisted her pillowcase even more violently, so it frayed under her fingers. Trembling, she looked from Diggory to Bagman to Crouch. “I … I is seeing no one, sir … no one …”

David frowned slightly. “That sounds like she’s trying to hint at something.”

James looked thoughtful. “Well … she didn’t say she didn’t know who did it. Just that she didn’t see anyone. Maybe there was someone invisible.”

“But then why would she lie about that?” Lily asked.

“Amos.” Crouch said curtly. “I understand that, under normal circumstances, you would wish to take Winky into your department for questioning. I ask, however, that you allow me to deal with her.

“Now that is unusual.” David said. “Barty usually sticks to the rules rigidly. It’s strange for him to ask for special treatment.”

 You can rest assured that she will be punished.”

“She hasn’t done anything!” Lily protested.

“Master …” Winky whimpered. “Master … please …”

“Winky has behaved tonight in a manner I would not have believed possible.” Crouch continued, ignoring her. “I told her to remain in the tent. I told her to stay there while I went out to sort out the trouble. And I find that she has disobeyed me. This means clothes.”

“No!” Winky threw herself at Crouch’s feet. “No, master! Not clothes, not clothes!”

“He’s firing her.” Harry whispered in Hermione’s ear.

“But she was frightened!” Hermione burst out.

“That’s why you’re a Gryffindor.” Draco commented.

It wasn’t until Crouch looked up at her that she realised she’d said it aloud, but she pressed on. “Your elf’s scared of heights and those wizards in the masks were levitating people! You can’t blame her for wanting to get out of the way!”

“I have no use for a disobedient house-elf.” Crouch said coldly, moving away from Winky as though she was something contagious.

Lily was almost in tears and James tried to comfort her, looking angry himself.

“I have no use for a servant who forgets what is due to her master, and to her master’s reputation.”

“Oh of course!” Jen rolled her eyes. “Merlin forbid your precious reputation gets tarnished.”

Arthur cleared his throat. “Well, I think I’ll take my lot back to the tent if nobody’s got any objections.”

“We’ll go with you.” Mandy agreed, motioning to Arabella. “Amos, that wand’s told us all it can. If Harry could have it back?”

Diggory handed the wand to Harry, who pocketed it.

“Good.” Remus said. “At least you’ve got a wand now.”

“Come on, you three.” Arthur said.

Hermione didn’t move for a second; she was staring horror-struck at Winky.

“There’s nothing you can do.” Arabella whispered. “Just get out of there.”

Arabella put a hand on her elbow and guided her out through the woods. Reluctantly tearing her eyes away from the house-elf, Hermione met Harry’s gaze and knew that he was as disturbed and worried as she was.

“I was.” Harry whispered.

“That’s the end of the chapter.” Narcissa said softly.

Chapter Text

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

Chapter Thirteen

Dreams and Dreads

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

“Both.” Harry answered.

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

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

“I don’t know,” said Mr Weasley.

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

“Well, she’s not,” said Ron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were fine.” Ginny assured her quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

“What now?” Arabella asked with a groan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… though several ruined tents were still smoking.

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

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

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

Lily gasped, but didn’t say anything.

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

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

Fred, George and Ginny looked unhurt, though shaken.

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

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

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

“Thanks,” Percy touched his nose gingerly.

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

“I see your point.” Arabella smiled.

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

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

What?” said Bill, Charlie and Percy together.

“Harry’s wand?” Fred repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ron …

Regulus hesitated, but managed to get the name out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Damn right I would.” James muttered.

… so we stayed with her.”                   

“Thanks.” Lily whispered.

“Where was I?” Jen asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Interesting security question.” David commented.

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

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

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

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

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

The tension broke and several people chuckled.

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

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

Not his,” she added hastily when Hermione gasped.

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

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

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

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

Ron nodded, looking abashed. “Who died?”

Narcissa rolled her eyes. “Subtle.”

“Ronald!” Hermione hissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sirius nodded at Regulus and he found his place again.

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

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

“We were right.” Jen murmured.

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

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

They’re having their memories modified right now.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Who else would it be?” Lily asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Use your brains, Ron,” said Bill.

“Does he have any?” Ginny asked innocently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t blame them.” Lily muttered.

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

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

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

“Who wouldn’t?” Jen asked quietly.

Ginny was shivering next to her …

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

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

“What were you thinking?” James asked curiously.

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

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

“Pretty much.” Hermione agreed with a laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many other people have I done that to?

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

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

“Who wouldn’t be?” Jen murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginny winced. “Sorry, Hermione.”

Hermione waved it off. “I’m fine.”

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

“What is an empath?” Harry asked.

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

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

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

Sirius snorted. “That explains so much.”

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

Hermione laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Good example.” James commented.

“Besides Hermione’s not dark.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does he ever?” Ron asked blankly.

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

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

“I do.” Draco said coldly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Threatened you, you mean.” Ron growled.

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

Lily looked startled. “What?”

“What?” Harry asked sharply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, someone knows …”

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

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

Harry’s face paled. “What if …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She is?” Harry asked blankly.

“What was Sirius right about?” Ginny asked.

Hermione shrugged. “He’ll know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry hid a smirk. “Yes Mum.”

Hermione gasped and Ron looked dumbstruck.

“You had their reactions down.” Remus chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You could have told us.” Hermione muttered.

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

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

Ginny gasped. “Tell someone!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sirius deflated. “Seriously?”

“Can I do anything in any other way?”

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

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

“About Sirius?” Ginny asked sympathetically.

“No.”

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

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

“At least you told us.” Hermione sighed.

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

“Did he really believe that?” Jen asked.

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

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

Lily shuddered.

“Don’t say the name!” Ron hissed.

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

The Marauders beamed at her and she blushed slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who?” Ginny asked.

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

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

“What?” James asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s true.” Lily conceded.

Anything else?”

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

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

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

She sighed. “I honestly have nothing.”

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

Hermione shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”

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

Harry frowned thoughtfully. “June, I think.”

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

“Is there a difference?” Sirius asked.

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

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

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

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

“Probably.” Addie agreed.

“How?” Ron asked blankly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think so.” Harry confirmed.

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

“Why?”

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

Fred raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what’s a respite?”

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

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

“Just like Moony.” Sirius joked.

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

In English, please?”

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

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

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

Remus and Harry exchanged a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

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

Chapter Fourteen

Revelations

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

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

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

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

Addie laughed. “Ours always do that.”

Illusions to something happening at Hogwarts were made several times …

“That’s just mean.” James frowned.

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

Lily looked thoughtful. “Any ideas?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My dress robes.” Ron answered …

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

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

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

“Oh, shut up!” Ron snapped.

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

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

“Hello, turtleneck.” Jen rolled her eyes.

“Exactly.” Hermione agreed.

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

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

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

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

… when…

“Ssh!” Harry hissed suddenly.

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

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

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

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

Far more sensible, in his opinion …”

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

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

“No.” Hermione answered.

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

Hermione winced. “Sorry.”

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

… feeling uncharacteristically vindictive.

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

“Read, Harry.” Hermione sighed.

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

“That’s true.” Sirius conceded.

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

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

“Er … why not?” Harry asked.

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

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

Fred groaned. “Oh Merlin …”

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

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

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

I’m the Muggle-born one here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or the dark magic.” Jen added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Probably.” James nodded.

“Come again?” Harry interrupted.

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

Harry blinked. “Er … if you say so.”

Lily chuckled fondly. “Oh Harry …”

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

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

“I read, Harry.” Hermione sighed.

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

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

Shame his mother likes him.”

Hermione bit back a disapproving remark …

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

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

Mandy sighed. “Good start to the term.”

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

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

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

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

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

Harry pointed to him. “Exactly my point.”

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

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

Hermione just smirked.

However, she wasn’t reading it.

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

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

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

Harry shook his vehemently and Hermione rolled her eyes.

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

Hermione smiled. “He’s predictable.”

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

Harry and Hermione exchanged a smirk.

“Saw him right up close too.” Ron was saying excitedly. “Show him what he gave you, Harry! Hermione translated for the Bulgarian Minister.” He explained to the other three. “He introduced them.”

“How’d you end up doing that?” Dean asked, when Hermione glanced up at her name.

Hermione turned slightly pink. It hadn’t been a conscious decision.“He was giving me a headache.” She grimaced. “It just sort of happened. He spoke English anyway – just didn’t like Fudge.”

Over the sniggering, Harry pulled a Snitch out of his trunk. “Look.”

Dean gasped. “That’s not …”

“That is!” Seamus gaped. “He gave you the game-Snitch?!”

Harry nodded, a broad grin on his face.

Hermione buried her face back in her book, hiding a frown.

“How can you frown about that?” James asked faintly.

It wasn’t the action that bugged her, but the exchange that followed …

“Ah.” James sighed.

Hermione sighed, pushing her concern about Ron out of her mind, and focused her attention back on disguising her handwriting. Now the only problem lay with actually getting the note to him.

Shouldn’t be too hard.

“We were right up in the Top Box …” Ron was saying.

“For the first and last time in your life, Weasley.”

“Like I said,” Hermione said as everyone turned to look at Draco, “he’s predictable.”

Hermione glanced up and suppressed a smirk. Draco Malfoy and his two cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, had predictably appeared in the doorway.

“Don’t remember asking you to join us, Malfoy.” Harry said coolly, putting the Snitch back in his trunk.

“Weasley, what is that?” Draco asked, pointing at Pig’s cage. Ron’s dress robes were still covering it, one lacy sleeve swaying with the motion of the train.

The boys winced.

“Bad timing.” Jen grimaced.

While he was distracted, Hermione flicked her wand and floated the disguised note into the pocket of his robes. Trouble with your father? You’re not alone. A friend.

“Subtle.” Regulus commented sarcastically.

Hermione rolled her eyes, taking the remark with as much malice as had been intended. “Gimme a break – I was a fourteen-year-old Gryffindor.”

Ron turned red and tried to stuff the robes out of sight, but Draco was too quick for him and grabbed them.

“Look at this!” He held them up to show Crabbe and Goyle. “Weasley, you weren’t thinking of wearing these, were you? I mean, they were very fashionable in about 1890 …”

“Of course he wasn’t.” Hermione cut in, before Ron could say anything.

“I really wish you wouldn’t do that.” Draco sighed. “It’s fun riling him up.”

Hermione gave him a stern look, before Narcissa could. “That doesn’t make it right.”

Draco’s lips twitched. “Yes, Mum.”

“He’s going to magically alter them. Just because he has manners and isn’t about to insult a great-aunt when she sends him gifts doesn’t mean he’s stupid.”

“No, but leaving them out on the train where people like me can see them?” Draco raised an eyebrow.

Hermione inclined her head. “You have a point.”

Draco raised an eyebrow at her and threw the dress robes back. “So, going to enter, Weasley? Going to try and bring a bit of glory to the family name? There’s money involved as well, you know …”

“No …” David broke off. “They didn’t!”

“They did.” Harry said glumly, picking at the frayed denim of his jeans.

“Did what?” James asked. “Dad, what’s happening at Hogwarts?”

David shook his head. “Something incredibly stupid. Whose bright idea was this?”

Hermione shrugged. “Barty Crouch’s, I think.”

“What are you talking about?” Ron snapped.

“Are you going to enter?” Draco repeated. “I suppose you will, Potter; you never miss a chance to show off, do you?” A smile spread across his face. “You don’t know, don’t you? Father heard about it from Cornelius Fudge himself, but then he’s always associated with top people at the Ministry.”

“Seems the Minister isn’t paying too much attention to classified information.” Lily commented.

“That explains so much.” Hermione sighed.

“Oh, you must be talking about what Mr. Bagman was on about.” Hermione said coolly. “Too bad Mr. Crouch stopped him before he could tell us.”

“Now that’s more like it.” Regulus remarked.

“I wouldn’t call that subtlety.” Hermione frowned. “Wasn’t what I was going for, to be honest.”

“No, but still very Slytherin.” Regulus told her with a smile. “Must be the Black in you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Hermione chuckled, as Sirius laughed.

She turned to the other three boys. “Apparently, it’s ‘classified information, until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it’. Clearly, some people have more respect for Ministry guidelines than others. But, in answer to your question, Malfoy, no, I don’t think any of us will enter. The rules have been changed and the only thing that would make Mrs. Weasley that relieved would be if we couldn’t enter.

David looked up.

“Seventeen and over only.” Hermione said, in answer to his unspoken question.
“I really wish you’d stop talking in riddles.” Sirius muttered.

So thank you for your concern; good day.” She watched smugly as the three Slytherins walked out, stunned shock on their faces.

Draco grimaced. “It wasn’t that obvious, was it?”

“Yes.” Harry smirked. “It was a good look for you.”

Ron stood up and slid the door shut so hard that the glass fell out and shattered.

“Sirius.” Addie ‘coughed’ loudly.

“Ron!” Hermione snapped reproachfully. She pulled her wand out and pointed it at the glass. “Repairo!” The glass flew back into the door.

“Well, making it look like he knows everything and we don’t …” Ron snarled.

“Oh, so I did get under his skin.” Draco commented. “That’s good.”

Father’s always associated with the top people at the Ministry. Dad could’ve got a promotion any time he likes; he just likes it where he is!”

“Of course he does.” Hermione soothed.

Hermione grimaced. “That sounded more patronising than I intended it to be.”

“I want to know why he hasn’t made any comment yet about you undermining his father in the Top Box.” Harry frowned.

Draco shrugged. “Didn’t see the point. I quite enjoyed it.”

“With the Bulgarian Minister, do you mean?” Ron checked. “I was wondering that. Unless he doesn’t care.”

Hermione laughed. “I’m a Muggle-born, Ron; of course he’ll care. At least his father will.”

“And we have a winner.” Draco muttered.

“There’s something off about that.” Seamus agreed. “Any ideas?”

“A few.” Hermione admitted cautiously. “But I’d rather keep it to myself for now.” She glanced at Ron. “Just don’t let him get to you.”

“Him! Get to me! As if!” Ron picked up a Cauldron Cake and squashed it into a pulp.

Remus rolled his eyes. “I see he was really taking your advice to heart.”
“He always does.” Hermione agreed solemnly.

By the time they reached the Great Hall, all the students were soaking, but Hermione, Ron and Harry had, unfortunately, been caught up in Peeves’s water-balloon attack. In addition, Hermione’s neck was aching, because, in an effort to stop Peeves, McGonagall had skidded on the wet floor and had grabbed Hermione to stop herself from falling.

Hermione rubbed her neck again.

The Sorting and the feast were uneventful, except for Nearly-Headless Nick revealing that house-elves worked in the kitchen.

“So Hermione decided to stage a one-woman protest and refused to eat.” Harry finished.

Hermione sniffed. “That was not what I was going to do.”

Hermione’s original plan was to find out what house-elves really were and if the Hogwarts elves were treated well; a hunger strike was not originally on her list. But watching Ron eat was enough to put anyone off their food.

Harry grimaced. “True. That’s why I usually sit next to him, rather than opposite.”

When everyone had reached the ‘toying-with-desert’ stage, the puddings disappeared and Dumbledore stood up, beaming at them as he did every year and everyone stopped talking.

“So! Now we are all fed and watered …”

Regulus rolled his eyes. “What are they, horses?”

Hermione snorted. What are we? Horses?

Regulus blinked in surprise as Sirius burst out laughing. Addie sniggered. “Must be the Black in you.” She said, repeating Regulus’s earlier comment.

“… I must once more ask for your attention, while I give out some notices. Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended …

“When has it not?” James sighed.

… to include Screaming Yo-Yos, Fanged Frisbees and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs.

“Damn, they’re good as well.” Sirius frowned.

“I’m surprised they’re not already on the list.” Alice commented.

The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr Filch's office, if anybody would like to check it.”

“We should totally do that.” James grinned.

“Why?” Lily asked. “To freak Filch out or to work out what you need to smuggle in?”

James thought for a second. “Both.”

Dumbledore’s eyes seemed to twinkle even more than usual. “As ever, I would like to remind you all that the Forest in the grounds is out-of-bounds to all students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.

Harry frowned. “I don’t remember that ever being mentioned before.”

Hermione shrugged. “Neither was the forbidden objects list, I don’t think.”

It is also my painful duty to inform you that the inter-house Quidditch Cup will not take place this year.”

“WHAT?!”

Lily and Addie both winced. “Ow!”
“Sirius!”

“Sorry Lils.” James muttered automatically, still staring in horror at the book.

“They … Quidditch … cancelled … Why?!” Sirius demanded.

Addie sighed, squeezing his hand. “I don’t know. It’ll be okay. I’m sure there’s a reason for it.”

Hermione winced …

“Really?” Mandy asked. “I didn’t think you liked Quidditch that much.”

“I don’t.” Hermione smirked. “It was everyone else I was worried about.”

… and shut her empathy off – she’d been getting better at doing this on command – and prepared her eardrums for the expected outburst to erupt.

“Ah.” Mandy nodded. “That makes sense.”

But it didn’t. Everyone in the Great Hall appeared too shocked for words.

“I don’t blame them.” James whispered, rubbing his chest as though a heart attack was imminent.

“This is due to an event that will be starting in October, and continuing through the school year, taking up much of the teachers’ time and energy.” Dumbledore explained; Hermione felt a stab of foreboding.

“You and me both.” David sighed. “I can’t believe they were so stupid …”

“I’m sure you will enjoy it immensely.

“I’m not.” Harry muttered.

I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts …”

At that moment …

“No!” Sirius groaned. “What’s happening at Hogwarts?”

… the Headmaster was cut off by a deafening rumble of thunder and the doors of the Great Hall flew open.

Shadowed in the doorway, shrouded in a black travelling cloak, a man stood, leaning on a staff.

Lily gasped. “Who …?”

As a flash of lightning illuminated the Hall, the man lowered his hood, shook out long grizzled, dark-grey hair, then made his way up to the head table; a dull clunk sounded on every alternate step. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling as the man limped towards Dumbledore, throwing his face into relief and Hermione gasped.

“Oh Merlin …” Addie whispered.

“Relax.” Hermione said calmly. “It’s just our Defence teacher.”

Harry snorted under his breath.

It looked as though it had been carved out of weathered wood by someone who had no idea how to use a chisel and had never seen a human face.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Interesting description.”

Every inch of skin seemed to be scarred. The mouth looked like a diagonal gash and a large chunk of his nose was missing.

“What happened?” Jen asked.

David frowned. “I don’t know. He could well be an ex-auror … which would make him a good choice for DADA, but it sounds like I’d work with him and I don’t recognise that description. Do I know him?”

Hermione smirked slightly, remembering what James had said about Moody during the first book. “Yes, you know him.”

But it was the man's eyes that made him frightening.

One of them was small, dark and beady. The other was large, round as a coin, and a vivid, electric blue. The blue eye was moving carelessly, without blinking, and was rolling up, down and from side to side, quite independently of the normal eye – and then it rolled right over, pointing into the back of the man's head, so that all they could see was whiteness.

Lily shuddered. “That must be creepy.”

“Oh, it is.” Hermione agreed fervently. “But you get used to it.”
Harry gave her a funny look.

“Mad-Eye’s in the Order.” She explained. “I’ve seen him over the summer.”

“Mad-Eye?” James repeated. “Appropriate nickname. Know him, Dad?”

David shook his head. “No. Not by that name, anyway. He’s probably not lost his eye yet.”

Hermione shuddered slightly as the man shook Dumbledore’s hand, exchanged a few quiet words with him, then took the seat next to him, spearing a sausage on a knife he pulled from his pocket. His blue eye darted around the Hall all the while.

“Allow me to introduce our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” Dumbledore announced into the silent Hall.

David’s eyes widened. “I don’t believe it.”

“What?” James asked.

“Professor Moody.”

“Moody?” James repeated. “As in your boss?”

“Must be.” David looked at those from the future questioningly, and they nodded. “Well, his appearance makes sense then – he’s never been one to stand on the side-lines. But surely he’s retired by now?”

Hermione smiled slightly. “Technically, yes. He got incredibly paranoid.”

“CONSTANT VIGILENCE!” Fred and Ginny shouted together.

Everyone jumped, except David, who laughed. “He’s still on about that?”
“He’s become more paranoid over the years.” Sirius informed him with a smirk.

“Didn’t think that was possible.” David murmured, finding his place again.

Dumbledore and Hagrid clapped, but everyone else – even the other teachers – seemed to be in too much shock to react. Moody seemed completely oblivious to this, as he pulled a hip-flask from his pocket and took a swig, revealing, as he did, several inches of wooden leg.

Jen winced. “He’s really been through the wars, hasn’t he?”

“He’s a bit of an extreme example.” Sirius conceded. “Most aurors aren’t nearly that bad.”

“Moody?” Harry muttered. “Not Mad-Eye Moody? The one your Dad went to help this morning?”

“Ah, the exploding dustbins.” Hermione remembered under her breath.

David looked up. “What?”

“Dad got a floo call to say that Mad-Eye had heard intruders and his dustbins had been booby-trapped to explode.” Fred explained.

“Shouldn’t MLE have been called in?” Remus asked.

“With Moody’s paranoia, it was probably a cat.” Hermione explained. “It was best to just skip the middle man and send Mr Weasley straight in so he could smooth everything over, since Muggle law enforcement had been pulled in.”

“Must be.” Ron nodded, sounding awed.

Hermione shook her head. “What happened to him? What happened to his face?”

“Death Eaters.” Harry answered bluntly.

“Dunno.” Ron whispered.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, but all eyes were still on the new teacher. “As I was saying, we are to have the honour of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months, an event which has not been held for over a century.

David scowled.

It is my great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year.”

“What’s the Triwizard Tournament?” Lily asked curiously, as James and Sirius cheered.

“It’s a competition between the three main schools in Europe – Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.” Jen answered, looking excited. “A champion is selected from each school and competes in three tasks. Winner gets a thousand galleons.”
“It was cancelled because the death toll got too high.” David said sharply, causing everyone’s excitement to dim.

“Harry, I forbid you to even think about entering that tournament!” Lily told him in a high voice.

Harry smiled slightly. “Don’t worry, Mum. I vaguely wondered what it’d be like to win, but I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime to want to enter.”

Two weeks later …

Harry raised an eyebrow. “They missed the uproar over ‘of age only’.”

“What’s to miss?” Hermione shrugged. “Everyone in sixth year who turned seventeen after October argued and Dumbledore warned us that the ‘impartial judge’ couldn’t be hoodwinked.”

… Hermione found herself walking down a corridor she had never been down before, thinking over everything. Maybe she was taking the house-elf thing too far. She still didn’t know everything about the wizarding world; maybe Ron was right.

Fred gasped. “No! Say it isn’t so!”

“They’re used to it!”

She rolled her eyes. That doesn’t make it right.

“That’s true.” Lily agreed.

Still, maybe the library would yield evidence that house-elf magic worked that way.

“It will.” Regulus said. “Or at least it should.”

Maybe she could just protest about how some people treated them … yes, that was a good idea.

“You’re ambitious.” Narcissa commented. “I’ll give you that.”

But she couldn’t still shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen.

“Still?” Jen asked.

Hermione nodded. “It wouldn’t leave me alone.”

 Maybe it was Hagrid’s new pets; Blast-Ended Skrewts.

“I’m sorry, what?” Lily asked.

“Blast-Ended Skrewts.” David repeated. “I’ve never heard of them.”
“That’s because they’re not entirely legal.” Hermione said with a slight groan. “Hagrid thought it would be a good idea to cross a manticore with a fire-crab.”

“What?” Jen asked faintly.

“Yeah, they burnt, stung, bit and travelled around by exploding their tails and propelling forwards.” Harry frowned. “I think it was their tail. They didn’t seem to have faces.”

“You forgot that the females sucked blood.” Hermione said with a straight face.

“It’d be alright if they turned out to cure cancer or something though, wouldn’t it?” Draco asked with a smirk.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You know full well I just said that to shut you up.”

Hermione wouldn’t have minded this nearly as much if it weren’t for the fact that she couldn’t find any mention of the damn things anywhere in the library.

Draco developed a mysterious coughing fit. “Illegal cross-breeds.”

Maybe it was the Tournament, she reasoned. Maybe she was still caught up in the ‘death toll’.

The rules had changed; Dumbledore wouldn’t allow students to get hurt on Hogwarts grounds anyway.

Jen gave a derisive snort. “Yeah, there was just the jinxed broom, the three-headed dog, the troll, the chess set, the basilisk, Lockhart, Dementors and a mass-murderer hiding in the Gryffindor dorms.”

But the prize …

It wasn’t the money that worried her; it was the cup. “Touch of cup brings respite’s end.”

Lily shuddered. “Oh, I’d forgotten about that.”

Of course, it could also have had something to do with Moody teaching them about the Unforgivable Curses …

“What?!” David broke off and looked up. “You were in fourth year!”
Harry nodded, staring at the floor. “He demonstrated them on spiders. Said we needed to know.”

Lily looked furious. “He cast the Killing Curse in front of you?!”

Harry nodded again. “And made a point of telling me that I was the only person to survive it. I just kept seeing you and Dad …”

Lily wrapped her arms around him, stifling her own sob.

Alice was staring at Neville in horror. “He showed you the … the Cruciatus …?”

Neville flinched, but nodded.

Closing her eyes, Alice mimicked Lily’s movements, holding the boy close despite their close ages. “Do I … Do I recognise you at all?”

“Sometimes …” Neville whispered, clinging to her. “Sometimes I think you might. You give me a gum-wrapper whenever I go to see you.”

“Droobles?” Alice guessed with a smile. “My favourite.”  She squeezed his shoulder. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“’m alright.” Neville mumbled. “Professor Moody took me for a cup of tea in his office afterwards – we didn’t talk about it, but he told me that Professor Lupin had mentioned that I’m really interested in Herbology and that he had a book I might be interested in.”
Alice beamed. “That was nice of him.”

Harry leaned over to Hermione. “Did we ever tell Neville about …?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “How am I supposed to know? I left early, remember?”

“He demonstrated the Unforgivables in front of fourth years?!” David scowled. “He hates performing them in front of aurors.”

“Times change.” Harry shrugged. “People change.”

Hermione hid a smirk at another ambiguous statement. Harry was getting good at these.

David didn’t look happy, but accepted this answer and kept reading.

Hermione …

Hermione started as her name echoed through the corridor. Who said that? And where am I?

Everyone sat up straighter. “Is this when you …?” Harry trailed off.

“When you what?” Neville asked, slightly confused.

Hermione smiled apologetically at him. “I would’ve told you, but I knew the story would bring it up soon and I’d already explained it twice.”

Neville nodded understandingly. “That’s fine.”

Tentatively, she kept walking, glancing around her. A door stood open at the end of the corridor and she peered around it. Four people, shimmering like ghosts, were standing in front of her.

“Did you know?” Harry asked.

Hermione shook her head. “The shock came from knowing they weren’t ghosts. Ghosts don’t have colour unless they’re poltergeists.”

“Holy Merlin…” Hermione whispered, taking a few steps forward. A gust of wind blew the door shut behind her and she jumped.

“Hermione Jane, welcome.” One of the men greeted solemnly.

“Er, thank you, sir.” Hermione curtsied, having read a lot of period stories when she was younger. “May I ask who you are and why I’m here?” Wherever ‘here’ is.

“Surely it was a part of Hogwarts.” James pointed out.

Hermione shrugged. “Not on the Map.”

The Marauders gasped as though she had personally offended them.

Hermione rolled her eyes with a fond smile. “I think it only appears when they want it to.”

The four smiled at her, instantly putting her at ease.

“You may.” The man agreed. “Please, take a seat.”

“Thank you.” Hermione seated herself in the chair that appeared behind and took a good look at the people in front of her, under the cover of adjusting her robes.

“Sneaky.” Jen smirked.

The man who had spoken had wild red hair and a beard; he reminded her a little of the lion Aslan in the Narnia stories …

Hermione pointed at the book that was still on the table in the middle. “Those stories.”

… in that there was an air of strength around him that made one respect him and yet he seemed kind and gentle. The other man was bald, but with a long beard that almost reached the floor.

Regulus sucked in a breath, but said nothing.

Of the two women, one was tall and willowy with long dark hair, the other was short and plump with tightly curled red hair. She’d seen them somewhere before, or maybe she hadn’t, but either way, they seemed familiar.

“Had you?” Harry asked.

Hermione frowned. “That’s the odd thing – I’m sure I haven’t. I think it’s just the fact that they’re so … ingrained in the castle that you know them subconsciously.”

“As to our identities,” the dark-haired woman began, “you know of us, but have never met us.”

“And once she said that, I knew.” Hermione said quietly. “Like it just popped into my head.”

And suddenly, Hermione did know who they were, as though she’d known all along.

Hermione nodded emphatically, ignoring the fact that she’d just said much the same thing.

“Lady Ravenclaw …” She whispered. “Lady Hufflepuff. Lord Gryffindor. Lord Slytherin. May I enquire as to why you are appearing to me, of all people?”

“You may.” Rowena smiled. “But you can drop the formality, my dear.

“Thank Merlin.” Hermione laughed. “I didn’t think I could keep it up for much longer.”
“You’ll have to when you reach the Wizengamot.” David pointed out.

Hermione stopped laughing. “Erm … pardon?”

Sirius nudged her. “You may well need to take the Black seat.”

“Oh.” Hermione repeated faintly.

We wanted to warn you.”

“Warn me?” Hermione asked.

“You’re an empath.” Salazar told her. “More importantly, you’re the first pure-of-heart empath to pass through these doors.

“Why’s that important?” James asked.

“Because I’m the first that the castle will allow to pick up on her responses.” Hermione answered automatically.

You’ll be more sensitive to the magic of the castle, because we put some of ourselves into her. Unlike your empathy, you can’t shut this out. It will be painful, but we have no doubt that you can handle it. Hogwarts needs someone to listen to her.”

Sirius let out a low whistle. “Bloody Hell. That’s a big ask, isn’t it?”

“We sorted students, because there were certain qualities we knew how to nurture.” Helga continued. “Hogwarts is no longer united. Our history has become so warped, you can no longer distinguish truth from rumour.”

Hermione swallowed hard. “As much as I’d like to, I don’t think I can unite the houses on my own.”

“Of course not.” Godric agreed.

“Oh good.” Arabella commented. “At least they realise that you have your limits.”

“But you can make a start. You already have.”

Hermione frowned in thought. Then it hit her. “You mean the note?

“They saw that?” Draco asked in surprise.

Hermione shrugged. “Probably sensed you had it when you walked in. She’s good at doing that.”

“Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff?” Lily asked.

Hermione shook her head. “Neither; the castle.”

But I don’t even know if he read that.”

“It’s still a start.” Salazar told her. “Now we’ll give you a tool to deal with the pain of listening to Hogwarts in a minute.

“What was it?” Neville asked.

“You’ll see.” Hermione smirked, seeing everyone else’s confused expressions – she knew she’d told them this already.

Of course, a lot had happened since then.

First of all … Rowena?”

Helga smiled faintly at Hermione. “Rowena’s a Seer. Thankfully, it was never passed down to her descendants.”

Rowena had stiffened; she closed her eyes and her voice became flat. “The true leader of the light is hidden … her mind is locked away, but her gift is not … answers shall be revealed in the place where the fire maid almost met her doom …

“Okay …” Lily frowned. “What?”

“Well …” Jen looked thoughtful. “The last part must refer to the Chamber of Secrets. Fire maid – red hair – Ginny. Sorry,” she added as an aside to the girl in question.

Ginny smiled at her. “It’s fine.”

“As for the first part …” Jen shook her head. “The leader of the light is supposed to be Dumbledore, but … the prophecy seems to be disagreeing with that.”

“And a woman at that.” Regulus commented. “That’ll shake things up.” He held up his hands at the glares he received from the females in the room. “Because the magical world is a predominantly patriarchal society. Some people will have trouble accepting that.”

Her eyes flew open and she started coughing harshly. “I hate it when that happens.”

Hermione pulled a piece of parchment from her bag and scribbled the prophecy down. “Won’t the Ministry now have a copy of this?”

“I’m dead, remember?” Rowena winked at her. “What they don’t know can’t hurt them.”

Hermione smiled. “I…er…I don’t suppose you know what this all means.”

Arabella chuckled. “Don’t think you’ll get that lucky, dear.”

Helga laughed. “Oh, I like this one. No, dear, you’ll have to figure it out yourself. As for how we’re here, we put so much magic into the school that we can’t really leave it. But we’re not ghosts, so we may only be seen by empaths and our heirs, if we choose to appear to them. You’re the first, actually, now I come to think about it.”

“Impressive.” Regulus commented.

“Now to dull the pain. Stand up, my dear.” Godric stated, waving his hand. “Think the words Animagus Transformo.

Hermione did as instructed and heard a small pop, similar to when Sirius turned into Padfoot.

“Damn, that’s a lot easier than what we did.” Jen grimaced.

Her vision appeared to have changed, her sense of smell was sharper and her posture was different; she was now crouched on all fours.

Helga conjured a full-length mirror and Hermione saw that she was now a dark-brown lioness with chocolate-brown eyes. She concentrated on her human form, hoping it would turn her back, and, with a soft pop, it did. “Thank you, sir.”

“And now that you’ve transformed once, you won’t need the incantation next time.” Salazar told her kindly.

“Whoa, really?” Harry asked. “Is that possible?”

Hermione swatted his shoulder. “Be nice.”

“Ordinarily, we would have advised you to study the transformation progress first, but with the other schools arriving and the wards being lowered, you really don’t have the time.”

Hermione couldn’t help herself. “Sir, I have to ask … don’t you hate Muggle-borns?”

Everyone perked up. Aside from Neville, they had all been told his answer, but they were all interested to hear it first-hand.

Rowena and Helga exchanged a mysterious smile …

“What was that for?” Harry asked.

Hermione shrugged. “Probably because they knew I wasn’t Muggle-born.”

… but Salazar shook his head. “I never hated Muggle-borns, Hermione. Given the circumstances at the time, I did suggest that maybe Muggle-borns should be taught in a different school for the first year to introduce them to the wizarding world without putting the rest of us at risk.”

Lily nodded. “That makes sense.”

James frowned. “No it doesn’t.”

Lily sighed. “Maybe not now, James, but when Hogwarts was first founded, Muggles would kill people for having magic, even if they didn’t actually have it.”

“We disagreed because there was already tension between purebloods and Muggle-borns.” Godric sighed. “We thought it would cause more of a problem. One young girl ran away after one term because she was bullied – not for being Muggle-born, but because she was a lot more intelligent than everyone else.”

Lily flinched, knowing what that felt like. James pulled her closer, kissing the side of her head.

Hermione felt a pang of sympathy for the girl. She knew how lonely that could be.

“Her family formed a mob and came after us.” Helga continued, resting a gentle hand on Salazar’s shoulder. “They couldn’t get through the wards, of course, but Salazar’s Muggle-born wife was returning from a trip and they killed her, and their unborn daughter.”

“Poor woman.” Narcissa sympathised.
Hermione gasped in horror, any sympathy dissipating in an instant. “Sweet Merlin!”

“I know.” Rowena agreed heavily. “We were all shocked. Elizabeth was a wonderful young woman and it was an honour to have known her. That was when we developed the Memory Charm to …”

“They developed the Memory Charm?” Jen asked. “I didn’t know that.”

“Neither did I.” David agreed.

“You developed that?” Hermione asked. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Rowena smiled at her. “It’s fine, Hermione. Yes, that was us. We began using it on students who decided to leave. Immoral, maybe, but we had the other students to think of.

David sighed with a grimace. “I guess it was for the best.”

But after that, Salazar left the school to travel the world.”

“Wait, so there was no great argument?” Hermione asked, remembering the story Professor Binns had told them.

Salazar chuckled. “My dear girl, I have argued no more with my friends and colleagues than any other wizard. I assure you that any reports of any altercation have been grossly exaggerated.”

“That was the memory you showed us in the first book.” James realised.

Hermione nodded.

Hermione was now very confused. “But what about the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets?”

“I did build the chamber, that’s true.” Salazar confirmed. “I felt we should have a private library, but never got around to telling the others where to find it.”

“Or how to get into it.” Rowena muttered darkly. “It was my castle.”

“Was it really?” Lily asked. “I always thought it was Gryffindor’s.”

“A lot of people do.” David smiled. “But Hogwarts was originally Ravenclaw Castle.”

Salazar shrugged. “You offered. But I certainly did not put any basilisk in there. That was courtesy of my charming great-grandson.”

“Of course, that’s when the rumours started.” Hermione murmured.

At that moment, the air around her began to shimmer and she jumped.

“A warning. We’ve kept you long enough, my dear.” Rowena said softly. “Tell only those you trust of your encounter with us.”

“Because that’s the sort of thing you normally go around shouting from the rooftops.” Sirius muttered.

“You would.” Addie pointed out sweetly.

“Of course.” Hermione agreed shakily. As if anyone else would believe me.

The room brightened for a moment, making her shield her eyes. When the light had vanished, so had the four founders.

Hermione picked up her bag and left the room, almost in a daze. Had that just been a figment of her imagination?

“I don’t think you could imagine that.” Jen commented. “Even if you tried.”

As she recapped the conversation she’d just had, trying to find something that might tell her that it was all a practical joke, she walked straight into the twins, who caught her before she hit the ground.

“Careful, Mya.”

“Sorry.” Hermione murmured, glancing around and trying to place her location. “Caught in my thoughts.”

“House-elves again?” Fred asked with a sigh.

“You could have told us.” Fred told her.

Hermione smiled sheepishly. “I know. But how was I supposed to tell you what happened when I couldn’t explain it to myself?”

“Good point.” Fred conceded.

“They’re all happy here, Mya. Ask them.”

“I would.” Hermione told him, glad of something to take her mind off the meeting. “But I can’t find any.”

“Quick!” Sirius cried. “Educate her!”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Or just tell her where the kitchens are.”

Fred and George exchanged a loaded glance, before the latter grabbed her arm and steered her down a corridor into the Entrance Hall, then down a flight of stairs into a stone corridor towards a painting of a fruit bowl. “Gred, if you would?”

“Certainly, Forge.” Fred reached out a hand and tickled the pear in the painting. The pear giggled and turned into a handle, which Fred seized and pulled, opening a door into a large kitchen. Five tables were placed exactly like the house tables; Hermione assumed the food was placed on them down here and sent up.

Harry gasped. “You mean you didn’t already know?!”
“As I may have mentioned before,” Hermione said with poise, “Hogwarts: A History never mentions the kitchens. Maybe I should write a revised version.”

“House elves.” George called. “Could I have your attention please?”

The chatter and noise in the kitchen quietened.

“Thanks.” Fred grinned. “Hermione here doesn’t quite understand the wizarding tradition of house-elves at the moment. Are you all happy here?”

“Bit of a trick question, that.” Regulus commented. “Most house-elves would say they were even if they weren’t.”

“But the ones at Hogwarts are very happy.” James added hastily.

“Oh, yes, sirs, miss.” One of the house-elves spoke up. “We is very happy.”

House-elves throughout the room nodded vigorously.

“And you’re well-treated, aren’t you?” George added, sitting down.

More nods.

Hermione sighed in relief and caught sight of the twins’ faces.

Fred looked a little insulted. “What about our faces?”

Hermione sniggered. “You both had that ‘now will you drop it?’ look.”

“Alright, I’ll stop. I guess it’s just because the only two house-elves I’ve ever met weren’t treated very well by their families … but I suppose that’s just from my point of view.”

“No, they weren’t.” James agreed. “But Lucius Malfoy can’t exactly be held up as the average house-elf owner.”

“Neither can Crouch.” Sirius added.

“Sometimes, miss,” the house-elf who had spoken before said hesitantly, “sometimes, miss, masters are cruel and some of us have family who is treated very badly miss, but clothes is a big dishonour, miss.”

Hermione sat down. “What if …” She hesitated. “What if someone could make it so that people had to treat their house-elves well?

“It’ll take some powerful persuasion to get the Wizengamot to agree to it.” Jen warned.

“Careful.” Harry joked. “That sounds like a challenge. And it’s never a good idea to challenge Hermione.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked.

“Just that when you come up against a challenge, you beat it tenfold.” Harry answered with a smile. “Challenge you to win house-elf rights and you’ll probably win rights for every other magical creature as well.”

Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?”

“A good thing, miss.” The house-elf answered. “But not if we was given clothes.”

“What about a uniform?” Fred asked, sounding interested. “You may be on to something, Mya. I don’t think a lot of wizards even know how house-elves became … well, house-elves.

David paused with a frown. “That’s a good point, actually. Anyone here know?”

“We do.” Fred sang, gesturing to Hermione.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “We’ll tell you when we break for lunch, if it’s not said in here.”

Do you know, Kady?”

The house-elf nodded hard. “Oh, yes, sir. We is told of our history by our mothers and they by their mothers.”

“Could…Could you tell us?” Hermione asked. “That is, if you haven’t got work to do.”

Kady looked delighted. “Oh, no, miss. No witch or wizard has ever wanted to know our history before, miss!”

“That’s because most witches and wizards think that house-elves are beneath them.” Hermione muttered.

“We couldn’t have some of those éclairs while you’re telling us, could we?” George asked hopefully.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

Several house-elves appeared next to him with a tray and the three Gryffindors settled down to hear a story that very few wizards cared about.

After the trip to the kitchens …

Lily sighed. “Bother.”

“I’ll tell you later.” Hermione repeated.

… Fred and George escorted Hermione to the library, before disappearing off to do … Merlin knows what.

“Don’t ask.” Arabella advised.

Hermione did a bit more research and found out that there was nothing in wizarding laws about treating house-elves fairly. She tried to find out how to go about getting a law introduced, but there was nothing in the library about the Wizengamot or – when she tried to satisfy her curiosity about the heirs – the Hogwarts founders.

David frowned. “Now that’s very odd. Although I doubt you’d find any mention of the heirs there normally, there were at least five books in my time.”

“There’s more now.” Lily added.

After she had browsed the shelves for half an hour, Madam Pince came over to her. “Miss Granger, what are you looking for?”

Hermione sighed. “Anything about the Hogwarts founders or the Wizengamot.”

Madam Pince raised an eyebrow. “Professor Dumbledore had all books like that removed several years ago. Come to think about it, I think it was the summer before you came. Yes, it was, because Professor McGonagall and I were rather annoyed about it and we had a good chat about that and the fact that Harry Potter would be attending in September, because everything that even mentioned the Potter family was removed as well.”

David’s frown deepened as he read.

“Why were the books removed?” Hermione asked.

“I don’t know.” Madam Pince admitted. “Professor Dumbledore never told me. If it’s absolutely necessary, Flourish and Blotts take owl orders.”

James looked put-out. “She’s never that helpful with us!”

“That’s because you never give her any reason to be.” Lily pointed out sweetly.

“Thank you, Madam Pince.” Hermione walked back to her table and was about to give up, when she was hit with a brainwave.

“Uh oh!” Harry yelped. “She’s had an idea! Duck and cover!”

Hermione rolled her eyes and dragged him out from behind the sofa. “Get up.”

By the time Hermione got back to the Common Room she had decided what she was going to do about house elves. Balancing the box of buttons she’d made in one hand …

“Oh Merlin!” Harry groaned. “Here we go!” He caught Hermione’s eye and hastily added, “Thank goodness! Because someone needs to draw attention to this issue, but for the love of Merlin, Hermione, change the name!”

… and a sheaf of parchment in the other, she picked her way across the Common Room to where Ron and Harry were finishing their Divination homework.

“Translation: trying to work out how many ways they could possibly die.” Fred said dryly.

Crookshanks jumped off of Harry’s lap and wound himself around her legs.

“Hello!” She greeted. “I’ve just finished.”

“So have I!” Ron announced triumphantly, throwing his quill down.

Hermione sat down, dumping her cargo onto the table and pulled Ron’s predictions towards her. It started with developing a cough and got steadily worse. “Not going to have a very good month, are you?” She commented, Crookshanks curling up in her lap.

“That’s the point, Mya.” Fred smirked. “The more misery in there, the happier Trelawney will be.”

“She was ecstatic.” Harry grinned, before scowling. “But then she made us do the next month’s predictions as well.”

Fred grimaced. “Yeah, don’t make it too bad. Otherwise she thinks you’ve actually got the gift and gives you extra work.”

Ron yawned. “Well, at least I’m forewarned.”

Hermione tutted. “You seem to be drowning twice.”

Harry raised an eyebrow and glanced at Hermione, who shrugged. It was a coincidence, that was all.

“Oh, am I?” Ron asked, seeming surprised. “I’d better change one of them to getting trampled by a rampaging hippogriff.”

The Marauders sniggered.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t you think it’s a bit obvious that you made these up?”

“How dare you?!” Ron gasped. “We’ve been working like house elves here!

“Bad choice of words.” Regulus commented.

It’s just an expression!” He added hastily.

Harry sighed. “Hang on…decapitation!”

Lily winced. “Harry, dear, please try to refrain from predicting your own death.”

He decided, scribbling it down. Dropping his quill and stretching, he pointed at the box Hermione had dropped on the table. “What’s that, Hermione?”

“I’m glad you asked.” Hermione shot a nasty look at Ron and opened the box.

Harry picked up one of the badges. “Spew?

Sirius chuckled. “Yeah, I think Harry has a point with the name.”

“It’s not spew!” Hermione protested, but David read over her.

What’s this about?”

“Not spew.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “S.P.E.W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.”

“Might want to take ‘elf’ out.” Regulus advised. “You’ll get more backers.”

“But ‘Society for the Promotion of Welfare’ doesn’t make sense.” Hermione pointed out.

“Never heard of it.” Ron told her.

“Of course you haven’t.” Hermione agreed. “I’ve only just started it.”

“Anyone want to join?” Hermione asked sweetly.

Fred and Harry both waved their arms behind her, mouthing the word ‘no’ and miming slow painful deaths.

She rolled her eyes. “Just because you’re behind me doesn’t mean I can’t see you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ron sounded interested. That, or surprised.

“Probably surprised.” Ginny said.

Hermione tested the air and sighed. Surprised.

Ginny nodded. “Thought so.”

“How many members have you got?”

This was the hard part. “Well, if you two join, three.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “You think we want to walk around with badges saying ‘spew’, do you?”

“S.P.E.W!” Hermione repeated. “I was going to call it Stop the Outrageous Abuse of Our Fellow Magical Creatures …

“SOAOFMC.” Fred frowned. “That’s actually catchier.”
“Wouldn’t fit on the badges.” Hermione smiled.

… but it wouldn’t fit, so that’s the heading of our manifesto. I’ve been researching and I talked to the house-elves in the kitchens …”

“Hermione, open your ears!” Ron groaned.

“Would he let me finish?” Hermione grumbled.

“They … like … being … enslaved!”

“Yes, they do.” Hermione agreed. “We’re not campaigning to free them. We’re campaigning to change the laws so that they’re treated properly.”

“And how are we going to do this?” Harry asked.

Now that was interested.

Lily beamed at him. “Well done, Harry.”

“We start by recruiting members. I thought two sickles to join – that buys a badge – and the proceeds can fund our leaflet campaign.”

“Not a bad idea.” David commented. “But you’ll need a lot of people behind you before the Ministry listens.”

Harry fished in his pocket and pulled out two sickles. “I’m in.”

Hermione beamed at him. “Thanks, Harry.”

“No problem.” Harry told her, fixing the badge to his robes. “I hated the way Dobby was treated.

“You and me both.” James frowned.

Freeing them isn’t the way to go though.”

“Of course not.” Hermione agreed. “If we can get a mistreatment clause pushed into the contract it’ll be a start. Ron?”

Ron sighed. “Fine. But you’ll have to wait because my money’s in my dorm and I can’t be bothered to move.”

Fred rolled his eyes. “Go with it, Mya; it’s the best you’re going to get.”

“Deal.” Hermione closed the box and leaned forwards. “Harry, can I borrow the Map?”

“Why?” Arabella asked.

“Wanted to find the room I’d been in earlier.” Hermione answered.

“Why?” Harry asked, sounding confused.

Hermione didn’t blame him. She didn’t have a problem with him using the Map (especially since it had been made by his father), but had never used it herself. “I found a room earlier and I don’t think it’s on there.”

Harry frowned. “I thought everything was on there …

“So did we.” James scowled.

“This Room isn’t on it.” Harry pointed out.

James waved it off. “That’s different. I’m fairly sure this Room’s Unplottable.

“And the Chamber of Secrets isn’t on there.” Hermione smirked.

James sighed. “Fine. Sorry none of us wanted to go looking for Slytherin’s monster.”

… but here.”

“Thanks.” Hermione waved her wand over the piece of parchment, whispering the password. The Map formed and she quickly found the kitchens.

“The kitchens?” Jen questioned.

Hermione shrugged. “I figured it was easier to work backwards.”

Let’s see. Fred and George led me down one corridor to the Entrance Hall, so I met them … there. And I came down that flight of stairs … from that corridor … turned right … crossed that empty classroom … along that corridor … up another flight of stairs and …

Hermione frowned. Her finger, tracing her route backwards through the school had come up against a wall.

Remus raised an eyebrow. “You were right. It’s not on the Map.”

“I was right.” She murmured, drawing her wand and tapping it against the markings on the Map. “Unless there’s something hidden there …” Remembering Harry’s story about Snape’s battle with the Map, she decided to try something. “I, Hermione Granger, would like to know if there is any room hidden behind that wall.”

The Marauders straightened up at this.

“You expecting something to happen?” Regulus asked.

Sirius nodded, staring at the book. “Hopefully. We’re not sure what, though. It’s programmed to respond with insults to certain people …”

“Like Snape.” Addie put in dryly.

“… and it recognises pranksters – we’d have given Fred and George hints …” Sirius glanced at Fred, who nodded. “But we’ve never tested this before, except with us.”

As though responding to her question, the Map vanished and writing began to appear on the page. Mr Padfoot would like to inform Miss Granger that the Marauders know of no hidden room in that part of the castle.

James sighed, sitting back. “I was expecting something more … something.”

David smiled. “I’m not done yet.”

Mr Prongs would like to add that if Miss Granger has found a hidden room in that part of the castle, then he takes his hat off to her. Or would if he was wearing one.

Lily giggled.

Hermione giggled. “No, it’s not on here.”

Harry read the words over her shoulder and tapped the parchment with his own wand. “My name is Harry Potter.”

“I wonder how you’ll respond to that.” Mandy whispered. “Would you recognise the name?”

Immediately the words changed:

Mr Prongs would like to enquire whether Mr Potter is his son.

“Apparently.” James grinned.

Mr Moony would like to point out that, having no time-frame, Mr Potter could be Mr Prongs’ grandson.

“Moony!” James whined. “Stop it.”

Mr Prongs would like to ask Mr Moony to stop making him feel old.

“Exactly!” James nodded emphatically.

“James, you do realise you’re agreeing with yourself, don’t you?” Lily asked sweetly.

Mr Padfoot suggests that it sounds like Miss Jade may have finally said yes and asks if Miss Shadow may have followed suit.

“Eventually.” Sirius answered himself with a smile.

Addie was focussing on something else. “That’ll confuse you.”

Mr Moony suggests that Mr Padfoot might want to get over it and welcomes Mr Potter to the Marauders.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Who’s Miss Shadow, do you think? I didn’t think there were any female Marauders.”

“And there are five of us.” Mandy shook her head in mock-sorrow. “See what you’ve done, Remus? You’ve confused the poor kids.”

“Sirius explained as well.” Remus protested.

“No, I was too busy glaring.” Sirius disagreed with a smirk.

“Not asking about Miss Jade then?” Harry asked.

Hermione laughed. “Harry, I’d say that’s obvious. Miss Jade was your mother.”

“How …?” Lily began, but David read over her, predicting her question.

“How’d you know?” Harry pressed. “For all we know, Dad had another girlfriend when they wrote the Map.”

“No.” James answered, seeing Harry look at him. “As much as some people like to think differently …”

Lily, Jen and Addie promptly came down with coughing fits, all of which sounded suspiciously like various girls’ names.

“… I have only ever had eyes for your mother.”

“Sirius only ever had eyes for me, but he dated other girls.” Addie pointed out.

“I wouldn’t call that dating.” Sirius disagreed.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Sweetheart, take my advice – you are never going to win this. Don’t even bother trying.”

Sirius looked at Harry, “Take my advice – always do what women tell you.”
“Sirius, I already knew that.” Harry said with a smile. “I know Hermione.”

He pulled a face. “Not that I want to think about that.”

“Green eyes.”

Lily nodded with a smile. “The girls wanted to call me Emerald, but I thought it sounded more like a cat’s name.”

Hermione pointed at his face. “I’m sure it was her.” She frowned. “Although … I can’t help but feel I knew that anyway.

“We used it in front of you when you were a baby.” Sirius told her. “Although you never took to it. She was always Lily to you … Actually, I think you may have even called her Aunt Lily.”

“I did.” Hermione confirmed.

“Was I Uncle James then?” James asked.

Sirius shook his head with a grin. “No, you were Prongs. Except she couldn’t pronounce her ‘r’s yet, so you were just Pongs.”

Professor Lupin – sorry, Remus and Sirius never said anything, did they?”

“No.” Remus answered.

Harry frowned. “I’m sure they didn’t. Although now you mention it, I can’t help feeling like I’ve heard that nickname before.”

“That’ll be subconscious as well.” Sirius told him.

“Well, I haven’t.” Ron stated, finally joining the conversation. “I know they never mentioned it in the Shack. How’d you find this room, Mione?”

Hermione sighed. “Well, you’re never going to believe me.”

“You won’t know unless you try.” Mandy commented.

“Try us.” Ginny suggested, taking a seat next to her. “Wait, what are we not going to believe?”
Hermione sighed again, and launched into the story of what happened in the small room with the founders. When she’d finished, the other three sat in thoughtful silence, while she waited with bated breath to see if they would believe her.

Finally, Harry let out a deep breath and waved his wand over the Map. “Mischief managed.” He looked up to meet her eyes. “Are you sure you just haven’t been working too hard?”

“I’ve never worked so hard as to hallucinate something like that.” Hermione said, shaking her head.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, how can I imagine that I’ve met the founders when I didn’t even know what they look like.”

“But you could have imagined that.” Ron pointed out.

Fred raised an eyebrow. “Did Ron just make a logical argument?”

“He did.” Hermione nodded. “I was just as surprised.”

“Wow, that was actually logical.” Ginny teased him, before turning to Hermione. “Hermione, I don’t want to think you’re crazy, but it is a little unbelievable.”

“A little?” James asked incredulously.
“A little?” Harry muttered.

“He’s got a point.” Neville agreed, over the snickers. “If I hadn’t just read it, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Ginny elbowed him. “Can you prove it? What about the Animagus thing?”

Hermione stood up and paced around the common room, making sure they were the only people still awake.

“Smart move.” David approved.

Satisfied, she returned to the fireside and gestured for them to stand up. “I don’t want to be seen by anyone coming down the stairs.”

David nodded approvingly.

The three stood as one and formed a wall between her and the staircases. Hermione closed her eyes and focused on the lioness she’d seen in the mirror. With a soft ‘pop’ she felt herself transform. She held the form for a few seconds, then transformed back, opening her eyes to see three stunned expressions. “Well?”
“I believe you.” Ginny said faintly, falling back into her chair.

“Be stupid not to.” Ginny smiled.

“Me too.” Ron and Harry seconded in unison.

Hermione smiled gratefully. “Thanks, guys.” She pulled the prophecy out. “What do you think then?”

“Gin?” Ron looked over at her. “You did pretty well on the last one.”

Ginny read it through. “Chamber of Secrets.”

“Great minds think alike.” Jen grinned.

“Pardon?” Harry asked.

Ginny sighed, slightly pale. “I almost died down there and I’m a redhead. ‘Fire maid almost met her doom’.”

“She’s right.” Hermione realised. “Now?”

Hermione winced. “Sorry, Ginny. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s fine.” Ginny assured her.

“No!” Ginny answered quickly, shaking.

Harry put a comforting arm around her shoulder. “We’re not going down there yet.”

“Of course not.” Ginny agreed, recovering quickly and with only a hint of pink in her face. “We have to wait for the leader of the light.”

“Who is she?” Ron asked with a frown.

“Well, it’s someone who’s hidden.” Ginny scowled at the parchment. “But has a gift that won’t be …”

David paused. “Jess.”

“What?” James asked blankly.

“We think she’s under a memory charm.” David elaborated. “Her real identity is hidden, but her magic is escaping through her dreams.”

“But who is she really then?” Jen asked with a frown. “And how are they going to find her? You’d have to be a pretty powerful mind healer to break through a Memory Charm like that and not kill her – or worse.”

“Harry?” Hermione prompted. “What is it?”

Harry was staring at Jen with an expression of wide-eyed realisation. “That’s who you remind me of.” He said blankly. “You remind me of Jess.”

Jen smiled at him. “Do I?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I mean you really remind me of her.”

Hermione frowned slightly. “Harry, are you suggesting that Jessica is actually Jennifer?”

The atmosphere in the room seemed to tighten and everyone looked at Harry.

“Harry …” Sirius sighed. “As much as I wish that was the case, the chances …”

“We know she’s a witch.” Harry interrupted. “And she must have been at school with you, because she sketched a picture of all of you down by the lake when I was nine …”

“Jen is pretty good at that.” Lily said slowly.

“But anyone could have seen us.” Jen pointed out reluctantly.

“All of you, but you.” Harry finished. “You’re not in the picture.”

“Maybe I wasn’t there that day.” Jen suggested.

Addie shook her head. “No, there’s never been a time when we were all at the lake but you. Unless it happened after I left?”

“No, you are in the picture.” Harry told her. “Plus, she always has nightmares on the night of the full moon – she never tells me about them, but she’s always really tired the next day; I can tell. Didn’t you say she and Remus …?”

“They share a soul-bond.” Sirius finished in a whisper. “How long has she lived on Privet Drive?”

Harry grinned triumphantly. “Well, Aunt Petunia says she’s lived there for years. But she doesn’t remember a day before August 2nd 1982.”

“That’s the day after I disappeared.” Jen stated unnecessarily. “Hang on a second, I’m not a Seer, though.”

“But we do have Seer blood in the family.” Sirius said. “And you were very powerful, which would explain the dreams – some magic would have to escape or you’d end up seriously hurt.”

Remus squeezed her hand. “Why aren’t you looking happier about this?”

Jen sighed. “Because I don’t want to get my hopes up. And even if it is me … how am I supposed to get my memory back?”

“Soul bond.” Sirius answered. “As long as Moony meets you at some point … And I think he’s going with the group to pick Harry up as soon as Dumbledore …” he rolled his eyes “… informs us that my godson can spend the rest of the summer with me.”
“Hang on, you’re his legal guardian!” Lily argued. “Dumbledore shouldn’t have anything to do with it!”

“Shouldn’t.” Sirius agreed. “But he does. Anyway, as long as Harry introduces them …”

“… which I probably will.” Harry said. “Because she’ll notice me leaving.”

Draco cleared his throat. “Since we can’t actually figure out whether we’re right or not, maybe we should keep reading – we’ll find out eventually, right?”

“He’s right.” Jen stated, effectively ending the discussion, and David found his place again.

“Let’s sleep on it.” Harry suggested.

“Yeah, because it’ll be so much clearer tomorrow.” Ron rolled his eyes.

“What?” Sirius asked when Lily giggled. “Kid’s got a point.”

“It’s a Muggle term.” Lily told him. “It means to put something aside until you’ve had time to think about it.”

Hermione sighed. “Muggle term, Ron.” Before she could explain, Hedwig …

Addie breathed a sigh of relief. “Sirius’s answer.”

… dropped a letter off, landing on the table.

Harry read it aloud. “Harry, I’m flying north immediately.

“What?!” Regulus demanded. “Are you mental?!”
“Yes.” Addie answered. “He is. Be more specific.”

“Why the hell would you come back?” James asked.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “You mean, aside from the fact that Harry needed me? That’s about it.”

This news about your scar is the latest in a series of strange rumours that have reached me.

“Rumours like what?” David asked.

“The Dark Mark, the Death Eaters getting restless, Bertha’s disappearance.” Sirius listed. “Not a good combination.”

If it hurts again, go straight to Dumbledore – they’re saying he’s got Mad-Eye Moody out of retirement, which means he’s reading the signs, even if no one else is.”

“You thought Voldemort was getting stronger?” Jen guessed.

Sirius nodded grimly. “Unfortunately, most of the Ministry were either missing the connection, or refusing to see it.”

“What signs?” Ron asked in bewilderment.

Harry shrugged. His eyes strayed to Hermione’s and she knew that he was as worried as she was.

“I’ll be in touch soon. Give my best to Ron and Hermione. Keep your eyes open, Harry. Love, Sirius.”

Hermione suddenly remembered Narcissa’s note and smacked herself for forgetting it so easily. “Harry, if you’re not comfortable with including Mrs. Malfoy’s note, I’ll put it in my next letter.”

“That’s probably a good idea.” Narcissa conceded.

“Right.” Harry cocked his head and observed her. “You never did tell me why you were writing to him.”

“Well, now there’s an obvious reason.” Harry pointed out at the questioning looks. “We didn’t know about this back then.”

“He stopped off in the summer.” Hermione told him. “I went and got his wand from Gringotts; it was in his vault.”

“The common room was empty, wasn’t it?” Mandy asked.

Harry smiled. “Yeah, of course. We wouldn’t have started the conversation if it wasn’t.”

“Not to mention I would never have transformed.” Hermione added.

Mandy chuckled. “Right. Forgot about that.”

”Bit risky, isn’t it?” Ron frowned. “I mean, they’d never prove the whole …” he lowered his voice “… time-turner thing. But,” he said normally, “that?”

Hermione shrugged. “May as well be hanged for a dragon as for an egg.”

“Hey, you’re picking up on wizarding slang!”

“It’s a proud moment, isn’t it?” Addie said, wiping a fake tear from her eye. “I remember when Lils first slipped into it. I was … so proud of her …” She dissolved into ‘tears’ on Sirius’s shoulder.

Lily shook her head in disbelief. “Good Merlin … you’re perfect for him.”

“We already knew that.” Jen reminded her with a smirk.

Ginny hugged her. “You’re in!”

“Maybe it’s just me,” Harry sighed, “but what does that mean?”

“Muggles have a similar saying.” Hermione told him. “If you’re going to get punished for doing something, you may as well do the thing properly. There were two wands in the vault, though. He told me to keep hold of the other one; you never know when you’ll need a spare wand.”

Ron raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like something Moody would say.”

Sirius laughed. “Where does he think I learnt it?”

“Of course it does.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sirius was an auror too, wasn’t he?

“At least one of you pays attention.” Sirius muttered.

Where do you keep it?”

“Well, I don’t have a wand holster.” Hermione admitted. “I thought I’d get one next summer at Diagon Alley…”

“Or at Hogsmeade.” Ron suggested. “There’s got to be somewhere.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Hermione replied. “Anyway, I improvised.” She pulled her robes up slightly, pulled her sock down and removed her wand from the band holding it in place.

“Not bad.” David commented.

“Here.”

“What’s it made of?” Harry asked.

“I’m not sure.” Hermione examined it. “If I had to guess, I’d say willow and dragon heartstring.

“Good guess.” Jen smiled. “Bet you couldn’t tell me what kind of dragon though.”
Hermione laughed. “Not likely. Do you know?”

Jen nodded. “Hungarian Horntail.”

Harry shuddered. “My least favourite.”

“You have a favourite?” Draco asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No.” Harry admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a least favourite.”

But I’m not a wand-maker, so I wouldn’t like to say. Merlin knows who it belonged to.”

“Well, I didn’t know that Malfoy’s mother was a Black.” Harry confessed. “So you know more than I do.”

“Well, that’s the thing.” Hermione frowned. “There’s not much about the Black family in the library.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Regulus shrugged. “Our ancestors have always been rather paranoid. Oh, they’d advertise all the parts that made them look good,” he added, seeing Hermione’s questioning look, “but they’d be too worried about the – er – white sheep being exposed.”
“There are more of us than they like to admit.” Jen agreed dryly.

I know that it’s an incredibly old pureblood family, like the Potters,” she nodded to Harry, “but they were on the darker side.”

“What; the Potters?” Ron frowned.

“No, the Blacks.” Hermione sighed. “But I know that Mrs. Malfoy has two sisters.”

Narcissa flinched imperceptibly.

“Maybe it belongs to one of them.” Ginny suggested.

“Plausible guess.” Regulus said.

“I don’t think so.” Hermione disagreed. “I got grief, so I think whoever it belonged to is dead and they’re both alive. Plus, one of them, I believe, is a healer, so has her wand …

“Andromeda.” Narcissa whispered.

… and the other one is in Azkaban and will have had her wand snapped.”

“Bellatrix.” Jen spat.

Neville started. “You … You know her?”
Sirius smiled sympathetically. “Unfortunately, she’s our cousin, but we haven’t considered her family since we were sorted.”
“It was before then.” Jen stated darkly.

“She’s my sister.” Narcissa added, shaking her head. “I knew she absorbed what our parents told her, but I never imagined …”

“It’s not your fault.” Alice told her quietly, squeezing Neville’s hand. “Any of you.”

“But you need a special wand to become a healer.” Ginny told them. “So she might have put her first wand in the family vault and she believes that Sirius is a mass-murderer and that’s why he’s sad.”

“Also well reasoned.” Regulus approved.

“Maybe.” Hermione agreed tentatively. “I’ll ask. But I doubt he’d be able to give that wand away.”

“Well, I could,” Sirius said, “but I wouldn’t.”

At that moment, something Harry had read hit her full-force. “Wait. He’s flying north? He’s coming back?!”

“Took you a while, didn’t it?” Fred teased.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Gimme a break; I’d had a long day.”

“And what signs?” Ron repeated. “Harry, what’s up?”

Harry had suddenly hit his forehead. “I shouldn’t have told him.”


 

Ginny sighed. “And here we go.”

Sirius frowned. “What’s he on about?”

“What are you on about?” Ron asked in surprise.

“Ron agrees with you.” Addie chuckled.

“I’ve made him think he’s got to come back.” Harry said …

“Harry, don’t flatter yourself.” Sirius said with a teasing smile, before looking serious. “I was on my way back anyway.”

… slamming his fist on the table, causing Hedwig to flutter to the back of Hermione’s chair, hooting indignantly.

“Harry!” Lily chided gently.

“He’s coming back because he thinks I’m in trouble and there’s nothing wrong with me!

“At some point, we need to have a chat about the role of adults in your life.” Sirius told him.

Harry sighed. “Sirius, I can …”

“Take care of yourself, I know.” Sirius finished patiently. “But that’s not the point, Harry. The point is, at fifteen, you shouldn’t have to. It’s my job to protect you, not the other way round, understand?”

Harry nodded with a small smile. “Yeah.”

And I haven’t got anything for you!” He snapped at Hedwig. “You’ll have to go to the Owlery if you want any food!”

“Harry!” Lily repeated.

Harry looked sheepish. “Sorry.”

Hermione gave him a reproachful look and gave Hedwig an Owl Treat.

Lily smiled approvingly.

Hedwig nibbled her finger affectionately and took off for the open window, cuffing Harry with her wing as she did.

Neville chuckled. “Talk about an owl with attitude.”

Turning back to Harry, Hermione laid a soothing hand on his arm. “Harry …”

“I’m going to bed.” Harry interrupted, pulling away abruptly and stalking up the stairs.

Harry grimaced. “Sorry.”

Hermione smiled at him. “Forget about it.”

Ron shrugged apologetically, bid her goodnight and left as well.

Ginny shook her head in exasperation. “Boys! Night, Hermione.”

“Night.” Hermione stared at the fire for a few minutes, hearing Ginny make her way up the girls’ staircase, then grabbed a quill and began to write her own letter.

“Smart move.” Addie smiled.

Padfoot,

Harry reacted quite badly to the news that you’re coming back. Hopefully, you’ll get this letter before his; he’ll probably write to you immediately tomorrow morning.

Harry gave her a mock-frown. “Thanks, Hermione.”
“I wouldn’t have paid attention to it anyway.” Sirius told him with a smile.

Don’t take it personally; he’s just worried about you. I’m worried about you.

“Me too.” Addie whispered.

Sirius rubbed her shoulder gently. “I was fine.”

Did you know that the Triwizard Tournament is being held again this year?

“I didn’t until then.” Sirius admitted.

I think Harry’s relieved that under 17-year-olds can’t enter; he isn’t under any pressure.

About the second wand, was it one of your cousins?

Jen winced. “I bet that was fun.”

I know one – Andromeda, is it – is a Healer, so she’d need a specialty wand.

I doubt it’s hers, but I promised Ginny I’d ask. Ginny’s Ron’s younger sister – yes, she knows. No, she won’t tell anyone.

Speaking of cousins, I saw Narcissa Malfoy at the World Cup and I think she may have given me a note. It says ‘Tell SB I’m sorry. He was right. NBM.’ Makes no sense to me, but hopefully you’ll understand it.

“I did.” Sirius confirmed with a smile. “It was a relief.”

“Why?” Narcissa asked curiously.

“Because I’d lost Jen, and Andie thought I was guilty.” Sirius answered. “It was good to know that you, at least, were on my side and that Lucy hadn’t completely ruined you.”
Draco sniggered. “Please call my father that to his face.”
“I have.” Sirius said cheerfully. “He tried to kill me. Mind you, he was wearing a mask and I was trying to arrest him at the time, so that may have had something to do with it.”

Harry and I were looking at the Map today and you, Prongs and Moony had a little discussion when Harry said his name. Was Jade Mrs Potter’s Marauder name? Because I’m fairly sure it is, even though I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned it.

“That was fun too.” Sirius remarked.

Here, Hermione paused, wondering whether to ask about ‘Miss Shadow’. She decided not to …

“Thanks.” Sirius said. “I think you might have given me a heart attack.”

… it didn’t seem to fit Arabella or Mandy, which meant that the owner of that nickname was most likely dead.

“Close.” Addie curled up into Sirius’s side.

And given that she’d just thrown the Potters in there without warning, it was probably best to leave that can of worms unopened for the moment.

“Smart move.” Sirius muttered, dropping a kiss on Addie’s head.

On a more important note, Sirius, be careful. I won’t try to convince you not to come back – I think Harry needs the support, personally – but please, please be careful. I don’t know how or even if Harry would cope if you were recaptured and I’m fresh out of last-minute, law-breaking escape plans.

There were a few half-hearted chuckles.

With love,

Hermione

PS. I mean it, Padfoot. Take care of yourself.

David looked up. “Well, that was a cheerful end to the chapter.”

Addie shivered, moving closer to Sirius. “Please be careful.”

“Ads, this hasn’t happened yet.” He reminded her gently.

“I was fine.” Sirius repeated. “Still here, aren’t I? Who’s reading next?”

Chapter Text

“I will.” Draco offered, taking the book.

Chapter Fifteen

Spiritual Connections

James grinned. “Looks like we’re about to make our debut.”

Weeks passed, and Sirius still hadn’t replied.

“Hey!” Fred said with a smirk. “You know what the book didn’t mention?”

Draco groaned. “Don’t …”

“Be honest, Draco.” Hermione said. “It was funny.”

“It wasn’t you.” He hissed.

“What happened?” Narcissa asked.

“Draco and Harry were having a … discussion.” Hermione explained carefully. “When Draco thought it would be a good idea to hex Harry when his back was turned.”

“He insulted my mother!” Draco hissed.

“Harry!” Lily cried.

Harry grimaced and turned to Narcissa. “I’m sorry. It was more to make a point, really, since he’d spent the last five minutes insulting Ron’s mother.”

“That’s quite alright, Harry.” Narcissa gave her son a stern look. “Do not give out what you cannot take. What happened?”

“Before I could grab my wand, there was a loud bang and …” Harry bit back a snigger. “Draco turned into a ferret.”

“Moody had been passing.” Hermione continued.  “And when Draco made a run for it he started bouncing him around the Entrance Hall.”

“It wasn’t funny.” Draco scowled as the Marauders started laughing.

“No.” Hermione agreed. “McGonagall’s reaction was though.”

Ginny leapt to her feet and grabbed the books that had appeared on the table, before pretending to watching something bouncing. “Professor Moody, what are you doing?”

“Teaching.” Fred answered casually.

“Oh … MOODY, IS THAT A STUDENT?!” Ginny shrieked, the books falling from her arms.

“Yep.” Fred nodded.

“NO!”

James and Sirius were gasping for air now and Draco finally allowed himself a smile. “I missed that part.”

Narcissa looked furious. “That man …”

“Save it until the end.” Sirius advised her. “Then you can do it all at once. Go on, Draco.”

Everyone seemed oblivious to Harry and Hermione’s joint worries, as they scanned the post owls every morning, and only Hermione paid attention to the dark circles under Harry’s eyes, identical to her own.

Sirius frowned. “Sorry, kids; I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Hermione smiled at him. “I wasn’t just you – I was worrying about everything that might happen and my empathy and my parents. And Harry … well, Harry was being Harry, which means he held himself responsible for everything that could go wrong and everything that already had.”

Only lessons were keeping her mind of whatever horrible things that could happen, and they were become more demanding than ever, particularly Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Hermione had accepted the fact that Moody had his reasons for teaching them about the Unforgivables this early (although she was sure that none of her classmates had quite grasped how serious they were …

“They wouldn’t.” David said sharply.

… aside from Harry and, for some reason, Neville, who didn’t look like he’d slept since).

“I hadn’t.” Neville whispered, leaning into Alice.

But when he announced that he would be putting the Imperius curse on each of them …

“WHAT?!” Alice, Lily and Narcissa demanded.

“It’s the only curse that can be fought.” Sirius explained calmly. “And the only way to learn how to fight it is to have the curse put on you.”

“And you’re alright with this?” Addie demanded.

“Fourteen is too young.” Sirius conceded. “But I’d rather them learn in a safe environment than later on, yes.”

Addie sighed. “I hate it when you make sense.”

… in turn, she was startled.

“But … but you said it’s illegal, Professor.” Hermione protested uncertainly, as Moody cleared away the desks with a sweep of his wand, leaving a large clear space in the middle of the room. “You said … to use it against another human was …”

David grimaced. “Actually, it’s the only one of the Unforgivables with some leeway.”

“Why’s that, Dad?” James asked.

“Because it can be fought.” David answered, nodding to Sirius. “It can be used to teach resistance and it’s the only Unforgivable with some good uses as well. For example, aurors are permitted to use it on suicidal people to prevent them from taking their own lives. However, it must be lifted as soon as the person is out of danger.”

“Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like.” Moody cut in, his magical eye swivelling onto Hermione and fixing her with an eerie, unblinking stare. “If you’d rather learn the hard way – when someone’s putting it on you so they can control you completely, fine by me. You’re excused. Off you go.”

He pointed one gnarled finger towards the door. Hermione dropped her gaze to the floor, knowing she wouldn’t walk out, but her head was pounding, the castle protesting to the whole situation.

Remus frowned. “That can’t have been fun.”

Hermione grimaced. “It wasn’t.”

Moody began to beckon students forwards in turn and put the Imperius curse upon them. Hermione watched nervously as, one by one, her classmates did the most extraordinary things under its influence. Dean Thomas hopped three times around the room, singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville performed a series of quite amazing gymnastics moves he would certainly not have been capable of in his normal state.

Neville snorted. “Not likely.”

Not one of them seemed to be able to fight the curse off, and each of them recovered only when Moody had removed it.

“Potter.” Moody growled. “You’re next.”

Lily swallowed hard, grasping James’s hand.

Harry moved forward into the middle of the classroom, into the space that Moody had cleared of desks. Moody raised his wand, pointed it at Harry, and said, “Imperio.”

Harry’s expression went blank, just like everyone else’s had, and he bent his knees. Then …

Nothing happened.

David stiffened. “What?”

Hermione moved her gaze from Harry’s face to Moody’s and saw him narrow his real eye. Then, with a crash, Harry fell headlong into the desk in front of him, knocking it over.

Lily gasped. “Why did Moody make him throw himself into a desk?”

“He didn’t.” David whispered, a smile spreading across his face. “Harry … you fought it off, didn’t you?”

Harry nodded, rubbing his knees. “Hurt like hell though.”

“Now that’s more like it!” Moody growled, lowering his wand. “Look at that, you lot … Potter fought! He fought it and he damn near beat it! We’ll try that again, Potter, and the rest of you, pay attention – watch his eyes, that’s where you see it – very good, Potter, very good indeed! They’ll have trouble controlling you!”

Hermione watched, half-amazed, half-proud, as Moody cast the curse on Harry four more times.

“Oh, you poor thing.” Lily whimpered. “Your legs must have killed you.”

The last time, Harry hadn’t moved at all and finally shook his head, stumbling back a few steps, throwing the curse off entirely.

“That’s my boy!” James cried.

“That’s Lily’s boy.” Sirius corrected. “She was always more resistant to the curse than you were.”

“Very good, Potter.” Moody repeated. “Granger, you’re next.”

Hermione stepped forwards and faced him, blocking her empathy off.

“Good move.” David commented. “Pay attention you lot.”

Hermione smiled. “Actually, I’m not the best example.”

Addie gasped. “Of course you’re not! You’re a natural Occlumens.”

Sirius chuckled. “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall. The stronger you are at Occlumency,” he explained to the others, “the easier it is to throw off the Imperius Curse. A natural has no difficulty whatsoever. I’d be surprised if it even worked.”

Imperio!

Immediately, Hermione felt as though she was floating …

“Is that what it feels like?” Arabella asked quietly.

Harry nodded. “Like you can’t do anything wrong. You’re so blissfully happy that you’d do anything.”

… but something was strange about it – it flickered in and out as though she was watching a badly-tuned television.

“You were right, Sirius.” David nodded. “It’s not going to work.

Do a cartwheel. Moody’s voice told her.

Why? Hermione asked. I can’t do cartwheels. Last time I did one, I nearly broke my arm. I don’t particularly want to repeat the experience.

The classroom flickered back into focus again and she could see the others watching her intently. Moody was still staring at her, wand raised.

“Hadn’t he realised?” Regulus asked.

Hermione shrugged. “I don’t think so. He didn’t know until I told him.”

Hermione shook her head. “Professor, I don’t mean to be rude, but are you sure you cast it right?”

Moody lowered his wand, frowning. “Miss Granger, how exactly did you manage that? I didn’t even feel you throw it off.”

David raised an eyebrow.

“I … I don’t know.” Hermione admitted. “One minute I felt like I was floating, the next minute I was standing in the classroom.”

Moody gave her a suspicious look but didn’t push the subject. “Well, you’re another one they’ll have trouble controlling. Weasley, you’re next.”

“The way he talks,” Harry muttered, as they left the class an hour later (Harry still hobbling from the multiple times he’d smashed into the desk), “you’d think we were all going to be attacked any second.”

David chuckled. “That’s Moody.”

“Yeah, I know.” Ron was still skipping on every alternate step. He had had much more difficulty with the curse than Harry and Hermione, though Moody assured him the effects would have worn off by lunch-time. “Talk about paranoid … no wonder they were glad to get shot of him at the ministry, did you hear him telling Seamus what he did to that witch who shouted ‘boo’ behind him on April Fool’s Day?”

“Poor woman.” Sirius sighed, shaking his head. “She was never the same after that.”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Do I want to know?”

“You do.” Sirius told her. “But it’s hardly an appropriate story in front of the kids.”
“Then tell me later.” Addie told him.

“How come you could fight of the curse, Hermione?” Harry asked. “I mean, it took some effort with me …”

“Do you think it’s got something to do with …” Ron lowered his voice to a whisper “… You-Know-What?”

“Good guess, but empathy wouldn’t have that effect.” Narcissa remarked.

“We didn’t know I was a natural back then.” Hermione explained. “It was the only think we could think of.”

“Maybe.” Hermione frowned. “I just don’t know.”

When they arrived back in the Entrance Hall that evening, after Care of Magical Creatures, they found themselves unable to proceed, owing to the large crowd of students congregated there, all milling around a large sign which had been erected at the foot of the marble staircase. Ron, the tallest of the three, stood on tiptoe to see over the heads in front of them and read the sign aloud to the other two.

TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT

The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving at 6 o’clock on Friday 30th of October.

“This should be interesting.” James commented.

Harry sighed. “I hate Halloween.”

Lessons will end half an hour early …

“Brilliant!” Harry grinned. “It’s Potions last thing on Friday! Snape won’t have time to poison us all!”

Sirius grinned. “Well, that alone is enough to cheer people up.”

Students will return their bags and books to their dormitories and assemble in front of the castle to greet our guests before the Welcoming Feast.

“Only a week away!” Ernie Macmillan of Hufflepuff emerged from the crowd, his eyes gleaming. “I wonder if Cedric knows …

Harry closed his eyes momentarily but said nothing.

… Think I’ll go and tell him.”

“Cedric?” Ron asked blankly, as Ernie hurried off.

“Diggory.” Harry elaborated. “He must be entering the Tournament.”

“That idiot, Hogwarts champion?”

“Cedric’s not an idiot.” Hermione snapped. It was a lot easier to deal with this now that they knew he was alright, just trapped, like James and Lily, although even before then they hadn’t started using past tense with his name yet.

Ron scowled, as they pushed their way through the chattering crowd towards the staircase.

“He’s not an idiot – you just don’t like him because he beat Gryffindor at Quidditch.” Hermione argued. “I’ve heard he’s a really good student – and he’s a Prefect.”

“You only like him because he’s handsome.” Ron muttered scathingly.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “That’s not it. Although he is quite good-looking.”

“He is, isn’t he?” Ginny agreed, before catching Fred’s eye. “Oh, don’t you start! I’m allowed to look.”

“Excuse me, I don’t like people just because they’re handsome!” Hermione huffed indignantly.

Ron gave a loud false cough, which sounded suspiciously like “Lockhart!”

“Low blow.” Mandy remarked.

The impending arrival of the other two schools seemed to put a spell on the castle. The Tournament was the only subject of conversation, the teachers were even snappier than usual, the paintings were grumbling about rashes, the suits of armour had stopped squeaking and Filch was behaving so ferociously that he’d reduced two first year girls to tears.

“Git.” Remus scowled.

Hermione noticed very little of this, though. She had a blinding headache.

“Oh dear.” Lily sighed. “The wards?”

Hermione nodded. “They were being lowered to let the other schools in and Hogwarts really didn’t like it.”

Of course, she reflected after a day, she should have realised. The founders had warned her, after all, that she would pick up on what the castle was feeling, and Salazar Slytherin himself had mentioned this event specifically.

After a week, she taught herself the Silencing Charm …

“Impressive.” Regulus remarked.

Sirius smiled proudly at her. “Smartest witch of her age.”

… and placed it on the curtains around her bed, satisfied that Lavender and Parvati were never going to burst through her bed-curtains to wake her. Every night, she would transform and sleep as a lioness; the effect dimmed and, by Friday, it was nothing more than a dull ache.

“That’s good.” Jen said with a smile.

At breakfast, she was talking about who the judges might be with Ron and the twins, when Harry choked slightly on his bacon. Ron thumped him on the back and Hermione looked up to see Hedwig fluttering down to them, with two letters tied to her leg.

“Tell me later.” Ginny muttered in Hermione’s ear. “Fred, George, how’s WWW coming?”

Fred pouted. “I should have known you had ulterior motives.”

The twins sufficiently distracted, Harry pulled one letter off of Hedwig’s leg and she hopped across the table and stuck out her leg again. Hermione pulled the other letter off and gave Hedwig some bacon rind, which she ate gratefully.

“What does it say?” Ron whispered.

Harry unrolled it and read it out to them. “‘Nice try, Harry.

James chuckled. “Nice start.”

I’m back in the country and well-hidden. I want you to keep me posted on everything that’s going on at Hogwarts. Don’t use Hedwig; keep changing owls.

“Why?” Arabella asked.

“Snowy owls aren’t that common and they’re easy to spot.” Sirius answered before his future self could. “Different owls have less of a chance of being followed.”

And don’t worry about me, just watch out for yourself. Remember what I said about your scar. Love, Sirius.’ Looks like you’ve got to get up earlier than I did to fool a Marauder. And I got up pretty damn early.”

“How early?” Lily asked.

“Six thirty.” Harry answered.

“That’s not early.” Lily told him with a smile.

“It was a Saturday, Mum.” Harry explained.

“And what are you talking about ‘not early’?” Sirius demanded. “No one should be up at that time!”

He looked up at Hermione. “What about yours?”

Hermione unrolled it. “‘Dear Hermione. First of all, I promise I won’t do anything stupid.

Addie sighed. “The problem, Sirius, is that your definition of ‘anything stupid’ is very different from the rest of us.”

Sirius looked affronted. “I’ve never done anything that stupid.”

“Oh, really?” Addie raised an eyebrow. “So a few months after I was attacked, you didn’t take twenty first years up on to the roof of the school and lead them in an aerobics demonstration?”

Sirius turned red. “Who told you about that?”

“Lily.” Addie said cheerfully. “Told me that you nearly gave McGonagall a heart attack. Especially when James told her you were recruiting future trouble-makers. Peter had to run and get her a cup of tea?”

Sirius cleared his throat. “I missed you?”

Addie shook her head. “Sirius, there is no excuse for this.”

Secondly, you were right; I got his letter a few hours after yours. I’m mentioning it in his letter, but remind him to keep using different owls. Hedwig stands out too much. Tell Ginny it was a good guess, but it didn’t belong to any of my cousins and, to be honest, it’s painful to think about.

Jen winced, almost able to feel the pain in the words.

Just keep it on you at all times. Speaking of family, thanks for passing on Cissy’s message – you’re right, it made perfect sense to me. I want Harry to tell me everything odd that happens at Hogwarts, but I have a feeling that he’ll hold back …

“Harry?” Fred asked innocently. “Surely not.”

… so I want you to do the same. And, yes, Jade was Lily’s nickname, although I can’t think where you’ve heard it recently.

“Nice.” Regulus smirked. “Implies she’s definitely heard it before, but without being definite about it.”

All of you, be careful; don’t do anything I’d do.

“Good advice.” Addie smirked.

Stay strong; be safe. Love, Sirius. PS. Welcome Ginny to the ‘aiding and abetting’ club for me. Do you think there’s enough people for t-shirts yet?’”

Addie chuckled. “Absolutely.” She waved her wand and the shirts of everyone from the future were transfigured to plain white, all with a paw-print on the front, adorned with …

“A&A?” Hermione asked, looking down.

“Aiding and abetting.” Addie elaborated. “And now we do have t-shirts.”
Ron sniggered. “It’s kind of obvious he was a Marauder, isn’t it?”

Hermione, however, was frowning at the letter. “Do you ever get that feeling that something bad’s going to happen?”

“Yes.” Harry confirmed. “You have it too?”

Hermione nodded. “And so does Sirius. I don’t think this tournament is going to go as smoothly as the Ministry wants it to.”

“Actually, the tournament itself did go quite smoothly.” Harry commented. “You know, aside from that little hiccup.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “The problem, Harry, is that ‘little hiccup’ wasn’t so little.”

At half past five, Hermione and her class-mates hurried up to Gryffindor Tower, dumped their schoolbags, pulled their cloaks and rushed downstairs into the Entrance Hall, where the Heads of Houses were directing their students into lines. McGonagall snapped at a few Gryffindors to straighten their hats or fix their hair …

“Not all of us.” Harry grinned. “She reached me, sighed and said, “Mr Potter, I’m not even going to bother. Out you go.””

… and led them, year-by-year, onto the front steps.

The moon was already above the Forest, bathing them all in a pale translucent light.

Remus shuddered automatically.

“Nearly six.” Ron muttered, staring at the front gates. “How’d you reckon they’re coming? The train?”

“Not going to happen.” Regulus chuckled. “Beauxbatons might go for it, but if the Headmaster of Durmstrang is anything like the one they’ve got now, they’re not going to go for it. They still think it’s disgusting that Hogwarts uses Muggle transportation to get to Hogwarts.”

“Well, there’s too many students to use portkeys.” Jen shrugged. “It’s alright for Bulgaria, they don’t really have huge Muggle settlements so it’s easy to use magical travel without being seen.”

Lily frowned. “Now you mention it, how come pureblood parents didn’t argue about Muggle transport?”
“Oh, they did.” David told her. “But then the Ministry told them that they either caught the train or didn’t go to Hogwarts and they shut up.”

“I doubt it.” Hermione disagreed, remembering what Arthur had said at the World Cup. “Always the same; we can’t resist showing off when we get together.”

“That too.” Regulus agreed.

“How then?” Harry asked, looking up at the sky. “Broomsticks?”

James shook his head. “Too far.”

“I don’t think so.” Hermione frowned. “Not from that far away.”

“A portkey?” Ron suggested. “Or they could apparate; maybe you’re allowed to do it under seventeen wherever they come from.”

“You can’t apparate inside the Hogwarts grounds!” Hermione snapped, rolling her eyes and feeling rather like a parrot.

“They could have apparated to outside the gates though, couldn’t they?” Harry asked.

Hermione hesitated. “I hadn’t thought of that.” She admitted sheepishly.

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

For the next five minutes, they stood in eager anticipation. As the cold began to creep up her legs, Hermione shifted on the spot, trying to get some feeling back into her feet.

“Could at least have cast a warming charm.” Fred muttered. “It was freezing out there.”

“Aha!” Dumbledore called out suddenly. “Unless I am very much mistaken, the delegation from Beauxbatons approaches!”

“Where?!” About a hundred voices asked eagerly.

“There!”

Glancing over her shoulder, Hermione saw that the shout had come from a Ravenclaw sixth year, who was pointing over the Forest. When she looked back, the reason became clear; something huge was hurtling towards them.

“Well, it’s not a broomstick.” Hermione commented dryly.

“Definitely not.” Mandy agreed with a laugh.

“It’s a dragon!” One of the first years shrieked.

“Don’t be stupid!” One of her class-mates scoffed.

“Dennis Creevy.” Harry supplied.

“It’s a flying house!”

“It’s not going to be either of those.” Sirius rolled his eyes.

His guess was quite close …

Addie smirked. “You were saying?”
Sirius pouted. “Be nice to me.”

… Hermione realised as the light from the castle hit the object; it was a gigantic powder-blue carriage drawn by twelve winged palomino horses each about the size of an elephant.

James let out a low whistle. “Blimey.”

A coat of arms she recognised as the symbol of Beauxbatons was pictured on the door and the carriage landed in front of them with a crash that made several students jump. A footman leapt out to assemble golden steps and jumped back smartly. The woman who stepped out had to be as large as Hagrid but seemed so much more graceful.

“Dad?” James asked.

David shook his head. “No idea.”

As Dumbledore led the students in a round of applause, she smiled graciously and extended a bejewelled hand towards Dumbledore, who kissed it chivalrously

“My dear Madame Maxime.” He greeted. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”

“Dumbly-dorr.”

The Marauders snickered.

Madame Maxime returned. “I ’ope I find you well?”

“On excellent form, I thank you.”

“My pupils.” Madame Maxime waved a careless hand behind her and Hermione, whose attention had been focused on the headmistress, noticed that around a dozen boys and girls were huddled behind her, staring at the castle apprehensively and shivering. This last point was unsurprising, seeing as it was the end of October and they seemed to be wearing robes made only of very fine silk and none of them were wearing cloaks, although a few of them had wrapped scarves around their heads.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Didn’t they think to bring cloaks with them, given how cold Scotland is in the winter?”

“No.” Hermione answered dryly. Even though Fleur had turned out to be quite down-to-earth, most of her classmates were stuck-up snobs.

Hermione was so focused on the students and the amazing size of their headmistress that she was startled when the Hogwarts students suddenly parted to allow Madame Maxime and her students to enter the castle.

“Honestly, Mione, pay attention.” Harry teased. “You missed her telling Dumbledore that the horses only drink single-malt whiskey.”

“Unbelievable.” Jen muttered. “I bet Hagrid had a field day.”

“How big d’you reckon Durmstrang’s horses are going to be?” Seamus asked over Lavender and Parvati’s heads.

“They won’t use horses.” Sirius said confidently. “They’ll want to be different.”

“Well, if they’re any bigger than this lot, even Hagrid won’t be able to handle them.” Harry answered. “That’s if he hasn’t been attacked by his Skrewts. Wonder what’s up with them?”

“What made you think there was anything wrong?” David asked.

“Well, while Hermione was distracted, Dumbledore told Madame Maxime that Hagrid would take care of the horses after he’d sorted out his other ‘charges’.” Harry explained.

“Maybe they’ve escaped.” Ron suggested, sounding hopeful.

Hermione shuddered. “Oh, don’t say that!” She pleaded. “Imagine that lot loose on the grounds …”

She shuddered again at the very thought.

For a few minutes, they stood in silence, many people gazing at the sky.

“Can you hear something?” Ron asked suddenly.

He was right. Hermione frowned and strained her ears. It sounded like a vacuum cleaner, but underwater …

“The lake!” Lee Jordan shouted from behind her. “Look at the lake!”

Hermione watched in fascination as a whirlpool appeared in the middle of the lake and a ship slowly rose from it’s midst.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Talk about dramatic.”

As it reached the bank, there was the splash of an anchor and the thud of a plank being lowered onto the bank.

As the students disembarked, they all seemed to be built like Crabbe and Goyle, but, as they walked up the lawns towards them, it became apparent that the bulk due to shaggy cloaks.

“At least they’re dressed more appropriately for the Scottish winter.” Lily remarked. “Even if they have overdone it a little.”

The man at their head was tall and thin, like Dumbledore, but had a curled goatee, rather than a long beard, that didn’t quite hide his weak chin.

Jen and Sirius exchanged a glance, both of them recognising that description.

“Can’t be him.” She murmured. “There’s no way …”

As he approached the castle, Hermione felt the wards shiver and the pain in her head exploded again.

“You alright?” Harry whispered, looping an arm around her waist as she staggered sideways.

“The castle …” Hermione muttered, putting a hand to her head. “She doesn’t like him very much.”

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Jen muttered. “Given the school’s propensity for ‘Dark Arts’.”

Harry squinted at the man. “Can’t you just promise to keep an eye on him?”

Hermione closed her eyes. Hogwarts? I know you don’t like the Durmstrang Headmaster, but there’s nothing I can do at the moment. I promise to keep an eye on him and I’ll report anything I find to Professor Dumbledore.

The castle flared again in irritation …

David raised an eyebrow. “Now that’s interesting.”

… and Hermione bit back a gasp.

Professor McGonagall?

Apparently, Hogwarts was satisfied by this and settled down. Hermione rubbed her head as the pain receded, barely paying attention as Dumbledore greeted Professor Karkaroff …

“WHAT?!” Sirius and Jen demanded.

Sirius sniggered. “Well, you took that well.”

Igor Karkaroff?” Jen scowled. “So it was him. There’s no way he’s not a Death Eater.”
“He is.” Hermione said casually.

Sirius frowned. “Isn’t he the guy you were betrothed to before we told Mother and Father to go to hell?”

Jen shook her head as Remus’s arm tightened around her waist. “No, that was Macnair – why do you think I hate him so much?”

… or as Viktor Krum was revealed to be one of the Durmstrang students.

“Bloody hell, he’s still at school?” Regulus said. “That’s incredible.”

Why didn’t the castle want her to trust Dumbledore?

“Good question.” David frowned.

The Hogwarts house-elves outdid themselves that evening …

Fred shook his head sadly. “Peaked too early, bless them.”

… with a great number of unfamiliar dishes and some Hermione only recognised from her trips to France. The Durmstrang students, sitting at the Slytherin table …

“Of course they were.” Sirius muttered.

… seemed interested in everything, but the Beauxbatons students – especially a blonde girl who Ron insisted had Veela blood …

“She does.” Harry put in. “Her grandmother was a Veela.”

“How’d you know that, Harry?” Lily asked curiously.

“I overheard her telling someone.” Harry answered, only half-truthfully.

… were seated with the Ravenclaws and acted, much to Hermione’s disgust, as though everything was below them.

“Not all of them.” Fred disagreed.

“No.” Hermione agreed. “Most of them were though.”

The second that dessert had disappeared, Dumbledore stood up, seeming to fill the Great Hall with a pleasant sort of tension. Several students, including Fred and George, were leaning forwards in anticipation.

“The moment has come.” Dumbledore announced. “The Triwizard Tournament is about to start. I would like to say a few words of explanation before we bring in the casket …”

“Casket?” Lily asked. “As in a coffin?”

“More like a trunk.” Hermione told her.

“The what?” Harry muttered.

Ron shrugged, but Hermione was distracted by a flash of red hair out of the corner of her eye, and not for the first time that week. She looked towards the doors of the Hall. There was no one there. Odd. I could have sworn I saw … Hermione shook herself mentally. Never mind.

Lily’s face lit up. “You saw me, didn’t you?”

Hermione nodded. “Only for a second, but not long enough recognise you.”

She tuned back into Dumbledore’s speech.

“… for those who do not know them, Mr. Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of International Magical Co-Operation and Mr. Ludo Bagman, Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports.”

“I’m guessing they’re the judges?” Lily asked.

Hermione nodded. “Them, and the three heads.”

Hermione noticed that Bagman received a much louder round of applause than his colleague, but, then again, he did look much more likeable.

Fred snorted, but said nothing.

Mr. Crouch looked quite odd in wizard’s robes, compared to his neat suit at the World Cup.

Dumbledore explained that Crouch and Bagman would be the other two judges and Filch, who was wearing the most hideous suit Hermione had ever seen …

Fred shuddered. “It was rather disgusting, wasn’t it?”

… brought in an old chest.

“There will be three tasks, spaced throughout the school-year, and they will test the champions in many different ways … their magical prowess, their daring, their powers of deduction, and, of course, their ability to cope with danger.”

Lily closed her eyes and breathed slowly. At least Harry couldn’t enter.

The last word instilled a fear in Hermione’s chest that seemed to constrict her lungs. She expanded her empathy. Only Ginny seemed to share her fear, although Harry and Ron seemed on edge, even if they didn’t realise it.

“I was?” Harry asked.

Hermione nodded.

If Dumbledore sensed any unease in the Hall, he didn’t mention it and pressed on calmly. “As you know, three champions compete in the Tournament, one from each of the participating schools. They will be marked on how well they perform each of the Tournament tasks and the champion with the highest total after task three will win the Triwizard Cup. The champions will be selected by an impartial selector … the Goblet of Fire.”

Jen sucked in a breath. “A goblet … That’s what the dream was about.”

Hermione watched in horror as the headmaster removed a black, flame-filled cup from the chest in front of him. Her eyes slid across the table to meet Ginny’s.

“Good.” Jen whispered. “At least you’ve caught on as well.”

Two shades of brown stared at each other for several minutes, barely hearing Dumbledore explaining the process and the age restrictions, both brimming with worry.

By Halloween morning, Hermione’s headache had all but disappeared, but that didn’t make her feel any better.

“I’m not surprised.” Lily whispered.

Her concerns about Professor Karkaroff were nothing compared to the sheer worry that had overtaken her when the ‘impartial judge’ had been revealed.

The Goblet of Fire may have been a very powerful magical object, but all that mattered to Hermione was that it was technically a cup and her own voice kept echoing in her mind.

“Touch of cup brings respite’s end.” Alright, Hermione, just calm down, alright? Harry hates attention – he wouldn’t go near that cup even if he was able to enter.

“True …” James rubbed Lily’s arm. “That’s true. Harry already told us didn’t enter his name.”

Lily relaxed. “Right. That’s true.”

On top of all this, Hermione had seen her first ‘living spirit’, proving the theory in the book. She knew the red-headed woman she kept seeing out of the corner of her eye must have been a spirit, because no one else seemed to pay the least bit of attention to her.

The woman had yet to speak to Hermione and she was waiting for the spirit to make the first move – she wasn’t entirely sure of the etiquette in this situation.

After all, she looks vaguely familiar …

“You didn’t recognise me?” Lily asked.

Hermione smiled. “Believe it or not, Lily, I wasn’t willing to believe I was seeing dead people just yet. I thought it might have been Ginny, actually.”

“Plausible.” Mandy commented. “Ginny and Lily do look very similar.”

“We really do.” Lily agreed. “Are we absolutely sure we only had one child?”
Sirius laughed. “Yeah, we are.”

… but I don’t know if I know her. And I wouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger and just say hello just because I could.

Jen pulled a face. “I don’t envy you, Hermione. That seems like a really weird situation.”

Her mind firmly back on the Goblet of Fire, Hermione pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt (the castle could be freezing in the winter), before fastening her robes over the top. She ran a brush through her hair, pulled it up into a ponytail, and made her way downstairs, stumbling into the Entrance Hall and running straight into Ginny.

“Literally.” Ginny smirked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Like you were any better.”

Mumbling a greeting, she wiped the sleep from her eyes to see that Ginny looked just as tired as she was.

“You didn’t sleep much either, huh?”

“Not a wink.” Ginny muttered.

Ginny yawned. “I was this close to sneaking into the boys’ dorm, nicking Harry’s cloak and sleeping down here just to keep an eye on it.”

“Wish I had.” Ginny muttered.

“And what could you have done?” Harry asked quietly. “They’d have found a way, Ginny.”

Hermione shrugged. “I kept an eye on the Marauders’ Map all night. Only Mr. Crouch came anywhere near it and he’s one of the judges, so we’re alright.”

Hermione stifled her sigh. If only the Map could distinguish between junior and senior.

“Thanks for telling me.” Harry muttered in her ear.

Hermione jumped as his breath ghosted past her skin and turned to face him. “Sorry; you were asleep.” She replied just as quietly, managing to slip the Map from her pocket into his in one slick move.

“You’re good at that, aren’t you?” Harry remarked, remembering how she’d managed to rescue the map from ‘Moody’s’ desk.

“Anyone put their name in yet.” Ron asked, changing the subject.

“All the Durmstrang lot.” A third year girl informed him. “But I haven’t seen anyone from Hogwarts yet.”

“I’d have done it last night after everyone had gone to bed.” Harry admitted. “Less nerve-racking that way.”

Harry grimaced. “Scratch that. I wouldn’t have done it at all.”

Lily smiled at him. “Good. At least I know that some of my common sense got through to you.”

“As opposed to what?” James asked, sounding put out.

“Your recklessness.” Lily responded cheerfully.

“She’s right.” Remus told him, before he could argue. “Just accept it.”

As Hermione woke up properly, she realised that there wasn’t just excitement in the air. Frowning slightly, she tried to place the sense of grief she felt, finally reaching Harry.

Hermione shook her head with a sigh. “How do I not pick up things like that?”

“It’s not your fault.” Harry told her quietly. “I never really paid attention until that year. And you picked up more than Ron did.”

Once she’d done that, she mentally slapped herself for not realising earlier. Ever since first year, she had been convinced that Halloween was both a blessing and a curse, especially for Harry.

“A blessing?” Harry questioned. “When has it ever been a blessing?”

First year – a troll had been released into Hogwarts and nearly killed her …

“Exactly!” Harry agreed.

“I wasn’t finished.” Draco told him.

… BUT she gained the two best friends she could ask for.

“Oh …” Harry looked sheepish. “Yeah, I suppose that would make up for it.”

Sirius shook his head. “In future, Kitten, just meet them for coffee or something.”

Second year – Mrs Norris was attacked and Petrified by a basilisk BUT it could have been a student and it could have been a lot worse.

“That’s true.” Jen said slowly.

Third year – Sirius Black attacked the Fat Lady BUT that was when Hermione began to subconsciously question his guilt (surely he’d realise the Tower would be empty on Halloween).

Harry’s hatred of the holiday journeyed back even further, to the night, thirteen years ago, when his parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort.

Ginny sighed. “Again, Mione, you really know how to bring down the mood, don’t you?”

BUT Voldemort had fled, powerless, unable to kill the Boy-Who-Lived.

“It wasn’t worth it.” Harry muttered.

Lily squeezed his hand. “Harry, I’d gladly die a hundred times if it meant that my family was safe.”

“As would I.” James added.

“Oh, so that’s where Harry gets it from.” Hermione commented.

Not worth it. Hermione sighed, watching Harry fake a smile as the twins appeared either side of her.

“Done it!” Fred announced in a triumphant whisper.

“Done what?” Ron asked.

“The Aging Potion, dungbrains!” George rolled his eyes.

“Never going to work!” Jen sang.

“One drop each. We only need to be a couple of months older.”

“We’re going to split the money equally if one of us wins.” Lee added.

“It’s not going to work.” Hermione sang, with a smirk.

The three sixth years ignored her and she tried to hold back her laughter as the twins stepped across the Age Line, only to be catapulted back with long white beards.

James raised an eyebrow. “Did Dumbledore just …”

“… prank the Weasley twins?” Sirius finished.

“Not just them.” Hermione smiled. “And please don’t start talking like them – I don’t think my sanity would survive.”

“Much like all hopes of a normal life, you gave up your sanity when you met me.” Harry told her cheerfully. “You can’t have both.”

“I did warn you.” Dumbledore pointed out in amusement. “I suggest you both go up to Madam Pomfrey. She is already tending to several other students who seemed to think that an aging potion would fool the Age Line. Though, I must say, none of them sprouted beards as fine as yours.”

Fred and George set off sheepishly towards the Hospital Wing, accompanied by Lee, who was laughing hysterically.

“Some friend.” James frowned.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Right, because you’d be nice and supportive if that happened to Sirius, wouldn’t you?”

James sniggered. “Alright, fair enough.”

Chuckling under her breath, Hermione followed Harry and Ron into the Great Hall, where, appropriately, hundreds of live bats fluttered around the hall.

The Durmstrang students and many of the Hogwarts students were already and the four Gryffindors joined Seamus and Dean for breakfast.

“There’s a rumour going round saying that Warrington got up early and put his name in.” Dean was saying. “That big bloke from Slytherin who looks like a sloth.”

“You can’t have a Slytherin champion!” James protested, making Hermione smile.

Harry shook his head in disgust. “We can’t have a Slytherin champion!”

“Like father like son.” Lily sighed. “Typical.”

Before Hermione could agree, a voice beside her muttered, “Typical.” There was a flash of red in her peripheral vision; she turned, only to see an empty space.

“Sounds like you don’t change much, Lil.” Arabella teased.

Whoever it is, she’s hanging around us a lot. Maybe I should talk to her next time she appears.

Lily nodded eagerly, hoping that it wouldn’t take too long.

If I can think of way of doing that without looking like a raving lunatic, of course.

“And all the Hufflepuffs are talking about Diggory.” Seamus scowled. “But I wouldn’t have thought he’d have wanted to risk his good looks.”

“That’s not fair.” Ginny said in a low voice.

“There’s nothing wrong with him.” Hermione snapped. “He hexed a Slytherin last year when he called me a Mudblood.”

“Alright, I like him.” James announced.

“Which Slytherin?” Harry asked immediately, overriding Ron’s, “Which hex?”

Fred rolled his eyes. “Priorities, Ron. Priorities.”

Hermione sighed and pointed at Harry. “Montague.” Ron. “Don’t know; never seen it before. Quite impressive though.”

“It looked like his hands and feet switched places.” Hermione said with a smile. “And then Cedric practically stalked me until I met up with Harry and Ron. Thankfully, it was over lunch and I didn’t have an elective afterwards, otherwise time-travel would have been a little difficult.”

“Listen!” Seamus said suddenly.

Cheering was floating in from the Great Hall and, moments later, Angelina Johnson walked in. “I’ve done it.” She announced, taking a seat next to Hermione. “I’ve put my name in.”

“That’s more like it.” James announced, applauding with the other Marauders. “Let’s hope she’s the Hogwarts Champion.”
Harry somehow managed to resist the urge to shudder. As awful as it was to watch what happened to Cedric in the graveyard, he hardly knew him. Angelina – like the other two Gryffindor Chasers – was like an older sister to him.

Thank Merlin it wasn’t her.

Ron looked impressed. “You’re kidding?”

“You seventeen then?” Seamus asked.

“No, of course not.” Sirius said, deadpan.

Ron rolled his eyes. “Course she is. Can’t see a beard, can you?”

“I had my birthday last week.” Angelina elaborated.

“Well, I really hope you get it.” Hermione told her.

“Thanks, Hermione.”

“Better you than Pretty Boy Diggory.” Ron muttered, causing a couple of passing Hufflepuffs to scowl at him.

“All this because of Quidditch?” Lily asked, rolling her eyes. “Honestly!”

Hermione rolled her eyes and was about to berate Ron once more, when she realised that Harry hadn’t said anything since his dismissal of a Slytherin champion. He was staring at his plate, pushing his scrambled eggs around with his fork.

Lily sighed, her amusement vanishing.

Hermione hesitated, glancing at her own breakfast. She loved Harry dearly …

Fred opened his mouth.

“Wait.” Draco told him.

… and there was no way she was going to let him wallow in misery for the whole day, but she was incredibly hungry.

“Oh, thanks, Hermione!” Harry protested. “Is breakfast really more important than me?”

Hermione smiled sheepishly. “They had bacon, Harry. And it did say that I love you, remember?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Love you too.”

Compromising, Hermione grabbed some bacon and wrapped it in a napkin, before nudging Harry. “Want to go for a walk?”

Harry dropped his fork instantly. “Yes please.”

The two friends made their way out of the Great Hall, pausing only to let the Beauxbatons students pass them. They rounded the lake …

“Ah, the lake.” Fred sighed. “Why do you two always go to the lake?”

Hermione shrugged. “Habit.”

… in comfortable silence and, once they were on the opposite side, their view of the castle blocked by the Durmstrang ship, Harry stopped, dropping to sit on the floor.

Hermione followed suit, wiping her fingers on the now empty napkin and tucking it inside her robes. “I swear, bacon is the reason I could never be vegetarian.”

Addie chuckled. “That is so Padfoot.”

Sirius nodded in agreement. “It’s a good attitude to have.”

Harry managed a small smile, but said nothing.

Stifling a sigh, Hermione shifted to face him and held her arms out. “Come here.”

Normally, Harry tended to avoid hugs, unless she instigated them, but today, he welcomed it …

“I needed one.” Harry whispered, feeling Lily shift closer to him.

… wrapping his own arms around her waist and burying his face in her shoulder.

Hermione rubbed his back comfortingly, pretending that she couldn’t feel him shaking slightly. When he pulled away, his eyes were bright and red-rimmed, but she made no comment on it. “Bad day?”

“Just a bit.” James muttered

Harry chuckled weakly, rubbing his face with his hand. “Something like that.” He gazed across the lake. “It’s different this year. Halloween, I mean. I always knew that’s when they … died. At least, I did once Hagrid told me.”

Lily gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to apparate home and curse her sister.
Hermione bit back a scathing remark about his aunt. Honestly, who doesn’t tell a little boy about his parents?

“To be fair …” Harry said quietly, staring at the ceiling “… they did tell me. At least, they told me what they told Jess, which was that my parents were worthless freaks who deserved everything they got.” He managed a small smile. “After first year, she told me that she knew the Dursleys were lying, because anyone they hate must be lovely by default.”
Lily hugged Harry tightly. “I’m so sorry you ended up with them, sweetheart.”

“But it seems … worse this year.” Harry sighed.

“Maybe it’s because you’ve got more of a connection this year.” Hermione suggested. “What did you have last year – a few photos and a physical resemblance? Now you’ve got people who knew them personally. They’re people now, not just people who died for you.”

Lily glanced at James, who moved to Harry’s other side, drawing both of them into an embrace.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”

Hedwig fluttered down beside them with a letter tied to her leg.

“You’re late.” Harry murmured, taking the letter from her. Hedwig let out an indignant squawk …

Arabella chuckled. “Nothing like an owl with personality.”

… and flapped to Hermione’s shoulder.

“I don’t think she likes what you’re insinuating.” Hermione smiled slightly. “Isn’t that Arabella’s handwriting?

Lily’s face broke into a smile. “Thank you.”

“We already knew we were writing.” Arabella reminded her.

“Yeah, but on Halloween …” Lily rested her head atop Harry’s.

Hedwig’s a smart owl, maybe she knew you shouldn’t get a letter like this in public.”

Harry frowned. “A letter like what?” He opened the letter and ran his gaze over it, a soft smile appearing on his face. “Never mind.”

Hermione stroked Hedwig’s feathers and looked the other way, while Harry wiped his eyes again. “Alright?”

“Fine.” Harry rolled the letter up and tucked it inside his robes. “They just wanted to tell me that they miss them too and that they’re thinking of me.”

“Me and Remus too?” Mandy guessed.

Harry nodded and James caught Remus’s eye as Lily thanked them again. He didn’t say anything, but then he didn’t need to and Remus nodded in understanding.
Hermione nodded. “I thought it’d be something like that.”

Harry sighed again. “It’s just weird, you know? I don’t remember them, but I miss them so much it hurts sometimes.”

“They miss you too.” Addie said softly.

Hermione pulled a face. “Harry … I don’t know what to say. Nothing sounds quite right in my head.”

“Oh, I hate it when that happens.” Lily grimaced.

Draco chuckled and read the next line.

“I hate when that happens.”  A soft female voice sympathised from beside her.

James nudged his girlfriend. “Apparently, nothing changes.”

Hermione jumped, but Harry made no sign that he’d even heard the voice …

“That’s because I didn’t.” Harry said.

… let alone been surprised by it. She glanced round, to see the redhead she’d seen earlier sitting on her other side, watching the Durmstrang students returning to their ship. Giving her little more than a cursory glance …

Lily rolled her eyes. “Thanks!”

“I thought you were Ginny!” Hermione reminded her.

… she turned back to Harry. “Hey, Gin.”

“Ginny?” Harry glanced over her head at what – to him, at least – appeared to be empty grass. “Hermione, there’s nobody there.”

“I thought she’d lost it.” Harry admitted.

“She has.” Fred said solemnly. “That’s no reason to hold it against her.”

Hermione hit him with a cushion.

“No, her spirit.” Hermione corrected with a smile. “Remember, I told you how I could see them …”

“Actually, Hermione,” the spirit interrupted, “Harry’s right. I’m not Ginny.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just …” Hermione turned back to the woman to apologise, but froze almost immediately.

“Recognise me?” Lily guessed.

Hermione nodded. “Thought I was going mental.”

Looking at the woman properly, it was obvious that she wasn’t Ginny – she was older, for one, and her hair was a slightly darker shade of red.

Jen compared the two. “Just slightly.” She commented. “But you’re right.”

But the most glaring difference was in her eyes, and it was these which caught Hermione’s attention.

“They were the same as mine.” Harry concluded.

“No …” She whispered. “No, that’s impossible.”
“Hermione?” Harry questioned, sounding worried. “Hermione, what’s wrong?”

Hermione heard his query, but it didn’t quite seem to register in her mind what he’d said, even as she turned back to him. “Would you excuse me for one second? Empath thing.”

“You were really worrying me.” Harry told her. “I debated going to get Madam Pomfrey.”

“Why didn’t you?” Remus asked.

Harry pulled a face. “I’d managed to avoid the hospital wing until then and she hadn’t had a chance to force me into a check-up yet.”

Without waiting for a reply, Hermione jumped to her feet and jogged down the shore, leaving Harry utterly confused.

“Understatement.” Harry muttered.

Once they were out of earshot, she ducked into the trees at the edge of the forest and turned to face the woman, who was still smiling kindly at her.

“You can’t be Lily Potter.”

“I think I can.” Lily said brightly.

“Neville?” Arabella asked, before she took the book for her turn. “Would you like to read next?”

Chapter Text

Neville nodded and took the book from Draco, turning to the next chapter.

Chapter Sixteen

Confrontations

James frowned. “Not with us?”

Hermione grimaced, remembering the incident with Ron in the Great Hall. “No. Not with you.”

The woman looked at her calmly, with eyes exactly the same shape and colour as Harry’s. “Why not?”

Jen sighed. “You’re going to take a leaf out of Remus’s book, aren’t you?”

“How do you mean?” Lily asked.

“You’re going to counter every single one of Hermione’s arguments with calm logic until she’s more likely to yell at you than agree with you.” James elaborated for her.

Lily smirked. “Well, let’s find out, shall we?”
“Because Lily Potter is dead.” Hermione stated, well aware that her voice was shaking. “She has been dead for thirteen years. So unless I’ve somehow developed necromancy as well as empathy or this is some kind of sick joke …

“Which did you think it was?” Alice asked.

“Latter.” Hermione answered. “Necromancy is something entirely different. I thought maybe I’d been cursed or something.”

… then you can’t be Lily Potter.”
“But I am.” ‘Lily’ told her.

“But you’re dead!” Hermione argued.

“Prove it.” ‘Lily’ responded serenely.

“Yep, you’re doing a Moony.” James sighed.

Remus cleared his throat. “I am right here, you know.”

“We know, love.” Jen said casually. “I’m sorry, Hermione.”

“Show me the proof that I’m dead and I’ll believe you.”

Lily flinched. “You could have come up with an answer for that.”
“Not really.” Hermione said quietly. “The attack on you was never actually investigated. I looked it up this summer.”

“They never investigated?!” David repeated. “Two people vanished, someone tried to murder their son, and no one investigated?!”

“Dumbledore told me James and Lily had been killed.” Sirius told him.

Harry stiffened. “You don’t think … you don’t think he knows, do you?”

Silence filled the room and Sirius cleared his throat. “If you’d asked me before we started all this, I’d say no, but … I honestly don’t know, Harry.”

Slightly nervously, Neville cleared his throat. “Sh-should I keep reading?”

Alice wiped her anger at the headmaster from her face and gave him an encouraging smile. “Go ahead, sweetheart.”

Hermione opened her mouth, paused, and closed it again, thinking back about everything she’d read about that Halloween night. She knew that Harry had never heard the Killing Curse around the Dementors – although he’d heard everything else – because he hadn’t known about it in DADA when Moody taught them the Unforgivables.

“What curse do you hear, Harry?” Lily asked softly.

Harry closed his eyes and thought back. “I don’t. Hermione?”

Hermione copied his actions and dived into her memories, watching Lily vanish, engulfed in a sickly green light. “That’s because it was wordless.” She said shakily, opening her eyes. “Voldemort never said an incantation. The green light was the same though.”

But then …

“Well, your bodies were never found …” Hermione said slowly. “But everyone knows that you were killed.”
“You mean, like everyone ‘knows’ Sirius killed thirteen people?” ‘Lily’ asked with a smirk.

“Nice.” Jen nodded to Lily. “Good example.”

“I think I pretty much believed her by then.” Hermione admitted.

“Why’s that?” Harry asked.

Hermione grinned. “That was something you’d have said.”

“Come on, Hermione, use your logic. You’re a smart girl. You know you’re not crazy. Think it through.”

It was sound advice, Hermione had to admit, and she began to pace. “Okay, let me talk it out. I’m an empath. As an empath, I can only talk to spirits attached to living people, or living spirits.”
“That’s right.” ‘Lily’ agreed.

“Keep going.” Jen murmured.

“And since I can only talk to living spirits, then you must be a living spirit.” Hermione continued.

“Uh-huh.”

Hermione slowed to a standstill. “And if you’re a living spirit, then you must be alive.” She pinched her arm, wincing at the sharp pain.

Hermione rubbed the spot in question. “That hurt.”

“And I’m not dreaming. And people who imagine things like this when they’re crazy either see people they know very well or people they don’t know at all, and I only know you through Harry. You really are Mrs Potter. And you’re alive.”

The Marauders applauded and Lily blushed slightly.

Lily’s smile widened. “By Jove, I think she’s got it!”

“By what?” James asked.

“Muggle-born!” Hermione and Lily chorused.

“You’re having one of those Muggle-born moments again, aren’t you?” A man’s voice asked, sounding partly amused, partly disgruntled.

He appeared beside Lily and Hermione’s eyes widened involuntarily, her gaze darting to Harry, still sitting on the bank of the lake, gazing in her direction concernedly.

“They just looked so alike.” Hermione whispered. “I mean … I knew that but …”

She gave him a reassuring smile and turned back to the man in front of her. “Mr Potter, I presume?”

“Prongsie!” Sirius and Remus shouted.

“Call me James.” He told her with an easy smile, a smile she’d seen on Harry’s face a thousand times.

Sirius nodded in agreement when Harry looked at him. “Yeah, you definitely have your dad’s smile.”

Hermione leaned against the nearest tree, her head spinning. “Okay … so you two are alive. Where are you then?”

Hermione laughed. “Oh, if only it were that easy!”

“We don’t know.” Lily admitted. “We were both hit with some sort of transportation spell. It gave off the same green light as the Killing Curse, but it was non-verbal. Whatever it was, I’ve never read about it.”

“Probably dark then.” James concluded.

Sirius frowned. “Not necessarily. Lily did quite a lot of research for the Order about dark spells …”

“I know what spell it is.” Draco whispered.

The room went silent and everyone stared at him.

“You know what spell it is?” Sirius repeated. “How?”

“Because my father taught it to me.” Draco answered, staring at the floor. “It’s a Malfoy family spell. He told me never to teach it to someone outside the family, the hypocrite.”

“Is that …?” Addie hesitated. “Is that the spell they used on me?”
“No.” Draco answered. “Definitely not. First, Father may have conceded to teach it to V-V-Voldemort, but he wouldn’t hand it over to anyone else. Secondly, I seem to recallSirius telling us that you didn’t disappear right away.”

“She didn’t.” Sirius confirmed, glancing at her.

“It was pretty slow.” Addie agreed softly. “Thank Merlin.”
“You were grateful for that?” Sirius frowned.

“Well, not exactly.” Addie conceded. “If I’d been alone, I definitely wouldn’t be. But I wasn’t – you were with me. No one wants their last words to be ‘oh, crap’. I’m not counting what the Death Eaters would have heard.” She added before he could say anything.

“And that little moment of melodrama was perfect?” Sirius asked with a grin.

“I was not being melodramatic.” Addie sniffed.

“Yes, you were.” Sirius informed her. “You even admitted it.”
Addie gaped at him. “When?!”

Sirius smirked at her. “And I quote, “With any luck, I’ll wake up in St Mungo’s to you laughing about how melodramatic I’m being.””

“I never said that.” Addie insisted.

“Yeah, but you were thinking it.”

Addie sniggered. “Yeah, I was.”

“Are you two quite finished?” Alice asked wearily.

“We are.” Addie said.

“Carry on, Neville.” Sirius added.

While Neville found his place, Hermione leaned over to them. “That was just to take the attention off of Draco, wasn’t it?”

Addie smirked at her. “Worked, didn’t it?”

Hermione nodded absently. Now I KNOW I’m not making this up. If I’d gone crazy, I’d come up with a better answer than ‘we don’t know’. And that fits with what Harry remembers.

“We’ll explain more when you’ve told Harry.” Lily added.

James raised an eyebrow. “This should be fun.”

“Excuse me?” Hermione asked incredulously. “You want me to go and tell Harry that I can speak to the spirits of his supposedly-dead parents?!”

“When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous.” Lily said dryly.

Neville stared at the page for a few seconds. Alice peeked over his shoulder and giggled. “Well, that’s new.”
“When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous.” James said dryly …

Everyone turned to the couple, both of whom turned red.

“Who’s rubbing off on who?” Sirius asked.
“Whom.” Remus corrected.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”

… surprising a laugh out of her.

“It is ridiculous!” Hermione protested. “Today, of all days? It’s not like he knows enough to let me prove that it’s you!”

Hermione winced. “That sounded more accusatory than I meant it to.”

Lily smiled at her. “I’m sure I knew what you meant.”
“Hermione, relax.” Lily soothed. “You think too much. We can’t affect our bodies, you know that, so we – the real us, I mean – we don’t know Harry’s alright. We’re just an imprint.” She took a deep breath. “Do you trust me, Hermione?”

“Strange question.” Jen commented.

“Yes.” Hermione answered without hesitation. “Why?”
“Because you’re an empath, I can …” Lily paused, searching for the right word “… temporarily inhabit your body and tell Harry myself.

Neville paused and glanced up, but no one seemed able to speak.

But I can only do it with your permission.”

“You want to possess me?” Hermione asked, her voice higher than normal.

“Temporarily inhabit.” Lily repeated insistently.

“Sounds like possession to me.” David said, finally finding his voice.

“Not really.” Hermione shrugged. “With possession, she’d be in control. I can push her out of my head any time I want.”

“Or don’t want.” Harry added.

Hermione pouted. “Be nice to me.”

“Just to talk to him. Please?”

Hermione was about to refuse, but the pleading note in Lily’s voice made her hesitate. Lily wasn’t just offering so that Hermione had proof to back up her story.

Lily smiled sadly. “I just want to talk to him.”

“Please?” Lily whispered.

Hermione sighed, glancing back at Harry. “Alright.

“Thank you.” Lily whispered.

But let me lay the groundwork first.” At Lily’s nod, she returned to where Harry was sitting. “Sorry about that.”

“Who was it?” Harry asked immediately.

Hermione hesitated, steeling herself, both for what she was about to say and Harry’s possible reaction. “Would you believe your mother?”

“Blunt.” Draco commented.

Hermione shrugged. “What would you have said?”

“Good point.” Draco conceded.

Harry’s expression of concern didn’t change, but he did give her a hard glance. “That’s not funny.”

“I’m not kidding.” Hermione responded flatly. “She … er … She wants to talk to you.”

“I was tempted to run for the hospital wing,” Harry said, “however much I wanted to avoid it.”

At Hermione’s nod, Lily stepped forwards, as though she was planning to walk right through Hermione, but stopped and vanished.

For a moment, Hermione didn’t think anything had happened, but Harry’s jaw dropped. “Hermione, your eyes …” he whispered. “They’re the same colour as mine …”

Before Hermione could ask, her mouth began to move of its own accord, but it was Lily’s voice that escaped her lips, soft and soothing.

“Forget time travel.” Hermione said. “This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Harry, Hermione’s telling the truth … It really is me, sweetheart …”

“Mum …?” Harry shook his head slowly. “You have no idea how weird this is.”

Hermione felt herself smile. “It’s going to be weird, pumpkin; I’m inhabiting your best friend’s body at the moment.”

Jen shook her head in disbelief. “Said so casually.”

Her hand reached out without her volition and touched his face. “We’re so proud of you, Harry. Your dad and I … we love you so much …”

“We do.” Lily murmured into his hair.

A sharp pain stabbed through her head …

Addie pulled a face. “Occlumency?” She asked over the panicked gasps.

Hermione nodded. “Apparently it didn’t take too kindly to the situation.”

… and Hermione grimaced, suddenly regaining control of her body as Lily reappeared beside her.

Harry blinked at the sudden change in her eyes. “What …?”

“Mrs Potter, what just happened?” Hermione asked, slightly shakily.

“Lily, dear.” She corrected, eyeing Hermione speculatively. “You’re a natural Occlumens …

“That’s how you found out.” Lily murmured.

… even though you let me in, your subconscious was pushing me out.”
“Oh, sorry.” Hermione sighed. “Sorry, Harry, apparently, I’m a natural Occlumens and accidentally knocked her out of my head.”

Sirius pulled a face. “This is going to be a long conversation, isn’t it?”

Hermione chuckled. “I only repeat myself a few times. Then I came up with a better idea.”

“It’s okay, Hermione.” Harry said with a smile. “I guessed you didn’t do it on purpose. Er … what’s an Occlumens?”

“Occlumency is the art of magically defending the mind against external penetration, sealing it against magical intrusion and influence.” Lily answered. “It’s the defensive counter to Legilimency, which is the ability to extract emotions, memories and thoughts from another person’s mind. Someone who practices Occlumency is known as an Occlumens and someone who practices Legilimency is known as a Legilimens. They’re very advanced branches of magic, which usually take years to master.”

Addie chuckled. “So that’s where my copy of Improving Mind Magics disappeared to. You ingested it.”

Hermione’s eyebrows rose into her hairline. “Wow …” she murmured.

“What’s an Occlumens?” Harry repeated.

Hermione chuckled. “Sorry, Harry. Basically …” She repeated what Lily had told her, word for word, just to make sure she didn’t miss anything.

Harry smirked. “No one told me I was best friends with my mother.”

“One quote and he already sees how similar you are.” James smirked.

“There are worse people to be like.” Hermione said in a dignified way.

Hermione swatted his arm good-naturedly. “Oh, shut up. So what does it mean that I’m a ‘natural’ Occlumens?”

“It means that you don’t need to learn it.” Lily explained. “Legilimency and Occlumency won’t work against you; it’s a gift that very few people are born with, only those who won’t abuse it, and even then, it’s rare.”

“So, does that mean what we just tried will never work?” Hermione questioned, glancing at Harry.

“I hope not.” Lily whispered.

“It might eventually.” Addie offered. “Just when Hermione has control of it.”

Lily looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. Possibly eventually … you do still need to work to control it. That should give you better access to your long-term memory as well. One of my best friends was a natural Legilimens as well …

Sirius glanced at Addie, realising that she’d be in the conversation that was about to arise.

… try looking for Improving Mind Magics in the library … I don’t think it’s in the restricted section.”

“It’s not.” Addie confirmed.

“I have it now.” Hermione smiled.

Hermione rummaged in her bag for some parchment and a quill. “And that will help?”
“The exercises will.” Lily assured her. “At least they should.”

Hermione jotted down the name of the book, and then paused, gazing at her quill. “You know, this conversation would be easier if Harry could hear you.”

“How are you going to manage that?” Arabella asked, but received no answer.

Lily raised an eyebrow. “But Harry’s not an empath. And we’ve just established that I can’t borrow your voice.”

Hermione just stared at the quill. “Or see you.”

Jen smiled. “Oh, I think I might know.”

“What?” Remus prompted.

Jen shook her head. “No, I might be wrong.”

“Again, Hermione, Harry’s not an empath.” Lily groaned. “Uh oh.”

“What?” James asked with a frown.
Now Hermione looked at her. “What?”

“You’ve got a glint in your eye …” Lily sighed. “And that glint reminds me too much of Padfoot for me to be altogether comfortable with it.”

Hermione smiled. “That makes much more sense now than it did then.”
“Okay …” Hermione decided to just ignore that. “Do you know the Dicta-Charm?”

Jen nodded. “I thought so.”

“Good idea.” David remarked.

“The what?” Harry asked blankly …

Hermione sighed. “Read, Harry.”

… as Lily made a soft noise of understanding.

“And that’s why I was asking your mum.” Hermione teased.

Lily laughed. “Good idea, Hermione. The incantation is Dicteria and the wand movement is a sharp, anti-clockwise, quarter-twist.”

Hermione aimed her wand at the quill and followed Lily’s instructions. “Dicteria.” The quill twitched slightly …

“Impressive.” Regulus commented. “Most people would need to practice it.”

“Hermione’s pretty good at Charms.” Harry told him, when the girl in question just blushed.

… and she loaded it with ink, setting it point down on the parchment. “This is Hermione Granger, on October 31st 1995.”

As she spoke, the quill skated across the parchment, transcribing her words.

“That’s all very well,” Draco frowned, “but would it still work on spirits?”

“Since Hermione was the one who cast the charm, it should do.” Narcissa told him.

“Excellent.” Hermione tore away the top of the parchment and repositioned the quill. “Will it work on you, Lily?”

“You cast the spell so I don’t see why not.” Lily answered. “My name is Lily Potter …

Lily smiled.

… Harry, you’ll have to give it your name as well.”

Harry’s eyes widened as he glanced at the parchment, where the words Lily Potter: You cast the spell so I don’t see why not. My name is Lily Potter – Harry, you’ll have to give it your name as well.

“Was it my handwriting?” Lily asked curiously. “I’ve never seen a Dicta-Quill work before.”

“No, it tends to write in the hand of whoever charmed it.” Sirius told her.

“My name is Harry Potter, and this may be the most amazing thing that ever happened to me.”

Hermione smiled as the quill danced across the parchment, noting down Harry’s name and words as well. “Very good. Now first question, Lily, where are you?”

“It was the only question, really.” Harry pointed out. “It just turned into a conversation after that.”
“We’re not sure of the exact location.” Lily began heavily. “We know that it’s an island, but it’s small – very small. Big enough to house a tower and a house, as well as a crowd of Death Eaters, but not much else.”

There was a sharp intake of breath, but no one said anything.”

Harry stiffened as the words appeared. “Mum, are you …?”

“I’m fine, dear.” Lily assured him. “We both are. We haven’t seen the Death Eaters ourselves, but Addie and Leona say they were there just before we arrived.

Addie closed her eyes and automatically sought Sirius’s hand. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him as he, and the others, looked to Addie for clarification.

“I told you,” she said softly, “it was never that bad. There was the odd curse Reggie couldn’t stop, but …”

“But you were there for several months after I died and these two turned up.” Regulus finished. “What about then?”

Addie flinched. “Yeah, that wasn’t fun.” She gave them a weak smile. “But I’m here, aren’t I?”

They haven’t been back since that Halloween.”

“Addie and Leona?” Hermione repeated. The second name was unfamiliar, but she could have sworn she’d heard the first name before, even though she didn’t know anyone by that name.

“I’d read about it.” Hermione said.

“No, it might have been the Memory Charm again.” Sirius told her. “I used to talk to you about her … or talk to her around you.”

“Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, Padfoot.” Addie teased, without any real heat.

“Didn’t you declare me mad years ago?” Sirius reminded her.

“Oh yeah.” Addie remembered. “Never mind.”

“They were two of our year-mates.” Lily explained. “Addison and Leona McKinnon – they’re twins, as different in personality as they are alike in appearance. We thought that they’d both been killed in March 1979.”
“The McKinnon Massacre.” Hermione murmured.

Addie flinched against Sirius and he rubbed her back.

“Was it really that bad?” Alice asked softly.

Addie sighed. “Six generations, three countries, two hours. Leona and I were the only survivors. Yes, it was really that bad.”

That would explain where she’d heard the name before.

“The what?” Harry asked.

Hermione smiled sadly. “I read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts. The McKinnons were a big pureblood family – it was the first attack on purebloods.”

“He hadn’t killed purebloods before?” Harry frowned.

“Not directly.” David answered with a frown.

“Oh, he had.” James said darkly.

“James, the quill.” Lily reminded him in a soft voice.

“Right. My name is James Potter.” James directed at the quill. “Hi, Harry. Yes, Voldemort had killed purebloods before, but only when they were in the way or collateral damage. The McKinnons were the first real attack. They were wiped out in under a day.”

“I still don’t know why.” Harry frowned. “I mean, what made him pick them?”

Sirius closed his eyes. “Oh, Merlin … it wasn’t …”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Padfoot, as much as your family hate you, the whole world does not revolve around that. Mum and Dad were members of the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort decided to start taking them out.”

“One by one.” Sirius muttered darkly.
Harry muttered a curse under his breath and Hermione nudged him. “Language, Harry.” She frowned. “Wait a second … I thought that one of the girls was seen in an Inferi army later on.”

Addie glanced at Sirius’s pale face and leaned against him, squeezing his hand, her weight anchoring him to reality.

“Addie was.” Lily nodded, with a heavy sigh.

“What’s an Inferi?” Harry asked quietly.

Hermione swallowed, feeling slightly sick. “An Inferius, Harry, is a dead body enchanted to do a Dark Wizard’s bidding.”

“How did you even know that?” David asked.

Hermione grimaced. “Curse of being a bookworm.”

Harry shuddered. “Oh Merlin …”

“I don’t think there’s any other reaction.” Regulus muttered.

“Exactly.” Lily closed her eyes and James put an arm around her shoulders. “Voldemort created a pseudo-Killing Curse, so called because the incantation is the same, but it separates the spirit from the body and soul and solidifies it. That doesn’t cause any harm to the person as a whole and they’re sent to the island that we’re on, but there’s what appears to be a body.”

“That’s what you were telling us about earlier.” Mandy commented.

“It was usually used when Voldemort wanted information from someone.” James added. “After all, the Ministry isn’t going to search for someone who’s dead.”

“Apparently, they were being paranoid.” Sirius said with a scowl. “Since you two were never found and no one’s searching for you.”

“Apparently it wasn’t needed.” Hermione scowled. “I notice that no one’s searching for you two.”

There were a few chuckles at yet another coincidence.

“That’s because no one bothered investigating.” Lily sighed. “They all ‘knew’ we were dead.”

Hermione huffed. “Honestly!”

Harry was reading the parchment over again. “Wait a second … Addie wouldn’t be Shadow, would she?”

“How did you know I wasn’t Shadow?” Jen asked.

“We hadn’t been told about you yet.” Harry answered. “Like Hermione said, it didn’t seem to fit Mandy or Arabella, and Addie was the only other name we had.”

Lily chuckled. “Yes, Harry, we called her Shadow.”

“Did Arabella and Mandy have Marauder names?” Hermione asked.

“Arabella was Bastet, Mandy was Talon.” James answered.

“Where’d the names come from?” Harry questioned eagerly. “Mum’s, I get. It was because of your eyes, right?”

Lily laughed. “Exactly. Our names came from the same place the boys’ did. We were all Animagi.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Well, they certainly kept that quiet last June. Were you there?”

“Please say no.” James murmured. “I really don’t want to watch that.”

“We were.” James confirmed. “You need more ink, Hermione.”

“And you’re avoiding the subject.” Lily added.

“Can you blame me?” James retorted.

Hermione glanced at the page and reloaded the quill. “Thank you. I bet that was difficult. Last June, I mean.”

James closed his eyes, but not before she saw the pain that shot across his face. “We already knew, Hermione. Well, we knew that Peter had betrayed us, but …”

“We thought that Sirius had killed him.” Lily finished.

“Thanks.” Sirius rolled his eyes.

“They followed Harry.” Hermione explained. “So they never saw what happened, just that you’d been arrested. They thought what Arabella did – that you killed Peter and overcharged the spell.”

“At least until Harry got to Hogwarts and met Ron and we saw Scabbers and … that was the hardest part. Knowing that our son was in the same room as that … that …”

“Scumbag?” Hermione supplied.

Lily smiled wryly. “I was thinking something worse …

“We’ve corrupted her!” Sirius cheered.

Jen corrupted me.” Lily corrected.

… but that’ll do.”

“Did you hear the prophecy?” Harry whispered.

“We heard it.” Lily answered. “And we heard your little guilt-trip in Moony’s office as well.”

“Whatever happens next, Harry, it is not your fault.” James said forcefully. “Whatever happens next, I am so incredibly proud of you for how you acted in the Shack.”

James nodded in agreement, squeezing Harry’s shoulder.

Somehow the quill managed to portray at least some of the emotion in James’s voice and Hermione looked out across the lake to give Harry time to gather his composure.

“Hermione?” He asked after a few minutes. “How are we going to tell Sirius? We can’t tell him something like this in a letter.”

“Thank Merlin.” Sirius murmured.

“No, you can’t.” Lily agreed. “Wait until you see him in person. And when you do, Hermione, show him this. He and Addie were dating when she was attacked – if she knew I was doing this, she’d never forgive me if I didn’t find some way of telling him that she still loves him.”

“No, I wouldn’t.” Addie agreed, unruffled by the faces that turned to her. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

“Of course.” Sirius tugged her hair lightly. “I did promise.”

“Promise what?” Alice asked curiously.

Addie smiled slightly. “The last thing I did before I disappeared was get him to promise me that he’d never forget that I love him no matter what.”

The matter-of-fact tone of her voice made several people smile, but Sirius was focussing on something else. “So in Azkaban … was that a good memory or a bad one?”

Sirius chuckled. “Both. The Dementors made me relive it because losing her was … is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me, But I also heard that over and over again, which was one of the reasons I kept my mind in there.”

“Well, I wasn’t thinking of Dementors when I said it,” Addie remarked, “but at least it had that effect.” Her voice was still casual, but the mention of Dementors had caused her to shift closer to Sirius with a shiver.

“Do you know what’s happening with You-Know-Who?” Hermione asked, feeling a bit guilty for sweeping Sirius aside like that, but needing to ask.

“As much as we’d love to go spy,” James sighed, “he’s an empath too – that’s how he created the pseudo-Killing Curse in the first place. Since we don’t really want to draw attention to our continued existence …”

“For Merlin’s sake, stay where you are.” David said hastily.

“I wouldn’t ask you to.” Hermione said hastily. “Did you … Did you happen to see where Wormtail went last June?”

Lily smiled wryly. “No. We were more worried about you lot, to be honest. Especially with all those Dementors …”

Addie shuddered, burying her face in Sirius’s shoulder.

She shuddered, and Hermione felt a pang of sympathy for couple, for everything they had watched Harry go through, helpless to intervene.

“And there you go, pulling down the mood again.” Ginny announced.

And they still don’t even really know he’s alive.

Hermione cast around for some way to change the subject, desperate for some way to distract Lily from the memory. “What was your Animagus form, Lily?”

“Subtle.” Mandy said sarcastically.

James chuckled weakly. “That was about as subtle as a …”
“Train wreck.” Lily finished, wiping her eyes. “But thank you. I was a doe …” she exchanged a smile with her husband “… reddish-brown in colour, but still with green eyes. That’s why they called me Jade. Arabella was a cat …”

“That doesn’t surprise me.” Hermione smiled, as Harry nodded in agreement. “And you called her Bastet because of the Egyptian goddess, right?”

“Someone knows her mythology.” Arabella said with a smile.

“Right in one.” Lily nodded. “As for Mandy, her form was a falcon, so her nick-name speaks for itself.”
“And Addie?” Harry asked. “What could she turn into?”

“Well, you’ve seen Sirius’s Animagus form, right?” James smirked. “It’s that, but blonde.”

Hermione and Harry exchanged a slightly confused glance. “So … why Shadow?” Hermione queried.

“Because she had the ability to blend into them.” Lily answered. “Alice came up with it. Neville’s mum.” She explained, seeing their questioning expressions. “Now not that we wouldn’t love to stand here and chat all day, don’t you too have work to do?”

“Hey!” Jen protested. “What about me?”

“Weren’t ready to talk about it.” Hermione answered.

Hermione glanced at her watch and jumped. “Harry! It’s nearly lunch-time and we haven’t done our potions homework yet!”

“Because that’s the sort of thing that gets you raring to go.” Fred said, rolling his eyes.

“Mum …?” Harry asked pleadingly.

Lily laughed. “Sorry, sweetheart, you do need to do that homework. I promise I’ll have a word with Snape when we get back though.”

“Damn right I will.” Lily muttered.

Hermione reached for the quill. “Can I stop this now?”
“Not yet.” James told her seriously. “Sirius Black, if you don’t stop blaming yourself for what happened, so help me Merlin, I will find a way to hex you into the next century, even if I have to do it from here.”

James smirked. “I’m holding myself to that.”
“He means that in the nicest way, Padfoot.” Lily said sweetly. “But I’ll be joining him.”

“Thank you.” Addie breathed. “Someone needs to get rid of the guilt-trip.”

The Halloween feast that evening mirrored dinner the night before in that, when the plates cleared, the tension in the Hall could be cut with a knife.

James leaned forwards. “This is the champion selection, right?”

When Dumbledore got to his feet, the sound in the Hall died away and was replaced with a silence that seemed to echo off the walls. “Well, the Goblet is almost ready to make its decision. I estimate that it requires one more minute. Now, when the champions’ names are called, I would ask them please to come up to the top of the Hall, walk along the staff table and go through into the next chamber, where they will be receiving their first instructions.” With a wave of his wand, the Hall was plunged into semi-darkness, the only light the blue-white flames dancing in the Goblet of Fire, almost painful to look at.

“Dramatic.” Mandy whispered, her eyes dancing.

“I think he did that on purpose.” Harry remarked.

“I know he did that on purpose.” Draco retorted.

Hermione closed her eyes and whispered a prayer under breath …

“Still don’t know who to.” Hermione muttered.

… hoping with every fibre of her being that everything would go well.

“Any second.” Lee Jordan whispered from a few seats behind her; Hermione’s eyes snapped open just as the flames inside the Goblet turned red and began emitting sparks. Then the whole room gasped as a tongue of flame shot into the air and discharged a slip of parchment.

“That’s quite cool.” Sirius remarked.

Dumbledore caught it and held it into the light. “The champion for Durmstrang will be Viktor Krum.”

Regulus shrugged. “Eh, we all saw that one coming.”
“No surprise there!” Ron shouted over the applause.

“Bravo, Viktor!” Karkaroff boomed as his student disappeared into the next chamber. “Knew you had it in you!”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Typical.”

The clapping died down seconds before the Goblet turned red again. Another piece of parchment appeared.

“The champion for Beauxbatons,” Dumbledore read, “is Fleur Delacour.”

Lily frowned. “We haven’t heard that name before.”

“It’s her, Ron!” Harry commented over the noise.

Hermione craned her neck and saw that the girl who supposedly resembled a Veela …

“Ah.” Lily nodded.

… was sweeping between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. “Oh, look, they’re all disappointed.” She observed, watching several of Fleur’s school-mates burst into tears.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Honestly.”

Okay, so maybe disappointed was an understatement.

“Just a bit.” Remus snickered.

This time, the silence was filled with so much excitement that Hermione had to shut her empathy off again.

Hermione grimaced, rubbing her head in remembrance.

Within seconds, Dumbledore was holding the third piece of parchment.

“The champion for Hogwarts is Cedric Diggory.”

“Also not surprising.” Sirius said. “Would have been nice if it was Angelina though.”

“Cedric did a good job.” Harry said, his voice slightly hoarse.

Hermione applauded, barely hearing Ron swear behind her over the noise at the Hufflepuff table. It was about time the badgers got some glory.

Addie closed her eyes. As much as she hated Amos, she’d become quite fond of Cedric over the last month.

It was some time before Dumbledore could make himself heard, but eventually the cheering died down.

“Excellent! Well, we now have our three champions! I am sure I can count upon all of you to give your champions every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champions on, you will contribute in a very real …”

“A very real what?” Lily asked, when Neville paused.

Hermione gasped along with the rest of the Hall as the Goblet turned red once more.

“What?” Jen asked in a low voice.

Another long flame shot up, bearing, unbelievably, a fourth piece of parchment.

“That’s not supposed to happen.” David stated, his voice tight with worry.

Dumbledore caught it and stared at it. Everyone in the Hall stared at Dumbledore, except Hermione who glanced across at Ginny, who seemed to be whispering, “No, no, no, no, no …” under her breath.

Ginny blushed slightly. “You heard that?”

Hermione nodded with a smile. “I was thinking it.”

Finally, after what seemed like an age, Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Harry Potter.

Lily closed her eyes, taking deep calm breaths. “Harry did not enter his name in that goblet.”

“No he didn’t.” Hermione agreed.

“And Harry is underage.”

“Yes I am.” Harry nodded.

“So therefore, the organisers pulled Harry from the incredibly dangerous competition and he spent the rest of the year on the side-lines.” Lily finished.

Harry grimaced. “Sorry, Mum. They told me it was a binding contract and that I had to compete.”

Lily groaned and grabbed him in a hug.

For a moment when she woke up on Sunday morning, Hermione couldn’t remember why she felt so sick.

“It was a wonderful moment.” Hermione sighed. “Pity it didn’t last.”

Then the previous night’s events came rushing back to her.

The Goblet … the selections of the champions … Harry’s name …

Lily didn’t release Harry, opting to pull him even closer instead. She knew that he offered her more comfort than she offered him, but she didn’t care.

How could Harry be a champion? He didn’t put his name in that Goblet; he can’t have done … the look on his face …

Hermione groaned into her pillow. Jess’s prophecy was coming true – the Goblet of Fire had been tampered with. It was the only solution that made sense.

“Oh Merlin no …” Jen whispered.

“Hermione!” Lavender called through the curtains. “Are you awake?!”

“Well, if I wasn’t, I am now.” Hermione grumbled, sitting up. “Yeah, I’m awake.”

The curtains were ripped back and Lavender and Parvati, practically shaking with excitement …

“Excitement?” Addie repeated. “Excitement?!”

“Lavender’s always had a … naïve view of the world.” Hermione said carefully.

… appeared, almost bouncing to sit on her bed.

“Well?” Parvati asked impatiently, after they had stared at her for a few minutes.

“Well what?” Hermione asked tiredly, running a hand through her hair and wincing at the tangles she encountered.

Hermione pulled a face.

“Harry!” Lavender squealed. “How did he get his name in the Goblet?”

Arabella scowled and mumbled something unsavoury under her breath.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “He didn’t.”

Parvati sighed. “Hermione, his name came out, didn’t it? That must mean …”

“That an incredibly powerful wizard hoodwinked an incredibly powerful object into thinking there were four schools, not three.” Hermione finished, slightly coldly.

“Of course.” David said softly. “That’s the only way it could happen. How did you come up with that?”
Hermione shrugged. “I didn’t get to sleep for something like an hour the night before – the party from the Common Room was too loud.”

“Party?” Lily repeated dangerously.

“That kept going?” Harry asked. “I managed to escape after five minutes.”

“Party?!”

Fred looked sheepish. “We really wanted a Gryffindor champion – it didn’t occur to us until the next day that something was wrong. We weren’t thinking that far ahead.”

“Why would Harry want to be in the tournament?”

“Same reason as anyone, duh.” Lavender said, rolling her eyes. “A thousand galleons and eternal glory.”

Hermione rolled her eyes again. “Lavender,” she began, in a tone one would usually employ with a five-year-old …

“That’s an insult to five-year-olds.” Hermione muttered.

“Mione, be nice.” Harry smiled. “Don’t enter into a battle of wits with an unarmed person.”

… “the Potter family is one of the wealthiest in the country.

“In the world, actually.” James corrected.

A thousand galleons is pocket money considering what’s he’s set to inherit when he turns seventeen, as you two have mentioned about a million times since first year.

“Really?” Harry asked with a frown.

Hermione nodded. “Your Witch Weekly’s most eligible bachelor, did you know that?”

Harry looked horrified. “But I’m only fifteen!”

“Yeah.” Ginny agreed. “And?”

And he’s already got eternal glory – you name me one former champion.”

Lavender looked set to argue, but Parvati, proving that her sister didn’t get all the brains …

“Sister?” Mandy asked.

“Parvati’s twin sister, Padma, is in Ravenclaw.” Hermione explained.

… nudged her. “She’s right. Besides, you saw the look on his face last night.”

Lavender nodded, looking almost disappointed at the lack of gossip.

“My son is in a highly dangerous competition and she’s upset because there’s nothing to gossip about?!” James asked incredulously.

Hermione sighed, feeling the need to defend her room-mate. “Like I said, Lavender’s quite naïve at times. Her heart’s in the right place; she probably didn’t even realise the danger that Harry was in.”

“So who did put his name in? And why?”

“I dread to think.” Hermione muttered. “The tournament’s dangerous – there’s a reason we weren’t allowed to enter under seventeen. It’s a very good opportunity to make something look like an accident …”

Harry snorted but said nothing.
She trailed off, a cold rush of dread flooding her as she imagined all the awful things that could happen. Images of Harry’s mangled and broken body flashed before her eyes …

Lily whimpered and Hermione winced. “Sorry. Wasn’t expecting my thoughts to be broadcast for all to hear.”

… and, unfortunately, he’d ended up in the hospital wing enough times for her to have a very extensive, very realistic bank of them.

“Sorry.” Harry said sheepishly.

She jumped out of bed, letting her bedclothes flutter to the floor. “Excuse me.” She changed quickly, almost sprinting from Gryffindor tower and down into the Great Hall, skidding to a halt beside the Gryffindor table, her eyes scanning the students present for any sign of messy black hair.

She couldn’t find any, so made her way to the red hair bent over his breakfast.

Sirius frowned. “Surely Ron would be with Harry. I’d have stuck to Prongs like glue.”

Harry didn’t respond, but reached past his mother and grasped Hermione’s hand.

“Morning, Ron. Where’s Harry?”

“How should I know?” Ron snapped.

“Fuck it!” James cursed.

“James!” Lily chided.

“Lily, he doesn’t believe him!” James protested. “I think that actually warrants something worse!”

Hermione took an unconscious step back, taken aback by the venom in his voice. “Who shoved a bug up your arse this morning?”

“Potter.” Ron growled.

“Dammit.” Sirius snarled.

Recognising his need to move, Addie shifted away from him and he rose to his feet, pacing around the room, his body wrought with frustration.

“Why wouldn’t he support him?!” Sirius demanded. “Even if everyone else in Gryffindor believed he entered his name, they’re all on his side. Didn’t you just say they threw him a party?!”
“Jealousy.” Addie said quietly. “It’s jealousy.”

Sirius didn’t respond, but fell silent, still pacing the room as Neville continued.

“Since when is he ‘Potter’?” Hermione frowned. “Wait … you don’t think he entered his name in this tournament, do you?”

Even as she spoke, her own voice echoed in her head. Betrayal …

James shook his head. “I would never have thought …”

“I knew you’d take his side!” Ron hissed.

“Honestly, this isn’t a schoolboy squabble!” Mandy snapped. “Harry could get seriously hurt!”

“Of course I’m taking his side!” Hermione protested. “He hasn’t done anything wrong! You, of all people, know how much Harry hates his fame! You, of all people, know how much that ‘fame’ cost him! You, of all people, know what he hears around the Dementors!”

“No one was paying attention to us.” Hermione said before Harry could protest. “And I, at least, was keeping my voice down.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Lavender and Parvati had joined the other end of the table and were talking with a group of fifth year girls.

The girls in question looked quite sheepish, and Hermione could only hope that her room-mates were repeating her earlier logic. If they are, and they manage to convince people, I will never complain about their gossiping ever again.

“Were they?” Lily asked hopefully.

Hermione nodded. “Yes, and they managed to convince a few people, but not as many as I would have hoped.”

“Fine!” Ron yelled. “Gang up on me, just like always!”

“Did he live the same three years we read about?!” Sirius demanded, still pacing. “Because I don’t remember that part!”

“Just like always?!” Hermione repeated incredulously, somehow managing to keep her voice quiet. “It’s normally you two ganging up on me – even when Harry knows I’m right.

Harry rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Yeah, sorry about that.”
Hermione smiled at him. “It’s fine.”

But go ahead! Turn your back on him and act like a jealous prat instead of being the friend he needs!”

Fred and George were at her side in an instant, before she even registered their arrival, the latter gripping Ron’s right wrist tightly. His hand was still tight around his wand, which was aimed in her direction.

Automatically, Sirius made to stand as well, but Addie didn’t let him, squeezing his hand. “Easy, love,” she murmured, “he’s not here.”

“You were about to curse me.” Hermione whispered, her voice slightly shaky. She stepped back hastily, feeling Fred wrap an arm around her …

Sirius relaxed, giving Fred a grateful nod.

… and guide her back out to the Entrance Hall, sending his brother a scathing look over his shoulder.

“Ignore him, Mya.” He murmured, sitting her down on one of the benches beside the marble staircase.

“He tried to curse me.” She repeated in disbelief.

Addie reached across and took her hand, her fingers contracting comfortingly.

“I know.” Fred said soothingly, rubbing her shoulder. “He’s a prat, Mya. He’s jealous and you know it.” He hesitated for a second, before asking, “What does Harry hear around the Dementors?”

“Bit personal, isn’t it?” Jen asked with a frown.

“We’d already guessed.” Fred confessed. “Just wanted confirmation, really.”

Hermione hesitated. She knew she could trust the twins with that information, but was it really right for her to divulge it?

“It’s fine, Hermione.” Harry said softly. “I trust them.”

“We won’t tell.” George assured her, joining them with a stack of buttered toast. “Marauders’ honour.”

Ginny smiled softly. “I don’t think Hermione needed that.”
Hermione didn’t need the oath …

Ginny nodded.

… she trusted the twins to treat the information confidentially. It was her empathy that convinced her to answer the question – they had already guessed what she would say and were simply seeking confirmation.

Fred chuckled. “Of course you already knew.”

“His parents.” She whispered. “The night they … That night.”
The twins paled, so that every freckle stood out in stark relief against their skin, but the look they exchanged was one of dark significance, as they silently acknowledged the accuracy of their suspicions.

George handed her the toast. “Go and find Harry; take him for a walk or something.

Lily smiled. “Thank you.”

He doesn’t need all that in there.” He jerked his head back to the Great Hall, where people were lingering longer than was usual on a Sunday morning.

“I wonder why.” Draco muttered sarcastically.

“Did you think he’d entered his name?” Narcissa asked curiously.

“No.” Draco answered. “But I was the only Slytherin who didn’t, that I knew of, so I had to act like I did.”

“How come you believed me?” Harry frowned.

Draco smirked. “Do you really think I wouldn’t bug you about your fame for three years and not catch on to the fact that you loathe it with every fibre of your being?”

“Yes?” Harry guessed. “Thanks, anyway.”

Draco shrugged. “No need to thank me – I didn’t exactly make it easy on you either way.”

“Tell him we believe in him – if he says he didn’t do it …”

“… that’s good enough for us.” Fred finished. “And tell him we’re sorry for not really listening last night. The adrenaline got to us.”

“Understandable.” Sirius muttered, still pacing. “Ron’s reaction, however, isn’t.”

“I get it. I’ll tell him.” Hermione said with a smile, and she headed back up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. She had barely opened her mouth to give the Fat Lady the password, when the portrait swung open to reveal her best friend, hair messier than ever and dark circles beneath his eyes.

“Don’t think I got a second’s sleep that night.” Harry whispered, resting his head on Lily’s shoulder.

Pasting a smile over her concerned expression, Hermione held up the toast. “Fancy a walk?”

Harry’s face lit up with a relieved smile. “Thanks.”

Together, they hurried back downstairs and passed the Great Hall without even glancing through the doors. They slowed down once they were outside and …

“Went straight to the lake?” Fred finished innocently.

… like the day before, rounded the lake …

“Of course.” Hermione smiled.

… almost completely before they settled under a beech tree.

James pulled a face, half a grimace, half a smile. “Ah, the memories.”

Lily gave him a dirty look, but didn’t say anything.

Hermione handed half of the toast to Harry and let him eat in silence, pulling her own apart in her lap. She wasn’t really hungry, but, knowing Harry’s propensity to worry, forced herself to eat a few slices.

Harry smiled slightly. “That’s funny. That’s why I was eating too.”

They had barely been there five minutes, when James and Lily appeared out of thin air, bickering.

“Ah, nothing new there then.” Jen said lightly.

“How was hexing Snape into the ground a good idea?” Lily was asking incredulously.

“Into the air, actually.” James corrected.

James winced. “Too casual, mate; not a good idea.”

“Prongs, you do know you’re talking to a book and yourself, right?” Sirius asked, finally returning to his seat.

James shrugged. “Yeah, and my future self is an idiot, apparently.”

“And Snivellus had it coming, you know he did.” He winced at the look she was giving him. “Still mad at me for that, huh?”

“Just a bit.” Jen answered.

“Yes.” Lily said, slightly icily. “Believe it or not, I am. Maybe, if you’d been a bit nicer to him, he’d be a bit nicer to our son! It’s hardly Harry’s fault your head was …”

“… so big you were surprised my broom could take off?” James finished, with a charming smile.

James winced again. “You’re going to kill me for that, aren’t you?”

Lily just shook her head with a fond smile.

Lily sighed, shaking her head. “James David Potter, you are unbelievable.”

Seeing the smile she was trying to hide …

“You’re safe.” Sirius concluded, dodging a swat from Addie.

… Hermione chuckled, making her best friend jump a little. “You’re both unbelievable.”

“My parents?” Harry guessed through a mouthful of toast.

“Who else?” Hermione responded. She caught sight of Lily’s expression and smirked, beating her to it. “And don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“So it wasn’t my mother!” Harry said.

Hermione blushed. “Please, she was thinking it.”

Harry swallowed his toast and gave her an incredulous look. “Tell me that was my mother speaking.”
“It was.” Hermione assured him. “More or less.

“See?” Hermione asked. “I did say ‘more or less’.”

Harry, about last night …” She held up a hand as Harry began to speak. “Let me finish. I know you didn’t enter your name. Ginny knows you didn’t enter your name. The twins know you didn’t enter your name – you’ve got them to thank for the toast – and they apologise for not really listening to you last night.” She sighed heavily. “The question is: Who tampered with the Goblet?”

“Tampered with?” Harry asked, but there was a glint in his eye that told her he already knew what she meant.

“Was there?” Harry asked.

Hermione shrugged. “If you knew what to look for. I just happen to be able to read you like a book.”

“Had you realised that was the only way as well?” David asked.

Harry blushed slightly. “No, Moody told everyone that it was.”

“Like I told the girls, the Goblet of Fire is bewitched to select one champion from each of the schools.” Hermione said matter-of-factly. “So whoever entered your name must have made it think there were four schools competing instead of just three. But who?”

“That’s the million galleon question.” Mandy said with a frown. “Who do we think?”

“Well, Voldemort is the most obvious candidate.” James said. “But who’s helping him?”

“Karkaroff?” Jen suggested.

“No.” Regulus answered firmly. “I’m almost certain it’s not him.”

David turned to him. “Explain.”
“If we are to assume that this has something to do with Harry’s dream,” Regulus said calmly, “it follows that the person who entered his name was the ‘faithful servant’ the Dark Lord mentioned. Karkaroff must have talked his way out of Azkaban somehow, so he wouldn’t be classed as a faithful servant.”
“Yes, but who would?” Lily asked. “Weren’t you saying earlier that the only way he would consider someone a faithful servant was if they’d been in Azkaban rather than renounce him? There haven’t been any other break-outs, have there?”

“Maybe the faithful servant has nothing to do with this part of the plan.” Remus said. “Maybe it’s the Imperius Curse.”

“Why do you say that?” Jen asked.

“Because the only time someone could have jinxed the Goblet and added Harry’s name was overnight.” Remus reminded her. “Hermione watched the Map all night, remember? Only Barty Crouch went anywhere near it.”

“Surely Crouch can throw off the Imperius.” Lily argued. “He is the Head of Magical Law Enforcement after all.”

“Depends how powerful the wizard is.” David frowned. “But one would hope. Didn’t you say his son’s Junior?”

Alice nodded. “Yes … Wait, could he be under the Imperius?”
“No, they’d have seen it on the …” James trailed off, pulling the Map from his pocket and tapping it. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” His gaze swept over the parchment, finally settling on the Ravenclaw Common Room. “Bartemius Crouch.” He looked up. “No Junior. Or Senior, I’m guessing. We never thought to add that feature to the Map. It could have been him. But why him? What made Voldemort pick him as a subject for the Imperius? Why not Bagman? Sounds like he’d be susceptible.”

David smiled proudly at him. “You will be an outstanding auror one day, son. I’m sure if we keep reading, we’ll find out who did this.”

As James flushed at the praise, Neville cleared his throat, trying not to think of Crouch Jr. too much, and returned to the book.

“Moody thinks someone’s trying to off me.” Harry commented casually, but he was methodically tearing the crusts off his toast as he spoke.

“Hermione,” Lily said quietly, “could you tell Harry that he needs to eat his crusts; they’re good for him.”

Lily’s mouth fell open. “How am I so calm about that?”
Hermione smiled, hearing the feigned casualness in her voice …

“Oh.”

“Trying to keep your sanity.” James concluded with a smile. “Something you need to do, I think.”

… and reached out to still Harry’s hands. “Eat your crusts, Harry, they’re good for you. And Moody’s right – no student …”

“Have you talked to Ron this morning?” Harry interrupted, apparently not listening to her.

“Harry …” Lily trailed off. “Never mind.”

Hermione hesitated, unwilling to open this can of worms just yet. “Er … yes. Yes, he was in the Great Hall at breakfast.” She wasn’t going to elaborate any further unless he made her.

“He made you, didn’t he?” Addie guessed.

Hermione nodded with a grimace.

“Does he still think I entered myself?” Harry asked in a small voice.

Damn, he’s going to make me. Hermione sighed. “Well … I don’t think so … maybe … I don’t … not really.” The obvious answer was ‘yes’ but she was reluctant to give it.

Harry rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Hermione.”

Harry looked up, finally meeting her eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean? ‘Not really’?”

Hermione sighed. “Look, if he just thought it through, he’d know you didn’t enter your name – Jess saw this coming, for Merlin’s sake, and the look on your face …” She shook her head. “He’s blinded.”

“Jealousy.” Arabella shook her head. “How can some people be so blind to the obvious?”

“Blinded?” Harry repeated. “Blinded by what?”

“It never occurred to me that Ron might be jealous of me.” Harry admitted. “I mean, he’s got everything I could ever dream of having.”

“Oh, Harry, isn’t it obvious?” Hermione asked, feeling slightly exasperated. “It doesn’t take an empath to see that he’s jealous!”

“Jealous?” James repeated incredulously, even as Lily nodded.

“I thought it’d be something like that.” She said sadly.

“Jealous?!” Harry repeated incredulously, and Hermione bit back a smile at the similarity between father and son.

James grinned fondly and ruffled Harry’s hair.

“Jealous?! Of what?! He wants to make a prat of himself in front of the entire school, does he?”

Hermione grinned. “Harry, you didn’t make a fool of yourself. Hell, given the circumstances, you did pretty damn well.”

Harry turned slightly red. “Thanks.”

Lily looked a bit green. “We’re going to read about the tasks, aren’t we? How bad were they?”

“We’re going to need some Calming Potions.” Sirius commented, directing his words towards the ceiling.
“Look,” Hermione said, trying to be patient, which wasn’t easy, because James was loudly agreeing with Harry, and she wasn’t all that inclined to disagree with him herself.

“Ha!” Harry smirked. “I knew you were on my side!”

Hermione sighed. “Harry, I’ve always been on your side.”

“It’s always been you who gets the attention, you know it has.

“But …” Lily began.

“I know!” Hermione interrupted. “It’s not his fault!” She sighed. “I swear, you’re both as bad as each other.”

I know it’s not your fault!” She added hastily, seeing Harry open his mouth to argue.

Lily chuckled, understanding Hermione’s muttered remark.

“And I know you don’t like it. We know you don’t ask for it, but Ron’s got all those brothers and they all have something that makes them stand out and Ginny’s the only girl and he’s got them to compete against at home, and you’re his best friend and you’re really famous – he’s always shunted to one side when people see you and he puts up with it and never mentions it. This is just one time too many.”

Fred sighed. “How did it get so bad?”

“You and George constantly teasing him?” Hermione guessed.

Fred rolled his eyes. “Like we tease Ginny, Percy, Charlie and Bill? We don’t target Ron any more or less.”

“I don’t think your mother helps.” Sirius remarked.

“Bad move, Padfoot.” Addie muttered as the two Weasleys turned to face him.

Sirius sighed at their expressions. “She spends most of her time comparing the three younger boys to the three older boys. And don’t give me that look – I can count at least ten instances in the last week alone. She needs to realise that she has six sons, all of whom are different and all of whom have their own unique personalities, because she’s not doing any of you any favours.”

“Great.” Harry said bitterly. “Really great. Tell him from me I’ll swap any time he wants.

Lily sighed. “Harry, I’m angry at him too. But acting like a child isn’t going to help.”
“I know.” Harry said sheepishly. “Made me feel better though.”

Tell him he’s welcome to it … people gawping at my forehead everywhere I go …”

“I’m not telling him anything.” Hermione told him flatly. “I’m not a bloody owl.

Fred peered at her. “Aren’t you? I was wondering where your feathers were.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Fred.”

Tell him yourself; it’s the only way to fix this.”

“I’m not running around trying to make him grow up!” Harry snapped, causing an owl in a nearby tree to take off in alarm.

“Well, neither am I!” Hermione said sharply. “I’ve seen this coming for a while; it had to happen sooner or later.

Hermione pulled a face. “I didn’t mean that to sound so unsympathetic.”

Besides, he nearly cursed me this morning.”

“Bad idea.” Hermione muttered.

Belatedly, as Lily let out a shocked gasp, she realised that she shouldn’t have told him that.

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”

“He did what?” Harry asked in a low whisper. His eyes seemed to glow with fury and she almost flinched at the wave of anger that rolled towards her …

Harry whitened. “Hermione …”

“Keep going, Nev.” Hermione said softly.

… it was only the knowledge that it wasn’t aimed at her that stopped her.

Harry let out a shaky breath. “Thank Merlin … I don’t like the idea of scaring you, Mione.”
Hermione smiled. “You didn’t scare me, Harry. You’re just quite scary when you’re that angry.”
“Get that from your father.” Lily murmured, giving her boyfriend a fond smile. “He doesn’t lose it often, but when he does …”

James reddened. He’d only really lost it like that twice – once earlier that year after the ‘Willow Incident’ and once in fourth year, after overhearing a group of Slytherins planning to attack a Muggle-born. That was always going to piss him off; the fact that the student in question was Lily meant that Sirius and Remus had to physically hold him down.

“I swear …”

“Harry, no!” Hermione grabbed his arm as he threatened to get to his feet. “Come on, you know he never thinks before he acts …

“That’s no excuse, Hermione.” Sirius said darkly. “I never think before I act, but I can’t think of any occasion when I’ve raised my wand against one of the girls.”

“You turned my hair blue in fifth year.” Addie reminded him.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “That’s hardly the same thing, Ads. I’ve never hurt you.”

“No, you haven’t.” Addie agreed softly.

… I can handle this myself!”
Harry narrowed his eyes at her. “On one condition.”
“Anything.” Hermione was quick to agree – Harry was the only person whose emotions she couldn’t read without searching for them. Even when his name came from the Goblet, surprise only flared in the air for a second before it was gone and buried.

“If he ever, and I mean ever, does or says anything to hurt you in any way, shape or form ever again, you’ll tell me immediately and let me handle it.” Harry stated.

“Think you covered all the exits there, Harry?” Fred joked weakly.

“Think so.” Harry responded casually. “I mean it, Hermione.”

Hermione was taken aback by the coldness in his voice. Concerned, she tested the air, but found nothing – now the shock had worn off, his previous anger was buried once again, with his other emotions, deep below the surface.

Thank Merlin he’s easy to read.

Harry sighed. “Is it really that easy?”

“Like opening a book.” Hermione repeated.

“Okay, Harry, I promise.”

Harry sighed and his whole body seemed to relax at once. “Thanks, Hermione. You’re my best friend; I can’t just stand back and let him …” He sighed again. “And yes, I know you can take care of yourself …”

Hermione bit back her protest. Since when can he read minds?

Harry chuckled. “It’s a two-way street, you know, Hermione. I can read you like a book too.”

Maybe we’ve just known each other too long.

“… but humour me, okay?” Harry stared out at the lake for a few minutes. “Maybe he’ll believe I’m not enjoying myself when I’ve got my neck broken or …”

Lily closed her eyes. “Harry, please, please don’t joke about that.”

Lily moaned quietly and hid her face in James’s chest. Hermione didn’t blame her – she had the sudden urge to reach out and do the same thing.

“I’m not solid, Hermione.” James reminded her lightly.

Hermione smiled weakly. “I meant to Harry.”

Squeezing Lily’s hand, Harry left her to James and pulled Hermione into his arms, tucking her under his chin. “Better?”

Hermione nodded into his chest. “Much.”

“That’s not funny.” She said quietly, her voice shaking. “That’s not funny at all.” She looked back at James and Lily, wishing that she could sort out whatever was happening in her head so that they could comfort Harry themselves …

“I’m still there!” Sirius said, waving his arms. “Write to me!”
Addie caught his arm and pulled it down again. “You’re an idiot sometimes.” She murmured affectionately.

… but there was always … “You know what you need to do, don’t you? The moment we get up to the castle?”

“Yes.” Harry answered grimly. “Give Ron a good kick up the …”

“Write to Sirius!”

James, Sirius and Remus sniggered, and Addie tried to keep a straight face. “At least one of you has your priorities sorted.”

“You’re welcome.” Hermione smiled.

“I was talking about Harry.” She told her, smirking at the suddenly indignant expression on Sirius’s face.

Hermione cut him off hastily. “You’ve got to tell him what happened. He asked you to keep him posted on everything that happened at Hogwarts, remember? It’s almost like he expected something like this to happen.

“Did you?” David asked.

Sirius sighed. “Did I expect Harry to be entered as a fourth champion in the Tournament? No. Did I expect something to go wrong? Yes.”

I’ve got my bag with me; there’s parchment and a quill in there …”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Hermione, he came back into the country because I told him my scar hurt; if I tell him I’ve somehow been entered into the Triwizard Tournament, he’s going to come bursting into the bloody castle!”

“Harry James, stop being so damn noble and write to him!” Lily snapped.

“Harry James Sirius Potter, write to your godfather!” Lily chided sharply.

There were a few snorts of laughter at how little Lily had changed.

James winced. “I’d pass that message on as soon as possible, Hermione. When she uses both middle names, she means business.”

“Until then, I didn’t know Harry had two middle names.” Hermione remarked.

“I didn’t know you had two middle names.” Hermione commented, half to Harry, half to Lily.

“Hermione, stop repeating yourself!” Fred smirked.

“I do?” Harry asked, sounding surprised.

Lily let out a growl that sounded like it should have come from Padfoot. “My damn sister …”

Lily’s face darkened at the reminder.

“She’ll get hers, Lily.” Hermione said darkly.

“So my middle name isn’t James?” Harry asked.

“One of them is.” Hermione assured him. “The other one’s Sirius, apparently.”
Harry’s face lit up in a smile. “Really?”

“Well, it wasn’t.” Lily admitted. “It was just Harry James, but someone managed to slip it on to the birth certificate without asking me.”

Lily turned to James who smiled weakly. “Hasn’t happened yet, Lils.”

James shrugged, looking thoroughly unrepentant. “I did promise.”

“When was that?” James asked.

“Death Eater raid.” Sirius answered. “Not long after you and Lily married. We’d both lost our wands and you went over this balcony. Took the Death Eater with you, of course. The others were in another part of the house and, without a wand, all I could do was hang on to you until help arrived; couldn’t pull you up by myself.”

“How long?” James asked hoarsely.

Sirius pulled a face. “Can’t remember. I just remember us talking about all the things we’d do when we both got out of there. And then you said …”

“Padfoot, I’m not getting out of here.”

“What are you talking about Prongs? Moody’ll be along in a minute. Course he’ll probably kill us for losing our wands, so maybe we won’t get out of here.”

“Pads … you need to let go.”

“James, I’m not letting go. If I let go …”

“If you don’t, then the next Death Eater that comes through that door is going to murder both of us.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Prongs. You really think I’m going to just let you die to save myself? Besides, Lily would murder me if I came home without you.”

“True. True … Hey Padfoot?”

“Yeah Prongs?”

“Just for this, I’m naming my firstborn child after you.”

“I was hoping for something more along the lines of selling me your soul, but that’ll do. Wait a second, what if it’s a girl?”

“What about if it’s a girl?”

“You can’t call a girl Sirius – it’s a boy’s name.”
“Worked on you, didn’t it?”

As he finished the story, several people sniggered. Addie shook her head. “Honestly. His life’s in your hands and he’s still making fun of you!”

“That’s what I said!” Sirius agreed. “Either way, another auror arrived minutes later and we pulled him to safety. Moody yelled at us for hours on end for losing our wands. And Lily never found out what happened. Or if she did, I didn’t tell her.”

“Go on, Neville.” James said quietly, his voice slightly choked. He knew that Sirius would never just leave him to die, and he’d have done the same thing in a heartbeat. But hearing about it …
Hermione chuckled and turned back to Harry. “I’ll explain later, Harry. Now write to your godfather – your mother used both middle names. Besides, he’s going to find out anyway.”

Distracted from the name issue, Harry frowned. “How?”

Fred groaned, Ginny shook her head and Draco just laughed. “You are really naïve sometimes.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Give me a break, it was early.”
Hermione groaned and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Think, Harry!” She held up her left hand. “First Triwizard Tournament in over a century.” She held up her right hand. “Boy-Who-Lived somehow participating.” She brought her hands together. “Front page of the Daily Prophet.

Harry groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

It’ll be all over the Wizarding World in days, if it isn’t already.” Dropping her hands to her sides, she met his eyes openly. “He’d rather hear it from you, Harry.”

“I would.” Sirius said, smiling at Harry, who was still holding Hermione.

Harry sighed. “Why is it that you always know just what to say to convince me to do something?”

“She’s your best friend?” Arabella answered, giving her dorm-mates a fond smile.

Hermione smirked. “I’m your best friend, Harry. I can read you like a book – and that’s without my empathy.”

Harry stood up and threw the last slice of toast to the Giant Squid. “Okay, I’ll write.”

Lily nodded with a smile. “Good boy.”

Grinning, he extended an arm to her. “May I escort you to the library, my lady?”

Hermione fought back a laugh and took on a haughty air. “You may, good sir.” As they both fell into giggles …

“I wasn’t giggling.” Harry insisted. “I was chuckling – there’s a difference.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, pulling away from him. “Sure there is.”

… she looped her arm through his and they set off back into the castle. And, for the first time in a long time, Hermione felt that they could survive whatever was coming.

“I can’t work out if that’s optimistic or not.” Lily sighed.

“She said survive, didn’t she?” James pointed out. “They’ll be fine.”

“Is that the end of the chapter, Neville?” Arabella asked.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Once the plates had been scraped clean, Lily dragged everyone back to the seating area. She wasn’t going to wait any longer than necessary to find out if her son escaped a dragon unharmed.

The fact that he was sitting beside her seemed to escape her notice.

Mandy picked up the book again and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Eighteen

Of First Tasks and Unexpected Ones

“Unexpected?” Lily questioned. “What was unexpected …?”

Hermione frowned for a second. “I don’t … Oh,” she giggled, “I know what it means. Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad!”

It was less than a few hours later when Hermione finally awoke, determined to find some way to get Harry through the First Task alive.

She sat up, her brain flitting from asleep to awake in a nanosecond …

“I don’t know how you do that.” Ginny muttered.

… and saw that only Ginny remained in the dorm room, already dressed and waiting for her.

“Harry’s waiting for us in the Common Room.” Ginny told her quietly. “He says we need some place to talk privately.”

“He’s right.” Hermione grimaced. The lake was far too open for this conversation, and even the Map only helped when you found the hidden rooms.

“That’s true.” Jen sighed.

Addie smiled. “You could use the search function.”

“What search function?” Several people asked.

“I’d forgotten about that.” Sirius remarked.

Harry pulled his copy of the Map from his pocket. “How do you work it?”

Addie rested a hand on it. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” Once the Map had formed, she smiled and said, “Oh Merlin, they’re at it again. Show me hidden rooms.”

At once, several areas of the Map turned green and the writing at the top changed to Misses Jade, Shadow, Selena, Talon and Bastet, Willing Participants of Magical Mischief Making, are proud to present the Marauder Search Function.

“When did that happen?” James demanded.

“Beginning of seventh year.” Addie told him with a smile. “To turn it off, just tap it and say ‘Trouble Diverted’.”

The colours disappeared and the title reverted to normal.

“Mischief managed.” Addie handed the blank Map back to Harry. “Just for future reference.”

“Why did we do that?” Jen asked.

“It was my idea.” Addie admitted. “I realised how utterly frustrating it was to search the entire Map for one person.”

“Who were you trying to find?” Hermione questioned.

“Sirius.” Addie answered. “I needed to talk to him.”

Sirius grinned at her. “Is that what we’re calling it now?”

Addie smacked him upside the head, her face turning pink. “Thank you. Carry on, Mandy.”

Without knowing where they were, they could wander around all day and not find anything. “Where’s Lily when you need her?”

“Lily?” Ginny questioned, and Hermione realised that she’d never told Ginny about the Potters.

“It’s long story.” She said as she ducked into the bathroom to shower.

When she emerged, Ginny hadn’t moved. “We’ve got time.”

“It’s my empathy.” Hermione said, dressing quickly. “I can speak to James and Lily – you know, Harry’s parents.”

“I knew who you meant.” Ginny assured her.

Hermione shrugged. “I was used to referring to them as Mr and Mrs Potter. Or, you know, Harry’s parents.”

“They’re alive?” Ginny whispered.

“Yep. Don’t ask me where they are though, because I have no bloody idea.” Hermione admitted, pulling her cloak from her trunk. “But I bet Lily would know somewhere we could talk privately.”

“I would.” Lily agreed.

“The Room of Requirement.” Lily provided, appearing out of nowhere.

Lily nodded in agreement.

Ginny must have seen Hermione jump, because she asked, “She’s here, isn’t she? What did she say?”

Hermione didn’t answer, frowning at Lily in confusion. “Where’s that?”

“Seventh floor.” Lily answered with a smile. “Find the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy – you know, the one trying teach the trolls ballet.

“No wonder he was called Barmy.” Arabella muttered.

Walk up and down three times in front of the wall and ask it for what you need.”

“Won’t need this then.” Hermione tossed her cloak on her bed. “C’mon, Gin; I’ve got somewhere.”

The two girls jogged down to the Common Room, where Harry was waiting, holding a bundle of toast.

“This looks familiar.” James chuckled.

Harry shrugged. “Didn’t want to wait until after breakfast.”

“Lake?”

“No.” Hermione couldn’t help laughing. “The roles have reversed.”

“Well, you claimed panic last night.” Harry reminded her. “So I had to take the calm and logical one. Not my best role, admittedly, but someone has to do it.

Addie raised an eyebrow. “That sounds familiar.”

“Yeah, it does.” Sirius agreed. “First Quidditch match of seventh year; we had to change the line-up for the first time since fourth year and James was freaking out about it. He and Lily had a very similar conversation.”

“But I never freak out about Quidditch.” Lily frowned.

“But you are generally the more likely to freak out.” James pointed out with a smile.

Where are we going then?”

“Somewhere more private.” Hermione told him, taking a slice of toast. “Follow me.” She led them out of the Common Room and through the corridors until she found the tapestry Lily had identified.

“I’ve honestly never paid the slightest attention to that tapestry.” Draco remarked. “I’ll have to look for it.”

The corridor was empty, but for a cool breeze emanating from one of the windows. Their footsteps echoed off the cold stone and Hermione ran a hand along the wall, frowning. How odd … Maybe the room’s been removed since Lily was here.

Hermione chuckled. “Nope.”

“Hermione?” Harry whispered. “It may be deserted, but the corridor’s not the best place to talk.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Thank you, Harry.” Remembering Lily’s instructions, she began to pace up and down. We need a place to talk privately.

Ginny gasped suddenly and Hermione spun on her heel to see a door appear in the wall. She pushed it open to find a room not unlike the Gryffindor Common Room.

“That’s what we always turn it into.” James grinned.

“This’ll do.” Harry remarked, pulling the Marauders’ Map from his pocket as the door closed.

“It’s not on there.” James said. “It’s Unplottable.”

“I know, Dad.” Harry smirked. “This happened months ago.”

James grinned sheepishly. “Oh yeah.”

“Tell him not to bother, Hermione.” James advised, appearing on one of the sofas. “It’s not on there.”

“James, you’re repeating yourself again.” Sirius said with a grin.

“Your dad says don’t bother – it’s not on there.” Hermione repeated, not looking at Harry, but smirking at James instead. “You do realise you’re a spirit, don’t you? Therefore sitting down has no affect on you.”

“Yeah, but it gets a bit boring just standing around all the time.” James responded.

Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh, James …”

“This is the Room of Requirement; turns itself into anything you need.”

“If the Marauders knew about it, why isn’t it on the Map?” Ginny asked.

“My guess is that it’s Unplottable.” Hermione said, glancing at James, who nodded. “But we can talk privately here.”

“What happened last night?” Ginny asked immediately …

“Talking to Sirius wasn’t one of the things I’d considered.” Ginny admitted, smirking as Hermione turned an interesting shade of red.

… when Harry looked at her. “Did I interrupt something?”

“Nothing like you’re thinking.” Hermione said quickly …

“And how did you know what she was thinking?” Draco asked slyly.

“It was written very clearly on her face.” Hermione answered. “It would have been less obvious if she’d just made a suggestive noise.”

“I considered it.” Ginny said cheerfully.

… seeing the smirk beginning to form on her face. “Sirius managed to get to a fire and flooed us.”

The smirk and the colour promptly disappeared from Ginny’s face. “Oh, Harry, I’m sorry! You must hate me!”

“Oh, dear, it’s not your fault!” Lily protested.

Ginny smiled at her. “I know, Lily. Still felt bad about it though.”

“Gin, don’t be ridiculous!” Harry said, rolling his eyes with a fond smile. “It’s not like you knew what we were doing down there. But we found out a few things last night and we think you should know.”

“First of all,” Hermione continued flawlessly, “Karkaroff was a Death Eater.”

Ginny growled. “That was fun.”

Ginny looked stunned. “What?”

“He was a Death Eater.” Hermione repeated. “He was in Azkaban, gave the Ministry a load of names and was released.”
“That … That … That … git!” Ginny hissed finally, unable to vocalise her anger any better.

“You’re taking it better than Hermione.” Draco smirked.

Harry sniggered. “Well, you’re taking it better than Hermione.”

The two boys eyed each other for a second, before, before Harry shrugged and held up his hand for a high-five. “Why not?”

Ginny glared at him. “Do you have any idea what this means? Sirius was charged with the murder of thirteen people. Do you think that Karkaroff killed less than that? If Sirius had ‘confessed’, he would have had more chance of getting out; it’s crazy!”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that.” Jen admitted through gritted teeth.

“Focus please, Ginny.” Hermione sighed. “I’m with you all the way on this, believe me …

“I hadn’t realised just how strongly though.” Ginny remarked.

… but we’ve got bigger things to worry about. Hagrid showed Harry the first task last night.”

“It’s dragons.” Harry told her.

“Next time, break it to me gently.” Ginny requested.

“At least you’re telling people.” Addie commented. “The more people who know, the more people who can help you.”

Ginny’s face, which had regained some colour in her anger, promptly turned white again, and the slice of toast she was holding slipped from her numb fingers. “Dragons? You can’t fight a dragon!”

“I wish the Ministry was that sensible.” Mandy whispered.

“No, I think I just have to get past one.” Harry corrected. “I assume to retrieve something.”

Lily breathed a sigh of relief, but Sirius shook his head. “No, that’ll mean fighting it.”

Ginny laughed humourlessly. “Harry, getting past it will probably mean fighting it, whether you like it or not.”

“Damn.” Harry muttered. “I was worried about that. I need help, girls.”

“That sounds familiar.” Addie remarked, looking at Sirius. “Didn’t you and James say that a lot?”

“At least once a week.” Sirius admitted, unabashed.

Ginny frowned in thought. “What did Sirius say?” She asked finally, taking another piece of toast from the pile, ignoring the piece that was now butter-side-down on the floor.

“Why does toast always do that?” Sirius sighed.

“It’s just an unwritten law of the universe.” Addie said, with a glint in her eye. “Kind of like how cats always land on their feet.”

Sirius’s eyes lit up and he turned to Arabella, who glared at him. “No.” She turned her glare on Addie. “Why? Why would you do that?”

“Don’t try stunning it.” Harry recited. “And a simple spell’s all I need.” He winced. “And that’s when you came in.”
“Sorry.” Ginny murmured absently, staring into the fire. “Charlie never talks about how to knock dragons out; he loves them too much.”

Fred chuckled fondly.

Hermione stretched out on the sofa so she was staring at the ceiling. “James, what do you think?”

James looked startled. “You’re asking me? I was never any good at COMC.”

“I think you just put your feet through my legs.” James answered moving to the arm of the sofa.

Harry laughed. “Oh, that’s what he said.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Again, you’re a spirit. You can’t actually feel it.”

“It’s the principle of the thing.” James said sniffily …

“Sniffily?” James repeated, amused.

“Sniffily.” Hermione confirmed with a nod. “Considerably.”

… she lifted her head to glare at him. “A dragon’s eyes are its weakest point …

Fred nodded.

… but I’ve got nothing aside from that.

“So either I didn’t think of the Conjunctivitis Curse or I know that it’s NEWT level.” James remarked.

COMC was never my strong point …

Remus snorted. “That’s putting it lightly.”

James rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

… Lily was pretty good at it, but even she has a problem when it comes to dragons.”

Now it was Lily’s turn to nod in agreement.

“Eyes are the weakest point …” Hermione repeated thoughtfully.

“Oh yeah …” Ginny whispered. “I remember Charlie saying that now.”

“How’s that going to help?” Harry asked blankly. “Is there a simple spell I can use to blind her?”

“How did you know it was a she?” Mandy asked curiously.

Harry grimaced. “You’ll see.”

“Her?” Hermione questioned.

Harry nodded. “They’re nesting mothers, Charlie said.”

Jen let out a small scream and clutched Remus’s hand. “Nesting mothers?! Do they have any idea how protective dragons are of their eggs?!”

Lily let out a squeak and grabbed Harry tighter.

“Thanks, Jen.” Harry mumbled though her arms.

“Charlie’s here?” Ginny asked, looking hurt. “Why hasn’t he …? Hang on, back up a second! Nesting mothers?! Are they crazy?!”

“Probably.” Hermione said, turning her head to look at her. As she did, she spotted a book on the coffee table that certainly hadn’t been there two minutes ago. “Where’d that come from?”

Ginny picked it up and flicked through it. “They’re all spells related to sight. It must have appeared when Harry asked.”

“That’s the way it works.” Arabella smiled. “Hence the name.”

Hermione grinned. “I love this Room!”

James chuckled. “That’s exactly what Lily said.”

James snorted. “Funny – that’s was Lily’s response as well.”

“You don’t have to tell us twice.” Sirius smirked.

Ginny turned to the table of contents and grimaced. “It’s no good – the simplest spells in here are NEWT level – Harry’s only got two days.”

Sirius sighed. “Why didn’t I realise that?”

“It’s fine, Sirius.” Harry assured him, managing to escape Lily’s hold. “I think I handled it alright.”

Fred grinned. “That was bloody brilliant.”

“Okay.” Hermione ran a hand over her face, thinking hard. “Okay.” She sat up. “Let’s look at this logically for a minute.

“Good girl.” Lily whispered.

Aside from the size and the strength, what can the dragon do that Harry can’t?”

“Breathe fire.” Harry answered immediately. “And fly.”

“That’s not much of an advantage.” James muttered, remembering how Harry had flown the day before. He froze, glancing at Harry, who was smirking slightly.

No, there was no way.

He added as an afterthought. “Oh, and one them has these great big spikes on her tail that could …”

“Hungarian Horntail.” Sirius supplied, as Lily let out a whimper. “I guess that’s why they’re your least favourite dragon.”

“You think?” Addie asked sarcastically.

“Stop.” Hermione cut in, cringing at the very thought.

“Sorry.” Harry grimaced.

“So there’s only two things a dragon can do that Harry can’t …” She trailed off, realising that the exercise had done nothing but make the task seem even more impossible.

“No, that’s good.” David told her. “Always be aware of all possible dangers, or you risk getting hurt.”

“Really, it’s only one thing.” Ginny observed. “Because Harry’s a damn good flier himself.”
“Yeah, on my Firebolt.” Harry snorted.

Ginny suddenly made a noise that was halfway between a yelp and a squeal. “Firebolt! Harry, you could fly past the dragon!”

“WHAT?!” Lily demanded. “Tell me you didn’t do something that stupid!”

“He did.” James whispered, a smile appearing on his face.

“Harry!” Lily protested.

“Lils, he’s fine.” James pointed out, pulling her against his chest. “He’s right here. Like he said, does he look permanently disfigured?”

“No.” Lily whispered, relaxing slightly.

“And what did you think about this?” Jen asked Sirius.

“Didn’t get the letter until after the fact.” Sirius admitted. “For which I am eternally grateful, because it nearly gave me a heart attack anyway.”

Hermione stared at her, intending to shoot the idea down, but the more she thought about it, the more she realised … “That might actually work.”

“You agreed?” Addie asked incredulously.

Hermione shrugged. “Harry is an incredible flier. If anyone can fly past a dragon, it’s him.”

Harry, on the other hand, stared at Ginny like she’d suddenly grown another head. “Ginny, I’m not allowed a broom, remember? I’m only allowed my wand, so …”

Lily sighed. “Harry, did you forget Charms?”

Harry blushed slightly. “Just for a minute.”

He broke off abruptly, gaped at her for a few more seconds, then turned to Hermione. “I need you to help me.”

Sirius chuckled. “When in doubt …”

“Harry!” Hermione sighed irritably. “What in Merlin’s name do you think I’ve been trying to do?”

“No!” A smile slowly spread across Harry’s face. “I need you to teach me how to do a Summoning Charm by Tuesday!”

“You had three days to master a charm like that?” Lily asked worriedly.

“I got there.” Harry assured her. “Eventually.”

Despite the fact that they now had a plan, when Harry awoke on Monday morning, no closer to mastering the Summoning Charm, he seriously considered for the first time ever just running away from Hogwarts.

As Lily hugged Harry to her, Addie forced herself to hold back from doing exactly the same thing. Spending fourteen years with Lily, listening to her relive the first fifteen months of Harry’s life over and over, had led to her feeling as protective of Harry as anyone else.

But Lily was here now, and it was her time to comfort him.

But as he looked around the Great Hall at breakfast time, and thought about what leaving the castle would mean, he knew he couldn't do it. It was the only place he had ever been happy … well, he supposed he must have been happy with his parents too, but he couldn't remember that.

“You were.” Sirius said quietly. “You were one of the happiest babies I’d ever come across.”

“Out of?” Addie asked sweetly.

“There were quite a few actually.” Sirius informed her. “Harry, Hermione and Neville, obviously. Edgar brought Susan to Order meetings once or twice when they couldn’t get a sitter. Lily used to baby-sit for Molly, although the twins were a bit older than them. I don’t think I ever met Ron as a baby … I definitely never met Ginny. But Harry never even cried much. He was always smiling.”

Somehow, the knowledge that he would rather be here and facing a dragon than back on Privet Drive with Dudley was good to know; it made him feel slightly calmer.

Lily closed her eyes. Her son would rather face a dragon than live with her sister.

He finished his bacon with difficulty (his throat wasn't working too well), and as he and Hermione got up, he saw Cedric Diggory leaving the Hufflepuff table.

Cedric still didn't know about the dragons … the only champion who didn't, if Harry was right in thinking that Maxime and Karkaroff would have told Fleur and Krum …

“How did they know?” Remus asked suspiciously.

“Hagrid took Madame Maxime with us.” Harry smirked. “I think he was a bit soft on her. And I ran into Karkaroff on the way back.”

"Hermione, I'll see you in the greenhouses," Harry said, coming to his decision as he watched Cedric leaving the Hall.

“You’re going to tell him, aren’t you?” James asked.

Harry nodded, meeting his eyes. “It was the right thing to do.”

“You’re a better man than me.” James admitted.

“You’d have done the same thing, James.” Lily said softly. “You might not think it now, but in that situation, you’d do the same thing.”

"Go on, I'll catch you up."

"Harry, you'll be late, the bell's about to ring -"

"I'll catch you up, okay?"

By the time Harry reached the bottom of the marble staircase, Cedric was at the top. He was with a load of sixth-year friends. Harry didn't want to talk to Cedric in front of them; they were among those who had been quoting Rita Skeeter's article at him every time he went near them.

Sirius scowled. “Even with Cedric backing you up?”

“They never did it in front of him.” Harry shrugged. “I don’t think he knew. But I still didn’t want to draw attention to myself.”

He followed Cedric at a distance and saw that he was heading toward the Charms corridor. This gave Harry an idea. Pausing at a distance from them, he pulled out his wand, and took careful aim.

"Diffindo!"

“Ah, the split-bag trick.” Sirius sighed. “Works every time.”

“Oh, really?” Addie asked. “Am I about to figure out why my bag split eight times in the space of one week and you just so conveniently happened to be around to help?”

Sirius’s face drained of colour and he tried to stammer out an explanation.

Addie just laughed. “It was nine times, hun, not eight.” She turned to Sirius. “You never did apologise for that.”

Sirius gave her a charming smile that even twelve years of Dementors had failed to dim. “I am sorry for that, Ads. I just tend to lose my ability to think straight around you.”

Addie snorted. “Darling, you’ve never thought straight in your life.”

Cedric's bag split. Parchment, quills, and books spilled out of it onto the floor. Several bottles of ink smashed.

“Harry …” Lily chided.

“I needed to tell him about the dragons.” Harry pointed out, unapologetically.

Lily sighed. “Send him a letter next time. There’s a whole Owlery if you need it.”

"Don't bother," said Cedric in an exasperated voice as his friends bent down to help him. "Tell Flitwick I'm coming, go on …"

This was exactly what Harry had been hoping for. He slipped his wand back into his robes, waited until Cedric's friends had disappeared into their classroom, and hurried up the corridor, which was now empty of everyone but himself and Cedric.

"Hi," said Cedric, picking up a copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration that was now splattered with ink. "My bag just split … brand-new and all …"

"Cedric," said Harry, "the first task is dragons."

“Fun thing to hear first thing on a Monday.” James commented.

"What?" said Cedric, looking up.

"Dragons," said Harry, speaking quickly, in case Professor Flitwick came out to see where Cedric had got to. "They've got four, one for each of us, and we've got to get past them."

Cedric stared at him. Harry saw some of the panic he'd been feeling since Saturday night flickering in Cedric's grey eyes.

“I wonder why.” Addie muttered, rolling her eyes. She glanced at her future counterpart, who was frowning, something like concern flickering in her eyes.

Had she met Cedric some time during the next year?

No, it wasn’t even a year, was it?

That thought drove Cedric from her mind altogether, as she shuddered and Sirius wrapped his arms around her, kissing the side of her head.

“You okay?” He whispered.

Addie nodded, seeing that everyone was watching her in concern. “Just … dragons.”

"Are you sure?" Cedric said in a hushed voice.

"Dead sure," said Harry. "I've seen them."

"But how did you find out? We're not supposed to know …"

"Never mind," said Harry quickly – he knew Hagrid would be in trouble if he told the truth. "But I'm not the only one who knows. Fleur and Krum will know by now – Maxime and Karkaroff both saw the dragons too."

Cedric straightened up, his arms full of inky quills, parchment, and books, his ripped bag dangling off one shoulder. He stared at Harry, and there was a puzzled, almost suspicious look in his eyes.

Addie grimaced, remembering what Cedric had told her. “My father always taught me that nothing came free. That no one would do anything for me unless they wanted something in return, because that was the way the world worked. Harry proved him wrong.”

Sometimes she wondered why Amos wasn’t a Slytherin.

"Why are you telling me?" he asked.

Harry looked at him in disbelief. He was sure Cedric wouldn't have asked that if he had seen the dragons himself. Harry wouldn't have let his worst enemy face those monsters unprepared – well, perhaps Malfoy or Snape …

“No.” Harry shook his head. “I wouldn’t let anyone face them unprepared.”

“Voldemort?” Hermione asked lightly.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Anyone within reason.”

“And I’m within reason now, am I?” Draco asked.

Harry sighed. “Yes, you are. I don’t think you’d have believed me, but I would have warned you.”

"It's just … fair, isn't it?" he said to Cedric. "We all know now … we're on an even footing, aren't we?"

Cedric was still looking at him in a slightly suspicious way when Harry heard a familiar clunking noise behind him. He turned around and saw Mad-Eye Moody emerging from a nearby classroom.

“Uh oh.” David murmured. “Alastor doesn’t take too kindly to cheating.”

“It’s not really cheating, Dad.” James protested. “Harry didn’t go looking for the dragons, and he’s helping someone else.”

“Alastor will see it as cheating.” David told him. “Although, I agree with you.”

"Come with me, Potter," he growled. "Diggory, off you go."

Harry stared apprehensively at Moody. Had he overheard them?

“Probably.” Jen sighed.

"Er - Professor, I'm supposed to be in Herbology -"

"Never mind that, Potter. In my office, please …"

Harry followed him, wondering what was going to happen to him now. What if Moody wanted to know how he'd found out about the dragons? Would Moody go to Dumbledore and tell on Hagrid, or just turn Harry into a ferret?

Sirius chuckled. “He wouldn’t use the same animal twice, Pronglet.”

Well, it might be easier to get past a dragon if he were a ferret, Harry thought dully, he'd be smaller, much less easy to see from a height of fifty feet …

Fred lifted his wand. “That can be arranged.”

Harry disarmed him lazily. “I’ve already done it, Fred. Besides, I don’t know how I’d have actually completed the task as a ferret.”

Lily stared at him. “Harry, did you … Did you just do that wordlessly?”

Harry frowned. “I don’t think so. Did I?”

“No.” Hermione said certainly. “Your lips moved. You just spoke so quietly we couldn’t hear you.”

“Which is the first step to wordless magic.” Sirius finished.

He followed Moody into his office. Moody closed the door behind them and turned to look at Harry, his magical eye fixed upon him as well as the normal one.

"That was a very decent thing you just did, Potter," Moody said quietly.

David raised an eyebrow. “That’s … unusual.”

“Not what Moody would usually say?” James guessed.

“Not to your face.” David confirmed. “Or not immediately. He challenges you first, forces you to defend your actions. If you can’t defend them, then you shouldn’t do them.”

Harry didn't know what to say; this wasn't the reaction he had expected at all.

"Sit down," said Moody, and Harry sat, looking around.

He had visited this office under two of its previous occupants. In Professor Lockhart's day, the walls had been plastered with beaming, winking pictures of Professor Lockhart himself.

Everyone shuddered, except Addie who gaped at the book. “Not Gilderoy Lockhart?!”

“That’s the one.” Sirius grimaced. “Didn’t Harry mention him in the last book?”

“Probably.” Addie said faintly. “In which case, I hoped I’d misheard.”

When Lupin had lived here, you were more likely to come across a specimen of some fascinating new Dark creature he had procured for them to study in class.

Now, however, the office was full of a number of exceptionally odd objects that Harry supposed Moody had used in the days when he had been an Auror.

David relaxed. That sounded like Moody’s office at the Ministry.

On his desk stood what looked hike a large, cracked, glass spinning top …

“Sneakoscope.” David said.

… Harry recognized it at once as a Sneakoscope, because he owned one himself, though it was much smaller than Moody's. In the corner on a small table stood an object that looked something like an extra-squiggly, golden television aerial.

“Secrecy Sensor.” David filled in, when James looked at him.

It was humming slightly.

“That means that there’s secrecy and lies around.” David explained. “But then it is a school, so I’d expect that anyway.”

What appeared to be a mirror hung opposite Harry on the wall, but it was not reflecting the room. Shadowy figures were moving around inside it, none of them clearly in focus.

“A Foe-Glass.” Jen whispered. “It shows your enemies. The closer the figures, the more danger you’re in.”

"Like my Dark Detectors, do you?" said Moody, who was watching Harry closely.

"What's that?" Harry asked, pointing at the squiggly golden aerial.

"Secrecy Sensor. Vibrates when it detects concealment and lies … no use here, of course, too much interference - students in every direction lying about why they haven't done their homework.

David nodded.

Been humming ever since I got here. I had to disable my Sneakoscope because it wouldn't stop whistling.

Hermione suppressed a snort. Yeah, that’s the reason.

It's extra-sensitive, picks up stuff about a mile around. Of course, it could be picking up more than kid stuff," he added in a growl.

“Given that Harry’s been illegally entered into the Tournament, I’d say it probably is.” Lily remarked.

"And what's the mirror for?"

"Oh that's my Foe-Glass.

Jen smiled slightly, proved right.

See them out there, skulking around? I'm not really in trouble until I see the whites of their eyes. That's when I open my trunk."

He let out a short, harsh laugh, and pointed to the large trunk under the window. It had seven keyholes in a row.

“A multi-dimensional trunk.” Regulus raised an eyebrow. “That’s interesting.”

“Very.” David agreed. “He hasn’t got that now.”

Harry wondered what was in there, until Moody's next question brought him sharply back to earth.

"So … found out about the dragons, have you?"

Harry hesitated. He'd been afraid of this – but he hadn't told Cedric, and he certainly wasn't going to tell Moody, that Hagrid had broken the rules.

“Good boy.” James muttered.

"It's all right," said Moody, sitting down and stretching out his wooden leg with a groan. "Cheating's a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and always has been."

David frowned again. That certainly didn’t sound like Alastor Moody.

"I didn't cheat," said Harry sharply. "It was – a sort of accident that I found out."

Moody grinned. "I wasn't accusing you, laddie. I've been telling Dumbledore from the start, he can be as high-minded as he likes, but you can bet old Karkaroff and Maxime won't be. They'll have told their champions everything they can. They want to win. They want to beat Dumbledore. They'd like to prove he's only human."

That did, though. David relaxed again. He was clearly forgetting to take into account the sixteen or so years until this happened.

Clearly Moody had changed a little; it was to be expected.

Moody gave another harsh laugh, and his magical eye swivelled around so fast it made Harry feel queasy to watch it.

Hermione grimaced. “I know the feeling.”

"So … got any ideas how you're going to get past your dragon yet?" said Moody.

“Yeah …” Harry answered, attempting a weak smile. “Got a fairly good idea … Just need to work out the details.”

Surprise flickered on Moody’s face for a second …

“Probably expecting you to procrastinate like your father.” Lily commented.

… then it was gone. “Good lad. Off you go then.”

It was only as Harry sped down to the greenhouses for Herbology that he realised that Moody had never told him why he called him into his office.

“What did he want then?” Jen asked.

“I should think Dumbledore asked him to keep an eye on Harry, and Alastor took it to mean ‘help him as much as you can’.” David answered.

“But didn’t you just say that Moody wasn’t like that?” James frowned.

David nodded. “I did, but I’m also thinking about aurors and recruits. Alastor Moody has a strong sense of fair play – a fourteen-year-old competing against his will against three older opponents won’t sit well with him.”

At two o'clock on Tuesday morning …

“Harry, get some sleep!” Lily cried. “You have to face a freakin’ dragon!”

“I had to practice.” Harry told her. “Or my broom wasn’t going to move.”

… Harry stood near the fireplace, surrounded by heaps of objects: books, quills, several upturned chairs, an old set of Gobstones, and Neville's toad, Trevor.

“Oi!” Neville protested with a grin. “Leave Trevor alone!”

“Sorry, Nev.” Harry chuckled. “I wasn’t aiming for him. He just kept hopping in front of whatever it was I was summoning. I think he enjoys it.”

Only in the last hour had Harry really got the hang of the Summoning Charm.

Lily was very pale, but managed to resist tightening her hold further, seeing as it was already tight enough to cut off Harry’s blood supply.

"That's better, Harry, that's loads better," Hermione said, looking exhausted but very pleased.

"Well, now we know what to do next time I can't manage a spell," Harry said, throwing a rune dictionary back to Hermione, so he could try again, "threaten me with a dragon.

“So Harry needs a dragon, Ron needs a troll …” Fred pretended to take notes. “Gin? You need any life-threatening monsters to learn spells?”

“I don’t think so.” Ginny said thoughtfully. “But put me down for a basilisk just in case.”

Right…" He raised his wand once more. "Accio Dictionary!" The heavy book soared out of Hermione's hand, flew across the room, and Harry caught it.

"Harry, I really think you've got it!" said Hermione delightedly.

"Just as long as it works tomorrow," Harry said. "The Firebolt's going to be much farther away than the stuff in here, it's going to be in the castle, and I'm going to be out there on the grounds …"

Lily closed her eyes. “Don’t say that. It won’t matter. Once you have the Summoning Charm, as long as you know where it is, the distance doesn’t matter.”

"That doesn't matter," said Hermione firmly. "Just as long as you're concentrating really, really hard on it, it'll come. Harry, we'd better get some sleep … you're going to need it."

“Yeah, you are.” James agreed. “You shouldn’t attempt to outfly a dragon without sleep.”

“I’d prefer it if he didn’t attempt to outfly a dragon in the first place.” Lily said, but smiled nonetheless.

Harry had been focusing so hard on learning the Summoning Charm that evening that some of his blind panic had heft him. It returned in full measure, however, on the following morning. The atmosphere in the school was one of great tension and excitement. Lessons were to stop at midday, giving all the students time to get down to the dragons' enclosure – though, of course, they didn't yet know what they would find there.

“We did.” Ginny grimaced. “Colin kept asking me why I was so pale.”

“And let me guess,” Harry sighed, “he was more hyperactive than usual?”

Ginny nodded. “I swear he must eat extra sugar in the morning. No one is that perky naturally.”

Harry felt oddly separate from everyone around him, whether they were wishing him good luck or hissing "We'll have a box of tissues ready, Potter" as he passed.

“So it takes a dragon to get you to ignore people like that?” Hermione asked. “I’ll have to remember that.”

It was a state of nervousness so advanced that he wondered whether he mightn't just lose his head when they tried to lead him out to his dragon, and start trying to curse everyone in sight.

Fred raised an eyebrow. “If you can’t tell the difference between us and a dragon, Harry, we’re going to have a bit of a problem.”

Time was behaving in a more peculiar fashion than ever, rushing past in great dollops, so that one moment he seemed to be sitting down in his first lesson, History of Magic, and the next …

“You actually found something that made History of Magic fly by?” Arabella asked. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

… walking into lunch … and then (where had the morning gone? the last of the dragon-free hours?), Professor McGonagall was hurrying over to him in the Great Hall.

Lily squeezed Harry’s hand once, then loosened her grip so that she didn’t break it during the task.

Lots of people were watching.

"Potter, the champions have to come down onto the grounds now … You have to get ready for your first task."

"Okay," said Harry, standing up, his fork falling onto his plate with a clatter.

“You did eat, didn’t you?” Addie asked in concern, before Lily could.

Harry gave her a smile. “Yeah. Didn’t eat much, but Hermione made me eat something.”

“Actually, I went to the kitchens and asked the house-elves if they’d mind adding an anti-nausea potion to the food that went to the Gryffindor table.” Hermione admitted. “Figured you wouldn’t want to throw up in front of the whole school.”

"Good luck, Harry," Hermione whispered. "You'll be fine!"

"Yeah," said Harry in a voice that was most unlike his own.

“It didn’t sound that different.” Hermione assured him.

He left the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall. She didn't seem herself either; in fact, she looked nearly as anxious as Hermione.

James smiled. “That’s because McGonagall cares about her lions, even when she pretends she doesn’t.”

As she walked him down the stone steps and out into the cold November afternoon, she put her hand on his shoulder.

"Now, don't panic," she said, "just keep a cool head … We've got wizards standing by to control the situation if it gets out of hand … The main thing is just to do your best, and nobody will think any the worse of you …

Lily smiled. “I knew she was my favourite for a reason.”

“Lies!” James challenged jokingly. “I thought Flitwick was your favourite.”

“Well, now I have a new favourite.” Lily retorted.

Are you all right?"

"Yes," Harry heard himself say. "Yes, I'm fine."

She was leading him toward the place where the dragons were, around the edge of the forest, but when they approached the clump of trees behind which the enclosure would be clearly visible, Harry saw that a tent had been erected, its entrance facing them, screening the dragons from view.

“I hated that tent.” Harry muttered, remembering what it was like to just sit and wait.

"You're to go in here with the other champions," said Professor McGonagall, in a rather shaky sort of voice, "and wait for your turn, Potter. Mr. Bagman is in there … he'll be telling you the – the procedure …

Harry snorted. “One thing to call it.”

Good luck."

"Thanks," said Harry, in a flat, distant voice. She left him at the entrance of the tent. Harry went inside.

Fleur Delacour was sitting in a corner on a how wooden stool. She didn't look nearly as composed as usual, but rather pale and clammy.

“I don’t blame her.” Hermione murmured.

“Do you know her well?” Arabella asked.

Hermione shrugged. “We talked a couple of times in the library. She doesn’t really have any real friends at Beauxbatons and I was the only Hogwarts student who bothered talking to her. Aside from the boys, of course, but that can hardly be considered ‘talking to her’. She’s actually quite nice when you get to know her.”

Viktor Krum looked even surlier than usual, which Harry supposed was his way of showing nerves. Cedric was pacing up and down. When Harry entered, Cedric gave him a small smile …

Again, Addie smiled to herself.

… which Harry returned, feeling the muscles in his face working rather hard, as though they had forgotten how to do it.

"Harry! Good-o!" said Bagman happily, looking around at him. "Come in, come in, make yourself at home!"

Bagman looked somehow like a slightly overblown cartoon figure, standing amid all the pale-faced champions.

Hermione burst out laughing. “Oh, Harry, you do have a way with words!”

“I didn’t write this!” Harry protested with a grin. “Won’t deny that’s what he looked like though.”

He was wearing his old Wasp robes again. "Well, now we're all here – time to fill you in!" said Bagman brightly. "When the audience has assembled, I'm going to be offering each of you this bag" – he held up a small sack of purple silk and shook it at them – "from which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face!

“Why not just tell them?” Lily asked. “They’ll see as soon as the first champion removes it anyway.”

There are different – er – varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else too … ah, yes … your task is to collect the golden egg!"

Jen let out a little whimper and Remus pulled her closer. “That means you’ll actually have to get close to the eggs – a nesting mother will kill from fifty feet if she thinks you’re a threat to her young.”

Harry glanced around. Cedric had nodded once, to show that he understood Bagman's words, and then started pacing around the tent again; he looked slightly green. Fleur Delacour and Krum hadn't reacted at all. Perhaps they thought they might be sick if they opened their mouths; that was certainly how Harry felt. But they, at least, had volunteered for this …

“That’s true.” James took Lily’s hand in the hopes that she’d break his fingers instead of Harry’s when it all started.

And in no time at all, hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of feet could be heard passing the tent, their owners talking excitedly, laughing, joking …

“How did they react when they saw the dragons?” Alice asked curiously.

“Awe, mostly.” Neville answered. “My legs gave out, I think; Dean and Seamus had to practically drag me into the stands.”

“We joked until we saw what it was.” Fred added grimly.

“I think I made a lot of inappropriate jokes.” Draco continued, pulling a face. “But if I’m honest, I don’t actually remember – I went into shock when I saw the dragons.”

Narcissa smiled weakly, and patted his arm.

Harry felt as separate from the crowd as though they were a different species. And then – it seemed like about a second later to Harry – Bagman was opening the neck of the purple silk sack.

"Ladies first," he said, offering it to Fleur Delacour.

“How gallant.” Lily muttered.

She put a shaking hand inside the bag and drew out a tiny, perfect model of a dragon – a Welsh Green.

“Not bad.” Sirius commented. “They’re relatively easy to handle – prefer to avoid humans.”

“Unless they’re provoked.” Jen reminded him. “And I have a feeling that attacking their nest would count as provoking them.”

It had the number two around its neck And Harry knew, by the fact that Fleur showed no sign of surprise, but rather a determined resignation, that he had been right: Madame Maxime had told her what was coming.

The same held true for Krum. He pulled out the scarlet Chinese Fireball.

“Risky one.” Jen murmured. “Tolerant of their own species, but prefer humans and pigs to any other prey.”

It had a number three around its neck. He didn't even blink, just sat back down and stared at the ground.

Cedric put his hand into the bag, and out came the blueish-grey Swedish Short-Snout, the number one tied around its neck.

“Looks like he’s going first.” Addie remarked, watching her future counter-part closely. “Any wisdom on those ones, Sirius?”

“Not as well-known for human killings, but they prefer uninhabited areas anyway, so that might be why.” Sirius recited.

Addie lowered her gaze, concern flashing in her eyes. She knew Cedric would be fine, but she was still worried.

“That’s it!” Addie stated, getting to her feet. She seized her future self’s arm and dragged her to the other room. “We need to talk.”

“Don’t mind us!” Addie called over her shoulder. “Well, that was weird.” She remarked as the door closed behind her.

Addie gave her a dirty look. “Just answer me one question. Are you his mother?”

“What?” Addie looked bewildered. “Who?”

“Cedric.” Addie elaborated. “Are you his mother?”

Addie laughed, almost doubling over. “You’re kidding me, right?” She asked, once it had subsided, still grinning broadly. “Like I’d ever go near that again.”

“Then why are you acting so concerned about him?!” Addie demanded. “You do remember what his father did, right?”

“Believe it or not, I remember very well.” Addie stated, slightly coldly. “More than you do, if you can believe that. Besides, in case you hadn’t noticed, Cedric is due to be born this coming September, which means for me to be his mother, you would have to be pregnant already.”

Addie blushed, having forgotten that fact.

“There is a reason why I know Cedric, although, yes, I wish there wasn’t. You’ll find out at the end of the book, I’m sure. He is nothing like his father, I promise.”

In the main room, Sirius was watching in amusement as the younger students took bets on what the two were talking about. He had already guessed, given that Addie had confessed the previous night that she’d become fond of Cedric over the last few weeks.

Finally, they returned and Addie sat down beside him, still smirking. “She seemed to think I might be his mother.” She whispered, seeing his questioning look.

Sirius, of course, knew that she wasn’t, but he still couldn’t help the sudden image in his mind of his girlfriend in his arms, an image that had plagued him for almost a year at Hogwarts, except, this time, her stomach was swollen and his hand rested protectively on it.

The image flashed in her mind momentarily as he unwittingly projected it and she rolled her eyes, turning his face towards her for a chaste kiss. “Love you.” She whispered, settling against him.

Sirius smiled, wrapping an arm around her. “I know.” He nodded to Mandy, who found her place.

Knowing what was left, Harry put his hand into the silk bag and pulled out the Hungarian Horntail …

Lily drew in a breath. “That’s the one with the spikes, right?”

Jen nodded, looking apprehensive. “You want to know?”

Lily hesitated, then closed her eyes. “Go on.”

“They’re supposed to be the most dangerous of all dragon breeds.” Jen said slowly, watching her best friend for any signs that she should stop. “And they have the longest fire-breathing range of any dragon. They feed on humans whenever possible.”

“They’re not the worst though.” Sirius said hastily. “The Peruvian Vipertooths have such a liking for humans that the ICW had to start culling them.”

James gave his best mate a grateful smile and rubbed Lily’s arm.

… and the number four.

“Means you’re going last.” Remus said unnecessarily.

“I’d rather have gone first.” Harry admitted. “Get it over with.”

It stretched its wings as he looked down at it, and bared its minuscule fangs.

"Well, there you are!" said Bagman. "You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons, do you see?

“I think we figured that one out.” Regulus muttered.

Now, I'm going to have to leave you in a moment, because I'm commentating.

“How do you commentate something like that?” Arabella asked.

“With difficulty.” Hermione answered. His commentary really hadn’t added much to the event; just enough to occasionally distract the champions.

Mr. Diggory, you're first, just go out into the enclosure when you hear a whistle, all right? Now … Harry … could I have a quick word? Outside?"

“Why?” James asked suspiciously

"Er … yes," said Harry blankly, and he got up and went out of the tent with Bagman, who walked him a short distance away, into the trees, and then turned to him with a fatherly expression on his face.

James gritted his teeth, but said nothing.

"Feeling all right, Harry? Anything I can get you?"

“Anything like what?” David asked.

"What?" said Harry. "I – no, nothing."

"Got a plan?" said Bagman, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "Because I don't mind sharing a few pointers, if you'd like them, you know. I mean,"

“But surely that’s cheating!” Lily protested. “Moody is one thing, but Bagman could get Harry into serious trouble here. Oh, stop it, Padfoot!” She snapped, when Sirius opened his mouth. “You know perfectly well what I mean!”

Bagman continued, lowering his voice still further, "you're the underdog here, Harry … Anything I can do to help …"

“Underdog he might be, but he’s one of the organisers.” David scowled.

Regulus smirked. “Well, taking into account what Fred said about him paying them in leprechaun gold, I’d say that maybe Bagman’s got money trouble. He’s probably got a bet that Harry will win the Tournament.”

“He did.” Ginny confirmed.

"No," said Harry so quickly he knew he had sounded rude …

“Don’t worry about sounding rude, Harry.” Lily whispered. “He’d get you in trouble if you took his help.”

… "no – I – I know what I'm going to do, thanks."

"Nobody would know, Harry," said Bagman, winking at him.

Fred snorted. “Bullshit.” He ducked Hermione’s smack. “People always find out things like that.”

"No, I'm fine," said Harry, wondering why he kept telling people this, and wondering whether he had ever been less fine. "I've got a plan worked out, I –"

A whistle had blown somewhere.

“Cedric’s up.” Narcissa murmured.

"Good lord, I've got to run!" said Bagman in alarm, and he hurried off.

Harry walked back to the tent and saw Cedric emerging from it, greener than ever. Harry tried to wish him luck as he walked past, but all that came out of his mouth was a sort of hoarse grunt.

“I’m sure he knew what you meant.” Jen said.

Harry went back inside to Fleur and Krum. Seconds later, they heard the roar of the crowd, which meant Cedric had entered the enclosure and was now face-to face with the living counterpart of his model.

It was worse than Harry could ever have imagined, sitting there and listening.

Lily tightened her grip just slightly, knowing that it would get worse when it was Harry out there.

The crowd screamed … yelled … gasped like a single many-headed entity …

Hermione chuckled. “That’s one way of describing us.”

… as Cedric did whatever he was doing to get past the Swedish Short-Snout.

“What was it?” Jen asked curiously.

Hermione glanced at James and Lily, who were both very pale. “I’ll tell you later, if the book doesn’t. I think we explained to Harry.”

Krum was still staring at the ground. Fleur had now taken to retracing Cedric's steps, around and around the tent. And Bagman's commentary made everything much, much worse …

“Yeah, that didn’t help anyone.” Ginny muttered.

Horrible pictures formed in Harry's mind as he heard: "Oooh, narrow miss there, very narrow" … "He's taking risks, this one!" … "Clever move – pity it didn't work!"

And then, after about fifteen minutes, Harry heard the deafening roar that could mean only one thing: Cedric had gotten past his dragon and captured the golden egg.

"Very good indeed!" Bagman was shouting. "And now the marks from the judges!"

But he didn't shout out the marks; Harry supposed the judges were holding them up and showing them to the crowd.

“Shot ribbons from their wands.” Hermione elaborated, when everyone looked at them. “Cedric got … 38 out of a possible 50.”

“Not bad.” Lily commented. “Did they mark him down on something?”

“He got slightly injured.” Ginny informed her. “Bad burn on his shoulder.”

"One down, three to go!" Bagman yelled …

“Ominous.” Jen muttered.

… as the whistle blew again. "Miss Delacour, if you please!"

Fleur was trembling from head to foot; Harry felt more warmly toward her than he had done so far as she left the tent with her head held high and her hand clutching her wand.

“Brave girl.” Sirius commented. “She’d have been a Gryffindor.”

“Not necessarily.” Hermione disagreed. “She’s quite intelligent.”

He and Krum were left alone, at opposite sides of the tent, avoiding each other's gaze.

The same process started again …

"Oh I'm not sure that was wise!" they could hear Bagman shouting gleefully. "Oh … nearly! Careful now … good lord, I thought she'd had it then!"

“I don’t think Bagman was helping.” Regulus commented.

“He wasn’t.” Fred agreed.

Ten minutes later, Harry heard the crowd erupt into applause once more … Fleur must have been successful too. A pause, while Fleur's marks were being shown … more clapping …

“39.” Hermione said, anticipating the question.

… then, for the third time, the whistle.

"And here comes Mr. Krum!" cried Bagman, and Krum slouched out, leaving Harry quite alone.

He felt much more aware of his body than usual; very aware of the way his heart was pumping fast, and his fingers tingling with fear … yet at the same time, he seemed to be outside himself, seeing the walls of the tent, and hearing the crowd, as though from far away.

"Very daring!" Bagman was yelling, and Harry heard the Chinese Fireball emit a horrible, roaring shriek …

Hermione shuddered, remembering the awful noise.

… while the crowd drew its collective breath. "That's some nerve he's showing – and – yes, he's got the egg!"

Applause shattered the wintery air like breaking glass; Krum had finished …

“40.” Hermione said automatically.

… it would be Harry's turn any moment.

He stood up, noticing dimly that his legs seemed to be made of marshmallow. He waited. And then he heard the whistle blow.

Mandy breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s switched to Hermione’s perspective.”

“Thank Merlin.” Lily whispered.

“Dragons!” Ginny whimpered for what felt like the thousandth time in an hour as Viktor Krum left the arena, golden egg safely under one arm. “What were they thinking?!”

“They weren’t.” Fred answered ‘helpfully’.

Hermione winced as the redhead’s nails dug into her arm. “Gin, could you loosen your grip a bit?” She hissed, as ten dragon-keepers led in a very large, very angry Hungarian Horntail. “I have a feeling things are about to heat up and I’d rather you didn’t cut off my blood supply in the progress.”
“Let’s just hope that ‘heat up’ is just a term of phrase in this instance.” Ginny muttered, loosening her grip nonetheless.

“That didn’t last long.” Hermione muttered.

“Hermione …” A sheepish voice said from behind her.

“Ron.” Mandy and Arabella chorused.

Both girls turned to glare at their ‘brother’. “What?!”
Ron blinked at the word, hissed in unison with no small amount of venom.

Fred chuckled. “I almost feel sorry for him. You two do venom very well.”

Sirius smirked. “Now who does that remind me of?”

Addie blushed and smacked him on the arm. “Shut up.”

“I wanted to apologise …”

“Isn’t he aiming it in the wrong direction?” James asked.

“No, he knows me too well.” Harry explained. “He knew I wouldn’t even consider forgiving him until he apologised to Hermione.”

“It’s not me you have to apologise to.” Hermione told him coldly. “It’s Harry. Weren’t you the one who said that none of us would betray him?”

Harry grimaced. “Low blow, don’t you think?”

“No.” Hermione, Ginny, Lily and Addie answered together.

Ron flinched as though he’d been struck. “I was …”

“Jealous, I know.” Hermione turned her gaze back to the arena, where Harry had just appeared, looking ridiculously small.

“Oi!” Harry protested.

“Was it that bad?” James asked, eyeing his future son. “Harry’s not that short.”

“You’re underestimating the size of this dragon, mate.” Fred said cheerfully.

“Doesn’t seem like such fun now, does it?”

“What are you talking about?” Sirius asked. “Seems like great fun to me!”

Addie smacked his arm, but with no real force behind it. “Can we try to avoid commenting unless we deem it necessary please? At least until after Harry’s faced the dragon.

“No.” Ron whispered. “He’ll be alright though, won’t he?”

“I hope so.” Hermione said quietly. “Now ssh!”

Harry had raised his wand and was mouthing something – Accio Firebolt, she assumed – and then there was nothing.

“Didn’t it work?” Lily whispered.

“It did.” Harry assured her. “I just had to wait for it to get there.”

Hermione groaned. “I should have brought your broom down with me.”

Harry shrugged. “Not the end of the world.”

Sniggers started to erupt from around her. The Slytherins down the row, smirking, pressed the buttons on their robes so they flashed Potter Stinks at her.

“Come on …” Hermione whispered.

Suddenly, she heard an odd noise, like that of a wand swiping through the air, but this was continuous and she squinted in the direction of the castle to see Harry’s broom speeding towards him.

The Marauders cheered and Lily gave them a dark look. “From now on, you speak at your own risk.” She warned.

Hermione could hear Ludo Bagman shouting something from the commentators’ box, but she paid him no heed, solely focused on Harry, who seized his Firebolt and swung his leg over it.

He kicked off hard, soaring into the air, high above the Horntail. He hovered there for a second, and Hermione could almost see the Quidditch moves ticking over in his mind.

Harry nodded in confirmation and James opened his mouth to ask if he wanted to be Captain one day, but caught Lily’s eye and closed it again hastily.

His face was more serene than it had been for weeks and, despite her worry, she couldn’t help smiling fondly – trust Harry to use flying to relax, even under these circumstances.

Jen chuckled. “You get that from James.”

“Jen …” Lily said.

Jen rolled her eyes and stayed silent.

Then he dived, faster than he ever had before, and the Horntail’s head followed him. She unleashed a great ball of fire and he pulled out of the dive just in time.

Lily bit back a scream, clutching Harry’s hand tightly.

With a scream, Hermione’s hands flew to her mouth. Her nails were digging into her cheeks hard enough to leave marks, but she didn’t care.

Harry smirked. “They didn’t fade for two days.”

“Harry …” Lily whispered softly, and he squeezed her hand.

“Great Scott, he can fly!” Bagman cried. “Are you watching this, Mr. Krum?”

Regulus let out a low whistle, but kept his mouth shut, more afraid of Lily’s temper than he cared to admit.

Later, Hermione would endure hours of discussion between Harry and Ron about how Harry had been compared with The Viktor Krum …

James and Sirius were both beaming, but, like Regulus, knew better than to induce Lily’s wrath right now.

… but right now, the words seemed to wash over him as he soared higher in a wide circle, like a bird of prey coasting the thermals.

“Potter blood.” David muttered, too quietly for Lily to hear. He had noticed it when Harry flew the day before, the similarities, not just with James, but with himself, and his father too.

“Take it easy, Harry.” Hermione murmured through her fingers. “Don’t worry about being the fastest. Just take it slow and steady.”

“Good advice.” Remus whispered.

In some ways, she envied James and Lily who, as spirits, could soar alongside him, but their words of comfort did nothing to soothe him.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief, glad that she was at her son’s side, but the fact that she could do nothing to help him diminished that relief significantly.

The Horntail’s head swivelled round, watching Harry’s every move, keeping a very close eye on this threat to her nest. He plummeted again, just as another fireball erupted. He missed the flames, but the spiked tail flew up to meet him …

Addie grabbed Harry’s free hand, unable to hold back her worry any longer.

… and Hermione screamed again as the spikes caught Harry’s shoulder, ripping his robes.

“I was fine!” Harry said hastily, pulling his t-shirt down to show them his shoulder, marred by only the faintest scar. “It only just scraped me.”

“He’ll be fine!” Ron grabbed her waist as she momentarily lost her control over her empathy, and staggered at the wave of emotion that hit her.

“From the crowd.” Hermione filled in. “Not Harry.”

“He’ll be fine. And I’m sorry.”

Sirius smiled slightly. While he didn’t agree with how Ron had acted that month, he understood what it was like to springboard from emotions into the wrong decision. He had the dark memories to prove it.

Hermione shook her head as she gratefully accepted his hug. “Forget about it, alright? Just concentrate.”
Ron nodded in agreement and they turned their eyes back to the sky. Harry’s face was twisted in pain, but he was flying steady, which was a good sign, and his face soon cleared.

Despite Harry’s reassurances, Lily and Addie both relaxed at that.

Harry flew around the Horntail again, this time staying just high enough to prevent her from throwing another fireball, although close enough to remain a threat.

Yellow eyes remained fixed on his tiny form as he edged slowly higher, weaving this way and that, until she finally snapped, rising up from her nest, her wings unfurling, each the size of a small aircraft.

Lily let out a whimper, finally able to visualise just how large this monster was.

And then Harry dived, before anyone could realise he’d moved.

“Come on, Harry.” James whispered.

He dived faster than his first dive, faster, even, than Viktor Krum had at the World Cup, and he was closer to the ground.

“How close?” David asked sharply.

“Closer than he was yesterday.” Hermione answered. “And it was faster than that, as well.”

Lily groaned, gripping Harry tighter.

Even if he could manage to get his hands on the egg, he was going to crash.

The crowd roared, their shouts escalating to screams, as Harry scooped the egg into his arms, pulled out of the dive millimetres from the ground, and sped towards the exit to the arena, landing safely outside the blast zone.

Everyone relaxed at once, most people started applauding, and Lily hugged Harry tightly, shakily threatening to ground him for the rest of his life if he scared her like that again.

Heart thudding in her chest and trying desperately to steady her breathing before she started hyperventilating, Hermione lowered her hands, barely flinching as Ginny threw her arms around her in relief.

The atmosphere in the room was lighter than it had been for several chapters.

“Thank Merlin …” Ron whispered, embracing both of them. “Come on!”

The three Gryffindors raced along the row, down the steps, around the chain-link fence – pausing for a few seconds to greet Charlie …

Fred mock-pouted. “He didn’t say hello to us.”

“He had to get the dragons back to Romania before they caused anymore damage.” Ginny told him briskly. “And you know that.”

… who looked as relieved as they did – and into the medical tent.

Harry was sitting on one of the cots, his robes torn where the Horntail had struck, but the skin beneath was mercifully undamaged.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed her grip entirely.

Lily was standing at his side, berating him in a voice so high-pitched that James, who seemed to be speechless with shock and relief, frequently winced.

James rubbed his ear. “Was it that bad?”

“I think only dogs could understand her.” Hermione said cheerfully.

Harry chuckled. “You were almost as bad, Mione.”

“Harry, you were brilliant!” Hermione cried. Her voice was squeaky, but she ignored it, hugging him with trembling arms, and whispered, “You mum would like to request that you never do something like that again.”

Lily gave Harry a pointed look and he smiled. “I promise, Mum, I will never outfly a Hungarian Horntail again.”

“I didn’t mean it that specifically, Harry.” Lily sighed.

“Done.” Harry grinned. “Thanks for the message.”
“That was amazing!” Ginny hugged him as well, her movements just as shaky.

Hermione saw James narrow his eyes and followed his gaze to where Ron was standing awkwardly in the entrance of the tent. She cleared her throat and nudged him forwards.

“Harry,” Ron began seriously, “whoever put your name in that Goblet … I recon they’re trying to do you in.”

Sirius clapped slowly. “Well done.”

“Caught on, have you?” Harry asked coolly. “Took you long enough.”

Hermione and Ginny both stepped back, exchanging a nervous glance.

“Look, mate, I’m sorry.” Ron sighed. “I’ve been a complete and utter prat, alright? I know that. I should have known you wouldn’t have entered your name, and I’ll understand if you never talk to me again.”

“Harry’s going to forgive him.” Lily predicted.

“What makes you say that?” James asked, clearly not in any mood to spare Ron.

“Because it’s what you’d do.” Lily said simply.

“Forget it.” Harry told him.

Lily smiled.

“But …” Ron began.

“Brothers fight.” Harry interrupted. “Don’t they?”

Ron nodded with a faint smile. “But they’re still brothers.”

Sirius grinned at Remus, who had said something similar after the Willow Incident.

“He’s an idiot. But he’s still my brother.”

“Right.” Harry agreed. “Just trust me in future, alright?”
“I will.” Ron vowed. “I knew I was being irrational … and when Charlie told me about the dragons …”

“He knew?!” Jen demanded.

Hermione smiled slightly. “Wait for it …”

“He told you?!” Ginny demanded. “Why didn’t you say anything?!”
“I did!” Ron protested. “Remember? I told Hermione that Seamus had told me that Parvati told Dean that Hagrid wanted to see you. Well, Seamus never told me anything, so it was me all along.

James gaped at the book. “… What?”

I thought we’d be alright once you’d figured that out.”

Harry stared at him. “Who could possibly figure all that out?”

“Ron.” Fred said innocently.

Ron sighed. “It was a bit mental, wasn’t it?” He shrugged. “I guess I was a bit distraught.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Boys.”

"Harry, c'mon, they'll be putting up your scores …"

Picking up the golden egg and his Firebolt, Harry ducked out of the tent, Ron by his side, talking fast, followed by Hermione and Ginny, feeling more elated than they would have believed possible an hour ago.

"You were the best, you know, no competition.

Fred nodded fervently. “Definitely.”

Cedric did this weird thing where he Transfigured a rock on the ground … turned it into a dog … he was trying to make the dragon go for the dog instead of him.

“Not bad.” James commented.

Well, it was a pretty cool bit of Transfiguration, and it sort of worked, because he did get the egg, but he got burned as well – the dragon changed its mind halfway through and decided it would rather have him than the Labrador …

Jen winced. “Ouch.”

“Was he alright?” Lily asked.

Harry nodded. “Madam Pomfrey fixed him right up.”

… he only just got away. And that Fleur girl …

“That Fleur girl?” Arabella repeated in amusement.

… tried this sort of charm, I think she was trying to put it into a trance – well, that kind of worked too, it went all sleepy …

“Veela magic?” Jen guessed.

“Could be.” Regulus agreed. “At the very least, it’d have to be stronger than your regular, run-of-the-mill sleeping charm.”

… but then it snored, and this great jet of flame shot out …

The Marauders sniggered.

… and her skirt caught fire – she put it out with a bit of water out of her wand. And Krum – you won't believe this, but he didn't even think of flying!

James beamed.

He was probably the best after you, though. Hit it with some sort of spell right in the eye.

Sirius nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.”

Only thing is, it went trampling around in agony and squashed half the real eggs – they took marks off for that, he wasn't supposed to do any damage to them."

Lily frowned. “How come Fleur got less than Krum then? She didn’t even get injured.”

“I think they factored in time as well.” Ginny explained. “And he did get it done quite quickly.”

Ron drew breath as they reached the edge of the enclosure. Now that the Horntail had been taken away, they could see where the five judges were sitting clearly – right at the other end, in raised seats draped in gold.

"It's marks out of ten from each one," Ron said, and the first judge – Madame Maxime – raised her wand in the air. What looked like a long silver ribbon shot out of it, which twisted itself into a large figure eight.

Everyone from the past applauded.

"Not bad!" said Ron as the crowd applauded. "I suppose she took marks off for your shoulder …"

“Probably.” Remus agreed.

Mr. Crouch came next. He shot a number nine into the air.

“That’s seventeen.” Jen summarised, as everyone clapped again.

"Looking good!" Ron yelled, thumping Harry on the back.

Next, Dumbledore. He too put up a nine.

“Twenty-six.” Jen said, grinning.

The crowd was cheering harder than ever.

Ludo Bagman – ten.

Thirty-six.” Jen corrected, but was frowning. “He must have a bet on – Harry got hurt; he shouldn’t be giving him full marks.”

“Don’t complain!” James told her, jumping up and down in his seat. “Harry’s only five marks away from beating Krum!”

Regulus snorted. “That’s not going to happen.” He smiled lightly at the looks he was getting. “What? Does anyone really think Karkaroff’s going to mark fairly?”

"Ten?" said Harry in disbelief. "But … I got hurt … What's he playing at?"

"Harry, don't complain!" Ron yelled excitedly.

And now Karkaroff raised his wand. He paused for a moment …

“Calculating how much he can give him so that he doesn’t overtake his champion.” Jen scowled. “Git.”

… and then a number shot out of his wand too – four.

“Which leaves Harry with forty points.” Remus concluded, since Jen was too busy muttering unsavoury things about Karkaroff under her breath. “He and Krum are tied for first place.”

James ruffled Harry’s hair, beaming. “That’s my boy.”

"What?" Ron bellowed furiously. "Four? You lousy, biased scumbag, you gave Krum ten!"

But looking at Harry, Hermione knew he wouldn’t have cared if Karkaroff had given him zero; Ron's indignation on his behalf would be worth about a hundred points to him.

Harry nodded. “It was.”

And it wasn't just Ron … those weren't only Gryffindors cheering in the crowd. When it had come to it, when they had seen what he was facing, most of the school had been on his side as well as Cedric's.

“Even the Slytherins.” Draco said, when everyone looked at him.

Lily frowned. “Wait, so what’s the unexpected task then?”

Mandy chuckled. “I’m not done yet, Lils. Not even close – this is a long one.”

By the middle of December, things had mostly returned to normal for the ‘Golden Trio’, with the only noticeable difference being that Harry was more inclined to listen to Hermione when she urged them to do their homework.

“We’ve lost him!” Fred wailed, dissolving into ‘tears’ as James reached around Harry to pat him on the shoulder.

Lily rolled her eyes at both of them.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the golden egg.

Sirius frowned. “What?”

The prize from the first task turned out to contain a clue leading to the second …

“Ah.”

“When was the second task?” Lily asked.

“February 24th.” Hermione answered.

… but opening it at the Gryffindor after-party had done nothing but release a high-pitched wail that had Seamus guessing at a banshee …

“They wouldn’t bring in a banshee.” James said.

“They brought in a dragon.” Lily argued.

“But banshees are considered part-human.” Remus explained. “It would cause too much trouble.”

… Neville worrying about the Cruciatus Curse …

Alice put an arm around his shoulders.

… and Fred and George warning Harry that he’d have to attack Percy in the shower, because it sounded like him singing.

Ginny laughed. “It did actually.”

Satisfied by Harry’s insistences that he was working on it …

Hermione glared at him. “Working on it, my arse.”

Harry grinned sheepishly. “Sorry?”

Jen was frowning at the book. “How can a ‘high-pitched wail’ be considered a clue?”

… Hermione found herself in the library, a week from the end of term, trying to finish her Transfiguration essay. She still had a bad feeling, but Harry’s outstanding performance in the first task had provided her with a boost of confidence, and the only things worrying her now were Rita Skeeter, Hagrid’s Skrewts, Karkaroff, Hogwarts’ apparent problem with Dumbledore and, of course, the Yule Ball.

“Ah, of course.” David smiled. “That’s the unexpected task.”

“The Yule Ball is a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament.” Sirius explained, seeing the students look a bit lost. “The champions have to open it.”

Addie frowned. “But Hogwarts balls are normally open to fifth year and above only – Harry would have to find an older date.”

“They changed it.” Hermione told her. “Fourth years and above only, unless an older student invited you.”

“Thank Merlin.” Harry muttered. “Finding a date would have been a lot harder otherwise.”

Professor McGonagall had announced the Yule Ball at the end of their Transfiguration lesson, although Hermione wasn’t altogether sure Harry and Ron heard her …

“Oh, we did.” Harry said darkly.

… because they were having a sword fight with Fred and George’s fake wands, which had turned into a tin parrot and a rubber haddock respectively.

James and Sirius sniggered.

Everyone else had certainly heard though; nothing else was talked about anymore, especially among the female population.

Sirius groaned. “Oh great …”

Addie sighed. “And that is why I was so happy I had the dorm-mates I did in seventh year. Alice came and took refuge in the end.”

Hermione scowled at her. “Lucky you.”

Everywhere Hermione looked, the Yule Ball seemed to have taken over, especially in her dorm room as gossip about dresses, make-up, hair and boys (of course) seemed to reverberate through the walls.

There was nowhere she could escape from it, even here in the library, she realised, as giggles arose from the table behind her.

“You poor thing.” Lily sympathised. “Did you say there was a Christmas Eve ball in seventh year, Addie?”

Addie nodded. “You and James talked the teachers into it.”

She glanced up, exchanging a small consolatory smile with Madam Pince, who was glaring at the girls in question, and sighed, trying to focus on her work. She couldn’t care less about who had just asked whom to the Ball, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly envious. She doubted anyone was about to line up to ask her out.

Hermione blushed slightly and she glared at the book. “Stupid future people.” She muttered.

“You or me, Mione.” Harry reminded her lightly. “And that’s because most of the boys at Hogwarts are idiots.”

Hermione’s empathy picked up a hint of irritation, and she looked up again, raising a questioning eyebrow as Harry collapsed into the seat opposite her.

Now it was Harry’s turn to turn red and Hermione smirked at him. “If I go down, I’m taking you down with me.”

“This is hopeless!” He proclaimed loudly, causing Madam Pince to look over and hiss a warning at him.

Hermione sighed. “What’s wrong?”

“This bloody Yule Ball, that’s what’s wrong!” Harry told her heatedly, but in a quieter voice.

Hermione heaved another sigh as Madam Pince glared in their direction again. This was hardly the place for this conversation – the table behind her had suddenly gone quiet as the girls began to eavesdrop.

Harry grimaced. “Didn’t realise my predicament was that entertaining.”

Hermione shrugged. “They just realised you might not have a date yet.”

Yet another annoyed sigh slipped past her lips as another group of girls filed in, one of them with a Bulgarian scarf tied around her waist.

Lily tutted. “Oh, honestly!”

Great. Just what I need.

Viktor Krum spent a lot of time in the library. Normally, Hermione wouldn’t have minded – he was quiet and didn’t disturb her, so why should she? Unfortunately, he also had a self-proclaimed ‘fan club’ that followed him everywhere and it was impossible to concentrate with them around.

“Come on.” She muttered to Harry, closing her book. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one trying to avoid them. The two Gryffindors reached the doors just as Viktor Krum did.

“What’s the point in being famous if you don’t want the perks?” James asked.

Sirius grinned. “Prongs … you do know you’re famous, right?”

James looked at Lily, who was smiling at him. “Oh … that’s why.”

He held the door for them, acknowledging his fellow champion with a nod.

It was Hermione he spoke to, though.

“Why?” Arabella asked curiously.

Mandy shot her an amused glance. “If you let me read, we might find out.”

“Excuse me, may I haff a vord?”

Hermione glanced at Harry, who shrugged at her. “Alright,” she said slowly. “I’ll meet you under the beech tree, Harry.” Adjusting her Transfiguration book in her arms, she followed him to an alcove, where he turned to face her, his smile making him look far less surly than he had at the World Cup.

“Amazing how that happens, isn’t it?” Jen commented, glancing at Draco.

“Ve met at the Vorld Cup.”

“Really?” Arabella asked mildly. “You’d think you’d remember meeting an international Quidditch star.”

He said unnecessarily. “Herm-own-ninny?”

Hermione glared at Fred and Draco, both of whom had sniggered. “It’s a difficult name.”

“Of course it is, Herman.” Harry said innocently, ducking the pillow that flew at him.

“Hermione.” She corrected, shaking his offered hand. “Yes, we did.” Out of the corner of her eye, she could see James and Lily unashamedly eavesdropping …

Lily blushed, but James just shrugged. “Can you blame us?”

… and resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“I vas wondering,” Viktor continued, “if you vould accompany me to the Yule Ball.”

Silence fell, and Hermione leaned back against the sofa cushions, smirking at their stunned faces.

“I …” Jen hesitated. “I was not expecting that. And I realise that sounds quite mean, but it’s nothing to do with you, Hermione.”

“Oh, I know.” Hermione told her. “I was just as shocked, I promise.”

Hermione’s eyes widened with shock and she only just caught her book before it fell to the floor.

Sirius chuckled. “Isn’t that how you reacted when I first asked you out?” He asked Addie casually.

She rolled her eyes. “No, my response was ‘Why the hell would I want to do that?’”

Sirius shrugged. “Close enough.”

“Wh-what? Out of all the girls in this castle, you’re asking a fourth year who barely glances in the mirror before she leaves the dorm?”

“You can’t take that as a bar of attractiveness.” Lily argued. “Look at Addie – she never looks in a mirror.”

“That’s because I have a chronic fear of my reflection.” Addie said flatly, leaving everyone wonder if she was joking or not.

Sirius gave her a warning look. “Ads, we’ve been through this.”

Addie sighed. “I know,” she said in the same tone, “I’m perfect.”

Addie snorted. “The hell I am.” She muttered.

“But,” Addie’s lips twitched in a smile, though her voice stayed perfectly emotionless, “I am to him and that’s what matters.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “See if I say ridiculously cheesy things to you anymore.”

Lily stared at them for a few seconds, unsure whether they were messing around, before turning back to Hermione. “My point is, Addie never looks in a mirror, and she’s stunning. Don’t,” she warned, pointing at Addie, “you are, and the whole school knows it, even if you don’t.”

“You haff a best friend who is famous also.” Viktor pointed out. “You do not get … vot is the vord?”

“Oh, that makes sense.” Arabella murmured.

“Well, why wouldn’t he ask her?” Harry asked.

Arabella smiled. “There’s no reason, Harry, but it still stands that Viktor is eighteen. Most eighteen-year-olds wouldn’t look twice at a fourteen-year-old.”

“Star-struck?” Hermione suggested, knowing that it was true. “Look, I’m flattered – really, I am – but …”

“I do not mean this to be a date.” He interrupted. “I haff a girlfriend in Bulgaria I love very much, but as a champion I need somevon to accompany me.

“And she couldn’t come for the ball?” Jen asked, slightly sceptically.

“No, Katarina, believe it or not, is quite a shy person, so no one outside Viktor’s family knows they’re together, and she’s a year younger than him, so she wasn’t part of the delegation.” Hermione explained. “We’ve stayed in contact over the summer.”

I vould rather it be somevon I can talk to and is not using me for my fame.”

Harry was nodding in agreement.

“Just as friends?” Hermione clarified.

“Just as friends.” He repeated.

Hermione hesitated, her eyes flickering towards James and Lily.

“And how are you going to ask us?” Lily asked.

Unable to ask aloud, she casually lifted her left hand and scratched her temple.

James frowned. “Is she doing what I think she’s doing?”

What do you think?

“Yes.” Sirius answered in a whisper. “She is. But … But … How?”

Mandy smiled. “Luckily for you, Sirius, that very question is about to be answered.”

At the end of third year, after Sirius had escaped with Buckbeak, the trio had decided that it might be a good idea if they had some form of sign language that they could use, just in case something like what happened in the Shack happened again.

“Yeah, but the same one we use?” Sirius asked.

“You have your own sign language?” David questioned.

“It’s not really a sign language.” Addie answered, when no one else did. “There are a few … gestures, for want of a better word, that have phrases attached to them.”

“How did you decide on them?” Regulus asked.

“Cross between random signs and animal instincts.” Sirius explained. “When we’re in animal form, we can have quite detailed conversations just through basic instinct. But it doesn’t explain how they know it.”

(“Yeah, but Sirius and Professor Lupin are the good guys,” Ron had argued. “But they might not have been,” Harry had retorted.)

David gave Harry a proud smile. “That’s my grandson.”

Harry had admitted to them that there were a few gestures that he seemed to associate with different messages or phrases. When he had mentioned this in his letters to Arabella and Mandy, they had told him that the Marauders had also used a form of sign language that used those very movements.

Hermione guessed that he had picked it up subconsciously around his parents, the same way he had begun learning to talk.

“So you’re bilingual.” Alice concluded. “Except your second language is non-verbal.”

Harry nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“Go for it.” Lily said with a smile.

“Don’t trust him.” James disagreed instantly.

Jen sniggered. “Well done, Mr and Mrs Potter. United front all the way.”

Lily rolled her eyes at her. “James, Hermione wouldn’t even be considering it if she’d picked up anything in the air.”

James sighed. “Lils, I haven’t said that yet. Besides, I’m probably just filling in. Padfoot’s not there to play overprotective father figure.”

“Sirius was fine with it.” Hermione argued.

Sirius snorted. “The hell I was. I just trust you a hell of a lot more than I trust him.” He explained, when Hermione looked startled.

With a barely audible sigh, Hermione extended her empathy, finding nothing that would suggest Viktor was a threat to her. “Okay then.” She agreed. “Where should I meet you?”

“Outside our ship.” Viktor told her.

“That, I don’t like.” Jen frowned. “There might be nothing wrong with Krum, but I wouldn’t go near Karkaroff with a …”

“He wouldn’t have tried anything, not while Viktor was there.” Hermione interrupted. “Wants to keep him on his good side.”

“I haff to valk in vith my school.”

Hermione nodded understandingly. “That makes sense. Alright, I’ll see you then.” She departed with a wave and headed outside, to where Harry was lounging under the beech tree.

“What did he want?” Harry asked as she approached, obviously trying not to sound suspicious and failing miserably.

Harry pouted. “And here I thought I did a good job.”

Hermione patted him on the arm. “Of course you did, dear.”

Harry growled and muttered something that sounded a lot like ‘patronising’ and ‘best friends’.

Hermione shrugged, her expression blank. “To hex me until I was unconscious and stuff me in a broom cupboard – I only just got away.”
“What?!” Harry jumped to his feet, drawing his wand. “Where is he?!”

“Gryffindor.” Draco muttered.

“I was being sarcastic, Harry!” Hermione sighed, settling down on the grass and tugging him down beside her. “Flattered though I am that you’re willing to curse someone older and with more training just to defend me.”

“Well, of course I am.” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “You’re my best friend.”

“You might belong in Gryffindor where dwell the brave at heart,” Ginny recited, smirking at Draco, seeing that he’d just made the same point, “Their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart.”

Harry scowled at her. “Don’t do that.”

“What’s bothering you, Harry?” Hermione asked, ignoring him.

Harry sighed. “The dance thing. And the date thing. I can’t dance.

James chuckled. “Oh, Harry …”

“Leave him alone.” Lily chided. “It’s not like you know how to dance.”

Jen sniggered. “No, Lil, James does know. He just doesn’t advertise it.”

James flushed under his girlfriend’s gaze. “Of course I know, Lily. I’m a pureblood. Moreover, I’m a rich pureblood. And what does that mean?”

“Ministry balls.” Draco, Neville, Addie, David, Regulus, Sirius, Sirius, Addie and Jen answered in unison.

“Emily taught James to dance when he was eight.” David continued. “It was …”

“It was one of the last things she ever did.” James finished in a whisper.

Lily rested her head on his shoulder and gestured for Mandy to keep reading.

And how are you supposed to ask a girl out if they move in packs all the time?!”

“Oh, Harry …” Ginny sighed, miraculously keeping a straight face. “Harry, Harry, Harry.”

“You should have written to me.” Sirius told him. “Don’t keep things bottled up.”

Addie looked horrified. “Harry, if you ever find yourself in this predicament, for the love of all that is holy, write to Remus, NOT Sirius, alright?”

Harry nodded, trying not to laugh. “Alright.”

“I’ve failed my son!” James wailed. “How could this have happened?!”
“Oh, shut up!” Lily said, rolling her eyes. “It’s not like you were a Casanova yourself!”

Lily snorted. “No, he was not.”

Harry perked up. “You never did tell me what they said, Hermione.”

Hermione smirked. “Now you’ll know.”

“Excuse me?” James looked affronted. “I’ll have you know, Lily, that women threw themselves at my feet.”

James tightened his arm around Lily’s waist. “I love you.”

Lily chuckled. “I know.”

Harry looked faintly disturbed. “Is that true?” He whispered to Addie.

She smiled at him. “Oh, yes. Sirius more so than James, but they both had a certain gift when it came to the females of Hogwarts.”

“Pity it never worked on you, really.” Sirius responded to her smirk.

“Never?” Addie questioned, glancing down at their joined hands.

Sirius chuckled. “Alright, good point.”

Lily raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“I ignored them, of course.” James amended instantly, with a charming smile. “How could I not with you around?

Sirius coughed loudly. “Whipped.”

But they were there, all the same.”
“Nice save.” Lily remarked, her lips twitching. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it took you a year and a half to get me to go out with you …

“Did it?” Harry asked in surprise. He had just always assumed that his parents fell in love immediately.

Sirius chuckled. “James told me and Jen he was going to marry Lily the second he laid eyes on her.”

Lily turned to James. “Really?”

James blushed. “Thanks Padfoot.”

“No problem.” Sirius said cheerfully. “But because we were all friends, he never managed to ask her out until the end of third year, except he was joking when he did it …”

“Because Sirius used to ask me out in the most bizarre ways sometimes,” Addie continued with a smile, “so James was mocking him. Lily’s refusals were partly her mocking me and partly because your father had a big head back then and she was waiting for it to deflate.”

“At the beginning of fifth year, he stopped joking around,” Lily added, “except I never got the memo, so I kept knocking him back, quite meanly sometimes.” She pointed at Addie. “I blame her.”

Mandy smirked and read the next line.

... whereupon you told me you were in love with me and ran away.”

Harry laughed. “Really?”

Addie nodded. “Sirius and Remus cursed his seat at breakfast one morning so he’d say the first thing that came into his head. He was looking at Lily, the first thing he said was “I think I’m in love with you”, and as soon as he realised what he’d said, he grabbed a piece of toast and tore out of the hall so fast you’d have thought Voldemort himself was after him.”

“So I chased him down,” Lily said, smiling at her boyfriend, “and told him that I love him too.”

“I should have hexed your seat.” Sirius remarked, looking at Addie. “Would have solved a lot of problems.”

“And created new ones.” Addie reminded him gently. “I wasn’t ready, Sirius – I would never have forgiven you.”

Hermione burst out laughing. “You’re kidding me?!”

Hermione winced. “Sorry, Harry.”

“Hey!” Harry protested, looking hurt. “It’s a valid question!”

“Sorry, Harry!” Hermione said, still giggling. “I’m not laughing at you, I promise. Now,” she turned to him, giving herself a moment to order her thoughts, “let’s take the dating thing first.

“Good idea.” Lily approved.

If you were Ron, I’d ask you who you want to ask, but you’re not Ron, you’re you.”

“Good observation.” Fred teased.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Thanks.”

“And that changes things?” Harry asked blankly.

Hermione smiled at him. “Not usually. But you have to open the Ball, Harry. Everyone is going to be watching you – do you really want the added pressure of a first date?

Lily was nodding in agreement, looking relieved that someone was there to give her son advice.

You’re better off asking someone you know quite well, who you can have a laugh with. Plus, you’re guaranteed that they’re not there with the Boy-Who-Lived.” She glanced at Lily, who was nodding emphatically. “Your mum agrees with me, if that means anything.”

“It did.” Harry said softly.

Harry considered this for a few minutes, staring out across the still surface of the lake. A large tentacle lifted lazily into the air, snagged a passing bird, and sank below the water again, leaving only ripples in its wake.

“You’re right.” He said eventually.

“Are you surprised?” Draco drawled.

“As always.” Turning to face her, he gave her a charming smile that made her stomach seem to vanish.

Hermione turned bright red and Harry raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Oh dear.” Lily sighed, but she was smiling. “He’s got his father’s smile.”

“That’s my boy.” James grinned.

“How much had you eaten that day?” Mandy asked.

“Erm …” Hermione thought back. “Now that you mention it, I didn’t eat much lunch, and it was nearly dinner.”

“That explains it.” Mandy said, nodding. “Even we fell victim to James and Sirius a few times, when we hadn’t eaten for a few hours.”

“Mione, you know you love me …”

The sentence trailed off, and Hermione fought to catch up with his implied question. Good Lord, I’m his best friend and he can throw me off-guard with a smile. If he ever figures this out, no girl in Hogwarts would be able to resist.

Harry smirked. “Really?”

“Don’t even think about it.” Hermione and Lily said sharply.

“Er, yes, Harry, I do, and if we were having this conversation yesterday, I’d have said yes in a second, but … I already have a date. I’m sorry.”
“You …” Harry broke off, his face a palate of emotions. “Krum?”

“Which emotions?” Lily asked curiously.

Hermione tilted her head, thinking hard. “Surprise … concern … suspicion …”

Harry nodded. “That about sums it up.”

“Yes.” Hermione confirmed cautiously. “I’m a big girl, Harry; we’re just going as friends.” Dimly, she wondered why she had told Harry that …

“Why did you?” James asked.

“After how he reacted to Ron?” Hermione questioned.

… then remembered what he’d said about Ron when he’d nearly cursed her.

“Hermione, what you do is up to you.” Harry told her. “As long as he treats you well, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not like he could lie to you, is it?

“That’s true.” Arabella murmured.

Not with your … gift.” He grinned suddenly. “Do you want to tell Ron or shall I?”

Fred snorted. “There’s the question.”

“I’m not saying anything until the Yule Ball.” Hermione smirked. “Hopefully, he won’t kick up as much of a fuss with that many witnesses.”

“Don’t count on it.” Ginny scowled.

“Don’t count on it.” Harry muttered …

The two pseudo-siblings exchanged a grin.

… shifting slightly. “Hermione … you don’t think … I mean … he doesn’t … you know … like you, does he?”

Everyone sat forward, especially Sirius, who clearly hadn’t even thought about it.

Hermione frowned. “Harry, I know he’s been a bit horrible to me in the past sometimes, but we’re still friends.”

Fred snickered. “I don’t think that was what he meant.”

“No,” Harry sighed, his face rather red …

“Awkward conversation.” Jen sang.

… “I mean like you, like you.”
“Oh.” Hermione was silent for a few seconds. “No.” She said finally.

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief.

Addie caught it and smirked. “Hey, Harry, Hermione, you two should get together.”

“What?!” They asked in unison.

Addie nodded, ignoring Sirius’s incredulous expression. “You should.”

“Why?” Hermione asked slowly.

“Because I want to know whose side Sirius would take if you break up.” Addie answered.

Harry laughed. “That’s a good question.”

Sirius frowned. “You’re all mean to me.”

“At least I don’t think so.

“You can be rather oblivious.” Ginny commented, her eyes flickering to Harry. “Then again, you’re not the only one. But I don’t think Ron has that sort of feelings for you.”

I certainly haven’t picked anything like that up. Why do you ask?”

Harry dropped his gaze, pulling at the grass by his side. “Just that … Ginny mentioned something the other day about you two bickering like an old married couple.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Thing is, Harry, they’re not an old married couple, which means they’d never work. Most couples start fighting like that after sixty-odd years together, because they’ve worn on each other’s last nerve. Hermione and Ron have already done that, after three years.”

“We’d done it after one.” Hermione corrected.

Hermione pulled a face. “When we bicker we might sound like a married couple, Harry, but then we could also sound just like Ron and Ginny do – like brother and sister.

Ginny nodded in agreement. “True.”

Most of our arguments are just that – arguments. Far too damaging and far too long to be healthy in a romantic relationship.

“Also true.” Lily agreed.

Hell, it’s a miracle a platonic relationship has lasted, if it weren’t for you, I really don’t think it would have done.”

Harry nodded, looking slightly relieved. “That’s good. I was worried that you two would hook up, break up and then I’d have to take sides.”

Hermione smiled softly. “Even if he did have feelings for me, Harry, he put me through too much over the last few years for me to be able to think of him that way.

Sirius relaxed completely.

He’s like my brother, and I love him despite every single one of his flaws, but that’s all.” Her smile shifted into a smirk. “Not a word about Viktor, understood?”

“But if Ron doesn’t have feelings for you, why would you going with Viktor be a problem?” Lily asked.

“Firstly, Hermione didn’t have the hero-worship that Ron did, and yet Krum showed her more attention than he did Ron.” Ginny answered. “Secondly, Ron hadn’t quite … realised that he saw Hermione as a sister, so he’d feel as protective as he would of me, but not realise why and …”

“Subsequently act like an arse.” Jen finished sweetly.

Ginny nodded. “Exactly.”

“My lips are sealed.” Harry assured her. “So who do you think I should ask?”

Hermione thought about it for a few seconds, running through all of the girls in their year. It was probably best if it was someone their age.

“Probably,” James agreed, “if it’s going to be someone he knows. Unless he took one of the three chasers.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t even think of them.”

“They already had dates.” Fred pointed out. “Alicia went with Lee, Katie went with George, and Angie went with me.”

“Angelina didn’t already have a date.” Hermione smirked. “You hadn’t asked her yet.”

“Story?” Addie guessed.

Harry sniggered. “Two days later, when Ron still didn’t have a date, he asked Fred who he was going with. Fred said Angelina, at which point Hermione said, “Have you already asked her then?””

Hermione smirked. “To which Fred replied, “That’s a good point. Oi! Angelina! Go to the Ball with me?””

Addie rolled her eyes. “That’s something this idiot would do. Something he has done actually.”

“That wasn’t the Ball, Ads.” Sirius reminded her mildly. “That was the February Hogsmeade trip in fifth year.”

Addie looked at him incredulously. “I should be surprised that you can tell me when it was, but I’m not.”

“Wait a second.” Jen frowned. “Fred, I thought you said George liked Alicia? Why’d he go with Katie?”

“Because they were still in their awkward we-don’t-really-like-each-other-we’re-just-really-good-friends stage.” Fred explained. “So George went with Katie, and Alicia went with Lee. They swapped halfway through the evening and needed to be pried apart by the end of it.”

“Katie and Lee as well?” Ginny asked innocently. “I thought Katie had a thing for Oliver.”

“She does?” Fred frowned. “Huh. Maybe we shouldn’t keep owling him to get over it then.”

Let’s see … Can’t be a Slytherin.

“What’s wrong with Slytherin?” Narcissa asked.

Hermione sighed, and counted them off. “Pansy Parkinson, Death Eater in training. Millicent Bulstrode, ditto. Artemis Moon, don’t talk to her enough to be able to judge her. Tracy Davis, neutral, but gives off a really strong don’t-even-think-about-it vibe. Daphne Greengrass is a nice girl when you talk to her, but …”

“Hermione?” Mandy interrupted. “You’re about to explain that in your head.”

“Oh.” Hermione sat back. “Go on then.”

Daphne Greengrass is the only decent one that I can think of, but it would be social suicide for her and he’d never hear the end of it.

“Ah.” Narcissa nodded. “That does make sense.”

Ravenclaw … Let’s see, that’s Mandy Brocklehurst, Su Li, Padma Patil and Lisa Turpin. Well, Lisa’s got nothing in common with him at all – they’d have nothing to talk about even if he did know her.

Draco grimaced, nodding in agreement. He and Hermione both had Ancient Runes with Lisa.

Mandy and Su are both too shy, they’d never handle the attention … or the gossip. Padma could work, but … No, she might be the smarter sister, but she’s still far too shallow.

Hermione never got along with Padma, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty for leaving her with Ron, who by all accounts had been a truly rubbish date.

Hufflepuff then … Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott and Megan Jones.

“Jones is too shy.” Draco commented. “She wouldn’t handle it either.”

“How do you know her?” Narcissa asked.

“I have Arithmancy with her.” Draco explained.

“What subjects did you take?” Narcissa prompted. “I don’t think you ever said.”

“Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Care of Magical Creatures.” Draco answered.

Megan’s too shy, so she’s out. I think Susan’s got a thing for Neville …

Neville pulled a face. “Hermione!”

“I didn’t know she was your cousin!” Hermione protested. “How was I supposed to know?”

… and Hannah’s dating Ernie Macmillan, so it can’t be either of those. Pity, really, because they’d both have been a good choice.

“They would.” Ginny agreed. “But it all worked out in the end.”

As for Gryffindor, I’ve got a date, Lavender’s going Seamus and Parvati’s worse than her sister. Plus, I think Dean’s got his eye on her.

“He does.” Harry confirmed.

Last thing we need is another fight in the boys’ dorm.

Hermione sighed, shaking her head. “I can’t think of anyone right …” She trailed off, catching sight of Neville and Ginny making their way towards her, laughing about something. “What about your sister?”

Lily beamed. “Now that’s a good idea.”

“One I couldn’t believe I hadn’t had yet.” Hermione agreed.

“I don’t have a …” Harry stopped, following her gaze. “There’s an idea.”

“Hi.” Hermione greeted as their classmates reached them. “You two have dates for the Yule Ball yet?”

“No.” Ginny answered, as Neville blushed and shook his head. “Boys have asked me, and I’d love to go, but I don’t feel comfortable dating yet, so …”

“Perfect scenario.” Lily said happily.

Harry cleared his throat. “In that case, Miss Weasley, care to solve two problems at once?”
Ginny sat down on the grass beside him. “That depends entirely, Mr Potter, on what you have in mind.”

“Would you go to the Ball with me?” Harry elaborated. “As friends, obviously. That way, you can go to the Ball, without having to start dating before you feel ready, and I can open the Ball without worrying about being on a date.”

Ginny smiled. “Thanks Harry. That sounds great. Who are you going with, Hermione?”
Hermione grinned and leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Viktor Krum.”

“Mind-blown!” Ginny chuckled.

Ginny gasped. “No way!”

“Who?” Neville asked.

“Don’t ask.” Harry warned.

“Thanks.” Neville chuckled. “I didn’t need to know.”

“First of all, you won’t believe it. Second of all, you want plausible deniability for when Ron blows up at her.”

“He didn’t, did he?” Sirius asked.

“It was more of a simmering anger than an explosion,” Hermione conceded, “but I did get both barrels eventually.”

Neville winced at the thought. “Fair enough.”

“What about you, mate?” Harry asked. “You got your eye on anyone?”

Neville flushed slightly. “Not really. I was going to ask Hermione, you know, as friends …

“Really just as friends.” Neville confirmed hastily.

… but …”
Hermione smiled apologetically. “If I didn’t have a date, I’d have said yes, Neville.”

Alice beamed at her, and Hermione blushed slightly. “Well, I would.” She muttered.

“Really?” Neville asked, sounding surprised.

“Of course.” Hermione said truthfully. “Why wouldn’t I? You’re a great guy, Nev; stop selling yourself short. What about Susan Bones?”

Hermione’s blush deepened and she muttered something that sounded like ‘How was I supposed to know?’

Neville looked thoughtful. “I suppose I could ask her … Might look a bit weird though …”

“You could go as friends though, sweetheart.” Alice pointed out. “In fact, it’s probably for the best at the moment – unless you’ve got someone in mind, it means that no one gets …”

“Alice?” Lily called, interrupting her mid-flow. “This happened last Christmas for them, hun.”

“Why’s that?” Hermione asked with a frown. “You spend a lot of time together.”

Ginny chuckled. “They’re cousins, Mione. At least I think they are.”

Okay, so she doesn’t have a thing for him. But Harry knows Ginny better anyway.

“Plus, Susan had a crush on Harry back then.” Neville put in. “It would have been awkward.”

“Had?” Lily questioned.

“They talked at the Yule Ball.” Neville explained. “And she realised that she does really like him, just in a more platonic way.”

“My mum and her dad were brother and sister.” Neville confirmed.

“I can’t believe I didn’t ask.” Hermione whispered. “You’d never mentioned your parents before.”

“I wouldn’t have answered.” Neville admitted, before catching his mother’s eye. “I’m not ashamed.” He insisted hastily. “I just don’t like being pitied. And Gran’s always saying how I’ll never live up to you two and I just don’t want other people doing the same thing.”

Alice hugged him tightly. “Sweetheart, the best thing you can do to make us proud is to be happy and do your best. You don’t have to ‘live up to’ anything.”

“But we could just go together like Harry and Ginny are. Means she’s not being taken advantage of, I suppose.”

The boys nodded, as the girls rolled their eyes.

“I’m sure Susan could take care of herself.” Jen remarked.

Neville shrugged. “Probably, but we were only fourteen.”

“Good on you, mate!” Harry called as Neville jogged away.

Ginny and Hermione exchanged an exasperated glance, but didn’t comment on the male mind-set.

“Wise move.” Arabella said sagely. “They wouldn’t listen anyway.”

Instead, Hermione prompted, “Harry, I think you had another problem, didn’t you?”

Harry looked confused for a second. “Oh yeah. I can’t dance.”
Ginny rolled her eyes and got to her feet. “Come on. Get up.”

Lily smiled at her. “Thank you.”

“Are you going to teach me?” Harry asked, scrambling up after her.

“No, I’m going to make you hop on one leg and sing the national anthem.” Ginny said briskly.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what else was I going to do?”

“Give me your hand.”
As she began to teach Harry a basic waltz, Hermione leaned back against the tree and chatted to Lily, who was reminiscing about the Christmas Ball in her seventh year.

“Oh yeah,” Hermione turned to Sirius, “why was Amos Diggory there three years after he graduated, and do I want to know why you nearly hit him?”

“His wife wanted a word with McGonagall – she was taking her mastery.” Addie answered before Sirius could. “And, no, you really don’t.”

“That bad, huh?” Addie asked quietly.

“Worse.” Sirius said darkly.

“It wasn’t all bad.” Addie disagreed lightly. “He’s a dick – we’ve known that for years. Besides, I think we both did a pretty good job of forgetting he even existed.”

Sirius allowed himself a smirk, as her ecstatic cries seemed to echo in his head, finally accessible in his memory for the first time in fourteen years. “Yes we did.”

Hermione turned back to Mandy resolutely. “I’m not going to ask. Go on.”

After half an hour, Ginny called for a halt. “My feet are killing me.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “After half an hour?”

“It wasn’t my fault.” Harry mumbled, blushing.

“Sorry.” Harry muttered sheepishly.

Ginny smiled at him. “It’s not your fault; you’re actually pretty good.

Lily smiled, but it was tinged with sadness. The only time James had willingly mentioned his mother was when he told her that she taught him to dance. It must have been such an important part of his memories of her, and she wished she could have done the same with Harry.

I’m just not wearing the proper shoes to dance in.”

“What are you doing?” Ron’s voice asked. He was standing on the path leading down to the lake, watching Harry and Ginny with a bewildered expression.

“Bewildered?” Sirius repeated. “I was a bit more than bewildered.”

“You took it very well.” Jen reminded him.

“I talked to you after I calmed down.” Sirius informed her. “Believe me, that was not my initial reaction.”

“Teaching Harry to dance.” Ginny answered, spinning out to face him. “Harry has to open the Ball, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Ron sank down next to Hermione, squinting up at them. “Got a date then?”
“A friend.” Harry corrected, exchanging a smile with Ginny.

“Alright for some.” Ron grumbled.

“And here we go again.” Hermione sighed.

Ginny smiled sweetly. “Still reeling from the Fleur disaster?”

“The what?” James asked, smirking in anticipation.

“Fleur disaster?” Hermione repeated.

“He asked Fleur Delacour to the Yule Ball.” Ginny elaborated.

James and Sirius howled with laughter, while Jen gaped at the book. “No offence to your brother,” she said, turning to Fred and Ginny, “but he didn’t honestly think she’d say yes, did he?”

“Who knows?” Fred responded, sniggering.

Ron glared at her. “Thanks a lot.”

“What are sisters for?” Jen asked lightly. “Other than to tell highly embarrassing stories?” She smirked at Sirius, who was still choking on laughter. “Watch it, Padfoot – I’ve got some good ones of you.”

“Yeah, but they’ve heard them all.” Sirius pointed out, still grinning broadly.

Jen turned to Remus with a bright smile. “Have I ever told you about our seventh birthday?”

Sirius’s laughter swiftly vanished and he turned to Mandy. “Read. Now.”

Harry gaped at him. “You what?”

“I don’t know what came over me!” Ron groaned. “She was standing there, talking to Diggory, and I just blurted it out!”

Jen frowned. “Veela blood.”

“What did she say?” Hermione asked sympathetically.

“Nothing!” Ron cried. “She just looked at me like I’d crawled out from under a stone or something! Then I came to my senses and ran for it!”

“Oh, she is part-Veela.” Harry told him. “You were right; her grandmother’s one. She told Ollivander during the Weighing of the Wands – one of ‘grand-mere’s’ hairs is her wand core.”

Hermione sighed. “Your pronunciation was terrible, Harry.”

Hermione flinched. “Harry, remind me to teach you French – you’ll probably need it one day.”

“He will.” James confirmed. “One of our villas is in France.”

Lily gaped at him. “You what?”

“We have a villa in France.” James repeated, smiling. “Did I forget to tell you that? It’s down near a little town called Sarlat.” He turned to Sirius. “Did I …?”

“That was where you spent your honeymoon.” Sirius answered, predicting the question.

While Hermione was sufficiently distracted by staring at James, Ginny patted Ron’s arm sympathetically. “See? She was probably turning on the charm for Cedric and you got a blast of it.

Jen nodded in agreement.

She’s wasting her time anyway – he’s going with Cho Chang.”

Harry looked up. “Is he?”

Sirius winced. “Ouch. Sorry, mate.”

“Yeah.” Ginny’s expression cleared and she winced slightly. “Sorry, Harry. You like her, don’t you?”
Harry shrugged, making a non-committal noise in the back of his throat.

“Yes.” Addie answered, as Harry went bright red.

Ron hesitated, clearing his throat awkwardly, then cracked a smile. “Hey, you’ll never guess who Neville’s going to ask!”

Hermione grimaced. “I’d just like to apologise for Ron in advance, Nev.”

“What did he do?” Alice asked immediately.

Neville sighed. “Just be himself, Mum. Ron can be a git sometimes. It’s fine, Mione.”

“Susan Bones.” Ginny answered. “He just left.”
Ron frowned. “No. Hermione.”

“Yeah, he said he’d thought about it.” Hermione agreed. “But I told him I already had a date and …”

Hermione pulled a face. “That sounds like I was lying about it. I wasn’t, Neville.”

“I know, Hermione.” Neville chuckled. “We just read it, remember?”

Ron snickered. “I don’t blame you.”

Hermione glared at him. “Ron …”

“Hey!” Ron interrupted. “Neville’s right, Hermione – you are a girl!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Addie stated in disbelief. “He honestly said that?”

Hermione just sighed. “Yeah.”

“Thanks for noticing.” Hermione said coolly.

“Well, then you can go with one of us!” Ron said, gesturing to himself and Harry.

“Didn’t Harry already say he had a date?” Lily asked.

“I don’t think he really heard.” Harry told her. “I never said explicitly that I have a date.”

“And you have to be explicit with Ron sometimes.” Hermione said with a smirk.

“Leave me out of it, mate!” Harry said hurriedly. “I’m taking your sister!”
Momentarily distracted, Ron narrowed his eyes at them. “Oh are you?”

Jen chuckled. “Ah, the brother thing.”

“Harry needs someone who’s not using him and I can’t go unless a fourth year or above asks me.” Ginny said, in the same tone as Hermione.

“Fine.” Ron shrugged, turning back to Hermione, either misreading or ignoring the murderous look on her face.

“Misreading it.” Harry said firmly. “Or just missing it altogether. Ron’s an idiot sometimes, but Voldemort would have backed off at that look.”

“That’ll be the Black blood then.” Addie said cheerfully, before rolling her eyes at Sirius. “Oh, you know you’ve got a terrifying death glare.”

“Then what’s yours?” Sirius asked.

“Just as scary, apparently.” Addie conceded. “Never worked on you though.”

“It worked sometimes.” Sirius argued.

“I’m starting to realise why James hexed you.” Mandy muttered.

“Sorry, carry on.” Addie said.

As Mandy found her place, Sirius leaned closer to Addie, whispering, “Besides, it did work on me, just never in the way you intended it.”

Addie shivered, remembering his whispered confession that, far from off-putting, he actually found that look quite attractive and how he had proceeded to demonstrate just how much. She gave him a stern look and he smiled back innocently, as though he didn’t know exactly what he was doing to her.

Yeah, right.

“Me then. Come on, Hermione! We’re going to look really stupid if we don’t have dates!”

Addie sucked in a breath. “Why’s he assuming that you don’t have a date yet? You just said that you did.”

Hermione snorted. “Yes, but who in their right mind would ask me out?”

“Quite a lot of people.” Harry answered loyally. “Ron’s just being a prat.”

“As usual.” Ginny added.

“We?” Hermione asked acidly. “I have a date!”

Ron laughed, though not unkindly.  “Come on, Hermione! You and I both know you just said that to get rid of Neville!”

“No I didn’t.” Hermione said softly, as Alice let out an angry hiss.

“Actually, I mentioned that before he even brought it up!” Hermione snapped. “And if I didn’t have a date, I would have said yes …”
“No you wouldn’t.” Ron disagreed. “Who would?

“I would.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “You know, as friends. Because, no offence, Nev, I just don’t feel like that.”

“Me neither.” Neville agreed, smiling at her. “So thanks.”

So are you going with me?”

Hermione jumped to her feet, shaking with both anger and suppressed tears.

Whatever silent interaction was happening between Sirius and Addie, it was forgotten in an instant. His gaze shot to the book, glaring at it, and she wrapped a protective arm around Hermione’s shoulders.

“Just because it’s taken you four years to realise I’m a girl, Ronald, doesn’t mean it’s taken the rest of the world that long!” She turned on her heel and ran for it.

It wasn’t the dramatic exit she’d have preferred, but anything was better than staying and crying.

Addie nodded in agreement, pulling the girl closer. After confronting and breaking up with Amos, she had been spared from running as far and as fast as possible before he saw her cry; Sirius and James had translated her words into ‘man-speak’ by dumping him in the lake, which, in her heightened emotional state, had been enough to push her tears into hysterical laughter.

She rounded the greenhouses and let herself collapse on the lawn, burying her face in her arms, too emotionally drained to run any further.

Lily crouched next to her. “Are you alright, hun?”

“No.” Hermione answered flatly.

“Of course.” Hermione lied, wiping her eyes. “It’s not like Ron means to be like that.”

“He doesn’t.” Ginny agreed. “But that doesn’t make it better.”

“But that’s the way it sounded.” Lily sympathised, patting her arm pointlessly.

“Is everyone else going to think like that?” Hermione whispered. “How on earth could she get a date?!”

“No.” Draco answered. “Most people were thinking ‘where the hell has she been hiding?’”

Hermione blushed and hit him, but she smiled, which was what he’d been aiming for.

She fell silent abruptly, partly due to the sobs that overtook her voice and partly due to the footsteps that approached.

She could only hope it wasn’t someone who would carry this image to the rest of the school or a Slytherin who might not say anything to anyone else, but would never let her live it down either.

“Who was it?” Addie asked, her arm tightening slightly.

“No one bad.” Hermione assured her with a smile.

So it came as a relief when a gentle arm wrapped around her shoulder, pulling her into a comforting hug. She leaned into it gratefully, feeling someone else rub her arm softly.

The tears dried after a few minutes and Hermione pulled away, accepting the tissue that was handed to her.

“Do you want me to get Harry?” Neville asked …

Alice beamed, kissing his forehead. “I’m proud of you, sweetheart.”

… in concern, his hand resting on her arm.

“I don’t need anyone else to see this.” Hermione whispered, drying her eyes. “I’m being silly, that’s all.”

“You’re not being silly.” Addie said in a low voice. “If it upset you, it’s not silly.”

“If you’re sure …” Susan said uncertainly …

Alice’s smile widened. It was the first time her niece had been mentioned directly, aside from at the sorting.

… from her other side, her arm still around her shoulders.

“I am.” Hermione smiled weakly. “Silly.”

“What happened?” Neville prompted.

“Nothing.” Hermione sighed. “It’s nothing. Just Ron being … Ron. That’s all.”

Mandy sighed. “And that’s the end of the chapter.”

Lily let out a shaky breath. “I know we just had lunch, but can we take a break? My heart hasn’t quite recovered from the first task.”

Everyone agreed, and Addie made sure Hermione was alright, before releasing her and catching Sirius’s eye, nodding to the other room.

He closed the door behind them and set up a Silencing Charm. “Problem?”

“You need to stop, Sirius.” Addie told him sternly.

Sirius smiled innocently. “Stop what?”

“You know full well ‘what’.” Addie said, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, Padfoot, you’re hardly being subtle – it’s only a matter of time before Harry or Hermione catches on – if she hasn’t already – it’s not fair, Sirius.”

“Alright … alright.” Sirius pulled her closer as she paused to catch her breath. “I’ll stop.”

“Thank you.” Seeing his almost-hurt expression, Addie smiled coyly. “Besides, if you don’t stop, I can’t guarantee I won’t jump you.”

“Now that wouldn’t be fair.” Sirius smirked. “Although I wouldn’t complain.”

“I bet you wouldn’t.” Addie tilted her head back to look up at him, accepting his kiss as she did so. When they broke apart, she buried her face in his chest, sighing softly, unwilling to release him just yet.

She wasn’t stupid – she knew that they were at least halfway through the story. And at the end … when they had caught up … it seemed too much to hope for that the future would be revealed, even if they wouldn’t remember it afterwards.

If it wasn’t, they would be forced to say goodbye once the last page had been read.

She could see the worry in Lily’s eyes, the panic about what might have happened to Harry, the need to read as quickly as possible, to get the hard part over and done with.

But Addie wanted to drag it out for as long as possible.

Part of her – the optimistic part – wanted to believe that she wouldn’t have been included if she didn’t play some part in Harry’s future, that she would escape in the next few years and everything would be fine.

But another part, the part that was getting louder by the hour, whispered that maybe she would never escape, that she would die out there – or (and this made her heart clench even more painfully) that maybe she did escape, but not before Sirius had been killed in this new war.

Maybe they were here so they had another chance to say goodbye.

And if that was why they were here, all she wanted was one more night with him.

Was that so terrible?

Chapter Text

It took at least twenty minutes for Lily to calm down, but as they began to gather again, Hermione realised that they were still two readers short.

Excusing herself, she jogged over to the closed door and knocked, hoping whatever Silencing Charm they had used was one-way. “Sirius? Addie?”

She felt, rather than heard, the Silencing Charm disappear, followed by Sirius’s voice. “Come in.”

Hermione pushed the door open, smiling at the sight that greeted her. Addie’s head was resting on his shoulder, her eyes closed, while Sirius stroked her hair softly.

“We’re about to start the next chapter.” She said quietly. “She asleep?”

“Think so.” Sirius answered, looking worried. “I don’t know why she’s so tired.”

“It’s emotionally draining.” Hermione supplied. “Especially for her. And for you, I should think. She doesn’t know if she’s going to see you again after we get out of here.”

Sirius looked down at her. “I hadn’t even thought of that. Trying not to, I guess.”

Hermione smiled weakly. “Are you going to wake her, or shall I?”

“I’ve got it.” Sirius assured her. “Give us a minute.”

Hermione nodded, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

“Ads,” Sirius whispered, squeezing her shoulder. “Time to wake up, sweetheart.”

Addie shifted and blinked sleepily, lifting her head. “Hmm?”

Sirius smirked at her. “You fell asleep.”

“Sorry.” Addie muttered, running a hand through her hair. “Have they started again?”

“Not yet.” Sirius said. “They’re just about to.”

The others were ready and waiting when the two rejoined them, settling on the long sofa next to Harry and Hermione.

Remus reached for the book and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Nineteen

The Yule Ball

The boys groaned, but the girls perked up. “This should be interesting.” Lily commented. “I’ve never seen a Ball at Hogwarts.”

“Neither have we.” Jen reminded her.

“Yeah, but you’ve seen the Ministry Balls.” Lily sighed.

“For our sakes, I hope it’s nothing like that.” Addie remarked, wrinkling her nose. “Those things are so boring.”

“The one in seventh was nothing like those.” Sirius assured her.

“On saying that,” Addie smirked, “the company was infinitely better.”

“True.” Sirius conceded.

“Hermione, you look stunning.” Lavender sighed.

As Hermione blushed, Lily smiled. “I’m going to like this chapter. I don’t suppose you have a photograph, do you?”

“No, but I bet we can get one.” Harry grinned, looking towards the ceiling.

Sure enough, with a flash of light, two photographs appeared on the table and he picked them up. “I don’t remember anyone taking that.”

Hermione looked over his shoulder, seeing the two of them dancing in the Great Hall, completely lost in each other. “Neither do I.” She whispered.

“Let’s see?” Fred popped up behind them and grinned. “Yeah, I took that one. You two were just too cute.” He squealed the last word and promptly ducked when they both reached up to smack him.

“Harry?” Lily prompted.

Harry handed her the picture, and she broke into a smile.

“You know,” Jen said thoughtfully, looking over her shoulder, “I know you two are just friends, but you make a good-looking couple.”

Hermione’s blush deepened and she picked up the other picture to change the subject. “This isn’t us.”

Addie took the picture and chuckled. “No, that’s us.”

“What?” Addie asked in shock, holding her hand out.

Addie relinquished the photo willingly, watching both pictures circulate the room, leaning back into Sirius’s arms. “You alright?” She murmured.

Sirius shook his head slowly. “Yeah … Yeah, I’m fine. Just … every time I think I’m past Azkaban, it comes back.”

Addie raised an eyebrow, silently asking what the connection was.

Sirius nodded to the photo. “I’d forgotten how beautiful you looked that night.”

Addie rested her head on his shoulder, and took the photograph that Neville passed her. “I’m going to have to agree with Lavender’s assessment, Hermione.”

Hermione turned even redder, as Remus continued.

Hermione twirled around in front of the mirror, self-consciously. “You think so?”

Her mother had bought her some dress robes on a whim at the beginning of the summer, when they had stopped at Diagon Alley on the way back from King’s Cross, but only after they had passed her father’s inspection.

Jen grimaced.

Thankfully, Lily had taught Hermione a dress-alteration spell …

“You’re welcome.” Lily smiled.

… and she had managed to transfigure the chocolate-brown robes with long sleeves …

The girls made various sounds of disgust.

“Very welcome.” Lily corrected, pulling a face. “You poor, poor thing.”

… (“They match your eyes,” her mother had said.

“I got the feeling she was trying to find a silver lining.” Hermione sighed.

“Not even my sister would wear that colour.” Lily had informed her) into sleeveless periwinkle blue robes with a scalloped neckline.

“Much better.” Mandy approved, looking again at the photograph.

Parvati, upon seeing her robes, had insisted on doing her hair – which involved a good deal of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion …

“I thought that might be it.” Arabella remarked. “I remember Annie saying that you couldn’t do a thing with her mother’s hair.”

… and Lavender her make-up, and both were now watching Hermione tearfully, looking rather like proud parents at their daughter’s graduation.

Harry chuckled. “I thought I was imagining it.”

Hermione smiled at the thought, and found that she didn’t disagree with Lavender’s assessment. She had never considered herself attractive …

Harry rolled his eyes. “One day …” He sighed. “You’ll get it.”

… although maybe that was because her two best friends were male and she had always been ‘one of the lads’.

Until Harry had sort-of asked her to the Ball, she wasn’t even sure he knew she was a girl.

“Hermione!” Harry protested. “Of course I know you’re a girl!”

“Yeah!” Fred agreed. “It’s not difficult, Mya – you’ve got …”

Two pillows hit him at the same time, knocking him off his chair as Ginny smacked him over the head for good measure.

“A pretty face!” Fred shouted, ducking another cushion. “You’ve got a pretty face. It’s not a boy’s face.”

But tonight, she barely recognised herself.

“Your date’s going to pass out.” Parvati said with a smile.

“I hope not.” Hermione remarked dryly, grabbing her cloak. Not least because he’s not technically a date, she added silently …

“Didn’t you tell people that?” Lily asked curiously.

Hermione shrugged. “Didn’t see the point. They wouldn’t believe me and, in situations like that, denial is as good as admittance, so I just let them think what they wanted.”

… as the other two giggled. “Have a good time, ladies. I’ll see you there.” She slipped the cloak around her and fastened it, before lifting her hood.

“Didn’t want to get stopped every five metres with questions.” Hermione said with a smile. “Everyone was very interested to know who I was going with for some reason.”

The castle was abuzz with excitement and Hermione slipped through the crowd in the Entrance Hall and out into the dark grounds, skirting around the rose garden that had sprung up overnight at the beginning of the Christmas holidays, fairy lights twinkling amidst the bushes that lined the twisting pathways.

“That’s new.” Lily commented.

“They’re showing off.” Sirius smirked.

The Durmstrang ship loomed out of the darkness …

The boys began making creepy noises.

… making her shiver slightly at the sight; it was one of the creepier sights she’d seen, and that included Ron’s table manners.

Harry shuddered. “Let’s not be hasty, Hermione.”

As she reached it, the gang-plank fell with a heavy thud and students began to disemba