Actions

Work Header

Tangled Strings and Technicalities

Chapter Text

Sirius
June 1996, in Death

Sirius Black peeled himself up from the ground. So, this was death.

He was dead.

Interesting.

His parents would kill him. Well, they would, except for the whole 'being dead already' thing. Bit hard to kill someone who was dead. The last Black, or the last with the name, at least, dead before managing to produce a heir. Sirius could just see their ugly, judging faces, all twisted up in anger at his failings. His mum would shout and scream, his dad would be silently angry. Regulus would probably just be disappointed.

Oh, he knew he was a shit heir to the Black family name, but this failing would take the proverbial biscuit. He hoped the biscuit was a Ginger Newt.

He hoped death did not involve having to see his parents.

Sirius stood up, and took a good, long look around him. Death was an odd place, really. It looked much like the Great Hall at Hogwarts, if cleaner and emptier. No students. Which made it a whole lot less noisy. He definitely recognised the room though, from the pillars around the edges, the tall windows, and the house tables to the raised dais at the front with the teacher’s table. It was the Great Hall, he was certain of it.

No teachers, either. Now here was something that was for the best. Death wasn’t so bad, after all.

His atomach growled, Sirius thought he’d try out getting himself some food. He'd been busy, for once, the day before he died, tending to the injured, if not illegal then definitely illicit Hippogriff he kept in his mother's old bedroom and arguing with Remus about his relationship. Lack of. Shit. Hopefully someone would look after Remus. And Buckbeak. And Harry.

He walked over to the table that would have been the Gryffindor table, had this been the Hogwarts Great Hall, and took a seat on a bench. He plumped for the location he’d sat in his first night at Hogwarts, where James had sat next to him. It felt right, somehow. Comfortable. Friendly.

To Sirius’ great surprise, a few plates of food appeared in front of him. Not a feast, but a decent meal nonetheless. Pork chops, a plate of steamed rice, and what looked like banana fritters. He bit into one experimentally. Definitely banana fritters.

The House Elves of Death (which was what Sirius was choosing to call whoever had provided this food) were not quite as good as those at Hogwarts, but the food was better than anything Kreacher had ever given him. Sirius was a shit cook. He’d moved into a little house when he came of age, and his first night there was the first time in his life he’d ever tried to make a meal. It had been an utter disaster, and James had come and bailed him out.

When he had finished his meal, Sirius turned his attention to working out where the hell this was. Perhaps he should have prioritised that over eating. Remus would have.

It was at this point that Sirius noticed he was naked. Funny. He’d died in clothes. And plates were available in death, so why shouldn’t clothes be? Maybe they didn’t transcend. That wasn’t the right word. Was it? They didn’t come through. Through the Veil. Apparently, clothes couldn’t die.

Still, he didn't need any. There wasn't exactly anyone else around. He was comfortable in his body.

He was slightly less comfortable when he realised that there was in fact someone else around.

James fucking Potter.

“Hello,” said James.

“Hello! Fifteen years, almost, and you say ‘hello’ as if it was yesterday?”

“Pretty much.”

Sirius made to hug James, and couldn’t understand why his old friend was pulling back.

“Mate, you’re not wearing any clothes.”

“Yeah. Sorry. Forgot we’d banned naked hugging.”

“It was a long time ago we had that discussion, wasn’t it? Third year?”

“I think so. How do I get clothes around here?”

As soon as he thought he’d wanted some, a set appeared on the bench where he’d eaten his meal. Sirius pulled them on, not really noticing what they were, and hugged James. This time, the other man reciprocated.

“So, how have you been?” asked Sirius. “How’s Death? What’s it like? Can I watch what’s going on down there? I want to make sure Harry is okay.”

“It’s not quite that simple,” said James.

Sirius sighed. It never was. Not in his life. Each time something good happened, it was generally taken away fairly quickly.

“What now?” he asked.

“See, you’re not technically dead.”

“I’m what?”

“Not technically dead.”

“I heard it, I don’t understand it.”

“Bellatrix’s curse didn’t kill you. It immobilised you, and you fell through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. You never died. You fell into Death.”

“Does that matter?”

“That’s what I’m telling you. It does. Sirius, you never fucking listened in life and it’s clear you don’t here either. You. Are. Not. Dead. You’re here by accident. A technicality."

“Says who?”

“If I’m honest, I’m not sure,” said James, fluffing his hair in a motion Sirius had seen so many hundreds of times before. The action was the only familiar thing around here. “I’m the messenger.”

“The messenger?”

“When you die, you get someone come out to greet you. Someone already dead, who was a figure you knew and respected or looked up to when you were alive. I got my parents.”

“And I got you. I never looked up to you.”

“Course you did. Me, star Quidditch player, leader of the most famous gang in school, beloved by girls, excellent student.”

“Did not.”

James smiled. “Reckon they were scraping the barrel for you, if I’m honest. Couldn’t use your parents, could they? If you respected anyone it was McGonagall and Dumbledore and they’re both firmly still alive. Remus would have been better, but also alive, so you’re stuck with me.”

“It’s a good job Remus is still alive. Harry’s going to need him.”

“He will.” James took off his glasses and rubbed them, before looking at Sirius. Sirius thought he could see a small tear in his old friend’s eye.

“I tried,” said Sirius.

“You did your best.”

“I was stupid. I shouldn’t have gone after Peter and got caught. I could have been there for Harry.”

“I’d have gone after that slimy rat if I’d have been in your shoes.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Sirius inspected his clothes. They were Muggle clothes, the exact style he wore in his teens when he was trying to annoy his parents. The t-shirt was a Flashing Bludgers one, which he’d bought almost an exact duplicate of the summer after fourth year when the band was big amongst young wizards and he’d gone to a concert with James and Remus. And Peter.

“So,” he said. “If I’m not dead, what am I?”

“Alive,” said James, as if explaining the basics to a young child.

“Right,” said Sirius. “Are you going to send me back then?”

“It’s not quite that simple,” said James, again. Sirius groaned. “I can’t. Something to do with damaging the reputation of the Veil. You can’t go back to your current timeline because otherwise everyone would know that falling through the Veil doesn’t kill you, and Death would be swamped with people trying to get in here for fun or to see loved ones.”

Sirius’ first thought was that it was an absurd suggestion. When he thought about it a little bit more, he realised that for a start, at least half of the Gryffindors he’d ever known would have done it for a dare, just because they could. Some smarter types would want to research Death. They already were, Sirius assumed, given the Veil.

And would he honestly have wanted to talk to James, if he’d known he could? Of course.

He realised James was right.

“So what, then?” he asked.

“That’s your choice,” said James. “If you want to, you’re allowed to die at this point and go on. Or become a ghost, if you prefer. Why anyone would want that, I don’t know. I’m not supposed to tell you which to choose or make one seem better or worse. Or you can choose to live, but you can’t go back to the point you died and I can’t set you down in the future.”

“I can go to the past?”

“If you want.”

“And will I be me at my age, or me as I was then?”

“You, as you are now. Shit. How old are you? How old would I be now?”

“Thirty six.”

“Wow.”

“And I could go back anywhere?”

“I wasn’t given any restrictions.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’ve explained it all to you in baby steps. Twice, at points. I’m not sure what is left to not understand.”

“Everything,” said Sirius. The text on his t-shirt was flashing different colours, just as the original had.

“Look,” said James. “Maybe give that tiny brain of yours a rest, and stop trying to understand it. Just take the choice. I’m not allowed to tell you what to do… but, I know what I’d do.”

“What?” asked Sirius. He thought he knew already.

“Go back a bit, and stop Voldemort and his Death Eaters before they could get my wife and son. Saving myself would be an obvious bonus.”

“I can change the past?”

“If you go into the past, you change it. Don’t you remember the lecture we got from Dumbledore that time we tried to make a Time Turner so that Remus didn’t have to get bitten?”

“I do. I was saved with a Time Turner by your son and his friend Hermione, on Dumbledore’s orders.”

“Good lad. Knew he had enough of his father in him.”

“Your head hasn’t deflated in being dead, has it? Okay. I choose to go back.”

“Where to? When you choose, that’s our time up.”

“I don’t want to leave you again, James.”

“I don’t want to be stuck here. Unfortunately, I died properly. Like a man, or more like a fucking Muggle, since I didn’t even take my wand to to the door with me. You regret going after Wormtail; I regret that.”

“It wouldn’t have made a difference.”

“That’s what I try to tell myself. And I’m choosing to take that as empathy, not as saying I’m a shit wizard.”

“How’s Lily?”

“It’s not really like that up here. I’m only here and now because I’m needed. That’s how it works. Until we’re needed, it’s like being asleep.”

“Oh.”

“Better choose your time. I was told this wasn’t a school reunion. Sorry I can’t have longer with you, mate. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed all of you, except that fucking rat.”

“I’ve missed you, too.”

For a few moments, they sat in silence again. James, dressed in grey robes, wiped the lenses of his glasses on them again. Sirius eyed his feet. He’d not bothered to ask for shoes. Would he need them? He didn’t want to wake up in his new time without shoes.

As he thought that, a pair of black leather boots and some slightly lurid stripy socks appeared. He pulled them on, in silence.

“Nice socks,” said James.

“What’s with the Great Hall?” asked Sirius.

“I don’t know,” said James, looking around. “You choose your own environment, up here. My parents met me in our old sitting room from when I was a child.”

Sirius thought about that.

“Okay,” he said, finally. “1978.”

“Good luck,” said James, as the Great Hall began to fall away around them, the edges of the room fading into black. The two men hugged, breaking away before James began to disappear too. Sirius was alone once more.

Chapter Text

Hermione
June 2002: Junior Undersecretary to the Minister’s Office, Ministry of Magic

“Ron’s just panicking,” said Ginny Weasley, stretching out her legs in the most comfortable chair in Hermione's office. It was a very lovely chair, a squashy armchair covered in purple material. Hermione liked to sit in it reading papers. “He’s a bit insensitive, yes, but he wouldn’t try to hurt you deliberately.”

“Lavender Brown,” muttered Hermione, sat behind her desk which was piled with parchment, books and quills. She clenched her teeth at the thought.

“Come on, he was what, sixteen? Seventeen? Ron wasn’t very smart at seventeen.”

“You can say that again.”

“I’m willing to sit here and complain about my brother whenever you want,” said Ginny. “Any of them, really. I’m even at the point where I can happily badmouth Fred now. But I don’t think Ron, or any of them, would try to be nasty just to make you hate him.”

“I haven’t got anything against any of your other brothers,” said Hermione, slightly avoiding Ginny’s point. She liked Ginny, a lot, but perhaps she wasn’t the best person to offload to about her relationship. In some ways she was, because she did always enjoy a moan about Ron. In other ways… well, siblings stuck up for each other in the end, didn’t they.

“Probably because you don’t know them as well as you known Ron. Essentially, they’re all as bad as each other.”

“Even Bill?”

“Bill’s got a serious complex about his stuff. Nobody touches Bill’s stuff, or you get hexed into next month. And he’s a bit of a wanker about knowing more than the rest of us about stuff, because he’s the oldest. But when you’re all adults, who’s the oldest kind of ceases to matter."

“I hated being an only child as a kid.”

“I hated being the youngest of seven.”

“Is this all still part of the interview?” asked Luna Lovegood, from a chair in the corner of the room. She was using a filing cabinet as a desk, with parchment spread everywhere, and a lilac quill floated above it.

“No, Luna, sorry. I don’t really want my love life in The Quibbler,” said Hermione. “Ginny shouldn’t even be here.”

“You invited me,” Ginny retorted. “It’s entirely not my fault that you double-booked our catch-up with your interview with Luna.”

“It’s a profile, actually,” said Luna. “As the new Junior Undersecretary to the Minister, Hermione is a very influential figure in the post-war government. My readers want to know her positions on important issues of the day.”

Hermione had been reluctant to agree to the interview. Luna was nice, but as a journalist had a varied output. Hermione had been mostly expecting questions about creatures that did not exist. She’d been pleasantly surprised. Luna had asked her about her priorities for change in the magical community, and where she felt the Ministry was going. She’d even kept her magical creature questions to be about those that did verifiably exist.

“What did Ronald do?” asked Luna.

“He’s saying he doesn’t know if he’s ready to move in with Hermione. I told him he should get over himself and just do it. Hermione’s got quite reasonably upset over it.”

“This is the third bloody time we’ve had this argument,” said Hermione. “He’s getting to the point where I’m going to think he’s not serious about us.”

“He is,” Ginny assured her. “He’s just a knob.”

“I noticed he could be, sometimes, when we were at school,” said Luna. “He does have a good heart, though.”

“A knob of the highest order,” agreed Hermione.

“Well,” said Ginny. “Bitching about my brother is all well and good, but I’ve got to get going. Promised to meet Mum after I was done here. Something about wedding favours. I think they’re the wrong colour. She ordered blue. These are turquoise, she says.”

“Does it matter?” asked Hermione.

“Not a clue,” Ginny sighed. “I just want to get married. I don’t actually care about the favours. But Bill and Fleur’s wedding was ruined by Death Eaters, Audrey’s family planned hers and Percy’s, George and Angelina eloped, so Mum thinks she’s running out of chances for the perfect Weasley wedding. Until Ron pops the question, that is.”

“Fat chance of that.”

“Ronald is a funny person,” said Luna. “I think he’s planning something rather soon.”

“Really?” asked Hermione. She believed nothing of the sort. He wouldn’t even move in with her, which was hardly the behaviour of a man who was about to propose. Although he had said some lovely things when he was apologising. And brought flowers.

Actions were more important than words, she’d told him, but she’d put the flowers in pride of place anyway. And then said a few things that were quite rudep, but also accurate.

“But besides, wedding favours are such bad luck,” said Luna, and expanded on that point as she packed away her parchment to leave with Ginny.

“I’ll tell Mum that,” said Ginny, when Luna had finished. “Might get her to at least get the thing in perspective. The guest list is ridiculous. Half the wizarding world seems to think they’re entitled to come because of who Harry is. We’ve got the Minister of Magic, because it’s Kingsley and we like him, although whoever it was they’d probably want an invite. The Headmistress of Hogwarts, and what seems like half the staff, including Hagrid and Grawp, a giant for goodness sake. Nothing against giants, but do you know what a nightmare they are for seating plans? The Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. Supreme Mupwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. Plus my Quidditch team, the England team, a few foreign players, and the Keeper of the Chudley Cannons as a favour to Ron. Oh, and the Chair of the International Quidditch Organisation and the organisers of the World Cup.”

Hermione grinned. “And Harry’s Muggle cousin and his girlfriend. Harry’s godson and his grandmother. All the remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix. Every redhead in Devon.”

“The Weasleys are a bigger family than you can possibly imagine,” sighed Ginny.

“The entire Auror Office. Heads of most the Departments. A couple of ghosts.”

“Nearly Headless Nick invited Harry to his deathday party once, and that apparently requires an invite to our wedding,” said Ginny. “Even Mum wasn’t aware of that bit of etiquette.”

“Pretty much everyone in my year or yours at school,” continued Hermione.

“Including both my ex-boyfriends,” said Ginny with a grimace. “I know Harry and Dean play Quidditch sometimes, but Michael Corner did not need to be on the list.”

“Wedding of the year, though,” laughed Hermione, enjoying herself now. “This is what you’ve got to suffer for being the Couple of the Century, or whatever it was Witch Weekly called you.”

“Fucking Witch Weekly wants an exclusive on my wedding dress,” Ginny grumbled. “Luna, does The Quibbler want rights to the official bridesmaid dress reveal? Great article, that.”

“I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing Daddy likes to cover,” said Luna. “I’d better get this article back to him, anyway. We go to press tomorrow, and he likes to have everything organised by the night before. He’s a very organised man, Daddy is.”

“I’ll walk you down to the Atrium,” said Hermione. “I need to return a few things to the Department of Mysteries.”

“Don’t trust them in there,” said Luna. “They’re breeding time down there.”

“You can’t breed time,” said Ginny. “Anyway, they don’t do time experiments any more, do they Hermione? We smashed their time turners years ago.”

Hermione looked at the tiny black box. For once, Luna was closer to the truth than Ginny. She slipped it into her pocket, and gathered up the parchments that went with it. To be on the safe side, she slipped them into a cardboard document wallet. These were best not seen by most eyes in the Ministry’s corridors.

Ginny and Luna continued to argue about the nature of time travel on their way to the lifts. Hermione pressed the buttons, considering the other two were far too distracted. It was a very good job nobody with any knowledge of her current projects was in the lift, just an elderly wizard from Magical Maintenance and a bloke from the Department of Magical Cooperation who was talking in fluent Spanish to a quill. They’d likely have assumed she’d told Luna and Ginny something.

Although, time travel had been speculated enough in the papers lately that it could all be a giant coincidence. She expected that’s how Luna had leapt on the topic. Although Luna’s primary reading material was still her dad’s magazine, and some books Hermione wouldn’t have chosen from the library, she did now venture out into the mainstream press from time to time.

“Atrium,” said the cool voice of the lift.

“This is where I leave you,” said Hermione, getting out with them to say goodbye. “Are you alright getting out?”

“Oh yes,” said Luna, while Ginny nodded. The three witches hugged. As Ginny pulled away, she knocked into Hermione’s folder and sheets of parchment flew everywhere.

“Oh crap, sorry,” said Ginny, reaching to pick them up.

“Let me, please, it’s confidential,” said Hermione. Luna had already bent down to try and help, and in her rush to beat them to the most secretive of the papers Hermione knocked into both of the others.

The tiny black box fell out of her pocket, and the golden clasp fell open. Ginny and Luna both reached for it.

“Don’t!” Hermione cried.

Her hand touched the box just as the other two grabbed it. She felt a jerk in the back of her neck, and the Atrium span away from them.

Chapter Text

Sirius
June 1978, the Department of Mysteries, Ministry of Magic

Well, you probably should come out of Death as you got in, thought Sirius, as he landed on his arse next to the Veil. It made sense. And fucking hurt more than dying, this living again. Wouldn’t have hurt for it to be a little bit more dignified. Gracefully stepping out, perhaps.

Still, nobody around to see, at least. He’d probably have been arrested on sight.

He got himself to his feet, and took a good look at himself. No obvious signs that he’d been in Death. Good. Wearing clothes. Very good. They were the same ones he’d had on when temporarily dead. The Flashing Bludgers t-shirt was at least decade-appropriate, he thought, so there was that.

Interesting, wasn’t it, that clothes came out of Death with you, but didn’t go in with you?

Still, it wasn’t the time for pondering. It would be best to get out of the Department of Mysteries fast, before he either got put in Azkaban for breaking and entering or the Unspeakables decided he was a curiosity to be investigated. His dad had invited an Unspeakable around for dinner, once. Sirius was wary of them.

He started off in the direction he thought was out, although where he was intending to go once he got out of the Department was a mystery.

Ha.

It occurred to Sirius that he was free, properly free, for the first time since November 1981, the first time around. In this time, he wasn’t a fugitive. This made him want to run out of the Ministry and do something really stupid, just because he could, but then that would be giving Dumbledore and Molly Weasley all the reasons they needed to have been absolutely right back in 1996.

Why did they have to be right?

Patience, Black, he thought, in Minerva McGonagall’s voice. He liked to use her voice when telling himself off. It made him take himself more seriously. Sirius had once, on one of the many days in Azkaban, tried to rationalise with himself why exactly he felt the need to use someone else’s voice in order to take his own thought seriously. It was either the effect of the Dementors that made him fail, or that he just wasn’t able to answer the question.

Perhaps it was late, after the Ministry had closed, because he didn’t see anyone on his (rather slow and full of wrong turns) journey out of the Department. He shut the door behind him with a definitive click, hoping never to have to encounter that place again.

He needed a plan. He’d make his way out of the Ministry, Apparate to the Leaky Cauldron, and try and get some gold out of his account at Gringotts. If they were still open. There was another Sirius Black in this time period with an account, and so he should be able to access their gold. His gold. It was a headfuck, but if he kept it simple he’d be able to convince the goblins to give him access. He could then rent a room at the Leaky, under a fake name, and find somewhere more permanent after he’d had a meal. He was still hungry.

As he walked up the seemingly endless corridor from the Department of Mysteries to the lifts, he thought about his conversation with James. It had been highly unsatisfactory. He’d spent, what, fourteen years thinking of all the things he’d say to James if he was able to see him again, and he’d said none of them. Mostly, he’d whinged about being dead and failed to understand what James was saying.

Truth be told, Sirius still wasn’t sure he understood what James had been saying.

But that was beside the point.

He should have told James about Harry, for starters. If he was dead, and had a son that was living, he’d want to know all about him and how he was doing. Sirius should have told James what a great boy Harry was, and…

Fuck. Sirius didn’t actually know if Harry had survived their little thing at the Department of Mysteries. He’d last seen him with the boy from Hogwarts that wasn’t Ron, and Remus. And then he’d got distracted with Bellatrix. Remus would have seen him alright, wouldn’t he?

Well, that just meant his job here to sort everything out was even more urgent.

Further up the corridor, he realised he’d been wrong about the time. It was clearly working hours as, when he approached the lifts, the Ministry was busy. This was fine. Non-workers were allowed in quite a few parts of the Ministry buildings, and it wasn’t necessarily common knowledge which. As long as he wasn’t spotted glaringly out of bounds, he’d be absolutely fine.

He picked a lift which looked mostly full of lower ranking Ministry workers, and pressed the button for the Atrium.

It was as he was getting out of the lift that he noticed something odd. The lift area was mostly filled with Ministry workers, in their Ministry uniforms of various colours, going about their daily business. The walls were plastered with posters raising awareness of the activities of Death Eaters, and a few on common magical diseases and one lonely notice for the Ministry Quidditch League. Sirius remembered the Death Eater posters. They were mostly designed to scare witches and wizards into their homes and out of the way, he’d always thought. It was one way to try and keep people safe.

It wasn’t the workers or the posters that were odd. It was the small group of women clustered by a lift opposite, deep in conversation.

None of them worked there. One of them wore robes of a shimmering gold, and flowers in her hair, which was in no Ministry dress code he recognised. Another was in Muggle clothing, although not clothes in a style he’d seen before. Certainly not the styles of the day. The third could possibly have passed for a Ministry worker, with robes of a deep crimson, but they weren’t uniform. Uniform for all but the highest levels, the Minister, his staff and the Department Heads, hadn’t been abolished until 1983 under Bagnold. And she was too young to be any of those people. Early twenties, he’d have said, for the lot of them.

And they just didn’t look as though they were supposed to be here.

Visitors. They must be.

Just because he was hiding something, didn’t mean anyone else was.

Did it?

They did look suspicious. Mad-Eye Moody had taught him, well, seventeen years ago but also a year ago, now that was confusing, to look for the suspicious and to have his eye on it. And, well, this was screaming suspicious.

Unbidden, Sirius remembered the time James had thought a group of men were acting suspiciously near to a known Death Eater base, and tried to infiltrate them. They’d been Muggles, and he’d ended up getting beaten up by them.

Well, these women were unlikely to beat him up, and he was able to use his wand to defend himself.

Wait, did he have a wand?

He checked the pocket of the jeans, and found his wand. Relief flooded through him, and he felt the familiar tingle as his hand brushed the polished wood.

Technically, this was not his wand, not the one he’d chosen at eleven. It was one Remus had acquired for him, and had never worked as well as his real wand. It worked a lot better than the one he’d stolen immediately after Azkaban, though, so he was sticking with it. Maybe he could visit Ollivander’s, and get something that worked properly.

After he’d worked out what these women were up to. A puzzle would get his brain working nicely. There was a slight fuzziness in his brain, after his imprisonment, self-imprisonment, and death.

Not surprising, really.

The women were clearly arguing, and didn’t want to be overheard. He inched closer.

“What even was that?”

“I can’t tell you, it’s confidential,” said the brown-haired woman in the fancy crimson robes.

“You can if something’s happened to us because of it!” said the Muggle-clothed woman, flicking her ginger hair over her shoulder. “I’m sure that’s an allowed exception!”

“It’s not,” said crimson-robes.

“I think we may not be where we started off, temporally, although we appear to be where we are in physical space,” said the blonde one in the shimmering robes. She was the only one of the group looking around, especially at the posters on the walls. “There’s Death Eaters in this Ministry. And the lift doors are different. And the uniforms. I wonder if the Ministry are having a history day.”

She was the only one whose face he could see, and she looked vaguely familiar to Sirius. There was something about the soft face with the weirdly pale, slightly protruding eyes that he’d seen before. Recently. He shook his head.

Mad-Eye had warned him about wanting to see familiarity when in a stressful and unfamiliar environment. He’d experienced this before. It had nearly got him killed, twice, but he’d learnt now.

Sirius still wanted to keep an eye on the three women. He picked up a Daily Prophet someone had abandoned on the floor, and walked over to a bench near to them. He sat down, parked himself firmly behind his paper, and listened in. A surprisingly effective surveillance technique for one that was so simple.

“I’m telling you, you’re allowed to break the rules occasionally! There’s something not right and I need to know what it is!” the ginger girl was saying, hands waving as she spoke.

The blonde girl had left the group and was carefully assessing one of the posters. Interestingly, she’d chosen the one about the Quidditch League. She picked up the corner of it with her wand, inspecting the parchment it was printed on, almost. She had an interesting manner, but she almost certainly wasn’t a threat.

Sirius didn’t genuinely think any of them were a threat. But it was interesting, and he had nothing better to do.

“Hermione, for fuck’s sake!”

Hermione. That was Harry’s best friend’s name. She’d had brown hair, too, though the Hermione he’d known had hair that was far bushier and she’d never worn robes like this Hermione. It wasn’t a name you heard often, but it was almost certainly a coincidence.

As he thought that, three things happened that made Sirius almost certain it was not in fact a coincidence.

Firstly, the ginger girl was referred to as Ginny. Ginny was Ron Weasley’s sister and a friend of Hermione’s in his timeline. Another Ginny and another Hermione together, when the names weren’t common? And this Ginny also had hair of the exact shade of red that Ginny Weasley had.

Secondly, the Hermione hissed about the Department of Mysteries and their experimentation with time.

And thirdly, the blonde girl wandered back to her friends, and announced loudly that the year was 1978, which produced shocked reactions in both of the other women.

This was either one heck of a coincidence, or they were also time travelling.

It never rains but it pours. A Muggle expression, that he’d borrowed off Remus’ mum, along with ‘now, in a minute’. Sirius loved that one. It was pouring, now, that one worked quite well here.

Fucking hell, was another thing that worked here.

“Hermione, what the hell?” said Ginny, in the angriest whisper Sirius had ever heard. He peered over the top of his paper, and turned a page so as to more convincingly give the impression that he was reading it. “Time travel?”

“I told you it was confidential!” said Hermione, crossly. “I don’t think that I should tell you this, but the Department of Mysteries have been experimenting with creating new Time Turners and they asked me to take a look! I’ve read all the research, and they delivered a sample of where they’re at with the practical part of the research, and I was going to return it. And the whole things so unstable that I was going to suggest to Kingsley that they stopped the practical research until the Arithmancy and the other theoretical elements were more together. It must have brought us here when it was knocked.”

Kingsley. The Kingsley from 1996, and likely the same one, was an Auror. Who was he now if he was messing with Time?

“That’s all I wanted to know in the first place,” said Ginny, visibly deflating slightly. “I wanted to know what I was dealing with. Fuck. Can we go back?”

“I don’t know,” said Hermione. Her eyes flicked to the small black box she was holding in her hand. “I don’t know how this works to use. It’s not supposed to be operational yet.”

“Why did it pick here?” asked Ginny, looking around.

“I think you mean, why did it pick now?” asked the blonde girl, who had removed one of the flowers from her hair and was gently removing the petals. They formed a neat puddle around her left foot. “We are still in the Ministry, which must be in the same geographical location. We have moved through time.”

Ginny appeared to be ignoring her.

“We can work this out,” said Hermione. “I have at least most of the papers here on how this was created. If we can get somewhere private, I may be able to work out how to put it back together.”

“And then we just need to work out how to use it. Trial and error with time travel, I’m sure that goes fabulously,” said Ginny. “Fucking hell, Hermione. Next time, put it in a spelled box or something. I’m going to miss my meeting with Mum. She’s going to be livid. The favours may never be right. Shit. What if I miss the wedding? And the Cup? It’s my World Cup debut in two weeks Hermione!”

“The beauty of time travel is that you can go back to any point,” said the blonde. “We cannot miss an event that we can travel to just before.”

“We couldn’t control it to get here,” said Ginny.

“Shhh!” whispered Hermione. “People might hear! We cannot be discovered!”

“Why not?” asked Ginny. “Someone here could help us! Or we could steal into the Department of Mysteries and nick one of the Time Turners, they’ll still be here in 1978 won’t they? When were they invented? Go back, replace it, job done.”

“You can’t,” Hermione hissed. Sirius turned another page of the newspaper. The articles in this were all depressing. All death, war, destruction, and politics. He saw the mention of Lucius Malfoy’s name, which was never a good sign.

“If we change anything at all we could change how things are in our time, seriously! We could stop people we know being born, or influence what they do, or almost anything! Kill people!”

“It isn’t killing if they were never here in the first place, not philosophically” said the blonde, “although you’re right that it isn’t the outcome we would want in most cases.”

“If I said that, it would be threatening,” said Ginny. “You say it, and it’s fine. Hermione, Harry said when you and him went back to save Sirius, everything happened because you’d already done it.” Sirius’ ears pricked up at the mention of his own name. Ginny had her hands shoved in the pockets of her jeans and was looking at Hermione with a challenging look on her face.

“That was a simplistic interpretation of one scenario! Harry doesn’t understand time theory, and why should he? It’s far more complicated than that, oh, I can’t explain it all here! We need to get out of the Ministry, quickly, we look out of place enough already!”

“Fine,” said Ginny, crossing her arms. “But if you don’t get me back in time for the Cup and the wedding, I’m holding you personally responsible. And, I’ll tell Mum it was your fault.”

“Time is a many-layered complexity,” said the blonde.

Sirius didn’t know if that was supposed to make sense. It definitely didn’t seem to help.

He waited for the three women to get to the exit of the lift area, and out into the main Atrium, before he folded up his paper and followed. He thought about transforming into a dog, but it was likely Padfoot would be chased out of the Ministry faster than Sirius Black. And his spacial awareness was shit as a dog.

They were walking towards one of the exits, Hermione and Ginny close together and the blonde girl slightly further away. She was staring round at the Ministry workers and the huge room, while the other two continued in their conversation in terse whispers.

It was an impressive room, if you hadn’t seen it before. Sirius had, and was a bit over it by now. It was ten or so men in height, curved at the top and panelled with huge black tiles which reflected the light. The fountain was offensive, but all the shiny marble was still quite alluring. And all the wizards. So many wizards, most wearing uniform but some wearing some quite eye-catching get-ups.

The small group had stopped by a Floo point. Sirius walked up to the next one, and pretended to consult his watch. He didn’t have a watch. Hadn’t, since he’d been to sentenced to Azkaban, and the one James’ parents had given him for his seventeenth birthday had been removed on his imprisonment. He listened in instead.

“We could go to The Burrow,” said Ginny. “Mum and Dad would keep the secret.”

“They can’t know!” said Hermione. “One thing, will change everything!”

“So you say,” said Ginny. “Leaky Cauldron, under fake names? I’ve got some coins in my pocket, enough for a couple of nights at least.”

“Alright,” said Hermione. She threw a handful of Floo powder into the flames. “The Leaky Cauldron!” In a gust of green flames, she was gone. Her companions followed her.

Again, Sirius had nothing better to do than remain with his fellow time travellers. He’d been planning on going to the Leaky himself, anyhow. He gave it a minute, or as close to as he could manage without a watch, and followed.

He arrived at a Leaky Cauldron that looked much as it ever had done. Sirius had always had the impression that this bar, along with the Hogs Head in Hogsmeade, didn’t change much. It was as it was, and that was that. Tom was the barman, and had always been the barman, and would likely always be the barman. The barmaids changed, more frequently than the menu.

The three women were at the bar, presumably negotiating a room for the night. He slipped to the other end of it, although in listening range, and ordered a pint of mulled mead from the barmaid. It was lucky there were coins in his pocket. It was almost like Death had provided him with the things he would need.

He levered himself onto a red leather barstool. It was less worn than the last time he’d been through here.

The bar was very quiet, the war most likely keeping people home. The only others in there were pairs or single wizards, no witches, with small collections of shopping. Sirius remembered this time period. Very few people left the house alone, and even fewer for no reason. Quite a few of the people here looked incredibly dodgy.

“We’re near to empty, you can have as many rooms as you like, girlies,” Tom the barman was saying to Hermione and her friends. “Will you be taking one large one, or three? I’ll charge the same either way, not like I’d as be letting the others tonight in this climate.”

“One large one, please,” said Hermione, looking to her friends for confirmation. Ginny nodded, while the blonde stared down the bar at Sirius. He looked away, down into his pint. He doubted she’d suspect anything. Men looked at women in bars all the time, and she wasn’t unattractive.

“Two Sickles,” said Tom, to the women.

“For two nights, please,” added Hermione, prompted by Ginny. “And three meals, whatever you’ve got, and three Butterbeers.”

“Seven Sickles, two Knuts,” said Tom, totting up the items on a jotter by the till. “I’ll have your meals and drinks in ten.” He bustled off into the back with his jotter pad, shouting to someone else in there.

“What do we do now?” Ginny asked.

“Get some food, is a good place to start,” said Hermione, “and then…”

“I think we need to ask that man over there why he has followed us from the Ministry,” said the blonde woman, pointing directly at Sirius.

Fuck. He should have got his paper back out.

Chapter Text

Hermione
June 1978, the Leaky Cauldron, London

“Luna!”

“What? He’s been looking at us for a very long time. Had you not noticed? He was quite clearly not reading the paper and only pretending to, at the Ministry. I thought you would have seen him by now.”

“We can’t talk to him! We’d affect the timeline!”

“Unless we’ve always been here, when this was the past, and our future was still as it is, and we’re supposed to talk to him because that’s what we did in this time period when we were here before,” said Ginny. “If you understood that. I don’t know if I did. Time is confusing.” She paused. “I just want to go home,” she said, in a slightly strangled voice.

Hermione wanted to snap back at Ginny that of course they hadn’t. They weren't supposed to be here! Then, she realised that she couldn’t rule that out.

This was not how she had pictured the rest of this afternoon. She was going to have dropped the box off by now, safely, and would have written most of her report on it for Kingsley. If she was lucky, she could have then started on the draft legislation about werewolves, before sitting in on the meeting with the Russian ambassador at 6pm.

Instead, she was in a bar in 1978 trying to avoid creating a temporal disaster.

She just wanted to go home, too.

Not for the first time, Hermione Granger thought her life would likely have been far simpler had she remained firmly in the Muggle world.

“Okay,” she said to Luna. “Ginny wants to talk to him. I don’t. What do you think?” Luna was taking a sip of her Butterbeer, which had just arrived.

“I’m not sure that what I think matters,” said Luna. “I think he may be making the decision for us, which is just as much his right as ours.”

He was sat on the bar stool right next to hers. Bloody hell, when had he got there? Why hadn’t she noticed?

Looking directly at the man for the first time, she realised it was none other than Sirius Black.

Well, Hermione had known he existed in 1978, of course. She hadn't thought he’d be here. Whatever the chances were of that, they weren’t high.

But it was fine. Sirius didn’t know them yet. He would ignore them. Or, possibly, from the stories she’d been told about his youth, try to flirt with them.

What if their interaction with him changed something? What if ignoring him changed something?

“Ginny, do you recognise him?” asked Hermione in a whisper.

“It’s Sirius,” she replied. “Isn’t it?” Well, that ruled out that Hermione was hallucinating it all.

Unless she was hallucinating Ginny’s answer. Today, she wasn’t going to rule much out.

“He has a very large infestation of Nargles,” said Luna.

Well, Hermione could rule that out.

What if he was a disguised Death Eater? She felt for her wand, hidden in the pocket of her robes. No, that was stupid. No Death Eater in 1978 would know who she was to attack, because she didn't exist, and they definitely wouldn't know to impersonate Sirius because there was no connection between them yet.

She kept hold of her wand, just in case. Luna thought he’d been behind them since the Ministry. That had almost certainly been coincidence, but she wasn't taking chances.

Another member of the Black family, maybe? They might practically all be dead by 2002, but there would be, had been, a quite few here.

Before Hermione could come up with a plan, the man who was almost certainly Sirius spoke.

“Hello, Hermione.”

Hermione nearly fell off her barstool, and in righting herself slopped a large amount of her Butterbeer down herself.

“How do you know who I am?” she hissed, trying to keep her voice down but also to inject a certain amount of ‘don’t you dare mess with me’ into it.

“Well, you know who I am, of course?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” she muttered.

“Everything,” said Sirius. “And that’s Ginny Weasley over there. And I’m afraid I don’t know who you are,” he said to Luna. “Sirius Black, pleased to meet you.”

“Luna Lovegood,” said Luna, outstretching her hand which Sirius happily shook. “I’ve always been a fan of the Hobgoblins.”

“Hobgoblins?” asked Sirius, looking puzzled. Hermione suppressed a smile. Even if she seemed to be on the back foot with this version of Sirius Black, at least Luna was able to wrong-foot him.

The whole interaction was going terribly. She had no idea how he knew who she was, and who Ginny was, and what they’d done so wrong as to be able to be found out already. He was practically flirting with them all.

She probably should have expected that. Every story Remus or Sirius himself had even told her about the younger Sirius had described an annoying, overconfident, irreverent man who enjoying flirting with women and winding people up. This was exactly that man.

She cursed herself for being stupid. Maybe she should have done as Ron had encouraged and become an Auror, or at least done something else practical. A few years of a desk job, and she was already soft and unable to cope with a real, proper crisis. She actually could have used Ron, right now. Or Harry.

Harry. Ron would just be profoundly irritating at this point, and she vividly remembered telling him she wasn’t going to speak to him until he made up his mind about their relationship once and for all.

Luna was explaining to Sirius that he was the Hobgoblins’ lead singer. Sirius looked baffled.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“Sirius? If you know who we are, tell me where we first met.”

“In chronological order, in terms of the greater timeline of the wizarding world, now.”

“You heard me talking to my friends, and thought you’d try and flirt with me by knowing our names.”

“If I’m flirting with anyone, poppet, it’s the blonde one. Luna, was it?”

It was at that point that their food arrived. A standard meat-and-two-veg dish, with mashed potato and some rather thin gravy. All presented on a brown earthenware plate with what looked like a very small amount of care by whoever did these meals. It tasted decent.

She felt better, anyway. Sirius had clearly been listening into them, and had picked up her name from that. She couldn’t remember her name being used in the conversation, and they’d definitely used fake names when they’d signed in the book for their room keys. She’d chosen Jean Henderson, her middle name and her mother’s maiden name.

And it absolutely fitted with the personality of the Sirius in this time period, a trick like that.

Besides, how could it have been the Sirius from theirs? He was dead, and before that he'd been in Grimmauld Place with Order members popping in and out. There was a period between when they’d met him, in the Shrieking Shack, to when he’d gone to Grimmauld Place where he was less accounted fore, but really how likely was it that he would have time travelled.

Every single time travelling story Hermione had ever read, and when she’d had the Time Turner she’d read quite a few, there was only ever one time-traveller. There was never two from different time periods colliding. The chances were miniscule.

Her dad had often said that it was more likely to be a cock-up than a conspiracy. True, this was when dealing with his brother, who assumed the government was out to get him and took every news story as proof of that, but it made sense to Hermione.

To be on the safe side, she wanted to go up to their room after they’d eaten.

Sirius was still sat there, in discussion with Ginny now. Luna was eating slowly, a carrot speared on her fork halfway to her mouth as she watched two very unusual looking wizards arguing about something that sounded distinctly illegal. Sirius and Ginny were talking about the weather. That was harmless enough.

Hermione suddenly remembered something. Luna had said he’d followed them from the Ministry.

“Sirius?”

“Yes?”

“Do you work at the Ministry of Magic? I thought I saw you there this afternoon? I was there for…”

“A job interview,” finished Ginny, as Hermione floundered slightly.

“Which Department?”

“International Magical Cooperation,” said Hermione, thinking of the one Sirius Black was least likely to have any dealings with.

“Good luck,” he said.

“You haven't answered the question,” Ginny pointed out.

“No, I don’t work there. I was registering a Crup,” he said, smoothly. Too smoothly, perhaps.

“Where’s the Crup?” asked Ginny, one eyebrow raised.

“Oh, I sent it on home,” said Sirius. “Got a mate who’s breeding them, so he took it for me. Seven, he had, in one litter. Noise is something else. And he’s got another one due pups in the next week, so I’m taking one off his hands as a favour, really.”

“Oh.”

It was all perfectly plausible. And Hermione still had her doubts. There was something that was not quite right.

“How come you’re here?”

“Fancied a drink.” He indicated his pint, which was almost finished. “Can I buy you ladies one?”

“Of course,” said Ginny. “I’ll take a Gillywater. Hermione likes anything fruity. Luna… get her a Butterbeer.”

While Sirius was trying to catch the barmaid’s attention, Hermione glared at Ginny.

“What are you doing?”

“Being friendly! Getting a free drink! Look, in our time I’m engaged to the most famous person in wizarding Britain, and have been pretty much since leaving school. I’ve never been bought a drink by a man before!”

“Is this some kind of pre-wedding crisis?”

“Fuck, no! I love Harry, and I’ve already threatened you if you don’t get me back in time for the wedding. But I just wanted to see what it was like to be flirted with in a bar.”

“So you picked your fiancé’s godfather.”

“We don’t have much gold with us. If you want to be able to eat breakfast, it’s this drink or no drink.”

“Ginny is a free woman, in the eyes of the law,” said Luna, and went back to her people watching.

Hermione sighed. Of all the people she could have gone back in time with, she would not have chosen Luna. And Ginny… well, Hermione had learnt a long time ago that the people you liked most were not always the same as the people that would be of most use, and easiest to cope with, in a stressful situation.

She wanted to spend the rest of her life with Ronald Weasley, but she wouldn’t always pick him in an emergency.

This whole thing was becoming more of a mess with every passing second.

Sirius was back, with an armful of drinks.

“Cheers,” he said, passing them out, and clinking glasses with Hermione.

“Cheers,” said Hermione, less enthusiastically.

As she took a sip of her drink, she noticed the thing that was wrong about all of this.

Sirius Black should have been eighteen or nineteen in 1978. She realised to her shame that she’d never asked when Sirius’ birthday was. But, anyway. This Sirius was clearly older than that. He was thirty at least, which meant he was a post-Azkaban Sirius. He was at least thirty-three or thirty-four. Thirty five?

“Did you go to Hogwarts?” she asked him. “I don’t remember you.”

“Everyone remembers me,” said Sirius.

He was avoiding answering the question again.

She leant in, and whispered in his ear. She had a sudden urge to resolve the situation once and for all, which she thought was perhaps unwise.

“The real Sirius Black is eighteen, and should be at school. Who are you, or do I need to contact the Headmaster?”

“Fuck,” said the fake Sirius Black, or time-travelled Sirius Black, or bunking off school Sirius Black, Sirius Black’s renegade uncle, or whoever the hell this was. He actually did have an uncle who’d been disowned, didn’t he? He could have been as irritating and obnoxious as this one. “Where do we go from here?”

“How about, you tell me exactly who you are, how you know me, and what you want from me?” she said, attempting to sound as cocky as he had earlier in the conversation while she hid the slight tremor in her hand. “I think you’d better come up to my room.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he said, his grin as confident as ever. He had a shake to his hand, too, she noticed, as he picked up his pint. She signalled to Ginny and Luna to follow them.

Room Eight had been made ready for them, and the four walked up to it in silence. Hermione turned the key in the lock, putting her hand into the pocket of her robes as she did so. The little black box was still there, and still firmly shut. She’d taken Ginny’s advice and used several strong locking spells to keep it shut, this time.

The room was large enough, although the third bed was clearly not usually there. It was stuck in at an angle to the others, making the path across the room to the bathroom not that simple. It was simple, and clean, with a truly awful patterned carpet, and it would do them perfectly well.

Hermione balanced her drink on the bedside cabinet of the nearest bed, and sat on the edge of it. On the next bed along, Ginny did the same. Luna placed herself on the floor underneath the window.

Sirius remained standing by the door, arms crossed and leaning against a bare piece of wall. His black hair hung just past his ears, badly in need of a wash. One boot was on the floor, the other against the wall.

“So,” he said.

Hermione pointed her wand at him. Behind her, Ginny sighed.

“Tell me where you met me for the first time, or I’ll assume you’re a Death Eater,” she said.

“In the Shrieking Shack, at Hogwarts,” said Sirius, evenly. “Harry threatened to kill me. You accused Remus of being a werewolf, which was of course true. Then you saved me with a Hippogriff and a Time Turner.”

Hermione lowered her wand.
“Of course,” Sirius continued, “a good imposter would know where we met.”

“What did you say to me and Remus in the drawing room at Grimmauld Place, the night Harry got attacked by Dementors at his aunt and uncles?”

“Dumbledore should have trusted me with Harry. I would have stepped up better than those Muggles.”

“It’s the real Sirius,” said Hermione.

“But are you the real Hermione? What did you say to my mother, the first time you met her portrait?”

“That she was a sour old bitch.”

“Not wrong there,” muttered Ginny. “It explains a lot about the Black family, that portrait.”

“My mother is alive in this year,” said Sirius. “Forget being afraid of whether I’m a Death Eater in disguise, and focus on being afraid of her.”

“I’ll do you a deal,” said Hermione, as confidently as she could. “You tell us the truth, we’ll tell you it.”

“What happened to, we can’t tell anyone we’re here?” interrupted Ginny.

“Given he shouldn’t be either, I think we’re safe.” said Hermione.

“Fine,” said Sirius. “You first.”

“No, you,” said Ginny. “Catch me up to where you and Hermione are, at least. I’m fed up of being the last to know anything, as usual.”

“The signs are always around you as to the truth, if you are willing to try to see,” said Luna. Ginny ignored her.

“Fine,” said Sirius again. “Where shall I start.”

“The beginning works.”

“I was born on the third of November, 1959, to Orion and Walburga Black. I’m the third of my name in the family, named after…”

“The beginning of the bit where you ended up here,” said Hermione. She couldn't remember if the version of Sirius Black she’d known had been this avoidant and obstinate, but she wasn't going to sit around forever waiting for him to spit out an answer. “You’re not the Sirius Black from 1978, you’re from at least the summer of 1995.”

“1996. I was in Death. You three were there, weren’t you? Harry led you into the Department of Mysteries, and you put up a good fight against the Death Eaters, and the Order came to help you out. I didn't fancy staying behind, although strictly speaking Dumbledore still had me under house arrest. You three were injured by the time I arrived, so I don’t think you saw the fight, but my dear cousin Bellatrix was desperate to get to me. She succeeded. I went through The Veil, a historic and secretive portal to Death.”

Hermione nodded. They knew all this had happened. It was verifiable, given the number of eyewitnesses.

“Harry told us that much,” said Ginny.

“Harry survived that day?”

“You don’t know?” asked Hermione.

“I was in Death. I don't know anything from after that. Is Harry alive?”

“We can’t tell you what happens in the future.”

“She basically just did!” Sirius pointed at Ginny, who shrugged.

“What harm is it?” she asked.

Hermione wanted to explain exactly what harm it was all over again to Ginny. Well, she didn’t. Needed to, was a better way of saying it. Right now, though, there was a more glaring issue.

“You say, ‘in Death’, not ‘dead’,” she said to Sirius. “And you’re here, after that.”

Ginny frowned. Luna looked up from her drink.

“You’re a smart one,” said Sirius. “I was in Death. I didn’t die.”

“That’s not possible,” said Luna, flatly.

“I assure you it is,” said Sirius. “What was it James said? I’m not technically dead. I fell into Death, and as such, I got kicked out and sent on here.”

“James? Here? You don't die for eighteen years. Why are you here?” Hermione asked.

“We should have started with our story,” said Ginny. “At least ours makes sense.”

“Apparently, you can’t go back to where you fell into Death, in order to keep the integrity of the Veil intact. Otherwise, people would be falling in on purpose for dares or to talk to long lost family.”

Hermione snorted. Nobody would be that stupid. Would they?

They would. Fred and George would do it for a dare. Harry would want to speak to his parents. The Unspeakables would want to research Death more thoroughly.

“Okay,” she said. “But why here?”

“Not allowed into the future,” said Sirius. “Now, your turn. I think it’s only fair now that I understand how you got here, and why.” He looked at her, and Hermione knew there was no use in arguing with him.

She wanted to. There was a lot more to his story than he was saying, which was obvious from all the holes in it. Ginny was right. None of it made sense, and he was hiding something. You couldn’t just come back from the dead, and time travel as part of it. Luna was also right. It wasn’t possible.

She had promised to tell her story, though, and she would.

“In the time we came from,” she began, carefully, “after your death, or whatever it was, I worked in the Ministry of Magic. Will work there. I had an item from the Department of Mysteries, which I was looking at for the Minister of Magic. Luna and Ginny were with me, and it fell open in the Atrium of the Ministry. We touched it, and were transported back here.”

Her story had almost as many gaps left in it as his did.

“And what time was that?” asked Sirius.

“2002,” answered Ginny, before Hermione could prevent her. Hermione shot Ginny a look, which was supposed to say ‘stop talking, we’re giving him too much information’, but judging from Ginny’s eyebrow raise in response, it didn’t.

“Harry? Remus?” Sirius asked. For the first time in the conversation he looked truly animated. He had stopped leaning on the wall, and had taken a couple of steps forward towards Hermione.

“I can’t say,” she said, cautiously.

“Fucking hell,” he said, and threw his pint glass to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Like hell you are,” he replied, flopping back against the wall. He slid to the floor, and placed his head in his hands. “You’re just following the rules, without a care for how I feel.”

“I care!” she said.

“Hermione, why can’t we tell him?” Ginny asked. “Look at him. It’s just pointlessly cruel to withhold the information! What can he possibly do?”

“He could try and change what happens to them!”

“So they’re both dead,” Sirius muttered.

“No! Shit!” said Hermione. This was not going how she had planned. She should have left Sirius down in the bar. They hadn’t been careful, and now everything was going to change.

“One of them is dead,” Sirius said, looking up at her. “Which one?”

“Remus,” said Ginny, firmly. “And Hermione, I don’t care. He’s not going to do anything, are you Sirius?”

“Remus died,” said Sirius, with little emotion in his voice. “Remus is dead.”

“Death may not mean anything any more,” said Luna. “With you, here, and us, here. How do we know we are not all dead?”

Luna had a point. Hermione pushed that thought to the back of her brain. She was almost certain she was alive, and right now she had no time to be getting stuck in questions about whether she was dead or alive. If this was life, she needed to get everything back on track. If it was death, well, she could deal with that later.

“We’re not,” said Sirius. “Fucking hell, Remus. I loved that man.”

“He died bravely,” said Ginny. “With…”

“Shut up!” Hermione shouted. “This is all going so badly wrong!”

“You’re telling me,” said Ginny. “Miss I-didn’t-think-to-lock-a-dangerous-box.”

“We could all be dead,” said Luna, again.

“Fucking shit wankery,” said Sirius. “My last best mate died.”

They fell into silence. Hermione finished the last of her drink. It was far too sugary.

Ginny lay back on the bed, feet towards the pillow, and kicked the headboard. Luna stared at the ceiling. Sirius had his head back in his hands, and was making muffled noises.

Hermione did not know how to solve this, or even how to begin. Fix the box, she supposed.

Work out what to do with Sirius. She knew there was more to his story. Why was he here now, and not some other time?

Why were they here now?

She would need to sort all of this out, somehow, and get Ginny back for her wedding, without influencing anything and changing the future.

If it all went wrong, there was a distant possibility there would be no wedding.

She wanted Ron. He wouldn’t know what to do, either, but he’d give her a hug. She needed one.

If it all went really wrong, there would be no Ron.

Chapter Text

Sirius
June 1978, the Leaky Cauldron, London

Remus had died.

It almost wasn’t a surprise. Sirius could understand it was possible. The man had spent the six months before Sirius had gone through the Veil effectively trying to kill himself. He’d sorted himself out a little bit, when Sirius had spoken to him, but Sirius was sure the self-destructive tendencies would have come back out with Sirius gone.

That wasn’t being arrogant. Not really. Remus fell apart at the tiniest thing. Which of his many self-destruction methods it had been, Sirius wouldn’t want to guess. The man had many. So, one of them had killed him, or more likely a Death Eater.

But fucking hell, Remus was dead. Would be dead. Had not survived.

Remus was supposed to live a long and happy life, finally work out that he should at least try a relationship with Tonks, and learn that he was not the dangerous monster he had always believed himself to be.

Sirius did admit that was highly unlikely ever to have happened.

Remus would probably have spent another few decades moping around Yorkshire, drinking and sticking himself into dangerous situations. Which was essentially what he’d spent over ten years doing between the two wars. Sirius had always had a mental image of Remus high on a moor, battered by the wind and rain in a threadbare cloak, either a brown or a grey one, knocking back the Firewhisky while composing maudlin poems. The worst part was it probably wasn't too far from the truth of that decade.

Besides, Sirius thought, the point is not that Remus is dead. He could change that. The point was that Hermione Granger was being an absolute arsehole and he needed to get rid of her as soon as practically possible. Preferably without alerting her to what he was up to. She was already so fucking neurotic about changing the future that he very much doubted she was going to be at all interested in helping him plot.

Bloody hell, he was going to cry about Remus.

The man deserved so much more than what he’d had.

Pull yourself together, he said to himself, in his best McGonagall voice.

Hermione and Ginny had relocated to the bathroom. He could hear them in there, arguing, although not exactly what they were saying. He was, however, sure he’d heard his own name once or twice. Sirius considered transforming. His hearing was so much better as a dog.

“Sirius?”

The blonde one, who was probably called Luna, was talking to him.

“Yes?"

“Was Remus Lupin a very good friend of yours?”

“The best.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. I know it is painful. He did die very bravely, if that is a consolation. He was very brave man. I never called him a friend, but I would have liked to have.”

“Thank you, Luna.” Sirius’ voice seemed to have choked up a little bit. He pushed at the tears on his cheek with the back of his hand. “He was indeed a very brave man.”

“He was awarded the Order of Merlin. First Class.”

“No less than he deserved.” Sirius could barely get the words out.

“Would you like a hug?”

“No, I’m…”

“You are not fine,” she said, and wrapped her arms around him.

The hug was warm, and did seem to stem the flow of tears.

“I don’t believe you were dead, though,” she said. There was a small wet patch forming on her shoulder, the one where Sirius’ face was.

“In Death,” Sirius corrected, although the semantics seemed unimportant. Remus wasn’t going to get the second chance he had. How many people did?

He was going to need to make this count.

“Words do matter,” Luna said. “But in this case I think it’s most likely to have been a near-death experience. My mother died. People cannot come back from the dead.”

“I wasn’t dead,” said Sirius.

“I DON’T FUCKING CARE ABOUT YOUR PROBATION PERIOD! THIS IS THE WORLD CUP WE ARE TALKING ABOUT!”

“I think Ginny is a little bit angry,” said Luna, turning her attention to the bathroom door.

This girl was the master of stating the obvious. Sirius could have worked that one out for himself, and many, many people had told him he lacked emotional depth.

He was fucking crying real tears about someone’s death that hadn’t happened yet. How was that for emotional depth, eh?

“AND MY FUCKING WEDDING! MUM IS GOING TO KILL ME!”

“I think you can tell whose daughter she is,” said Sirius. Luna laughed.

“I used to go to Ginny’s house to play sometimes as a child,” Luna said. “We lived near the same village. Mrs Weasley made me laugh.”

That was not the reaction Sirius had ever had to one of Molly’s famous rants.

“HARRY IS GOING TO PANIC! HIS BRIDE HAS DISAPPEARED!”

So Ginny was marrying Harry. He liked that.

Someone had a happy ending. He’d have to make sure that didn’t change for him.

There was a slam of the bathroom door as it flew open and hit the wall, and Ginny Weasley flounced through it and threw herself onto the closest bed.

“Fucking hell!” she shouted at the ceiling.

“I’m sorry!” shouted Hermione from the bathroom, as the door slammed shut.

There was a knocking at the bedroom door. Sirius, who was still hugging Luna, he’d forgotten about that, pulled himself away and went to open it. There really was such a large wet patch on her shoulder.

“Can you please keep the noise down!” raged an angry wizard wearing a long, lilac striped nightgown with matching cap. The cap had a purple tassel. “Some of us are trying to rest!”

“It’s…” Sirius consulted his watch. “Seven o’clock, not even.”

“Keep it down!” shouted the wizard, and stomped off.

“We must look like an interesting group,” observed Luna from the floor.

A tearstained bloke in head-to-toe black, a girl with flowery hair and golden robes, Ginny on the bed kicking the headboard again, and muffled sobbing from the bathroom. Yeah, once again Luna was stating the absolute obvious.

Sirius wondered if this was something she always did.

Luna, that was, not Hermione or Ginny.

“I’m going to see if Hermione is alright,” said Luna, and floated off to the bathroom. Sirius shut the door, and trod on the remains of his glass of mead. Reluctantly, he began to charm the pieces of glass out of the carpet.

On looking at the carpet more closely, which he didn’t make a point of doing but was having to in order to check for small pieces of glass, he realised that it was the same room he’d once stayed in with Peter, Remus and James. He’d puked on this carpet.

That was not a good memory.

“Hey, Sirius.”

Ginny was upright on the bed, now, and the rhythmic banging had stopped.

“Yes?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Picking glass out of the carpet.”

“No, here. 1978.”

“My guess is as good as yours.”

“Okay. Hermione thinks… oh, that doesn’t matter. I think I need to sleep on all of this and hopefully in the morning I’ll wake up, the favours will be back to blue or whatever they were meant to be in the first place, and Mum will only be cross because I’ve overslept for the bridesmaid dress fittings.”

“Wedding planning can easily cause nightmares.”

“What would you know?”

“Trust me.”

“If this isn’t a nightmare, we might not have much choice.”

There was silence. Sirius thought he had all the glass now. There was no bin in the room. It was probably in the bathroom, and he wasn’t going in there.

“Ginny, I’m going down to the bar to find a bin.”

“I’ll come.”

They walked down the stairs in silence, Sirius holding his handful of broken glass. He had cut himself slightly, and there was blood trailing onto his wrist.

“Tom? Got a broken one,” Sirius said, on reaching the bar.

“Fifth tonight,” grumbled Tom. “Going to start charging.”

“Firewhisky, please,” said Sirius, who’d heard the barman say that before. “Ginny?”

“Same.”

They drank, neither of them saying a word.

“Look,” said Ginny, after half an hour. “Hermione’s going to kill me if I let you wander off. Can you stay with us tonight?”

“Okay,” said Sirius, as he had nowhere else to go.

“And, until the morning, I’m just going to keep pretending this is a nightmare,” she said.

“Spent twelve years trying that one,” said Sirius.

The sun rose through the rather thin curtains, and so did Sirius. He’d slept on the floor, insisting the girls had a bed each. Hermione hadn’t come out of the bathroom until everyone else was lying down, and Ginny already asleep.

He threw off the crocheted blanket he’d used as a cover, and wandered into the bathroom to relieve himself.

“Gryffindors have chivalry, they’re strong and never waver,” he muttered, “in times of need you’d be hard pressed to find someone braver.”

It wasn’t the strongest rhyme the Sorting Hat had come up with, but it was the first one Sirius had heard, and it had stuck with him.

He needed a plan.

Loathe as he was to leave them, in a way, Sirius probably needed to be shot of these girls. Hermione was not going to approve, Luna appeared to think they were all dead, and Ginny was probably very useful but far too angry at this present moment. Hardly his dream team.

He’d have picked Remus, James and Tonks, if he’d had free choice.

However, he was on his own.

Well, first, Gringotts. He sat down on the edge of the bathtub. He reckoned getting money out would be no trouble. Then, somewhere to stay. He could maybe go to his old place, for a couple of weeks until Hogwarts let out and 1978 Sirius would be there. That would buy him time for somewhere more stable.

It would be in a mess, and 1978 Sirius was shit with gold, so he wouldn’t be detected.

Also, clothes. He stank, and having a bath would be pointless until he had fresh clothes to put on after it.

There was a hammering on the door.

“Whoever is in there needs to get out now!”

“Breakfast?” he asked the room, as he was hurried out of the bathroom by Ginny.

“Luna’s still asleep,” said Hermione, sat up on the bed where she had slept with pieces of parchment scattered around her. “I’d like some.”

“I’ll get some brought up,” said Sirius, disappearing down to the bar.

Afterwards, he was ready to take his leave.

“Well, I’ll be off,” he said. “I paid for breakfast.”

“Ah, he thinks he’s going to get away with that,” said Ginny, chewing on the last of her toast. “It’s adorable."

“Goodbye,” said Sirius, ignoring her. “Good luck in getting back to your future.”

He turned to go, but his hand connected with Hermione’s arm rather than with the cool metal of the doorknob.

“No.”

“Yeah, what’s with the no?”

“You can’t go.”

“Can. Will.”

“We know nothing about this time period, except for a few bits about the war. We have nowhere to go, and no money. Can you at least point us in the right direction?”

That wasn’t what he’d expected.

“I’m going to Gringotts,” he said, slowly, to buy himself some time. “You can come, if you want, but it won’t be exciting. I’ve got a place we can stay in for about two weeks.”

“Thank you!” she said, hugging him.

He untangled himself from her arms.

“Get ready to go. I want to get there before it’s too busy in case someone recognises me and thinks I shouldn’t be there. Sirius Black is supposed to be sitting his NEWTs.”

It was only a few minutes after the opening time when they arrived at the bank. Sirius walked in, as confident as he could, the others trailing in his wake. They’d had a lengthy discussion about disguises, as he’d leant out of the window and looked for people he recognised coming into the alley, but nobody would know who they were here. They were relying on looking ordinary, which Luna most certainly did not.

“Sirius Black, here to access my vault,” he said, to the goblin at the desk.

“Identification,” said the goblin, looking at him with some distaste.

“The vault will recognise me,” Sirius said, with every bit of offhand pureblood arrogance he possessed. “I’m going to need some money bags, too.”

“Indeed,” said the goblin, and summoned another to take him down into Gringotts. He signalled to the others to wait for him.

Emerging into the sunshine again, he handed Hermione the smallest of the three bags of money in the pocket of his jeans.

“Here,” he said. “You’ll want clothes.” They were all wearing the same things they’d worn yesterday, and slept in. He thought they’d find it useful.

“Where can we go?” asked Ginny. “I don’t know where anything is in this Diagon Alley, except for Madam Malkin’s, which is where we left it.”

“You want Dendling’s,” said Sirius. “This way.”

A few doors down from Gringotts, Sirius pushed open the pink door to a slightly ramshackle shopfront. The windows were dotted with Muggle contraptions, including a washing machine that was plugged into nothing and a battered children’s ride-on car.

“Best purveyor of Muggle clothing and curiosities in the wizarding world,” said Sirius, ushering them in. “It’s better than it looks. Purchased all sorts here, to annoy my parents. The owner and your dad would have got on,” he said to Ginny.

“Why have I never seen this?” asked Ginny, staring around in amazement. One side of the shop was dedicated to a wide variety of Muggle items, most of which looked secondhand. The other was for clothing, which thankfully did look new. There was a small area at the back for books and magazines, most of the classics, romances, and a section on fantasy and Muggle representations of magic.

Luna was examining a vegetable peeler with great interest.

“What do you reckon Voldemort thought of it, and of the people who run it?” Sirius asked, ensuring nobody was around to hear that.

“Oh,” she said. “Yeah.” She wandered off to look at the books.

Hermione was already in the clothes rails when Sirius made his way over to them. He needed t-shirts, and a pair of trousers. Socks, and pants. That would do. He grabbed socks and pants almost at random, taking a little more time over the trousers to find ones in the right size. T-shirts were more of a decision.

“This was a good idea,” said Hermione. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” he said. “What do you think?” He held up a three-piece suit, cut from some kind of shiny silver fabric, for her inspection.

“I wouldn’t,” she said.

“Ah, why not?” he asked, but put it back on the rails anyway.

“This is all very…” she said, looking at him from in amongst the women’s section.

“Dated? 1970s? You’re in the 1970s, baby,” he said. “Look.” He rifled through and found a top that wasn't too offensive to the eyes of a girl who wasn’t from this era. “Try this.” It was gold and shiny, but at least it was in a shape she might recognise.

“Really?” she asked, holding it up to herself.

“All the Muggles are wearing it. Otherwise it’s this,” he said, showing her a pair of shimmering blue shorts and a thin piece of stretchy pink fabric.

“I’m not wearing a boob tube!” she shrieked, causing Ginny to almost drop the book she was reading.

“Is that what it is?” Sirius mused, poking at the pink fabric some more. “I thought it was a belt.”

“My mum had one,” Hermione said. “I’ve seen the photographs. Please put it back.”

They paid for their purchases, including Ginny’s, and left to head back onto the streets of Diagon Alley. Luna had decided she would feel more comfortable in robes, so they made a stop for those and for pyjamas, which weren’t stocked by Dendling’s. Hermione revealed she had never purchased pyjamas in the wizarding world before.

Can take the Muggleborn away from the Muggles, Sirius thought, but you can’t fully take the Muggle traits out of them.

“Okay,” said Sirius, back by the Floo in the Leaky Cauldron. It was early afternoon, and everyone finally had what they needed to go to ground for a couple of weeks. Travelling in a group took forever. “You need to ask for ‘The Crossing’, nice and clear now because ‘The Dossing’ is somewhere completely different and not at all nice.”

“The Crossing,” repeated Hermione, and stepped into the grate first.

Sirius wondered if perhaps he should have gone first.

He arrived to Hermione, Ginny and Luna picking themselves up off the rug, surrounded by the mess of eighteen-year-old Sirius. There was barely enough floor space for Sirius to stand on, if he was honest, and he should probably move some it if anyone wanted to be able to get to the bathroom.

“Welcome to my house,” he said, gesturing with his arms. “Just let me tidy a spot.”

He waved his wand until some of the mess moved back up against the walls or into open cupboards.

“Has someone raided you?” asked Ginny, in amazement.

“Sad to say, this is all entirely my fault,” said Sirius. “Brew, anyone?”

“I don’t even know where your kitchen is, in all of this,” said Hermione, shaking her head.

‘Don’t worry,” said Sirius. “I’ve got a system. Accio teapot!”

“Is that how you find everything?” asked Ginny.

“Yes,” said Sirius. He wasn’t sure why that was being asked in quite such a judgemental tone. He’d been to The Burrow, a couple of times. He’d watched Molly Weasley find things in much the same way.

He disappeared through the door to the kitchen, and thought he could hear muttering about him as the door shut behind him. Well, let them bitch about his housekeeping standards. He’d be shot of them soon enough.

“Tea,” he said, reentering the room with a tray of tea levitating ahead of him. “Biscuit? I would have bought these round about Christmas time in ‘77, if that affects anyone’s answer.”

Luna and Ginny took one. Hermione did not.

Sirius banished the worst of the stuff from the sofa to what he liked to call the junkyard, which was the loft, and indicated to everyone to sit down. He took the armchair, covered in red with golden trim. A school trunk served as a coffee table.

“Sirius,” said Ginny. “The trunk says ‘Peter Pettigrew on it.”

“Yeah, borrowed that in my sixth year of Hogwarts,” said Sirius, kicking back and putting his feet up on the trunk. “My brother and some of his mates smashed up mine, as it had the Black family crest on it and they said I didn’t deserve it. Borrowed Peter’s spare. Was too disorganised to return it.”

“I don’t picture you as disorganised,” said Ginny, with a smile. She tucked her legs up underneath her on the sofa, and leant on the slightly stained arm. “Nice banner.”

“House pride,” said Sirius. That had all seemed very important when he’d moved in here at seventeen.

“I like it,” said Luna. “Is that you?” She was holding a picture, of a teenaged Sirius waving a Gryffindor banner alongside two others.

Sirius went to look at it.

“Yeah,” he said, and carefully removed the photograph from the frame. “That’s me, holding up one end. We were cheering on James his first match as Quidditch captain. I can’t remember who took it. And there’s Remus, look.” He pointed at the man in the middle, with short brown hair and a slightly stretched look.

Before saying anything else, he carefully ripped the third man out of the picture and threw it into the fireplace. It would have had a more dramatic effect if the fire had not already gone out, he thought.

“Incendio!” he grumbled, and the section of the picture caught fire.

Sirius was replacing the rest of the photograph into its frame when Luna spoke.

“Who was he?”

“Peter fucking Pettigrew. If you don’t know what he did, I suggest you ask one of these two. I’m going to look for food, see if we can eat later.”

He stomped off into the kitchen, once again not listening to the conversation he left behind him.

Sirius had expressed regret, when talking to James, that he’d chased Peter down and not stuck with Harry on that Halloween night. That was slightly wrong. It wasn’t the chasing down he regretted so much as being caught. The idea was to catch Peter and come back for Harry, not a twelve-year detour into Azkaban.

He should have killed him in the Shrieking Shack, but he’d listened to Harry which had turned out to be a mistake. Not that Harry had known that. Remus had wanted to kill him, too, and Remus wasn’t a killer.

Well, okay, Remus had killed someone that one time, but two wars and only one person dead at your hands was a pretty good record if you’re trying not to kill. Although he’d spent so long fucking wailing about it that you’d think it had been a lot more than one.

Remus had died, though. The problem was not whether you wanted to kill, but that the other side was very much willing to. Enjoyed it. Especially in the case of blood traitors and half-breeds.

Fucking Peter.

He hadn’t asked what had become of Peter in the future. He hoped he was dead, or at the very least rotting away in Azkaban with an honour guard of at least eight Dementors. He’d have to ask Ginny or Luna. Hermione wouldn’t say a thing.

About the only thing stopping him chasing Peter down now was that he was safe in Hogwarts. James, at least the old James, and Remus would say it wasn’t ethical to kill someone before they’ve at the very least joined the Death Eaters. Sirius would do so if he needed to.

And, besides, he’d tried blindly chasing Peter down before, and it hadn’t worked. Peter was an expert at not getting caught, which Sirius had once thought was incredibly useful when annoying Slytherins.

He was going to have to plan it, carefully this time.

“Sirius?”

Hermione was standing in the doorway, her pink socks slightly dirty already from the state of his carpets. She was looking straight at him, as if appraising him. He paused his cupboard search, with several tins of dried food in his left hand and a bag of potatoes that had grown leaves in his right.

“I just wanted to say, thank you for letting us stay here.”

“It’s no problem,” he said. “You don’t want to be here, and it gives you a safe space to work out how to get back to where you’re meant to be.”

If he helped them, they would be gone quicker, and he could do what he was here to do without interruptions.

There was an incredibly loud noise, which made the pale brown painted walls of the house shake and a saucepan fall off a hook with a crash. Luna and Ginny ran into the kitchen.

“What the hell was that?” shouted Ginny.

“Train,” said Sirius. “I’d forgotten to warn you why this house was called The Crossing.” He pulled open the slightly sticky orange kitchen curtains to reveal a Muggle train shooting past, and several lorries waiting at a level crossing. “Happens once an hour, at least. You’ll get used to it.”

“Magical trains are a lot quieter,” said Ginny.

“It’s on the Hogwarts line, too,” said Sirius. “Muggles can’t see it, and just get frustrated when the crossing seems to close without a reason. The house used to belong to a Muggle called the Signalman. No idea what he did, or why he doesn’t live here any more.”

“Signalmen used to open the level crossings, before they mechanised the gates,” said Hermione. “They do it with electricity.”

“Muggles are weird. A man to open the gates?” said Ginny.

“Muggles are not that much different from us,” said Luna. “We all die.”

That was true, Sirius supposed, if a bit dark. However, if he had his way, a few people would be dying a little later, and some a hell of a lot earlier. He looked over to the photograph of Remus and James, with Peter ripped out, now sat next to the sink on a pile of plates.

He’d sort it for them.

He had to.

Chapter Text

Hermione
July 1978, The Crossing, Lincolnshire

There was something incredibly suspicious about Sirius Black.

It wasn’t just that his story was full of holes, which it absolutely was, and Hermione was sure he wasn’t telling them the half of it. There was something else.

For starters, he was almost always chipper and friendly, willing to chat to any of them and give advice. When she’d known him before, at Grimmauld Place, he’d mostly skulked around looking morose. The only times he wasn’t happy here was when he was looking at the photograph Luna had pointed out to him on their first night at The Crossing.

He carried the photo everywhere with him. She’d found it in the bathroom once, slightly misted up from condensation, and spotted it propped on the kitchen work surfaces as he cooked. Hermione understood. She could only imagine how to would have felt to lose Harry or Ron, and he’d lost three friends in various ways.

She spent a lot of time watching him, trying to work out how this Sirius fitted with the Sirius she had known at Grimmauld Place and the Sirius Remus had talked about from Hogwarts. And the Sirius in the Shrieking Shack, when he’d tried to kill Peter, matted and tangled and wild with anger.

She didn’t know which one was the real Sirius Black, or if none of them were.

It was entirely possible that he didn’t know either.

Their lives had settled into a routine at The Crossing. The house had three bedrooms, the two guest rooms much tidier than Sirius’ own. Hermione had settled into the one Sirius said had been claimed by James, an uncluttered room containing a bed and a chest of drawers filled with abandoned bits of teenage boy clothing. Ginny and Luna shared the other, which had two twin beds and several components of a motorcycle in it.

The four of them ate meals together, but otherwise did their own thing. Luna was reading her way through the eclectic mix of books Sirius kept in the house, which included everything from Muggle motorcycle maintenance manuals, through advanced texts on Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts, to a collection of books on magical history that were far more interesting than anything they’d ever been taught in History of Magic at school. Ginny was often in the garden. Sirius alternated between fiddling with his motorbike, which was kept in a lean-to beside the house, and lurking near to Hermione.

He was doing the latter one afternoon almost two weeks after they’d arrived in the past. She was at his dining table, the parchments from the Ministry about the black box and the latest developments of time theory spread around her like most days. He was on the sofa, behind her, thumbing through one of the motorcycle manuals. He had a quill in his hand, and was scribbling notes in the margins. Hermione hated that.

The easy parts of her research had been done. She’d reviewed all the papers, which had been unnecessary really as she’d remembered almost all of it from her read-throughs when doing her job. She’d made detailed notes of how the box had functioned when they'd used it, and cross referenced it to her experience of the Time Turner in third year.

She’d then written down everything else she knew about time, including Muggle theories, just in case, and anything she could ever remember anyone seriously theorising, and noted which ones she'd seen confirmed as fact and which needed further research.

And now she was stuck.

She needed more facts, which meant she either needed some books or to open the box again.

“Sirius?” she asked.

The scratching of the quill behind her stopped. “Yes?”

“Is there a wizarding library we could access?”

“Harry said you were a bit obsessed with libraries.”

“I am not! I just need to check a few things out, and well, I’ve always had access to the one at Hogwarts or the staff one at the Ministry and I can’t get into either now.”

“There’s the British Wizarding Library.”

“How did I never know that before?”

“Your wizarding world knowledge mainly comes from Ron Weasley, and some of the Order members, right?” Sirius asked. She nodded. “How many of them have you ever seen read a book, who wasn't your teacher at the time?”

She thought about that. “Remus Lupin, Albus Dumbledore, and Molly Weasley.”

“Exactly. You’ve been mainly exposed to people who don’t exactly value books. Remus would have known about it, he says he worked there for a while after the first war, but it’s not well used as a source of reading material. Generally, it functions as a sort of storeroom. There’s one of each book ever published in there somewhere, although a few of them have been locked away for the good of the wizarding world.”

“I think those may be some of the ones we need,” said Hermione. “The Ministry is incredibly secretive about time travel.”

“The Ministry has a very low opinion of the general wizarding population, I find. Stands to reason they’d hide time travel information.”

“It’s for their safety.”

“Really? You saw what the Ministry was capable of, the year before I fell through the Veil. What they did to Harry, putting Umbridge in at Hogwarts, all the anti-werewolf stuff, attacking Dumbledore, and you say that?” He put down the quill, deliberately carefully, and lowered the book.

“I don’t trust it as far as I can throw it.”

“Why do you trust them on this, then?”

“Time is dangerous, Sirius.” Her seat at the table overlooked the garden, and she looked away from Sirius to where Ginny was lying on the grass. She was charming flowers to open and close around her. Across the unruly lawn, Luna was sat on a rickety bench, nose in a textbook.

“But it can also be a force for good. Time travel is what led to me surviving long enough to fall through the Veil, and not being a husk sitting in Azkaban breathing without knowing. Well, and you and Harry.”

“And that’s the thing! If the Ministry had the Time Turner, they would have made sure to get to you and they’d have been after Remus, too! What would Death Eaters do with access to a Time Turner?”

“But they didn’t. You have to use the weapons you have, Hermione.”

She turned back to Sirius.

“Where’s the line?”

It was a question she’d asked herself so many times. Harry had killed Voldemort, and she didn’t consider him a killer, not really, as he’d fought to disarm rather than to kill. Some of the other Order members she’d respected had killed. She had felt disgust every time she’d heard of a Death Eater who’d killed.

Intent mattered, but there still had to be a line.

Dumbledore had believed in the greater good, of some suffering being necessary for the right course to win out in the end. She was sure many of the Death Eaters rationalised in the same way.

What actions were fine, if you did them for a cause?

Sirius was thinking over the question, too. He’d reached for a goblet of water at his side, and was watching her as he slowly drank.

“Somewhere where it becomes premeditated, and designed to hurt, I think,” he said, and she could tell he was answering it for more than just time travel. “Tell me, you said before that time travel is not always as simple as ‘I did it before, so I need to do it again’, which is how I’d always understood the problem.”

“It is and it isn’t,” said Hermione. “In some cases, that will be true. In others, it won’t be. And I have no idea how to tell which is which.”

She wasn't exactly used to failing. She’d got better, the year of the Horcrux hunt in particular, and in wartime in general when so much was out of her control. But theoretical problems? She had almost no reference points for failing at that.

Hermione hadn’t come into contact with a Boggart since her third year at Hogwarts, and she suspected it had changed considerably. But that early fear still lurked in the background, and she felt it more and more now the physical danger of war had passed.

“Well, we need to pick a premise and work through that one fully first, and then we can either assume that it is true for this situation or reject it and move on to the next. Of course, from what you’re saying there may well be more than one truth, especially given there are essentially two sets of time travellers here who have come via different means and may well have different effects on the timeline,” Sirius said. “Although I’ve never studied time theory even slightly, I may be of some use.”

“Thank you,” she said. The fact that there was two sets of them had occurred to her, and she hadn’t worked out how to balance for that yet. She knew Sirius was reasonably intelligent, based on the things she knew he'd done like becoming an Animagus while still at school, but she hadn’t expected that he seemed to enjoy a theoretical problem.

It was always possible she had underestimated him.

She had assumed he wanted to get rid of them, so he could change the past. His story… well, she’d thought it was probably true, because it was just too weird not to be, and there was no logical reason for him to lie about how he’d come here. She had partly asked about the library as she wanted to look for some books on the theories on Death, so she could check for any other stories of a similar type.

The main reason she believed it was remembering Harry’s story, from when he’d briefly died in the Forbidden Forest.

“It was weird,” Harry had said, sitting at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall a day or so after the final battle had been fought. They were sitting surrounded by rubble from the fight, which they’d been gradually clearing, but they needed to eat sometimes.

“I was dead, and Dumbledore was there. In Kings Cross Station. He told me all sorts of things, it’s a bit unclear, I want to put it in a Pensive and see if I can remember more of it. He told me it was in my head, but that it was real. He said I could stay, or I could come back.”

Ron put down his sandwich. “So bloody weird, mate.”

“I’m glad you chose to come back,” said Ginny.

“I don’t think I seriously considered anything else. Not really,” said Harry.

Harry had no reason to lie, and neither did Sirius. Which meant they probably were not, as neither of them were the type to create their own realities.

Why would Sirius have chosen to come back, and was it him that had chosen now?

There was a very obvious reason; that he was trying to change something.

He said he’d never studied time theory.

Surely he couldn't think changing the past was a good idea?

He hadn’t said he was going to. At no point had he done anything explicit that would make Hermione reasonably able to assume that he did want to change time. Except for being here in the first place.

The question was if she trusted him, and a niggling little noise in the back of her head suggested that she shouldn’t.

“The more pressing issue, however,” he said, interrupting her thought process, “is that eighteen-year-old Sirius moves back into here in a couple of days, and I don’t remember me being here when I arrived which almost certainly means it didn’t happen.” At her look, he added, “I was a bit, let’s say under the influence.”

“We’d best leave,” she said. “Do you know anywhere we can go?”

“Unfortunately, no,” said Sirius. “I’ve thought about it, and the best idea I have is scraping some more money from my account at Gringotts and acquiring somewhere. Either that, or camping.”

“Not camping,” Hermione shuddered. “We should ask Luna and Ginny.”

“Already did,” said Sirius. “Neither of them have anything that would work.”

“It’s possible,” said Hermione, very slowly, as she was working through the idea as fast as she spoke, “I may have somewhere. My grandmother died before I was born, but after my parents married in 1977. My parents kept her house empty until I was seven or so, when we cleared it to use as a holiday house. If we were careful, we may be able to stay there.”

“Where is it?” asked Sirius, looking interested.

“It’s in a Muggle seaside town. Saltburn-by-Sea, in north Yorkshire?”

“Never heard of it,” said Sirius. “It’s worth a shot. Can always hope Death Eaters haven’t, either.”

They Apparated to the town. Hermione thought she’d remember the house when she saw it, so they walked the streets in the general area for a while until she locked in on a small, middle of a terrace house with a brick exterior and blue-painted windows.

“Alohomora,” she whispered, pointing her wand at the lock.

Inside, it was just as she remembered it before they’d cleared it out. It was dated. The decor was very much from the 1940s, with a few minor updates over the years, such as the television in the corner of the room. Luna was looking at that with much interest. Hermione walked around the floral sofas and past the dark wooden dining table and let herself through the door into the kitchen. From there, she could see out the windows into the garden, where she had played with her parents. Next to the sink, a single mug stood upside down on the draining board, evidence of a final cup of tea.

Upstairs, she knew, were two bedrooms, and a reasonable sized bathroom. There would be an outside toilet in the garden, too, as she remembered her dad knocking it down and that hadn’t happened yet. It had been full of spiders.

Ron would have hated it.

She leant onto the work surface, and looked out at the shed that housed the outside toilet. Ron had been returning to her thoughts more often the longer they had been in the past. To begin with, it had almost been like he was staying at The Burrow, and her elsewhere, and it wouldn’t be long before they were reunited.

Now, she felt further away from him with every passing day.

His freckled face swam into her mind when she was talking to Ginny, his sister forming a link for the thoughts. But it was there when she thought of anything that tied the two of them together; Hogwarts, Sirius’ mention of camping, the idea of coming up against a Death Eater, the scars on her body when she put her magic over them in the mornings to disguise them.

And in her dreams.

It was hard to believe how cross she had been with him the day they had left the future. When she dug down, the anger returned. He had been being an arse. But it was such a shit way to part with someone, and what if she couldn’t get back?

“Alright?” asked Ginny.

“Just thinking of Ron,” she said. “There’s spiders in the outside toilet, and…”

“My brother is a wimp,” Ginny finished. “You know, even after the whole bit where he faced up Death Eaters and destroyed Horcruxes, he’s still scared of them? Mum found a Boggart in the house when we moved back in, and Ron and I offered to handle it.” She paused. “He did make me promise not to tell anyone that.”

“Did you already tell Harry?”

“Yes. And George. And that Daily Prophet reporter.”

“He’s going to get you for that.”

“I know. If we make it back.”

“We will.”

Ginny looked defeated, which Hermione had never seen before. Ginny had frequently been the one who kept things moving, kept everyone from falling apart, especially after the war. She was not somebody who gave up.

“I think of Harry constantly,” said Ginny. “Tomorrow, in twenty-four years, we should be marrying.”

“That doesn't mean we won’t still be able to get back in time.”

“So you keep saying. And not that I don’t believe you. I just…”

“It’s hard, isn’t it, to imagine getting back.”

“Yeah. I think of Mum a lot too. She’s barely got over losing Fred. Bunch of idiots we are, we all blame ourselves for his death, when rationally it wasn’t any of us, but she’s been by far the worst. Says her only job in life has been to keep us safe, and she’s failed. And what if we don’t get back, and I’m gone?”

“We will.”

“If we don’t?”

“Your mum will survive it. She’s strong enough.”

“Yeah.”

“Ginny, I didn’t want to say that.”

“I know. I don’t want to think it. But maybe we have to be allowed to some of the time. Not all the time. Think positive, yeah? We’ll get back, to Mum and Harry and Ron and even to the rest of those idiots. George. Teddy. Luna’s dad. Teddy’s not an idiot, that wasn’t fair.”

Sirius insisted on sleeping on the sofa in another fit of gallantry, and so Hermione again ended up in a room on her own. She took the smaller one, which contained one single bed, leaving Luna and Ginny the larger bed. None of them could find a third duvet, so Sirius was fetched a variety of handmade blankets to cover him. As they went to bed on their first night in Saltburn, Hermione was sure she saw him remove the photograph of James and Remus from his pocket and tuck it next to him on the sofa.

“Night,” she said, turning to go up the steep wooden stairs.

“Night, Hermione,” she heard in reply.

She still desperately wanted to get to the library, and Sirius agreed to take her, in a few days. He said he had something to do first. Ginny wanted to stay behind, muttering something about making the house clean, but Luna came along when they finally left for the library. The three of them Apparated to their destination, a local shopping parade in an obscure part of London. It had seen better days, with a chip shop, laundrette and corner shop occupying three of the units and the other two standing empty.

Sirius strolled up to the empty unit next to the laundrette, which was painted with peeling red paint. “We’re here for the books,” he said.

Nothing happened.

“Are you sure this is right?” asked Hermione.

“We’re in the right place,” said Sirius, scratching his nose. “Hang on.”

He tapped the door with his wand, and said the words again. The door swung open, revealing a huge room filled with books.

“Names and business?” asked a cheery witch sitting behind a desk to the left of the entrance. She put down her wand, which had been charming books to fly back to their shelves.

“Er, Jean Henderson,” she said, giving the first fake name that popped into her head. “Here to browse?”

“Go ahead,” said the witch. “Been before? Fiction is over there, factual there and organised by subject. Magazines and other periodicals are at the back, near biographies. Reading area in the centre, toilets to the right.”

“This is amazing,” said Hermione, staring around at the books.

“Well, I’m still convinced whatever it is you’re here for will be safely locked away,” said Sirius. He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets as he spoke.

Luna had wandered off already into the fiction aisles, leaving Hermione and Sirius to head off in search of the section on time theory. It didn’t take them long to find it, tucked away in between ‘Spirits and Spectres’ and ‘Transfiguration’.

“I’ll be here,” said Sirius, taking up an armchair at the end of the row, and pulling parchment and quill from his pocket.

Hermione desperately wanted to ask what he was writing, but her job here was more pressing. Instead, she began to scan the titles in the fairly small section, looking for ones she hadn’t read.

She found a few of interest, including one entitled Loops or Lines? An analysis of the impacts of time travel on future timelines and one on the beginnings of Time Turners. Piling them in her arms, she looked around for Sirius. She wanted to go to the section on Death without him noticing.

He had left the armchair he had been sat in.

This was a good thing for her going to a different section unattended, but if her suspicions about him were correct it could be a bad thing.

She would go to the Death section quickly, then look for Sirius. How much damage could he do in a public library?

He had most likely just gone to check on Luna.

Hermione had selected a couple of books from the section on death when she heard voices from the other side of the shelves to her. One of the voices was familiar, but it was not Luna’s or Sirius’.

On closer listening, one sounded an awful lot like Remus Lupin.

It was incredibly rude, but she listened in. Removing a couple more books allowed her to peep through the shelves at the speakers.

“Just get on with it, Moony,” came the voice of the man standing next to a younger Remus Lupin.

“What if they reject me too?” This younger version of Remus was picking at the sleeves of his baggy, slightly threadbare jumper, a habit he’d kept in his future. He looked healthier than his future self, with no grey hairs, less scars, and more weight on his body. His tall, wide frame had always looked slightly out-of-proportion on the werewolf, but in this reality he just looked powerful.

“They don’t know you. It probably would mean they have no jobs going. It’s not personal.” The other man had dark, messy hair. Hair an awful lot like Harry’s. This was James Potter, without a doubt. Hermione’s stomach flipped. She was staring directly at Harry’s dad, and this was so dangerous.

James and Remus continued to argue, culminating in James grabbing the piece of parchment Remus had been holding from his hand and marching towards the witch on the front desk. Hermione went to pull away as they went, and replace the books, but she stopped herself.

There were eyes looking through the bookshelves on the other side of the pair.

Grey eyes.

Sirius knew Remus and James would be here, and he was watching them.

When she was sure James and Remus were out of sight, Hermione darted between the lines of shelves to find Sirius. Coming into contact with him rather forcefully, as he’d been further towards the end of the line of shelving than she’d realised, she grabbed him by the arm and began to pull him back into the library. Once safely hidden in amongst the Divination section, where nobody would be stupid enough to go, she pinned him up against the books with her wand. The titles she’d been holding under her arm clattered to the floor.

“What the fuck are you doing spying on James and Remus?” she hissed as quietly as she could.

“Same as you, I’d imagine,” he said, keeping eye contact with her and avoiding looking at her wand.

“You expect me to believe that?”

“I do.”

“You’re trying to change things!”

“If I was doing that, don’t you think I’d have gone and talked to them? ‘Hey, James, don’t listen to Sirius in a few years and kick Peter as far onto the far side of fuck as you can? Remus, when you go on the Order mission to Malfoy Manor in a year or so, don't leave Marlene on her own?”

She lowered her wand.

“I don’t know if I should trust you.”

“I’m helping you, Hermione. If you don’t want to trust me, I can’t make you, but please don’t think I’m stupid.”

“I’ve just seen something rather interesting,” came the voice of Luna Lovegood, rounding the end of the shelves with an armful of wizarding novels. “I think that was our old Professor Lupin, back there, with Harry’s father.”

“We saw,” said Hermione, tersely. And she was certain Sirius had known they were here, even if he wasn’t going to admit that to her.

“I thought you might have,” said Luna, her eyes flicking from Hermione to Sirius. “They’ve gone now. It’s a funny coincidence they were here at the same time as us, isn’t it? Hermione, you’ve dropped your books.”

Coincidence was likely indeed, Hermione thought, as she picked up her books. The last one had been picked up by Sirius, whose hand brushed hers gently as she went to take it from him.

“Trust me,” he said, as he relinquished his hold.

Chapter Text

Sirius
August 1978, Saltburn

Ginny and Luna were playing Exploding Snap when Sirius walked into the living room on an August evening, a small pile of cards on the tiled coffee table. The door banged shut behind him as he threw himself onto the sofa and began to remove his boots.

“Oh, Sirius, hi,” said Ginny with a look on her face that suggested something was very much wrong. He stopped trying to take off his boots.

“I’d hide, if I was you,” said Luna, throwing down a card onto the pile. “Or if you don’t want to do that, I’d recommend a very strong Shield Charm.”

Sirius was about to ask why when his question was answered for him. The other door to the living room flew open and Hermione came through it with her eyes and hair wild. She threw a spell at him before he could get out his wand, and he dived to the floor.

Petrificus Totalus!” she shouted, and Sirius’ body snapped rigid. He keeled over.

“Is that necessary?” asked Ginny, eyebrows raise. “He didn’t attack you or anything.”

“I know what he’s been doing!” she shouted, waving a very familiar notebook in the air. Luna’s eyebrows shot into her fringe. Ginny sighed.

“Come on, Luna,” she said. “I don’t want to listen to Hermione shout at Sirius again. Let’s go to get the food shopping. It's what we were putting off anyway.”

“To be fair to Hermione, she hasn’t shouted at him for at least three weeks, and sometimes he does deserve it,” said Luna, but followed Ginny out anyway.

“You’re making a list of Death Eaters, with who they killed in the first war next to them! And dates! And… and…”

It was perhaps predictable that she would have gone looking through his stuff. He should have thought of that.

It proved she was suspicious of him, which he’d thought she was.

“What are you going to do with this? What the fuck are you planning, Sirius Black?”

Much as he wanted to answer, he couldn’t, as she’d frozen his mouth shut. He was reduced to laying there mute until such time as she released him. Or, until she was done shouting, and walked off, and Ginny came home to say the counter-spell. Even if he thought about it at length, he couldn’t decide if Luna would rescue him or not.

It wasn’t a problem, anyway. He could justify his actions, and if Hermione screamed some of it out before he explained it all then it would be easier to get the words in.

“You’re trying to change the future, aren’t you? I thought you were getting it! I bloody hoped you were getting it! You don’t, do you?”

Surprisingly, she flopped down into the armchair Luna had vacated and started to cry, her wand flopping to her side.

Sirius was still on the floor, unable to move or speak. Which may have been a positive, as he wasn’t sure what he would do or say at this stage anyway. He might well make it worse, and she didn’t seem to want to hex him any more.

“Why does nobody get what this can do?” she sobbed.

He thought that was unfair. He did get it. The whole point was that he understood what changing the past could do. He could do it better, with the knowledge he had, and if she would only tell him more he could do even more with it. But she wouldn’t, so she was really damning the entire fucking world by herself.

She mumbled the counter-spell, and Sirius picked himself up.

“Why, Sirius?” she asked. She was upright in the armchair now, perched on the edge and watching him closely. Tears were still on her face, but she had stopped producing fresh ones.

“Because I’m going to make it right.”

“Make what right?”

“James and Lily. Remus. Marlene. Caradoc. Gideon and Fabian. Harry can have a family. Benji Fenwick’s wife was pregnant. Edgar’s kids can go to Hogwarts and have a life.”

“You can’t.” The flat tone in her voice angered him. How dare she say it like that? Did she even know what she was fucking with?

“Yeah? Harry survived. I heard you talking about Ron Weasley, he survived. You get your best friend and your boyfriend, and what do I get? Dead friends, Hermione, twelve years in Azkaban, and no fucking future.”

“You don’t know anything!”

“Yeah, what don’t I know?” he scowled. She didn’t have a fucking clue, this young girl who’d been through war and it had barely touched her. She had no idea.

She made him want to throw her into a Pensive and show her every single death he’d seen, every single family he’d seen torn apart, the funerals, the sitting around waiting to hear if someone would make it, the fucking horrible emptiness of sitting in Azkaban with nothing and then coming out and there still being nothing. Remus being there, but trying to kill himself, Harry slipping away. Just Sirius and Kreacher and Buckbeak, alone.

“You don’t know shit, you selfish fucking bastard! Just because you don’t know who I’ve lost! Fucking Muggles don’t matter to you? Yeah, that’s how everyone else felt. I had to save my parents myself, and I lost them anyway. I made them fucking forget me, Sirius! I Obliviated them, and they don’t know me now. They’re not my parents, and I can’t fucking get them back!”

He stood back from her, as she leapt forward, brandishing her wand.

“Fred Weasley mean anything? I cared for Remus too. And Tonks. Fucking Lavender, I shared a room with her for six years even if she did shag Ron and I hated her for a bit there. You don’t even know who else, because you weren’t there, and you didn’t think there may have been some people? Stuck in your own fucking selfish world!”

She was still waving her wand, red and orange sparks flying from the ends of it. She seemed unwilling to curse him, although she looked close. Instead, she shoved him firmly into the sofa behind, and stared down at him with contempt in her eyes.

“Don’t ever assume you’re the only one that’s lost something,” she said, coldly, and ran out through the kitchen. He heard the back door open, and shut again.

Sirius lay where he had been thrown. He should have thought of other people’s losses, but perhaps she should have said something too. It wasn’t exactly his fault that she’d only told him about Remus. She’d been so busy keeping her knowledge of the future to herself that she hadn’t thought about how that impacted other people. Impacted him.

So Tonks was dead in her future, too. She’d thrown that at him to hurt him.

Had she?

Maybe this is what she meant by selfish.

It had been hurting her.

She had said she cared for Remus too. She was hurting about Remus’ death too.

Not as much as he had, he was prepared to guess. Remus was the best friend he’d had.

Did that matter?

It would still hurt. He hadn’t felt the same for Caradoc, or Marlene, or Benji, as he had for James and Lily and Remus, but their deaths had still hurt.

She may have had a point.

He should apologise.

He lay on the sofa for a further two hours before he knew what he would say.

She was sat up in the tree at the end of the garden, perched on a wide branch about halfway up. One foot hung down, the other resting on a lower branch, and her hands tangled in amongst the leaves. Possibly deliberately, she was looking away from the house, staring out over the rooftops towards the sea.

“Hermione?” he called, crossing the grass.

She moved slightly at the sound of his voice, but didn’t turn or look towards him. Her hair hung down her back in a thick plait, and she was wearing the shiny gold top they’d bought their first morning in their past. The colour suited her, and her skin shone in the moonlight.

“Hermione?” he tried again. This time, there was no movement.

Sirius stopped at the bottom of the tree. He was going to say this, whether she acknowledged him or not, and then at least he’d have said it.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry that I lied.”

He may have been imagining it, but he thought he heard a angry sigh from above him. He continued talking, focusing on the bare soles of her feet as he could not see her face.

“I just… Look, I don’t really know how to say everything I want to say, because it’s been a very long time since I had to. My friends, Hermione, they were my family. They were all I had when I had nothing. They showed me a world where I could be someone that I chose to be, not the person I felt like I had to be and that my family wanted. They were there when said family was being the very worst they could be, and they picked me up again afterwards. I don’t know who I am without them to define me.

“I don’t know how to survive in a world without them. You said I was selfish. I am. I want them to live for selfish reasons. But I do want them to have a better life. James really could have, he had everything right for him. Remus deserved to too. I… I don’t know if I do. I don’t know if you’re right, and I should accept this.”

He sat down at the base of the tree, back against the trunk and ran his hands through the grass. It was wet, and he could feel the damp seeping into his jeans.

Her voice came down from the tree, crackling slightly as she spoke.

“I’ve been trying to work out who you are, all along. What kind of person you are. Which of the many Sirius Blacks is the real one.”

“Let me know when you find out, yeah?”

She laughed, but it wasn’t mocking in tone. It was soft and gentle, as if she understood.

“I will.”

“Can I come up?”

“I don't know. Can you?”

“I don’t want to intrude.” She has stormed out here to get away from him, and here he was following. This had been such a bad idea.

She laughed again. “No, I mean, can you climb a tree?”

“Never tried,” he replied.

Sirius got up from the ground and grabbed at a nearby low branch, trying to swing himself upwards with his limited upper body strength. He tried in this way a couple of times before his grip failed him and he landed on the grass.

“Fuck.”

“Use your legs,” she said. “Against the trunk. Shoes off is easier.”

He kicked his boots off into the grass and tried that, and managed to almost walk himself up the trunk hanging off the low branch. With a huge amount of effort, and some grunting noises, he managed to hoist himself into the tree. She was a little higher. He was able to get himself to her level with slightly more grace than he’d shown getting into the tree in the first place.

Picking a branch, he arranged himself in the most comfortable manner he could find. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, and he didn’t feel very secure.

“Hello,” he said.

“Look at the sea,” she replied.

He hadn’t appreciated the appeal of being up the tree until that point. The sea was clearly visible from here, and the rise and fall of the waves was almost hypnotic. There was a soft reflection of the moonlight in the water, making it shine as it swished to the coastline and back again in a predictable rhythm. A ship was visible on the horizon, if you looked out past the pier, and stars shone in the sky.

It was beautiful.

He looked to Hermione, who had been watching the waves too.

“I used to climb trees all the time, as a child,” she said, still looking out to sea. “There were these children, in my class, who bullied me. Do you use that word in the wizarding world?” Sirius nodded. “They used to chase me from the park if they saw me, so I would climb a tree where they couldn’t get to me.”

“Why?” he asked. “Why did they bully you?”

“I think they knew I was different. I assumed it was because I was into books, and was far too keen to answer questions in class. A bit of a teacher’s pet, even. But maybe it was more than that. A few of them were clever too. I think now that they could sense the magic, and were afraid.”

“That doesn’t mean they should have bullied you.”

“No, it doesn’t. But when people are afraid, I think they do things they wouldn’t otherwise. Isn’t that what Voldemort’s doing? He’s manipulating people’s fears to make them do what he wants, or at least to not act against him.”

“Regulus.”

“Your brother?” She looked into his eyes for the first time since he’d come outside.

“He was afraid of my parents. He… he wasn’t bad. Not really. He got cold feet, you know, and tried to leave the Death Eaters. Tries. I forget when exactly that happens. But still he joined, and he almost certainly killed and tortured, because he was afraid of our parents and he was afraid of the other Death Eaters. Afraid of Voldemort. We all were, but Regulus was there, you know, physically close to the man.”

Thinking about Regulus hurt. He wanted to save Regulus, too, but Regulus had made his own choices and that wasn’t going to be possible.

“He was very brave, your brother.”

“Do you know something about him too? No, wait. Don’t tell me. I don't think I want to know what that twat did.”

“I will if you want to.”

This startled Sirius. She’d always been pushing back at his desire to know more of the future than he did, because she thought it would make him run headfirst into trying to stop things. And here she was, offering him information about his brother.

Did she think he'd changed, and that he was content to let the world work itself out the way it had before? Because he wasn’t. He was still just as determined, he just planned to change his approach.

Perhaps it was her that was changing.

“Okay.”

He still wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear this. But information had to be a good thing.

“Regulus stole something from Voldemort. I don’t know what provoked it, except he’d had some kind of interaction with Lucius Malfoy around the time that he did it and Regulus had stormed out of Malfoy Manor. The thing he stole… it was helping keep Voldemort alive, essentially. He found out about it when he leant Kreacher to Voldemort, told Kreacher to come back, and Kreacher told him what it was. He went out there, and he took the item, and he died doing it. Kreacher told us the story.”

“Fucking hell. Regulus. What happened to the item?”

“Ron destroyed it some years later. The story of how it got to Ron involves Kreacher, Mundungus Fletcher, Dolores Umbridge and Severus Snape, so a wide range of your very favourite people.”

He laughed at that, a low chuckle which surprised him when it came out of his mouth.

“Dung wasn’t so bad, long as you didn’t rely on him for anything.”

“He stole loads of valuable stuff from your house just after you died.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Sirius. “I’ll bet I didn’t want any of it anyway.”

“Probably not. Harry got all angry about him disrespecting your memory.”

Sirius laughed. He could imagine Harry doing that. He was a good kid. Would be. The passage of time, and what fitted where, was confusing him at the best of times.

“My little brother, turned out to be a hero,” he said, after a few moments silence. He’d known Regulus had been trying to get out. He’d always assumed that this had been discovered and that some Death Eater had killed him on Voldemort’s orders. Not that he’d died doing a brave and noble thing, a very Gryffindor thing. He wondered if the Death Eaters had ever known what had happened to Regulus. His parents had known he’d died; he’d assumed they’d been told by Death Eaters but it must have been Kreacher.

The item, though.

Something that kept Voldemort alive.

He dug through the darkest bits of his brain, the parts where he kept the memories of his life with his parents.

Horcruxes.

“Was it a Horcrux?” he asked her.

“How do you know about those?”

“Lot of Dark wizards in my family,” said Sirius. “And ones that weren’t very good at keeping children away from things that weren’t appropriate for them to hear.”

“But not Regulus,” she said.

“No, Regulus was not a Dark wizard. Just a very scared one.”

She smiled, a soft and sad smile. “It was a Horcrux.”

“That bastard. I’m glad my brother stole it.”

“Even if he had to die?”

Sirius wasn’t sure. He was a Death Eater, and his creed had always been that Death Eaters deserved what they had coming to them. But he wasn’t, not really. He’d been Marked under fear, and he had tried to redeem himself.

“Regulus didn’t deserve to die.”

“Nobody deserves to,” she said.

“Voldemort? Bellatrix? Dolohov?” Sirius asked. “Loads of nasty ones, who weren’t doing it from fear but because they wanted to.”

“Okay, those three,” said Hermione, rubbing the heavily disguised scars on her arm and thinking of Remus and the scarring along her chest. “And I’d add Umbridge.”

“Death Eater?” asked Sirius.

“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters,” she said.

He remembered that line. “Didn’t I say that to Harry?”

“You did.”

“Well, must be right if I said it,” he said. He stretched out his legs, which were getting cramp from holding him into the tree. He still didn’t feel as though he could relax up here. Hermione did, by the way her hands were now draped into the branches rather than holding on with little white knuckles like his own were. “And besides, my parents never took the Mark.”

“Your parents?”

“Bad people, not Death Eaters.”

“Oh.” She was waiting for him to continue.

“After I’d been sorted into Gryffindor, I used to wish that Regulus would be too. I thought the two of us could escape them. But he wasn’t, and he couldn’t. They kept a much tighter rein on him, after I started to rebel. It made me rebel more. It made him hide from them, but it didn’t make his thoughts change. It didn’t make either of our thoughts change.”

He didn’t know where he was going with this. Talking about his parents had never ended well for him, and it was by far better that those thoughts stayed where they belonged, shoved back into the furthest bits of his brain. Sirius knew what talking about his parents would lead to, and this was not a time for all of that.

His mouth had other ideas, and kept talking.

*

“They started off being quite normal. You know, gentle manipulation of the sort I’ve seen other parents do. It got worse. I went into Gryffindor, and they turned physical that Christmas. I was mad to think Regulus would ever go into Gryffindor after that. They made him watch. They knew all sorts of Dark magic, Hermione, and they weren’t afraid to use it.”

She was motionless and silent, the side of her face closest to him illuminated by the moon. It was listening, and letting him lead.

“I didn't tell anyone for years. How do you tell someone that your parents are cursing you, starving you, trying to make you do horrible things under the threat of pain?”

She was still watching him talk. He looked down at the grass. He was glad she wasn’t reacting. It made it easier than if she’d have looked horrified.

“I… I wanted them to stop so badly that I did one of the things once. I cursed a Muggle. He had his wand on me, my father, and she was standing behind. They took me out into the square, and made me choose a Muggle to curse. They watched my face as I did it, and when I tried to stop before they thought I should he blasted me in the back. I… I fucking finished the job and then they let me run into the house.”

There were well over a thousand blades of grass on the lawn. Maybe a million. Perhaps he could count them instead of telling this story. His shoes were on the grass. One of them was on its side. How many blades of grass were underneath it.

“It was the summer when I was thirteen. End of second year. I felt the worst I have ever felt, I relived it constantly when I was in Azkaban. I should have refused. I should have cursed them. I never did it again, Hermione, you have to believe me!”

“I believe you. You are not a bad man, Sirius.”

“I’ve done bad things. I don’t trust that I wouldn’t do them again. Not to a Muggle. To someone else. Someone who actually deserves it.”

“Good people do bad things. A bad person would not have this level of remorse. Voldemort didn’t have a shred, even when he needed it most. Neither did Bellatrix. Which is why they won’t be forgiven.”

“I can’t forgive myself.”

“Maybe you will, in time. You didn’t do it through choice.”

“But I did it for the same reasons Regulus joined the Death Eaters, and I can’t forgive him for that.”

He took his hands off the branch they were gripping and began to roll up his t-shirt at the back.

“That’s the scar,” he said, pointing at a place he couldn’t see but knew well on his lower back. He knew it was a round scar, maybe an inch wide, with a uneven edge and a slightly raised part on the left side.

“Sirius,” said Hermione, reaching forward. “There’s so many.”

“My parents were bad people. Blacks generally are.”

She touched the burn mark from the day he’d tortured the Muggle. Her fingers bumped over the raised part, and swirled around the edges in a soft circle that spoke of forgiveness. He relaxed, just a tiny bit. He remembered why he had been so tense. It wasn’t the subject matter they were talking about. It was that he was in a fucking tree.

“You are not.”

“I hurt a Muggle, an innocent Muggle.”

“You were thirteen.”

“Old enough to know better.”

“You were a child.” Her fingers were tracing lines between all the scars now, sliding along them and around them. “Tell me, honestly, that you think we should hold any other abused, frightened thirteen year old accountable for their actions, if their parents forced them?”

He was silent. He couldn’t say that. They weren’t.

“Then why are you so special that we should? They were torturing you just as much as anything you did that day, Sirius.”

She removed her hands from his back, and rolled the t-shirt back down. His back felt cold now, and there was a small part of Sirius that wanted to ask her to continue. He didn’t need her pity, though.

He may have fucked up, badly, all those years ago, but he could make it right.

Maybe not for that Muggle, he didn’t have the first clue where to find that man. But he could for the others his actions, or lack of actions, had hurt.

“You never answered my question.”

*

Gracefully, she manoeuvred herself through the tree to sit on the same branch as he was, and put her arm around his back.

“I’m not special. That’s the point. I’ve done some terrible things, and I couldn’t save my friends.”

“We’ve all had someone we couldn’t save,” said Hermione. She was thinking of someone, or someones. Sirius could see her eyes drifting off to the sea again, and there was a look of remembering in her eyes. He wanted to ask who she hadn’t saved, but she wouldn’t tell him. The only willing piece of information she’d given was about Regulus, and that was likely calculated.

She’d gambled that he wouldn’t want to change his brother’s death. Maybe Harry wouldn’t have survived without it. Maybe she wouldn’t have, either.

Besides. He was keeping secrets from her. She had the right to her own.

“I’m sorry about your parents,” he said.

“It’s okay,” she said. “It hurts, but you know how it is. We can be strong, because we have to be, when we lose family.”

“I know,” he said. “James and Remus were family. Regulus.”

“I’m sorry we can’t help them.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Is it wrong that I still can’t forgive him? Regulus? I want to help him, but I can’t forgive what he did.”

“I don’t think so. I… I took a long time to forgive some people.”

“You won’t tell me who.”

“No.”

Much later, close to midnight, Sirius came in from the garden. Hermione had preceded him in, and was likely in bed by now, but he’d wanted the extra time to think. She had been right that the rise and fall of the sea was calming.

“Hello, Sirius,” came an ethereal voice from the shadows of the kitchen. Luna, sat at the squashed-in kitchen table, was eating a bowl of soup. “You’re looking as if you have a lot on your mind.”

“Just… stuff.”

“Oh yes, I understand. It’s rather difficult, isn’t it, to sort through your thoughts. I’ve been struggling with that myself.”

Sirius went to the sink and poured himself a glass of water. He’d never quite got his head around Muggle glasses. So fragile. He’d dropped one their first day here and it had smashed everywhere, splitting into tiny fragments on contact with the tiled kitchen floor. At least they’d been able to clean it up with wizarding methods.

“Yeah?” he said to Luna.

“Sometimes I feel as though there’s a Wrackspurt in my brain.”

Sirius had no idea what one of those was.

“I’ve been writing all this down, you know. I’m still not sure exactly where we are, but it’s an interesting experiment in psychology. Daddy might print some of the story, when we get back.”

“Luna?” said Sirius. “Do you know why Hermione is so reluctant for anything to change, in the future?”

“It’s hard to perceive what you do not know to be true, without any evidence,” said Luna. “And Hermione has always had a rather closed mind, if you ask me. She finds making a connection between an idea and the possible realities almost impossible.”

“Yeah.” Sirius wasn’t entirely sure he understood.

“And fear,” said Luna. “She’s afraid of losing Harry and Ronald. I don’t know if she knows that herself, but she is.” She paused, scribbling something on the parchment next to her. “Of course, we may all be dead anyway.”

“Thanks Luna. I’m going to try and get some sleep.”

“Goodnight, Sirius.”

He arranged his blankets around himself on the sofa, trying to wrap himself in them without any part of his body sticking out. He understood not wanting to lose people. That was why he was here, after all, but he just wished she would be even a little bit honest with him about her motivations.

Chapter Text

Hermione
August 1978, Saltburn

After the night she’d shouted at him, and their subsequent heart-to-heart in the tree, Hermione didn’t see Sirius for several days. If she hadn’t known better, she would have said that he wasn’t in the house at all, but Ginny and Luna both said that they had seen and spoken to him.

Luna’s report of her conversation with Sirius didn’t exactly make sense, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened.

If Hermione was truly honest with herself, she didn’t know what she’d say to him if she saw him anyway.

‘Oh hey there Sirius, I’m sorry your brother was a Death Eater and your parents were horrible and your friends are all dead, but you still can’t do anything about it and I plan to do everything in my power to stop you.’

That would go down well.

Her attempt to be calm and considered and confront him about his plans had not gone exactly as she’d hoped. She’d screamed, hexed him, cried, and then ran away. Then they’d talked about child abuse, bullying and the power of fear in a tree, and she’d let him go without managing to explain her point.

She felt sorry for him, perhaps.

Because it was child abuse, what they'd done to him. In a different way, Harry had experienced the same at the hands of his aunt and uncle, so she knew the signs. And there had been no help for Sirius, because the wizarding world didn’t take it seriously. She’d looked it up, once, to see if she could help Harry, and there was nothing. She’d have been better off reporting it to the Muggle authorities.

That was the first moment she’d hated the wizarding world, for letting down her friend.

The hate had come and gone over the years, directed at the Ministry for it’s incompetence and outright bullying of Harry, and later at Dumbledore for what he’d put them through. He had been justified, perhaps, but it still wasn’t particularly fair that they had been forced to go through everything they had. That Harry had. Her and Ron had always had a slightly easier time of it, and well, some of the less ideal things that had happened to them were their own fault.

Hermione shuddered slightly at the memory of the time she’d partially turned herself into a cat.

That hadn’t been anyone’s fault but her own, but still it wasn’t really fair.

Nothing in her life so far had been particularly fair, and least of all this.

Hermione slammed the book she had been reading down on the coffee table, as her concentration had disappeared. She hadn’t taken in anything on that last page. This section had proved useful, so far, and she wanted to make sure she understood it.

“I’m going for a walk,” she said to Ginny. Her friend was on the floor of the sitting room, doing push ups. She’d started muttering recently about begging, buying or stealing a broom.

“I’ll come with you,” Ginny replied. “I’m about done with this.”

They walked out and down to the seafront, picking their way down the steps from the cliffs to the beachfront. Hermione led them out onto the pier, and Ginny followed. They stopped to buy a bag of chips, and ate them on a bench at the far end of the pier, surrounded by holidaymakers and crashing waves.

“Got anywhere?” asked Ginny, tying her hair back to stop it from blowing in the wind. She looked around and cast a Muffilato charm around them, to keep their conversation from baffling nearby Muggles. It was unlikely any of them would understand a word of what would be said between the two witches, Hermione thought, but you had to be careful with breaches of the Statute of Secrecy.

It would be really unhelpful if the Ministry found out about them. They were either wizards that there were no records about, and therefore probably accused of being undercover Death Eaters, or they’d have to own up to being time-travellers in which case they’d probably get committed to St Mungo's for insanity.

There had been several examples of that happening that she remembered from her reading on time travel. One of them had remained there for life, constantly claiming they were a time traveller. Most of the others hadn’t gone back so far, and had eventually caught back up to their own timelines and been removed.

A part of her had considered talking to Dumbledore, likely the only person with the capability for the suspension of disbelief that might lead him to believe she was telling the truth. But that seemed like a surefire way to change what had happened.

“Sort of,” Hermione said. “I’ve worked out what happened, I think. As Sirius was travelling around in time, of a sort, the item in the box picked up on the vibrations of that. That’s why it chose the date it did; it just followed a trail that was already being made by Sirius. As to why it was able to send us back at all, that seems to have just been a malfunction. Either that, or someone in the Department of Mysteries planned this, which is unlikely.”

“Indeed,” said Ginny. She picked around in her bag of chips, looking for the small, crispy ones. “Unlikely happens to us a lot. You even more so.”

“I thought that. But it’s just too far-fetched. Isn’t it?”

“It is a bit. I mean, did the Unspeakables even know who was going to review that box?”

“No. Well, they didn’t know it was going to be me. It originally landed on the Senior Undersecretary’s desk, before I was appointed to my job. It was only passed on to me once they realised I had more experience with the topic, and that was three weeks after it arrived on Level One.”

“So the target could have been someone else.”

“I think it was an accident, Ginny. I just can’t see why they’d do it.”

“Okay. You know more about this than I do, anyway.” She dropped a chip, causing a flock of seagulls to circle in on them. Hermione leapt away, while Ginny kicked the chip far enough to cause the seagulls to fly off in pursuit.

“I’ve made some progress on getting us back,” Hermione continued. “I’ve found most of the steps to make an ordinary Time Turner, and there’s some interesting theory I copied from one of the library books about jumping forward in time. With the Time Turner I used previously, I had to wait for myself to catch up to my timeline. This, with some modification, looks like it’s at least theoretically possible to go forwards.”

“You caught up with yourself?”

“Yes, there was two of me, doing two different classes. It’s how I got stuff done.”

“So does that mean there’s a version of me at home, happily married?”

“I don’t know.”

It was the truth. It wasn’t a Time Turner, and it didn’t necessarily work in the same way. The sum total of what she knew for certain to be true about their time-travelling device was in fact able to fit on just two feet of parchment, without her even using her small handwriting.

“Well, good. Don’t want some other Ginny to marry my future husband. And I don’t want to be an ancient bride when I get there.”

Hermione smiled. “I don’t want any other Hermione to make it up with Ron,” she said.

“Nah, you prefer to do your own shouting,” Ginny grinned. She emptied the remainder of her chips into her hand.

“Sirius was helping me,” said Hermione, in an abrupt change of subject. The wind was picking up, and most of the Muggles were leaving the pier. The name Sirius would probably spark just as much confusion in the fairly conservative North Yorkshire town than anything about Time Turners.

“I know your theory that he’s up to something,” said Ginny. “I dunno. I think he’s probably had as little choice in all of this as we have.”

“Isn’t it just a little bit suspicious? That list of all the Death Eaters and who they've killed?”

“How do you know he wasn't just keeping that list so he can avoid having to see any of that again? You wouldn’t exactly want to, would you, if you’ve lived through it once? I know he’s been a bit reckless in his past, but if he says he’s learnt from that, which he has, many times, then why do you think he’s going to suddenly rush off and do something stupid?”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s asked you to trust him, Hermione. Give him a chance. Or, you know, have a conversation with him about it rather than hexing him and hiding in a tree.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not convinced.”

“Of course I’m not. He’s been through a lot, Ginny. If he wants some happiness from this then I can see why, but I don’t think it will work how he wants it to.”

“Perhaps that’s what you need to say, then,” said Ginny, looking mildly amused.

“I don’t think he’ll listen.” He certainly hadn’t been much interested in anything she’d had to say so far.

“You’re mostly just issuing cryptic warnings. That’s not talking to him. I know that worked with Ron and Harry, and they’d usually just do what you said and wait patiently for you to explain. But, with no offence meant to my brother or my fiancé, Sirius is smarter than them.”

“Okay. I’ll talk to him if he’s willing to talk to me, properly.”

“No hexing.”

“No hexing,” Hermione agreed. She didn’t necessarily think it would work. If she had been wanting to be possibly slightly unfair, she would have accused Sirius of emotional manipulation the last time she’d tried to talk to him about their situations. She didn’t think he was being manipulative. At least not intentionally. He seemed genuinely upset, and the Sirius she knew always wore his heart on his sleeve a bit.

But logically, you could see how someone would attempt that tactic at that point.

“Let’s go back,” she said. “I think I can get a couple more hours in on some calculations tonight. You never know. Might get somewhere. ”

“I’m going to go find Luna. She went for a walk to the park, and last time she went there she got lost coming back.”

They parted ways at the end of the pier, Ginny following the along the beachfront and Hermione up towards the cliffs. She decided against the steps, and chose instead to ride on the cliff lift.

She’d become quite attached to the little funicular railway on visits here as a child, and was relishing the chance to ride it again. There was something calming about getting into one of the little wooden cabs, settling down on the bench, and watching the sea fall away behind as you rose slowly up the cliff face. It was a timeless experience; it had been the same in the late 1980s as it was now, and likely much the same as when it had been built.

The wind rattled the sides of the cab as she rode, and the sea churned. She was sharing the cab with a family of Muggles, two parents, two kids and a grandmother. One of the kids was almost asleep on his mother’s shoulder, and the other was excitedly running through her winnings from the arcade on the pier. The grandmother was worrying about the parking ticket, and the father was telling her to stop it.

And then there was the time-traveling witch.

She got out at the top to walk back to the house, turning the opposite way from the Muggles. The father was carrying his sleeping son now, while continuing the argument with the grandmother. The little girl and her mum skipped along, pausing occasionally to look over the cliff edge back down at the beach. Hermione smiled. She remembered doing that with her mum, in much the same place.

“In a world of your own there.”

Hermione stopped, almost crashing into the speaker. Their neighbour was lugging her shopping home along the pavement, her five string bags bulging with groceries.

“Sorry,” she said.

“You’re the girl from next door, aren’t you? Or one of them. I don’t know how many of you there are in there. Scandalous, a lesser woman would say.” She stopped, putting her bags down on the ground around her feet. “And that man. Now he’s quite easy on the eye.”

Hermione was reluctant to say too much. Their neighbour seemed to sense this, and laughed. If Hermione had to guess her age, she would have put her in her early sixties, with fluffy, bobbed grey hair and a round, welcoming face.

“Oh, I know what you lot are.”

Hermione stiffened.

“Really?”

“I might live in amongst Muggles, but I know a wizard when I see one. Magic leaves its traces, my dear. I’m Jo, by the way. And you are?”

“Hermione.” She had given up on using fake names, unless interacting directly with the authorities. It didn't seem to make any difference. They weren’t really interacting with anyone she felt would ever know her future self.

“Well hello, Hermione. Not a wizarding name, that. Muggleborn?”

“Does it matter?” asked Hermione.

“Not at all. Muggleborn myself. Jo isn’t a wizarding name either, is it? I’m named after Jo from Little Women.”

“I liked that book.”

“So did I. A lot of you in that house, isn’t there? Nice looking bloke, too. He yours?”

“We’re friends. We’re all friends.”

“I’d be more than friends with him, given half a chance. I’d best get this shopping home. Pop round for a cuppa if you get a chance. Bring the handsome wizard. As far as I know, until you lot arrived I’m the only witch in this town, and while I like that on the whole it can be nice for some company where I don’t have to worry about the teacups bursting into song. Nearly had a heart attack when I had the chair of the WI round and my teapot started humming Christmas carols. Nightmare.”

Hermione found herself promising to visit. Maybe she’d take Luna. She wondered idly what Jo would make of Nargles and Crumple-Horned Snornacks.

She was breaking her own rule not to get involved. Did this count? The house Jo lived in had housed a young couple with a baby when Hermione had visited, so she didn’t know a young Hermione. There wasn’t any issue with interacting with one witch, who likely had no impact on the course of the war.

But then you didn’t know. There were multiple reports of people who had gone back in time, done things that appeared innocent, and then came back to carnage.

She wouldn’t go for that cup of tea. And she definitely wouldn’t take Sirius.

Arriving back at the house, she resolved to ask Sirius for a better history of exactly what was going on at this point in the war. She had a general overview, of course, from books she’d read and conversations with Order members, but she could do with a refresher. They had been in the past for almost two months, and she was nowhere near solving the problem. The war was in full swing. They would need to be so incredibly careful.

She considered that he wouldn’t tell her. If he was intending to change the course of history, he wasn’t exactly going to be willing to give her the information that could help her prevent that.

Well, she’d have to come up with another way. A good start would be subscribing to the Daily Prophet, although she’d always taken that particular paper with a pinch of salt. Rita Skeeter might be writing for them already. Maybe she could get hold of a wizarding radio. She might have to go to Diagon Alley for that, which could become interfering if she wasn’t careful.

It would perhaps be better if she just concentrated on fixing the time-travel thing and staying out of trouble.

But then Sirius wasn’t going to be doing that.

She slammed the bottle of milk she was holding down on the kitchen surface. This was all so bloody complicated.

“Alright, duck?” asked Sirius. He was casually leaning up against the doorway to the kitchen, arms crossed. He’d brushed his hair for once, Hermione noticed. In his hand was a sandwich.

“Just… this is all so ridiculous.”

“Tell me about it. What did you do with the others?”

“Ginny’s off looking for Luna. Luna went to the park.”

“Are you planning anything, Sirius?”

“Me? Planning to go to the chippy in a bit.” He waved his sandwich at her. “Bread’s stale. Disgusting.”

“You know what I mean.” They’d actually talked about real things the other night, and he’d shown real emotions and now he was back to being flippant and annoying and avoidant.

His wand was sticking out of his jeans pocket. Hermione seriously considered pulling it out and then locking him into the cupboard under the stairs until he was willing to have a proper conversation.

“Hermione, you don’t trust me.” He took another bite from his sandwich, then threw the rest down onto the table.

“No, I don’t!” Of course she didn’t. He hadn’t given her a reason to.

“Let’s talk about this later, okay?” Sirius walked off and disappeared into the bathroom, where there was a lot of clattering and clanking.

If he wouldn’t tell her what he was up to, she’d find out for herself.

Giving up on her cup of tea, she went out into the living room. Standing on the bottom step of the stairs, she clumped up and down for a few moments to give the impression she’d walked upstairs. Then, she silently raised her wand and cast a Disillusionment Charm onto herself, ignoring the gloopy feeling of the spell working its way down her back and to cover her legs.

She waited.

Sirius walked out from the bathroom, eyed up the remains of his sandwich and decided against it. Hermione watched as he went to the coat-stand by the front door and slung on his jacket, checking the pockets, and fiddled with his wand to put it in an accessible but hidden location.

Hermione followed him out the door.

Ahead of her, Sirius walked down the road a few feet and then cut into the alleyway that went behind their terrace of houses and the one next to it. It was overgrown in places, and Sirius made for a spot that had a large apple tree growing over the fencing on one side and a towering stone wall on the other. Hermione hurried forwards, not wanting to be left behind.

Sirius stopped, carefully looking around. He made to spin to Apparate away. At the last possible moment, Hermione grabbed for his sleeve.

They landed in the shadows of a small copse of trees. Hermione leapt away on landing, throwing herself to the floor and staying as still as she could. Sirius was looking around, as if he’d noticed something. When there was no movement or sound, he seemed to think he’d imagined it and Hermione pulled herself up as soon as he turned around.

The trees rustled in the soft breeze, covering for any noise Hermione made as she followed Sirius to the edge of the copse. They were likely reasonably inland; the wind had been much worse by the coast. At the edge of the trees, Sirius stopped just under their cover.

In front of them was a huge house. A mansion, really. It stood in what could only be described as it’s own park, with formal gardens and a sweeping driveway. The cold grey stone glistened in the sunlight, reflections shining off the many windows.

She’d known he was up to something. Where the hell was this?

With an action similar to her own, back at the house, Sirius lifted his wand and Disillusioned himself. This was about to get slightly more difficult.

Hermione reached down and picked up a stick from the floor, Transfiguring it into a length of string. With a Sticking Charm on the end, she could attach this to Sirius and be able to follow him. It took her three tries to attach it to the gently shimmering patch of air that was Sirius’ back.

Unknowingly, Sirius lead the way around to the front of the mansion. They kept in close to the low perimeter wall. Even topped with black, spiked railings, the wall would not have kept out a determined climber. Hermione could only assume that it wasn’t meant to. There were likely strong defensive charms and anti-intruder spells placed on it, and Hermione almost thought she could sense some darker magic there too.

Following Sirius was definitely an incredibly bad idea. She didn’t even know where they were, or what was going to happen. It was a Harry-level idea, really.

Sirius stopped. For the second time that day, Hermione almost crashed into someone. That would have been even harder to explain this time, given she was practically invisible.

“Yaxley.”

A voice came from up ahead, low and softly drawling with the accent of the well-to-do home counties. The man speaking wore long black robes with a trim of silver, a serpent clasp on his cloak.

“Lestrange.”

The second speaker spoke in a slight London accent, his robes and cloak of a forest green.

“He’s waiting,” said Lestrange. Hermione recognised the name, but not the man. By his age, he would be either Bellatrix’s husband or the husband’s brother, possibly a cousin.

“Why are you out here?”

“My house, isn’t it. Someone’s got to welcome the guests.” Lestrange leered when he smiled. Smiling didn’t suit him.

“Am I the first?” asked Yaxley. He had a fresh cut on his ear, slightly scabbed over.

“Always,” said Lestrange, and ushered the other man through the gate.

What the hell had Sirius brought her to?

What had she dragged herself into?

Was that a younger Snape? It was. She’d recognise that nose anywhere.

There was no conceivable way this was going to end well.

Chapter Text

Sirius
August 1978, Hambleton Hall, Kent

Sirius crouched in a bush, Disillusioned. He’d considered transforming into his Animagus form, for extra concealment, but he had decided the ability to react quickly with magic was more important and besides, his eyesight was shit as a dog.

His legs were beginning to hurt.

Severus Snape was taking a whole long lot of time about whatever he was doing. Fucking Snivellus.

Sirius was incredibly tempted to curse the man with something at least borderline deadly, if not outright so. He knew what the man did for the Order in future. He struggled to see that as important compared to the outright fucking betrayal of telling Voldemort all about the prophecy that would lead him to try and kill Harry. Fucking Snivellus.

They could get themselves a new spy, for all he cared, he wanted rid of Snape.

However, Sirius had promised his imaginary Remus that he would exercise caution tonight, and his imaginary James that he would get Snape properly some other day. He had a job to do today. However fun it would be, hexing Snape even with something funny and not at all deadly would ruin it. He needed to remain unseen.

“Besides, Yaxley, I do not think what the Dark Lord has asked of me is any of your business.” Snape’s voice was crystal clear from where Sirius was hiding, and dripping in contempt. The pair of Death Eaters were standing just inside the gates, watched by one of the Lestrange brothers. Sirius would have recognised which one up close, but the light was tricky.

If Sirius hadn’t known better, he’d have said the man had no sense of self-preservation. Yaxley had been a Death Eater for some years now, and Snape was a much newer recruit as well as a half-blood with a Muggle father to Yaxley’s pureblood heritage. True, he wasn’t a family of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, as Sirius’ mother would have been the first to point out, but he was still much higher in status in the world inhabited by blood purists. Yaxley would have seen himself as above Snape in many ways.

“What the Dark Lord wants is very much my business,” said Yaxley. “But for now I don’t have the time to teach you exactly why I am right. The Dark Lord awaits, and I for one don’t wish to sample his displeasure.”

“And I don’t wish to see a mess on my carpets,” chuckled the Lestrange.

Snape turned, his black cloak swirling behind him, and began to stomp up the gravel path to the house. Yaxley followed, leaving the Lestrange alone at the gate.

Sirius’ legs really did hurt.

Despite Yaxley’s protestations about needing to get up to the house quickly, not a lot was happening, and Sirius knew there were more Death Eaters to arrive. He hadn’t come for the view of the house. He’d seen it enough times. Hambleton Hall had been the location of many a boring dinner party of his father’s friends and acquaintances, or his mother’s gossiping circle of pureblood wives. He’d even attended Bellatrix’s engagement party here.

That was not a night he wanted to remember.

Most likely a lot of the other people that had been present didn’t want to remember it, either.

Now, the old house had become a meeting place for Dark wizards, and, if their intelligence from the last war had been correct, frequently hosted Lord Voldemort himself. Sirius could only assume Bellatrix had a lot to do with that. The Lestrange brothers were into Voldemort, that was obviously the case, but Bellatrix had always seemed to have a bit of an excessive love for old snake-face.

She would absolutely be the type to host parties in his honour and to love every second of getting to lord it over the other Death Eaters.

Not many people in his family were great. The bar was pretty low, if Sirius was absolutely honest. But Bellatrix pushed things a bit too far even for the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.

He tried to stretch his legs out without either falling over backwards or making a lot of noise. Lestrange was still on the gate, wand visible, and over in the trees on the other side of the entrance path he knew would be James Potter, one of the Prewetts, and Marlene McKinnon. He’d forgotten exactly which Prewett had been sent on the mission.

Sirius had never been much of a one for reconnaissance missions. He’d fucked one up pretty badly, or would do in about a month, and that had got him out of a fair few of them afterwards.

Moody had accused him of fucking it up on purpose for exactly that reason.

He’d shouted a lot about ‘responsibility’ and ‘doing things we don’t like for the good of everyone’ and ‘entitlement’.

Sirius had felt that very unfair. This war was something he had taken incredibly seriously. He and his friends were in danger, and he wasn’t going to have risked their lives just to get out of sitting on his arse in a field or behind a wall or lurking under a bridge or whatever this week’s hiding spot of choice was. He hadn’t wanted to endanger anyone on that mission, he’d made a mistake.

Even if he had complained about said mission for six solid hours to James and Peter beforehand.

Alastor Moody might not have appreciated Sirius’ subsequent rant about exactly how seriously he was taking it, either.

They’d all been so on edge, all of the time. Everyone had been almost looking for a reason to blow their tops at one another, because a bit of shouting and righteous anger at someone else did usually make you feel calmer for a little bit afterwards even if that wasn't why you’d done it in the first place.

This was just dull.

There was a steady stream of Death Eaters arriving by Apparition, greeting Lestrange at the gate, and heading up to the mansion. This he had known would happen, from the information James had given him. The Order members positioned here had managed to get the names of over thirty-five Death Eaters going inside the mansion, which had formed the basis of the hit-list that had been used over the next three years.

The Order members had also managed to get themselves involved in a small fight and nearly got themselves discovered, a fact Sirius was hoping to exploit.

In a gap between Death Eaters, Sirius was convinced he heard something moving in the bushes behind him. Almost like something was moving.

He ignored it. The most likely explanation was an animal. They were in the middle of nowhere essentially, after all. If it wasn’t that, then one of the Order members was lurking on this side. After all, James had said he’d been in the trees, but Sirius couldn’t remember what he’d said about the others.

There was another crack of an Apparition, and Sirius involuntarily tipped forward slightly. It was almost time.

In front of him appeared his brother, Regulus.

The boy looked much as Sirius remembered him. A slight build, neatly cut black hair, and a long, pale face with features similar to Sirius’ own. Where Sirius was shorter, Regulus was tall. He wore a long black cloak held with an ornate clasp, clearly well made. His sleeves were rolled up, showing clearly that he did not yet wear the Dark Mark on his arm.

The perfect little pureblood heir, here to make Mummy and Daddy proud. They’d have been beaming with pride when they saw him off, most likely.

The heir himself looked nervous as hell, chewing his lip and spending far too long rearranging the folds of his cloak.

If it all went as Sirius knew it would, Regulus would linger to talk to Lestrange. A couple more Death Eaters would arrive, and then a fight would break out between them and the Order members. Then, and only then, Sirius would act.

“Good evening, Rabastan,” said Regulus, politely.

“Evening, Black. You showed, then?”

“I wasn’t aware there was any doubt that I wouldn’t.” Regulus’ voice was icy, the way they’d been taught as children to respond to those they considered beneath them or who were casting aspersions.

“I hear things, Black. I’m in the confidences of many influential people. I know things you could only dream of.”

“If that’s what it takes to make you feel important.”

Sirius was distracted from the conversation by another noise behind him. Either this was an incredibly stupid animal, or an incredibly stupid Order member. The Death Eaters would curse quicker than you could say ‘I’m a fucking fox, idiot’ if they heard anything suspicious, and ask questions later.

Or just Vanish the evidence and get on with their days, if the subject of the curses was beyond questioning. Maybe brag a bit up at the mansion later.

He could sympathise with their movement, though. Crouching had been a mistake. He was fairly sure his left leg had gone to sleep completely, and he needed to move it now. If he needed to fight and fell over on a dead leg, well that was mission over.

A quick wiggle, and he had some feeling back in it at any rate. There had been a bit of noise, but less than whatever else was here alongside him had made.

He tuned back into the conversation, reminding himself of the need to pay attention.

“Well, Black, you’d better put your wand where your mouth is tonight, then.”

“Rest assured I will, Lestrange. If you don’t believe my commitment to the Dark Lord, that lies with you. The Dark Lord’s opinion of me is the only one that matters.”

Yes, because you don’t care about your brother’s opinion, Sirius thought. He stabbed the grass with the end of his wand, digging it down into the dirt.

“Bella says you need to prove yourself.”

“I have done what is in my power, being until recently underage and under the Trace. And I’m awaiting my chance to do more now I am free of that little restriction. Or would you have preferred I was caught instantly?”

The best bit about Death Eaters was that none of them trusted one another. The Order, however haphazard some of them were and however much Albus occasionally attempted to withhold information, at least tried to work together. Death Eaters were constantly trying to get higher in Voldemort’s estimation, and they were generally more than willing to trample someone down with the proverbial Hippogriff if they thought it would help.

Rabastan Lestrange was clearly one of those.

With a loud crack, a third Death Eater arrived to disrupt Regulus and Rabastan Lestrange’s argument. James’ voice sounded in Sirius’ head as he eyed the new arrival.

“Dolohov was there”, James had said, sitting in the kitchen at the Order’s current headquarters nursing a pint of mead and his injured arm. “Great ugly brute, he is. He nearly took down Marlene, some purple curse that I didn’t recognise the incantation for, it was only a lucky block that saved her. She says she didn’t block it, but she must have done instinctively. Bloody lucky. The first one seared into a tree and the whole thing went down instantly. It was something else. He did my arm in too, though that was that Snape spell.”

“Good evening,” said Regulus to the new arrival. “I don’t believe I’ve made your acquaintance.” He held out his wand hand to Dolohov. Oh, he really was the perfect little pureblood. It made Sirius want to puke a little bit.

“Antonin Dolohov,” said the man, extending his own hand. “You must be the decent Black. I had the pleasure of meeting your brother a few weeks ago.”

There was a funny flicker in Regulus’ eyes at that.

Sirius automatically rubbed his shoulder. He well remembered that little skirmish. Sirius, Remus, James and Peter had been tasked with causing a diversion so a few of the more experienced members could get inside a building. They’d done it a little too well, and drawn six Death Eaters down on them. He could still feel the break in his collarbone Dolohov had given him, especially when it was cold.

“I trust you gave him what he deserved,” said Regulus, the flicker gone and his voice almost too even.

Fucking bastard. Sirius had half a mind to turn right around now and go home.

“Oh, I gave him enough to think about for now,” said Dolohov. His smile was uneven, giving him a distinct sense of untrustworthiness. “I’ll go back for that dirty blood traitor and his little pet half-breed some other time.”

“Perhaps Black could solve that problem for us himself,” said Lestrange.

“I plan to do whatever the Dark Lord most needs of me,” said Regulus.

Well, at least Regulus hadn’t exactly agreed to go out and kill him, Sirius thought. That had to be something.

He wondered what the three men would do if they knew the Sirius Black they were discussing was so close by. They hardly would have expected him to be. Regulus knew he’d never been able to hold himself back, and would have fully expected a hidden Sirius to have burst out of hiding by now, wand aloft and fighting.

It was quite interesting acting like someone else, for a change.

Hard fucking work, though. He couldn’t understand how people could do this all the time.

A light was making its way down from Hambleton Hall itself towards the gate. It was a conjured light, not a spell Sirius knew to be Dark in nature. Perhaps the caster could lend it their own style, though, as the light glowed an ominous green instead of any colour of light Sirius had seen before.

When he saw who was carrying it, the colouring made sense. Rodolphus Lestrange, Bellatrix’s husband.

“Bella says you’re to come up,” he said to the group. “She’s particularly anxious to see you, Regulus.”

‘I’m waiting for Nott,” said Rabastan Lestrange.

“He won’t show,” said Dolohov.

“He will,” said Rabastan, with confidence and a slight cackle. “I promised to curse him worse than the Dark Lord would if he didn’t.”

“Bella is getting impatient,” said Rodolphus.

“Bella’s always impatient.” Sirius very much doubted Rabastan would have said that to her face.

“That’s my wife you’re talking about.”

“What’s that?” Rabastan Lestrange was staring at the bushes on the other side of the gate to where Sirius was hidden, his wand outstretched.

“Animals, no doubt,” said Regulus. “If you’ll insist on living in the middle of nowhere, you’ll get animals.”

“Yeah, well, they’re getting bolder. Not the first time I’ve heard them out here of late.”

“Move somewhere sensible then.”

“When I marry, I’m tempted. Leave Bella and my brother to it.” Rabastan glared again in the direction of the noise. Rodolphus curled his lip, clearly unimpressed with the way his brother was discussing him and his wife.

A crack of Apparition, and yet another Death Eater arrived on the path in front of the gate.

“Nott,” said Lestrange, inclining his head ever so slightly to the tall, stern-faced man.

“Lestrange,” said Nott, with a larger nod. “Lestrange. Dolohov. Black.”

“Have you quite finished here?” asked Rodolphus. “Bella and the Dark Lord are most keen to get on to get on with the business of tonight.”

“Come along, guest of honour,” said Dolohov, to Regulus. “We can be your escort. I hear that’s something you purebloods require at important events.”

Four of the men made to walk off, but Nott hung behind. His small eyes were trained on a gap in the trees.

“What’s that?” he asked, sharply.

“Likely more animals,” said Regulus. “Rodolphus is right. Our presence is required in the Hall.”

“Did you check, though?” asked Nott. “We are all aware of the trouble we’d be in if there was intruders, tonight.”

“Check if you want,” said Regulus, looking bored.

Sirius, as quietly as he could, reached for his wand. There was another movement in the bushes behind him.

He hoped he wouldn’t regret ignoring that.

Rabastan Lestrange and Nott were approaching the bushes now, wands in hand. Regulus hung back, affecting a relaxed demeanour. Sirius thought that his brother clutched his wand a little too tightly, and that his face was too set to be as unconcerned as he was playing.

“There’s nothing,” said Nott, making to turn around.

Sirius let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding.

“Hang on,” said Rabastan. He prodded something with his foot, and there was a thud and a crack of a branch. “Intruders. Invisible.”

Simultaneously, Sirius and the five Death Eaters leapt into action. Creeping to the north, he slipped past the gateway and hugged the outer wall of the Hall’s grounds, staying out of the line of fire. He wanted to be able to work spells without a danger of hitting any Order members through the line of Death Eaters, and he needed to be close enough to Regulus.

As he moved, he felt a tug on the back of his jacket, and brushed it off.

Hermione would kill him, when she found out about this. He wondered how long he could hide it from her.

Curses were flying everywhere. Nott was firing them wildly into the trees, not aiming at anything particular and going for quantity over any particular power behind them. The two Lestranges worked together, covering for each other which allowed them better accuracy against their invisible opponents. Dolohov was almost lazy, but Sirius knew he was dangerous.

Regulus fought as if this was his first proper battle. Sirius had seen his brother get into fights at school, including with him and his friends, but this hadn’t prepared Regulus for the realities of a duel where one side was invisible and both were fighting to seriously injure. He was holding his own, and unlikely to go down, but he wasn’t going to be taking anyone with him.

The invisible Order members were giving as good as they got.

Careful not to be detected, and therefore give away his advantage that nobody knew he was there, Sirius began to add his own spells into the mix.

He shot a Stunner at the Death Eaters, causing the two Lestranges to leap out of its way and pause in their spellcasting. He used the break to send a series of branches to fly at their ranks. The aim was not to cause damage, as such, but to cause enough confusion that he would be able to get in amongst them.

There was another tug on his jacket. He twisted, to use a Severing Charm on whatever had got itself stuck there. He was halfway through the incantation when there was a scream from the Order’s side and a purple curse was flying into their midst. Sirius ran forwards, half losing his jacket to the increased tugging.

The purple curse from Dolohov hit a tree and the whole thing disintegrated in front of Sirius’ eyes. That almost threw him. So did the hiss of ‘don’t you dare!’ in his ear, which he thought he must be imagining.

When the second purple curse left Dolohov’s wand, Sirius threw the strongest Shield Charm he could muster in front of where he believed the Order members were. The curse and the shield collided, causing a rebound. Dolohov threw himself to the floor to avoid his own spell, and Sirius with a shaking wand Stunned him where he lay.

The seconds after that were chaos. With one of their own down, the Death Eaters doubled the intensity of their fighting. The air was thick with curses, and Sirius heard the shout of “Crucio!” from the Lestrange brothers more than once. The Order weren’t dropping their end, but lacked the usage of Unforgivables.

Sirius held back for a moment. He’d protected Marlene, which he had wanted to ensure happened, and now he wanted to wait. James said both he and the Prewett had uncloaked, and he was intending to use the disturbance that caused to act.

He was distracted by another hiss in his ear.

“Sirius fucking Black, I don’t know what you’re planning but you’re going to stop right now.”

It appeared he was doing a shit job at hiding this from Hermione.

“Trust me,” he hissed back.

“I will not,” she said. Her hand made contact with his arm, and he yanked it away from her before she could try anything stupid like Apparating him from the fight. Running forward, he felt the pull on his jacket again and realised it must be something to do with her.

He had no idea how she’d followed him. He’d deal with that later.

One of the Lestranges was down, wailing on the floor with some kind of pus-filled blisters over his face. James’ work. Sirius had laughed when James said he’d used that spell. Moody had huffed, saying the time for third-year hexes was past.

James’ cloak was off. He tumbled forwards, almost losing his glasses, but recovered fast and managed to prevent the blistered Lestrange from getting back up. He was the prime target now, as the only visible Order member, and Sirius stepped in to help his old friend.

It was comforting just fighting alongside James, even if only Sirius knew he was there. It would be better if they could go back to the head quarters together later and share that mead. He’d have to settle for what he could, which was protecting his friend.

Sirius got the other Lestrange nicely distracted with some interesting Transfiguration, making the ground around him transform into a bed of snakes. That would keep him busy for a moment.

Regulus, assuming James had caused that, aimed green flames at him in response, which James leapt away from. Instead, the fire collided with a patch of air next to him, and within less than a second a flaming invisibility cloak was flying through the air and Gideon Prewett was revealed. Not everyone could tell the difference, but Sirius had always been able to.

Sectumsempra!” shouted Nott, and James’ arm was opened from shoulder to wrist in a single slash. Blood spattered against Sirius.

The warmth of his friends blood on his face made something snap within Sirius. He roared and started forwards, throwing every spell he could think of into the depleted Death Eater ranks and completely ignoring the strength of the pull on the back of his jacket. Regulus fell to one of Sirius’ spells, and Nott to a spell that could only have been cast by Marlene McKinnon, the only Order member remaining out of sight.

Regulus and Nott were struggling back up, a Lestrange or two remained down and screaming. Sirius was still charging, most of the way to his brother when there was a final tug on his jacket and then the feeling of a body barrelling into his own from behind.

He was on the floor, inches from his brother’s legs as Regulus pulled himself to his feet. Sirius scrabbled in the dirt for his brother, as on his back Hermione swore softly into his ear and reached for a decent hold on his body.

Sirius felt the distinct feeling of Apparition, and tried his last hope.

Accio Regulus!

His stomach was whirling, his body being squeezed away from the fight, and his hands were empty except for his wand.

Chapter Text

Regulus Black
August 1978, Hambleton Hall, Kent

Regulus Black hauled himself up from the dirt, panting. The fight seemed like it was to be over. At least two, more likely three members of the Order of the Phoenix had been here, including his brother’s friend Potter, and all of them had disappeared. A state of affairs that would please nobody.

He began the process of righting himself. His only injury was a small scrape on his arm, which took little effort to magically heal. His cloak was dirty, that needed cleaning. The robes underneath had suffered no damage.

Next to him, Rodolphus Lestrange had extracted himself from the conjured snakes with little hassle, and was pulling his brother to his feet. Dolohov was unconscious, and Nott looking the worse for the fight.

“I would be inclined to leave him there, if not for the importance of tonight,” said Regulus, looking down at Dolohov. “Renervate."

“Get up,” grunted Rabastan Lestrange, looking much the worse for the fight with half of the pus-filled blisters still on his face. Rabastan, for all of his skills, did not tend to be a duellist that one would fear. And even less so now.

“I always was the better looking brother,” said Rodolphus, looking at Rabastan with a laugh that nobody else shared.

The younger Lestrange brother made a noise somewhere between a hiss and a growl, turned his wand to his face and began to mutter a counter-curse while occasionally shooting angry glares at the others. Nott had managed to get himself up from the ground. He had a nasty cut on his leg, and walked with a limp.

Regulus turned from the others and looked up at Hambleton Hall. This was not the way he had expected this night to go when Lucius had told him to report to the mansion. It was to be for his Marking ceremony, not for a fight of no importance.

But then, had he truly expected any of this? Three years ago he had been the second son of a prominent pureblood family, with little more expected of him than to marry well, although not as well as Sirius, produce some spares for the family line, and to assist his brother with the running of the family from time to time. Sirius had been difficult, their mother had told Regulus, but she was confident he would come back in line eventually. He would choose the family in the end, she had been certain of it.

Sirius had not. He had run off to live with James Potter and the blood-traitors, and look where that had left Regulus. He had made his own choice to remain, where Sirius has not.

“Ready, boy?” asked Dolohov, appearing at his shoulder.

“As ever,” said Regulus, although he wondered if he ever truly would be.

The rather motley group made their way up the gravel path to the Lestrange’s mansion in silence. Dolohov clearly wanted to be making jokes, or at least to be ribbing Regulus a little more, but one of the Lestrange brothers had given him a look that meant death.

Regulus supposed they would not truly kill him. Death Eaters, after all, were only allowed to kill other Death Eaters on You-Know-Who’s orders. Lucius had told Regulus that there were high penalties for disobeying their leader, but he had assured Regulus you were only punished if you had done something that justified it. Lucius had said You-Know-Who was firm, but fair.

Although, given what Regulus knew, he thought it was entirely possible that the Lestrange brothers could kill Dolohov if they wanted to and make it look like the Order’s work or an accident. Supposedly, their father had killed his father for his inheritance. And he had got away with it, to. The rumour was the Ministry knew but had been too scared to act, but that was rumour and conjecture, if entirely possible rumour. It was of course polite to pretend that one did not know of the scandal, but every pureblood in society did.

The Black family had its own share of scandals. Sirius included. It was all that had been discussed in the Slytherin common room at Hogwarts when the eldest son of the rich, famous Black family had been publicly disowned, especially coming right on the dragon’s tail of Andromeda’s disownment. At least they had been given notice of Sirius’ little scandal coming. Andromeda had shown every sign that she was the same as the rest of them before coming home one evening with a single sparkling diamond on an engagement ring from that Mudblood. And that was just his generation.

Regulus was determined not to be a scandal. The Black name needed a heir, and he was the only one left to provide that. It was his duty. His mother was already doing the hard work of sifting through the eligible pureblood women, and he would be able to begin meeting those his mother deemed most suitable at Christmas. They could then marry as soon as they had both left Hogwarts. He would do what Sirius had been too selfish to manage.

Rodolphus Lestrange, leading the group, came to a stop a few feet from the front door.

“We tell him nothing.”

Regulus nodded. They had come off the worse, and it would not do to admit to coming off worse in a fight.

Nott flinched visibly at Rodolphus’ words. Rabastan and Dolohov, they did and said nothing. Ignoring whatever that was supposed to be, Regulus pushed open the ornate wooden doors to Hambleton Hall and stalked down the marble-floored hallway. It was after he had gone seven or eight feet that he stopped, realising that he did not know which of the reception rooms the meeting was to be found in.

“Rodolphus?” he asked. He swallowed any fear that might have a chance of entering his voice. “Where am I required to be?” All the confidence required of him was present in his tone. As it should be.

“Ah yes,” said Rodolphus. “Wait in here, we will call you.” He pushed open a black door and ushered Regulus into a small, luxuriously appointed study. The door shut behind him.

Without anything else to do except wait in silence, Regulus perused the tall mahogany bookshelves that lined the room. Many of the titles were ones they had at home, thick leather-bound tomes on economics, politics and complex magic. He settled on one he had seen on his father’s bookshelf at home, ‘The Mudbloods and the Wizangamot: British wizarding politics 1895-1930’. He had been wanting to take a look at that one since Lucius had recommended it to him a few weeks ago, but had not yet found himself the chance.

Crossing the room, Regulus settled himself on the chair in front of the desk. He felt it would be a presumptuous to take the seat behind it, a large wing-back chair fitted with velvet cushions, and very much was the chair of the head of the household. The seat Regulus chose also had velvet cushions, but was smaller and much less fancy, and the one dedicated to visitors. Regulus did not need to be told all of this, of course. He had been brought up properly.

The book was interesting, if not containing much that he did not know in one form or another. Things in wizarding society had began to change once Mudbloods had been elected to the Wizengamot, and those changes were not for the better. Regulus knew most of the examples already, of course, from discussions with his friends and his father about the state of the wizarding world, but the book gave him further information. He had not realised that the Mudbloods had removed the laws to allow one to only employ pureblood wizards in his business. As if the Ministry should have any say in who a private business chose to employ.

He was onto the second chapter of the book when the door opened once more. This time, it was Lucius Malfoy that stood in the doorway, dressed impeccably in black and silver robes as usual and holding some strange kind of stick.

“Ah, Regulus,” said Lucius. “The Dark Lord is ready for you now.”

Regulus replaced the book on the shelf, intending to locate his father’s copy that evening to read further.

“Is that a part of the ceremony?” he asked Lucius, indicating the stick.

“This?” asked Lucius. “Oh, no. This is just something I picked up in Borgin and Burkes yesterday. I quite like it, do you not?”

“It is very stately,” said Regulus, stifling a very inappropriate laugh. The cane was ridiculous, but Regulus was not intending to say that to Lucius. He needed the man on his side, as he had been very helpful to him in recommending Regulus to You-Know-Who without requiring a favour in return.

“Thank you,” said Lucius, puffing his chest slightly. “This way. You are not nervous, are you?”

Regulus was not clear on why every Death Eater he had seen here tonight was so intent on asking him that question. It was as if they thought he was weak. He was the Black family heir, and he was anything but weak. He was placing himself in front of You-Know-Who voluntarily, in order to be of service and to bring the Black family back to its rightful place at the head of wizarding society, and there was nothing weak about that.

“Of course not,” he answered. “I wish to do what must to be done.”

“And rightly so,” said Lucius.

They had arrived outside a set of double doors. Lucius flicked his wand, and the silver rings twisted and the doors opened in front of them.

Regulus stepped inside the ballroom, which he remembered well from trips here in the recent past. Bellatrix’s wedding reception had been held in the dark-painted, high-ceilinged room, which had been bedecked with floral arrangements and swathes of emerald green fabric. It had been Regulus’ first formal event as heir of the Black family, and he had done his best to impress. He had danced with the Crouch girl, Elsie, who he’d very much liked, and the third daughter of the Fawley family, Adeline, who he had liked better. And others, of course, because he was not one that would shirk his duties.

He ought to remember to ask his mother to make sure Adeline and Elsie were placed onto the list for potential wives.

Of course, he had also attended Bellatrix’s engagement party here, and that had been a much less enjoyable occasion. Sirius had been on the outs with the family then, and he had been sure to make everyone in the room aware of that fact.

Today, the room was cleared of tables, chairs and other furniture, except for a large table at the front of the room. There were no elaborate decorations, just burning candles on the walls and You-Know-Who’s symbol illuminated above the table. Death Eaters lined the sides of the room, all in variations of black robes and all wearing strange bronze masks. Some of the masks were plain, others patterned intricately or engraved with runes of protection and hiding.

Lucius snapped his mask to his face, and escorted Regulus down the line of Death Eaters towards the three people at the front of the room. Most of the masked people were men, and Regulus was sure he could have named at least half of them with the masks on and more without. A few women graced their ranks; he recognised Nott’s sister, who had married a Burke, and the Rowle sisters Mercy and Euphemia.

And Bellatrix was clearly standing at the front of the room, her black curls falling around the sides of her mask, alongside Rodolphus Lestrange and the man who could only have been the Lord Voldemort that Regulus was intending to join.

Many of the Death Eaters nodded to Lucius and Regulus as they made their slow and steady way down the room, especially those furthest towards the back. Those closer to the front were more guarded, watching the two walking past but not acknowledging them in any way. There was no other way of distinguishing between those at each end of the room; everywhere was a mixture of old and young, those Regulus was certain were pureblooded and those of half-blood birth, the few women dotted in amongst the men.

Before he was ready to be there, Regulus passed the last Death Eaters and reached the front of the room. Lucius melted away into the lines of Death Eaters, and Regulus was left standing in front of the man he had come here to join.

“Regulus Black,” said Lord Voldemort, his voice smooth. It was not a question, just a statement of fact.

“My Lord,” said Regulus. He bowed his head and offered his wand handle first, the way Lucius had told him to.

“Good boy,” said Lord Voldemort. He did not touch Regulus’ wand, and motioned for him to replace it into his pocket. “Lucius has prepared you well, I see. Are you ready to join me and my little band of friends and comrades in arms, Mr Black?”

“I am.”

A cheer erupted from the massed ranks of the Death Eaters. The ones at the back of the room had folded in to form a semicircle with Regulus at its centre, a semicircle of black fabric and bronze masks that reflected the light of the candles. Through the eye-holes in the masks, Regulus could see all of the eyes in the room were focused on him.

“Do you understand what you are getting yourself in for, I wonder?”

“Lucius has explained, my Lord.”

“Good. And why do you wish to join me?”

“I aim to do the right thing by my family. I wish for a society where it is no longer shameful to be a pureblood and a Black. Mudbloods have no place thinking themselves as equals to a wizard with true wizarding blood. I want to be able to stand up and say that I believe in the sanctity of wizarding society and of the old ways.”

Lucius had told him the question would be asked, and had helped him rehearse the answer. They had gone through many variations of it, and this was what they had settled on as the one that most closely represented his views and would impress the most on the Dark Lord.

“Your family. You have a brother, I believe?”

“No. I do not.”

Lord Voldemort laughed. It was a laugh like no other that Regulus had ever heard, slightly tinkly with a tinge of malice. “No brother? I had heard you had one, a blood-traitor by the name of Sirius.”

“Sirius is no brother of mine,” Regulus spat. “He ceased to be my brother on the day he walked out of our family. The day that he betrayed all that I hold dear."

Regulus felt a soft touch of something, a nudge in his head. He had been warned that the Lord often used Leglilimency against his new recruits, to check for spies in the midst, and Regulus thought that sounded eminently sensible. He had learnt the basics of Occulmency from his father, but he had nothing to hide here. He pushed forward his memories of Sirius; the day he had left the Black family home in disgrace and interactions with him in the halls of Hogwarts afterwards that showed Regulus had no love for his brother. Not now, anyway. They had liked each other as children, but that was with a childish love and not with the knowledge that Regulus had now.

“I see that you speak the truth.”

“I would never speak anything less to you, my Lord.”

“See that it remains so.” For the first time in their interaction Regulus detected a note of harshness in the Lord’s voice, although he almost thought he had imagined it as by the time the Dark Lord spoke next it was back to his usual honeyed tones. “But you have always been loyal to our cause, have you not?”

“I have, my Lord.”

“Lucius tells me you are not yet out of Hogwarts, and I did wonder if it was wise to bring one so young in and one so under the influence of Albus Dumbledore.”

“I am seventeen, my Lord. I am of age, and I am keen to fight. As for Dumbledore,” Regulus had to bite back the Professor he had always added in front of the old Headmaster’s name, which he felt would not be welcome here, “I have never felt the old man had much influence over me.”

“And who do you feel influences you, Black?”

“My mother,” he began, until he heard the laughter of the Death Eaters behind and around him. “My father. Orion Black, a believer in your cause. Lucius Malfoy, who brought me here tonight. My dear cousin Bellatrix. Horace Slughorn, my Head of House.”

He hoped that was the correct answer. He had felt he ought to mention Bellatrix, the way she watched him with her dark eyes from her place of honour next to her Lord. She claimed the Dark Lord trusted her above others.

“A worthy group. I have great respect for all of those witches and wizards. Your mother is quite fearsome in her belief in the Black family, is she not?”

“She is.”

“Now, Regulus. You are of the blood to join me, and we would be most honoured to have a son of one of our most distinguished families in our midst. You have the references. Lucius, Bellatrix, Rodolphus, Severus and several others have vouched for you as being of a likeness with us and a worthy member of our cause. So far, your actions have been befitting of a Death Eater. What would you wish to gain, from joining us?”

“To gain?” This was not a question Regulus has been expecting.

“Yes. You are a Slytherin, are you not? Do you not have a healthy personal ambition?”

“I am. I do. I wish to gain… I wish to make my family strong again.”

“And you shall. See what you can do about that former brother of yours, won’t you?”

“I shall, my Lord.”

“And now, we have one last test before you can join our ranks, Mr Black.”

Regulus gulped. Lucius had not been allowed to tell him what the final test would be. Regulus was imagining something incredibly painful, like the initiation test to get into the club for Slytherin fifth years and above.

“Tell us your deepest secret, Regulus Black. And remember, the Dark Lord knows when you are lying to him.”

Bellatrix smiled, and folded her hands neatly in front of her. She knew of what he would have to say. But say it he would, because if the Black family honour rested on this then he would do what he must.

“My Lord, I regret it, but…” he took a deep breath, placing his hand on his wand in his robes pocket to steady himself. “I have had a relationship with a Mudblood girl.”

The room erupted into laughter, loud and raucous laughter that bounced from the ceiling of the ballroom and surrounded Regulus.

“Did you love her, my boy?”

“No. She was nice enough, for the while.” Regulus thought of the girl, a Hufflepuff called Sharon. She was blonde and skinny, like those he had always gone for, with a quick wit. They had slept together six times in a broom cupboard on the third floor over the course of a month, and then she had dumped him when he had refused to take her to Hogsmeade. She had accused him of being unwilling to be seen with her, and given that it was the truth Regulus had found he had little to say in response.

“You are not the first in my service to have been with a Mudblood. Some here have even thought they loved one.” The Death Eater that Regulus was certain was Severus Snape, in the middle of the ranks, shifted uncomfortably. “We do not judge that. If you were to marry her… that would be a problem. But they do have their uses, Mudbloods, and I am not one to deny my followers enjoyment where they can find it.”

More laughter from the Death Eaters.

“I think you’ll do nicely here. Tell me. Are you ready to pledge your life to the cause?”

“I am.”

“Bellatrix.” The woman, who had been demurely watching events with a slight smirk on her face, moved towards the table behind her. “Now, Regulus, I hear this spell hurts a little bit. I would not know. It is of my own invention, and I have never used it on myself. But, I can assure you, the benefits are more than worth it.

“It binds you to me, my dear Regulus, and to the others that you see in here today. We will be like the brothers you should have had. And sisters, of course.” A nod to Bellatrix, who had returned with three vials of potion and a silver dagger. “You will be tied to me for life, and you will do my bidding. In return, I will grant you what you desire; the chance to redeem your family and wizarding society.

“Regulus Black, are you prepared to join me?”

“Yes.”

Bellatrix was approaching him with the dagger and the potions. It was indicated for him to clasp hands with the Dark Lord, as if swearing an Unbreakable Vow. Lucius had told him it was not, and that he would not die if he broke it but that it would still be extremely unwise. Rodolphus stood beside them, wand out.

“Do you promise to obey me, to come when called, and to do what I ask in a timely manner, even if that is something that you would not ordinarily wish to do?”

“I promise,” said Regulus. Bellatrix handed him the first vial of potion, and he drank.

“Do you promise to uphold the principles of our creed wherever possible, stamping out the Mudblood curse on our pure blood and the stain on our society?”

“I promise.” He drank the second vial handed to him by Bellatrix with slightly shaky hands.

“Do you promise to be a Death Eater for life?”

“I promise.” Regulus took the last vial and threw it back down his throat.

There was a flash of green light from Rodolphus’ wand, which formed into a snake-like cable around the hand of the Dark Lord and Regulus’ own hand twisting and turning. There was a heat coming off it, not overwhelming but enough to be noticed, and Regulus felt the magic brush his skin as the snake-cable wound tighter.

Around them, the Death Eaters had closed their ranks and formed a tight circle. Each masked witch or wizard held their wands aloft and were casting a web of silver over the tops of Regulus and the Dark Lord. Bellatrix and Rodolphus had slipped backwards to join the circle, to join the faceless wall of bronze and black.

They were chanting, chanting spells Regulus had never heard before perfectly in unison. There was the thrum of magic in the background, a noise like the bass line in one of the dreadful wizarding rock bands Sirius had enjoyed and played loudly at home to irritate their parents.

The Dark Lord placed the tip of the silver dagger onto Regulus’ arm. It had a serpent handle with an emerald for an eye, a Slytherin’s dagger if ever he had seen one. There was the sharp prick of the blade piercing his skin, and a spare vial clinked as a few droplets of his blood were collected and placed safely into the Dark Lord’s robes. He took a step back, a quiet smile on his face.

It was then that Regulus felt the pain.

The dagger on his arm was moving, directed by the Dark Lord’s wand, but Regulus barely noticed. There could have been one blade in his arm or a thousand for the pain he was feeling. His body was falling in on itself. His brain had shattered into a thousand tiny pieces and exploded across the room. It was like nothing he had ever felt.

He would not scream.

Regulus did allow himself to sink to his knees. The knife stayed steady, doing it’s work. The pain wasn’t coming from his arm. Not more so than anywhere else. It was everywhere. In his feet, in his chest, his head, his legs, his hands. He was ripping apart and being forced back together at the same time.

And he could not think.

The chanting was louder.

The magic was thrumming.

He was being split into two.

A pain erupted in his chest, a thousand knives bearing into him with one movement. Regulus clutched at his chest to steady himself and close his eyes.

He would not scream.

Bellatrix shouted, a light exploded. Regulus closed his eyes. He would not scream.

He could take nothing more, but it was still coming.

A pain he could not describe.

Chanting.

Thrumming.

Light.

Noise.

The knife was hot and then it was cold, heating his blood and freezing it.

He had never felt such pain.

Pain.

The.

Worst.

Pain.

He struggled to breathe. It was coming in ragged gasps. His head was light. It was exploding.

He reached for his wand. If he could curse his feet off they would no longer be on fire. Curse off his own chest. Not the arm.

And then it stopped. Regulus’ arms flopped to his sides and his eyes opened.

“You did well,” said the soft, smooth voice of the Dark Lord. “You did not scream. That is… exceptional. Welcome to the Death Eaters, Black.”

With a ruffle of his cloak, the Dark Lord was gone.

In his place stood Lucius and Bellatrix. He hauled Regulus up from the ground, and Bellatrix handed him his own bronze mask. As he took it, the metal flickered with a light almost in recognition of its new owner. He wondered why, but there was no space in his brain for questions. It felt like a fleet of Doxies had taken refuge in there, flapping around and nipping at the inside of his skull.

“My dear cousin, I knew you would not let us down!” Bellatrix wrapped him in an uncharacteristic hug. Regulus had barely seen her show this level of affection to her own husband.

“Congratulations, Regulus,” said Lucius. “Take this.”

He was handing Regulus a glass of amber liquid, almost certainly Firewhisky. In the hope that it would sort out the feelings in his brain and in his body, Regulus drank the glass down in one. The usual burn of the alcohol on his throat barely registered.

Lucius clapped him on the back.

“Come, now, I must make some introductions,” he said. “Everyone will want to meet you. The Black heir and the newest recruit to the cause. You’ve done your family and all of us proud.”

His family. Yes, his mother and father would be rightfully proud of how he had conducted himself. They were too old to join, they had felt, but had more than approved of Regulus’ intentions. This was about them, and about the heirs he would produce, and a little bit of pain in that would not prevent him from getting to the ending he had in mind.

Chapter Text

Hermione
August 1978, Saltburn

She landed in a heap on the hard concrete floor of the alleyway behind their house, with Sirius somehow both on top of and underneath her. She wasn’t used to Apparating with an unwilling and much heavier person. It was almost certain that her elbow would bruise and most likely her leg, too. Still, she could heal that, and she would not have been able to heal the effects of whatever it was Sirius had been up to.

Sirius was fighting to extract himself and get to his feet. She did the same, ending upright with her back against a fence. Her elbow was bleeding slightly.

He was glowering at her from across the alley, splattered with blood and his jeans ripped at the knee. The hair that had looked as though it was brushed now looked as though he had been dragged through a hedge backwards. She reflected that he essentially had, or across a muddy patch of bushes and undergrowth backwards at any rate.

“Thank you for the rescue,” he spat. “Next time, don’t bother.”

“You said you weren’t going to try this again!”

“I did not. I clearly remember apologising for lying to you, and since then I haven’t said anything about my plans.”

“You said you were going to the chip shop!” She knew her voice sounded hysterical, it was high and slightly wailing in tone. She didn’t find herself able to care.

“I said I might. I still might. Seeing as I’ve got nothing else to do now thanks to your fucking interfering. Are you always like that? Do you always need to control what everyone else does?” His voice was low and angry, growling out his words as much as speaking them. “Do you routinely follow everyone who is going to the fucking chip shop?”

“Only when I don’t trust them!”

“I’ve told you to trust me. I know what I’m doing! And you know full well what my intentions have always been!”

“And I know you’re going to ruin everything if you keep going this way!”

“Oh yeah? Is that definitely what all your calculations and reading have said? Truthfully, Hermione? It’s not already all fucking ruined, if you hadn’t noticed!”

A window opened in the house behind Hermione, and a blond-haired Muggle woman’s head popped out. It was accompanied by the sound of a screaming baby and a wailing child.

“Will you take you take your fucking domestic somewhere else?” she shouted. “I’ve got a baby that’s trying to sleep here, learn some f-ing consideration!”

“We’re sorry!” Sirius shouted back, and grabbed Hermione’s elbow. “Come on. We should move. She’s right. This isn’t the place.”

“And this isn’t finished,” Hermione hissed as she allowed herself to be led out of the alleyway and around to the front of their house.

“Of course not,” he replied.

Ginny and Luna were in the front room when they opened the door. Luna reading on the squashy brown armchair, and Ginny balancing on one leg in the centre of the room. Occasionally, she would hop from one foot to the other.

“Balance improving exercises,” she said as Hermione and Sirius entered the house. She had either failed to notice the glower on Sirus’ face, which Hermione was sure was matched on her own, or she didn’t care. “Harpies coach makes us do this for up to twenty minutes. Says if we can do this we can stay on our broom whatever happens.”

“She has managed eighteen so far,” said Luna, peering over her copy of ‘Murky: Stories of Ghouls’. “And she’s fallen down twice, which she says doesn’t count.”

“Tell that to someone who cares,” said Sirius, with menace. He stomped up the stairs. Several loud thudding sounds came from the upper floor of the house, and then the slam of a door and silence.

“Do I want to know?” Ginny asked, hopping again.

“Probably not,” said Hermione. She threw herself down on the sofa. It was important that Ginny knew, and Luna, but it wasn’t as if she really wanted to talk about this right now. “I don’t even know if I know. Well I do. And it’s shit.”

“Are you aware that you are talking in riddles?” asked Luna. “Is that what’s frustrated Sirius? He does not look happy, does he?”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” said Hermione.

“Okay.” Luna put her book down, neatly folding in a bookmark as she did so. “He’s not yet processed how he feels about you.”

“About me?” Hermione asked.

“I definitely do want to know, I’ve decided,” said Ginny, thankfully interrupting whatever it was Luna was about to say. She wobbled, and fell over again. “Also, we need to clean this carpet. Mum has a charm that gets all the dust out and sends it out the door in a neat little stream, but when I tried it everything just flew up into my face.”

“We’ve got a vacuum cleaner,” said Hermione.

“A what?” asked Luna.

“Dad had one of those. It exploded when he tried to use it and Mum threw it out. Threatened to report him to his own department at the Ministry. Do they really work, then?”

“They do,” said Hermione, unsure that she wanted to get into an explanation of how. Arthur Weasley would have an absolute field day in this house, with every Muggle contraption of the 1970s in full working order.

“But that’s not exactly the point, is it Hermione?” Luna was staring at her very intently.

“No. Thank you, Luna. I followed Sirius from the house earlier, and grabbed onto him when he Apparated from the alley. He… well… I don't know what exactly he was intending to do but we got involved in a fight between the Order and the Death Eaters outside some huge mansion. Sirius knew they would be there, I think.”

“Seriously?” Ginny looked outraged.

“Well, perhaps that is the way he felt was best to deal with the situation he finds himself in.” Luna was more thoughtful.

Hermione bristled slightly. “He might think so,” she snapped, “but the rest of the world doesn’t.”

“I’m not sure that you have ever asked us our opinions,” said Luna.

“I don’t understand half of it,” said Ginny. “I’m not sure mine would count for much.”

“Luna,” said Hermione, her anger increasing again. “You thought we were dead.”

“And I still haven’t ruled that out,” said Luna, calmly. “I just think that perhaps we need to be aware of all of our options and consider all of them equally, not relying on some perceived wisdom about time travel and the other myriad ways we could have arrived here in what we would have assumed to have been the past. And Sirius’ past, specifically so. He has at least a chance of having been here before, and we have almost definitely not.”

“Yep, didn’t understand half of that,” said Ginny.

“Do not consider yourself to be stupid, Ginevra,” said Luna.

“I’m smarter than Ron,” said Ginny, “and that’s the standard I’ve always held myself to. Achievable. I’m also much better at Quidditch than he is, and at relationships. Unfortunately for Hermione.”

“Can one person around here stick to the point!” Hermione was losing what little patience she had managed to drag up. Nobody here was stupid, but all of them were proving completely unable to listen to her or to look at things from a scientific point of view. Scientific was the wrong word. Wizarding society had no concept of it. Theoretical. And not one of them could stick to the point.

“Luna, go get Sirius,” said Ginny. “Hermione, stay here.”

Whether Luna knew what Ginny was intending or not, she did as she was asked. Hermione went to the kitchen and fetched herself a glass of water. Sirius walked into the front room at the same time as Hermione did, and both of them immediately opened their mouths. No sound came out.

“I’ve used a Silencing Charm on you both,” said Ginny smugly, raising her wand to show them. “One of Mum’s better techniques. I will lift it when you feel you are ready to talk without shouting at each other or us. Shouting, swearing, interrupting and being needlessly rude will result in me Silencing you again. Understood?”

Sirius and Hermione glared at one another, and then at Ginny who laughed.

“I may not understand the theory of time travel,” she said, “but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Hermione fully appreciated right now that Ginny was the daughter of Molly Weasley. And that both of them were related to Fred and George.

Sirius flung himself down onto the sofa, and lay there unmoving with his arms crossed. Hermione took a seat in the chair Luna had vacated, and Luna happily sat cross-legged on a patch of carpet.

It was a ridiculous idea though, she thought. Talking to Sirius was not going to change anything. She had tried that, and it had resulted in him avoiding her and doing what he was going to do anyway. She still had no idea what he had been intending that evening, or even where they had travelled to. Or what the point of it all had been except to cause more, unspecified, future disasters.

Perhaps she should try asking that. If it resulted in shouting, Ginny could just silence him again and at least she would have tried to have done something constructive with the man.

Hermione raised her hand. Ginny gave a small, slightly triumphant smile, and waved her wand to remove the Silencing Charm.

“Sirius, exactly what were you planning tonight?”

Ginny looked at him, and removed the Charm on Sirius with a warning glance.

“I was going to make sure my brother did not take the Dark Mark.”

There were no Silencing Charms in place in the room, but nobody spoke.

Hermione couldn’t see the logic in his plans. He'd said that he couldn’t forgive his brother. Ginny appeared to be waiting for Hermione to react. And Luna was humming, almost as if she’d worked that out for herself.

But Sirius had said he’d wanted to help Regulus. And as a seventeen-year-old schoolboy who hadn’t yet taken the Dark Mark, perhaps he hadn’t yet done anything that would need to be forgiven. It was still a stupid idea, but perhaps there was some logic to it after all.

With everyone else quiet, Sirius continued. “James was there, tonight, and last time around he told me that Regulus had been present tonight and that something big was going to happen. The Death Eaters were having an event, or a ceremony. Regulus did not have the Mark on his arm tonight, but we saw him in a fight just before he went back to Hogwarts, before he will go back, in a few weeks, and he did. This was likely to be my last chance to prevent my brother from becoming a Death Eater.” His voice was flat and without emotion, but his body was shaking slightly.

“Where were we?” Hermione asked.

“Hambleton Hall. The Lestrange ancestral home, and therefore Bellatrix’s place. Voldemort used to spend a lot of time there.”

“Shit,” said Ginny. “I’m sorry, Sirius. That must be a horrible thing to know, that your brother has just been Marked. If it was one of mine, I’d want to help them. Or kill them. Maybe both.”

“Is Hermione sorry?” If eyes alone could cast spells, Hermione was sure that curses were coming her way.

“I am sorry, but there’s nothing we could have done without…”

“Show me the proof,” he said.

Hermione took a deep breath. She couldn’t be the first one to lose her cool, not when Sirius was actually talking for once.

“I don’t have any proof,” she said finally.

“Exactly.” His arms flopped down to his sides, and he closed his eyes. “There is no proof that anything we do now will change anything, and there is no proof that it won’t change just by us being here. I’ll be completely honest and say there is no proof of it not all fucking up if we try, at least on the basis of your calculations.”

“You read my notes.”

“You read my notepad. Equal violations of privacy, I’d say, and I only read your notes yesterday when you were out with Ginny.”

“Let’s not get into who screwed up and betrayed the other one’s trust first,” said Ginny.

Hermione felt that was unfair. She had violated his privacy, she supposed, but she'd done it for a very good reason. It wasn’t like she was snooping to find out who he fancied, or to copy his homework, or any other of the myriad reasons her dorm mates at Hogwarts had had for rummaging through each others’ trunks.

However, she couldn’t deny that what Sirius had said was true. All of her research had lead to one conclusion, which was that there was no consensus on what their presence in the past would do.

“He’s right, isn’t he, Hermione?” said Luna.

She was forced to consider that Luna may well also have read her notes. That wasn’t necessarily surprising, as Luna would read almost anything. She wished she could say that Luna and Sirius had likely drawn the wrong conclusions, but they were both intelligent and they had reached the exact same conclusion that she had reached. This was all such a mess.

Every other person in the room had fixed her with an expectant look. Sirius had even propped himself up a little bit to hear her answer. She had to say something eventually. Well, she didn't. She could do the Sirius approach of ignoring them all for days and then running off, but it wasn't the mature option.

“Yes. He's right.”

“Shit.”

“Indeed.”

“Am I the only one who didn’t know?” asked Ginny.

“You mean, are you the only one who didn’t wade through my private papers?”

“When you put it that way, it makes me seem less uninformed and much more polite,” Ginny smiled.

“You were very polite as an eleven-year-old,” said Hermione. “I’m not sure you have been since.”

“I feel as though,” said Luna, slowly, “that you were the one reminding us of the importance of staying with one point in an argument and working our way through it, Hermione.”

Hermione was sure that was the closest anyone had ever got to a telling-off from Luna. But she was right, they had gone off the topic at hand yet again, and it was important that they finished the discussion while everyone was calm and willing to talk. Sirius especially.

“So, Hermione,” said Sirius. “Why don’t you tell Ginny what you’ve discovered.”

“You said yesterday, that you had discovered that you might be able to get us back, and something about your previous Time-Turner having not had that power, that you had to catch up with yourself.”

“Yes,” Hermione said. She took a sip of her water. “The Time-Turner I had in my third year… perhaps I had better start at the very beginning. In the late 1700s, a man called Herbert Dinglewood began to experiment with time magic in an ordered way. There had almost certainly been experiments before his, but he was the first to do it in what Muggles would call a scientific manner with proper experimental theory. He built what could be described as the first Time-Turner and used it to travel backwards in time on multiple occasions.

“It’s difficult to know what if anything he changed, as the records of wizarding history conflicted with each other enough as it was. The Ministry took an interest, though, and offered Dinglewood a position in the Department of Mysteries, where he continued his experimentation with official funding. There was a period of just over a hundred years which is commonly seen as the era that most of our knowledge on time magic stems from, where experiments were carried out on a regular basis with different forms of time-travel devices and differing lengths of stay in the past and amount of time travelled backwards. The Time-Turners they made could bring you back into the future, then.

“They had never attempted to go back more than a hundred years into their past, and all those who went back more than fifty years or so tended to die fairly soon after. There was an accident in 1899 when an Unspeakable called Eloise Mintumble tried to go back further and became trapped in the 1400s. She died on arrival back in her time period. Her body essentially aged nearly 500 years in one go. So it’s possible to travel forwards in time, at least as far as the point where you originally used your time device, if you have the right device, but not necessarily advisable.”

“We’re well within that time frame, though, aren’t we? It’s less than fifty years to our future.”

“Yes,” said Hermione. “Although, things have moved on since then. After Eloise’s death, the Ministry passed regulations on time experimentation, and banned everything except for the Time-Turners that I had. They were limited to not be able to go back more than five hours in one stretch, and not more than eight hours back in a twenty-four hour period. Much of the data on previous time experimentation was destroyed, too, the Minister at the time was particularly cautious and organised a mass burning of the whole time section of the Department of Mysteries.

“And then we destroyed what was left the day Sirius died.”

“We did. A couple of years ago, the Department of Mysteries expressed an interest in renewing their time travel research. Kingsley was reluctant, but he allowed them some basic experimentation provided it all remained theoretical and no travel was done until their theory and calculations could be independently reviewed.”

“What does Kingsley have to do with all of this?” asked Sirius. “The man was an Auror.”

“I shouldn’t tell you that,” said Hermione. “But then I shouldn’t be telling any of you this part, as one of the other conditions of the research was that it was to remain strictly confidential. Kingsley didn’t want the general public becoming aware that the Ministry was able to travel in time again. He was Minister for Magic at this point, Sirius.”

“Always the overachiever,” said Sirius.

“Anyway, time research started again in early 2000. Kingsley approved the creation of a time travel device in late 2001, which lead to the arrival of the prototype on my desk. In essence, it’s the same as previous Time-Turners, it works via the inclusion of Furstian principles with the essential charms and the time-agent, which in this case is an infusion of Sespilian sand, a Morek stone, and…”

“We aren’t going to understand that bit,” Ginny interrupted. “Well, Luna or Sirius might. Skip to the bit I have a hope of, please?”

“It works,” said Hermione. “It isn’t the same, though. It has a different interface, and less limits on than the previous ones. Apparently the Unspeakables thought nobody would be stupid enough to use it in a way that would get them killed. I recommended, or was going to recommend, in my papers in response that they did add those limits.”

“Never trust the general public,” said Ginny. “That’s what Dad says.”

“It was very easy to get into the Department of Mysteries that night Sirius died,” said Luna.

“Exactly,” said Hermione. “Lucius probably unlocked it for the Death Eaters somehow, but still, it’s dangerous. Because a lot of the data on the original Time-Turners was burnt, like I said, this one was about fifty-percent memory from Unspeakables on what the previous ones had been like and the other fifty percent is theory and ultimately some guesswork based. In theory, it can travel forwards in time as well as backwards. However, we don’t know how to make it do that, and neither did the Unspeakables. The last time a Time-Turner was used to go forwards in time was 1899.

“They went out of their way in fact to say that they didn’t know if it would work, even to go backwards, but they were reasonably confident it would.”

“Why didn’t they test it?” asked Sirius.

“We hadn’t given them the approval yet, from the Minister’s office. Kingsley was unsure it was a good idea. He’d got cold feet, a bit, I think.”

“And what about our ability to change things?” Ginny walked to the kitchen and came back with an apple.

“Well, that’s complicated.”

“What of this isn’t?” asked Ginny, taking a bit from her apple.

“Okay. So, there are two predominant theories about time travel. One is the casual loop, which you’ll know about Ginny from what Harry told you about the night we saved Sirius. Essentially, he could cast the stag Patronus even though he’d never done it before because he had seen himself doing it when he had done that hour the first time around.”

“And you don’t know how grateful I am for that, or I’d have been a sad little husk of a man before you could rescue me,” said Sirius. “Chuck us an apple, Ginny? Hermione still hasn’t let me get down the chippy.”

Hermione carried on, ignoring Sirius as Ginny used her Chaser skills to good advantage and an apple flew past her head.

“The other is that everything you do has the ability to change something. That is what I’m worried about. If we were to say, save James Potter in 1981, then that could have a knock-on effect onto something else. It may mean for example that Harry dies, or that the Voldemort fails, tries again another day, and all three of them die. Or he gives up and attacks Neville, who dies and it cements Voldemort’s strength.”

“Right,” said Ginny.

“Those are more on the morbid end of the possible effects continuum,” said Luna. “But I take your point.”

“Or we could do a hell of a lot of good,” said Sirius.

“And that’s where the two of you essentially disagree,” said Ginny. “Okay. What now? And remember, I absolutely will make good on my promise to Silence you if there is any shouting.”

“She tends to start the shouting,” grumbled Sirius, but was quiet at a look from Ginny.

“I still don’t think deliberately seeking to fiddle with time is a good thing,” said Hermione. “There’s a chance we’re meant to be here, but I don’t think we have any proof that we are. And how unlikely is it that both sets of us were meant to be here? We’ve come from two different times in two different ways. Sirius arrived here in a way I’ve never even heard of.”

“Just because you’ve never heard of it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before and isn’t perfectly ordinary,” said Luna. “Nobody believed in Wrackspurts.”

“They don’t exist,” said Hermione.

“I doubt you’ve ever seen a Lethifold either, and do you deny that they exist?”

“Children,” said Ginny, showing them her wand in warning.

“I can’t see why we can’t,” said Sirius. “We can be careful.”

“Careful?” said Hermione. “You can be careful all you like, and it can still lead to consequences you can’t even imagine.”

“Fucking hell, Hermione, do you think I’m dense or something? I can imagine a hell of a lot of consequences, and there’s quite a few of them if we don’t do anything here too. James. Lily. Harry growing up an orphan. Remus dies. I die. Perhaps you win in the end, but is the cost worth it? What if we can do it quicker?”

“And what if we kill them anyway?”

“We won’t!”

“How do you know, Sirius?” Hermione could feel her voice getting higher and closer to shouting. She took a deep breath. Nobody could work out all the different myriad ways that the consequences of their actions could interact, nobody.

“How do you know that I’ll fuck it all up?” He was close to shouting now too. “I’m not stupid.”

“I never said that!”

“Yes you fucking well did! You don’t know any more than I do about what might happen, and yet you’re acting like you know fucking everything! You’re withholding information about your future thinking it will make me fall into line, so you get to control what happens!”

“I’m trying to keep it safe!”

“You’re making it less safe! I’m going to try whether you give me that information or not. If you give it to me I can sort through it and work out a plan that will make less people die, I’m sure of it! You’re being needlessly obstructive and people will fucking die! It isn’t a game!”

Hermione opened her mouth to retort, and once again found that no sound was able to get out. Sirius appeared to be having a similar problem.
“I said I would,” said Ginny. “Shame. You were doing so well.”

“I wouldn’t cross Ginny, if I were you,” said Luna.

Sirius threw his apple core at the wall with force and folded his arms again.

Hermione silently huffed. This was completely and utterly unreasonable. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She had explained her position so many times, and Sirius had gone off and done something without even attempting to speak to the rest of them. He’d known that Remus and James would be in the library that day too. He was manipulating the whole thing.

She reached in her pocket and, without really thinking about it, her hand tightened around her wand. She knew enough non-verbal magic to hex him well and good even with the Silencing Charm in place on her.

“Expelliarmus,” said Ginny, almost lazily, flicking her own wand at Hermione. The wand flew out of Hermione’s pocket and Ginny caught it neatly. “And as a precaution, Expelliarmus!” Sirius’ wand flew out of his pocket, too.

Sirius got up and made to leave the room, but as he approached the door to the stairs it banged shut. He tried the handle; it was locked.

“I’ll do that to whichever door you approach,” said Ginny. “I’ve had it with listening to both of you rant about the other one and never talking this out properly. We’ve been in the past two months and you’ve achieved literally nothing except a tonne of research and increasing your desire to argue with and then ignore each other. We are getting this over with today.”

Hermione did not want to be the first to speak this time. Sirius ought to make an effort too. He’d just laid there so far, chomping his apple and glaring and making snide comments.

“I’m hungry,” said Luna. “I’m going to make some food.”

Sirius raised his hand. Ginny waved her wand at him.

“Bread’s stale,” he said. “You can Silence me again now. Got nothing else useful to say, apparently.”

Ginny laughed. It started as a slightly nervous giggle but soon turned into a full-scale laughing fit, with Ginny crouching on the floor doubled over in hysterics. Luna was humming in the kitchen, trying to cobble together some kind of meal from whatever they had in the cupboards, which was rarely anything useful. Sirius watched Ginny with an increasingly confused look on his face.

“I’m sorry,” she said, after a while. “It’s just… of all the things that have happened to us over the years this has got to be the most absurd. Bread’s stale. Oh Merlin. The bread is stale and we’re all a bunch of incompetents. We brought down Voldemort and we can't even buy bread often enough!”

“Do you understand?” Sirius asked Hermione. Still unable to talk, she shook her head. “Makes two of us.”

It was several minutes before Ginny had calmed down enough to cast the counter-spell to allow Hermione to speak again, and several more before she was able to talk without collapsing back into laughter. Hermione waited as patiently as she could. It was perhaps useful, she thought, as it had at least persuaded them all to stop attempting to snipe at each other and to consider their positions carefully before they resumed the argument.

Luna returned into the living room with some kind of chicken, rice and carrot based dish, which tasted reasonable. The one thing to be said for this adventure was that it was far more comfortable than the Horcrux hunt. She had a decent bed, not a bunk in a slightly smelly tent, and food that was regular and tasted like food. Ron would have enjoyed this one.

As always when she thought of Ron, she felt a faint tugging in her heart. He was not who she had expected to fall in love with, but fall she had and she felt the absence of the boy in every quiet moment here. She knew that Ginny did too, for Harry.

And truth be told she wished Harry could have been here, too. He would have an idea of what to do. It wasn’t that she wanted someone she could boss around, like Ginny had suggested she did, but that at least Harry and Ron listened to her and they thought about her ideas. Sirius just went off on one without any care for her thoughts.

She did get why he wanted to do this. She really did. But she just couldn’t get on board with it.

“Hermione? Look, I’m sorry. I was a dick, and I should have told you I wanted to read your stuff and then talked through your findings with you. I really do think we can change this in a way that will help everyone, you know, and I’m maybe being a little bit selfish but only a little bit. It’s Harry I feel for. And James, and Lily, and Remus. I coped with having nothing for twelve years, and I can do it again. They shouldn’t have to.”

He was sat up on the sofa, still holding his bowl with its brown border and coral coloured flower pattern around the inside. Not making eye contact, he watched the progress of his fork chasing around the last few grains of rice. She hadn’t noticed before, but the whole of one side of his face and much of his shoulder and body was still splattered in blood.

He’d watched his friend have his arm sliced open tonight, and he’d left his brother behind to pledge his life to Voldemort.

Maybe she should have cut him some slack.

And he was right, in that there was no way of saying that just them being here wouldn't have affected everything.

She should apologise, too.

“I’m sorry, too. I should have made more effort to talk to you instead of just distrusting you. I want Harry to be okay too. And everyone else. I’m just worried about the impacts on everything else. I… Are you okay, after tonight? You’re covered in blood.”

“I’m fine. It’s James’ blood.”

“Oh.” Hermione got up from her chair, and walked over to Sirius. Kneeling at his feet, she used the spells she knew to Vanish the blood from his face and body and to heal the graze on his knee. “I’m sorry,” she said, fixing the rip in his jeans. “I should have done this earlier.”

“Could have done it myself,” said Sirius. “Wasn’t your responsibility.”

“We all have to look after each other,” said Hermione, and she meant it.

Ginny spoilt the moment a bit by giving the two of them a round of applause that seemed only slightly sarcastic. Luna just smiled a vague smile.

Hermione wondered if she would regret saying the next bit. It seemed sensible, and her calculations and the theory suggested it would be fine, and it would help Sirius. And her. She could hide it better, but she was about as good as Sirius was at doing nothing in truth.

“Sirius,” she said. “I’ve got a proposal for you.”

“I don’t get married,” said Sirius, sticking his tongue out.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” said Hermione, and nearly changed her mind. “I still think setting out to deliberately change the future is a bad idea. But how about… well, we know which Death Eaters die or get captured, don’t we? Let’s make sure that that all happens. Make sure all the ones that are out of the war stay out of it, so that we’re certain nothing gets worse?”

“And if we do that, you’ll talk to me about stuff and let me leave this house without being stalked?”

“Yes. And you’ll agree not to go off and change things? Just us being here could cause a disaster, we don’t know for certain if that might be affecting the timeline already, so it makes sense to do what we can to keep at least as many Death Eaters out of it as possible.”

“I still want to.” Sirius sighed. “But we don’t know what would happen. You’re right about that. And, we can review it in the future.”

“We can,” said Hermione, although she was certain she wouldn't change her view. But she was happy to talk about it. After all, not talking about it had nearly resulted in a disaster. She wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. Hermione Granger had always prided herself on learning from her mistakes.

Chapter Text

Harry
June 2002, Grimmauld Place kitchen, London

“Ronald Weasley, for the last time, sit the fuck down or fuck the fuck off.”

Ron barely needed to pause in his pacing to flip his middle finger at Harry.

“She’s missing, Harry! If Ginny was missing you would be just as worried!”

Harry looked up from his piles of parchment. “She’s not missing. She’s not at her flat, no, but that’s not unusual at seven o’clock. She’s not in the office, no, but they said they’d seen her not long ago when she’d gone down to the Department of Mysteries. Now I like that place less than anyone, but she’s just got into an interesting theoretical discussion with some Unspeakable. Either that, or she’s ignoring you because you were a little bit of an arse. It’s actually possible she’s dumped you and you haven’t noticed, you don’t have a great track record there.”

“I was a massive arse.”

“And you have one too.”

“Fucking hell Harry, hit a man with a Beater’s bat while he’s down.” Ron flopped into a chair, as far away from the tower of parchment belonging to him as possible.

“I’m just saying, Hermione is fine, and you don’t need to panic. Sit down, and do some of your paperwork like I am.”

“Where is Ginny, anyway?” Ron took Harry’s advice to sit down, but he noticed that his best friend made no effort to begin the teetering pile of paperwork opposite.

“She’s with your mum tonight. Something about wedding favours. They invited me, but I said I needed to get on with this.” He indicated his own mountain of paperwork.

“You mean you have no interest in all that ridiculousness.”

“That too.”

“Since when does fighting the forces of darkness involve so much bloody paperwork, anyway?” Ron asked, pulling the top sheet from his pile. “It never did in the war.”

“Because we were just a group of renegade teenagers who were completely unauthorised to be handling Death Eaters,” said Harry. “Robards would have had a fit. Probably did. And, besides, given the Death Eaters controlled the Ministry, they would have arrested us rather than given us paperwork to fill out.”

“Could be a new form of torture,” said Ron, grimacing. “Make the Death Eaters file their own arrest papers.”

Harry laughed. “You know Kingsley would never normally allow torture, but we might be able to get that one past him.”

“Hermione would never let us. She thinks paperwork is great.”

They worked in silence for a few minutes. Harry was trying to fill out a report for a weekend wait-and-observe he’d been on two weeks ago. If he had done the paperwork after debrief, which was the approved Ministry protocol according to the agreements he’d signed on beginning Auror training, then he might have remembered half of what he’d seen. As it was, he was able to write down the important bits, but the order was all over the place. Whether he’d seen the vampire on Friday night or Saturday night, he had no idea, but he knew it had been in the tavern.

It must have been Saturday, because that’s when the fight had been, and he was sure that the vampire had been somehow implicated in the fight.

Or perhaps the vampire had been there on Friday, and the fight on Saturday was due to that.

It was Saturday. His partner had been blotto by that stage, which was a much bigger breach of Ministry protocol than ever-so-slightly fabricating your mission reports was, and so Harry’s version was the only one that would count.

It occurred to him where Hermione was.

“Ron?”

Ron looked up from his own pile of paperwork, a big smudge of ink trailing across the parchment when he failed to lift his quill.

“Yeah mate?”

“Hermione’s probably with Ginny. She’s a bridesmaid, isn’t she?”

“Oh yeah. Mum’s probably talking her ear off about wedding crap. Did you know there are like twenty five different shades of blue, and Mum can tell the difference between all of them?”

“I did. Ginny complains about it most nights.”

“Why did you let my mum have so much influence over your wedding?”

Harry shrugged. “I didn’t care much. Ginny didn’t care much. Molly did. So it was easiest just to let her get on with it.”

“That’s how Mum’s reign of terror has lasted this long. It’s easier just to let her get on with it. D’you remember when Mad-Eye tried to stand up to her that time at Grimmauld Place, and she threatened to jinx him, and he actually backed off?”

“I’m still not over the fact that she killed Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“None of us are, mate. Mum’s something else.”

“Do you remember when that reporter from the Prophet asked me if I was afraid of anything now I’d killed Voldemort, and I said I was afraid of swearing in front of Molly Weasley? That was after the dressing-down I’d had the night before for saying ‘fuck’. The reporter didn’t believe me.”

“I remember Mum shouting at you. ‘Even if you’re the Chosen One and Boy Who Lived Twice, you can’t use that language around me young man! I don’t care how many wars you’ve ended!’ I love Mum. She’s hilarious as long as she isn’t shouting at you.” Ron’s impression of his mother was spot-on, right down to the hand movements.

“Can you believe she’d never properly shouted at me before that? She always said she saw me as a surrogate son, but that was when I truly became a Weasley.”

“Nah mate, Mum shouts at non-Weasleys too. She shouted at Sirius almost constantly that summer we spent with him. You were her son from the day we flew Dad’s car into the garden with you in.”

Harry muttered something that was possibly slightly intentionally, unintelligible to Ron. His face was burning.

“I’m going to ask Kreacher to make me some dinner,” he said, when he’d got himself under control. “Do you want to stay?”

“Yeah, ‘course. It’s either that or do my paperwork outside Hermione’s place, waiting for her to come home. Do you really think she meant she’d dumped me?”

It was near midnight when the boys looked up from their paperwork, after Kreacher had fed them stew and fruit tart and Harry had attempted to explain how serious relationships work to his best friend. They had heard the crackle of something in the fire.

Harry was over to it first. Very few had access to his Floo, so it would be Hermione, someone at The Burrow, Robards, or Minerva McGonagall. Robards had insisted, and the rest were the people he trusted,

Molly Weasley’s head was in the fire, which was not who he was expecting. He was assuming it would be Hermione, to complain about Ron, something he had told her repeatedly to stop doing. He had told Ron to stop moaning about Hermione to him, too. He’d broken that a bit tonight, but for the insignificant crap it still held.

He hoped Molly didn’t want his opinion on the favours. He’d eventually have to admit he didn’t have one.

“Hello Molly,” said Harry. “How’s the wedding planning?”

“Where’s Ginny?” asked Molly, with no greetings.

“With you, isn’t she? That’s where she said she would be this evening.”

“No, Harry dear, she’s not come home and I assumed she had gone to spend the evening with you rather than resolving this little issue with the wedding favours.” Molly’s face contained a mixture of annoyance and concern. Perhaps it was the annoyance that had prevented her reaching top Mrs Weasley panic levels.

“No, she’s not here, Molly.”

“Oh. Mind if I come through?”

“I’d rather you didn’t, Mum,” Ron muttered in the background. He was ignored. Although he had told Harry he was looking for Hermione at Grimmauld Place, Harry had reason to believe that Ron may have been hiding from his mother. Ginny had dropped into his office on her way to see Hermione that afternoon, and told him all about the row between Molly and Ron about exactly how he should be treating his girlfriend.

Molly dusted herself off on arrival in the Grimmauld Place kitchen, swiftly Vanishing the ash that fell from her.

“So, if you don’t have my daughter, and I don’t have my daughter, where is she?”

“Hermione’s not around, either, so they’re probably together.” Harry looked over at his pile of paperwork. Half of it was not a bad start, but he’d need to dedicate the best part of tomorrow to it after the defensive magic training. And Ginny was a grown woman. She frequently told him to stop fussing over her, after all. “Did you check at her place?”

“Before here,” said Molly, her look of concern growing.

“Fuck.”

It was a mark of the seriousness of the situation that Molly Weasley didn’t even raise an eyebrow at her youngest son’s choice of words, let alone say anything.

Both Weasleys sank down into the nearest chairs, and with a matching motion, put their heads in their hands. Harry would have laughed, and ribbed Ron for having the same reaction as his mother, if the situation had not been fairly serious.

If Ginny was with Hermione, that ruled out the Department of Mysteries, too.

They’d probably gone to out and were complaining about Ron in a pub somewhere. Not the Leaky Cauldron, Ginny hated it in there.

You’d think they’d disappeared entirely from time and space, the way Ron and Molly were acting.

“They have to be somewhere,” said Harry, feeling the need to be the voice of reason. Nobody else was capable of that, right now, and somebody needed to be. “You’ve checked The Burrow, we’ve checked here, and they’re not at Hermione’s place. Ron checked the Ministry, earlier, or Hermione’s office anyway. If Ginny is with her, they are unlikely to be in the Department of Mysteries, although it is still possible Hermione is there. Anywhere else?”

“She’s gone,” said Ron, pitifully.

“Ginny said Luna was with them this afternoon,” said Harry. Nobody else was adding anything useful to the discussion. “We should check her place.”

There was still no response from either Ron or Molly, so Harry returned to the fireplace. This was why they needed to find Hermione. Nobody listened to him like they did to her.

Throwing a handful of Floo powder, he stuck his head into the flames and shouted “Lovegood Rook!” This was still something he hated to do, avoiding it at almost all cost. It was the feeling of his neck spinning alone, which was worse than all other forms of other magical transportation combined.

“Harry?” came the voice of Xenophilius Lovegood. Harry couldn’t see where the man was speaking from, as there was a large amount of fire ash in his eyes that he was trying to blink out. Surely that was the one use of glasses, to keep random stuff out? When he was able to open them again, he could see the large man sat at the table in palest green robes, unshaven and dishevelled. Luna’s father had not been right since she had been taken by Death Eaters in the war. Well, had not been himself, was a better turn of phrase.

“Mr Lovegood,” started Harry. “Have you seen Luna this evening? We have lost touch with Ginny and Hermione, and Gin said they were meeting Luna this afternoon. We wondered if she knew where they had gone.”

“No,” said Xenophilius, not moving from the table. “But she is often not here. I don’t know where she goes, and she doesn’t say. My Luna has many demands on her time. I’m sorry I could not be of more help, Harry Potter.”

The conversation was closed, that much was clear, and Harry hadn’t learnt anything of use. He pulled his head backwards out of the fire, this time being sure to close his eyes before he did so.

“Xeno’s got nothing,” he said. It was mostly to himself. Ron and Molly were still flopped at the table. Ron was making a low groaning noise.

For something to do, Harry began to make a pot of tea. As soon as he had filled the kettle and placed it on the stove, Kreacher appeared. He had an annoying habit of doing that whenever Harry tried to do something for himself. Ron, like Sirius, claimed the elf was going mad, but Harry thought if anything Kreacher was more sane than Harry had ever seen him. He just seemed to enjoy muscling in on things.

“Kreacher, please, I can do this myself, I told you to take the rest of the night off.”

“It’s past midnight, Master, so Kreacher will help. It is the morning.”

Harry supposed, on a technicality, Kreacher was right.

He was halfway through his second cup of tea from the pot, when he thought of something that would solve both of these problems.

“Kreacher?”

“Yes, Master?”

“Can you find Hermione and Ginny for me, please? And Luna, if you can?”

“Kreacher will find the Muggleborn and Master’s Ginny for Master, yes he will!” With an unnaturally loud noise, Kreacher was gone. It had taken the best part of two years to stop Kreacher calling Hermione a Mudblood, but he seemed to have finally got the hang of it. Harry didn’t fail to notice that the elf still couldn’t bring himself to use her name.

Without anything else to do, Harry drank a third cup of tea, and persuaded Molly to have some. Ron perked up briefly to ask if Harry had any alcohol, but at a look from his mother went back to pacing the room as he had been doing at the start of the evening.

Okay, it was getting late, and Ginny usually sent him a Patronus or an owl if she was going to be somewhere other than where she’d said she would be. But they’d also argued only a few days ago about his apparent need to smother her, and he’d said he would try to stop. He thought he was doing rather well at sticking to his promise, especially when Ron and Molly had given up all pretence that they weren’t panicking.

Once the clock hit two o’clock in the morning, Harry did allow a little bit of panic. He’d sent a Patronus, which had disappeared off with no response, and had sent a letter off with his owl, Bathilda. He’d Flooed Hermione’s place again, and sent Ron over to the Burrow, and nothing. He’d even Apparated to the Holyhead Harpies training ground, the England Quidditch Club, and Hermione’s parents old house, but all of them were as empty as you would have expected at one o’clock in the morning.

He had to admit he was worried, now.

This just wasn’t Ginny’s usual behaviour. It was sort-of Hermione’s, who had occasionally in the early days after the war’s end disappeared somewhere for a few hours. She had said she enjoyed the solitude, and Harry had more than understood. But she hadn’t done that for over two years, and that didn’t account for Ginny.

His worry was compounded by Kreacher’s reappearance.

“The new Mistress is gone, Master! Kreacher cannot find her! And the Muggleborn, and the blonde one!”

“Gone?” asked Harry, crouching down on the floor next to the elf.

“Gone?” echoed Molly, her voice close to breaking.

“Kreacher has tried everywhere, and all his elf magics, but new Mistress is nowhere!” Kreacher looked close to breaking himself. Harry suspected it was more of a reaction to failure than any real love for Ginny, but he had never referred to her as ‘mistress’ before.

“Okay,” said Harry. “Thank you Kreacher. You’ve done well. Now please, go and get some sleep.”

Sleep was what Harry needed, too, but that didn’t look likely.

“Death Eaters have got them!” shouted Ron, throwing his teacup to the floor. “We have to go!” He grabbed at his wand, by the wrong end, and set fire to the hem of his own robes.

“I do not think that is the way to tackle Death Eaters!” shouted Molly, who at least had her wand the correct way up. Ron extinguished his robes.

“Stop! There aren’t any known Death Eaters active in this country right now! And if there were, well Ron you should know better than to rush in! That’s how we got Sirius killed!”

Both Weasleys had the good sense to lower their wands at this point, although Ron’s robes were still smouldering slightly. The slightly charred smell was taking over the kitchen.

“Molly, can you alert someone at The Burrow and ask them keep an eye out for them there? Then you can stay here with Ron in case they arrive here. I’ll ask Xeno Lovegood to tell us if they arrive there, and then go to Hermione’s place. We’ll all try to get some sleep, and if they’re not here in the morning then we can use all the powers us and the Ministry have to find them.” His plan and his voice were calmer than he felt, but again, somebody had to be.

“Why can’t I wait at Hermione’s place?” asked Ron.

“Because if she’s still angry with you, which she would have every right to be, then are you really the best person to be lurking in her flat?”

“And she’d rather have you lurking there?”

“At the moment, I think yes she would. The concerned best friend, verses the idiotic and commitment-phobic possibly-ex lover?”

“Point.”

“Don’t do anything stupid if she comes here, yeah?”

Ron nodded.

Harry, after packing himself a few essentials and, on reflection, his stack of paperwork, took himself off to Hermione’s small flat over the second-hand bookshop in Hogsmeade. It was a well-kept place, small and compact and floor-to-ceiling with books. Harry chose to bed down on the sofa, as it felt intrusive to wander straight into her bedroom.

Not that he could sleep.

Two of the most important people in his life were missing, and he couldn’t come up with many more places to look for them.

Well, Harry Potter had not got 99% on his Search and Arrest/Rescue module of Auror training for nothing, and he was going to locate Hermione, Ginny and possibly Luna as if his life depended on it. It did. He hadn’t lived life without Hermione in it for over ten years, and he had no idea how he would be able to live without Ginny. He still was not convinced Luna was missing, but he would look for her as well. There was a high chance she would show back up at some point, having gone on an impromptu Plimpie fishing trip or something else that made sense only to her.

He could do this.

He’d killed Voldemort, how hard could a missing persons case be?

 

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Ginny
August 1978, Saltburn

Today was Ginny’s birthday.

Hermione had remembered, of course, and there had been a cake and a few well-chosen small gifts when she had woken up that morning. Even Sirius, who was unlikely to have known her birthday, had been prompted into getting her something. All of them were Quidditch themed, as Hermione had known Ginny’s love of old Harpies memorabilia. Being in the past, it was easy to get, she supposed.

Ginny was grateful for the lovely presents, of course she was. If she could make it back to the future, they’d fit perfectly in her collection. The 1978 Harpies banner was a rare piece, she’d been trying to get an old banner with the mascot they’d had between ’77 and ’83 for ages. It was near impossible.

But somehow the gifts and the cake and the thoughtfulness all just made her so, so, homesick.

She missed Harry, most of all. By now, they were supposed to have got married and she would have flown in her first World Cup as part of England’s Chaser team. Harry would have come out to cheer her on, and they would have gone on their honeymoon afterwards. They were planning North America for three weeks. She just wanted to tell him what was going on, to be able to talk to him. She just wanted a hug.

She missed her family. Mum would be worried, if this was working in a way that time was passing for her family. Ginny still hadn’t got her head around all of this, despite Hermione’s full and thorough explanation a few days before.

She missed everything about her life.

Saltburn was a pretty town. There were positives to this. She’d found the best Muggle bakery ever, and made a point of sampling all the chip shops along the seafront to work out which offered the best chips. She was working on the ones along the side streets now, with Sirius who had joined her quest for the nicest chips in the north of England with gusto. She’d read more books than she’d read for years.

Spending more time with Luna and Hermione was fun. All three of them had such conflicting work schedules in their usual life that it was hard to see her friends.

On the whole though, Ginny wanted to go home.

Sighing, she swung herself off the bed where she had disappeared off to mope, and started to pull herself together. They’d agreed to visit one of the pubs in Saltburn today in celebration, something they’d not done before. Ginny was certain Sirius had been in at least one of them, and Luna definitely had (Muggle watching, she’d said, and Ginny absolutely believed her), but Hermione and Ginny hadn’t.

In fact, the four of them had never been out together, and it was quite a momentous occasion.

“Ginny, are you almost ready? Sirius says he’s going to leave without you if you don’t hurry up, because he’s a highly impatient man. He didn’t say the last bit, but I know of course he meant it.” Luna was in the doorway. She had toned down what she had gone down the stairs wearing ten minutes ago. Perhaps Hermione had told her that the gurdyroot earrings weren’t likely to make sense to the Muggles in a North Yorkshire pub.

“I’m on my way,” said Ginny, slowly working on pinning her hair back from her face.

“Good,” said Luna. “Hermione and Sirius have agreed not to shout at each other for the night.”

“I give them half an hour,” said Ginny.

“They do look very sincere, I think they almost believe themselves that they can do it,” said Luna. “An hour.”

Ginny laughed.

Chapter Text

Sirius
September 1978, Hogsmeade

Hermione had approved this little expedition on one condition; that they Apparate to a hidden hillside above Hogsmeade and walk down with Sirius in his dog form in case anyone recognised him. Sirius had felt that was overkill, but there you were. There was caution, and then there was over caution that ended up causing more problems than it was worth. Hopefully this fit into the former category.

Maybe she just didn’t want him able to use his wand.

He had spent enough time as his doggy alter-ego, known as Padfoot, Snuffles, Ben or Fido depending on who you talked to, to know that there were an awful lot of benefits to being a dog. Aside from the obvious preventing you going mad in Azkaban ones. People scratched your back if they saw you, and it was hard to find someone willing to touch him in human form these days. He'd have fallen down at least twice trying to traverse these stupid mountain paths if he had two legs instead of four. The snacks were good. Digging was a pleasure Sirius hadn’t anticipated. Chewing bones was something he did not particularly enjoy, but did it occasionally for appearances sake.

Fleas, nope. Fleas could fuck right off.

He was several hundred feet ahead of the girls by the time they arrived at the bottom of the hills. They were all hindered by human feet, although only Hermione seemed to be having a genuine problem. Sirius filled the time by barking at a squirrel, another thing he had not expected to enjoy.

“Wait,” said Hermione. “I’ve got a stone in my shoe.”

Sirius didn’t exactly understand why everyone was here. They were probably just bored. Fuck knows he was lately, and if he hadn’t had the idea of this little reconnaissance trip, he would probably have been trying to get himself in on whatever schemes the girls had been cooking up. Which seemed to be none. All of them had the brains for scheming, and he couldn’t see why they didn’t use them more often. Ginny could have been a Marauder, the other two didn't have the drive.

“Ready,” said Hermione, after what seemed like an age.

Most people had assumed Sirius was impatient over the course of his life, but it was actually really hard to have a good sense of time passing when you were a dog. And he blamed the times he struggled to wait in human form on his Animagus self.

The three girls chatted away as they made their way down into the village proper. They were three witches up in Hogsmeade for the day for a bit of shopping and a spot of lunch, with their badly-behaved but adorable pet dog. Sirius had made them promise to give him some lunch.

Lunch. Steak was best, or any meat, but really as a dog Sirius would take anything. It faintly disgusted him, but it didn’t make that fact any less true. He tried to avoid liver, even as a dog. Now there was a taste that lingered.

The downside to this plan was that three witches up for some shopping didn’t usually stop by the Hog’s Head.

“I’ve told you,” said Ginny. “We waltz in there, pretending we don’t know the reputation, and look all baffled. Then we take a seat calmly, get a drink, and listen.”
“That draws far too much attention,” said Hermione. “We’d have been better off trying to look a bit shadier and blending in.”
“If the Hog’s Head’s how it used to be, they all know each other anyway, and we’d stick out more if we were trying to look dodgy like them. Better just to appear so damn vapid and stupid that they don’t need to worry about us.”

“I find that wizards of a certain type very much underestimate what witches can bring to society,” said Luna.

“Exactly,” said Ginny. “At the Hog’s Head, you get that type of wizard.”

“How exactly do you know so much about the Hog’s Head?” asked Hermione, bending down to remove yet another stone from her shoe. She clearly needed better shoes, rather than the very fashionable 1970s boots she was wearing. Ginny’s trainers, if not exactly period appropriate, were more practical. Sirius had given up on expecting Luna to conform to anything, as there was no way she should have been able to get down the hill in her silver shoes but she had.

“Went there all the time at school.”

“Why?”

“They sold me whatever I asked for.”

Sirius had a better idea than all of this.

Tucking himself into a hidden doorway, he transformed back into a man.

“I’m going to transform back as soon as I’m done talking,” he warned, looking right at Hermione. She nodded. “Hermione’s right. You need to look a bit more dodgy. Blend in. People travel up here all the time, the regulars know each other but there’s enough new traffic for you to be disguised. Two of you go in first, and then the other five minutes later, and pretend you’re trading something dodgy. You don’t have to say what. It’s more convincing if you don’t, in fact.”

He turned himself back into a dog, and for good measure licked Ginny on the arm. Ginny scratched him under the ear. Ahhh, that felt good.

“Alright,” said Hermione. “We’re already wearing fairly dark robes. The one time I went in the Hog’s Head, everyone had covered heads. Is that usual?”

Both Sirius and Ginny nodded.

“Okay, so we’ll need to find something.”

“Excellent,” said Luna, brightly. “I love shopping.”

Luna’s idea of a nice head covering turned out to be very different to everyone else’s interpretation of what someone conducting illicit business in the Hog’s Head would wear. Sirius missed the second half of the argument, as he’d been spotted by the shopkeeper who it turned out was very much not a fan of dogs. Much to his annoyance, he’d been evicted to wait for the three witches outside of the shop. The shopkeeper had tried to insist on him being tied up. Fuck that.

Once the girls had found something suitable, Sirius, Hermione and Luna set off from the shop towards the Hog’s Head, leaving Ginny behind. Ginny wandered off in the direction of the bookshop, determined to peruse a few slightly dodgy books before joining them to make her cover convincing.

Hermione went to the bar to order some drinks, hopefully having the sense not to order a Butterbeer, and Luna and Sirius chose seats. The front room of the Hog’s Head was as dirty as it always was. The windows were letting through very little light due to the levels of muck on them, but that might have been a positive. Sirius didn’t really want to see what was on the tables, and even less did he want to see the floor. The pads of his paws were sticking to it.

Luna seemed less than bothered, sitting at a table below a window and getting out a book. She’d chosen well; the table had a good view of the rest of the room but your eye wasn’t exactly drawn to it. Carefully, she tipped her large hat down over her face a little more.

Hermione came over to them with a pair of drinks, thankfully ones that wouldn’t mark them out as having no idea what they were doing in here. Sirius was about to ask where his was, before he remembered he was a dog. Even in the Hog’s Head, people tended not to order their dogs booze.

“What are you reading?” Hermione asked Luna. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Luna looked over the the top of the book. The inscription on the front read ‘Modern Ritual Magic for Witches of Class’, but the battered burgundy leather cover and the peeling embossed letters suggested the ‘modern’ it referred to had been some time ago.

“It’s very interesting,” said Luna.

“I thought ritual magic was a bit… well, dark,” said Hermione, checking over her shoulder to see if anyone was listening in a very unsubtle movement.

Thankfully, nobody was. The two wizards on the next table were arguing over a game of cards. On their other side, a lone wizard Sirius was certain was a Death Eater sat, nursing a single pint of mead. A small knot of Hogwarts boys stood by the bar, all with the green and silver scarfs of Slytherin tied round their necks.

“It’s not,” said Luna. “Well, of course like much magic it can be, but so much of anything is about the intention you know. If you want it to be Dark, it will be. If you use it for another purpose, well, it might not.”

Sirius lay on the floor, against his better judgement, and placed his head onto his front paws. His ears remained pricked.

“Really?” asked Hermione. “We never learnt that in school. Vol-er, You-Know-Who used a ritual to create his… soul-cases, and there was that one he used to bring himself back, and… well, all the ones I’ve ever heard of have been frankly horrible.”

Luna lowered the book, and pointed at one of the pages. “Look at this one. It’s a fertility ritual. Nothing bad about it, just the use of some herbs and some spells to encourage your body to become ready to bear child.”

“And you’re not signing them over to Satan?”

Luna raised an eyebrow.

“That’s a Muggle thing, then. Muggles usually associate rituals with Satanism, or sometimes Celtic pagans.”

“I think it will be closer to the Celtic pagans than the alternative,” said Luna. “Lots of these are said to descend from Celtic rites. Even the Muggles understand that there is much evidence of magic being used in what they describe as Celtic Britain, particularly in Wales.”

Sirius was saved from any more theoretical discussion by Ginny walking in. She played her part well, glancing over at them with a look of disdain before stopping at the bar to order. Drink in hand, she sat down at the table and nodded. If Sirius hadn’t seen her disguise in advance, he wouldn’t have known it was Ginny under the floor-length black veil.

“Deal still on?” she asked, loudly enough to be heard by the Death Eater on the next table.

“If you can follow through on your side,” said Luna shortly.

The three witches began to talk in hushed voices, heads leaning together on the table, as if conducting a genuine business deal. Luna and Ginny were both excellent actresses. Sirius, on the floor and as a dog, had no impact on any of this, and was free to nose around the room to his hearts content. He even got up and had a little sniff at the heels of one of the Hogwarts students. Just to keep in character of course. They smelt strongly of Firewhisky, which Sirius knew full-well Aberforth was happy to sell to students, and as if he had recently farted. Teenage boys were disgusting.

Most of them were boys he recognised as friends of Regulus’, the younger Mulciber, the Selwyn kid, Vandin Bulstrode and the viciously cruel Henry Porter. Porter was a half-blood, and seemed to think he needed to prove himself all the more for it. Selwyn at least joined the Death Eaters, and Sirius was sure he recalled the younger Mulciber dying during an attack in late ’79 or early ’80. He hadn’t seen Bulstrode since school. Porter had gone to Azkaban for his activities with the Death Eaters, he’d been caught shortly after the war ended. Sirius had seen him brought in.

It was Porter that smelled of farts.

Sirius went back to sit at Hermione’s feet. The witches were still talking in hushed voices, and everyone else in the pub was ignoring them. This was exactly the plan, and for that Sirius was glad. This had to go perfectly, so that Hermione didn’t kick up a fuss and demand they stopped going anywhere near anything once again.

The old wooden door to the pub creaked open again, and Regulus Black walked through accompanied by two more Slytherins. Regulus looked far paler than he had a month ago, his cheeks less rounded and his straight dark hair brushing into his eyes. He was still attractive, and his face showed no signs of any worries. He was laughing and joking with the boy following him in. The girl, the only girl of the group of Slytherins, stared directly at the Death Eater at their table with an undisguised hunger.

“Avery.” Regulus greeted the Death Eater, introducing his little bunch of Slytherins in turn. “Petrus Mulciber, you know his brother, of course. Octavius Selwyn, whose father is friends with mine and is sympathetic to our cause. And these are Vandin Bulstrode, Henry Porter, Elphias Hundring, and Alecto Carrow.

“Pleasure.” Avery held out his hand to each Slytherin in turn. Alecto Carrow looked like she wouldn’t wash it for a week after he’d touched her.

“Regulus says that you’ve let him take the Mark,” started Mulciber. “I want to.” His small, dark eyes were narrowed with greed, and he stroked his left forearm as he spoke. His attempts at growing facial hair were pitiful, Sirius thought.

“Prove your worth to the Dark Lord, and you will be allowed the honour too,” said Avery smoothly.

“Which is exactly what I said.” Regulus accepted the drink handed to him by Porter, who was looking at Sirius’ brother with an almost simpering look. A couple of the group seemed to be jealous of Regulus for already having the Dark Mark on his arm, and the others apparently treated him like a hero.

“Did you tell him of our keenness to join?” asked Porter.

“I did,” said Regulus. “If I had not, he would not have sent Avery here today. The Dark Lord is anxious to meet you, all of you, but he does require a demonstration of your loyalty first.”

“I put two Mudbloods in the Hospital Wing yesterday,” boasted Porter.

“I’ve been working on a new curse,” said Hundring. “It’s better than anything Severus Snape could have managed.” He had blonde hair, tied back with a string from his face, and he at least could grow a moustache.

“I’ve managed to get sixteen Gryffindor girls injured through cursing the toilets,” said Alecto Carrow, refusing to be left out. She seemed to be wearing her best dress robes, and lipstick.

“Childish pranks, most likely,” said Avery. The older man looked bored, and the potential recruits started at his dismissal of what they likely thought were impressive boasts. Regulus was sat back, swirling the remaining half of his Firewhisky in its glass, watching. It was almost as if he enjoyed having the upper hand amongst his friends, as a member of the club they were so desperate to join.

“Have any of you ever used an Unforgivable?” Avery continued. “Used a spell with the intent to kill? Exactly how committed are you to our cause? What would you stop at to show your devotion?”

“Nothing, I would do any of that to be assured a place alongside our Lord,” said Selwyn. The others nodded.

“Prove it,” said Avery. “I will let Regulus know when, as this is not the place for plans. Be prepared. The Dark Lord from time to time requires certain undesirable elements to be removed from society; you know the sorts. Mudbloods, Muggles and those who would see them protected. I’m sure you’re aware that they will need to be eliminated for our ambitions to succeed, and your assistance would of course ensure the Dark Lord is aware of the strength of your desire to join him.”

“We are ready,” said Alecto Carrow.

“As I said, Regulus will pass on the information. The Dark Lord is most pleased with him, at present. Now, Regulus and I have some sensitive discussions that we need to have. We will require some privacy.”

The Slytherins, with much fawning and far more expressions of devotion than anyone should rationally give to anything, filed out of the pub. Probably off to recreationally curse some Muggleborn students.

“Another drink, Black?”

“Of course.”

Avery motioned to Aberforth to bring over more drinks. Sirius slunk further down under the table. He was near to certain Aberforth had worked out that at least Sirius and James were Animagi after an incident in the Easter holidays of their seventh year. While he was certain Aberforth wouldn’t rat him out to any Death Eaters, the bartender would definitely want to speak to him regarding a certain barrel of mead.

Once Aberforth was back behind his bar, Avery spoke.

“Been busy then, Black?”

“The Dark Lord asked me to recruit. These are those that are of-age and who I have persuaded of our cause in just the two weeks. He does not wish to take those who are underage, and with good reason, or I would have had more.”

“I never said you had not done well. The Dark Lord will be informed of your impressive progress.”

“I would expect nothing less. What have you been doing?”

“You know I can’t tell you that.”

“Come on, Avery, I have been unfortunate enough to have been forced to remain in Hogwarts with these, who think hexing the odd Gryffindor or blood traitor is the height of our work. I have, I believe, somewhat outgrown that. Let me come on some real action, or at least tell me of it.”

Avery laughed at that. The mirth did not suit his long, harsh face.

“I’d say you’re bored, Regulus. You’ve certainly outgrown your classmates, that much is true. The Dark Lord has plans for you, but he thinks you should finish out your schooling. I’ve heard the rumour that he doesn’t want to put you at risk before you have managed to make a match and father a little baby Black to continue your proud and noble line. Your cousins seem to have no desire to procreate, except for the blood-traitor.”

“Andromeda? She is no cousin. I had thought Narcissa was with child?”

“Miscarried it. Lucius was fuming.”

“Oh. I shall have to owl her my commiserations. I am sorry for her, she would have made a good mother. Besides, my mother is working on my marriage. I shall be engaged at Christmas.”

“To whom, may I ask? The Dark Lord will be most pleased, provided she is a suitable bride for our Most Ancient and Noble House of Black.”

“You know our motto. Toujours Pur. My mother has chosen me a darling pureblood girl, Adeline Fawley. We will marry as soon as she is out of Hogwarts.”

“So the summer from next?”

“Yes. I intend to get her with child as soon as possible.”

“The Dark Lord will approve of the plan.”

“As will my mother, who I am far more scared of.” Regulus’ face arranged itself into a soft, and completely insincere, smile. Avery did not appear to notice the insincerity, and laughed again

“I met your mother once. That is a wise choice.”

Regulus did not reply, and took a further sip of his drink. This Regulus looked cool and in control, completely at ease with this discussion of blood purity, marriages straight out of Hogwarts, proving yourself to evil men and the light torture of innocents. Sirius was beginning to wonder why he had tried to help his brother at all. He was just as in it as the rest of them were, planning a life of fucking evildoing and tiny pureblooded babies.

It was another insincere smile from Regulus that kept Sirius from leaving in disgust at his brother. If there was still any of the Regulus that he had known as a child, this was it. That smile was the one he had used as a child when he had been asked to eat vegetables he despised. Sirius had thrown his sprouts out the window, once, and watched them roll away down the square. His father had belted him for that. Regulus was more likely to eat them, but dislike it.

Perhaps there was something worth saving, here.

“Okay, Black, I’d best get on. You’re alright, but I’ve got better things to do than hang around with the rest of that lot. I trust your judgement, and I’m sure they have potential, but there’s work to be done on them.”

“There is. Carrow fancies you, which is something that may interest you. She would make a decent match, but if you prefer she would be more than willing before marriage, from the way that she talks of you. Porter is cruel, but I daresay the Dark Lord will have a use for him. Hundring is smart, but needs some reminding of the point of our little endeavour from time to time.”

“Noted. Might take the Carrow girl up on that.”

“You will give me details to pass on?”

“Oh yes. You’ll be coming along too. The Dark Lord is planning a series of attacks on some Mudbloods to test the new recruits and potentials. I’m sure you’ll do us proud, Reg.”

“I would wish to do nothing less. And now, I must meet Miss Fawley.”

Avery swept out, throwing coins on the bar as he passed. After a respectful amount of time, Regulus followed, checking politely with Aberforth the cost left to pay on their account.

Sirius stayed silent on the floor as Ginny left the bar, and then followed Hermione and Luna out. He slunk past the barman, just in case Aberforth did work out who he was. The mead thing had been Peter’s fault, anyway. James had told him to take gold.

Peter had frequently been stupid.

And here was Regulus being equally stupid. Why on earth would he think joining the Death Eaters was a wise idea? They were planning murder, for Merlin’s sake, and Regulus was actually asking to go along? What the fuck was he thinking?

Up ahead, Sirius could see Regulus standing outside Scrivenshaft’s, talking to some pale-faced, blonde-haired girl. Likely the fiancee. He hadn’t known Regulus had had one. Girl or no girl, Sirius wanted nothing more than to go up to his brother and talk some fucking sense into the stupid boy, or perhaps just knock him onto the cobbles as a dog.

Then again, it wouldn’t work. It would get Sirius painfully hexed or cursed, possibly by half-a-dozen Slytherins who’d just been told they weren’t impressive enough, and probably only cement Regulus’ view that his brother was unstable and dangerous and that it was far better to stick with the family that you could trust. Sirius knew the lines Regulus had been fed. They’d both been fed the same ones about Andromeda, when she’d left the family when Sirius was twelve and Regulus eleven.

And Andromeda was about as normal as it got for Blacks.

At least Regulus redeemed himself. Sirius had been hanging onto that fact since the conversation he’d had with Hermione where she revealed it. He hoped that Regulus had died painlessly, and that he’d known what he’d done would help. It was too much to ask that someone had thanked him when he was alive. Sirius never would have.

Sirius had visited the Black family cemetery, shortly after he’d been made aware of Regulus’ death. He’d felt like he had to, in memory of the boy his brother had been and not the man he had become. James had come with him, under the invisibility cloak as he had been under house arrest at the time. Peter had refused; in hindsight because Regulus had betrayed the Dark Lord Peter was working for. Remus had been away.

There was no body to bury for Regulus, all his parents had received was a note to say that their second attempt at a son was dead. They’d given him a tall, proud headstone, though, white letters with his name and dates carved into black marble. They’d added the family crest and motto, and the inscription ‘Ever Loyal’. Presumably to highlight that he had stuck around, and that Sirius hadn’t.

Sirius had looked for a few minutes, and then stormed off.

The little group of time-travellers made their way back up the mountainside to their agreed Apparition point. They’d seen what they had come to see; confirmation there would be an attack on Muggleborns, and confirmation that Voldemort was actively recruiting inside Hogwarts. The whole thing had been unpleasant, and that was that.

There was nothing Sirius was allowed to do about it.

He still had hopes of convincing Hermione, but it would be a slow burn. Hopefully by November. It was mid-September now, and Hermione would take time to convince. But he had time yet. Two months, or the best part of.

The continued to climb the mountain path, Sirius still grateful for his four paws. The colours of the mountainside were changing to autumn tones, and the wind was picking up. Scottish autumn had a similar temperature to the London winters, and Sirius had always felt the cold.

So too did Hermione, with a red face and tears from the wind.

They reached the cave they had used to Apparate from, which was the same cave Sirius had used as a hide-out the second year he had lived on the run. It still felt a bit like home. There were of course no mementos of that time here, not now, years before he would come here, but he felt something for it anyway. The place held memories, the happiest ones he had of that year, and that was good enough for him. It connected him to why he was doing this. Harry, first and foremost, but he’d entertained Remus here too. Remus had been as disgusted by the conditions he was living in as Harry, no doubt, but far more vocal about it.

”Is this where Harry came to visit you?” Ginny asked, from beside him. “He talked about it once.”

”Yes,” Sirius replied. “He didn’t think much of the decor or the facilities.”

”And Harry has fairly low standards,” said Ginny. “You should see the state of his office. I think Hermione did some of his paperwork for him, because the last time I was in there it wasn’t as bad as usual, but it looks as though nobody’s seen the real surface of his desk in months. Or bits of the floor. He’s so bloody frustrating, it’s like, how good could he be if he put some effort into his paperwork? I miss him, you know.”

“So do I,” Sirius said.

“He missed you. He went, he was like nothing I’d ever seen after you died. Apparently he smashed up Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore let him, said it was entirely his, Dumbledore’s that is, fault you’d died. Harry was distraught. He missed you so much. Everyone tried to fill the gap you left in his life, Dad did, Fred and George, though they were shit at it, Remus, everyone.”

“I sat in Azkaban regularly wishing James and Lily had made Remus godfather. He’d have done a better job.”

“You were good for Harry.”

“Hermione, are you alright?” asked Luna, from behind Sirius and Ginny. They both turned around. Hermione was sat on the floor at the mouth of the cave, silhouetted in the light. Luna crouched down in front of her, placing her arms on Hermione’s shoulders. “Hey. What’s wrong? You can tell us, you know, we may not be able to do anything useful but we can always try to help, you know.”

“I just… they were so casually planning to kill Muggleborns, Luna! Just like it was going bowling, or playing chess! Killing! He’s seventeen. Seventeen-year-olds killing! As proof of loyalty!”

Luna reached her arms around Hermione, and patted her back. Hermione’s voice was coming in huge sobs now, and she was struggling to breathe through her own crying let alone get further words out. Ginny crossed the packed-mud floor of the cave to join the two girls, and Sirius hung back.

“We know they are terrible people,” said Luna. “We have seen this behaviour before.”

“We have but I’d forgotten, four years! Luna, it’s… It’s horrible.”

“I know. You’re strong, Hermione. We all are.”

Well, if Sirius was using his cynical, calculating brain, this was progress against his plans to convince Hermione. And sometimes you had to use that side of your brain.

It wasn’t that he wanted her to be upset. But, maybe that was how it had to be to make her stop and think.

She was a clever woman. Genius level, from what Harry and Remus had told him about her school work, and she was able to understand the time-travel thing from the Ministry and come to the exact same conclusions Sirius had. She could work out that it was possible to change time in a non-detrimental way. He was confident of that.

Patience, said Sirius’ inner Remus. Patience and clever words will convince Hermione, if you go in too strong she’ll push back.

Listen to Remus, said the inner James. He knows this shit.

Sirius wondered if he was mad, taking advice from invisible dead friends.

He decided to assume he wasn’t.

But yes. Hermione was a clever woman. Let her come to her own realisations. He had until November, after all.

Sirius stuck his hands in his pockets, and ambled over to help comfort Hermione.

Chapter Text

Hermione
September 1978, Saltburn

On the nineteenth of September, Hermione woke alone in her bed in a house she did not think of as home in a year that was not somewhere she was supposed to be. It probably ranked up there with her worst birthdays ever.

She dressed slowly. Even her clothes weren’t right. Hermione had never enjoyed fashion, Muggle or wizarding, in the way many other girls did. So, she had never realised how much she had liked the clothes she owned until she lost them. Nowhere in this world could she buy a pair of ordinary jeans, just what her mother would have called bell-bottoms or flares. Everything had to be shimmery, or tight fitting Spandex, or brightly coloured, or even worse: all three. It took her hours of digging through clothes shops just to find anything in a style or a shape that she was willing to wear.

Finally finding and putting on some of her less offensively sticky-out jeans, she went downstairs.

At least breakfast foods were the same here as they were at home. Hermione was a toast kind of person, with butter and sometimes with jam, and that was something she could still have.

Given it was her birthday, she opted for orange marmalade.

She had a routine in the morning, one that was close enough to her routine at home that it all fitted. She always showered and dressed before breakfast, as her mum had encouraged her to do as a child. She ate while reading the Daily Prophet. At home, she’d go straight into work, or catch up on letter-writing. Here, she flicked through her notes on the black box and it’s time device, in case she missed anything, and she thought about Ron and Harry.

She wanted to go home.

After her conversion towards at least not allowing the situation to somehow become worse, Hermione had to make peace with her decision. It had been a compromise, initially, a way of getting Sirius to at least stop trying to change the entirety of everything she had ever known.

She’d then taken it through a phase of ‘well, it gives me something to do’. She was getting nowhere with getting them home, and honestly, she felt as though she needed a break. A different project, to challenge her brain and see if she could prod some new and better thoughts from it. She wasn’t going to get anywhere just staring at the same bits of parchment from breakfast to dinner.

Now, she had become rather attached to it.

She liked the idea of ensuring things were as they should be. In her first year at Hogwarts, she’d gone around asking some of the older girls in the common room what it was like to be a Hogwarts student. She’d explained she was a Muggleborn, and knew nothing, and most of them had been keen to fill her in.

Of course, Hermione’s life had been absolutely nothing like most of those girls’ lives. They’d talked of the classes they’d taken, Quidditch, Charms Club, the Art Society, boyfriends, friendships and the other perfectly normal little things of school life. They hadn’t exactly explained that she would become friends with the Boy Who Lived and his best friend, and Hermione hadn’t ever anticipated that either.

That hadn’t stopped her from occasionally trying to make her school life like the ones that had been described to her. She’d never had an interest in Quidditch, but she’d briefly tried joining the Charms Club. She wanted the normal school experience more than she was ever willing to admit to either Harry or Ron, although she had once in a fit of wanting to be understood told Parvati.

Parvati had tried to understand, but Hermione didn’t think she had.

This morning she was joined by Sirius before Ginny or Luna, which was unusual. Sirius generally didn’t surface much before 9am, and it was only 8.15.

“Alright?” he asked, heading to the kettle. Sirius liked tea in the mornings, and he did not usually eat until midday unless fried food was available.

“It’s my birthday.”

“I don’t take much stock of birthdays,” said Sirius. “Generally find them to be a pile of shit.” He stirred his tea as he walked over to the table, and plopped himself down onto the chair next to her. He pulled a tiny, wrapped box from the fruit bowl, and passed it to her. “I got you a present. How old are you now?”

“Officially, twenty-three today. I think I’m technically considered a little bit older, as I did quite a few hours over again then I was fourteen.”

“Ah,” Sirius said. “My worst birthday was my twenty-second.”

“What happened?”

“I was sent to Azkaban. Third of November, 1981. James and Lily died on the evening of the thirty-first of October, and I arrived at their cottage around midnight. It took me over a day to track down Peter. I was arrested in the middle of the day on the second of November, kept at the Ministry overnight, and shipped out to Azkaban on the morning of my birthday. No trial. No birthday cake. One of the Aurors accompanying me out there did wish me many happy returns, but by the tone of his voice he was being highly sarcastic.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, it was shit. Best friend is dead, another one is a fucking Death Eater, you might have had a blazing row with your third best friend and accused them of being a Death Eater when it turns out they weren’t, and somehow you’re the one getting the blame and being shipped off across the sea to be hassled by Dementors. Twenty-two, and that’s it for Sirius Black.”

“You got out, though. It hasn’t been all bad.”

“I did, and it hasn’t, but I didn’t know that at the time. And, I’ve always been seasick. Puked on my own shoes six times, and the Auror apparently didn’t clean up murderers.”

“I get seasick too. I went on the ferry to France with my parents a few times, and I was sick every single time.”

“What’s a ferry?”

“It’s a really big boat, a ship really, you drive your car on and it takes you across the sea.”

“A boat just for a car? What’s the point of that?”

“Hundreds of cars. The people who travel in them. And shops. Like a little floating town.”

“That’s bonkers. Why would you do that? It would sink, it has to sink.”

“It doesn’t, I assure you.”

“I’ll never understand Muggles. And I got Outstanding in my Muggle Studies OWL.”

“No wizard without at least one Muggle parent ever properly understands Muggles, I don’t think. Harry, maybe. But he’s a special case.”

“But boats with hundreds of cars on. It’s beyond ridiculous, Hermione, can’t you see that?”

“It makes perfect sense to me. I’ll never understand you purebloods.”

“Oi. I’ll have you know I'm nothing like any other pureblood.”

“True. Most of them prefer to try and obliterate ferries. I bet you’d ride on one, given half a chance.”
“I would not. What if it sank? The world would be absolutely lost without Sirius Black, let me tell you that right now.”

Hermione laughed. “I reckon we’d cope.”

“Would you now?” He drank the last of his mug of tea with a horrific slurping noise. “You see, you’re staring at me in a weird sense of fascination, and you laughed at my stupidity over giant boats, which has distracted you from feeling shitty about your birthday.”

Hermione had to admit that he was right. She had stopped feeling sorry for herself, although the whole thing had come via feeling even more sorry for the early-twenties version of Sirius Black.

“You have a point.”

“I find I often do. You might even be beginning to like me, or at the very least tolerate my presence.”

He was an arrogant wanker, though. Full of himself, is what Hermione’s grandma would have said. A very high opinion of his own abilities, that would have been her dad’s assessment.

But then, he’d probably have said all of that about himself, or would have have as a teenager, and Hermione did wonder how much of it was an act. He was often like this, bullish and irritating and so up his own arse it was a wonder he could see anything, and then he had those moments of complete and utter helplessness where she had no idea how he made it out of bed in the mornings.

There was no mental health help for wizards, so Hermione had read some books on Muggle methods of treating the problems that so many of them had after the war. She’d diagnosed herself with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, although she had no plans to see anyone for it. How the hell would you explain her life to a Muggle psychologist or counsellor? She’d worked through some exercises on her own, and given them to Harry and Ron and the others, and it had helped a bit.

She could book-diagnose Sirius, but it would do no good if he wasn’t going to try and help himself. She had gone for Muggle book-learning as a coping mechanism, and he clearly preferred ignoring the situation and trying to be what she liked to call ‘fun Sirius’. It was increasingly forced.

“I was going to make a cake today,” she said, for lack of anything better to say to Sirius.

“Please do,” he replied.

They lapsed back into silence. This was the way it often was between them, now. It was easier. They both knew they didn’t agree, and they both knew fighting got them nowhere. And it upset Ginny. Luna didn’t much seem to mind. She’d been reading that ritual magic book for days, and it was difficult to get much out of Luna when she was reading something.

“Is it the done thing to make a cake for your own birthday?” He was eyeing her with the look he had when he was planning something, the one he’d worn in his eyes the day of that ridiculous trip to try to save his brother.

“What?”

“People don’t usually make cakes for their own birthday, do they?”

“No. But you’ve seen Ginny’s cooking, she doesn’t take after her mum, and Luna is better with savoury food.”

“And me?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you make anything that doesn’t involve frying it.”

“Oi. I cooked those oven chips the other day. I maintain that they are a stupid food, but I did it.”

“Okay, you can read written instructions and you can fry things.”

“Thank you.”

He was still looking at her with that look.

“Do you have to stare at me, like that?’

“It’s either look at you or the fruit bowl, and you’d have been offended if I’d chosen the fruit bowl.”

Hermione resorted to sitting in the garden that morning, to escape Sirius. She’d taken out the timeline he’d written out, of what had happened when and any deaths and injuries that had occurred, and was reading through it. She’d read it before, twice, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Judging on this, there was a raid by the Death Eaters on the Order Headquarters that they perhaps ought to go to. A Death Eater was supposed to die in it. It was not something Hermione wanted to watch, but it was what they had agreed to do.

And nothing bad happened to Order members besides the odd broken bone, so Sirius was unlikely to do anything idiotic.

As she was pondering the best way to go about this, and coming to the realisation she would have to talk to Sirius, she saw a head pop up over the fence.

“Hello there,” said her neighbour, Jo. “I thought I invited you for a cup of tea? Are you avoiding me, now? I know I’m a bit of an odd one, my family tell me that on the regular, but I’m really not at all dangerous. I only bit someone that one time.”

“Why did you bite someone?” Hermione asked, tucking Sirius’ notes into her pocket.

“That’s not a story I tell to people who refuse to come around for tea.”

“I can’t, I’m…” Hermione didn’t really have a valid excuse. Her plans for this morning extended to avoiding Sirius and his weird looks, and avoiding Ginny and her intention to make Hermione’s birthday a repeat of her own which had involved far too much alcohol for anyone’s liking.

“Come on, duck, I’ve made a cake. Who can refuse cake, now? Well, you’re a lot thinner than me, so perhaps you’ve got that willpower. Size of me, I clearly haven’t.” Jo patted her stomach. “Not that I care. My eldest daughter tells me fat isn’t healthy. Well, I say you’ve got as long as you’ve got, and I’ve never felt the need to continue on past my date, as it were. Are you coming along, then?”

Hermione followed her neighbour, more out of a sense of politeness and having no real reason she could explain to Jo to refuse than because she actually wanted to go and eat cake with the woman. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to, either. She had nothing against Jo. It was just not something that she actively wanted to do.

“So,” said Jo, once in her kitchen. She cut into a huge walnut cake displayed on the counter on its cake stand, and plated up a slice for Hermione. “What brings you to be moping in your garden? Tea? Do you take sugar?”

Without waiting for an answer, she slid a cup of tea over to Hermione having dumped a sugar and a half into it. Hermione drank it. It would have been rude not to.

“It’s my birthday.”

“Oh?” Jo sat at the table opposite her, prodding at her cake with a fork.

“Yeah.” That was all she could say, really. There was no real way to explain why it was such a bad thing for it to be her birthday. Not in any way her neighbour would be able to understand, without going into the time travel.

“Well, we won’t call this a birthday cake if you don’t want to, but I haven’t poisoned it, you know.”

Hermione ate some. It was really very nice. And she felt slightly better for it.

“Thank you,” she said to Jo.

“See, told you I didn’t bite often.”

“Now you have to tell me that story.” It was as good a way as any of distracting Jo from keeping probing about her birthday. And, Hermione had to admit she was a little bit curious.

“Oh, that’s not even very exciting. My husband was being obnoxious, and I bit him on the ear.”

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh. “Is that how marriage is meant to work?”

“No, but then my husband was not the best example of how marriage was meant to work. I kicked him out after… ooh, it was a long time ago now… his sixth affair, I think. The bite was affair number four, and I maintain he deserved it.”

“I’m sorry. That’s… horrible.” Hermione didn’t know what else to say. The tone Jo had delivered that in almost suggested she didn’t care much about it, and most people didn’t bring up their affairs with new acquaintances if the issues was still raw. But Hermione still felt sorry for Jo.

“Ah, it doesn’t matter much anymore. He’s a massive, what is it you young people say? A dick? Well, whatever offensive term you can come up with, he’s one, and I’m better off without him. I’d have divorced the bastard, but it’s next to impossible to divorce someone under wizarding law if you can’t even find the bugger. I reckon he went abroad. Sent a postcard to three out of our four kids about a year after I kicked him out from somewhere in Brazil, and nothing since.”

Jo noted the presumably shocked expression on Hermione’s face, and laughed. Hermione certainly felt shocked.

“And this is why Margaret told me not to bring that stuff with her father up with new friends any more. I remember now. Still, gives me a laugh seeing people’s faces.”

“Sorry, it’s just…”

“You’ve never heard anyone talk about affairs and abandoned wives the first time you’ve met them? No, I don’t know anyone else who does it, either.”

Hermione laughed again. She didn’t necessarily understand this witch, but she felt as though she liked her.

“So, what about you?” asked Jo, polishing off the last of her slice of cake. “Attached? You said you weren’t with that handsome bloke who lives with you, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be.”

“I’m with someone, yes, but it’s sort of complicated,” said Hermione, thinking of Ron back at home. She often wondered if he had noticed her disappearance, or whether time wasn’t passing for them as it was here.

“Ah, right. Who’s the lucky man?”

“His name’s Ron. He was a friend for a very long time, and then we started dating, but he’s struggling to commit. I told him I didn’t want to speak to him until he had sorted his thoughts out and made a decision. And now, well, he hasn’t exactly got a way to contact me.”

“Sounds like you don’t much want him to sort himself out, duck. Not if he can’t find you now. Doesn’t he have a decent owl, anyway?”

Hermione thought of Ron’s owl Pig.

“His owl’s the most useless bird I’ve ever met.”

“I had once once that was deaf. Couldn’t hear you tell it where you wanted it to go. Terrible owl, that one. But that’s not my point now, is it? Do you want to end up with this Ron? What’s he look like?”

“Tall, ginger, freckly. I really like him. I love him. I do want him to sort himself out. I’m just not going to wait around forever for him to do it.”

“Hmm. You give him a deadline?”

“No.” That was possibly a flaw. But then, she’d not exactly seen herself as issuing an ultimatum and then going off somewhere completely uncontactable. She was assuming she would be available in her flat or her office, and Harry would talk some sense into him within a few days, and he’d come back to her. He always did. Ron always came through in the end.

She knew Harry told both of them to stop coming whining to him, but Ron always did, and he always relented. He did the same for her when she inevitably bothered him about Ron.

“Then I don’t think you much want him to fix it this time.”

“How do you know it’s a this time?”

“Oh, girl, I've seen enough witches with relationship problems. We always give the men too many chances. If you’re at the ultimatum stage, then this isn’t the first time he hasn’t come through for you.”

“I love him.”

“Are you in love with him?”

“Of course I am!” This was ridiculous. She was discussing her relationship with someone who didn’t know either her or Ron, and who was drawing entirely unfair conclusions from it. Ron, well yes he did have some problems with committing, but he was a good man and she loved him. Just because Harry had signed up to a life with Ginny straight after the war, and had no regrets, didn’t mean that it was unusual to have some entirely normal wobbles about signing up for the long haul to someone from your teenage years.

She’d had a few herself, although she liked to think she had dealt with them better than Ron.

“Well, it is as they say your life, duck. Just make sure you’re making the right decisions for you, yes? More tea?”

“I’d better be going.” If she was going to get interrogated about her relationship any more, she had no desire to be here.

“Nonsense. It’s your birthday, and I insist.” Another cup of tea was pushed across the table towards Hermione.

“How many children do you have?” asked Hermione, searching around for another topic of conversation.

“Four. All girls, all witches, and one sorted into each House at Hogwarts. I’m led to believe that’s quite rare. Margaret, my eldest, went into Slytherin. She’s now at the Ministry, something about Quidditch regulations and organising matches. Helena, the Ravenclaw, and Ruth, the Hufflepuff, are twins. Helena’s at home with her children, and Ruth works at St Mungos. My youngest is the Gryffindor, Betty. If I’m honest, I don’t understand her job. She doesn’t say much about it, and I’ve stopped asking.”

“Four. Wow.”

“That’s what everyone says. They kept me busy, and now I have the grandchildren sometimes, and they keep me busy. In between I don’t have a lot to do. Hence hassling the new neighbours. Now, tell me more about that man in your house? Is he single?”

Hermione had never asked Sirius about his love life.

“I think so. Yes. He’s never mentioned a girlfriend.”

“Perhaps he’s gay, then. I can’t see a nice man like that remaining unattached for long.”

“He’s…” Hermione searched around in her head for the best way to describe Sirius. The usual adjectives that came to mind about him were negative; annoying, stubborn, difficult, self-interested, avoidant. She had no idea if he was gay; that wasn’t exactly important. “He’s very clever,” she settled on, “and he’s devoted to his godson.” That much was undeniably true. “He’s also irritating and very much hard work.” She would have been rid of him by now, had she trusted him enough to leave him alone.

“I like a clever man,” said Jo. “My husband was as stupid as they come, sadly for me.”

“And an annoying one?”

“If they have skills that may make up for it, I’m okay with that. At my age, you don’t have to want something permanent or to move in with the buggers. Just a bit of fun will do me, and all the men my age have grey hairs you-know-where.”

Hermione squeaked. She wasn’t a prude, but she barely knew this woman! Jo laughed.

“Another thing Margaret has told me to stop talking about. I’m old enough now to say what I like. You’re not offended, are you dear? I told Margaret that people aren’t easily offended nowadays, not like they used to be. And if they are, I don’t care what people think of me. I don’t hurt anyone, and I’ll say what I like other than that.”

“No, I’m not offended.” Hermione decided she quite liked Jo. Perhaps it was just that she liked talking to someone who said what they meant, unlike Sirius and Luna most of the time, or just that the woman didn’t much care if she was liked. Perhaps she reminded Hermione of Harry and Ron.

“Invite him round,” said Jo. “I’ll see for myself if he’s annoying or not. And take him off your hands for an afternoon, perhaps.”

Hermione thought she might do that. She’d love to see how Sirius dealt with her new friend.

She arrived home to find Ginny sitting in the front room, looking slightly traumatised.

“I’ve been asked to tell you not to go in the kitchen under any circumstances, and I would highly recommend following that advice,” she said. Her hair was full of flour.

Hermione had an idea of what was going on. Instead of confronting it, as she normally would have, she decided to let Sirius have his fun. And he was a wizard, whatever mess he made would be easy enough for him to clean up when he was quite done. Instead, she chose to settle down in her favourite chair with the notes of Sirius’ again. The chair was not one of her grandparents’ belongings, Luna favoured that chair, Sirius the sofa, and Ginny the floor or the beanbag. This was a soft orange velvet one that Hermione had found in a second-hand shop and immediately liked. It was one of the few things she had been able to choose about her current life.

There was a shout from the kitchen, which Hermione and Ginny ignored.

“Here, I’ve got you a present,” said Ginny, handing over a badly-wrapped package. “I know you said no fuss, but I wanted to mark it.”

The parcel was clothes. Ginny had a knack for finding stuff similar to what they had both liked to wear at home, in contrast to Luna who had embraced the styles of the day.

“Thank you,” said Hermione, shrugging out of her cardigan and replacing it with the jumper Ginny had chosen, a knitted black and white one with a fair-isle style design.

“No problem,” said Ginny. “More importantly, perhaps, have you got any idea what our next plan is? That little outing to Hogsmeade was all well and good, but I’m bored already. And I still don't understand the point of that one, if I’m honest.”

“Neither do I,” Hermione admitted. “I think we went just so Sirius could see his brother, although he says it was so he could check the names of their new recruits.”

“I worry about him,” said Ginny, folding the newspaper she had been reading neatly and placing it on the coffee table. “He’s being weird. Brooding, angry, Sirius Black I can cope with, but this makes me think there is something wrong. Do you think he could be planning to do something stupid again?”

Hermione thought about that. Yes, he was acting strangely. He’d been present the last few days, joining in with the activities of everyone else in the house. He’d watched a few programmes on the television with Ginny and Luna, and had gone through all of his notes in great detail with Hermione. He and Luna had attacked the garden, neatening it and planting a few useful magical plants that would fly below the radar of most Muggles, and he’d taken it upon himself to begin clearing the loft of the house in the aim of converting it into a useable third bedroom.

And he’d been nice to everyone during it all. This was most unheard of.

But Hermione didn’t exactly think he was planning anything. When he had been before, he hadn’t acted like this. It had been obvious what he was up to, which is why it had been so easy for her to stop him. Either he was trying a new tactic, one Hermione was unsure Sirius had the subtlety for, or he was genuinely on board with their current plans. Maybe she was too trusting, but she was inclined to believe Sirius was not faking this.

“I don’t think so,” she said, in the end. “I don’t think Sirius would go for fakery. He knew we disliked what he was doing before, and he was essentially honest enough about his plans. And I don’t think he’s the kind to go back on a promise, either.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Ginny. “I don’t know, though. It’s strange. Call me untrusting if you like.”

“Who’s untrusting?” asked Luna, exiting the kitchen with a rush of hot air.

“Everyone should be, a little bit,” said Ginny, darkly. Hermione had the funny feeling that her friend was not talking about distrusting Sirius, but about someone else entirely. A feeling apparently shared by Luna.

“I think you’ve offended Sirius,” said Luna, plopping down into her favourite chair. It was funny how they had all formed their favourite places to sit, Hermione thought.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you didn’t open the present he gave you this morning. He keeps shooting it dark looks as if the present itself has offended him. I don’t think he’s very happy about it, but then he does not seem to be holding it personally against you. It seems a very insignificant thing to be so upset about, but there we are. It’s not me who is feeling this, and other people’s thoughts may vary.”

Well, Luna had a point. Hermione had abandoned the little wrapped box on the table when she’d got fed up of his flippancy and gone outside. They’d been so distracted with discussions of cakes and ferries that she’d forgotten all about the present. That was bad manners. Hermione should not have done that.

“Don’t go in there, remember,” said Ginny. “Look at my hair, if you need a reason why. I think I’m going to go and have a shower. Tried getting it out by magic, it’s like he’s used a Permanent Sticking Charm.” She folded herself gracefully off the floor, and walked out the room. “Luna,” she said at the doorway, “call me back when he’s finished, yeah? I want to see this.” And she was gone.

“I know I shouldn’t ask for details, but he’s not going to give us food poisoning, is he?”

“I doubt it,” said Luna. “Of course, it’s his decision whether he follows my advice, but there we are. Life would be boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?”

“You could also argue life would be boring without the occasional risk of food poisoning.”

“You could argue a lot of things,” said Luna, “but it isn’t always wise to go down that path.”

“I thought the Ravenclaw mindset was more that anything was worth discussing, analysing and researching.”

“Oh, no, not at all. Only where there is a something to be gained, whether that gain is physical or academic. Arguing for the point of arguing is what I have always thought of as more a Gryffindor trait. Not that our House affiliations have to matter much, not if we don’t want it to. Besides, Sirius is almost ready.”

The cut between topics made almost no sense, but it didn’t have to. Luna also had a fair amount of flour in her hair, or possibly icing sugar, but she appeared unconcerned. Hermione had never spent a protracted amount of time in Luna’s company before this little trip into the past, and she found she enjoyed the other girl’s company in small doses. Possibly up to a medium-sized dose if Luna spent a lot of time with her books. And if she didn’t start talking about imaginary things.

“Luna, do you trust Sirius? Do you think he’s planning something?”

“Oh, is that what you and Ginny were discussing?” Luna asked, twirling the ends of her hair around her fingers. “I do and I don’t. He’s not going to explicitly lie to us, is he? But I wouldn’t assume he isn’t working on something. He mutters about November in his sleep.”

“What happens in November?”

“I don’t know, I just need the loo a lot in the night.”

Hermione wanted to probe Luna more, but there was a crash behind her and Sirius threw open the slatted double doors to the kitchen. He looked as though he had been attacked by a baker. Flour or icing sugar or whatever it was had made his way into his now-chin length hair, was balanced on his shoulders, and splatted over the front of his t-shirt. It had even made its way down the legs of his jeans and into his eyelashes.

“Done!” he shouted. “Hermione, come and see my creation!”

“We have to wait for Ginny,” said Luna, disappearing to knock the bathroom door. Ginny appeared shortly, drying her hair with her wand.

“Ta-da!” Sirius looked very pleased with himself, definitely approaching smug. The cake, and it was a cake, as Hermione had predicted, was a shambles, but it looked edible at the very least. It contained three layers, with jam and cream haphazardly falling out from between them, heavily dusted with icing sugar and dotted with the fake orange and lemon segment sweets beloved by grandparents. And what looked suspiciously like some flying saucer sweets. In between the decorations Sirius had dotted twenty-three candles, all of which were flaming with an obviously magical blue fire.

“Happy birthday!” said Ginny, half-bouncing onto Hermione as she hugged her from behind. “Blow out your candles!”

“Can you even blow out magical fire?” asked Hermione. She pulled her hair back from her face and tried.

It turned out that you couldn’t. The cake tasted great, and Sirius was only moderately offended that there had been widespread surprise about that fact. He dusted himself down, to reveal a picture of a hippogriff on his t-shirt that had been entirely covered with flour, and Hermione demonstrated the correct use of a vacuum cleaner to much amazement from the wizarding-raised members of their group. They then had a spirited debate about whether Luna classed as a pureblood or a half-blood; Ginny arguing for the pureblood side as Luna could not recall a Muggle or Muggleborn relative in her family tree, and Sirius arguing that anyone not in the Sacred 28 families or the Potters or Golds, who had apparently been deliberately excluded, would be considered by society a half-blood. It wasn’t his own view, apparently, his own was that it ‘didn’t fucking matter either way’. Luna didn’t appear to care.

“Hermione, I have a Shrivelfig to skin with you,” said Sirius.

“Yes?”

“Catch,” he said, throwing the small wrapped present from earlier through the air towards her head. She fumbled the catch. Picking it up from the carpet, Hermione unwrapped it carefully, and gently opened the little navy-blue box with only a small amount of trepidation. After all, the last time she’d held a small, opened box, she’d been thrown backwards through time and ended up here.

Inside the box was a round, silver locket, with a flower pattern engraved into the front. Hermione fiddled with the catch and it opened, revealing two tiny pictures. One of Ron, wearing an idiotic grin, and one of Harry.

“Sirius,” she said, slowly. “Where did you get the photographs?” The tiny Ron winked.

“Ginny, it turns out, had a photograph of some of you at some family wedding or another stashed away in her purse. We duplicated it, and cut it up. The photographic Hermione complained rather a lot at that, as we had to trim some of her hair to do it.”

“It’s beautiful. And far too lovely. Thank you, Sirius.”

“Hey, no problem. I’ve got gold, and the other me in this time is just spending it on alcohol and motorbike parts right now.”

She got up from her seat and hugged him, trying to put into it some of the things she didn’t quite have words for about how much she missed Harry and appreciated that he had tried, and sort-of regretted the way she had been with him but not really, because she still didn’t think his ideas were any use. She doubted he understood any of it. She wasn’t sure she did. But she did leave a very small and unfortunate damp patch on his shoulder.

As she pulled away, Sirius took the necklace from where it was dangling and held it up to her neck.

“Allow me?” he asked. Hermione bent her head forwards slightly in answer, and he put his hands around the back of her neck to clasp the locket closed. As his hands brushed her neck, she felt a small jolt against her skin. A small electric shock, or static build-up. She twisted the locket gently on its chain. She hadn’t worn a locket since the Horcrux, the one that Regulus Black had liberated and hidden in Grimmauld Place, and Ron had destroyed, but Sirius wouldn’t have known that. She’d never told him the Horcrux had been a locket.

It didn’t feel as alien as she supposed it would. The metal was warm against her skin, not cold and clammy and dangerous. It spoke to her of love and of a hope she would see her friend and her boyfriend again, not of fear and the ever growing dread of war.

It was a further step towards healing, and Hermione had realised long ago that all the journey onwards from the war in her life would be a journey of healing from it and trying to move on. She never fully would. Her life was too much a part of that.

“Ginny, do you mind that I’m carrying a photograph of your fiancé around my neck?” she asked, to return herself to the world she was currently in and not the one of the Horcruxes.

“Nah,” said Ginny. “I think I did find it weird at one point, you know, how you and Harry will always be so close. But look at what you did. I don’t find it weird any more, at all.”

“Good.”

They sat around after that, long into the night, drinking some ridiculous Muggle alcohol Sirius had bought from the corner shop and eating far more cake than anyone should. Hermione had ridiculed Ginny’s suggestion of getting drunk tonight to begin with. As much as anything else, she didn’t much like getting drunk, and would certainly never do it on a Tuesday.

Tonight, she sat in her favourite chair, everyone in their usual spaces, singing along to the old, current, songs on the radio and even getting up to dance. Sirius was in a better mood than she had ever seen him, and the alcohol was making it seem less suspicious. She could resolve those thoughts tomorrow.

Everything became pushed until tomorrow as the alcohol lent a soft, fuzzy feeling to her thoughts. The last vestiges of her sober mind were shouting to her that people were dying, people’s lives were being ruined, and she ought to be sad about that not enjoying an evening with friends. That if she couldn’t change it, she should at least feel it as a penance. Hermione shrugged it off as best she could.

Sober Hermione thought of those who would die every day, and worried for every one of them. The Hermione who had been drinking brandy was able to forget them for a few hours, and this was good. She wanted to help them, she really did. But she couldn’t, and however much she justified it, it hurt.

She even managed to block the wish to go home, except when she opened the locket again as she went to bed.

Chapter Text

Regulus
October 1978, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

The owl arrived at breakfast.

Every time Regulus had received post since the visit to the Hogs Head, in September, he had been closely watched by many of his fellow Slytherin seventh-years. It had never been what they had hoped. Owls received by Regulus were frequently from his mother, updating him on the progress of his engagement, or his father, updating him on other matters pertaining to the family. Sometimes Bella would owl, to remind him how proud she was of him, or Narcissa. She talked of little but her desire for a child.

Andromeda had owled once, but he had burnt that unread. She was a blood traitor, and no family of his.

This one was not a Black family owl, or even the ones belonging to one of his cousins. He pulled the scroll from the owls leg, cut the seal deftly with his butter knife, and opened it up.

Black,

I hope all is well with your upcoming engagement. The Fawley girl is a good match. Our mutual friend is much impressed, and begs an invitation to the engagement party. I’d like one, too. You should write your mother.

As promised, I write with details of my own event. Saturday, the place we met before. It should go without saying that I extend the invitation to any guest of yours who can be relied upon to attend. It promises to be an excellent night. No elf-made wine, as there will be at your party, but we may be able to get some Firewhisky or something.

Don’t be late, you know the time. It’s always the same.

Don’t bring anyone that would get us into trouble with a teacher.

Avery

It read as though Regulus was being invited to sneak out to drinking session, which he supposed was rather the point. Anyone intercepting it would assume they were up to no good, yes, but not anything out of the ordinary. Something that might get a point loss and detention, not Azkaban.

Regulus was more than aware of the penalties for what he was doing. But they were mostly academic when the Ministry had seemingly no desire to catch Death Eaters. It suggested most of them were sympathetic, and knew that this was the right course of action. They were simply too scared to do what was right.

He stashed the letter in his pocket, and wished that Mulciber and Porter would stop staring at him. Acting exactly as you were expected to act was the key to not being suspected, and staring at someone’s post like that was not how students usually behaved. Slughorn wouldn’t notice, he never did at breakfast. One of the sharper-eyed teachers might.

Regulus was an expert at not being detected. He knew perfectly well that he was the only student in this school wearing the Dark Mark on their arm, and he was one of the only sixth- and seventh-year Slytherins who had not been called in by Dumbledore for a discussion on the perils of joining the Dark Lord.

Regulus knew how to act as though this was not something he was interested in. As far as anyone outside of his closest friends was concerned, he was a law-abiding pureblood who wished to make a decent marriage and learn to run his family. He had discussed with Slughorn perhaps taking a Ministry job to give him something to do until his father died, and Slughorn had passed on the details of some contacts in the Department of International Magical Cooperation which he thought would be suited to Regulus. He'd also recommended Gringotts Bank to Regulus, who had promised to follow that up. A man should make the most of his contacts, and it did nobody any favours to act churlish.

Selwyn understood more than the others how these things worked. He had been called in by Dumbledore, but had learnt caution from it.

“Black, have we got Transfiguration first thing?”

“Yes.”

“How’s the homework coming?”

“Badly. Saturday, by the way. I will take you down, I am not revealing the meeting point in advance, to avoid the presence of anyone we do not wish to be accompanied by.”

“Where shall I meet you?”

“Herbology greenhouses.”

Selwyn raised an eyebrow, but he did not question it. This one would go far. Unlike the three faces now staring at him, with Alecto Carrow’s having been added to the set.

Regulus pushed the remains of his breakfast away and stalked out of the Great Hall, before anyone could draw any more attention to him. Instead, he began to walk up to Transfiguration.

By the end of the day, the message had been passed to everyone Regulus wanted to know, and he was beginning to despair in the stupidity of several of the idiots in his house. Some of them knew how to play this game, like Selwyn did, but the vast majority of them clearly did not. Porter had almost caused McGonagall to become suspicious, and everyone knew she was spying for the Ministry. Carrow had accosted him, demanding details, in the Entrance Hall and he’d had to pretend he had no idea what she was on about to avoid Flitwick becoming suspicious.

If any of them got his name onto the list of people to be watched, Regulus would make certain that the Dark Lord knew about it.

Regulus’ job here only worked while he was above suspicion, and Bellatrix had made that perfectly clear. She had taught him certain charms that would make his Dark Mark much harder to detect, but a wizard such as Dumbledore would find them light work to remove. Besides, Regulus had no desire to cover it. He was proud of the choices he had made for his family. But if the best way to achieve his own aims, and those of the Dark Lord, was to pretend he did not have the Mark, then that was what Regulus would do.

He found himself a chair in a quieter corner of the Slytherin common room after dinner, selected a green velvet recliner, and pulled out his Potions books. The Dark Lord was most interested in Professor Slughorn. Regulus intended to remain on the Potions master’s good side, in case his assistance was needed. Therefore, he needed to complete this essay and to do it well.

No sooner had he put quill to parchment that a particularly unwelcome face appeared next to him, that of Amycus, Alecto Carrow’s younger brother. If Regulus had been reluctant to allow Alecto to join his group, then Amycus was even less welcome. The boy was fifteen, so not even of age, and possessed even less subtlety than his sister. The boy was useless, and on top of that the was pointlessly cruel.

“Black, I hear you have information.”

“I may or may not have information. It depends on what you are asking about. And none of it is for you, as it mostly pertains to seventh-year business.”

Even in the relative safety of the Slytherin common room, it was unwise to talk freely.

“I’m sixteen next week. I’m old enough.”

“Sixteen is a boy.”

“Alecto says you were given a trial at sixteen.”

“If Alecto cannot keep her mouth closed on private matters, then she will find herself receiving no information, either. I suggest you pass that message on, and that you do not come back here.”

“I think you’re having us all on.”

“Do you? I have no need to persuade young boys, who beat up eleven-year-olds for fun, of my credentials, Carrow. Those who need to know of my loyalties are in no doubt. Men of my breeding and contacts have no need to be, what was it, having anyone on.”

“Show me it!”

“Show you what? My Potions homework?”

The boy was ridiculous, and annoying, but Regulus was almost having fun with him. He riled so easily. But no. His mother had taught him not to pick on those purebloods lower down the social scale than he was, after all, they may be of use one day. And besides, that was Sirius’ job.

Regulus was sure he could come up with a use for Amycus Carrow, just not one that required discretion or that would link the boy to him.

A decoy, perhaps.

“You know what I mean, Black!” hissed Amycus. At least he understood to talk quietly, unlike his sister. But then his sister knew where she stood relative to Regulus in the social hierarchies and in the favour of the Dark Lord, and Amycus clearly did not.

“I will show you what you desire, when you have proved that you are worthy of it.”

The smaller boy puffed his rather pudgy chest at that. Yes, Regulus was playing this well. He allowed the boy a smile.

“Your sister needs to be informed of the importance of discretion. Perhaps you can get that through to her. We have some work to do, which must remain undetected by the Hogwarts staff. Almost all of them are known to be hostile to the Dark Lord’s intentions, and their knowledge of his plans would be catastrophic for our success. Now, there’s a very simple way you can help us, and if you can do a few of these small tasks for me then I can look into putting in a word for you.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes, Black,” said the boy solemnly.

“Good.” Oh yes, Regulus was pleased with himself here. He had turned a potentially dangerous situation into a rather positive outcome, even if he did say so himself.

That Saturday, Regulus made sure to be the last down to the meeting place agreed by the Herbology classrooms. He had set Amycus Carrow the task of causing enough of a distraction that their disappearance from the Hogwarts grounds would not be noted, or even noticed. He still had his doubts about the boy, but he was keen for the task and it saved Regulus the bother.

That said, he did not want to run the risk of personally being caught, and was sure to remain in full sight of Madam Pince in the library until five minutes after the others in his group would have arrived. That was long enough for any discovery to have been made, he was sure.

“Black, you’re late,” said Porter, as Regulus strolled into view.

“I am in charge, so perhaps I am perfectly on time,” said Regulus, channelling everything his father had ever told him about asserting your authority. “Let us go. It would not do to linger here.”

Turning with a swish of his brand-new, fur-lined cloak, Regulus led the little group of aspiring Death Eaters towards the Whomping Willow in the school grounds. Severus Snape would not admit to how he had gained this knowledge, but had assured Regulus that a secret passageway lead from underneath the tree to the Shrieking Shack just outside Hogsmeade and that the Shack was most definitely not haunted. Regulus was not scared of ghosts or ghouls, but it was better if none troubled them tonight. The others all followed, most meekly and quietly and Porter with some grumbling. That was fine. Regulus would have the upper hand tonight, and Porter could whine all he liked about the small things.

Severus’ information had been exactly correct, and the passageway took them through to the battered old building. Regulus gathered his group together in there. So far, all they knew was that they would be asked to prove themselves, and the time and location of the meeting place. Regulus was now able to provide at least some of the rest of the information, but to give it all away would of course spoil some of the surprise.

“There are some Muggleborn and blood-traitor families who have been proving resistant to the changes wizarding society needs,” he began. All eyes were on him, and he adjusted the clasp of his cloak and the fall of his dark hair over his eye. “As you will understand, they need to be taught of their wrongs. The Dark Lord would value your assistance, provided of course that you are willing to do what is necessary.”

Several nods from the assembled witch and wizards, and a few determined faces. Regulus was pleased.

“This will be heavily coordinated, and in a few moments time some of my esteemed fellows will arrive to take you to your destinations. I cannot, and will not, say more about what you may be asked to do. I will warn you that to do anything other than what is requested of you will not be the way to winning the favour of the Dark Lord. He does not look kindly on those who refuse his bidding. This is your chance to impress, and I would use it as best you can.”

“Did you have to do this?” asked Selwyn. He was relaxed, leaning against the walls of the Shack with his cloak thrown back over one shoulder.

“Of course. I had to prove myself as you will. I may have been vouched for by my cousin Bellatrix Lestrange, and my cousin-in-law Lucius Malfoy, both held in the trust of the Dark Lord, but I would not have been accepted had I not displayed my loyalty.”

“Will you show us?” asked Alecto Carrow.

Regulus wondered what possessed these Carrows to be repeatedly asking for proof. His word, and that of Avery, had been enough for the others.

“Certainly.” It had no harm, not in this place. Not given what they were about to be asked to do. He rolled up the sleeves of his robes, black like those of the Hogwarts uniform, but with a much more flattering cut and expensive fabric. Porter was wearing his school robes still, although the others had been blessed with the sense to change.

The Dark Mark was revealed on his arm. It was not as dark as it sometimes was, having faded from the call earlier that evening that would assemble the rest of the Marked Death Eaters with the Lord, the call Regulus had been told to ignore. He had work here, and it was of course permitted to ignore the call if you were under orders elsewhere. It still looked impressive, the skull and snake black against his pale skin.

And it got him a few appreciative gasps.

“Did it hurt?” asked Mulciber, who hadn’t yet spoken the whole evening.

“Any pain it cost is a small price to pay for the benefits it will bring,” said Regulus, rolling the sleeve back down. He would ordinarily wear it up, here where he could be open about his allegiance, but the autumn winds were cold. And, besides, other Death Eaters would arrive at any moment, and Regulus did not wish to be perceived as showing off.

Severus Snape, the older Mulciber brother, and Lucius had been sent to collect the newest set, and they duly arrived, splitting the recruits off into three groups for the locations they had chosen to target that night.

“Come along, Black,” said Severus Snape, having gathered up Selwyn and Carrow. “You’re with me.”

Regulus knew Severus well enough. He’d been only a year above him at Hogwarts, and had been approached by Lucius Malfoy at the same time. With Snape being older, he had been allowed to take the Mark six months before Regulus had, which Lucius had assured Regulus was just because Snape no longer had the Trace on him, and not because the half-blood was any of a better wizard or presumed to be more loyal than Regulus was.

Regulus saw no reason Lucius would lie. Besides, Regulus knew enough Legilimency to prove that he was not. Bella had told him Lucius had no skill at Occlumency, and it was obvious that was correct. Lucius had many talents, but the subtleties of mind magic were not one of them. The man overly relied on his charisma.

“The Devon address?” asked Regulus.

“Yes,” said Snape.

Regulus arrived into a quiet, dark street in a small village. The houses lining the street were all much of a sameness, two stories high with neat gardens and the light on in the front window. Their target was number eleven, which looked as unremarkable as the rest. Muggles were strange creatures, with their love of uniformity.

Next to him, Snape arrived with a soft crack, then Selwyn, and finally Carrow. Hers was the loudest noise, causing a nearby dog-walker to turn around and goggle at the people that had surely not been there a moment before.

Carrow raised her wand, but Snape knocked it back down.

“Muggles are stupid,” he said. “She won’t even think of anything in five minutes time, she’ll have convinced herself it’s a trick of the light.”

“All the more reason to kill her,” said Carrow.

“And bring the Ministry down on us before we can start?” asked Snape, with barely disguised disdain. “Carrow, if you are going to be rash and stupid, I suggest you leave now. Or perhaps this is a deliberate sabotage. Either way, I for one intend to complete this task.”

“Isn’t your father a Muggle?” she asked. The look on her face was one of loathing. “I’ll put you down as a Muggle-lover.”

“He was,” said Snape, shortly. “He’s dead, and that is the best place for him.”

Before either of them could continue, Selwyn lazily pointed into the middle distance. “Our friends,” he said.

“Oh look, tiny little students,” cackled Bellatrix. Carrow bristled visibly at Bella’s comment. Regulus had no desire to rise to the bait. Selwyn bounced over on the balls of his feet to greet Bellatrix and Rodolphus, shaking Rodolphus’ hand and kissing Bella on both cheeks. His family knew the Lestrange family socially, and they had all doubtless been introduced formally at some point. Carrow, clearly, had not.

“Evening,” said Rodolphus.

“Evening,” nodded Snape in return. “We should be getting into position.”

“I don’t recall who put you in charge,” said Bellatrix, pulling her wand out.

Snape was not engaging in that, it was clear, and started off striding towards their ultimate destination. Regulus followed at his side, unwilling to show even a moment's hesitation despite his wish to show loyalty to Bella. She would fall in line, he knew, Bella never wasted any time when under orders from the Dark Lord. Selwyn, Carrow, and Rodolphus brought up the rear.

They stopped outside number eleven. The light in the front room was on, and Regulus could see through the window three people sat on chairs and sofas, staring at the back of a box. As good as Muggles, these people, not any better for their supposed magic. The house was neatly kept, everything in its place both outside and in the living room. Flowers in pots adorned the edges of the path, red to match the painted front door and shades of yellow. That much was the only indicator of magic; flowers like that would never ordinarily bloom in October.

Snape, at the front of the group, raised his hand as if to use the silver knocker, but Bella pushed past. The door unlocked and flew open with a flick of her wand. Regulus followed her in.

“Who’s there?” came a quavery voice from the direction of the living room. “Amanda, is that you?”

“Amanda?” shouted Bellatrix. “I thought even this kind of scum had better taste! Real wizards would use a real wizarding name.”

“Who are you?” An old man stood in the doorway ahead of them, to what looked like a warm and inviting kitchen. He leant on a walking stick, and the remaining wisps of hair on his head were of a pure white. “What do you want with my family?”

“Oh, so you’re responsible for this abomination?” asked Bella. She was brandishing her wand in his direction, her hand shaking. The new recruits may have confused that for nerves, but Regulus knew different.

“Bella,” said Rodolphus, putting a hand on her arm. “Not yet.”

“Get them all in the front room,” said Snape to Regulus and Selwyn. “Check everywhere.”

Selwyn grabbed the old man by his arm and steered him into the front room, depositing him there with Alecto Carrow standing watch on the door. Inside, Snape was checking the four assembled adults for wands.

“Wands?” a woman in a green dress was shouting. “Magic wands, are you talking about? Whatever’s going on here, I promise you I know nothing of it, I’m not mixed up in anything, I’m just the neighbour! I live at number ten!”

Regulus turned away from her, and from the others in the room, and started up the carpeted stairs. He’d never been inside a house like this before. The pictures that lined the wall of the stairs were not moving, and from his understanding of these things never would. That was strange and unnatural enough, before one got into the rest of these trappings. They did live like animals, Muggles and Mudbloods.

Upstairs, all of the rooms bore traces of magic. Selwyn took the master bedroom and the bathroom, and reported them both empty. Regulus checked the two smaller bedrooms. Also empty. One of them was adorned with Hufflepuff banners with stripped-back bed. The other was less obviously magical, but the quills and parchment and the charms on the door suggested a witch or a wizard occupied it.

Homenum Revelio,” muttered Regulus, sweeping his wand around the abandoned bedroom. As he had suspected, there was nobody here. He walked out onto the landing, where Selwyn stood examining a small brush on a white stick from the bathroom.

“Nothing,” said Regulus. “Downstairs.” Selwyn threw the tiny brush aside and walked down the stairs, past the suspiciously still photographs again. The wall behind them was covered with a cheery striped paper, the banisters a dark brown.

Alecto Carrow still stood guard on the door downstairs. Inside the sitting room, Snape was examining the wands he had removed from two of those inside the room. Rodolphus had his trained on the four captives almost lazily, his tall figure relaxing into a chair.

“Nobody’s up there,” said Regulus, taking a spot by the fireplace. “We did a thorough check.”

“Excellent work, Black,” said Rodolphus. “Let us get on with it. Carrow, get in here. Do you want to cast the first curse, or should we get Selwyn to?”

“Me,” said Alecto, her face set and her eyes glistening. She was more than ready for this, and whatever Regulus thought of her and her brother, this was a test she could pass with ease. She certainly had the dedication.

“Go slowly,” said Rodolphus. “We don't want to kill before we have properly taught the lessons, after all. Which do you choose? The old man and the woman in red are the Muggles, the other two Mudbloods. It would be interesting to know how they think they're entitled to join our world, would it not?”

Rodolphus never rushed anything. He was clever, calm and calculated, his dark eyes focused on his task at hand. Nothing rattled him, and he was an expert at information gathering. Rumour was the Dark Lord favoured him for those tasks above all others.

“Choose one!” urged Bellatrix, as Alecto Carrow surveyed the group with her wand raised. “Choose a Mudblood! The Muggles are worthless scum, best eradicated quickly!”

Alecto prodded the older of the two women up with her wand. “You,” she said, a hardness in her voice that had not been present earlier in the day.

“Go on,” said Snape, almost bored.

Crucio!” shouted Alecto, and the woman fell to the floor with the pain. Her screams seemed to fill the room and spill out through the door. The green-dress woman cowered away from it on the sofa, the younger woman made to grab for her, and the grey-haired man stood up.

“I am a veteran of the War, and I will not stand for this!” He raised his stick and cracked Alecto around the head with it, who screamed and dropped her wand. The woman on the floor’s screams subsided, and she collapsed into a soft heap. The younger woman threw herself on top of her, muttering pointless platitudes into her ear. None of this would help. Regulus was honestly surprised they hadn’t worked that out by now. Mudbloods and Muggles really were as stupid as they came.

Avada Kedrava!” shouted Bellatrix, and the old man crumpled to the floor. “You mean nothing, old man! You threaten us, and we remove you from the Dark Lord’s earth!”

“Bella,” said Rodolphus. “Leave some for the newcomers, please. Well done, Alecto, but you were slow to defend yourself. Never should you be able to be bested by a Muggle, and you should never lower your wand. A good fighter can continue her spellwork through physical pain.”

“I’m sorry, Mr Lestrange,” said Alecto, her head bowed. “I’ll do better next time.”

“See that you do,” said Snape from the shadows. “Selwyn, your turn.”

Selwyn stepped forwards, and took aim. He cast a series of non-verbal curses, shooting blue flames at the pair on the ground until both were silently writhing around on the floor.

“What are you doing?” shouted Bellatrix. Bella was always one to use the classics, and deeply mistrustful of new spellwork. Snape, on the other hand, was watching with barely-disguised interest, the first time he had looked truly animated in the entire evening.

“Oh, I prefer not to have to suffer their screams,” said Selwyn, flicking his wand once more and causing the younger woman to flip onto her back. “Rather ruins the experience, for me. I know what I can do, I don’t need the screams as some amateur kind of proof.”

The woman in green was sobbing on the sofa, screaming that she was just the neighbour, nothing to do with all of this, and that she would call the police. Regulus agreed with Selwyn about having to listen to all the infernal noise of people being taught their lesson. It just wasn’t necessary. He cast a Silencing Charm on the woman, and her face went a strange shade of purple as she realised her ranting was completely worthless. Just as she was.

“Stop, Selwyn,” said Snape. “You’ll tell me what you used, afterwards. Carrow. Try again.”

As Alecto raised her wand once more, there was a rustling outside. The screams came back. Regulus also had an interest in whatever spell Selwyn had used. This really was a more barbaric method than he would prefer.

Snape stood at the window, looking out.

“We may be being watched,” he said. “Best to wrap up, for tonight.”

“Regulus, finish them,” said Rodolphus.

Regulus started. He’d not thought he would be asked to do this, not yet, not now. He wasn’t prepared to kill. He had never killed. He had thought that perhaps he would, later, after he had finished his schooling. There was no doubt that these people, this scum, deserved to die. They had almost certainly defrauded proper, pureblooded witches and wizards to be able to access Hogwarts and wands. They were dirty, a stain on the very fabric of wizarding society. But Regulus had not thought he would be asked to kill one.

To kill a person.

But they weren’t really people, were they? Not in the same way he was, and his family, and the rest of them here in this room. Closer to monkeys, they were of an intelligence near to the true wizard but not close enough. It would be like putting down a dog. Almost a kindness.

He would do this, because he had to. He could justify anyone else doing it, so he should be able to.

Bella had. Rodolphus. Snape, and he was just a half-blood. Lucius. Avery. Everyone.

He pulled his wand from it’s holder on his hip, and stepped forwards. He steadied himself, and made to cast.

Avada Kedrava!

A lot of things happened, all at the same time. Regulus was knocked sideways by the ceiling falling into him, and the heavy weight of a man landed on his chest. The green of his curse shot into the air, causing a further fall of ceiling behind the sofa. Bellatrix began to fire off spells and curses, Rodolphus and Selwyn joining her. Alecto Carrow was half-trapped under a piece of ceiling, looking confused.

“Reducto!” shouted a gruff voice, one highly familiar to Regulus. His brother, Sirius, pulled himself up from Regulus’ body and shouted a Shield Charm towards the Muggles and Mudbloods on the floor. He leapt off into the fight, tackling Bella first.

Regulus picked himself up, blasting the debris of the ceiling off himself the way his brother had done moments earlier. He was immediately engaged by one of his brothers’ friends, the sandy-haired one that it was rumoured was a werewolf. The man was a fierce fighter, and it was all Regulus could do to keep him in check as well as dodging the miscellaneous other curses that were coming their way. It would not do to fall to a spell cast by one of their own side.

“Get out!” shouted Rodolphus, and grabbed his wife before Apparating away.

With his opponent having disappeared, Sirius cast around the room for another fight to join in on. He engaged Alecto briefly before she too Disapparated, and then his eyes locked on to Regulus still fighting the wolf.

“Regulus, you utter fucking moron!” he shouted, and Regulus ducked his curse.

Snape appeared at his shoulder. “Time to go,” he said, and firmly took Regulus by the arm.

They arrived back at the Shrieking Shack, kicking up a storm of dust as they landed in the dilapidated building. Snape was bleeding slightly from the arm, and as soon as they had landed turned to begin healing it. Regulus was unharmed, if a little dusty from the fall of the ceiling.

“Place will be swarming with Ministry twats, by now,” said Rodolphus, from the corner. He had a black eye forming on the left side of his face, his dark hair coming loose from the band that held it from his face. “Wasn’t that your brother, too, Black?”

“Yes,” said Regulus, grimacing. He had few encounters with his brother these days; in fact, that was the first since Sirius had left Hogwarts in the summer. Regulus actively welcomed this lack of contact with Sirius. The boy had been stupid and rash, with ridiculous political views. The man seemed to be determined to bring as much shame to the family as possible, and most likely get himself killed by an associate of theirs.

“He’s in with the Order of the Phoenix, isn’t he?” asked Snape. “I assume so, at least, from the way he turns up to make a nuisance of himself with worrying regularity.”

“I’ve always assumed so,” said Regulus. He was not certain of that, but the way Sirius was spoken of within the circles of the family, his friends, and the wider pool of Death Eaters suggested Sirius was at the very least a blood traitor of the worst sort, if not a fully-inducted member of that society. Whether he was a member or not mattered little to Regulus. He was no brother of his, not when it came down to it, and if he was asked to remove Sirius he most certainly would. “He’s a stain on our family tree, whether he is or isn’t.”

“Well spoken,” said Rodolphus.

“Where’s Bella?” asked Regulus, keen to have the subject move away from Sirius. Everyone else who had been out with them that evening was present. Selwyn was sat on the ripped sofa, watching the exchange between the other three men, and Alecto was on the floor, fixing a rip in her robes.

“She went off,” replied Rodolphus. He never seemed overly concerned as to the whereabouts of Bella, and cared only slightly for her when she was in his presence. Regulus knew it was a duty marriage. Rodolphus had asked for Andromeda’s hand, and been shunted off to Bella after Andromeda’s little betrayal. They both hoped for a child soon, and after they were successful Regulus thought it likely they would live almost completely separately until the time came for a second. “Gone to check on the progress of our esteemed fellows.”

“You did well tonight, Black,” said Snape. “You’d have made your first kill if not for your idiot brother. A man should have a drink after his first, and I’ll offer you one in advance. You won’t have to wait long for the joy, I’m sure.”

Regulus took the conjured tumbler from Snape. He did not feel much about the Muggle he had almost killed, and he wondered if perhaps he should. But of course not. Everyone else had done it, all the others who wore the Mark. He would do it, and it would be a nothing. A few deaths of the worthless end of society were the price you had to pay for things being the right way, that was what everyone said, and Regulus more than believed it.

Chapter Text

Sirius
October 1978, Devon

Sirius hovered outside the house in Devon with the rest of them. He hated every minute of this fucking ridiculous sham.

Watching this was essentially a pointless act, in terms of what would happen to the Muggleborns and the Muggles inside the house. Nothing they were allowed to do would help them, and being here hanging around doing nothing certainly didn’t help either.

Rather, it was a carefully cultivated exercise in gaining Hermione’s trust. He would act exactly as she would want him to act, and she would know that he was to be trusted. She quite clearly did not trust him right now, and if he was to convince her to do something he would need every ounce of her goodwill. He had a week left, after all. Tonight was Halloween. Voldy loved a good Halloween attack.

He could feel Hermione’s eyes on him from where she was hiding at the side of the house. This was something of a test, he thought. She might not know she was testing him, but she was. She wanted him to prove he would do as he was told without him needing to say anything.

Sirius had been on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour from girlfriends. Sometimes it had been justified, and sometimes it most definitely had not. One had threatened to curse his cock off if he so much as looked at other women. He’d believed her, she was scary. She’d actually accused him of staring at McGonagall in a sexualised manner.

Well, he might have done that once. For an older lady, she was alright looking, and she was bloody clever. Sirius liked a clever woman.

Still, that was an extreme case. And the point was, he knew how to behave when a woman was testing him. If you wanted rid of her, you deliberately failed so as not to have to dump her. Well, James or Remus or even Peter would have just spoken to her and calmly dumped her, but Sirius had never quite managed that. If you wanted to keep her, you damn well passed the test.

He had been frequently told his attitude to women was terrible, but it wasn’t like he had any other method with them. If he tried it the way Peter and Remus had always done it, all respectful, the women assumed he was trying to be an arse. He had no idea why, but that was the truth of it.

That still wasn’t the point. He would pass Hermione’s test, because he needed to keep this woman. Not in that way, oh Merlin no, fucking hell, but he needed to keep her on side. As a friend. He was more than certain she would never even think of him in that way. An old, haggard, ex-con, with a reluctance to brush his hair and a sob-story behind him that nobody would have believed had they not had Remus to corroborate at least half of it. She was attractive, yes, he was allowed to think that without wanting to do anything, young, and smart woman. She had a sob-story, too, but hers was surmountable. There was a happy childhood in there, he knew, and likely some happiness after Voldemort. A successful relationship, he gathered. He had his parents and twelve years in Azkaban, and had never once managed a relationship that lasted longer than eleven months and twelve days, and he had never wanted one to last longer than that.

Tonight, Sirius knew, was the night Regulus had been asked to kill. He had no idea if his brother had done it before tonight, but something about what he’d been able to hear from the upper floor of the house had suggested that he had not. A jet of green light would have appeared from the end of Regulus’ wand, and Sirius had heard his voice clearly say the words of the Killing Curse. Seventeen, and he was prepared to murder.

The curse hit nobody, the Muggle that had died was not hit. He must have been killed earlier in the depraved little fucking torture session they’d been having themselves. What Regulus’ involvement in that had been, Sirius did not know, but he knew that his brother did not shy away from the killing of innocents. Whether he succeeded or not didn’t matter. He’d tried, the fucking little bastard.

The younger Sirius was in the house to hear it, and the older one was outside watching from a distance. He should bear witness to this, to what he was condemning to happen. To his brother’s slide into darkness.

When it was done, and the Death Eaters Apparated away, he didn’t stick around. Moody was standing out the front, the dead body of the Muggle who’d died on the floor at his feet. They would claim he’d had a heart attack. The Muggleborn witches, being helped out of the house by Remus, would go to St Mungo's for a bit, and then the Ministry would find them a safe house. Two weeks later, the Order would find them another one, as they were certain the Ministry had been infiltrated. The Muggle would be Obliviated.

“Time to go,” said Sirius. It was better they left, before the Order started to check for the presence of anyone else around the house. Moody tended to do that as a matter of course, after they’d been caught up in a secondary attack from some Death Eaters who’d sneaked up on their attempts to heal those caught in the first attack.

They walked down the street, far enough away to not have been caught up by any detection spells of Moody’s. They let themselves into a small park, Sirius leading and the three girls trailing behind. Hermione’s face was ashen and unmoving, Ginny was crying. Luna was, too. Sirius was struggling to feel anything at all. He sat on a swing, which moved rather disconcertingly underneath him.

This was supposed to be a victory. It was supposed to be a moment of celebration.

Certainly, the first time around, they’d seen it as one. They’d cheered the arrivals back at the new Headquarters, and it had felt like success. They’d raised a glass in remembrance to the Muggle who had been unfairly killed, of course, and stood in silence for a moment to honour him. But they had saved three, and that was to be applauded. Sirius had been treated as a hero, and he’d lapped it all up like someone who didn’t really know what war fucking was.

This time, it felt like a let down.

November was sneaking closer, and nothing was changing. They’d saved this family, but there would be more who would die. Regulus was still stuck in all of this. Everything was still wrong.

“Sirius?” Hermione was next to him, settling herself on the neighbouring swing. “How are you?”

“Well, we’ve just watched some lives be saved, but I watched my brother try and kill someone. Someone did die. My brother did not kill anyone personally.”

“Mixed, then.”

“Yeah, mixed.”

She put her hand on his arm. He tensed up.

“I really struggled, tonight, you know. Their faces. It was horrible, wasn’t it?”

“That’s what it looked like. All the time.”

“I only went on an Order mission that didn’t directly involve Harry once. He was at his aunt and uncle’s house, I had… well I’d left my parents’ house, and I’d gone to The Burrow. A few of the others were heading out, and I was of age, and they couldn’t refuse when I asked to join them. I saw enough that night, I think.”

He scoffed. She had seen enough after one night. How many times did she think he’d done this? “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen all of this,” he said. He couldn’t blow up at her. Not when this much was at stake.

“I’ve always struggled with what to say after this sort of thing. I mean, when everything’s been done, and you’re sat around pondering things, what do you say?”
“I don’t know,” Sirius admitted. “I’ve never known. I used to let others do the pretty words. Remus and James and Peter were all good at them, and so was Lily.”

“I hate every minute of all of this,” said Ginny. Her tears had dried, but the red rings around her eyes remained. “So many people.”

“I don’t understand it,” said Luna.

“I hate it all too,” said Hermione.

“Do you?” he asked. “Do you really?” Sirius trained his voice to be calm. He felt nothing of the sort. Why was she even saying this to him, now of all times? If she truly hated this, of course she would do something about it, like he wanted to. This was the wrong time to be bringing it up, when he was angry, but he felt so fucking powerless to find the right time. Though she was emotional, too. It was manipulative, like his bloody father would do, but it might just work.

“Yes, of course I do,” she said. She tried to meet his eyes. Sirius looked at the grass. It was scuffed where the feet of hundreds of children had battered it, and none of it grew in the most heavily used areas.

“Do something about it, then.” He was still calm, but the harshness he couldn’t help. He had to stop this soon.

“Sirius, come on, you know we can’t!”

“No, I don’t. I agreed to this compromise to make everyone else happy, not because it was what I wanted. My position has not changed, not one bit. My intentions have, in the short term, because I don’t break promises. I promised to give this approach a go. I can’t promise to do it forever.

“But what I want to do, well, that’s the same as it was and the same as it will be, and I’m fairly sure all of this is going to make me go nuts one of these days. If I’m not already. Because I feel close to it, Hermione, and that’s how I feel. Like a fucking Filibuster firework ready to go off, except someone’s dipped me in water and I can’t quite do it.

“Fucking watching my brother try and kill innocents? Fucking sit here talking about it afterwards as if we’d read a horrible book that we didn’t much care for the plot of? I can’t. I can’t fucking do this and I want to curse something or kick something or… I don’t even know! It’s fucking killing me and I wish I’d chosen to stay fucking dead!”

“Sirius, I…” Hermione was trying to talk to him, but he didn’t feel like waiting for an answer. He was beholden enough to her already. She wasn’t going to change.

There was the possibility she had been right about all of this, and it would cause a disaster. He’d thought about that in great detail. He continued to think about it in great fucking detail, in fact, and he was sure his brain could come up with a thousand different ways he could fuck up any given reality.

Maybe that meant she was right. They shouldn’t interfere.

Distracted, his Apparition was off, and instead of landing neatly into the alleyway behind their house as he had intended to, he arrived straddling the neighbour’s fence. With only a part of a second to influence it, he tried to fall into the alleyway, but misjudged the tip of his body and landed on his shoulder in the neighbour’s garden instead. The pain distracted from his righteous anger, at least, and he momentarily felt less like hexing the place to the ground.

“And what are you doing in my garden, quite like this?”

Looming over him was the grey-haired witch neighbour that Hermione had been for tea with a couple of times. Sirius sighed. At least if anyone had to see that disaster it was a fellow member of the magical community, as it would be easier to explain. But he would have massively preferred it if nobody had.

Well, it was possible she wouldn’t recognise him as the man from next door, not with half a plant scattered all over him and the mud smeared over his face.

“Apparition was off. Sorry. Won’t happen again.”

“Damn right it won’t, young man. You’ve brought down half a panel of trellis, that’s where my tomatoes go in the summer.”

“Young man,” muttered Sirius, picking himself up for the second time that evening.

“Everyone younger than me is young man, or young lass, to me,” she said. “Now you’ll fix my plant before you go, and then you’ll come in for a cup of tea. I’ve been wanting to meet you.”

“Really, don’t trouble yourself,” he said. The last thing he wanted was tea and inane chatter. He’d smash up a fucking teacup if he wasn’t careful. “I’ll fix this, and then I’ll go.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “I’ll pop the kettle on.” She clacked back into the house in some ridiculous wooden-soled shoes, leaving the door open behind.

“Reparo,” grumbled Sirius, and followed her in against his better wishes. Unless he wanted to try Apparition again, or scaling the fence, there was no other way out of this garden anyway. He considered a well placed Reducto, but he’d only just fixed the fence. There was no point doing the same job twice, and he’d done a shit job the first time.

“You’re the one living with Hermione and her friends, aren’t you?” said the woman, now fiddling around with tea leaves and a kettle that Sirius was certain was quietly singing an old Astoria Smith tune rather than whistling as kettles should do. Fucking witches.

“Against my better judgement, yes,” said Sirius, taking a seat. He hadn’t been offered one, but if he was going to do this he’d be damned if he stood the whole time.

“Grumpy one, aren’t you? Not normally one for grumpy men, but you’re alright looking so I’ll let you off. I’m Jo, by the way. I don’t know what Hermione has said about me, and it’s perhaps the less the better. I talk a lot. Comes from living alone, but I had the tendency for it from childhood. One could say it has been exacerbated.”

“Sirius.” All she needed to know was his name, and he wasn’t even sure she needed that.

“Oh yes, I know who you are. Hermione won’t be drawn on much about you, though. You come from London, mid-thirties, like rock bands. I’ve seen you turn into a black dog in the garden. Lucky I’m not the suspicious sort, or I’d have assumed my death several times now. Animagus, or just very good at self-Transfiguration?”

“What’s it to you?”

“It’s nothing to me, like I said, I just like to talk. Did nobody ever teach you the art of polite conversation, my duck?”

Duck. Who the fuck called anybody duck? He could see it as a term of endearment for a small child, but a grown man and an ex-convict at that?

“My mother tried. She failed.”

“Maybe you should have listened to her, then.”

“Nobody should listen to my mother. My brother does, and he’s off trying to kill people.” Sirius had not intended that to come out. He had a long-ingrained habit of refusing flatly to talk about his family. He’d been dumped for that once. Emotionally repressed, Matilda Brown from Ravenclaw had told him. He’d told her she had too little emotional repression, which James had said was harsh but Sirius stood by.

“I’m sorry,” said Jo, handing him a floral teacup. Sirius could have sworn the teacup smiled. “I take that back, then. I didn’t know.”

“No, you didn’t,” snapped Sirius. That wasn’t exactly fair. She couldn't be expected to know, and he was the one that had brought his mother up in the first place. The fact that his life was one big colossal disaster was not anybody else’s problem. He arranged his face into what he hoped was a conciliatory expression, because it wasn't her fault exactly. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“If it helps, my duck, my mother disowned me when I got my Hogwarts letter. Unnatural, she called me. She wasn’t the most trusting of people who were different to her. Very rude about the Irish, for example. And you should hear her views on black men. Witches just pushed her over the edge.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. If he had been in a better mood, on a different day, he might even have said he shouldn't have been rude to Jo. He wasn’t. “My mother disowned me too.”

“Ah, well, I think this calls for something stronger than tea, then,” said Jo, hauling herself from her chair and rootling in the kitchen cupboards. She pulled out a dusty bottle of some kind of amber spirit, the label faded with age. “If we’re going to be getting all maudlin now about our mothers. My tipple of choice is gin, by the way, but I’m all out. We’ll have to take whatever this is, instead. I’m not quite sure, it’s something my brother bought me several Christmases ago. He buys presents he would like, not what the recipient would prefer.” She poured two generous measures into a cut crystal glass, looked at them for a moment, and added a splash more into each.

“Thank you,” said Sirius.

“Now, care to tell me exactly why you were so shit at Apparating that you ended up on my fence? Either you should never have passed your test, you haven’t, and we’ll get the Ministry down on us, you were Apparating drunk which you don’t seem to be, or something’s upset you.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Have it your way. I tend to get it out of people in the end. Some people say I’m a nosy cow, like bloody Ivy Minchcombe who thinks she knows best about everything. She’s the nosy cow, if you ask me, always got it stuck in other people’s pies. I prefer to say I’m keen to help. Perhaps you could argue we both are. That would be one way of looking at it, wouldn’t it?”

“Lots of people think they can get me to talk about it.”

“Oh, a hard bezoar to crack. I see. I like a challenge. Hermione’s not much of one, if I’m honest. She told me all about that boy of hers. Now, she says she doesn’t know about any girlfriends of yours, so it can’t be girl trouble. Either that, or you’re very good at keeping secrets. She says she doesn’t think you’re chasing for the other team, either. Your brother?”

“I don’t have girlfriends.” He hadn’t tried, after Azkaban. There was no point. He was a convicted criminal on the run. Girls didn’t flock to that. “My brother is an arse. I don’t think he always will be, but I don’t know if he’s worth trying to save.”

Jo had the good sense not to crow that she had succeeded in getting him to talk. Instead, she topped up his glass, and finished up hers. It was only when she was adding some more alcohol to her own glass that she spoke again.

“Personally, and you didn’t ask me, so I won’t be offended if you ignore me, but I think it’s worth trying to save everyone. Now, your brother wouldn’t be one of these Death Eater fellows the paper is full of, would you? They’re often out trying to kill people, and sadly for the wizarding world often succeeding.”

Sirius nearly choked on his drink. He wasn’t sure why it was such a surprise that Jo, who was a member of magical society just as much as he was, knew about Death Eaters. Logically, she’d have to have been hidden under a rock not just in a Muggle town to have missed the first wizarding war raging around her. The wizarding war. The second was years away. The Daily Prophet was full of speculation and reports of attacks, some of them entirely fictitious. The wizarding wireless network, too. The gossip in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and wizarding taverns was constant. Of course she would know of the Death Eaters. Everybody lived in fear of them.

“He is.” There was not a lot of point in denying it. In for a Knut, in for a Sickle. And rule-stickler Hermione had been talking to the woman.

“See, I’m a Muggleborn. Hermione might have said. Your brother would want to kill me. I’m going to assume you don’t, even though you’re related to one of them, either because I’m naive or I want to believe the best in people. Maybe that means you shouldn’t take my advice. But even I reckon he’s saveable, and he might try to kill me on sight.”

“I don’t want to kill you.”

“Now there’s a relief. If you did, I’d have to ask you to come back another day. Terribly bad manners to kill someone after you’ve partook of their ancient, unlabelled, Muggle booze, and you look like a boy with manners.”

Sirius laughed. It started as a slight chuckle, but before long he was half collapsed onto the table in fits of laughter. And he wasn’t completely sure why. Jo was watching him with an amused look on her round face.

“Well, it would be incredibly bad manners,” he said, finally straightening up and controlling himself. What would his mother say about that emotional outburst? “And my aim is rubbish after a drink. I’ll come back tomorrow, if that’s convenient with you?”

“I had promised the WI I’d do the catering for their annual open meeting, so is the day after convenient?”

“Of course. Wouldn’t want to inconvenience the WI. Whatever the WI is.”

“If I’m honest, I’ve been wondering exactly what the WI is since I was persuaded to join it. Lots of women, all gas-bagging away, shit cake, and too much flower arranging. I only stay around because it’s funny to watch them all argue. Did you know, no less than five of them are shagging someone else’s husband? And there’s some kind of row going on because apparently Sheila copied Maggie’s entry into the North Yorkshire Knitters Guild Summer Fayre. There was deliberate sabotage, and everything.”

“I think I’d like to see this.”

“Oooh, yes. Come along to the open meeting with me. You can be my attractive new boyfriend. They’ll all be so jealous that they’ll forget about whether or not Maggie cut open the yoke of Sheila’s fair-isle jumper. Although hopefully not so excited that Ann forgets to announce that Edna has been getting it on with her husband, because I’ve been looking forward to that. Ann’s husband is a nasty bugger, don’t know why anyone would want to get it on with him.”

“Excellent. Owl me the details.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not even subjecting myself to that disaster waiting to happen. I’m going to come down with a nasty cold shortly before it’s due to start.”

“Fan of Divination?”

“Funnily enough, no. Hated the subject. Took it and then dropped it fairly soon afterwards. I don’t have the patience for crystal balls, and the tea leaves just look like a soggy, nasty mess. This is just one of those things I know will happen.”

“What do you think I should do about my brother?” If the question took Jo by surprise, she didn’t show it. It almost took Sirius by surprise.

“Do you honestly think there is good in him, somewhere?”

“Yes, I do. Or there was. We were close as children.” They always had been, at least until Sirius was eleven and Regulus ten. Sirius was beginning to wonder, then, if his parents had quite the right ideas. His sorting at Hogwarts cemented those thoughts. And Regulus had not really wanted to challenge them. But he was a kind, sweet child, and he had helped that Muggle that had lost their child, and he had never been as rude to Kreacher as Sirius always had been.

“Well then. If there’s even a shred of good in someone, they deserve saving.”

“That’s very black-and-white.”

“Oh, you get to my age and you start to understand things.”

“Hermione doesn’t think so. Hermione think we should leave him to it.” He couldn’t exactly explain why she thought that, so as he said it he felt slightly disloyal. He knew enough of Hermione to know that she would not have hesitated to see the good in Regulus without the time-travel. She’d defended Snape more than once, and Snape was a colossal git even with the spying for the Order.

“She’s said nothing but positive things about you, you know. And she’s clearly frustrated with you. Merlin knows why. Now, I’m not one to interfere. I let people argue it out, because if you get into someone else’s fights you tend to get hexed by accident. Speak to her. If she won’t listen, then think of a different way to persuade her. You’ve got to try. You two deserve happiness, I think.”

“Okay.” He didn’t think that would work, but again, he couldn't exactly explain why.

“Now get out of my kitchen. I’ve got stuff to be doing, and by stuff I mean sleeping. I’m old. So get out.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry to have bothered you with all of this.”

“Nonsense. Who wouldn’t want a gorgeous young man sat talking and drinking with them? Come round again. Often as you like. Ooh, that’ll startle Muriel if she sees you leave. I’m looking forward to the gossip at the corner shop tomorrow already.”

“Which house is Muriel?” asked Sirius, as Jo opened the front door for him.

“Brown windows, blue door,” said Jo, indicating with one red-painted fingernail.

“I’ll give her a cheery wave,” said Sirius, raising his hand and giving the lady peering out from between the net curtains his best jaunty wave. Her hair was in curlers, and she was clad in a floral nightie, but apparently that did not stop Muriel rubbernecking at windows. “Thanks again.”

“I mean it about coming round again.”

Sirius let himself back into his own house after a clearly scandalised Muriel had disappeared. None of the Muggles in the area had taken the slightest bit of interest in them, and he wanted it to remain that way.

He made his way up the stairs, and then up the fold-down ladder into the loft. He was only halfway through clearing the space, and there was only just enough room for the mattress he’d lifted from the skip. Around him were the trappings of Hermione’s grandparents’ life. Photo albums in a cardboard box, pieces of baby clothing and a few toys that were the memories of Hermione’s mother’s childhood, birth certificates and pensions paperwork. A suit hung from a rafter, in a dated style. A wedding dress was folded neatly into a box, pressed with lavender between the layers.

He wondered what they had done with the stuff he had left behind in Grimmauld Place. Hopefully burnt half of it. Nobody needed all those Muggle posters he’d put up with Permanent Sticking Charms just to piss off his parents. He’d been faintly embarrassed by them even at the time of sticking them up, and there was a reason Harry had never been allowed into his bedroom. Especially after he’d caught Fred and George goggling at them.

Harry had inherited the house, or hopefully anyway. Dumbledore had warned him about that, that the house might not be able to be owed by a half-blood. Well, if Bella inherited it, hopefully the posters would shock her. And hopefully if Harry had it, Molly Weasley would have been interfering enough to move the posters.

Most of what he left behind was utter shit. Muggle or wizard. None of the stuff he’d left behind would be of any use to anyone. He hadn’t made a massive amount of difference in this life, before or after his little trip through the Veil. Fucking shit, it all was.

He had to talk to Hermione again. Do it better. Avoid any emotional outbursts. She was as affected by the deaths as the rest of them were, he could see it in her eyes. He wasn’t as stupid as to assume she was a heartless cow, trying to irritate him by refusing to engage. He trusted that she was being honest when she said that she hated it, or his rational, if slightly sloshed, side did. If he spoke to her when he was angry, that side wouldn’t win and he’d fuck it up again.

It was just as much his fault as hers. He hadn’t tried properly.

He had to. Because this whole thing was pointless. He’d live two lives, at this rate, let everyone die twice, and do absolutely nothing worthwhile.

And then they’d just have a second lot of stuff to dispose of, and nobody would mourn his stupid body, because he wouldn't have any friends left anyway. They’d be dead. Dead, dead, dead, the whole lot, and he hadn’t had many real ones.

If she couldn’t be convinced by November, he was going it alone.

Chapter Text

Hermione
October 1978, British Wizarding Library, London

“Do you think we can do this?” asked Luna, as they arrived outside the shopping parade that housed the British Wizarding Library. If anything, the row of shops looked even more depressing than they had done the previous time Hermione had visited. Perhaps it was the weather. Grey, drizzly, late October days had that effect.

Luna was a shining bright spot in that, and had already gained several stares from people on the street. All of the others wore perfectly ordinary for the era Muggle clothing. Luna was clad in cerise robes, a chain of conjured and therefore larger than usual daisies around her neck, and her hair in a complicated plait threaded with ribbons. Hermione was quite impressed with how much Luna looked like herself still.

“Of course we can,” said Hermione. “I’ve solved a fair bit of the theoretical gaps in how the device was made, and if I’m right in my guess I know what I need to do to fix it. I’ve just got a couple of last things I need to check…”

“And the library is the perfect place,” said Luna.

It was nice to have somebody around who understood the importance of libraries.

“Do you think it’s possible?” asked Hermione.

“Well, said Luna, rearranging her hair slightly, “I’m not an expert on this subject. If you say so, then it is likely to be possible. Probable, maybe not. Advisable? I couldn’t say.” She pushed open the door.

“Hello,” said a very familiar voice as they walked into the library. “Can I help you?”

The speaker was a tall, brown-haired man with far too many lines on his young face and a name badge reading Remus, Assistant Librarian.

“I’d like to return these books, please,” said Luna, pulling a pile from her brown leather satchel. Hermione wondered how many times Luna had visited the library over the time they’d been in the past. These weren’t the books she’d got out the previous time they’d been, or the ones she’d come back with after returning some of Hermione’s borrowed books.

“Certainly,” said Remus, taking the pile and beginning the process of checking them back into the library. “I enjoyed this one,” he said, indicating a novel. “We’ve got the sequel, if you’re interested. It’s not as good as the first one, but it’s still an enjoyable read. Oh, you’re interested in ritual magic? It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I read a bit on the topic at school, but there's much more on the subject here. I can point you in the right direction.”

“That would be nice,” said Luna. “I’ve got a lot of reading time at the moment. Anything you can recommend, that would be lovely, Mr… Remus.”

“Just Remus,” said Remus.

He looked well, so a full moon would not be close. Hermione knew he had never lasted more than six or seven months in a single job, so his time here working at the library was already running short. Given he had left Hogwarts less than six months ago, Remus himself did not yet know that. Just the knowledge of that made Hermione’s heart break a little bit.

There were a lot fewer scars on his face than there would be when Hermione would meet him for the first time on the Hogwarts Express, and his rolled-up sleeves did not reveal the long, jagged one that usually decorated his lower-left arm. She had never stopped to consider before how many he must have gained in the horrible transformations when he thought all his friends were dead or imprisoned traitors. The wolf would have tore at himself, there would have been no Wolfsbane, and it was no surprise that he would have gained a significant number of scars. Twelve years, at least twelve lunar cycles a year, thirteen in some, that was a hundred and fifty full moons that he would have ripped at his own skin without his friends.

Fuck.

This Remus knew nothing of that. Whatever you could say of the actions of Sirius Black, Remus Lupin was an innocent party.

Remus, who lost all of his friends. Remus, who lost all of his jobs, Remus, who finally found happiness with a wife and a son, and then he lost them too and he died.

“Here, follow me. The ritual magic information is in two main places, there’s a section of books over here, and then the older information on scrolls and loose leaf down in the basement. That’s reference only. Is there anything in particular you’re interested in on the subject? Many witches of your age come looking for the fertility spells?” said Remus. This Remus had no idea what was to befall him.

“Oh, no, I’m not really after those,” said Luna. “I’m interested in it from a theoretical point of view, I suppose. I like to know things for the sake of knowing.”

“Well,” Remus smiled. He was clearly enjoying his work. “In that case, an ideal follow on from the book you had out previously is Rituals of Power: Theory and Practice…”

Hermione left them to it. She wandered off in the direction of the books she wanted to look at. At least one of them was getting to read for pleasure. She had a whole lot more time theory to get through.

She wanted to go home.

Hermione didn’t want to do this anymore.

The Muggle's death had been it, for her. It was as much as she could cope with, and she didn’t think she would be able to watch any more. And now she was watching Remus living a life that he no longer had in her time.

She was going home. She had to.

What she desperately wanted to do was jump straight in and start to try and fix as much of this as she could, but that was so, so dangerous. She could never do that. Their victory had always hung by the thinnest of threads. It was fragile. Hermione could sit down and pinpoint maybe a hundred things where, if they didn’t happen, the war might have been won much later at a cost to even more lives. Or not at all. What if they had still been fighting, in June 2002?

No, as much as she wanted to, it was impossible.

So she was going to go home.

If she stayed here, her resolve would completely crumble.

She thought Sirius would assume her cowardly, so she hadn’t bothered to talk to him. Besides, he had made it clear he didn’t want her around. She’d avoided him every single time they had been in the house together, and she’d made it her business to stay out of the house as much as possible. He lurked upstairs in his loft most of the time, according to Ginny and Luna, occasionally appearing to get food.

The Muggle’s face haunted her every night, and Sirius most likely assumed that she was heartless. She had flashbacks of the other dead, of Fred and Remus and all the others, even Snape. She was waking up in the night, sweating and terrified, thinking of all of those she had not been able to save. That was when she slept. Half of the time, she prowled the cliff tops like some kind of Victorian-era romantic heroine, and the other half, she frantically read as much as she could on time travel. She’d learnt a lot, including a few things that she thought had a chance of getting them home.

And a few things that made her wonder if Sirius could actually be right about how they could make things better. The strings of time were incredibly tangled, but there were ways to follow their trails. Or there were supposed to be.

Those bits weren’t in the reputable books, though, and Hermione needed to check her sources. She always checked her sources. She was a meticulous researcher. She never left a stone unturned, her conclusions were always thought through, and she was very rarely wrong when she reached that conclusion. It was how she had got seven Outstanding NEWTs, and how she had been promoted to Junior Undersecretary just three years out of Hogwarts.

Luna would, of course, argue that she had too many fixed opinions and rarely changed her mind, and that she was insufficiently open to new ideas. But Luna, although she was clever, believed in anything she could get her hands on.

Hermione pulled a few tomes off the shelves, and trekked to the reading room on the other side of the library. The place was deceptively big. It should have been no larger than the corner shop on the end of their terrace of houses back in Saltburn, but if Hermione had to estimate she would have said the library was in fact about as big as a Quidditch pitch, although without the stands. She didn’t want to try and estimate how many books there were, but it was certainly more than Hogwarts had.

Possibly, that was for good reason, as Hermione would not have given even a seventh-year student access to some of what she could check out from here. Admittedly, there was nothing to stop an of-age student coming and getting them for themselves, but Hermione supposed you had to at least try to keep your students from accessing books that describe how to perform Dark magic in exhaustive detail. And the vast majority of them, if her school year as anything to go by, wouldn’t bother with any book they weren’t forced to read.

It appeared that to make the time-device go forward, she would have to reverse the spell. That was obvious enough, perhaps, but what exactly that meant she had to do was unclear. Several wizards had clearly done it, back in the era before this was all outlawed, and the Ministry had allowed it officially. But their data had been destroyed. One witch claimed she had done it but the Ministry had promptly confiscated and destroyed her device when she had tried to write an article about it for a magical journal. Hermione had looked her up in the register of wizarding births, marriages and deaths, in the hope of tracking her down, but she’d died shortly after her travel in 1975.

In desperation, she briefly considered using the time-device in her black box, which she had no reason to suspect didn’t work, to travel back, find the woman, and get her to tell Hermione what she had done, but that was likely to be a fools errand. The woman might not tell her, or be able to replicate it, and it could all be made up anyway. Being stuck here was bad enough, being stuck somewhere else could be worse.

So she stuck to the theoretical. Three hours of ploughing through books later, she had established only that she hated books where the font was so tiny that she needed a microscope, that Sirius was almost certainly in fact wrong about the repercussions, and that she probably needed several other books on charm-casting into complex objects before she could even attempt the spells she would need to on her little time-device.

She went off to look for them. The Charms section was overflowing its shelves, leather and fabric-bound books stacked in the alleys between the shelves and trolleys packed with yet more tomes blocking routes around the books. After a considerable amount of digging, and seeking the help of the female librarian, Hermione found what she was looking for. Charms into metal: an anthology of complex-object spell casting, and Magical Teapots: essays on animating your crockery and general object charms tucked under her arm, she went back to the reading area to await Luna.

Hermione was several chapters deep into a book when Luna reappeared, a stack of books sticking out of her satchel.

“Hermione? Are you ready to go?” said Luna. “I’ve got what I wanted. Have you made any progress?” Luna took a seat beside her, peering into the books that Hermione had spread around her.

“Yes. I think so.” Hermione could spend all day here, and there were at least forty books she’d passed as she’d gone through the library that she desperately wanted to check out. But it wasn’t necessarily going to be easy to get even these ones out; they had taken them out under the name of Sirius Black last time, and that wouldn’t be possible this time.

“Luna?” asked Hermione. “How are you getting these out of the library?”

“Oh, I used my mother’s name,” she said. “My parents married in the summer of this year, and they took a two-year honeymoon abroad to look for certain magical creatures. Ones I’m sure you won’t believe in.” She said the last part with an airy voice, as if she expected Hermione to challenge her in exactly what the animals were. Hermione had given up on that. Luna would never believe they didn’t exist.

“Is that safe?”

“It’s as safe as being here, in terms of the timeline,” said Luna. “Professor Lupin is nice as a young man, isn’t he? It makes you wish he’d had a happier life, doesn’t it?”

That caused another intense wave of sorrow in Hermione’s heart. It wasn’t fair. She had covered that already, however, and wanting to change someone’s fate didn’t of course mean that you could. Hermione made what she hoped was an appropriate noise, not exactly trusting herself to speak.

“It’s a shame we can’t do anything, isn’t it?” said Luna, as she picked her way through a pile of books to the desk.

If Hermione hadn’t known better, she’d have said Luna was trying to convince her to change the timeline. Luna had never said she didn’t agree with Hermione’s view on all of this, and for that, the factual view on all of this. There was only the one case of a man who’d claimed to have gone into the past with zero negative repercussions, and Hermione didn’t believe that case. He wasn’t being honest with himself, or he was lying deliberately.

“Can I get these out under your mother’s name, too?”

“Of course,” said Luna. She scooped them up into her arms and made her way towards the front desk, Hermione trailing behind.

This was manipulating the timeline, too. Pandora Lovegood wasn’t in the country, and here she was checking out books, and if that was noticed Remus would be asked for a description of those checking out the books and then he’d give their description. Hermione found herself shaking slightly as Luna approached the desk. Everything they did was subtly flicking at the edges of the established timeline.

Everything they did had the chance of tipping over into worse than that.

“Can I take these ones, too, please Remus?”

“Of course. You’re busy, aren’t you?”

“Oh yes. I like reading. It’s nice after work, isn’t it?”

“To tell you the truth, I get home and I can’t always bring myself to open a book. They say if you take a job doing something you love, then you can easily lose your love for it. What is it you do, Mrs Lovegood?”

“I work for the Ministry,” Luna said, cheerfully packing the books into her bag as she spoke. “I’m a records keeper in the Minister’s department.”

“Ah, so you’re unlikely to lose your love for anything there, then,’ said Remus, grinning.

“I find it fascinating,” said Luna. “Of course, I can’t talk about any of it.”

“Obviously,” said Remus. “Well, that’s your books. Anything else I can help you with today?”

“No, thank you very much,” said Luna.

Hermione and Luna exited onto the busy Muggle street, and it was a few minutes until they were able to talk without fear of a Muggle overhearing what they had at say.

“Is that where your mother worked?” Hermione asked.

“It is,” said Luna. “She always said it was a very interesting job. Access to lots of things. She gave it up when she had me. It’s only part-time, and assistant level, so you don’t see much, but lots of information even then. There’s a lot of stuff we could find out, if we looked. There’s all sorts of interesting things crossing the desk, it wouldn’t take much for me to find out more.”

Hermione had only listened to about half of Luna’s answer, as they turned into the stairwell of the block of flats they were using to Apparate from. It was dangerous what Luna was doing, but then who spuriously checked library records of those that were out of the country anyway? The Death Eaters hadn’t reached that stage yet.

“I never knew Remus worked for the library, not before we came here. I never bothered to ask what he did for work, actually. I know he didn’t work during the second war, he didn’t work at all between his year teaching at Hogwarts and his death I don’t think. I should have asked more about him.”

“We all have our regrets,” said Luna. “I suppose the most important thing is not to repeat them. And to prevent more of them from happening, which is I suppose what I am struggling with. Not with this necessarily, but in general.”

“Maybe.”

“You don’t think so?” Luna stood in the stairwell, leaning back on the wall. There was a puddle of what looked suspiciously like wee in the badly-lit corner, alongside half a dumped deckchair and a bicycle missing its saddle. Somebody had tried to brighten the place up with potted plants, a painting and a welcome mat outside their ground-floor flat, but the effect was ruined by the flat opposite sporting a boarded-up door.

“I do. It’s just difficult, isn’t it, when we’re stuck here.”

“Difficult doesn’t always mean not right.”

Luna spoke in riddles half the time at the minute. They Apparated back without much more conversation.

Hermione spent the next few days reading in various places along the beach, enjoying the last bits of the non-freezing weather. She couldn’t exactly call it warm, or nice, weather, but with a Warming Charm and a jumper, it was nice enough to sit out and read in. It meant she didn’t have to be in the house, at any rate, with Sirius lurking, Ginny out and Luna who-knew-where. Luna frequently disappeared, although Hermione assumed Luna was doing much the same as she was. Ginny had managed to owl-order herself a broom, and was off somewhere on the Yorkshire moors practicing. She was in a fit of positivity about getting home, after Hermione had updated her on the progress with the charms, and had stated that she wanted to keep her eye in.

They had another appointment in a few days, something else to watch and wait and look at to check it was going as it should. Hermione needed to do this, the more they interacted with people and institutions within the past the more they risked ruining, but she didn’t want to. Sirius had written a timeline, and she knew what was coming next. It was more death, and Hermione did not want to look.

The anxiety was increasing, the further they got into 1978. And this was a relatively safe year. One death of someone she’d heard to prior to coming back, and that was it. 1979 had more. Harry and Ron would born in 1980, and she just had to hope that she was well gone before October 1981.

Seeing Remus had shaken her. She’d seen him in Devon, of course, but that was a glimpse of him fighting. He was an anonymous warrior, as much as anything else. He was just another part of this horrible war. To see him to talk to, interacting, in a normal wizarding environment, was something else. It was by far the most normal she had ever seen him, other than his teaching year. He seemed content. Happy. Enjoying his life in a way she had never seen it before.

Could she really condemn him to lose all that?

If she didn’t, if she improved Remus’ life, what would that do to hers and Harry’s and Ron’s? Ginny’s? Luna’s?

Harry could grow up with a family, but if he did he wouldn't be the same. What if he didn’t want to be her friend any more? She wouldn’t have had friends, without him. And Ron. It was selfish to think like this. Dumbledore never would have. He’d have condemned her to have had no friends if it would have been for the good of the whole community. But then if the Potters weren’t attacked and he didn't die, Voldemort would keep coming after Harry. They’d have to kill Voldemort, and she didn’t know where two of the Horcruxes were. The ring and the locket. She didn’t even know when they were made. There were an indeterminate number of Horcruxes out there right now. At least one, as he’d made that at school, and as many as five, if he’d made all of the ones except Harry and the snake.

What if they went for Neville?

Oh god, she couldn’t cope with it if her actions killed Neville.

Was it hypocritical to care more about those she had interacted with than those she hadn’t? She didn’t want the members of the first Order to die, of course she didn’t, but she was definitely guilty of putting more weight on saving her friends.

Dumbledore hadn’t thought like that.

Dumbledore wasn’t the best example. He would have sacrificed whoever he needed to in order to secure the victory.

Essentially that was what she was doing, though. She was sacrificing that Muggle, and James and Lily, and everyone else, because she knew that would get them a victory in twenty years.

Hermione decided she was not cut out to be a mastermind, whether of the evil persuasion or of the supposed light side.

She slammed her book shut, and shoved it back into her backpack. The night was drawing in, and it was getting colder now. She’d either have to re-cast her Warming Charm, or go in soon. And with the light fading, going in seemed the best option. She re-tied her scarf, and prepared for the trudge back up to the house.

No matter the guilt, she had to stick to the plan. It was for the best.

And yet she couldn’t shake those niggling doubts.

She tried to push them to the back of her mind as she walked along the street back towards their house. She had been going around in circles and repeating the same reasonings and thoughts, and she was beginning to bore herself. She needed to get a clear mind. Ginny had recommended running. Hermione didn’t much fancy that.

It was raining slightly, making the pavement slick and shiny with the water. Hermione would need to buy a coat with a hood. She’d been putting it off, hoping they wouldn’t be here this long. Maybe a warm coat, it was a hassle to have to use magic constantly in a Muggle area.

Up ahead, Hermione saw the flicker of movement near to her house. A tall figure in a dark cloak was wandering up and down the pavement opposite, casting frequent glances at the house. Hermione stopped. It was too tall to be Ginny or Luna, and too slim to be Sirius. Carefully, she drew her wand and held it behind her back. Her eyes might be deceiving her. And if they weren’t, she did not want to draw attention to herself.

The figure looked at the house one last time, and turned to walk away down the street.

She gave it a good few minutes before she carried on walking and let herself into the house with shaking hands. In all likelihood, it wasn’t a Death Eater. They had been wearing Muggle trousers under the cloak, it was just a silly Muggle with bad fashion sense.

Nobody knew they were there, nobody was out to get them. Nobody was coming after them. They were safe here.

Weren’t they?

She shook her head. It could have been a stress induced imagining, after all. She needed to get some sleep. Too much reading. It had happened before.

They were safe in Saltburn.

Chapter Text

Sirius
November 1978, Glasgow

November rushed into North Yorkshire in a gust of wind and rain, making Sirius’ loft colder than it had a right to be. Modern Muggles apparently had something called insi-layshun, but this place didn’t. With a bit of magic, it was fine, and he wasn’t going to take Ginny up on her offer of coming back downstairs.

“It’s freezing, Sirius. You’ll be an icicle. We’ll come back up here one day and find a little frozen Sirius in a block of ice, looking all pathetic with his packet of crisps frozen to his hand.”

“I’ll be fine. Merlin, stop fucking fussing. You’re like your…”

“I can see where you’re going with this, Sirius Orion Black, and don’t you fucking dare.”

He set the crisp packet on fire with his wand.

“Don’t use my middle name.”

“That’s what they’re for. For using when someone’s being a great big floppy dick. Fucking hell, Sirius, put that out!”

It turned out Muggle crisp packets do not enjoy being set alight.

After that, Sirius’ birthday at the beginning of November came and went, with no fanfare. He’d made his housemates promise not to mark the day.

By the time he got up, just after eight in the morning, he found Hermione sitting at the kitchen table with her papers. Usually, the girl was showered and dressed before Sirius or the others had got up. Today, she was at the table in pyjamas and a dressing gown, her hair tangled up on the top of her head and slightly greasy.

“Morning,” he said, bending down to look for cereal. “Ouch.”

“Are you okay?” she asked, raising her eyes from her parchment. She was reading one of the ones she’d brought from the Ministry in 2002, for what was perhaps the hundredth time.

“Yeah. Fine. Just getting old. Thirty-seven, you know. Ancient.”

“Sirius, I…”

“Forget it, Hermione. Today is not the day to lecture me.”

She seemed to know better than to argue with him. Birthdays put him in a foul mood, and it was showing. She walked out to get a shower, and he ate eggs angrily as there was no fucking cereal and snapped at Ginny and Luna when they offered him toast.

And then he went back to his loft and did the very unmanly and very un-Black thing of crying into his pillow, because it hadn’t been their fault and he would have quite liked toast.

Still, if Sirius had found his birthday hard going, the next week was worse. The next interaction between Death Eaters and member of the Order of the Phoenix they had scheduled to attend was the one that had lead to Benji Fenwick’s death.

Sirius had not joined in the planning with any enthusiasm. Ginny had forced him to be involved at all, as they had no way of attending without his information. Sirius was well aware he had now spent the best part of three days stomping round the house, snapping at people and being generally unpleasant to be around, and yet he couldn’t find it within himself to try to behave better. Besides, there was little point.

They planned to arrive in the Glasgow neighbourhood half an hour before Sirius had arrived the previous time he had been on this job. Hermione had been adamant of the importance of this. They had a schedule, places to stand where they would be able to see things and to act if necessary and far enough away that they would not accidentally become entangled. All three witches had a parchment with the order things had played out, so they could cross-reference actions.

It was planned out to within a second, and Sirius had done none of it.

“Ready?” asked Luna, once they’d checked and double checked the plan and were standing in the alleyway behind the house. Everyone nodded.

They reappeared behind a rundown block of flats in an estate on the edges of Glasgow. Muggle Glasgow. There was a fairly large wizarding community in the Scottish capital, but Sirius was certain this was not it. This place stank of neglect. Blocks of flats surrounded them, arranged in a square around a courtyard. Some attempt at gardening had been made in the middle of it, but that had clearly been abandoned. Whether before or after half of it had been smashed up was unclear. A large group of teenaged Muggles were drinking in the light from the three streetlamps that remained working, at the other end of the small courtyard sat an abandoned van with the engine ripped out. None of the Muggles seemed to care that four people had appeared from nowhere, if indeed they had noticed at all.

“Ginny, Luna, are you alright to take the south side?” asked Hermione, the self-appointed leader. “That leaves me and you to take this side, Sirius.”

“Can’t wait,” said Sirius, prodding the concrete floor with his foot. “Looking forward to it. Ecstatic.”

Luna and Ginny traipsed off to the other side of the block of flats. Ginny looked back at Hermione and Sirius as they went, with a look on her face of ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’ and a raised eyebrow. Sirius had no idea which of them it was aimed at, and he didn’t much care.

Hermione could pair up with whoever the hell she liked. See if he cared.

She had actually suggested Sirius stay at home, and just the three girls go, given his attitude to the whole thing. Sirius had flatly refused. If he was going to condone allowing Benji to die, he was damn well going to be there to watch it. He owed his old friend that.

Despite his good behaviour, despite everything, Hermione still didn’t trust him. He might have argued vehemently that this was a bad course of action, but he’d agreed to it, hadn’t he? He’d argued intently against it, again, and she still hadn’t budged. For a moment, yesterday, he thought he had seen a wobble in her eyes when she asserted her position. Just a hint that she might be wavering. He clearly hadn’t, not judging by where he now was and what he was doing.

He’d made a promise he would leave after this, if she didn’t change her mind. Sirius still intended to do just that. Not in the heat of the moment though. That never helped anyone. He would try and persuade her again, and afterwards if she was still being unhelpful and obstinate he would calmly talk to all of them and he would take his leave.

They hid themselves in a location just north of where the younger version of Sirius and his friends would appear in about twenty minutes, with a good view. They had taken pains to blend in as Muggles, in case they were spotted, and Hermione was now working on measures to ensure they weren’t. Sirius had hauled himself up to sit on a bin, and was watching her cast the spells. His legs, clad in motorbike boots, kicked the bin in a steady rhythm.

“Are you going to help?” she asked.

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve got to sit here and watch Benji die all over again. I want to save him and I fucking can’t, Hermione.”

“I don’t want him to die either. Don’t make me out to be some kind of heartless cow.”

“I don’t know what cows have to do with this, and I don’t care.”

“Muggle thing.”

How the fuck could she make jokes at this moment?

“The fact of the matter is, you just don’t care as much as I do. You didn’t ever know Benji. You’re condemning him to death just as much as the Death Eater that casts the spell, because we could do something. And so am I. Before, we all went home and got horrifically pissed and said we felt dreadful, and we comforted each other and said ‘don’t worry mate, it wasn’t your fault’ and ‘you couldn't have done more’ and we could go to sleep at night knowing that really, it wasn’t and that we had. Well tonight I can’t. Tonight I know it will be my fault that Leticia Fenwick gets a knock on the door from Dumbledore and Moody telling her that Benji’s exploded into tiny little bits and that they’re really fucking sorry. And they are. Because it isn’t their fault. It’s the Death Eater’s, and it’s mine, and it’s yours and Ginny’s and Luna’s.”

At the start, when he had begun talking, Sirius had been shouting. Towards the end, he became aware that he was no longer. His voice had developed a whine. He slid down off the bin, and ended on the concrete with his face in his hands and his eyes firmly focused at the floor.

He couldn’t look at her face.

“Sirius, I’m sorry.”

“If you were truly sorry, we’d save him.”

“We agreed we wouldn’t. We can’t. What if we kill someone else on this raid instead?”

“Then we’ll just make sure it’s Peter.”

“Sirius.”

“Yeah, I don’t care. I’ll say what I like, and you can say what you like. Fuck off, Hermione. I don’t care what you think.”

She didn’t even bother to respond, instead turning to continue her spellwork. She was sad, he could see it, but that could go fly if she wasn’t going to fucking do anything.

This was meant to have been an easy job. The four Marauders and Benji had been sent to gather evidence. There had been suspicious activity in this area, and at least one known Muggleborn lived in the flats, a small girl named Hazel Young. She wouldn’t know of the magical world yet, and she wouldn’t know how much sections of it hated her very existence.

They had never found out what the suspicious activity was. The girl had been moved on the day after the attack, and had never known what was happening outside of her flat door. The suspicious activity had ceased. The Death Eaters were probably trying to kill her, and Sirius was pleased that at least one person had been saved.

That hadn’t been him, though. That had been Lily impersonating some Muggle Ministry type, a housing officer or whatever it was she’d called it.

“I can see Remus,” said Hermione. She scribbled a note on her parchment, which would replicate itself onto the ones the others were holding. Clever spellwork, even Sirius had to admit.

He kept silent.

He held that silence while Remus checked the area. He held it while the other three Marauders and Benji arrived, slowly, with a series of cracks that hung in the still night air.

The sounds of their voices floated over to him. Peter and James were farting around, making some complicated joke, and Benji and the younger Sirius laughing. Only Remus had a serious face on, and when Sirius produced a hip flask and passed it around, Remus was the only wizard to decline a nip.

Remus always had understood the potential consequences better than the rest of them. Remus had known what they stood to lose.

“If this is what it’s like with you lot, I’ll come out with you more often,” said Benji.

“Now we like you, but we aren’t taking admissions to the Marauders,” said the younger Sirius. How the older Sirius wished he could swap places with that boy.

“They won’t even let Lily join,” said James.

“Shhh!” hissed Remus. “Someone might be coming!”

“Hark the Prefect,” said Peter, and stood to attention. Benji laughed.

“I was a Prefect,” he said. “Nothing wrong with it.”

“He’s definitely not in,” said Sirius. “Only got the room for the one irritating little Prefecty rule-hugger. And the Head Boy, but I still think that was a mistake and that Dumbledore just couldn’t bring himself to disappoint Prongs.”

“Shut it!”

Remus was a couple of yards away from the rest of the group now, wand raised. James dashed to join him, taking a position at his side.

“Shit, guys, I can see something!”

“Cloak, James, go see what it is,” Remus ordered. “Pete, rat it?”

James and Peter disappeared, and from their position the older Sirius could see the shadow of a rat running up the street. The younger Sirius was paying attention now, and had stopped twiddling his wand. He stood back-to-back with Benji, prepared for attack the way Moody had taught them. Remus crouched on the ground a few metres off from them, still watching the way James and Peter had gone.

“Let’s go inside the flats and up a floor,” said Sirius.

“That’s not the plan,” Hermione replied. She had her wand out, eyes focused on the Order members in the street, her slightly fluffy hair plaited back from her face.

“It makes us less likely to be detected, in case I’ve made a mistake,” he said. “We can still do something if we need to.” And it made it less likely he would run out and throw himself in front of Benji.

From that point, it was as if Sirius was watching the events on the ground in slow motion. The Death Eaters appeared, four of them in their black cloaks and masks, and Peter and James dashed up behind them. That gave the Order the advantage for a moment. Sirius and Remus had got two of them down and under containment while James, Peter and Benji tackled the other two. Death Eater reinforcements arrived. Peter was injured. Remus was backed into a corner by the now-released Death Eaters they’d had captured, casting every defensive spell he could think of and struggling as theirs hit the mark several times. James was stunned on the floor. Benji ran forward to revive him, and then…

Sirius couldn’t watch. He ran. He was vaguely aware of Hermione following him, her feet beating on the concrete as she ran, but all that filled his brain was the urge for nothing and for forgetfulness.

He found himself on the top floor of the block of flats, hanging over the balcony. His elbow was in a plant pot.

This was full of shit.

The man down there, the man exploded into pieces by the force of a curse, that man had been a real, living and breathing person. He had a life. A family. And now that was gone and they would never find a bit of his body larger than an inch wide.

Sirius had been at the funeral. Benji’s widow, Leticia, had screamed and cried. She’d thrown herself on the floor in front of the grave and it had taken both of her sisters and Remus to pull her back before she had thrown herself into it. She was seven months pregnant.

Remus and Sirius had walked back to the pub together, where the wake was to be held, and the usually calm and composed Remus had punched a wall so hard that his hand had bled. James had disappeared, and was found by Lily and Peter crying in the corner of the graveyard, hunched up into a tiny ball of Prongs. Peter had screamed at him to man up, and then fallen down in a heap of his own and been sick. Lily had dragged them both home and put them to bed. She’d come back to the wake, stone faced, and then burst into tears over a pint of mead.

It was the first war death they’d experienced.

Sirius himself had not felt anything for Benji until a week later. He’d gone to Headquarters for the first time since Benji’s death, and found the bottle of Muggle port which had been Benji’s favoured drink. That had been the impetus for feeling something. He’d crashed the the floor, right there in the little pantry off the kitchen, and sobbed into wall. He’d dragged himself out long enough to fire-call, Remus, and the two of them had downed the entire bottle and then exploded it in the garden. The bottle had gone the same way Benji had.

It hadn’t helped.

Nothing had fucking helped.

He’d sat on the back step with Remus afterwards, half sloshed on port and half ruined on grief.

“Remus, I can’t do this,” Sirius had said. “I can’t watch people die.” Remus had put an arm around his back and pulled Sirius into his shoulder, with the crush of a strong and drunken man.

“You can. You can and you will, Pads, because the other choice is fuckin’ giving in isn’t it. They killed Benji to scare us and to make us stop resisting them. I’m scared shitless, Pads, but I’m not giving in. I’m going to explode Voldemort like he did Benji. Boom.” He had waved his free arm into the air expressively.

“You’re eloquent when you’re drunk, you know that? Could be a proper little pureblood, you.”

“Fuck off. Don’t you go insulting me that way.”

“Bastard.”

“My parents were married.”

“Yeah, and mine were cousins. Irrelevant.”

“Nah. It figures.” Silence. That would usually have got a laugh and a retort. Not that night.

“I’m scared, Moony. I’m scared I’m going to die in this and it won’t mean anything and it won’t all stop. That we’ll all die and Voldemort will still be in power and we’ll all have died for nothing.”

“We won’t. Well, we might die, but it will never be for nothing. If I die, I’m going to take as many Death Eaters down with me as I can. I mean, shit I’m scared too, but you’ve got to try, haven’t you?”

“That’s the spirit, lads,” said Moody, appearing behind them. “If you’re not too plastered, I’m going to need you to clear up all that exploded glass over there. Esther says you’ve been cursing bottles into oblivion.”

Remus had stood up, impressively steady, and collected the glass together with his wand. Sirius had fallen over and vomited on Moody’s foot.

They’d all got over it, of course. More people had died. By the end of the war, even before Halloween ’81, more people had died than Sirius had counted. Benji had just been the start of it.

Sirius held their names in his heart, and when each of them had died Sirius had vowed never to forget them. The Marauders used to chant them when a new one died, drink a bottle, and explode it. It made them feel as though they had marked it, in a ridiculous hedonistic way that combined their status as men in their teens and early twenties with their role as soldiers in the darkest of wizarding wars. You had to hang onto some of the idiocy. You had to hang onto at least a part of who you had been before, for as long as you could remember who that had been.

Sirius didn’t know if he could sit through all of this again.

It was a massive fucking cauldron of Hippogriff shit, the biggest bastarding Hippogriff shit you’d ever seen, and it was overflowing all over the sides.

He had the urge to blast something again now. He understood, as he had done in the last war, why some wizards were drawn to destruction. When you feel like shit and you can’t control your life, then it makes you feel powerful to destroy something. You have control.

Sirius did his best not to succumb to the urges.

Hermione was watching him. While he stood leaning over the balcony, watching for the Aurors and the Order members he knew would soon arrive, she sat by the stairs. Her knees were up to her chest, and she was turning her wand over in her hands.

The first cracks of Apparition signalled the arrival of the law enforcement and the Order back-up. The Order had arrived first, but too slow to help. Sirius didn’t need to look to know what was happening. Him and James were standing with their wands trained on the captured Death Eaters,James had their wands in his other hand. Remus was doing his best to patch up Peter. Benji was splattered across the pavement.

Moody and Sturgis Podmore were the first on the scene. Moody, in a double role that the Ministry hated but could do little about, was able to formally take the Death Eaters under arrest. Peter was back on his feet, looking shaky, and Remus had taken to patrolling the area. The Death Eaters had been known to send reinforcements of their own.

The Aurors proper began to arrive, and the sounds of an argument between Moody and the Head of the Auror Department floated up to where Sirius was standing.

“I am your superior, and if I tell you to stop gallivanting about with these extrajudicial idiots then you will stop it, Auror Moody!”

“Yeah, and with what are you going to enforce that? There’s no proof I was here with anybody.”

“These lads are rumoured members of the Order of the Phoenix, and you did not get the summons from the Ministry, because you weren’t there! I will fire you, Moody!”

“No you won’t, because Crouch will reinstate me, and if he doesn’t the Minister will. Firing the Auror with the highest capture rate of any of you sorry lot will not do good things for the Ministry’s press in times like these, and you know how Crouch and the Minister like the good press.”

Sirius tuned it out. He’d heard it the first time. He’d heard enough.

He stepped back from the balcony and walked over to Hermione, slinking down to sit beside her on the concrete floor.

“I’m sorry, Sirius.”

“No you’re not. Save your words.”

“I don’t mean to…”

“Yeah you do. We thought we were all invincible, you know that? We were eighteen, well, me down there is nineteen now, and we were unstoppable. The war would be over, we thought, if only they’d let us join. And we joined, and we captured a couple of the bad guys, and we got pissed to celebrate and we all sat in the living room of the place we shared and sang old Quidditch songs until we passed out. It was like we were kings.

“And then the war didn’t stop. We saw people injured. Benji died. Things got shittier. People we were close to died. Suddenly we didn’t feel invincible. We felt like thin little parchment versions of ourselves, who in the smallest of storms would be ripped apart.

“You know it, Hermione. You’ve been through war. You’ve stood in a battle and realised you have no fucking clue how you’re going to survive it and you’ve screamed because you just want to go home. Prongs screamed for his mother after a battle once. We were all round our place, ‘cept him and Peter had moved out by then, and he just lay on the sofa and cried and shouted that he wanted his mum.

“His mum was dead, so we couldn’t even Floo her.”

Sirius stopped talking, running out of things to say that seemed relevant. It both was and wasn’t, all of that. It seemed to do a crappy job of explaining how that time in his life had felt, because really no words he could find had ever done it justice.

He wanted to show her how it felt, which was pointless, as she knew. she had been through war. Which made her position even less understandable.

But that was that. He’d tried earlier to convince her. He wouldn’t waste his breath on it again.

He stood up.

“Let’s go home. I don’t need to watch the Obliviators come.”

Sirius did not re-enter the house on arrival. Hermione did not even pass comment. Well, if there was one good thing to come out of tonight.

Without really knowing where he was going, he went down to the beach. The others were in the house, and well, he had no desire to be with them. He was going to have to skip out on them, before long. Hermione didn’t seem to learn. For whatever her current protestations were about understanding all of this, she didn’t get it. She had seen people die. Had she seen as many as him?

The time for sitting back and beating himself up about all of this was over. The time had come to do something. He’d never shied away from acting before.

Why did he want to stick with the girls, if they were unwilling to do anything to help his friends?

Hermione claimed she wanted to protect Harry. Giving him his parents back would be the best way of doing that.

“Sirius, I hope you don’t mind me coming down here, but I wanted to check if you were okay.”

He hadn’t noticed Ginny appearing behind him. Fucking good thing she wasn’t a Death Eater or something, wasn’t it? Constant Vigilance. He’d get himself killed if he wasn’t careful, and deliberately doing things that might get you killed was more Remus’ remit.

“I should think that is fucking obvious,” he said, refusing to look at her. He’d be gone soon enough. He didn’t even need to go back to the house. He could summon his belongings from here, if a few Muggles didn’t mind nearly being hit by them. It’d be a breach of the Statute of Secrecy, but fuck the Ministry. He’d almost welcome a meeting with someone from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He could give them a swift kick up the arse about trying to catch themselves the odd Death Eater.

Fucking useless idiots, the lot of them, Moody excepted. And Frank Longbottom. He was decent.

“I’m sorry about Benji. For what it’s worth, I think you’re right. We should be doing something.”

“Really?”

“Well, I’ve thought it for a while,” said Ginny, sitting down. She scrunched her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around them. Sirius flopped down beside her, legs crossed. The sand was damp and freezing cold, but he didn’t much care. “I wanted to be sure, though. I read a load of Hermione’s stuff. I’m worried about what might happen to Harry, or my family, but we’d be making Harry’s life better, wouldn’t we? And, I dunno, something Luna said the other day, she agrees, and she doesn’t think Hermione’s far off either.”

“She’s not.”

“You don’t want to believe in the best of her.”

“She won’t believe in me.”

“If you ask me, you’re both as bad as each other. It’s like listening to my brothers argue, except I can’t whack you.”

“Why not?”

“The level of violence that’s acceptable towards a sibling isn’t generally acceptable towards a friend.”

“Am I a friend?”

“Are you dense? Of course you’re my friend. I might even like you, you know, you’re a decent bloke who’s just trying to do the right thing. Like the rest of us.”

“Did you know, nobody ever says that about me. Hermione told me I was a good person once, as in not evil, and Remus used to frequently tell me that I was useful to the Order, and that I was still worth something. But nobody says they like me.”

“Perhaps they just don’t know that you need to hear it,” said Ginny. “I like you, Sirius. And so do a lot of other people.”

“Hermione doesn’t.” He was being petulant again, and he knew it.

“I dunno, I think that she does. But she finds you frustrating, because you won’t listen to her. And I get that. You aren’t listening. And neither is she. She doesn’t like it when people don’t think she’s right. And neither do you. And, besides, even if she doesn’t, do you need everyone to like you? Sometimes, the way to know you’re doing the right thing, even when it is difficult, is that some people don’t always like you.”

“When it’s someone on your own side, though…”

“You hate Snape. He’s on our side. Or was, he isn’t yet, I suppose.”

“Snape’s a dickhead of colossal proportions.”

“Yeah, he is. And Hermione’s not, so try and be nice, yeah? We can convince her together, but it does help to be polite.”

“Really? You’d do that for me?”

“I would, but don’t flatter yourself that it’s entirely for you. Arrogant twat. It’s for Harry and my brothers and my parents and everyone else, too.”

“I thought it was too much to hope for that someone could be nice to me for an entire conversation.” He stretched out his legs, and offered Ginny the smallest of smiles, in the hope that she could tell that wasn’t as much of an attack as it may have sounded.

“I don’t want to puff you up more than I need to, mate.”

They lapsed into silence, both of them sitting on the sand. His arse was getting wet, the sand was damp.

“Ginny, can you come to the shop with me? I’ve got an idea.” To her credit, she didn’t question him, and followed him up the cliffs.

The other two were sat in the living room when they came back, draped across chairs and sofas watching some Muggle crap on the television. Luna had become somewhat obsessed with it. Younger Sirius would have been too, but this Sirius was less than interested.

He plonked a bottle of port down on the coffee table, and swiped four glasses from the kitchen. Putting them down on the floral-painted tiles of the coffee table, Sirius poured a generous measure of the port into each glass.

“Drink,” he said. “It was Benji’s favourite drink. To Benji.”

“Benji,” said the three witches, holding their glasses aloft for the moment before drinking the contents.

“Eurgh,” said Ginny. “Why’d he like that?”

“I think it’s quite pleasant,” said Luna, pouring herself a second measure. Sirius held out his glass for more.

Just as he and Remus had done the time before, Sirius, Hermione, Luna and Ginny drank the bottle of port. After a few glasses, even Ginny found the taste enjoyable. When the port was gone, Sirius picked up the empty green glass bottle and carried it outside, motioning for the others to follow him.

He placed the bottle in the middle of the grass lawn, and stepped back towards the others. Ginny sat on the steps, her cloak wrapped around her against the November air and her long ginger hair loose on her shoulders. Luna stood against the wall beside her. Hermione started forwards to join Sirius.

“Wait,” she said, and pointed her wand to the sky. “We don’t want any Muggles to call the police.”

“Indeed.” Sirius pointed his wand at the bottle and blew it to the sky.

There was a blast of light and sound, and shards of glass flew into the air to scatter around Sirius. Beside him, he felt a rush of air, and the glass stayed well away from the people on the ground. Instead, it crashed itself into the grass, and the tree, and the fences and the little shed with the Muggle lawn-cutter and hit the walls of the house.

Sirius himself crashed down onto his knees.

He cut a pathetic figure. Hair past his chin, unbrushed, jeans with a rip through them, boots with undone laces covered in mud. A jacket that had seen so many better days, and his eyes staring blankly out over the shower of pieces of glass and the bottle it had used to be.

He held himself together until the last shard of glass had fallen to the floor, and then he let himself go. If he had stopped to think of it he may have found his reaction embarrassing. He didn’t. He let great big sobs fall from his mouth and huge fat tears from his eyes, and he lay on the ground with his head in the muddy grass and a jagged piece of glass an inch from his face.

Benji had died twice, and the second time Sirius had not even tried to save him.

Sirius was a terrible, terrible person.

The worst.

He felt small, soft hands on his arms, pulling him into an upright position. Blonde hair tickled his face. Sirius looked up. Luna was wrapping her arms around him, cradling him like a giant baby and like he was not at all an awful example of a wizard, and stroking his back.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “And I can’t promise it will ever feel better. But I’m here. We’re all here, Sirius, and we all care.”

They weren’t the most conventional words of comfort, but they did help. They were able to at least stop the wailing noise that Sirius had been highly surprised to realise he was making.

“Yeah, we’re here,” said Ginny.

“We are.” Hermione wrapped her arms around him too, and Ginny followed, and Sirius was swallowed up into a swaddle of warm bodies and overly tickly girl hair.

They sat there until the sun rose, and somehow by then Sirius felt less like the world was falling apart.

Chapter Text

Hermione
November 1978, Saltburn

Sirius had seemed fine, the first day after Benji Fenwick’s death, and Hermione thought he had worked through his emotions. He’d cried, packed his things up into a series of bags and left them by the front door, and acted as if he was intending to leave. Then, he had burst into tears and retreated back up the stairs to his loft, dragging all the bags of stuff with him. Luna had gone up after him, and said he was better left alone.

Two days later he’d re-emerged, chipper as anything, and made himself a large fried breakfast. He’d offered round hard-boiled eggs, sausages, bacon and fried tomatoes with a cheery smile, and offered to make porridge for Luna. He’d then disappeared off with Ginny for a game of Quidditch.

Hermione thought that, surprising as it may be, he was okay about it. He certainly was showing all of the signs of a man who was feeling fairly emotionally stable.

This proved to be about as far from the truth as it was possible to be.

She didn’t think she had said anything that she shouldn’t have. She’d made a comment about Harry, about missing him.

Sirius’ shouting had gone on for about twenty minutes, with no way for Hermione to get a word in edgeways and then he had stormed out. The front door slammed behind him with a bang and she was left standing in the kitchen, Sirius’ half-eaten sandwich on the table beside her. He’d put lettuce in with the bacon and tomato, but picked most of it back out again as he ate.

Then again, Hermione wasn’t okay about it all, and it wasn’t her friend that was newly dead for the second time. It was ordinary that he would be more affected. Sirius had every right to behave like this. Harry had smashed up Dumbledore’s office when he thought Sirius was dead, Hermione remembered, and really, this was mild in comparison. Voldemort killed when things didn’t go his way. Not that she was comparing Sirius to Voldemort, particularly. Her point was that really, he was being fairly restrained, even compared to his own previous actions.

But it was still irritating that he just wouldn’t talk about it. He went from fine to most likely clinically depressed through angry and back to morose. He’d shout in the angry stage, but otherwise he was like a bloody clam. If he just talked about things! He’d feel better, and it would make the rest of them feel less like they were walking on some particularly violent dragon eggs. Something Hagrid would want to cuddle.

She stomped around the house for a while longer, but it didn’t help. It mainly led to a long and complicated discussion with Luna about time travel, during which Hermione felt Luna was almost intentionally being unhelpful, and then some eye-rolling from Ginny in the garden. Ginny at least agreed that Sirius should try talking about his problems, but suggested Hermione should too.

Hermione had. It had got her nowhere. She was just shouting into a bloody vacuum. Even getting Harry to talk was less frustrating than this.

Predictably, Sirius was nowhere to be found.

With a lack of any useful conversation in her own house, and a brain not in the right state to focus on theoretical problems, Hermione wandered next door to visit Jo. The older woman had a curtain slung around her shoulders and knotted together with string around her neck when she opened the door, with a crown made from construction paper and dotted with foil stickers perched on top of her greying hair.

“Hermione! How nice to see you! I’d apologise for the get-up, but when you get to my age you don’t much care what people see you in any more. I’ve got my grandchildren here for the weekend. We’re being kings and queens and princesses.”

“Oh, is it a bad time?”

“Of course not, duck. It’s about time they got some fresh air. I’ll chuck them out in the garden and we can have a nice catch-up.” As Jo hurried from the room to herd her grandchildren outside, she deposited the flocked curtain cloak on a nearby chair. She kept the crown. Hermione thought it suited her.

“So,” said Jo, when the tea had been brewed and yet another homemade cake sourced from a cupboard. The oldest grandchild, a boy, had reappeared at the cake’s arrival, as if he had some kind of supersonic hearing. “What brings you round here? My sparkling wit, or my cake?”

“Everyone in my house is an idiot,” said Hermione. She had been visiting Jo regularly since her first tea visit here, every Wednesday afternoon at the very least. They'd become friends. It was a friendship built on half-truths from Hermione, but that was a necessity. Otherwise, it was built on a mutual love of complaining about the various people they had to deal with in their lives. “And a fair few people outside of it are too. I just want to go home.”

“Well, I should hope you don’t mean me, although I would assume you don't given this is the door you’ve shown up at to air your sorrows. If you want to go home, go, then. You don't have to do anything for anyone else, not if you don’t want to.”

“I can’t exactly get home, right now. And, tell that to Sirius.”

“Is this about that thing with his brother?”

“How do you know about Sirius’ brother?”

“He told me. Had him round here once after he crashed into my fence, and then he drank half my booze.Marvellous fun, that boy. Also, I read newspapers, and I’m old, and I remember when he was disowned from his family. I know who he is, who his family are, and more importantly, what his family are. It took very little to put together that his brother was a Death Eater, or at the very least mixed up with some nasty things.”

“Oh?” Hermione felt her pulse rate rise, and the palm of her hand becoming a little sweaty on her teacup. She put it down on the table, just in case.

“Oh yes. He’s Sirius Black. It was all in the papers, ooh, two or three years ago now. He’s obviously been tampering with his appearance so he isn’t noticed so much, but it’s him, I’m sure of it. I’d tamper with my appearance, too, if I had that family out after me. Nasty affair, that. Families are capable of some awful things, Hermione, but his is one of the worst I’ve heard of, and I’m prepared to bet this whole cake that I don’t know the half of it.”

“What do you mean?” It was a relief she wasn't onto them as time-travellers, but then if someone mysterious was living next door to Hermione that wasn't the first conclusion she would have jumped to, either.

“Don’t you know? I thought everyone did. His parents were accused of some very nasty things when he was disowned. I don’t like this sort of gossip, Hermione, and I’m not sure I should be telling you this, but it’s a matter of public record I suppose. You could find it in the papers. But I’m not enjoying this, not one bit.” Hermione had heard that kind of protestation before, but she believed Jo.

“They denied it all, of course,” Jo continued. “Said he was an unruly teenager who’d cast all the dark spells himself, and the Potters or whoever it was that took him in were welcome to him. I don’t believe that for a second. Anyone who saw the photographs of that sixteen-year-old boy would have seen plain as the day that he was scared out of his wits. I think those Potters were right, his parents cast those spells, and he got away in time. You’d do well to stay away from those Blacks, and if you want to help him then you need to make sure he does, too. Nasty, nasty family.”

“And this was all in the papers?”

“All over them. Witch Weekly, too, and what they call the society press. I’m surprised you didn’t read any of it.”

“I spent some time in America after I left Hogwarts. Perhaps it was then.”

“Ah, yes, that would explain it. It all died down fairly quickly. I heard that the Black woman, what was her name, Sirius’ mother, that she threatened the editor of the Daily Prophet. Other stories say she sent him a cursed object and he died, but I doubt that very much. There’s no evidence whatsoever to support that theory. Oh duck, you’re shaking, are you alright?”

“I just didn’t know. And I was really rude to him earlier.”

“Well, he may still have deserved it. I feel for him, though.”

“So do I. Jo, my life is such a massive mess and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Well, I like to take things one step at a time. What’s the easiest thing to solve, maybe? Or the thing that’s causing you the most distress? Work out one thing, and get it out the way, and train yourself not to panic too much about the rest of it until you’ve made yourself a bit of progress. That’s what I always told my girls.”

“Oh, Jo, I can’t. I miss everyone. I miss my mum. I miss Ron.”

“You can. Of course you can. Now, what’s the place you’re going to start? That boy, Ron? Whatever this argument with our Sirius is? Getting the confidence to go home? In the meantime, you’re one of my girls. I can’t replace your mum, I know that, but I can try and be of some motherly assistance.”

Hermione softly dabbed at her tears. She thought of Mrs Weasley, the other surrogate mother-figure in her life, which lead her to think of Ron, and she started crying again.

“Ron… I can’t think about Ron. I think he thinks I’m gone forever, or he’s oblivious. I don’t even know what I’d do if I saw him again. I don’t know if I want to spend the rest of my life trying to get him to make his mind up. I’ve always hoped he’d do it of his own accord. I know he loves me. I just don’t know if that means he wants to stay together forever. I don’t know if I want to.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. Unless you get married, in which case you’re rather stuck with the bastard for life, unless he can be persuaded to just ignore his marriage vows. Lots of them don’t need any special persuasion for that. Now, what exactly did you say to him?”

“I said that I wasn’t going to wait around forever, and that he needed to decide if this was something he wanted. I said I couldn’t handle the chopping and changing and that he needed to commit or leave. I can’t remember exactly. I think I told him to get out of my house and not to come back at one point.”

“Sounds like you dumped him.”

“I didn’t!”

She couldn’t have. She hadn’t shouted ‘you’re dumped’ or ‘I’m finished with you’ or anything else like that. But then she hadn’t shouted that at Cormac McLaggen either, and they were unequivocally over.

In fact, she’d never said anything to McLaggen. She’d just sort of disappeared. Exactly as she’d done to Ron.

“I don’t think I did,” she finished. “I don’t want to talk about Ron.”

“That’s quite alright. You don’t have to,” said Jo, pouring her another cup of tea. The teacup gave her a cheerful grin as Hermione raised it to her mouth, and then blinked.

“I just wish everything was simpler.”

“Ah, don’t we all. Look, my advice isn’t worth much, but for what it is worth, I find these things do tend to even out in the end. Focus on where you want to be, and what you want your life to look like, and don’t fuss too much about how you get there. And don’t get caught up in this war we’re supposedly having, and if you can keep Sirius out of it. Those Death Eaters are bastards, and they need to be told, mind.”

It was a bit late for that, Hermione thought. Sirius had a point that they were complicit in these deaths, by not acting. She still wasn’t sure that outweighed anything, but she was no longer able to deny that he had a point.

There was a large amount of screaming from the garden, and the smallest of Jo’s grandchildren shot into the kitchen bleeding slightly, followed by the other two. All of them start shouting at once.

“I think it’s best I deal with this, my dear,” said Jo to Hermione, once she’d got all three children to calm down slightly. “Pop over later when they’re in bed, if you like, and we can finish this.”

Hermione let herself out the front door, and back into her own house. Luna was singing in the shower, judging by the sounds, and Ginny was cleaning her broomstick on the sofa.

“Where’s Sirius?” asked Hermione. She felt the need to apologise to him. She had been unfair, and he didn’t deserve the way she had spoken to him.

“Loft, I think,” said Ginny. “He’s put some kind of spell on it so none of us can get in. I’d leave him alone, he’ll come out when he’s ready. People always do.”

“Ginny,” said Hermione. “Do you think I dumped Ron?”

“I’d always assumed you had, you know. I thought that was the point. Dump him, and then get back together when he sorts his metaphorical shit out.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Hermione? Are you alright?” Ginny was calling after her, but Hermione had already left the room. She went to her bedroom, and lay on the bed.

This was all such a mess.

All she wanted to do was go home, and make it up to Ron. He might be insensitive sometimes, and have a problem with commitment, but he was hers. She was meant to be with him.

But if she made it home, she’d be leaving Sirius here, and their happy future together might disappear from under her anyway. What if he started to meddle after she had left, and deleted Ron from history?

But if they didn’t go back, Ginny wouldn’t get to marry Harry. They both deserved that happiness.

But if they did, then Sirius could fuck that up too.

They could take him with them.

He wouldn’t come.

Hermione must have fallen asleep, because when she woke up the house was dark. There was a distinctive smell of smoke, and the sound of shouts and screams from outside. The sound of the shouting and screaming of curses.

She leapt off the bed, and rammed open the sash window. The smoke filled her bedroom as the window opened, thick, acrid smoke that filled her lungs and made her cough and splutter.

The next house was on fire.

Hermione ran from the house, wand raised, Statute of Secrecy be damned. At least five Death Eaters crowded the area, throwing curses at the walls of the house. The back half was up in flames, there must be more around that side. The front wall was beginning to crumple, with stonework falling and nearly squashing a Death Eater. Good.

There was a roar from inside the house, and Jo’s head appeared from the upper left window accompanied by her wand.

“And what the fucking hell do you hellions think you’re doing to MY HOUSE!” she shouted, and with fury began to fire curses from her wand at a rate any seasoned Auror or Order member would be proud of. The older woman was not holding back.

“Filthy Mudblood, think you can fight us?” shouted a Death Eater with a mane of silvery-white hair from his hood. Lucius Malfoy. Hermione, as yet unnoticed, Stunned Malfoy. The aristocratic Death Eater hit the floor with a thud. Hermione hoped he cut that snooty face.

“We’ll get you for that!” shouted another. “Don’t you know who you’re attacking there, old bitch?”

“Don’t matter to me which one of you arseholes I kill,” shouted Jo, in between spells. “But you won’t get my grandchildren!”

Hermione stiffened. Jo’s grandchildren. They’d been in the house this afternoon. They were staying with her, she’d said.

She needed to act fast. Luckily, the Death Eaters had taken that as a general shout rather than a signal of ‘Mudblood children over here’ and had continued to focus their efforts on Jo and on bringing down the house. Hermione made her plan.

Casting spells over herself that should keep the flames and the heat at bay at least for a short while, she dashed back through her own house and out into the garden. Ginny’s startled shout distracted her for half a second at the most.

“Reducto!” The fence between the two houses was down, and Hermione was able to get a good look at the back of Jo’s house.

Most of the back of the house was impassable, including the back door, but the window into the back bedroom was free of flames. Hermione just needed to get up there.

“Ginny!” she shouted, as Ginny shot through the backdoor to join Hermione in the garden, laces of her shoes undone. “Levitate me up!”

“Are you bonkers?” shouted Ginny, but she pulled out her own wand anyway.

“Death Eaters! Children in there!” Hermione flew through the air, blasting her way through the upper window a moment before her body hit it. She pulled herself in, scraping her arm on the broken glass as she did so.

Down on the grass, Ginny was conjuring a ladder. Hermione stuck her head back out the window.

“Don’t follow me!” she shouted. “I need someone to catch the kids!”

“Okay,” Ginny replied, hanging the ladder from the windowsill with her wand. “I’ll sort something!”

Hermione could not hang around, and was back into the house before Ginny had finished her answer. She didn’t have to go far to find the children; Jo’s two granddaughters and one of the grandsons were huddled in a bed in the same bedroom Hermione was standing in, looking understandably terrified.

“Come on,” she said, indicating the window. Not one of them moved. “Hello,” she said, crouching down next to the bed and trying a different tack. “My name’s Hermione, do you remember? I was here this afternoon. I’m a friend of your grandmother’s. I’m going to help you to safety.”

She looked at the oldest one first, the boy, whose name she thought was Stephen.

“Stephen?” she asked. He nodded. “Do you think you can be a big, brave boy and show your sisters how to get out the window?”

He nodded again, although he looked not at all convinced. He couldn’t have been more than six years old, with one baby tooth missing and a huge pile of curly brown hair. In his hand was a figurine of a Quidditch player.

“Ginny?” Hermione shouted, sticking her head back out of the window. “Ready?” In the garden, Ginny nodded. She had worked quickly, Transfiguring the garden rockery into a huge pile of squashy mattresses and bouncy things.

“Okay, Stephen,” said Hermione. “That girl down there is my friend Ginny. She’s going to help you. She’s made a lovely pile of fun, bouncy things to land on, and I’m going to help you by slowing your jump with my wand. Can you do this?” Stephen nodded again, and threw himself out of the window almost immediately, as if to do anything else would have caused him to lose his nerve.

To Hermione’s intense relief, he landed safely and Ginny scooped the boy up in her arms.

Hermione turned next to the older of the two girls. They were Lucy and Clare, although she had no idea which way around they went. “Can you go next?” she asked the older one.

“Need teddy,” said the girl.

“Alright,” said Hermione, projecting her best calm voice. The pace of the fighting in the front room was heating up, and the flames licking at the wall of the bedroom were progressing fast along the floral wallpaper. Soon, they would reach the door between the two rooms, and then she would not be able to get through to Jo. “Let’s find that teddy.”

Teddy had fallen under the bed, and Hermione was able to dispatch the four-year-old, who turned out to be Lucy, out the window without further ado.

Clare, aged two, was harder. She had grabbed onto Hermione the moment her sister had climbed onto the window frame, and was refusing to let go. Her thumb was in her mouth, and she was sucking frantically on it, a look of absolute terror in her tiny eyes. There was no way, short of bodily throwing her, that Hermione was going to get her down to the ground and the flames were less than a foot from the bedroom door.

The girl would have to come with her.

Hermione cast the same protective chairs over the tiny toddler that she’d used on herself, and pushed the bedroom door open. A rush of heat flew over them, making Hermione duck. Clare’s hair blew upwards, and her thumb popped out her mouth.

“Shhh,” muttered Hermione. Her entire sum of experience with two year olds was with Teddy Lupin, and he was four now. She had no idea how to calm one. “It’s alright. We’re going to check on Grandma Jo, and then we’ll go find Jack and Lucy. How about that?” The girl looked calmer, but then Hermione had no way of knowing if she was now just so panicked that she was unable to react.

“Gramma.”

“Yes, Grandma,” said Hermione. She looked down the stairs as they passed them. Downstairs was full of flames, there was no escape that way.

In the front bedroom, Jo was still hanging out of the front window, screaming spells. Hermione could guess from the sounds of the battle that at least one, if not two more people had joined the fight against the Death Eaters attacking the house. Either the Order had arrived, or Sirius and Luna had gone out into the fight.

“Jo! Come on!” said Hermione.

Jo ducked down from the window as a curse crashed into the wooden frame and the whole thing flew backwards across the room to crash into the wall leaving a huge, window-shaped burn mark on the cream paint.

“Hermione! Thank goodness! Where are the others? Stephen and Lucy?”

“My friend Ginny has them, in the garden.”

“Oh thank fuck. Hurry, get Clare out of here!”

“You need to come too!”

“I need to be here, covering your escape and fighting these fuckers.” Jo made to straighten up again, and Hermione reached out to pull her back down.

“I’ll do that, you take Clare and go!”

“I’m fine, Hermione. That fancy boy of yours has nearly got them down, him and the strange blonde girl. You’d best give him a big smacker of a kiss after this. I know I would. In fact, if I survive this, I’ve got half a mind to.”

“Jo!” Hermione had no idea how her friend could be talking like that in a time like this. Then again, she had kissed Ron during the Final Battle in 1998. “You’ve got to leave.”

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” said the older woman, and stood at the window once more. “Run and take my granddaughter before I push you!”

Hermione tried to pull at Jo’s arm, but the older woman wouldn’t budge. Flames were licking at the doorway, encroaching into the front bedroom from the hallway. If she wanted a hope of getting the toddler out, she would have to leave now.

“I’m coming back for you!” she shouted, and dashed for the doorway.

They made it through, Hermione’s sleeve catching fire. Running through the back bedroom, she managed to shuck her cardigan and leave it flaming on the floor. In the back bedroom, the bed was on fire, and little was left of the wall. Hermione should have warned the neighbours. They would know, wouldn’t they? Shit, what if they had run out into the fight?

In the garden, Ginny had the two older children corralled into a corner and was standing in front of them with her wand out. She looked up at the sound of Hermione climbing through the upper window, and stepped forwards to catch the smallest one. Clare was still highly reluctant to let go of her rescuer, and Hermione climbed down the ladder slowly and carefully, the terrified toddler clinging on. Behind them, at full speed, the fire reached the window and the remaining glass exploded outwards. Flames had engulfed the window pane. They were out not a moment too soon.

“Hermione!” Ginny shouted, as Hermione and Clare made their landing. “Are you okay? Where’s Jo?”

“Fighting,” said Hermione. “I’ve got to go and help her!”

“I’ll take the little one,” said Ginny. Hermione handed Clare over, who seemed happy enough to cling to whichever adult was nearest. “I’m going to get them somewhere safe, and Patronus their mother. What was her name?”

“Helena,” said Hermione. “I don't know her surname. Stephen might.” Before waiting for a response from Ginny, she ran back through their own house to help fight the Death Eaters.

Arriving back at the front of the houses, the battle was nearly over. Jo, from her upstairs window, was fighting away, and the combination of her fierce defences and the fire meant that the Death Eaters had all but given up on gaining access to the house. Lucius Malfoy had got himself up out of the dirt, and was attempting to corral the other fighters into some kind of organised attack. Sirius and Luna were doing their best to impede them.

Hermione made to join the fight, but before she could do anything a horribly familiar green spell left the wand of one of the Death Eaters. His mask had fallen from his face, and the man behind it could not have been more than seventeen, pale and terrified at what he was about to do. Jo made to duck, but she was not as fast as the Death Eater and the spell hit her directly in the chest. Her eyes went blank, and she tumbled from the window.

There was nothing she could do, but Hermione raised her wand and used the same spell Ginny had to slow her fall.

Everything happened all at once. Too late, far too fucking late, there was the crack of Apparition and two Aurors and a couple of ordinary members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement appeared. The Death Eaters immediately began to Apparate away. Sirius jumped at one of them, pushing them to the ground and managed to pull their wand from his hand, but the other four had made it away before anything could be done. Sirius sat on the Death Eater’s chest and pointed his wand at his face.

Hermione found herself at Jo’s side, arms wrapped around her friend’s lifeless body. It was still warm, but her back was bent at an improbably angle and her grey eyes stared at the stars but did not see them. There was nothing Hermione could do. This was not her first dead body. She knew there was nothing she could do.

The only thing left was to collapse over her and to cry.

Magical Law Enforcement were buzzing around, but Hermione barely noticed. Sirius had released the man he had tackled, and one Auror had taken him off into custody. The other was making their way around taking statements, from Sirius and Luna and then from Ginny, who had released the children over to their mother. The Auror had wanted to take statements from the children, but both their mother and Ginny had vehemently refused to allow for that to happen. The children had seen nothing except for fire.

“Hermione?” Sirius was at her shoulder. “The Auror wants to take your statement.”

“What good does it do?” asked Hermione.

“Nothing. You know that. But it has to be done.”

“No it doesn’t. She’s dead, Sirius, she was my friend.”

“I know.”

The Auror was hovering over them both. Jo’s body had not even gone cold, but there was no time to mourn, just time to fill in fucking ridiculous swathes of paperwork and nobody was going to do anything to help her.

Hermione knew how this worked. The papers would be kept on file. In times of peace, they would be used to track down the perpetrator of the crimes. In times of all out war, with attacks every week, the parchment would be forgotten about by the time of the next emergency and this would happen over and over again until someone just did something. They could burn the whole department down, and they'd be no further away from catching them men that did it.

She didn’t know who the man, boy, was who had cast the Killing Curse. She didn’t find that she much cared. She knew who had egged him on; Lucius Malfoy. And he would get away with it all scot-free and be able to live his life like normal from 1981. He would live, and he would not be punished, and Jo was dead. Her friend was dead. Another friend was dead.

How many now? How many friends had died for this war? Too many.

Jo’s grandchildren had nearly been killed, and nobody would be punished.

Hermione couldn’t breathe.

None of this was fair. Why was it always the innocent ones? Why was everything so bloody shit?

The Auror was looking at her, with his quill and parchment raised.

Her chest tightened, constricting her breathing, and the whole scene swam before her eyes. Jo’s body. The Death Eater, magically silenced and wrapped in magical ropes. The Aurors. Luna, cleaning a man’s blood from her arm with a charm, one side of her long blonde hair caked in the blood too.

She couldn’t breathe.

Her brain couldn’t focus.

She just… she couldn’t. Not now. She couldn’t.

Hermione stood up, and pushed past Sirius and the Auror. She ran.

Chapter Text

Sirius
November 1978, Saltburn Pier

Sirius was knocked to the ground by the force of Hermione’s exit. The Auror’s clipboard followed him to the floor and, with an action that would have been comical in any other circumstance, hit Sirius firmly on the head. He pulled himself up, rubbing his head, and handed the clipboard back to the Auror. He noticed the man made no effort to help him up, or to get his own bloody clipboard back. Ministry dickhead.

“I need her statement,” he said, with the air of a man who actively enjoyed a good bit of pointless bureaucracy. His monogrammed quill revealed him to be J.R.Howell, and also a wanker, because only wankers bothered to buy monogrammed quills.

“Yeah, well, you’ll have to wait, won’t you?” said Sirius. “Can’t you see she’s distressed?”

“We have to follow the established procedures,” said Howell. “We need to take a statement from everyone present tonight. That includes yourself, Mr…” He paused, waiting for Sirius to answer him.

By their feet, a member of the Magical Law Enforcement squad levitated Jo under a covering, and then took her away. Sirius watched her go. It was a noble way to die, he supposed, but that didn’t exactly give him much comfort.

“Brown,” he said, giving the first fake name that popped into his head. It was a shit one. At least he had no monogrammed items handy to give his name away. He’d left all of those at Grimmauld Place when he’d run away at sixteen. They’d returned to his life like a bad fucking Knut when he’d been forced back there, but this time he thought he was well shot of them.

“Sirius!” shouted Ginny, coming through their own house. A small, crying child was on her hip, and two more ran at her feet. “Are you alright?”

“Where’d you get the children?” asked Sirius. It wasn’t an answer to her question.

“Jo’s grandchildren,” she said. “They were in the house. I’ve tried to get hold of their mother.”

“You’ll release them into Ministry custody,” said Howell. He’d been tapping the clipboard with his quill, and most of the parchment was now covered in blobs of ink.

“Will not,” said Ginny. “I doubt they want to be handed over into Ministry custody, and their mother is coming here.”

“A moment ago you said you’d tried to get hold of her,” said Howell. “You’re changing your story, missy. I’ll be taking you into Ministry custody, next, for knowingly preventing the work of the Ministry of Magic.”

“I’m beginning to change my mind about the competency of the Ministry of Magic,” said Ginny, hotly. “Answer me this, how is taking these children into Ministry custody the best thing for the wellbeing of the children? I wouldn’t trust you to look after a Flobberworm.”

“I’m going after Hermione,” said Sirius, leaving Ginny to handle the Ministry official. She was doing a sterling job, and Sirius would have lost any remaining self control if he had remained to argue with them. As he disappeared down the street, he heard the sound of raised voices. Perhaps Ginny had less self-control than he had thought. He broke into a run, down the line of terraced houses that made up the street Jo had lived on, right, left, and along the clifftops.

Sirius caught up with Hermione at the pier. Panting with the exertion of running, something he was very much not used to, he stopped, to plan how to approach her.

She was sitting on the top of the railings halfway down the pier, legs dangling out to sea. Her hair flew wildly around her head in in the wind, her curls made fluffy and coarse by the sea air. Her wand was in her hand, but not in a fighting pose. With the cold, the wind and the time of night, the pier was otherwise deserted. No sensible person would be out on a night like this.

Sirius approached her slowly. After all, she had run off. She likely wanted to be alone. He felt he should check though. He had to know she was at least still here. She might be the sort that appreciated company.

And, besides, he had never trusted these Muggle installations with their thin wooden slats of a floor. He didn't like the gaps between them, revealing the dark grey waves below. If it was all to collapse, she might need help.

“Hermione?” His voice was quiet, and when he had no response he wondered if it had been lost in the wind.

She wasn’t wearing a coat, and she must have been freezing.

“Hermione, I’m not going to stay if it’s not what you want, but at least take my jacket.” Sirius pulled off his black leather jacket and reached up, arranging it as carefully as he could around her shoulders.

“I can’t do this anymore, Sirius.” She was refusing to look at him, instead staring out over the waves, her voice flat and quiet.

“Do what?”

“This. I can’t sit and watch innocent people die. They killed her. And there was no reason for it. Why, Sirius? Why did they kill her?”

“She was a Muggleborn, and she didn’t try to hide it.”

“It’s not fucking fair!” Her voice changed to screaming, as she turned to face him. Her eyes were wide and tear-filled, and her cheeks were a blotchy red. “She never did anything to anyone! Never hurt any of them! She didn’t deserve this! And the kids!”

“I know,” he said. He was a little stuck for words.

She turned back to the sea, and her voice quietened. “Jo was my friend. She was a good person. She just tried to help people, most of the time, she always made cake for fuck’s sake Sirius!” She was louder again, and then her voice dropped as if Hermione remembered herself. “She didn’t deserve any of this. I just don’t understand why. She always tried to help people, she didn’t have a bad bone in her body.”

“She bitched something terrible about the Muggle women in her UI group, or whatever it was, and she once pretended I was her late-night shag so that her neighbour would be scandalised. But yes, she was a good person. Nothing she did deserved her being killed.”

“I don’t get it. I don't get any of this. Why did they kill her, Sirius?”

“Because that’s what Death Eaters do. They kill people they don’t like, and they don’t bother to delve into people’s personalities on the whole before they cast their curse. She was doomed by her parentage. Not by her actions.” He stuck his hands in his pockets. He’d liked Jo, too. She’d known who he was, and she hadn’t had a reason to like him, and yet she’d opened her house to him anyway. It wasn’t something people tended to do for him.

“Sirius? I want to try and change what happens. Have I done that already, do you think? I couldn’t sit by as she died, or the children. I can’t watch any more people die. Benji was bad enough, and I was prepared for that. I… I know it’s unfair because I wouldn’t do anything after he died, and you wanted to, but I just can’t do this anymore, Sirius. I can’t.”

Now he very much was lost for words.

He had wanted her to say exactly that since they’d arrived here in June. He’d essentially begged for it more than once. Now, it felt as though it would be so incredibly insensitive to seem as if he was pleased by the turn of events. He was, of course. But someone had died.

But then if he didn’t say something that suggested he was pleased she could assume he didn’t want that any more and then she would rescind the offer. He didn’t want that. He wanted to give her enough time to mourn the death of her friend, and then to start planning how to end this shit.

Would Jo have minded them cutting short the grief to spare more people’s deaths?

Sirius didn’t have a problem with the fact that the Order had likely jumped almost straight back into the war against Voldemort after his own, as it would have appeared to them, death. He’d always assumed they would, should he die. Jo was not a fighter, she hadn’t signed up for her death if that’s what it came to like Sirius had. But she had understood what was going on. What the dangers were.

In war, things had to move faster, didn’t they?

He couldn’t seem insensitive. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to ruin his chances. He didn’t want to further upset Hermione.

Sirius hadn’t exactly cared about that before. Had he?

Hermione was watching him.

“Do you not want to do that anymore?” she asked.

“No, I do. Very much so. But someone just died, and you can’t exactly leap about in glee that you’re getting your own way after an innocent woman died.”

“That’s more a Death Eater trait, I suppose.” There was the hint of a smile.

“Yeah. My dear cousin, for the start of that.”

“Can we get Bellatrix first?” Hermione asked, spinning herself around on the railings to face him.

He had to resist the urge to hold his arms out and grab her in case she fell. It was highly unlikely she would fall. She looked steady enough, not wobbling even slightly in her seat. But he was nervous. He was never usually nervous. He put it down to the Muggle-made structure, the sea, and the overwhelming desire to not fuck things up just as they were going his way.

“You can get Bellatrix whenever you want to. She’s one of the worst of them, and I’m not just saying that because we’re unfortunately related.” He stopped. It was worth a try to get some more information, one of the things he had given up asking Hermione. “Does she, did she die in your timeline?”

“Yeah. Molly Weasley killed her in the Battle of Hogwarts, at the end.”

Sirius let out a low whistle. “Molly Weasley. Wow. Knew that woman had fire, I argued with her often enough, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her fight anyone. Let alone win against Bellatrix. Bella deserved it. If anyone deserves death, she did.”

“I was dueling with Bellatrix. Me, and Ginny, and Luna. And she wasn’t beating us, but we weren’t beating her either. Then up pops Mrs Weasley, shouts ‘not my daughter, you bitch!’, which is the only time I’ve ever heard he say anything remotely close to swearing. And they have this duel and Molly kills Bellatrix. Half the room was watching, and the other half was watching McGonagall take on Voldemort, with Slughorn and someone else. I forget who, I was watching Molly.”

“And to think I was frequently rude to Molly. I should have been worshipping her at her feet for dealing with my evil cousin.”

“Bellatrix tortured me for information. She was going to give me to Greyback afterwards.”

Sirius blinked.

He seemed unable to know what to say half the time lately.

What did one even say to that? All those conversational niceties his mother had taught him and Regulus and not one of them covered ‘I’m sorry my cousin tortured you’.

With a cousin like Bellatrix, they really should have. Someone should have thought ahead and worked out what he should say in this situation.

“Shit. Sorry, that’s not what you should say. Bellatrix is the worst example of humanity and if I hadn’t already disowned my entire family I would disown her on the spot. I can kill her again for you, does that help?” Perhaps she wanted to kill Bellatrix herself. He would want to, in that situation.

“It’s okay. It was a long time ago.” She looked unconcerned, genuinely so, even as if she had forgiven Bellatrix. Nobody forgives things like that.

Whatever Hermione’s state of mind, the statement made the hairs on the back of Sirius’ neck bristle. He didn’t like that she had been hurt, and by one of his own family members too. He’d fucking kill her. Hermione had said she wanted to, so she couldn't have forgiven her.

“So were a lot of things. Doesn’t make them hurt any less. Doesn't make them any less fucking horrific and wrong. Can you please get down from those railings? You’re making me nervous.”

“You run into battle with Death Eaters without a backwards glance, and you’re nervous about a witch sitting on a railing?”

“I never once claimed to be consistent. Although I think this is entirely consistent, actually, now I think about it. It’s one thing to throw yourself into danger to protect others or to fight the forces of evil, and entirely another to do it for fun.”

“I always argued Quidditch was danger for fun.”

“I won’t hear a word against Quidditch.” How were they talking about Quidditch? He was supposed to be cheering her up. Sympathising about her fucking torture experience, if sympathising was the right word which Sirius was more than sure it wasn’t. She hated Quidditch.

He used to be able to talk to people without fucking up, he was sure of it.

There was a lot at stake here. The whole future of the world. That was why he didn't want to upset Hermione. And because she was a genuinely decent person, if a bit hard-headed, know-it-all, and irritating. That wasn’t something that was worthy of being tortured over. Remus Lupin was all of those things. Although he wasn’t as…

Just exactly where was his brain going this evening?

“You’re freezing,” she said. “You’ve not even got any shoes on.”

It was true. He’d run from the house with only his jacket, and then he’d given that to her. Which left him standing in the freezing November air, half out to sea, in a t-shirt and a pair of jeans that were a lot thinner than they looked. And suddenly he was feeling every bit of the cold.

“Take your jacket back,” she said.

“No, you keep it,” he said.

She laughed. “Ron used to always say to me ‘are you a witch or not?’. There’s a magical solution to this.” She reached for her wand and cast a charm that warmed the air around them. “I used to think magic would solve everything, you know,” she said, sadly.

“Much better,” said Sirius. “The feeling might return to my toes soon.” He gave them an experimental wiggle, and noticed that the ends of them had turned slightly purple. Still, they were likely to survive the night.

“You’re an idiot,” she said. Taking a couple of steps forward, she reached out to him and touched the goose pimples that had formed on his arms, and then placed her hands flat on his arms and gave them a vigorous rub. The touch made his arms prickle further, and he considered pulling his arms away. He didn’t much want to, though.

“Yeah. Always have been an idiot.” It was true. He had made a series of very bad choices along the way, and he was not going to make more. It was easy to say that. Harder to do.

“So, are we going to do this? Try and fix everything? Make it right?” she asked. She shook her head. “Oh Merlin, you must hate me. I spent months telling you that you can’t try and help people, and then something happens to someone I know and like and I change my mind.”

“I don’t hate you,” he said. “I actually rather like you. You know, you’re clever, and you’ve not hexed me more than that once, and you stand up for what you believe in even if it’s not popular. The world needs more people like that. In my experience, women hex me a lot.” Ginny had said people didn’t know he needed to hear that he was liked. He had a sneaking suspicion Hermione also needed to hear it from time to time.

It wasn’t a lie, either. Well, he’d hated her at points. There was a small but not insignificant part of him that wanted to shout at her now about Benji and Regulus and what she could have done if only she had thought about all of this some months ago. When he’d told her to. He’d wanted to slap her at points. He never would have. A well-bred man never hit a woman. It was the only rule of his mother's he had thought worth keeping.

“I don’t hate you either.” She was watching him again. Her eyes felt as though they were looking at his soul as much as his face, uncomfortably so.

“That’s always a good place to start.” He tried to keep his tone light. “And, yes, we’re doing this. We’re going to sort this out. For Jo. As well as everyone else.”

“For Jo,” she whispered. She had turned away from him again, her gaze fixed on where the smoke still poured from the house on the cliffs. The house itself was invisible, tucked away as it was a street back from the cliff top, but the smoke was clearly visible from the pier. “And for everyone else.”

“Harry,” said Sirius. “James. Remus.” The names were like a litany now. He said them often enough, usually before he went to sleep. On waking up in the morning. It helped, in a strange way, to remember the people he had felt something for. It helped him when he felt as though the world was closing in on him. It helped, when he’d spent those days lying in the loft eating his way through twenty-eight bags of salt and vinegar crisps from the Muggle corner shop after Benji’s death, because that was all he had been able to face.

“Can I tell you something about Remus?” she said. “In the spirit of us wanting to make things right, I think you should know about him, about what he did, after you died.”

“What?” he asked. He hoped it wasn’t too sad. He didn’t much want to cry tonight.

“He had a son, before he died. With Tonks. Teddy Remus Lupin, he’s called, and he was a Metamorphmagus like she was and he isn’t a werewolf, although Merlin knows Remus worried about that enough beforehand. He’s funny, even though he’s only little still, and he’s got strong magic, you can just tell. Harry’s his godfather.”

“Harry would make a good godfather.” It was happy news about his best friend, Sirius supposed, because Remus had always wanted children. He’d vowed never to have them, because of his condition, but Sirius knew he’d wanted them. But at the same time it was just so impossibly sad, because Remus had died and Teddy had no father. At least Harry would be a better godfather than Sirius himself had been. It was a low bar, admittedly.

“He is,” said Hermione. “Although I told him not to buy that toy broomstick. I knew it would end badly. Teddy loves it, though, and he did only break his arm the once.”

“I bought Harry a toy broomstick for his first birthday.” Sirius smiled at the memory. “Did Tonks…” he asked, unable to finish the rest of his sentence.

“She died. Teddy lives with Andromeda, your cousin, in the week, and usually with Harry at the weekend.” Hermione had started to cry again. Silently, tears rolled down her cheeks and her eyes turned red and puffy once more. Sirius had no idea what to do about this. He always let somebody else give comfort to crying people, especially crying women. It wasn't something he was any good at. And right now, he felt much like crying himself.

He tried to remember what it was that other people did when her crying continued, and she began to cry more noisily. Molly Weasley made tea, or gave out food. He had no tea or food without the trek back up the cliffs to the town, and did you take them with you or did you leave them behind while you went to fetch it? What else would Molly do? Shit, he’d never tried to emulate Molly before. This was the beginning of the end for Sirius Black, he was certain of it.

Molly gave hugs. Maybe he should try hugging her. Well, she almost certainly didn't want to be hugged by him, but it was worth a try. He stepped forwards, and ow!

Sirius made a squeaky, surprised noise and pulled himself away, grabbing his foot and hopping around in a circle.

“Fucking stood on a giant rock!” he said, in answer to Hermione’s baffled and tear-stained face.

“You should have worn shoes,” she said, with a look of superiority. It didn’t last long, as she couldn’t seem to prevent herself from laughing at his distress.

“Was a bit too busy panicking about Death Eaters to worry about something so mundane as shoes,” he said. “Y’know. Priorities.”

The worst part about it was that it was not the first time Sirius had been caught fighting Death Eaters without shoes on. It wasn’t even the second time. It was turning into something of an unfortunate habit.

“You’re a very strange man, Sirius Black,” she said.

“At least you’re not crying anymore.”

“Was that the aim?”

“I was trying to give you a hug, but it went a bit wrong. I was trying to copy Molly Weasley. She’s better at this sort of thing than I am.”

“The thought was there. I don’t really want to go back up to the town. Can we stay down here a bit longer, Sirius?”

“Of course.” He would do anything right now, as he was still fighting the urge to leap around cheering. Hermione had agreed to what he wanted. Okay, the happiness he felt was tinged with a very definite sadness for their neighbour, who he had admittedly had little interaction with but had genuinely liked, and he was sorry she was dead. But nothing could quite overshadow how happy he was that he was going to be able to try and save his friends.

The more he thought about possible ways to save them, the more he had to admit it was going to be dangerous. If they weren’t careful, they could do more damage. Especially as they would have to take out Voldemort for that to be safe, and a fair swathe of Death Eaters, and without the backup of an Order or the Ministry. Still, they’d not had the back-up of the Ministry in either of the wars Sirius had fought previously, and Sirius was prepared to kill even if the others weren’t.

Saying it was one thing, and actually taking out an evil wizard was another entirely. They’d have to actually kill Lord Voldemort, and that was apparently quite hard to do judging by the amount of people who had tried and failed. Including Regulus, it seemed.

Oh fucking hell. Perhaps Hermione had been right not to interfere. Let Harry deal with it all in another twenty years. That would be easiest.

“You’re not having doubts, are you?”

“What, me?”

“It’s just, you’ve got the face on that Ron has when he’s regretting something. Like joining the Aurors, because of the exams. Any exam, really. Joining the Quidditch team. Agreeing to be Harry’s best man. George’s stag do.”

“Oh. Yeah. Just, it’s not going to be easy, is it?” He was reluctant to say that, worried it would turn her back away from the idea of actually getting something done.

“No. But it’s the right thing. Luna told me that doing the right thing is not always easy, and Dumbledore said it, and well, I think I’m finally understanding what they meant. I thought before it was about choosing just to fight evil, and I never understood, because that was always easy to me. But this, this is going to be hard.”

“We’re going to need a plan.”

“I’d have thought you had one already.” She looked at him as if she was assessing his worthiness. Sirius hoped she didn’t know any Legilimency. There were things it was better she did not know.

“The beginnings of one.”

“I… I can’t deal with that tonight, though. I just want to sit here and think about Jo, and maybe cry again. Can we do that bottle smashing thing again? It felt good. I understand if not, if it’s your thing for you and your friends. But I’d like to, to remember Jo.”

“It should be gin. Jo liked gin.”

“Okay, gin it is then.”

“And Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“Just trust me, yeah? We can do this.”

And, ooh, at least half of Sirius Black’s brain believed that what he had just said was true.

 

End of Part One

Chapter Text

Hermione
December 1978, Saltburn

She had made a decision, the night that Jo had died. At what point, she wasn’t sure. Had it been when she had realised that her friend was in danger? Had it been when she had seen her die? Or at some point after, or in between. She had decided she would do something. Save someone. Stop this. What exactly she would do, Hermione did not know.

Her life had always had a clear path to it. From the age of just twelve years old, she had known that she would help Harry with whatever he needed her to do, and then she would have a career. She would have an interesting boyfriend, and she would probably marry him, and she might have children. Two, if she had any. She hadn’t enjoyed being an only child. The path had changed, at times, shifting to reflect her preferences. She’d refined the career choices, changing from a desire to teach or be a Healer to working in the Ministry. She’d assumed she would complete her seven years at Hogwarts, and had instead followed Harry into the hunt for the Horcruxes. But she had known where she was going. She’d still got her NEWTs. She had always stayed on the path.

And now she was here, and she had been planning to go home. Back to the safety of her Ministry life, to the wedding of two of her best friends, to Ron. She still wanted to be with him. She was almost certain of that. It was just distance that was making her feel disconnected from him. Six months away, almost. That was enough to make anyone doubt their love. She did love him.

Ron loved her. He challenged her. Other men seemed to want her as some sort of prize half the time, the great Hermione Granger who had been responsible for the death of a segment of Voldemort’s soul, who had fought alongside Harry Potter, who was not only a war hero but a rising star within the Ministry. A future Minister of Magic, perhaps, said the whispers. At the very least an influential department head. She had the ear of Harry Potter, the Minister, the Headmistress of Hogwarts.

The way those men looked at her, the way they spoke to her, she felt like a collector’s piece. Not a woman. Ron saw her as a person. He told her when she was wrong. He let her be less than perfect. He was there when she needed him.

He wasn’t there now.

Why the fuck wasn't he here now?

Hermione lay on the bed, staring up at the swirling pattern of the Artex on the ceiling. Her eyes traced the curves and lines, as she tried not to think about how far off her life’s path she had fallen and how she had so little hope of getting back to where she had intended to be. There was an urge to pick at the little stippled bits. She could do that now, if she levitated herself up. She’d never been able to reach as a child.

She was supposed to be dressing for the funeral.

She had received an owl a few days after Jo’s murder, inviting her to the funeral of her friend and containing a note from Jo’s daughter Helena.

Dear Hermione,

I wanted to invite you to my mother’s funeral. She spoke about you once or twice, and I think she’d have wanted you there. If you don’t wish to come, we won’t be offended, I don't know how close you were.

I also need to thank you for what you did for the children. They are still a little shaken, but all of them are well and most importantly they are safe. I am forever in your debt for what you have done for me. There are no words to say how grateful I am for what you did, at such risk to yourself. Anything that you require from me is yours.

I would like very much if you could attend the funeral. I would like to thank in person the woman who saved my children.

Yours,
Helena Bridlington

Hermione intended to go, of course. All four of the residents of their little house planned to. Sirius had said that Jo had given him good advice, and that he ought to pay his respects. Ginny was concerned for the children, and wanted peace of mind that they were recovering from the ordeal. Luna had given no reason for attending.

It was funny how, when you made the decision that would have prevented all of this had you only made it earlier, you didn’t feel any better. Hindsight is 20/20, her mother had said. Hindsight was a bitch.

Sirius had never said I told you so. Hermione was honest enough about herself to know that she would have said it to him.

Such a decision to act had always made her feel powerful, before. She didn’t feel empowered at all. She felt as though she should have known better. How could she have been so stupid to think that she could have had a life where everything remained normal just for a few years? Where she had done her time of war and danger and saving the wizarding world?

Why did she have to be thrown back in to it all again?

Had she not done her time?

Sirius had lived through two wars. Three. Shit. Remus had done two. Mad-Eye. Dumbledore. Minerva. It wasn’t really so rare. She wasn’t anything special, not really.

But this was the right thing. Wasn’t it? It was. She hadn’t realised that before. Perhaps she had been too wrapped up in the desire for normal, and for things to be how they should have been. She was not somebody who stood by to watch innocent people die. She had always been the girl who fought for them to live, even when it wasn’t what was best for her. It was who she was. She just needed to let go of any expectation of normal, and…

There was a knock at the door.

“Hermione?”

Sirius.

“I’m coming.” She was dressed. Her hair was done, a minimal amount of makeup applied mostly just to hide the redness around her eyes. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t physically ready to attend this funeral.

“It’s fine,” he said, standing in the doorway with a set of black robes on. His hair was brushed, his face paler than usual. “Ginny says we’ve got ten minutes before we need to leave. I thought I’d check you knew that.”

She could do this.

They Apparated to the appointed spot just outside of the graveyard, and they filed in through the arched gateway slowly with Ginny taking the lead. All of them were well practiced at magical funeral etiquette. Dumbledore’s, the first Hermione had attended, had been a shock compared to the much more sombre Muggle affairs she had been to as a child and a teenager.

After that, they’d come thick and fast. She’d counted eleven in the first week after the last battle, and there had been more after that. The stragglers went on into July. Harry insisted on attending all of them, and Hermione and Ron would never have let him go alone. Neither would Ginny. Sirius had attended no fewer, but they had been a different set.

The four of them sat at the back of the small funeral building for the service, and stayed at the back at the graveside. None of them had much of an intention to go to the wake; they would have felt like imposters. Or Hermione would have. Instead, they lingered at the graveside for a moment, to pay their respects, and then made to leave. Hermione tailed behind Sirius, feeling out-of-place and almost as if she were floating.

“Ginny?” A short, brown-haired woman spoke from beside them, Jo’s youngest granddaughter Clare clinging to her leg. She had a resemblance to Jo in her face, if a darker complexion.

“Helena,” said Ginny, giving the woman a hug and crouching down to say hello to the child. “This is Hermione.” She pointed up from the floor at Hermione. “She’s the one who saved your children. And this is Sirius, and Luna, who were trying to help your mum.”

“Hi,” said Hermione. To her surprise, Helena enveloped her into a massive hug.

“Thank you,” she said. “For my children. I can’t ever do enough to repay you.”

“You don’t need to,” said Hermione. “Jo was a good friend to me, and anyone would have helped those children.” Her voice didn’t sound like her own.

“That, unfortunately,” said Helena, “we know to not be true. I thought they were safe with my mum. I didn’t know she was being targeted.”

“Nobody did,” said Sirius. “They’re bastards, it wasn’t your mum’s fault. She was a great woman.”

“Thank you,” said Helena. “It means a lot.”

Hermione’s stomach fell. She had seen that man outside their house. The man with the dark cloak. She had assumed they had been watching them, but what if they had been watching Jo, instead? What if she had been given a chance to act, and had not?

“Hermione? Are you okay?” Sirius’ voice jolted her back to the conversation.

“Yes. Sorry. I’m fine.” Hermione blinked several times, to remove the image of the man in the dark cloak standing in the drizzle from her mind. Helena, along with the others, was watching her with a look of concern in her eyes.

“You don’t have to apologise to me. Without you, my kids wouldn't be here today, so I’m going to forgive you almost anything at this point.” Helena looked down at Clare, still attached firmly to her leg, and then across the graveyard to where the other two children sat on a bench with a man Hermione presumed to be their father.

She wondered if that forgiveness extended to forgiving that it was Hermione’s fault that her mother had been killed. She could have got Jo out earlier. But she’d been so self-absorbed that she had first assumed that the man had been after her, and then secondly forgotten all about it in Benji’s death. She had failed Jo, and the children.

“I think it’s about time we left,” said Sirius. “It was very kind of you to invite us. Hermione’s been very affected by it all, as you can see, and I’d like to get her home now.”

Helena tried to persuade them to stay, and Sirius politely declined. He knew all the niceties to say in these situations. Ginny handed out the small toys she’d bought for Helena’s children, who were pleased to see her but still had a look of slight trauma in her eyes, and then they left.

Hermione tried to Apparate, but found herself unable to do so. She twirled on the spot, and again, and again more quickly, but instead of the air parting for her it was as if she was twisting into a brick wall. Ginny offered her an apologetic look, which just made Hermione begin to sob. Calmly, Luna took her arm and Apparated them both away.

They walked back around the terrace and into the house, and Hermione felt as though she was watching the procession from above. Three witches and a wizard in dark dress robes, with the signs of sadness and recent crying. The burned-out house next to them, which had been given a glamour by the Obliviators so that the Muggles saw it as just empty. They’d been told Jo had died of a gas leak, and the neighbouring Muggles on the other side had been evacuated.

Hermione lay on the sofa inside, as the other three fiddled around getting lunch and water and whatever else it was they thought were necessary. Hermione didn’t want lunch. She could have stopped all of this.

“Hermione, come on, you’ve got to eat,” said Ginny, crouching beside the sofa.

“I don’t want any lunch.”

“I know. And I accepted that. But this is tea. I can allow you to miss one meal, but not two.”

“I don’t need it. I saw a man outside the house before Benji died, Ginny. I could have stopped all of this.”

“Oh yeah? And why would you assume a mysterious man outside a house is going to come and kill the inhabitants? This isn’t your fault.”

“This is a war. I should have known.”

“Exactly, it’s a war. You can’t prevent every death.”

“Let me try.” Sirius gently relocated Ginny and her tray of soup and bread further away from the sofa, and took her place next to Hermione. “Look. I’ve just been here, I’ve felt like this, and I can tell you for a fact that it sucks. It’s horrible. It makes you feel like you want to curl up and die too, yes? That you’re worthless?” Hermione nodded. “Well, a very wise man named Remus Lupin once told me that was how they win. They beat all the good people down, either killing them or making them look like this,” he indicated Hermione lying on the sofa, “and then they win. I spent a week like this recently. Did it help? No. We won’t let them win, will we?”

“No.” She didn’t much feel that right now, but she didn’t want to let Voldemort win. She didn’t even want him to have a temporary victory.

“Well, start by eating. Can’t win a war on an empty stomach. Don’t worry, it’s safe, Luna cooked it.” Hermione forced out a small smile. The last time Sirius had cooked, he’d given them all food poisoning. God knows what he’d done to the beefburgers to cause food poisoning.

“Thanks.” She took a small spoonful of the soup that Ginny passed over, and it did taste nice. Carrot and coriander, with fresh bread. Luna was a good cook.

She couldn’t prevent herself from feeling guilty, but there was some truth in what Sirius said.

“You don’t have to cope on your own, you know. You don’t always have to be strong. We can help, if you let us.” He was deliberately not looking at her.

“I could have said the same to you, a few days ago.”

“Yeah, and I wouldn’t have taken your advice then, because I’m widely considered to be a stubborn, pig-headed git.”

“You missed out arrogant and unhelpful.”

“Ah yes, I did.”

“And mopey and rash,” said Ginny, from the other side of the room.

“Right, is this pick on Sirius hour? Because if it helps Hermione feel better, I’m up for it, but it’s a one-time deal.”

“Excellent,” said Ginny. “You know what I miss about not having my brothers around? They’re great fun to insult. Do you rise to the bait as easily as Ron and Percy, or can you throw them back as well as Fred and George and Charlie?”

“The latter,” said Sirius. “What about Bill?”

“He says insulting people is childish, and usually walks off. Wanker.”

“Who’s a wanker now?” asked Luna, coming into the room from the kitchen. Her blonde hair was pinned on top of her head with what looked suspiciously like a wooden spoon.

“Bill,” said Ginny. “Specifically, that is, but more generally, most men.”

“Oi,” said Sirius. “I am a shining example of masculinity.” He flexed his arm. “Well, you’ll have to use your imagination on the muscles. I used to have them. I was widely considered the most attractive boy in Hogwarts once Gideon Prewett left.”

“Okay, apart from this fine specimen in front of us, of course.” Ginny flopped backwards into the armchair.

“Don’t you go hitting on me, you’re engaged to my godson.”

“No offence, Sirius, but I like my men, well, skinnier. Kinda lanky. Glasses. The bookish look. Saviour of the world types. Scars.”
“That’s not the most flattering depiction of Harry,” said Luna.

“I’ve got scars,” said Sirius, rolling up the sleeve of his robes. “Look. This one’s where Remus bit me, and no, not as a werewolf. He was a hundred percent human, and it was at breakfast. I flirted with the girl he had been secretly lusting after for months. This one’s where I fell down the stairs at Hogwarts, because I had so much food I’d nicked from the kitchens in my arms that I could no longer see the steps. And this one, well this one is where Peter Pettigrew bashed me over the head with a frying pan in Charms, because I’d hit him with a rubber chicken. The two are not comparable. Flitwick gave us both detention.”

“Real manly, all of those,” said Ginny, shaking her head.

Hermione ate her soup, and realised that this was all completely absurd. She’d seen real scars on Sirius, ones that proved that even if he wasn’t the saviour of the wizarding world, he was certainly as brave as Harry and had faced almost as much. And someone had died, they’d been to a funeral, and Ginny was pretending to flirt with her fiancé’s godfather and everyone was far more concerned with whether Hermione ate any soup than how to win this war.

Everyone had their coping mechanisms. She remembered Ron and that radio in the tent when they’d been hunting Horcruxes. Twiddling those dials, day after day, trying to hear news of his family. It had passed the time. It had made him feel calmer when he was powerless.

They didn’t have to be powerless any more.

Well, she hadn’t broached that with Luna and Ginny, yet. She’d known Sirius would agree. He had nothing to lose. Everyone else here had far more at stake.

“Luna? Ginny?”

“Yes?” said Luna.

“Sirius and I have been thinking. Talking. We’d like to try and fix all this, the war, I mean. Make it so that less people have to die. Give Harry a family. We could all grow up in peace.”

“Good,” said Ginny. “I’m in.” She glanced at Sirius as she spoke.

“Oh, of course, I am too,” said Luna. “It’s rather an interesting idea, don’t you think? We’d have an awful lot of power. Although perhaps that means we should not do it, but when it comes down to it, I think that we should.”

That was easier than Hermione had been expecting.

“Have you all been discussing this?” she asked.

“No,” said Luna, clearly baffled at the idea that she might have.

“Yes,” said Ginny and Sirius.

“But only once,” added Ginny. “A week ago. No more than that. We’re not conspiring against you or anything. Sirius doesn’t have the subtlety.”

“As much as I’m pained to admit it, that’s true,” said Sirius.

“So we’re going to do this?” asked Hermione. She hadn’t expected this discussion to go this way. It had been so easy. But if they’d all done their thinking, maybe it was.

And that was how, two evenings later, they ended up on another anonymous Muggle street, watching and waiting. Ginny, the one with by far the best reflexes, was balanced on the roof of the house next door to the one they had under surveillance. She wore dark trousers and jumper, the brightness of her ginger hair disguised with a bottle of Muggle hair-dye. The Death Eaters, according to Sirius, frequently cast a net of spells to secure their approach and identify anyone lurking around on arrival at an attack, and Ginny was to Disapparate from the roof at the first sign of their arrival and send a signal.

Several streets back, Hermione, Sirius, and Luna waited. The waiting was by far the worst part, and usually the part where Hermione began to doubt herself.

“Ready?” asked Sirius. His hair was tied back with something of Luna’s, a hair bobble with a small pink flower attached. It clashed horribly with the leather jacket and biker boots that were his preferred Muggle clothing. He apparently owned no hair bobbles of his own, despite his hair now being past his shoulders.

“Ready,” confirmed Luna.

Hermione wasn’t.

Ginny’s signal came slightly before they had anticipated, but within Sirius’ estimated time for the arrival of the Death Eaters. His last time around, he’d been at Headquarters when a tip had come in from the Auror Department of suspicious activity. The Order had scrambled together a small force, but had arrived to the bone-chilling sight of the Dark Mark hovering over the terraced house, the brown wooden front door blown off its hinges, and the unmistakable scent of death in the air. Sirius and James Potter had entered the house. The bodies had been in a row. Two were unharmed, except for being dead; victims of the Killing Curse. The third was twisted and mutilated.

Sirius had told that story with a tear in his eye, and the resolve of a man who was determined to not allow history to repeat itself in such a way. He had that look again now, as they crept through the alleyway connecting the lines of terraces. His wand was outstretched, his sleeves rolled up. One arm was a criss-cross of scars, whether inflicted by childish Marauder pranks or the harder aspects of his life Hermione did not know.

“I’m going to transform,” he said. He stopped them at the entrance to the alleyway, a small tunnel between two houses with the upper floor of one of them over their heads. “I can get closer that way, without detection. When I transform back, cover me.”

Before either Hermione or Luna could say a thing, the large black dog was trotting off onto the street. He went from the light of the street lamps into darkness.

“Remember the plan,” said Luna to Hermione, extinguishing the light on the end of her wand with a muttered ‘nox’. Ginny trotted up behind them as she did so.

Sirius was next to the Death Eaters now, the black dog lurking just out of the line of sight of the four masked and robed figures.

“One of those is Snape,” whispered Ginny. “I’d recognise that nose anywhere.”

“Dolohov,” said Hermione. She’d recognise him anywhere.

“And two unknowns,” replied Ginny. “One of them’s a woman, or very short.”

Speculation time was over, as one of the unknown Death Eaters took a step forward and removed their wand to point it at the front door. Sirius transformed back into a man, and Stunned the Death Eater before he managed to blast the door open. That removed his advantage, and suddenly he had three of them facing him down with their wands drawn. Within seconds the street was filled with bangs and flashes of light, curses and hexes shouted out and the sound of a woman screaming from inside a house.

Luna, Ginny and Hermione ran from their alleyway out into the fight, spells flying as they did so. Luna took on Snape, singling him out into a duel while Sirius battled Dolohov. Hermione and Ginny were left with the third unknown Death Eater, a pale-faced, blond man with a ring through his left nostril. Nobody held back.

A Muggle ran onto the street, shouting “Bloody yobbos! I’ll call the police, I will, whatever it is your doing here ought to be banned!” and fell to a slice of Snape’s wand. Luna used the opportunity, throwing him to the floor with a well-timed Trip Jinx. She threw her wand back for a further assault, but the angry Snape was quicker. Instead of going for Luna, he pulled himself to a half-standing position and blasted at the door, scrabbling with his legs at the floor until he was upright again and running it at it. He had made it most of the way when Luna hit him with a Stunning Spell.

“It’s the fucking Order of the Phoenix!” shouted the unknown Death Eater, throwing Ginny to the floor with the force of a spell hitting a car in the street.

“That we aren’t,” shouted Sirius, swiping at Dolohov with green flames from his wand. “Incarcerous!” Dolohov dodged the spell, and another from Luna, and a set of flying daggers from Sirius. It was two lots of two-against-one, now, and they were still having to fight hard to hold off the Death Eaters. “I’m not sure what we are, actually, but we’re not that.” He looked at Hermione, Dolohov took the chance. Sirius was Stunned on the floor.

Renervate!” That was Ginny, a well-timed shot from behind the car and a Shield Charm to protect Sirius as he staggered to his feet.

Hermione took care of Dolohov. With a swish of her wand his robes broke apart and his chest broke out into boils. He screamed, slashing out with his wand in all directions. Several windows smashed, a car crumpled, and Hermione threw herself to the floor alongside Ginny.

The telltale crack of an Apparition was almost lost in the chaos, but there was the rather distinctive face of Mad-Eye Moody.

“Get out!” screamed Dolohov, clawing at his chest, and disappeared. The pierced Death Eater grabbed Snape’s unconscious body and followed him, as more members of the Order of the Phoenix began to arrive.

Hermione looked at Ginny, Luna looked at Sirius and the four of them disappeared as if they had coordinated it. Landing back on their own street, unharmed and successful, Ginny let out a whoop and soon they were all dancing around in the street and clinging off each other’s arms and cheering themselves. They’d done something. Innocent lives had been saved. Three people had lived who would otherwise have died, and nobody as far as they were aware had died in their place.

Sirius was spinning Luna around, the glee in his handsome face completely undisguised. When he looked genuinely happy, Hermione could almost forget his twelve years in Azkaban, the years that had taken away much of the easy good-looks she’d seen in photographs. It wasn’t that he was unattractive, now, but it was a harder beauty. It was the face of someone who had been consistently screwed over by the world around him, but who had not lost the essential components of who he could have been.

The years had not been kind to Sirius Black, and yet he remained able to see the good in the world tonight.

Hermione was not sure that she could.

She hung back on the pavement as the other three danced and twirled and leapt around in the street, like dancers in one of the musical films Hermione’s mother had loved so much. A passing car honked its horn; they were in the way of the bright red Ford Escort. The noise and the lights barely disturbed them.

They had saved three people, and yet there would be more. There would be deaths that, however hard they tried, they would be unable to prevent. There had been two Muggleborn families targeted tonight. Sirius had only known the address of one of them. The others would have died as the Death Eaters had intended.

Saving some of the people who would ordinarily die was, logically, better than saving nobody. Everyone knew there were deaths in a war. They were just four, trying to change the course of something that hundreds of witches and wizards were fighting in.

Ginny fell back beside her, her eyes full of the excitement of a successful evening’s work.

“Hermione, we did something,” she said, as if she knew what Hermione had been thinking. “A week ago, a few days ago, we wouldn’t have done anything. You don’t regret it, do you?”

“No,” said Hermione. She was sure that she didn’t. A very small part of her, the perpetual student part, still argued the theoretical reasons why they should not be doing this. But the whole of her, when it came down to it, understood why they needed to do this now. “I don’t regret a thing. I just… there’s so many, Ginny.”

“And we’ll do what we can. Harry saved the wizarding world doing what he could. Don’t hold yourself to a higher standard than you’d hold the Chosen One to.”

“Come on, Hermione!” Sirius grabbed her by the hand and swung her into the road. She let him, and she let him twirl her around until she felt dizzy. When he let up, she collapsed sideways into him giggling like a teenager, and he grabbed her with his arms and pulled her into him to prevent her from falling. His body was warm, comforting, safe. She was doing the right thing. Sirius was looking down at her as if she had done well, they had all done enough.

“Hermione! Sirius!” Ginny shouted, from the doorway of their house. “Celebratory drink!”

“We’re coming,” Sirius replied, releasing Hermione. For a moment, there was something missing as he crossed the street and went onto the pavement. She shook the feeling off. It was an emotional night. An emotional week. If she pushed it, an emotional year.

Chapter Text

Sirius
December 1978, Saltburn

Sirius could not remember the last time he had felt so fucking happy.

He was singing in the shower these days. He ate breakfast with relish. Not literal relish. Generally milk, or butter on the rare occasions he chose to eat toast. He went flying with Ginny just for fun. He actually did a little dance at one point, and Sirius was not sure if he had danced since he’d done the 1970s the first time around.

Christmas was coming, and this was two Christmases in a row he would have had fun for. In terms of how his life fitted together, rather than any obvious chronology that the rest of the world was following. Well, actually, Christmas had generally been happy. Christmas 1980 had been the last time all four Marauders, and Lily and Harry, had been together in one place before they’d all started pointing their wands at each other amid accusations of treachery. Well, just him and Remus had done that. It had been bad enough that way.

He wanted Christmas decorations, and ventured into the nearest Muggle city of Middlesborough to visit something called a department store with Hermione and Luna. He then went to Diagon Alley with Ginny, under heavy self-Transfiguration, to buy some Christmas decorations that acted like Christmas decorations should. Yes, some of the Muggle ones burst into song from time to time, but you couldn’t have an argument with a Muggle decoration and none of them chased you round the room. It just wasn’t Christmas without that.

They did general shopping, too, with the last of the Muggle money Sirius has got from Gringotts. He supposed they would have to do something about their financial situation after Christmas. He stocked up on socks, Luna bought food supplies, and Hermione bought something called ‘flip-chart paper’.

“What the hell?” asked Sirius, when she came out of the little stationers with it. “What’s that massive parchment for?”

“Planning,” she said, tucking the roll neatly under her arm. “You can get more information on one sheet.”

“You can on parchment. You just unroll it further. Remus once managed a twelve foot long essay. Lily managed one that was ten feet. Peter’s longest was nine-and-a-half.” He looked at her, with an appraising sort of look. “You look like the sort that would have written a twelve foot long essay.” She did as well.

She snorted. That meant she’d taken that the way it was intended, at least. He was never sure at the moment how far to push things with Hermione. Ginny, he understood. She was almost always good for a joke. He’d crossed into light pranking with Ginny, and she’d responded in kind. If she didn’t feel like it, she told you straight up. Sirius liked that. And Luna was so impossible to read that he didn’t think he’d ever even know if he’d offended her or if he even knew what her point was. Sirius Black was technically a genius, McGonagall had told him so, but he’d be damned if he understood half of what Luna was talking about at any moment.

“Quality over quantity,” Hermione said. “My twelve foot essay was just filling parchment, by the end.”

“Which is advisable in many things,” said Luna. “Although perhaps not relationships. Quantity can teach you a lot that quality can’t.”

That was Sirius’ point. Nobody had been talking about relationships. But this was the girl who still maintained she wasn’t ruling out that they were all dead.

Their house was crammed with Christmas decorations by the middle of December, and it was at times difficult to traverse the downstairs rooms without bashing into something. Ginny, it turned out, did not approve of the fleet of miniature wooden reindeer that occasionally took flight across the living room, or the talking wreath he’d hung on the kitchen door. For what it was worth, Sirius had no love for tinsel. Gaudy, nasty stuff. Ginny was very taken with tinsel.

Hermione opened the door just as the reindeer flew past it, and blinked rapidly several times at the sight and the noise of a singing statuette of Santa Claus. The statuette was Muggle, the charmwork Sirius’.

“How’s things at the hedge?” asked Ginny, from her armchair. “Do you think one of us needs to go out there?”

“No,” said Hermione, taking off her wooly hat and its matching hand-knitted mittens. “There’s nothing going on. Sirius said it would have happened by yesterday, we’ve done an extra day, and there’s still nothing.”

“My memory could be wrong,” said Sirius, but even as he said it he doubted that it was true. He had an excellent memory. It was one of his few positives.

“I don’t think it is,” said Hermione. “You said Dolohov was the one setting the wards around the building, and a short man, and we fought Dolohov and a short man. The shorter man was Stunned, and still on the floor unconscious when Moody arrived. There’s absolutely no way he wasn’t the one reported in the Prophet yesterday as being in Ministry custody. The Prophet said Moody apprehended him trying to attack a Muggleborn household, and it all fits. Dolohov was in a state, too. They must not have done it, because they weren’t able to.”

“Why hasn’t somebody else, though?” asked Ginny. “You’d have thought Voldemort just would have got somebody else to do the work.”

“We don’t know how their structures work,” said Sirius. “We know a bit from Snape, I mean. We know Voldemort is unlikely to give that level of instruction himself, and that most of them are so paranoid about someone else stealing their position that they won’t admit what they’re doing to anyone except the man himself and their closest confidants. We don’t even know what’s in there. It might have been somehow linked to the attack we stopped, and so irrelevant now.”

“Well,” said Luna, who had gone to the kitchen and was now carefully shredding the peel from a large orange with her wand. “It may remain a mystery. It may not.”

“There’s one way to find out, for certain, I mean. We’ll have to go.” Ginny stole a piece of the orange from Luna.

“We could do that,” said Hermione. “We know where it is. We know no Death Eater has set foot there for the three days we’ve been watching.”

“What would it achieve?” asked Luna.

“If we know what’s there, we know more about what we’re facing,” said Sirius. “At the moment, we’re relying on my admittedly exceptional memory, a lot of which only really covers what myself, James or Peter was involved in, and stories you three have heard from other members of the Order. All we know about this is that James was tracking Dolohov for something completely unrelated and we saw him and another Death Eater place strong wards on a glorified shed in Cumbria yesterday.”

“Do you think it’s relevant?” asked Hermione.

“At this point, I don’t think we really know what’s relevant,” said Sirius. “If we want to take down the Death Eaters, surely information helps.”

“Dad told me once that he thought Snape’s spy role was one of the most intrinsic things to the success of the Order in the second war,” said Ginny. “He says you had nothing like that, the first time around.”

“No, we didn’t,” said Sirius. “It’s how a lot of good people got killed. We relied on getting up close and personal with them to find out what they were up to, which resulted in people getting killed on spying missions or being identified and targeted later.”

Hermione took the roll of flip-chart paper from where it had been residing on the coffee table and spread it out. She took a quill and ink from her bag, setting it up beside the paper.

“What do we know?” she asked.

“We know that, after the one we prevented, there were no further Death Eater attacks until the New Year,” said Sirius. “At the time we believed they were planning something big, although it was possibly just down to the absurd level of parties pureblood hold at this time of year. Hogwarts term ends in a couple of days.” Hermione wrote the date of the last attack at the top of the parchment, paused, and then inserted Jo’s death above it in her sloping handwriting.

“And what happened in 1979?” asked Hermione.

“There was a series of attacks on members of the Order,” said Sirius. “Edgar Bones and his family narrowly escaped on the second of January. I doubt we need to intervene there. Then there was Ianthe Hestherdown on the third. She died. Muggles found her body before we did, so we had a logistical nightmare as well as the grief. They attacked two more houses on the fifth, and another on the sixth. Two of those were Order members, and one was a misidentification. All had at least one death, although one was a Death Eater. A newish recruit, one of my brothers’.”

“Okay.” Hermione scribbled frantically on the flip-chart.
“And we’re trying to save all these people?” asked Ginny.

“Not the Death Eater,” said Sirius, firmly. Hermione looked for a brief second as if she wanted to argue that point, but Sirius didn’t. He wasn’t exactly pro-killing people, but he didn’t feel the urge to go out of his way to save people who were more than prepared to kill him in return for the favour.

“Clear boundaries and expectations are good,” said Ginny. “That’s a start. What’s our end game?”

“Harry,” said Hermione and Sirius, together.

“Excellent,” said Ginny. “Glad to know everyone’s so invested in saving my yet-to-be-born fiance.”

“If we kill Voldemort before then,” said Sirius, “we won’t have to go near that.” And, he thought, Remus won’t have to go through anyone telling him to fuck off and that they thought he was the spy. Nobody will make him crumble like that again.

“We don’t know where to find Voldemort,” said Hermione. “And there’s the…”

“Perhaps we should go back a step,” said Luna. “We need information, first.”

Sirius had almost forgotten she was there, with her neat pile of orange peel balanced on the arm of the armchair she was sitting in.

“Information, and an end point,” said Ginny. “Which is fine if that’s Harry, but I feel it needs to be more specific.”

“We cannot possibly know a viable endpoint without further information,” stated Luna. “And discussion.”

“We’re a democracy,” said Hermione (“Are we?” asked Ginny). “Let’s vote. Who thinks we should go out there now and investigate?” Sirius raised his hand, and surprisingly so did Hermione. “Who wants to stay here and argue?” Luna raised hers.

“It isn’t argue, so much as debate,” she said. “And it’s not that I don’t want to go. The timing is wrong.”

Ginny shrugged. “I want a piss,” she said, “and a snack.”

Hermione muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “Weasleys.”

Within half an hour, after Ginny had eaten half of the contents of the kitchen, and Sirius, who knew a good thing when he saw it, had joined her, they were out and about once more. They had seen more action in the last two weeks than they had for months, and it made Sirius feel alive once more. His wand was practically wobbling with excitement in his hand as he stashed it into the pocket of his jacket. he was almost skipping out to their favoured Apparition point in the back alley.

“No Dolohov?” asked Hermione, on arrival. She had her hand-knits back on and her coat zipped up to her chin.

“Nothing,” said Ginny. She had taken the scout position again, her ginger hair slicked back into a ponytail. She was ankle deep in a puddle, but didn’t appear to have noticed. Sirius adjusted his own position before he followed her down the small, muddy path towards their destination. His boots weren't waterproof, and he’d never bothered to learn the charms that would make them so.

It was half a mile down the path to the building, and Sirius felt every yard of it. Too many fucking branches taking up space on the path that ought to be clear, and too much fucking mud. He preferred it when the Death Eaters set up in a city. A town, at least.

They reached the hedge they’d been using as a lookout point, and the building loomed in front of them. It was a shack at best. The wooden sides showed all the telltale signs of abandonment, and the roof was in no better a state. Three windows graced the sides visible from the approach, and all of them were boarded up. The door, they knew from their surveillance, was around the back. Hermione had drawn a little diagram, and everything.

“What do you reckon?” asked Ginny.

“Try the door,” said Sirius.

“Isn’t that what they’d expect?” said Hermione, consulting her little diagram.

“They’ll expect an attacker to avoid the door,” said Sirius. “Which means there could be something even nastier on the windows.”

Luna walked up to the building, her long purple skirt swishing as she did so, and began casting spells in its general direction.

“Let her get on with it,” said Ginny, holding out her arm to stop Hermione going closer.

“Why didn’t I think of that?” asked Hermione. Sirius didn't bother to answer. She seemed to be mostly talking to herself, anyway.

It didn’t matter who thought of it, he thought, but he was glad somebody had. Breaking into heavily warded and well defended buildings was a bitch, even if there weren’t any Death Eaters present. He’d rather not do it if he didn’t have to.

But he knew enough of Hermione Granger to know that she’d be highly aggrieved that she hadn’t thought of it. She prided herself on being a planner. On knowing what to do, and when. Sirius was more of the ‘leap in and hope it doesn’t go horrifically wrong’ type. It usually did. Sirius was a fuck-up, and he was proud. When you were inevitably going to be something, you might as well be proud of it.

“I have checked everything that I can think of,” said Luna, “and the building is undefended. We cannot go through the door, but the windows are clear, and so is everything else. We have options, as it were, and if we choose to use them.”

“Excellent,” said Ginny. “I vote windows.”

“They’re very high up,” said Sirius.

“Are you a wizard, or not?” asked Hermione. “Come on, Sirius.” She turned to him, her plait flipping behind her as she did so. “Unless you’re scared.”

“Never,” he said, and joined Ginny in moving towards the building.

That wasn't entirely true, Sirius thought, as he watched Ginny creating a ladder to the largest of the windows by Transfiguring branches. He’d spent more than half his life, probably up to three quarters, being terrified of something. What varied. The Sorting Hat had told him bravery was facing your fears, and if you didn't have any you were not brave but deathly stupid. Well, that was Sirius’ paraphrasing.

So he was mostly brave, and mostly scared.

This, however, was child’s play. Breaking into an almost entirely unsecured building. With magic. How difficult could that be?

Ginny was at the top of the ladder. She climbed it without any difficulty, even though by Sirius’ estimate she was about twelve feet into the air, and unlatched the window by magic. Looking at it, she then blasted the whole thing off its hinges with a well-aimed spell.

“Careful,” said Hermione, her back to the building and her eyes casting around their surroundings.

“Am being,” said Ginny.

“Use hominum revelio,” reminded Luna.

Ginny leant into the building, waving her wand and muttering spells, while Luna pointed her wand at her skirt and began to shorten it for the climb.

Sirius was the last to enter the building, climbing the ladder and pulling himself to sit atop the window frame shortly after Hermione. He considered what to do with the ladder. Vanishing it would avoid it being spotted, keeping it would make their exit easier. He Vanished it, cast a cushioning charm beneath him, and jumped.

He landed in a large room, less far down than he had climbed up. So there were two levels to the building. Ginny and Hermione stood in the centre of the room, their wands lit. Luna was off poking around in some corner, no doubt. That would be exactly her style. It was be what the old Sirius would have been doing.

They were a funny little group, the four of them. Nothing like his old group, his Marauders. Too many girls. They had agreed to allow girls in if Harry had been one. He was a honorary Marauder, they had been debating his name at that 1980 Christmas lunch. ‘Fawn’ had been his working title. Sirius had been campaigning hard for ‘Spots’.

“Sirius?” said Hermione. “We were talking to you.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t listening,” he said.

“It looks like bedrooms,” she repeated. “That’s what we were saying.”

“There’s more,” said Ginny, coming in from a corridor Sirius hadn’t seen her enter. “Five, and two bathrooms. I haven’t gone downstairs. Where’s Luna?”

“Here,” said Luna. “There’s no personal things on any of the nightstands, and no toothbrushes or hair potions or anything in any of the bathrooms. If anyone lives here, they don’t come very often.”

“Or they have no personal effects and hate having baths,” said Sirius. “You can’t rule that out.”

“You can’t,” said Hermione. Sirius was distracted again by her agreeing with him, which was so rare it was worth remarking on, and missed the rest of her sentence. She had her hair loose down her shoulders, and it framed her face.

“Shall we go downstairs, then?” asked Ginny. She had never sheathed her wand during the entire process. Sirius’ was still in his jacket pocket. That was a poor decision. He pulled it out, and nodded.

Ginny led the procession down the stairs, Sirius again bringing up the rear. The house, if it was that, had been recently decorated. Not fancily, but the paint on the walls smelt fresh and there were no signs of any wear or tear on the furniture. Of course, things could be magically repaired and protected, but if you knew what to look for you could sense the magic that had been used on the objects. Strangely, the place was free of that magic.

Almost entirely free of magic, it felt like.

He stopped, halfway up the stairs, and used the same detection spells Luna had outside the house and a few others of his own. Nothing. Apart from some fairly nasty but standard curses guarding the doorway, absolutely no magic had been used on or in the making of this house.

“Hermione?” he said, the others out of sight. “There’s no magical traces.”

“I know,” she said. “Luna checked.”

“No,” he repeated. “Absolutely nothing. Before we came here, the only magic that had been used is on the door.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“My mother taught me that no respectable pureblood should ever live in a place where no magic has already been cast,” he said, drily. “It’s amazing what you can learn from someone with so much prejudice. Sometimes, it’s useful. Mostly, it isn’t.”

She pulled a funny face. “So that means,” she said, slowly, “that this place was built by Muggles?”

“Or wizards without magic,” he said, “but that’s less likely. It’s probably a Muggle house that Dolohov decided to take over.”

“Think about what you just said,” said Hermione. She reached out and ran her hands over the beige paint on the walls.

“Oh, Dolohov’s a half-blood,” he said, airily. “His father is a Muggleborn, believe it or not, and his mother is a witch from no great family. It’s unlikely he’d have been taught this.”

“Why do you know so much about him?”

“Again, my mother is a prejudiced, sour old cunt and she made me learn. I could tell you the blood status and family history of most families. All the ones she considered worth knowing, in order of worth, and all the ones she wanted us never to associate with. If we didn't know someone’s blood status, any blood traitor tendencies and who everyone in their family is married to upon hearing their name, how would we know whether or not they were to be friends or enemies?” He watched her reaction carefully. “Dolohov’s half-blood. I don’t judge him for that, and obviously you can’t predict everything about someone from the family they come from.” He indicated himself. “But, you know, sometimes information is worth it.”

“Okay,” she said, “so we haven’t necessarily ruled anything out there. What about the other man, the short man?”

“Since nobody has any idea who he is,” said Sirius, thinking, “it’s possible, too. Running with that, if it’s been built without magic deliberately, for use by Death Eaters, why?”

“Not a clue,” said Hermione with a sigh. “We’d better catch up with Ginny and Luna.”

They followed the stairs, out into a downstairs hallway that connected with the door. There were no windows on the lower floor. That didn’t massively make visibility any more difficult, as there hadn’t been much light coming in through the small, dirty windows as the sun set, but it certainly added a challenge in Sirius’ eyes. They had only two ways out, rather than several; up the stairs or through the cursed door. Hermione had noticed that too, and put her hand on Sirius’ arm.

“I’ll keep my wand light on,” she said. “You’re the defence.”

“Aren’t you faster?” he said.

“You’ve got better aim,” she said.

The other change, he supposed, was that they were both more on edge with the slight increase in darkness and the decrease in ease of exit.

They made their way in turn through the rooms on the lower floor. Another bathroom, a small kitchen, a sitting room of sorts and two more bedrooms. The bedrooms were identical to those upstairs, beige painted walls, floorboards, and two sets of bunk beds with blue striped bedclothes. Ginny and Luna were in the second of the bedrooms, Luna having climbed to the top bunk. Sirius shut the door.

“Anything of interest?” asked Ginny.

Hermione pulled at the bedclothes on the closest lower bunk. “The duvet covers are Muggle made,” she said. She showed Sirius a small, white label sewn into the inside of the cover. “See, it’s from Woolworths. A Muggle shop,” she clarified, at the look on everyone else’s faces.

“Everything is Muggle,” he said.

“The kitchen had an oven like the one in our house,” said Ginny.

“There’s someone outside,” said Luna.

“It’s probably a fox,” said Sirius, “or something like that, isn’t it?”

Luna leapt down from the upper bunk, landing neatly. “Oh, no, I think they’re outside this room.”

Sirius’ pulse quickened, and he tightened his grip on his wand.

“Get out!” said Hermione, in a hissed whisper. “Apparate!” She twisted on the spot, and nothing happened.

Sirius tried, and in the corner of his eye he could see Ginny try, and nothing happened for them either.

“Anti-Apparition Jinx,” said Sirius. He cast a non-verbal Muffilato. “Death Eaters used them all the time,” he said, more quietly. “They might not know anyone’s here, sometimes they used them as a precaution. But we weren’t being exceptionally quiet, so they probably do know we’re here. They have probably heard every word we’ve said, too.”

He wasn’t exactly happy, any more. Happy was the wrong word. But he was definitely feeling something, and that was by far better than feeling nothing. Even if that something was the rush that came with the potential of being dead soon. His hand shook on his wand, but it wasn’t nerves. He was ready.

Hermione waved her wand at the door, silently. “There’s one outside this room,” she said. “Two more outside the building.”

“Why aren’t they coming in?” asked Ginny.

“Fucked if I know,” said Sirius. “They’ve clearly got more self-control than I have.”

He was itching to get out there, truth be told.

“Ginny, Luna,” said Hermione, “run for the stairs. Sirius, cover them. I’ll…”

“No,” he said, firmly. “I’ll go out first and take the Death Eater. You run past. Hermione, you can do the covering if you want, but I’m having the Death Eater.” She didn’t get to control everything. He needed to protect her, and all of them.

“Why?” she said.

“Because I’ve got better aim,” he said. “And, besides, I’m the one with the least to lose.”

“Sirius,” said Hermione, with the tone of somebody who had a lot more to say.

“Shh,” said Luna. “They’ll be coming in any moment, I’m sure. We should retain the element of surprise while we still have it.” She moved towards the door, beckoning Ginny along with her. “Thank you, Sirius, see you later.”

Luna opened the door with a flick of her wand, and Sirius leapt into action. He vaguely felt the rush of the three women going past behind him as he threw as many offensive spells as he could think of at the Death Eater. It was dark, his visibility was shit, and conjuring lights would waste valuable seconds. He could only cast in the right direction, hope, and leap out of the way of any jets of light he saw come his way. Shield himself occasionally. It was next to impossible, he thought, as he rolled on the floor to avoid something that looked suspiciously like the Killing Curse. He had no obvious way to win this. He hadn’t felt more alive in months.

Stupefy!” he shouted, twisting to his feet again. “Confringo!

His spells were met with answering cries, and non-verbal spells. He swung out of the way of some tiny fireballs, leapt over a conjured tripwire, and ducked under some sort of blade. He kept his answering volley of spells up, flying every offensive spell he could think of in the direction of his opponent.

The Death Eater was grunting with the effort of keeping up the duel, and Sirius was feeling the pressure. They ought to do duelling practice, him and the girls. Keep their skills up and fresh. He ought to take up running, again, for fitness.

Gemino!” he shouted, to the sound of clattering.

He knew he was getting tired then, already. Using ridiculous spells in a duel was generally a sign.

He dived away from another Killing Curse, hit the floor with a thud, and then there was nothing.

 

The room he came to in was just as dark as the one he had left, but it wasn't the same one. This one had a floor made of mud, for starters. He pulled himself into a sitting position, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and began to check himself for injuries. There was what felt like wet blood in his eyebrows, and an obvious injury to his right shoulder, but thankfully nothing serious. He could heal all of that.

Hopefully, they would remain his only injuries.

As his eyes adjusted, he could tell that he was in a small, round room. The walls were stone, the floor the ground, and the top was open to the elements. It was a good thing it was a dry night. The sun had set now, which put it at anything from an hour or so after they’d entered the house to early morning. He doubted he’d been out the full twenty-four hours. He felt too mobile. He stretched his limbs, one by one, and got to his feet.

Sirius could only assume it was a Death Eater that had taken him into captivity, based on the information he had. He had assumed that was who had been duelling him. And, this wasn’t how the Order held people. They held them at the spot, and called Moody or Frank or Alice Longbottom to come and officially make an arrest. Death Eaters had a motive for being in the house, because they were scheduled to have been yesterday. They didn’t know what the motive was, but there was one somewhere in this.

He didn’t know if they knew who he was.

He had no idea where exactly he was.

There would almost certainly be Anti-Apparition spells on this prison, and other wards. It was impossible to scale, either way, the walls were smooth and leant in on themselves.

In the room, he had a chamber pot, something Sirius had always fucking despised, a mattress made from straw, and a single blanket. He had no wand, and the fuckers for some reason had also taken his shoes.

Finishing his analysis of exactly what he knew, which wasn’t much, Sirius decided there was no time like the present to start the fitness regime he’d thought about while duelling. He began with basic stretches, and for a lack of anything else to use as a base he worked his way through James’ on-the-ground Quidditch drills as best he could.

Halfway through, it occurred to him that perhaps he shouldn’t be too tired if someone came in.

Sleeping would have made him, well, too sleepy if someone came in, so he whiled away the time refining his memory of various happy things that had happened in his life. It was always a constructive way to spend his time. It reminded him of the point of what he was doing.

The stars were well and truly out by the time someone came in to see Sirius. He was lying flat on his back on the straw mattress, having dragged it into the centre for the room, and was looking at himself in the night sky. His father was visible too. He might be the brightest star, but his father had a whole fucking constellation. That was just greedy.

Andromeda had a constellation, too, but that was different. He liked Andromeda.

“Good evening,” said a masked and cloaked man standing above him. A Death Eater, if he had ever seen one before.

Sirius got up. “Good evening,” he said, sticking out his right hand.

The Death Eater looked at him with distaste.

“You will not fuck around,” he said. “You will tell me what you were doing this evening.”

“No, I don’t think I will,” said Sirius. “Not unless you tell me who you are, and where you’ve put me.”

He crossed his arms, expecting a dose of the Cruciatus Curse. It didn’t come. Instead, he was delivered a swift kick to the balls.

“Fuck,” said Sirius, doubling over.

“Who are you?” said the Death Eater. They had no discernible accent to their voice, and so Sirius decided that it couldn’t have been Dolohov. His voice had always been strongly accented, and he was sure he was taller than this man.

“What does it matter?” asked Sirius. “Why are you keeping me in this fucking prison?”

“Who are you?” they asked again.

“Not saying,” said Sirius, earning himself a further kick to the balls. It was a fucking good job he had no desire to father children, with this treatment. He would have to come up with a decent plan, soon. He was either stupid, or even more arrogant than he realised, because he hadn’t bothered to do that when he was alone in the cell. The half-arsed plan had been ‘not say anything, escape when Death Eater enters’, except he had failed to see how they arrived.

“Do you even have a wand?” he said, opting for the plan of ‘goad them into doing something stupid and see if you can use it to your advantage’. “Can’t you even use magic to get answers out of me.” He hauled himself upright. “What’s with the mask?”

“You are stupider than you look,” spat the Death Eater. “You have a wand, and Muggle clothing, and you don’t know what it is that I stand for?”

“I don’t have a wand any more, do I?” said Sirius. “Fucking taken it, haven’t you?”

“Let us try a different approach,” said the man. Sirius felt the twinge of Legilimency against his brain. This was something he should have anticipated. He’d had a lot of experience with Legilimency, and was able to identify its use quickly, which gave him an advantage against it. Unfortunately, his disadvantage was that he was shit at Occulmency. His mother had tried to teach him, and he’d been awful and Regulus had been perfect. They’d taught them in the Order, and Peter and Remus had been perfect. James at least had been almost as terrible as Sirius, and so Sirius adopted what he liked to call the James Potter Occulmency Technique. Instead of allowing the Death Eater access to wherever he liked, he began to slowly and torturously re-enact Quidditch matches he’d played in his head.

Of course, a skilled Legilimens could push that aside, and a mediocre but forceful one could get round it, too. Most of the time in Sirius’ experience, it made the Legilimens so fucking frustrated with you that they resorted back to magical or physical torture, which Sirius could handle.

“I see you have experience with Occulmency,” said the Death Eater.

“With what?” asked Sirius

“Are you with the Order of the Phoenix?”

“No.”

“You are not lying.”

“No, of course I’m not.”

Sirius had to be careful here, then. It seemed the Death Eater couldn't or was unwilling use the necessary force to push into Sirius’ brain past the Quidditch replays, but had enough skill and awareness to spot truth. He forced himself to think Quidditch again as the next question came from the man’s mouth.

“Do you know who the Order of the Phoenix are?”

“I heard a mention of them in the newspapers.” That was just omitting facts, not lying. This man needed to learn to ask better questions.

“Who were the others?”

“My friends.”

“The truth. Well done. You are getting the hang of this.”

“Who are you?”

“I like poking around places.”

“That is not an answer, but it is not untrue. What is your name?”

He swung back the Beater’s bat and hit the Bludget straight at the Slytherin Chaser, and it hit him square in the middle of the back. He dropped the Quaffle and…

“William Smith.”

…the Gryffindor Chaser caught it and threw it to another, and they aimed for goal, and, shit, the Slytherin Keeper…

“Blood status.”

…caught it and threw it back to the Slytherin Chaser he’d hit, and they passed it on, and there was a scream from the stands, the Slytherin Seeker was diving…

“Muggleborn.”

“What does a dirty Mudblood want digging around here? What did you think you would find?”

“I told you, I like poking around places.” Sirius gambled. “Don’t call me Mudblood, fucking git.”

Crucio!

Sirius had barely time to think that this was more like it when he hit the floor in the familiar pain of the Cruciatus Curse. This he could handle. He shouted into the pain, as his body folded in on itself and burst open, both at the same time. The pain stopped. He was still on his feet, if scrunched over slightly in the middle, and he hadn’t vomited or worse.

“Know how to take that, do you?”

“Was that an Unforgivable?” Of course he knew how to fucking take it, but he wasn’t letting this bastard see that memory.

Different Death Eaters used the Cruciatus for different purposes. Bellatrix liked suffering. It made Legilimency easier, some liked that. It produced the truth from some people just by itself. Sirius Black was an expert at taking the pain of the Cruciatus Curse, and he would not give away anything while under its effects. Another useful lesson from his mother, although probably not the one she’d intended.

“You are William Smith?”

“Yes,” he said, thinking of Quidditch.

“What are the names of the people who were with you?”

“What have you done with them?” He didn’t dare think their names. Fucking hell, he hoped they were safe. He hoped they were home, and not in another prison like this.

“I ask the questions, Smith.”

“Who are you to be so demanding of me?”

That earned him another round of the Cruciatus, as he’d thought it would. It was comforting that this Death Eater seemed to be as predictable as the others he had met. They must be given a book on how to be predictable as fuck in their torture devices. He crumbled to the floor, every part of his body on fire, and tore at his foot in the hope of pulling it off and making at least one part of his body at peace. He would give almost anything for the pain to stop, but not his secrets.

He was on the floor when the pain stopped, clutching his left foot.

“Do you ever scream?” muttered the Death Eater.

“No,” said Sirius. It was something of a point of pride.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” hissed the Death Eater, aiming a swift kick at Sirius. It connected with his head, then two more with his sides, and Sirius scrunched himself into a ball to protect his testicles. The world spun for a moment, and he was certain a rib was broken.

Think of Quidditch, he thought to himself.

Don't think of anything that could identify you.

The Cruciatus Curse was almost getting a little bit boring now. The pain was still fucking horrific, and left him unable to think rationally, but it faded reasonably quickly. He never pissed himself. Most people did. Or worse. Sirius had seen stronger men than he shit themselves under its influence. Again, he’d need to thank his mother for that, he supposed.

“Getting bored of this, are you?” asked the Death Eater. “Why does it not touch you like it does others, I wonder?”

“High pain threshold,” said Sirius. He rolled over and sat up. Definitely a broken rib. If not two.

“I will break you if I choose,” said the Death Eater. “There is no doubt about that.”

“Like fuck you will,” said Sirius. He made what he thought was probably going to be a terrible decision, and leapt forwards from his sitting position at the Death Eater’s legs, pulling them down to the floor and swiftly punching them in their own balls. His wand fell to the floor, and Sirius made to grab for it.

The Death Eater fought back, kicking out at Sirius. Sirius’ fingertips just about reached to the wand, and he kicked at the Death Eater and wrapped his hand around the wand. Before he could raise it, the Death Eater launched at him and knocked it flying. Both of them scrabbled for it across the ground, legs and arms making frequent contact with one another as they raced.

Sirius was slightly slower. The Death Eater grabbed the wand and blasted Sirius across the room, where he flopped against the wall of the prison with his feet somehow above his head and the warm trickle of blood falling down his face.

“I do not know who you think you are,” said the Death Eater, who was also bleeding from the hairline and had their left arm held awkwardly across their body. The wand was clutched firmly in their right hand, the sign of victory. “But I do not think I wish you to live much longer.”

The Death Eater held out their wand, Sirius flew up in the air once more, hit the wall again, and the whole world went dark for the second time that evening.

Chapter Text

Regulus
December 1978, Grimmauld Place, London

The winter party season had started tonight, and Regulus Black was more than ready for it.

Anyone who was anyone came home from Hogwarts for the Christmas break and took one night to spend with their family before the rounds of pre-Christmas social engagements began. Hogwarts was stifling these days, and Regulus longed for the company of men who were closer to his equal than the boys he shared a common room with at Hogwarts. The parties could be dull, especially the larger ones, but there was usually good conversation and decent wine to be had. And, of course, as the finest example of a young heir to a fortune, Regulus knew all the right people.

The Black Christmas party was always the first, befitting their rank as one of the oldest, richest, and most influential families in wizarding Britain. Term finished on Friday, and the Blacks hosted on Saturday night. The Malfoy Christmas party fell on Christmas Eve, and between those the smaller families vied for position. It was important to plan your strategy carefully there. Attending one of those parties implied favour, and that was something to be given carefully. Some nights, it was by far preferable to stay at home.

After Christmas, one could attend the Boxing Day soiree at Hambleton Hall, ably hosted by Bellatrix, if one was lucky enough to be accorded an invite. Some more smaller occasions, and then the glittering finale of the New Years Eve Ball at the Fawley’s. Regulus was particularly looking forward to that one. His first major event at his fiancee’s house.

Tonight, the family party would double as his engagement event. Adeline would dazzle and charm, he was sure. She was a beautiful girl, sweet-natured and interesting, and both she and her mother had an eye for a flattering cut of outfit. Demure, of course, as befitting his future bride, but she was bound to turn heads. He would dress simply, perhaps the dark grey silk that complimented his eyes and would not clash with anything she may have chosen. Regulus’ mother always had a photographer in attendance, and frequently a magazine or the Daily Prophet’s society pages. It would not do to clash.

Regulus was pondering the merits of owling Adeline to check the colour of her outfit, so as to plan to coordinate, when his mother rapped at the door.

“Regulus, my dear, the caterers have arrived, would you be so kind as to chaperone them? Your father is busy in his study, of course, and I’ve got an appointment with my hair-witch that I just cannot miss.”

“Of course, mother dearest,” replied Regulus. The dark grey silk would do. Overly coordinating was try-hard, something for the lower families.

 

He barely had time to greet Adeline on her arrival before they were both subsumed into the greater swell of people at the party. Anyone who was anyone attended, and then many more who were nobody in particular at all. Regulus posed for a photograph for the Daily Prophet’s photographer, spoke at length to Abraxas Malfoy, who was insistent on giving Regulus career advice, and listened to drunken Uncle Cygnus complain about the many failures of his cousin Andromeda. Across the room, his mother was with a circle of her friends, no doubt bitching about some of the other women in attendance. They always were. He hoped Adeline was not prone to bitching, it was so unbecoming.

“Regulus, my boy, a beautiful party, simply superb.” Professor Slughorn clapped Regulus on the back as he made his way up to him, a goblet of the elf-made wine in his other hand. Regulus took the opportunity to extract himself from Cygnus, who had moved onto his disappointment that neither Bellatrix or Narcissa had yet produced a child. “And congratulations, of course, Miss Fawley is an excellent prospect for you. You’ll do well together. Very complimentary characters, and both of course excellent students.”

“Thank you, sir, that's very kind of you. I’m pleased you could make it.” Regulus nodded to acknowledge Avery entering the drawing room, before turning back to the conversation with his Head of House. “Please do help yourself to refreshments. There’s some exceptional cheeses, and a very excellent port that accompanies them perfectly.”

“Thank you, my dear boy, always interested in a good port,” said Slughorn. “Aha! Is that old Mannion Carrow over there? I’ve got to go and say hello, Regulus, if you don’t mind?”

Regulus shook his head. A breather would be pleasant. These parties, they were stimulating, but there was such a thing as too many conversations too quickly. He took a walk through the house out into the gardens. A moment and some air, and he would be ready to resume his duties as the young heir and new fiance.

He would have a small wedding ceremony, Regulus decided. No doubt Madame Fawley and his mother would be planning a large, ostentatious reception, with everyone either of them have ever wished to impress, but the ceremony should be under a hundred people. He supposed he wouldn't have to invite Sirius, or Andromeda, her Mudblood, and her half-blood brat. Under eighty would be impossible, though. Adeline had chosen eleven bridesmaids already, including her two small nieces.

“The Dark Lord is arriving shortly,” said Avery, cutting through Regulus’ thoughts. “He will wish you to be present in the room. He does not intend to stay long.”

“Thank you, Avery.” Socially, Regulus was considered to be above Avery. His family was almost as rich as the Blacks, but plagued with scandal and prone to making marriages far below their status. Rumours continued to abound that Avery’s mother had consorted with a werewolf prior to her marriage, and his youngest sister was said to be a bastard old Mr Avery had fathered on his secretary. However, within the Dark Lord’s circle, Avery ranked higher. Regulus was a new initiate, and not yet considered to have sufficiently proved himself. He would rise in time, Regulus was sure of it. His blood already put him higher than other fresh recruits.

“Oh, and Selwyn says he needs you later. Good luck with that one. He’s hoping you’ll dig him out of some hole as far as I can tell.”

“I will do what I can, if it is the Dark Lord’s business.”

“Who knows what it is. How’s the fiancee?” asked Avery.

“She is well,” replied Regulus. “Enjoying swapping beauty advice with my dear cousin, the last I saw of her. You know Narcissa Malfoy, of course? So many here wanting to discuss matters with me, I have barely had time to attend to Adeline properly tonight. I must do so, before our Lord arrives.”

“Certainly,” said Avery. “We wouldn’t want the match threatened.”

“It is in no danger,” said Regulus, snapping his fingers for Kreacher to refill his goblet. “She has a strong rebuke, however, and I prefer to follow what I know is expected of me.”

“I hope she's worth it,” grinned Avery. “Mother’s been on at me to find a wife. Can’t say I’m interested, witches are far more fun when you don’t have to marry them.”

“Marriage has its benefits,” said Regulus as the two wizards made their way back through the throng of the party. “And you have the luxury of brothers. I do not.”

“Fair point,” said Avery. “Did you hear about Dolohov and Jugson?”

“Yes,” said Regulus. “Dolohov has always been showy, it is no surprise that he was injured. It will teach him to make better choices under attack. And Jugson may well be better off dead. The man had no sense, and he was a danger to our cause.”

“You’d think that you’d feel sorry for them, as they’re one of your own now.”

“I value intelligence and competence, Avery, and I think we can achieve far more as a smaller and better group than we can as a large one containing less desirable elements. I had thought anyone who affiliated themselves in our cause would be a believer in that.”

“Once again, Black, you have a point.” Avery smiled. “And this is where I leave you.” He disappeared into the crowd as he and Regulus reached Adeline and Narcissa.

“Ladies,” said Regulus, turning to his cousin and his fiancee. “May I fetch you anything? Drinks? Food? One of the miniature cakes? I hear they are sublime.”

“Oh, no, your adorable house-elf is keeping us more than comfortable,” said Adeline. Regulus thought the formal edge to her voice was fading lately. He was certain she hadn’t used it before their engagement, although he admitted his conversations with her had been limited. He had been rather fixated on someone else for much of sixth year, and prior to this engagement.

“I am comfortable too,” said Narcissa. “Adeline is lovely, Regulus. She will be a perfect wife for you.” Adeline blushed heavily at this, and Regulus smiled. He was pleased with his choice.

“Ah, Master Black” came a low, silky voice. “I had hoped to find you on my arrival, and here you are.”

“I always aim to please, my Lord,” said Regulus, bowing low as he turned to face the Dark Lord. “Has the party been to your liking?”

“I am freshly arrived,” said the Dark Lord. “And most anxious to meet the family of my brightest new recruit.”

“I thank you for your words, my Lord,” said Regulus. “My Lord, this is my fiancee, Miss Adeline Fawley, the daughter of Alpherton and Evangeline Fawley. We are celebrating our engagement, tonight, and there will of course be a small ritual within the next hour to cement the bonds between our two families. She is a lovely woman, and I am most proud to be welcoming her into the Black family as soon as I can persuade her father to let her go. And, you know Mrs Narcissa Malfoy, wife to Lucius Malfoy, of course.”

“I do, and I am charmed to see you here Mrs Malfoy.” The Dark Lord bent to kiss her hand, and turned on to Adeline. “And I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Fawley. I do not believe I know anyone in your family, but you are from a fine one, and Regulus never rests from making sure your reputation as a lady of good birth and strong magic precedes you.”

Adeline looked to Regulus, and he offered her an encouraging smile. She stood and made a small curtsey as the Dark Lord kissed her on the hand, and Regulus smiled again. She would make a fine bride. He had known she would, of course.

“And how soon do you believe your father will allow you to be wed?” the Dark Lord asked of Adeline.

“My mother is keen for me to complete my education before I make the marriage vows,” said Adeline, not taking her eyes away from the Dark Lord’s face. She held a steady gaze, and Regulus was proud. The Dark Lord was not an easy man to look in the eye. He would not have risen to the heights he had if he was. “My father is allowing her to make that representation to Regulus’ family.” She drew herself to her full height. “I would prefer to marry as soon as is possible. I wish for babies and for marriage, not for examination results written on parchment. I will learn my most valuable magics in this house, not at a school.”

“Well said,” said the Dark Lord, and Regulus knew Adeline had pleased him. “You will be a fine match for a fine man. And now you must excuse us, my ladies. I wish for some of Regulus’ time tonight, as to my sorrow I cannot stay long. I am a busy man, and I desire to meet with Regulus’ parents before I take my leave.”

“Certainly,” said Regulus, and nodded to Narcissa before taking Adeline’s hand for a goodbye kiss.

He moved off through the crowd, the Dark Lord at his side. The crowd had parted for Regulus before, as a host of the party and the young heir of the house, but it did so more easily for the Dark Lord. Many here were followers as Regulus himself was, or aspired to join. The rest at least knew the value of his work, even if they themselves had not yet found it within them to join. Regulus was sure they would, in time. It was becoming more clear than ever that to have a place in the new world he was creating these men would need to join. They could not expect roles, titles and honour if they had not been a part of the creation.

“Regulus, may we have a word, in private, before you make my introductions to your fine parents?” asked the Dark Lord, as they entered the corridor.

“Certainly, my Lord.” Regulus led him into his mother’s parlour, which had been closed off for the evening's festivities. It was a room that was not to Regulus’ taste; more flounce and frippery than the strong lines, hardwoods, and tasteful silver that Regulus preferred. But it was his mother’s, and as such, her right to decorate however she saw fit. His hand shook slightly on the doorknob as he closed the door and flicked his wand to lock it. He had never been granted a private audience with the Dark Lord, and it was an honour. He only hoped that he could acquit himself as well as he would wish to.

“I have heard from many sources that you have performed admirably on your limited trips away from your schooling so far, and that you have provided me with exceptional services within the school. For that, I thank you. However, I have heard from Bellatrix that despite your willingness to cast the Killing Curse at some scum, you have not yet made the kill. Not your fault, of course. You can blame that former brother of yours. Is that correct?”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Regulus, lowering his head. He had failed that evening.

“It is of no matter,” said the Dark Lord. “Regulus, I do not want you to feel as though you have failed me in this. You will try again. Soon, if it can be arranged. I know it is difficult for you to make it free of the Hogwarts boundaries without your position as a spy being compromised, so I hope to have this achieved before you return to the school. Avery will provide you with details. Now, I desire information from you. What have you discovered of the actions of Albus Dumbledore since your last report to Avery?”

Regulus swelled with pride. He had not failed the Dark Lord. He was trusted with the difficult job of recruiter and spy, under the nose of the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, and he would continue to make the Dark Lord proud. He would kill, when he was asked, because this was of the utmost importance. He outlined in as much detail as he could recall of the movements of Albus Dumbledore, and he promised to report to Avery with increased frequency on his return.

“Regulus,” said the Dark Lord, as they left the parlour, “do consider marrying that girl as soon as you can. I fear you will need to before she finishes her schooling, and aside from the need, it would most please me if you did. You are our sole hope, Regulus, to protect against another noble family’s disappearance from the soil.”

Regulus went back into the crush of the party on a high, and took pleasure in making the introductions between his Dark Lord and his parents. Mother was charmed, and Father impressed by his strength of conviction. The Dark Lord promised to stay for the binding ritual, to be performed at ten o’clock exactly.

His mother gathered the crowds together, and Regulus took a moment in the hallway for composure. He was to comport himself properly. Adeline’s family would be most unimpressed if the groom was a shaking, flustered mess at the formal pledging.

“Master Regulus,” said Kreacher, appearing at his elbow. “Mistress is wanting you now. Mistress is ready, Master Regulus, and soon to be Missy too.”

“Thank you, Kreacher,” said Regulus, bending to address the elf respectfully. “I will be along now.”

“You will, Master Regulus, you be along now.”

Regulus walked into the room, and took his place in the centre alongside his mother and his father. The circle of witches and wizards closed around him, a circle of almost everyone who mattered in the wizarding world. Representatives of every family within the circle of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, except for the blood-traitor families of Weasleys and Shafiqs, and the rising families too. The Dark Lord stood with Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, an indulgent smile just for Regulus on his face. Bellatrix and Rabastan were beside them, and his grandfather Pollux and Uncle Cygnus as the representatives of the Black family.

Adeline’s family were arrayed alongside them, and friends of both of them and of their families. Regulus caught sight of Selwyn, a fresh cut healing along the top of his forehead, and his parents, siblings and grandmother. The Carrows were there, annoyingly. Severus Snape had merited an invitation at Regulus’ urging. The Macmillans, the Averys, a handful of the numerous Shacklebolt family, a singular Bones.

Regulus turned to his mother. “Is everything as it should be?” he asked.

“Certainly,” said his mother.

Adeline entered the circle, in the traditional robes of a bride-to-be attending their pledging. The long plum coloured robes were held up at the back by the requisite two unmarried women, allowing her entry into the circle. They symbolised the support of her female friends and relations, without which she would fall.

“And so we begin,” said Arcturus. As the eldest male of Regulus’ family, he presided tonight. “We have two souls before us tonight. The blood of the magical gift runs freely in both of them. We have Master Regulus Arcturus Black, of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. We have Miss Adeline Calla Evangeline Fawley, of the strong and lasting line of Fawley. We have their family and friends, to bear witness to this event.”

“Tonight,” Arcturus continued, waving his wand high above the circle, “we come to pledge the hearts and hands of this witch and this wizard, and we come to join the bloodlines and the families as one. They will bind their lives, their magics, and their blood, and we will bind ourselves to the support of their union. Who gives this witch to the pledge?”

“That is I, Alpherton Stonard Ralphus Fawley, of the strong and lasting line of Fawley.” Adeline’s father stepped forwards, taking his daughter’s hand. She stood with her head bowed, in the centre of the circle, as he came to join her. Her long hair fell loose around her face, the circlet the Black family used for such bindings sitting atop her head. She was truly beautiful, and Regulus was pleased they had forgone the traditional heavy veil. The world should see the beauty he was pledging himself to marry, he thought. She deserved to be seen.

“Who here supports this man, in his duty to his pledged?” This should have been Sirius, Regulus thought with a pang. The eldest brother of a man should stand with him, or all the brothers if it was chosen, or a male cousin. Regulus had had a brother once. His brother had chosen to leave, and Regulus could no longer see him as such. He was blood but he was no brother. Sirius should have been here, but he was not, and it was another thing that he had ruined for Regulus with his selfish behaviour.

Regulus had not wanted to be the heir. He wanted the marriage. He wanted the children. He had not wanted to have to lead the family. Yet here he was.

And as such he would be the one to save it.

In the absence of anybody, Lucius Malfoy had been chosen to step up beside Regulus. A cousin-in-law, and a worthy man. “That is I,” said Lucius, smoothly. “Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, of the noble house of Malfoy, and wed to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black through my beautiful wife Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black.”

“And so that shall be,” said Pollux. “I ask you to clasp hands, Master Black and Miss Fawley.” Regulus took the three strides to the centre of the circle, and took Adeline’s hand from that of her father. He nodded to the older man as he did so. Respect was due to the father of the girl you wished to marry. They were the one who could prevent the match, even after this ceremony.

“Mr Fawley,” continued Pollux. “The rod. Mr Malfoy, the globe.”

Lucius held the globe out, and Regulus guided Adeline’s hands to it. The sphere of glass swirled beneath them, showing predominantly red and purple, flickers of gold and blue. That was a good omen, Regulus knew. He knew enough of the portents of the pledging globe, but it was the women’s role to know them all.

“A strong and lasting marriage,” said the first of Adeline’s women friends, her sister Avabelle. “And strong children, many children. That is the red, and that is the purple. There will be clashes, my lady and my lord, that is the gold, but there is little enough of that they will be over quickly. The blue shows the sadness. What comes will be soon, but it will not last. There is a turning point in your marriage, my lady and my lord, and if you can survive that you will survive anything at all.”

“We know this to be true from the powers vested in us as our lady’s support,” said the other, Opal Greengrass, who he recognised as Adeline’s friend. “We will do what is in our power to protect the good in this portent and to prevent the bad.”

“I thank you,” said Arcturus. “All of us will act to protect this pledge, and the marriage bond that will result from it. We are within the circle, and we are the circle. In the name of the Black family and in the name of the Fawley family, I cast the spells of pledging and of binding.

“I cast the first on all of us. I cast the spell of support and of watchfulness, of help and of care.”

Arcturus raised his wand high over the circle once more, and the net of silver captured the guests in a warm, fuzzy glow. Regulus felt the power of the spell enter him, and he was tempted to steal a glance at the room. As instructed, however, he kept his eyes on his Adeline, and she kept hers lowered to the globe.

“Thank you, Mr Malfoy,” said Arcturus, and Lucius removed the globe. “I cast the next spell on Miss Fawley. Mr Fawley, the rod.” The long golden rod was passed to Arcturus, and from there to Adeline.

“I cast the spell of faithfulness, of fealty, of the giving of heart, mind, and body to your intended husband. This spell will hold until your marriage, or until one year from this date. It may not be broken, except by the will of your father.” Adeline was bathed in a silver light, and she had never looked more beautiful.

“I cast our third and final spell on Master Black. I cast the spell of protectiveness, of guardianship and of provision for your intended wife.”

Regulus felt the warmth of the spell once more, but was focusing on his role and paid little attention. When the spell faded, he took his cue. “In the name of my family, my blood and my magic, I so do pledge myself to you. I am Regulus Arcturus Black, and I will bond myself to you in marriage when the time comes, and keep my promises in the meantime.” He looked into Adeline’s eyes as he said it, and she held his gaze.

“In the name of my family, my blood and my magic, I so do pledge myself to you,” she said in return. She looked him in the eye, and her voice was strong and calm. She was the perfect wife. “I am Adeline Calla Evangeline Fawley, and I will bond myself to you in marriage when the time comes, and keep my promises in the meantime.”

This time, the magic came from inside them, the spells Arcturus had cast over them leaping out to join and to celebrate above them with a burn of golden light. They sealed it with a kiss; a peck on the lips, anything more would be improper. And then she gave a squeeze to his hand, and he returned it, and the circle shot the traditional spells over their heads in celebration of the pledge.

Regulus, as was expected of him, turned his intended in a circle to show her to the assembled crowd. Some people decried these traditions. They were seen as vulgar, showy, old-fashioned or by some modernising types as unfair to the woman. The Ministry saw them as unnecessary, and held no differentiation for couples that had been pledged over those that had not. But Regulus understood the importance of the old rituals, of the pledging in front of society, and he was pleased that he had done this tonight.

He spent much of the next hour lost in congratulations. The world and their dog seemed to want to press their hand into his and shake it, or kiss his cheeks if they were female, and repeat the polite platitudes one said to a man who had just been formally pledged. Regulus enjoyed it for a time, but he felt he was here for discussion, not pretty words. He could get enough of those at Hogwarts.

Finally, someone he actually wished to see sought him out. Francis Macmillan sidled up, sticking out his hand to Regulus.

“Thought I’d say congratulations,” he said. “It’s nice to see the old ceremony used. They are what you believe they are, of course.”

“Thank you. And of course,” said Regulus. “I would not have considered anything else.”

“No, all about doing things the right way, aren’t you, Regulus? The family approve of the match, I see. As they would. She is a perfect pureblood wife. Bet you can’t wait for the kids.”

“I’m certainly looking forward to children,” said Regulus. “I have considered to name the firstborn boy after my father.”

“Bet you get six girls,” said Francis. “My mother says if you count your dragons before they’re hatched, they’ll be fire-breathing chickens.”

“That was not how I understood the saying to go,” said Regulus, stifling a laugh.

“You’ve not met my mother,” said Francis. “She’s not how you expect a pureblood wife to go.”

“Perhaps not,” said Regulus. “I should like to meet her.”

“I’ve got something else in mind for you,” said Francis, with a broad grin.

Regulus allowed Francis to lead him out of the formal reception rooms and upstairs, into a guest bedroom on the first floor. The room was rarely used, and contained two iron-framed beds and several large landscape paintings which dominated the flock-papered walls.

“I wonder if I can guess,” said Regulus, matching Francis’ grin.

“Oh yeah?” asked Francis, pushing Regulus backwards onto the wall, narrowly missing a landscape of the French countryside, and pushing his lips into Regulus’.

This was no pledging ritual peck on the lips, this was the real thing. It was full-blooded and hungry, the way Francis’ lips moved on his and the way Regulus responded in time. He pulled his arms free and threw them around Francis’ back, and the other man’s hands disappeared into his short hair and tugging at his dress robes.

“Don’t rip them, for the love of Merlin, they are hand-embroidered silk,” said Regulus.

“You’ll replace them, no doubt,” said Francis, with a smirk. “I’ve never seen you wear the same pair twice.”

And Regulus found he no longer cared all that much for the dress robes when Francis’ lips were back on his. He pushed at the other man, driving his tongue into his mouth, and they fell backwards onto the nearer of the beds with a soft thump, still locked together at the mouth. Francis tasted of the things Regulus loved so much, of firewhisky and freedom and the chance to make his own choices. The things he could never admit to his parents, but desired nonetheless.

Francis reached up and pulled Regulus’ robes from him in one swoop, throwing them behind to the floor.

“As good as ever,” he said, running his hands in through Regulus’ undershirt and feeling the skin below. “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.”

“As are you,” said Regulus. “Allow me to see you.”

“Lazy bastard,” said Francis, pulling his robes from his body and divesting himself of his own undershirt. Regulus drank in the sight, of the pale hairs decorating Francis’ chest and the outline of the muscle underneath. He met Francis’ lips again, then went down dotting kissed along the line of his jaw, his neck and onto his chest, revelling in the warmth of the familiar skin. Francis pawed at Regulus’ shirt, pulling at each button in turn until it hung open and Regulus allowed his arms to fall back and the shirt to come away from his body.

“As good as ever,” said Francis.

“As are you.”

Francis pushed Regulus from on top of him, and pulled at the buckle to his belt.

“Careful,” warned Regulus. “The party is ongoing.”

“Fuck the party,” said Francis. He flicked his wand at the door, once, twice, three times. “They won’t know we’re here.”

“I would rather you fucked me,” said Regulus, feeling the thrill of the words as he said them. He would never get used to saying things like that. He had not been raised this way. He had been raised to go to Adeline and look after her, to let her go home at the end of the night, and to respect her during their long engagement. He had not been raised to have sex with another man during a pureblood party.

He wanted to, though.

“I love it when you swear,” said Francis, throwing Regulus’ belt to the floor. “Say it again.” He was undoing Regulus’ trousers now.

“Fuck me,” said Regulus, and he was standing in his underwear in a room in his own house with Francis Macmillan semi-naked in front of him, and his cock was standing to attention. He wanted this, more than he wanted almost anything else.

They had never done anything this daring, never on a bed in a house. It was always secluded corners of Hogwarts, where very few others ever came. Never the same place twice in a row, and new places as frequently as they could find safe ones. It was never naked. Never a regular pattern. But it had been there for two years now, and Regulus did not know if he could give it up.

For Adeline, he might.

“Come on,” said Francis, who was not completely naked. “If you want to be fucked, let me fuck you.”

Regulus allowed himself to be pushed down onto the bed, Francis over him behind. “Please,” he said, softly. “Do it.”

“Patience,” said Francis, and reached down to prepare Regulus, and it was almost longer than Regulus could bear before he was in him, and they were fucking, and this was the way it was supposed to be. Regulus almost did not care what his family thought, he almost did not want to marry Adeline, he almost wished that this could be how it was for his life. Him, and Francis.

Once it was over, and they had cleaned themselves, and they were dressing again, Francis looked at him with a fixed look that bore no resemblance to his gleeful smiles of earlier.

“How long do we have?” he asked of Regulus.

“What do you mean?”

“You pledged yourself to a witch tonight,” said Francis. “Don’t tell me she will accept this, because she won’t. She will be forced to allow it, no doubt about that, but you will be dooming your marriage.”

“Let it be doomed,” said Regulus, but the confidence of earlier had deserted him. He did not want to doom his marriage. To do that would be to doom himself, and his family, and all that he was working for.

“You don’t mean that,” said Francis. “I know you by now. I know what matters to you, and yes, it’s me, but it’s a hell of a lot of other things as well, Regulus. I’ve seen what’s on your arm, and I don’t know what he thinks of people like us, but I doubt it’s positive things. I know what most of his followers would say. You’re meant to make pureblood babies, not fuck men.”

“People like us?”

“Gays, Regulus.”

“I’m not…”

“Perhaps not. I am. And you’re fucking a man, so…”

“I am marrying Adeline,” said Regulus, stiffly, “because it is what I must do. I must uphold my family. I am the only one who can. I must right society to where it is supposed to be, because who will stand up for the wizarding world if I will not?”

“Oh, everyone else,” said Francis. “Look, Regulus. I’m fine with this, for now, but I don’t want to fuck a married man. I don’t want the drama of it. I know what you are, and I still want to fuck you, but don’t forget the rest of you, too.” He nodded to Regulus’ arm as he spoke. Regulus pulled his robe down over his head and over the Mark that adorned his forearm. He was not ashamed, but there was something in the way Francis was watching it.

“This is what I am,” said Regulus. “There is no rest of me. I am the heir to the Black family, and I have responsibilities that correspond with that, and I am not going to abandon them! I will not be like Sirius, Francis!”

“Calm,” said Francis, fully dressed and looking completely as if nothing had ever happened. “You’re nothing like your brother. He was a fucking disaster if I ever saw one, and you’ve got morals. Just let those morals guide you, yeah, and not your family. We’d better leave the room separately. Mother wanted to leave straight after the pledging, so I’ll be gone. Floo me, or something, or I’ll see you at Hogwarts.”

Regulus was left in the room alone, adjusting his dress robes. Of course he was intending to follow his morals. They meshed with those of his family almost entirely. He would protect his family’s honour, and with the help of Adeline ensure that the line continued. He would protect their interests, and those of the good in the wizarding world, by serving the Dark Lord. And it wasn’t unheard of to combine that with a relationship with another man. He knew the family history as well as anyone. Grandfather Pollux almost certainly had, and he was a well respected family patriarch. The first Regulus, too. It happened, and as long as they remained discrete Regulus was certain that it held no conflict.

He stepped out to rejoin the party. He needed to catch Selwyn, after all, and get the story of why he had been bleeding. It would be a good one, it always was with Selwyn. And he ought to thank Lucius for stepping up for him tonight, and find Mr and Mrs Fawley to thank them once again for the hand of their daughter. And of course check the comfort of the unattended women, as was his role, and, well, he had quite the list of tasks to complete.

He had absolutely no qualms in his roles, and he knew what was expected of him. He knew what was permitted, and what he wished, and the two aligned provided he was careful. He had the favour of a beautiful fiancee, and happy portents for their marriage. He had the favour of the Dark Lord. He had Francis.

Yes, Regulus Black had a nice life, and he would keep it so.

“Ah, Regulus,” said his mother. “Would you be a dear and just see Madame Goyle to the door? She appears to have imbibed far beyond her limits, and I can’t stand the woman.”

It was a nice life, despite some of the expectations.

Chapter Text

Sirius
December 1978, undisclosed location

Floating.

Somewhere, in the air.

Or not on the air, because his back was wet.

Unless it was a cloud.

Yes, he was on a cloud.

Floating high in the sky.

Spinning.

Oh, he did not like spinning.

This was making him feel as though he did not belong in the sky.

And he did.

He was Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

He belonged in the sky.

But the spinning could stop.

The black was coming.

He didn’t like that.

No, not the dark.

He screamed.

No sound.

No fucking sound.

And it was all dark.

 

He awoke, and Sirius sat himself up bolt upright and screamed.

Where the fuck was he? What was this?

Shit.

Memories began to piece themselves back together, and Sirius could understand at least in the vaguest of ways how he had ended up lying on the floor in what felt suspiciously like a puddle of his own blood.

They’d gone somewhere, he and his girls, and he’d protected them when they had been found. Or he thought he had. He realised he didn’t know; whether that was a gap in his memories or he had never known he wasn’t sure. But they hadn’t been in here with him. The Death Eater had been interrogating him. He thought he'd convinced them he was a Muggleborn with an irritating tendency to go places he shouldn’t be. He hoped he could remember the fake name he’d given.

And then he was awake, and he was here, and he was fairly sure he did not remember receiving some of these injuries.

Further snatches of memory showed that he had been awake several times between then and now, and none of those times had been fun.

He was still in the same room, lying on the same mud floor, and it was a puddle of his own blood.

Well, he supposed that without his wand he couldn’t definitively tell it was his own blood, but logic dictated that it probably was.

Sirius lay himself back down into the blood, half voluntarily and half very much against his will. Lying down was more vulnerable. But then he doubted things would be any better for him if he was sitting up when they came back in, and possibly a whole lot worse. Shows of strength pissed off Death Eaters. They’d attack less if you pretended you weren’t worth bothering with.

He’d always been a target. The eldest son of a proud pureblood family gone bad. He had a mark on his back from the very moment he’d left, and it had only grown bigger with the onset of war. His own brother had tried to kill him. Twice, if his memory recalled it correctly. James, too, had been a prime target. He was almost as much of a blood-traitor as Sirius. The rumours about Remus’ condition had been spread by Snape and there were some who desperately wanted to take out a werewolf.

Peter Pettigrew was very rarely singled out for attacks. The weak, spineless fucker never got what most the others were getting and he still couldn’t fucking handle it.

Sirius was going to kill Pettigrew.

Not now. He’d waited this long, and he could wait a little longer. Sirius did not want to run in and risk fucking up something so important. He’d fallen foul to that one before with Peter. He was going to get this right the next time he tried, even if it was the very last thing that he did on this earth. Even if it meant Azkaban again.

The one thing this little prison had going for it was the complete and utter lack of any Dementors.

It was true that Sirius could barely move, and that he was bleeding at what he thought was rather an alarming rate. It was true that he had no idea how to get out, given that his Animagus form would be no use to him here. A bird, that’s what he should have been. Some great big fucking bitch of a bird like an eagle. Too Ravenclaw. A lion-bird.

Knowing his luck, he’d have been a fucking parrot, or a blue-tit. One couldn’t be subtle if they were a parrot.

Ginny had said he wasn’t subtle anyway.

She wasn’t wrong.

Fuck, Ginny had to be okay. And Luna. And even Hermione.

He had been trying to look after his girls.

Well, he could add it to the list of the many fucking failures of Sirius Orion Black.

He faded into the darkness again.

 

This passing out business was getting a bit old, Sirius thought, as he adjusted his position on coming back into consciousness for whichever time it was this time. The dawn was breaking above him, the light slowly beginning to filter down into the cell, and he didn’t remember seeing daylight the other times. He could assume it was the morning after he’d been caught, either that or he had been unconscious for longer than he'd thought.

There was a goblet of water and two slices of roughly-cut brown bread on the floor next to him. No plate. Sirius wasn’t the fussy type, and he pulled himself across the floor to get at it.

The bread and water took the edge off the spinning in his head and the fuzziness around the sides of his vision. It gave him a bit more clarity in his thoughts, and Sirius found himself able to think about something other than how much he wanted to kill Pettigrew. It was, however, not something that was ever very far from his thoughts.

He should have done it in 1994, whatever Harry had to say on it. He’d said James wouldn’t have wanted Sirius and Remus to become killers. James had known the realities of war. Harry had been naive to assume that Sirius would not already have killed. It was true that thirteen-year-old Harry had known less of the first war than he would later know, but for a man to have got through that, on the front lines no less, without casting a deadly spell would have been a fucking miracle. James had done it. And so had Sirius.

It was not that Sirius wanted to kill people, or not people as a generic class. People specifically, yes. Pettigrew. Bellatrix. Rodolphus who was just as much pure evil as his wife. Faces swam in front of Sirius’ mind, people who had been terrible examples of wizardry, but his focus was not back to where it should be and he just couldn’t remember the names.

Oh fuck the lot of them.

“And what have you called me for, Selwyn.”

Sirius looked up in the direction of the aggrieved voice, coming from the hole in the cell above his head. Nobody was visible, but their voice was as clear as they came. A posh voice, and somehow recognisable to Sirius.

“I want you to take a look at him.”

“And you could not have called somebody else?”

“Hardly my fault if you drank too much celebrating your pledging last night. The Dark Lord’s plans do not wait for fripperies such as weddings.”

“The Dark Lord is most approving of my impending marriage, so if we could cut to the chase.”

“We’ve caught some idiot breaking into that place that Dolohov was supposed to be minding in Cumbria. Seems like he’s a Mudblood with a death wish rather than anyone we’re worried about, but…”

“But you do not want anyone you do not trust to find out that you’re unsure, in case you release a member of the Order of Phoenix.”

“I trust you.”

“I will endeavour to prove your choice wise. Tell me what happened.”

“Dolohov was injured, you know that. The place he’d been tasked with in Cumbria needed to be sorted. Things have been delayed, and he got me to go up there. I went, and found a group inside. Three women, I think, and a man. They escaped,”

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief, as the man continued talking.

“I caught him. He says he’s a Mudblood named William Smith, and I’ve performed all the usual checks, but something isn't right. He’s using Occlumency, but not a form I’ve encountered before. He’s hiding something.”

He was hiding a whole lot of things, including the fact that he’d once fucked Selwyn’s sister. Although that was more for her sake than his own. He wasn’t ashamed of a relationship with a Slytherin girl; she was ashamed of the relationship with a blood traitor and afraid of what her family would say or do.

That didn’t hurt him. A lot of people were ashamed of having been associated with him.

“It is of course possible he is simply bad at Occlumency,” said Selwyn’s accomplice.

“I’d be pleased if you’d look at him, regardless.”

“Certainly. I am always at your service. Besides, it reflects badly on me if someone I have personally recommended to the Dark Lord causes a valuable asset to be killed before he is of use.”

Sirius flinched at that. Death was not something he had considered. He should have, really. He knew what Death Eaters did. Any organisation with Death in the name spent a fair amount of time dealing with the concept of death, and would almost certainly not be adverse to dealing some out from time to time. And, he was their prisoner, and would either be found out for what he was and sent off to Voldy-pants or killed, because that was what the Death Eaters were all about.

Fuck.

He didn’t yet have an escape plan.

It would be a shit end for Sirius Black, if this was where it indeed ended. A survivor of all sorts of daring escapades and some horrific situations, and he’d die under a fake name for having trespassed somewhere that turned out to be incredibly uninteresting.

It seemed like a bit of a waste of a life, even if his hadn’t been much coup.

He’d have liked to have had the chance to kill Peter and Bellatrix before he went. See Harry grow up and do the godfather thing right. Give Remus a kick up the bum and make him understand his worth. Maybe find love. The first few seemed achievable, but the last was on a hiding to nothing and always had been.

He really did need to work on that escape plan, not think about all the ways he could have improved his life if he’d had the chance to live it over.

There was a scraping sound from above him, and Sirius knew he had to think fast. He arranged himself back onto the floor as quickly as his battered, bruised and still bleeding body would let him, pretending he was still unconscious rather than having been listening in to their conversation. He had to remember that William Smith was a Muggleborn in the wrong place at the wrong time and wouldn’t be as brave (or foolhardy, depending how you looked at it) as the Order of Phoenix member and blood traitor Sirius Black.

“Is this him?”

“Yes.”

“You have rather, what is the term Dolohov uses, roughed him up, have you not?”

“He wasn’t cooperating.”

“Did you use Muggle methods?”

“They work as well as anything else, and give you the element of surprise.”

“I can hardly see his face. Wake him up, Selwyn, I would speak with him.”

Sirius felt a boot collide with his face, and several curses hit his body. He groaned in response, and rolled onto his back. On opening his eyes, he understood exactly why that voice had been familiar.

In front of him stood his brother.

“He looks dreadful,” said Regulus, peering down into his older brother’s face. His expression was careful, guarded. His dark eyes, the exact match of Sirius’ own, had no shred of emotion in them. But Sirius knew his brother, and he knew that Regulus at least suspected who he was.

“He wasn’t cooperating,” said Selwyn. “What else would you have had me do?”

“Use methods, like the rest of us, that enable us to see who it is we have been interrogating,” said Regulus, the smallest touch of impatience in his voice. “I am well aware you are only recently Marked, Selwyn, but the Dark Lord does expect a certain finesse.”

“That’s not why he has Greyback on the sides.”

“Greyback is an animal, at best. You are a pureblood, and you are somewhat expected to act so.”

“Do you recognise him? Now I compare you, he looks familiar.” Selwyn looked from Regulus to Sirius and back again. “He looks an awful lot like you, does he not? Could it be that brother of yours?” Selwyn’s face had turned from the face of a man with little idea what was going on to that of one who felt they were onto something at long last. Sirius tried to arrange his own into something that did not resemble the panic he felt rising inside him, but that also did not look as if he had something to hide.

It was not his strong suite.

“He has the look of my family, that much is true,” said Regulus. He stepped closer to where Sirius was on the ground. “I could have had a better look was his face not swollen beyond all hope.”

“We’ve covered that issue,” said Selwyn, grumpiness crossing his face,

“It is likely he is who he says he is,” said Regulus, at last. “The look is similar, but this is not my brother. I saw my brother not two months ago, in the Devon raid, and he was not this old. It could well be a relation. Merlin knows Uncle Alphard had enough witches through his bed, if the rumours are to be believed, and fathered enough illegitimate offspring to fill a Quidditch team. It would explain the face.”

“It would add up,” said Selwyn. “I heard those rumours, too. My maiden aunt was a frequent attendee of his parties.”

Sirius allowed himself to relax slightly. Thank fuck for Alphard and his indiscretions.

“It still begs the question of why exactly he was there,” said Regulus. “I had understood that to be an entirely secret project.”

“It was,” said Selwyn. “It is.”

“Well then,” said Regulus, squatting down onto the mud floor in his expensive robes and looking directly into Sirius’ eyes that were so identical to his own. “Why do you know about it?” His voice was soft, dangerous, and demanding an answer.

“I…” said Sirius. “I like exploring.”

“And why there?”

“Because my friend found it.”

Don’t lie, he reminded himself. Regulus knows Legilimency as well as any other. Twist the truth, and use what little Occlumency you have.

“I see. Do you know who we are, Mudblood?”

“The mask… from before… I recognise it from the Prophet.”

Sirius was finding it hard to speak. He had a broken rib, he suspected, if not more than one. Something was crushing his lung, at any rate. Every time he moved, a sharp pain flared in his chest, and getting enough air in for words to come out was painful.

“And you know what the mask means?”

“Death…” Sirius couldn’t force the last word out as his chest felt as though it would cave in on him.

“Close enough,” said Regulus. He raised himself from the floor and stood back, using his wand to remove the dust and dirt from the robes. “Selwyn, I see no reason to keep this Mudblood any longer. He is of no use to us, and certainly of none to the Dark Lord.”

“I’ll dispose of him then,” said Selwyn, raising his wand.

So this was how it ended. Of all the noble deaths he’d imagined for himself, he’d ended up in the dirt and his own blood, killed by his brother and a crony.

“I would suggest dumping him as he is,” said Regulus, with an air of not really caring at all. “Killing him here hardly serves as a warning. The Dark Lord prefers us to act in accordance with his style at all possible times, of course. This scum will hardly survive long.”

“Yes, I hadn't thought,” said Selwyn. “A slow death is perhaps better.”

“Indeed,” said Regulus. “Perhaps I will come with you. It is either this, or listening to my mother list all of those who behaved inappropriately last night, after all.”

“Beginning with Avery, and his display with the Carrow girl, I suppose.”

“Mother has indeed spoken at length on that topic already.”

Sirius felt the burn of a cut along his leg as the two wizards spoke. He tried to shout out, his metal capacity focused on keeping his secrets hidden as best he could and not on silence, but his lungs were still struggling under the strain of his injuries and no noise left him.

“Want a go, Regulus? There’s more of him for you if you like?”

“That will suffice. He has learnt some of his lesson from you, but I felt there was something I personally could add. He is, after all, a possible relation, if not one I would wish to ever acknowledge.

Sirius was certain that Regulus knew who he was.

The two wizards unceremoniously bound Sirius, who struggled against them as much as he could force his body to. More out of a sense of needing to, rather than because it would do any good.

“Selwyn,” said Regulus, almost bored, “stop him.”

Stupefy,” muttered Selwyn, and Sirius was gone again.

 

He awoke back in the dark, and in amongst trees, bathed in an almost eerie green light. He could feel nothing but pain, and the blood was following him. It was here too, underneath him.

Oh, yes, he remembered now. It was his blood.

Being tortured fucked with your head.

Sirius tried to move himself into a sitting position and ultimately failed, ending up slumped in a slightly different lying down position and looking upwards instead of into the mud. Above him shone the green skull of the Dark Mark.

That gave him a strange sense of hope; there was half a chance someone would see it and alert the Aurors or the Order of the Phoenix. That said, either of those would just put him in a slightly different sticky situation.

His life was one sticky situation after another.

He lay there for a bit, drifting in and out of consciousness like the bit just before one falls asleep at night and thinking of not a lot except the shittiness of his situation and of how much he wanted to kill Peter. It was hard to focus on anything more complex. Any thought he managed to grab hold of felt as though it was instantly sliding away and swimming off down some murky, blood-coloured river.

Oh look, there was blood underneath him.

He remembered now. It was his blood. And the Dark Mark above him was for him, and Regulus had been here, and stopped that other man from killing him, except he was probably going to die here alone and in the woods.

There were worse things.

He did so want to kill Peter, though.

 

 

Hermione
December 1978, Cumbria

Several hours earlier

“Come on!” shouted Ginny urgently from behind Hermione. “We have to leave, now!”

“Sirius,” said Hermione. “We can’t leave Sirius.”

Ginny turned to the stairs and paused. The sounds of the battle below could still be clearly heard. There was little noise of incantations being shouted, but the crashes, grunts and occasional shouts of the two wizards fighting were obvious.

“He will be fine, Hermione, he’s capable.”

“He’s being attacked by a Death Eater!”

“And so will we be if we don't hurry up!”

“I don’t understand why you think we can just leave!”

“Hermione, for fuck’s sake, he told us to!”

“He’s not in charge!”

“I seem to remember,” said Luna, “that we agreed that we are a democracy. I add my vote to the side of leaving, I think. Shall we go?”

From where they had been in the doorway to the bedroom they had entered through, Luna darted across the room to the window and leant out. Almost as quickly, she ducked down below the windowsill. Ginny turned and flicked her wand at the door with a mutter of “Colloportus”, and stood with her arms crossed and her back against the now locked door.

“This may not be as straightforward as we had first thought,” she said. “There are Death Eaters below.”

“Can they see us?” asked Ginny.

“Oh, not yet,” said Luna. “But they certainly will were we to jump.”

“Shit,” said Ginny, sliding down the door onto the floor and putting her head in her arms. “Fuckery. Merlin’s saggy testicles. Bummer. Fuck.”

“Let’s go downstairs and get Sirius,” said Hermione, “and then we can break out as one. If they don't yet know we’re here, we have time.”

As she said this, there was a loud crash from the downstairs level of the house, and a shout of “Avada Kedavra!” Without thinking, Hermione made to open the door, prevented by Ginny in the floor in front of it.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Ginny. “It’s dark down there. You could hit anyone. You could hit Sirius.”

“I won’t,” she said, but she knew there was a lot of truth in Ginny’s words. One-on-one duels were difficult enough in poor visibility; adding further people would likely result in disaster. She could light the room, certainly, but it was set up with Muggle lights, and they were difficult to light with magic, oh, if only she had Ron! He could manage Muggle lighting with no difficulty.

She would have to use charms to maintain light, which was difficult to do while also fighting, and would make her a target.

“If you come with me, I can light the room, and you can Stun the Death Eater quickly, and…”

“Hermione…” said Ginny. “It’s not that I don’t want to help Sirius, but he’s more than capable, he’ll be up here any moment. We can help best by working out how the fuck we get away.”

“I hate to panic you,” said Luna, “but there is a Death Eater outside the door to this room.”

“Shit,” muttered Ginny, again.

“The Anti-Disapparition wards only cover the building,” said Luna, her voice only slightly above whispering. She was still crouched below the windowsill, with the tip of her wand pointing above her and swirling in circles as she performed the basic detection spells for wards, jinxes and curses. “Once we get to the ground, we should be able to Apparate away. There are two outside the house, and one outside this door.”

“Sirius?” asked Hermione.

“There is a person downstairs,” said Luna. “Which logic would dictate is Sirius.”

“We blast through the door,” said Hermione. “Ginny and Luna overpower the Death Eater, and I grab Sirius, and we can get him up the stairs and out.”

“If you think I cannot hear what you are saying,” said the Death Eater, “then you are sorely mistaken. Reducto!

Ginny grabbed at Hermione’s arm, and pulled her through the window.

They landed, and they ran, Ginny half-pulling Hermione and casting spells with her spare hand and Luna flying along behind. Hermione twisted out of Ginny’s arms as they reached a clump of bushes and threw herself to the floor. Luna landed beside her as the whoosh of a curse sailed past them. The Death Eater in the window was firing spells down at the three of them, and another had rounded the corner of the building and was bearing down on them at ground level. Luna spun herself on her stomach so she was facing the Death Eater. Ginny dropped to the ground behind Hermione.

“Apparate,” said Hermione. “Or go back in?”

“Shit,” said Ginny. “They’re both really terrible options.”

“Dying is the worst one,” said Luna, taking aim.

“She’s right again,” muttered Ginny, and joined her.

The Death Eater inside the house was shouting instructions down to the one on the ground, in between yelling curses down at the three women. Hermione watched closely. Ginny and Luna were handling the fighting side more than competently, and they’d already fallen foul of not keeping enough eyes out tonight. She held her wand aloft, ready, and swept the loose strands at the front of her hair up and out of the way.

The watching paid off when the third Death Eater appeared and darted into the door of the building. Hermione caught him with a hex, and he tripped and stumbled through the door with a crash.

“Nice one,” said Ginny, as she sliced her wand at the Death Eater in the window who promptly disappeared. “D’you think I got him?”

“No,” said Luna. She was weaving a complex net of spells around the man on the ground, who was becoming angrier and advancing on them at some considerable speed. Hermione and Ginny acted at the same time, throwing spells at him at the exact moment Luna’s net closed around him. The man was thrown several metres into the air, and landed with a heavy thud on the damp ground, his mask flying off in an arc behind him.

“Is he?” asked Ginny.

“I think so,” said Hermione. He was a fair distance from them still, but she could see no signs of movement in his chest from within his robes.

“Shit.”

“He would have done the same to us,” said Luna. “The question is more what we do next than whether we sit to mourn what we have done.”

“Watch the door,” said Hermione, taking back the role of lookout. “It’s moving.” She didn’t much want to think about whether or not they had killed him. He was a Death Eater, yes, but she had learnt in her last war that not all of them deserved to die.

All three of them trained their wands on it. This was the worst part of any fight, the seconds before the beginning. The seconds where you thought about the fact that you could die any minute, could kill any minute, that it could go so very right or very, very wrong. In the heat of it, none of it mattered, but this was the worst part.

But this part was over in seconds; the two Death Eaters remaining dashed out of the building. One covered them with a blanket indiscriminate curses that hit Hermione’s hastily put up Shield Charm, and the other was levitating the floppy body of Sirius Black out of the building. Ginny shrieked and made to run forwards, and Hermione found herself travelling forwards with her. But before they could make it more than a step or two out of the bushes, he was gone. He’d been Apparated away, and to where they didn’t know.

“Was he?” asked Ginny.

“Dead?” asked Luna. “The word is not a curse, and you should know that by now. But no, he is not. Were he dead, they would have left the body and put up the dark mark over the building, and they have taken him away.”

Hermione had thought the same. It made sense; they would want information from Sirius. Why he was there, who he was with, how he had found the building. It did not bode well for Sirius, but at least he was alive. For now.

“But why have they left us here?” she asked, voicing the question she did have about this whole thing.

“Dunno,” said Ginny, flopping backwards onto the grass but not relinquishing her tight hold on her wand. “Maybe they’re idiots. Merlin knows half of them are. More than half. Or new, or just don’t see us as important.”

“Or they’re behind us,” said Hermione. She turned, and just for piece of mind cast revealing spells around them. “No. Nobody.”

“What next, then?” asked Ginny. “What do we do about that body?”

Luna took some bananas from her pocket and passed one to each of the other girls in silence. Ginny peeled hers and began to eat, but Hermione couldn’t muster up the appetite. Instead she stood, and began to walk a circle of the building, casting spells of revealing as she did so. She had to be certain he was no longer here.

As a child, she had been terrified of abandoned buildings and empty woodlands, especially in the dark. But here she stood, on the edges of an empty wood, watching over the dark and abandoned house. There was more in life to be afraid of than the emptiness. Yes, these places could hold many horrors, but there was far more to be afraid of in a human than there was in the simplicity of the quiet, dark nature or the empty rooms of a house.

An owl hooted overhead, and the scurry of little animals below could be heard. They knew, Hermione thought, they knew who their predator was.

Sirius knew. He had said from the start of this horrific adventure that they would need to take on Death Eaters, and he had been right. He had thrown himself into danger for others too often. He was who he was, and that was a brave if occasionally incredibly stupid man. He should not have fought alone. She should not have allowed herself to be encouraged to leave him.

Ginny had argued that they had done what Sirius had told them, but that was bullshit. Sirius had wanted to save them, and if Hermione had learnt one thing it was that too many good people were willing to sacrifice themselves to save others. How many times had she watched Harry try? It was true that once, that had been the correct course of action, but that did not make it the right choice. Twice, if you counted Lily. Which you had to.

Dumbledore had built a narrative about her sacrifice, which had lead Harry to believe that it was what somebody should do. He had simplified things. Harry was teenager, that had always been the excuse. He wasn’t exactly any other teenager. He ought to have known, and had the truth given to him without the romanticism of sacrifice. That said, Hermione had liked the story of Lily, as a teenager. She’d thought it brave, and poetic, and it was in it’s own way. But not as a model for everyone else.

“Hermione?” came a whisper in the dark, from Luna.

“Luna.”

“Would you prefer to be alone, or can I talk with you?”

“I don't know.”

“I like trees,” said Luna, stopping beside Hermione. “They are wonderfully calming, don’t you think?”

“Calm,” said Hermione, “is overrated.”

“Well, it is true we have had little of it, especially in recent weeks,” said Luna. “I do think, though, that it is important to seek it where we can. Now is a good time. Sirius will be back with us by tomorrow evening.”

“You don’t know that,” said Hermione.

“Nothing is certain,” Luna agreed, “but the cards show a strong probability, and his tea-leaves have always been positive.”

“Divination is the most imprecise magical art,” said Hermione. “You can’t possibly be using that to tell me that Sirius is going to be fine.”

“Magic is what you make of it,” said Luna, fixing her with the stare that Hermione knew signalled that this was not an argument worth having. She felt like ignoring it. “And I am no Seer. But I know enough of the divination arts to know a few things, and I find that I read things correctly more frequently than I do not.”

“It’s all a load of dragon dung.”

“If that is what you choose to believe, then you are free to. And I am free to say that Sirius will be returned to us, if only we know where to find him.”

“That’s basically saying, if we do the right thing we’ll get him back, and if we don’t, we won’t,” grumbled Hermione, “which I could have told you.” There was a flicker of rage within her at Luna’s constant ridiculous statements, but she had no energy to pursue it. She wanted all of this to be simple. She wanted Sirius back with them, and for there to be no Death Eaters in their lives.

“It is and it isn’t,” said Luna, and Hermione felt a sudden urge to throw her friend from their tree. Instead, she began to pick at the bark with her fingernails. “At the current moment in time, we would not be able to get to him if we wanted. In,” she consulted her pocket watch, “around four hours, we will be able to get him. As I said, if we can locate him. He is not near here, and he will not be then, either.”

“Must you talk in riddles?”

“I am talking in the truths that have been given to me. It is as frustrating for me as it is for you. Both of us like to know, Hermione, it is just that we sometimes take different paths to do so. Ginny is sorry, by the way. She thinks she should not have forced you to leave. She regrets allowing Sirius to do what he did.”

“Ginny did what she thought was right,” said Hermione, even though she only half believed that. “You do what you think is right, and so do I, and somehow it all still seems to fuck up horrifically.”

“This is how it works,” said Luna. “I fear that we need more planning, and some of the luck that Harry Potter seemed to hold.”

“Yes,” said Hermione. “We do. Or preferably just Harry. I’d love Harry here now. He’d solve it.”

“I always supposed that you were the one that solved much of it.”

“Not really. He contributed just as much, most the time. Harry was lucky, though. I think we all were.”

“Yes.”

They stood in silence, and the owl hooted overhead once more. There was a horrific shriek, the sound of an owl swooping down and the capture of the prey. Hermione listened. There was nothing she could do for the mouse.

“Shall we go?” asked Luna. “I think some sleep would be beneficial, as we will need to be ready to find Sirius.”

“Okay,” said Hermione. She did need to sleep. It was obvious, that she would need to rest if she was to be working at a decent level in the morning. Logical. Simple biology. Logic and biology made sense. None of the rest of anything in her life did.

She twisted the locket that hung around her neck, as it had every day since her birthday. Sirius had given her such a thoughtful present, and she got him nothing for his birthday. He’d asked her not to, but it wasn’t fair. He’d been generous and kind, when he hadn’t needed to be, they’d been fighting at the time, and she’d repaid him with fighting him back and then leaving him here to be captured.

If he came back, if they got him back, she promised herself she would buy him an amazing Christmas present.

He had been so selfless, in all of this. She missed him, in a weird way. Like she would have missed Harry. Like she did miss Harry. That soft ache that someone you cared for wasn’t near you, and you didn’t know that they were safe. She wondered when she had begun to care for Sirius. She’d hated him, at points, and now she missed him.

“Hermione,” said Luna softly. “Come and sleep. You know as well as I do that sleep promotes healthy brain functionality, and we will need all of that in the morning.”

“Not wrackspurts?” asked Ginny.

Luna looked at Hermione, and she stifled a laugh. It wasn’t really the time for laughing. Trauma responses, she told herself. She’d read that Muggle book on it, after the war, after everything.

And now it all was starting again.

Chapter Text

Ginny
December 1978, Saltburn

Ginny Weasley couldn't sleep.

Of course, she’d been struggling with what Hermione called insomnia since her first year at Hogwarts. Tom Riddle worming his way into her brain had played havoc with her sleep, not to mention several other parts of her brain’s functionality, and she’d never managed to have a normal sleep pattern since. She was used to it now. It was even useful, at times. She got twice as much leisure time at Hogwarts, as she could do essays by wandlight in her room when everyone else was sleeping, and it had improved her Quidditch no end with the extra practice time. When she and Harry had kids, it would be positively beneficial.

Tonight, it was just leading to worry.

She got up, leaving Luna asleep in bed, and went down the stairs. She was used to this, too, the art of being silent in the night. She wanted a cup of tea, and a packet of Muggle crisps. At some point she would have to dial back on the crisps. They weren’t part of the approved diet for a member of the England World Cup squad, which she attempted to stick to even as she forced herself to admit the chances of her playing in that tournament were low. Low to non-existent. Well, that was the situation she was in.

As far as she could understand it, that situation was fairly dire. Aside from all the usual stuck in the past with no way out shit. They’d abandoned a dead Death Eater outside a house in Cumbria, and two others had left with Sirius. She knew from Ron and Harry’s work it was unlikely the kill would be traced back to the three of them, so that worry was at least out. Without the offending wand, or a grisly calling card, it was difficult to discover who had cast the spell that committed the crime. Somebody would doubtless return to get the body, too.

Ginny didn’t feel particularly guilty about having killed him. If it had been her. Maybe she should, but there you were. If you wasted time feeling sorry for everyone, you’d never win a war. Hermione had come over all guilty, saying some of these Death Eaters were coerced, or could be persuaded to defect, or any of that shit, but Ginny thought the vast majority of them weren’t. She didn’t want to waste her time seeking to kill them, no, but they didn’t exactly deserve to be mourned at great fucking length.

Just to be sure, she cast a quick charm onto her own wand. No. She’d not cast any spells that could have killed him.

Maybe she had felt guilty. She felt relief at it not having been her, anyway.

They’d wasted a day going around in circles, over and over again, to places they could look for Sirius and what his fate may be. He was almost certainly not back where they’d fought the Death Eaters in Cumbria, as they’d seen him be taken away. It was unclear how many hidey-holes from the second war that they knew of, like the basement in Malfoy Manor, would have been used in this one, and finding out could do more harm than good. Sirius had taken his knowledge of current ones with him. And, besides, most of them were incredibly well protected. They didn’t have a friendly house-elf to help them out of sticky imprisonments this time.

It would be worth getting one, Ginny thought. Though where exactly you got a house-elf from, she didn’t really know. And if you didn’t know, that meant you weren’t allowed to have one. Some kind of unspoken wizarding rule.

Maybe they could go and steal the Weasley’s ghoul. He wasn’t exactly helpful, but he wasn’t unhelpful either.

Nah, they already had Sirius lurking in the loft. Or would again soon. They didn’t need anyone else up there.

She put the cup down on the coffee table and sank into the armchair. She flipped her hair back into a bun, as she had a terrible track record of dipping the ends of it into her tea by accident, and popped open the bag of crisps. Cheese and onion. She preferred salt and vinegar, but Sirius must have eaten all of those.

There was a strange beauty to one o’clock in the morning, even if you were worrying about your kidnapped friend. Outside, nothing moved, except the occasional cat walking down the street. There were no sounds, except the birds. Once your eyes adjusted to the dark, the stars were beautiful. And when you’d grown up in a house where there was always somebody else, or five or six somebody's, there was calm in being alone.

She put on her trainers and took the cup of tea outside, abandoning the crisp packet shrivelled up on the coffee table.

Ginny stood in the garden. She wanted to do something. Maybe she could wait a little longer, and then go back up to the house and see what the situation was. If she was careful, she’d be able to see if the Death Eaters had been back to remove their dead friend. If they hadn’t, she’d be able to see who they were.

It didn’t seem very sensible, but it felt like doing something. And that felt good, she liked doing things, and she was frequently told she wasn’t good at being sensible. Percy would have given her a lecture. So would Bill. Charlie would have suggested other options, George would have given her some merchandise to help her out, and told her not to tell their mother, and Ron… well, Ron was difficult to predict. But then, their thoughts were irrelevant. She was here, and they were there. She didn’t have brothers to rescue her here, but then, half of them had been essentially useless at that and none of them had been there in that year at Hogwarts when it would have mattered.

Ah, fuck it, she was going to go.

Carefully, she dressed in dark jeans and jumper and Sirius’ black bomber jacket, her own coat having disappeared somewhere that an Accio didn't seem to reach, and Apparated to the place he’d disappeared from. Immediately as she arrived, she ducked into the trees and concealed herself as best she could. She could do this.

The body of the Death Eater was gone, she noticed as she crept closer to the building. Or, it had at least been moved. Somebody had been back here.

That made her life easier in some ways, as she wouldn’t have to work out what to do with a slightly overweight dead body without anyone asking too many questions as to her identity. It did mean she wouldn't be able to positively identify who they’d killed, however. He’d had a mask on during the fight, and all she had to go on was that he was probably both taller and heavier than average. Which wasn’t helpful.

Ginny was cautious, more so this time, and checked the area thoroughly using both magical and physical means for any further human presence before she even thought about going into the property. It was possibly incredibly stupid, going back in, but she needed to know. What Hermione would say didn't really bear thinking about, but it was unlikely Hermione would need to know. And, besides, there was nobody in there. She pushed open the now completely ward-free door, and entered.

The house was the same as they had left it, with the exception of several smashed objects and a broken shelf on the floor by where Sirius and the Death Eater had duelled. Otherwise, there was no sign of any fight the evening before, and certainly nothing to give a clue as to where Sirius had been taken. Which was as much as she had expected. She bent down to comb through the pieces of shelf and unidentified objects.

One of the intruder charms she’d woven into the door on her arrival went off.

As quickly as she could, Ginny used the strongest Disillusionment Charm she could muster, and several of the Auror masking charms Harry had taught her. For good measure, she stood and flattened herself into the wall in amongst the broken objects. The intruder rounded the corner, long, dirty-blonde hair reflecting the light of the moon outside.

“Luna?” she asked, the hiding having probably been for nothing. “What are you doing here?”

“Same thing as you, I would imagine,” said Luna, “providing this is Ginny I am talking to and not some tricksy sprite.”

Ginny revealed herself. “More specifically?”

“I saw you were gone from bed. I know you well enough to assume you would come here. Besides, I am curious as to if we can garner any clues.”

“I don’t think so,” said Ginny. “There’s nothing.”

“It appears so.”

“Was Hermione still asleep?”

“She was. You know she takes sleeping potions, don’t you? Has ever since the war.”

“No, I didn’t. Does Ron know?”

“I would imagine not. He is not the most observant.”

“But you do?”

“I’m observant.”

Ginny decided it was better to leave that one well alone. It made sense. that Hermione would do that. Ginny had at points. And she saw no reason to discuss it any further with Luna. That was Hermione’s business, and she’d tell them if she wanted to. Besides, nobody got answers by going in all wands blazing, if they wanted to stay on good terms with the person in question. Instead, Ginny continued her fruitless poke around the building, and the only thing she established there was absolutely nothing they could learn here. Maybe Miss Observant had found something.

Luna hadn’t, and was just as baffled by the purpose of the place as Ginny was. That made Ginny feel slightly better about this whole thing. Spending so much time with just Luna, or just Hermione, was fine, but both of them and Sirius when their brains all seemed to fly at twice the speed of hers? Not so much fun.

Then again, she thought this outing wasn’t exactly supposed to be a fun one.

“What next?” she asked, leaning out of the window she’d earlier jumped from and observing the dark trees ahead of her

“This is, as they say, your outing,” said Luna. “What was your next plan, exactly?”

“Didn’t have one,” Ginny admitted.

“You are as bad as Sirius himself.”

“Hope he’s alive. Fucking hell, what will we do if he isn’t? We need his knowledge if we’re going to have any hope of not making things about forty times as bad.”

“Why forty?” asked Luna.

“Picked it at random,” said Ginny.

“It is probably unimportant,” said Luna, joining Ginny at the window. As usual, Luna wore robes, never Muggle clothing, and her hair was loose. It looked impractical to Ginny, who preferred her hair kept out of the way. “Perhaps his knowledge is not important. There will be changes, Ginevra. Perhaps we need him back for us, not for our cause.”

“Yeah,” said Ginny. “I’d miss him.”

“We all have someone we would miss most of all. Yours is not here.”

Ginny reflected on that, or was halfway through it anyway, when there was a short from the ground.

Mordesmordre!

“That was…” said Ginny. The Dark Mark burst from the trees, illuminating the building in a green light. She stepped back from the window and ducked down, not wanting her face lit up, but the cracks of Apparition below suggested that whoever had cast it was leaving if not already gone. “Do you think it could be…” she asked Luna.

“It’s possible, but whether it is probable, I do not know,” replied Luna.

“Only one way to find out,” said Ginny. Tapping herself on the head with a Disillusionment Charm, she turned to head down the stairs and out of the building. She went with a sense of both trepidation and excitement. She honestly wasn’t sure which was winning.

“The window would be quicker,” said Luna, jumping.

Ginny sighed. She’d jumped out of that window only a little over twenty-four hours ago, and she hadn’t much wanted to do it again. She would, she knew, as she twisted back around in the doorway, because Luna was right, it was quicker, but she didn’t want to.

They hit the floor within seconds of each other, but Ginny was faster on the getaway, sprinting towards the location of the Dark Mark with her wand outstretched and her ponytail bobbing behind. It would be nice, she thought, if things would be normal in her life just for a bit. A year or so would be nice, but honestly, at this stage she would take a week. She leapt over a log that was mouldering on the floor, and twisted through the trees to find the fastest route to whoever had been dumped under the Dark Mark.

“Sirius?” she said, as she skidded to a halt beside the unfortunate body. “Sirius! Shit.” She threw herself down onto the ground next to him, rolled him onto his back and began to prod and slap his chest. “Wake the fuck up, you bastard, I don’t want to have to drag you home, where the fuck is… oh, there you are!” she shouted at the sound of somebody else arriving beside her and turned to issue instructions. “Can you see if…”

It wasn’t Luna. An imposingly tall, scarred man stood over her, with soft sandy brown hair falling into his face as he eyed her with a look of confusion.

“I’m not who you were expecting, am I?” he said.

“No. Who are you?” she asked, as she waved her wand over Sirius in a diagnostic spell so as to see what exactly was causing him to be unconscious. She knew full well who this man was, of course, but she could hardly admit that. That would mean questions. Thousands of the damn things. They’d agreed not to reveal themselves, or at least not yet.

“Remus. Remus Lupin. Who are you?”

Ginny was muttering spells at Sirius’ chest, trying to stem the flow of blood through his t-shirt, when he asked, and used her moments her first-aid attempts bought her to come up with a plausible alternative identity for herself. Remembering what Harry and Ron had said about it being easier to impersonate someone that existed than create a whole fictional identity, she answered with “Philomena Prewett.”

She couldn’t be a Weasley. Yes, there were about a hundred of the damn things, but they all knew every one of them. And, besides, her hair was Prewett ginger, not Weasley red.

“Any relation to Gideon and Fabian Prewett?” Remus asked, kneeling down in the puddle of blood next to Sirius’ body. His heart was beating, if a bit weaker than Ginny would have liked, and the blood was what needed to be dealt with first. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Second cousin, I think. Or first, once removed. I get all of this mixed up. Never met them, family shit, not got anything against them though. Pull his t-shirt off,” said Ginny, and then changed her mind. Remus would have seen Sirius’ rather distinctive scars across his back and chest before, and she didn’t want to open that can of worms unless he looked likely to full-on die. “Actually, don’t. I think that could increase the bleeding. Check his legs, can you?”

She rummaged around in her pocket for the Dittany she’d brought. His face was badly cut and swollen, so much as for it to be difficult to recognise him, but she didn’t much want to heal that yet. Too much risk. As Luna arrived, she pulled up Sirius’ t-shirt gently, from the top so as to reveal minimum skin, and began to combine drops of the Dittany with the healing spells her mother had taught her. Gradually, the skin began to reform and the blood flow lessened, but he’d lost a lot.

Tergeo,” said Luna, firmly, pointing her wand at the puddle of blood. Ginny was glad someone else was handling the cleaning up.

“His legs are okay,” said Remus. “One nasty, but neat, cut along his left thigh, which I’ve healed, and some bruising. How is he?”

“Not going to die,” said Ginny. She wasn’t an expert, but she knew that much was true. “But he’s got some significant blood loss, and looks like some minor nerve damage from the Cruciatus.” It was significant, and it was somewhat of a wonder Sirius could function, but technically the damage done in the last day was minor. “And a shit-tonne of bruising.”

“Is shit-tonne a medical term?” asked Remus.

“No,” said Ginny. “Or not one the person who taught me would have used.” Molly Weasley did not approve of swearing. The English language had plenty of words, she would say, without needing to resort to swearing or nonsense. Ginny continued to check in Sirius’ hair for any head injury. He had a few minor abrasions, nothing serious, and no evidence of internal damage here.

“Are you a Healer? You seem to know what you’re doing.”

“I know enough,” she said, standing up. Enough to have stopped anyone dying in that horrible sixth year of Hogwarts, when it was normal for someone to stumble into the Room of Requirement looking about ten minutes from death. Pomfrey couldn’t keep up with everyone, so she’d had to step in. Learnt on the job, in the main. “I’m not a Healer, though. Couldn’t hack it, even if I wanted to, which I don’t.”

“She would be excellent, though, wouldn’t she?”

“I recognise you,” said Remus, to Luna. He stood up too.

“You work in the British Wizarding Library, don’t you? I like going there, I’ve seen you several times. Although not recently, now I think of it.”

“Er,” said Remus, and his hand moved up to fiddle with the short hairs at the nape of his neck. “I don’t work there now. I’m at the Ministry now. Receptionist for the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes.”

“Oh,” said Luna, as if this was a pleasant chat in a pub. “I’m at the Ministry too. Records, in the Minister’s Department.”

“I remember. Pandora, wasn’t it?”

“That’s me.”

“Well, nice of you two to be able to catch up,” said Ginny, losing patience, “but we need to be moving on now. Got an unconscious idiot to nurse back to health, and I can’t lift him alone, Pandora.” It was not the time for nice, friendly chats with people. Even if they were the exact ones they were here to save.

“Certainly,” said Luna. She didn’t miss a beat when reacting to her fake name. That was handy. And also slightly suspicious. Ginny had a good eye for the suspicious. She buried it, for now. Not the time.

“Just a second,” said Remus. He glanced down at Sirius, and when the body didn’t do something like explode, or whatever it was he was expecting it to do, Remus continued. “Who is he, and what are you all doing here?

“Our idiotic friend, and we’re working out what happened to said idiotic friend,” said Ginny.

“It is somewhat of a long story,” said Luna.

“Aren’t they all,” muttered Ginny. She wanted to get home. Hermione would kill them for having gone without her, and Ginny preferred the idea of a quick death.

“Well,” said Remus. “I’m supposed to be reporting on what happened here tonight, so I do need to know what’s happened.”

“This looks like a Death Eater attack to me, not a magical accident and certainly not a catastrophe by the Ministry’s definition, and I thought you were a receptionist, anyway.”

“Not for the Ministry,” said Remus.

“Well,” said Ginny, in a tone that was more terse and far more like her mother’s than she had planned, “I’m not telling just some wizard in the woods anything.” Sirius was fucking close to dead, and she was about done with small talk. It was Remus, and he didn’t deserve talking to like that, but she was in the middle of something for Merlin’s sake.

Luna tapped her on the shoulder, twice, and Ginny relaxed her face out of the glare it had set in.

“Sorry,” she said. “That was unnecessary.”

“It was,” Remus agreed. “I’m trying to help your friend too, you know.”

“I can’t see how telling you things will help.” What Ginny meant was, she didn’t know where to even start with the story.

“Your friend has been attacked by Death Eaters,” said Remus, his hand in the back of his hair again. “We are trying to prevent as many attacks as we can and ultimately bring down the people behind them. Your friend is lucky to be alive. We need information.”

As if she didn’t know Sirius was lucky. She couldn’t reveal what she knew of the people he was working for. That most of them would go on to be killed, pretty much unless they got Sirius back healthy and intact, and Remus himself would die for the cause. Talking to a dead man, it was, even though he was as alive as she was now. She’d not long got over how strange that was with Sirius.

“I’m sorry about my friend,” said Luna. “She’s just… well, it is difficult when your friend is in danger, is it not?” Remus nodded. “We were here on a camping trip. We didn’t expect to find Death Eaters. It’s all been a bit of a shock.”

“This whole thing is a fucking horrible shock,” Ginny agreed. “Sorry. We want You-Know-Who just as dead as you do, I promise.”

“It must be,” said Remus. “Do you know where… what is your friends name? Where he was when he was attacked?”

“He went off to find some wood for a fire,” said Luna. “He said it was all damp where we were, or something, I wasn’t listening. I would assume it was somewhere near here. That would make sense. We were not far. I’m sorry we cannot be of more help, Remus.”

“Remus?” came Sirius’ voice from the floor. With her wand in her pocket, Ginny flicked a Silencing Charm in his direction; knowing their luck he’d come too and blow their story by half-conscious ramblings.

“Does he know me?” Remus asked, looking down at Sirius’ blinking, baffled and bruised face.
“Oh, I don’t have a clue,” said Luna. “He’s an odd one. And you have an unusual name, don’t you? Is it okay if we get him home, now?”

“I can’t stop you,” said Remus, although he looked as though as he very much wanted to. “And if you’ve given me all the information you have, that’s helpful.” A sigh. “Look,” he said, directly to Ginny. “I know it’s hard, I’m sorry if I was pushy. I know your cousins, Gideon and Fabian, and they’re in this with me. We’re trying to stop You-Know, Voldemort, however we can.” His voice shook a little on the Voldemort, this not even nineteen year old Remus, who was seeing things he shouldn’t have to. She’d seen this shit younger, of course, but that wasn’t the point, and it wasn’t a competition, and everyone was too young for this.

“So do I,” said Ginny. That much was true, no matter what. She put a hand on his shoulder, a sort of sorry and a thank you at the same time.

“Well,” he said. “If you ever want to meet Gideon and Fabian, or help us out, send me an owl. I know they’d like to meet more family, and, well, we could use people with your healing skills. You’re good, you know?”

“Okay,” said Ginny. “I’ll think about it.”

“We had better get him home,” said Luna. “Thank you, Remus. Maybe I’ll see you around at the Ministry.”

“Maybe,” said Remus, and Apparated away.

“Why are you saying that?” asked Ginny. “You don’t work at the Ministry?”

“Don’t I?” asked Luna. “Did you silence Sirius?”

“Yes,” said Ginny, removing the enchantment. “Sorry, Sirius.” She’d deal with Luna later. The later list was growing.

“Ginny? Regulus… he saw me… they didn’t find out anything, Ginny, I promise…”

“The most important thing is getting you fixed,” she said. “Then we can discuss what happened. Do you think you can drink a potion? You’ve lost a lot of blood, and I’ve got some Blood Replenisher, a Stabiliser thingy and a Pepper-Up in my pocket. That should get you through an Apparition, which is our only real viable way home. I can fix the rest better when I’ve got light to work with.”

“Erugh,” said Sirius, which Ginny took as a yes, and tipped the first vial of potion down his throat. “Tastes shit.”

“Yeah, and these other two are worse,” she said.

Ginny did sort of want to meet Gideon and Fabian, the uncles she’d heard so much about but that had died before she was born. Everyone said they were identical to Fred and George, and she wanted to know just how much. But then there was the Order, and it wasn’t exactly the plan to go get tangled up in the first Order of the Phoenix as if they didn’t know what was going to happen to half of them. Including Gideon and Fabian. So she wouldn’t, probably. It was the better solution, however curious she was.

“Come on,” she said to Luna. “Do you want to take him, or shall I?”

“You,” said Luna. “I’ll tidy up here, and follow you on. That is more my skill set than yours, do you not think?”

Ginny nodded. She pulled Sirius up by the shoulders, and made to Apparate. And, as she touched down in their favoured alleyway for Apparition, dropped Sirius onto the waiting feet of Hermione, who Ginny had not expected to be there.

“Sirius?” said Hermione. “Ginny?”

“The very same,” said Ginny. “Can you help me with him?”

“Where the hell have you been?” muttered Hermione with venom, glancing up at the houses around them, although she conjured a stretcher and began to levitate Sirius onto it. “I woke up and you were gone! You could have gone anywhere! Anything could have happened!”

“It didn’t,” said Ginny. “If anything, it was lucky we did what we did. We have Sirius, and he’s not dead, although he might have been were we much longer getting him.”

“Dead,” said Sirius. “Not dead. Never dead. Maimed. Mangled. Lightly killed. Not dead.”

“Killed and dead have a wide variety of similarities,” said Luna, landing beside them with a gentle swirl of her robes. “But perhaps now is not the time for semantics.”

“Is it ever?” asked Ginny, as she took up the back of the strange procession into their house. The lightly stirring body of Sirius on the stretcher in the lead, his face and hair still full of his own blood and the occasional disjointed sentence falling from his mouth. Hermione next, her face set and almost growling as she directed Sirius along. Luna, completely unconcerned about any of this and probably thinking about the weirdnesses of the English language. And then Ginny, wearing Sirius’ oversized jacket, splattered with blood, and once again feeling as though she was out of control of the situation.

They arrived into the house, and Hermione began to manoeuvre the stretcher upstairs.

“Where are you putting him?” Ginny asked.

“In his bed,” said Hermione.

“Can’t get in,” Ginny replied. “He’s done something to the hatch. Wards, or something else, but anyway, we can’t get in without him doing it for us, and I don’t think he’s in any state to. I don’t even know if he has his wand.”

“Blood sacrifice,” said Sirius. Ginny and Hermione both ignored that.

“Fine,” said Hermione, in a clipped tone. “I’ll put him in mine.”

Ginny didn’t understand what she’d done wrong. Well, she did. But it had worked out for the best, so there had to be some leeway in forgiving that for the greater good or whatever it was. And where had Luna disappeared off to? She followed Hermione up the stairs; she needed to deal with Sirius’ facial injuries still, and do a proper check of his chest and back.

Hermione lowered him onto the bed, Vanishing the stretcher from underneath him, and made to begin removing his shirt.

“Hang on,” said Ginny. ‘You’ll want to check if it’s stuck anywhere first.”

“I’m fairly good at basic Healing,” said Hermione, and continued. The fabric caught on a partially-healed cut across Sirius’ stomach, and he let out a squark of pain, his arms flailing slightly as if trying to reach the source of the pain. Ginny bit back the urge to say ‘I told you so’. It never helped. Instead, she prodded Hermione out of the way and took over herself, using her wand to loosen the material and remove the shirt herself.

“What gives you the right to do this?” asked Hermione, with a menace Ginny wasn’t expecting.

“I know my stuff,” said Ginny. “And, besides, I saw a bit of it back at the woods, I know what I’m dealing with and what I’ve already tried.” She paused. She was tired, and she was on edge, and she shouldn’t continue speaking. “Hermione, you don’t always get to be in charge.”

“You didn’t even tell me where you were going!” Hermione said, shrilly. “I wasn’t even spoken to! This is serious, this is important, I wanted to help, I…”

“The wants of neither of you are as important as the needs of Sirius, at this present moment in time,” said Luna, appearing in the doorway. “I have warm water. I feel shouting is not good for patient morale.”

“Thank you,” said Ginny. She had been right that she shouldn’t have continued speaking. It had been insensitive at least, if true, Hermione didn’t get to be in charge. Although perhaps she should have been told. But then, it wasn’t Ginny’s fault she was using sleeping potions. It was Voldemort’s.

Well, you certainly could blame Voldemort for most things, but it was generally a stretch for something like this.

“Hermione,” she said, turning to her friend. “Can you bathe the cuts? I want to see the damage before I use any more spells, and I can’t see for the blood.” She passed the bowl over, before adding to that. “And I’m sorry. I should have woken you. It wasn’t just you I was leaving out, I didn’t exactly tell Luna either.”

“Luna finds out,” said Luna, in a disconcerting way which Ginny chose to ignore.

“I don’t want to lose him,” said Hermione. She stood with the cloth, soaked in blood, in her left hand, making no effort to continue moving it across Sirius’ chest. “We can’t lose Sirius.”

“He’s better than he was,” said Ginny, which she felt acknowledged the level of work they still had to do to get Sirius back to normal. “He isn’t at death’s door, as we found him, and he’ll survive the night. But it will take time to get him back to normal. And all of us.”

“Don’t die,” said Sirius.

“He’s improving if he can talk,” said Ginny. “Come on, let’s do this together.”

Hermione resumed her cleaning, and Ginny began to heal the cuts as they became easier to see, and together they ran the diagnostic spells and discussed how to treat his less visible injuries. Behind them, Luna did whatever it was Luna did, placing some kind of spell to distract pixies or something. They worked together, and Ginny did feel terrible that Hermione had not come with them. They were a team. They stuck together.

“I’m sorry, Ginny,” said Hermione. “If you hadn’t done it the way you did, we might not have found him.”

“There’s so many options, that isn’t necessarily true,” said Ginny.

“You are starting to talk somewhat like us,” said Luna.

“Grim,” said Sirius. “Portent of death. Not dead.”

“He sounds as though he is losing his sanity,” said Luna.

“And everyone else here is entirely sane,” muttered Ginny, but quietly enough so as nobody else could hear her. Life-or-death scenarios, which this one was sort-of no longer, were not the time for making snarky comments perhaps. Fred and George would, but that was Fred and George. Maybe Fabian and Gideon did.

Chapter Text

Sirius
December 1978

He was running.

“Peter,” he shouted, as he slammed into the gate, wrestling with the catch to pull it open. The gate was jammed, it wouldn’t open, so he put his hands on the top and threw himself over it instead.

“Peter!” he shouted as he ran up the garden path. “Peter!” The door wasn’t locked, it swung open as he pushed into it with the palm of his hands and tripped, almost falling onto the patterned carpet. The house was perfect, pristine, an ordinary three-bedroomed semi-detached in a Muggle suburb of Manchester. Nothing out of the ordinary here, certainly no wizards in hiding.

There was supposed to be.

“Peter!” he shouted, again, as he checked the downstairs rooms.

“Peter!” He ran upstairs, but there was no Peter Pettigrew in the bedrooms or the bathroom.

“Shit.”

Peter couldn’t be gone.

He looped back around the small house again, into every room, shouting the Animagus reversal spell into every corner, under every piece of furniture. No Peter.

No Peter.

Fuck, there was no Peter.

He stood in the centre of the dining room. Peter had been found, Peter had been taken, what if Peter wasn’t strong enough to resist interrogation? James and Lily. Harry. Fuck. Peter.

What could Sirius do?

He’d have to find Peter.

But the house was pristine.

Where had they taken Peter?

There was no Dark Mark above the house.

He had been the Secret Keeper.

Peter was gone.

Shit, shit, shit.

Sirius sat in a seat, at the completely unremarkable dining table in the unremarkable dining room and let his head fall to the table.

Peter was gone. It hadn’t been Remus. Peter had gone willingly.

Sirius had caused this. Sirius’ fault. He’d told James to do this. James had wanted to use Remus. Sirius had been wrong. Sirius’ fault. This was Sirius’ fault.

He had to warn James and Lily.

He threw himself out of the seat and back out of the front door, over the gate again and onto his motorcycle. Godric’s Hollow wasn’t far, it was dark, it was better than risking a Splinching. He kicked the motorbike into gear and accelerated into the low-hanging clouds. Flying calmed him. The rage swirling through his body, the guilt weighing it down, both disappeared slightly up in the clouds and he was able to think a little more clearly. Much as he was desperate to get to that rat, to show him why he shouldn’t have been such a fucking little sneak, James and Lily came first. Friends, before enemies. James needed to be warned. They could move, a new Fidelius Charm would be possible within a week, they would be safe.

Peter was an enemy now.

Peter would pay.

Was he a full Death Eater, or just a nasty sneaky informant? Sirius would find out. He had to know. He had to make Peter pay.

The wind grew as the motorbike neared Godric’s Hollow. It was dark. Sirius wasn’t wearing gloves, and his hands felt as though they might freeze onto the handlebars of his motorbike. But he had to get to James and Lily.

Landing, there was something not right.

People were on the street.

Sirius landed and pushed his way through the crowd of people. They were standing well back from it, but they were looking directly at the Potters’ cottage. They shouldn’t know it was there. Not unless Peter had told the whole fucking village.

Not unless…

The ruins of the Potters’ cottage rose up in front of Sirius, a hole blown in the sides of the house and the dark swirl of smoke coming from the sides of it.

Not unless Peter had already betrayed them.

Not unless the charm was broken.

Not unless… there were no Potters left to protect.

“James!” he shouted, as he shoved the onlookers aside and ran up to the building.

“James!” he shouted, as he ran through the garden gate, that had been left ajar.

“James!” This one was not a shout, but a choked whimper, as he went through the wide-open front door and found his best friend’s body on the ground. “James. Wake up, James. Shit. James. I love you. You can’t die.”

“James,” said Sirius, as he crumpled. “James. What will I do without you?”

 

“Shhh,” said a voice, from next to Sirius. “It’s okay, Sirius. It’s not 1981. Not yet. We’ve got time. Sirius, we can do this.”

Hands stroked his back, as he groaned over James’ dead body. Small hands.

“He’s dead. He’s dead and it’s my fault.”

“It’s not. It was Peter’s fault, Sirius, you know that. And he’s alive now, and we can keep him that way… You need your potion. Take your potion, please, Sirius.”

He was pulled into sitting position, and a woman with brown hair, who he was sure was not meant to be in the Potter’s house tonight, administered a vial of potion into his mouth.

“You’re not there, Sirius, however real it feels. It’s a fever. A trauma response. It wasn’t your fault.”

“It was, it was. It is.”

“You are a good man, Sirius Black,” she said, and he fell back down again.

 

 

“Not you again.”

“James?”

“The very same. Don’t tell me you’ve gone and died again.”

“I haven’t. I don’t think. Ginny told me I wouldn’t.”

“Good. Whoever Ginny is, I don’t know, but I’m willing to trust her if you do.” James Potter’s nose screwed up in a look of intense dislike. “Then again, you trusted Peter.”

“She’s better than Peter. I think she did get possessed by a certain Lord Voldemort at one point, but that wasn’t her fault.”

“That’s what they all say, Pads. That’s what they all say.”

Sirius was on his back, on the cold stone floor of the ethereal version of the Great Hall, and he sat himself up. James came down besides him, and the two of them sat with their backs to the wall below a stained glass window depicting a rather impressively bearded Godric Gryffindor. It was daylight, and the light fell through the window in front of them. James stuck his feet out into the sunlight, Sirius remained in the shadow.

“So, do you think I’m dead?” asked Sirius. It was possible, given what had gone before, but it didn’t feel like it had before.

“I don’t know,” said James. “Just the messenger, remember?”

“Got a message?”

“None from those in charge,” said James. “From me, though, get on with it.”

“How do you know I haven’t?”

“You look like shit, mate.” James reached out and brushed gently at the front of Sirius’ hair. “Blood’s matted in your hair, you haven’t brushed it for weeks. You’ve got that look of failure in your eyes. And you’ve been biting at your nails again.”

Sirius looked down at his softly-chewed nails. James had a point, if not several.

“It’s… harder than you’d think. There were complications.”

“Do you remember when we thought the whole thing would be over by the end of ’78? ’79, at most?”

“Yeah.”

“We didn't know anything, did we?”

“Prongs, I still don’t think I know anything. If anything, I know less than I did. I'm less certain of what I know, anyway.”

“Old age, Pads. Old age is getting to you.”

“Thirty seven.”

“I’m eternally twenty-one.”

“You’re dead, James. You’re dead and I don’t know if I can fix that.”

“Technically, I’m alive, where you are now. Unless you’ve really screwed it up, and killed me off early. And if you could refrain from that, I’d be grateful.”

“How are you here, if you’re still alive in 1978?”

“Beats me. Have you considered that this is a hallucination brought on by whatever medication that Ginny’s giving you?”

“Is it?”

“Not a clue. I’m dead. Of a sort. Have been dead at points, in your personal timeline, even if I’m strictly speaking not now.”

“There are two of me alive. Two Sirius Blacks, different ages. He doesn’t know about me. I don’t know about me. I can’t think of that one as me, is it me?”

“It is and it isn’t, I suppose,” said James.

“You’re not very much help, are you?”

“Well, if you’re not dead, I’m a part of you, so I would suggest that you’re not very much help to yourself, Sirius. Perhaps you need to think about it all a bit less. You’re making it more complicated than it needs to be.”

“James,” said Sirius. “You spent seven years of Hogwarts and several more afterwards telling me to think about things a little more.”

“Times change.”

“They very much do.”

Both of them sat in silence, James staring at his own toes while Sirius looked at the ceiling. The sky was predominately clouds today. Light enough, but not a glorious day.

“James? How do I do this?”

“Kill Voldemort. It’s the only thing that will make it stop.”

“Have you ever heard of Horcruxes?”

“No.”

“Well, he’s got one. Regulus got rid of it. Will get rid of it. So, my brother helped kill Voldemort. They killed him in the end, you know. Harry did. Your Harry. Voldemort, that is. He killed Voldemort, not Regulus.”

“Our Harry, Sirius. You helped raise him. You were there for more than I was.”

“Not enough.”

“No, not enough. Neither of us were there for enough of it, were we? I’m glad he killed Voldemort. Fucker deserved to die.”

“Yeah.”

“I hope Remus got to be there for more of it.”

“He died too.”

“Shit.”

“Got married first. Had a son. I don’t know if that’s better, because he was happy when he died, or worse, because he’d only just become happy again when he died.”

James thought about that. “Better,” he said, finally. “I would have gone through death for Lily and Harry any day. Remus was the same.”

“All of us died. All four of us. Just Harry and Teddy, that’s Remus’ boy, left, and that’s what the Marauders left on the world.” Sirius thought perhaps he wasn’t dead. It didn’t feel the same as last time.

“Well, you never wanted children. Why us, though, Sirius? Why was it my son he wanted to kill? What did Harry do to deserve that?”

“Nothing,” said Sirius. “He did nothing. You did nothing. It was that bloody prophecy, wasn't it, and none of us believed in Divination anyway. Lily, neither. I… well I fucked up, I think. Regulus somehow didn’t. How, James?”

“Damned if I know. I’m dead, aren’t I?”

“James?” James was beginning to look fuzzy around the edges; his voice was sounding from further away.

“Sirius. I’m always here, you know. Always. In your head. So is Harry. And Remus.”

“I miss you all.”

“Fuck, so do I, Pads.”

“Am I dead?” Sirius asked, but James was indistinct and the sounds he was making were no longer recognisable as individual words. “James?”

James was gone, and the walls of the Great Hall were fading too.

“Prongs?”

 

Another face was coming into view, long hair framing it.

“Hermione?”

“Ginny,” said the face. “Look, ginger.” She flipped the ends of her hair out. “But facial recognition abilities aside, you’re awake, and that’s good. How’s everything?”

Sirius thought about that. “Sore.”

“Not surprising.” Ginny grimaced, looking down at a tangle of metal and strings in her lap. “Ah, fuck this shit.” She threw the mess at the wall, and then waved her wand to Vanish it for good measure.

“What was that?”

“A mess. If the question you’re asking is, what was that supposed to be, then the answer is knitting. Mum always used to knit by a sick person’s bedside.”

If that was supposed to be knitting, Sirius thought it was better off vanished.

“Oh,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Don’t try it. Though, now I think about it, you’re a man, and nobody ever bothers to make men knit, do they? I’m going to run a few spells on you now, just to check how you’re doing, is that okay?”

“Yes,” said Sirius. She pushed up her sleeves and began to flick her wand up and down his body, muttering slightly to herself. He thought it was better not to talk too much. His throat felt like there were nails in it.

“All good,” she said, with a smile. “Though you’re still on bed rest, and you’ve still got to take about six different types of potion for the next week, so don’t go getting any ideas.”

“Has anyone told you how much like your mother you are?”

“Many times. I’m not even offended, any more. Much.”

“If someone told me I was like my mother I’d punch them.”

“No strenuous activity for at least two or three weeks. Then you can punch them. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“What happened?” she asked, after a while. “I found you, Luna and I did, near where you were caught by the Death Eaters, and you were in a bad way. All the markers of some light torture, and I know my signs of light torture.”

“I…” he said. “Death Eaters.” He turned the events of his captivity over in his brain for a bit, and then made a decision. “Can I tell everyone at once,” he said, “or can you tell them all? I don’t know if I want to tell it more than once, not yet.”

“Tell everyone,” said Ginny. “They’ll want to hear it direct from you.”

Not long, but a lot of effort expended, later, Sirius was downstairs, propped on the sofa with cushions and a blanket and a ridiculous amount of fussing. He’d been fed soup and hot, sweet tea, and no less than eight vials of restorative potions, and he was feeling the best he’d felt in days. Which was not exactly setting a high bar, given the whole torture, interrogation, Death Eater captivity thing. The experience had been no worse than any other Death Eater capture, he was sure, and a lot better than some had it given he had not in fact ended up dead, but it took a lot out of a man.

“Are you okay to tell us?” asked Hermione, with her eyebrows folded into a look of genuine concern.

“His stats are as good as they’ve been,” said Ginny.

“He has a lot fewer wrackspurts,” was Luna’s contribution.

Sirius looked around at them all, the three girls he hadn’t realised he would miss until he had been away from them.

“When I was caught,” he began, “I was dragged off to some hole. A prison. I think, anyway. There was a Death Eater, Selwyn, I found out his name later. He wanted to know why I had been where we were. That house, in Cumbria.” Sirius’ voice was struggling with the conversation, rasping, and he found it difficult to speak in full sentences. Still, the story was better off out, and now was as good a time as any to tell it. “He didn’t seem to suspect me of anything in particular. I don’t think he knows anything. But he didn’t believe my cover story completely. So he called in someone else. My brother.”

“Regulus?” asked Ginny.

“Yes.” Sirius reached for his glass of water, but before he could put his hands on it Hermione had rushed in to pass it over to him. He could get used to this treatment. “Regulus arrived. He… well, I don’t know if he knew who I was. Selwyn said I looked like Regulus. He went on about Uncle Alphard’s illegitimate kids.” Sirius felt like his voice was getting stronger. “They kicked me about a bit, few curses. Not too bad. Said they wouldn’t kill me, dump me somewhere. Passed out. Woke up to Ginny and Luna and Remus. Where is Remus?”

“He’s not here,” said Ginny, quickly. “He doesn’t know who you are, either. We don’t think he does, anyway.”

“So,” said Hermione. “We could have been discovered by two people who know Sirius very well, we think they’ve bought the cover story, but we don’t know.”

“Not a clue,” said Luna, throwing an apple up and down in the air. “Not the faintest.”
“It’s better than it could be,” conceded Hermione. “Sirius is safe.”

“Sirius is fine,” said Sirius. Luna nodded.

“It was a bit close, though, wasn’t it?” said Ginny. “I mean, it was really only luck that we found him.”

Sirius’ brain wasn’t moving at the same speed as everyone else’s. They were debating the luck involved in his rescue, and he had something to say, but the words weren’t forming right. His mouth couldn’t wrap itself around them, either. It was a funny feeling, there being something there but not being able to express it. Stressful. His toes felt funny, as if he was being squashed in.

Their discussion was beginning to sound as if it was a debate they had gone over before, and he briefly wondered if he had been unconscious for a while. A couple of days, maybe, for their debates to have got a little stale without his new information.

But that wasn’t what he had wanted to say.

“Regulus recognised me,” he said, finally.

“What do you mean?” asked Hermione. All three witches had stopped their discussion as he spoke, turning to face him. Luna had taken a bite out of the apple now, and stopped throwing it. Hermione had pretty eyes.

“I think,” said Sirius, slowly, “I think he knew who I was, but thought I was the younger one, and tried to cover for me. But he hates me. Hated me.”

“Hate is complex,” said Luna. “I wonder if we can truly hate someone we once loved.”

“You can,” said Ginny, with certainty.

“But a brother?” asked Luna.

“I hated Percy for ages,” said Ginny. “When he worked for the Ministry when it was under Voldemort’s control.”

“That’s not the point,” said Hermione. “None of that is the point.” Luna looked unconvinced, but Hermione ignored her. “Sirius? How sure are you?”

Sirius forced his brain back into the cell, and remembered the look on his brother’s face when he had seen the body of Sirius Black laying on the floor, swollen and bleeding and pathetic, but resisting.

“He knew,” said Sirius, without a doubt now. “He knew who I was.” Regulus hadn’t said, he’d lied for Sirius. But he’d known. Regulus who got rid of Voldemort’s Horcrux, and Regulus who died for that. Regulus who, the more Sirius learnt of his brother, was not the man Sirius had assumed him to be.

“The obvious solution,” said Hermione, “is that our Sirius was mistaken for the Sirius that’s meant to be alive now, the younger one, and Regulus isn’t any the wiser as to what we’re doing. Which is the best outcome. Sirius, does your brother know Legilimency?”

“Yes,” said Sirius. “So do I. We were taught, as children. Our mother was an expert. I know some Occlumency. I think it was enough. I’m shit at it. James says you should imagine Quidditch. Bores people to tears. Nothing interesting. No secrets, there. Or only tactical ones. James always guarded his tactics. Some Ravenclaw tried to nick them once. Carnage.” He was aware he was rambling, but his mouth which had been so reluctant to talk earlier now would not come back under control. “Sorry,” he finished, rather lamely.

“It’s okay,” said Hermione, putting her hand on his back. “It’s been a trauma, for you. You’ve been unconscious for the best part of three days. You should rest.”

“Need to talk,” said Sirius, acutely aware of her hand.

“Rest,” said Hermione.

“I’ll lay down.”

“You’ve got severe nerve damage,” said Ginny. “And I’m not going to ask questions, because I know you won’t answer them, but most of it’s not from this last lot of Crucio-ing.”

“Yeah, don’t ask questions,” he said. There was nothing he wanted to talk about in that. And Hermione’s hand was still on his back. He needed to not move, and she might not notice.

“Still,” she said, undeterred from her point. “You do need to rest. For at least another week, I would say. We’ve not got anything in the schedule for a while, so you’re not going to be missing out.”

“What day is it?” he asked.

“Christmas Eve,” said Luna. “If you believe in social constructs such as Christmas.”

The flying reindeer decorations Sirius had enchanted what felt like a decade ago chose that moment to swoop down between them all, throwing out conjured snow behind them. Sirius hadn’t added that particular enchantment.

“They poo, as well,” said Ginny, revealing who had.

“You don’t want to see that,” said Hermione. “Or I didn’t.”

“What?” said Ginny. “It’s funny.” She shrugged. “And it’s charm work practice. As you told me only yesterday, education is not just for Hogwarts, and we should be aiming to learn and grow as witches at all times. And after you deemed Quidditch not to count…” Ginny let the rest of her sentence hang there as she watched the progress of the reindeer around the room.

“I think it is inspired,” said Luna.

“What do we do now?” asked Ginny, not at all talking about the reindeer.

“Well, I think we continue with our plans,” said Hermione, glancing at Sirius as she said that. “We knew this was dangerous before we started, I suppose, and well, maybe there are ways we could make this safer but I want to continue.”

“So do I,” said Ginny.

“Duelling practice,” said Sirius, who had intended that to be a longer sentence. Whether it was his continued inability to control his mouth, the slower than usual speed of his brain, or the little hand still perched on his back that was distracting him more than it should, he did not know. “We don’t prepare enough. The first war, we practiced constantly.”

“We can assume the Death Eaters practice constantly,” said Luna. “That would be an obvious assumption.”

“It’s a good idea,” said Hermione, with the slight air of someone who was trying and failing to find fault in the suggestion. Sirius was certain it was a good one.

“And,” he said, “we need better information.” There was a half-formed plan in his brain here, but he wanted to see how it went before he revealed the full extent of what he was thinking to the rest of the little group. Ginny would be a safe bet to agree, he thought, but Hermione’s views he was less confident of. And Luna was unpredictable, somehow her best and her worst trait.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” said Ginny. “And,” she continued, fidgeting slightly and staring at her own hands, “I’ve got an idea how to get some. So we have to assume, right, that if we’re changing things then soon Sirius’ little timeline will be obsolete, yes?” She gestured to the piece of flipchart paper on the wall, carefully written by Hermione, as everyone else nodded. “And I met Remus the other day, and, well, after a possibly ill-advised impersonation of one of Mum’s cousins he basically invited me to join the Order. I know we agreed not to reveal ourselves to anyone, but it wouldn’t be Ginny Weasley, would it? It would be Philomena Prewett.”

“Isn’t that risky?” asked Hermione, although Sirius thought it was a very good sign indeed that she had not cast down the idea immediately. “What if the real Philomena Prewett shows up?”

“Mum says she only ever met her once. Her dad was a Squib, and he tried to keep her away from the magical world. She was a witch, but as far as we know lived a mainly Muggle life,” said Ginny. “It’s not risk-free, but it’s an obvious in to the Order, isn’t it? We’d have to find an introduction for someone else, and there’d need to be someone to vouch for us, and that’s difficult without a family connection or someone having been to Hogwarts.”

Sirius thought this idea got better by the second, and, conveniently, was close enough to his own that if Ginny’s was seen as sensible his own likely would be.

“It might work,” Hermione allowed. “It would take a while, though. To be trusted enough for any kind of meaningful information. And it means we’re not as independent.”

“They never need to know about us,” said Ginny. “Philomena is a decent, but unqualified, Healer. That’s what Remus thinks, anyway. I think I can use that to avoid most of their missions, if that’s what we need, and I can pass information to you lot.” She shrugged. “I mean, we won’t do it if it’s shit, but we’re going to need better intelligence soon and I’m quite good at finding out what people are up to.”

“Dumbledore is a Legilimens,” said Sirius.

“And I’m a damn good Occlumens, if I do say so myself.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Got possessed by Voldemort in first year, remember? After an experience like that, you sort of do whatever you can to protect your own mind from people getting in there without consent. You can call it a practical or a neurotic thing, whatever you prefer.”

It made sense to Sirius, at least.

“It is a plan,” said Luna, “and a good one. I can continue gaining information from the Ministry of Magic, if that is of use. They are incompetent, so I doubt it, but I suppose it covers further bases.”

“Continue?” asked Hermione.

“Oh yes,” said Luna, who did not look at all like this was a revelation to everyone in the room. “I’ve been working there for months now.”

“No you haven’t,” said Ginny. “How could you have been?”

“She’s not here much,” said Sirius, which was true. He’d assumed she was reading, or doing weird things somewhere weird, but it wasn’t out of the realms of possibility she was working for the Ministry.

“So that’s why you said that to Remus!” said Ginny, with a tone of realisation. “You never said!”

“Nobody asked,” said Luna, simply. “And you did all seem rather busy.”

“What department?” asked Sirius.
“Records,” she said. “My mother’s post. I simply walked in, and said I had decided not to travel after all, and could I please have my job back?”

“And that worked?” asked Hermione.

“As I said,” replied Luna. “It is a Ministry of incompetents, and the Minister’s department is filled with them. She is decent, the Minister, if close-minded, but the rest of them have approximately as many collective brain cells as a bunch of Cornish pixies.”

Hermione muttered something about “fucking Cornish pixies”, and Sirius made a mental note to ask her about that at some point that wasn’t this one.

“Since when?” she continued.

“September,” Luna said. “I told you in October, Hermione. I suspected you were not listening, but it has come up since.”

“Well,” said Hermione, very much as though she wanted to argue. Sirius privately felt it wasn’t worth the argument. They should have noticed where Luna was going, or at least that she was going somewhere, because friends knew what was going on in their friends’ lives. He hadn’t explicitly realised he considered Luna a friend, not before now, but he did it turned out. Friend. Friends were hard to come by, especially ones you could trust in times of war.

“I’m sorry we didn’t notice,” said Sirius. It felt like the right thing to say, to a friend.

“That’s quite alright,” said Luna. “I don’t much expect people to notice what I’m doing. And, you’ve had your own things to deal with, Sirius.”

Sirius resolved to pay much more attention to Luna in the future. Yes, she was weird, and she was very difficult to hold a conversation with without him wanting to bash his head into a heavy object, but they just had different opinions on a wide variety of topics. She was a friend, and they agreed when it mattered, and fucking hell Sirius knew you needed to try with friends.

Ginny and Hermione followed his lead in apologising, and in the silence afterwards Sirius decided to make his own suggestion.

“If we have the Ministry covered,” he nodded at Luna, and thanked his brain and mouth for cooperating with him now, “and the Order, then we need information on the Death Eaters.” Hermione removed her hand from his back, which he seemed to have forgotten about, and instantly he missed the warmth. “And I thought, I could impersonate a family member, and get at least some access. We all know the vast majority of my family are fuckwits, well, everyone except myself and Andromeda at this moment in time, and they have access to Death Eaters.”

“That won’t work,” said Hermione.

“Why not?”

“You were captured,” she said, firmly. “Not that you’re a bad wizard. That could have happened to anyone. But that they’ve seen your face. I know it wasn’t looking its best, with the effects of the fight and the torture and it all, but you’ve been seen and you claimed to be a Muggleborn. There’s no way we can send you back in.”

“It was a good idea, though,” said Ginny.

“It was,” said Hermione. “Which is exactly why I’ll do it.”

“You?” asked Luna, at the same time as Ginny said “okay” and Sirius said “no”.

“You’re not a pureblood,” said Luna.

“It’s a solid plan, if we’re careful,” said Ginny.

“It’s too dangerous,” said Sirius.

“There’s no way of testing the purity of an individual's blood,” said Hermione. “No less than eighty-seven witches or wizards have attempted to find a test, but because blood purity is a bullshit concept nobody can make one.”

Swearing twice in less than five minutes. That was something of a record for Hermione. Sirius could appreciate that as a sign of her seriousness, even if his reservations were growing by the minute.

“And, besides,” she continued. “I’d be a half-blood. They’d recognise a fellow pureblood, but a half-blood is good enough to be allowed in but unknown enough to pass scrutiny. And, Sirius, you can’t say it’s too dangerous because you just said you intended to do the same thing yourself.”

“I can,” he said, but his brain ran out on him. He struggled to articulate the massive list of reasons he knew were in the back of his head as to why that was such a terrible idea, and ended up letting out “because you don’t know how these families work.”

That had clearly been a terrible response.

“And you know more, yes? Good. You can teach me. Being a pureblood isn’t some kind of immediate knowledge base to how to act within these families, it’s not written in your genes! Ginny’s as pure blooded as you, and she doesn’t have a clue! No offence, Ginny…”

“None taken,” said Ginny. “I’ve got exactly zero clues. Possibly a minus number of clues.”

“So there we are,” said Hermione. “I can learn it, if it’s not ingrained into all of you at birth.”

“It’s not that,” he said, “but…”

“What?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, although that wasn’t strictly true. “I just don’t think you should. It’s dangerous, and they’d hate you if they knew who you were.”

“You mean what I am, Sirius, don’t try to hide that. We’re Mudbloods to your lot, I know.” And she got up, and stalked out of the room.

“What was that all about?” asked Ginny, still looking at the doorway Hermione had exited through. “Fucking hell.” She looked at Sirius. “I don’t think that’s what you meant, for the record.”

“Neither do I,” said Luna, standing up. “I expect you could have phrased it better, but those potions you’re on are rather not very conducive to rational thought. I’m going to go after Hermione now.”

“Shit,” said Ginny. “She’s been weird for days. I pissed her off by going after you without telling her, and with Luna, and she’s not been right since. I thought she’d have got over that, by now. She says she has.”

“It is not about that,” said Luna.

“What’s it about?”

“He’ll figure it out,” said Luna, enigmatically, and left.

“Is she always like that?” Sirius asked. It wasn’t the question he wanted to ask.

“Which one?” asked Ginny. “Luna, yes. She acts as though she knows what’s going on when you don’t, and talks in this incredibly irritating vague way, and then usually she does seem to have worked it out before you have. She got me and Harry back together, you know, by being like that. Hermione, sometimes. I dunno, she just loses it sometimes because she doesn’t want to say how she feels. She usually works it all out in a few days, and talks to you about it. At, that’s a better word for how she does it. And at least she’s mostly stopped hexing people when she’s angry, these days. Ron still talks about that flock of canaries.”

“Okay,” said Sirius. It wasn’t the answer he’d hoped for. They’d been doing fine, discussing a plan of action and then Hermione had done that. He got what he’d said wrong, of course he did. Or how it had come across to her as wrong, given that he hadn’t said entirely what he mean to. She’d of course have been angry.

But really, him? She knew his record. She knew what he’d done, she’d heard him talk of his family in a way he very rarely talked to anyone. He’d gone and trusted her for fuck’s sake with some parts of his life he didn’t exactly widely share. And now, she was acting as if he was like the rest of his family?

Fuck that.

“Wait for her to calm down,” said Ginny. “Explain what you did mean, and then let her speak. Write it down, if that helps you get it out. That’s what I told Ron to do, anyway.”

“Okay,” he said, again. His and Hermione’s situation was nothing like hers with Ron. They were in a relationship. Hermione and he were friends. But the advice was applicable, he supposed. “Thank you, Ginny.”

“It’s good to have you back,” said Ginny. “They’ve both been doing my head in. Quidditch? When you’re better?”

He couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he still missed Hermione’s hand on his back.

Chapter Text

Hermione
December 1978, Saltburn

Christmas passed without much fanfare. Sirius was very much still recovering, and couldn’t walk much further than the bathroom without feeling the effects of his efforts. They swapped presents, small tokens in the main, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life and The Sound of Music on the TV. It was one of Hermione’s favourite Christmas memories from her childhood, watching those films curled up with her parents. She’d eat a plate of miniature sausages rolls and similar beige buffet foods, followed up with a few chocolates from a tin of Quality Streets that sat on the mantelpiece. It wasn’t an extravagant Christmas, but it had been perfect to her.

She’d apologised to Sirius, for her behaviour the day before. She’d known, really, that he hadn’t meant that she was inferior in any way. She would have to learn things, if she was to infiltrate even the hangers-on of the Death Eaters. Sirius wasn’t the sort to be like that, to have meant it as a slight against her. She knew that. He’d told her things he didn’t tell just anyone, and she should have remembered that before she spoke.

He should have been more sensitive about the topic, and he’d admitted that, so she could say it. The last thing she wanted was a return to the hostility of the summer and the autumn, with both of them sniping at the other.

Really she wasn’t convinced the whole thing was a great idea, the more she thought about it.

Perhaps it wasn’t about Sirius and his reaction to her half-baked plan. Perhaps it was something else entirely.

Perhaps it was whatever had lead her to put her hand on him, and then to leave it there for so long he had almost certainly noticed. He’d probably just been too drugged up on whatever Ginny was feeding him to have thrown her off. That didn’t answer why she had been so reluctant to take her hand, once she was touching him. It had been an impulse. It had certainly not been planned.

She wanted to do it again.

They had promised to forgive one another, and to abandon planning until after Christmas. No attacks were planned until early January, by their timetable. Everyone needed a break.

“What did you do at Christmas, before all this?” she asked Luna, carefully poking around in the tin of Quality Street she’d bought at the corner shop for her favourite strawberry cremes.

Luna finished up her mouthful of her favourite, the toffee pennies, before answering. “When my mum was alive, we made it a big event,” she said. “After that we had her favourite meal instead of the traditional turkey. Dad didn’t much like decorating. How was it at yours, Sirius?”

“Usually a chance for mother and father to show off how well-bred we all were, of course. What else is Christmas for?”

“Family,” said Ginny and Hermione at the same time. Ginny liked the green triangles, and had a whole pile of their wrappers building up on the arm of her chair. “And Christmas cake.”

“Christmas cake was terribly unfashionable,” said Sirius. “Regulus and I persuaded the elves to make us one once. Mother threw a fit.”

“Why?” asked Luna.

“She’s bonkers,” said Sirius. “I need another drink if we’re going to be talking about my mother. Hermione?”

“Get it yourself, lazy sod.”

“I’m injured. I was tortured, by my own brother.”

“That’s not quite how you told the story originally, and besides, if you’re well enough to drink you’re well enough to get it yourself.”

Sirius looked up at her, and pulled his best puppy-dog eyes at her. She sighed.

“It works better when you’re an actual dog,” she said, but she got up anyway. He was something else, that man. If she hadn’t known his history for herself, she’d have sworn he was just another entitled pureblood aristocrat who was used to getting their own way in the vein of Draco Malfoy. She knew better, but she still didn’t know why she gave in to him so easily.

Perhaps she felt sorry for him.

“Thanks, love,” he said, as he took the glass back from her. His favourites from the box were the nut-filled ones, and that for some reason did not surprise Hermione.

“Love?” she asked, as her stomach did a funny thing she put down to the amount of Ginny’s badly-made eggnog she’d drunk.

“Don’t question me, I’m recovering from torture,” he said. “So, why’s she wearing a nun outfit again?”

It transpired that none of the three understood the plot of The Sound of Music, and Hermione gave up trying to explain it after her third attempt. Some Muggle culture was perhaps beyond three pureblood wizards.

As they’d agreed, they resumed their planning in the lull between Christmas and New Years. Ginny, Hermione and Luna made a series of scouting out visits to the locations of the next set of Death Eater attacks, without incident other than Ginny managing to anger the small but vicious Crup belonging to the non-Order member who was set to be killed by Death Eaters in a case of mistaken identity. In the end she managed to convince the man she was a Muggle looking for her grandfather’s house, but not before he’d pulled his wand on the intruder.

“Well,” said Ginny, dusting herself down afterwards. “Hopefully he’ll be on the alert for intruders even more in a week or so.” Ginny had endless optimism, or so it seemed to Hermione. The further they got into this, the more terrified that they would screw it up she became. Ginny bounced along, unconcerned for any of that.

Hermione began brewing a batch of Polyjuice Potion; it would take a while, but it would be useful to have around. Ginny perfected her flight manoeuvres and broom-back spell casting, and without much success attempted to make Hermione more comfortable on a broom. She thought it was important Hermione could fly. Hermione begged to differ.

“It isn’t actually going to eat you,” she said. “Fred and George considered a prank line of broomsticks that did try to bite, but Ron and I quashed that one early on. And they’re not alive yet, so it’s fine.”

“Remus charmed one to bite James, once,” said Sirius, unhelpfully. “It’s easy enough if you know the right charms.”

Luna continued reading whatever it was Luna read, and ignoring Sirius and Ginny’s increasing cabin-fever.

“Enough!” said Hermione, after a particularly fraught afternoon. “I draw the line at Bludgers in the living room!”
“In the kitchen then, love?” asked Sirius, who had delighted in using that word since Christmas. Hermione had decided to be the bigger person and ignore him. He was like that, Remus had always said he was like that, and it was a sign that he was recovering. Physically, but also emotionally. She almost thought they were seeing hints of the pre-Azkaban Sirius now, a man who made jokes for the love of seeing people laugh, who had a sense of fun, who had aims and dreams and wishes for the future.

“We’re bored,” said Ginny, leaping onto the sofa and flopping backwards in a dramatic fashion as the Bludger zoomed over her head. “It’s too pissing cold and wet for Quidditch outside.”

“So am I,” said Hermione, “but I’m not destroying the place. And Sirius shouldn’t be doing exercise anyway.”

“You didn’t say that when he was swooping round with us the other day.”

“No, because it was better he was flying than taking the mick out of me. Go research ways to immobilise Death Eaters without Stunning them or making it obvious and noisy if you’re bored.”

“You and Luna are the research department,” said Ginny, grabbing the Bludger with both hands as it came in for an attack on her chest and falling off the sofa sideways as she wrestled it to the floor. Sirius held out the box to her, and together they managed to strap it back where it should have been the whole time. How they’d even gotten Bludgers, Hermione didn’t know. In her view, they ought to be licensable objects. Heavily restricted. “Sirius and I are more ‘act first, think later’. It works for us.”

“Rather the point,” said Luna, peering over the top of her book, “is that it recently did not work for Sirius.”

Hermione could see the whole afternoon was going to be lost to pointless bickering and point-scoring, and put her book down so as to better join in.

Two days later, she announced her plan at breakfast.

“Do you know what today is?” she asked.

“Sunday,” said Luna, barely looking up from her current tome on archaic and/or improbable magics.

“New Years’ Eve,” continued Hermione. “I thought we’d go out. There’s usually a big Muggle celebration in London, and I’ve always wanted to go to one. I know New Year isn’t really a wizarding thing, but you’ve all got a shocking lack of knowledge about Muggle customs.”

“There’s meant to be a blizzard,” said Ginny.

“Have you been watching the weather forecasts again?” asked Hermione.

“So what if I have? I told you before, I’m bored. And, besides, I know that bit of Muggle culture. And The Generation Game. And It’s A Knockout.

“I like It’s A Knockout too,” said Sirius, spooning enough honey onto his porridge to rot his teeth on the spot. “Though I don’t understand it.”

“I’m not sure Muggles do, either,” said Hermione, feeling as though the conversation had gone out of control already. “Anyway. Who’s in?”

“I think that would be an interesting plan,” said Luna. “Nargles hate New Year’s. We ought to ward against vengeful spirits. The gap between the worlds is thin tonight.”

“That’s Halloween,” said Ginny. “And midsummer.”

They Apparated down to London that evening, using the crowds drawn into the centre of the capital to mask their sudden appearances. Hermione pulled her hat further over her ears as she led the way to a decent viewpoint, Ginny’s hand in hers. Sirius swigged from a bottle of beer.

“Just a little bit further,” she said.

“Where even are we?” asked Ginny, her Muggle clothing perfect, as usual.

“Trafalgar Square,” she said. “It’s where everyone goes.”

“How do you know?” asked Ginny. “You’re not born until September.” She said that last bit quietly, but most of the members of the crowd around them were drunk or well on their way, and had no interest in the small group weaving through them.

“Mum and Dad always talked about it,” she said. “They used to come here most years.” They might be in the crowd now, she knew. They’d talked about being here ‘almost every year until we had you, Hermione’. In a month, give or take, her mother would find out that she was pregnant and a baby Hermione would be on her way into the world.

“I don’t think it is necessarily my, what is that phrase, cup of tea,” said Luna.

“Give it a try,” smiled Sirius. “Looks ace.”

“Ace,” muttered Ginny. “Who says ace?”

As the clock drew closer to midnight, more and more people squashed themselves into Trafalgar Square. It became full of rowdy, drunken people, having a fantastic time. Hermione watched them all, people who had not a care in the world.

No, she thought, that was unfair. She had no idea what these people were going through. It was easy to assume that because somebody was drinking, laughing, horsing around, that they had no reason to be upset. Any of these could be wizards like they were, and experiencing the war. And Muggles would die in this war.

“Beer?” asked Sirius, sidling up beside her.

“I don’t like beer,” she said, watching as a group of young men attempted to climb Nelson’s Column. After drinking, their grip wasn’t as good as it should have been, but they were making a strong attempt.

“Try it,” he said, with a wicked sort of smile.

She did, and spluttered as she took a sip from the bottle he handed her. “That’s not beer!”

“It’s Muggle vodka,” he said, even though she could have worked that one out for herself. “See, the Muggle police are hypocritical. They don’t mind you having a beer on the streets, long as you don’t get rowdy, but they’ll confiscate spirits. I’ve got around that.”

“You mean they’re inconsistent,” she said. “And you’re supposed to mix this with something else. Cola, or lemonade, or orange juice. It’s not supposed to be drunk alone.” The men had made it halfway up.

“Ah, but that’s no fun,” he said. He looked her up and down, appraising her. “Have you ever got so incredibly, completely, utterly pissed?”

“I grew up in wartime,” she said. “I didn’t have time for experimenting with alcohol.”

“And the years after that?”

“I’ve been busy at the Ministry,” she said. “It took me two and a half years of solid work just to pass a bill that improved the rights of werewolves.”

“They wouldn’t have minded you having some fun along the way, you know. The werewolf I knew would have encouraged it.”

“I called it the Remus Lupin bill, you know.”

“Remus would have been flattered.” Sirius paused. “No, he’d have been utterly fucking mortified and never have let you do that. I suppose it came out after his death that he was a werewolf?”

“Yes,” she said. “He was the first werewolf in the history of the wizarding world to have been awarded an Order of Merlin, First Class.”

“He’d have refused that, too. He’d have had a whole speech on why he didn’t deserve it. Fucker. He deserved it. Bet I didn’t get one, did I?”

“No.” Perhaps she should have fought for him to get one, or at least a second or third class. He’d fought, too, even if he had been wrongly accused of murder for years. “You got a posthumous pardon.”

“Better than a killing curse in the back,” he said. “Although on a technicality, I’m not dead, so technically, it isn’t posthumous. I suppose they didn't know that.” So, you passed a bill that made life better for werewolves? Remus would want you to drink to that.”

“I thought you said he’d have been mortified?”

“About the name thing, yes. The content, if it made an actual difference, he’d have been buying you as many drinks as you could handle. He might even have kissed you.”

Hermione had trouble imagining the almost always calm, restrained Remus as a man who would hand out victory kisses. “He was married,” she said.

“In those circumstances, I’d let a wife snog someone who made their life so much better,” said Sirius. “Not that I ever intend to marry.”

“Never?” she asked, unsure as to why she was asking that.

“Fuck no,” he said. “The poor woman. They’d be in the family, then, and I’m not inflicting that on anyone I actually like. No, it’s best if there are no more Blacks, after me. We produce very few who are any good. Compared to the amount that go bad, support all the worst causes, kill and maim for fun, anyway, and those of us who aren’t total shits aren’t exactly stable and productive members of society. The family is a net bad influence on the world, if not a fucking disease on it.”

“You’re decent. Andromeda.”

“Two of us. Alphard was a good egg, but he had his problems. Hermione, you’re distracting from the mission. We are here to have fun, not rehash all the tired old reasons my family are the biggest bunch of shitbags you ever saw. Drink.”

She thought about refusing. There was a sorrow in his eyes, and she wanted to tell him all the reasons he was completely selling himself short and make him value himself as a human being. He’d have told Remus he had value, and yet he was going the exact same as Remus did, except replacing the millstone of lycanthropy with one of his family background. Maybe he didn’t really want to get her drunk. Maybe he just wanted an excuse to forget things for himself.

She didn’t believe in alcohol as a crutch, but one night couldn’t hurt.

She took the bottle from Sirius, and attempted to knock back as much of the disgusting liquid as she could. The vodka almost choked her, just at the taste, it was cheap and nasty and the worst example of alcohol he could have found at the off-license at the end of their street.

“Good,” he said, taking his own gulp.

“What’s the time?” she asked. Ginny had joined the people climbing Nelson’s Column, Luna at the bottom watching her. Subtly aided by magic, Ginny was faster than most of the others, and drawing appreciative looks from most of the male onlookers. Hermione suspected that was less down to her athletic ability and more down to her looks.

Sirius pulled out an ornate pocket watch, and checked it. “Five minutes to midnight,” he said.

“Nice watch,” said Hermione.

“This?” he asked. “It’s one of my most treasured possessions. I thought I’d lost it, after Azkaban. I was lucky, it must have fallen off when I was at the Potter’s house, the night they were killed. Remus went through the house before the Aurors got to it and saved it. I think he must have thought it was James’, because he admits to blowing up most things he thought were mine.”

Sirius held out the watch and in the silence Hermione left for him, continued. She took it, holding it carefully as if it was a priceless artefact. To him, it clearly was.

“It says ‘Potter’ on it, look. And it’s got their crest, if you know those sorts of things. They don’t matter, so you probably don’t. James’ parents gave it to me on my seventeenth birthday. Because my parents had disowned me, I wouldn’t have had a present otherwise. And they said, some traditions are worth saving, and others aren’t.”

“They’re right about that,” said Hermione. Her fingers traced the engraving, softly and slowly. It was beautiful, well made, and suited Sirius perfectly. “Molly and Arthur did the same for Harry,” she said, “on his seventeenth. Without his parents, he had nobody to give him a watch, so they found a family heirloom for him. It belonged to one of Molly’s brothers, I’ve forgotten which.”

“There are good people in this world,” said Sirius. He was watching Ginny too now, as she sat at the top of the column with her legs hanging down, and avoiding Hermione’s eye. His eyes looked red, and a little watery. Not that her own looked much better, she was sure of that. Thinking of Harry made her want to cry, and of Ron and Molly and Arthur, and for Sirius thinking of James, his parents and Remus would elicit the same emotions.

They had both lost friends, now.

“What do Muggles do at midnight?” asked Sirius, suddenly.

“Cheer, mostly,” said Hermione. “It’s seen as good luck to kiss. Dance around, too, there’s a song. Auld Lang Syne, it’s called. And there’s regional traditions, too, like having the first person over the threshold being a tall, dark man, that one’s called first footing, or being in the street, which we’re doing, and…”

“I like the sound of the kissing one,” he said. Hermione’s stomach did a tiny flip. It was the vodka, it must have been. She could feel the effect it was having on her head, and it clearly affected the stomach, too.

“It’s…” she said, but she didn’t have anything else to say.

“Two minutes,” said Sirius, taking the watch back from her and replacing it into his pocket.

They stood in silence after that, passing the bottle of vodka disguised as beer backwards and forwards between them. Hermione rationalised with herself. She did not want to kiss Sirius. He was a friend, and a very recent friend at that. Any kissing would be a complication, not just to their friendship but to their mission. And, there was Ron.

She had been thinking of Ron less and less. Harry remained in the forefront of her mind, as much as anything else because Sirius and Ginny liked to talk about him constantly. Ginny had taken it on herself to fill Sirius in on Harry’s life from Sirius’ death or disappearance in June 1996 to their present day in 2002, and Sirius was hungry for the stories. Ron was a part of most of those, but when Hermione was alone her thoughts rarely turned to the tall, red-headed man she had once thought she would marry.

What if he thought he’d been abandoned? No, she probably hadn’t wanted to remain in a relationship with him, but this wasn’t the way to end things. She would have wanted to stay in contact. Too much shared history to part ways. She loved Ron. But, she had to admit to herself that she had not been in love with him for at least a few months before her departure from the future.

And they were no longer making efforts to return.

A gold bag hung at Hermione’s side, with charms added to make it an almost perfect replica of the little beaded bag she’d carried on that year on the run. It held the black box that had brought them here, and that in their flurry of planning and preparations and everything else that she had stopped researching over a month ago.

The crowd were beginning to count around her.

“10, 9, 8…”

1979 was going to begin, the year she would be born.

“…7, 6, 5…”

Sirius’ brother would die this year, unless they could save him, but how else would the Horcrux get from the cave?

“…4, 3…”

She drank the last of the vodka from the bottle, feeling it warm her toes.

“…2…1…”

Ginny was standing on the top of Nelson’s Column, Luna had joined her.

“Happy New Year!”

Around them, people were leaping up and down, hugging and kissing and happy.

“1979,” said Sirius, beside her. “You’ve drank all the vodka, love.”

“Love,” she said, shaking her head. “You’ll have to stop that.”

“I might,” he said. He looked down at the bottle in his hand, or his own shoes, it was hard to tell in the bad light, and then looked up at her. Before Hermione could react, he leant in and kissed her lightly on the cheek, bobbing away almost as if he had been burnt by the process. She reached up and put a hand where he had kissed.

“You said that was tradition,” he said, discreetly pointing his wand at the beer bottle as if nothing at all had happened. “And I like Muggle tradition. I didn’t get that Outstanding in Muggle Studies for nothing.”

It would be nothing to him, she thought. All accounts said that Sirius Black had been a ladies man in his prime. He’d kissed many girls, and almost none of them had meant anything. It was not as if she wanted anything from him. Just his friendship. That mattered to her.

They moved on after the new year had begun, and by this point the vodka was warming Hermione nicely from the inside, and it no longer burned at her throat when she took a mouthful. She wondered why she hadn’t done this before. She was happy, and she didn’t much care that there was death and destruction at their doorstep once again, and she was slightly skipping on every third step that she took. Ginny and Luna were joining in, and the three of them linked arms and began to skip as quickly as they could down the road, following the crowd as it dispersed away, faster and faster until they were clinging at each other and giggling and unable to control their direction any longer. But it didn’t matter, because that was how this night was supposed to be.

“I love you,” said Ginny. “You’re all the best.”

“I love you, too,” said Luna.

“I love all of you,” said Hermione, and Sirius laughed. It was a genuine laugh, deep and throaty and as if he had just heard something that made him so incredibly happy.

“You’re pissed,” he said, when he caught her looking. “But that’s a good thing. For tonight.”

“It isn’t,” she said, but she didn’t entirely believe what she was saying.

They Apparated home, lucky not to Splinch, all four of them landing in a pile of tangled limbs in their garden. Luna and Ginny were furiously debating something, and Hermione wandered into the house to find herself a glass of water. As much as anything else, the alcohol left a funny taste in her mouth, and she knew the theory of getting drunk. Pace yourself, drink water regularly, and don’t drink too much.

Going back outside, Sirius had climbed the tree in the back garden. His boots lay on the ground at the bottom. Looking for Luna and Ginny, Hermione saw them were doing cartwheels. At least, Ginny was cartwheeling, and attempting to teach Luna how to do it. Luna, who always seemed graceful, in actual face seemed to possess as much physical grace as Hermione herself did, and was not finding cartwheeling an easy skill to learn.

How had she never got drunk before, Hermione wondered. If it could make Luna Lovegood attempt to do a cartwheel, it was an amazing thing.

“Come on, Hermione!” shouted Ginny as she turned over three times in a row, her balance impeccable.

Hermione shook his head, and went to find Sirius.

“Come on up,” he said, as she reached the bottom of the tree.

“You’re not going to try and kiss me again, are you?” She hadn’t yet decided if she wanted him to, she realised, even though she had thought before that she did not.

“I’m going to try not to fall out of this infernal tree,” he said.

Thankfully, her climbing ability had not been hampered by the alcohol, and she chose a branch that enabled her to sit across from Sirius. He had taken off his coat, sitting in the tree in his jeans, bare feet, and a Muggle-style shirt made from a soft grey fabric.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello,” she replied.

“Do you look at her house?” he asked, and he had no need to say whose house. The charred remains of Jo’s house had been made invisible to Muggles, but they remained clear to be seen to a passing wizard. The Ministry had not finished officially examining the death yet, even though anyone in the wizarding world in possession of half a brain would have been able to work out the cause for themselves. Deaths took months to ratify in the wartime. There were more than the Ministry and St Mungo's could handle.

“All the time,” she replied.

“She knew who I was,” he said. “She had an idea of my family. And she accepted me.”

“So do we,” said Hermione.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “about the other day. You know enough of my family to know that most of them would think less of you for being a Muggleborn. I don’t. I don’t at all. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. We discussed this, Sirius, you don’t need to apologise again.”

“Between my own actions, and those of my family, there practically always is something I need to apologise for.”

“They need to apologise for their own actions,” she said.

“They won’t.”

“No, and that’s the difference between you and them. That, and you haven’t done anything like the rest of them. You’ve made human errors; they’ve deliberately tried to make people’s lives hell.”

“I betrayed Lily and James.”

“You didn’t.”

“Yes, I did. I suggested Pettigrew. James wanted to choose me, originally, but I’d… well, it’s a bit of a story but I’d made myself quite a big target by that point. Voldemort personally requested me dead. It wasn’t a very good idea. So he chose Remus, instead, who was lower profile, but I thought Remus was the Death Eater. I told James all the reasons that Remus was a bad choice, the worst choice, that he’d give the Potters to Voldemort the moment he had a chance. So James picked Peter. Dumbledore offered, you know? But James said he trusted us over anything, me and Peter, and that he wasn’t sure he shouldn't be trusting Remus, too. And then Peter killed James, and I made that possible.”

“You told me that, before, in the Shrieking Shack,” she said. Sirius had the pained look in his eyes, the one he had when he was confronting a demon. “Yes, you talked James into using Peter as the Secret Keeper. But you didn’t know, did you?”

“I should have!”

“Is that what you were dreaming about, when you were recovering?” Hermione thought she was crossing the line with that one. There was an unspoken rule with Sirius; allow him to bring up his issues.

“Yes. I think about it all the time. No, that’s not right. It fucking haunts me. I don’t think about it, it appears in my brain at all the wrong times and I fucking shrivel up with the guilt and the pain and the fucking anger of it, Hermione. That and all my other fuck ups, and I do need to apologise for them, because I’ve ended up hurting or killing so many people that it’s fucking going to kill me if I can’t fix it.”

“We’ll fix it,” she said. That was with far more confidence than she actually had. It was going to be difficult. She had no idea where the Horcrux Regulus would find was, so she was unable to promise Sirius that they would be able to save him. They couldn’t get to it, not without him. And the one in the Lestrange vault would be as dangerous as last time, and they’d need to get rid of the diary, which Lucius Malfoy had.

“Please,” he said, as if he was begging her to sort it for him.

“We’ll do it together,” she said. “Me and you, and Luna and Ginny, and we’ll make it right. Trust me.”

He smiled at that. “Did you ever trust me?” he asked. He’d said that all the time, at the beginning, and no, she hadn't. Not then.

“Sometimes," she answered.

“Liar,” he replied.

“I do now,” she responded. “And you're drunk.”

“From the display we just saw in London, I feel like that's sort of the point of New Year.”

“It is, but not if we have to go and see a Healer because you've fallen out of a tree.”

He straightened up a bit, having been listing slightly to the left before she had spoken.

“We’d do well to avoid that,” he said, and then, “1979.”

“1979.”

“We had such high hopes for 1979. James was going to marry Lily. Peter was going to propose to his girlfriend. Remus wanted to eradicated lycanthropy, but would settle for not getting fired from his job. We were all going to be there the day that Voldemort was defeated. I was… well, I was going to sort my shit out, and maybe find a girl that meant something, and stand up there with James when he married the girl of his dreams. And be there for Peter when he proposed, and for Remus on the moons.”

He swigged from the bottle again.

“We had all these ideas for what we would do once Voldemort was gone. By the end of the year, latest, we thought. We were these young, idealistic men. We had no idea what it could be like, still, even though we’d seen a bit of death by this point. And it was years, and hundreds dead, and we wound up dead ourselves, or in Azkaban, or alone, or fucking traitors.

“Do you think,” he asked, “that Peter was a traitor by this point?”

“I don’t know,” she said, truthfully.

“I want to kill him,” said Sirius. “I want to kill him, even if he hasn’t done that yet. But that’s not right, is it? It’s not right and I don’t care. I want to kill him, even though he might be right, and I want to save Regulus, even though he’s Marked and he might have killed innocents.”

“Regulus knows where the locket is,” she said, “and we don’t. He’s going to find it this year.” She didn’t want to address Peter. She knew this would be coming, the same way that she knew that they would have to deal with the Horcruxes, and she didn’t want to do either.

“1979,” said Sirius, again.

“I don’t know if I have the strength for this,” she admitted.

“You do,” he said. “You’re clearly one of the strongest people I’ve known.” He smiled, and with very careful movements relocated himself to sit on the branch next to hers. “Trust me.”

“Yeah,” she said. “You’re making the branch wobble.”

“Don’t trust me in a tree, then,” he said, and shook it. She grabbed out, scrabbling for a part of the tree to hold onto, and landed her hands onto his shoulders because they were the first things she found. She dug her nails into him as he shook the branch, until they were both laughing and she was almost collapsed onto his shoulder, far closer than she would ever have got to him without alcohol and trees and his ridiculous insistence on going from a serious conversation to trying to shake her out of a sodding tree.

“Stop!” she forced out, and he did.

“Again?” he asked, at the look on her face. His own was arranged into a smile, one that reached his eyes. “On second thoughts, no. Get those talons out my shoulders, girl.”

“Serves you right,” she said, and she relaxed her grip. Instead, in a moment of not really thinking about it, she put her head on his shoulders and relaxed into him. He was warm, in the December air, and he was comforting. “I do trust you, with everything except trees.”

“Wise choice,” he said, “I think.”

“Do you trust yourself?” she asked.

He thought about that, and his hand went around her side to rest on her waist. “No,” he said.

“Well, you should.”

He looked down at her, and she looked up at him.

“I wish we could save everyone,” she said.

They were looking at each other, and their faces were close.

“Hermione! Sirius! Where the bleeding hell are you two? Luna can do cartwheels, and handstands! We’re going to do two-a-side Quidditch, come on!”

The moment, whatever it had been, was gone, and they spent the rest of their New Year’s night skimming inches above the garden on broomsticks, all of them except Ginny unable to hold onto the Quaffle for more than a second or two at a time. Of all the things Hermione would regret in the morning, attempting a Quidditch match was the worst of them.

Chapter Text

Regulus
January 1979, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Regulus returned to Hogwarts at the beginning of the new term, feeling somewhat as though this was no longer what he wanted. He had flashed his shiny, green and silver Prefect badge at some Hufflepuff second-years who were irritating him in the corridors on his way to the Great Hall for dinner, but it was not of importance. They would do it again, and their childish stupidity meant little to the world in any case.

Conversation at the Slytherin table did little for him. He was dutiful to his fiancee, ensuring she had what she needed. All those who mattered he had seen over the holidays, and so there was little to be said on the matter of his pledging, except for the girls continuing to make squeaking noises over wedding plans. Regulus ignored that. No wizard of his stature concerned themselves with the arrangements; that was for his wife and his mother to discuss.

Instead, he allowed himself to be drawn into a debate on politics with Porter, Selwyn and some of the others. Of course, in the main, they agreed on substantive points, and it was as much a question as to how these measures should be implemented as anything else. Nonetheless, it served as an adequate distraction from the stifling air of the Hogwarts Great Hall.

When Adeline stood to take her leave, he used the opportunity for escape.

“Will you allow me to accompany you to the Common Room, Adeline?”

“Oh yes,” she giggled. “Yes please, Regulus.”

They set off from the Great Hall, Regulus escorting her in the proper manner. Before they had gone more than two feet into the Entrance Hall, he found himself waylaid by none other than the Headmaster himself.

“Mr Black, a word?”

Regulus scrutinised the face of Professor Dumbledore. Old, infirm, weak, with his white hair and beard and embroidered robes. He was no threat to Regulus, but he ought to remain guarded. This man had a reputation, and Regulus had no desire to see personally if it was one that was deserved.

“I am walking my fiance back to the Slytherin Common Room, sir. I would see it as remiss in my duties to abandon her in the corridors.”

“Of course. I had heard about you and Miss Fawley, my sincere congratulations. I do not wish to come between the two of you, so I request that you join me in my office after you have returned Miss Fawley to her Common Room, Mr Black. Immediately after, mind.”

“I will, sir.”

He knew where Dumbledore's office was, of course, but had never entered, having in seven years of Hogwarts been sure to keep himself out of any situations that would require a visit to the Headmaster. It was a point of pride, and one of the many reasons he remained an asset to the Dark Lord.

He could see that there was little point in refusing this meeting; to act as if it was something to be avoided was sure to draw suspicion. And not in Sirius’ vein of troublemaking, but a serious one. Regulus was careful to keep himself above suspicion, but some of his associates in Slytherin were not as careful as he was. They could not help it, in some cases, having not been raised well by their parents.

“Why do you think he wishes to see you?” asked Adeline, after the Headmaster had disappeared up the staircase.

“I expect Prefect business,” said Regulus. “Although he did not wish to see you, and you of course bear the same honour. Perhaps it is to do with my studies.”

“That would make sense,” said Adeline. “Unless it is what you have become involved in outside of the school. I know who that was that you introduced me to at our pledging, Regulus.”

“Dumbledore knows nothing of that,” said Regulus. “And if you are sensible, you will not admit to knowing anything of it either. I am doing what I must, for the good of us and for our families, but my work requires a level of secrecy, Adeline.”

“Of course it does,” she replied. Her eyes met his, gentle and steady and entirely unreadable. “I am going to trust you, that you see this as something that will not harm our lives. And in that I ask you to trust me. Both in that I can hold my secrets, and yours, when it is required, but also in my judgement.”

Regulus considered. His father had always trusted his mother’s guidance and advice, and Regulus had anticipated the sort of marriage where he was able to do the same. He did not know Adeline as his father knew his mother, but that would come in time.

“I cannot allow you that at this stage,” he said, carefully, taking her hand in his and raising it to his lips. “I wish for that for our marriage, very much so.”

“You’re a clever man,” she said. “And I am a clever woman.”

That had been a reason he had chosen her, in the end, along with her beauty and her breeding. He had no time for a wife that would sit at home and do little, content to idly gossip. Adeline would run a home well, and raise their children thoughtfully, with time to contribute to society as his mother had.

“Indeed,” said Regulus. “Shall we proceed?”

He returned her to the Common Room, and once he was satisfied she was settled, began the long walk to the top of the castle and to Dumbledore’s office. It would be an unpleasant meeting, but hopefully a short one. He took a moment to clear his mind, as he did so, forcing the thoughts and memories he would not wish the Headmaster to have access to away and allowing others to swim to the forefront. Those relating to Adeline he allowed prominence, as that was a believable thing for a pledged young wizard to be thinking of. Occlumency was a skill his mother and father had insisted upon, and Regulus could not deny its usefulness. Legilimency, too.

“Sit, please,” said Dumbledore, letting Regulus into his office and indicating the chair sitting in front of the desk. He himself walked around the back of the desk and settled himself in the high-backed chair, steepling his fingers as a large, golden ball on the shelf behind him began to emit a high-pitched whistle. “Tea?” he asked, ignoring the whistle. “Or are you a drinker of coffee? I can’t understand coffee, myself, but young people have their different views, do they not?”

“Tea, please, sir,” said Regulus. Quietly, under the table, he pointed his wand at the cup of tea that was quickly deposited on the desk in front of him. Nothing untoward; no Veritaserum, compulsion potions, or anything else designed to modify his behaviour.

“I had assumed you were more of the old way. Not many of our young witches and wizards pledge themselves to one another while still students here, not these days. I think Mr Malfoy did so, with young Miss Black, your cousin Narcissa, but it is rare. Of course, there were days when more than half of our students would be pledged or in many cases married in seventh year or earlier, but some trends die out, do they not?”

“I am aware of who my cousin is married to,” said Regulus, and then moderated himself. “Perhaps that is for the best. The best matches are made with time and care. I would imagine seventh year students do not always make them for reasons of longevity.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “I rather suspect you are right, Mr Black.”

He took a moment to survey Regulus over the top of his half-moon glasses. Regulus pretended to ignore this, and focused his mind in on his thoughts about Adeline, about his overdue Potions homework, and about the potential for a future within the Department of International Magical Cooperation, while sipping his tea in a calm, measured way. He was not under scrutiny, because he would not allow himself to be.

“Professor Slughorn tells me you are considering a career in the Ministry.”

And so did his little delve into Regulus’ mind, there.

“Yes. Although I am heir to my family’s fortune and dealings, I hope to have many years before I am expected to take over that role. I would like to do something useful and interesting in the meantime, and Professor Slughorn has kindly been helping me in that.”

“No more than he should be, as the Head of Slytherin House. Tell me, do you have any other thoughts for the future?”

“I am looking forward to my marriage, and the prospect of children. I would like to continue to play Quidditch, although I do not wish for a career in the sport. Perhaps a gentleman’s league alongside my work and my family.”

“Regulus, may I call you that? There is a dark cloud hanging over wizarding Britain these days, and I am well aware that boys from families like yours can sometimes get swept up in these things without understanding what it is they are becoming part of. You will have heard of the name of Lord Voldemort, and of his followers. He refers to them as friends, but they are no such thing, and they are recruiting. I believe they are doing so within Hogwarts. I would not be surprised if you have not received an invitation to join them, given that I am certain that your cousin Bellatrix and your cousin-in-law Lucius Malfoy have done so already. Regulus, I would ask you to consider your options carefully in regards to this group. I am always prepared to offer support and safety for anyone, wizard or Muggle, pureblood or Muggleborn, who feels as if they are in danger from Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. That includes through refusing an invitation to join, or through an attempt to leave.”

So the old man had very little idea whether Regulus had joined, or intending to, or against the whole premise. He allowed himself to feel a small amount of derision; here was the man who was supposed to be spearheading the resistance, and yet he had not managed to understand who that recruiter was within the school. The Dark Lord was safe for now, if this was his most feared opposition.

“Yes, sir. I am aware of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Death Eaters. I will be sure to come to you if I am in need of your assistance.”

“Thank you, Regulus. I must say, if you do know this recruiter, the one I believe to be operating within this castle, then I would appreciate the information. I am not intending to expel the person. I think that would be somewhat counterproductive, do you not? But I do not wish my students to be recruited to any cause.”

Dumbledore had recruited Sirius to some kind of resistance group, the Order of the Phoenix as Regulus believed it was named. Perhaps the old man’s logic only lasted if it was a cause he did not personally agree with, and it was more than acceptable to encourage students to join your own fighting force.

“Of course, sir.”

He would never leave the Death Eaters, and even if he did, then the last place he would go would be to Dumbledore. The man was an old fool, this being an example.

They conducted small-talk for a further five minutes, with the Headmaster pretending to take an interest in Regulus’ studies and Regulus pretending that he too had an interest in the outcome of his NEWT examinations.

It was scarcely eight by the time Regulus made it out of the Headmaster’s office, as full of disdain for the man as he had been on entering. He decided to walk from there to the castle’s library, in the hope of completing that Potions essay. Slughorn would not care, and Regulus would do well in his exam regardless, but it did favours to ensure you stayed in the good graces of powerful teachers.

He took a circuitous route, avoiding the moving staircases and some of the favourite haunts of Peeves, down a set of infrequently used stairs that came out near to the Charms department. At the bottom, he should have taken a left turn towards the library, but there were voices coming from the right. He sighed. It was likely nothing, but the badge on his robes and his honour suggested he should investigate the cause. More importantly, there had been an escalation in attacks on members of Slytherin House last term, and if it was that again he ought to intervene.

If it had not been for the Headmaster’s bias, Regulus ought to have been Head Boy. The current one was never there when he was needed, and regarded any fight victimising Slytherins as not worth stopping. Regulus broke up almost all fights; because that was how the badge should encourage him to act.

“What is going on down here, please?” he called, in his strictest tone.

There were Slytherins in the fray, evident by the green and silver scarves worn by several of the fighters.

“Stop!” he called. “I am a Prefect!”

“Come on, Regulus!” called Mulciber the younger, as he hexed again at the figures under attack. “We’re doing the Dark Lord’s work!”

Within seconds, Regulus’ own wand was out and Mulciber was on the floor, paralysed. The other Slytherins, recognisable now as Porter and Alecto Carrow, lowered their wands in response to this.

“What are you doing?” hissed Carrow. The look on her face was one of undisguised disgust. Regulus had never liked her.

“If you were indeed a servant of the Dark Lord,” he responded, “then you would know that it is not a game for children to play in the halls of Hogwarts.”

He surveyed the three that had been clearly under attack, if fighting back with some skill. Two Ravenclaw boys, both fifth years to the best of Regulus’ memory, and Francis. Regulus offered the three of them a curt nod. “Best be on your way.”

“Aren’t you going to ask why they were attacking us?” asked one of the Ravenclaws, his chin jutting out.

“I would lower your wand, if I were you,” said Regulus. “It looks as though you are intending to attack me, matched with your tone. As far as it looked to me, this was a corridor scuffle, possibly to do with our upcoming Quidditch match against Ravenclaw. Is that not correct?”

Regulus could have guessed better. The three under attack were pureblood wizards, and aside from Quidditch there was one reason people sworn to the Dark Lord’s service would attack a member of the pureblood community. He did not know the character of the Ravenclaw boys, but he knew Francis. The Hufflepuff would not join the Dark Lord, Regulus was certain.

However, if the Ravenclaws were wise, they would not voice that. Not in front of another who may have joined, or have sympathy with the cause. The smaller one, blond haired, the one who had spoken, looked as though he wished to say more, but the taller, dark one stopped him.

“Exactly,” said Regulus. “It is as I thought. Back to wherever you were going, now, while I deal with my housemates.”

The two Ravenclaws scurried off in the direction of Ravenclaw Tower, their robes billowing behind them in their haste to flee the scene. Francis left at a slow, languid walk, in the opposite direction, after a long look at Regulus. Regulus ignored him, turning instead to the three Slytherins.

“I will have to report this back,” he said. “I am not best pleased with your conduct this evening.”

“We were teaching them a lesson,” said Carrow, her eyes narrowed. “Something you didn’t seem to be interested in. Perhaps I should be the one reporting you back.”

“Do so if you wish,” said Regulus. It was his word, a loyal servant for almost a year now, if you counted the time before he was Marked, against hers, a new recruit who had not shown herself to be as useful as he yet. “I will remind you that I am the one that has been tasked with recruitment within the school, and that I will not tolerate my work being sabotaged. It is a delicate process, and one that can be quickly ruined by those without a brain to share between them dealing out unnecessary punishments. I am almost always successful in who I target, Carrow. Do you want me to phrase my report in terms of sabotage? Who do you think would come out better in the Dark Lord’s estimation? Someone responsible for many recruits already entered his service, or someone who has failed to persuade any?”

Carrow was silent, which was the best outcome Regulus could have hoped for. She needed to be kept in line. As did the others. Porter he felt had improved, but Mulciber lacked almost all of the necessary skills except the drive. Carrow at least had some merit.

“Sorry, Regulus,” said Porter. “We wanted to do something.”

“Practice your duelling, if you wish to do something,” said Regulus. “Your aim was sloppy. You have considerable power behind your spells, but if they are not hitting their mark they are worse than useless. Carrow, you need to focus on the power. Mulciber, you’re slow.”

They nodded, Carrow reluctantly and the others more eagerly. Perhaps he had been too harsh on them. He ought to give them more guidance.

“I will help you, if you wish,” he said. “I will speak to Slughorn, and see if there is an empty room in the dungeons we can use for practice. Now be gone. I wish to do my Potions essay in peace.”

They disappeared towards the bowels of the castle, and Regulus sighed. He understood more of Lucius’ complaints now, about the tedium of keeping others in line. Still, his father had taught him techniques, and he could make use of them here as well as in the Ministry.

No sooner had he turned the corner towards the library that he came face-to-face with Francis again.

“Could have taken the lot of them,” said Francis. “You were right. Porter has shit aim, and Carrow’s weak. I’ve met slowworms that can think faster than Mulciber.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” said Regulus. “It does not become you.”

“Friends like that don’t become you,” Francis replied, falling into step with Regulus. They passed several wall hangings, depicting battle scenes in the main, and then as they passed one embroidered with a feast, Francis pulled on Regulus’ robes and dragged him into the alcove behind it.

“I have a Potions essay,” said Regulus.

“Sluggy loves you,” said Francis. “I haven't seen you properly since your little party.”

“I have duties,” said Regulus, the end of his words muffled as Francis pressed his lips into Regulus’.

“You don’t want to do them,” said Francis, his hands snaking through Regulus’ short, neat hair.

“No,” he replied. “I do not.” For in truth, he did not. Slughorn would forgive the essay, Regulus would tell him he’d been reading some interesting book or other. The other Slytherins were unimportant, even the Dark Lord knew that. Dumbledore was worse than an idiot, he was old and mad and of no importance to Regulus Black. Examining Adeline’s words to him could wait.

Instead, he relaxed into the alcove and when he came with Francis’ mouth around his cock he shouted his name.

Afterwards, and after Regulus had returned the favour, they sat on the stone floor, swapping a hip-flask of brandy back and forth that Francis had brought from his father’s drinks cabinet. They were in little danger of a disturbance, as despite the fact that most of the older students in the castle were aware of places such as this one, there was a widely used system to avoid awkward encounters. Regulus was careful to always use it. There was no need for the relationship to be public.

“They were trying to recruit me, you know,” said Francis, swigging from the silver flask. “Naturally, I declined. And so they threw the hexes and curses almost instantly. It’s almost disappointing how little effort they put into verbal persuasion.”

“They are not the brightest the Dark Lord has to offer,” said Regulus. “And why do you say, naturally?”

“Because it’s fucking stupid. Join up, and what, go kill people that I don’t think deserve to die? Torture them, because someone says I should? No, thanks. I’m going to do something genuinely useful, and if I can’t, then I’ll settle for not actively killing people, Regulus. Why do you think I should?”

“It is what must be done,” said Regulus. “The entirety of wizarding society is under threat, can you not see it? Your own bloodline could be lost, there is only you and your brother left.”

“It’s just a name,” said Francis. “One I’m rather attached to, but still just a name.”

“Just as I am attached to mine. I do not wish to see it die out, or to have the good name of Black corrupted by those such as my brother. It is my duty to protect our heritage, and surely yours.”

“But killing, Regulus? Would you kill for the name of Black?”

“I would kill for what I believe, for what is important in wizarding society.”

“I think that’s stupid. What if you die? What happens to the name of Black then? It’s in your brother’s hands then, which is what you don’t want. He’d marry a half-blood or something just to spite your mother, and you’d have died on some fool’s errand. What does that achieve for your aims?”

“I would rather go down fighting, than remain in a world that is not what I wish for.”

“I like living. I like sharing that life with you. You’re clever, and you’re an excellent Seeker, and you’ve got the best arse I’ve ever seen. You’re clearly one of the brightest your Dark Lord has, and you’re wasting all of that on killing and torturing and likely getting killed or stuck in Azkaban.”

“The Dark Lord will prevail, and I will be rewarded. It is the right course of things.” He was getting frustrated with Francis. He too was a pureblood, from a good family, he should have seen this. Those that didn’t, Regulus assumed were an exception rather than the rule. It was counterintuitive, to stand against that which would only benefit them. There were costs, of course, but anyone knew that was part of having to take a stand for the right things

“Well, I think you’re wrong, but I still like fucking you.”

They parted ways at curfew, neither wishing to gain a detention on their first night back. Their Prefect statuses would cut it with some teachers, but others would remain all too pleased to dish them out a detention each.

Regulus reflected on his conversation with Francis the next morning, following his routine before he went down to the Great Hall for breakfast and a morning of classes. It changed nothing in his life, not in truth. Francis was denying his heritage, likely because he had no interest in continuing his family name with a witch. He was not ambitious, like Regulus, rather interested in finding an easy path. The Macmillians were not the kind of family that were in all of the right circles, and he had likely missed some of his education on this topic.

It was likely that Regulus would be able to bring him around to the right cause, with time. If the less intelligent amongst the Dark Lord’s supporters managed to keep their wands out, at any rate.

He resolved, at breakfast over his usual fare, to owl Avery and update him on the goings on in the castle as soon as he could. He ought to have done it last night. It was not personal business that had delayed him, but rather the necessary work of undoing the mistakes of others. The fact that personal pleasure had been mixed in was a bonus.

As he composed the owl in his head, Avery’s owl swooped in and landed a letter on the table ahead of him, neatly onto the green and silver tablecloth.

Tonight.

As before.

Bring those that can be trusted.

Carrow, Mulciber and Porter would not be requiring an invite. He passed the parchment to Selwyn, beside him, with a curt nod. The other boy offered a nod and the parchment back.

“Perfect,” was his only response.

Porter ended up meriting an invitation, in the end. He sought Regulus out, discreetly, at lunch and apologised wholeheartedly for his part in the ongoings of the night before. Regulus did some minor checks, just a little peer into the boy’s brain, and it was not subterfuge. Carrow and Mulciber had no such conduct; Carrow remained aloof and judgemental, Mulciber ignored Regulus’ attempts to make eye contact.

So it was a smaller group that took the path up from the Whomping Willow and into the Shrieking Shack that night, but one Regulus was more sure would bring success. He led them silently, to the waiting Death Eaters, and they took over. He would one day take on a role like Lucius did, of real leadership. Making decisions, rather than providing the people. But this was a start, and he was making his mark, and it was by far better than sitting back like Francis would, waiting for somebody else to make things right.

The time was here to go out, and Regulus felt the excitement. It was in the room; twelve men ready to make some changes. It was in his blood, the faster beating of his heart and the sweat in his palms and the itch in his hand to pull out his wand. He was ready, he was always ready, and whatever Francis said to the contrary this was necessary and right and it was what they had to do. It was for everyone, and it felt right.

They landed outside a house in Norfolk, a small, detached Muggle property with a burnt orange front door. This was a real chance to do something, a woman who was actively seeking to bring down their society. She had married a Muggle, and joined the Order of the Phoenix. She was not to be trusted, she did not deserve to be a part of the world they were creating. She had to be taught what was important.

And if that meant killing her, was she such a loss to the world?

“Regulus, you are to be our lead,” said Lucius. It was to be just three of them tonight: Regulus, his cousin-in-law, and a Jugson. No schoolboys to mind, just three men intent on what had to be done.

“I will do you proud,” said Regulus in reply. It was over stiff, too formal, but Lucius inclined his head and indicated Regulus forwards. He took a step to the door, and breathed in. His blood pulsed through his veins, he was ready and waiting. He would be asked to kill, tonight, and he would do that if that was what was needed to secure his future. His own, and that of the Black family, that of Adeline and that of Francis.

He ought not to see Francis again, if he was not capable of this too.

Adeline would understand. Did understand.

He raised his wand. This was what he was made for.

Reducto!” he cried, and the door exploded into pieces around him, and he was in the house. She was upstairs, most likely, the downstairs of the house entirely deserted he discovered as he prowled the lower floor. He made for the stairs, and she was at the top of them, screaming spells down to him. He parried all of them, he was after all an excellent fighter. She was better than some he had duelled, her dark hair flying as she fought, her thickset frame clad in pyjamas patterned with polka dots.

There were noises from outside, and in flew more people. The Order of the Phoenix, showing up where they were not wanted once more. That James Potter, the friend of his brother, another whose heritage should have made him know better. The old Auror, Moody, a formidable opponent but not unbeatable. And an unknown, a thin, wiry woman with short, golden hair and a ferocious attack. Regulus flattened himself into the wall, inching himself up the stairs while covering himself from the attack from the landing and in the hallway. Lucius and Jugson fought well, and they were beating back the Order in the hallway. Regulus reached the top of the stairs, catching the woman by surprise.

Ceridwen Dearborn, he recalled her name to be, and her list of crimes. She’d killed a Death Eater, a loyal man, and she deserved whatever came to her. She would kill Regulus, too.

He was close, fighting furiously with her.

“Finish her!” came Lucius’ command, but before Regulus could act there was a burst of light from Ceridwen’s wand. Green, the green that meant nothing except an Unforgivable Curse. He threw himself to the floor, slipping, his feet scrabbling to keep purchase on the stairs. It was his only hope, a magical block would do nothing for him.

The shout came after, only a fraction of a second in reality, but it was much longer.

Avada Kedrava!

Regulus was safe, the curse had passed him, he pulled himself to his feet. There was a crash, behind him, in the hallway. He hoped it was a member of the Order.

“Shit, Ceri!” came the yell of James Potter. It was not him. Regulus was duelling, both fighting to kill, the spells flying in all directions. As he duelled, he turned, it was Jugson on the floor. Unmoving. The man had been a sacrifice for the cause, in the end, and Regulus hoped that it was worth it.

“Kill her!” shouted Lucius, between spells.

“Shitting hell,” came a female voice, that was not that of the woman he was duelling. Regulus half-turned to the noise, but he had to focus. He could deal with the hidden woman after he had killed this one. She had killed another of his own, and he alone could end this.

“There’s meant to be four of them!” A man’s voice, likely downstairs. “Where’s Helena? There was supposed to be a Helena.”

She tripped as they duelled, on a loose wire leading to a Muggle telephone.

He had a chance.

Avada Kedrava!

This time, the green light was from his own wand, and time once more slowed for him, and it flew from his wand in a neat, clinical arc, hitting her square on the chest as she regained her footing. Her wand was rising again, ready to fight back, but it would never do so. It fell instead, as her hand went limp, and her body fell, and she was dead on the floor of the landing.

Her body did not move, as the battle raged on around her. Regulus turned, James Potter, Moody and Lucius were out the door, battling in the street. The woman was staring up at him, eyes narrowed and her wand raised. Regulus stunned her.

He had killed someone. She was immobile, she would never breathe again. Her life had reached its end, and for what?

Her cause was dying, as she had.

He would not suffer her fate. He was fighting for the correct side. Death was something he would greet as an old man.

Jugson had been fighting for the correct side, and he had died.

That was the way of war. Even if it was for the right reasons, people would die, would they not? Jugson would have been proud of his fate.

Regulus would, even while he hoped he would not be that body on the floor, motionless, still, creepy in death.

“Oh fucking hell, this is the worst!”

He remembered the woman’s voice. Carefully, quietly, he slunk down the landing, to the door which he was certain the voices were coming from. An ear, or what had looked like an ear on a string, darted back under the door as he approached.

“Someone’s outside.” The man’s voice.

“This is like Ianthe’s all over again. Except Ceridwen’s fucking dead, and we only had to take Ianthe to the hospital. You said we ought to wait for Helena!”

“That was my intelligence!”

“Your intelligence is hippogriff shit!”

Regulus burst the door, to come face to face with his own brother, crouched on the neat patchwork bedspread with his wand outstretched. Beside him, stood a ginger woman, a Prewett if she was a pureblood, in a blue Muggle jacket with her hair in two long plaits. She too held a wand in a combat position.

His dear brother, for the second time in as many months. Whatever had Regulus done to deserve Sirius?

Chapter Text

Sirius
January 1979, Norfolk

“Sirius,” said Regulus, his voice even and his face neutral. That beautiful schooled expression, the one Sirius could have learnt had he thought it important.

“Regulus.” Sirius tried the face out in return. It was the second time he’d seen his brother in recent months, but he was going come off better this time. His hand went to his upper thigh, to the line of the injury Regulus had inflicted last time around. It had healed, partially, but Ginny thought it cursed and said there would always be a mark. A mark of why not to trust your own brother, Sirius said. Ginny was blessed with trustworthy brothers.

“I don’t want to have to kill you, so I would leave, if I was you.” Regulus drew himself up to his full height, aiming for nonchalance in his voice most likely. It was bullshit. Regulus cared, he always did. The tone was closer to desperation.

Sirius could remember the mantra. A pureblood is always in control of a situation. A pureblood knows how to reach their own ends.

Unfortunately for Regulus, and despite everything, Sirius was a pureblood too.

“I don’t want to have to kill you, either,” said Sirius. “But I’ve got no such qualms about your friends. Where are they, anyway? Murdering? Raping? Pillaging? Whatever your lot do to get your nasty little kicks?” Sirius knew one of them would be dead on the floor, in the hallway, and he couldn’t really find it in him to care.

“They are doing what must be done.”

“And that is killing completely innocent people, yeah? How many have you killed?”

“They are blood traitors.”

“Oh come on, Regulus. I’m a blood traitor. I’ve tried to kill Death Eaters. These people are nothing like it. Ceridwen is a witch who joined what you reckon is the wrong team. She wrote an opinion piece in the Prophet saying that she thought the Ministry wasn’t doing enough for Muggleborns who are being threatened by Voldemort, and showing concern for the children harmed by war. The fucking children, Regulus. What did they ever do, even if the sins of their parents really were so bad?”

“They are blood traitors,” Regulus repeated.

“Do you repeat everything Voldemort tells you, or do you have some independent thought?”

“I know my own mind.”

Of course he did. He’d been parroting the same lines since he’d been old enough to repeat back their parents’ words.

“See,” said Sirius, “I don’t think you do. Mother and Father told you what to think, then those bastards you call friends at Hogwarts did, and now fucking Voldemort does. Have you stopped to look at what you’re doing, or are you just following on?”

“At least I didn’t follow you.”

“I wish you had.”

Supposedly, Regulus had cried when his brother had been sorted into Gryffindor. Up until that day, they had assumed both of them would go into Slytherin, Regulus a year behind his brother, and they would share a common room and friends. Sirius had never wanted to be apart from Regulus. So, when the Sorting Hat had landed on his head and screamed “Gryffindor” to the gasps of those in the hall who understood how things had been supposed to go, he had hoped Regulus would follow him the next year. He had not. Regulus walked his parents’ path.

“I don’t wish that.” No, Regulus wouldn’t.

“Sirius,” warned Ginny, from beside him. The temperamental Extendable Ear, or whatever it was called, that she had made had disappeared under the door again, and she was listening in. “If Aurors arrive…”

He nodded to her, but he had been waiting since August for a moment like this with his brother. He’d be damned if he was going to leave without trying.

“Leave with me,” he said. “You don't have to be one of them.” It was the worst approach, but it was honest, he supposed. And fucking hell, he knew what would happen if he didn’t try, he too was as desperate as his brother for things to fall the way that he wanted them to.

“It ought to be you that is joining me,” said his brother, without hesitation. “Stand on the right side of this fight, not with the blood traitors, Mudbloods and fools.” He indicated Ginny, who bristled a little.

“Not that bothered about being a blood traitor, truth be told,” she said. “But I’m not a fool, and Mudblood is downright fucking offensive, you mangy Death Eater cunt.”

Offensive about covered that, too, Sirius thought, but his brother deserved it.

Mangy, though. A weak choice of word if ever he’d heard one.

“Control your woman,” said Regulus, almost lazily.

“I’m not his fucking woman,” said Ginny, at the same time as Sirius said, “she’s not really anything to do with me in that sense, Regulus.”

“At least we’re clear on that,” Ginny said, to Sirius, and flashed her engagement ring in his direction. He’d not noticed she still wore it. A single diamond in a gold band, understated but clearly expensive.

She still had her earpiece in, with the ear on the other end still under the door to the landing, and Sirius’ attention turned to outside the room as Ginny’s face went white at the noise on it. The second crash was audible even without the aid of the Ear. Fighting, which had appeared to be over, had broken out again, with the clearly heard voice of James Potter attempting to hex someone into submission.

“Don’t,” said Ginny, in warning. “Not unless.”

He knew what she meant, even if he didn’t agree with it. There were people they could be seen by with little effect, Regulus being one of them. It was now beyond clear that Regulus’ brother knew exactly who he was, but seemed to mistake his older appearance as damage, rather than age. He’d been cautious this time, too, allowing Luna to smooth the signs of ageing and Azkaban from his face with some spells generally used by vain witches. He looked little different, if the magic held, from his nineteen-year-old self.

Which was somewhat of the problem, if James or somebody else who the other Sirius would be interacting with saw them.

“You could,” he replied.

“You know why it’s better I don’t,” she said. Talking in code was infuriating.

“If you had not once been my brother, I would have killed you by now. I killed Ceridwen Dearborn, I am not afraid to kill in the name of the Dark Lord.” Regulus’ words drew Sirius back into the room, his brother staring at him with his wand raised and his eyes hard with a fire Sirius had never before seen in his brother’s face. Whatever Regulus said, they would always be brothers.

“Oh, your first kill?” Sirius asked, as calmly as he could manage. He was now forced to admit there was an outside chance his brother might do this. His own brother? Maybe not, but he was further down the path than Sirius had realised.

“I am capable,” said Regulus.

“I’d rather skip that demonstration,” said Ginny.

Sirius felt like offering her a high five, but the situation suggested that might not be appropriate. Ginny crossed to the window, the Ear wiggling after her. She threw it out the gap between pane and windowsill, and paused to listen, hand over the earpiece.

“You don’t have the guts to kill me,” said Sirius, not entirely confident of that. Shouts from downstairs suggested James was winning, and that Dorcas Meadowes was back in the fight. She was formidable, and there should only have been Malfoy left. They’d have him fine, he was weak and hated to kill or maim. “You think you’re important because you killed one woman, and now you’re threatening us. If you’d intended to kill us, then you’d have done so the moment you stepped through the door.”

Truth be told, that little speech was paraphrased from a Muggle police film he’d watched once, when Remus had introduced the rest of them to the concept of the cinema. It worked, though. Regulus lowered his wand, just slightly, just with a twitch, but it was lower.

“Shitting fuckery,” muttered Ginny. “Aurors! OUT!” The last was a shout.

It was at that moment that multiple things happened at once. Regulus raised his wand again, and Sirius raised his in mirror. They both cast at once, and something exploded, shattering the glass in the now thrown-open window. Ginny fell backwards onto the floor, releasing blood and a long stream of inventive swear words. With a crack, Regulus disappeared, Apparating away to wherever it was Death Eaters disappeared to, and the sound of James’ voice came from downstairs.

“There’s someone upstairs still, I’m going to check it, Dorcas. The Aurors’ll be securing the place.”

They didn’t heard the rest of the sentence. Sirius’ arm had been roughly grabbed by Ginny and they too had left the scene.

With an overly-loud bang, a mark of inexpert Apparition, they landed in the back alley behind their house. Ginny dropped Sirius’ arm immediately, and clutched at her own. Once again, someone was bleeding.

“Bollocks,” said Ginny. “Fucking shit poo bollocks.”

Sirius pulled her hand away from the wound, to see that it was worse than it looked. A large, jagged piece of glass from the window was embedded in her left forearm. Grasping it carefully, he yanked it out, and as Ginny swore some more he carefully cleaned and sealed the cut with his wand.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Are you always this dramatic?” She glared. “And where did you learn to swear like that?”

“I have six brothers,” she said, ignoring his first question. “I learnt every swear word and offensive phrase they knew, then added some of my own.”

“There’s got to be one use for brothers,” said Sirius, thinking of his own.

“Your brother has far too much breeding to swear,” she said. “Although, you have the same breeding. Perhaps we could teach him.”

“I don't think he’s going to leave them,” said Sirius. “I really don't think he will.”

“We know he does,” said Ginny. “Really, we ought to leave him alone. Else we might fuck that up, too.”

They walked into the house in silence. The light, airy conversation about swear words and brothers was not reflective of how either of them felt. Their night had been a disaster, by all measures. Ceridwen was still dead, Regulus remained a Death Eater, and there was the missing Order member. Helena had been supposed to be there, a new recruit, and she had not, and it had thrown them both.

Ginny made a pot of tea, and they waited. In silence at first, in the hope that Luna and Hermione would soon return with better news from their evening’s work. With small talk, and no small amount of worrying about the other two, when they did not return. Finally, they began to discuss their night.

“Helena,” said Ginny. “The name rings a bell, but I don’t know why. What was her surname, again?” She made to rifle through the papers on the coffee table, as Sirius answered her.

“Bridling,” he said. “Bridlington? It was along those lines. She was new, she had been in Headquarters talking to Moody and Dorcas when Ceridwen’s Patronus arrived to warn of the attack. James and I were there too, because Dorcas wanted to check me over after I’d taken a curse during a reconnaissance mission to Knockturn Alley the day before. So I wasn’t allowed to go when the Patronus came. But they took Helena. No time like the present to show someone what it was all about, that was what Moody said.”

“And there’s nothing that’s made it less suitable for a new recruit, not that we’ve done?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I suppose,” said Ginny, slowly, “that Ianthe Heatherdown went to St Mungo’s, rather than being killed. And Dorcas did lots of your medical stuff, and was close to Ianthe, right? So what if she went to visit her in St Mungo's this evening, instead of inviting Helena for a chat, and so she wasn’t at Headquarters?”

“It's possible,” said Sirius, and in truth it was the best suggestion they had.

They rehashed scenarios for some time. It was easier, perhaps, to analyse how they had been thrown off the plan than to address how they should not have failed, despite that. Their ideas became increasingly far-fetched and unlikely, until Sirius was certain that the whole thing was a coincidence just because they had not managed to come up with a scenario more convincing than their beginning point.

“We shouldn’t have got distracted by that, though,” said Ginny. “How did we fail so badly?” She had lost the band from the end of one of her plaits, causing it to have slowly unravelled since their Apparition home. She clutched her teacup in both hands, looking at the liquid inside it rather than at Sirius as she spoke. Her eyelids were half closed, her face angled down.

“I don’t know,” he replied, feeling much as she looked. “We didn’t do what we went to do, and we didn't help Regulus, either.”

“We had to fail at some point, I suppose,” she said.

“You don’t look convinced.”

“Neither do you.”

Luna and Hermione burst through the doors, their faces flushed with excitement and a job well done.

“We did it!” said Hermione, her eyes sparkling. “He’s safe, he’s well, the Order will move him to a safer place!”

“And all will be well,” finished Luna. “But it is not with you.”

“Ours? It failed,” said Ginny.

“We were never always going to succeed,” said Luna, in an echo of Ginny from moments before. “It is worth something that you tried.”

“Yes,” said Hermione. “You tried.”

Sirius removed himself from the room, on the pretext of more tea, as Luna and Hermione recounted their successful mission to Ginny. They had saved someone before Christmas, and two nights ago, and they had celebrated each time then. They had danced in the street, there and then, that first time, because they had felt as though something was happening. And now, even though there had been as much success as there had been failure, nobody would dance.

The failure. It sat in his mind like an old curse wound, there and niggling but not so painful as he yet needed to do anything for it. And there it would sit, until he was able to force it away. He would need to focus. He did not have time to discuss failure, because they had failed, and that was the end of the situation.

In the living room, the three girls had exhausted the discussion of Hermione and Luna’s successful evening and Ginny was now telling the story of hers. And his. She had reached the part about Helena, the mystery that was probably simple, when Hermione leapt from her seat.

“Helena? Helena Bridlington? Oh, I should have known!” And she darted upstairs in a flurry.

“Oh, yes, I see,” said Luna, entirely unhelpfully.

Hermione arrived back, with a sheet of parchment in her left hand. Shaking, she handed it to Sirius.

“I should have known,” she repeated. “Why didn’t I realise? I could have warned you!”

“Hey,” said Ginny, putting a hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “It’s everyone’s responsibility, this sort of thing.” She glanced from Hermione, to Sirius, to Luna, with a meaningful stare, although Sirius had little to no idea what it was supposed to mean.

Sirius’ eyes were on the paper, and he then realised what Hermione had. In his hand was the invitation to Jo’s funeral, written by a Helena, the same Helena. The woman had joined the Order of the Phoenix because her mother and her children had been killed by the Death Eaters. Sirius had not known that, the first time around, but it was the obvious leap. Hermione had saved the children, with Ginny, and so Helena had not felt the same urge to fight.

He handed the parchment on to Ginny, and turned to Hermione.

“None of the rest of us noticed, did we? And we all read this letter when it arrived. We all met her. You’re not to blame. And Ginny and I could have screwed it up, anyway, even if we had known.”

“Shit,” said Ginny, as she finished reading.

Indeed.

“At least we know we are having an effect,” said Luna. “Albeit in ways we have not fully imagined.”

“Planning,” said Hermione, her words slightly choked. She looked unconvinced by everything they had said. “We need to plan better, next time, we need to make sure that we think of everything, we need to…”

“We need to be getting some sleep,” said Luna. “Nothing can be achieved in a state of chaos, when our aura is out of line due to exhaustion and overemotion.”

Sirius was certain he saw Hermione roll her eyes at that, and Ginny stifle a laugh. He would not have used the term ‘aura’, because it was a load of hippogriff shit, but Luna had a point. Nobody could plan well when they were tired and overwhelmed with feelings of failure. They would achieve little but rolling over the failure, and how they had missed it, which was exactly what he and Ginny had done over Helena and narrowly avoided over their real, true failure, the lack of useful intervention. He preferred to get drunk, and start clean in the morning.

He wondered if this was the target audience for that technique. They’d been amenable to it before, mind.

“Drink?” he asked.

“I will be getting some sleep,” said Luna, before wafting out of the living room and into the bathroom.

“Fuck it,” said Ginny. “S’not like I have a job. Or a boyfriend. Or anywhere to be.”

“It’s not like we have anything,” said Hermione. “We’re failing. Abysmally.”

“It’s one fuck-up,” said Ginny. “One. Yeah, it’s shit, but we’ve still succeeded more than we’ve failed, haven’t we?”

Sirius listened to them go back and forth for a while. Ginny had hardly been the most positive when they’d arrived back, or at points in between, but she contrasted nicely against Hermione’s downright depressive stance. He stayed out of it, other than the occasional reminder that it wasn’t solely Hermione’s fault, that he and Ginny had been the ones that hadn’t actually leapt into action. But there you were. Hermione was having none of it, on the whole, and Sirius resorted to alcohol.

Ginny gave up in the end, whether deliberately or not, when she fell asleep on the sofa in a lull in the same argument they’d been having for two hours. Which left Sirius with the job of calming Hermione. Not one he relished, although he’d discovered was better at it than he’d thought he would be.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” he asked. “We could go to the pier? The fresh air might help.” That was partly selfish. He wanted some air himself, but looking at her, she needed it to.

He put on a jacket, and she dressed in the thousands of layers of cold-weather clothes she always did. Muggle habit, she’d claimed once. Most witches or wizards went with a cloak and a Warming Charm. It was one way you could spot a Muggleborn, not that it mattered, by how much they relied on charms for things Muggles routinely did very differently and that they would have learnt in childhood.

Halfway down the street, she stopped.

“You don’t seem that upset,” she said.

“You might not have noticed,” he said, “but I don’t really cry.”

“I’m not crying,” she replied, which was true. Her face was dry, if impossibly sad. It wasn’t quite the point he’d been trying to make. He started off walking again, taking the well trodden path, the one he always took, down to the town’s pier.

He lead her down the side of the arcades as they reached it, down between the side of the building and the rail that marked the edge of the pier. He had a favourite spot, halfway down on the left as you looked out to sea. The bench there wasn’t wobbly, like some of the others, and it offered the best view in his humble opinion. He sat on that bench, and indicated to her to join him.

“Nice, isn’t it?” he said.

“It’s a bench.”

“I know this is hard,” he said. “I wonder if we could have done something better about almost everything I’ve ever been involved in.”

“If I’d done things differently at the battle, at Hogwarts, I might have been able to save Remus,” she said. “Or Tonks. Or Fred, or anyone.”

“And that,” said Sirius, “is the way madness lies. And I would know. I think I went mad for a bit, back in the nineteen-eighties. Most of the eighties, really. Not so much for a bit as for a decade.”

She stifled a laugh into her striped scarf. “I thought you were the one that wanted to redo everything to prevent James from dying?”

“I was. I do. But, we have a real actual chance. There was nothing you could have done for them, was there? There’s nothing we can do for Ceridwen, tonight. And I had to leave Regulus.”

“Was he there?”

“Turns out he killed her.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“His shit, not mine. Not my circus, not my thestrals. He’s not really my problem. He has made it clear multiple times over the years that I do not get to make his decisions for him.”

“No.” She looked at him, then out to sea, then back at him. “Nobody gets to make anybody else’s decisions, or they shouldn’t. But it doesn’t mean you can’t want them to make better ones.”

“You should talk to my mother about that,” he replied. “Mother believes you absolutely can make people’s decisions for them.”

“Your mother is a bitch,” said Hermione, with a level of anger Sirius hadn’t been expecting.

“You’ve got that right,” was all he said in response.

He looked out to sea, and so did she. The fresh air was helping. He really wanted to transform into a dog, and just not think for a bit. He wondered if Hermione would play fetch with him. James had always refused to, he had needed Remus or Peter for that. The odd Muggle he could convince that he was a loveable stray. Ha. Mother would enjoy the fact that a Muggle had found him loveable. She’d have a fucking fit. She’d frequently said he was unloveable.

“Shit, Sirius,” said Hermione, eventually. “We’re fucking it up.”

“Swearing doesn’t suit you,” he said, idly, not sure what else to say. “And we’re not. We’re having, what was it Ginny said? A setback.”

“I don’t bloody care if swearing suits me!” she shouted, standing up from the bench and slightly stamping her feet in her little boots. It was almost comical. He fought back the inappropriate urge to laugh. “It’s all going to shit!”

“It’s one evening,” he said. “One person died. Two, if you count Jugson, but he’s a Death Eater. So I don’t.”

“One person too many!” she said. “Two people too many!” She looked as though she would crack into a thousand tiny pieces and fall through the slats of the pier, or else melt.

He stood up too, and in a moment once again of not really being sure what to do or say he wrapped his arms around her. Her breathing was fast, irregular, and her chest warm against his own. He felt it calm and slow, as she continued to shout about failure into his jacket. This was a contrast, he thought, from how she had been before. Adamant they shouldn’t intervene, that these people should die because they had died before, because of the delicate balance of their eventual victory over Voldemort.

It would not be a good tactical move to remind her of that, he supposed.

Why exactly did he always come up with twice as many inappropriate things to say than useful ones?

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’ll think I’m useless.”

“Useless is when you run around killing people on our side.”

“No,” she said. “That’s worse than useless. That’s a liability.”

“Semantics,” he said, wondering if this fell into the category of inappropriate. He never really thought about this before, about how often he got these things so wrong when trying to comfort people. Perhaps he hadn’t cared much before. Perhaps this was that much-vaunted maturity people talked about.

“It isn’t,” she said. “These things are important.” She extracted herself from his jacket, and wiped at her eyes with the ends of her scarf. “I just… I don’t like that we are trying, and people are still dying. What if this happens again when it’s important. Oh, Christ. Everyone is important. I mean some we care about more than other people. Which is just horrible, because we should care about everyone equally, they all matter. But we don’t, do we? Does that make us horrible? Do I even care about Jugson?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s natural. Humans are built that way. We can’t care about everyone to the level we care about our best friends, we’d explode.”

“I feel like I might,” she said. Her hand lingered on his shoulder, as she stood a little further from him. “Do you ever feel like that?”

“Mostly when I think about fucking Pettigrew. Though that’s with anger, and I don’t know if it’s the same thing.”

“It isn’t,” she decided. Her eyes flicked from him out to the sea. “Look. There’s a boat.”

“Still hate boats,” he said.

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”

He leant on the railings, kicking at the base of them with his boots. “It’s okay. I do have quite an impressive back story. I’d forget half of it, if it wasn’t my own. I’m not sure I’d believe it, if I hadn’t lived it.”

“I understand that. My own parents seemed to think I was making things up, about Hogwarts, about Harry especially, until I stopped telling them. I kidded myself it was for their own safety. They’d be better off not knowing what I was doing, half the time, and they’d be safer if they didn't have any information. But, really, it was because I didn’t want them to think I was mad.”

“We’re all mad here,” said Sirius.

“That’s Alice in Wonderland.”

“Remus bought me a copy some years ago. He’d grown up with his mother reading him Muggle books, and he thought I’d like that one. I did. I was always a fan of the surreal. Until my life became more that way than I’d wanted it to.”

“My mum read me that book, but we only ever got halfway through. I hated it.”

“What’s not to like?”

“All of it. It doesn’t make any sense. Alice is trapped, and she can’t get out, and it’s… it’s all jumbled up and everywhere and I just don’t like it.”

“It’s an escape,” he said. “That’s the point.”

“Somebody died,” she said, in a tone of disbelief. “Two people died. And we’re here talking about literature.”

She started to cry, leaning up against the railings next to him. Sirius supposed she did have a point. Not that he knew what to do about it. He’d tried a hug, already, and it hadn't seemed to help. She’d stopped crying, and then they’d talked about books, and she’d started again. Women didn’t make sense.

“Hermione?” he tried. “Do you want another hug?”

“I want for everything to go back to how it was. I didn’t want to come back here. I didn't want to have to do all of this. And I still don’t, but I couldn’t have lived with myself if we hadn’t, what was I thinking before?” She picked up a stone from the pier, a sharp pebble, and threw it down into the water where it landed with a soft splash. “What was I thinking? I wanted to kill people, because I thought for some reason it was the right thing to do!”

He had no idea what to say, as she went for another stone and hurled it as far as she could into the water. And another one. Faster and faster she scrabbled for stones and threw them, until she was sat on the wooden slats of the floor below them, panting, searching for stones that were no longer there.

“Sirius,” she said. “Why is this so hard?”

It was a beg for answers, and he had none. He decided to go for the hug. Crouching down on the floor beside her, the pier damp with the spray coming up from the sea, he put his arms back around her in the least awkward way he could come up with.

“It’s our life. It’s shit. But it’s what we’ve been dealt.” That didn’t cover what he was trying to say. “I don’t think it’s fair. Somebody else ought to deal with some of it for us. But that's not how these things work.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I.”

She turned, and faced into him, her head snuggled into his chest.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”

“Of course I do,” he said. Whatever he’d doubted over the last few months, he'd never doubted that. Methods, yes. Timings, certainly. But the essential idea of trying to fix things, to make it right, being the right thing to do? Never.

“I do, too.”

“Mmm-hmm.” Sirius was avoiding thinking. He didn’t do well with this sort of thing. He fucked it up. He’d duelled Remus, once, twice perhaps, over women, because his friend had always assumed Sirius would get the girl. As if. Sirius had failed with as many girls as he had succeeded with, and usually at the point where he tried to think, or talk, or do something rather than fly his broom around or do a prank or borrow a t-shirt from James so it fitted tighter. He knew how to deal with that. Teenagers, that was. Women, actual proper adult women, weren’t impressed by that sort of shit. Were they?

He didn’t know how to deal with Hermione, and he didn't know if he wanted to. Did he?

She didn’t like broomsticks, much.

He’d said he didn’t. He’d almost kissed her, that night they’d been out for the new year, when they were talking in the tree in the garden of the house. He’d nearly done it, and then he’d thought, no. Because she wouldn’t want to, and it would complicate things. He didn’t want it, and it wouldn’t happen, anyway.

And he wasn’t here for a relationship.

She was getting so very close to him.

Her hand reached up and touched him on the shoulder. He liked it there.

She looked up, blinked twice, and kissed him.

There was a moment where Sirius had very little idea what was happening, and then he was kissing her back. Her hands laced around his back, stroking his neck and then disappearing into his hair.

Why had he been trying to pretend he didn’t want this? Any idiot would want this. Her lips were perfection, soft despite the sea air. His hands went around her back, one pulling her in closer to his body and the other sliding up towards her neck. Her hair felt rough, slightly damp from the spray, and she smelt of salt off the sea and sweat from her evening’s fight. He quite liked that.

She opened her mouth, and he was all too willing to poke the tip of his tongue in. She might see sense, and it might be his only chance to kiss her.

Hermione’s hands were running up and down his back, and he made a small and not very manly noise at the feel of it. He loved that.

There was the taste of salt on his tongue.

“Hermione, stop,” he said, pulling away.

“Shit,” she said. She took several steps back. “Don’t you like it? I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you didn’t want to…”

“No, I do,” he said. The last thing he wanted was for her to think he didn’t like her. He wanted this, he thought he did, anyway. “I just can’t kiss someone who’s crying. It feels wrong. It makes me feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

She laughed. “I can see how you feel.”

“Here.” Sirius reached over and brushed the tears off her cheeks. “D’you want a tissue? Not that I have any.” He’d never felt the lack of one before, particularly.

“I’ve got one. Mum always made me carry one. She used to try and stuff them up my sleeve on days out.”

“Much better,” said Sirius when Hermione’s face was dry again, if still a little blotchy and red. “Now I feel a bit less like the weird, manipulative bastard who preys on crying women. Want to try it again?”

His nerves, asking that. It was often assumed Sirius Black had no fear with women, given what he’d been like at school. But that was eighteen years ago, and it appeared Sirius Black had forgotten what the hell to say to women.

‘Want to try it again?’ It was a crap line, too. The worst. In fact, he was sure he’d used it in fifth year more than once, and it had resulted in a few repeat events and at least one kick in the snitches.

While he was examining his choice of words in great detail, forensic fucking detail, at risk of getting himself into a tangle rather than doing anything useful, Hermione had clearly made her decision.

Her lips met his again with enough force to nearly knock him backwards. He ought to pay attention in future. That was quite difficult now. Hermione was very much distracting. Her soft body was squashed into his, he could feel her boobs against his chest. He was going to have to move in a minute, in case she felt something that would highly embarrass him and be incredibly inappropriate in this situation.

But he didn’t want to, not yet. The skin on the back of her neck was the smoothest he’d ever felt. Her hands snaked down his back and one of them paused, then gently ran itself over the denim of his jeans to skim over his arse. Fucking hell, it was usually him who went for the arse first. He ought to reciprocate.

Or was that presumptuous? Had the rules for this sort of thing changed between 1981 and Hermione’s future?

She pulled away.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Whatever for?”

“Assuming you’d want to kiss me.”

“Hermione, I have something to… shit, it’s been fifteen fucking years.”

“Fifteen years for a kiss, or…?”

“Well, both. Azkaban doesn’t have much option for kissing, unless I wanted to snog a Dementor. Which I’ve been informed by no less a reliable source than Albus Dumbledore is a bad idea.”

“I don’t understand how you can joke about that,” she said. Her hair had a life of it’s own, thick and fluffy from the breeze off the sea. “It almost happened to you, the night we let Peter Pettigrew free.”

“It almost happened three times,” he said. “Crouch wanted me to get the Kiss when I was arrested for Pettigrew’s death. He was prevented from doing so by Mad-Eye Moody and Amelia Bones in the Auror Department, who took it to the Minister. Apparently, they convinced her by saying the Kiss was too good for me. I ought to suffer. And the second time was when I was on the run. Got a bit too close to one of the ones outside Hogwarts, and managed to transform in time.” He paused. “They say too much exposure to something horrific can make it no longer scare you.”

“Muggles use it as therapy,” said Hermione. “There’s scientific evidence.”

“I tried to work out what science was for a Muggle Studies project,” he said. “Never did manage it.”

“It’s really just about how the world works,” said Hermione. “And testing. You come up with an idea, a hypothesis, and you work out a series of tests to establish if your hypothesis is correct.”

“It sounds like a lot of work,” he said. “My hypothesis is, you quite liked kissing me.”

“And how would we test that?” she asked.

“I can think of a few ways.”

And they did. He enjoyed it, whatever the results of Hermione’s science. The feel of her against him, the taste of her mouth on his, the movement of her hands along his back, everything. It was perfect. It was better than perfect.

Which, ultimately, meant that it would not last.

“We should go back,” she said.

“Yes.”

They stood up, and there was a brief moment where they stood and they looked at one another. He was half-expecting to see a look questioning it all on her face, a look that showed she did not understand what could have possessed her to do such a thing. It wasn’t there. She had the tear tracks down her face, still, but she was not unhappy. If anything, the opposite.

He made a decision, and he grabbed for her hand. She looked down at their hands joined, but he did not. She left it there, her hand wrapped in his. A sign of something, even if he was not sure what.

They were halfway back to the house before either of them spoke.

“Stay with me?” she asked.

It wasn’t an invitation for anything, he knew that. He wasn’t sure if he wanted that, even. It had been so long.

“Yes.”

They let themselves in. They draped a blanket over Ginny, still asleep on the sofa. Hermione changed into pyjamas in the bathroom, and Sirius followed her lead in that. They got into her bed, magically stretched from what it had been, and they lay next to one another, with Sirius at least unsure of what the next move ought to be. This wasn’t covered in anything he’d ever learnt about witches.

“Do you think,” she asked, “that we are doing the right thing? Not in the essence of it. In the methods, is that how you put it earlier?”

Sirius thought about it, as she stared up at the ceiling beside him, waiting for his answer. He still believed in this, yes, the saving of individuals from the clutches of people like his brother.

“I’ve often thought the most dangerous Death Eaters were those like my cousin, the mad ones, the ones who would tip out of control in a fight. Perhaps they’re not. Perhaps the dangerous ones are the ones like Regulus, who would follow the orders given without questioning them, really.” She nodded, and he continued. “I don’t know. We’ve seen how not to do it, haven’t we, how it was done the first time around. But we don’t really know how to do it any better.”

It didn’t answer her question, but it was what his brain was capable of as the sun began to peek around the edges of her curtains.

“We ought to sleep,” she said. “I usually take a potion. Do you mind if I do?”

“Course not,” he said. That made their status clear, anyway.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t sleep without them. It’s not an addiction thing. Several Healers have recommended it, and I try every so often without, and…”

“Don’t worry.”

She sat up, and uncorked a tiny bottle that had been sat on her windowsill before swallowing the contents in one go.

“Thank you for staying with me,” she said, laying back down, arranging the covers, and slipping her hand into his underneath them. “I didn’t want to be alone.”

Sirius had never liked being alone.

He awoke to her sitting on the end of the bed, dressed for the day with her hair tied back and her nose in a book.

“Morning,” she said, when she saw him. “I’ve been thinking. I don’t think we should do that again. Not that I hated it, but you know. I’m not sure either of us were in our right mind, last night, and it’s probably better if we forget about it.”

“Okay,” he said. The clock by her bedside said it was two in the afternoon.

“Ginny and Luna are already awake,” Hermione continued, her face as impassive as Regulus had ever managed. “We’re going to do some planning. We’re going to need you, are you okay for that?”

“Of course,’ he said, something in his head spinning. She left the room. This wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted… well, he wanted a repeat of last night, at the very least, and the chance to see what it could become. He hadn’t thought he did. But he did, and there they were, and now there they weren't again.

He dressed, without much care, and stomped down the stairs. As he entered the living room, Ginny raised her eyebrows questioningly. He ignored her, flopped onto the floor, and avoided looking at Hermione and her fucking idiotic planning and her even bloody stupider flip chart paper. Where the fuck was the problem with parchment?

“Are we ready?” she asked, in a chirpy voice. “Luna and I think we should start with a way to get more reliable information. I think we agreed before there was a potential role for Ginny, there, didn’t we?”

Sirius ignored her, and began to pull apart the rug.

Chapter Text

Ginny
January 1979

This was not Ginny’s idea of fun. It was raining, for a start, and she was lurking outside the bakery in Godric’s Hollow, hoping that she wouldn’t catch a glimpse of Lily and James Potter while she waited for Remus. His timekeeping was apparently shit. It had improved by the time she’d originally met him, but right now, it was shit.

It was supposed to be their second meeting. He’d been late for the first, too, after she’d owled him as Philomena Prewett to ask for more information about the Order. Not that she’d called it that. She’d written up a whole list of what she was allowed to admit to knowing, and a second with what she wasn’t, and then got Hermione to enchant it to appear as a shopping list if anyone but herself was to read it. Ginny could have done it herself, but Hermione was better at fiddly spells.

She ought to have used an Impervious Charm on her hair. This was ridiculous. She wasn’t a girl who cared much about her appearance, exactly, but she didn’t like to feel as though she'd fallen in the Hogwarts Lake again. Wet was uncomfortable, and it suited few people, and none of those people were her.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Remus, shuffling up to her. “Umbrella?” He handed her his own, and Ginny pulled a face but took it nonetheless.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. She’d managed to keep most of the grumpiness out of her voice.

“Are you ready to go, or do you need to do anything else first?”

“I’m ready.” If she waited any longer, she’d probably get so bored that she’d screw this up.

Remus led the way onto the residential streets of Godric’s Hollow. Ginny saw James and Lily’s cottage as they passed, not yet protected by the Fidelius Charm. The one that would be their undoing, rather than a protection, in the end. Harry would have liked to have seen it this way, she thought. It was a pretty house, with a neat garden and a blue-painted front door. If they did this right, he’d grow up there.

He’d probably not fall in love with her, but stranger things had happened.

“It’s just down here,” said Remus. “Nervous?”

“Not really,” she lied. Not because of meeting some relations she’d never met, which was true of Philomena, too, but the fact that half of the success of this whole project, at least, was riding on her. If she fucked up, there was a going to be a hell of a mess to clear up. Metaphorically. A literal mess would be, well, worse. And possible. And likely the point to run, before Hermione turned her into a mess.

Remus stopped outside a small house, one with few discerning features except an oversized lion doorknocker and rapped on the door. The lion’s eyes blinked.

“What are you ignoring me for?” it asked. “Fucking Hufflepuff, I’ll be betting you. Hufflepuffs never use the knocker.”

“I refuse to use anything that insults my dress sense,” said Remus, curtly.

It was Ginny’s turn to blink rapidly, as Remus was drawn into a lengthy argument with the doorknocker. It appeared that this was not their first interaction.

“Oi, Lupin, not falling out with Leo again, are you?” The door had opened, revealing one of her uncles. The family resemblances ran strong through the Prewett family, and this Prewett had the exact look of Charlie, with only slightly fewer scars but a much better sense of fashion. For the 1970s, at least.

“Your doorknocker is a twat,” said Remus. “I’m not visiting again.”

“You will, you will. Is this my cousin, the one you were telling me about?”

“Philomena Prewett,” said Ginny, holding out her hand. It was roundly ignored by whichever uncle this was, who instead enveloped her in a hug.

“None of that formality,” he said. “You’re family. I’m Gideon, by the way. Fabian’s finishing up something, he’ll be down in a moment. Come in, come in. I’ve got a brew on, and Molly’s sent over some biscuits. I think she’s bored, truth be told. The twins are a year old, now, she’s trying to get Arthur to agree to another one.”

“Is that your sister?” asked Ginny.

“Yeah, older than us. She’s got, how many, five children now? All boys. Four of them are terrors, and the other one’s weirdly well behaved. Creepily so. Can’t get my head around him. You’ll have to meet them, sometime. Maybe not for a while. Or you might never come back.”

“I question why I come back,”” said Remus, closing the door behind them as they crowded into the hallway.

“You love us, Lupin,” said Fabian, or who Ginny assumed was Fabian, from the stairs.

They went into the kitchen, a large, warm room filled with the smell of freshly baked biscuits. It had none of the other trappings of a cosy home, though, being otherwise mostly filled with unclean laundry, undone washing up and a variety of items that clearly did not belong here. Ginny wasn’t the best of housekeepers, no, but even Sirius managed better than this.

“Ah,” said Gideon. “Fabian, I told you to tidy up!”

“And I told you to, but you never listen.”

Remus waved his wand, with a long suffering smile at Ginny, and the stuff disappeared.

“What have you done with it?” asked Fabian. “Not that any of it was mine, of course. But out of interest.”

“I’ve used the Sirius Black method of household management,” said Remus, pocketing his wand. “Banish it all to the loft, then summon whatever it is you need. I live with the git, for my sins, I’ve had to deal with him since I was eleven, and it’s either this method or live in his filth.”

Ginny had seen evidence of how eighteen-year-old Sirius lived, and she had to say that the thirty-seven-year-old model was a massive improvement. Not that she was here to discuss this. So far, all she’d discovered in terms of verifiable facts were that her uncles were not up to the standards of their sister in terms of cleanliness, and that they enjoyed novelty doorknockers. None of that was any use to her. Not really.

They sat around the kitchen table with mugs of tea, and Molly’s biscuits, and Gideon and Fabian talked about Molly and about some of their other family members. It was certainly nice to hear the stories, especially the ones that there wasn’t a hope her mum would ever have told them. She’d certainly never heard about the time her mum had gone to Hogsmeade with a Slytherin, and a Malfoy cousin at that.

“So, Philomena, what made you come and find us?”

“My father would never let me go to Hogwarts, even though my letter came,” she started, having carefully rehearsed this with Luna yesterday. “So I’d never met another wizard until recently. I wanted to join the wizarding world, so I started going into Diagon Alley, and made some friends there. I knew about you, but never knew how to find you, until I ran into Remus on a camping trip with my friends. He said he knew you, eventually I decided to get in touch with him and ask to meet.”

“Nice,” said Fabian. “We are always worth meeting. Me, especially.” He winked.

“I’ll have you know,” said Gideon, “I get far more interest than you do.”

“Merlin,” said Ginny. “Are they always this bad?” She turned to Remus, as the two Prewetts continued to bicker amongst themselves.

“Pretty much,” he said, draining the last of his tea. “I’m sorry about them.”

“I’ve met worse,” said Ginny, thinking of Fred and George. She tried not to do that, too often. She’d not really thought about what she’d do were she to be invited to visit her parents’ house.

“Oh, yeah? Did you spend a lot of time with Muggles, then, if your dad wouldn’t let you go to Hogwarts?”

“I went to a Muggle secondary school, yes. I’ve got O-levels.”

“How come you’ve got a wand? And you know magic. Remus says you do, anyway.”

“Gideon!”

“Oh, come on, Fabian, you want to know all this too.”

Ginny smiled, and continued with her prepared answers. They’d been careful this time, to think of everything. “I signed up to a Kwickspell course, once I turned seventeen and was able to make my own choices. And I bought it, at Ollivander’s. I'm not perfect, but my friends have been helping me. I’m interested in Healing spells and charms, so I’ve done lots of research on them.”

“That sounds really impressive, actually.”

“Fabian’s rarely opened a book in his life.”

“Doubt Gideon knows what one is.”

“I’d like to help,” she said, in an attempt to derail the two Prewetts. She knew about distracting people who went off on one like that. She missed it.

“Remus, what have you told her?” asked Fabian. “And have you cleared it with Albus?”

“Albus knows,” said Remus, and Ginny breathed a sigh of relief. Her new persona wasn’t so useless that it had fallen apart already. Dumbledore would certainly have done no small amount of digging. Some would say the man was thorough and cautious, others would say nosy and overbearing. Ginny thought it was entirely possible he was all of those things.

“Besides,” Remus continued, “she discovered some of it for herself. You know how I met her. She knows her stuff, even if it is almost entirely from books, and she’d be helpful to Dorcas.”

“Up for testing that book knowledge properly, some time?” asked Gideon.

“Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t,” said Ginny. She relaxed, a little. This was going well, or so she thought. And trying to wheedle her way into, and information out of, the Order was something she’d done before, after all.

“She’ll have to meet Moody,” said Fabian. “And Albus, if he’s got time. And Dorcas. If those three don’t agree, it isn’t happening. No offence, cousin, but I’m not in charge and I’m smart enough to know it.”

“Who is in charge?”

“Dorcas,” said Remus.

“Albus,” answered Gideon.

“Oh, come on,” said Remus. “Yes he's the one who set it up and named it, but you come to meetings. If Dorcas doesn’t want it, it doesn’t happen.”

“I heard Voldemort was after her, personally,” said Fabian, creasing his brow as he spoke. “She fought him, you know. Injured him, from what I heard.”

“I was there,” said Remus. “We’ve not seen him out in the field since, unless you know something I don’t.”

“Let’s not scare her,” said Gideon, looking nervously in Ginny’s direction.

Fabian shook his head. “She ought to know what she’s signing up for,” he said. “And Moody will tell her, if we don’t. He’s always going on about the fucking death rate, on this. Ceridwen last week, Benji in November, and there were a couple of close shaves last week, too. Sirius was badly injured, wasn’t he?”

“I can deal with it,” said Ginny, firmly. She knew almost as much as these men did, about fighting a war, and she would have bet her broomstick none of them had ever been quite as close to Voldemort as she had.

“We’ll see, soon enough,” said Fabian, earning himself a warning look from his brother.

Ginny and Remus took their leave not long afterwards, leaving Gideon and Fabian to what was clearly a recurring argument about their food shopping habits. Or lack of habits, perhaps. They left with the promise of a visit to Molly’s house soon, which Ginny wasn’t sure about, and the promise of a visit to Alastor Moody and Dorcas Meadowes, which she was hoping would be sooner rather than later. With things having altered out of their control already, they were about to run out of useful information if Luna was correct in her reckoning. And Luna had a nasty habit of being right.

“I hope they weren’t too much,” said Remus, back on the streets of Godric’s Hollow.

“Nah,” said Ginny, “I’ve known worse.”

“Oh yeah?”

“My brothers.”

“Well, if you can handle those two, and your brothers, you might even be able to manage my friends,” said Remus, smiling. “They’re a bit of a handful. Sirius, especially. James has calmed down, since he got engaged, and Peter’s never been quite as bad as those two. But when everyone’s together, well, most people find us a bit much.”

“I’d like to meet them,” said Ginny. She would. She wanted to see really how much Harry was like James, and she wanted to come up with some pretext to lock Peter Pettigrew in an unopenable box for, oh, two or three years? Sirius would have killed him. Ginny thought that too quick.

“Well, if you’re going to join the Order, we’re all involved. Do you… are you still interested? Even after hearing all that about the people that got killed, or hurt?”

“Yes,” said Ginny. It still rankled that she had never been allowed to join, until afterwards, despite everything that she had done. “It might seem strange, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t want You-Know-Who to win.”

They had arrived back outside the bakery where they had met that morning, and Remus stopped, shuffling his feet slightly.

“Here we are,” he said, looking at the pavement. “Look, I’ll understand if not, I really will, we don’t really know each other, do we, and I don’t know if this is even a good idea to ask, but, well, in a completely no-pressure way, would you like to go for a drink with me sometime? And not talk about the Order? We can talk about that if you want to, but I mean, not in a work related capacity? Sorry, I’m talking too much,” he finished, rather lamely, and put both of his hands to his neck.

Ginny blinked several times, rapidly. Her right hand went to rest on her left, twiddling with the engagement ring Harry had given her. She didn’t know if she’d get back to him. She didn’t know what this was about. She’d never thought about Remus, like that.

“Oh shit,” said Remus, whose eyes had followed the movement of Ginny’s hands. “Oh Merlin. I shouldn’t have asked, I should have noticed that, I never, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine,” said Ginny. “It’s sort of complicated, anyway. I don’t even know if I ought to be wearing this, any more.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Remus. “In a completely non-date, as friends only, sort of scenario? I may be shit when it comes to asking a girl out on a date, but everyone says I’m good at advice. I did have a rather large hand in getting James and Lily together, after all. You wouldn’t know why that’s significant, but trust me, that’s a big deal.”

“Okay,” said Ginny, who was desperate to hear that story, “here’s what we’ll do. You can take me out for a drink, and tell me that story, and I’ll tell you mine.” Well, she would tell Remus a version of her story, anyway. Luna would help her work out what.

“It’s a deal,” said Remus, with a smile. “I’ll owl you, shall I?”

And he did, two days later. Ginny smiled a little when she got it, which prompted Luna to ask who it was from.

“Remus,” she said. “Who else do we get correspondence from?”

The answer was nobody. The only owl that ever flew to their address was Remus’ tawny. Ginny was slowly becoming friends with the rather stand-offish bird, bonding mainly over a shared love of eating fish.

She’d thought long and hard about what to do about Harry, and Remus, and the whole situation as it was being presented to her. On one hand, she was engaged to be married, and in the months she had been here, she had always held in the back of her mind that she would get back to him, some day. She was doing this because she loved him, after all.

On the other hand, it had been almost nine months they had been in the past, with little knowledge of if they could get back at all or what they would find there when they did. If it were possible, going back would be a gamble. One she had always thought she was willing to take, for Harry, but a gamble nonetheless.

“Do you think,” she asked Hermione, when the two of them were in the garden, “that we’ll make it back to 2002?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I haven't had time to be working on the device, the Time Turner, whatever it is. It isn’t technically a Time Turner, because it’s different, but it does much the same. I think it’s fixable, but I only know half of how, still. Do you want to go back?”

“I miss Harry,” said Ginny. “And I miss my family. But what if we get back and Harry is married to somebody else? Or dead in a freak accident, because we saved somebody’s life who takes him on a broomstick and it crashes? Or alive, but madly in love with Draco Malfoy because they didn’t grow up enemies?”

Hermione laughed. “None of those things would ever happen,” she said, through the laughter. “Harry and Draco, really? Those two would always find something to hate about the other. And Harry’s almost as good at flying as you are. And you know he loves you.”

“But what if he’s different?” Ginny continued. “What if I’m different?”

“There’s no way of knowing,” said Luna, who Ginny had not noticed appear behind them. “Everything is shifting, like a whirlpool in the deep, and nobody quite knows where they will come out.”

“Not helpful,” muttered Ginny. Because it wasn’t. It really, really fucking wasn’t.

“When we’re done, we can try to fix the Time Turner,” said Hermione. “It’s got to be possible. And we’ll have a better idea of what we might be going back to, then.”

“Personalities can be shaped by events,” said Luna, “and the personalities are more than the person.”

That was what Ginny had been trying to say, really, about Harry, and about her, and about what a different 2002 might look like for Ginny Weasley and whatever sort of Harry Potter there was.

“What do we do if we can’t?” asked Ginny. “If we stay? Do we try to become normal witches in the 1980s? Do I remain Philomena Prewett forever?” Thinking about this was beginning to give her a headache. Not thinking about it did too.

Hermione looked as though she felt the same. “I suppose if the original one never engaged with the wizarding world the first time around, there’s no reason to expect that she would this time,” she said, eventually. “So you probably could, but whether it’s advisable, I don’t know.”

“I feel like all of us, Sirius included, have made a lifetime’s habit of doing things that aren’t advisable,” said Ginny. “So I don’t think that’s a barrier. But I don't think I want to be Philomena forever, anyway.” She knew that then, when she hadn't before. “For one thing, it’s a crap name. And I like being Ginny. But I want a life, a normal life, somehow, whether that’s here or in the future. And being Philomena would be a lie, and I don’t want to lie to people forever.”

“We all do,” said Hermione. “We all want normal.”

“I thought this was about Remus,” said Luna, happily.

“Remus? None of this is about Remus,” said Ginny, but her heart beat slightly faster at the mention of his name.

“Of course it is,” replied Luna. “You smile every time you get an owl from him, and for two people who are just conversing about business you get an awful lot of owls from him, do you not? And you smile while you write back, and you always do it very soon after the owl has come. The owl stays for the answer, so she knows, too. And you bring up your working with the Order frequently, so you can talk about him. You do not love him, but you certainly would like to have sex with him.”

“Luna!” That was both Ginny and Hermione.

“She doesn’t, do you, Ginny?”

She did. Sort of. Maybe she didn’t actually want to, yet, but she couldn’t rule out wanting to at some point in the future.

Bollocks.

“I am often right,” said Luna, peacefully sat on the grass making a daisy chain.

“Not that it’s a problem, if you do,” said Hermione. “I mean, we have no way of knowing if we can get back to Harry and Ron. It’s not cheating, is it? At least not if you just kiss them.”

“I don’t think so,” said Ginny. “Not that I have. I don’t even know if I want to, you know? He’s nice, but he’s also Professor Lupin, and it’s weird.”

It was. And that was entirely separate from the Harry problem.

“And what about you and Sirius?” asked Luna, to Hermione.

“What about that? Sirius has been ignoring me,” said Hermione, flatly. “So I’m going to ignore him.”

“Childish,” said Ginny. “But possibly fair.”

“Why exactly would he be ignoring you?” asked Luna. In retrospect, that was possibly what Ginny should have asked. It seemed like the important question. Or it did once Luna had asked it.

“We did something he has later regretted,” she replied.

“Like what?” asked Ginny, although the context of the conversation was beginning to make a few things clear.

Number one of those things was that Hermione almost certainly had feelings for Sirius.

Well now. This was getting interesting.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” said Luna, three daisy chains now draped around her neck and her fingers nimbly working on a fourth. “Nobody really wants to talk about it when they feel as though they are unworthy of somebody’s love.”

“I am not in love with Sirius!”

“Funny,” said Luna. “I was talking about Sirius feeling unworthy of you. But it is interesting how you reacted like that.”

Hermione stood up and stalked inside the house, slamming the back door behind her.

“That door is going to fall off, one of these days,” said Luna. “Her and Sirius do treat it rather badly, don’t you think?”

“How do you know all of this?” asked Ginny. She never doubted that what Luna said had truth to it, even if it wasn't the full truth.

“I listen,” said Luna. “I watch. I base my thoughts on how people interact in subtle ways. Anyone can do it if they try, but most do not try.”

“Right,” said Ginny. She’d always assumed it was a touch of the Second Sight. She’d never taken Divination, Ron had warned her off it, but the signs were there.

“I suppose you’re going to ask next what you should do about Remus asking you on a date?”

“Er,” said Ginny. That Sight thing, again.

“For what it is worth, go. Harry is not born, at this moment. You are not being disloyal. Or not in my understanding, anyway, although it is true that etiquette guides do not cover this kind of scenario, do they?”

“I dunno,” said Ginny. “Never looked. Aunt Muriel used to try to make me read them, but I mostly put a Quidditch magazine inside. If any do, she’d have it. She had an etiquette guide for everything.”

It wasn’t, Ginny thought, the best idea to break into Aunt Muriel’s house just to go through her book collection, though. They weren't supposed to be attracting unnecessary attention, after all, and Muriel would call the Aurors out for the merest sniff of a crime.

“I hate everything,” said Ginny, without much reason.

“Oh, we all do, from time to time,” said Luna. “But after all, we can only work with what we have, and embrace that which is given to us. Hermione and Sirius would both do good to learn that.” She stood, dropped the fourth daisy chain around Ginny’s neck, and wandered off down to the end of the garden.

Well, that helped about as much as anything did.

She, Ginny Weasley, was officially a disaster.

 

Harry
June 2002, Ministry of Magic, London

Harry tramped his familiar route through the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, up the left side as you went in, avoiding the drinks stand, the sandwich booth, and the other places that people tended to congregate. Even four years later, people still stared at the man who had killed Voldemort. There was often someone trying to shake his hand. It was why he liked to get here early.

Ron was not such an early bird. He trailed Harry by a few metres, yawning and carrying his work robes under his arm. It was still a far sight better than Ron usually looked before eight o’clock in the morning, and Harry took his appearance as a sign of the seriousness of the situation.

They took the lift to Level One. Harry had considered going to their boss in the Auror Department, but Robards was a stickler for the rules. Kingsley would either see this for what Harry thought it was, the mysterious disappearance of three high-profile war heroes, or he would kindly tell Harry to stop panicking. And Kingsley’s instincts were the best Harry knew of. The Minister had joined the Aurors on several trips to weed out Death Eaters after the end of the war, even though all official protocols had suggested he shouldn’t, and they had needed him every time.

The fact of the matter was that Kingsley was brilliant, and the Auror Department severely understaffed and with a far too high proportion of new recruits.

He knocked on the door of the Minister for Magic. Usually, Kingsley’s secretary Handa would be there in a flash, demanding to know if you had an appointment and why exactly you thought you could just waltz up here, and all her other usual questions. But Handa frequently stayed late, and never arrived before eight. So instead, it was Kingsley who opened the office door.

“Harry!” he said, sounding genuinely pleased to see him. “Ron! Please come in.”

The office was plain, mainly taken up with a large black desk in the centre and a seating area to the right of the door with red armchairs. Harry had been in it many times before. He chose the chair nearest to the fire, with Ron next to him. Kingsley sat across from him.

“What brings you here so early?”

“Minister…”

“Call me Kingsley, I keep telling you.”

“Kingsley, Hermione and Ginny are missing. We think our friend Luna Lovegood, too. Do you remember her? She was part of the Hogwarts resistance, and kidnapped by Death Eaters and kept inside Malfoy Manor for several months.”

“I remember Luna, yes. Xeno Lovegood’s daughter. She’s often in here, reporting for The Quibbler.”

“Oh, yes, I’d forgotten about that.” Harry looked over at Ron, who looked faintly green and was remaining silent. He had spent all morning alternating between silence and wailing.

“So, missing. For how long?”

“Since last night. But we’ve done all the basic whereabouts and welfare checks you’d expect as a first point of call, Minister, er, Kingsley, and they’re not any of the places we would expect. I’ve done them last night, and we did a second set this morning.”

“And we is you and Ron?”

“And Molly, she noticed Ginny was missing first. Arthur and Charlie Weasley are also aware that they are missing, but we’ve kept it quite quiet. We checked the Lovegood place, but Mr Lovegood didn’t look as though he had much grasp on reality.”

“No, unfortunately I do not think he is aware of much, these days. I did an interview with him last week, and he wasn’t right. I don’t think he’s been right since Luna was taken off the Hogwarts Express.” Kingsley’s voice was his usual deep; slow, and calming. His eyebrows were knitted together, though, and he twirled the quill he was holding in his hand while he spoke.

“I’m pleased that you have kept it a secret,” Kingsley continued. “I think, as I’m sure you did, that the Prophet would report this as a threat to our security if three well-known members and associates of the Order of the Phoenix were to have disappeared. Now, Auror Robards says that there have been no known sightings of the remaining few Death Eaters in the last couple of months. Is that correct to your knowledge, too?”

Harry knew that Kingsley was likely to have far more up-to-date information than he was, but he answered the Minister’s question anyway.

“That’s correct.”

“So I, as I’m sure you do, think it is unlikely that they have been captured by a rogue Death Eater. We cannot rule it out, but it is unlikely.

“Yes.”

“What do you think happened, then?”

“Our only obvious lead, that we haven’t been able to trace yet, is that Hermione was due to go down to the Department of Mysteries yesterday afternoon. That’s where the secretary outside her office said she was, when Ron called there yesterday afternoon.”

“Was that before or after you noticed she was missing?” asked Kingsley, still fiddling with the quill. “You said she had been missing since last night, not yesterday afternoon?”

“Yes. Ron…” Harry looked at Ron, as if to confirm whether it was okay to say this. Ron was staring at his shoes, and so Harry decided it was best to go ahead. He wasn’t even convinced Ron was listening. “Ron and Hermione had a falling out. Ron tried to deliver…” he looked at Ron again “er, something, to her office yesterday afternoon.”

“Ah,” said Kingsley. He was hiding his smile well, ever a professional. “Which explains it.”

“Yes, but I don’t think the disappearance is anything to do with that,” said Harry. He wanted to make this clear. “Hermione doesn’t run off when she falls out with Ron. She confronts him, and then she comes and complains to me, and then she gets on with her life.”

“I see.”

“Please stop,” said Ron. “I don’t want to talk about this. Not here.” He hadn’t seemed to notice, but Ron had drawn a small, square box from the pocket of his robes and was holding it quite firmly in his left hand. Harry had only seen a similar box once before, and he knew where that had lead.

“And there’s no other reason any of them would have had to leave here?” asked Kingsley.

“None,” said Harry. “Ginny… well, unless she was skipping out of the wedding.”

“She would not do that, I’m sure of it,” said Kingsley, kindly.

“No,” said Ron hoarsely. “She loves you, mate.”

“In which case,” said Kingsley. “I’ll authorise you to open a formal case, and to keep it quiet. You’ll report to me, not to Robards, although he will be informed of your work. With the exception of those already told, who I think encompass the next-of-kin of at least two of our missing persons, it will remain entirely confidential to those in this room and to Robards. Am I correct that you are Miss Granger’s next of kin, Harry?”

“Yes,” said Harry. They’d nominated each other as their next-of-kin at the Ministry shortly after the war, with neither of them having any remaining blood relatives in the country. Molly Weasley had offered, of course, but they had felt the bond was important. They had stuck together through every part of the war, and it felt right.

“So everyone is informed,” said Kingsley. “If you need any secretarial assistance, please do let me know. I’d like daily updates, I’ll ask Handa to place you on my schedule for this evening. Unfortunately, this is all the time I can offer you right now, as I’ve got a call scheduled with the President of MACUSA in two minutes. Sorry, boys. Good luck.”

Kingsley shook hands with both of them, Ron slipping his little box back into his pocket, and showed them out the door.

As the door closed behind them, Harry could have sworn he heard Kingsley shout ‘fuck!’. That would be unusual. Kingsley did not generally swear.

Chapter Text

Hermione
February 1979, Ministry of Magic, London

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

They stood in Luna’s tiny, shared office in the Ministry of Magic, just a few steps down the corridor from the Minister’s Office. Piles of parchment lined the office, and tottering piles of record books spilled from the overstuffed shelves. Luna’s desk was neat, her colleague’s, less so. Cabinets sat against the back wall, the record of every law passed, every magical crime committed, and every birth and death of a witch or a wizard.

“It is sensible, in my opinion,” Luna replied, talking into the pile of documents she was sifting through. “If not strictly speaking legal. Where do you stand on illegal activity?”

Hermione blinked. “I’m not talking about my stance on illegal activity in the Ministry, Luna!”

“Statistically speaking,” she replied, “you are better off committing a crime as close as possible to the seat of power or to law enforcement. People assume you would not be so stupid as to do that, on the whole.” She threw open a second drawer in the cabinet she’d been working from. “Besides, I know the answer, don’t I? You broke into Gringotts, and trapped Rita Skeeter in a jar, and…”

“Luna! They could be back soon!”

“I told you, Harriet never comes back from lunch before two in the afternoon. It's honestly a wonder she gets anything done. Ah, here we are. Now we just need to do this, and then this, and…”

“Luna! Is that what we agreed?”

“Mostly,” she said, as she slid the parchment back into its place in the sheaf and closed the cabinet door. “A Lyra Black exists where she did not before, that is the important thing. She is an empty shell, for you to step into, as much as she is anything else.”

“So that’s it?” asked Hermione, swallowing her reservations. Luna had been working here for months, and she hadn't been fired yet. She’d know some things about the records, at least.

“No, not exactly,” said Luna, doing that disconcerting thing where she stared into the middle distance. “There’s the last bit.”

“Which is?”

“Not able to be done here.”

“But what is it?”

“Luckily,” said Luna, causing Hermione to wonder if she had missed something, “I have taken the afternoon off work, so we will be able to complete it this afternoon.”

“Complete what?”

“You'll see.”

Oh Christ. Luna’s plans, the ones she would not let on until they actually happened, varied from being bizarre but harmless, like the trip to the Isle of Skye for Ginny’s birthday, to downright dangerous, like experimental charms on the gnomes in the back garden of The Burrow. Hermione had never once trusted one, and had mostly been proved right not to.

“Please, Luna.” She didn’t have the patience for this. Not after their failure to save Ceridwen Dearborn, a few weeks ago, and their utter inability to do anything useful since.

At home, Hermione went to the plans, and she went through them again. They took up three walls of the living room, now, the flipchart paper on the walls surrounded by smaller pieces of brightly-coloured card, all covered in her own neat handwriting or Luna’s spirally sprawl. Ginny’s rounded letters occasionally filled in a gap or a detail, or posed a question. Aside from the earliest sheets, Sirius had contributed little.

“No fucking point,” he’d said, at their last planning session. “I know nothing of use.”

She’d ignored that. If he didn’t want to engage, when this had been his idea in the first place, there was little she could do about that.

It was more complicated than it had been, back at the start, when they knew what had happened before and how they could counter it. With every action, they influenced what was to come, and they now sat on a knife-edge. They had influenced enough, like with Helena Bridlington, that some things had changed. But there was still little enough of their impact on the course of events. Not everything was better. Danger still loomed, there in the edges of her mind. They almost certainly hadn’t done enough to stop the worst of it, but it was no longer clear what would happen next.

She pulled down one of the sheets, and ran through it again.

February had been a calm month, for some reason. There had been large scale attacks in March, some of the biggest the Death Eaters had ever attempted. They’d tracked through the actions of Helena, in all of that, and of the other recruit Sirius had thought had joined the Order in this time period. They needed to watch for him, as they should have done Helena.

And, desperately, they needed to make progress on the bigger problem.

Their notes on that were much sparser. They’d discussed Regulus, which was next to useless with Sirius providing nothing but grunts and muttering. It was obvious to Hermione that they ought to leave him alone, because he had already done what they needed him to.

“But that assumes,” Ginny had said, “that nothing we do drives him further into the arms of Voldemort. Scaly, nasty arms that they are.”

“History shows that Voldemort was actually somewhat conventionally attractive in this time period,” Luna had said.

“Not the point. And how do we make sure he doesn’t die? That’s important, isn’t it, Sirius?”

Sirius had been silent, so Hermione had answered instead. “I think so. Maybe we just watch Regulus, then?” She had looked at Sirius as she said it, but he’d still said and done nothing.

There were further questions also; those of Horcruxes, other than the locket, of Peter Pettigrew, of dealing with Voldemort after the Horcruxes were gone. Of those, they had attempted discussing only Peter. Sirius had raised the television remote as a pretend wand and muttered Avada Kedavra, repeatedly, and in a rare loss of self-control Hermione had shouted at him for being childish, and he’d shouted back and walked out. She thought maybe she should have apologised, afterwards, given what Peter had done and which of them it had affected most. But he hadn’t, or even acknowledged it, so neither had she.

Ginny had called both of them ridiculous, and Luna had sighed.

So there they were, stuck with nobody really talking about the important things. Ginny and Luna had banded together, discussing Ginny’s love life and cooking. Sirius was upstairs in his loft, doing God knows what. And she was here with the plans, useless plans, in the main, because so far they didn’t address almost half of the important stuff. Because of Sirius, in the main, because of how he’d been acting since the night they had kissed.

She had thought carefully about all of this, and the conclusion she’d come to was really the only answer. Sirius had been drinking that night, he’d been upset, they both had been. He’d not even been the one to kiss her. They didn’t fit together. She’d taken advantage of him wanting to cheer her up.

And, besides, she couldn’t prevent Ron from niggling away in the back of her mind.

Yes, she’d acted in a way that could be construed as a break-up, and it hadn’t been out of the realms of possibility she had meant it that way. She’d meant it that way before, definitely. And then she’d disappeared, and there was no telling if she would be going back to that time at all, let alone to a time that she would recognise as her own.

And whatever Luna said, she was not in love with Sirius, and nor did she feel unworthy of his love.

She had enjoyed kissing him, it was as simple as that. And she had been drinking, and emotional, and it was considered perfectly acceptable for witches, and for Muggle women, to kiss a man and for it to mean nothing. To either of them. Sirius was hardly a man who wanted a long-term attachment. She knew what he’d been like at Hogwarts, he’d told her and Harry, and Ron, and Tonks and everyone else at Grimmauld Place the stories, and Remus had confirmed them.

He had been drunk, too, and emotional, and men were also allowed to kiss people and have it mean nothing. Sirius was within his rights.

So it was all a moot point.

If she hadn’t said what she had that morning, he’d have said it.

He was just acting as though he wouldn’t have, so as to seem like the wounded party. The fact that he was ignoring her, since, confirmed that.

She wanted to talk to Jo, really. She would have given good advice.

She pulled out a sheet of paper, pale blue, and a fountain pen. They’d been shopping almost exclusively in Muggle shops, these days, and Hermione missed quills. Fountain pens had a similar ink flow, at least. A biro hurt her hand these days, and a pencil didn’t seem permanent enough. This was important, after all.

Horcruxes, she wrote along the top, and then she underlined it as neatly as she could without a ruler.

She didn’t need anybody else to help her with these plans, not if they were all going to be idiots about it. She’d get things straight, by herself, and then they could discuss it in an orderly fashion later.

Locket, she wrote, Regulus Black finds, September 1979. Inside 12 Grimmauld Place until approx 1996 or 1997.

Her fountain pen paused, dropping ink gently onto the paper.

Try to save Regulus, she added. That much they ought to try. She was going to say for Sirius’ sake, but it wasn’t. It was for the man, not much more than a boy at Hogwarts, that Regulus was.

Need an in, she wrote next, with Black family in order to gain locket after Regulus has collected it and to save Regulus. Cannot intercept before he gets to it - we do not know location of cave.

That about covered it, because she didn’t have a clue where it was, which was frustrating. Harry had been Apparated there by Dumbledore, and he didn’t know, and he’d been working with the Order still when they had left the future to find the location of the cave so they could go in and clean it up. Dumbledore, it turned out, hadn’t left much in the way of paper notes, and had held most of the information in his own head. Good for security, she thought, as she looked up at all of their completely insecure written plans, but terrible for continuity planning. She supposed it made sense, though, knowing what she’d known of the old wizard.

Leaving her pen and paper for a moment, she picked up her wand, and began to complex process of enchanting the papers so only the four of them could read them. An easy way to mitigate some of that risk, at least, and they did need to reduce risk wherever they could. They’d almost lost Sirius, once, and it had only been luck that Ginny and Luna had been in the right place at the right time to get him back.

She went back to her paper. That was the locket about covered. And it was why she was in the business of infiltrating the Black family, too.

Diary, she wrote, confirmed created in this time period. Harry had said, because Dumbledore had said, that it was likely made while Voldemort, Riddle, was at school. She supposed that was a problem; they didn’t know the exact creation dates of others.

Lucius Malfoy given diary for safekeeping until 1992. Presumed location in Malfoy Manor.

Then, Cup. Unconfirmed creation date, but prior to Halloween 1981. Inside Lestrange Vault until 1998.

Diadem. Most likely created some years ago. Inside Hogwarts Room of Requirement until 1998. Need access to ‘room of hidden things’.

Ring. Created while Voldemort at school. Inside Gaunt shack, Little Hangleton. Easiest to get to, heavily cursed. She remembered Dumbledore’s hand, and Snape’s memories. They couldn’t chance that. On a separate sheet, she noted down the need to have more knowledge about dark magic and the identification of curses used on objects. She knew a bit, of course, but Sirius was their expert, and he was being an arse.

Snake. Not created until 1994, irrelevant.

Harry. Not created until 1981. And never will be.

There. She felt better for adding those last two, for completeness.

Maybe she should apologise to Sirius.

Not for what she’d said, she stood by that, but she hadn’t been very nice about the way she had delivered it, perhaps. It wasn’t quite as bad as the time she had dumped Ron by Howler, early in their relationship, or when she’d just completely ignored Cormac McLaggen until he got the message, but she was older now, and she should know the way to let people down gently.

“Nice work,” said Luna, entering the living room. “That looks worthwhile. Are you ready to do the next part?”

“You still haven’t explained what that is,” said Hermione, pinning the sheet on Horcruxes back up alongside the other pieces of paper and enchanting it the same. She’d need to talk it through with the others, but it made her feel as though something had been done just for it to be up there. “And I’m going to talk to Sirius first.”

“It seems like you already know,” said Luna. “We will need Sirius, of course.”

Hermione sighed. She would not have picked these three, for a mission like this. Well, okay, maybe Ginny, she thought as she went up the stairs. Ginny was good in a crisis, knew her Healing spells, and not irritating to spend long amounts of time with. Her, Ginny, Ron and Harry would not have had all these problems.

Well, her and Ron had been fighting a lot, hadn’t they, and she might have dumped him. It had been very close to what she’d said in that Howler, that night that they’d argued the last time.

“Sirius?” she called, at the loft hatch. “Sirius?”

“Hermione?” came back his reply. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Luna says she needs us both,” Hermione began. But that wasn’t really the point, was it? “And, look, I wanted to say sorry. I don’t think we should repeat that experience, we were drunk and emotional and I’m sure you don’t want to do it again anyway. But I shouldn't have been so rude about how I said it. You should have had a chance to talk.”

Sirius made a snorting noise, but the loft hatch opened and he descended down a conjured golden ladder to the landing.

“Yes,” he said. “Maybe next time, let me say something for myself rather than assuming, yeah?”

And he stalked off downstairs.

He looked dreadful, his hair slightly matted at the back, his eyes surrounded by dark circles, his wrists almost as thin and bony as they had been after Azkaban. He walked with a slight stoop, his dark eyes almost always focused on the ground.

“Sirius,” she said, following on. “Are you alright?”

He ignored her. Part of her concern for him evaporated. Once again he was being an arse. Why, exactly, she had kidded herself into thinking she felt something for him, she didn’t know.

“Oh, hello, Sirius,” said Luna, as the pair of them entered the living room again. “You’re going to need lunch. Here, take it.” She passed him a bowl of pasta. “I ought to warn you that it was cooked by Ginny, but she is improving rather a lot.”

“Thanks,” said Sirius, digging in with a fork.

“So what is this all about?” Hermione asked, taking a seat on the armchair as Luna and Sirius continued to stand in the centre of the room.

“Well,” said Luna, finding a seat of her own. “We have established your legal presence as Lyra Black, illegitimate daughter of Alphard Black, but that will not be enough to satisfy Sirius’ relatives, of course. Certain families do not rely on the Ministry to ascertain their own, and we will of course need to account for why you do not exist to their knowledge at the moment. So we need to make you a pureblood Black, to all intents and purposes.”

“I’ve told you,” said Hermione. “There’s no test for blood purity, the whole thing is a construction of the elite.”

“No,” said Luna, “there is not. And I do suspect you are right about the fact that it is somewhat of a nebulous construct. But, and Sirius will tell me if I am wrong, of course, that the old families do have a way of ascertaining who belongs in their family line, is that not right?”

“She’s right,” said Sirius, whose pasta bowl was nearly completely empty.

“Otherwise,” Luna continued, “how would they know the parentage of an illegitimate child, or one who was suspected to be a result of an affair?”

“And the Noble and Most Ancient Fucking House of Black cares about those things,” said Sirius, putting the empty pasta bowl onto the coffee table and going to look out the window. “Blood matters to them like you’ve never seen it before. They make the Malfoys look tame.”

“So, we need to make you appear as though you bear the markers of the Black family in your blood and in your magic,” said Luna. “The best way to describe it to you may be a magical adoption. It isn’t, it is more a simulation of one, but were we to complete the full rite it would be. Don’t worry,” she said, catching Hermione’s look, “it is, of course, reversible.”

“Yeah,” said Sirius. “Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to disown people.”

“What exactly does it do?” asked Hermione. She had made it a life’s principle never to allow someone to perform magic on her that she did not completely understand.

Sirius sat down. “You have magic,” he said. “I have magic, and so does Luna. To most people’s eyes, we all have the same magic. A few dickheads think mine and Luna’s is better than yours because we have a family history of it, but that’s bullshit, and we all know that. But there are differences. The same way almost everyone born into the Black family has dark hair, we also carry some markers like that in our magic. A signature, I suppose, it’s tricky to describe. And that’s part of what leads some people to believe our magic is better. But it’s still bullshit, because when you have children you’ll begin to pass your magical markers down, and that’s just the same.”

“Genes,” said Hermione, beginning to understand. “The Muggle term is genes.”

“Right,” said Sirius. “That’s what Remus said, too. It is and it isn’t, again. So some of it is as simple as that, yes, like how witches from certain families tend towards being Seers, or how some families are all good at potions. Parselmouths. This is more, I don’t know how to describe it, there’s a part of us that is intrinsically our family heritage. You can't renounce it, someone with the right has to take it from you. I have it, as much as I don't want it, and someone who knows what they’re doing can look for it.”

Hermione blinked at him. She had long ago given up on the idea of knowing everything there was to know about magic. That desire she’d had when she was eleven was childish, and didn’t take into account the true scope of magic. There were things Dumbledore didn't know of, after all, and Voldemort. Things that were being discovered. But she’d read, and asked questions, and she’d naively assumed that she knew enough to live out the rest of her life without being startled by some arcane piece of knowledge she’d need to know in order to survive. She’d even learnt about wizarding marriage rites!

But that had not accounted for a trip into the past, and attempts to create members of a distinguished pureblood family where they did not exist.

“What is it called?” she asked.

Genus Cognatio,” said Luna. “It is believed to have originated from the Latin for family, for consanguinity, and yes, where the word of genes came from.”

“And this helps us how?”

“My family will check if you’re a Black,” said Sirius. “They’re like that.”

“And I will be?”

“As much as they can tell, yes. We’re adding a fake genus cognatio, but a good fake. It’s been used to adopt people into a family, but not for years. Pollux, my grandfather, he reckoned it hadn’t been used in his lifetime. The families who were inclined to care about this sort of thing were getting heavily into blood purity, so they stopped, and the rest of them never really bothered.”

“It is somewhat of an anachronism,” said Luna. “If a useful one.”

“Fine,” she said. “What do I need to do?” She had her misgivings, but if it was reversible, she’d just get rid of it when she didn’t need to infiltrate any more.

“Sirius, first,” said Luna. He held out his arm, grudgingly, as if the last thing in the world he wanted to do was give his family gene to Hermione. Luna leant forwards, and with a nick of a silver dagger, took blood from his arm.

“Blood magic?” Hermione asked. “But that’s Dark magic.”

“Wherever did you hear that?” asked Luna. “Harry’s mum used blood magic, in a way, did she not? So did Harry, when he sacrificed himself to provide protection for us all that night we fought Voldemort at Hogwarts. Both of them used it to protect, and magic is all about intention.”

“But,” Hermione interceded, feeling that Luna hadn’t grasped the point, “if magic was about intent then I could cast a Reducto on that chair over there but intend to turn it blue, and it would break anyway.”

“Would it?” asked Luna. “And if you did it a thousand times, would the results always be the same? Would it be random? Would your intent eventually win out over your spell, and you’d have it blue a hundred times in the last hundred?”

Sirius had relaxed, reclining on the floor with his back to the wall, legs stretched out in front of them. His socks had broomsticks on them, and one had a hole at the heel. He was finding this whole exchange amusing.

Hermione was finding she had no answers for Luna. She didn’t have the time to try and reduce the same chair to rubble a thousand times while willing herself to make it blue! She had things to be doing, an evil mastermind to stop, and a time turner to fix if she ever wanted to escape all of this.

“Magic is more than just spells, Hermione,” Luna said, watching Hermione’s face with interest.

“Yeah,” said Sirius, in his usual bloody irritating unhelpful way, “there’s potions and tea-leaves, too. Though tea-leaves usually get interpreted in a way that makes witches fucking terrified of me as an Animagus, and you were taught potions by Snape, so Merlin knows what he taught you.”

“Sirius,” she said, half in warning, and half just plain irritated with him. “Luna,” she continued, “I can’t see how this isn’t a bad thing.”

“Please,” said Luna. “Can you trust me on this? I do not often ask people to do things for me, after all, and I do feel that on this one I am right.”

Trust me, that was what Sirius had said to her. She had, and this was how it had ended up.

But when it came down to it, Luna didn’t really ask for much. Certainly not many important things. And she knew about these sorts of magic, in a way that Hermione didn’t. Hermione was never sure she believed in some of these things that Luna took for true, and then things happened like prophecies actually being real and it turned out that Luna had been right all along.

And there was some truth to the intent thing, she supposed. Harry had used blood magic, if what Luna was saying was right, and he was the last wizard who would ever do a thing like that.

“Okay,” she said, holding out her arm to the little blonde witch. “I’ll do it.”

“Thank you,” said Luna, raising the dagger.

“Yay,” said Sirius, with a dose of sarcasm that she did not need, right now.

“I’ll remind you, this was your idea,” said Hermione. “To make me into your Uncle Alphard’s daughter, and trust to his history of ill-advised liaisons to make my story plausible.”

“Only because you wouldn’t let me do it,” said Sirius, hotly. “I would have been fine, thank you very much, and we wouldn’t have needed this rigmarole.”

“You,” she said, “would have screwed it up, because your grasp of Occlumency is shit, and besides Regulus has seen and recognised you twice now. Your cover would be blown the instant he walks in, and he’s never met me, and I can Occlude.”

“We could have used polyjuice.”

“Who’s hair, Sirius? What if we lost the person? Or were you going to disguise yourself as me?”

“I don’t know, some Muggle?”

“Children!” said Luna, her voice somewhere between her usual, ethereal tone and that of Molly Weasley on a bad day. “I would please ask you to have this argument more quietly, else you will disturb my work. I would use Ginny’s Silencing trick on you both, if needs must.”

Both of them sat quietly, after that, as Luna sat cross legged on the floor over the tiny, teal glass bowl containing their blood and the other ingredients, stirring and muttering. Hermione used the time to come up with more things she wished she had said to Sirius, about exactly why she didn’t trust his judgement any more and how she had regretted not kissing him sooner, because then they could have done this stage by now of the post-kiss awkwardness. Or she would have known not to work with him earlier. Or she should have let him be the one to say he didn’t want to do it again, not her, because then she could have cried and pretended to be upset, which was better than him doing this.

It wasn’t a very constructive use of her time, so she read the book that Luna was working from, and that backed up everything that Luna had said. And it was a very reputable book, too. She’d seen it referenced multiple times as being one of the best and most thorough sources on ritual magic, so she trusted it, in as much as one should ever trust an individual source.

And Sirius trusted this, and despite whatever else she thought about Sirius, he did know about this sort of thing. He’d proved that before, and she had used the things he’d taught her about pureblood customs and old magical powers at work.

“It is ready,” Luna said, at last. “Are you ready, Hermione?”

“It’s reversible,” said Sirius, kindly. That made a change to the way he’d been for the rest if this. “You’re not going to be stuck with my horrific excuse for a family forever.”

“Yes,” she said. She sat how Luna instructed her, and waited.

“You will need to do the next part, as you will know,” said Luna, and Sirius moved forwards. He raised his wand, and one eyebrow, at the bowl, and looked at Hermione as if appraising her. She ignored him. Whatever decision he’d been making was clearly made, as he looked away and muttered something incomprehensible at the bowl. Nothing happened for several seconds, while all three of them stared at the mixture, then the spell seemed to do something at last, rising up out of the bowl in a silver mist and swirling its way towards her.

“Don’t worry,” said Luna. ‘It’s harmless. Relax. Let it.”

Hermione tried, even though she didn’t much trust spells she didn’t know. But she trusted Luna, and Sirius, and besides, over the years she’d learnt that sometimes you did need to take a risk for the good of everyone. They’d got into some of their worst messes when she’d tried to stick exactly to what she knew, hadn’t they?

Of course, there was the possibility that she was lulling herself into a false sense of security, that this was completely different to what Harry and Lily had done, and that the whole thing was a disaster waiting to completely unfold. The silver mist off the bowl was floating around her, and she felt something warm, a tingling, and then it disappeared. For blood magic, it was underwhelming. She’d imagined darkness, a feeling of foreboding, something… more. Maybe some cackling or a song from the evildoer behind the spell, but that was the films she’d liked to watch as a child.

“See?” said Sirius. “Nothing to it. Except for the fact you’re now, by blood, a member of one of the worst families in wizarding Britain, but that can happen to any of us.” He was being flippant again.

“If it’s reversible,” she said, “why didn’t you do it to yourself?”

Luna was floating around clearing her things away, and Sirius took his time to answer.

“Well, because you can’t do it to yourself,” he said, in the end. “And I assumed my dear mother or father had. I’d forgotten it was Grandfather Pollux that taught me about all of this, and it seems my mother and father either didn’t care enough to properly disown me, or, more likely, had forgotten how.  Mother just raised her wand to the tapestry and blasted,” he demonstrated, jabbing his wand at the wall, “and neither of them cared enough about their eldest son to do me a favour and actually throw me out of the family. And Arcturus and most of the others assumed they had, so they didn’t, Regulus, well, he was a kid, and Pollux thought I’d come back, eventually.”

Hermione stayed quiet, as he returned his wand to his pocket.

“It’s why I could inherit Grimmauld Place. Father never technically owned the place, it belonged to his father, which was Arcturus. There was still another male Black alive when he died, and he never had a will, so he likely assumed it would pass to them. Cygnus. But instead, it passed to the next male Black in the direct line, which sadly for everyone was me. Because everyone had collectively failed to actually disown me.” He sighed. “They disowned Andromeda properly, though, so somebody did clearly remember how.”

“Why her, and not you?”

“She married a Muggleborn and had his child. You can’t come back from that, by their creed. But loads of pureblood heirs have a little dalliance with something rebellious, like being a blood traitor or declaring they’re going to sack off the family and move to France, or being gay, and most of them go crawling back.”

“And they thought you’d do that?”

“Pollux did. He came to find me, about a year after I’d left Hogwarts, and asked if I was quite done yet with my rebellion. He had a nice wife in mind, he said, and he was willing to offer me some substantial concessions if I’d just come back to the family. It was a month before Regulus died. They’d never put any pressure on me to join the Death Eaters, he said. I later assumed that they knew something was up with Regulus, by that point.”

Sirius got up, and started to pace back and forth along the wall, three steps one way then three back the other.

“Even then, he didn’t properly disown me. He could have then, or after he thought I’d killed all those Muggles, or at any point when I was in Azkaban. I think he was worried, about the bloodline. Of the male line, which is all that matters to these people, there was me, and him, Cygnus and Arcturus. They were all married to women too old to produce further children, so I was their only real hope.”

“Your family,” she said, not really sure what to say, “is a mess.”

“And every time I think I’ve dealt with it all, then I find something else to wonder about.” He looked sad as he said it, still pacing backwards and forwards. Luna had left the room, Hermione realised, and it was just the two of them here. She didn’t like being antagonistic with Sirius, even when he was being a pain, because he wasn’t a bad person. At times like this, she wanted to scoop him up and give him a hug. Only in the same way she would Ron or Harry. Nothing meant in a romantic way.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s nothing to do with you,” he said, slightly harshly. “I don’t know if I even want sympathy. Anyway,” he brightened. “It’s your family, too, on a technicality. Well, it isn’t. We’ve faked you being one of us, and hopefully well enough to fool the clever ones.”

“You’ll have to help me,” she said.

“I wouldn’t send anyone into that pit of snakes without help,” he said, and shuddered.

“Oh, Sirius,” said Luna, wandering back into the room with Ginny at her heel. “Who in your family is most likely to accept Hermione?”

“Regulus,” he said, “without a doubt. Or Grandfather Pollux. Arcturus likes a drink, he’s alright when he’s sober but you don’t want to cross him after a few glasses. My dear mother is a nightmare, and the less said of my father, the better.” He stopped pacing and crossed his arms, as if daring somebody to ask more questions about his family.

“Regulus is at school until the Easter holiday,” said Ginny, throwing herself to the floor beside the coffee table bearing a stack of papers and parchments.. “So unless you think it can wait until then, Pollux it is. Unless you approach Regulus on a Hogsmeade weekend.”

“That isn’t a bad plan,” said Hermione, thinking as much of it through as she could. “I’d prefer to talk to Regulus than anybody else.”

“He’s a Death Eater,” said Sirius, resuming his pacing. “He knows Occlumency. He’s clever, and ruthless, and he reports almost everything to my parents and to Lucius Malfoy.

Hermione ignored that. She knew all of that about Regulus; he still felt like the safest option, to her. And it was a contradiction to what Siiusd said himself, just moments ago. “I think a young woman who knows nobody might feel more comfortable meeting someone similar to her own age,” she said. “And after all, I should be thinking as Lyra Black, not as Hermione Granger.”

“Oh, good,” said Luna, ignoring Sirius’ mouth opening to argue back.. “We have a plan, of sorts, at the very least. One with less of a margin for error than others, too.”

“Well,” said Hermione. “There’s still quite a few things that could go wrong, isn’t there?”

“We’ve been over them,” sighed Ginny, “and yes, if everything on that list goes wrong then we’re going to blow ourselves up, sky high, into little glittery pieces of toast. But it’s implausible they all will, isn’t it?”

“You’re mixing your Muggle metaphors again,” said Luna, giggling.

“The point is,” Ginny continued, prodding Luna with her foot, “that we will probably be fine, and if not, we will be so badly fucked we’ll be dead, and won’t know.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” muttered Hermione. It didn’t, but then, what else did they have to do? “But, the quicker we get access to the Blacks, the quicker we can get access to possible Death Eater information and to the Horcruxes.” That was the point of all of this, anyway.”

“Horcruxes?” asked Sirius, stopping where he was and spinning on his heel to face Hermione. He looked panicked, fear rising behind his eyes like a flood of water. Why, Hermione didn’t know. It wasn’t as if they didn’t know what they were up against.

“Horcruxes,” confirmed Ginny, lazily. “Snake, and Harry, they’re irrelevant, right? So just the cup, locket, diadem, ring, and diary. Merlin, I’d hoped never to have had to see that diary again.” She visibly shuddered, and Luna reached out to put her hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “But,” she continued, brushing Luna off, “anything for Harry.”

“Horcruxes,” said Sirius again. His voice was slow, cautious, with a current of anger growing underneath.. “Multiple. More than one.”

“Seven, total,” said Ginny. “But like I said, two of them are irrelevant.” She paused, and her eyes went wide like saucers. “Shit. You don't know that. You thought there was only the one.”

Chapter Text

Sirius
February 1979, Saltburn

“Seven,” said Sirius, feeling as though all he was any use for right now was repeating Ginny’s words in an incredulous tone. “Seven. And nobody thought this was something I ought to know?”

“Of course it is,” said Luna. “I assumed you did.”

“So did I,” said Ginny.

“I should have said,” said Hermione, her face slightly slack. “I didn’t know, Sirius, we told you about the locket, we told you that Voldemort had a Horcrux, I didn't realise we hadn’t said the rest…” She tailed off, looking apologetic, but Sirius didn’t have much time for that.

“And when exactly were you going to tell me?” he asked, standing up and letting the chair hit the floor behind him with the force of his movement. “Did you think it might be worth it at some stage?”

“Yes, I, we, we thought we had!” said Hermione, shrilly, while Ginny nodded beside her. It was all so fucking inadequate, Sirius thought. They all knew, and he didn’t, and this was supposed to have been a fresh start. Working together, as equals, not withholding information and fucking this.

“You keep saying to trust me, Hermione, but you don’t, because if you fucking did you’d have thought to impart that little bit of information that Voldemort is more fucking immortal than we’d thought. When were you going to do something about it? Have you collected them and got rid of them already? No? So we were going to ignore it until we rocked up on James and Lily’s doorstep and Voldemort’s still fucking unkillable?”

“No!” she squeaked. “No! I was going to get together a plan, with all the information we have, and we could find them, but you got captured, and we’ve been busy with tonight, and there's tomorrow night, and…”

He didn’t wait for her to finish. “All the information? So we don’t even know where they fucking are?”

“No,” said Ginny, “but we can find out, and Sirius, for fuck’s sake, sit down, you’re being so far beyond unreasonable.”

“Fuck you all,” said Sirius, and stormed out. The back door swung into the wall as he left, leaving a dent the size of a galleon, and then shut behind him. He had nowhere to go, but that wasn’t the point. He was done, done with Hermione and her attempts to make him feel as though this wasn’t all because she didn’t trust him with that information, still, after a month of this.

And turning it round on him, it being his fault because he was captured! Well next time he’d let her go off and face the Death Eater alone, because he wouldn’t be stepping up.

He threw himself down onto the grass.

This was just like the summer, and the autumn, when she’d been trying to stop him for no fucking good reason then it took someone she loved dying to make her change her mind. She didn’t care, not like he did. She didn’t see why this was the most important thing any of them would do.

He was turning it all over in his mind, coming up with further things he should have said to Hermione about exactly why her conduct had been terrible and she should have told him the information from the start, like June the start, not even November, when he heard the door clicking open and then shut again behind him. He chose to ignore it. If it was Hermione, she could go back right where she came from, and Ginny and Luna were equally unwelcome.

He thought about exploding the tree at the end of the garden. Nobody needed that stupid, ridiculous, annoying, fucking tree.

“Fuck off,” he said, to whoever it was.

“Right back at you,” said Ginny, sitting next to him on the grass. “Ah, fuck, the grass is wet.”

Sirius hadn’t noticed.

“It isn’t Hermione’s fault,” said Ginny. “Well, it is, but it’s mine as well. Less so Luna’s, because she doesn’t know as much about the Horcruxes as Hermione and I do. But it’s the fault of us collectively, and not hers alone, so although I believe you’ve got the right to shout at us you’re going to have to stop making it all about her.”

“She should have said.”

“So should I. So should Luna. That’s what I’m saying, you idiotic fleabag.” She flopped backwards too, so they were both lying in the grass level with one another. Sirius looked firmly at the sky, to avoid the tiny ginger thing next to him. “Shout at all of us, and then calm down, and talk to us. You’re being a fucking arse, you know that.”

“Fine. Ginny, you’re an utter shit and I hate you.”

“Better. Keep going, if you need to.”

“I’m going to explode the tree.”

“I wouldn’t,” she said. “Statute of Secrecy. Muggles live round here. And Hermione’s quite attached to it. But mostly the Statute of Secrecy thing.”

“I don’t care,” he said.

“Get it all out, Sirius.”

“I hate my family. I hate that we have to go near them, for this.”

“They’re shits. I agree with you, there.”

“The diary,” he said, eventually, after a few more runs of expletives and insults. “Harry told me a story about a diary, that involved you, and a shade of Tom Riddle.”

“That’s the one. Voldemort possessed me via his Horcrux, and that’s the story you know. Harry killed it with a basilisk fang. Not sure where we’re going to get one, this time around.”

“I do know a bit about Horcruxes,” he said. “Perhaps somebody should have bothered to ask me. And I’m sorry, by the way, that all of that happened to you.”

“Well,” she said. “It was a long time ago. And if it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else. I just, you know, I thought I was rid of that. It was behind me. And the knowledge that it’s back out in the world, well, it sort of hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” said Sirius, who was now beginning to regret his outburst slightly, considering Ginny was crying and considering that, obviously, having been possessed by Voldemort was worse than having not been given some information. Awkwardly, he reached out to hug her. “You wouldn’t want to talk about Horcruxes.”

“No,” she said, accepting the hug and sniffling slightly into his shoulder. “I don’t. But it’s exactly the reason I should, because eleven-year-old me, if I exist by then, shouldn’t have to go through all that again, and neither should anyone else.” She had such a note of determination in her voice, and Sirius liked to imagine it being present in the tiny first year she had been, too.

He had a lot he could say. “What do we do?” he settled on.

“Apologise to Hermione,” said Ginny. “I mean that. She didn’t deserve to be singled out. She was just doing exactly what I was doing, probably, which was assuming you knew and hoping that we had a bit of time before we had to deal with all of this. How much do you know about what she and Harry and Ron did?”

“Nothing,” said Sirius, truthfully.

“Well,” said Ginny, “they spent a year, or the best part of, trailing round the country looking for Horcruxes. She spent months with one hanging round her neck. Ron told me about that, it sucked all the happiness out of you. She broke into Gringotts, and then possibly more impressively, broke out again. On a fucking dragon. And broke into the Ministry, which was under Voldemort’s control. Stabbed a Horcrux herself. Survived Fiendfyre. The usual. Here you are,” she said, handing him a piece of pale blue paper covered in Hermione’s handwriting. “A list. So you know exactly what we know.”

Sirius was forced to admit that it was an impressive list, and that perhaps he should not have said what he did. But not aloud. Luckily, Ginny seemed to understand that.
“How is Hermione?” he said, instead.

“Luna’s with her,” replied Ginny. “It was agreed I might have a better chance of making you see sense than she would.”

“I dunno,” said Sirius. “Luna’s great.”

“Yeah, and she does the emotional, touchy-feely stuff, which is what Hermione’s in need of, and I do not. I do the role of ‘get up off your floor and sort your fucking life out’ better than Luna does. Different approaches. Sometimes you need love, sometimes you just need a big fat kick up the arse. Or to be called an arse. Either way.” Ginny paused. “You noticed anything weird about Luna lately?”

“No.” Nothing weirder than usual, at any rate, which is what he assumed Ginny was asking.

“Oh. Well, I think she’s being strange. You know, more so than Luna is. She keeps fussing over me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Mum was possessing her.”

“I’ll let you know if she starts doing that to me.”

“Sirius, mate, I love you and all but I doubt you’d notice. Your people skills are up there on a par with Harry’s.”

“I’m fine. I’m observant.” He sighed, feeling as though he was going to lose this argument. “Everything is fine. Well. My leg feels like it’s going to fall off, you know. The curse, whatever Regulus did, it’s still bad. It bleeds, sometimes.”

“Well, as your resident pretend Healer, my professional opinion is that it won’t, which you know. And, don’t change the subject and attempt to get sympathy.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’ve been dealing with shysters my whole life. I’ll get you some more of that balm, when we go in. We need you on top form, don’t we? You’re an arse when you’re on bed rest, and we’ve got Horcruxes to find, and shit.”

“Got Horcruxes to find, and shit,” repeated Sirius. “Because that is how you bring down a madman. Find Horcruxes and shit.”

Ginny laughed. “Come on. Get your sorry self inside and apologise. I’ve got to go and meet Remus, anyway. If there aren’t any more emergencies in the wizarding world that he cancels on me for, anyway.”

On that note, Ginny pushed herself up, and began to wander back to the house.

“Ginny?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted. Now go say that to Hermione.”

“What about Luna?”

Ginny shrugged, her hand on the door handle.

“You might as well. I doubt she’ll care, but sometimes it’s good to complete the set.”

Reluctantly, he got himself up too and started towards the back door. He already regretted his outburst, and even more so some of what he’d thought about Hermione and her motivations. Though, it still felt like a bloody big thing to omit from their little chats about their plans and what they would do next. A Horcrux, that Regulus would get for them, seemed manageable, even if all of them had avoided that. Nobody had wanted to discuss if Regulus would be an unavoidable sacrifice, if he would have to die in order for their quest to succeed.

Or if they had, they hadn’t wanted to discuss it in front of Sirius. He got that. Sirius didn’t much want to discuss that himself. He had placed Regulus’ death somewhere in the middle of September 1979. Hermione had said, to the best of her knowledge, that he had died the day he had gone to retrieve the Horcrux. Regulus’ days were numbered, he had seven months, and there was a chance there was nothing that Sirius could do about that.

He buried that again.

Which was all Hermione had been trying to do. She hadn’t wanted to think about the Horcruxes she knew about, in the same way he hadn’t been wanting to think about the one they did know about.

And, like Ginny had said, they all knew, and he didn’t, and it wasn't a conspiracy.

He really did need to apologise.

“Hermione?” he said, pushing open the back door. Getting no response, he paused to repair the dent in the wall with his wand, smoothing out the plaster. “Hermione?”

“If you’re coming to blame me again,” she said, sitting at the kitchen table with Luna, “then you can leave the way you came in.”

“I will go,” said Luna.

“Sorry, Luna,” said Sirius, as she walked out.

“That’s quite alright,” she replied, taking the floral head-thing from her head. “I don’t much mind that you said what you did.”

“And sorry, Hermione,” he said, leaning back against the kitchen wall next to the fridge. He’d just about got used to the fridge, but he still questioned the point of it. “I shouldn’t have blamed you.”

“No,” she said, filing him with a glare. “You shouldn’t. But you always seem to blame me, more than the others, and that’s not fair.”

“Yes,” he said. “I do.”

“Did you realise that before or after Ginny told you?”

“During,” he said, because there was very little point in not telling the truth. He was a lot of undesirable things, and she knew that well, but he wasn’t a liar. He wasn’t very good at it, he never had been.

“We seem to be spending a lot of time apologising to one another, lately.”

“If you don’t mind me saying,” he said, assuming she probably did mind, “your apology the other day wasn’t much good. You still didn’t give me a chance to actually talk for myself.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah, oh.”

She sat there, and he stood, and they both avoided looking at the other too closely. Then she spoke.

“What would you have said, if I’d given you a chance?”

“Bit late, isn’t it?” He couldn’t keep the tone from his voice, the one that said it didn’t fucking matter, that he hated the whole thing, even though he tried.

“I want to hear it,” she said, quietly. “And I think you’ll feel better for saying it.”

He doubted that very much. He kicked one foot up against the wall, his face angled down.

“I didn’t think it was a drunken mistake,” he said. “I’ve had a few of those, you know. And this didn’t feel like that. I suppose I did want to try it again. If you don’t, we don’t, but it would have been nice to have had the chance to say this.”

“Okay.”

“And,” he was continuing, for what it was worth, “I liked it. I get that you didn’t, because despite everything, I do understand that I’m not an attractive proposition, am I? I mean, how would you even explain me to your parents? Oh, hey, Mum and Dad. Here’s my boyfriend. That man you heard about on the news, before, the one who was a mass murderer? Yeah, well, he’s not, but you’re going to have to take my word for that, because there’s no proof. And he’s twenty years older than me. And, honestly, he’s difficult, and disappears rather than confronting his problems these days, and he got his best mate killed. Not on purpose, but it was his fault.

“But you know all of that. I was honest with you. I’ve always been honest with you. I hadn’t kissed anyone, I hadn’t got close to anyone emotionally, except Remus, and he doesn’t count, for fifteen fucking years, and you shut me down. You didn't ask what I thought. And now I don’t know what I think,” he ended, “I don’t know what I’d do.”

“Really?” she asked.

“You asked what I thought,” he said. He had no interest in continuing this conversation, not really. It wasn’t how he’d thought it would go. Apology, done, dusted, out the room, off to go and lurk upstairs again, where he belonged.

“I did,” she replied. “I think it’s my turn to apologise, isn’t it? I’m sorry, Sirius. I should have asked what you thought.”

“Yeah,” he said. “You should.” He thought about his answer to that, and began again. “But, things don’t always go as they should, do they? I accept your apology.” It was slightly stilted, still, overly formal, but it got the point across. He pushed himself away from the wall, and went to the sink to pour himself a glass of water.

“I assumed you wouldn’t want to kiss me again,” she said, which was the thing that really startled Sirius. He dropped the glass on the floor, water splashing down his front.

“Shit,” he said, not entirely sure if he was referring to the smashed glass or to her statement. “Er,” he stalled, unable to find his wand in amongst his clothes, “hang on, I…”

“Reparo,” said Hermione, from behind him, and the glass swirled up from the floor, righting itself and landing back in his hand. “I assume that’s what you were trying to do.”

“Can’t find my wand.”

“Where did you last see it?” she said. “That’s what my mum used to ask. I never found it very helpful, but I still find myself saying it.”

“No idea. You’re right, it isn’t very helpful.”

He pulled himself up onto the kitchen counter, sitting there with his legs hanging down. He leant over to refill the glass from the tap, and sat sipping at the water, looking at Hermione, not quite sure what the best thing to do next was.

She was leaning up against the table, now. Small, she was. A grey knitted dress, cut to resemble the clothes she was used to without standing out too much, as she’d never embraced the fashions of the time period they were in.

“You said to me once,” he started, “that you were trying to work out what kind of person I was, which version of me was real. Did you ever manage that?”

“No,” she admitted. “I didn’t. I still wonder, though, sometimes. You’re not the Sirius Harry believed in, the man who would save him and who could do no wrong. Nobody is that man. And you’re not Professor Snape’s evil man who would happily throw him to a werewolf, either. You’re not the blood-traitor, the boy who’ll never do anything worthwhile, the drain on resources your parents thought, but you’re not the hero, either. You didn’t murder Peter Pettigrew, but you want to.”

“No, I’m not a hero. Who says I’m a hero?”

“Harry. Remus, he always portrayed you like that a bit, after he’d worked out the truth of what happened in October ’81. Fred and George, but that might just be because of the map.”

“The map wasn’t even my idea,” said Sirius. “It was Peter’s idea, and James and Remus did most of the work. My role was mostly to get detention, so the teachers were distracted and the three of them could do what they needed to do.” He smiled, at the memory. “We learnt early on that I am not suited to quietly sneaking around.”

“I’m sure it’s a role you did well,” she said. She came and sat next to him. “Do you know something? I’ve never sat on a kitchen worktop before. I wasn’t allowed.”

“And there’s the difference between us,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed, either, but I spent half my childhood on them.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Yeah, I am. Where I actually spent half my childhood was a lot less fun.” He wanted to gloss over all of that; it was not the time for more of the reasons why Sirius Black was a pitiful figure. It was not that it didn’t work, to get the sympathy of witches, but he didn’t want a sympathy kiss.

It was becoming slightly clearer what it was that he did want.

A chance to do this over, mostly. He wondered about her Time Turner, her little device that had brought her here, maybe that could help him here. He could nip back just a little bit, back to the summer, or even the autumn, and not fuck this up quite so badly as he always seemed to.

All his friends had said he was good with witches. He was good at getting them. He was terrible, beyond terrible, at keeping them. Once they’d seen past the face, the body, both of which had been very attractive at Hogwarts and just after, they weren’t interested.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

“No.”

“It can help to, you know.”

“I know that, but I don’t want to. Not now. I just, there’s been too much today.”

“Did I say sorry?” she asked. “For not having thought to tell you things.”

“You did, I think,” he said. Not that it mattered.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know how I feel about this. About you.”

“You don’t need to know,” he said. “It isn’t like I’m going anywhere much, is it?”

“No. Neither am I, I suppose.”

“There we are then, it’s not like we have to know anything now, is it?” He stuck by his thought from earlier, that he did know what he felt, and it was that he wanted a new start, a fresh go at this.

“I still think you’re a bit of an idiot, too.”

“Hermione,” he said, with a small smile, “everyone does. An arse, too,” he said, remembering Ginny’s words from earlier. “A bit of a dickhead. Annoying.”

“I don’t think you’re annoying,” she said, a little too quickly for it to be the complete truth.

“I annoy myself, at times.”

He twisted the bit of paper in his pocket, the one with the list of the Horcruxes on it. She fiddled with her teacup, which had migrated over from the table to the countertop with her. It had just the smallest amount of tea left in it, just the way she always left her cup, the tea milky with no sugar and by this point usually freezing cold. He’d once watched her reheat the same cup of tea six times in an afternoon.

“This list,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to have this discussion now, not when they weren’t arguing with or sniping at or just ignoring each other. “What are we going to do with it? About the things?”

“Horcruxes?” she asked. “You’re allowed to say the name, it’s not like Voldemort. No Death Eaters will turn up.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh,” she said, looking at her teacup, like she had been for the majority of their conversation. “They put a Taboo on the word Voldemort, in the last year of the war. If you said it, Death Eaters arrived instantly. Of course we fell for it, twice, and Kingsley did, almost everyone at least once. Because only the people who were most opposed to him used the name.”

“And what happened?” When are you going to tell me everything, was his other thought, but he was now beginning to wonder if that was reasonable. There were things she should never have withheld, but these details? She did not know the details of everything he had done.

“Well, the first time, we Stunned them and left them there,” she said. “The second time, we got captured, they worked out who we were, ended up having a very, very bad evening with a couple of your cousins.”

“All evenings with my cousins are terrible, because I’m assuming you’re not talking about Andromeda. Narcissa’s main redeeming feature is that she isn’t cruel like Bella is, just passive and more concerned about keeping up appearances than she is about almost anything else.”

“She loved her child.”

“Everyone should love their child. It shouldn’t be something that’s an extra.” There was something bothering him about this conversation, something he thought he ought to have remembered. His brain had never been quite right after Azkaban. It was slower, his memory fumbled when he was remembering things, and he’d come up against a brick wall in there from time to time, immovable and frustrating.

Then it came to him. “That night wasn’t the night Bellatrix, the night she,” he started.

“Tortured me?” Her eyes came up from the teacup for seconds, and met his. “Yes.”

“Bitch,” he said. “I’m going to kill her, you know. I’m not going to let Molly Weasley do it this time.” He wasn’t on the counter any more, he was rooting round for wherever it was he had left his wand.

“Sirius,” she said. “Don’t be an idiot. I can look after myself, and you’re not wearing any shoes.”

He looked down. “At least I’m wearing socks, this time.” They did have a hole, a few holes, but that wasn’t important.

“It’s February.”

“I know warming charms.”

She started to laugh, clutching her teacup in one hand and the edge of the counter in the other, her head bowed over with her laughter. “You’re ridiculous,” she forced out. “Why won’t you fight Death Eaters in shoes, like the rest of us?”

“Obviously,” he said, “it just wouldn’t be a fair fight, if I was wearing shoes. I like to give the others a chance, given I’m such an excellent fighter.” It was just a trace of his old style, the cockiness and the self-assured note in his voice. He took up a fighting pose, a wooden spoon Ginny had left on the counter earlier serving as a wand.

“I see,” she said. “And the wooden spoon, that’s to give the Death Eaters a chance, too?”

“Exactly.”

He wasn’t sure why he was acting like this, playing the fool in his old, holey socks for her. He messed everything up, ultimately, and she’d get pissed off with his stupidity in time. Oh, wait. That had probably happened already, given the way she had been with him in recent weeks.

“I’m sorry that I’m a dickhead,” he said.

“You’re not.” She put the teacup down. “Well, you are, sometimes.”

“There we are,” he said, leaning onto the counter next to her, still holding his wooden spoon. “It goes from sometimes, to most of the time, to all the time, to ‘why the fuck are we still anywhere near this man’. And then you run away, screaming, into the dust.”

“I’m not going to run away.” She leant forwards a little, her voice soft. “And you and Ginny are terrible at Muggle metaphors.”

He thought about retorts to that, about things he could bite back with or ways he could gently make digs at her in return. If this had been Ginny was talking to, he wouldn’t really have hesitated to say one of the six or seven things that first sprung to mind.

“I know,” he said, instead.

He wanted her to like him.

He hadn’t really realised that, before.

He decided something.

It was probably going to go horribly wrong.

He fiddled around with words for a bit, but that post-Azkaban fuzz in his brain was causing him problems again, so he stopped. Instead, he shifted his weight from the counter, turning slightly, and kissed her. A quick one, a light press of his lips onto hers, just lingering there for long enough to show that it had been done completely and utterly on purpose. He stepped away, neatly, into the centre of the kitchen.

“I’m going to leave it to you, now,” he said, as her hand went to her lips, tracing where his mouth had been as if she could not believe that had happened. “If you don’t want to do it again, if you’d like things to continue as they were, then just don’t do anything again. I wanted you to know, that I did like it, I did like you, shit, I do like you, and fuck it, I’d quite like to do it more often. But the Quaffle’s in your court, now, as the Muggles say, and I think that’s all I wanted to say.”

Before she could answer, and with those beautiful eyes of hers still fixed on him, he spun on his shoeless heels and went back outside. Maybe his wand was on the grass. It was the most logical place to find the damned stick.

She caught up with him before he’d even gone a couple of steps out onto the wet grass, and pulled on his arm to turn him around.

“Muggles don’t have Quaffles, you dickhead,” she said, and she kissed him back.

 

Luna
February 1979, Devon

She Apparated to somewhere she felt at home, and this, well, she could not say it was the only contender, but it was where she had ended up. A small, quiet orchard, almost at the halfway point between the house she had grown up in and the Weasley’s Burrow. Her parents were abroad, but she had not wanted to see the old house. She had found that difficult enough, when she had been there to attach the charms that would alert her if her parents entered the building. There would be somewhat of a lot of explaining to do, when they came home, and well, she wanted to be prepared.

So here she sat, in the orchard, close enough to a home but far enough away. She had been here only a handful of times, but it had the warm, rewarding smells of familiarity and the feel of a place where she belonged. It was where she had first met Ginny Weasley, chasing her brothers around and trying to get a broomstick from one of them. Luna forgot which. She found many of the Weasley brothers interchangeable, in that they had similar values and paid little attention to the tiny, blonde witch.

It was difficult to find a place one belonged, when one was so far from their home.

Temporally, of course, given that she was half a mile from the location of her birth and childhood. Time was a construct, if you looked at it from a theoretical point of view, with humans having assigned values to it that suited them rather than what the universe dictated. Months with thirty one days. It did not work, did it?

But you could know something logically, and still feel it was wrong.

She sat down on the grass, and began to pluck blades. She could weave a tiny basket from this. Nests, for birds, ready for the spring. She pulled out her wand, once she had a decent amount of grass, and began to charm it into nests.

Luna had been tidying, when she’d chanced to look from the bathroom window out into the garden. And there had been Sirius, and Hermione, and thankfully they were not fighting, but kissing. It had caused a strange lurch in Luna’s stomach, which she hadn’t been prepared for. She had expected pure happiness.

It was funny when your own body did what you did not expect. It was a more rational judgement than what her mind had given her, she supposed.

The lurch had matched the one she had experienced when she had seen the way that Ginny smiled at those letters from Remus.

It was somewhat lonely being Luna, right now.

She had love, of a sort, of course, but it was becoming clearer each day since she had met that love that it was not one that would be returned. And she’d had a semblance of moving on, lately, but then it was not fine once more, and in truth, she did not know how to deal with that.

The same way she always had, perhaps.

Chapter Text

Ginny
March 1979, rural north Wales

“You came,” said Remus Lupin, by way of greeting, as he approached Ginny in the pub they’d chosen as a meeting place.

The pub was one she’d been to before a few times, mainly with Harry and sometimes with Ron and Hermione or Bill and Fleur. In her time, in 2002, the future, it was a bit of a smart bar, a destination pub for wizards, really, stuck as it was on the side of a mountain miles from anywhere as if someone had used a very strong Sticking Charm. Maybe they had.

In this time, it was a perfectly ordinary bar, still clearly wizarding, but without the trendy trappings of its future self. The floor slanted slightly, which was probably a symptom of the way it leant off the side of the hill, but not as much as the ground below them appeared to from the outside. To begin with the slope was disconcerting, but you got used to it. A single barman served beers at the bar, slowly, while a hassled looking barmaid ran around doing everything else.

“Of course I did,” said Ginny. Why wouldn’t she have?

“Sorry I’ve had to arrange it for here,” said Remus, sitting down opposite her at the table she’d chosen between a window and the fire. “It’s the only place I could think of that all three of my friends are banned from, and so are your cousins.”

“Why is that important?” asked Ginny, but she felt like she could probably guess, knowing who the friends in question would be.
“They’d be here, staring at us, making funny comments, generally making an absolute nuisance of themselves. They’re idiots, and they like nothing more to embarrass me when I’m on a… when I’m out with a woman. You should have seen how they were just over your letters.” He sighed, rubbing his hand through his hair. “No, you shouldn’t. What happened there doesn’t reflect well on any of us.”

“That’s not very nice,” she said.

“They’re my best friends,” he said. “And I think I’m giving you a bad impression. They’d do anything for me, and I’d do anything for them. But they’ve got a childish sense of humour. And they’d do it to any of us.” He rubbed his head again. “Anyway, what can I get you to drink?”

“I’m fine,” she said, indicating the glass of mead that sat on the table in front of her. “I should have waited, and offered you something.” She hadn’t wanted him to buy her a drink; she knew from Sirius that he had very little money of his own, having recently left his job at the Ministry after somebody made a comment about the full moon in front of him.

“Are you sure?” he asked, his brows knitting together, but Ginny sent him on his way to buy a drink for just himself.

He came back a few minutes later, with a pint of something for himself and a small metal plate of chips.

“I felt like I should offer you something,” he said. “I did invite you, after all.”

“Thanks,” she said, and took one, because it would be rude to refuse. They did that little choreographed dance of small talk, of being polite over the chips and talking of the weather and other things that weren’t important at all.

“Sorry I had to cancel on you before,” he said. “I didn’t want to, but there weren’t many of us around, and we needed everyone we can get.”

“Saving people comes before some witch,” she said.

“It does,” he said. “Most of us struggle to keep relationships, except for those who married someone in the Order. It’s tricky, if you can’t explain to someone where you’re disappearing off to all the time, or what you’re doing, or anything. And, well, we all know that it’s quite high risk.”

Ginny had a painful lurch in her chest at that point, as an image flashed into her brain of the older Remus lying still, quiet and very much dead in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. The image sat there, and whatever she did she couldn’t shift it.

“Do you think it will be worth it?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation. “It’s, it’s more than about just one person, isn’t it? What I do with my life probably won’t make a massive amount of difference, but if I can help stop the war, it might.”

“What about your family?”

“My mum’s a Muggle. She doesn’t really understand all of this, except, well, something happened when Voldemort first started to rise, in the family, and she doesn’t like the whole thing mentioned now. My dad, for similar reasons, would prefer I didn’t get involved. He’s a wizard, he knows full well what’s happening, but he thinks personal safety should come above everyone’s.”

As they spoke, three elderly blokes entered the pub, and at first Ginny paid them almost no notice. She pulled her wand from her pocket, though, after they paused at the door, shuffled around, and began to point directly at them, muttering amongst themselves. One of them, wearing an olive green argyle jumper, nudged another, the slightly overweight one in navy blue tweed. The third, the bald one, grabbed both by the arm and turned them away from where Remus and Ginny were sitting. She tightened her grip on her wand, keeping it under the table and her eye on the three men.

Even waiting at the bar, they kept stealing glances towards Ginny and Remus, talking in whispers, in between loud, almost staged conversation on other topics.

“Remus,” she said, as they collected pints from the bar and started walking towards their table. “Don’t look, but there are some men behind us, acting very suspiciously.”

“How many?” he asked, drawing his own wand.

“Three,” she said, and had a thought about this.

“Fucking hell, not again,” said Remus, with a sigh, which implied to Ginny that he was thinking the same as she was, not that she could reveal that really. “Remember I said that my three best friends were barred from this pub?”

Ginny nodded. “You think that’s your friends?”

“Let’s say that Moody keeps his stash of Polyjuice easily accessible,” said Remus, with a long suffering air. “And yes, I’ve questioned that. He says it’s in case we need it for missions. I think he underestimates just what lengths my friends are willing to go to in order to cause chaos.”

“At least it isn’t Death Eaters,” said Ginny. She wasn’t prepared to meet James, or Sirius, or Peter. She wasn’t sure which of them she wanted to meet least. “Should we ignore them?”

“Nah,” said Remus. He leant forward, whispering, a conspiratorial grin lighting his face. “They’re acting suspiciously. Let’s hex the shit out of them, as if we think they’re Death Eaters.”

Ginny thought that would likely end with Remus being banned from this pub, too, but she also thought the Remus she’d known deserved the odd bit of fun. And, well, she kind of wanted to hex Peter Pettigrew.

“Okay.”

“On three. One, two, three.”

They both cast, Remus aiming a Jelly-Legs Jinx at the bald man, and Ginny neatly netting the other two with a fancy little charm Luna had taught her that gave the unfortunate target the impression of their head swelling up. She thought it appropriate, in this scenario.

The bald man fell to the floor, wobbling down and kicking the table onto his own head, argyle jumper man started clutching his head and dropped his wand, and the third hexed Remus back.

“You absolute tosser, Remus!” he shouted, as Remus began to grow a beard at an alarmingly quick rate.

“You’re the tosser, Sirius,” said Remus, raising his wand to prevent the beard growing, then flicking it to cause tentacles to sprout on the tweed jacket man’s face. “I’m sure you’re Sirius, anyway.”

“I’m Oberon Tadworthy!” the man shouted, as he hexed Remus with some sort of colour changing charm, and Remus turned purple.

“Oberon Tadworthy is your favourite Quidditch player.” Sirius, if he was Sirius, stumbled over the bald man on the floor as the tentacles turned into flowers, which started to grow in a carpet of foliage over his face and head.

“Fine,” he said, from the floor. “I’m Sirius Black. And who may this lovely lady be?"

“Pleased to meet you, Sirius,” said Ginny. “Philomena Prewett.” She held out her hand, because that was polite, but Sirius was still struggling and looked more flowerbed than man.

“And you know that,” said Remus, deftly blocking a hex from the jelly-legged man on the floor. “Because you’ve come here to stalk us. Which I don’t appreciate. I considered worse spells than this. And James, your head isn’t actually swollen, physically. You can stop clutching it. Metaphorically, you’re doomed, of course.”

“How did you know I was James?”

“You’d never agree to be the bald one.”

“Got me again, Lupin. You win this time.”

“I usually do.”

“If you’re going to win against him,” said the bald man, who by a process of deduction was Peter, “you’re going to need to learn to fight when you’re down.”

“If you’re going to win against him, you’re going to have to be faster,” retorted James. “Took you ages to get that second spell in, and he had time to block it.”

“If you’re going to win against me,” Remus butted in, “then you ought not to try taking me on when I have a very observant companion, who was on to you from the moment you walked in here, and you should probably not drop your wand, either.”

All three Polyjuiced Marauders looked as though they were opening their mouths to respond when the barman marched over, a half-poured pint of ale in one hand and his wand in the other.

“Fighting!” he shouted, “in my bar! Get out, all of you, you’re all banned! For life!”

“No tolerance, here,” muttered Sirius. “The Hog’s Head lets you fight at least four or five times before they ban you.” He turned to go, then thought better of it, and grabbed his pint before he went. “I’m taking this. I paid good silver for this.”

“OUT!” roared the barman, and shot sparks at them from his wand. All five of them hurried out the door, sparks flying past them, Sirius slopping half of his pint onto the floor when their speed increased.

“Sorry,” said Peter, when they were outside, light rain falling onto their heads. “It was supposed to be a bit of fun.” His hair was growing back, giving him a strange, patchy look as the Polyjuice stopped having its effect. James was shooting upwards, next to him, his hair darkening from white-grey to black. Sirius’ body didn’t change.

“Just to be sure,” said Remus, eyeing him. “This is Sirius, and not some Death Eater, yes?”

“He was being a vain idiot,” said James, almost entirely back to his own, Harry-with-hazel-eyes appearance now. “It took us a good ten minutes to persuade him to take the potion.”

“I was going to somewhere there was going to be a girl I hadn’t met before,” muttered the old man who was Sirius Black, swirling the remains of his pint around with a face on. “One that I’ve been reliably informed was not only very attractive, but clever, and on our side of this whole war thing.”

“War thing,” said James, throwing his hands in the air. “War thing.”

“A girl Remus is interested in,” said Peter. “And you know our code.” He looked at Ginny. “Sorry,” he said. “He’s a dick.”

Remus was blushing furiously by this point, and looked as though he wanted to hex all of them over again, standing in the cold and wet on the lane that lead up to the little pub on the side of the hill.

“I’m going to hex all of you,” he said, with a grimace. “Hex all of you into the fucking ground, and if you pop back out I’m going to hex you right back in there.”

“Sorry, Remus,” said Peter, and the other two followed suit with an apology.

Ginny was left observing them while they debated what to do next; James and Sirius in favour of going down to Order headquarters, and Remus and Peter preferring the option of going home.

“Without you lot,” Remus said.

It was funny, watching them. She had intended to hate Peter, but the small, slightly chubby man had been the first to apologise for their prank on Remus and her, and had seemed to mean the apology far more than the other two had. Sirius wanted to kill Peter. He made no secret of that. But watching him here, with his friends, before he had become a Death Eater, Ginny had a different plan in mind. If she was in time. If not, she reckoned she’d happily support Sirius killing him.

“I’m fine, whatever we do,” she said.

Which meant that they ended up back at Sirius’ house in Lincolnshire, where Ginny had been on that second day they’d been in the year 1978. She preferred not to remember that time, the time when they had been thinking they would go straight back.

In a way, it was much better to know that they were no longer trying to get back to the time they had left. She would have, in a heartbeat, but that was no longer the point. It was a bigger calling than her personal happiness, she thought. Remus had said the war was more important than some witch. It was.

The house was much the same as it had been then, chaos. Four boys living there full time, with few if any cleaning skills, had not improved it. It transpired there was no longer a light in the bathroom, and that nobody cared about that. Neither did they care that a corner of the living room rocked gently if you stood in it.

“James was doing experimental charms again,” the young Sirius had explained with a shrug, and nobody had said anything else. So Ginny had left it there, and thanked her lucky stars that Fred and George had never met the Marauders in their prime.

She had been hoping for a quiet evening with Remus, to try and resolve the confusion in her head about him. When that was not forthcoming, she had hoped for a reasonably quiet evening with him and his friends. At no point had she hoped for Mad-Eye Moody’s head sticking out of the fireplace, causing Peter to drop his goblet onto Remus’ head.

“Ow!”

“Sorry!”

“Merlin, Moody, d’you think you could warn us?”

“Lupin, Black, I need you out tonight,” said Mad-Eye.

“Remus is on a date,” said Peter. He pointed at Ginny, helpfully.

“I’m going to come through.”

“Please don’t,” muttered James. He turned to Ginny, as a two-eyed, two-legged version of Mad-Eye Moody crawled through the grate. “Last time he was here he criticised our entire security system, ate all our fruit, and then shouted at Sirius for being a twat. I mean, he was being a twat, but still.”

“Ah, is this the Prewett girl?” Mad-Eye asked, turning his attention and his wand onto Ginny the moment his feet set themselves onto the carpet. “You’ve checked her?”

“I assume Remus has,” shrugged young Sirius. “She’s his girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” he squawked. “Not that, oh fuck off, Sirius.” He looked defeated, and then addressed Mad-Eye. Ginny supposed she should stop calling him that, before she did it out loud. “She’s who she says she is, as far as I can tell. I’ve even checked records at the Ministry, Mrs Lovegood in the records department went through everything with me.”

“Good. I’ve done my own, of course. Not entrusting that to anyone.” He looked at Ginny. “I’m sure you understand.”

Remus looked to Ginny as if to apologise. She nodded back. It was best not to look too confident. She’d expected it, of course, because she knew about this sort of thing. But Philomena Prewett wouldn’t, and she couldn’t react how Ginny Weasley would, could she?

Merlin, it was exhausting having to think about everything so much.

Mad-Eye stomped over to an armchair, turfing Peter out so he could sit down. Ginny had always assumed it was the wooden leg that made him walk so heavily.

“Alright,” he said. “So you’re who you say you are, girl? Good. I hear you want to join the Order of the Phoenix, too, and you’d better, after Lupin was so indiscreet as to tell you about us. You’ll be of use if you’ve got Healing skills. Can you hold a wand without dropping it?”

“Yes?” Ginny wasn’t sure why that question was important.

“Can you keep hold of that wand, and cast some offensive and defensive spells without shitting yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Do you understand that if you fight with us, people will want to kill you?”

“Yes.” She looked him right in the eye, calling up her Occlumency skills just in case he knew anything about Legilimency. “I want to help,” she said. “If you’ll have me.”

“We’ll take almost anyone at this stage, girl. Helps if you can hold your own in a fight, doesn’t it, but if not we’ll find a use for you. Death rate’s a bit higher than I’d like, but these four have lasted almost a year now.”

“How long have you been a member of the Order of the Phoenix?” she asked.

“Since it was created. Death Eaters have been about for longer than they’ve been called Death Eaters. How old are you? This lot are eighteen, nineteen. Death Eaters have been around, and killing, at least as long as these boys have been alive. Might have heard of them, you might. We formed about a decade ago, now, when Albus and a few others got fed up of waiting for the Ministry to act.”

“We’re still waiting,” said James.

“And I’m still waiting for you lot to sort your defences out,” said Mad-Eye. “Not a sneakoscope to be seen, is there? You can’t be relying on spells to keep the intruders out, you have to be there to defend, and that means being warned!” He bashed his hand down on the arm of the chair. “And I’m still waiting for you to sort your hospitality out, too.”

“It’s Sirius’ house,” said James.

“You live here,” young Sirius replied.

“I’ll be going soon,” said Mad-Eye. “Not staying in this indefensible heap a moment longer than I have to. Soon as I’ve told you lot what you’re doing. There’s been reports of another house like that one in Cumbria, and the one in Dorset, though if the reports are true this one is occupied. You’ll go out there, and have a look, and you will not do anything else. I’m trusting you. Lupin, you’re in charge. Black, listen to him.”

“Why can’t I go?” asked James.

“Because if I send you and Black, you’ll be on some ill-fated rescue mission before the night is over, and I’ll be ransoming you or burying you by tomorrow lunchtime. And, isn’t Lily due back late tonight?”

“She is, but I could…”

“No, Potter. You’re on rest after the last time and I will not be changing my mind. Pettigrew, I’ve got a job for you too. Come past my office in the morning, I haven’t got the papers ready for you yet.” He stood up to leave, eyeing Ginny as he did so. “Take the girl, Lupin, if you want. She ought to get to work. Nice meeting you, Miss Prewett.”

“Isn’t there some kind of ceremony? Some kind of oath or something I have to do?” Ginny asked. She’d always assumed that there was, the way her family had talked about the day they’d each joined the Order. She’d never been given much detail. Her mum wouldn’t allow it, although Fred and George had declared it was difficult and painful. But then, they’d always said that about the sorting at Hogwarts.

“What do you think we are?” grumbled Mad-Eye. “Do you think we have the luxury of stuff like that? You’ll say an oath in due course, but let’s see if you’re cut out for all of this before we waste our time on all of that. I wouldn’t do it, but Albus insists.” He shook his head. “You don’t have to bother if you don’t want to.”

“I do,” she said.

“Go on, then,” he said, and stood up. “Pettigrew, no later than eleven. Black, Lupin, I want a report from you by then, too. Miss Prewett, enjoy.” He disappeared back through the fireplace without waiting for a response from any of them.

“I still don’t understand why I can’t go,” James said, moodily, with a look Ginny thought was almost identical to the one Harry would have on in the same situation. “I wouldn’t do anything I shouldn’t. And he didn’t even have a parting shot for me."

“No, but your definition of that is different to Moody’s, isn’t it?” said Peter. “He’s probably right. You’d rescue anyone, even if that wasn’t what the mission required.”
“That’s a good thing!”

“I’m not saying it isn’t,” said Peter. “I’m just saying, you’re both right.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ginny.

“Moody isn’t very good with victims,” said Peter, blushing slightly. “He’s the best Auror ever, I’d say, he always knows what’s going on and he arrests Death Eaters like it was easy. But he focuses too much on that, I’d say, and he doesn’t worry about the individuals so much.”

“That’s not fair,” said young Sirius. “He tries.”

“No, I think Peter’s right,” said Remus. “He doesn’t want us to rescue the people tonight. It’s probably for some big, fancy, operational reason. But he doesn’t want us to, and they might be dead tomorrow.”

“Why don’t you argue with Moody, if you agree with what Peter was saying?” asked Ginny, much later, when they were approaching the shack they’d been sent to survey. Young Sirius was up ahead, crashing through undergrowth, with Ginny and Remus close behind. The path was narrow, lined with trees, and uneven.

“Use a Silencing Charm, Pads,” Remus said, before answering Ginny’s question. “Moody knows what he’s talking about. He’s been in the Order for a decade, but he’s been fighting dark wizards for three or four times that. And he’s survived. Some of them really want to kill him. I think he knows what he’s talking about a little bit more than somebody like me.”

“Like what?”

“Some nineteen-year-old fresh out of Hogwarts, with no real understanding of these things.” Remus sighed, and Ginny heard the bit he didn’t add.

“Hold on,” said Sirius, stopping. “I don’t think there’s anyone there, but I’ll go and check. James has leant me his cloak.” He swished it up and over himself and presumably wandered off, not that Ginny could see him go.

“Nice cloak,” said Ginny.

“James is from a very old family,” Remus said. “He has some interesting heirlooms.”

“Aren’t you worried I might be a spy, or something?” she asked. Sirius had warned her that the Order’s security was not as good as it would be in later years, but she hadn’t expected this.

“If you are, all you’ve learnt is that dates with Remus are shit and that we like to go stomping around in the woods,” said Sirius, who clearly had not wandered off.

“Fuck off, Sirius, get on with your job,” said Remus, almost lazily. “I really am sorry about him.” Ginny saw the grass move slightly under Sirius’ invisible feet, and assumed that this time he really had left to do his work. “No, we assume you are a spy, at the moment. We watch you, closely, and we do a lot of research. You heard me talking to Moody, earlier. I do quite a bit of the research, Moody does some, and a few others, too. We know more about you than you know we do.” He tapped his head. “After all, what do you really know of us?”

Quite a lot, Ginny thought, including where you’ll all be in twenty years time. But that was not the point.

“I know that you are trying to make a difference,” she said. “Which I suppose is what’s important.”

“It is,” said Remus.

They lapsed into silence. Something was niggling at Ginny about this visit, and it wasn’t her security concerns for the Order of the Phoenix. Cumbria.

“I thought you were going to tell me about your boyfriend,” said Remus. He relaxed against a tree, but his eyes still cast around them, looking for trouble, and he held his wand out with a steady hand. “Only if you want to.” His voice was attempting casual, too, and failing as badly as his body.

“That?” said Ginny. “Here?”

“Good a time as any. Pads will be ages. He’s thorough.”

“Do you have a signal for if he’s in trouble.”

“Yeah. And you won’t miss it if he uses it.”

“It’s complicated,” Ginny sighed, keeping an eye on the area behind Remus that it was harder for him to watch, her own wand out too.

“Isn’t it always.”

“I was seeing somebody, and we’ve been separated. I don’t know if I’ll see him again, but we never broke up.” It was the truth, the bare bones of it, without mentioning that little device of Hermione’s and the man there was now two versions of alive in 1979.

“Can’t you go to him? Or owl him. Owls can get almost anywhere, these days, if you give them long enough.”

“No.”

“I’d normally assume he was dead by that, but you’d have said if he was. Wouldn’t you?” Remus started slightly at the hoot of an owl. “Shit, that’s probably insensitive.”

“He’s not dead. I don’t think he is.” Not being born yet wasn’t the same as dead, even if they were about as contactable.

“I think,” said Remus, as he walked a circle around her, prowling, “that you may win the ‘most complicated relationship status’ prize. And that includes the time we discovered that Peter was going out with three witches at once.”

“Peter?” said Ginny, with barely disguised surprise. “I’d have assumed Sirius.”

Remus’ face fell slightly at that, as he turned away on the circle. “Yeah. I see that. He’s the attractive one.”

“I don’t fancy Sirius, at all,” said Ginny. She felt that needed clarifying. She never had. Now it would feel too much like stepping on Hermione’s toes, too. Not that she knew how it was going with that. She’d left the house when Hermione was still glaring at the wall in the kitchen, and Sirius was glaring at the sky outside, and she had no idea if they’d get over themselves by the time she got back. She’d been longer than she’d planned to be, so she’d given them ample chance.

She’d try another Molly Weasley tactic when she got back if they hadn’t, she decided. The old put them in a warded room and glare at them until they’d resolved their differences trick.

Although she might not want to be in that room, come to think of it.

Remus looked happier at her last statement, and stopped prowling. Ginny considered him. He wasn’t unattractive, in fact, if she removed the image of Professor Lupin from her mind, he was quite handsome. This younger man had less scars, if enough already to last anyone a lifetime. He was noticeable, Ginny thought, and would have been without them. Her mother would have called it an honest face, and it was.

“Sirius is conventionally attractive,” she decided. “I’m not really interested in that.”

Remus laughed, a soft little laugh. “I’ll tell him you said that.”

“There’s no need.” Young Sirius pulled of the Invisibility Cloak with a flourish. “I’m already deeply offended. I was going to invite you to Lily and James’ wedding. Won’t bother, now.”

“Whatever you do,” Remus cautioned, ignoring Sirius, “don’t mention the wedding.”

Ginny decided not to ask why.

After much discussion, they approached the building as a trio. Ginny was still uneasy about this, and the feeling only grew as she trekked through the grass. And as the building came into view ahead of her, she understood why.

It was, down to the colour of it, identical to the one where Sirius had been captured in December.

“Okay, Phil?” asked young Sirius, and Ginny realised she had let out a little squeak.

“Fine,” she whispered back. “Just, you know.”

“Yeah,” he replied. “Felt like it the first time, too.”

There was a slight sensation of panic in her stomach as she wondered what she ought to say. She couldn’t admit what she’d done before. But Remus had been there that day, the day they’d found Sirius. Had he been looking for that building? Did he think she might have seen it.

His eyes met hers.

“You’ve seen one of these before,” he said.

“Yes.”

“The day we met.”

“Yes.” She thought quickly. “But we didn’t know it was anything sinister. We were just camping. We didn’t look at it, not really.”

“Well, we had best get on with looking at this one,” said Remus, and he carried on walking. Young Sirius and Ginny fell into line beside him, and they approached with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Just the usual, feelings as they walked into probable danger, then.

They were at the door.

“Check for wards,” said young Sirius, and Ginny was glad she didn’t have to say it.

The gnawing in her stomach grew as the two men searched for, and took down, the elaborate net of wards, protective charms, and defences over the building’s entrance. Ginny stood back, quietly. Best not to show her hand, not yet. She stepped in only once, when Remus looked as though he might trigger something nasty. It was one the Carrows had used on things at Hogwarts. She’d have known it anywhere, and she had no desire to see it in action over again.

“Thanks,” said Remus.

“Who’s first?” asked young Sirius. “Trick question. It’s me.”

Ginny followed him, as Remus indicated, with his bulk bringing up the rear.

The house was much as the last one had been. Freshly decorated, a staircase leading upstairs, and a kitchen close to the entrance. They searched it quietly, methodically, sticking together as a group. Remus walked backwards, his wand outstretched. Young Sirius and Ginny inched forwards together, hand in hand, their wands out too. It was not the first time Ginny’s left handedness had come in useful, with this sort of defensive formation.

“Last one,” whispered Remus, outside the last room.

“Ready?” said young Sirius.

Ginny nodded.

The door to this room did not open when young Sirius twisted the handle, and did not open for Alohomora either. The lump in Ginny’s throat grew, and Remus’ hand reached for hers.

“Try to blast it?” suggested Sirius.

“Might be someone behind it,” said Remus.

“Melt it,” said Ginny, and when nobody objected, cast a handy little charm she’d found in one of Luna’s books in a bored moment. It reduced the door to a puddle, splashing slightly onto Sirius’ boot.

He looked as though he was going to compliment her on the spellwork, until he saw what was in the room.

Four frightened-looking women stared back at them from the bunk beds, shrinking back against the wall as they looked out at the three in the doorway.

“It’s okay,” said Ginny. “We’re not going to do anything.”

“Sticks,” said one of the women, dark haired, on a lower bunk. “They’ve got the sticks, too. Don’t trust them.”

“You can trust us, it’s fine,” said Remus, in his best calming voice, lowering his wand to his side. He did not put it away. As he stepped towards them, the lights in the room threw his scars into sharp relief, and one of the women let out a gasp. At the same time, Ginny heard the creak of a door downstairs, and a jolt ran through her.

“Quick,” she muttered to the others, and when they stared at her, she took matters into her own hands.

“We’re not the same as the people who brought you here,” she said. “We’re going to rescue you, but we’re going to have to be quick.” She looked at the window. Not this, not again. “Is everybody ready?”

The dark-haired women who had spoken looked fearful, but one of the others swung herself down from the bunk above. She had the fear in her eyes, too, and a half-healed cut along her arm. But she was moving towards them, and that would do Ginny.

“I don’t trust you,” she said. “But you can’t be worse than those people. The ones who put us here.”

“No,” said Ginny. “We can’t. Take Sirius’ hand, please. Anyone else ready to go?” She turned around, wrenching open the window with her hands. “Jump,” she said, to Sirius. “Use a charm to make sure it doesn’t hurt when you land, Apparate to yours on landing. They’ll have prevented us from Apparating from the building.”

To her surprise, he immediately did as she was told, and they disappeared inches away from where they had landed on the soft, wet grass below.

When she turned back, two more women had come forwards. Only the original speaker remained on her bed, and there was the sound of speech from downstairs.

“Please,” said Ginny. “We’ll look after you.”

“Where have you taken Mona?” Her dark eyes searched Ginny’s face for the truth.

“She’s gone somewhere safe. I can’t tell you where, but I can take you. If you’ll come.” She paused. “If you stay, I don’t know what the people who brought you here will do.”

“They killed my husband,” said the dark-haired woman. “They killed Michael, and they killed William, too.”

“They’re bastards,” said Remus.

“Will they kill me?” she asked.

“Probably,” said Ginny, because it was the truth.

There were footsteps on the stairs.

“Remus, take those two,” said Ginny. “What’s your name?”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

“I’m Mary.”

“Philomena.” The footsteps were becoming louder, along with the hammering of Ginny’s heart in her chest. “Now we know each other’s names, will you please come with us?”

“Okay.”

As soon as she had the woman’s consent, Ginny reached forward for her hand, half-leading and half-pulling her from the bed towards the window. Remus was there too, throwing down spells that would protect them on landing. He twisted his body through the window, almost sticking, as Ginny gave up and shouted a Blasting Charm. Half of the wall fell, bouncing onto Remus’ protective charms, and they did too.

“Grab on!” she shouted, throwing out her arms, and two sets of hands did so. She turned, seeing Remus do the same on the corner of her eye, and they were gone.

She landed in Lincolnshire, in a heap on the floor outside Sirius’ house, with three women she didn’t know and Remus Lupin. A couple of feet away, Sirius was pulling the fourth to her feet. And James Potter stood over all of them, Peter at his side, laughing.

“I distinctly remember Moody saying no rescue missions,” he said. “I’m not going to be the one in the doghouse after all.”

“Saving people thing,” muttered Ginny. She thought she’d banged her head on landing.

“Good first mission, Philomena,” said Remus, reaching through the mess of people to squeeze her hand. “I’d say you were exceptional. Almost like you’d practiced for that.”

One of the women they’d rescued puked on Ginny’s leg.

Chapter Text

Regulus
February 1979, Hogsmeade

Of course, Regulus had originally invited Adeline to accompany him to Hogsmeade this weekend. It was the weekend closest to Valentine’s Day, and while Regulus himself held no stock in that custom, he understood that it was important to the vast majority of witches, and that the number included his wife to be.

But then, as was often the way, family matters had overtaken his own personal ones, and he was walking down to the village in order to meet a woman who claimed that she was his cousin. An illegitimate daughter of his Uncle Alphard, which was certainly possible. Regulus privately thought it was unlikely that two such relations would surface in the space of just a handful of months, but then, he was almost entirely certain that the other who had claimed to be a cousin was in fact his brother, Sirius.

If he had not been almost certain of that, he would not have dumped the man alive. The Dark Lord generally expected his captives to be dead at the end of their time in captivity. Sirius had always had an excess of pride, and would not admit to anyone that his brother had held him, that he had been caught at all if he could help it. So Regulus felt he was as safe as could be in his actions, and he had done the brotherly thing. The next time, Sirius ought to have learnt his lesson, and Regulus would not be offering clemency.

“Alright, Black?” said a couple of third-year Slytherins, who Regulus had occasionally offered assistance to in the past. They were cousins, distantly, if with a different surname, and one ought to help cousins.

“Good morning,” he replied, unwilling to be drawn into conversation. He exchanged pleasantries with the boys, and enquires after their schoolwork, and then sent them on their way.

The girl, woman, was due to be waiting for him in the Three Broomsticks at eleven. Regulus checked his silver watch, engraved with the Black family crest. His father had given it to him on his seventeenth birthday, although the watch dated from the fourteenth century and had belonged to at least ten different Blacks before him. It was Regulus’ most prized possession, after his wand.

It read half past ten, so he turned to the bookshop. It did not do to keep her waiting, but he did not want to look eager or as though he had nothing else to do. Professor Vector had recommended him some supplementary reading on Thursday, so he would purchase that, and perhaps a new set of quills.

By the time he arrived at the Three Broomsticks, it was two minutes past eleven. The pub was crowded, as it was expected to be on a Hogsmeade weekend, although not as full as it would be later. Regulus scanned the room. The usual crowds of the third and fourth years clutched bottles of Butterbeer, still excited by the freedom of the village. A seventh year Gryffindor argued with the barmaid about fire whisky; he was of age, she would not sell it while he wore uniform. Other students dotted the pub, in twos, threes or larger groups, some talking quietly, others earning themselves disapproving looks from the older patrons.

The woman he was meeting was sat in the corner, by the fire, a glass of mead in front of her and a book in her hand. She wore the green velvet cloak she had said she would wear, so he could identify her. On the whole, her appearance was unremarkable. She bore a minimal family resemblance, he supposed. She had the hair, and the cheekbones.

“Good morning,” he said, approaching. She put down her book, noticing him before he had arrived by her table. “Regulus Black, son and heir of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.”

“Lyra,” she said, holding out a hand to meet his. “Lyra Black. I don’t know if I ought to use that surname, but it is the one my mother gave me.”

“That we will see,” said Regulus, with a smile. She may well have the claim, or she may not, and it would come to light soon enough. “May I buy you a drink?”

“I am fine, thank you,” she said, indicating the half-full glass before her.

He set off to the bar to purchase his own, and settled in the seat opposite when he had succeeded in that. He wondered how he should to approach this conversation, still, despite having rehearsed his approach in the days since their agreement to meet. Small talk, perhaps, about the recent cold snap or the fortunes of the Ministry.

“Forgive me for being to the point,” he said. “But I have been wondering since I received your letter what has made you decide to approach the family, and me in particular?”

“Oh,” she said, although she must have been expecting the question. “I have only recently discovered my heritage. And, well, you seemed to be the most approachable of the family. You’re closest to my age, see.”

“And what is that age, if you do not mind me asking?”

“Twenty three.”

Well, she was closer to the age of Sirius than to himself, but that was certainly not an option she should have pursued. Perhaps even to Narcissa, too. No, Narcissa was twenty-nine, and Regulus was almost eighteen, which put them almost equidistant from the witch sat in front of him now. And Narcissa was a Black, but she had the name of Malfoy.

“And how did you discover me?”

“It’s quite easy to find out about a family such as yours,” she said, looking at him as she spoke, then down at her book. “You’re in the society pages of the Prophet frequently, and Witch Weekly ran an article about your cousin Narcissa just last week. I simply read about you.” She paused. “And my owl is quite clever at finding people.”

Regulus was not aware he was particularly hard to find, stuck at Hogwarts as he was.

“Well, if you do turn out to be a cousin of mine, we shall be glad to receive you,” he said, instead. “We do not take that on face value, of course.” No, she would have to be of the blood. Grandfather Pollux would know how to check that, he was the scholar of those magics. And she would need to have the right approach. The Black family could not tolerate any more members who would rebel.

“I’d like to know more about your family,” she said. “The society press focuses on Narcissa Malfoy, in the main, and her sister Bellatrix. Their weddings were spectacular. And of course your engagement. I know less of the older members of the family.”

She did not mention Andromeda. That was a start. That had certainly been all over the press, if she had gone back far enough for Bella’s wedding, then she would have gone back far enough for Andromeda’s estrangement. And the birth of the child who was no better than a Mudblood.

“My father and mother do less in society these days. They attend, but my mother prefers more intimate social engagements. Of my grandfathers, one is rather wedded to his books these days, and the other prefers to discuss serious matters rather than to be seen in the dancing. My mother does enjoy philanthropic work, and Grandfather Pollux is very much a patron of musical events. There is little to say of them of excitement.”

“And of you?”

“I study. I intend to marry my betrothed when the time is right, and I hope for a family. Perhaps a job at the Ministry, until I must take on a bigger role in the family.”

“Politics?”

“Oh, perhaps one day. I am considering the Department of International Magical Cooperation.” His hand itched to go to his left forearm as he spoke. If that was not politics, it was not anything.

“It sounds an interesting job.”

“So I am told.” He sipped his drink, surveying her. “Do you work?”

“I had a small job in a shop when I was abroad. My mother hoped I would marry, but I never found anyone worthy of my time where we were living. When she died, I thought I should visit Britain.”

At present, the girl, Lyra, seemed as though she may be a worthy member of the family, Regulus thought. There was that slightly matter of the illegitimacy, he supposed. He had written off to the Ministry, after receiving her owl, and checked the details of her story. A Madame Lovegood in the records department had replied, unable to find a record of any marriage entered into by Alphard Black. There was a record of a daughter, confirmed of Arelle Macmillan and supposed of Alphard Black. He would have to attend the office to inspect the birth certificate. He supposed he could send someone, if it became necessary, or else go at Easter.

“And visit your relations?”

“I know nothing of my father’s family, or if he is indeed my father,” she said. “I’d like to.”

“Let this be the first step,” he said. Alphard certainly had been involved with enough witches, if his older relatives were to be believed. It was almost surprising there had been none approach before this.

He took his leave from Lyra a short while later, in order to collect Adeline from the castle for their afternoon together. He promised to send her an invite to Grimmauld Place over the Hogwarts Easter holiday, when he could introduce her to the remainder of his family and ask Grandfather Pollux to check her claim. If she was who she claimed to be, he could perhaps arrange for her to attend the Spring Ball. He was sure Narcissa would not mind the additional guest, and he would be able to find an escort from somewhere. Severus Snape might suit. He was a half-blood, and an illegitimate pureblood was a better match than many he could expect to make.

Regulus was pondering the various intricacies of introducing Lyra into wizarding society, walking up the hill path back to the castle, when a familiar voice popped up beside him.

“I’ve been shouting you for half a mile,” said Francis. “Do I need to take you to the Healer to get your ears checked?”

“No,” said Regulus. “I have been attending to business this morning, and was thinking on it. And, besides, who would you say you were to me?”

“Isn’t that a question?” said Francis, kicking Regulus on the shin. “What’s the business? Far as I’d heard, you were out with the betrothed.”

“I am collecting Adeline now,” said Regulus, “and for that matter, it is no concern of yours.”

“I like sticking my nose in where it isn’t wanted,” said Francis, happily. “Good you’re collecting the bird. Valentine’s wouldn’t be complete without a date, would it?”

“Who are you out with?” asked Regulus, more quickly than he had intended.

“Some girl from Ravenclaw. I think she is called Jenny, but she could be Hetty. I don’t really know. Double date, you see. I think she hates me, because her friend has her tongue down my friend’s throat and she’s being ignored. I tried to put my tongue down her throat, but she didn’t want that, either.” Francis shrugged. “Girls. Damned if I know what to do about them.”

“You shall need to learn,” warned Regulus.

“So my mother keeps telling me. I have no plans to.”

Regulus stopped. “Do you not intend to marry?”

“Why would I? I’m gay.”

Regulus did not understand the point that Francis was making. Of course the man was gay, in that he had never shown a moment’s interest in witches before. But that was no barrier to marriage, certainly.

“Your family will want you to.”

“Yes, and they’ll deal with it. I’ve got three brothers and five male cousins. They’re hardly short of Macmillan heirs, even without me.”

Macmillan. Francis might be useful to him.

“Do you know of Arelle Macmillan?” he asked.

If Francis was surprised by the change in subject, he didn’t show it.

“Aunt Arelle?” he said. “Never met her. She’s Father’s sister, but she disappeared years before I was born. Used to write, or so he says, but then she stopped doing that, even. Heard she was married. Father and Uncle Anth talk about her when they’re drinking and reminiscing.”

“Did she have a child?”

“Dunno. I can ask Father, if you like. Why?”

Regulus was not sure how much to tell the other man, but after a few seconds of though he decided to be honest. It would come out soon enough, if Lyra passed Pollux’s test and was introduced into society.

“A woman has come forward, claiming to be the daughter of Arelle Macmillan and Alphard Black. I am investigating her claim.”

“What claim? Didn’t you disown Alphard? Mother went on about that bit of gossip for weeks, coming straight after the thing with your brother.”

Regulus pursed his lips. Why did everyone feel the requirement to bring up his brother so frequently?

“That would have been many years after she was born,” said Regulus. “It is the status of the family member at the time of the child’s birth that matters, not the time of their discovery.”

“Hmm,” said Francis. “All a bit weird, isn’t it? I’ll ask Father, then. See if I can get you copies of Arelle’s letters. I read one once, it was mostly incoherent rambling, but so are most my Divination essays.”

“Thank you,” said Regulus, because any information was helpful. He checked the watch again, and pulled his black cloak closer. “I had best hurry to Adeline, now. I had promised to take her for lunch.”

He would write to Grandfather Pollux this evening, he resolved, as he took his leave of Francis and began once again to walk up the hill to Hogwarts. He had rather kept this to himself, until he had given himself a chance to meet this Lyra, but it was now the time to involve the family. And he really ought to conjure some flowers for Adeline. And perhaps give Francis some advice on women, whether he wished for it or no.

 

Hermione
March 1979, Diagon Alley, London

“I just don’t understand it,” said Ginny, holding up a steel grey robe. “I mean, I do. It’s as we thought, back in December. They’ve captured Muggles, terrified them and forced them to build somewhere without magic. They’ve found two without Muggles, now, including the one we did, and three with. But why?”

Hermione shook her head at the grey one, and held up a powder blue robe in response.

“I can think of so many reasons they’d want a building to keep people in,” she said. “We went through all of those at the time.” She shuddered. None of them were pleasant. “But I don’t understand why they couldn’t just use magic.”

“That shade of blue will make you look pale,” said Ginny. “Is it too much to go for the green again, I wonder?”

“I don’t like green,” said Hermione. In truth, it had been her favourite colour for most of her childhood. She had even hung onto it to begin with at Hogwarts, despite having been sorted into Gryffindor. It had been ruined for her around the time she had discovered just how many of those in Slytherin House thought she shouldn’t even exist.

Including the man she was dressing up to impress. The entire family.

“Fine,” said Ginny. “No green. No red. No pastel shades. I still don’t see what was wrong with the grey.” She felt a few robes, walking around the tiny shop a little more. “We haven’t ruled out gold? Too Gryffindor?”

“Sirius says I suit gold,” said Hermione.

“Sirius likely prefers you naked,” said Luna, emerging from a corner with a pile of robes over her arm. “But that would not be appropriate for this occasion.”

Hermione ignored Luna. She had been making increasingly less helpful comments over the past few days, weeks, really, and Hermione had run out of responses that the other girl might consider a reason to stop.

And, besides, Hermione did not yet know if it was true.

Things were going well, or as well as they could, but there was no denying that whatever the relationship was between her and Sirius, it was strange. They had continued almost as normal since the second time they had kissed one another, for a week, and then they’d kissed again, and the pattern had gone on like that for the majority of February. And at some point, it stopped being slightly strange and became nice, and comfortable, and enjoyable. She wasn’t sure when.

They didn’t talk about it, much. They’d come to some unspoken agreement that they wouldn’t, and so they had a normal life, and occasionally, when they were alone, they kissed.

Naked had not been a part of it.

“I think navy blue,” said Ginny, after a long silence. Hermione just bought them, because it was easier than overthinking it.

She dressed in them, back at the house, and stood in front of the mirror as Ginny did her hair. A couple of drops of that potion she’d used at the Yule Ball, and it twisted into a careful knot on the top of her head. Sirius, of all people, had given them advice on the proper hairstyles for her station.

He was also a font of information on how she should conduct herself. Hermione thought it made sense that he would know that, even if he had rarely gone along with the expectations as a child and teenager, but she hadn’t realised he would notice hairstyles, and clothes, and those sorts of things.

“Arcturus is in charge, officially,” Sirius told her, as Ginny fiddled with the front of her hair. “So etiquette dictates you defer to him, and as you’re a woman, to my dear mother as the most senior female. But, in reality, it’s Pollux who makes all the decisions. Arcturus doesn’t much care about those things. He likes to read obscure potions texts and ignore people.” Sirius was twiddling his hair, which was shoulder length and brushed for once. “Mother will want to know if you’ve been brought up right.” He shuddered.

“Right?” asked Hermione.

“He means wrongly,” Ginny supplied.

“Be rude to the house elf,” said Sirius. “Shouldn’t be too hard, it’s Kreacher, and he’s an odious twat.”

Hermione wondered how much she should say about Kreacher having cost him his life. Nothing, she decided. That was not entirely Kreacher’s fault.

“Never say anything positive about a Muggleborn, and if you accidentally do, claim you never knew they were Muggleborn and then make sure to insult them at least three times after that. Women don’t really talk politics. You’ll be expected to know about household charms, but you’ll never have used them if you’re raised right. Women mostly talk about gossip, in polite circles. Ask Mother to tell you who you ought to know and who to avoid. She won’t expect you to know any of the English social scene, but she’ll like that you’ve asked.” He was twiddling with his hair so much that some had removed itself. “In short, just do the exact opposite of whatever the normal person would do, and you’ll be fine.”

He threw the hair to the floor, and Ginny gave him a disapproving tut.

They all gathered to see her off, having agreed that they would stay in the house. Sirius had been all for Apparating to London with her, but Luna had vetoed that and Ginny was going off to see Remus, anyway.

“Good luck,” said Ginny, cheerily.

“You will be splendid,” said Luna, handing over the gifts they’d chosen for her to take, flowers and a bottle of an elf-made wine.

“Don’t let them piss you off too much,” said Sirius, downcast.

She wanted to hug him, to kiss him, even, but they’d never done that in front of people before. So she just thanked them all for their help, promised she’d do a good job, and left.

It was strange, seeing a house you knew so well looking so different. She’d thought that, back when they’d first arrived at her grandparents old house in Saltburn and seen it looking as it would have when they died, rather than it had when she had visited it as her parents’ holiday home. But looking at Grimmauld Place, she thought it again.

The house was not the happy house it had been when Harry had lived in it, the last time she had seen the building. It was the house they all went to when they wanted to gather without the more responsible adults at The Burrow to be watching them, the place where they went to mourn and later to celebrate on their own terms. The three of them at first, then Ginny, Neville, Luna, George, Angelina, Percy, the others that came with them and became part of their lives. This house was not so happy as that one, and the windows were lit less brightly.

It also was not the abandoned place they had visited that year on the run, or, from before that, the dark and dangerous Order Headquarters with Sirius skulking around. It was well maintained, with a freshly painted front door and flowers in pots on the steps. For after all, the Black family, while it was still a functioning, respectable family, had a reputation to look after.

It felt wrong. The house felt wrong, but so did being here at all. In the two weeks since she had last met with Regulus, fifteen people had been reported as dead at the hands of Death Eaters. None of them had happened as Sirius’ memories, and Hermione and the others had been unable to save any of them. Twice they had turned up too late, once the day afterwards to a deserted house, and once as the Death Eaters Apparated away at the sight of Ministry forces, four dead bodies left in their wake. The others had been entirely unpredicted, families that to their knowledge had survived.

One was a family by the name of Patil, a Muggleborn couple of Indian descent. They had died.

Hermione had not managed to find evidence of any other wizarding Patil families.

And Regulus could have killed the Patils, or the Morgans, or old Mrs Winterton who had outlived her husband and all five of her children.

“Good evening, Lyra,” said Regulus himself, as she was shown into the formal drawing room by Kreacher. He was sat in an armchair, hardwood and velvet, with a copy of the Daily Prophet folded over the arm. He was relaxed. She forced her face to be too, and for her hands to fall down by her side after she’d handed over her gifts to his mother.

“So you are my brother’s child,” Walburga said. “I had always expected he had a few, and I wondered if anyone would appear. Pollux, you’ll check later.”

The grey-haired wizard in the opposite armchair from his grandson nodded.

“We will, and what will be will be.”

“Kreacher, offer Miss Black a drink,” said Walburga Black, dismissively. She was admiring the flowers, and that was of course more important than treating her house elf with respect.

Kreacher gave Hermione a familiar glare. “Not a Black,” he whispered, as he served her, and Hermione made a mental note to ask Sirius what he knew about house elves and their perception of familial belonging. She thought Kreacher was on to her, at any rate.

“Dinner will be served shortly,” said Walburga, “but it is our family custom to take a drink together before we eat. Arcturus will be down shortly, I’m sure. Unfortunately my husband, Orion, is away on business, or he would have wished to meet you, too. Now, where was it you said you had lived?”

“We spent time in a variety of countries, as Mother said a broad education was of value. I attended school mainly in Japan, as my mother had a high opinion of the school there.”

“You speak Japanese?” asked Walburga.

Hermione did not, but Sirius had assured her none of them did either. So she’d memorised some phrases from a book from a Muggle library, and hoped it would be enough. It seemed like it was. She’d wanted to have lived in France, because she did speak French, but Sirius had said they had too many relatives in France. And French speaking Africa was out, because apparently that would be frowned upon by the Blacks.

“Dinner is being served, Masters and Mistress,” said Kreacher.

They all trailed through into the dining room. Hermione was glad to be away from the tapestry in the drawing room, with its imposing burn mark where Sirius should be, but came to the conclusion she wasn’t any more at ease in the dining room. They’d never cleared it, while it was Order Headquarters, so she’d barely had more than a peep into the mahogany panelled, high-ceilinged room with the table that would seat twenty in comfort. They’d always eaten in the kitchen. Harry and Ron had bought a table football table for it in later years, and a bar, of all things, and made it into something Hermione had heard described in Muggle magazines as a man-cave.

She was led to a seat at Regulus’ left. He and Walburga flanked Arcturus, at the head of the table, leaving Pollux opposite Hermione. The rest of the table stretched away to her left, entirely empty.

Food began to arrive, and the talk was of the Ministry, and Regulus, Arcturus and Pollux spoke as Hermione tried her best not to make a fool of herself with all of the cutlery.

“And of course,” said Regulus. “There was that awful scandal with Nott, so it is unsurprising he was not successful in his bid for the Wizengamot. The Dark Lord was most displeased.”

Hermione’s heart jolted at that, the casual way that Regulus used the Dark Lord to mean Voldemort and spoke of his thoughts and feelings. But of course Regulus would know what Voldemort thought. Regulus would probably agree with him, still, at this stage.

Walburga, on the other hand, her eyes lit up at Regulus’ statement.

“Oh, yes,” she said, almost rubbing her hands with glee. “That was such a nasty business, wasn’t it? I can believe it of him, but you’d have hoped his mother would have taught him the value of discretion.” She sniffed. “But then she is a Burke, and don’t we all know about Burkes.”

“I’m afraid I am sadly unaware of which wizarding families are those to avoid,” said Hermione, remembering Sirius’ advice. “I would like to know more about society so as to be informed, and I would wish to hear your opinion in particular.”

Walburga looked as though she may explode with excitement at that, and launched into an explanation of the best wizarding families. And, with more glee, the worst.

“The Weasley family is one to avoid,” she said, firmly. “Blood traitors, the lot of them, and their eldest son, Arthur, is the worst of the lot. I thought he might turn out better than the rest, seeing as he married a Prewett, and they were always a respectable family. But she,” said Walburga, with distaste, and Hermione could only assume she was referring to Molly, “she seems to have ruined both families. Pregnant at Hogwarts! The scandal!” Walburga seemed to be enjoying herself now.

“I suppose they are not ones to befriend,” said Hermione, with a small, insincere smile and an otherwise neutral expression. She mostly wanted to throw something at Walburga.

And that was how the evening passed. Hermione had never sat through such words before as she heard that evening. Usually, she would argue back. She couldn’t remember the last occasion she hadn’t done or said something.

It was for the good of everyone. But you could justify an awful lot with that.

Finally the last course was served, a fruit compote of some kind, and Hermione could barely eat any of it.

“We would usually retire to my personal sitting room, after dinner,” said Walburga to Hermione, while Arcturus and Regulus talked potion discoveries and Pollux watched the women closely. “But I believe we are required to test your claim. You seem to have had the correct upbringing, at any rate. I never rated your mother, she ran with all sorts of boys and she thought she might teach. Not a suitable occupation for a woman of