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Price of Peace 5 - Defying the Enemy

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Previously on Price of Peace:

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

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

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

***

Even as Hermione returned from the door, no one had yet picked up the new book. It had appeared like the others, forming in a flash of light, without a letter or warning.

The front cover was blank, but for the words Defying the Enemy.

“We should have seen it coming, really.” Neville remarked, as Addie and Sirius rejoined them.

“Why’s that, Nev?” Harry asked.

“Because the last note said they were sending the ‘books’ they wrote themselves.” Neville reminded him. “Not the ‘book’.”

Addie sighed. “I read the bloody thing – how did I forget that?”

Sirius chuckled fondly. “Not your fault, Ads – we’ve all been a little distracted lately.

Hermione reached out, and picked up the book, turning it over. “There’s no summary.” She said nervously. “Anyone want to read first?”

No one answered, looking around at each other.

Suddenly the book shivered in Hermione’s hands, so violently that she dropped it, but it didn’t fall to the floor.

Instead, it floated where it was, opening to the first page, and, to everyone’s surprise, began to speak in a female voice.

Hello. My name is Meredith. You don’t know me – at least not yet, but they asked me to read this book aloud so they could place my voice in it. As this is a pre-recording, I cannot answer any questions you may have, but this way, you don’t need to read anything that may be distressing.

“Like the last books weren’t.” Lily muttered.

And, yes, I realise the last books were distressing as well. But you did have reassurance, from your friends from the future. This time, you don’t. I would suggest you choose one person, or one person per chapter, to be in charge of the book. Tap the book with your wand once to pause the reading, for those discussions you’re so fond of having, and tap it again to restart it. When this message has finished, you will need to restart the reading.

The voice, soft and comforting, fell silent.

“I’m not sure whether to be relieved that we don’t need to read, or worried that they think it’s necessary that we don’t.” Jen whispered.

Remus kissed her forehead. “We’ll be alright, love. It’s only words at the moment.”

“I’ll look after it first.” Hermione offered, as everyone settled down again. “Ready?” At the various affirmative noises, she tapped the book and the page turned.

Chapter One – Summertime

Life in Number Twelve Grimmauld Place was both exciting and excruciatingly boring.

Hermione chuckled. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

Various members of the Order were in and out at all hours of the day, and most of them were happy to stay for a cup of tea and a chat, in which they patiently answered most questions Hermione fired at them. She learned more about the different job options after Hogwarts during those brief visits than she ever would during her upcoming careers consultation towards the end of her fifth year.

Harry looked faintly alarmed. “What careers consultation?”

“You have a discussion with your Head of House before your OWLs.” Fred explained. “It helps you decide what subjects to take for NEWTs.”

On the flip side, the cleaning and pest control efforts, which Hermione had expected to be over within maybe a week, were, by the middle of July, still in full swing.

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “This is the past still.”

“Well, that’s good.” Lily said. “No nasty surprises just yet.”

It was at this point that the Weasleys were due to arrive, so that Mrs Weasley could help them wage war against their headquarters.

Sirius snorted. “And it is a war. It’d be helpful if she let us use weapons.”

Part of Hermione was looking forward to this, since she loved spending time with the Weasleys, and although she’d been able to visit them at The Burrow, she felt a little guilty about leaving Sirius alone in Grimmauld Place, with only his bad memories for company.

Sirius sighed. “Don’t worry about me, Hermione, I’ll be fine.”

“That was only one of the reasons.” Hermione said. “You know what Mrs Weasley’s like.”

Remus was away as often as he was around, and, now the school term was over and Harry was safely back with the Dursleys …

Lily snorted. “Safe. As if.”

… safety being a relative term in her opinion – Mandy and Arabella were already on a mission for the Order, sounding out foreign wizards and British ex-pats in Europe, while Mandy spoke to her counterparts in the different Ministries about the European Quidditch cup, which was due to take place in Germany the following summer.

Mandy smiled. “As much as I wish we were still in the country, that sounds like fun.”

As such, Sirius and Hermione were often the only people in the house, which was doing nothing positive for Sirius’s general state of mind.

Addie made a small noise of concern, and Sirius grinned at her. “Relax, I’m fine.”

Plus, she would have preferred it if these visits weren’t punctuated by Mrs Weasley’s pointed questions about whether she was eating enough, whether the house was safe, and was it entirely proper for a young lady to be living in those circumstances?

Lily rolled her eyes. “What does she think Sirius is going to do?”

“I dread to think.” Hermione muttered.

“Told you.” Sirius sighed. “She doesn’t trust me in the slightest.”

“If I didn’t know any better,” Sirius had said, when she’d voiced this to him after her first visit, “I’d say she doesn’t trust me.”

“Stop repeating yourself.” Jen said with a smirk.

Hermione had stifled both a laugh and a grimace at what he was implying Mrs Weasley was implying, and had changed the subject rapidly.

She could have explained to Mrs Weasley about her mother, of course …

“You don’t owe her an explanation.” Addie said with a frown. “It’s really none of her business.”

… but the story had been difficult enough to tell Harry, Ron and Ginny, and Hermione didn’t entirely understand it herself yet.

Besides, the real reason for her visits to The Burrow had been accomplished during the very first, when she and Ginny had slipped away to the orchard, released the little beetle from the jar that Ginny had been keeping under lock and key, and watched with some satisfaction as she turned back into Rita Skeeter.

David shook her head. “I can’t believe you blackmailed her. And I can’t believe I approve.”

Hermione had listened to her ranting with a smirk, before turning to Ginny. “Do you know, Gin, I looked up the Animagus Registry in third year for my Transfiguration homework?”

Ginny had chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me, Hermione – is that how you knew Miss Skeeter was an Animagus?”

“Actually, no – she wasn’t on the list.” Hermione had turned back to Rita with a smirk of savage triumph on her face.

Addie smirked. “Got her.”

“I’m sure the Ministry would love to know how she’s been getting all her information …”

Rita’s protests stopped as abruptly as the colour drained from her face. “What do you want?”

Hermione shrugged. “Nothing much. I just want you to keep your Quick-Quotes Quill to yourself for a year.

“What about when the year’s up?” Remus asked.

Hermione shrugged. “I’d still be keeping an eye on her. Telling her to never write again seemed a bit harsh.”

See if you can’t break your habit of telling lies.”

“I didn’t write anything that wasn’t the truth!” Rita shrieked.

“The hell she didn’t.” Lily muttered.

Hermione winced at the sound. “Really? So even now someone has confessed to entering Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire, you’re still standing by your statement that Harry told you he did it himself?”

“I’m surprised the Ministry allowed that to get out.” Regulus remarked.

“They didn’t.” Fred scowled. “I’m still surprised they didn’t try to pin Cedric’s murder on Harry.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I was counting on her not knowing that actually.”

Rita’s mouth opened and closed, unable to form a response.

“And that little point in the article about Hagrid – about one of the students receiving a bad bite from a Flobberworm, which don’t even have teeth?” Ginny added pointedly.

“That’s a better example.” David said.

“And of course that lovely article that implied I was using love potions on my best friend.” Hermione’s smirk fell, and she could feel her own Animagus form rising inside her.

Addie reached over to squeeze her hand. “Just be careful with that.” She cautioned. “You’d be surprised how loud they can be sometimes.”

She took a deep breath, forcing it down again. “Do you know how much hate mail I received for that? Do you even think about the effect your stories have on people?”

“No.” Several people answered.

Rita seemed to find her voice, but Hermione held up a hand. “One year.” She repeated, before flicking her hand imperiously. “You can go.”

Ginny giggled. “It was imperious as well. You sounded a bit like Draco when he’s acting all up himself.”

The use of his first name so casually did not escape anyone’s notice, but Draco beat them to it with a smirk. “Well, at least she has taste.”

With that … discussion out of the way, Hermione had been perfectly content to wait for the Weasleys’ arrival.

The only downside, however, was that once they were there, her own use of magic would have to stop. And she had a feeling that the war with the house would get a lot harder.

“Just a bit.” Sirius grumbled. “She won’t let us use magic either.”

“First of all, ‘let you’?” Jen asked. “You’re adults. Second of all, why not? We’re witches and wizards.”

“Mum says it’s a good idea not to get dependent on magic because it makes us grateful for what we have.” Fred explained.

“Alright, I’ll give her that.” Jen conceded. “But I’d count that as … I don’t know – making you wash up without magic, or clean your room without magic, but to make you tackle a house like that the Muggle way … it’s a miracle you’re still alive.”

“And,” Sirius added, “I know I’m an adult, but it’s far less hassle to actually do it than argue.”

Hermione waited in the drawing room, watching carefully out of the windows. She kept as still as possible, not wanting to disturb the doxys …

“Is it safe for her to be that close to them?” Lily asked.

“As long as she stays still, she should be fine.” James assured her.

… that had made their nests in the long grey fabric …

“Grey?” Regulus repeated. “Those curtains are white.”

“Not anymore.” Sirius muttered.

(Sirius had assured her that it was once white, but she couldn’t even imagine a lighter shade of grey at the moment).

A flash of red from the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she looked down to see a flock of redheads standing in the square.

She turned and hurried from the room – in no mood to deal with Mrs Black when the doorbell rang – only to stop abruptly to keep from running over a house elf.

Jen and Sirius both groaned.

Despite her soft spot for house elves, even Hermione had to admit that Kreacher was distinctly unlovable.

“Ha!” Fred shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at Hermione. “I knew it!”

Hermione rolled her eyes, preferring not to grace him with a response.

He did no cleaning, preferring to find loopholes in every order Sirius gave him and to impede their task to the best of his ability.

More than once, Hermione had suggested Sirius free him – she knew what Kady had said about house elf magic relying on having a master and a family to serve, but she honestly believed that in this case, all parties would be better off. Unfortunately, Kreacher knew too much now about the Order, and freeing him would put everyone in danger.

“That’s true.” Narcissa sighed. “He’d most likely come to me. Or, Merlin forbid, Bellatrix in Azkaban.”

Most frustrating of all, he had a habit of muttering insults under his breath – Hermione had yet to determine whether he thought they couldn’t hear him and was taking the opportunity to let his feelings out, or he knew they could hear him and didn’t care.

“I think it’s a bit of both.” Sirius admitted.

“Miss Granger,” he greeted, before adding under his breath, “The Mudblood wandering around as though she has every right to be in this house – oh, if my mistress knew, she …”

“I’m surprised you haven’t forbidden that word.” Regulus commented.

Sirius frowned. “I thought I had.”

Hermione thought back. “No. You told him not to let you hear him. You were upstairs.”

“Good morning, Kreacher.” Hermione greeted brightly, stepping over him. She had found the best way to deal with Kreacher, as with his late Mistress, was to talk to them as politely and as brightly as possible – not only did it throw them off, it made her feel like the better person.

Hermione took a moment to ponder whether she could use that phrase in Kreacher’s case, before throwing it off, and opening the front door, just as Mrs Weasley was about to ring the bell.

Fred rolled his eyes. “Did Mum know about the painting?”

“She knew.” Sirius sighed. “Hadn’t met her yet – I think she thought I was exaggerating.”

“Ssh!” She hissed. “Don’t say anything, come down to the kitchen, quickly.”
Mrs Weasley, looking very put out, opened her mouth to say something, but Hermione shook her head frantically, waved them inside, and ushered them down the hall and into the kitchen. Mrs Weasley hadn’t met Mrs Black yet, and she wanted to delay that meeting for as long as possible.

“Smart move.” Fred agreed with a shudder.

“I wonder who’d win in a shouting match.” Ginny remarked thoughtfully.

“Sorry about that,” she said with a wry smile, once the door was safely closed behind them, “Sirius’s mother has a portrait in the Entrance Hall and the slightest sound sets her off.”
“Is it that bad?” Ron asked.

Hermione thought for a second, pouring a mug of tea. “You remember that Howler you got in second year?”

Ginny, Ron and the twins flinched, and their mother looked momentarily satisfied.

Lily shook her head, frowning. “No scolding should make children flinch three years after the event.”

“It’s worse than that.” Hermione finished. “She’s twice as loud and has a rather … interesting vocabulary.”

Addie chuckled. “Oh, Hermione. You have such a way with words.”

“Well,” Mrs Weasley said finally, “it’s a good thing you kept us from speaking up there in any case. How are you, Hermione, dear?”

It was only as Mrs Weasley hugged her that Hermione realised that there weren’t enough people in the kitchen.

Ginny let out an angry noise, but her eyes were sad.

“How many were supposed to be there?” Lily asked worriedly.

“Mr Weasley was working and Charlie had gone back to Romania.” Hermione answered. “So seven.”

Even taking into account Mr Weasley’s work hours, and Charlie’s return to Romania, it was Bill who greeted her next, whilst Percy was nowhere to be found.

“Working as well?” Jen asked.

“Not exactly.” Fred growled.

“I’m fine, thank you.” Hermione answered mechanically, as Bill released her from his hug. “It might just be me, but … Don’t even think about it.” She snapped, turning her attention to the twins, who’d been about to slip something into her tea.

“What was that going to do?” Hermione asked, trying to divert Fred’s mind.

Fred cracked a grin. “That’d be telling, Mya.”

“Who us?” Fred asked innocently, hiding whatever it was behind his back.

“Mya, you wound us.” George added, putting a hand on his heart in mock-hurt.

Lily shook her head with a chuckle. “It’s James and Sirius all over again.”

“You make that sound like a bad thing.” James said.

Hermione narrowed her eyes and they both dropped their gaze to the floor.

“Sorry.” They muttered in not-quite unison.

Bill chuckled. “Nice one, Princess. But I still wouldn’t drink that tea.”

“We really hadn’t added anything.” Fred insisted.

“Didn’t intend on it.” Hermione started to dump the tea into the sink, but the name he’d used gave her pause. “Princess?”

“Oh, the twins and Ron and Ginny told me and Charlie so much about you.” Bill explained with a smirk. “I can’t think who started using the name first.”

“Think it was us actually.” Fred admitted with a grin. “Knew it’d embarrass you.”

Harry tugged her closer as she blushed. “Suits you.” He whispered, kissing her cheek.

“It’s a conspiracy.” She said seriously. “You’re all out to get me.”

“You’re the Gryffindor Princess.” Ginny explained with a smile. “Even if you don’t think you are.”

Hermione cleared her throat, trying to will the blush away from her cheeks. “Tea anyone?”

There was a round of agreement, and Hermione retrieved some more mugs, pouring herself another mug as she did so.

“Did Percy get a new job?” She asked, glancing up again. “I thought …” She trailed off, as Mrs Weasley let out a choked sob, and abandoned the teapot to Ginny in favour of hurrying over to her. “Mrs Weasley, what happened?”

“Oh, Hermione, it’s terrible!” Mrs Weasley cried. “Simply awful!”

Lily gasped. “There hasn’t been an attack, has there?!”

“No, nothing like that.” Fred assured her darkly.

Hermione patted the woman on the shoulder and handed her a tissue, looking up for some explanation.

“A couple of days ago,” Fred began, his face like thunder, “Percy came home and told us he’d been promoted. Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic.”

David raised an eyebrow. “That’s impressive.”

“A little too impressive.” Regulus agreed. “Nothing against your brother – I’m sure he’s capable, but given the timing …”

“No, that’s exactly what we all thought.” Ginny agreed sadly.

Hermione raised an eyebrow. Not only had Fudge apparently made no secret of how he felt about the Weasleys, there was also that small fact of how Percy’s last employment had ended. “So he fails to notice his boss is under the Imperius Curse, and in response, they promote him?

David grimaced. “Well, you can’t entirely blame Percy for that. There would have been more experienced members of the department who failed to notice that Crouch had been cursed.”

I mean that’s a really impressive position for someone only a year out of Hogwarts …” she trailed off. “Too impressive. Fudge wants to use him to spy on the family, doesn’t he?”

George nodded darkly. “That’s what Dad said. Told Percy as much as well.”

“Oh, that’s not good.” Jen groaned. “Poor kid.”

“Dad’s right!” Fred argued.

“I didn’t say he wasn’t.” Jen said. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. He comes home and tells you he’s got an amazing job, and is told the only reason is so his boss can spy on the family?”

Fred shifted uncomfortably. “I hadn’t thought of it from that angle.”

Hermione closed her eyes. She could only imagine how Percy – with his unshakable faith in authority and his high ambitions – would have taken that. “And it didn’t go down well.”

“Like a Quidditch player without a broom.” Ron confirmed. “There was a row – I’ve never heard Dad shout like that. Anyway, to cut a long story short …” he flashed a hand signal that told her he’d give her the details later, out of his mother’s earshot “… Percy’s left.”

“Left?” Lily repeated, sounding startled.

Fred shook his head. “It was awful.”

Mrs Weasley began sobbing again and Hermione left her side, retrieved the bottle of firewhiskey from under the sink that Sirius didn’t know she knew about …

Addie raised an eyebrow. “Why is there firewhiskey under the sink?”

“Where else do you keep it?” Sirius asked.

“Not under the sink.” Addie answered.

“Look, Addie, I’m going mad in that house.” Sirius said with a sigh.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Firewhiskey is not a healthy way to deal with things.”

“Well, it’s either that, or I take Bessie out for a fly.” Sirius said flatly.

Addie raised an eyebrow. “You got her back?”

“No.” Sirius admitted. “And now you see my dilemma.”

… and added a shot to one of the untouched mugs of tea, before pushing it into the older woman’s hand. “Here.”

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs Weasley choked out, taking a gulp. “I just … I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Percy believes the Prophet.” Ginny added.

Harry groaned. Hermione had told him all about what the Prophet had been saying when she had caught him up.

Hermione groaned. So far, Rita had kept her end of the deal and kept her mouth shut, but it didn’t matter. The Daily Prophet had more than enough to work from. It hadn’t come out and told everyone what Harry’s version of events was, but it had implied that there was one, slipping him in to completely unrelated stories like a standing joke, intent on tearing down his credibility and making him look like nothing more than an attention-seeking brat.

Lily was physically shaking with fury.

“And no one’s taken them to task over this?!” David demanded.

“Who?” Sirius asked with a sigh. “Remus isn’t their favourite person, Dumbledore’s got ‘bigger things to worry about’, and I can hardly walk into the office, can I?”

“I can handle it.” Harry said softly, although his eyes were flashing with anger as well.

“I have no doubt about that, Harry.” James said, somehow keeping the anger in his voice from sounding as though it was aimed at his son. “But you shouldn’t have to.”

Hermione was furious – and she wasn’t the only one. Lily had spent at least an hour the other evening, ranting about the injustice of it all, and what she’d like to do to the people who were saying such things about her son.

A smirk touched Lily’s face. “Any good ideas?”

“Several.” Hermione confirmed. “Unfortunately, I don’t think any of them were anatomically possible.”

Of course, that wasn’t the only injustice of the situation – Dumbledore had informed them all, very gravely, that it simply wasn’t safe for Harry to receive mail in case it got intercepted.

“Well, that’s not entirely a lie.” Jen conceded. “But there are other ways to get a letter to someone, other than by owl mail. Deliver it by hand, for a start.”

“Of course!” Hermione groaned. “There were Order members keeping an eye on the house! Tonks would have delivered for us!”

“Except Harry wasn’t supposed to know they were there.” Sirius reminded her.

“Why?” Harry asked, before James could. “It would’ve been nice to talk to someone for once.”

“I don’t know.” Sirius admitted.

Hermione had guessed that it was the Ministry Dumbledore was worried about, more than Voldemort – from what she had gathered from the hints Sirius had been not-so-accidentally dropping, they knew no more than he did.

David raised an eyebrow. “Should you really have been letting her know what was going on?”

“Probably not.” Sirius admitted. “But unlike Molly, I don’t think encouraging them to bury their heads in the sand is going to help anyone.”

So she had put very little of substance in her letters, something she knew would be annoying Harry greatly. She’d sent one or two letters by Muggle post as well, with a lot more information in them, but Harry hadn’t even hinted in his letters that he received them …

“I hadn’t.” Harry confirmed.

… and she could only assume that his aunt and uncle had intercepted them.

Lily hissed. “Why those …”

“No.” Harry interrupted, frowning. “They get me to get the post every morning. I’d have seen a letter for me.”

Or there’s a mail ward that’s stopping them. She thought darkly, realising that the kitchen had gone quiet.

“That’s more likely.” James agreed. “But why? Owl post, I can understand, you don’t know what Death Eaters could send by post, but none of them would know how to send post the Muggle way.”

“Plus, Harry got a letter from the Weasleys the Muggle way the summer before.” Lily reminded him. “So it must be new.”

“Maybe he’s counting on me being angry with everyone.” Harry suggested. “I get angry, I start pulling away from them …”

“You’re easier to manipulate.” Lily sighed. “And if you hadn’t had Jess, you’d be more inclined to believe that they were pulling away from you and jump before you were pushed.”

Assuming they were waiting for her response, she patted Mrs Weasley on the shoulder. “It’ll be alright, Mrs Weasley – sooner or later, everyone’s going to realise that we’re telling the truth, and he’ll come home again.”

“I hope so.” Ginny said under her breath. As angry as she was with Percy, she also missed him terribly.

“I hope you’re right, dear.” Mrs Weasley mopped at her eyes, and Hermione returned the firewhiskey to its hiding place, just as the door to the kitchen opened again.

“Hermione, have you seen Kreacher?” Sirius called, descending the stairs. “I’m a little worried he’s … Oh, hello.”

“Hi, Sirius.” Ron and Ginny greeted in not-quite unison, as Mrs Weasley nodded stiffly.

“Worried he’s?” Hermione prompted.

“There’s an old necklace that used to be in my mother’s room.” Sirius explained, shaking Ron and Ginny’s hands. “I don’t particularly want the thing, but I’m a little worried it might be cursed and if he’s … er, hidden it.”

“Found it later.” Sirius assured the four Blacks in the room, all of whom looked worried. “It’s nice and safe.”

“Well, he didn’t have anything on him in the drawing room earlier.” Hermione assured him with a smile. “Oh, Sirius, this is Fred and George Weasley. Don’t bother trying to figure out which is which.”

Sirius shook hands with the only Weasleys (aside from Percy and Charlie) he hadn’t yet met. “Nice to meet you. Hermione said you were planning on opening a joke shop.”

Hermione shook her head. “Were you trying to rile her up?”

“No, just trying to give them a boost of confidence.” Sirius answered. “You’d also told me about Molly’s feelings about it. It’s never fun when your parents don’t believe in you.”

“Dad believes.” Fred insisted. “He just … won’t say anything to keep Mum quiet.”

The twins grinned. “That we are.”
“You will not.” Mrs Weasley snapped, getting up from her chair. “It’s a ridiculous idea and you’d do well to shake the notion once and for all.”

“Molly,” Sirius said carefully, “from what I’ve heard, these two have a real flair for business, and they’ve got the potential to do really well.”

“You really do.” David agreed.

Mrs Weasley swelled and Hermione, sensing trouble, set her tea down. “Come on.” She said, pushing Fred and George towards the stairs, and seizing Ron and Ginny’s hands. “Move it.”

They hurried up the stairs, and reached the hallway just as Mrs Weasley’s voice rose in indignation. The curtains fluttered, Hermione closed her eyes, and then a second voice had joined in.

“Did she?” Sirius asked. “I couldn’t hear her.”

“Just remember it’s your house.” David advised. “She’s there at your invitation.”

“At Dumbledore’s invitation.” Sirius corrected. “There’s not much I can do. No offence,” he added to Ginny and Fred. “You two, and your brothers, are perfectly welcome, any time. But Molly and I stuck in the same house is not a good situation.”

“Yeah, we’d noticed.” Fred said, grinning.

“FILTH! SCUM! HOW DARE YOU …?!”
“Oh, shut up!” Hermione yelled, grasping one of the curtains.

Hermione sighed. “I didn’t have the energy.”

“Fred, shut the door; George, give me a hand.”

With both of them tugging at the curtains, they managed to cover the portrait again. Hermione gave the drapes a disdainful look, and headed up the stairs, the four Weasleys in close pursuit.

“Well, that was interesting.” Ginny remarked in a low voice, looking shocked. Her eyes travelled over the dismal decorations. “I thought you’d been cleaning.”

Sirius snorted. “There’s a difference between cleaning and redecorating. We have to disinfect the place before we can redecorate – not that redecorating would make much of a difference.”

“Didn’t you say that about the flat?” Addie asked innocently.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Well, if you want, sweetheart, have at it. But it won’t make any difference.”

“We have.” Hermione sighed. “You want to see what it used to look like.”

“This is clean?” Ron asked bluntly.

Hermione shrugged. “Well, cleaner.”

“How did you know Mum would start yelling?” Fred asked, almost in awe. “She never yells at people like that, unless she’s related to them.”

Hermione sighed. “Sirius and Mrs Weasley don’t really get along.”

“She believes he’s innocent though, right?” Ron asked with a frown. “When we got back for summer, she wouldn’t leave me alone for days, going on and on about Scabbers being Pettigrew and …” He trailed off.

“She never said that in front of Percy, did she?” Jen asked worriedly.

Ginny shook her head. “He was never home, trying to make amends at work, and then the fall-out happened.”

“No, she believes it.” Hermione grimaced. “She just doesn’t like him. I think it’s got something to do with Harry.”

James raised an eyebrow. “How?”

“Harry?” Ginny repeated. “How?”

“Well, your mum’s very fond of Harry.” Hermione said slowly. “She’s practically adopted him, but at the same time, Sirius is his godfather, which makes him Harry’s legal guardian.

“Yes, it does.” James agreed.

I don’t know all the details, but I do know that Dumbledore’s given the Order strict … well, orders about what Harry can and cannot be told.

“Hold on!” Lily interrupted. “It’s got nothing to do with Dumbledore what Harry is or isn’t told! That’s Sirius’s decision to make!”

Apparently, they’re not allowed to tell him more than he ‘needs to know’.”

“Well, I’d say that’s reasonable.” James said, trying to calm Lily down. “In fact, I’d say that’s logical. And it does leave it up to Sirius to decide what Harry ‘needs to know’.”

“Except if Mum had her way, we wouldn’t tell him anything because “the poor dear, he’s been through so much, he doesn’t need any more on his plate.”” Fred concluded, finishing in a passable imitation of Molly Weasley.

“It was quite accurate.” Ginny remarked.

James shook his head. “Fred, Ginny, I don’t mean any disrespect to your mother, but she does know it’s none of her business, right?”

“She means well.” Sirius said with a sigh. “Much as it pains me to say it.”

“And Sirius will tell Harry quite a lot given half the chance.” Ginny added. “Because he knows that Harry has a knack of attracting trouble, and if he doesn’t know what’s happening, he can’t fight it.”

James nodded approvingly. “And that’s exactly what Lily and I would do.”

“I know.” Sirius said with a small smile. “That’s part of the reason I’m doing it.”

“Exactly.” Hermione nodded.

“That’s stupid.” George said finally, having been uncharacteristically quiet. “This is Sirius’s house. Not ours. Mum’s always going on about courtesy when other people open their homes to you.”

Jen snorted. “Something tells me you four will be expected to show it.”

“We are.” Ginny muttered. “Don’t get me wrong, I think we have …”

“You have.” Sirius assured her. “It’s light-hearted banter she complains about, but it’s not because she thinks you’re showing any disrespect. She thinks I’m being a bad influence.”

Hermione snorted. “Well, she’ll expect it from you four, I’m sure, but from what I’ve heard …” she trailed off, unwilling to voice the rest of her sentence.

“Besides,” George continued, “like you said, Sirius is Harry’s legal guardian, not her, not Dumbledore. He’s the only person who can make that decision.”

“Yeah.” Hermione agreed quietly, her eyes straying to the wand at her ankle, hidden in the swirl of her robes. “The only one.”

“But he shouldn’t be.” Jen sighed, as ‘Meredith’ paused without prompting. “Is that the end of the chapter?”

Hermione checked the book, but the reading continued before she could answer.

Hermione was confused.

“Guess not.” Jen answered softly.

“What was confusing you?” Sirius asked.

Hermione frowned slightly. “I’m not sure.”

The last thing she remembered was falling asleep, having been chatting to Ginny for at least an hour.

“Oh no.” Hermione whispered. “I know what this is.”

“What?” Lily asked.

Hermione closed her eyes. “Remember I told you the Memory Charm broke …”

“Oh Merlin, no.” Lily whimpered, as James pulled her and Harry closer again. “Can we skip it?”

“I don’t think so.” Hermione said grimly. “Just remember that you’re both alive.”

The two girls were sharing a room, since there weren’t many bedrooms that were safe to inhabit. The twins had taken one, Mr and Mrs Weasley another, and Ron a third, on the second floor, which was the same room Harry, if he ever managed to get there, would take as well.

“Sorry about that.” Sirius said. “Neither of you should need to share a room at your own home.”

Harry grinned. “It’s fine, Padfoot. It’s not like Ron and I don’t get along.”

“Besides, you always share with me when you stay over.” James pointed out. “And it’s not like we don’t have the room.”

Bill had a flat in London, where he was staying to be closer to the bank – although part of that decision, Ginny had told her, giggling, was to do with a certain Triwizard champion who had just started work at Gringotts as well, and who Mrs Weasley didn’t approve of one bit.

“Why not?” Mandy asked curiously.

Fred and Ginny looked at each other. “I’m … not sure.” Fred admitted. “She’s never really met Fleur. I’m guessing it’s the part-Veela thing.”

Jen scowled. “Out of interest, how did she respond to Remus?”

“Not badly.” Ginny assured her. “Although that may have been an internal reaction. She’s never shown him any prejudice that I can see.”

“No, she hasn’t.” Sirius agreed.

“As for Fleur,” Ginny sighed, “part-Veela, French, wants to work in Gringotts, which is hardly an ‘appropriate choice of work for a witch’, and doesn’t think that Bill should get a nice safe job at the Ministry.”

“In other words, foreign and doesn’t want to be a house-wife.” Jen concluded dryly.

Fred shrugged. “Or she doesn’t want to lose her baby boy.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Surely if she loves him and he loves her, it shouldn’t matter. Besides, they’re just dating – it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get married.”

She hadn’t woken up, however, in her bedroom at Grimmauld Place.

For a second, she thought that maybe someone was having a nightmare; that she had once more been pulled into their dreams, but that had been different.

Viewing Sirius’s nightmare had been like watching a film; she wasn’t really there. But here, lying on a sofa, she was very aware of her body … although it seemed smaller than it had been when she had fallen asleep.

“So you’re literally reliving it.” Addie concluded.

“Not quite.” Hermione whispered. “If I was literally reliving it, I wouldn’t know what was going to happen. I knew everything. I was aware of exactly what was going to happen.”

Addie reached out to her, and Hermione moved between her and Sirius taking the book with her.

A woman was smiling softly at her, a woman she knew, although the hand on her shoulder assured her that Lily Potter was very much solid in this room. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s get you to bed.”

Hermione blinked. “Bed?” She asked, her voice coming out very childlike.

“That’s right, sweetheart.” Lily said. “Can you be a big girl and walk so I can carry Harry?”

Harry? But Harry was fourteen, nearly fifteen – how was Lily supposed to carry him?

“Hadn’t quite cottoned on yet then?” Fred asked, trying to lighten the mood.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Can you blame me?”

“You could levitate one of them.” A male voice suggested, and Hermione sat up, to see James Potter lounging on the sofa.

Lily gave him a weary look, as though they’d had this conversation before.

“Probably have.” Lily remarked. “I don’t like the idea of levitating children, James – I’d be worried they’d fall.”

“For the last time, James …”

Apparently, they had.

“… I don’t like the idea of levitating the children. Not this young.”

Jen sniggered. “Reassuring to know you don’t change, Jade.”

Young? The word reverberated through Hermione’s brain and with a thrill of horror, she realised that this wasn’t real, nor was it a dream.

It was a memory and the glowing Halloween pumpkin on the mantelpiece told her exactly what day it was.

Hermione tried to open her mouth, to warn James and Lily that they weren’t safe …

“Full points for effort.” Lily murmured, clinging to Harry and James.

… but nothing happened – she was trapped in her own body, forced to relive the events of that night in stunning clarity.

I guess the Memory Charm broke.

Lily helped Hermione down and moved over to Harry. “Perfect timing.” She remarked with a smile.

Hermione looked over to see baby Harry opening those familiar green eyes.

Sirius smiled slightly. “Would have been perfect timing as well. If you woke Harry during a nap, you could never get him back to sleep again. And he was such a light sleeper that you couldn’t just move him.”

“Mama?” He asked sleepily.

A couple of the girls cooed over the baby, but didn’t comment.

“Mummy’s here, pumpkin.” Lily soothed, picking him up. “Time for bed.”

Harry rested his head on Lily’s shoulder, blinking sleepily at Hermione, who gazed up at him as she took Lily’s hand, thinking how strange it was to see unmarked, unblemished skin where his scar would soon be.

Harry rubbed his forehead subconsciously, unaware he was doing it until Lily caught his hand and pressed a kiss to the scar.

She trotted along at Lily’s side until they reached the bottom of the stairs, where James bent and kissed his wife. “You take the kids to bed, sweetheart. I’m just going to check the wards.”

“James, I don’t feel comfortable with this.” Lily said lowly, despite her nod.

“We’ve heard this before.” James remarked.

“Don’t complain.” Lily muttered. “I’d rather hear this again than what’s coming next.”

James frowned. “Alright. Well, do you want to check the wards while I put the kids to bed?”

Lily chuckled. “No! I meant the whole ‘Secret Keeper’ thing.”

“Lily, I trust Peter …” James began.

“I do too, James.” Lily insisted. “Don’t think I don’t. But … he wasn’t exactly acting like himself when we cast the charm, was he? Plus … he said something to me just before Dumbledore arrived … he said, “Dumbledore’s explained the dangers, right?” I assumed he meant the dangers of switching Secret Keeper – you know it can carry a risk if it’s not done right, it could have left us unprotected for a whole 24 hours – but what if that wasn’t what he meant, what if something …?”

“Lily …” James cut her off mid-flow, pressing a finger to her lips. “Would you just calm down, alright? Dumbledore would have told us if it was anything else, and Peter was probably a bit nervous.”

Hermione watched the two closely. If she had to relive this night, she might as well try to get something out of it …

“Brave girl.” David said softly. “That must’ve been hard.”

… but they’d said nothing that she hadn’t already heard.

Lily looked down at her and smiled softly. “I just felt so much better when Sirius was the Secret Keeper. I know it was dangerous, but …”

“Well, I think the switch is a good idea, but if it makes you feel better, sweetheart, we’ll talk to Albus about switching back first thing tomorrow morning. Alright?”
“You’re humouring me.” Lily accused, with no heat. “But that would make me feel better.”
“Alright.” James kissed her. “I’ll see you upstairs.” He kissed Harry’s forehead. “Night, Harry. I love you.”

James breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank Merlin.”

“James?” Lily asked softly.

“I was worried …” James broke off, and shook his head. “Never mind.”

“No, go on.” Lily prompted. “Worried about what.”

James lowered his voice so that only she and Harry could hear him. “I was worried that I hadn’t said that. That maybe I’d decided to wait until after I’d checked the wards to say good night. I’m just glad I did, before … before.”

“Ni’ Daddy.” Harry murmured tiredly. “’Ove ‘oo.”

James knelt down and hugged Hermione as well. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

Hermione hugged him tightly – maybe if she didn’t let go, they’d know something was wrong – but she still wasn’t in control and she found herself releasing him. “Night, P’ongs.” Her mouth didn’t seem to want to form words properly, but apparently that was normal …

“It was.” Sirius said, stroking her hair.

… because James chuckled quietly and straightened up.

Her thumb found its way to her mouth, a comforting movement she’d grown out of years ago – or, rather, been forced to grow out of years ago …

Addie shook her head. “Thumb-sucking might be bad for you, but it’s nothing to force a child to stop doing.”

… and Lily took her hand and began helping her up the stairs.

It was slow-going, and they were barely halfway up, when James ran back to them. “Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him!”

His voice was calm, as Hermione had heard in her memories before, but as Lily spun around to face him, his face was anything but.

“He looked terrified.” Hermione whispered, taking a steadying breath as Sirius and Addie engulfed her in a hug.

She found herself grateful that she couldn’t sense emotions in these memories, because that would not be a fun experience.

“No, I wouldn’t imagine it would be.” Addie remarked.

“GO!” James told her urgently. “Run! I’ll hold him off.”

Lily bent down, scooped Hermione into her arms, and hurried up the stairs. Looking over her shoulder, Hermione saw the front door shatter inwards with a shower of splinters.

“Looks like we’ve got quite the repairs to come back to.” James joked weakly.

“James …” Lily began, but caught sight of the emotion in his eyes and stopped.

Hermione closed her eyes, as James swung his wand up, and the first spell flew. She didn’t see if it hit its mark, burying her face in Lily’s shoulder; this was one duel she didn’t want to watch.

“Thank Merlin.” David stated shakily, his hand gripping James’s shoulder. Across the room, Alice clung to Neville, staring at her pseudo-brother in horror.

Lily darted into the nursery and turned sharply on the spot in a motion Hermione had learned to associate with disapparition, having watched Order members leave from the window enough times, but nothing happened.

“Even if Voldemort wasn’t there, that wouldn’t have worked.” Sirius said with a sigh. “There were anti-apparition wards on the house.”

“But they were still our wards, right?” Lily asked. “I’d have been able to tell, which would mean that … that he hadn’t torn down the wards; they’d been lifted for him.”

Opening her eyes again, Hermione lifted her head to see Lily’s face, and she almost cried at the look in her eyes. With that one movement, Lily had proved that their protections held, and that only the Fidelius Charm had failed, ascertaining that Peter was either dead or a traitor – neither option, she felt sure, one that Lily wanted to consider.

“Is it callous that I’d rather think the first?” Lily asked.

“No.” Mandy whispered, resting her head on Arabella’s shoulder. “It’s not.”

Lily carried the two over to the fireplace, picking up a stone from the mantelpiece and holding it tightly. “Padfoot’s Place.”

“Portkey?” James asked.

Sirius nodded grimly. “Voldemort must have set up wards when he approached.”

“And we didn’t notice?!” James demanded.

“Why would you?” Sirius asked. “You don’t have ward-sight, James – there was nothing you could have done.”

“The hell there wasn’t!” James protested. “This is my family and …”

“You did all you could, James.” Lily interrupted. “You fought him. You tried to let us get away.”

Her voice wavered ever so slightly and, when nothing happened again, Hermione felt her breathing begin to quicken as panic set in.

Voldemort had apparently taken the time as he approached to cut off every escape route. Harry began to whimper, and Hermione felt her own sobs begin to rise up, as Lily’s fear flooded through her and into them.

Lily turned to the fireplace now, starting a fire with a murmured incantation, not bothering with a wand.

“I can do wandless magic?” Lily asked, surprised.

“No.” Sirius admitted. “That fireplace was like the lights – it didn’t need a wand.”

A handful of floo powder was thrown into it, but the flames died away immediately …

“He must have had someone in the Department of Magical Transport.” David said grimly.

… and Lily turned away, making for a cupboard in the corner of the room.

The door was flung open, but Lily turned away. Her heart was racing, Hermione could feel it, and her panic was palpable in the air, but her voice was casual and now unwavering. “Harry, Daddy’s left the broom in the kitchen again.”

James buried his face in his hands with a groan, and Lily shot a panicked look at Hermione, who tapped the book with her wand and fought her way out of Sirius and Addie’s arms, kneeling in front of the small family.

“James?” She said softly, to no response. “Prongs,” she repeated, more firmly, “look at me.”

Reluctantly, James lifted his head and did as he was told.

“It was not your fault.” Hermione said firmly. “If anything, it’s my fault. I think I’d just arrived when you came back from taking Harry flying and I was really upset – Lily needed your help.”

“Don’t be silly.” James said shakily. “It’s not your fault I left the broom down there.”

“And it’s not your fault what happened next.” Hermione said with a sigh. “Look, Lily didn’t mean it like that – she was saying it to try to calm us down, to make us think there was nothing wrong. Even if the broom had been there, we’d never have got away in time.”

Leaving him to Harry and Lily, she returned to her seat and restarted the book.

There was no heat to her voice, no blame, and Hermione knew that her words were for the sole purpose of calming the two children in her arms.

James relaxed a little, but not by much.

Her calmness didn’t last long, however, because at that moment, there was an echoing bang from downstairs, and the hallway lit up with an eerie green light.

Lily screamed …

Lily buried her face in James’s neck, tears springing to her eyes. “We would never have made it.” She murmured. “He’d have killed all three of us.”

… but Hermione forced herself to listen closely, arming herself with one more nugget of evidence for James and Lily’s continued existence.
Sure enough, the light was followed by silence downstairs; no further noise, no further light, and, more importantly, no thud of a body hitting the floor.

James shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lils.” He whispered. “Holding him off was all I could do, and I failed.”

“James …” Lily squeezed him tightly, unable to verbalise everything that was running through her head.

“You did all you could, Dad.” Harry insisted. “You did.”

Slow footsteps prompted Lily to drop Harry and Hermione into the crib and place herself in front of it, plunging her hand into her robes for her wand.

Hermione could have pinpointed the exact moment when Lily realised that she didn’t have it, just by watching her body language.

Lily let out a choked sob. “You did more than I could. Oh, Merlin, why didn’t I have it?”

“Both of you stop it.” Addie said sharply. “It’s not your fault. I think we all know whose fault it is.”

She stiffened, moving back to lean against the bars of the crib, turning her head just enough that her words reached them. “Hermione, darling, I am so sorry. Harry, I love you. I love you so much, pumpkin. Just close your eyes and go to sleep.”

Lily was shaking her head in disbelief, even though Hermione had explained her reasoning.

She rocked the crib gently, and Hermione saw Harry yawn across from her, his hand curling around the embroidered blanket that lay beside him. “Go to sleep, Harry. And Mummy and Daddy will be there when you wake up.”

“Oh God …” Releasing James, Lily threw her arms around Harry instead, tears streaming from her eyes. “I can’t believe I did that.”

“Mum, Addie told you why.” Harry said shakily.

Her voice broke on the last word and Hermione suddenly understood – Lily knew she couldn’t hope to protect them without a wand, and she didn’t want either of them awake or alert when it happened.

“You were protecting them as best you could.” Addie said, her tone softening.

“Hermione, close your eyes.” Lily whispered frantically. “Close your eyes, please!”

Hermione couldn’t help doing as she was told …

“Thank Merlin.” Sirius breathed into Hermione’s hair.

… even as a cold voice said, “Mrs Potter … it’s been too long.”

“Stay away from them.” James hissed, holding Lily and Harry tightly.

“Get out of my house.” Lily hissed, venom dripping from every word.

“You tell him, Lils.” Jen said through gritted teeth.

“My dear girl, you are in no position to be making any demands.”
Voldemort must have done something, lifted his wand maybe, because Lily’s calm exterior finally cracked. “Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”
“Stand aside, you silly girl! Stand aside now!”

“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead …”
“This is my last warning …”
“Not Harry! Please … have mercy … have mercy … Not Harry! Not Harry! Please … I’ll do anything …”

“Stand aside! Stand aside, girl!”

Lily was shaking with tears now, and Hermione hastily tapped the book to stop the reading. “Why … Why would he try to spare me?” She asked shakily. “I’m nothing to him!”

“I don’t know.” James whispered into her hair. “I don’t know.”

“Does anyone know?” Narcissa asked, gripping Draco’s hand.

Hermione looked at Sirius, who shook his head, his face pale. “No idea.”

“Lily?” Hermione asked softly. “Are you …?”

“I’m fine.” Lily said, wiping her eyes. “Let’s just get it over with.”

Hermione opened her eyes just a little, in time to see Lily turn to look at them. Harry’s eyes were wide open, and Lily met them, mouthing four words. Be safe. Be strong.

Lily choked back another sob, pressing a kiss to Harry’s head.

Green light enveloped her, though Hermione had heard no curse, and she vanished from before them.

James buried his face in Lily’s hair, breathing in her scent, reassuring himself that she was alright.

Hermione’s eyes were fully open now, and she shrank back as Voldemort approached the crib. Harry was crying, startled by the sudden disappearance of his mother, and Voldemort paid her no heed, focussed on the screaming child in front of her.

“Probably saved your life.” Regulus remarked frowning. “I don’t think Lily’s sacrifice would have protected  you as well.”

“Thanks for that.” Sirius muttered, tightening his grip on Hermione.

Harry had described Voldemort in his first year, but that had been a wraith-like being on the back of someone’s head, and did nothing to prepare her for the monster that stood before her.

He raised his wand, aimed it very deliberately at Harry’s face, and chanted the curse that had taken so many other lives before their time.

Avada Kedavra!”

David closed his eyes, muttering a curse under his breath. He had known what his grandson survived, but to hear it was something else.

The green light shot towards Harry, and the room around them seemed to explode into a chaos of dust, and noise, and debris.

The crib rocked and overturned, trapping Hermione and Harry beneath it, probably saving their lives as the ceiling caved in.

“Thank Merlin.” Lily whispered, over and over again.

Hermione couldn’t see where Voldemort had gone or what had happened to him, her focus was fixed on Harry, who was lying not feet away from her, bleeding and unmoving.

“It knocked him out?” James asked hoarsely.

“Understandable, really.” Addie remarked. “The spell packs quite a punch.”

“Hermione?”

“That was Ginny.” Hermione explained weakly. “Trying to wake me up.”

Her own screams and cries echoed in her ears, as she begged for someone to hear her, to help them.

“Hermione!”
A loud rumbling sounded from outside …

“Bessie.” Sirius and Addie chorused.

… and her sobs quietened as footsteps sounded from downstairs.

“Hermione?!
There was a muttered curse, and a reassuringly familiar voice called out, “James! It’s Padfoot – answer me, mate!”
“DADDY!”

Her own scream jolted her awake …

“Did I actually scream?” Hermione asked.

“No.” Ginny answered, pale beneath her freckles. “You just woke up.”

… and she bolted upright, nearly colliding with Ginny, who was bent over her, calling her name.

“Thank Merlin.” Lily repeated, running a hand through her hair. “It’s over.”

“Not yet.” James said darkly. “But we’ll get there.”

“Hermione, dear, whatever’s the matter?!” Mrs Weasley asked from the doorway.

“Oh, I thought I’d throw a party.” Hermione said breezily. “Why? Is this not the time?”

Fred snorted. “I know. I thought it was obvious what was wrong.”

Still gasping for air, Hermione looked up, seeing Fred, George and Ron standing with their mother, equal concern on their faces, and behind them …

Hermione had moved before anyone had realised; throwing off the bedcovers, she darted across the room, past Mrs Weasley’s outstretched arms and assuming smile …

“It was rather presumptuous of her.” Ginny remarked. “But I suppose she wasn’t expecting you to be that close to Sirius.”

… and into Sirius’s arms, which closed around her comfortingly.

“Hermione!” Mrs Weasley protested, sounding scandalised.

Addie rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what did she think was happening?”

“I’ve never asked.” Hermione said frankly. “And I don’t want to think about it.”

“Mum …” Ginny sighed, standing up, but Hermione paid no attention to either of them.

“I remembered.” She whispered into Sirius’s shoulder, despite knowing he probably couldn’t hear her.

“I could.” Sirius confirmed, kissing her forehead.

“I remembered them … Prongs and Aunt Lily – they d-disappeared …” Her old names for them came easily to her lips, as though part of her mind was still two years old.

“It probably was.” Regulus said. “It’s not uncommon after nightmares.”

“Harry wasn’t moving …”

“It’s alright, Kitten.” Sirius murmured, kissing her head. “It’s okay. That was years ago. You need to finish waking up, a chuisle.”

Addie frowned. “Where did you learn that?”

“No idea.” Sirius answered, looking equally confused. “What is it?”

“Irish.” Addie explained. “It means sweetheart, more or less, but I’ve never spoken it around you.”

“Not yet.” Addie corrected. “You will. Although your pronunciation was always awful.”

Sirius smirked. “Is é sin toisc labhairt leat Gaeilge an-te.” He said, causing Addie to turn slightly pink, and her past counterpart to choke on air.

“You were messing with me.” Addie realised. “You never had a problem, did you?”

“No.” Sirius answered with a chuckle. “Just enjoyed riling you up.”

“What did he say?” Jen asked, intrigued.

“Nothing that should be repeated in public.” Addie said hastily.

“It wasn’t that bad.” Addie argued.

“Nothing that should be repeated in front of your daughter.” Addie amended.

Addie glanced at Hermione. “Fair enough.”

The unfamiliar word gave Hermione something else to focus on. “What language is that?”

“Irish.” Sirius answered, somehow guiding her around Mrs Weasley so he could sit down on her bed, never releasing her.

“I didn’t know you spoke Irish.” Hermione remarked, feeling her breathing begin to return to a regular pattern.

“I don’t, really.” Sirius admitted. “Addie’s family was Irish … she taught me a little.”

“Sounded like more than a little.” James remarked.

“Well, she didn’t teach me anything I could really use.” Sirius said with a grin, causing Addie to smack him on the arm.

Later, in the light of day and with her mind back in some semblance of order, Hermione would realise that she should have been able to guess that – ‘McKinnon’ was, after all, either a Scottish or an Irish name.

“Obviously.” Hermione muttered.

“What does it mean?” Hermione asked, shifting her head to his shoulder.

“Sweetheart, I think.” Sirius said thoughtfully. “At least, that’s how Addie used it, but she did say that the literal translation was …”

“What is the literal translation?” Hermione asked.

“Pulse.” Addie answered. “It’s part of a longer phrase – a chuisle mo chroi, which means ‘the pulse of my heart’. The longer phrase is more commonly used in a romantic state, but a chuisle can be used in any number of contexts.”

“Alright, that’s quite enough!” Mrs Weasley snapped, hands on her hips. “Hermione Granger, I’m surprised at you!”

Lily grimaced. “She really needs to stop jumping to conclusions.”

“If it was anyone else, she wouldn’t.” Sirius muttered.

Hermione blinked, startled, too tired and too emotionally wound to catch up with Mrs Weasley’s train of mind. Not bothering to attempt to figure it out, she closed her eyes again. “Daddy, what does she mean?”

“That’s what triggered your Memory Charm to start undoing, isn’t it?” James asked.

Sirius nodded silently.

Like her names for James and Lily, her childhood address for him slipped out as though she still called him that every day.

“I don’t know what she’s implying, Kitten.” Sirius said softly, his smile audible in his voice.

“I never thought you’d call me that again.” He whispered into Hermione’s hair.

“But it might help if I explained that whenever your father hurt your mum, she used to drop you off with me, and that I love you like a daughter.”

Hermione opened her eyes again, to see Mrs Weasley opening and closing her mouth, apparently in shock.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Mum.” Ginny sighed. “Hermione’s mum’s a witch. The Potters were babysitting her that Halloween, and her mum put a Memory Charm on her. I think it just broke. Even if she didn’t have that connection to Sirius, he was the first person to arrive at the house after …” She broke off.

“Therefore it makes sense that she’d go to him for comfort.” Regulus finished.

Mrs Weasley moved to sit on Hermione’s other side, rubbing her arm comfortingly. “I’m sorry.” She said finally, to the opposite wall. “I jumped to conclusions.”

“Quite alright, Molly.” Sirius assured her. “No one can be expected to think too clearly at half past two in the morning.”

“You really think that’s the only reason?” Addie asked.

“No.” Sirius admitted. “But the war’s going to be hard enough without the Order at each other’s throats.”

His casual mention of the time caused Mrs Weasley to look up at her children. “Back to bed, all of you.”

The boys all looked as though they’d argue …

“We were worried about you.” Fred said.

Hermione smiled weakly at him. “I was fine.”

… but Ginny gave them a sharp look and, combined with their mother’s glare, it caused them to turn on their heel and retreat to their bedrooms.

“Will you be alright, Hermione, dear?” Mrs Weasley asked gently.

“I’ll be fine.” Hermione assured her, catching her hand and squeezing softly. “It was a nightmare. That’s all.”

“One hell of a nightmare.” Lily muttered.

Mrs Weasley still looked worried, but patted Hermione’s cheek and left the room, bidding them goodnight.

“I didn’t mean to wake the whole house.” Hermione said, sitting up.

“Don’t be silly.” Lily said, smiling sadly. “You can’t help nightmares.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, Hermione.” Ginny sighed, climbing back into bed. “How many times have I woken you up with nightmares?”

“Too many to count.” Hermione answered.

Fred frowned slightly. “I still don’t like that you didn’t come to us, Gin. I understand why though.” He added, before she could say anything.

Hermione chuckled, slipping back under her own covers. “True.”

Sirius stood up as well, hovering beside her. “Will you be alright?”

Addie smiled fondly at him. “You’re overprotective.”

Hermione smiled softly, extending a hand to him. “I’ll be fine.” She repeated.

Sirius leaned down and kissed her forehead. “They’re alright.” He whispered. “Harry’s alright. We’ll get them back.”

Hermione took a deep breath and let it out slowly; the tension that remained in her body flowed with it. “Thanks, Padfoot. I love you.”

It was the first time she’d voiced it, but the words were as true as they had been fourteen years ago.

Sirius squeezed her hand. “I love you too, Kitten.”

Sirius pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“It’s not fair!”

“What’s not fair?” Lily asked, bewildered.

Hermione frowned. “I … don’t know. Must be a new section, but … it’s probably Ron.”

Hermione sighed, massaging her temples. Three weeks had passed since her nightmare …

“And my nightmare was a week ago.”  Hermione said softly. “We’re into the future.”

… Mrs Weasley seemed to have come to terms with everything, Harry’s letters were getting more and more frustrated …

Harry snorted. “I’m not surprised.”

… the house was still trying eat them alive every time they opened a new door …

“Surely that’s an exaggeration.” Narcissa said softly.

Sirius shook his head. “No, definitely not.”

… and Ron still hadn’t grasped how things worked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “How hard is it to understand? The adults are in the Order of the Phoenix, we aren’t.”

Fred cleared his throat. “Forge and I aren’t in the Order.”

“Because you haven’t left school.” Sirius reminded him mildly. “That was the same when I was younger as well.”

“We should know what’s going on!”

“Yes, Ron, we should, but that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t.” Hermione snapped. “And if Sirius won’t tell me

“I tell you things!” Sirius protested.

“Nothing important.” Hermione refuted.

“I don’t have a death wish.” Sirius conceded. “But I do tell you things.”

… there’s no way in hell you’ll convince your mother to tell you.”

Fred and Ginny laughed. “I think that might be an understatement.”

“But we should!” Ron moaned.

Hermione and Ginny exchanged a weary glance, and the latter shrugged, reclining on her bed, allowing Hermione to handle her brother.

“Thanks.” Hermione muttered.

The three were sitting in Hermione and Ginny’s room, while the Order of the Phoenix had a meeting in the kitchen, and Ron complained about not being allowed to sit in on the meetings.

Hermione loved her best friend, really she did, but if he didn’t shut up, she was going to make what she did to Draco in third year look like a pat on the cheek.

Draco winced. “Then Ron might want to shut up, because that hurt.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow. “You just called him Ron.”

“I’ve been calling Harry and Hermione by their names.” Draco pointed out.

“Yeah, but they’re here.” Ginny said, frowning slightly.

Draco shrugged. “Well, there are four Weasleys; it gets confusing.”

At that moment, there was a double crack and the twins were suddenly standing in the middle of the room.

Used to their constantly apparating every few feet by now, Hermione just raised an eyebrow. “Was it that much bother just to walk?”

“Yes.” Fred, James and Sirius said in unison.

“When do you get your apparition licences?” Hermione asked curiously. “Because you don’t come of age until eighteen – did that change at the same time?”

“I guess so.” David confirmed. “This lot won’t get theirs until next year.”

“Did I get mine?” Addie asked.

“No.” Sirius answered, as Addie said, “Yes.”

They looked at each other for a second, before Sirius closed his eyes. “Azkaban?” He asked wearily.

Addie touched his hand gently. “I don’t think so. More a technicality. I passed my test on the last day of the spring term, but I never actually got my licence. Dad was going to take me into the Ministry the day after …” She broke off, and Hermione tapped the book again.

“Well, of course, Mya.” Fred smirked, holding a long, fleshy instrument.

James raised an eyebrow. “And what might that be?”

“Extendable Ears.” Fred said cheerfully. “Mya, I don’t suppose you’ve …”

“No.” Hermione said flatly. “I have a lot in that bag, but not an Ear.”

Fred shrugged. “They’re an eavesdropping device.”

“Don’t let Mum catch you with those.” Ron warned. “I didn’t think you had any left.”

George scowled, obviously still furious with their mother for destroying their hard work.

“She destroyed them?!” Fred gasped. “I know we shouldn’t have been listening in on the meetings, but a bloody Imperturbable Charm would have stopped them!”

“Sorry, Fred.” Hermione said softly.

“Does she have any idea how much work went into those?” Fred groaned. “We’re never going to get the shop off the ground if she keeps destroying our merchandise.”

Sirius frowned. “I can probably seal off one of the rooms if you want to use it for storage.”

“Thanks Padfoot.” Fred said, grinning weakly. “Just can’t believe she’d do that.”

“We’ve still got a few, no thanks to her.”

“They won’t work anyway.” Hermione said, leaning back against her bed. “Padfoot told me they were going to put an Imperturbable Charm up – whatever this meeting’s about, it must be really important.”

A hand seized each of hers and she let out a surprised squeak as Fred and George hauled her to her feet.

Harry frowned. “What’s that about?”

Hermione made a small noise of understanding. “Marauders. I said Padfoot. Looks like they’re finally catching on.”

“What the …?”
“You know who the Marauders are?!” Fred demanded, looking more serious than she’d ever seen him. “We gave Harry the Map and everything!”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” George asked, less heatedly, but just as put out. “Who are they?”
“Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and James Potter.” Hermione listed quickly.

“You don’t mess with the twins when they’re serious.” Hermione said, grinning.

“Don’t do it.” Both Addies said in unison.

“Respectively. So, technically, you returned the Map.”

“And technically,” Ginny added, “they’re not the only Marauders.”

“Thank you.” Lily said huffily.

Hermione chuckled. “That’s usually my line.”

“There were others?” Fred asked eagerly, releasing her hand.

Hermione sat down again, smirking up at them. “Of course. There were the girls too – by all accounts, they’re the reason the school’s still standing.

“We are.” Jen said with certainty.

“Then thank Merlin you’re around.” David said.

Speaking of the girls, do Angelina and Alicia know what you’re planning with the joke shop?”

Fred frowned. “Why are you asking?”

“Because you love them more than you let on.” Hermione said matter-of-factly. “And it’s your future and they have the right to be involved.”

“They know what we want to do.” George said. “Whether they know we have the means to do it …”

Hermione smiled. “Maybe you should tell them. They’re smart girls – they might even be willing to help.”

“That too.” Hermione agreed.

The twins exchanged a look, holding a silent conversation, but before they could agree, Lily appeared in front of Hermione …

Lily breathed a sigh of relief. “At least we know I’m alive in two weeks’ time.”

… who let out another startled squeak.

“Lily!” Hermione protested, one hand on her heart. “Don’t do that!”

Lily chuckled. “Sorry, Hermione.”

“Lily?” Fred and George repeated in unison.

Hermione spared Ginny a nod to confirm that she could fill them in, the rest of her attention focussed on Lily, who was on the verge of hysterics.

Any laughter instantly vanished from the room, and the colour drained from Lily’s face. “No …” She whispered. “What’s happened?”

“Oh, Hermione!” Lily cried. “You’re not going to believe what just happened!”

“It can’t be you and James.” Jen said softly.

“Why do you say that?” James asked, more harshly then she’d intended.

“Because what’s Hermione going to do?” Jen asked practically. “If it was you two, it would have to be your … deaths, and Lily wouldn’t waste time; she’d just deliver a final message. Besides, if I know Lily, she’s sticking with Harry.”

“That’s even worse.” Lily whispered, tightening her grip on Harry. “What if …?”

“Mum,” Harry said softly, “I’m right here.”

“But this is the future.” James said quietly.

“Then let’s stop speculating and find out.” Addie said, glancing at Hermione, who restarted the book.

It was pure fluke that led Jessica Brown to her front garden that evening.

“Definitely me then.” Harry murmured, rubbing Lily’s back soothingly.

Her hanging baskets were starting to droop so, once she’d finished her dinner, she filled up a watering can and stepped outside to remedy that.

She was distracted from her task, however, when she spotted Harry and Dudley moving down the road towards her, accompanied by Mrs Figg.

Lily relaxed a little. “That can’t be too bad. Unless they all get attacked.”

“Lily,” James said, picking up a small vial from the coffee table, “take a Calming Draft. You need one.”

Jess knew that Harry suspected that Mrs Figg was a relative of his mother’s friend, Arabella, but since neither was certain, they hadn’t said anything to her.

What concerned Jess most about the picture was that Harry seemed to be half-carrying Dudley home.

“Sounds like an attack’s already happened.” Regulus said, frowning. “They’re all alive,” he added hastily, when James glared at him.

Concern gripped at her heart and she resolutely pushed it aside before it could morph into fear. Dudley’s ‘gang’ terrorised the neighbourhood and, with Dudley himself being a ‘Junior Boxing Champion’ – as his father was too fond of telling everyone – no one was stupid enough to mess with them.

“Which means it’s not Muggle.” Mandy whispered.

One of them probably got their hands on some beer or something. She set the watering can down on her front step and wiped her hands dry on her jeans. Although you wouldn’t think someone so big was such a light …

Her thought process ground to a halt as she reached the end of her drive, and she realised that Harry’s wand – usually tucked into his back pocket – was in his hand.

“Definitely magical.” Arabella confirmed, biting her lip.

“Harry!” Jess called, running towards them. “Harry, what happened?!”

“Dementors.”

Lily screamed, and Harry winced. “Mum, that was my ear.”

“But, Harry …”

“Mum, I’m obviously alright.” Harry said calmly. “It’s Dudley you want to be worrying about if I’m half-carrying him.”

Harry gasped out, straining under Dudley’s weight. “Two of them.”

“What the hell are Dementors doing in Privet Drive?” Hermione asked.

“You think Voldemort sent them?” Ginny asked.

Sirius frowned. “Unlikely. But someone did. Even if they’ve abandoned the Ministry, Voldemort won’t want to tip his hand yet.”

“So much for blood wards.” James muttered, gripping Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry …” Mrs Figg began.

“She knows.” Harry managed to reassure her. “Cast my Patronus. Drove them away.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief. “At least they’re both alright.”

“But Harry’s done magic.” Regulus said, frowning.

“Well, of course he did magic.” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “What was he supposed to do? Let the Dementors suck his soul out?”

“He’s underage.” Regulus reminded his brother. “And don’t say there’s a ‘reasonable restriction’, because with the way the Ministry’s been acting, I don’t think it’ll help.”

“They won’t expel me, will they?” Harry asked.

“They can’t.” Sirius said immediately. “You’re entitled to a hearing first.”

“Yeah, because that’ll be fair.” Fred snorted.

“Sirius …” James began.

“I’ll think of something.” Sirius said firmly. “I will. It’ll be okay, Pronglet. Remember this hasn’t happened yet.”

Dudley’s … not taking it well.”

For once, Jess felt nothing but sympathy for Harry’s cousin – she wouldn’t wish the creatures Harry had described after his third year on anyone.

“Well, I had better go and await instruction.” Mrs Figg said.

Narcissa frowned. “No offence, but what’s she going to do?”

Arabella shrugged. “Let Order members through the floo maybe? I’m sure her fireplace will still be hooked up.”

“Can you get him inside, Harry?”

“I’ve got it.” Harry said, managing a weak smile. “Thanks, Mrs Figg.”

“You’re welcome. Jessica.” Mrs Figg acknowledged her with a smile, and Jess raised a hand in farewell as the old woman set off down the road, her carpet bag swinging wildly.

Harry chuckled. “I bet she was still in her slippers as well.”

“Probably.” Arabella agreed, smiling. “Gran does love her slippers.”

“Harry …” Jess said softly. “Do you want me to come inside to talk to your aunt and uncle?”

Harry shook his head. “No offence, Jess, but you’d probably make things worse.”

Jess pulled a face, but didn’t begrudge him his point. “Alright …” she said reluctantly. “I’ll talk to you from the usual spot then.”

“Usual spot?” Lily asked.

“Her back bedroom is directly next to mine.” Harry explained. “We lean out of the window and talk there.”

Harry nodded, heaved Dudley better on to his shoulder, and dragged him up the driveway of Number Four. Jess watched them go, remembering Harry’s stories about his parents from his latest school year. “If you two are here, Mr and Mrs Potter,” she murmured, “you might want to let Hermione know what’s happened – she’s got better connections than I do. I’ll look after him for you.”

Lily smiled softly. “Thank Merlin she’s there.”

“Shouldn’t think there’s much I can do, unfortunately.” Hermione sighed. “Not without alerting Dumbledore.”

With no way of knowing whether her message had been heard, she hurried back inside her own house, locking the front door firmly, and dashed into the kitchen, pressing her ear against the wall.

“That won’t work.” Harry predicted. “Aunt Petunia’s always complaining about the thickness of the walls.”

Unfortunately for her, the walls were very thick, and she gave it up as a bad job, deciding to wait for Harry upstairs in one of her own spare rooms.

Halfway up the stairs, she stopped, an idea hitting her. It was all very well leaning out of their windows, but it was very difficult to have a decent conversation, and if the Dursleys didn’t lock Harry in his room for this, she’d be very surprised.

James scowled, pressing a kiss to Harry’s hair.

She went back downstairs and unlocked her backdoor, stepping out into her back garden. An owl swooped past her and flew straight into the kitchen window of Number Four.

“Ministry, I should think.” Addie said darkly.

Hearing Vernon shouting something about owls, Jess jogged down to her garden shed and pulled the door open.

It took a few minutes of searching, but she finally found what she was looking for: a curved piece of drainpipe from when she’d had the guttering replaced.

“Oh …” Lily whispered. “Oh, I understand.”

“What?” James asked, looking lost.

“If the windows are close enough together and the pipe’s long enough, she can use it to channel the sound.” Lily explained. “And then they don’t have to stick their heads out of the window.”

She took it back up to the house and rinsed off the cobwebs and dirt under the outside tap. Then she went back inside, locked the back door again, and carried it upstairs to the spare bedroom, pausing only to rescue some masking tape from a kitchen drawer.

Lily nodded to herself, certain she was right.

Opening the window, she leaned out, letting her gaze wander over the back gardens of Privet Drive, as she waited for Harry to go upstairs.

Finally, a door slammed. A few minutes later, the window to her left opened, Hedwig soared off, and Harry’s head popped out. “Well, that was fun.”

“I can almost taste the sarcasm.” Draco drawled.

“What happened?” Jess asked urgently. “What was that owl for?”

“To tell me that I’ve been expelled from Hogwarts.”

“They can’t!” James protested. “They can’t do that!”

“Calm down, James.” David said, although he looked just as angry. “I’m sure someone at the Ministry has some sense.”

Harry answered dully. “Then I got another owl from Mr Weasley telling me not to surrender my wand and to stay put. Then I got an owl from Sirius telling me not to leave the house.

“That’s it?” Addie asked. “That’s all you said?!”

“I was probably in a hurry.” Sirius said. “Sorry, Harry.”

Then I got another owl from the Ministry telling me that I haven’t been expelled, but I’ve got a trial to decide whether I should be or not.”

James relaxed slightly. “Good.”

“But they can’t expel you for defending yourself, surely!” Jess protested. “It doesn’t make sense!”

“None of it makes sense.” Harry sighed, rubbing his scar.

“Do you think it’s hurting again?” Lily asked in concern.

Harry grimaced. “It hasn’t stopped since he came back.”

Jess’s brow creased in concern. “You look tired, sweetheart.”

“I am tired.” Harry admitted. “But …” He broke off, staring down into the dark garden.

Lily and James both stiffened.

Jess glanced down as well, just to make sure he hadn’t seen something. There was nothing there …

And relaxed.

… so she turned back to Harry. “Who did you write to?”

“Ron. And Hermione. And Sirius.” Harry scowled. “And I want actual news this time – not just “There’s lots going on, but we can’t tell you”.”

Hermione grimaced. “Sorry, Harry.”

Harry waved her off. “It’s fine. You tried.”

Jess grimaced in sympathy, as Harry yawned. “You should get some sleep, Harry.”

“But …” Again, Harry broke off, and Jess retreated inside for a second to fetch the drainpipe.

“Mind out,” she warned, threading one end out of the window and towards him.

“What’s this for?” Harry asked, grabbing hold of it.

“Well, I don’t happen to be in possession of a mobile telephone.”

“Are they mobile now then?” Lily asked in interest.

Hermione nodded. “They’re getting more popular, mobile phones. Smaller, too.”

Jess pointed out briskly, taping her end of the drainpipe to the window sill. “And if it rains, we’ve got a problem sticking our heads out of the window. Is your bed up against the wall?” She asked, tossing the tape along to him.

“Yeah it is.” Harry caught it deftly and proceeded to copy her actions.

Jess caught the tape again when he threw it back and pulled her head back inside, settling on the bed in her own room. “Is that better?”

“I can still hear you if that’s what you mean.” Harry answered, perfectly audible through the pipe.

Lily grinned. “Good. Now you can be comfortable while you talk.”

Jess smiled in satisfaction. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it meant she could still talk to her boy. “Now I think it’s time for you to go to bed, sweetheart.”

Harry sighed. “Alright. But …”

“Goats butt.” Jess quoted. “Birds fly. And teenage wizards who have just fought off Dementors need their sleep.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Sirius …”

“I know.” Her brother agreed softly. “That’s what Mum says.”

“It is?” James asked.

“Well, the last part changes.” Jen conceded. “But the first part …”

“Maybe it is you.” Lily said.

“Well, we’ll find out soon, I hope.” Jen said. “They won’t leave Harry there for much longer.”

Harry laughed weakly, becoming a little dimmer. “Alright. I’m changing first though.”

“That might be a good idea.” Jess agreed, leaning against the wall. “How did your aunt and uncle take it?”

Harry laughed again, derisively this time. “How do they take anything magical? Uncle Vernon was all for blaming me for what had happened to their Ickle Diddykins, then Aunt Petunia knows what Dementors are – apparently she heard Dad telling Mum …”

James frowned. “When have I ever talked to you about Dementors?”

“That was me.” Sirius said. “Jen and I visited after second year to thank her parents for letting us stay there after … Well, you know. We were talking about our parents and someone mentioned Azkaban, I think. Why’d you think it was your dad?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet.”

“She actually used your parents’ names?” Jess asked in surprise.

“Well, she said she heard ‘that awful boy’ telling ‘her’.” Harry amended.

“Ah.” Sirius said, nodding. “That explains it.”

“I assume she meant Mum and Dad. Though why Dad thought Dementors were an appropriate subject of conversation, I don’t know.”

“It might not have been your dad.” Jess said fairly. “Your mum was a Marauder, you said – there are four boys there who your aunt might have and probably did consider ‘awful’, any one of whom could have visited her during the summer.”

“And we did.” Sirius said cheerfully.

“That’s true.” Harry conceded. “Oh, and then Uncle Vernon was all for throwing me out – which I’d have been all for – I’d have come to you – except those letters told me not to – and then Aunt Petunia got a Howler of all things that said, “Remember my last, Petunia,” and she said I had to stay.”

“What on earth …?” Lily asked slowly.

“Dumbledore, maybe?” Jen suggested. “He did leave that letter with Harry at the beginning of the first book. Maybe it explained about the blood wards and how the family was safer with Harry there.”

“Maybe.” Lily agreed.

Jess let out a steady breath. “Well.” She said on the end of it. “That’s a turn up for the books. Who was it from?”

“No idea.” There was a rustle of sheets. “Alright, I’m in bed, but don’t expect me to sleep.”

Jess smiled softly. She had been looking after Harry for long enough that she knew one or two tricks to get him to sleep, no matter how wired, or how scared he might be.

“And what might they be?” Fred asked innocently.

Harry looked sheepish. “Jess has a magic voice, I swear. There are a few songs that she can sing and it sends me straight to sleep.”

“Dancing bears, painted wings,

Things I almost remember,

And a song someone sings,

Once upon a December …”

“That’s one of her favourites.” Harry remarked, when the book paused on its own.

Her voice, though quiet, filled the room and floated through the drainpipe to the room next door. She had built up a repertoire of songs to use as lullabies over the years, but this was one of her favourites, simply because its background – a film about a young woman who didn’t remember who she was – had struck a chord with her.

“It would.” Lily frowned. “I don’t know that one though.”

“It’s about the Russian royal family.” Hermione explained. “Based on the theory that when they were assassinated, the princess somehow escaped. It’s the story of how she found her way home.”

“Someone holds me safe and warm,

Horses prance through a silver storm,

Figures dancing gracefully

Across my memory …”

She had given up trying to puzzle out her own history, and had done just weeks after waking in hospital on August 2nd, 1982, with no idea why she was there.

Sirius sucked in a breath. “August 2nd …”

“It’s got to be Jen.” Addie whispered.

“I disappeared August 1st, right?” Jen asked.

Sirius nodded, gripping Addie’s hand. “Yeah, you did.”

She had been found, doctors told her, by the postman, who had knocked on the door to deliver a package. She was a creature of habit, so when she hadn’t answered, he had become concerned and peered through the letter box to see her lying motionless at the bottom of the stairs.

Jen shook her head. “I don’t know … Maybe she is just a Muggle with amnesia and latent magic. Creature of habit implies I’d been there for a while.”

“Not unless the Memory Charm was set to affect everyone around you.” Addie disagreed.

“What Death Eater would go to that amount of trouble?” Jen asked. “Why not just kill me?”

“I’m still not convinced it was the Death Eaters.” Addie said darkly.

An ambulance was duly called and she awoke a day later, only able to offer a tentative explanation of falling down the stairs.

The doctors gave her some pain-killers and discharged her, once they were certain that she was in no further danger.

As soon as she got home, she climbed the stairs and found the culprit in her accident – the carpet had become loose and must have tripped her on her way downstairs that morning.

“Nice and neat.” David commented, looking at his ‘niece’ with concern. “Too neat for my liking.”

“Far away, long ago,

Glowing dim as an ember,

Things my heart used to know,

Once upon a December …”

“It is a beautiful song.” Lily murmured absently.

She had been able to tell the doctors her name, of course, and where she lived, and who her parents were – had been (they’d died in a car crash four years previously) – but she couldn’t actually remember anything.

She just knew it had happened.

She had been assured that her almost-amnesia would disappear over time, but so far she had seen no improvement. She could remember that she grew up in America, before moving to England to finish her schooling after her parents’ deaths, but she couldn’t actually remember doing it.

Plus she had no trace of an American accent in her voice, and her passport claimed she’d never left the country.

“Ah.” Addie smirked. “Someone messed up.”

“If it is me and a Memory Charm,” Jen said, “you have to admit, they did a good job.”

Remus rolled his eyes. “Only you, Selena.”

“Someone holds me safe and warm,

Horses prance through a silver storm,

Figures dancing gracefully

Across my memory …”

And then there were the dreams, which had been around for as long as she could remember – although that was only just over fourteen years.

Thinking of the dreams caused her eyes to flicker up towards the sky, where the moon peeked out from behind a cloud.

It would be full in just over a week, and that dream – the one she had never told Harry about – would return. The dream of pain and agony – not hers, but someone else’s, and she couldn’t help feeling that if she just knew where they were, she could help them.

Harry nodded. “I thought so. I knew she wasn’t telling me something.”

Jen glanced at Remus. She’d been trying not to get her hopes up, not truly believing that she and Jessica were the same person, but the more information that was revealed, the more likely it seemed.

“Far away, long ago,

Glowing dim as an ember,

Things my heart used to know,

Things it yearns to remember …”

Jess may have given up on figuring it out, but she still wished that she could.

“And a song that someone sings …

Once upon a December …”

The last note shook slightly as she held it, and died away into the night.

There was no sound through the drainpipe, and Jess’s smile returned; she knew that Harry would have fallen asleep, lulled by her voice into accepting his own exhaustion.

Harry shook his head. “Like I said, magic voice.”

She had no doubt that the nightmares would return, but that was no reason for him to try to stay awake. However terrifying they were, that would only end badly.

“I hate it when she’s right.” Harry muttered, rubbing his face.

She stood up and moved to the window, her eyes tracking the direction Hedwig had flown in. “You’d better be able to do something about this, Sirius.” She murmured.

“I’ll do my best.” Sirius whispered, resting his head atop Addie’s.

“Because I can’t do a damn thing. I wish I could.” Her gaze drifted upwards to the few stars that shone through in the cloudy sky. “Actually, while I’m on the subject of wishing, I’ve got a few more for you. I wish I knew what was going on – really going on, not just what Harry could tell me.

“Don’t we all.” Lily muttered.

I wish I could talk to the other people in Harry’s life and get someone to listen when I say he needs help.

“That’ll take a while.” Harry grumbled. “Most people only care when they need me to save the school. I said ‘most’,” he added, before his companions could protest.

And I wish I knew who I am.”

Her voice cracked on the last word, and she turned away from the window, a tear escaping her before she could guard against it.

Remus squeezed Jen’s hand. Like his girlfriend, he was trying not to get his hopes up, but he couldn’t help it.

Little did she know, in just three days, all of these wishes would be granted.

Jen breathed a sigh of relief. “We should find out soon then.”

“This book is going to wreak havoc on my nerves.” Lily muttered shakily. “I can tell it already.”

“Just try to take it one chapter at a time.” James advised soothingly.

“I don’t know if I can.” Lily admitted.

“Well, you’re one down.” Hermione told her, checking the book. “That’s the end of the chapter. Who wants to look after it next?”