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Storm of Yesterday

Chapter Text


December 24th, 1997
Godric's Hollow

She should have been cold.

Snow blanketed the ground and had melted and soaked into her coat and jumper and jeans when she'd fallen out the window, Harry's arms wrapped around her. Adrenaline still pumped in her veins, the memory of the great snake, Nagini, sinking its teeth into Harry's leg and neck. He'd fought though. Struggled and kicked and hexed his way out of the grip of the serpent, grabbing Hermione in an attempt to get them both free of the living Horcrux.

Hermione had aimed her wand at the beast, screamed, "Confringo!" and watched as her spell flew around the room. The wardrobe mirror exploded and sent pieces of glass flying at them. She could still feel the stinging cuts on her cheeks and hairline where she'd been hit. The reverberating heat of the spell burned their skin as they tried to escape; as Harry tried to escape, holding onto Hermione for dear life, even as he screamed and grasped at his forehead with one hand.

Seeing that her best friend was in distress, Hermione gripped her wand tightly, held onto Harry and tried to Disapparate.

"What do you think is going to happen, 'Mione?" Ron asked her in the early days of the hunt; one of the days that felt an age ago when they'd been tucked away in Grimmauld Place, being waited on by Kreacher, proudly bearing his dead master's locket, Harry locked in Sirius's room as he so often was, hoping the room's walls would stop them seeing how scared he was.

They did, though.

"I don't know, Ron," Hermione whispered, frowning as she poked at the rest of the stew in her bowl, the stress of their approaching mission keeping her stomach in knots so tight that it made her too sick to eat.

Gods, if she'd only known.

"All I know is . . . we're here until the end. Good end or bad," she said, chancing a look up at her friend who appeared just as worried as she was. "We need to see to it that Harry makes it through this alive. Even if . . ." she hesitated and sighed.

"Even if it kills us," Ron finished her sentence. He reached out and took her hand in a friendly gesture and she squeezed it tight. "Harry lives," he said firmly.

Hermione nodded. "That's what's important," she agreed, sniffling and wiping at the tears in her eyes. "It's not as though I've been keeping the pair of you alive for the past six years. What's one more?" she said on a laugh that threatened to turn into a sob.

War was taking her tears and her sobs and all her softness and turning it hard. Every tear shed was like fire in a forge, slowly strengthening and tempering her. Running from Death Eaters and dementors and Snatchers had made her alert, bordering on paranoid, and she stopped sleeping through the night somewhere near the second week of September. That was about the time that the food had ran out as well.

While they had fed on wild mushrooms and fat reserves until their ribs showed, the Horcrux they took turns wearing fed on their insecurities, their fears, and fueled their bitterness and anger. It all came to a head somewhere—she thought it was October—but time no longer seemed relevant. All she knew was that Ron had been gone for weeks. She'd stopped counting the days, but with werewolves involved in Voldemort's army, it became important to keep track of the full moon. Two had come and gone since Ron had left them; since the Horcrux took hold of his heart and burned away his loyalty and bravery and filled him up with bitterness.

"Are you staying, or what?"

"I . . ." anguished, she tried to answer him in a way that would make him change his mind; calm him down and have him stay. "Yes—yes, I'm staying, Ron. We said we'd go with Harry. We said we'd help." Harry lives, that's what's important, she tried telling him with her eyes, but he'd stopped looking at her.

She could see it in Ron's eyes. He'd already left them. He'd taken the locket off, but the damage was done. He stared straight through her.

"I get it," he snapped bitterly. "You choose him."

Of course she did. She would always choose Harry Potter. He was her best friend, her brother, their only chance at winning this war. She'd never said the words, but a thousand times in her mind she'd echoed the promise of her life for his if it ever came down to it. Harry lives. Harry lives. She'd said it over and over in her mind, a mantra to keep her determination up.

"Ron, no—please—come back, come back!"

Weeks or months later—two full moons at least—she'd clung to Harry, keeping him alive just as he did the same for her. Too little food, too little sleep, and too much fighting left to do. Godric's Hollow seemed like a risk that was necessary . . . at the time.

Harry lives.

Harry lives.

Hermione's back hit the snowbank and the breath was knocked from her lungs. She cried and struggled to breathe again, fully aware that Harry was shaking and screaming on top of her, clutching at his forehead with one hand, his neck with the other. When she was finally able to suck in a deep breath, reminding her lungs that she was still alive, she looked up and saw the broken window of Bathilda Bagshot's home above them.

"No," she whispered and grabbed Harry's hand, trying to Disapparate again. When it didn't work, she cried out in frustration. Anti-Disapparation wards. Death Eaters were coming.

Voldemort was coming.

They ran. Ran to the edge of Godric's Hollow where they could maybe get away, but Death Eaters had the little village surrounded. Terrified, they'd instinctively gone to the one place that seemed like a strange safe haven: the remains of Potter Cottage. The grass was waist high and the hedge and weeds had actually overgrown into the house. The right side of the top floor was completely blown apart, letting in the cold night air and the snow. Everything smelled like mould and decay from fifteen years of neglect.

Harry collapsed near the bottom of the staircase, his face sickly grey and his beautiful green eyes dull. Hermione threw up the strongest security wards she could think of and fell to her knees, wrapping her arms around her best friend there on the snow covered floor of his parents' house . . .

She should have been cold.

But Harry's blood was warm, pouring out of his neck and over her hands as she tried to stop him from bleeding to death. Nagini's venom put a stop in all of her efforts. Out of dittany that wasn't even working, Hermione sobbed against Harry's neck, pleading for him to not die because she wasn't ready. Wasn't ready to let him go, wasn't ready to be alone, wasn't ready to admit that she'd failed him.

"I love you, Hermione . . ." he said hoarsely, his voice fading. "You're my . . . my best—"

"I love you—oh, Harry, don't go!" she wept openly, kissing his forehead, right over the scar, wishing she could have rid him of it. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I was supposed to save you."

He shook his head. "My job to save y-you."

A loud bang echoed around the wards like a cannon blast and Hermione yelped in fear.

"Fight," Harry said, his lips turning blue. "Never give . . ."

"Harry?" Hermione whispered, her voice so soft she could barely hear it herself. She choked back the need to scream her grief to the world. The wards were breaking all around her, she could feel them shattering. Gripping her wand in hand, she hoped that maybe they would have had to dismantle their Anti-Disapparation wards as well in order to properly get through hers.

Harry was . . . Harry was gone . . . and she'd think about that later, about how the light had drifted from his eyes. She'd cry and break but not now; he was gone but she would not let them take his body to parade around as some trophy. She dragged him around the corner as though she could hide behind a nearby wall.

Hermione closed her eyes just as the sounds of shouting became clearer.


"I'm so sorry, Harry."


"Never give up."


"Harry lives," she whispered desperately.

She felt the aching pull of Apparition as her lungs collapsed and her body squeezed in on itself, tighter than ever before. It hurt and she panicked. Panicked more than when she'd accidentally splinched Ron just a few months earlier.

Something was very, very wrong.

When she fell on the other side, not even certain where she was, Hermione took a deep breath and coughed. Her vision was blurry and her hearing muffled. But she was warm. Her wand was in her hand and nothing else. No Harry. She braced herself against a nearby wall as she tried to stand, blinking her eyes repeatedly to regain her sight.

Where am I? she thought to herself as she looked around. Inside a house, that much was certain. It was warm and she could smell food cooking. Pie; cloves, cinnamon, and sugar. She could see out a large window and was surprised to see carved pumpkins instead of Christmas lights. "What?" she mumbled softly to herself.

There was a loud bang and the front door burst open. Hermione held back a scream as she hid back behind the wall again, covering her ears. People were shouting in the other room.

"Lily take Harry . . . go! . . . him! . . . Run! . . . hold him off!"

Footsteps on the stairs. She could feel the vibrations just behind her against the wall.

Hermione looked back around and her eyes widened at the sight of a head of messy, black hair. Her blood ran cold at the sight of the wizard—"Harry?"—standing in the other room with his back facing her. She crawled forward when she saw why he was on his feet.


Dark robes and pale skin, red eyes just like Harry had told her. But instead of the snake-like visage that her best friend had described, this man within her sight was all sharp angles—nose included—with dark, rich hair. He might have been beautiful if he didn't have murder in his eyes; if he weren't grinning about it.

The Dark wizard raised his wand and that was when Hermione realised that Harry's hands were empty.



She screamed the first spell that came to mind. "Confringo!"

The spells collided mid air and exploded, throwing all the occupants of the room backward. Her head hit something hard when she was thrown. She reached up, groaning in pain when she felt wet steel behind her that looked like the leg of a table, covered in what she assumed was her blood.

"My lord!" someone shouted from the other room.

". . . off me!" Voldemort shouted.

". . . doing here? . . . Pete?" another voice mumbled.

". . . tail, deal with these two . . . disappear until you're summoned or I'll . . ."

"Yes, my lord, of course my . . ."

"No, no, Pete, you son of a—"

"I'm sorry, James. Stupefy!"

James? Hermione blinked and forced herself to sit up, aware of a blurry shape coming toward her. She reached for her wand only to have her hand stepped on before she could grab it.

"Who're you?" the person above her asked, a tone of confusion.

Somewhere above them, Hermione could hear echoing screams.

"Not Harry! Please, not Harry! Please—I'll do anything!"

"Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!"

Hermione's eyes widened, the pieces clicking into place. Her vision cleared and she looked up at her own attacker with hateful scorn. Round face, watery eyes, and much less rat-like than the last time she'd seem him. "Wormtail," she snarled through clenched teeth and struck him with her free hand, fingernails raking down the side of his face, drawing blood.

The man jumped up straight, grasping at his face and fumbling nervously with the wand in his hand, eyes wide. "How do you . . . who are you? Never mind," he said, chewing on his bottom lip and aiming his wand, hands shaking. "Stupefy!" he said and missed.

Shocked by the not-at-all stunned girl in front of him, he turned and fled instead of trying for another shot, running out through the front door and Disapparating away.

Hermione clutched her wand and made for the stairs, ignoring the pounding in her head and the way that the room was spinning. She was two steps up the stairs before a loud, "Avada Kedavra!" echoed in the house that was immediately filled with a flood of green light.

"No!" Hermione screamed just as the roof began to collapse. A piece of rubble hit her in the head before her body was buried beneath more.

Before completely losing consciousness, she could faintly hear the cry of a baby.

Chapter Text

October 31st, 1981
Godric's Hollow - Potter Cottage


Her head was killing her.

It ached in ways that she couldn't have before imagined. She didn't even think about opening her eyes, worried that the light would make the pain worse. Where was she? It was hard to remember without thinking too hard—and thinking hurt.

"Hagrid, I respect you, I really, truly do, but I have no problem hexing the back of you if you even think about walking out that door with my godson," a harsh voice said.

Hagrid's here? Hermione thought, trying to place the voice.

"There's no need for tha'," a different—but still familiar—voice said. "I'm jus' followin' orders. Dumbledore told me ter bring Harry without delay."

"Well, you're going to fucking delay until I know what the hell happened here," the other man snapped angrily. "The house is demolished, the Fidelius Charm is broken, James is missing, and Lily—" he stopped talking and Hermione could hear the painful sounds of crying. She tried to open her eyes but they fought against her. "And . . . and I want to know who the fuck this is."

"Never seen her b'fore," the other man—Hagrid! Hermione realised—said.

"B-Bag . . ." Hermione moaned in pain.

"What'd she say?"

"Beaded . . ." She reached a weak arm out for her bag. She felt relief when the tips of her fingers ran over the familiar beads, attached to her hip thanks to a well-placed Sticking Charm. She clicked the fastener open and went to reach inside when she felt the tip of a wand pressed hard against her throat. She tried to swallow but couldn't. "I need . . . a Pain Potion," she said. "I can't think clearly."

Her eyes fully opened and she stared up into the angry face of . . . oh gods . . .


His hair was long and black like it had been when she'd last seen it, but shinier. His eyes were just as grey, only they were red-rimmed and swollen, clearly from crying; she could still see the tear tracks left behind against his dirt-stained face. She blinked and looked around. Everything was dirty and she was surrounded, partially covered, in rubble.

"Who the fuck are you?" he demanded, drawing her attention back to him.

There was a small cry and Hermione glanced over to where Hagrid stood, holding a small boy in blue pyjamas in his arms. She gasped at the sight, her heart clenching tightly as the baby turned his head toward her, teary-eyed as he sucked his thumb into his mouth and stared at her with those bright green eyes.

She choked on a sob. "Harry."

The wand at her throat pressed tighter and her attention was brought back to Sirius. "October 31st, 1981," she said, moving away from the wand so that she could take another breath in order to speak. "Godric's Hollow, Potter Cottage."

Sirius looked unimpressed by her stating simple facts. "And?"

"I don't know how I got here but . . . you can trust me."

The man clenched his jaw tightly. "I've heard that before."

"Do I look like a Death Eater?" she snapped at him as the pain in her head throbbed. Holding up her left arm, she let her sleeve fall back, revealing pale, unblemished skin.

Sirius was not convinced. "I've spent the last few years fighting everything from wizards to werewolves and let me tell you, sweetheart, Death Eaters are just at the top of a very fucked up food chain of evil. For all I know, you're a bottom dweller looking to kiss the robes of that prejudiced fucker that killed my—"

"What do you want me to say?!" she shouted. "I'm a member of the Order for Merlin's sake!"

She closed her eyes and tried to think of something, anything, that would help her as quickly as possible. Suddenly, a thought came to her and she blinked her eyes wide open and stared up at Sirius. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

Hagrid took a sudden defensive stance, cradling Harry in his arms and turning him away from her as though she were preparing to attack following what she figured he presumed was a threat.

Sirius, however, lowered his wand and stared at her. "What did you just say to me?" he quietly asked, eyes wide in nervous shock.

She didn't want to breathe a sigh of relief, not yet. "Padfoot," she called him and she watched as he tensed further. Slowly, she reached for her wand which she saw sticking out of a small pile of rubble. She kept her eyes on Sirius as she spoke. "Moony," she said and watched his reactions as she revealed his secrets. "Prongs." She stopped there when her hand reached her wand and she slowly moved, raising her other hand in surrender.

"I'm a friend," she said.

Sirius growled, no longer calm. "Prove it."

She thought for a long moment, remembering arriving here and seeing Voldemort and who she now understood was James Potter. She remembered trying to Disapparate away from Death Eaters in Godric's Hollow, this exact spot, only sixteen years in the future. Harry. Harry had been killed. She glanced down at her hands and inhaled sharply; his blood was still stained onto her skin. Harry lives, she thought. "I will make an Unbreakable Vow to you, Sirius Black. Will that make you trust me?"

His brows were furrowed and he remained silent.

She was impressed with how collected he appeared considering the events of that night. Somehow, she figured, her being there had stalled him in his retreat from Godric's Hollow and hunt for Peter Pettigrew. "I will do nothing in the Vow to cause you or anyone but myself harm, should I break it. Hagrid can make the Vow for us."

Sirius scoffed. "Hagrid doesn't have a wand," he said.

Hermione smirked. "He does in the pink umbrella he keeps in his coat pocket."

"Now how do ye know 'bout tha'?!" Hagrid asked, scandalised and embarrassed. When Sirius turned to look at him, however, he nodded. "Er . . . I mean . . . fine, I've got a wand, what of it?"

Sirius raised his wand, not wanting to show any weakness as he returned his gaze to her. "And what, exactly, will you Vow to do?"

Hermione swallowed. "To do whatever is necessary to protect the life of Harry James Potter, even if it means sacrificing myself in the process."

Sirius reached forward and took hold of her free hand, pressing his wand back against her throat. "Vow only goes one way," he said firmly. "I'm not swearing a damn thing to you."

She nodded in understanding and then glanced at Hagrid, waiting for the half-giant to move.

He adjusted Harry in his arms and reached for his pink umbrella, holding it over the clasped hands. "Right then," he said nervously. "Erm . . . I've never done one of these b'fore," he muttered quietly.

She smiled kindly at him. "That's all right, Hagrid. You're doing just fine," she said and her smile widened a touch when he looked momentarily happy over the praise. Hermione returned her gaze to Sirius's and she cleared her throat. "I, Hermione Jean Granger, vow to protect Harry James Potter to the best of my abilities. To do everything in my power to keep him safe from Dark Lords, Death Eaters, and traitors alike," she said angrily. "I will . . . I want him to be happy," she said and her eyes began to water, "and have a very long life." The last part, she realised, was unnecessary, but something told her that if anyone would understand her need to say it aloud, it would be Sirius.

A thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from the wand and wound its way around their hands like a red-hot wire. The flame burned bright, binding their hands like a rope before vanishing. She sighed with relief when she felt Sirius remove the wand from her neck.

"Hermione Granger?" he asked. "That's not a Wizarding name."

She rubbed her throat. "That's because I'm Muggle-born."

He seemed surprised and slowly put his wand away, tucked into the sleeve of his leather jacket. "What happened here tonight? How did you get in?"

She shook her head. "I don't know how I got in, but I know how Voldemort did." Hagrid winced. "Don't be afraid of a name, Hagrid. He's gone," she sighed. "For now at least."

Sirius raised his brows. "What do you mean, he's gone?"

She frowned. "I mean he's dead, but not forever." She turned to the boy in Hagrid's arms, her gaze lingering over the scar. "I want to make something very clear," she said softly. "Lily Potter defeated Voldemort. She saved her son, and Lily Potter defeated Voldemort and died in the process."

Sirius was grief stricken at the reminder that just upstairs . . . he blinked his eyes rapidly but nodded in understanding. "You got that Hagrid?" he asked. "Lily, not Harry." He turned back to Hermione. "What about that scar?" he asked.

Hermione shrugged. "Just a cut. The house is destroyed, windows shattered. Anything could have injured him. You didn't get to heal it in time, so it'll scar. But Harry did nothing. Lily Potter did." Hermione had already changed things by showing up when she had, that much was obvious, but if she was going to change things for the better, she was going to start with Harry, who would not be known as The Boy Who Lived if she had anything to say about it.

"Fine," Sirius agreed. "Now tell me what happened."

She sighed and ran a hand through her hair, wincing when her fingertips brushed against the large bump on her skull and came back bloody. "I need to start from the beginning. I don't even know where that is, though. I Apparated in, I'm not sure how. I didn't mean to, and I'll tell you where I came from in a moment because you'll need to sit down for that one, I believe. When I arrived, I was confused. I didn't mean to come here, so when I saw . . ." she stopped speaking and her eyes widened. "James Potter," she whispered.

Sirius was suddenly much more alert. "James? What happened to James?!"

"He . . . Voldemort tried to throw a Killing Curse but . . . but I stopped him and the spell created an explosion. I was thrown," she turned and looked at the table, steel leg still covered in her blood, "and I heard James yelling. He was . . ." she paused, remembering Wormtail. Seeing Sirius's intense stare, she decided not to reveal that bit of information just yet. "He was stunned," she said and then looked up, rushing into the other room. "He's in here!"

Sirius followed. "What?!"

Hermione began digging through the rubble of the broken house, pulling out large bricks and broken bits of plaster and wood. "Can't you smell him?" she asked.

If he was surprised that Hermione knew about his canine sense of smell, Sirius didn't show it. "All I smell is smoke and blood and . . ." he paused. "Shut up. Stop moving," he snapped, grabbing her arm and holding her still as he turned an ear toward the ground. "I can hear breathing," he said and then started moving, releasing Hermione's hand as he helped her to dig. "James!" he screamed. "James!"

Sirius and Hermione began to pull away at the rubble until a hand was revealed when Sirius moved a large piece away. "Oh gods, Prongs, I'm gonna get you outta this!" Sirius cried.

"Wait," Hermione said and then rose to her feet. "Stand back," she ordered and then aimed her wand at the pile, slowly and carefully levitating the mass off of the unconscious—but very much alive—body of James Potter. She threw the rubble to the side and fell to her knees, the magic taking all the strength she had left in her.

Sirius pulled James's body against his chest. "He's breathing!" he said. "James, c'mon, Prongs, you gotta open your eyes, mate. Harry needs you."

"Ye all right there, 'Ermione?" Hagrid asked, stepping forward as she began to sway.

"I . . . I should have taken that Pain Potion," she said before falling over and blacking out once again.

Chapter Text

November 10th, 1981
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

She was met with the smell of clean, sterile air and the lingering scent of potions—dittany to be specific. Slowly opening her eyes, Hermione winced at the brightness of the room, shocked at the difference in location from where she'd lost consciousness. There was no smell of smoke or blood, and no debris dust floating in the air, getting caught in her throat when she tried to breathe. The walls were white with little decoration other than landscape paintings that subtly moved.

She winced in pain when she tried to sit up and then noticed immediately she wasn't alone in the room when a man sitting to her right adjusted his position upon her waking. Blinking, Hermione stared at him, reminded by his face of where and more specifically when she was. "Remus," she whispered.

He stared at her anxiously, his posture stiff but the bags beneath his eyes betrayed his exhaustion. "You know me," he said, not a question.

She nodded slowly, her head aching. "How long . . . how long was I out?"

"Ten days," he replied. "I've been keeping guard."

She smiled at him, noticing the small scars on his face that almost distracted from his kind eyes. The last time she'd seen him was at Grimmauld Place. He'd fought with Harry because he'd wanted to come on the Horcrux hunt with them. Because Tonks was . . . Hermione swallowed nervously and looked down, perfectly aware that her appearance in the past had likely caused a butterfly effect of disastrous proportions. She hadn't made the jump consciously, of course, and was still confused as to how it happened; but she couldn't regret it. Harry had died in the future, in her arms, and now she was in a position to save him from everything. Unfortunately, she realised, that meant a lot of the future she knew would never come to pass. Remus and Tonks met while working with the Order during the Second Wizarding War. If Hermione had anything to say about it, there wouldn't be a Second Wizarding War. No return of the Order, and perhaps, no Remus and Tonks and certainly no baby that terrified the werewolf into running away from his wife.

No. This was a new world and one that she was determined to make better.

"Are you guarding me from others, or guarding others from me?" she asked.

He raised a brow. "Are you dangerous?"

She smiled. "No more than you."

He scoffed loudly. "That doesn't say much. Dumbledore told me to keep an eye on you. Even if he didn't, I would because Sirius appears to trust you."

She smiled softly at the words, feeling the magic of the Unbreakable Vow tingling around her wrist. Considering everything that had happened, earning Sirius Black's trust felt like a very significant thing.

"That's good," she said. "I need his trust. I'll need yours as well, Remus." Ten days she'd been in the hospital, and who knew what all had transpired since then. There wasn't time to dance around the things that needed to be done. "Can I trust you Remus?" she asked. "I very much need to be able to trust you here."

Raising a brow, Remus asked, "Where, exactly, is here? St. Mungo's?"

She shook her head. "1981."

"That's interestingly specific."

"You're interestingly not as suspicious as I thought you'd be," she said.

Remus shrugged. "I have my reasons."

"Care to share them with me?"

He leant forward, drawing a Cypress wand from his sleeve and waving it over her arm. Her eyes widened when a small, black, pawprint appeared on the webbing between her thumb and index finger. "What the . . . Sirius?" she asked. "Sirius . . . marked me?"

Remus nodded. "Hagrid said that you fell unconscious. Sirius had . . . things to take care of," he said in a tone that Hermione very much disliked, "and he wanted to make sure that James and I knew you could be trusted in case . . . well, in case he didn't come back, I suppose. He left a note, marked it with the same symbol. He used to do the same thing in his letters. It means that there's something hidden."

She stared at the mark, annoyed that Sirius Black had apparently decided to leave a permanent, magical post-it note attached to her skin. "What did the letter say?"

"The original or the hidden message?"


Remus removed a small bit of parchment and handed it to her.


Hope your trip up north was decent and that you're in good health. We've had a bit of a shit time down here, obviously. Do what you can to help Prongs, he's going to need it. I've some errands to run. I left something very important with a friend and it seems he gave it to someone else. Need to see if I can track him down to hear his tale.

In the meantime will you water my little garden for me? Don't want to find out that the flowers have been whinging in my absence. Oh, and check up on my new friend. I like her very much. Might even consider marrying the bird. Harry would approve, I think.


She read over the letter and rolled her eyes. "He's not very subtle, is he?"

Remus blinked. "You understand the message, I take it?"

"Left something important with a friend and he gave it to someone else. Sirius convinced James and Lily Potter to make Peter Pettigrew their Secret-Keeper. Peter gave away their location to Voldemort," she said matter of factly. "He's tracking him down."

"How did you know it was Peter?" Remus curiously asked.

Hermione scoffed. "Aside from the fact that I already knew," she said. "Sirius says it right here. He wants to hear his 'tale'. He means Wormtail. I can assume that Dumbledore took Harry to Petunia Dursley?"

Remus's eyes widened. "How the hell did—"

"Water his little garden, whinging flowers. The Dursleys live in Little Whinging."

The werewolf nodded, impressed. "You likely already know the rest then. Sirius would never get married, so I assumed that meant that he'd made a Vow to or with you, something about Harry?"

Hermione nodded. "I made an Unbreakable Vow to Sirius. To protect Harry Potter. But I need Sirius and you in order to do so. Where is he?" When he looked away from her, she took a sharp breath. "Remus, where's Sirius?"

He winced. "Azkaban."

She groaned and fell back onto the pillow. "That idiot! We have to—" she began to say as she sat up, but suddenly felt dizzy enough that she lost her balance and braced herself against the mattress. "We have to get him out."

Remus shook his head. "There's no getting him out. He was sent there without a trial."

She frowned. "No, he . . . he wasn't the Secret-Keeper," she insisted.

His eyes widened a touch. "I know. Peter . . . Peter was."

She looked up in shock. "Was?"

He nodded. "You're right. Sirius went after him and . . . he's dead. But . . . so are twelve Muggles and the Ministry isn't budging on the fact that Sirius killed—"

"He didn't," she interrupted. "Pettigrew killed them."

He stared at her for a long time in silence, observing her curiously. "Are you really . . ." he tried to ask but then choked a bit on the words. "Was it a Time-Turner?" he asked. "How far?"

She shook her head. "A very long time," she answered. "But, no, it wasn't a Time-Turner. I don't know how I got here. I just . . . showed up. But we need to fix this. I know things that can fix this. Remus, I need your help. I will save your friend, I swear it." She sighed in frustration. Of course Sirius would be the thorn in her side. "But first, I have a Vow to keep," she said while looking down at her wrist. "Why isn't Harry with his father?"

He hesitated. "James is here in the hospital as well. When the house . . . he broke his back and it's taken a long while for them to regrow the bones properly. With Sirius in Azkaban and well . . . I'm hardly a fit guardian," he said, his expression one of anger. "Dumbledore took Harry to Lily's sister."

She reached for her pillow and placed it over her face, screaming into it in frustration. When she removed it, she looked up to see Remus staring at her nervously as though he fully expected her to have a breakdown right there in front of him. "I'll tell you everything I can if you tell me everything that's happened in the last ten days."

He glanced down at the black paw print mark on her hand and then reluctantly nodded his head.

She summarised the best that she could and he sat there, his hands held together, cupping his chin the same way he did during her third year when he was her professor and would listen to students giving presentations, offering them his complete attention. When she was finally done, he sat back and worried his bottom lip between his teeth in contemplation.

"It sounds like it could be Death Magic," he said softly, his brows furrowed in thought.

She blinked in annoyance, never enjoying when someone knew something that she didn't. "What's Death Magic?" she asked.

He looked up at her in mild surprise. "You're a Muggle-born?" When she nodded, he smiled. "Death Magic isn't taught in school," he said and watched as she looked a bit appeased by the information. "Old traditions passed down in families, really. I've never heard of it happening to someone so young. Generally, when the head of a family, usually the patriarch or matriarch, is on their deathbed, the eldest living relative or heir is summoned to their side to hold their hand as they pass into the next world. When they die, they transfer the last bit of their magic. Since it's usually at such an old age, there's very little left. Death Magic is fleeting and is usually used to finalise a last request or . . . in some rare cases, inflict injury should the witch or wizard have been murdered. Generally, it's whatever is on the mind of the receiver at the time of passing."

Hermione took in the information, eyes wide. "Harry gave me his magic?" she asked, horrified.

Remus frowned. "If what you say is true and Harry was the last of his family, he would have had a great deal of magic to pass on, especially at such a young age. Enough magic that, theoretically could—"

"Oh Merlin . . ." she gasped. "He gave me the last of his magic and I . . . when he died, I just remember thinking and wishing that I could have stopped it. That I . . . I wanted Harry to be alive and happy and . . . and Voldemort to be dead."

Remus frowned. "Well, it seems like the Death Magic granted your wish."

She buried her face in her hands. "Yes, but at what cost? I should have known about this. I should have known about Death Magic so I could have been more specific . . . so I could have saved Harry's mum."

Remus winced, reminded of the death of his friend. "She . . ." he said hoarsely. "She died a hero, protecting her son."

Sniffing, Hermione wiped at her eyes and smiled sadly at Remus. "I'm so sorry, Remus. I know Lily Potter was your friend."

He nodded his head in thanks and then sighed. "I'm more worried about James. He . . . he's a mess."

"What are people saying?" she asked. "About what happened; about Harry."

He shook his head. "Nothing much about Harry. Papers didn't even mention him by name. Lily's been proclaimed a hero, the witch who destroyed the Dark Lord. They've already built a statue of her in Godric's Hollow. But, other than to say she left behind a husband and child, they haven't said much about Harry or James," he said.

She breathed a sigh of relief. "Hagrid and Sirius listened to me. Now we need to make a list. First, we need to get Sirius out of prison and Harry away from the Dursleys," she insisted. "I suppose I'll need to meet with Dumbledore, that will be strange," she mumbled recalling the last time she'd seen her former headmaster, in Hagrid's arms, being set down upon an altar that would magically form itself into a tomb. Here, however, he was alive and well. "Dumbledore can help free Sirius. The information I have should be enough evidence that he wasn't the one who killed those Muggles, Pettigrew did."

Remus nodded, summoning a Patronus that took the form of a wolf. "Get Dumbledore. She's awake and we have information," he said to the spectral creature that vanished through the wall. He ran his hands down his face and sighed.

Hermione frowned. "I'm sorry about Peter."

"You're sure he's alive? And that he was . . .?"

She looked down. "I'm sure. I've seen him in the future, heard him confess everything. He betrayed them, he killed those Muggles and faked his own death to frame Sirius. We won't let him rot in that hell hole, Remus. I swear it."

He looked up at her with pleading eyes. "And everything else?"

"I Vowed to keep Harry safe and happy," she said. "Making sure Voldemort doesn't return is a part of that. His father survived. Last time he had no one. I've already changed everything." She felt like the unknown was trying to swallow her whole, reminded that the world she left behind wasn't just one where Harry had died, but one where Ron was missing, the Order scattered, the Ministry corrupted, and her parents . . . "I . . . I don't know what's going to happen to me," she said. "Do I even still exist in this time? The other me, I mean."

"Indeed you do, Miss Granger."

Her eyes widened and she looked up at the door, shocked at the sight of Albus Dumbledore standing before her with a smile on his face and a familiar twinkle in his eyes.

Chapter Text

November 10th, 1981
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

The old wizard, her formerly dead headmaster, observed her carefully with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes that might not have unnerved her had he not been previously dead. Harry had worshipped the man and even Hermione had based a lot of her ideas and theories on the fact that Albus Dumbledore was a baseline for trust and goodness. It was why she had defended Snape for so many years, and look how well that turned out.

As Dumbledore placed a hand on Remus's shoulder, offering silent thanks for standing guard despite his obvious exhaustion, Hermione remembered that when she was in Bathilda Bagshot's house, she'd picked up a copy of Albus Dumbledore's biography. Written by Rita Skeeter, there was likely to be a plethora of lies inside, but Hermione couldn't help but wonder if there were any truth within the pages and, if so, when would she have a chance to read it.

"I must say, Miss Granger, I was a bit surprised when I returned to Hogwarts, that the Book of Records was glowing. It seemed, you see, there was an interesting error of sorts. As of ten days ago, there were two Hermione Grangers in the book. One, who is not yet even of age to attend school, and the other who is evidently a missing seventh year."

She swallowed hard and then cleared her throat. "Well, that answers the question as to how you know . . . or I supposed guessed my name," she said, her eye contact wavering a bit. Albus Dumbledore was the world's greatest Legilimens and Hermione wasn't entirely certain how much of the future she wanted the man to know. "I was . . . I'm sorry, sir, it's . . . a bit of a shock to see you."

Dumbledore nodded and pulled up a chair to the edge of her bed, taking a seat. "My suspicions are confirmed then? You are from the future?" he asked and she simply nodded. "According to the book, I would guess 1997? 1998?"

"December 25th, 1997."

"A belated, or perhaps early, Happy Christmas, my dear."

Hermione forced down the sob that was threatening to choke her. She looked at a bag in the corner where her belongings had been set aside while the Healers worked on her. Her clothes, beaded bag, and worn trainers. The dirt and muck had been scrubbed from her skin but she could still see the stained blood there on her clothes. Harry's blood. "It wasn't very happy, sir. Harry Potter died."

Remus reacted immediately, eyes wide and body stiff. He turned and regarded Dumbledore with an expression of complete and utter panic.

Dumbledore reached out and placed a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. "I can assure you, Miss Granger," he said, looking at Remus instead of Hermione as he spoke, "Harry Potter is alive and well."

"He won't always be," she said, speaking to Remus as well when she noticed him relax at the headmaster's words. "Harry died in my arms when . . . Death Eaters attacked and Voldemort—"

Dumbledore frowned. "Ah, so he's not as gone as we'd all hoped."

"No, sir. He'll return."

There was a long moment of silence and Hermione could only speculate what the men were thinking about. How to protect Harry, how to prevent another war, how they'd thought it was all over and in a matter of moments their worries had come rushing back. "Can I trust that you will aid us in preventing such an atrocity from happening?" Dumbledore said, finally breaking the silence.

She blinked in momentary confusion. "Forgive me, sir, but I would have thought that you would have tried to convince me not to alter the timeline. It's dangerous magic."

He nodded in agreement. "Magic that, according to Mister Lupin, you had no control over. Apologies, my dear boy, I've always been a curious person and couldn't help but listen to your conversation. I do hope you'll forgive me."

Remus gave the man a small smile. "Of course. Sir, you believe her?"

"I do, indeed."

"Then that means she's telling the truth about Sirius and Peter," Remus said, sitting forward on the edge of his chair, looking as though he were ready to jump to his feet and rush out the door if given the order to do so. "We have to save Sirius and . . . I can't let Peter just get away with—"

Dumbledore raised a hand, silently requesting that Remus pause in his movement. "Yes, we shall not allow young Mister Black to remain in Azkaban a second longer than we can help it. I will send word to Bartemius Crouch," he said and Hermione reacted to the name by gasping. "If the papers are to be believed, he is in charge of Sirius's case."

Hermione scoffed loudly, drawing the attention of both wizards. When Remus's gaze lingered on her, she cleared her throat. "How many Death Eaters have been captured? And which ones?"

"Should I, instead, be asking you which ones should have been captured?" Dumbledore questioned.

"Igor Karkaroff," she began, holding up her fingers and actually counting off, "Bellatrix Lestrange and her husband, his brother as well. Lucius Malfoy, but he'll claim he was Imperiused. Someone called Rookwood . . . I have a list of all known Death Eaters," she said, looking at the bag containing her things. "I'm not certain off the top of my head which were arrested and imprisoned and who escaped. But . . . you'll want to speak to Cornelius Fudge, not Bartemius Crouch."

Dumbledore raised a brow. "And the reason, my dear?'

"Because Barty Crouch Jr. is a Death Eater," she said, trying to forget the look of horror on Harry's face when he'd told her and Ron everything that had happened with the Polyjuiced Alastor Moody. She wondered if keeping Barty Crouch Jr. locked away in Azkaban would be enough. He was instrumental in resurrecting Voldemort and if he never escaped then perhaps . . . no . . . someone else would figure it out. The Horcruxes needed to be destroyed. That was the only way to end it. "He, along with the Lestranges were arrested and imprisoned for . . . oh gods . . ." she gasped, "the Longbottoms!"

"Alice and Frank?" Remus asked.

"Are they . . . where are they?" she asked.

"Safe at home, I would assume," Remus replied, his eyes filled with apprehension. "Should they not be?"

She shook her head. "The Lestranges and Barty Crouch Jr. tortured them into . . . they never recovered. They need to be kept safe!" she said and turned to Dumbledore with pleading eyes. "Sir, they—"

"They are safe, Miss Granger," he assured her. "The Lestrange brothers were captured several days ago. Apparently, the pair had been caught in a trap set inside the home of Frank and Alice Longbottom."

"Where are they?" she asked, thinking of the look on Neville's face when he stood with his grandmother in the Janus Thickey ward, visiting his parents on Christmas.

"Here," Remus said. "Or well . . . they were. Alice is Harry's godmother. When . . ." he paused and took a breath, "when Lily died and Sirius wasn't around, she was next on the list of people to contact. I still don't understand why Harry's not with them," he said, looking at Dumbledore pointedly.

"I have my reason, Remus," Dumbledore replied. "It will not matter soon enough. Harry will be returned to his father once James has recovered."

"What about Bellatrix and Crouch?" Hermione asked.

"Bellatrix Lestrange's whereabouts are currently unknown," Dumbledore said. "The last I heard, Aurors had traced her to Gringotts where her vault had been emptied, but she was nowhere to be found. I was unaware of young Mister Crouch's affiliations. I will send word to the Ministry and hold a meeting with Misters Fudge and Crouch and do what I can to secure the capture of previously unknown Death Eaters, as well as the freedom of Sirius Black."

She sat up straight. "I would like to help, sir. I think I might know where Peter Pettigrew is."

"I'm coming," Remus said, standing.

Dumbledore frowned. "Remus, are you well enough? You've surely not slept in—"

Remus brushed off his concerns and rubbed his eyes. "I'm fine . . . just tired is all."

Hermione moved her legs to the side of the bed, indicating her desire to leave as well. "Before we . . . I'd like to see Mister Potter."

Remus raised a brow. "Mister Potter? Oh, you mean James," he said and then nodded, looking up at Dumbledore. "It's fine. I'll take her."

Chapter Text

November 10th, 1981
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Hermione was returned her belongings and immediately used her wand to cleanse her clothes so she could dress. Remus stared at the spots on her clothing where the blood used to be, likely still able to smell it.

She offered him a kind smile. "He'll be safe," she said. "I'll make certain of it." Then she looked down at the place where Sirius had grasped her hand to make the Unbreakable Vow, her promise to protect Harry. Instead of any visible reminder of the Vow, there was the magical tattoo of a paw print. She grumbled again at the sight of it and Remus chuckled.

"You'll get used to him," he said.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "He was trouble enough in his thirties, I can't imagine reining him in at this age."

Together they approached the door and Remus silently indicated that she should wait for a moment. The door was opened and Hermione lingered just inside while Remus stepped up to the bed.

"Prongs? Hey mate, wake up."

"I'm awake," James croaked, his voice raw.

James Potter, Hermione noted, looked a great deal like his son, but not as much as she had been led to believe the way that people from her time spoke of the man. James's face with Lily's eyes. That's what everyone always told Harry. But this man was certainly not her best friend. The hair, of course, was a dead giveaway; messy like Harry's had always been. However, instead of flat in some places and sticking up in others, James's hair looked like it had a slight curl to it. His jaw was square like Harry's, but the angle of his nose and brow were sharper, more defined. His lips were fuller and his eyes . . . not green. Definitely not green.

James groaned as he adjusted himself in the bed. "Where's Sirius?"

Remus frowned. "Dumbledore's tracking him down. I'll explain everything when I can. You just . . . you just rest so you can get better."

"You can't explain now, Moony? I woke up in St. Mungo's and my best friend is missing and my wife is . . ." he stopped talking and reached for the glass of water on his bedside table, drinking the whole thing down. "The world is shit," he sobbed.

Remus nodded in agreement. "How's the pain?"

"Fuck the pain, I want Lily . . . it wasn't supposed to be like this . . . I tried to . . . he was supposed to kill me so Lily and Harry could get away. Why wasn't it me?"

Remus frowned and wrapped his arms around James, whispering words of comfort that Hermione couldn't hear. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to forget the memory of Harry bleeding out in her arms, telling her that he loved her and that she shouldn't give up. That she shouldn't stop fighting. She clung to those words like a beacon in the night and hoped that somehow, Remus was offering James Potter something similar.

James nodded and looked away from his friend. Hermione noted that the man's skin was pale, making the dark circles beneath his eyes that much more pronounced. Bottles by his bed were familiar. Dreamless Sleep. She watched as he ran his thumb across the wedding band on his finger and her heart ached at the sight. "How's Harry?" James asked.

Remus sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Dumbledore says he's just fine. He'll be back in your arms before you know it. I brought . . . the girl. Her name's Hermione," he said and Hermione took a careful step forward. "She confirmed everything in Sirius's letter. We were right about the Unbreakable Vow."

"Hermione . . . Hermione what?"

"Granger," she said, stepping into the light.

James stared at her for a long moment before speaking again. "That's not a Wizarding name."

"I'm Muggle-born."

He looked down and sighed. "Why . . . how . . ."

"You have a lot of questions, I know," Hermione said, stepping closer to the bed, stopping just at Remus's side. "And I swear I'll answer them all. But maybe . . . maybe not all of them just now. You should rest and recover. Your son needs you."

He nodded but then looked up, eyes wet. "Why did you save me?"

She frowned. "Because I thought you were someone I knew," she said softly. "You don't . . . people always said he looked just like you but I . . . I mean I see it, I do. But . . . you're still so very different. I was worried you'd look so much like him that I . . . I'm sorry," she said, feeling tears prick at the corners of her eyes. "I'm so sorry."

"Harry," James said in understanding. "How?"

Hermione looked up, finding it difficult to stare into the man's eyes. They weren't green and she wanted them to be green. Harry's eyes. They said he'd always had Lily's eyes. She looked down at James's wedding band and cringed. "I wanted to . . . I would have tried to save umm . . . your . . . your . . ."

James appeared to see her struggle and threw her a lifeline. "I owe you a Life Debt, Miss Granger," he said firmly.

She looked up and shook her head. "No, you don't. You don't owe me anything."

"I do. It's . . . I take debts very seriously," he told her. "You saved my life. I imagine you're saving a lot of lives?"

She stared at him for a long moment and then finally nodded. "I'm going to try."

"How can I repay it?" he asked.

She glanced away and tried to think of a way to ignore the question, or at least postpone her answer when suddenly, something she wanted more than anything came to her mind. "I . . . I would very much like to remain involved in . . . I would like to be around to be able to protect Harry. Make sure he's happy. Keep him . . . keep him safe."

James raised a brow. "What Vow did you make with Sirius?"

"To protect Harry Potter with my life."

He frowned. "Why would you do that?"

She smiled sadly. "Because Harry Potter is . . . was . . . my best friend."

Hermione remained with Remus while Dumbledore made arrangements to visit the Ministry. They left James to rest and Hermione barely spoke two words once the door was closed behind them. Eventually, the awkward silence was enough for Remus. "Were umm . . . you and Harry . . .?"

Hermione shook her head. "No. Not that the rest of the Wizarding world would have believed either of us," she said with a small smile. "We were the subject of quite the drawn up love affair during our fourth year at Hogwarts. It was all very dramatic."

Remus smirked. "It's just that . . . I don't mean to pry but—"

"Harry was everything to me," she said, looking up at him. "He had been my best friend since I was eleven. He was . . . he was family. If he was more . . . I imagine I'd look more like . . ." she said and stopped as her eyes lingered on James's closed door. "It's one thing to lose a friend but to lose . . . I can't imagine what he's going through. I . . . I would have saved her," she whispered. "If I had figured out where I was earlier . . . if I hadn't let myself get hit, maybe I could have—"

"Don't do that," Remus said. "It's not going to help anyone. I imagine we'll all be blaming ourselves for a very long time, but James and Sirius most of all . . . and frankly, if you're going to be around because of Harry . . . it would be nice having a little backup when it comes to handling James and Sirius."

She slowly nodded. "I didn't think he'd actually go for it."

"James takes life debts seriously. He takes friendship seriously. Knowing that you'd give your life for his son . . . just because you were friends? That means more to him than anything right now, I'd imagine," he said. "Besides, we're all we've got now. James's parents died a few years back, same with Lily's . . . and Sirius isn't exactly close with his relatives."

Hermione snorted. "Something of an exaggeration."

Remus chuckled. "You've been introduced?"

Hermione scoffed. "Walburga Black is dead in my time. Her portrait still hangs inside Number Twelve and she's not too shy about voicing her opinions regarding Muggle-borns," she said.

Remus blinked. "You've been inside Sirius's old house?"

She nodded. "It's . . . or well, used to be headquarters for the Order. Sirius gave it to Professor Dumbledore to use."

Remus grinned at the news but then yawned.

"Are you sure you're up for this?" she asked.

He nodded. "If I go to sleep now, I won't wake up for days. I need to make sure that Sirius and . . . and Peter are dealt with."

Chapter Text

November 10th, 1981
Ministry of Magic

Hermione stayed close to Remus as they walked through the Ministry. She recognised a few things here and there but hadn't gotten a good look at the area when she'd been running away from Death Eaters and dementors during her recent escape after stealing from Dolores Umbridge. Now there was a name she planned on paying attention to in this time.

The three approached a greeter to check in and Dumbledore smiled pleasantly at the man.

"Albus. What brings you to the Ministry of Magic?"

"Just a bit of a catch up with an old acquaintance," Dumbledore replied. "I have a meeting with Cornelius Fudge."

The man looked over Dumbledore's shoulder and eyed both Remus and Hermione. "And guests?" he asked, his eyes narrowing at Remus. "You, I remember you. I knew your father. Shame what happened to him. Couldn't have happened to a nicer fellow, rotten luck."

Remus rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, provoking werewolves does have a habit of bringing bad luck on one's person," he said bitterly.

The man scowled and looked at Dumbledore. "Has he been registered?"

Hermione, overcome with anger, spat, "He has a name, and he's standing right in front of you."

The greeter turned his attention on her. "And who're you then?" he asked suspiciously.

"My cousin," Remus said quickly. "Hermione Howell. She's a Muggle-born."

The man immediately looked away from Hermione and back down to the visitors passes in front of him. "Oh yeah, I forgot Lyall married himself a Muggle. Right then, you're all good to go Dumbledore," he said, handing over the passes. "Make sure that werewolf of yours is registered."

Remus linked his arm with Hermione in order to pull her quickly away from the greeter, following after Dumbledore who headed for the lift. Once inside, Remus let her go and Hermione bristled. "Is that a joke? They spoke to you like your Dumbledore's . . . pet! I knew that werewolf rights were terrible in my time but my gods . . . the nerve of some people who think that just because—"

"You . . . you knew about me?" Remus asked, eyes wide.

Hermione blinked. "What? Oh, of course," she said and waved him off. "Don't worry about it, though, Remus, I don't think any differently of you. How dare that man!"

Dumbledore smiled affectionately at her, chuckling when he had to reach over and physically shut Remus's open jaw. "Unfortunately, my dear, that is currently how the Wizarding world treats people afflicted with lycanthropy."

"Well, I'll put a stop to that," she insisted, arms folded across her chest. "Once . . . once I do everything else, I suppose," she said with a sigh. "Oh, why did you tell that man that I was your cousin?"

Remus shrugged, still a bit gobsmacked by her reaction to his condition. "You were drawing attention to yourself by sticking up for a werewolf. I figured if I made you related to me, and on my Muggle mother's side no less, you'd disappear into the background. No one cares about a Muggle-born related to a werewolf. You wouldn't be repulsive like me, but certainly not the kind of person people would want to be seen talking to inside the Ministry of Magic. Sorry about that," he frowned. "I should have asked."

"Asked?" Hermione grinned up at him. "Remus, that's brilliant! You've practically given me an Invisibility Cloak!" she said and then chuckled when his eyes widened further. "Oh, don't look at me like that. Harry's my best friend, remember? You'd be surprised about the kind of things I know. I wish I'd kept the Cloak in my bag, but Harry always like to have it . . ." she remembered the pouch Harry carried all of his treasured belongings in. The last time she'd seen it was when he'd . . . "Sorry," she said with a frown. "Just . . . it's hard to remember that he's alive and perfectly fine right now."

Remus nodded and patted her on the shoulder. "Will we need the Cloak? We should have asked James and gone back to Godric's Hollow to look for it."

Hermione turned her gaze to Dumbledore. "No point in that," she said. "It's not there."

The Burrow - Weasley Residence

Hermione clung to Remus's arm as they approached the Burrow. After a short visit to the Ministry and then a trip to Diagon Alley to pick up a few essential items, Hermione Side-Alonged Remus to the outskirts of the Weasley home while Dumbledore brought along Cornelius Fudge.

Fudge, Hermione noticed, had not changed much in the years between the wars. Just as self-righteous and highly opinionated as ever, and just as eager to keep his hands clean unless it greatly benefited himself. It hadn't taken long for Dumbledore to convince the man to run Crouch through the dirt for imprisoning an innocent man while his own son was a Death Eater.

"You better not be leading me into something foolish, Dumbledore!" Fudge said as they approached the door. "The kind of stir this could cause if it blows up in our faces . . . in your face! I won't be apart of it if it all goes south, you know."

Dumbledore just smiled. "All will be well, Cornelius," he assured the man before knocking on the door.

A tall, lanky redhead opened it and Hermione almost laughed in relief at the sight of a young Arthur Weasley. He still had most of his hair, which was untidy the same way Ron's had always been, though Arthur looked a great deal more like Percy—a smiling, happy Percy. "Albus Dumbledore, as I live and breathe!" he said excitedly, reaching out to shake Dumbledore's hand. "Good to see you, Headmaster."

"I've not been your headmaster for quite some time, Arthur Weasley." Dumbledore smiled brightly. "It is good to see an old student, nonetheless. I was hoping we could have a word."

"Of course, of course, come on in," Arthur insisted, opening the door for everyone. "I'd call Molly down to say hello, but she's having a bit of a time getting our youngest boy on a nap schedule. Fussy little thing. Still, he's better than the twins."

Hermione closed the door behind them and wiped away a few wayward tears before she turned to take a seat, setting the small carrier she'd been holding down on the floor.

"Allow me to introduce my companions," Dumbledore said. "This is Cornelius Fudge—"

"Oh yeah, I've seen you around work from time to time," Arthur said and shook Fudge's hand. "Delighted to meet you."

"And young Mister Remus Lupin, and his cousin Miss Hermione Howell."

"Remus, Hermione." Arthur smiled to them both and watched with curiosity as Hermione reached into the carrier, removing a small orange ball of fur. "Er . . . that's a umm . . . a lovely kitten, Miss."

Hermione beamed. "Isn't he?" she said, looking down at the kitten in her hands who hadn't stopped growling since she'd spotted him inside the Magical Menagerie. "Take him!" the shop owner had insisted. "I've had to separate him from the rest of the litter 'cause the little blighter keeps bitin' his brothers and sisters." Hermione snuggled the little beast immediately and he returned the affection, though he'd hissed at both Albus and Fudge when they looked at him longer than a moment. "He's half kneazle," Hermione told Arthur, doing her best not to stare at the man as she had done when first seeing Sirius, Hagrid, Remus, and Dumbledore. "And he's actually why we've come today Mister Weasley."

"Oh, call me Arthur, please."

She hesitated but then cleared her throat. "All right . . . umm . . . Arthur. May we ask, has your family recently obtained any new familiars?"

Arthur's eyes widened. "Wow. Funny you should say. Got one just last week," he said with a smile. "My boy Charlie found the little thing in Diagon Alley. I told him it was likely he escaped from the Magical Menagerie, but when we went to the store to return him, they said none of their rats had gone missing." At the word "rat", Remus stiffened. "Didn't want the poor thing to get stomped on or starve, so we brought it home. Charlie's always collecting pets, but he gave this one to his brother."

Hermione smiled tightly. "Mister . . . Arthur, where are your son and this rat now?"

"Outside, likely. Why? Is it yours? Did you lose it?"

Remus growled through clenched teeth. "You could say that."

"Could you call your son in for us, Arthur?" Dumbledore asked.

Arthur nodded, stepping outside and shouting into the fields for the boys to come in. "Bill! Come on in and bring your brothers! We've got company!"

Remus leant in and whispered to Hermione, "If Peter sees me here, he could run for it."

"That's what my sweet little Crooksie is for, isn't it?" she replied, kissing the smush-faced cat on the muzzle, ignoring when it growled. "He does that sometimes," she told Remus. "But I know that he loves me." She looked out the nearby window to see three boys running for the house.

"I'm very sorry about this Arthur," Dumbledore said, "but we'll need to confiscate your rat. We have, however, brought a proper replacement for your son." He reached into his robes and removed a small carrier that had been hidden away, a dark brown large rat rested inside, nibbling on a strawberry.

Arthur frowned. "Oh, you didn't need to go doing that. If he's yours, then it's not right for us to keep him, now is it?"

"Arthur," Hermione said, "that . . . thing isn't a rat. Not really. He's a fugitive in Animagus form. We've come to collect him."

Arthur's eyes widened and he braced himself against a wall. "Fugitive? Is he . . . affiliated with You-Know-Who?"

Remus nodded. "Yes, and he's directly responsible for the death of Lily Potter."

Arthur gasped. "Mother of Merlin . . . that poor woman. And her husband and boy . . . you . . . your friends with them?" he asked and both Remus and Hermione nodded. "I'm so sorry for your loss," he said. "Brave woman, that Lily Potter. Is it . . . is it true? She defeated him then?" he asked and Remus looked down, wiping at his eyes. "She's a hero. My wife's brothers, they were friends with her," Arthur said quietly, briefly glancing to the staircase, likely looking out for Molly who would have still been in mourning.

"I knew Fabian and Gideon," Remus said. "They were good men."

"Right they were. They . . . Well, they had nothing but good things to say about Lily Potter," Arthur said with a small, sad smile. "Brave indeed. Then again, most Gryffindor witches are, aren't they? What was her boy's name?"

"Harry," Remus said.

Arthur smiled. "Harry. You tell your friend that if he has any problems at all, he'll be welcome amongst Weasleys. I can't imagine what I'd do without my Molly," he said and looked down as the thought passed through his mind. "Times like that I'd hope for the kindness of strangers. Ah, here come the boys."

Hermione turned to see two young boys step through the door, covered head to toe in dirt and grass stains. The third brother, remarkably cleaner, stepped through carrying something small and furry in his hands.

"Scabbers!" Percy shouted when the rat jumped down from his hands and made a beeline for the front door only to have it shut in his face when Dumbledore flicked his fingers.

Remus was growling and so was the kneazle in Hermione's hands. She narrowed her eyes as the rat darted into the next room, looking for an escape. "Get the Animagus, Crookshanks," she whispered. "Catch him and bring him to me."

Chapter Text

November 10th, 1981
The Burrow - Weasley Residence

Hermione wondered, and not for the first time in her life, if there wasn't something a little wrong with her. She wasn't certain what she should have felt when the tiny Crookshanks pounced on the rat, claws extended and jaws clamped around its neck, dragging it obediently back to her, but it wasn't justice. She thought of Harry, dying in her arms in the exploded remains of the Potter Cottage. She thought of Sirius in Azkaban, of Remus alone for twenty years, Lily's screams—because Hermione knew what they sounded like now, pleading for Harry's life—and she thought of James. James Potter who was in a hospital, healing from an injury caused by this rat, mourning his dead wife and worrying over his nearly orphaned son, and grieving a lifelong friendship that Peter Pettigrew had thrown in his face.

Hermione felt a strange sickening joy inside of her when she watched Peter Pettigrew transform back into his human form to escape Crookshanks's tightening jaw. Fudge had screamed a list of obscenities that had Bill and Charlie wide-eyed with admiration. Dumbledore put Peter immediately in a Body Bind and offered an apologetic glance to Arthur as Percy cried into his robes.

Before leaving the Burrow—Crookshanks staying behind to keep watch for the Weasley family, much to Charlie's delight—Hermione had apologised and asked after the entire Weasley family, promising to pass along the offer of friendship to James.

"I've a boy the same age," Arthur told her.

She smiled, said, "Maybe they'll be good friends," and did her best not to cry as she handed over the perfectly normal rat to Percy, who cuddled it to his chest after giving it a thorough look over, checking for human traits.

"I have to alert the Minister!" Fudge shouted. "And the Head of the . . . Oh, Bartemius Crouch . . . you absolute dunderhead! Imprisoning an innocent man, and . . . Sirius Black! Gods, if he hadn't been disowned by his family, the Ministry would have been . . . we could have been ruined, the lot of us!" He paced back and forth along the outskirts of the Burrow, waiting as Dumbledore levitated Peter's petrified body toward them.

Remus hadn't said a word since Peter showed his face but Hermione could tell he had a few reserved.

"As it so happens," Dumbledore said with a smile. "I have a Portkey to Azkaban. Had one made, just in case. If you'd like us to take care of Mister Pettigrew's delivery, you may go and take care of the paperwork and the press, Cornelius. I believe a warrant needs to also be put out for the young Mister Crouch."

"Too right!" Fudge nodded. "And erm . . . you certain you don't want credit for this?" he asked curiously.

Hermione nodded her head immediately. "We're certain," she said. "Anonymous sources, that's all we are."

Fudge Disapparated and Hermione took Remus's hand, placing it on the Portkey in Dumbledore's fingers, an old door knocker.

Azkaban Prison

When they arrived outside of the old prison in the North Sea, Hermione conjured her Patronus on instinct to keep the dementors at bay. Dumbledore left Peter in Remus's care—something Hermione thought was a bit vengeful for the old wizard—while he went to summon an Auror, and Hermione stepped back to allow the old friends a moment alone.

She knew that Remus had released the Petrification Charm because she could see Peter's body shaking with terror as he sobbed a plethora of apologies that were nearly word for word what Hermione recalled hearing in the Shrieking Shack during her third year.

"Please, Remus . . . Sirius tried to kill me . . . what could I have done? The Dark Lord . . . you

have no idea . . . he has weapons you can't imagine."

Remus looked perfectly calm and reserved as he spoke, whispering in Peter's ear.

She remembered seeing Professor Lupin in the Shrieking Shack next to a dishevelled Sirius Black and a pleading Peter Pettigrew. It wasn't hard to recall how calm and collected Remus had been when he informed Peter, "You should have realised if Voldemort didn't kill you, we would." Werewolf or not, Hermione realised that Remus Lupin could be just as scary as a raving mad Sirius Black.

She didn't know what Remus was saying to Peter now, but Pettigrew had urinated, soaking his trousers, and cried hysterically right up to the point that the Aurors showed up and pulled him forcefully out of Remus's grip—fingers biting into the fading Dark Mark—ignoring the way he screamed as they dragged him through the doors.

"You've both done very well," Dumbledore said with a smile as he rejoined Hermione and a panting Remus. "I have things I need to take care of. Restoring Sirius's good name will take a bit of effort, but I refuse to sit back and let . . . and let another life be ruined by inaction," he said and Hermione noticed that his eyes were not twinkling. "There's a bit of paperwork, but I've been informed that Sirius will be released into your care as soon as possible. Miss Granger, I hope that you would be willing to meet with me sometime in the coming week to discuss saving many more lives."

"You can count on it, sir," she said. "I'm staying to make sure Sirius is all right."

"And Harry?" Remus asked.

Dumbledore smiled. "Mister Potter's Healer at St. Mungo's informed me that he'll be ready to go home very soon, so long as someone is there to take care of him."

"Sirius and I will," Remus said without a thought.

"As I suspected. I will see if Hagrid would be willing to pick young Harry up from his aunt and uncle's home. Perhaps the Longbottoms would like to visit with the boy until other arrangements can be made," Dumbledore suggested and Remus only nodded his head in agreement.

Remus and Hermione sat outside of Azkaban for hours. Until the sun set and the stars shone bright in the sky and a chill came over them, forcing the pair to huddle together up against the wall for warmth. They waited and waited and Hermione laughed as she watched as her otter Patronus swam in circles around the spectral wolf in front of them, who tried to give chase but was outran every time.

"It's really very good," Remus commented, watching her Patronus outlasted his by minutes each time. "Did you learn it at Hogwarts?"

She shook her head. "Harry taught me," she said with a bright smile. "It was his best spell. One of his favourites too. You taught him."

Remus's eyes widened. "I taught him?"

She nodded. "Maybe you'll teach him again."

Another hour passed and the calm that the werewolf had demonstrated earlier in the day had all but vanished. He paced and growled and occasionally conjured things to throw at the doors of the prison. "How long can it take to release an innocent man!? Fuck!" he screamed and then let out a heavy sigh. "I'm . . . I'm so sorry, Hermione. I just . . ."

"It's fine," she told him. "He's your best friend, I understand. You've every right to be upset. I'd do worse if it were my best friend. Perhaps even accidentally time-travel," she said with a soft laugh that almost felt like a cry.

Remus smiled sadly at her. "Anything else?"

She thought for a moment and then chuckled. "Well, I once kept a reporter from the Daily Prophet in a jar for a few weeks because she was spreading lies about Harry," she said with a smirk. "She was an unregistered Animagus; a beetle."

Remus laughed. "Do you have a problem with unregistered Animagi?" he asked with a raised brow.

She shook her head. "Just the ones who get on my bad side."

Remus smiled and then looked back at the prison, smile fading instantly. "I haven't even seen him in over a year," he quietly admitted. "We were both on separate missions for the Order, and communication wasn't great. I tried writing letters but one got intercepted once, not by anyone important but . . . we stopped writing after that. It was too dangerous. Sirius and I fought the last time we saw one another."

"What about?" she asked, her eyes drawn to the sky overhead instead of the guilt-ridden werewolf in front of her. She quickly found Sirius, the star, and tried to focus on positive thoughts toward the man, hoping that a few days in Azkaban hadn't turned him into the mad creature she'd met when she was fourteen.

"The safety of . . . of James and Lily and Harry," Remus said sadly. "Sirius didn't trust Dumbledore completely the same way that James and I do . . . did. They'd been talking about a Fidelius Charm but only in passing, and Sirius wanted to place blood wards around the property like his family used to have, but the spells aren't entirely . . . approved of."

"They're dark?"

Remus winced. "The kind that the Black family has? More grey really," he said. "Sirius wouldn't use Dark magic anywhere near Harry, if at all. But he was desperate and trying to suggest anything to keep them safe and I . . . well I just went along with anything Dumbledore said and Sirius accused me of just being a puppet and I accused him of being a drunk and—"

She stood up and rushed toward him, wrapping her arms around his waist in a tight hug that he clearly wasn't ready for as he tensed immediately. "He'll be fine," she assured him and waited for him to relax. When he did, she slowly let him go and smiled up at him. "I . . . last time he was in there for twelve years. I was there when the two of you were reunited. I was terrified at the time because I thought he was evil and you were in league with him but, looking back now, it was . . ." she smiled, "it was a beautiful moment. Like no time had passed at all. Whatever had happened between the two of you, he had forgiven you."

Remus was drained. Physically exhausted and beaten and ragged. His normally green eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep and crying and he looked on the verge of tears once again. "He survived twelve years?"

She nodded. "He was . . . he survived twelve years in Azkaban, yes."

He had more questions, but they died on his tongue when the doors finally opened and a dishevelled Sirius Black fell through, alone, unescorted, carrying nothing but dirty robes and a wand in hand.

Remus stepped quickly toward his friend. "Sirus . . . oh my gods."

Sirius fell into Remus's arms and clung to him tightly, sobbing. "Moony, I'm so sorry . . . I never meant—"

"It's fine. It's done with."

Hermione stood, watching for a moment until it felt like prying and only then did she look away. When she did, she gazed into the watery depths of the surrounding sea, wishing she could be reunited with Harry and Ron. But both were long gone from here, at least as she knew them.

"Prongs?" Sirius whispered.

"Still at St. Mungo's. Harry's with Petunia and her husband, but he's fine for now. Dumbledore sent Hagrid to bring him to Frank and Alice's. He can stay with them until we figure out something," Remus said. "The cottage is still in ruins and I doubt James will want to go back there anytime soon."

"They'll stay with me for now," Sirius said. "You as well. Unless the Ministry took my home too."

Remus shook his head. "They went through your stuff, but the place is intact as far as I know."

Sirius nodded and then swallowed hard. "And umm . . . Lily?"

Remus frowned. "She's in Godric's Hollow," he said softly. "Dumbledore insisted that it be done as quickly as possible. She's become quite famous and everyone knows it was her that destroyed Voldemort. The Order was worried that if people knew she hadn't been buried yet that the few Death Eater loyalists that evaded arrest would umm . . . would—"

"That's fine," Sirius said, cutting Remus off, and wiping the backs of his hands across his eyes. "I . . . I understand. Maybe it's better that . . . that Harry and James didn't see her like that." He blinked away a few stray tears before looking back at his friend. "I never saw Reg buried, and I'm the picture of perfect mental health," he tried to joke but couldn't bring himself to laugh. "What about Peter?"

Remus growled. "Captured. Thanks to Hermione," he said and gestured to the witch in question.

Hermione looked up and smiled nervously at Sirius.

He smiled back. "You got my note."

She huffed, holding up the hand that had the small pawprint tattooed on it. "Yes, thank you," she said and slowly approached Sirius, reaching into her beaded bag and withdrawing a bar of chocolate. "Eat this," she said, handing it over to him. "I'm glad you're okay, Sirius."

He grinned and devoured the bar of chocolate in two bites, tossed the wrapper away and then dove forward, pulling Hermione into his arms and spinning her around. "I owe you, little witch. I owe you so much!" he said around a mouthful of chocolate.

She squeaked as he squeezed her, fighting a bit of breath. "Sirius? You can let go now."

He stopped spinning but nuzzled his head against her hair. "No. It's been too long since I've touched a woman."

Her eyes widened and she shoved at him. "Get off!"

Sirius laughed joyfully, breathing the free air, and Remus shook his head. "I don't think she's used to your particular sense of humour, Pads."

Sirius smiled and bowed low to the ground. "Apologies, dearest lady," he said before rising once more. "All right, what's first on the list? Food or sleep?"

Remus raised a brow. "How hungry are you?"

Sirius shrugged, slipping his robes over his shoulder, shivering against the chill. "Mouldy bread and rotten apples are strangely filling," he said bitterly.

Chapter Text

November 10th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

It wasn't until they'd planned to sleep that Hermione realised she had nowhere to go. Panicked, she wondered aloud if she should go to Hogwarts, but Remus and Sirius wouldn't hear of it.

"Look at the pretty witch, Moony, can we keep her?" Sirius asked and without another word, they Side-Alonged her to Sirius's flat in Diagon Alley. The place was a wreck, furniture turned over by Aurors looking for Dark artefacts and proof that Sirius was a Death Eater, not that they bothered with evidence before locking him away in Azkaban.

All three of them ignored the mess in favour of searching for somewhere to sleep. Sirius offered up his bed to Hermione, who kindly insisted that she'd take the couch, seeing as she wasn't certain who or what had last been between the sheets of Sirius Black's bed. He laughed, told her that they were going to be good friends, and then he collapsed onto his mattress, fully clothed.

"Thank you, Hermione," Remus said as he brought her a clean blanket he'd found in a nearby cupboard. "There was a time when I thought we'd all be killed in this damn war. And . . . to know what happened to us where you're from . . ." he swallowed and looked down, tears in his eyes. "I know this isn't your home and you've been torn from the people you love but . . . you saved James and Sirius and . . . I'll do whatever I can to help you find a home here, with us, if only to repay you."

Hermione frowned and tried not to cry as she looked up at the werewolf. "I won't lie and say that I don't miss my . . . my world," she whispered. "I just wanted Harry to be alive and safe. I'm very happy that somehow I've accidentally done more good than just that. You don't owe me anything, Remus."

He smiled softly. "Agree to disagree," he said and then stepped inside the bedroom, taking up the other half of Sirius's bed once he pushed his friend to the side.

November 11th, 1981

Hermione opened her eyes to the smell of vanilla, the sight of the sun rising over Diagon Alley out the front window of Sirius's flat, and something very, very cold and wet against her thigh. She jumped, reaching for her wand only to look down into the pale eyes of a large black dog.

Catching her breath, she glared down at Padfoot. "You keep your nose to yourself, Sirius Black!" she snapped and then lowered her wand just in time for the dog to pounce on her, licking her face. "Ugh!" she shrieked, drawing attention from the kitchen.

"Padfoot!" Remus yelled and pulled the dog off of Hermione by his scruff. "I said to see if she's awake, not terrorise the poor witch!"

Hermione huffed and wiped the slobber from her face. "He doesn't know the difference."

Padfoot darted out of the room, barking loudly with what sounded like a laugh if they listened close enough, and Hermione sighed as she looked up into Remus's apologetic face. "Remind me again why we got him out of prison?"

He smiled at her. "Innocent?" he suggested. "Can I get you some coffee? Tea? Pancakes?"

She blinked. "You made pancakes?" she asked, her mouth already watering. "I . . . I didn't even realise . . . other than whatever St. Mungo's was magically using to keep me alive . . . I haven't had a proper meal in . . ." she swallowed down a mouthful of saliva.

Remus frowned. "Come on, Hermione," he said and held a hand out for her.

She walked into the kitchen to see a plate already dished up; a stack of pancakes covered in butter and syrup and what looked like fresh blueberries. After months on the run with Harry and Ron, eating nothing but burned fish and wild mushrooms, the sight of fresh food, real food, brought tears to her eyes. "We were . . . Harry and . . . we were starving there toward the end. I never thought . . ." she blubbered and sniffled and then turned and wrapped her arms around Remus, who was still holding a spatula in his hand. "Thank you."

"My flat, my kitchen, my food and Moony still gets the credit," Sirius said, standing in the doorway in human form.

She laughed and wiped the tears from her face, moving to hug Sirius as well, not even caring that he kissed her cheek in the process trying to rile her up again. She was too grateful to be angry.

After a filling meal, Sirius brought Hermione a clean towel and told her that the shower was free. Halfway through washing her hair, she had to sit down in the bathtub and pull her knees to her chest, drowning out the sound of her weeping in the pounding water against the tile. She was warm and clean and full and it all seemed too good to be true. Harry was alive and Voldemort was gone—for now—and she was safe. Still, it was hard to relax and let herself truly feel like the bottom wasn't going to fall out at any second.

After a good long cry, Hermione stepped from the shower, skin scrubbed raw, and towelled herself dry. She smiled at the sight of a pair of clean robes set out on the counter next to a phial of Vitamix Potion. She laughed at the feeling of being cared for; it was unusual. She'd always been the one to look after Harry and Ron, but now . . . so out of place, it was Hermione who was relying on the kindness of . . . well, not exactly strangers. Not to her.

After dressing, she grabbed her wand and slipped it into her robe, moving to open the door. Outside in the living room, she was shocked to see more than just Sirius and Remus. A young couple stood there, a toddler wrapped in the man's arms, while the woman angrily poked Sirius in the chest.

"—can't believe you could be so reckless, Sirius!" she yelled. "Do you know when Hagrid and Dumbledore dropped Harry off at our place he wouldn't let go of me? Like no one's held him in days! I remember what Lils used to say about that sister of hers and I've no doubt that—"

"Umm . . . Allie?" the man said, tapping the woman on the shoulder and gesturing to Hermione.

The woman—Allie—turned and looked at Hermione. "Oh . . . you must be sky girl."

Hermione blinked. "Sky girl?"

"Hagrid told us that some girl fell out of the sky and landed in Godric's Hollow to save the day or some nonsense," she said and then took a step forward, shoving Sirius out of her path in the process to extend a hand to Hermione. "Alice Longbottom. You can call me Allie."

Hermione's eyes widened as she stared at the young witch, gaping a bit as she looked over Alice's shoulder to the man, who she assumed was Frank Longbottom, and the toddler in his arms. "Neville," she whispered, drawing the boy's attention. He smiled at her and she let out a shaky exhale.

"Wow, Dumbledore wasn't joking," Allie said. "You really are from . . . wow. Here, why don't you have a seat. Poor dear, you look like you've seen a ghost."

Hermione swallowed and glanced to Sirius. "Seen a few recently," she mumbled under her breath before taking a seat on the sofa. "I'm sorry, I'm just . . . it's a little jarring. And you said that Hagrid told you about me?"

Frank smirked. "Don't worry. Dumbledore was with him and the poor bloke had to have a minor run-in with an Obliviation," he said with a wince. "We're all better for it. He's a good man, but can't keep a secret worth a damn."

"Damn," Neville muttered and Frank's eyes widened dramatically.

Allie sighed irritably, ignoring the swear, turning her full attention to Hermione. "Dumbledore told us as much as he could and we just wanted . . . well, to thank you I suppose. He said that we were in a bit of danger, and we knew as much but . . . I guess we weren't supposed to have a happily ever after . . . so thank you. Not just for us but . . . for the Potters as well."

"She also got me out of Azkaban," Sirius pointed out.

Allie turned and glared at him. "She wouldn't have needed to, had you not put your head up your own arse! What did you think was going to happen, going after Peter?!"

"Don't speak that shit's name in my bloody house!" Sirius snapped.

Allie stood and put her hands on her hips. "I'll say whatever I damn well please, thank you very much! You were supposed to be there for Harry and James, you git!"

"Oi," Sirius said, looking over Allie's shoulder to Frank. "You want to control your woman, here, mate?"

There was a loud cracking sound and Sirius yelped loudly, falling back against the kitchen floor, grasping at his groin in pain. Allie's hair was sparking and Hermione couldn't help but grin at the sight. The couch dipped beside her and Hermione relaxed at the sound of Remus's throaty chuckle. "They've never got on well. Allie and Lily were the only two girls in our year at Hogwarts that wouldn't give Sirius the time of day. He's never really gotten over the hit to his ego."

Hermione laughed and turned to say something to Remus, but gasped at the sight of the small boy in his arms. Black, wild hair and the brightest green eyes she'd ever . . . "Harry," she whispered.

The boy smiled up at her. "Hi."

Chapter Text

November 13th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

While Alice Longbottom lectured Sirius Black on the basics of being a godparent—which evidently did not include running off and trying to murder former Housemates, traitors or not—Remus did his best to prevent another violent outburst between the two, while Frank fed applesauce to a deliriously happy Neville who proudly wore a Muggle style t-shirt with a cartoon frog in the center. Harry, on the other hand—who was more than happy to sit on the sofa next to Hermione—had a Snitch on his shirt, and it glowed anytime he touched it, which was often and he was very proud to show her.

"See?" he'd say with a smile. "Snitch."

"Yep," she said, fingers thrust into her mane of wild curls, gripping on for dear life as she tried to prevent herself from having a nervous breakdown. Or a panic attack. Whichever came first.

When she stopped paying attention to Harry, he tugged on her hair.

"C'mon mate," Frank said, smiling at Harry. "It's not nice to pull hair."

Alice walked away from Sirius and reached for Harry, lifting him into her arms. "Blame Sirius, he lets the boys do whatever they want," she said and took the seat beside Hermione. "How are you doing?" she asked, genuine concern in her eyes.

Hermione tried to look at the woman but couldn't help staring at Harry instead. "I don't . . . I don't know," she said in a whisper, her voice nearly breaking. "He . . . he's alive and safe and . . . so little and I . . ." She closed her eyes and tried not to cry. She didn't even resist when someone lifted her off of the sofa, wrapping long arms around her shoulders and tucking her head beneath their chin.

"Let's go have a chat," Sirius whispered in her ear. "Remus, feed Frank's beastly wife and maybe she'll cheer up, yeah?" he said with a laugh, pointing to Hermione when Alice threatened to throw something at him.

Outside on the front porch, Sirius pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket and lit one wandlessly. Hermione frowned, wiping tears from her eyes as they finally spilt over. "That's a disgusting habit," she said, gesturing to the cigarette.

Sirius nodded. "So is crying in front of babies. I like you, Hermione. You've earned a spot on the Sirius wall of fame for the whole getting me out of prison thing," he said, inhaling the smoke and blowing it out through his nose. "And Moony told me that you talked to James about being involved in Harry's life. I'm okay with that, but you can't go crying around the kid every time he looks at you."

Hermione frowned and looked away, focusing on the shops down the street, specifically the place where Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes should be but wouldn't for many, many years . . . if ever now. "He was my best friend, and I . . . I've spent the past six years taking care of him and . . . I don't know if I know how to . . . exist in this world."

"You can still have friends," Sirius suggested. "I know we're not much. We scream a lot and I swear too much and Allie can be a right bitch when she wants to be," he added with a devious grin. "But . . . you love that kid in there as much as the rest of us, and that makes you family."

Hermione gave him a small smile, remembering how easily Sirius had welcomed everyone into Number Twelve for Christmas when Arthur Weasley had been attacked. Family. He'd treated them all like family with such ease it had originally surprised her. "Can I ask something personal?"

"Boxers," Sirius replied with a wink. "Or nothing at all."

She cringed. "I'm seri—" she began but the grin that appeared on Sirius's face had her stopping mid-word. "I'm being . . . genuine," she corrected and he pouted but nodded, allowing her to speak freely. "How can . . . it's been less than two weeks since . . . since it happened," she said, not wanting to speak of Lily's death so bluntly. "And you were in Azkaban just yesterday. How is everyone so . . ."

"Normal?" he asked, his smile fading. "We've been at war, real, true, and awful war for . . . years," he said, and flicked the end of his cigarette over the rail. "A part of me wants to scream and kick and curse the hell out of someone because Lily's dead. But . . . and it's horrible to say . . . she wasn't the first. Allie buried her parents six months ago, Remus's mum died two years back. James and I lost our parents around the same time. Frank's father was murdered a year ago this Christmas. My girlfriend and her entire family died in a Death Eater raid a week before Harry's birthday. Friends, neighbours, comrades, family . . . we've buried more people in the last few years than . . . well, than we should have," he said, a darkness creeping over his face. "The pain doesn't go away but you learn that life goes on. Life has to go on."

Hermione nodded and wiped at the tears still in her eyes.

"That kid in there, he was told that his mum died, but he has no idea what that means. He probably thinks that Lily's going to walk through that door any second with a jug of pumpkin juice with his name on it. I don't know if that's healthy or not," he said with a frown. "Allie's right. I have no fucking idea what I'm doing. But . . . James needs me, need us . . . so that's what we're going to do. Gryffindor courage, yeah? Wait . . . you were a Gryffindor, right?"

Hermione blinked and looked up at him. "What? No," she said, schooling her expression. "Harry and I were both sorted into Slytherin."

Sirius paled and his grey eyes went wide and Hermione couldn't contain her laughter. "Oh, that's . . . You're evil," Sirius said, shoving her before walking back toward the door. "Bloody hell, witch. Give a bloke a bloody heart attack."

Several hours later, Remus fixed lunch for the group, which now included Allie's brother Robert, his wife Asterid, and their daughter . . . Lavender. Hermione did her best to avoid all of the children, especially since little Lavender was obsessed with Hermione's hair and continued to yank on it any chance she got.

"Sorry," Allie said. "She's a pill. Asterid's been going on for months that she's certain Lav showed signs of early accidental magic." She rolled her eyes and Hermione chuckled. "Made the mistake of mentioning it to Frank's mother and now she's in a tizzy worried about Neville. Nevermind Frank himself didn't have any outbursts of magic until he was five."

Hermione smiled, looking across the room where Neville was happily chewing on one of Sirius's dragonhide boots while Frank was distracted, cleaning up a spill. "He'll be just fine, Allie," she promised. "Just umm . . . don't leave him alone with anyone named Uncle Algie," she added.

Allie raised her eyebrows and then laughed, leaning forward and wrapping Hermione in a hug. "I'm going to like having you around," she said and Hermione tried not to cry, thinking of Ginny and Luna, the only two females she'd ever thought of as real friends.

She did her best to try and fit in. Playing nice when Asterid begged to charm her fingernails purple. She listened to Frank, who complained about not being able to return to the Auror Department until the Order gave him the all clear, and Robert and Remus discussed the latest happenings within the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. She laughed and felt lighter than she had in months, rolling her eyes when Sirius took up residence behind her on the sofa to braid her hair, and then returned the favour, smiling when Harry fell over in a fit of giggles when Hermione transfigured small flowers to pin Sirius's hair back.

It felt awkwardly good to sit back, enjoy the company of new friends, and not constantly look over her shoulder wondering when the next attack would take place.

"Bloody hell!" Sirius shouted excitedly.

"Sirius!" at least four adults snapped in his direction, covering the ears of the nearest toddler.

He proceeded to ignore everyone, carrying over the Daily Prophet that had just been dropped off by a delivery owl. "Listen to this . . . 'Everyone was shocked and dismayed when Bartemius Crouch handed in his resignation as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement today when it was discovered that his own son, Bartemius Crouch Jr. was a marked Death Eater. Crouch Sr, suffered a hefty blow this morning when the Ministry received word that he had falsely arrested and imprisoned upstanding citizen of Wizarding Britain, Sirius Black, former heir to the . . .' blah blah blah bullshit . . . 'Crouch offered apologies for the mistake in a press conference only minutes before Aurors Alastor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt brought Crouch Jr. in to be formally charged.' That's bloody brilliant."

"Not the only news," Remus said, walking into the room with an owl perched on his shoulder and a letter in hand. "It's from Dumbledore. He said St. Mungo's is releasing James to go home tomorrow."

All joy died in the room immediately.

Harry tugged on Sirius's trouser leg. "Go home now?"

Sirius swallowed hard. "Not . . . not yet, mate."

Chapter Text

November 14th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

Sirius spent the better part of the night transfiguring his flat into something somewhat habitable for James and Harry. Remus insisted that he was going to leave, go home to his parents' cottage until he found his own place—despite Sirius's objections—though he did stay to help turn Sirius's master bedroom into something that looked like the Gryffindor boys' dormitory. Two twin beds sat up against the far wall with a dresser on either side and a table in between.

Hermione helped where she could, cleaning here and there and baby proofing where she was able. She tried to stay out of Sirius's business until Harry's sleeping arrangements became an issue.

"I could probably expand the broom cupboard into something bigger and fit a—"

"No!" she shouted, spinning on her heel and glaring across the room.

Remus and Sirius both fell silent and Hermione paused, shocked by her visceral reaction. "I mean . . . not the cupboard. Just . . . not the cupboard."

Sirius nodded, closing the door immediately. "Remus, James and I need bunk beds," he said with a grin. "Harry can have the spare."

Godric's Hollow - Potter Cottage

Because both Sirius and Remus were unable to, Hermione offered to go with Allie to Godric's Hollow and collect anything that could be salvaged. The old cottage had been warded against intruders, but Dumbledore had given Allie a way in and so she and Hermione walked through the village, pausing to look up at the bronze statue of Lily Potter surrounded by candles and flowers, and headed for the demolished home.

"Mother of Merlin," Allie gasped as she walked through the front door. "I . . . how did James survive this?" she said, looking specifically at the large pile of rubble that James had been buried beneath. "And . . ." she looked toward the stairs, eyes wide and teary at the giant hole in the ceiling, the exposed rafters covered in snow and ice.

Hermione frowned as she remembered, less than two weeks ago when she'd Apparated straight into the Potter's home, accidentally sparring James's life before she could even think that he wasn't Harry. She walked into the dining room, bending down to stare at the leg of the table, still covered in her dried blood that also stained the floor below.

"I thought . . . they said that Lily was . . . that it was the Killing Curse and there wasn't—"

"This is mine," Hermione whispered, touching the back of her head. "This is where I fell when Voldemort . . . and when Pettigrew tried to . . ." she swallowed hard and closed her eyes, trying to forget the image of the Dark Lord, promising herself that she'd do everything possible to prevent his return. "Harry's mother was upstairs when it happened."

Allie looked to the staircase and hesitated. "I . . . I didn't think it would be this hard. I'd been the one to help Sirius clean out Marlene's flat after she'd been . . . but . . . Lily was my best friend. We'd found out we were pregnant the same day and we went to Healer appointments together and—"

Hermione put a hand on Allie's shoulder. "Stay down here and see what you can find. I'll go up."

Allie looked grateful, even as she wiped the falling tears from her cheeks and turned around to dig around in the kitchen, muttering about Sirius not having the proper things to cook for people who didn't live off of pancakes and firewhisky.

Hermione walked up the stairs, stepping carefully around the broken bits of the floor. She walked straight to the room at the far end of the hallway, radiating with leftover magic that crept across her skin in a way that left Hermione nauseous. Little could be salvaged from the destroyed nursery, not even the crib. Hermione moved quickly, pulling photographs down from the walls that weren't damaged, reaching into a nearby dresser and pulling out a stack of clothing that looked untouched. She waved her wand over the pile, checking it for residual Dark magic and let out a sigh of relief when it all came back clean.

She slipped everything into her beaded bag, feeling a bit guilty that she hadn't shown Allie the charm before she left her alone downstairs. Leaving Harry's room, Hermione walked back down the hall and stepped into the master suite. It was homey, comfortable and warm-looking. Blue curtains hung in the far window trimmed with white lace and the comforter on the bed was pulled back on one side with giant fluffy pillows lined up against the headboard.

Again, she grabbed the photographs first and then made her way to the dresser. Dealing with men's clothing wasn't a problem considering she'd been washing Harry and Ron's things for months since they'd gone on the run; neither boy was very good at Cleaning Charms. She grabbed as much of James's things as she could, folding up trousers and socks, pants, and t-shirts—pausing to chuckle at the variety of Muggle bands printed on a variety of them—and opened the closet to grab his robes.

She stopped and ran her fingers over dress robes in the far back, hung up next to a Muggle wedding dress. "Oh gods," Hermione whispered. Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, she turned around the room nervously, and sighed, trying to think of what to do.

Spotting an old Hogwarts trunk in the corner, Hermione rushed forward and flipped it open, smiling at the organised stack of books inside along with neatly folded uniforms and two preserved diplomas as well as an old Quidditch uniform and a small engraved Snitch in the corner. She waved her wand, casting an Undetectable Extension Charm on the entire trunk and then stood, working quickly to gather up all of Lily's belongings, placing them carefully inside.

She took clothing, bottles of perfume, a journal she found in the drawer of a dresser on the right side of the bed, a pair of house slippers that were stuck beneath the bed, and a small jewellery box. Then, just in case, she folded up the blankets and sheets that covered the bed, casting a Preservation Charm on them to keep the scent. Hermione remembered Obliviating her parents, and just before she left her childhood home, she'd snatched up a blanket that her mother kept draped across the living room sofa. It was buried deep down in her beaded bag somewhere, and she pulled it out on occasion, just to breathe in the scent of it.

She locked the trunk and placed a ward on it so only James Potter could open it, and then with a flick of her wand, she vanished the trunk, sending it to Sirius's flat.

"Look what I found," Alice said with a bright smile when Hermione returned to the bottom level of the house. "The Cooling Charm on the cabinet didn't wear off when . . . when everything happened. There's still a bit of food left in here. Two treacle tarts, a pumpkin pie, and some biscuits. Lily loved to bake," she said, wiping at the corner of her eyes. "Do you think James would . . ."

Hermione shrugged. "I've only met the man once, twice technically if you count the time he was unconscious in the next room," she said with a frown. "I know . . . well . . . the Harry that I knew would have loved it. His favourite thing in the world was treacle tart," she said with a sad little laugh.

Allie frowned. "What are you going to do? I mean . . . I figure you were taking care of Sirius being in prison and then waiting for James to be released but . . . now what?"

Hermione bit her bottom lip. "Now I work to make sure Voldemort doesn't come back. I have to meet with Dumbledore sometime this week."

"You can't stay with the boys," Allie said with a smile. "I love them, I really do, even Sirius," she added as an afterthought, "but they're an absolute mess and you need a place of your own."

Frowning, Hermione nodded. "I know . . . I have some Muggle money stashed away that I took when Harry, Ron, and I . . . umm . . . I don't even know how to go about getting a place. I need identification to even open a Gringotts vault and then when the money runs out I don't know what—"

"You can stay at my place," Allie said with a smile. "I kept an old flat of mine. When Frank and I had to go into hiding we made several places available just in case we had to run at any point, so I never got rid of it. It's small but nice. Clean. Down a ways from Diagon Alley so you'd be close to Sirius and James and Harry," she offered. "It used to belong to my great aunt so there's no rent and . . . you could stay there. It could be home."

Hermione blinked rapidly. "I don't know what home is."

Allie frowned and hugged Hermione tight. "It's where family is. And if you haven't figured it out by now, you've basically been adopted," she said and both girls laughed.

Sirius Black's Flat

The witches returned to find Frank and Sirius lying on their stomachs, urging Harry and Neville forward in the kitchen, Remus at the other end with a biscuit in hand, tempting the toddlers. "C'mon Harry, you're faster than this little—"

"Are you having a laugh? Racing the babies?" Allie barked at the boys. "They're children, not nogtails, you numpties!" she scolded as she picked Neville up in one arm and Harry in the other.

Hermione laughed and then snatched the biscuit from Remus's hand, taking a bite before handing it back to him and then walking down the hall. "Did the trunk get here?" she asked quietly before opening the bedroom door, chuckling a bit at the sight of actual bunk beds in the corner and rails put up around the second twin bed.

Remus nodded and opened the closet, gesturing to the trunk. "Smells like Lily. Did you—?"

"All of her things. I've got clothes for Harry and James photographs as well," she said as she began pulling out as much of the items as possible, emptying them into the open dresser drawers that Sirius had made available. "And Allie packed up the kitchen and things from downstairs that weren't destroyed. But . . . I didn't want to leave anything behind. It might be hard now, but he'll want to go through her things at some point," she said.

Remus smiled. "You're a good person, Hermione Granger."

"Hermione Howell, I thought," she said with a chuckle as she followed Remus back out into the living room. "I need to talk to Dumbledore about figuring out my life. I'm supposed to be at Hogwarts for my seventh year, but that seems a bit silly right now. Perhaps I could take my N.E.W.T.s some point in the future once I'm settled."

"I could . . . if you need, I could owl my father. I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem if you stayed with me until you—"

Hermione smiled. "Allie offered to let me live in her old flat."

He grinned. "Oh, that's just a ways down. Quick walk from here actually. You sure you want to be that close to Sirius?" he asked with a chuckle.

She rolled her eyes. "A terrifying thought. I might lock the Floo as well as the front door."

Remus snorted. "You think that'll keep him out? That's just asking for trouble."

"What's trouble?"

Everyone turned, wide-eyed, to see James Potter standing in the doorway.

Chapter Text

November 14th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

"Daddy!" Harry squealed and jumped out of Allie's grip to run into his father's arms.

James winced upon impact but shook his head when Remus stood up to help. He reached down and pulled Harry up into his arms, looking pained to do so but unwilling to not hold his son. "Hey there, little mate," he said softly, brushing Harry's hair away from his forehead and frowning at the scar there. "What happened here?" he asked and Harry shrugged, clearly not bothered by it.

Sirius cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows and James frowned, understanding. "Right. Umm . . ." he looked around the room at all the sets of eyes trained on him. "Hi."

Allie frowned. "We were supposed to come and pick you up later," she said, setting Neville in Frank's arms so she could walk over and hug James.

He returned the hug gently and winced, unable to hold Harry any longer. When Allie let him go, James turned and set Harry down on a nearby table, allowing the boy to still cling to him without being forced to hold his weight. "You know I hate the hospital. Whole place smells like dittany and Skele-Gro. I've had enough of both.

"Are you hungry?" Remus asked.

"Want a butterbeer?" Sirius offered.

Frank stood up. "Come have a seat, mate."

"I could fix you a—"

"No!" James snapped. "Can . . . can everyone just . . ." he cringed and pinched the bridge of his nose before turning and burying his face in Harry's hair and taking long, slow breaths.

"Your things are in the bedroom," Hermione whispered.

James looked up, his brow furrowed as he stared at her as though he'd forgotten she was there, or that she existed at all. He paused and then offered a nod of gratitude before lifting Harry back into his arms and heading straight for the bedroom.

"There's treacle tart out here whenever you get hungry," Allie said.

James turned and raised a brow. "Since when do you bake?"

She frowned. "It umm . . ." she began and then looked away shamefully.

Understanding, James sighed and nodded, turning back around and closing the bedroom door behind him.

Sirius had been right. Life went on in the middle of a war despite the number of deaths. They could mourn Lily and other friends and family that had perished because of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, but life continued. They had to still breathe and eat and live and laugh, otherwise, what was the point of fighting? Unfortunately, death weighed heavier on some than others, and they were all very clearly reminded of it.

"I don't know what to do," Allie admitted, wringing her hands. Frank stood up and handed Neville to her so that she would have something to hold onto instead of fidgeting.

Sirius sighed. "Nothing you can do, Al," he said. "Just have to give the bloke some time."

She nodded and then blinked her eyes to stop herself from crying. "Right. Umm . . . so treacle tart and everything else is in the fridge. Sirius, please don't let James and Harry eat just sweets. Remus," she turned to the werewolf, "take him shopping. At a proper grocers. Maybe even a Muggle one so he'll be legally forced to behave."

Sirius snorted indignantly.

Remus smiled and hugged Allie, ruffling the top of Neville's hair. "You taking Hermione to her new place?"

Allie looked at Hermione and nodded. "No time like the present, right?"

Hermione awkwardly shrugged until Sirius put an arm around her. "Are you certain you don't want to bunk in my bunk?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows.

She rolled her eyes. "And leave you on the floor in your own house? What kind of person do you think I am, Sirius?" she asked innocently and then peeled his arm off of her, patting him on the cheek condescendingly before walking over and hugging Remus.

The werewolf chuckled. "Do you need any help?"

"Unpacking all of my things?" Hermione asked with a laugh. "I'll be fine. I'll umm . . . I don't have an owl so I can't—"

"Stop by whenever you need," Sirius told her. "We'll take you to lunch and then shop for things to decorate your new place. My treat."

She grimaced. "I don't think that's—"

"My treat," Sirius said again and left no room for argument, mostly because he ducked out the front to have a smoke, ignoring anyone who said anything once the door closed behind him.

Hermione sighed irritably. "Right then," she said and looked at Allie. "After you."

She stepped out of the fireplace after Frank and Allie, who had her hand over Neville's eyes and mouth to protect him from the unwanted soot that came with Floo travel. "So this is it," Allie said and moved around the small flat.

Hermione looked around the place, unable to stop herself from smiling. It was small but quaint. Clean, like Allie had said. Most of the belongings were preserved under charms and spells to keep doxies and other pests from getting in and making a mess.

The small sitting room was already furnished with chairs and a sofa that faced the fireplace, large empty bookshelves lined the wall in between paintings of fruit bowls and ferns. There was a small kitchen off to the side that had light green countertops and old-fashioned tile that reminded Hermione of her Grandmother Granger's house. Then again, she was going to have to redefine her understanding of the word "old-fashioned".

"It's lovely," she said and turned to smile at Allie and Frank. "You're both so wonderfully generous, I . . . I'm so glad that . . ." she paused.

"That we're alive?" Allie awkwardly suggested and then nervously laughed.

Hermione winced. "Something like that," she said. "I'm glad to have met you. To call you friends."

"Family," Allie corrected. "After all, any fake cousin of Remus's is a fake something to us," she said and everyone laughed, excluding Neville who yawned. "Better get this one home for bed." Allie adjusted him in her arms and then reached out, offering Hermione a hug while Frank reset the wards around the flat. "I'll send you an owl in the morning and you can keep him as long as you need, to contact Sirius or Remus or Dumbledore . . . and then we'll meet up later, yeah?"

Hermione nodded, feeling the tension building in her shoulders at the prospect of her new friends leaving. "Yeah, yes, I'm . . . that's good."

"Say goodbye to Aunt Hermione," Allie said to Neville.

"Oh no," Hermione shook her head. "I draw the line. That's too weird," she said with pleading eyes and Frank couldn't contain his laughter as he grabbed a fistful of Floo Powder and threw it in the grate.

Hermione moved from room to room until she settled back in front of the fireplace after casting all of her usual security wards; the same ones she'd been using for months on the run with Harry and Ron. She knew she was safe, but the need for them had become a habit, a compulsion that quieted her anxiety and the little voice inside of her head that told her she was in constant danger—that Harry was in danger.

Alone for the first time in . . . she couldn't even remember that last time she wasn't surrounded by Harry or Ron or a gathering of Weasleys, and now Remus and Sirius and the Longbottoms. Hermione curled up on the floor, her back against the sofa and let the panic and nervousness shake out of her body, only to be replaced by loneliness.

Sirius Black's Flat

James listened as one by one people left the flat, the whooshing sound of the Floo activating. Instead of opening the door and checking on him and Harry, James could hear the patter of paws on the floorboards outside the bedroom, and the eventual thud of Padfoot's heavy body collapsing against the door after circling around several times.

Harry had fallen asleep almost immediately once James set him on the bottom bunk and settled in next to him. He sighed, toying with his son's hair, glaring at the lightning bolt scar on his formerly unblemished forehead. He'd known that Harry would eventually get scars. James had plenty himself thanks to hijinks with his friends, but he'd hoped that his son would get them from playing Quidditch and not from . . .

"I'm so sorry," he whispered, pressing his lips against the top of Harry's head as he clenched his eyes and fought back the tears that now felt corrosive against his skin. Compulsively he rubbed his thumb against his wedding band and tried to let the panic and loneliness fall away.

But it didn't.

And likely wouldn't for a very long time.

Chapter Text

November 15th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

Hermione arrived outside of Sirius's flat about twenty minutes after sunrise. She'd woken in the middle of the night, a habit she'd developed over the months on the run, usually needing to switch Harry or Ron for a shift at wearing the Horcrux and being on the lookout. The very second that the sun rose, Hermione was out the door and down the street, looking over Diagon Alley and smiling at the fact that it wasn't dark and gloomy like the last time she'd seen it in 1997.

She found a small bakery that must have closed down between now and then and bought out their selection on muffins, eager to show up with breakfast to perhaps apologise for the fact that she'd likely be waking them up.

Hesitating outside the door for a long while, Hermione tried to work up the courage to knock, but ended up shrieking in fright when the door opened and she was faced with an exhausted-looking and equally shocked—and shirtless—Sirius Black.

"Fucking hell!" he shouted, closing the door behind him. "What're you doing out here?"

Hermione caught her breath. "I brought breakfast," she said, holding out the large box. "And I was just about to knock. Why aren't you wearing a shirt? Sirius, it's freezing out, you'll get sick."

"Thanks, Mum," he said sarcastically before diving into the box and retrieving a chocolate muffin. He took a large bite and chewed twice before swallowing and then sticking an unlit cigarette between his lips. "How's your new place?" he mumbled around the stick.

Hermione cringed at his manners, or lack thereof, and sighed. "Quiet," she said. "Oddly so. I've spent the last six years in a dormitory with gossipy girls and when I wasn't in my room I was with Harry and Ron. It's . . . disconcerting . . . the quiet."

Sirius nodded and then looked up, smiling at her. "So what you're saying . . . is that you missed me."

She rolled her eyes. "Is Remus here? Is Harry awake?"

Sirius laughed and opened the door for her, lingering just outside. "Moony's at his dad's place, probably catching up on all the sleep he missed the past few weeks. Harry woke up about an hour ago screaming his tiny head off."

She turned around and frowned at Sirius after setting the box on the counter. "Headaches? Nightmares?"

He blinked. "What? No . . . just . . . normal baby . . . shit. Does Harry get nightmares and headaches? Is it something we need to—"

"A Healer you can trust," she said. "Madam Pomfrey. They got worse as he got older. I don't remember many when we were young, but after . . ." she paused and sighed.

"You ever going to tell me all the bad shit that happened?" he asked, flicking the end of his cigarette over the rail and stepping back inside, rubbing his hands up and down his arms to warm back up. "Moony told me that I escaped Azkaban after twelve years but . . . not much else."

She bit her bottom lip and fingered the edge of the counter.


"You . . . you died," she whispered. "Fighting a Death Eater," she said but wasn't specific. "Things got . . . Harry got much worse after that."

Sirius took the news in stride, or hid his reaction very well, only nodding quietly and clearing his throat. "Right, so . . . headaches and nightmares. I'll tell James to keep an eye out."

She gave him a small smile. "If you want, I can talk to Madam Pomfrey today. I'm going to Hogwarts to meet with Dumbledore and tell him about . . . well, I suppose everything," she said, frowning in consternation at the thought, not even knowing where she should begin.

The bedroom door opened and Hermione could hear crying beyond it. She looked up to see a tired-looked James exit, closing the door behind him. "Pads, is that Allie? I thought I heard—oh . . . morning, umm . . . Miss Granger."

Hermione smiled politely. "Mister Potter."

Sirius stared between the two and snorted. "I don't think you've been called Mister Potter by a witch since you got detention from McGonagall the day of graduation."

Hermione looked up, scandalised. "You got detention the day of graduation? Weren't you Head Boy?"

James grimaced. "Shut up, Pads," he said. "It wasn't my fault. My so-called friends," he said, glaring at Sirius, "snuck into McGonagall's chambers and put red handprints all over her knickers and girdles and then right as I'm walking into the Great Hall for breakfast, Sirius charmed my hands red."

Hermione's mouth fell open and she turned and stared at Sirius who was looking prouder than ever.

"It was such a good day," he said. "I don't think I'd laughed that hard in years. McGonagall was so mad she shifted into Animagus form after issuing him detention and then stayed that way the rest of the day. Hissed at anyone that looked at her. I think she even beat the shit out of Filch's stupid cat."

James rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, I got detention for that little stunt and Lily lectured me for a good hour . . ." he stopped talking mid-sentence and swallowed hard and closing his eyes. He took a long moment, taking a deep breath before opening his eyes again. "Are those muffins?" he asked, side-stepping Sirius and making his way into the kitchen.

Hermione offered him a small smile. "Help yourself. I didn't know what you'd like so . . . I pretty much just bought everything." Sirius reached in to take another chocolate muffin and Hermione smacked his hand. "Don't eat all the chocolate ones," she scolded. "Save one for Remus."

James looked up and smirked at her. "Sure knows her Moony, doesn't she?"

"Go ahead, little witch," Sirius said with a grin. "Tell me something about me."

Hermione stared at him and then slowly raised her eyebrow. "You drink too much."

Sirius scoffed. "Everyone knows that."

She puts her hands on her hips. "You should stop smoking, it's a filthy habit."

James laughed. "Gods, she sounds like Lils when . . ." he said and then cringed, clenching his teeth in irritation. "I umm . . . I'm going to bring one to Harry, see if he'll quiet down." He reached into the box and snatched up a blueberry muffin, offering a small nod of thanks to Hermione before disappearing back into the bedroom.

Sirius sighed and leant against the counter. "He'll get better. It doesn't go away but—"

"You learn to live with the pain," she said, relishing the momentary sound of Harry crying in the other room, using it to block out the memory of him dying in her arms.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

She Apparated to Hogsmeade and smiled when she saw a young Madam Rosmerta sweeping dirt out the front of the Three Broomsticks. Rosmerta gave her a wave and Hermione returned it before making the short walk to the path that would take her to Hogwarts. Snow covered the ground and she couldn't help but grin at the many memories of snowball fights she'd had with Ron, Harry, Fred, George, and later Ginny, Neville, and Luna.

She mentally made a checklist of things she needed to take care of, adding visit the Weasleys near the top, mostly because she needed to pick up Crookshanks before he got too comfortable attacking all the gnomes in the garden.

When she reached the gates, she smiled up as Hagrid approached. "Hello Hagrid," she said without thinking.

"Er . . . oh righ', yer young Remus's little cousin, yeah?" he said with a grin.

She nodded her head. "I am. I have a meeting with Professor Dumbledore. Is it all right if I come in?"

He opened the gates for her. "Not a problem at all, not at all," he said. "D'yeh need me to show yeh the way?"

Hermione shook her head. "Remus told me how to get around," she lied. "But thank you so much, Hagrid. It was lovely seeing you."

He gave her a small salute before turning his attention to a group of wild weeds that had gotten out of control and were currently trying to climb their way up the iron gates.

Stepping through the front doors felt like coming home. It was still early enough that most of the students were still in bed, but there were small groups here and there coming down for breakfast. A few glanced her way with curiously raised brows. She overheard a young Ravenclaw say something about how she wanted a perm just like that but her mum wouldn't let her, and then two young Slytherins sneered in her direction. "Must be a Mudblood, wearing that outfit," one said before disappearing through the doors leading to the Great Hall.

Hermione sighed. "Fantastic. I couldn't have gone forward to a time where blood prejudice didn't exist? No, no, I had to go backward where everything's about a thousand times worse."

She took the back hallways, using her memory of hidden passageways to avoid running into more students and possibly even teachers, and made her way to Dumbledore's office, smiling at the sight of the familiar gargoyle. "Oh umm . . . Ice Mice?" she said and when nothing happened, she sighed irritably. "Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Botts, Jelly Slugs, Fizzing Whizbees, Lemon Drops, Pumpkin—"

"Excuse me?" someone said from behind her. "What, may I ask, are you doing spouting nonsense at that gargoyle?"

Hermione spun around and came face to face with Minerva McGonagall.

Chapter Text

November 15th, 1981
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Hermione's bottom lip began to quiver, standing in front of her mentor and former Head of House. "Good morning . . . ma'am," she said nervously, mentally hoping that this Minerva McGonagall would like her. The strange need for approval from the older witch hadn't dissipated during Hermione's trip through time.

Minerva raised a curious brow. "Are you Hermione Granger?" she asked.

Hermione beamed at the sound of her name. "Yes. You . . . you know me?"

The older witch sighed. "Disappointing. Albus led me to believe you were of above average intelligence. Of course I don't know you, my girl, but Professor Dumbledore did speak of you at great length. I'm aware of your appointment. He's asked me to sit in with him. Now, why were you shouting candy names at the gargoyle?"

Hermione frowned, caught off guard. "Because . . . umm . . . password?"

Minerva scoffed. "What kind of idiot uses candy names as a password?" she muttered, shaking her head. "Then again . . . Albus would be just the type. Spattergroit," she said and the gargoyle moved.

Hermione cringed. "Spattergroit?"

Minerva rolled her eyes. "I don't ask questions I most certainly don't want the answers to, Miss Granger. Come along, now."

When they stepped into the office, Dumbledore stood to greet them with a bright smile on his face and the twinkle back in his eyes. One look at Minerva, however, and he stepped back, appearing like a student having been scolded. "Forgive me, Miss Granger, I have been told that, at times, I don't properly convey the seriousness that certain situations are called for."

"That's all right, Professor," she said and then gave McGonagall a small smile of appreciation before taking a seat. "I've brought a few lists," she said and reached into her beaded bag, removing rolled up pieces of parchment. "A list of known Death Eaters and how they got out of Azkaban the first time, possible locations and hideouts . . . oh, there's a house, somewhere in Little Hangleton . . . I'm not sure where, I've never been myself but—"

"Your organisational skills are quite admirable, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said appreciatively.

She smiled. "Thank you, sir. I wonder, should I be called Howell, now? Hermione Howell? It's the name Remus gave me and, well, I imagine it will be difficult enough to immerse myself in this decade, let alone having there be two Hermione Grangers, especially when she . . . I . . . she turns eleven and comes to Hogwarts."

Albus nodded thoughtfully, looking over the papers in front of him and only looked back up when Minerva cleared her throat. "Oh . . . yes . . . that is, well . . . Miss Granger, or Howell, whichever you'd prefer to be called in private, the young Hermione Granger living in London with her parents today will not, in fact, be coming to Hogwarts."

Hermione gasped. "What? Why? Did I—"

"It's nothing that you've done," Minerva said. "But, as you've pointed out, there could be some problems with there being two of you in such close proximities. We've reached out to friends in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, and have arranged for the Granger family to relocate."

Hermione blinked as tears formed in her eyes. "Australia?" she whispered.

Minerva blinked and furrowed her brow. "Aus—no, to France," she said thoughtfully as she observed Hermione's reactions. "A career opportunity. The Grangers, we found were in the middle of looking for a location to settle down and set up a dental practice. We had a friend reach out and offer them a permanent residence and place of business just outside of Toulouse. Their daughter, upon turning eleven, will be accepted into the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic."

Hermione frowned but slowly nodded her head. "I understand . . . I just . . . I feel terrible. She's not going to have the friends that I had and . . . the experiences—"

"Enduring a war," Minerva pointed out, "is not an experience that any young witch should have."

A sad smile came over Hermione's face. "I know you won't really understand Professor, but I've very much missed you the past several months."

Minerva frowned but then reached out and awkwardly took Hermione's hand. "You are a . . . a very brave girl to be doing what you are. Albus has explained that your arrival here was accidental, but the choices you make now are not. You are a boon to the House of . . ." and she trailed off, raising a brow at Hermione who grinned brightly and nodded. "Godric Gryffindor."

Dumbledore was smiling, something more genuine than when she'd first arrived. "How is young Mister Potter doing?" he asked.

Hermione looked up. "Harry's fine," she said. "I think. He had headaches and nightmares growing up and I'm not sure if that has anything to do with . . . I was thinking of maybe speaking with Madam Pomfrey since we don't exactly know which Healers can be trusted with certain information."

Dumbledore continued smiling, looking away from her only to make notes on a parchment with a large phoenix feather quill. "I will speak with Poppy this afternoon. I was, however, asking about James Potter."

Hermione blinked. "Oh. Umm . . . I'm not sure, sir. He . . . he's lost his wife."

Minerva dabbed a handkerchief at the corner of her eyes. "And the world lost a wonderful young witch," she said. "He will recover, in time," she muttered and then glanced down at a thin, gold band around her finger that Hermione had never noticed before. "Friends help. So does productivity. Speaking of which," she turned to look at Dumbledore, "how are we to prevent the resurgence of that good for nothing—"

"Horcruxes," Hermione blurted out, and both Dumbledore and McGonagall fell silent, turning to stare at her with wide, shocked eyes.

Minerva brought her hand to her mouth and breathed rapidly, fingers trembling. "Mother of Merlin."

"Are you certain?" Dumbledore whispered.

Hermione nodded her head. "I have a list."

Ministry of Magic

After discussing everything from potential Horcruxes and how to maybe destroy them, to preventing visitors from seeing Barty Crouch Jr in Azkaban to prevent an escape, Hermione took tea with Minerva in her chambers, a place Hermione had never been before, and then was escorted to the Floo where she was instructed to go to the Ministry and wait to meet a young member of the Order who would help establish her as a citizen of Wizarding Britain.

Waiting at the appropriate place, Hermione noted the greeter from before ignored her entirely, something that caused her to grin. "Remus was right," she said. "No good prejudiced—"

"Hermione Granger?" someone called and Hermione turned her eyes up to see a tall, thin witch standing in front of her. Her long brown hair was tidy and held back in a bun and she wore finely pressed robes, the colour of which indicated that she worked within the Legal Departments.

"Yes," Hermione said hesitantly.

The witch smiled and held out a hand. "Emmeline Vance. Professor Dumbledore sent word that you were coming. If you'll follow me, we need to head down into the Records and Archives to set everything up. Your magical signature needs to be established there for all the spells and charms to work. You've a wand on you?" she asked.

Hermione looked offended at the suggestion that she wouldn't. "Of course," she said.

Emmeline smirked. "Relax," she said with a small chuckle. "Sometimes the greeters take them. They're trying to install some new ridiculous scanning system. As though a wand is any way to properly identify someone. I could easily steal a wand from anyone who's not paying very close attention and pass myself off as the Minister of Magic if people looked the other way."

Hermione chuckled. "I agree. There needs to be some sort of proper way to positively identify someone. Even imagery can be distorted with Transfiguration Charms and Polyjuice.

"How do they do it?" Emmeline asked quietly as she stepped into the lift, glaring at the people inside until they felt awkward enough to leave, correct floor or not. "Where you're from, I mean."

Hermione frowned. "Does the whole Order know my secret?"

Emmeline smirked. "Just the ones who can keep it. And be helpful to you, I suppose."

"The wand scanning system," Hermione answered with a roll of her eyes. "That and to check for Polyjuice, families are asked to have security questions."

The other witch stared at her incredulously. "Honestly? You're not having a laugh?" Hermione shook her head. "That's imbecilic. Anyone who's willing to steal a wand or Polyjuice could just as well be a Legilimens or carry Veritaserum. Two drops and a 'what's the answer to your secret question?' and suddenly they've an all access pass. The best security is to be someone not worth impersonating," Emmeline said firmly. "No one pays attention to the boss swot who works in records and always has her nose in a book."

Hermione smiled. "Would you like to have lunch with me?"

Emmeline smirked. "I don't take lunch breaks often. Dinner would be possible. I assume you're not used to the area, at least currently."

She shook her head, still smiling. "No, and I'd love to have a proper tour. Maybe I could invite some of my friends."

Emmeline's smile faded. "Longbottoms are good people. Alice and I were not close in school. I was in Ravenclaw, but she and Lily Evans were always kind to me. Lupin as well. We were both Prefects," she said with a kind smile. "Potter . . . not so much, but . . . I understand he's gone through a terrible time," she mentioned, looking down and sighing heavily. "Terribly tragedy."

Hermione nodded and then cleared her throat. "I feel like there's going to be a problem in the shape of a tall dark and very imposing wizard."

Emmeline rolled her eyes. "Sirius Black is a cad of terrible quality," she said, her face reddening a bit in irritation. "He's foul-mouthed, inappropriate, completely offensive in any situation and," she added, her voice rising. "He has a tiny prick!"

A loud guffaw fell out of Hermione's mouth and she moved to cover her lips, her eyes apologetic. Emmeline looked momentarily embarrassed but then burst into laughter herself. "I'm . . . I'm sorry . . . there's no explanation really that's appropriate."

Hermione stopped laughing and looked up at her new acquaintance. "I'm guessing Sirius is an old flame?"

Emmeline snorted. "Sixth year," she said. "Dumped me for Marlene McKinnon. At least she could control him," she added. "Shame she's gone as well. Now who'll—"

"Keep a leash on the dog?" Hermione suggested and Emmeline smirked. "He's a terrible flirt and he has a list of flaws miles long, but . . . he's a loyal friend and . . . he's family."

The other witch sighed but then nodded. "He's in the Order as well, so that speaks to his character. Perhaps I can let bygones be bygones. And he's not entirely offensive, inappropriate, or foul-mouthed."

Hermione cleared her throat. "What about . . . umm . . .?" she asked, her cheeks turning pink.

Emmeline smirked and then shrugged. "Disappointingly average," she said and Hermione started laughing again.

Chapter Text

November 15th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

After snagging a few muffins for breakfast, James bid farewell to Hermione and told Sirius to piss off and then disappeared into the bedroom to feed Harry and hopefully calm him back to sleep at some point. The moment Harry's eyelids heavily fell shut, James wiped the crumbs from his mouth and tucked him into the crib that they'd transfigured out of the twin bed.

He picked apart his own muffin, forcing himself to eat because otherwise, the Pain Potions made him sick. His back, while fully healed, still ached due to the newness of the regrown bones and the lack of activity during his time at St. Mungo's. "Strengthening exercises, but nothing strenuous," the Healer had said. James was bitterly torn over the fact that "nothing strenuous" clearly meant that Quidditch was out, but also because he couldn't even be bothered to wonder if Hermione and Allie had grabbed his broom from Godric's Hollow. He hadn't even looked or asked.

Quidditch seemed stupid. Flying seemed pointless. Everything seemed stupid and pointless and useless. Everything but keeping Harry alive and safe and . . . happy seemed a bit of a leap at this point, but asleep and not crying was a vast improvement.

He sighed and downed his Pain Potion, gagging a bit at the taste, wondering if it was too early for a butterbeer. He knew there was pumpkin juice in the Cooling Cabinet, but he couldn't bare to open it and see Lily's treacle tart and pumpkin pie there on the shelf. Allie had brought them, undamaged, from the cottage, and James just couldn't bring himself to acknowledge that he'd never walk into the kitchen to see Lily in front of the oven, covered in flour, licking something sugary from her fingers. Her hair would never be held up in a ponytail with red wisps falling down the sides of her face again. She'd never again wear that silly old apron of hers that was falling apart at the seams despite the number of Mending Charms that she'd put on it.

He crawled onto the floor and twisted around to get into a position that wasn't hell on his back, angling his arms and legs in a way that stretched the atrophied muscles, unused to the new bones they were attached to. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out.

"You're exhaling too fast," Lily said, opening one eye to glare at him as he sat, legs crossed in front of her, smirking. "And your posture is atrocious. If you're not going to take this seriously, James, then leave."

"I'm taking it seriously, watch, see?" he said, pointing at his grin. "This is my serious face."

Lily tried to hold back a smile. "That's your trouble face."

"Lils," he whinged. "This is boring."

"It's yoga."

He groaned. "Leave it to Muggles to come up with an exercise that's not even exercise."

She snorted. "If you did it right, you'd be laughing at that statement right now. Just because it doesn't involve a broom and flying balls, doesn't make it any less beneficial as exercise, James. Now be quiet," she said, closing her eyes once more as she stretched her arms over her head. "This is supposed to be a melding of mind and body."

He grinned, eyeing the slender lines of her neck leading down to breasts, full and round thanks to pregnancy. He sat up and leant in toward her. "I'd much rather have a melding of body and body," he said and scooped her into his arms, kissing away her giggling protests.

James let his limbs hit the floor and struggled to make them move again. Everything was a struggle and he wanted to just crawl beneath the bed and let the darkness swallow him whole. Only Harry kept him moving; kept him going and fighting to breathe.

And every breath hurt like hell.

He woke hours later and looked up at the empty crib. Panicked, James sat bolt upright and winced at the pain in his back, more from having slept the day away on the floor than his recent injury.

"Calm down, mate," Remus said, leaning forward and putting a hand on his shoulder.

James turned to see his friend sitting on the bottom bunk, Harry beside him, quietly destroying one of Sirius's old textbooks from Hogwarts with a broken green crayon, making exploding sounds anytime the stick of colour collided with paper.

"How long have I been out?" he asked.

Remus frowned. "All day. Sirius fed Harry lunch just before I showed up. Pretty sure he's going to have a sugar crash here in an hour or two," he remarked. "I'll get down to the grocers later tonight after dinner."

James nodded, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Wouldn't it be smarter to get groceries before dinner?"

"We're going out," Remus replied. "Hermione stopped by the Ministry and made a new friend and invited us all along. It's her first real trip out since . . . well, getting here, and she wanted us all along for the ride. Likely just in case she ended up confusing people with future talk," he said with a chuckle. "I told her if people look at her strangely just to tell them that she's a Muggle-born, it's not like many would really know any better."

James stood up, not paying much attention as he stepped into the adjoining loo, kicking the door half shut while he pissed. He leant his forehead on his arm, resting on the wall in front of him and sighed as he tried to blink away the drowsiness that came with the Pain Potions.

After flushing and washing his hands, he grumbled at the lack of any dry hand towels, reminding himself that Lily always used to keep a blue one on the back of the door just for him since the ones hung up on the rack were "for guests". Wiping his wet hands down the front of his t-shirt, he stepped back into the room and crawled onto the bed beside Harry, examining the, now torn and coloured diagram of particular wand motions for a Levitating Charm.

"Have fun."

Remus frowned. "You should come out."

"Don't want to."

"You know it would be good for you. Fresh air, good company, actual food," he encouraged.

James shrugged. "I'm fine here."

"You're not fine here. It would be one thing if this were the next day but . . . it's been two weeks and you've spent most of them cooped up on your own in the hospital. You can't just shut up here, alone, and lock yourself away from the world, mate."

James reached out, pulling Harry up against his chest, earning a giggle from the boy. "Not alone. Got my boy."

Remus narrowed his gaze. "Harry needs to get out too. He needs to know that it's safe. You, Lily, and Harry were locked in that cottage for over a year. And I know now that you loaned the Cloak to Dumbledore, for whatever reason," he said, rolling his eyes, "so you hadn't even left the property in at least six months. That's not healthy. You can't—"

"He asked."


"Dumbledore asked to study the Cloak. Fuck if I know why," James said with a shrug.

Remus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Come out with us. Please."

James ran a hand through his hair, messing it up further, turning typical bedhead into a more purposeful disaster. "Give me one good reason."

The werewolf smirked. "Hermione's new friend is Emmie Vance."

A delighted and mischievous grin rapidly grew on James's face.

The Leaky Cauldron

"Disappointingly average?!"

Emmeline Vance sat beside Hermione at the table, looking completely unperturbed that Sirius Black was standing, hovering really, over her and shouting, his long black hair having fallen from the leather string he'd tied it back with. She looked up, making eye contact with the man and slowly sipped from her water glass, setting it back down on the table before clearly saying, "I faked it."

Sirius erupted into an ego deflated temper tantrum the likes of which James hadn't seen since Marlene McKinnon jokingly said she expected a proposal from Sirius shortly after graduation. Sirius had panicked and hid away in the Three Broomsticks for six days before Remus, James, and Peter tracked him down, drunk and begging Rosmerta to run away with him.

Emmeline and Sirius had been arguing almost since the moment they sat down at the table and then all through dinner. She, more than once, alluded to his lack of prowess in the bedroom just to get a rise out of him, and Sirius always took the bait. By the time dinner was finished, Frank and Remus had come up with a drinking game where they took a shot every time Sirius referenced his cock.

Unable to keep up with werewolf metabolism, Frank was beyond pissed, practically drooling on the table while Allie shook her head and combed her fingers through his hair.

"I'm actually glad I came out," James said, holding up his butterbeer in a toast to Hermione who looked mortified that every set of eyes in the Leaky was staring at their table thanks to Sirius and Emmeline. "You bring some good entertainment, 'Mione."

Hermione blinked and looked at James. "Hermione," she clarified. "Can you umm . . . not call me the . . . the other—"

"Hermione," James corrected and nodded a small, silent apology.

She smiled softly and then turned bright red when Sirius yelled, "You came three times and that was just beneath the Quidditch stands, sweetheart!"

James laughed and Remus stood up, putting a hand over Sirius's mouth in an attempt to calm him because Frank looked ready to vomit if he was forced to drink another shot of firewhisky. Tom, the keeper, didn't seem bothered by the ruckus, more amused than anything. Sirius fought against Remus's grip but was subdued by the strength of the werewolf who continually whispered, "Shhh . . . Shhh . . ." while stroking Sirius's hair, ignoring the sound Allie laughing from behind them.

"Not used to all the attention?" James asked Hermione, leaning over to pull a stuffed hippogriff away from Harry and Neville, who were fighting over it. Without a word, James flicked his wand, duplicating the toy, returning one to each toddler before looking back at Hermione who was smiling at the boys.

She shook her head. "Not like this, no," she admitted. "We . . . umm . . . my friends and I," she said, glancing briefly at Harry before turning her full focus on James. "He didn't like attention. Unless it was about Quidditch," she said, rolling her eyes and sipping her butterbeer.

James looked up, a brightness to his eyes that hadn't been there before. "He played?"

She paused at the sight of his sudden, excited interest and smiled. "Yes," she said. "He played rather well, actually. Seeker. Youngest in a century."

James looked over at Harry, who was busy chewing on the stuffed hippogriff's tail while simultaneously trying to stick a fried chip in his mouth. James laughed at his son and removed the toy, allowing for Harry to chew with ease. "How about that," he said. "Seeker."

"Oh, I don't fucking believe this," Sirius said and both James and Hermione looked up to see both Sirius and Remus glaring at the entrance.

Hermione turned in her chair to find out whatever had stolen the wizards' attention, only to see Severus Snape standing in the doorway. Her eyes widened in shock at the arrival of her former Potions Professor and Dumbledore's murderer, and she instinctively moved, positioning herself between the man and Harry. The motion did not go unnoticed by James, who rose from his chair to stand side by side with his friends.

Snape sneered. "Potter."

James glowered. "Snape."

Chapter Text

November 15th, 1981
The Leaky Cauldron

Staring at Severus Snape made Hermione's stomach turn.

She remembered defending him for years, all based on Dumbledore's unending trust of the man. Defended him against Harry and Ron who called him a bat, against Sirius who called him names and made threats. Defended him while Neville tried to hide the fact that his hands shook anytime he touched a cauldron and often cried in the common room after Potions when he thought he was alone.

She remembered the way Remus had screamed in the Hospital Wing when Harry and Ginny arrived, announcing Dumbledore's death. How Tonks gasped and Professor McGonagall cried, and even Luna—who handfed thestrals like they were beautiful unicorns—trembled at the news.

"Snape killed him," Harry said. "I was there, I saw it . . . I was under the Invisibility Cloak. And then Malfoy came through the door and disarmed him . . . more Death Eaters arrived . . . and then Snape—and Snape did it. The Avada Kedavra."

"I always thought Dumbledore must know something about Snape that we didn't," Minerva said. "He always hinted that he had an ironclad reason for trusting Snape."

"Snape passed Voldemort the information that made Voldemort hunt down my mum and dad. Then Snape told Dumbledore he hadn't realised what he was doing, he was really sorry he'd done it, sorry that they were dead."

"And Dumbledore believed that?" Remus had incredulously asked. "Dumbledore believed Snape was sorry James was dead? Snape hated James."

"And he didn't think my mother was worth a damn either," Harry bitterly spat, "because she was Muggle-born. . . . 'Mudblood,' he called her."

"Expelliarmus!" Hermione shouted as she stood, wand aimed at Snape. The piece of black reed flew into her hand and the man looked up, enraged to see that his wand had been stolen from him. She gripped it in hand and glared at him.

"Well, all we need now is Professor McGonagall to start screaming," Emmeline quipped and stood up, finishing the last of her water and setting her napkin down on her plate. "Hermione, dinner was lovely and we should get together this week. I'll loan you those books we were talking about," she said and gave the men all a stern look before quickly making her way out the door to Disapparate.

Allie had lifted Neville into her arms and was moving around the table to pick up Harry, but Hermione stood in her path. "Hermione?" she whispered. "Let me get the kids out of here."

"Nothing's going to happen," Hermione insisted, her stance still defensive as Snape staggered forward, clearly drunk as he moved to find out why his wand had been taken from him by a complete stranger, only to stumble into several patrons and curse under his breath when his robes got caught on a nearby stool.

Allie sighed. "Frank's a mess and neither of us are active Aurors. Something's going to happen. Something always happens. And this . . . it's been brewing for years. Ever since we all left Hogwarts and Lily—"

"You can't seriously condone fighting?"

Allie looked at Frank, who was already defensive and stumbling as he tried to stand, looking for the Auror badge that hadn't been there in over a year. "I have priorities," she answered. "And I keeping a Death Eater's nose unbroken isn't one of them," she added bitterly. "Hermione, let me take Harry."

Hermione stepped aside and Allie pulled Harry into her arms, shooting a look at James who only nodded to her. Frank leant against Remus and sighed. "Keep it civil," he said. "Allie and I are off duty but . . . still, guys we're technically Aurors."

"Then there's a Death Eater," Sirius spat. "Go arrest the mother fucker."

Snape sneered at Sirius. "I'm not the one being called a murderer in the papers, Black!"

"No, you like to let everyone else do your dirty work for you, Snivellus!" Sirius said and then shot forward, wand in his hand.

"What the hell did I just say!?" Frank snapped, jumping in front of Sirius and prying the chestnut wand from his grip. "Civil! Meaning no wands! He's drunk and unarmed, Sirius. Please for the love of Merlin, don't make me arrest my own friends for attacking an unarmed man, three on one," he pleaded and then swayed, looking like he was ready to be sick at any moment.

"Not three," James muttered darkly, his eyes stony as they stared across the bar at Snape who met him glare for glare.

"You think you can take me without backup, Potter?"

"Take it out back, boys," Tom said firmly when the other patrons turned to watch the spectacle.

"You can't be serious?" Hermione said, eyes wide as she turned to Allie who held a child on each hip. "This is . . . they're just going to . . . what? Fight?"

Allie shrugged. "Better to get it over with now, and without wands. Like I said . . . months," she spoke quietly, looking tense as she glanced to Remus. "Keep Sirius under control. Floo me when everyone's home and I'll bring Harry by."

Remus nodded and took Sirius's wand from Frank who looked helpless as to what he should be doing. "You heard Tom," Remus said, "Out back." He gestured to the back door that led to a brick wall: the currently closed entrance to Diagon Alley.

Sirius was first out the door and Frank and Allie disappeared through the Floo with the boys. Remus lurked behind, watching as James and Snape eyed one another as they passed through the door. He turned back and looked apologetically at Hermione.

"They're just going to fight out their problems? This isn't some schoolyard thing, Remus," she said, imploring him to put sense into his friends.

He shook his head. "No, it's not," he said and then stepped outside.

She refused, at first, to follow; determined not to participate in the senseless violence and male posturing by observing. She fought herself internally, however, with the need to make sure her friends were safe, and a small voice in the back of her head—that sounded suspiciously like Ron—told her that she wanted to see Snape get some sort of punishment for his actions, even if they hadn't technically happened yet.

When she burst out the door she gasped at the sight of James and Snape rolling on the ground, swinging fists into one another's faces, tangled up in robes and limbs, both shouting obscenities at the other while Remus kept Sirius at bay.

"You should be the one dead!" Snape said, his voice cold and low but loud enough that Hermione could hear, even over James's growling. "I knew you'd never be able to protect her!"

"My fucking wife!" James yelled and sank a fist into Snape's jaw. "Put up with it for years . . . goddamn stalker!"

"So much for your love, Potter. You loved her right to death!"

"Your fault!"

"All your heroics and you managed to live while she died?"

"Don't you dare talk about her you Death Eater piece of shit!" James yelled and then coughed when Snape threw a knee into his stomach.

"I've given . . . would give . . . everything for Lily," Snape said, pulling away from James and wiping the blood from a split lip onto the sleeve of his robe. Hermione's jaw tightened at the sight of the faded Dark Mark on his arm when the fabric lifted up and away, revealing the pale, blemished skin. "You couldn't even keep her alive when you knew they were coming. It's like you wanted her dead."

Sirius lunged forward and Remus grabbed him by the back of the neck, wrapping an arm around his shoulder, nearly dragging him to the ground in the process.

Snape turned and looked at Hermione with an expression of pure disgust. He exhaled heavily in between panting breaths and she could smell the stench of firewhisky pouring off of him. "Who's in the wings, Potter?" he asked, gesturing to Hermione. "Someone purer. Someone you could have taken home to mummy?"

James stood and spat in Snape's face. "Fuck you! I'm not the one who ever gave two shits about her blood status. That was you!" he said, pointing a finger at the man.

For the very briefest of moments, Hermione thought she saw true remorse cross Snape's face, but it was quickly replaced by rage. "I never . . . it's all your fault, Potter. You and that little brat of yours murdered—"

James flung himself forward and each wizard threw another two punches each, surprisingly hard for a drunk and a man who'd been hospitalised for a fortnight after nearly being crushed to death. Still, it was more than Hermione could stomach. She reached for her wand and with a fluid wave, separated them, sending James tumbling backward into Remus and Sirius, and Snape back to the opposite side of the alley, knocking into the brick wall. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw he was unconscious, but breathing, reminding her strangely of their encounter in the Shrieking Shack third year.

Sirius grinned darkly and stepped toward Snape but Hermione blocked his path. "You're not that man," she said firmly, looking up at him with pleading eyes and it took several moments of her unyielding before Sirius frowned and looked away, slowly nodding his head and reaching a hand out to James to help him to stand.

Hermione turned and threw Snape's wand down at his feet and then stepped back as Remus opened the entrance to Diagon Alley. She glanced once more over her shoulder at the young, grief-stricken Death Eater, and shook her head before turning to follow after the Marauders.

Sirius Black's Flat

Sirius angrily dove head first into a bottle of firewhisky the moment they stepped through the door and Hermione sighed, pleading silently for Remus to take care of it. He nodded and followed Sirius onto the balcony, closing the door behind them both.

She turned and watched as James stumbled into the bathroom, wincing when blood from a cut over his eyebrow leaked into his eye.

Hermione flicked her wand, said, "Expecto Patronum," and looked at the little otter, swimming happily midair. "Professor Dumbledore, there are some things I need to discuss with you about Severus Snape. It might be best to summon him for the night and keep an eye on him. Don't leave him alone," she insisted, and then watched as the little otter swam out the window and out of sight.

Stepping to the fireplace, Hermione threw a pinch of Floo powder in the grate and shouted, "Longbottom Keep!" and stuck her head inside the green flames. "Allie?"

Allie looked in from the other side. "Hermione? Is everything all right? Anyone seriously injured?"

"No, just . . . could you keep Harry for the night? I don't want him to see his father like this."

Allie frowned. "That bad?"

Hermione sighed. "It's not good. He should be fine in the morning."

"The boys are already asleep, so there's no trouble keeping him here," Allie replied. "I'll come around in the morning and bring the three of them breakfast as well."

"Stupid violence. I don't like it," Hermione pointed out.

Allie smirked. "Neither did Lily."

Chapter Text

November 15th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

"Come sit down," Hermione said, gesturing to the chair she'd pulled into the bedroom. When James ignored her, trying to clean the cuts on his face on his own, she huffed. "I said sit down, right now."

He turned and raised a sore eyebrow at her. "Did that tone work with Harry?" he asked sceptically and then proceeded to ignore her demands once again, looking back at the mirror and hissing when he pulled a small bit of dirt out of one of the cuts.

"Honestly?" she said, folding her arms across her chest. "Yes," she admitted.

James snorted. "Yeah, well, I'm not Harry."

She frowned. "I've noticed. Although, you could have fooled me back at the Leaky with that fight."

He turned and looked at her curiously. "Harry fought?"

She lifted her gaze focus back to him and put her hands on her hips. "Sit down in the chair and I might tell you."

He wiped his face on the towel in his hands and tossed it at her. "Slytherin," he accused before sitting down in the chair.

"Hooligan," she retorted, cleansing the towel in her hand with her wand and then reaching in her bag for the small bottle of dittany that she'd recently replaced. "Now, hold still," she ordered as she placed a drop of the potion on the cut above his brow, using the towel to make sure none dripped into his eyes. "Harry once got into a fight with another Seeker after a game. The boy said something cruel and Harry, along with another friend of ours, attacked him."

James winced as smoke sizzled against the cut, leaving behind healed skin. "Did he win?"

Hermione frowned. "He had his broom confiscated and then was banned from Quidditch. I would say he lost no matter how the fight ended."

He looked down as she moved her fingers through his hair, pulling away clumped strands from a bleeding wound above his hairline. "Was it a fist fight or a duel?"

"Fists," she said, still frowning. "Harry was brilliant at duelling, though. Unfortunately, his temper, which I've now decided is hereditary," she remarked, "often got the best of him. There was an accident at the end of sixth year and a boy, the same one as before, almost died."

James looked up, wide-eyed and shocked, wincing when Hermione's fingers tugged on his hair at the motion. "Ow! He . . . Harry didn't . . ."

She sighed and nodded. "He used a Dark spell he found in a random book," she said. "He didn't know what it was for, just knew it was defensive. Almost sliced the other boy in half. If a professor hadn't come running and known the counter curse, the boy would have bled out in the bathroom and Harry would have killed him."

James frowned and looked away from her with a guilty expression. "I won't let that happen. Dark magic is . . . I don't tolerate it. Ever," he said firmly. "My kid won't learn rubbish like that."

She smiled at the sentiment but the wording had her chuckling. "And the language?"

He rolled his eyes. "Habit."

"You're just as bad as Sirius with his smoking."

James smirked. "Lily would have liked you. Bossy."

She laughed. "I take that as the highest of compliments, thank you."

There was a long moment of silence and the laughter faded as she washed his wound clean. "You knew Snape," he stated. "You didn't trust him. Disarmed him before he even said a word. What was he in your time? Is there something else I should know about him?"

She shook her head after a moment of contemplation. "Not unless Dumbledore finds it important enough to share. I know that he hates you and Sirius and Remus, and for good reason," she added. "Although, after what I already knew about him, and what I heard tonight, I imagine you have a good reason to hate him as well."

He tilted his head to the side and cringed when she dropped dittany onto the cut in his hair. "It was stupid House rivalries at first, you know? We met on the train. I was a cocky little blighter and said something about Slytherins, and then he basically called me stupid. Social graces of eleven-year-olds leave something to be desired. Gryffindors and Slytherins fought. It was just something we all did. Snape would hex us back just as good, sometimes better," he noted aloud.

"You saved his life once," Hermione whispered.

His eyes widened. "You know about that?"

"Know about a lot."

He looked back down and began picking dirt from beneath his fingernails, picking up from tumbling on the ground outside the Leaky. "That was . . . things had really escalated by that point, and Sirius was having issues with his family at home and Snape was always poking around at Remus. Pushed too far one day. I'm not making excuses," he said. "Just . . . Everything had gotten out of hand."

She continued looking around in his hair for any more injuries. "I was bullied in school. So was Harry," she said. "But it was never anything like the animosity between you and Snape. What happened? How did it go from House rivalries to nearly killing one another?"

James sighed. "In the middle of fourth year, I was on a date in Hogsmeade with this Hufflepuff girl and Lily walks into the Three Broomsticks with him. They were friends. I never understood why other than the fact that they were both a bit, well, swotty," he said with a small smile, looking up and chuckling when Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "They grew up in the same town. Default friendship, I guess.

"Anyway, they sat down at a booth nearby and these three Slytherins showed up and walked over to their table. They called Lily some awful names, and he didn't say a word. Just cowered down in the booth and looked away like he didn't even know her. Things got heated and Lily started shouting and Snape got up and walked right out the door. Rosmerta came and broke up the argument and Lils turns around and, he was gone. She had a way about her, never liked to seem weak, you know? But I could tell that it really hurt. Remus told me later on that he caught her crying out near the greenhouses when he and Sirius got back to the castle. I don't . . ." he began and then stopped, clearing his throat.

Hermione frowned and pulled away, transfiguring a nearby box into another chair. "You don't what?"

"I'd do anything for a friend," he admitted. "I don't understand how someone can just betray . . ." He blinked rapidly, tears forming. His expression turned angry and embarrassed and he tried to look away. "I don't understand," he said, his voice growing thick with emotion. "They were friends since they were little, right?" he said, looking up at her, eyes wet. "They did everything together. Best friends, Hermione, they were best friends. How could he betray her? How could he know her for more than half of her life and pretend to care and pretend to love her and pretend that he wanted her safe? How could he do that and just . . . Why?"

Tears fell down her cheeks, clearly aware that they were no longer talking about Lily and Snape. "I don't know," she said softly, wiping at her cheeks.

She thought of Ron and that damned Horcrux. She knew that without the influence of the Horcrux, Ron never would have abandoned her and Harry the way that he had. She had been angry when he'd left, but it was that thought that kept hope in her heart in regards to her friend. But as far as she knew, Peter Pettigrew hadn't been influenced by anything but fear of Voldemort.

"He was my brother," James said, ignoring the tears that soaked his cheeks and clung to his thick, black lashes. "W-When we were eleven, he was afraid of the dark so I learned how to charm his stuffed dragon with a Lumos so he wouldn't be scared, and when we found out about Remus, we spent weeks in the library trying to figure out how to help and Peter was right there with us, just as worried, just as . . ." He stopped speaking and put his head in his hands. "He was at my wedding, and he was there when Harry was born. I trusted him," he whispered. "I trusted him with my family."

She couldn't stop herself from crying now, sniffling every few moments as she watched James break down, unwilling to look away, feeling that doing so would be disrespectful. She wouldn't pretend his pain wasn't real because it was uncomfortable. She certainly wouldn't leave him alone with it.

"I killed her," he sobbed.


James looked up, eyes red. "Snape's right. I agreed to change Secret-Keepers and—"

"Why did you change?"

He shook his head.


"Because they were targeting Sirius. Because everyone knew I would pick him, who else? It was too obvious. I wanted to keep them safe. Peter was supposed to leave the country so I thought—"

"Exactly," she said. "You and Sirius and, I imagine, Lily all thought that he'd be safe. He was your friend, your brother, and you had no way of knowing. Sometimes . . . Sometimes the people we trust the most still end up . . ." she said and then thought back to the look on McGonagall's face when she was told that it was Snape who'd murdered Dumbledore. "You couldn't have known that he couldn't be trusted."

After wiping his nose on his sleeve and taking several long breaths, he looked up. "Then how can I know who to trust?"

She furrowed her brow. "You trust the werewolf who endangered his own life to infiltrate the enemy. You trust the man who went to prison because he was so distraught over what happened to your family. You trust the people who came running to help when they found out, even though they were still in danger themselves. And you can trust the girl who made an Unbreakable Vow to keep your son safe and happy."

James blinked. "Happy? You swore to keep him happy?"

Hermione laughed and wiped away another tear from her face. "I don't think that was a part of the official Vow, but . . . it's important."

He let out a small laugh himself and sighed. "You're in for a treat Miss Granger," he said. "That boy is downright miserable when he has to take a bath."

Chapter Text

November 27th, 1981

Despite the leisurely pace she felt she was moving compared to the past few months on the run with Harry and Ron, Hermione was shocked to see the days speeding along. She spent her time researching and writing down everything she knew about her time that would be helpful in stopping Voldemort from returning. She borrowed books from Emmeline and met up twice a week for coffee to discuss the latest happenings within the Ministry.

Tuesday mornings were reserved for tea with Molly Weasley. The redhead had been excited for a new friend, as most of her former schoolmates were mothers like herself and Molly had seven of her own children and often tired of hearing about nappies and the rising cost of Hogwarts supplies as her generation prepared to send the next off to school. Hermione, however, offered her intelligent conversation about everything from books to developments in charms and information about the Muggle world.

Molly had been thrilled to meet Hermione when she'd shown up at the Burrow to pick up Crookshanks. Bill had winked at her, and Charlie had shaken her hand in greeting. Percy thanked her for his new rat, and Molly had forced the twins to apologise for tormenting the cat, who had scratched every bit of them that he could reach. Hermione doted on the Weasley boys, though she'd yet to actually meet "little Ronnie" who was asleep both times she'd stopped by. Tiny Ginevra, only three months old, did little more than sleep in Molly's arms, usually wearing some pink frilly gown that had Hermione snickering.

Most afternoons she could be found out behind Lupin Cottage, duelling with Remus who was much more lithe and agile in his youth. Evenings were spent having dinner with the Marauders or Longbottoms, sometimes both as Allie had taken to mothering James and Sirius. Every Friday night they returned to the Leaky for drinks, all placing bets on how long before Emmeline provoked Sirius into an argument. So far, Snape had yet to resurface.

It was late on Friday night, home from the Leaky, that Hermione found an owl waiting for her inside the flat. The message had Dumbledore's signature, inviting her to the Hog's Head to "catch up with friends". When she finished reading the little invitation, the letter burst into flames, vanishing; the resulting smoke took on the image of a phoenix.

The message was clear: she was being invited to join the Order.

November 29th, 1981
The Hog's Head

"I would like to thank you all for making necessary arrangements to meet tonight," Dumbledore said with a bright smile once Aberforth, his brother—something that had shocked Hermione to discover—closed the door to the bar and shut the windows. "We have much to discuss. First, I would like to have a moment of silence for those who have given their lives for the greater good, and those who sacrificed themselves to ensure the destruction of Lord Voldemort."

James bowed his head and purposely ignored the fact that everyone in the room briefly glanced in his direction until the silent moment had passed.

"All due respect, sir," Dedalus Diggle spoke up, "but why do we have much to discuss? The Order was created to bring down Voldemort and he's dead, praise Merlin. Er . . . Sorry, Potter," he said with a wince and James waved him off.

"Is it because of the Death Eaters?" Hestia Jones asked. "I thought the Aurors were tracking them down? Weren't most arrested?"

Dumbledore nodded. "The currently known Death Eaters that have evaded capture are, at present, being sought out by the Auror Department, that is correct. Also, Lord Voldemort, thanks to the bravery of Lily Potter, was indeed defeated."

"Defeated," Emmeline said, looking up at her former headmaster. "Not destroyed. Not dead. Defeated. Dumbledore, did we win a battle and not the war?"

The older wizard frowned. "It has come to my attention that Voldemort dabbled in magic darker than any of us have realised," he said and everyone began talking at once, most in panicked whispers.

"I knew it!"

"There wasn't a body! They said there wasn't a body."

"Did he escape?"

"Where did he go?"

"So, Lily died for nothing?"

"Shut the hell up!" Sirius snarled loudly and the room instantly fell quiet once again. He huffed, adjusted his leather jacket and ran a hand through his hair, a compulsive habit indicating his frustration. He sat back down beside James, sandwiching the man in between himself and Remus, who put a hand on Hermione's bouncing knee to stop her from fidgeting.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "At present, Voldemort is not a threat," he assured everyone. "The Order is remaining active to make certain he does not become a threat again. While I can't divulge all the details of what happened on the thirty-first of October in Godric's Hollow, I can say that you are still very much needed for your vigilance and research abilities."

Sturgis Podmore frowned and took out a handkerchief to wipe nervous sweat from his brow. "What do we do?"

Dumbledore turned and smiled at Hermione. "Miss Howell?"

"Who's she?" Hestia asked.

"Mister Lupin's cousin, Hermione, has been a specialist with the Order for some time now, working exclusively on our current problem," Dumbledore said as Hermione stood from her chair and made her way to the front of the group.

Aberforth raised a sceptical brow. "For some time now? She looks barely out of Hogwarts."

She cleared her throat. "You've all been called here tonight because Dumbledore assures me that you're the most trusted within the Order and—"

"Speaking of most trusted, where's Snivellus?" Sirius asked, looking around.

"Mister Snape has gone abroad," Dumbledore replied, ignoring Sirius's name calling and tone.

James looked up, eyebrows raised. "What do you mean abroad? He's run from the Aurors like the rest of the Death Eaters?"

"On the contrary, James," Dumbledore said with a soft smile. "Severus received immunity for his participation as one of Voldemort's followers because of his work with the Order. Prior to the fall of Voldemort, Severus had accepted a position at Hogwarts as our new Potions Master, however, since then he has reconsidered his options and has, instead, taken up residence and a promising career at the Durmstrang Institute. I assure you, Severus is not a threat."

James scoffed. "Not anymore, at least."

"James," Remus said and put a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Umm . . . as I was saying," Hermione muttered, drawing the attention back to her, "everyone here is the most trusted and—"

"And how do we know that?" James interrupted. "Just asking? Peter was a member of the Order," he pointed out and everyone looked down at the ground in grief, guilt, and general discomfort. No one knowing how to reply to the man's concerns, considering how very valid they were.

"Veritaserum," Hermione answered him.

Mundungus Fletcher looked up in fright. "Excuse me?"

"It's the safest way," she insisted. "Before you know what I know, you'll all take Veritaserum and be questioned by Professor Dumbledore, who is at liberty to use Legilimency as well."

"Neither of those is legal," Hestia pointed out.

Sirius smirked. "Does this look like the Ministry of Magic to you, sweetheart?"

In the end, despite being loyal to the greater good, the light, and the Order, some members were considered high risk when it came to information.

Mundungus lasted less than five seconds after taking Veritaserum before Aberforth escorted him through the front door, informing him that he was still banned from the bar outside of Order meetings. Dedalus and Sturgis were both considered a bit too anxious to conceal such important information, and Elphias Doge had a bad habit of muttering to himself without thinking. For the same reason, Hagrid had been left out of the meeting entirely, remaining at Hogwarts with Minerva.

In the end, Hestia Jones and Mary Macdonald joined Emmeline, the Marauders, and the Longbottoms in a private, silenced room where Dumbledore and Hermione explained Horcruxes. Others not present, like Alastor Moody who was still recovering from injuries, would be informed at a later time. After the initial horror faded from their faces, they were offered Obliviation if they did not want to move forward. None accepted and instead took oaths of secrecy.

A plan was made to meet again in another month or so once Dumbledore looked into a few things. All returned to their own homes except for the Marauders and Hermione, who was grateful for the company after such an emotionally exhausting meeting.

"Tom Riddle," she said as they gathered together in Sirius's living room. Remus poured everyone a small glass of firewhisky and Hermione accepted, sighing as she stared into the amber liquid. "His name was Tom Riddle when he was a . . . person."

"Was he not a person?" Remus asked curiously as he sat down beside her, setting the bottle to the side and out of Sirius's reach.

Hermione shook her head. "Not where I'm from. Harry described him as . . . monstrous. Bald and pale, grey, almost translucent skin. He umm . . . He didn't have a nose and his eyes were—"

"Red," James whispered as he stared off into the distance, slowly bringing the glass of firewhisky to his lips and drinking deeply.

Hermione frowned and nodded. "The diary was the first we discovered. Stumbled upon it, actually—unfortunately," she said, thinking of Ginny. "Dumbledore didn't know what it was when it was destroyed. Right now, the most likely place it will be is inside Malfoy Manor." All three men looked up at her, surprised. "There was a ring and I'm not sure of the exact location, Dumbledore's looking into that personally. He was the one who destroyed it in my time. Then there's the locket, and that will be inside number twelve, Grimmauld Place."

Sirius groaned loudly and fell back, letting his head thud against the floor as he rubbed his hands down his face. "Why is my family so shitty?"

James actually laughed. "Cheer up, mate. You get to find a pretty necklace."

Remus focused on Hermione. "What of the rest?"

"In my time we believed he had six. That seemed to be his goal, splitting himself seven ways. The diary, ring, locket, a cup we thought belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, but we didn't have any leads on where that would be. Then I was pretty certain Voldemort's pet snake was one, but he didn't obtain that until he returned in 1995," she said, more to herself than the others. "That leaves the last thing a mystery. But as the locket belonged to Salazar Slytherin and the cup to Helga Hufflepuff—"

"You think the last one is something of either Godric Gryffindor or Rowena Ravenclaw," Remus interrupted.

She nodded. "The sword of Godric Gryffindor would be the obvious choice," she said, finally taking a sip of her drink and cringing as it burned down her throat when she swallowed. "Since . . ." She coughed. "Since it's at Hogwarts, Dumbledore is looking into it. I wouldn't even know where to begin with any items of Ravenclaws."

"You could ask Emmeline," Remus suggested.

Hermione smiled. "I planned on it, thanks."

Sirius sat back up and crawled across the room, draping his body over both James and Remus who protested, trying to shove him away as he reached for the firewhisky bottle. "Okay," he said, retaking his seat and refilling his glass, "where do we start?"

"Diary," Hermione said. "Lucius Malfoy is in holding at the Ministry still and Dumbledore is looking into getting Aurors to raid Malfoy Manor."

"Okay, fine, but what about the locket? I can't get into Grimmauld Place," Sirius said, eyes wide. "No one can. That bitch shut the whole house down when my brother and father died. I haven't been near it in years, but I heard that she set up some nasty wards that I wouldn't want to get close to, and I certainly wouldn't let you either, being a Muggle-born."

James finished his drink and set it down on the ground in front of him. "So you get someone who already has access," he suggested thoughtfully.

Sirius scoffed. "Who the fuck would Walburga let inside?" he asked and then blinked when James raised his brows. "Wait . . . No," he said, shaking his head.

"You already have an angle," James pointed out. "And leverage."

"Do you remember what happened the last time I saw her?"

Remus chuckled. "To be fair it was her wedding."

"And you did show up with a hooker as your date," James added.

Sirius rolled his eyes and then glanced at Hermione who looked appalled. "She was very high class."

"She wasn't wearing knickers!" James said, laughing.

"I didn't sleep with her."

"That's good," Remus said emphatically, "because you were fourteen."

Sirius huffed and buried his mouth and nose in his glass, ignoring his friends.

"Mate, didn't they have a kid?" James asked. "Harry's age? She's your family, she's in a rough spot and we could use her help when it comes to your mother. She's a young mother and her husband is on his way to Azkaban. Think of the kid."

Hermione's eyes widened in understanding. "You're talking about Narcissa Malfoy?"

Sirius nodded. "Yeah."

She frowned and thought of Harry, bound and determined to prove that Draco was not only a Death Eater, but he was up to something. Death Eaters in the castle and Dumbledore dead had been proof enough, but Hermione had paid close attention to the blond Slytherin during their sixth year. She had watched as the months passed and he lost more and more weight, looking stressed and sickly. Something hadn't been right with Malfoy that entire year. "He lowered his wand, Hermione," Harry had told her. "He was a Death Eater, Marked but . . . He said that Voldemort was going to kill him and his family if . . ."

"We have to help her, Sirius," Hermione said firmly. "There's something I should tell you about her son."

Chapter Text

December 7th, 1981
Ministry of Magic

"How is James doing?"

Hermione and Sirius entered the Ministry through the guest entrance after meeting up outside the building. He carried the pastry she'd brought for him in his mouth while his hands worked to secure his long, black hair with a tie, grumbling with his mouth full about needing to look respectable. Though muffled, she could still make out the sarcasm.

Sirius swallowed a bite and then looked at the witch. "He's taking Harry to Hogwarts today to see Poppy," he said and then opened his mouth for another bite, spotting her raised brow over his breakfast. "Oh, how is he doing. How do you think?" he said with a shrug. "You see him all the time."

She pursed her lips. "I know but . . ." She sighed irritably and ran a hand through her hair, wishing that it was as easily managed as Sirius's. "Well, I imagine he's different when it's just the three of you and Harry. He doesn't know me well enough to be so open about his well-being."

He tossed her a smirk and she scowled at him, thinking that he was poking fun at her.

"James doesn't exactly hide," Sirius said. "Not very deep, our boy Prongs. I dunno, Hermione, he's . . . When Marlene died, we were . . ." He paused, his eyes betraying the casual tone in his voice. "We weren't married, and gods knew I wasn't going to propose, but I wasn't planning on letting her go anytime soon, right? That's as committed as I get. And I spent weeks in the bottle after she died. I was abroad on a mission and . . . fuck, it was bad," he admitted. "And that was me. James . . . He's loved Lily since we were kids. They were James and Lily. They were forever."

Hermione frowned and drew her gaze to the bottom of the lift, staring intently at her shoes and feeling guilty. "Until they weren't," she whispered.

Despite being told—by pretty much everyone—that she had no responsibility in Lily's death, Hermione couldn't help but feel the weight of it. She'd been right there, so close to saving both of Harry's parents if only she'd paid attention. Watching James have to deal with his grief up close and personal was difficult. Unlike Harry, who'd shut everyone out when Sirius had died, James seemed to allow people to just come and go. While Harry closed everyone off, treating even his closest friends defensively, James moved back and forth between assuming everyone was trying to take care of him and passively letting them, to actively fighting off the need to express himself.

Two very different men, but one thing was certain: Potters were difficult.

"How are you doing without your Harry?"

Hermione looked up at Sirius. "Harry and I weren't together."

He rolled his eyes, having heard it all before. "Not romantically, so you've said. But we all have pieces of us, pieces that put us together. I'm nothing without James and Remus. Marlene was a piece of me, so was Lily. And I'm still not good," he confessed, "but the other bits are hanging in there for me."

She stared at him, a bit shocked—and even impressed—that something so deep came out of Sirius Black's mouth without any accompanying swears. "All I had was my parents, Harry, and Ron. A few other friends, but those two kept me who I was, I suppose."

"And now?"

"I'm broken," she said quietly. "Trying to put the pieces back together. You, Remus, Allie, Emmie . . . James."

Sirius nodded in understanding. "But we don't fit."

Her eyes widened. "No, that's not . . ." She began but understood when she saw his sympathetic expression. "No. Not where Harry and Ron used to be."

He smiled sadly. "That's how James is doing. Broken pieces glued back in the wrong places. Worst of all, the biggest one is missing."

"What about Harry?"

"Harry's the glue," Sirius said, opening the door to the lift and smiling up at the two men that greeted them. "Enough flirting with me, witch, the Aurors are here," he said loudly and Hermione glowered at him, eyes narrowed as she followed him out into the Atrium of the Ministry, tempted to kick the back of his expensive dragonhide boots and watch him fall on his face.

She approached the Aurors with a polite smile and her mouth opened in shock when she recognised one of them. Not yet bald, but just as broad-shouldered, wearing dark blue robes, and he still had the gold hoop through one ear.

The Auror grinned in her direction and held out his hand, reaching for hers in greeting. "Kingsley Shacklebolt."

She smiled politely at the man, remembering a time when he'd been all there was between her and certain death on the back of a thestral, fighting Death Eaters as they flew to the safety of the Burrow.

Before she had a chance to say anything, the second Auror took her hand with a dashing smile. He was tall and lean, though not as tall as Kingsley himself, closer to Sirius's height. The sharp angles of his face reminded her of Malfoy, though his blond hair was golden, his eyes were blue instead of grey, and they were incredibly kind. "Angus Savage, miss."

"Hermione Howell, pleasure to meet you Kingsley, Auror Savage."

Angus looked a bit put out over Hermione's accidental slip of Kingsley's first name, and Kings took advantage of the moment and chuckled deeply at his partner's momentary turmoil.

Sirius smirked. "All right there, Kings?"

"Grand," Kingsley replied. "Heard you got into a fight at the Leaky a while back?"

Sirius scoffed. "Me? Never."

Angus rolled his eyes. "Potter?"

Sirius nodded. "Too right. Git had it coming."

"Gave as good as he got?" Kingsley quietly asked.

"Am I being interrogated, Auror Shacklebolt?" Sirius asked sarcastically, adjusting his robes and standing up straight and tall, returning to the pureblood mannerisms that were drilled into him as a child, even though it was nothing but a mockery now.

Kingsley laughed loudly. "Arse," he said and then looked at Hermione. "We appreciate you both coming and helping with this case."

"Just call me Specialist Auror Black," Sirius said with a wink.

"Looking to join the Department, are we?"

"And work for a living?" Sirius barked a laugh. "Gods forbid. Besides, you couldn't handle my pretty face around these parts."

Angus smirked. "Sorry Black, you're not exactly my type," he said and then turned his wide smile toward Hermione who blushed and took an instinctive step closer to Sirius in an attempt to hide the growing colour in her face.

"I'm everyone's type," Sirius retorted.

Kingsley began walking, leading them down several long corridors to a private lift where they stepped on and were carried up toward the DLME. When they exited, several other Aurors were getting on and Sirius recognised two from the night he was arrested. He smiled and flipped two fingers their way while backing out of the lift and Hermione pinched his arm to get him to stop.

Kingsley thought the whole scene very comical. "I'm sure Dumbledore let you know the details," he said, drawing their attention again, "but since Crouch's son was a Death Eater and well . . ."

"The royally fucked up job with my trial or lack thereof?" Sirius bitterly interrupted.

Angus frowned. "Yeah, that," he said, scratching the back of his neck.

"Every Head of every Department, including those on the climb up the ladder had to undergo severe interrogation before we could even begin to get the captured Death Eaters to trial."

Angus nodded along with his partner. "Even Wizengamot members."

"You thinking of taking up your family seat?" Kingsley asked Sirius.

"What family would that be?"

Angus sighed loudly. "Hopefully you haven't written them all off."

"They did the writing off, last I checked."

Kingsley frowned and patted Sirius on the back. "Were you ever close with your cousins?" he asked. "Lucius Malfoy almost got off but someone let it slip that he was paying off Wizengamot members to help push his case along, claiming that, despite having the Dark Mark, he was Imperiused to do You-Know-Who's bidding."

"Voldemort," Hermione said and both Aurors turned and looked at her, each with an expression of admiration. "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself."

"Gryffindor?" Angus asked with a grin.

She immediately frowned. "I didn't go to Hogwarts. Home taught," she said and then changed the subject back. "So Lucius Malfoy is still being held for trial?"

Kingsley nodded. "You know more than you're letting on."

"Astute observation, Auror Shacklebolt."

He clutched at his chest and feigned a frown. "I'm not Kingsley anymore? That's a shame," he said and Hermione awkwardly smiled, not used to men—Were they flirting with her? She shook her head and pursed her lips, trying to look as unamused as possible. "As Chief Warlock, Dumbledore put a stopper in Malfoy's trial," Kingsley continued. "Said that there's information he needs out of him. You know anything about that?"

Sirius shrugged. "A bit."

"You want to speak to him?"

"No," Hermione said. "We want to see Narcissa Malfoy."

Sirius Black's Flat

The rest of the Order went on with various missions. Sirius and Hermione handled Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy; Remus got in touch with several of the werewolves that he'd made friends with during the war to find out if any of the missing Death Eaters had been spotted; Emmeline kept to ear to the ground in the Ministry while Aberforth did the same in Hogsmeade; Hestia Jones had been tasked with working with Aurors to investigate Bellatrix Lestrange; and Mary Macdonald followed a few leads into the Muggle world.

James, however, changed Harry's nappies, fed him a breakfast of scrambled eggs and banana slices, cleaned spilt juice off of the floor, and then painstakingly gave the boy a bath when he ended up wearing more banana than eating.

"Harry, hold still mate," James said, frustrated from lack of sleep, bad dreams, and feeling utterly useless as both a member of the Order and a single parent. "Harry, stop." Bathing him had been a struggle, but redressing him was like fighting with Devil's Snare once he'd accidentally let it slip that he was taking Harry to see a Healer.

The boy had broken out into a fresh set of screams that rattled James's eardrums, and tears rolled down Harry's plump cheeks, breaking his father's heart. "No! No!" the toddler wailed when James finally pulled him up into his arms and headed toward the fireplace.

"Harry," James said with a sigh of frustration, "I know you hate Floo travel but it's either that or Apparition and you're still too little. It'll hurt your ears," he said, trying to make him understand. "You have to be seen by Madam Pomfrey because Hermione said that—"

"Mi! Mi!" Harry screamed and swung his tiny fists around, trying to escape, ultimately hitting James in the eye.

"Damnit. Harry, hold still."

"No! Want Pads! Pads! Moon! Moony!"

Feeling his temper and his emotions getting the better of him, James put Harry down on the ground and took in a deep breath to calm himself while the boy ran to the front door, banging on it wildly. Whether he was looking for Sirius or Remus like he'd cried out for, or trying to find an escape, James didn't know.

"Fuck. I can't do this," James whispered to himself, running his fingers through his hair and gripping it tightly. "Harry, we have to go."

Harry pounded on the door, hiccoughing through his cries. "Mum! Mumma!"

Eyes closed, James leant against the nearest wall and slowly slumped down to the ground, cradling his head in his hands. His heart raced and his chest felt tight; breathing suddenly was the most difficult thing in the world. He wished like hell that someone was here, anyone, to slap him in the face and tell him to snap out of it, to grab Harry and make him stop crying, to . . . to . . .


"Mum's not here!" James snapped and then immediately let out a choked sob, eyes wet and wide in shock as Harry quieted, turning around to look at his father with what could only be fear. "Mum's not . . . not . . . I'm sorry. I'm sorry," he said, reaching his arms out, breathing a sigh of relief when Harry ran right into them, pressing his wet, sticky face into James's chest. "We don't have to go today," James whispered, kissing Harry's head. "We'll stay right here. Right here. I'm here. I'm not going . . . I'm here."

Chapter Text

December 7th, 1981
Malfoy Manor

She Side-Along Apparated with Sirius and the Aurors to Malfoy Manor, and stared at the large home—no, mansion; completely unnecessary, overly complicated, beautiful but a bit scary—and possibly compensating for something—large mansion. "Well, that's just excessive," she said primly, thinking of Draco Malfoy walking through the halls of Hogwarts with his nose in the air. Many questions about the boy had just been answered for her.

All three men chuckled at her reaction.

As they approached the gates, Kingsley held up his wand and after a few moments, the large iron gates expectedly opened. The walk up the drive was a bit tedious and Hermione was fighting the urge not to glare and roll her eyes at everything she saw; from the finely trimmed bushes in the shapes of dragons, to the albino peacocks that blocked their path from time to time, pecking at their hands as if they expected treats.

When they reached the actual manor, the door opened on its own, and Hermione followed the Aurors inside, instinctively clinging to Sirius's arm when the door slammed shut behind them.

Hermione had only ever seen Narcissa Malfoy once and that meeting had not gone well. The run in at Madam Malkin's prior to the beginning of sixth year was tense. Draco had been his usual prattish self and Harry and Ron both reacted violently, drawing their wands in public like bandits from one of the funny old spaghetti westerns that her dad used to watch. Narcissa Malfoy had looked utterly perfect. Her blond hair had been sleek and shiny, her robes of the highest quality, and she carried herself with grace. Hermione would have thought her beautiful had the sneer on her face not reminded Hermione immediately of the woman's son.

She'd been surprised to see the older witch so together, considering her husband had been in Azkaban at the time.

When Narcissa Malfoy entered the foyer of Malfoy Manor, she did not look as well put together as she had at Madam Malkin's prior to the start of Hermione's sixth year. This woman—in her late twenties, Hermione guessed—looked exactly like a wife who's husband was on his way to prison. The attempt to appear together was made, it seemed. Her hair was pulled back in a soft chignon, with a jade and silver pin clipped on the left side, glittering in the light. Her robes were still finely made and clung to her figure in an alluring and yet still appropriate way. If any wizard thought her body and clothing was an invitation, the massive diamond ring on her left hand was a warning if there ever was one.

This woman was taken.

And desperately in love, if the bags beneath her eyes were any indication of how Narcissa was processing Lucius's first arrest. Her eyes, sparkling blue, were red-rimmed and puffy, though she gave no indication that she had even tried to hide it. Perhaps a play on the sympathies of men, Hermione thought. The poor, young abandoned wife, pleading to see her husband again. It wouldn't work, but Hermione didn't think Narcissa was faking in the first place.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," she said, glancing to Kingsley and Angus. "I was told that you had precedent to search my home regardless of the illegalities of such actions."

Kingsley smiled politely at her while Angus rolled his eyes. "It's all legal, Mrs Malfoy. Signed by the Minister, in fact," he said and withdrew the parchment requesting the raid on the manor.

Narcissa didn't even bother to look at it. Her gaze, instead, fell on Sirius. "And what of your guests? I don't recall recent felons being able to join the Auror Department."

He snorted. "Lovely to see you, Cissy. You're looking well. Motherhood looks good on you. You had a kid right?" he asked and Hermione watched to see if the woman reacted. She didn't, but did appear to have schooled her expression into one more aloof than previous seconds, as though she was preparing for Sirius to attempt further provocations. "I can't recall because the last time you spoke to me I was fifteen," he said.

She sneered at him. "What do you want?"

"To talk."

"I have nothing to say to you."

"Why?" Sirius asked. "Because my mother said so?"

"You know exactly why."

He rolled his eyes and then chuckled loudly, his barking laugh echoing against the high ceiling. "Right, opposite sides of a war that's been won if you haven't been reading the papers. You lost. Hope you didn't place any bets."

Her wall of cold emotion cracked just slightly and she glared at her cousin. "You've no right to be here, Sirius, and they've no right to keep my husband. He's innocent and—"

"Imperiused, yeah, so we've heard," Sirius replied sarcastically, throwing his robes open and exposing his very Muggle jeans, shoving his hands into the pockets as he walked past Narcissa, pretending to examine the paintings on the walls. "Except we also found out that Lucius paid off three members of the Wizengamot to confirm that story and when Galleons trade hands in the Ministry, that looks awfully suspicious, Cissy."

He turned and looked at her, blue eyes having widened only a small amount in reaction to his words. Her hands, however, were tightly gripped together and she was touching her wedding ring. "Go search the house, Kings."

Hermione looked at the Aurors. "Start with the library," she said and handed Angus a small slip of paper. She'd written on it several random Dark books, a few on blood purity that she knew would one day be illegal to own, a request for any journals that they found, oh, and a small black, leather bound book, blank inside, with the name Tom Marvolo Riddle inscribed on the back.

Narcissa turned and looked at Hermione as the Aurors side-stepped her. "And who are you?"

Hermione did her best to focus on the woman's tired eyes and the way she pressed her thumb against her wedding ring, instead of the disgusted sneer on her face. "Someone who thinks your family could use a second chance," she said in a calm and kind voice.

Sirius made himself at home, plopping down on a nearby sofa and gesturing to the chair beside him for his cousin. "We're here to make an offer," he said and then didn't speak again until Narcissa reluctantly sat down. "Help us, help the Order, and we'll make sure that your husband has a reduced sentence. There's no evidence that he cast a Killing Curse or a Cruciatus. We've got plenty of witnesses saying that they saw him use Imperius though, and that's enough to put him away for at least twenty years per victim," he informed her and watched as her already pale skin lost a bit more colour at the length of Lucius's potential sentence being spoken aloud. "Death Eaters are talking. Every one of them looking for a way to get out of Azkaban."

She swallowed hard and shook her head. "I'm not saying a word until I can speak to Lucius."

Dropping his pride and his antagonistic demeanour, Sirius sat forward and reached for his cousin's hand, pulling it between both of his before she had a chance to flinch away in disgust. "Narcissa, I was in Azkaban for two weeks," he said, voice low. "If Lucius goes to trial, he'll end up there, I've no doubt. And he'll suffer. Dementors, guards. It's the worst nightmare I've ever experienced and you've met my mother."

"Think of your son," Hermione whispered.

The pureblooded witch turned and glared at Hermione, her scowl vicious. "Don't you speak to me about my son!" she hissed.

Hermione did her best not to react but, instead, kept her expression calm and sympathetic. "Help us stop it all from happening again."

The word "again" and it's true meaning came across as clear as day to the older witch who sat up straight and finally pulled away from Sirius. "Just rumours," she insisted. "Anyone who believes them is . . . is . . ."

"You know they're not," Hermione said. "You believe them. What do you think is going to happen if he comes back and finds out that your husband denied him? Tried to buy his way out? Think of Draco."

Narcissa shook her head angrily. "You don't know—"

"I know that some of his first followers were Romulus Lestrange, Martin Avery, and Evander Rosier. Men who had sons that were sacrificed to Voldemort," she said and frowned when Narcissa visibly recoiled at the mention of the name, "to become Death Eaters like their fathers before them. What do you think is going to happen to Draco?"

"Lucius would never—" Narcissa tried to say, but the sound of crying in the distance broke her train of thought. She turned her head as, down the hall they could all hear a small Draco screaming his distaste for porridge. Someone, presumably a house-elf, had calmed him into silence. The initial cry, however, had broken Narcissa's resolve and she reached a slim hand up to wipe at a few falling tears, embarrassed.

"Cissy," Sirius whispered, "take the deal."

She looked down at her hands, rubbing the feel of the few tears between the pads of her fingers. "Your mother . . . When Draco was born, she said he looked sickly," she said softly, a bitter look crossing her face. "Sickly indeed, wretched cow. Even my father hasn't spoken to her since."

Sirius looked up, suddenly hopeful. "Is he willing to reach out to Andromeda?" he blurted out.

Narcissa turned, eyes wide at the mention of her sister's name. "Don't be ridiculous," she said in a scolding tone. "If I agree to help, what will we receive in exchange?"

"Immunity for yourself for harbouring known felons, Death Eaters and the like and supporting Voldemort," Hermione said, pulling out a written letter of promise from Dumbledore himself, handing it to the woman. "Protection for you and your son, naming you holder of the Malfoy vaults and properties in your husband's absence so you don't have to do without. Dumbledore has also agreed to speak on Lucius's behalf, reduce his sentence to ten years instead of twenty to life."

She looked up, shocked and dismayed, clearly having assumed that her participation would have earned Lucius amnesty as well. "Ten years? Draco will be at Hogwarts before—"

"I kind of think that was the point," Sirius muttered.

"It's better than life," Hermione told her. "And after what Sirius experienced, Dumbledore has already spoken to the Minister about having someone outside of the DMLE look into the treatment of prisoners at Azkaban. It's not . . . it will be better."

"Better than Dementors?" Narcissa asked.

"Better than life in a cell with nothing to eat but rotten food and a bucket to piss and shit in while guards throw Stinging Hexes when Dementors are done sucking the hopes and dreams out of you," Sirius snapped angrily and Narcissa cringed at his description. "Give your son a chance, Narcissa. And let me help."

The witch contemplated the offer, not saying a word as she looked over Dumbledore's letter, going so far as to cast Revealing Charms on the parchment, looking for hidden spells, charms, or agendas. After several minutes, letting Sirius and Hermione nervously fidget, she looked up. "Private cell, clean, away from the Dementors entirely. And I want visitation."

Sirius nodded. "With you, not the kid. And supervised."

She scoffed. "Unsupervised," she said and when Sirius narrowed his eyes at her, she raised a slender brow.

He grimaced. "Ew."

Narcissa rolled her eyes at him. "You're a child. I want Lucius to have proper food and books and the ability to write letters."

"Only to you," Sirius said. "And those get read by the guards so keep them clean."

"Sirius," Hermione warned.

"I'll pass along the information to Dumbledore and he'll speak to the head of the Auror Department and the DMLE," Sirius promised.

Narcissa nodded in acceptance, adding her magical signature to the letter that Dumbledore had written, signifying her acceptance. She folded it up and handed it back to Hermione. "Now, what do you want?"

Sirius smirked. "Anything Voldemort left with your husband or in this house, any information on hideouts or where you might think Bellatrix is hiding, and cooperation in the future should we encounter problems with Death Eaters."

The woman glared at him. "Oh, is that all?" she asked sardonically.

Hermione cleared her throat and elbowed Sirius in the side. He turned and looked at her, raising a brow before letting out a small chuckle and nodding in understanding. Looking back to his cousin, he smiled. "Oh, right. We want your house-elf."

Sirius Black's Flat

"Just let him do something nice for us. He's saying thank you," Sirius said, his voice almost hoarse from laughing. The moment that Narcissa handed Dobby a single sock, the house-elf had been listing out ways of repaying Sirius and Hermione for giving him his freedom.

The Malfoys apparently had many elves, but Narcissa insisted that the others were treated quite well. Dobby, however, had been Lucius's personal elf, given to him by his father Abraxas, who'd taught him by example how to "keep the elf obedient". Hermione had been appalled and only Sirius's nudging kept her from launching into a well-rehearsed speech on elf rights and slavery and how a person's character is shown in their treatment of others.

"He's conditioned to serve us, Sirius. It's not—"

"Dobby loves to make cakes," the little elf said excitedly, turning to look up at Hermione with large, adoring eyes. The sock he wore on one foot was distracting. "Makes cakes for the Mast—Mister Sirius and Missy Hermy."

Sirius smiled. "See? And he's perfectly healthy and happy. You want to make him not happy?" Sirius asked and then gasped, clutching his chest as they walked up the stairs toward the flat, having chosen to Floo to the Leaky Cauldron so that Dobby could experience fresh, free air—something Sirius actually insisted on. "Gods, Hermione, you're a monster."

She actually growled at him, eyes narrowed, before turning her attention to Dobby, who was swinging around the railing of the stairs as though it were a maypole. "Dobby, you are a free elf now. I bet, if you went up to Hogwarts, you could get a job there and be paid for your work," she kindly suggested.

Dobby frowned briefly, looking a bit nervous. He glanced up at Sirius as the wizard opened the door to the flat. When Sirius didn't look back, leaving the elf alone with the witch, he anxiously tittered. "Dobby wants to help the Missy Hermy who freed him from his bad—" he said and then gasped, throwing his hands over his mouth, his focus darting around the balcony before landing on the doorframe. "Er . . . Uh . . ."

"Dobby don't you dare smash your fingers in that door," Hermione insisted.

Sirius, still chuckling, gestured for Dobby to come inside. "I'll show him the kitchen. Why don't you go and let Prongs know we'll be having cake for dinner."

"We are not having . . ." she began to say but Sirius ignored her, walking into the kitchen with Dobby following behind. She sighed heavily and muttered, "Idiot," under her breath as she made her way to the bedroom, knocking softly twice before listening. When there was no sound coming from the other side, she cracked the door open and peeked inside. "James? Harry?"

The room was dark, but the moonlight shone in from the nearby window, illuminating the figures of father and son, cuddled together on the bottom bunk of the bed. The room, which had been clean the last time Hermione had seen it, was covered in building blocks, stuffed animals, broken crayons and dozens of papers that had both well-drawn—some even animated—images, and others with scribbled nonsense. A fort had been constructed, appearing like a covered bridge that connected the bedroom to the bathroom, complete with a flag sticking crookedly out of the centre, the Gryffindor sigil drawn in bright red.

She smiled at the mess and then turned her focus back on the sleeping pair, her heart clenching at the familiar sight of blue and white blankets and sheets, the same ones she'd procured from Godric's Hollow. The pair were wrapped up tightly, cocooned in the soft feel of cotton and the smells of their former home. Hermione also noticed a family photograph of James, Lily, and Harry, now sitting on the bedside table.

Not wanting to disturb them after what looked to be a very long day, Hermione stepped forward and gently removed James's glasses, the same way she had done for Harry for years when he'd fallen asleep in the common room after trying to study, only to get caught up with a book about Quidditch. She pulled the blanket up, making sure Harry was completely covered before leaning down and kissing the boy's forehead, directly over the lightning bolt scar.

Chapter Text

December 11th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

The second that Hermione stepped out of the Floo she could hear Sirius's tantrum. "It goes against our rights as free citizens of Wizarding Britain!" he was shouting from the kitchen and she did her best to avoid the temperamental wizard and instead slipped into the bedroom to spot Harry in the middle of the floor, surrounded by an emptied box of crayons, a red, blue, and pink clumped together in one tiny fist that was tearing through the Muggle colouring book she'd found for him in London a few days ago when she'd finally ventured outside of Diagon Alley in desperate need of period clothing.

The trip had been a disaster, with both Allie and Emmeline laughing as Hermione tried to squeeze into a pair of jeans so tight that she was certain her kidneys had relocated. By the time Allie was slipping leotards, crop tops, and kitten-heeled boots in the dressing room, Hermione was ready to leave, declaring that she'd wear her robes until Muggle fashion had corrected itself, and that would be the end of it.

She glanced around the room, noting the significant difference in cleanliness from the week before and sighed knowing that, despite the fact that she could not see him, Dobby was still lingering about, cleaning up after the boys. She tried to not worry about it, thinking of the bigger picture, and looked at the silver lining that was the fact that James had more time to spend with Harry if he wasn't busy cleaning up after Sirius's mess.

"Hi, Harry," she said to the toddler on the floor.


"Do you know what tonight is?"


She smiled. "Yes, which means that Sirius and your daddy are going to go and visit with Remus. Your daddy asked me to stay with you. Is that okay?"


She set her bag down and sighed. "You know, you used to be a lot more excitable," she said and opened her bag, pulling out the tiny Crookshanks who had fallen asleep on top of a small stack of books inside.

The second that the fluffy kitten meowed, Harry looked up, bright green eyes wide with joy and mischief. "Crooks!" he squealed and jumped to his feet, throwing aside the crayons in his hands and using them instead to reach out for the half-kneazle.

"Remember to be nice," Hermione cautioned, though she wasn't entirely certain who she was saying it to, Harry or Crookshanks. Despite having given the Weasley twins a fair amount of scratches, Crookshanks had taken surprisingly well to Harry. The boy had been thrilled to see a cat—having apparently forgotten about his own, lost in the destruction of Godric's Hollow—and Hermione wondered if perhaps Crookshanks understood that Harry was in need of a furry companion. At least, a furry companion that didn't turn into a fully grown wizard with a drinking problem.

Smiling at the two of them, Hermione closed the door behind her and made her way to the kitchen where she saw James pouring juice into various bottles that stood next to small containers filled with measured out snacks: fruits and vegetables that were cut into bite sized portions, and what looked like leftover mashed potatoes.

"It's the law, Padfoot," James said, sticking the food and bottles in the cooling cabinet.

"It's unethical!"

"We're lucky we're not being fined . . . or jailed."

"Oh, Merlin," Hermione said, interrupting the men who turned to look at her, "what are the two of you being fined or jailed for? Can't you stay out of trouble for two minutes?" she asked, looking specifically at Sirius.

He smirked. "I didn't do anything, princess."

She ignored his professed innocence and looked at James. "What did he do?"

James let out a loud, happy laugh. "I love that she trusts me to tell her the truth but she thinks you're a liar," he said to his best friend.

Sirius pouted. "Hermione, look at me. Don't we have a history?"

"Future," she corrected.

"Weren't we friends?"

She made a face. "Hard to say. You were my best friend's godfather and we fought about house-elf rights a lot. You also called me kitten once and I did not appreciate it," she said emphatically. "I think you were drunk at the time. Or all the time, I can't recall."

James continued laughing as he washed his hands in the sink. Sirius shoved him before turning his attention back to the witch. "Does this look like the face of a liar?"

She stared at the man for a long while in utter silence before looking to James once more. "What did he do?"

Sirius threw his hands up in defeat and fell into a dining chair, kicking his feet up on the table while pouting. James dried his hands and then reached back into the cooling cabinet to pull out a case of butterbeer, setting it to the side next to a bag filled with dittany, bandages, and Pain Potions: their full moon emergency kit. "Dumbledore informed the warden of Azkaban that they should install Anti-Animagi Wards in their cells."

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness! I was wondering about that."

Sirius growled. "Yeah, well, Pettigrew—the little fucker—thought he could get his three life sentences reduced by ratting us out."

"Nice word play," James said, nodding his head in approval.

"Thank you."

Hermione was less than amused as she stared at the man. "You're complaining because you have to register your Animagus form? Merlin, you are such a baby," she said and then approached him, pushing his feet off of the table. "Speaking of Animagi, are the two of you going to be okay tonight? I'm sorry I wasn't able to track down Damocles Belby," she said with a heavy frown. "I don't know when the Wolfsbane Potion went into production. I owled Belby's offices but he's doing private research somewhere in Russia."

James smiled at her gratefully. "Moony understands. He's excited that there's something to look forward to in the future, but for now, he's still got us. How about you? You certain you're up for this?"

She smiled. "I dealt with Harry Potter during puberty, how bad can he be?"

Both James and Sirius burst into hysterical laughter. "I appreciate you looking after him. Allie and Frank are both too excited to get back to work to complain about taking the late shifts, and Harry doesn't like Frank's mother. I'm . . . I'm glad you're available."

Hermione beamed. "Harry's my priority at all times, even when I'm not here."

He smiled gratefully and then threw the full moon kit over his shoulder and kicked Sirius in the leg. "Come on, Pads."

Hermione sighed. "Be careful.

James ducked into the bedroom to kiss Harry goodnight before coming back out and stepping toward the fireplace. "I might not stay the whole night," he said. "It's . . . I don't like being away from Harry."

"I understand," she replied. "I'll keep him safe."

"Goodnight, Harry," James said as the boy came out the door, Crookshanks hanging limp in his arms, the cat looking like he was silently plotting long-term vengeance.

"Don't go," Harry said with a pout.

James knelt down and ruffled his son's hair. "You're going to have a fun night with Hermione. I bet if you ask real nice, she'll tell you some stories."

Hermione smiled and stretched down, pulling Crookshanks out of Harry's hands and setting him on a high counter where the boy couldn't reach. "Give Remus my love."

James nodded. "Night, Hermione," he said and then vanished into the green flames.

Sirius turned and smirked at her. "Goodnight . . . kitten," he said with a wink, laughing when she narrowed her eyes at him just as he disappeared.

Lupin Cottage

"You need to watch it, Pads," James said as they exited the Floo, giving a quiet wave to Remus's father who looked busy, nose buried in what appeared to be a parchment older than Dumbledore. "She's going to hex you soon if you keep pushing."

Sirius smirked and ducked out the back door, feeling his way through the security wards that surrounded the old cottage and the neighbouring woods where the Marauders played during the full moon. "I know. I love it when they hex me."

"You're not trying to pull Hermione," James insisted, eyes wide as he gaped at his friend. "Tell me you're not trying to pull Hermione."

Sirius laughed. "I'm not. For fuck's sake, she's like a . . . I don't know. Not really sister, but she's family. I like getting under her skin is all."

James breathed a sigh of relief. "She's still going to hex you."

"Here's hoping!" Sirius said with a laugh, jumping over a fallen tree branch and turning to set up a Caterwauling Charm, marking the boundary of the added security wards; if Moony got past those, only the alarm would let Lyall Lupin know that he needed to Apparate away for safety.

"You look happy about it now, but remember when you pushed Lily too far and she didn't speak with you for three months?" James reminded his friend.

"This is different."

"She gave you the silent treatment and refused to even look at you," he said as he continued walking, looking for the familiar clearing that the boys always used for transformation nights. "She was genuinely furious with you. You had to apologise—beg, if I remember correctly."

"This is different."


"Hermione's not Lily."

James stopped mid-step and turned to look at his friend. "What? I know that."

Sirius frowned. "Allie's not Lily either. Or Emmie."

James glared and snapped, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Sirius shrugged and then held his hands out in supplication. "I'm not saying you're trying to replace her, I'm not. But, mate, you keep doing this thing where you see her in all the witches we know. The way Allie rocks Harry to sleep, the fact that Emmie orders the same drink that Lils did and tugs on her hair when she's thinking hard, the fact that Hermione's a Muggle-born who hates my smoking and calls us all on our bullshit."

James frowned and drew his focus to the ground. "I . . . I can't help it."

"I know," Sirius said, putting both hands on James's shoulders. "But Lily was her own person and she's gone. I hate it. That girl was my sister, you know. Remember her for who she was and don't try to keep her around in others. It's not fair to you or to them. I'm not saying move on, that's not possible, not yet."

"Never," James insisted.

Sirius nodded, knowing it was much too soon to push the issue. "But I am saying live in the present."

The sound of crunching leaves drew their attention and both men looked up to see Remus, pale and gaunt, staring at them. "Everything okay?" he asked, voice already hoarse.

James nodded, wiping at his face. "Shouldn't we be asking you that?"

Remus shrugged. "Who me? Oh, I'm grand," he said sarcastically. "Regular fucking party over at the Lupin home."

Neither man offered their friend a glance of pity but, instead, rolled their eyes; they were used to his bad temper pre-moon. "Just think, Moony, soonish Hermione's going to find that potions guy and have that stuff she was talking about," Sirius said with a bright smile. "You'll keep your mind, make things easier, maybe even make you a little less hideous in the moonlight. We could hit the pubs."

Remus scowled. "I'd still turn into a werewolf."

"Well, sure, we'd have to give you a shave," Sirius said, patting Remus's scruffy jaw and then ducking out of the way when the man swung at him. "Don't you want a pretty witch in your bed?"

"No," the werewolf growled.

"Up against a wall then?" Sirius suggested, waggling his eyebrows. "That tree over there looks fairly sturdy."

"Can we not talk about sex?" Remus groaned and watched as James slipped the medi-witch kit and a case of butterbeer in a hollowed out tree trunk, blocking it off with a ward so that the animals didn't get into the items if things got crazy.

"Why? 'Cause you're not getting any?"

"None of us are anymore," James said bitterly under his breath.

Sirius frowned and put a hand on Remus's shoulder, reaching out for James when he approached. "Hey," he said, pulling them both close, in for a three-way hug with his arms slung over them, "if either of you ever need anything . . . anything at all—."

Remus snarled and moved away from Sirius as the Animagus laughed. "Prongs, get him away from me. If he reaches for my cock, I'll bite him, I swear to fucking Merlin."

Chapter Text

December 11th, 1981
Sirius Black's Flat

"All right," Hermione said as she stared across the table at Harry, who mimicked her posture, hands folded in front of him, chin resting on his knuckles. "If I give you this biscuit, you have to forgive me for telling McGonagall about the firebolt and having it confiscated."

"Okay," Harry said, reaching for the biscuit despite not understanding.

Hermione held it away from him. "Do you forgive me?"

"Okay!" Harry said and then grinned when she gave him the treat.

She smiled primly. "I'm glad we worked that out. And I want you to know that I forgive you for always taking Ron's side in arguments, and for never listening to me when you really needed to. And your temperamental outbursts," she added thoughtfully, "we're going to work on those."

"Okay," Harry mumbled through a crumb-filled mouth.

She grimaced at the sight. "I feel wretched indulging in your sweet tooth. It's too late for you to be eating biscuits. You've had it pretty rough lately, though," she said with a sigh and reached across the table, running her fingers affectionately through the black strands. "Oh, this hair. Always such a mess. Just like your dad."

"Story, Mi."

"You want me to read you a story?" She laughed and stood up, opening the cooling cabinet and handing him a bottle of milk. "Harry Potter wants to read a book? How about that. Keep that attitude. If I have anything to say about it, you'll start Hogwarts this time with a proper respect for education."

Holding her hand, Harry jumped down from his chair and followed her into the living room where he climbed up on the sofa and Hermione perused Sirius's bookshelves. "Let's see . . . My Life as a Muggle, The Beaters' Bible, four different motorbike manuals, six Stephen King novels . . . Sirius doesn't have anything that looks age appro—wait!" she said excitedly, running into the other room and reaching for her beaded bag. "I have something! Where is it? Where is it?" she muttered, reaching down into the depths of the bag. "Oh, here we are." Excitedly, Hermione pulled the copy of Tales of Beedle the Bard that Dumbledore had left her in his will.

She sat down beside Harry and smiled thoughtfully as she opened the book, having almost forgotten about all the work she had put into translating the runes. "I only finished some of the translations," she told him. "So there are just a few of the stories I can completely read."

"Crooks, come," Harry said, waving his hand at the tiny kitten who jumped onto the sofa and curled up between the two.

Hermione smiled and ran her fingers down Crookshanks's back. "All settled? Right then. The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," she began. "'There was once a kindly old wizard who used his magic generously and wisely for the benefit of his neighbours. Rather than reveal the true source of his power, he pretended that his potions, charms and antidotes sprang ready-made from the little cauldron he called his lucky cooking pot.'"

December 12th, 1981

After hours in the woods behind the Lupin Cottage, James tiredly Floo'd home, leaving behind the butterbeer and potions for his friends for when they woke. It had taken hours to calm the wolf who was no longer used to having his Animagi friends with him, but eventually Moony relented and Prongs had stood, raking his antlers on nearby trees while the two canines chased one another and play fought through the brush. When Moony and Padfoot had finally fallen asleep, Prongs made his way back toward the cottage and shifted before heading back to the flat.

The fire roared to life, highlighting Hermione's sleeping face and James smiled at the sight of Harry, out cold in the witch's arms, the little orange cat snuggled near her feet, his bottle-brush tail flicking back and forth over the side of the sofa.

James knelt down in front of Harry, brushing his hair from his face and smiling, using the back of a knuckle to catch the string of saliva falling out of his mouth and then wiping it off on his trousers.

"Mmm . . ." Hermione blinked her eyes open and yawned. "What time is it?"

"About half three," James whispered. "I stayed as long as I could but . . . it was a rough one," he said with a sigh and ran his hands through his hair. "Moony's been off with the werewolf packs for a long time and we spent the first hour or two dealing with the dominance thing. It's a pain in the arse."

She frowned. "Are you hurt?"

James shook his head. "I'm fine. How was he?"

Hermione smirked down at the sleeping toddler. "Oddly angelic."

"Do you want me to take him?"

"Only if you need to," she said, shaking her head. "He's fine if you want to sit down, take a Pain Potion or anything. You look pretty roughed up."

James chuckled and stood back up, wincing as his knees cracked. "You ever tangle with a werewolf?" he asked as he walked to the kitchen, opening a cabinet and pulling out a mild Pain Potion.


Shocked, he turned to stare at her. "What? Really?"

Hermione nodded. "We were fourteen," she said, her fingers touching the top of Harry's head. "Remus was our professor and he hadn't taken his Wolfsbane Potion. It was all very dramatic but a hippogriff, of all things, saved us."

"So you let the poor beast fight your battle for you? Some Gryffindor," he said teasingly, throwing back the Pain Potion before grabbing two butterbeers from the cooling cabinet and returning to the living room, twisting the top off of both and holding one out to her. "He looks comfortable," he said, gesturing to Harry who was curled against Hermione, using her arm as a pillow. "I worried about nightmares for a while."

She nodded in understanding. "He had them a lot when I knew him. Funny . . . the last few months on the run . . . it was just Harry and me, and . . ." she began to say but then stopped and sighed, taking a sip from the bottle.

"What happened to the other one? Ron, right?" he asked curiously. "The Weasley's youngest boy?"

"He and Harry had gotten into an argument," she said, running the pad of her thumb against the opening of the bottle. "Do you remember I told you that Horcruxes affect you? Well, it hit Ron the hardest of us all. It was bad. We'd been starving for weeks and always on the alert. Nerves were just . . . shot to hell. Ron had it bad. Harry didn't have . . . well . . . he was alone except for Ron and me, and I'd sent my parents away. Ron still had his whole family to worry about. We had no way of knowing what was happening out in the rest of the world. So they fought, said some horrible things to one another, and Ron left."

James's eyes widened. "He left you? What did you do?"

"Cried mostly," she admitted with a small, sad laugh. "Cried a lot. Ron and I . . . We weren't together but . . . and now there's definitely no chance of that," she said and James winced apologetically. "Anyway, Ron leaving made everything scarier somehow. I'd always had the pair of them. We fought from time to time but . . . when things got bad, they were always there. The three of us together. And then suddenly Ron was gone and I was so worried about Harry that all I did was cry all night. We didn't want to be alone, so Harry would crawl into my bed and hug me close from behind and tell me that I was his best friend and he would keep me safe."

They both lingered in the silence for a long time, each staring at the sleeping boy between them before James finally sighed and looked up. "Thank you, Hermione. For keeping my son safe. And I'm sorry you've lost so much."

"We all have," she said. "But . . . he's still here, and that's what's important."

Eventually, Harry started drooling again and James quietly laughed while pulling his son from Hermione's arms, having a hard time keeping silent when she cringed and used her wand to clean the spittle from her skin.

She packed up her bag, putting her book back inside and recasting a Stabilizing Charm on the contents before allowing Crookshanks to slip inside. Smiling from the doorway, she watched James put Harry in his crib, leaning on the rail for a long moment before kissing the boy's forehead and turning back, extinguishing the light with a flick of his wand.

"Thanks again," he said.

Hermione smiled. "Anytime."

He walked her to the Floo and Hermione turned around. "James . . . I know it's hard. It looks hard," she admitted. "And I can't imagine. But . . . Harry was my best friend. I knew a lot about his life and . . . well, you're doing a great job. He's better having you here. You're an amazing father."

James awkwardly scratched at the back of his neck. "Doesn't feel like it some days."

She sighed and reached out, hugging him tightly. He didn't return the gesture at first, but finally did and sighed heavily. "You're my friend too," she insisted. "If you ever need anything, just ask."

He smiled, grateful, and let her go. "Thank you. I . . . I think I need all the true friends I can get."

Chapter Text

December 20th, 1981
The Hog's Head

Alastor Moody, Hermione decided, was a crazy old bastard long before Barty Crouch Jr. ever kidnapped him and kept him in a box for a year. In fact, she thought, he must have used the years following the First Wizarding War to settle down a bit. He had to have. Because the moment that the ornery old Auror stepped foot into the Order meeting, he set his one good eye on Hermione and decided that she needed to be tested.

He slipped her Veritaserum first. "To prove," he'd said, "that she's a spy."

She wasn't, of course, a spy. She was, however, furious even as she babbled on about thinking that Sirius's arse looked good in jeans and how she'd accidentally once walked in on Charlie Weasley showering at the Burrow and didn't immediately vacate the bathroom. She fully admitted to stealing from her Potions Masters cupboard when she was twelve and accidentally turning herself into a cat, in addition to once setting a teacher's robes on fire. By the time Sirius started asking personal questions, Hermione had thrown a look of pleading to Allie and the witch had jumped on Hermione's back, wrestling her to the floor with a hand clamped tightly over her mouth until the potion wore off.

Sirius teased her for an hour, shaking his arse in her face every time he stood up to get a refill of his drink—which was far too often—and this distraction made it all the more difficult to deflect the random hexes that Alastor Moody sent her way.

"Good reflexes," he muttered in approval when she dodged a Stinging Hex only to end up flat on her arse, doing her best to ignore James and Sirius who were laughing at her unfortunate circumstances.

Remus helped her back to her feet and James at least looked apologetic when she turned to glare at him. Allie pleaded with Moody to cut it out, but that only egged him on. When he finally hit Hermione with something that burned the skin of her elbow, leaving behind pustules, she turned and aimed her wand at the Auror. He'd been expecting a Stinging Hex or even perhaps a Dark curse. What he got was about a dozen bogeys flying out of his nose, flapping their bat-shaped wings in his face.

Allie and Frank laughed. James grinned in admiration. Remus openly gaped. Emmeline vomited.

Sirius proposed marriage.

Moody, on the other hand, stood up and held a hand out to the witch. "I'm going to train you," he said with a determination in his good eye while the magical one spun around in the socket.

Hermione gaped at him. "I don't want to be an Auror."

"Didn't say I was going to make you an Auror, now did I?

Satisfied that no one else was going to get injured, Dumbledore unwrapped the small black book and put it in the centre of the table.

"That's it?" Sirius asked and reached out, taking the book in hand, ignoring the fact that both Remus and James were shouting objections. He flipped through the pages. "It's blank," he said, turning it over and looking at the name on the back. "Are you sure this is it? Because I wouldn't put it past my cousin to have something plotted against me."

Hermione reached for the book and sighed as she looked it over. "One way to find out. Does anyone have a quill?" Dumbledore handed her one and Hermione sighed, putting the tip to the page and wrote, "My name is Hermione."

The ink shone brightly on the paper for a second and then, as though it was being sucked into the page, vanished. Oozing back out of the page came the words, "Hello, Hermione. My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?"

"Narcissa came through," Hermione said with a sigh of relief. "Looks like Lucius Malfoy just earned himself an upgraded cell."

"Yeah," Sirius said with a scowl. "And a conjugal visit."

"Mother of Merlin," Allie whispered, watching as the ink faded away again.

"Could we . . . could we use this against him?" Frank asked. "We could ask the diary about the other Horcruxes, couldn't we?"

Hermione shook her head. "This was the first. He murdered Myrtle Warren in 1943 while he was still a student at Hogwarts. The bit of Voldemort that's inside this diary is a version of himself that hadn't created the others yet. He won't know any information that we need, and it's dangerous to even mess with it," she said.

"Myrtle?" Emmeline looked up. "As in—"

"Moaning, yes," Hermione nodded and then looked up, making eye contact with Dumbledore. "You know Hagrid was innocent."

The man nodded and frowned. "Unfortunately, it was not something that could be proven."

Everyone watched as she put the quill back on the page and wrote, "I've taken this diary from someone you entrusted it to."

"Taken?" Tom Riddle wrote back. "By force? You must be an extraordinarily powerful witch, Hermione. Tell me about yourself."

"He'll use flattery, power, knowledge, whatever it is he thinks I want in order for me to write anything of substance in the diary." She looked back down at the book and wrote, "I know who you are, what this book is, and how to destroy it and you."

There was a long moment before the ink rose back to the surface in the same scripted lettering. "I suppose it's a good thing I always have a contingency plan then, isn't it, dear Hermione?"

She shivered. "Ugh, just seeing him write my name . . ." She handed the quill back and shut the book. "No more writing in it. The person he possessed the first time around . . . they put a lot of themselves into the diary. It ended up almost killing a lot of people, herself included," she said, not going into specifics of how she herself had been a victim of the diary.

"What kind of idiot writes in a diary that writes back and thinks that's normal?" Sirius muttered.

"An eleven-year-old girl," Hermione replied and Sirius frowned, looking properly shamed. "He possessed her, used her to attack others."

"How?" Moody asked, arms folded, glaring his eye at the diary.

"The same way he killed Myrtle. He opened the Chamber of Secrets."

Some laughed, others gasped, eventually Remus stared at Hermione and spoke up. "It's real then? What's inside?"

"A basilisk."

"Fuck off," Sirius said incredulously.

"It's real," Hermione replied. "I've seen it."

"Impossible," Moody snapped suspiciously. "You'd be dead."

She shook her head. "I saw it in the reflection of a mirror. I was petrified along with several others. We were woken with a Restorative Draught made from mandrakes once the basilisk was killed."

"How did it die?" Frank curiously asked.

Hermione frowned, purposely avoiding making eye contact with James. "That's not important right now."

"Well, we're fucked," Sirius spat.

"The basilisk can wait," she said. "It will stay in the Chamber until summoned by the heir of Slytherin. That's Voldemort. As long as he doesn't come back and no one goes down there whispering parseltongue, we'll be fine."

"Well, I'm not exactly fluent myself," Sirius said sarcastically.

"Not many are," Hermione replied and then finally looked knowingly at James who's mouth fell open in understanding, but he remained silent. "So, the basilisk can wait. Yes, the venom can destroy Horcruxes, but there are other ways."

"Fiendfyre," Moody muttered.

"Dark magic," James said, glowering.

"Don't be stupid, boy," Moody snapped. "How do you think ashwinders are born? Their eggs can be used for Love Potions, and more importantly, Healing Potions. There's a whole section in the Department of Mysteries devoted to the study of it. We'll need someone who can control it. Multiple someones, really."

Everyone turned and looked at Dumbledore who nodded. "I would prefer to have others on hand. Alastor, you would be a good candidate. And perhaps one of your young Aurors?"

"The girl," Moody suggested, looking at Hermione. "She knows about all the bloody things. If something goes wrong at any point, we need to make sure someone can destroy them."

James was fuming and Hermione had paled at the suggestion, but Dumbledore nodded his head. "I believe, Miss Howell will be an apt pupil for you, Alastor."

"I don't like it," James said, arms crossed.

Moody looked at him, a moment of sympathy crossed his face before his expression turned stern once again. "Fortunately for us, you don't have to, Potter."

An awkward silence filled the room before Sirius slowly raised his hand. When all eyes were on him he smiled. "Just a suggestion . . . but maybe I could learn how to cast Fiend—"

Everyone interrupted at once with a resounding, "No."

Chapter Text

December 20th, 1981
Hermione Granger's Flat

Hermione had locked herself away, studying Horcruxes and the theory behind Fiendfyre in the days leading up to Christmas. She needed to distract herself, desperate not to think that it was Christmas when she'd lost Harry. When they'd stupidly gone to Godric's Hollow to look for answers, and ended up . . . Halloween and Christmas would never be the same.

She'd almost forgotten about the holiday until she ran into Sirius inside Flourish and Blotts and he'd asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Shocked that she'd forgotten, she begged him not to buy her a single thing and then excused herself from the shop, leaving behind her purchases.

She tried to keep herself distracted, but when the owls started showing up asking how she was, she started to crack. The final straw, however, was when a familiar owl arrived at her window.

"Hello, Errol," she said to the bird, pulling a letter from his leg.

Dearest Hermione,

We weren't certain what your plans were for the holiday, but you've always a place at the Burrow should you find yourself alone on Christmas. It's been a few weeks since we've sat down to tea and I hope your holiday preparations are going better than mine. Seven children to buy for has become a bit of a struggle so this year we've decided to make all our gifts.

The boys have crafted some interesting art projects, and I'm fairly certain Charlie has a wrapped garden gnome somewhere under the tree. I've taken up knitting, myself, and am attempting to finish off six jumpers by Christmas Eve; Ginny's still a bit too small for one, though I have made her some lovely booties.

Happy Christmas, my dear friend.

December 25th, 1981

It was in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day when Remus was finally able to break through her wards.

When Hermione didn't reply to any owls and hadn't shown up Christmas morning, the boys suspected foul play. James insisted that Hermione wouldn't have purposely missed seeing Harry on Christmas, especially since the witch loved to dote on the boy. What better time than an annual excuse to bestow gifts? A Floo call to Allie had the three wizards thinking that their Muggle-born friend was more than likely missing home—her real home—and they immediately made plans to rectify their embarrassing ignorance.

They found her sleeping in the middle of her living room, surrounded by books and papers among other things. Her beaded bag was upturned and items had poured out of it. Books on everything from simple charms to Dark magic, pieces of what appeared to be a tent, a large sleeping bag, and a small pin with the letters S.P.E.W. on it. Crookshanks sat on top of a pile of clothes and a large quilt. Hermione herself was using a large tome as a pillow, and an old Quidditch jersey as a blanket, the name across the red and gold fabric read "Potter".

"That's eerie," James said as he stared at the witch, walking into the flat behind Remus. "Is she all right?"

Remus knelt down in front of Hermione, took a sniff and sighed. "I think she drank herself to sleep," he muttered, reaching under the couch and pulling out a half-empty bottle of firewhisky.

Sirius sighed. "Has she told either of you about . . . about what happened? To her Harry, I mean."

James shook his head. "I don't want to know," he said quietly.

Remus frowned. "You really don't," he said. "I . . . I smelled her clothes in St. Mungo's. They were covered in blood and it wasn't hers so it had to have been—"

"I said I don't want to know," James snapped at his friend. "See if she's got any Sober Up in the kitchen or bathroom," he told Sirius. "Moony, go make her some coffee. I think she's got one of those weird machines charmed to work in a magical flat. I don't know how to make it work, though."

Sirius and Remus vanished and James sat down on the floor next to the witch, frowning when he noticed she was cradling a frame in her arms. Prying it from her grip, his eyes widened at the sight of three teenagers standing together, two boys with their arms draped over the shoulders of the girl.

It was snowing in the picture and James recognised Hogwarts in the background. The three teenagers were laughing and as the photograph moved, the taller boy revealed a snowball in his hand that he smashed onto the top of the girl's hair. Her eyes widened and she turned to give chase while the black-haired boy laughed.

James ran his finger over the face of the boy and smiled. "Wow," he whispered.

Hermione blinked her eyes open, her hands bereft of the photo. She looked up and saw James and frowned. "Where's Harry?" she croaked.

James turned and looked down at her. "With Allie. Frank's uncle bought Neville a toy broom for Christmas so they've got both boys right now trying them out."

Hermione groaned and pulled the jersey up over her head. "You people and your stupid brooms. Insane."

He laughed softly. "Never met a witch who didn't like flying," he admitted. "You can't even use the Muggle-born excuse. Lily loved flying. She couldn't play Quidditch because she was afraid of Bludgers, and rightly so, but she was faster than even me on a broom."

Hermione pulled the jersey down and glared at the man. "It's just . . . unnatural. And I'm not afraid of flying, I'm afraid of falling while flying."

"Have you ever really given it a chance?" he asked. "Maybe you just need to conquer your fears."

She snorted. "I've flown a hippogriff and a thestral."

He smirked. "You flew a thestral?"

She nodded. "From Hogwarts to London. Couldn't see a thing. Felt like I was just . . . hovering thousands of feet above the ground for hours. It was horrifying and I doubt a broom would have reassured me further."

He chuckled, relenting. "You want to come over for Christmas dinner?"

She frowned and shook her head. "I don't want it to be Christmas," she said quietly. "I don't . . . I kept thinking about it and—"

"Then come over for dinner," he said. "Just a normal dinner like we do every week. You shouldn't be alone."

She contemplated it for a long time before finally relenting and letting James pull her to her feet. "Fine, but no gifts," she insisted.

He cringed. "Well, we all might have already . . . look, Remus got you a really interesting book and I pitched in for it. Harry made you a drawing."

She smiled. "What of?"

"Fuck if I know. It's purple and blue with little orange dots all over half of it."

Hermione laughed and sat up, wincing as she held her head. "Fine, I'll agree to gifts."

James smiled. "Just so you know, Sirius went a little overboard."

She paled. "How overboard?"

"Remember when you said that Remus spent years unable to get work because of his lycanthropy? Well, you also were complaining about not having your N.E.W.T.s and being unable to find work because of it so . . ."

Hermione blinked. "Sirius got me and Remus jobs for Christmas?" she asked, confused.

Sirius walked into the room and grinned brightly. "Even better! Happy Christmas, Hermione!" he shouted, leaning down to hand her a phial. "You don't have any Sober Up, but I found this Pain Potion in your cabinet next to all your witchy things. And I may or may not have opened some because I've never seen them and also, your toilet's clogged."

James sighed and offered the witch an apologetic glance while she pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration before tossing back the potion. "Sirius . . . I swear to Merlin—"

"Hey, Moony?" James called. "Sirius was in Hermione's bathroom and—"

"On it," Remus said, walking from the kitchen to the bathroom, wand already in hand to fix the problem.

"See? Moony's on it," Sirius said with a smile. "Now, it's Christmas, Hermione. And I got you and Moony the best present ever! You know Flourish and Blotts?"

She winced at his volume, her head aching. "I know of it, yes," she said anxiously.

"Good!" Sirius said joyfully. "Because I bought it."

Chapter Text

March 27th, 1982
Lupin and Howell's

Hermione had argued with Sirius for the better part of an hour, Remus and James watching in amusement from her sofa, over the fact that he couldn't just buy out Flourish and Blotts and give a bookshop to her and Remus as a Christmas gift. It was insane. People didn't do that!

But Sirius Black did that.

He argued that she was preventing him from becoming a better person by spending his inheritance on his friends—who both needed proper employment and refused to be given money—and that if she turned down his gracious gift, he was going to spend all of his Galleons on witches of ill repute down Knockturn Alley.

"If I catch something, it'll be all your fault, you know," he'd said smugly and Hermione grimaced at the thought of spending any time at all with a potentially infectious Sirius Black. A part of her knew that he was bluffing, but the rest of her really, desperately didn't want to call him on it.

Hermione remembered meeting Mr Flourish the summer before her first year at Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall had taken her to Diagon Alley to make her purchases, and they'd spent hours in the book shop gathering her things and speaking with the owner. He'd told her a great deal about his life, having married a Muggle-born himself, though they'd had no children and she had died some years back. The Blotts family, who had once owned the other half of the shop, had sold decades earlier and moved to America, leaving Mr Flourish and his wife the sole proprietors until her passing.

Hermione had felt bad when she'd forgotten about Mrs Flourish's death. Sirius, however, assured her that the woman was fine and now that they had the money to get out of Britain, her ailing health would soon be on the mend. Another change. Another life saved.

Remus and Hermione took over the shop at the end of January, purposely scheduling the renovations in an attempt to help keep James's mind off of what would have been Lily's twenty-second birthday. It worked for the most part, though the Marauders and their friends did all get together at Sirius's flat where Molly Weasley had sent over a small birthday cake in honour of Lily Potter. James let Harry blow out the candles and then sent a long letter of genuine gratitude to the Weasley family who became fast friends with the Marauders and company.

Harry and Ron, on the other hand, were quite at odds with one another when the ginger threw a clump of dirt at Harry during a small get together at the Burrow. Harry had cried for twenty minutes, inconsolable by anyone other than Hermione or Allie, and when the boys were reintroduced and Molly tried to get Ron to apologise, Harry pointed at Ron and told Sirius, "Bite him, Pads!"

While older generations protested the change of ownership of the book shop and the change of name, few threw any fuss over the fact that it was owned by a werewolf and a Muggle-born. Not when Narcissa Malfoy had been seen there, buying the latest edition of Practical Household Magic. A publicity stunt to get the Malfoy name back in the papers without stigma attached to it, Narcissa was seen as a witch with a focus on her family, doing what she could to keep traditions alive while still looking pristine as ever. Hermione scoffed at the idea, knowing for certain that the woman still had a manor full of house-elves that did all of her cooking and cleaning for her and had little use for the book she'd purchased. Still, Narcissa had made a name for herself and was interviewed by Witch Weekly for their Valentine's Day issue, telling the heartbreaking story of bad boy Lucius Malfoy, who sacrificed his personal freedom to keep his soul mate and wife from the clutches of the Dark Lord. It was asinine, but the public ate it up and as long as Narcissa kept friendly with the Order—and occasionally made a purchase at Lupin and Howell's—Hermione wasn't going to openly complain about the twisting truths of the media.

"You just about ready?" Remus asked as he peeked into the shared back office where Hermione was peppered from fingertips to elbow in smudged ink, writing a third letter that day to Moody, who had to revise their training schedule again thanks to new Auror protocols being installed within the Academy.

Her training with the Fiendfyre hadn't gotten off to the best start, and Dumbledore refused to burn the diary on his own, worried that something could happen between now and the next time a Horcrux was discovered and their one way of destroying them would be useless. The diary instead was locked away somewhere at Hogwarts under the protection of its headmaster, while Hermione was often locked away at Alastor Moody's old warded family cottage, attempting to melt wax with magical flames without unleashing an uncontrollable fire demon.

"Almost," Hermione said with a sigh, sealing the letter and handing it to the shop's owl, Feather—so named by Harry. "I need some new quills. I had two break on me today just through correspondence and dealing with paperwork for the shop," she complained. "Do I have any ink on my face?" she asked as she used her wand to Scourgify her hands.

"All good. I've got Prongs's present all wrapped up as well."

Hermione smiled. "And you're certain that Sirius wasted his money on tickets to a Cannon's game and didn't buy him a broom?"

Remus nodded. "He's certain that this is going to be their year."

She laughed. "I'll take that bet."

The Air Wave Silver racing broom was boxed and wrapped, and had cost both Remus and Hermione several week's pay together to be able to afford it. But when they visited Godric's Hollow again shortly after New Year only to find James's broom destroyed beyond repair, it became a top priority to get him a new one and cheer him up.

The Burrow

Remus and Hermione arrived at the Burrow, birthday gift in the werewolf's arms, smiling at the sight of a decorated house and yard and a plethora of small children running about. The party was necessary. While he stayed afloat mostly for Harry and his friends, James's bouts of depression and grief were getting deeper and deeper the longer time went on. Hermione was certain that a good part of it was Sirius's fault, using late-night visits to the Leaky and the Hog's Head to drown his own sorrows. Eventually, James started accompanying him.

No longer able to join the Auror Academy as he'd wanted to do after graduating Hogwarts, thanks to lingering back pain and his fear of leaving Harry without any parents, James wallowed in the misery of not knowing his path; Lily, his former compass, gone. Directionless and bored, the wizard spent his entire life revolved around Harry's schedule, and the lack of purpose outside of his son was making him hard to deal with some days.

Hermione smiled at the sight of Sirius and James, play wrestling the Weasley twins on the grass while Ron and Harry ran in circles around the four, egging Fred and George on. Percy was perched high up on a nearby tree branch, his rat in hand as he quietly observed the fighting below with caution. Charlie sat on the outdoor table while Arthur applied dittany to a freshly skinned knee, and Hermione could hear Molly shouting from within the house.

"Crazy day?" Hermione asked as she approached.

Arthur laughed. "This isn't even the half of it," he told her, patting Charlie on the shoulder and watching as the boy jumped down to run back toward the wrestling wizards, eager to get involved in the fun. "Allie is inside helping Molly with dinner, Frank is coming by shortly with Neville and I believe your friend Emmeline has sequestered herself in my shed," he said, pointing across the yard. "She said she'd rather play with dirty Muggle things than sticky magical children." He laughed loudly. "I told her she could keep one of those fellytones if she could figure out how to fix it."

Hermione smiled. "Telephone."

"Right," Arthur said with a grin, snapping his fingers. "Oh, all the presents are going on that table over there," he told Remus and gestured.

"Hermione, you're looking gorgeous today," a voice said from behind her and the brunette cringed and looked at both Arthur and Remus who each chuckled at her expense.

She turned and put her hands on her hips and stared down at the wizard in front of her. "I think we should go back to Miss Howell, don't you think?" she suggested.

"I think I'm a little old to be calling you Miss Howell. I'm almost twelve. I'll start Hogwarts soon. Nearly a man," Bill Weasley said with a grin, pushing back his shaggy red hair from his face when a gust of wind caused the strands to obscure his vision.

"Never going to happen," Hermione insisted and Bill's ego visibly deflated.

"Is it because you're dating that stupid Auror?" he whinged.

She pursed her lips. "I am not . . ." she began and then huffed. "I am not discussing adult things with you. Now go and play with the other children."

"Speaking of your young admirer," Molly said as she walked out, levitating several dishes behind her, followed by Allie who carried a stack of plates in her hands. "He owled earlier and said that he would be stopping by a little later. Such a handsome fellow."

Hermione blushed. "We've only been on two dates, and they were awful."

Allie laughed. "Well, what did you expect? You told him you were home taught and then he found out you were a Muggle-born. You need to learn how to lie better if you're going to date someone who doesn't know all your secrets."

"Or just don't keep secrets," Molly suggested.

Hermione smiled at the woman. "Every witch has a secret or two," she said, wishing that she could tell the Weasleys who she really was. As it stood, they knew about the Order but were just too busy with their children to join up themselves and Hermione knew it was dangerous for anyone outside the Order to know where she was from. "I'm just not used to dating, to begin with. And he's older than me."

"I agree with Hermione," Sirius said as he ran over, putting an arm around the witch. "If she's going to sully herself with an older man, it should be me."

Molly clucked her tongue and sighed. "You need a good woman, Sirius Black," she said, her tone one of disapproval.

"Ugh, you smell like wet dog." Hermione cringed and pushed him away from her. When James stepped close, she moved back. "Are you just as sweaty and gross?"

He laughed. "It's my birthday, be nice."

"Well, I do need a Potter hug," she said and then ducked under James's arms, grabbing Harry from behind and lifting him into her arms despite his protesting giggles.

James laughed and turned back, smiling gratefully as Molly held out a clean cloth to wipe the sweat from his face. "She's so good with him," the ginger witch said. "Some young witches these days don't seem to even want children." She glanced over James's shoulder to the shed where Emmeline was walking, telephone in hand and a smug smile on her face.

"Hermione's a good witch," James agreed, reaching for a glass of pumpkin juice and draining it. "She deserves better than some Auror who barely has the time for her. Right then, I'm going to go jump in the pond! Who's with me!?" he shouted and Bill, Charlie, Fred, and George all yelled in excitement, following after him as he rushed toward the water.

Molly sighed. "She loves his boy," she commented quietly.

Allie smiled. "Yes, she does."

"It's too soon," Sirius pointed out.

Remus agreed. "Almost six months since we lost Lily."

Chapter Text

March 27th, 1982
The Burrow

"Don't look now, Hermione, but your boyfriend's here," Allie teased.

Hermione looked up, spotting the familiar Auror robes. "He's not . . . honestly, we're not that serious. It's just been a few dates. I'm not looking to settle down, thank you."

Kingsley grinned as he approached the women, opening his arms to Hermione. "There's the most beautiful witch in the world," he declared loudly drawing attention as he hugged her.

Hermione laughed, returning the hug. "Kingsley, you need to stop that. If my head got so big and I floated away, how would you feel?"

"Depends on if you floated away with me," he said with a wink.

"Oi! Get yer own witch, mate," Angus said, shoving Kingsley aside with a laugh before smiling and greeting Hermione with a kiss. She blushed and looked away awkwardly, making certain that very few people caught the public display.

"The second you want this tosser gone, I'll gladly get rid of him for you," Kingsley whispered conspiratorially to her.

"Suggesting violence?" Hermione grinned. "How unlike you, Kingsley."

The Auror laughed. "Violence? Never. A little Obliviation, however . . ." he teased. "I think Angus would be happy living out the rest of his life thinking he was a unicorn."

Allie and Hermione laughed and Angus turned red in the face and narrowed his eyes at his partner. "Shove off," he said and then turned his attention to Hermione, wrapping hands around her waist. "How are you, lovely?"

She nodded her head, looking up to catch Remus watching her with a raised brow. Prying herself out of Angus's grip, she continued to set the table for Molly. "Good. Busy day, busy day. You?"

Angus frowned at the distance she created but sighed in acceptance and ran a hand through his blond hair. "Good," he answered. "We're getting close to catching the Carrow twins."

Hermione looked up excitedly. "That's a relief!"

He grinned, happy to see her react so positively. "I've got to go on a tracking mission tomorrow morning," he said and then frowned a bit. "Do you want to maybe get out of here a little early?" he whispered. "Get some dinner, go back to my place?"

Hermione sighed and looked down at the ground, biting her lower lip. "Angus . . ."

He held his hands up. "I know, I know. Taking things slow," he agreed. "But . . . look, I don't know how long I'm going to be gone, you hear?"

She pursed her lips and looked up at him with suddenly narrowed eyes. Allie cringed and quietly excused herself from the scene, linking her arm with Kingsley and dragging him off toward the food that had been set up buffet style on another table.

Hermione put her hands on her hips. "I don't see how that has anything to do with me. You and I are not exclusive," she said and watched as Angus turned his gaze away from her. "And don't even look in Sirius or Remus's direction right now. Besides, I'm not leaving James's birthday party early."

He sighed and looked up, his expression apologetic. "Yeah, all right. I'm sorry, that was right selfish of me," he said, frowning. "I get jealous is all. You're constantly surrounded by all these other wizards. How's a man supposed to compete?" he asked with a smile, earning a small one in return. His grin widened when she allowed him to hold her again.

"Mi! Mi!"

Angus sighed as Hermione moved away from him again, turning her back toward him and focusing on the shouting toddler approaching. "Speaking of competition," he muttered.

Hermione turned and looked at him. "I'll be right back. I promised I'd go see the new treehouse with Harry, Ron, and Neville," she said, noting that Frank had arrived and Neville was already running for the big oak tree that Arthur and the older boys had turned into a playhouse.

With Hermione vanishing into the distance, holding the hand of the tiny black-haired boy, Kingsley approached Angus and put a hand on his shoulder. "Amazing how good she is with the little ones," he said with an admiring smile. "Don't be messing her about now."

Angus scoffed. "I'm not the one messing about, mate. I'm not looking for some one night stand. I like her. I'd like to make things serious with her."

"Keep dreaming, Savage," Sirius said as he approached, snacking on a handful of biscuits that he grabbed off of the table. "Hermione's out of your league."

Angus narrowed his eyes, not in the mood for Sirius's teasing. "Yours too, Black."

Sirius laughed. "I'm well aware of that, thank you. If I'm going to be turned down by a witch, I want it to be by one who's secretly in love with me," he said loudly as Emmeline walked past.

"Fuck off, Sirius," she snapped at him and made her way down to the pond where the majority of the Weasleys and James were causing a ruckus.

Kingsley laughed at the determined look on Sirius's face and the defeated expression on Angus's. "You're both out of your depth," he said, shaking his head while still chuckling. "Pathetic. Just pathetic."

It hadn't taken long before Neville, Harry, and Ron wanted to go swimming with the older kids and Hermione was determined to keep a vigilant eye on all three. Percy offered to assist her, insisting that he was big enough to look after his brother, and she couldn't help but smile as Ron clung to him tightly. Allie took Neville into the water and he laughed while splashing Harry, who was currently riding on Fred's shoulders.

She'd smiled, enjoying the happy day, until Kingsley and Angus teamed up on her, tossing her in the pond. She fought them both at first, angry, but eventually laughed when Bill and Charlie came to her rescue, both attempting to drown the large Aurors to defend her honour.

"Enjoy," she said and climbed out of the pond, wringing out her hair and blouse. "Are all men just boys at heart?" she asked James and Remus as she approached, cringing when her shoes made squelching noises as she walked.

Remus chuckled. "Just a bit," he said. "Need a Drying Charm?" he asked, holding up his wand.

Hermione scoffed. "Not if you're the one who dried James's hair," she said with a bright smile.

James ran a hand through his messy strands and smirked. "Very funny," he said and watched as Hermione made her way back to the Burrow. He turned his attention back to the pond where Angus and Kingsley had finally overtaken the oldest Weasley boys. "I don't like him," he muttered.

Remus smirked. "You don't have to. I think that's Hermione's job."

"They're not serious, are they?"

"Not really, no. Why?"

James shrugged. "Because she . . . she's our friend and we need to protect her. She's not used to this world and who knows what blokes are like where she's from. She ever tell you about . . . whether she dated or not? I know about Ron."

Remus nodded. "We talk a lot when we're at work together. She leaves out a lot of the darker parts of her history, telling me only when it's relevant, you know? There was some big event during her fourth year. Some guy named Krum took her to a ball. Quidditch player, I think. Didn't last long. He was older and went to Durmstrang."

"See?" James said. "And Savage is a few years older than us and I heard he dated Posy Flint when they were at Hogwarts together," he said accusingly.

Remus raised a brow. "Posy? Parkinson's wife? Mother of Merlin, that witch is beyond insane."

"Exactly," James said, eyebrows raised. "Who knows what Savage over there is into."

Remus turned and watched the Auror as he was pinned beneath the water by his larger partner, who was laughing. "I don't know, Prongs. I mean . . . he was a Hufflepuff."

James scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Oh please, you know as well as I do that Hufflepuffs are into all the weird stuff."

Remus sighed heavily. "I should date a Hufflepuff."

James smirked at his friend. "You should just . . . date, period," he said. "I need to live vicariously through my friends now, and Sirius is going to lose his bollocks to Emmeline if he keeps pissing her off." He laughed watching as, across the pond, Sirius sneaked up behind Emmeline and shoved her into the water.

Everyone gathered back at the Burrow for gifts, cake, and icecream and James stood in awe as he opened Remus and Hermione's present. "Bloody hell," he whispered and when the children all giggled, he looked up and offered Molly an apologetic look. "Moony . . . Hermione, this is beautiful," he said, admiring the broomstick. "Thank you both, so much."

She beamed brightly, thrilled so see him smiling at the gift, remembering the look on Harry's face when he'd received first his Nimbus, and then his Firebolt. She fought the urge to make a joke about not reporting this to McGonagall, but unfortunately, no one would understand. "I'm happy you like it."

"Like it?" James laughed. "I might sleep with this broom."

"Ahem," Molly said, clearing her throat and eyeing him.

"What?" James asked innocently, giving the ginger witch a crooked grin. "Platonically."

Dessert was served and Hermione took a seat at the far end of the table between Kingsley and Angus, who wrapped an arm around her. She smiled and leant into the touch, trying to relax against him, though she gave him an incredulous look when he tried to feed her a bite of his cake. Kingsley just laughed at the couple, muttering about how they were entertaining and he needed to start going out with them more often.

"So look," Angus nervously said. "I know you said we're not exclusive and you wanted to take things slow and—"

"Hermione, have you seen Neville's juice?" Allied asked.

"I put it in the cooling cabinet inside when he dropped it in the garden," Hermione said to her friend and then turned back to Angus. "Sorry, what were you saying?"

He smiled. "I was just . . . well, I think you're just . . . I really fancy you, y'know?"

She blushed. "I'm not . . . I'm not used to that," she quietly admitted.

"I gathered," he said understandingly. "But you're beautiful and wicked smart and I'd really like to—"

"Ice cream!" Molly announced, placing a bowl down in front of Hermione. "I made it myself. An old family recipe. Eat up, both of you and tell me how it is."

Hermione smiled gratefully and immediately dipped her spoon into the dish, turning back to look at Angus as she savoured the ice cream. "Oh my gods, this is so good," she said. "Try it."

Angus sighed, anxiously wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers before picking up the spoon and taking a bite. "Not bad," he said. "Crazyberry isn't my favourite, though. I got sick on Droobles Best Blowing Gum when I was a kid. The flavour had just come out and was the cool new thing. So . . . as I was saying—"

"This is crazyberry?" Hermione asked, her eyes widening. "Shit!" She jumped from her seat, ignoring Angus as she ran down the length of the table and grabbed the bowl out from under Harry's hands. "No!" she shouted, pulling away the treat, using her blouse to wipe it off of his hands. "Did he eat any?!"

The shock and her volume mixed with Harry losing his dessert had the toddler in tears within seconds, something that Hermione scarcely paid attention to, but had James immediately reacting. "What the hell, Hermione?!" he snapped, pulling Harry from her grip and into his arms.

"Did he eat any of that?!" she yelled back at him.

James glowered. "Not before you had a chance to snatch it away. What the hell is wrong with you, making my kid cry?"

Startled, Hermione looked at Harry's face and frowned as she watched tears roll down his cheeks. "Oh Harry, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean—" she said, reaching out only to have James pull Harry back and glare at her further. Suddenly defensive and embarrassed, Hermione lashed out. "He's allergic to crazyberries," she said snappishly.

James scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous. Don't you think I would know if my kid were allergic to—"

"Know more than I would?" she challenged.

James frowned and looked at Harry, drawing his focus to the toddler's hands, which were already turning a bit red. "What . . . I don't . . ."

"First year," she whispered, moving so that no one else at the table could see or hear her. "He was raised by Muggles and they're magically grown so he'd never had any before then. Ended up in the Hospital Wing after the post-Christmas feast in the Great Hall."

Still frowning and looking angry with himself, James cleared his throat. "Molly, do you have anything for allergic reactions?"

The ginger witch stood. "Just inside. Is Harry all right?"

James nodded. "A bit of a rash. He's allergic to crazyberries."

"Oh dear!" Molly said. "I've got some chocolate ice cream in the house. I'll bring him a bowl of that with the Allergy Potion. He'll wand something sweet after he drinks it."

Hermione reached out, looking at Harry's hands. "I'm sorry," she whispered, more to James than Harry. "I didn't mean to scare him or to—"

Angry and guilty, James shifted Harry to his other arm, pulling him further away from the witch. "Can you just . . . can you let me take care of my own kid, Hermione?" he snapped and then turned away, following Molly into the house.

Chapter Text

April 24th, 1982
Sirius Black's Flat

"You know she didn't mean to make the kid cry," Sirius had told him once James had come out of the Burrow to find Hermione gone.

"I know," he'd said. "I just . . . she knows more about my own son than I do and . . . it wasn't supposed to be like this. Lily was supposed to be here. Lily was supposed to know all these things."

"To be fair, mate," Remus pointed out, "neither you or Lily was technically supposed to be here to know these things about Harry. And it's because of Hermione that you are."

He'd sent an apology to her flat the very moment he got home, but all that was sent back was a short letter from the witch saying that perhaps they all needed some time alone. She'd apparently broken up with Angus because she was too distracted to properly be in any relationship, and perhaps that included some friendships as well.

I'll keep Harry safe, she wrote. He's what's important and I need to focus on my mission.

James worried still when she didn't show up at the flat for several weeks. Nor did she make any contact prior to the full moon, and Harry stayed with the Longbottoms allowing Prongs to join Moony and Padfoot for the night. Anytime James asked Remus about the witch, he replied by saying that she was only at the book shop when he needed some time off, spending the majority of her life training with Moody, or researching with Dumbledore.

"Do you think she's okay?" James asked Sirius one morning when Harry drew a picture of an orange cat on the back of a letter James had received earlier that week from St. Mungo's, asking his permission to hold some sort of fundraiser for Muggle medicine in Lily's honour.

"I think she spends most of her time with Alastor Moody. I wouldn't call that okay," Sirius replied. "The witch went through a war, likely worse than our own and she came out somewhat stable. Stop worrying about her so damn much. She'll be fine."

James nodded. "I know, I just . . . Harry misses her is all."

Sirius smiled knowingly and then shook his head. "Go have a wank, mate."

It wasn't the first time that it had happened.

The first time had been the day after his birthday; after his fight with Hermione.

Frustrated upon waking up like always, James fed Harry and put him down for a nap before climbing in the shower and letting the hot water beat down upon his back. Soap washed over his tanned skin, dripping down over the collection of scars earned from Quidditch and war and washed away the lingering scent of the blankets he slept in. The blankets that were smelling less and less like Lily every day.

Forehead pressed against the cold tile, James washed his body, letting his hands roam over his shoulders, chest, stomach, eventually reaching his cock. Eyes closed, he pulled and tugged in an old familiar rhythm, exhaling heavily every ten seconds or so as the heat burned and built inside of him.

"James, I need to know what you think about having roses instead of lilies for boutonnieres for the groomsmen," Lily said as she opened the door. "I know it's very cute and you love wordplay, but honestly I hate that I was named after a flower and if I can just—oh my gods! What are you doing?!"

He laughed and turned to face her, only partially obscured by the glass shower door, glad that he'd opted to have it installed in their flat instead of the stupid flowery curtain Lily had wanted. Walking in on his redheaded fiance while showering was fast becoming his new favourite thing. "What do you think I'm doing?"

"Are you fourteen? James! Stop that right now!" she insisted, holding a hand up to cover his bottom half from her vision.

"Lils, you've seen me naked."

"I haven't seen you . . . do that!"

"Care you join me?"

She laughed. "No, no, don't mind me. You look fairly content with yourself."

"Thinking of you," he said with a wink.

"You're ridiculous." She shook her head, still blushing as she left the bathroom.

"And I happen to like lilies!" he shouted after her.

The vision of crimson hair and bright emerald eyes filled his mind. Memories of the sofa in their shared Head Dorm Room at Hogwarts, the various surfaces in the first flat they bought after getting married, the bedroom they had shared in their small cottage in Godric's Hollow. He struggled to remember the look in her eyes when she came—when he made her cry out. The way she gasped for breath, pulled his hair, and whispered his name.

He fought hard to remember the sound of her voice.

The pressure continued to build and build and then, just before he fell over the edge of a much-needed release, emerald turned amber and straight crimson turned into spiraled chestnut as the image of a wet Hermione filled his mind, laughing as she stepped out of the pond behind the Burrow, wringing out her hair as her blouse clung to her curves.

The water had turned ice cold by the time James had stopped crying, feeling sick with embarrassment and unnecessary guilt. He confessed it all to Remus—and not Sirius—and the werewolf had sighed and put a hand on his shoulder. "It felt like cheating, Moony," he admitted.

"It wasn't," Remus said. "You logically know that it wasn't. This is just a step you have to get through."

"She was the love of my life."

Remus nodded. "I know, mate. But your life's not over."

July 6th, 1982
Hermione Granger's Flat

One down, was what the letters said when Dumbledore sent word to the rest of the Order.

Hermione had spent months working herself to the bone alongside Moody to learn how to cast and control Fiendfyre in order to get rid of the diary. Halfway through April when she'd let her emotions get the better of her and almost given herself third-degree burns, she knew she needed to refocus her objective and stop wallowing in her own guilt over what had happened at James's birthday party.

"You know he's sorry, right?" Remus had asked her at work.

She'd just sighed. "He doesn't have to be. Yes, he snapped at me but . . . if I were in his position . . . I understand where he's coming from. I stepped over the line. Harry's not my child."

Not her child. That had been Angus's confusion when he'd followed her home from the Burrow, worried about her considering she'd burst into tears the second she reached the edge of the wards and was able to Disapparate away. "I get that you want to help out, Potter. It's awful what happened to them," he'd said in obvious concern. "But Hermione . . . Harry's not your kid."

More lies, more secrets, followed by a long-winded apology from her that she couldn't commit herself to a relationship. Not now. Angus was hurt, but understood, and had kissed her cheek before leaving her flat, promising to take care of himself when he went on a mission to hunt down the Carrows.

"You're ready," Moody said to her in the beginning of July and days later she was Side-Alonged to an old cemented shack, Dumbledore and Moody on either side of her.

"Fiendfyre," she whispered and watched in horror and wonder as she conjured the magical flame that immediately turned into a living, breathing dragon made of fire.

It swallowed the diary whole and she held her breath as the Horcrux wailed and screamed. When it was nothing but ash, the dragon turned on Hermione and roared. Even Dumbledore fought to properly control and extinguish the beast. A single, small ashwinder was left in its wake, and the collected eggs were all that remained of the evidence that Tom Riddle ever even had a diary.

"That was harder than I thought," she had admitted.

Moody nodded in agreement. "Perhaps we should start thinking about that basilisk."

Back at home, she scrubbed her skin raw trying to wash away the smell of smoke and fire and the memory of Voldemort's dying screams, horrified on behalf of Harry and Ginny both. Now, however, they were safe. Ginny, nestled at the Burrow in her crib, would never be possessed by the book and forced to unleash a monster; Harry, likely asleep at Sirius's flat, would never have to kill said monster to save her.


Wrapped in a towel, she made her way toward the living room where she spotted Allie's head in the fireplace. "Everything okay?" she asked, towelling her hair dry.

Allie sighed. "No. Frank was injured at work and I need to get to St. Mungo's."

"Oh my gods, is it serious?"

"No, not really. He'll be off work for a week or two, but he's unconscious right now and they need me there to deal with the paperwork. I've dropped off Neville with Frank's mother but I've got Harry as well since it's a full moon, and when I tried to leave him with her, poor boy just started sobbing."

Hermione frowned. "Allie, I'd love to help but I don't think James would—"

"James would be fine with it and you know that. You've still got access to their flat. Can you please watch him, Hermione? There's no way to get a hold of the boys."

She sighed. "I'll be right there."

Chapter Text

July 7th, 1982
Sirius Black's Flat

After the moon, which wasn't a particularly bad one—thank Merlin—James Apparated home to the flat instead of using the Floo so as not to wake Remus's father. He stepped in the door and was surprised to smell food cooking since Harry was supposed to be at the Longbottom's. Spinning around, wand in hand, his mouth fell open at the sight of Hermione in front of the stove.

She was wearing a pair of pyjama bottoms that were much too long for her, orange with the Chudley Cannons logo written on the side of the leg. Her top was an old, faded men's t-shirt and he recognised it immediately as the one Harry—her Harry—had worn in the photograph she kept in her beaded bag. Ron and Harry's clothes, he realised, she wore to keep them close because she had no other way to do so.

He glanced at the open bedroom door where Lily's blankets lay still folded on his bed where he'd last left them.

"Daddy!" Harry shouted excitedly and James noted that Hermione stiffened but didn't turn around.

"Hey, mate," he said and walked over, kissing the top of his son's head. "Hermione making you breakfast?"

"Eggs," Harry said and then resumed his musical rendition of what sounded like nonsense, using two forks as drumsticks.

He took off his cloak and threw it over a chair before walking to the cooling cabinet and pulling out the pumpkin juice. "Everything okay?" he whispered to Hermione.

She nodded her head. "Allie had an emergency. Frank was injured on the job, nothing too serious but she needed to be at St. Mungo's and Harry wouldn't stop crying at Mrs Longbottom's house."

James sighed and ran a hand through his hair, looking back at his son. "I really need to get a list of people who can look after him. That or maybe talk to Moony . . . see if Padfoot will be enough when—"

"I can do it," Hermione said, turning around and setting the plate of eggs on the table in front of Harry. "Wait a moment, they're hot," she advised before folding her arms and looking at James. "I can do it," she repeated. "That is if it's all right with you."

He quietly nodded and then looked down. "About what happened—"

"It was my fault. I've been . . . been holding onto—not purposely hiding, mind—all of this information about him that I know because . . . it's all I have left. My Harry is gone. He di—he's gone and I've changed everything. Even if there were some way to send me back to 1997, the world would be different and he wouldn't know me. I need to let go."

James swallowed and thought of Lily.

"He's allergic to crazyberries but he won't stop to check because he's addicted to sweets, his favourite being treacle tart. He loves everything to do with Quidditch and flies much too fast and too high for his own good. He has an obsessive personality, a penchant for saving people, and his temper is utterly out of control. He's easily embarrassed, does not know how to control his accidental magic, but he's skilled at duelling, Defence, and Charms . . . more or less. He hates History of Magic and he's terrible at Potions unless he's cheating, which he has zero guilt about doing, for the record," she said, dramatically rolling her eyes.

She looked at James, shocked that the man was smiling at her, and the way he was looking at her . . . with gratitude . . . tears sprung to her eyes. "His hair is always a mess," she continued, her voice breaking every few words as she spoke, "he doesn't know how to talk to girls, or dance . . . he loves beautiful snow owls and loyal hippogriffs and . . . and . . . big, stupid, black dogs," she wiped away at the tears as they fell onto her cheeks, "and he's currently got scrambled eggs on his face," she added with a small laugh.

Ignoring the mess that Harry was making, James reached out and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry," he said and smiled when he heard her let out a heavy sigh. "I'm a mess and you're amazing. You're an amazing friend and we've missed you. You took care of Harry and . . . and me when I needed it the most. You take care of Remus and Sirius and everyone you know." He pulled back. "Who takes care of Hermione?"

She shrugged. "I'd like to say that Harry and Ron used to but . . . well . . ." She laughed.

James smiled. "Then that stops now. How 'bout it, Harry?" he said looking back to the table. "We clean you up and then it's our turn to make breakfast for Hermione?"

She frowned, eyes wide. "Oh no, you don't have to—"

"Yay!" Harry screamed, throwing egg-covered fists into the air excitedly.

James put his hands on Hermione's shoulders and directed her to sit down. "You wait there while I fix something up. You like porridge? Lily used to—" he began but then stopped and looked contemplative over his next words.

Hermione cleared her throat. "Tell me," she said. "What did Lily used to do?"

James looked down at her and then smiled. "She used to put maple syrup in it instead of sugar," he said. "And blueberries. Marshmallows sometimes, too," he added with a laugh.

She smiled brightly. "I'd like to try it, if that's okay."

He stared at her and then blinked rapidly, shocked that he was getting emotional over something as silly as porridge. He let out an exhale that felt like it carried the weight of the world with it, and then smiled, nodding his head. "Yeah, I can . . . I can do that."

Hermione pulled Harry from his chair and used a nearby flannel to wipe the eggs from his hands and face before handing him to James. "Tell me more," she said.

James's smile grew bright. "She was mean," he said, laughing. "Hexed me something awful when I was being a shit."

"So . . . often?"

He outright guffawed. "Pretty much. And she could hold a grudge when you did something to make her mad. But she was . . . she was so pretty when she smiled. And confident," he said, shifting Harry onto the counter and holding him there with one hand while he dug around in the cabinets. "She walked around like she owned Hogwarts. Like she'd been born there, right inside the castle, you know? But in this . . . weird way that wasn't about ego. She was nice to everyone, especially the little kids. Gods, she was so happy when she made Head Girl." He sighed happily as he began to fiddle with the ingredients, handing a fistful of tiny marshmallows to Harry. "She made me do all the boring stuff while she invested all this time in the first years. Making sure they all knew where to go and that they had someone looking out for them."

Hermione smiled. "I always wanted to be Head Girl," she admitted. "For . . . less altruistic reasons," she said quietly.

James smirked. "You wanted the shiny badge."

She scoffed but then muttered, "And the title."

He laughed and put Harry back in his chair with some berries to nibble at and then turned his attention back to the pot on the stove, adjusting the fire with his wand. "She was an actual prodigy at brewing. Brilliant. Charms too. It all came natural to her. Like breathing."

"I'm envious of people like that," Hermione admitted. "I seem to fight tooth and nail to figure it all out. I can't get out of my head sometimes when it comes to magic. It didn't make me many friends."

"You had Harry and Ron though."

She laughed. "Did I not tell you how we became friends? A mountain troll got loose in the castle and the boys came to rescue me because I was in the bathroom crying. Over something insensitive that Ron said, actually. They fought the troll, I took the blame and lost points for Gryffindor and the rest, they say, is history."

He smirked. "A mountain troll?"

She nodded. "A mountain troll."

James laughed and shook his head, using magic to finish up the cooking, serving out three dishes and then setting the jar of maple syrup in the centre of the table before taking a seat. "Sounds like you had an interesting childhood, and that's saying something considering the world we live in. So, is there anything else I should know about my son?"

"Yes," she said with a happy smile, watching as James poured syrup onto her porridge. "His Patronus is his father."

Chapter Text

September 3rd, 1982
Lupin and Howell's

Harry's birthday was a brief moment of relaxed joy in a summer of craziness. September first came far too quickly and the book shop was flooded with new and returning Hogwarts students, all desperate for supplies. Hermione and Remus were unavailable to anyone or anything for a full two weeks at the end of August. The moment that the Hogwarts Express left King's Cross, however, the rush quickly died away leaving the shop open to adults free to peruse at their leisure without children underfoot.

The predicted decline in business allowed for a wonderful opportunity: Damocles Belby finally got in contact with Hermione to talk about his research on the Wolfsbane Potion. Finally perfected, he said, he was looking for volunteer werewolves to study the effects and was finding it hard to get any in Russia to trust him. Remus was more than happy to volunteer and took the first International Portkey out of Britain that he could grab, leaving the shop in Hermione's capable hands, and his Animagi friends free to do whatever they wanted to during the approaching full moon.

Hermione spent her days finding solace in the comfort of her shop. And she wasn't the only one.

"If the media is bothering you, feel free to come inside and hide out," Hermione had told Narcissa Malfoy one day when she saw the witch being accosted in the streets by photographers. They were nice to her at least, but overwhelming and Hermione knew what it was like to be hunted down by the press. So she'd offered the woman a refuge, because Remus had tampered with the wards on their front door that acted like Muggle metal detectors, preventing cameras and Quick Quotes Quills from entering.

She hadn't expected Narcissa to use it more than the one time, but between being the apparently new face of the rising generation of socialites, changing society for the better—as well as the heroine of her own romantic tale of Death Eaters and heartache—and a bit of an outcast among her former associates due to political leanings, Narcissa had found herself quite friendless and used Hermione on occasion to vent her frustrations.

After meeting the blond witch in this time, Hermione had the original impression that Narcissa Malfoy was a woman who spoke little and divulged less. Though she was certain that the Slytherin would never say anything of actual importance, thus making herself emotionally vulnerable, she did come by the book shop at least twice a month to chat. Often appearing incredibly amused at purposely making Hermione uncomfortable, detailing her latest conjugal visit to Azkaban with what Hermione hoped were exaggerations.

This, however, was the first time she'd brought her son.

Hermione gaped at the small, blond toddler, reminding herself that, technically, she'd once punched the small boy in the face.

"He refused to stay with the elves," Narcissa said in frustration and Hermione—who, thanks to James, was used to being sympathetic to single parents—only nodded and cast a few boundary spells around the more expensive books.

Draco's hands were covered in what looked like red, liquid sugar, from the lollipop that was stuck to his shirt. He was an absolute mess, contrasting with Narcissa's perfect appearance. "Do you want me to . . ." Hermione began, gesturing to the boy.

Narcissa waved her hand. "By all means, if he allows you to touch him, attempt to clean the filth off."

Hermione smiled at Draco and then reached for the lollipop. He screamed louder than anything she'd ever heard and then gripped the end of the stick and held on for dear life. Hermione covered her ears and then looked at Narcissa in shock. The Slytherin smirked at her, a devious look in her eye that reminded her far too much of Sirius.

"It's his new favourite treasure and refuses to part with it. I'm not one to usually indulge in his whims," Narcissa said and Hermione struggled not to snort, "but I spent the morning visiting my aunt, so I'd like to not hear any further screaming."

Hermione looked up. "You spoke with Walburga?"

Narcissa nodded. "Wretched woman made me stand in the front hallway for twenty minutes, refusing any further entrance until she was certain I wasn't there to steal her jewels. She's become completely paranoid in her old age."

"Couldn't possibly be the inbreeding," Hermione quipped sarcastically.

Narcissa shot her a daring look. "Do you see me disparaging your parentage? An act, I assure you, comes quite naturally since it was taught to me from birth."

Hermione sighed. "I apologise. But to be fair, she's not your parent."

"Thank Circe," Narcissa muttered. "Can you deliver a message to Sirius? I'd send an owl, but the last time I did, he fed it some sort of trick treat and sent it back. The results were . . . unpleasant," she said, her coral painted lips pursing in disgust. "I've been telling his mother that he's spoken with me since Lucius's imprisonment, offering condolences without comment, trying to make it appear as though he was briefly lost and confused but could likely be convinced to return to the family under proper circumstances."

Hermione struggled not to roll her eyes. "What exactly would be proper circumstances?"

"Marriage to a pureblood and cutting off associates of ill repute."

She did roll her eyes then. "It's an act, I presume? Sirius wouldn't ever marry and I doubt he'd even be willing to meet with the type of purebloods that Walburga Black would approve of."

Narcissa smiled. "Which is why I invented one," she said and then looked over Hermione's shoulder. "Draco don't touch—" Crash! "—I'll cover the expenses of . . . whatever that was. Anyway, I said that I'd introduced him to a friend of mine from France, a pureblood who isn't looking for attention right now until she's felt out Britain's political climate. She seemed pleased. Didn't even ask for a name, which was shocking. Just shows how far gone she is. I've already spoken with several contacts in Marseille and they're willing to back up my story. It'll be enough to get you in the door."

Hermione's eyebrows raised to her hairline. "You're honestly not suggesting—"

"Do you have another way into the house to complete the little treasure hunt of yours?" Narcissa asked, reaching a hand out to grab Draco by the back of his robes before he collided head first with the glass case where Remus kept books that bite. "And here I thought you'd be pleased that I've gone out of my way to speak to a woman I don't like, someone that my own father refuses to acknowledge and who—"

"I'm very grateful, Narcissa, thank you," Hermione said, cutting off the woman's tirade. "Just . . . I'll need to talk to Sirius. Obviously. And Dumbledore."

Narcissa frowned. "Speaking of Dumbledore, I received a letter from my husband and he says that the guards are not following protocols. They've taken his books away and refused to schedule my visitation for the past two weeks."

Hermione sighed and shook her head. "I'll pass along the message. Is there anything you needed today? New books? Hiding from the press?" she asked, saying the last word with venom.

The blond smiled. "I do adore your rage for the media. Actually, I was . . . wondering if I could ask a . . ."

"Favour?" Hermione offered.

Narcissa's eyes narrowed slightly. "If anyone is in anyone's debt, it's—"

"Fine. What do you need?"

The woman sighed and looked down at Draco, who was apparently done favouring his lollipop, choosing instead to smash it into pieces and then rub those pieces into the carpet at her feet. "I find myself . . . out of sorts with being able to provide proper socialising opportunities for my son. Lucius had several colleagues at one point with boys Draco's age, but they are . . . well, I'd not trust those men to bathe themselves let alone supervise my son. There was one, the Nott boy, but his mother recently died and I've never been overly fond of his father."

Hermione frowned. "Draco needs friends? I umm . . ." She swallowed, looking down at the little boy—who was a nightmare of course, but no more so than any other spoiled toddler; even Harry had his tantrums from time to time. Harry was without a mother, and now Draco without a father. She sighed heavily and forced herself to linger on the bit of sympathy she felt for the little boy. "The families I know with children his age aren't what I would think that the Malfoys would—"

"Haven't you heard?" Narcissa interrupted. "I am the Malfoys now, and I make the rules. Malfoys are not made lesser by associating with . . . certain individuals. Certain individuals are instead raised to a higher status by associating with us."

The elitist attitude was revolting, but a part of Hermione couldn't help but think of the potential in front of her. Draco Malfoy with a decent influence? "He'd have to be nice. And . . . and not be opposed to having his hands washed," she added.

Narcissa smiled. "Wonderful. You'll arrange a play date for him then," she insisted and then reached for Draco's hand, waving her slender wand and vanishing the remains of the broken candy and sticky residue. "I'll owl you later this week to find out the details."

Hermione's mouth fell open as she watched Narcissa walk out the door, a part of her wondering how she ended up in this situation. The other part was wondering how she was going to convince James, Allie, and Molly to let Draco Malfoy play with their children. Unable to think more on the situation, Hermione moved back behind the front counter and opened up a book.

Hermione Granger's Flat

Hours later, in the comfort of her flat, Hermione put together letters to both Allie and Molly, asking their opinions on what to do about Draco. Molly had owled back immediately suggesting that perhaps with Lucius in Azkaban, it was time to finally bury the bad blood between Weasleys and Malfoys, saying that maybe even Ron and Draco could be friends.

Hermione had laughed herself sick before she was able to finally write back saying that they'd talk about it next week during their usual get together for tea. Allie's return letter wouldn't be expected that night, as she was already hosting a get together for Ron, Harry, and Neville at her house and was likely busy with bedtime stories and late night snacks.

So when the fireplace turned bright green, Hermione looked up, shocked to see a witch's face in the hearth. "Can I help you?" she asked suspiciously, her wand in hand.

"Hermione?" the voice asked.

"Who's asking?"

"Rosmerta," the witch replied. "I run the Three Broomsticks in—"

Hermione sighed in relief. "Of course, Rosmerta, I'm sorry. How can I help you?"

"Well," the woman said hesitantly, "I was told to contact you in case of an emergency. Do you happen to know Sirius Black and James Potter?"

Chapter Text

September 3rd, 1982
The Three Broomsticks

She Apparated to Hogsmeade since Rosmerta said her Floo was going through some issues and could only call out ever since a patron vomited in the fireplace a few days earlier. Long distance Apparition previously made her sick, but after carrying Ron and Harry with her repeatedly during the Horcrux hunt, Hermione was used to it.

Wrapping her cloak around her body tightly, trying to ignore the cold September chill of Scotland, Hermione made her way to the Three Broomsticks, smiling slightly at the familiar sights. If she squinted her eyes and tried hard enough, she could see the looming castle in the distance, welcoming it's students new and old back for another year—newly crowned Gryffindor, Bill Weasley, among them.

Rosmerta met Hermione outside of the inn. "You must be Hermione."

"How did you know?"

"Have a look about you," Rosmerta said with a smile. "You look worried and pissed off at the same time. That's a familiar expression for any witch that runs around with these two," she said and gestured inside where Hermione could see Sirius leaning up against a wall.

"I don't . . . I'm not . . ."

Rosmerta laughed. "Didn't think so. Not Potter at least, poor boy," she said with a frown. "Black on the other hand . . . if I were fifteen years younger and had lower standards . . ."

Hermione sighed. "What happened?"

"That's a little complicated. Sirius can probably explain better than I could," Rosmerta said and then opened the door, ushering Hermione inside.

Sirius spun on his heel, almost tripping, and stared at her with excited eyes, though one eyelid was drooping a touch. He stumbled forward, crooked grin on his face. "Herminny! Herminny, you came! Mother of Merfin . . . I told you, Rosie, dinna tell you?" he said, looking at the inn matron. "Told you she'd come."

Hermione smelled him and then took a step back. "Are you . . . Sirius are you actually drunk? Like . . . fall down, black out drunk?" she asked, shocked that she'd never actually seen him reach this state before.

Sirius grinned. "They should put me on the firewhisky bottle. Gonna be famous."

Shaking her head in frustration and disappointment, she pinched the bridge of her nose and looked down, unable to stare him in the face without thinking violent thoughts. Her gaze landed on his black t-shirt that had magically glowing letters. "What is . . . Sirius, what is that?"

"Like it, Herminny?" he asked, puffing out his chest and stretching the fabric so she could read the whole thing. "I thought it. Magic!"

Her mouth fell open as she stared at the flashy message that read, "If too drunk, Floo Hermione", and then listed her address. "You charmed your t-shirt to call for my help?" she asked, a mixture of annoyed and intrigued. "How does it work?"

Rosmerta laughed as she charmed a flannel to wash the bartop. "He explained that earlier. Something about the alcohol level in his blood or sweat, I'd stopped paying attention when he proposed the third time."

"I love you, Rosie," Sirius declared, tears in his eyes. "You don't love me, though . . . Herminny, why doesn't she love me?"

Hermione scowled at him. "Because you're a drunk and I'm going to put you to rights the moment you sober up!" she snapped. "Where's James?"

Sirius snorted and fell over, holding his stomach. "Oh, Himmy . . . Himmy, it's so funny," he said, looking up at her, giggling. "You were right 'bout registers. We're free!"

Before she could ask what he meant by registers, there was a loud crashing noise coming from outside the inn and Hermione looked up to see a large shadow pass by the door leading out the back. "Oh my gods! What was that?!"

Rosmerta snorted and shook her head. "That would be Potter."

Hermione ran across the room and threw open the back door, brown eyes wide in shock at the sight in front of her. "Sirius . . . is he . . . James?!" she shrieked and the massive stag in front of her turned his head at the sound of his name.

His eyes were soft and dark, though—like Sirius—one eyelid was drooping. His nostrils flared and he made a low grunting noise, took a step forward, crossing one hoof over another and then tripped forward, landing on his side, antlers knocking over Rosmerta's rubbish bins.

Sirius came up behind Hermione and snorted. "Innit funny? He can't change back. I dared him to go and now he's stuck," he said, giggling. "Stupid deer."

"Sirius, this isn't funny, this is—"

"Serious!" he shouted excitedly, throwing his hands in the air and then searching for something to drink, as though the pun of his name had, at some point that night, become a drinking game.

She watched in horror as Prongs fought to right himself, looking almost confused at the trash that ended up stuck in his antlers. She turned and glared at Sirius. "What if he gets hurt?! You don't know how animals process alcohol!"

Sirius scoffed, offended. "Well, he didn't drink it all lookin' like that. Least . . . not at of it. You ever seen a deer drink a butterbeer?" he asked. "Oh . . . that could be a song. I need to go inside and write a letter to Freddie Mercury," he said and then turned around.


He waved her off as he staggered back toward the bar. "Don't worry, he'll totally understand my artistic interpation . . . he wrote a song 'bout a bicycle, y'know. Muggles man . . . they just . . . they get it. Rosie! You got Howler paper? I need to make an important point!"

Hermione sighed and tried to forcibly stop the vein in her head from pulsing. She looked back outside at Prongs, who was rubbing his shoulder up against the wall of the inn, making a noise that sounded something between a purr and a growl, eyes rolled in the back of his head in obvious pleasure. The thick chestnut coloured fur on his chest was damp from the rubbish he'd fallen into, and there was a half-broken mug hanging off of one of his antlers like a rack.

"Well, look at you," she said in disapproval as she approached the massive stag, reaching up to remove the mug. "I used to think Harry's Patronus was majestic, you know. Now . . ." she began to say when Prongs lifted his head toward her, lunged forward, and vomited on her feet. "Ugh. Sirius!" she screamed and ran back into the inn, Scourgifying her shoes in the process. "Why did the two of you drink so much?!"

Sirius shrugged, leaning his head against the counter, black hair fanned out to the side. "Missing Moony," he mumbled. "Missing Lily. 'Specially old Prongsie. Today's their anniversary, y'know."

Hermione's angry scowl faded instantly and she sighed. "Rosmerta? Can I buy a room for the night?"

Rosmerta looked out the open door at the stag who was watching them with curious eyes. "You're not taking—"

Hermione shook her head. "It's for Sirius. I need to lock him inside somewhere to keep him safe from the public. Do you have any Sober Up Potion?"

"On a Friday night the first week of school?" Rosmerta laughed. "Most of the teachers and local parents used it up. I can lock him in, though. Give him a drop of Dreamless Draught," she said and reached over, running her fingers through Sirius's hair and smirking when he sighed happily. "That ought to put him to sleep without . . . well . . . coma."

"Taking me to bed, Rosie?" Sirius mumbled, eyes closed. "Oh gods . . . if I could tell my thirteen-year-old self . . . he'd be so proud. Does anyone have a Time-Turner?"

"Come on there, handsome," Rosmerta said, helping Sirius to his feet and leading him toward the stairs. "One step at a time."

Hermione left a small pouch of coins on the counter and then wrapped her cloak tightly around her shoulders, stepping out into the cold and shutting the door behind her. "All right, you," she said, looking at the stag. "Come along, Prongs."

She walked ahead of him, looking back every so often to make sure he didn't stumble off the path and hurt himself. Making her way down the familiar road to the Shrieking Shack, a place she knew Prongs would at least be comfortable, Hermione pondered on how to deal with a drunk deer.

Once inside, she let him walk in first, following behind curiously as he led her into a large room that looked a bit more habitable than the last time she'd been there during her third year. It was cleaner, certainly, and the only indications that the Marauders had ever been there before were the scratch marks on the walls and indentations that she could now recognise as places that Prongs's antlers had bumped into.

The stag made a huffing noise and half collapsed on the floor, his large head resting on the mattress of the nearby bed. Hermione made her way to an armchair and, after Scourgifying it, sat down. "Once you've slept it off and sobered up, you should be able to turn back. If not, Professor McGonagall is just through the tunnel there, up at Hogwarts. She'd know what to do."

Prongs grunted again and stared at her for a long while.

"I wish you'd told me, you know. About your anniversary," she said and he finally broke eye contact, looking away and exhaling through his nostrils, eyes closing. "I would have . . . I don't know, maybe let you talk about it. I know you like going out with Sirius, but I think you like that because it makes you forget for a moment. And it's . . . you don't have to forget her." She sighed when she could hear soft sounds of snoring. "You'll feel better in the morning."

She leant over in the chair, reaching out to run her fingers over the top of his head, smiling at the feel of the fur. "You know . . . despite the deer vomit and smelling like firewhisky inside of a stable . . . you really are quite majestic like this."

September 4th, 1982
The Shrieking Shack

She opened her eyes and looked up, smiling at the sight of the very human James sitting on the bed.

"I didn't want to talk," he admitted without looking at her. "I didn't . . . I wasn't sad. I was angry. I only got a few years with her. Less than a handful of anniversaries. Do you know what we did for each one? Nothing. We were fighting in a war and out on missions. Then we had Harry and we were stuck in hiding . . . we didn't celebrate our last one. Actually forgot it," he admitted. "And I was angry because it wasn't enough."

Hermione frowned and sat up. "It never is. Even if you'd had fifty years with her, it wouldn't have been enough."

He nodded and finally looked up at her. "I'm okay," he said. "I think . . . I think I'm going to be okay."

She smiled. "That's good because babysitting a drunk deer? Not on the list of things I'd ever want to do again."

"Did I throw up on you?"

"You did."

"Anything else?"

"Nope . . . just the vomit and some very interesting movements. I might start calling you Bambi," she said teasingly.

James looked at her and raised and eyebrow. "What's a Bambi?"

Hermione grinned and then outright laughed. "Oh . . . this is going to be amazing."

Chapter Text

October 10th, 1982
Lupin and Howell's

"S-N-I-T-C-H. Snitch." James sat in the corner of the bookshop, Harry propped up on his knee with a Quidditch book being held in both of their hands. Small fingers traced over the flittering image in the book, the gold orb magically moving back and forth between the pages, Harry's eyes alight with excitement as James attempted to teach him to read.

Harry joyfully smacked the page, his tiny fists trying to close on the two-dimensional image. "Snitch."

"He's two. He can't read yet," Sirius said, looking through the box of a new shipment of advanced transfiguration books, offering Hermione a hand since Remus was still in Russia. None had heard from the werewolf other than a few basic letters informing them that he had made it there safely and was getting along with the famous potioneer, but not a single detail about the potion, or how the full moon had been.

Hermione smiled, carrying a small box of books over to a shelf. "You can never start too early."

"You can't have an opinion on this, you're a bookworm, and therefore are biased," Sirius told her. "You own a bloody bookshop."

She laughed. "That you bought me!"

He brought a hand to his chest and gave her his best puppy dogs eyes without actually shifting. "And you're yelling at me? Gods, Hermione . . . I bought you a bookshop and you're yelling at me."

"You, Sirius Black," she said, poking him in the chest, "are insufferable."

"You're pronouncing 'adorable' incorrectly, love."

James smirked at his friends, turning the page in his book. Harry giggled when the image of a Chaser was knocked off his broom by a Bludger. "She's going to hurt you, Pads, and I'm not going to do a thing to stop her," James warned his best friend.

"Like you could . . ." Sirius scoffed and then added, "Bambi."

"Bambi!" Harry squealed with delight and James groaned.

Hermione tried to stop herself from giggling but was unable to. She'd insisted that the boys would each suffer for making her take care of their drunk selves that night in Hogsmeade. Sirius had his comeuppance the following morning when she'd refused to give him a Sober Up Potion, and instead, let a hyperactive Harry jump on the bed to wake up his godfather. James, on the other hand, received his punishment when Hermione tracked down a television and VCR and spent days with Arthur and Emmeline figuring out how to adapt it to a magical home. Once that was figured out, everyone got together for Hermione's birthday to watch a movie. Despite the depressing—and uncomfortably parallel—plot points of the movie, everyone enjoyed the evening. The children all had a wonderful time, amazed by the animation, Arthur had several new Muggle ideas he wanted to learn about, and James said the watching the movie felt strangely cathartic. He wasn't, however, able to shake his new nickname.

"I maintain that I'm the awesome king of the forest," James said firmly, patting Harry on the head and calling him Little Prince under his breath.

"Great prince of the forest," Hermione corrected.

James made a face. "That doesn't make sense. Who's the king then? He's the king. I'm the king," he clarified with a grin.

Sirius laughed. "Wobbly legs and various animal friends? You're Bambi, Prongs."

Hermione smiled and patted Sirius on the head. "Be nice to Bambi, Snuffles."

James looked up with mischievous eyes and a bright grin. "Snuffles?"

Sirius scowled eyes wide. "I don't like that."

"Snuffles!" Harry shouted.

"This game stopped being fun!"

The tinkling charm on the door sounded and everyone turned to see Remus walk through, smirking at them all. "Hey, is this place a business or does the owner just let you layabouts loiter during work hours?"

"Moony!" Harry yelled, jumping off of James's lap and running into the werewolf's arms.

Remus grinned and hugged the boy, ruffling his hair as he set him back down on the ground. "Hello, Harry!"

Sirius folded his arms crossed the room looking angry as James and Hermione both hugged Remus in greeting. "Months and not a word outside of letting us know that you're alive. What the hell, Moony?"

Remus rolled his eyes at Sirius's theatrics, turning in the light to show the colour of his skin, which was much healthier looking than ever before. James took notice and his lips parted in anticipation. "Well? Did it . . . you know?"

The smile on Remus's face widened and he nodded, turning to look at Hermione, overflowing with gratitude. "You . . . little witch . . . are a gift from Merlin himself!" he said and then lifted Hermione into his arms and spun her around. "It works. The potion works and it was amazing . . . sure the pain was still there and . . . but I was in control and I remembered and . . . Hermione, I could kiss you! In fact . . ." He laughed and then did just that. The chaste kiss was quick and Hermione laughed when Remus broke away with a loud smacking sound.

"Oi!" James snapped and then awkwardly shifted on his feet when Remus turned and looked at him.

The werewolf raised a brow and then opened his mouth to speak, but Sirius jumped in, throwing James a life saver. "You never gave us that kind of thanks, all we did for you over the years," the man said, sticking out his bottom lip in feigned offence.

Remus laughed, yelled, "Fine!" and grabbed Sirius, planting a kiss to his face while the Animagus fought him off, everyone laughing as Sirius shrieked. When he finally escaped, wiping his mouth and cheek with the back of his sleeve, Remus turned and looked at James, raising a challenging brow.

James held up his hands in surrender. "I'm good . . . no thanks needed here," he said and then looked at Hermione who was still laughing, looking a bit flushed. "All right, Hermione?"

Sirius smirked. "Yeah, your cheeks are a little red, love. Is it warm in here?" he teasingly asked.

"Oh shut up," she said, swatting them both on the arm before looking back at the werewolf. "I'm so happy for you, Remus. Truly and honestly."

"Thank you," he replied, awkwardly shoving his hands into his pockets. "And umm . . . sorry for the er . . ."

Hermione laughed. "Was it really that bad? I know I've not much experience, but I always thought I'd be a fantastic kisser."

"Read a book on technique, love?" Sirius asked and both Remus and James turned and punched him in the arm. "Ow . . . tossers."

Remus laughed, shaking his head.

"I'm going to tell Macdonald that you're just giving it away for free," Sirius blurted out with a mischievous smirk. "She's been looking to snog Remus since third year. How about it, Moony? Now that you're all potioned up, you ready to hit the pubs with me? Try to get a leg over?"

Hermione made a disgusted face and pulled a box into her arms. "Don't mind me . . . I'll be in the office while you lot . . . get your legs over," she said mockingly, shifting the box and holding a hand out. "Come on, Harry. You don't need to hear any of this nonsense."

Once the office door closed, James stepped forward and hugged Remus again. "I'm so glad you're okay, mate. You look good. Healthy. Happy."

Remus smiled brightly. "It's not a cure but . . . it's amazing. It's going to be so much better. How about you?" he asked. "You're looking . . . well, you were drunk when I left so . . ."

"We go worse," Sirius pointed out. "Little witch scolded us something awful for it as well."

James nodded with a smile. "I'm good," he said. "I'm better . . . getting better."

Remus looked down. "Listen, the next full moon is the day after Halloween . . . I understand if you need to be alone or . . . or if—"

"I'm with you," James said, putting a hand on Remus's shoulder. "Come out to the pub with me the night before, have a pint, keep me distracted . . . and the next night, I'm with you. I want to see this potion in action with my own two eyes, Moony." He sighed heavily. "Don't let my problems diminish something you have every right to celebrate."

"Lily wouldn't want that," Sirius pointed out.

Remus smiled sadly. "No, she wouldn't."

"She'd be pissed that she hadn't thought to invent the potion herself," Sirius added.

James laughed and hugged his friends. "So pissed."

Chapter Text

October 31st, 1982
The Leaky Cauldron

It took a Draught of Peace and the entire previous day locked up in his bedroom, a Muffliato securely in place while he screamed his throat raw, all so he felt okay enough to venture out of the flat on Halloween. James could acknowledge that he was afraid of the public, the celebrations over the fall of Voldemort, and the constant painful reminders that somehow he'd survived a year without Lily. He was afraid of it all. But he was also a Gryffindor, something he prided himself on, and Gryffindors faced their fears.

"You're sure you're good?" Sirius asked, placing a hand on James's shoulder as they stood at the bar, waiting for Tom to finish their drinks.

James nodded. "I'm fine. Just . . . I want to be distracted," he said, giving Tom a nod of thanks and carrying the large tray of butterbeer, firewhisky shots, and pitchers of ale back to their large table. "It's better than sitting at the flat and moping or getting drunk and trying to forget. It doesn't work so . . . I want to be normal." He smiled at Emmeline who was attempting to clean Harry's sticky face without a wand thanks to a dare from Hermione. "I want to be able to go out on Halloween with my friends and family. I don't want Harry to be . . . I want it to just be normal."

Hermione looked up, catching the tail end of the wizards' conversation. "At any point, if you want to leave, just go. Just let us know if you need someone to take Harry."

James smiled at her gratefully and handed her a butterbeer, raising his own in toast. "I'm fine, cheers."

Sirius let out a loud laugh as he sat down, eyes on the door. "Look at this. Oi! Moony, over here, mate."

James glanced up and smiled at the sight of the werewolf, one day before the full moon looking better than ever, and a witch on his arm at that.

Remus smiled at his friends but kept a possessive arm around the witch, the wolf clearly close to the surface. "Everyone, you know Mary," he said, introducing the woman.

Mary Macdonald, fellow Order member, smiled and nervously tucked strands of her blond hair behind her ears. "It's been a while," she said, shaking Emmeline's hand and then offering Sirius and James a wave. "I've been . . . well, visiting family."

Hermione looked up. "You're Muggle-born, right?"

Mary nodded. "Yes, and you as well?" she asked, a relieved expression crossing her face, mimicking the one that Hermione was suddenly wearing. "It's a relief to be around someone who gets it. Not that Remus isn't wonderfully understanding," she added quickly, looking up at the werewolf with adoring eyes.

Sirius snickered. "Is he now? Remus, you're wonderful," he said in a sugar-coated tone, batting his eyelashes at his friend.

"Where are Allie and Frank?" Mary asked.

"Working tonight," James said, offering a butterbeer to the newcomer. Mary smiled as she accepted the drink, a smile that grew when Remus snatched it out of her hands to pry off the top with his bare hands, as though it were some great feat of strength. Mary laughed softly under her breath and both Sirius and James rolled their eyes dramatically. "Things get a little crazy on Halloween. Aurors are pretty much always scheduled."

"Oh, I understand," Mary said, drawn back to the table. "It gets a little out of control in the Muggle world as well, but nowhere near as bad as the Wizarding. I've a flat in Dorset and there's a small pub there. Everyone was gathering together and getting ready to go to this big to-do in Godric's—oh," she said, eyes wide and stopped her sentence cold. She swallowed hard and then looked up at Remus and then back down to James, her cheeks flaming red. "Umm . . . I'm so sorry."

James gave her a small, forced smile and then waved her off. "It's fine. Dorset, nice place. I used to live near there . . . but, I suppose you knew that."

Mary sighed and looked down at her lap. "I'm so—"

"You're fine, Mary," he promised. "You were friends with Lily. It's not like you're some stranger off the street come to rub it in my face. I understand what tonight means to everyone."

Emmeline stood, attempting to break the tension. " I've got to hit the loo, ladies?" she said, looking at Hermione and Mary who both stood.

Sirius smiled up at Emmie. "Can I come?"

She scoffed. "I haven't had that much to drink, Sirius."

Mary and Hermione followed Emmie into the restroom and Hermione locked the door behind them just as Mary burst into tears. "Oh, I'm so embarrassed," said, wiping her face and then rushing to the mirror to dab at her smeared eyeliner. "That was just awful."

Hermione smiled sadly. "It was an honest mistake."

"Still . . . on the anniversary. I'm surprised that he's out in the open like this."

"Well, it's not as though he's out in the open in Godric's Hollow," Hermione pointed out.

Emmeline shook her head and sighed, crossing her arms. "That place it a nightmare today. I stopped by earlier just to see. Streets are packed with people all standing around that statue they put up of Lily," she said, her face contorting into disgust. "Flowers scattered around and candles lit like it's some altar where they're worshipping Dark wizard slaying Muggle-borns."

Hermione and Mary shared a look and the latter spoke. "I mean . . . that was what we signed up for in the Order. Technically. Lily deserved to be honoured but . . . they've turned her into—"

"The Chosen One," Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

"That's it!" Mary said emphatically. "Like she existed just to take their bogeyman away and nothing more."

Hermione sighed, thinking of all the times she watched her Harry try not to cringe when someone called him The Boy Who Lived. "We need to make sure that James is distracted tonight. That's what he wants."

"I could get into a fight with Sirius?" Emmeline offered with a shrug.

Mary laughed and then looked at Hermione. "I could snog Remus in front of everyone! He's on that new potion so he's a bit calmer, you know," she said, her cheeks turning red again, "but he said that the wolf is still . . . right there at the surface. Tomorrow's the full moon."

"Be careful," Hermione cautioned with a smile. "Tempting him now might make things get a little out of control."

"Watching a werewolf have sex with a girl on the bar . . . yeah, I'd consider that a distraction," Emmeline offered with a grin.

The three witches left the loo and headed back to their table, each laughing under their breath as Mary gave them the details of her long-time crush on Remus. "So then in sixth year, I was out after curfew and he was the prefect on patrol and he caught me on the stairs and I swear I wanted him to—"

"That bitch!"

Emmeline and Mary both looked at Hermione, eyes wide in shock.

"Woah," Emmeline said. "You don't swear."

Mary turned and followed Hermione's line of sight across the bar, back to their table where a short blond with curly hair was standing right beside James, a devious smile on her face. "Who's that?"

Hermione seethed, hair sparking wildly with untamed magic as she hissed, "Rita Skeeter."

Mary blinked. "The reporter? Didn't she do the article last week on the Head Healer at St. Mungo's? She said he's cheating on his wife. Poor woman."

"I'll kill her," Hermione seethed, her hands shaking at her sides.

Back at the table, James politely tried to pry the slender hand off of his arm as the woman leant in close. "It's all right that I call you James, isn't it?" she asked but then didn't wait for an answer. "Of course, you're such a polite young man. Still so young, so tragic, to lose the love of your life the way that it happened. Still, you must be very proud of Lily Potter, a genuine hero."

He looked across the table at Sirius who was staring at the woman as though trying to figure out how to either seduce her away or hide the body. "I . . . I am, proud," he said clearly. "She was a wonderful witch. If you'll excuse me—" he said and moved to stand but the reported just adjusted her position, preventing him from moving.

"There's a celebration going on in Godric's Hollow tonight, at the scene of the great tragedy," she went on, her voice thick with forced emotion and her Quick Quotes Quill hovering behind her, speedily scratching at the notepad in front of it. "Tell me, James, why are you not in attendance? Hiding? Ashamed? Are you embarrassed for your lack of participation in the demise of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?"

"Are you bloody kidding me?" Sirius snapped and rose quickly to his feet, storming around the table to look down at the witch.

She didn't appear intimidated in the slightest, but instead smiled up at him, reaching out a hand and placing it on his chest. "Mmm. Sirius Black, as I live and breathe."

"Not for very long if you don't piss off."

Rita giggled. "Oh, the temper really is as accurate as I was told. Were you this rough and filled with rage before Azkaban or—"

"Miss, I think it's time that you left," Remus insisted, standing to join his friends.

She turned her attention to him, giving him the once over before her nose scrunched up. "The werewolf. Aren't you a tall drink of . . . horrifying water. Any way I can get you to confirm your whereabouts during the war? I have a resource that says you were in league with the infamous monster Fenrir Greyback."

James, who had tried to be polite up to that point finally glared and forcefully stood up, knocking Rita off her footing and causing her to stumble backward into Sirius. "Look, you need to leave. Now," he ordered.

With all three men standing, the one small wizard still in his chair became that much more obvious and Rita's eyes were drawn immediately to the toddler as she tried to ignore the threats from the wizards around her. "And this must be little Harvey."

"Is she having a laugh?" Emmeline said as she followed Hermione. "Harvey?"

Rita leant forward and used a long nail to push aside some of Harry's black hair, revealing the scar. James reached for his wand but Remus stayed his hand, not wanting to have his friend arrested for hexing a reporter who was clearly already looking to spin a story in a negative light.

"Oh, what a horrible scar . . . was it from the night that—"

Hermione charged forward, grabbing the Quick Quotes Quill out of the air and snapping it in half as she shoved herself between Rita and Harry. "You get the fuck away from him!"

Rita looked up, mouth gaping open in horrified shock. "Hey! That was expensive!"

"You'll survive," Hermione growled. "Selling out is pretty lucrative. Get out and don't you ever come near us again."

Rita raised an intrigued brow. "Us? Wasn't looking at you, dearie. Howell, right? The Muggle-born cousin of the umm . . ." she said and waved her hand casually at Remus, "and how do you fit into the picture? Has the widower of the heroic Lily Potter moved on so quickly? I could spin it as very romantic," she said with a wicked grin. "Love heals all wounds, even—" SMACK! "Ow!" She gasped, clutching her hand to her face as her eyes narrowed in on Hermione. "You . . . you . . ."

The brunette witch stepped closer, invading every bit of personal space Rita had left. "You stay away from my family. And in case you can't figure out who that is, look around."

Rita did just that and found herself surrounded by two menacing wizards, a werewolf, and two other witches who had their hands gripping their wands. She looked back to Hermione and sneered. "You'll pay for that."

Hermione smiled. "Threaten me again and you'll be in Azkaban by morning."

Rita laughed loudly, throwing her head back. "Ha! Azkaban? You're the one who hit me, you filthy little Mud—"

Mary gave a loud snarl before sending a fist into Rita's face as hard as she could, knocking the reporter to the ground and out cold. Everyone took a step back and watched, making sure that Rita was breathing before letting out an exhale of relief and then turning to gape at Mary who had lost all the colour in her face.

"Oh my gods! I hit her! I hit her!"

Emmeline grinned. "That was the best thing I've seen in months."

Sirius glanced up and smiled at Tom at the bar, who sighed and shook his head at the scuffle, but went back to wiping the counter.

Mary covered her mouth and turned to look at her friends for help. "What should I do? Do I apologise? Wait, no, I'm not sorry. She was awful and I . . . I'm . . . I'm glad I hit her!" she said enthusiastically but then gasped again. "Do you think I'll get arrested? Oh my gods, what will I tell my family?! They don't know what Azkaban is and I told them once that Dementors looked like zombie ghosts and I've never been the violent type and I—mph!" Her ramblings were cut off entirely by Remus, who—heated over the public defence of his friends—grabbed her roughly and claimed her mouth. Mary didn't seem to object, instead letting out a happy sigh. "Mmm . . ."

Sirius smirked, watching as Remus backed the little witch up against the bar, lifting her in his arms and stepping between her legs. "We should probably keep an eye on this in case he gets a little . . . pawsy."

James nodded and then turned to look at Hermione. "Are you okay?"

"Am I . . .?" she asked him, and then looked down at Rita, still unconscious. She laughed and then ran a hand through her hair. "I'm fine. Just umm . . . blast from the past."

He nodded in understanding. "Can you really get her arrested?"

Hermione grinned darkly. "I need to make a Floo call."

Chapter Text

February 1st, 1983

Hermione smiled at the framed Daily Prophet article that hung in her hallway; a photograph of a raging Rita Skeeter on the front page. It was dated two days after Rita was knocked unconscious by a Muggle-born only to wake to find Aurors standing over her and Anti-Animagus wards placed on the Leaky. Hermione stood with her friends, grinning, while Rita was led away. The trial had been swift. Had Rita only been guilty of being an unregistered Animagus, she would have gotten off lightly, but several members of the Wizengamot had previously been fodder for her gossip columns, their secrets illegally obtained by the beetle, and Rita was sent to Azkaban. Her article had been taken over by a lovely half-blood witch named Penny, and not only was she adept at pulling the reader's interest, she did so honestly.

"You still have that thing hung up?" James asked as he approached her, chuckling under his breath. "Gloating much?"

She smirked. "Says the man who keeps his Hogwarts Quidditch Cups shiny and on display."

"I helped lead my team to victory three years!" he argued, handing her a butterbeer. "We still have the record for highest score ever achieved in a Hogwarts game, and that was against Slytherin, mind. I hate myself for saying it, but they had a damn good team. You made a Floo call and exposed an unregistered Animagus."

"An unregistered Animagus that I once kept in a jar," Hermione pointed out. "The same Animagus who printed all over the Daily Prophet the torrid love story between a Quidditch star, myself, and your son."

James made a face and then laughed loudly. "Ugh. No. No love story between you and my son. Forget I said anything," he said with a wave of his hand. "Feel free to gloat."

"Thank you," she said with a smile and sipped at the butterbeer, her eyes raking over his Ministry robes, knowing that he had to be incredibly uncomfortable in them. While Sirius preferred ripped jeans and tight t-shirts, and Remus owned a cardigan for every colour of the rainbow, James was all loose t-shirts, Quidditch jerseys and whatever pair of Muggle jeans on his floor that weren't too dirty. Official Ministry robes looked strange on him. Good, but strange. "How's your job?"

He grimaced. "Which one? The one that I signed up for because hey, selling broomsticks in Diagon Alley should be an easy gig and I'd be close to home and people won't bother me? Or the job that I got suckered into because teaching kids how to fly seemed like a nice thing to do on the side for fun, but hey, there's an opening in the Department of Magical Games and Sports." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, the black strands falling in a random pattern. "Did you know I had to file twenty-seven separate forms just to get permission to restart the Quidditch Youth League? Twenty-seven."

Hermione frowned. "How's work at the shop?"

He shrugged. "Fine when I'm there."

"Do you want to quit the Ministry?"

James sighed and followed her back into the living room where Mary had taken up residence on Remus's lap while Sirius and Emmeline sat side by side, the witch cringing, as Neville and Harry attempted to braid their hair at Sirius's request. Allie and Frank were in the kitchen, monitoring the food while arguing about recent Auror regulations that Moody was implementing.

"Yes and no," James said, taking a seat on the large beanbag chair that Sirius had bought Hermione for Christmas. He had looked offended when she implied that he could keep it, and guilted her into taking the ugly red lump home, shoving it in the corner of her living room. "No, because it gets me access to creating some decent activities for children in our community, some of which weren't even open to Muggle-borns or sick kids like Remus. I'm still fighting through legislation for that, for the record. But I also hate it. There's this ornery bint from the Improper Use of Magic Office who's fighting my Department on the fact that allowing underage children to play Quidditch outside of Hogwarts is breaking the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. Plus, they make me wear office robes and a tie."

Hermione remembered a time when she thought that a career in the Ministry was exactly what she wanted. However, having several friends that worked there, she was terribly grateful for her little bookshop that she shared with Remus. She smiled, hoping to cheer James up. "I think you look quite nice in a tie."

He laughed as though she were teasing him. "Yeah, well, so does MacFarlan's secretary. And she's not just being friendly about it like you. None too subtle, that witch."

Her brows furrowed. "What has she done?"

He half shrugged one shoulder, looking tired and a bit pitiful thanks to long hours at his boring desk job. "Asks me out nearly every day I'm in the office. Or hints that she wants me to ask her. Gets too close to me in the lift and . . . I'd honestly say something but she's not only Hamish's secretary, she's his niece as well. How do you tell a man that a witch he's related to may or may not have grabbed your arse?"

Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. "Are you serious?"

"No, I'm Sirius," Sirius said as he jumped on one end of the beanbag, nearly launching Hermione off of her small corner. His hair was pulled back on the right side, the left hanging loosely against his shoulders while the rest was in a knot in the back; the work of excitable toddlers. "Is he complaining about that pretty blond bird he works with?"

Hermione frowned. "It's harassment, Sirius."

"It's flirting," he said, rolling his eyes and earning a growl in return. "He just doesn't know how to recognise it anymore. Or ever. You were a terrible flirt," Sirius told James.

James nearly choked on his butterbeer. "I was not! I got the girl, didn't I?" he said, gesturing to the wedding band on his left hand that he still wore.

"Wasn't it Lily who asked you out in the end?" Remus asked, looking over the back of the couch as the conversation drew him in.

James narrowed his eyes at the werewolf. "I asked her out hundreds of times. Just because she asked me once does not mean—"

Sirius barked a laugh. "Standing on the table in the middle of the Great Hall and declaring that you're free for a date for Hogsmeade and have a thing for gingers, does not count as asking her out."

"Nor does tell the whole Divination class that your tea leaves are in the shape of a lily," Remus added with a grin and both Emmeline and Mary laughed.

"Or lighting the Quidditch pitch on fire to spell out her name. No matter how amazing it was," Sirius said.

"He almost burned down the entire stadium," Remus pointed out, looking at Sirius disapprovingly.

Sirius ignored his friend. "Point is . . . Prongs is not the best at interacting with the fairer sex."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "He shouldn't need to. James can do what he wants in his own time."

James smiled and patted Hermione on the shoulder before looking up and glaring at Sirius. "For the record, she's my new best friend."

Sirius frowned, grey eyes wide. "Is it because she's prettier than me?"

Chapter Text

February 2nd, 1983

Arranging a chance for Draco to socialise with the other boys his age took longer than Hermione had anticipated. While Allie and Molly were both on board with the idea of integrating the Malfoy boy into the circle, Arthur and Frank were both hesitant. Arthur had grown up being taught by his own father to never trust a Malfoy. Weasleys and Malfoys did not mix—ever. Frank, on the other hand, was an Auror and knew the ins and outs of how Lucius had tried to evade Azkaban by manipulating the Wizengamot with his money. Coming from a well off pureblood family of his own, Frank detested the Malfoys for using their status and money as a free pass for war crimes.

James, however, was the one to convince his fellow wizards that the sins of the father should not fall on the shoulders of the son, let alone a two-year-old little boy who had no friends.

"His father was a Death Eater."

"You know he'll be a Slytherin."

James had shrugged them off. "I know it shouldn't matter. I wish I'd learned that a long time ago."

Narcissa dropped Draco off in Hermione's care with instructions to not let Sirius become too much of an influence on the boy, and with Draco's hand clasped in hers, Hermione Floo'd to the Burrow, doing her best to console her former schoolyard bully who apparently had a fear of getting Floo Powder in his eyes.

"Poor dear," Molly said, immediately pulling Draco into her arms to wipe the soot from his clothes and assure him that there was nothing in his eyes.

Hermione, meanwhile, was assaulted by Harry who did not like to see another child in her arms. It hadn't been a problem until now since Neville preferred to walk, and Ron had a habit of pulling her hair so she was fine not picking him up. "I've brought you a friend," Hermione told Harry. "He's very shy and doesn't know many people so I need you to be very kind to him, all right?"

Putting the future Slytherin down amongst the future Gryffindors was like watching lion cubs circle a wounded animal as they learned how to hunt from their parents. Draco stood, looking around at Neville, Ron, and Harry for a long moment before swallowing hard and clutching the stuffed dragon he'd been holding tighter in his hands.

"I have a hippogriff," Harry said, running to the sofa where he'd left his stuffed friend, bringing it back to show Draco. Neville, too, ran off to grab his own toy. Ron was the most excited to show off since they were at his house where all of his toys lived. The boys instantly bonded over stuffed animals, a love of magical creatures, applesauce, and the colour blue.

Relieved, Hermione joined the witches in the kitchen for tea while watching the men outside help Arthur rebuild a section of his shed that Fred and George accidentally set fire to a week earlier.

The peace was short-lived.

Harry and Draco did not, in fact, become instant best friends despite House rivalries and blood prejudice removed. Ron had abandoned all of his friends to go and play with Percy and his rat, while Neville and Draco became glued at the hip leaving Harry the awkward third wheel. Angry and jealous, his Potter temper got the best of him and Harry had called Draco a name and tried to steal his dragon away.

Before Hermione could even think to intervene, James was right there, returning Draco's stuffed animal and pulling Harry away from the other boys and into the kitchen. He gave a nod of thanks to Molly, who handed him a wet flannel to wash Harry's tear-covered, sticky face. Allie excused herself to go and watch Neville and Draco while Molly returned to the batch of beans she was preparing to can.

Hermione, left alone, followed James and Harry outside, smiling when Remus Apparated, having recently closed up the bookshop.

"Harry, come sit with me," James instructed, pulling his son to the edge of the small porch and taking a seat. "You need to be nice to everyone."

"B-but . . . but Neville—"

"Neville is your best friend, I know," James said, kissing the top of his son's head. "But do you know when I was young, I had three best friends? Sometimes, we meet one person who has the ability to light up all the magic inside of us, but other times, it takes more people and that's fine too. The more people you love, the more magic inside of you lights up." Harry's eyes brightened, tears long gone. "But you have to love them, do you understand?" James asked and Harry nodded his head. "That means you stop being mean to Ron just because he's a bit bigger than you, and you be nice to Draco even though you have to share Neville with him now."

Hermione smiled watching as Harry nodded his head in agreement, hugging James tightly. "I . . . never thought I'd see something like that," she whispered to Remus.

The werewolf grinned at the sight. "He's a good dad."

"He's a good man," Hermione clarified and then wiped at the corners of her eyes. "He said three best friends. He still thinks of Pettigrew as . . . and Draco. Draco's the son of a Death Eater. He would have become a Death Eater if we hadn't—"

"Did you know that Peter was the last to become friends with us?" Remus asked, interrupting her. "James and Sirius met on the train and then the three of us became friends during the Welcoming Feast, right after the Sorting. Peter was Sorted, but he was so shy that he hid at the very end of the table and didn't speak at all. He used to stutter quite a bit as well. Sirius thought at first that we'd all get made fun of if we made friends with him," he said with a small laugh. "The worries of eleven-year-olds. Do you know what James said?"

Hermione shook her head. "Hmm?"

"Everyone deserves a chance. Granted, at the time, those chances didn't extend to Slytherins, but we were eleven and that was all House rivalries that turned ugly as the years went on," he admitted with a genuinely guilty expression. "But . . . James Potter gives chances. Sometimes too many."

She sighed, watching as James walked back inside with Harry's hand in his, on their way to rejoin Neville and Draco. "How is he still so trusting and not . . . not bitter toward people? I had a friend . . . not really betray me, but . . . he left. I understood why and it hurt like hell but . . . I think I would have forgiven him. I think I have forgiven him," she said sadly, thinking of her Ron who was lost to her just like the rest of the world she knew. "But Peter . . ." she shook her head, unable to comprehend.

Remus shrugged and put an arm around her, pulling her tight against his side. "Right now I think he's too busy being bitter with himself. Plus . . . look at those kids," he said, gesturing to the three boys as they ran outside, laughing, all forgiven between Harry and Draco. "James is raising his son to be a better man than he was."

The small pop of Apparition drew Hermione's attention to the borders of the Burrow where Kingsley appeared, dressed in Auror robes and looking ever the Ministry professional other than the golden hoop hanging from his ear and the almost mischievous expression on his face. "Rare occasion, the two of you not at the shop," he said with a smile, hugging Hermione and then clapping Remus on the shoulder in friendly greeting.

Hermione smiled. "Hello, Kings."

"Need a day off from time to time," Remus said with a laugh. "Don't Aurors do that?"

"What? Our job is one long holiday," Kings said sarcastically. "James, all right?" he asked with a smile as James stepped out of the house to shake Kingsley's hand.

"Good to see you, mate," James replied. "Everything good?" he asked. "If so, I should probably keep an eye on the kids."

Kingsley waved him off. "Go on then," he said with a smile and then turned his attention to Hermione and Remus as James jogged after the boys.

"So, I see Potter. Are Black and Vance around?" Kingsley asked.

Hermione's smile faded instantly. "Is everything all right?"

He shrugged. "Typical Order meeting. I'd just spoken with Dumbledore and he was writing letters. I offered to bring the message in person since it gave me an excuse not to go straight back to the Ministry."

"Skiving on work?" Remus chuckled. "Rebel. I'll go track down Sirius and Emmie for you." He offered Hermione a small smile before turning and heading down the hill toward the pond where they'd last seen Sirius chasing after Emmeline.

Hermione looked back at Kingsley, stress evident in her eyes. "Is it an emergency? I know you said you offered but . . . normally Dumbledore is very particular about scheduling meetings."

He reached a hand back, anxiety rubbing his neck as he chuckled in reply. "Actually . . . I was hoping to speak with you. Thought, hoped, maybe you'd be interested in having dinner with me."

She stared at him for a long moment, studiously as though he were an ancient runes text. "What? Why? Is there no Order meeting? Is there something else going on?" she nervously asked.

Kingsley let out a loud, full belly laugh and then sighed heavily. "Merlin's sake, woman, give a bloke a break here. There really is an Order meeting, no emergency, just a catch up on where everyone stands, I think. But . . . I wanted to take you to dinner. As a date," he clarified and then reached forward, tucking a loose curl behind her ear. "Just us."

Hermione's cheek turned bright pink. "Oh . . . I . . ."

"Unless I haven't been paying attention and you've got another bloke?"

"What? No, there's . . ." she paused to actually think about the question and how she could answer. She felt tied down, in various directions since taking care of the Marauders was a job meant for multiple witches, not to mention she was married to her job, and the Order, and Harry was her single most important priority. She shook her head. "There's been no one since Angus. And that didn't end well."

Kingsley smiled, looking hopeful. "He's better off for it. Got an owl the other day. He's met a pretty witch in Wales. Looking for a permanent transfer actually."

She smiled, genuinely happy for Angus. "Good for him. I'd hoped that he would find someone. Things were awkward when he left," she admitted. "I haven't had the greatest history with men," she said with a sigh. "Granted we were always basically fighting for our lives but . . ." she briefly thought of Viktor and then Ron, "it never seemed to work out well with those boys."

He reached out and took her hand, cradling it in both of his. "Perhaps it's time to be done with boys," he suggested.

Hermione swallowed but was unable to stop herself from smiling. "Look, Kings . . . my life is—"

"Complicated. I get it," he nodded, still holding her hand. "You've got your past, your secrets, and Harry. I know where you stand priority wise. Family is important and the friends who stand at your side are family," he said, glancing across the yard where James was being tackled by four toddlers, Ron having rejoined the group, Percy looking on as though he were supervising. Just beyond them, Remus walked alongside Emmeline with Sirius—soaked from head to toe—followed behind. "Family comes first. 'Course, this is just one date and I might be stepping over the line acting like it could be more. Unless . . ." he prodded with a teasing grin.

She laughed and looked down trying to hide the colour in her face. "You're kind of terrible, did you know that?"

"But I'm very handsome. Do I age well?"

She looked up at the man, remembering the gentleman Auror that she'd rode on a thestral with who had been nothing but polite and kind to her. She'd never looked at him before, not like she was now, but there was no denying he was handsome. "Yes, and you already know that."

"I'm handsome, you're beautiful, what a match we'd make," he said with a small chuckle, noticing her briefly shocked reaction at being called beautiful. "You really need to get used to attention being lavished upon you."

Laughing, Hermione bit her lower lip. "Like I said, I'm used to boys at Hogwarts who dance around the subject for years, too afraid of clueless to make the first move."

"Was that a subtle invitation?"

She looked up, eyes wide and nervous. It hadn't been, in fact, but she certainly wasn't saying no, and Kingsley took that as a good sign and slowly leant forward, giving her every opportunity to stop him before he gently kissed her. When she let out a soft sigh, he smiled against her lips and whispered, "Have dinner with me, Hermione."


Chapter Text

February 13th, 1983

"I'm not ready for this," Hermione said for the third time as she stood beside Sirius and Narcissa, looking across the street at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.

She'd thought about taking Polyjuice Potion or at least disguising herself with glamours, but Narcissa said that Walburga was paranoid enough to have spells in place to detect things like glamours, and Polyjuice was unreliable should they take longer than an hour.

"Don't worry," Narcissa said. "She doesn't speak to anyone outside of that house so she has no way of knowing who you are. Besides, to the rest of the world, you're just a simple bookshop owner."

"I am a simple bookshop owner," Hermione said clearly.

Narcissa had smiled, looking at the Muggle-born with an expression of condescension. "Of course, you are," she said and then rolled her eyes.

"What about my French? It's not so great and my accent is barely passable." Hermione began to let her anxiety get the best of her, chewing at her nails until Narcissa literally smacked her hand away from her mouth while Sirius chuckled under his breath at her expense.

She's spent days with Narcissa, weeks really, in the long run, to prepare for this meeting. While Sirius drank anytime he thought about reuniting with his mother, Hermione was with his cousin, learning pureblood etiquette and memorising a pureblood family tree that she was pretending to be from a branch of, all the while knowing that Walburga Black would be too proud to admit that she didn't know the family by name, but trusted Narcissa to find a decent witch for Sirius. That is, should the matriarch consider letting him back into the family.

"Don't worry about your French," Narcissa said, waving off Hermione's worries as though they were pests. "In fact, speak it the majority of the time and she'll find you all the more authentic. Walburga doesn't speak French but refuses to admit it."

Hermione stared at the blond. "You're kidding. Your House's words are Toujours Pur."

Narcissa and Sirius both shrugged.

"I was able to manipulate the wards that harm Muggle-borns the last time I was here, but there's only one way to test them," Narcissa said, turning to look at Hermione who swallowed hard.

"I'd rather be anywhere than here right now."

Sirius smirked. "Like with your new lover?"

Hermione glared at him, eyes wide. "What? Don't say that. We're just . . . it was just a few dates," she said quickly.

She'd been pleasantly surprised when Kingsley had taken her to dinner in Muggle London, having poorly assumed that he wouldn't be familiar with the area. In fact, thanks to the year, Kingsley was much more familiar with it than Hermione and had sprung for a lovely restaurant where she was treated to fancy wines, dinner, and dancing. Afterward, they slipped into an old ice cream shop for dessert and talked about their time at Hogwarts. He walked her to her flat, kissed her sweetly at the door and then Disapparated.

She was surprised the following morning when he'd brought her breakfast at the bookshop and asked her out for lunch. Remus insisted on taking her shift to allow her time to run away with the Auror, where they picnicked in the park and ended up snogging beneath a large oak tree overlooking a beautiful pond with water so dark it reminded her of the Black Lake—sans giant squid.

She held back the blush that crept up her neck as Sirius continued to smirk at her, waggling his eyebrows. "That's hardly . . . and I don't . . . and certainly not so quickly and—"

"Well, he's better than that tosser you dated before," Sirius pointed out. "Even if it was just a few dates. And it's hardly . . . and you don't. Certainly not so quickly and—Ow!" He laughed hard, rubbing his shoulder where she'd hit him. "Relax. I'm happy you're finally having some fun. Between you, Moony, and Prongs, I'm stuck with a bunch of workaholics who can't be bothered to have a laugh."

She frowned. "James and Remus have damn good excuses for not constantly placating you."

He nodded. "That they do. Or did. Moony's on the men thanks to his sweet little Muggle-born, and James is finally out and about himself."

Hermione raised a curious brow. "Out and about?"

"Yep. Took that pretty secretary to dinner the other night."

"A secretary?" Narcissa asked and then rolled her eyes. "It wasn't his secretary, was it? How cliche."

"Wait," Hermione grabbed Sirius and turned him to face her. "The witch who kept harassing him? Are you kidding me?"

"He's got to get back in the game sometime, Hermione. Yes, he loved Lily and they were perfect together and should have grown as old as Dumbledore . . . but that didn't happen. And he's still young and—"

"I'm not arguing that point! Of course James deserves to have someone . . . just . . . he said that witch was awful," she pointed out, feeling anger stir and a sick something she hadn't felt since hearing Lavender Brown squeal "Won-Won!" began to build deep down inside of her.

Sirius grinned. "Don't worry. He told her to politely piss off when she'd asked him how often Harry was with Lily's family. When she found out that James had him full time, she was less interested. Deal breaker for our boy and he didn't even stay for dessert."

Hermione stared at him incredulously.

"Okay fine, he stayed for dessert and brought me home a slice of chocolate cake, are you happy?"

Narcissa sighed. "Are the two of you done? We do have plans here, unless you'd like to reschedule tricking one of the most horrible witches in the world out of something that she doesn't even know is inside of her house?"

Hermione turned and squared her shoulders but Sirius looked innocently at his cousin. "Blame her. I'm playing dutiful future fiance here and she's the one who's talking to me about other wizards. Honestly, Cissa, I think she's not very devoted to me. After we consummate the marriage, I think she might step out and—ow! Okay . . . that's getting old, kitten."

"Are you honestly ready for this, Sirius?" Hermione asked him. "That's your mother inside that house."

He glared across the street and snarled. "My mother was Dorea Potter," he said firmly. "The bitch inside that house is just the woman who burned me off of some ugly old wallpaper."

"That bitch inside is a hex-happy, paranoid woman who has lost everything and believes her House in ruin. You have a chance to make this right, Sirius. There's more at stake than your personal vendetta against your mother," Narcissa said, her ice blue eyes narrowed into slits. "And my face happens to still be on that ugly, old wallpaper, thank you."

Sirius grinned. "Well, when I succeed tonight and she reinstates me, I'll let you have it once I burn her ugly face off. See how she likes to see herself on fire."

Chapter Text

February 13th, 1983

Walburga Black was just as nasty in person as she had been in her portrait, screaming obscenities from the wall inside Number Twelve. Instead of yelling, however, Walburga scowled and hissed the slurs under her breath, occasionally even spitting to the side like a curse. She prattled on and on about blood-traitors and Mudbloods and the filth of society that were half-breed creatures. Hermione could tell that the Draught of Peace Sirius had taken earlier was the best idea ever because his mother seemed to be trying to purposely provoke him.

Once inside, past the doorway and foyer and through the front hallway, they all sat down at the large dining room table which was covered in a black lace tablecloth because, according to Walburga, the entire House—family and physical structure both—was in mourning.

"Reg has been dead for years," Sirius said bitterly and Walburga glared at him as though speaking Regulus's name were taboo.

Hermione took a long drink of her water and then quickly prattled on in French, distracting Walburga from her eldest son. Narcissa and Sirius had been right. Walburga didn't speak a single word of the language, but she nodded her head and observed Hermione instead of replying, as though she were contemplating the younger witch and whatever she might have been saying. Every so often she would scoff or roll her eyes and once she just said, "Indeed," something that almost caused Hermione to choke on her drink seeing that she'd just asked the older witch if she thought herself to be a horse's arse.

Narcissa interrupted everyone to tell Walburga all about her work with the Witch's Society and how they were currently looking to start a charity to preserve old family tomes and grimoires of the fallen families so that the Ministry didn't try to snatch them up and dump them in the bowels of the Department of Mysteries. It was a politically neutral conversation and even Hermione contributed, feigning terrible English in order to participate.

"My family 'as a great respect for traditions," she said, channelling her memory of Fleur Delacour. "I think eet ees wonderful cause zat you are taking on, Narcissa. Sirius, will you be 'elping your couzin?"

Sirius snorted and tilted his head back, mumbling under his breath about how he really wished he had a job that prevented him from having free time to come and visit his mother. "Well, seeing as I don't even have access to my own family's books, I doubt I'll be doing much of that, kitten." And then he winked at her.

Hermione bristled and then sat up taller, trying to look offended at his mannerisms for different reasons. "I assume his poor manners are not at all your doing, Madame Black," she said.

Walburga actually smiled and there was the tiniest hint of what might have been a beautiful woman once, hidden beneath the terrible glare of her eyes. "I take no credit for anything this stain on my House does."

"But still your House, non?" Hermione asked. "Terrible thing, for an Ancient and Noble family to fall."

Narcissa nodded in agreement. "If only my father had sons," she said mournfully, "to carry on the family name. Of course, there is always the chance to reinstate Sirius."

Walburga glared at her son venomously. "For what purpose?"

"To prevent the fall of our House, aunt," Narcissa said impatiently. "The world has changed and there is little we can do about that. But we will adapt. We must adapt. I've procured a pureblood witch of a good family to marry your son. Reinstating him as heir and Head of House will only benefit us all."

Walburga ignored Narcissa entirely, and snapped her fingers, summoning Kreacher.

The moment the house-elf appeared, Hermione tapped Narcissa on the leg. "Goodness," the blond said, her nose turned up at the sight of the unclean elf. "Aunt Walburga, does your elf not bathe himself? Dobby!" she called and, as planned, the free elf appeared, thankfully not wearing the obscenely bright socks and mittens he'd taken a liking to. "We're pretending, Dobby, that you're not a free elf. It will help us all very much," Hermione had told him and he was more than happy to oblige.

"Mistress calls for Dobby?"

"Aunt Walburga, if you wouldn't mind. My own elf can serve the food."

Walburga immediately looked distrustfully at her niece. "It is my house and my elf will serve, thank you," she snapped.

Narcissa sighed and waved Dobby off. "Go and wait in the other room then, just in case there's use for you."

The moment Dobby left and Kreacher began serving, Hermione cleared her throat. "Eet ees a bit warm in 'ere, non?" she asked and then removed her robes revealing a lovely dress that Narcissa had bought for her to wear. Her action appeared to be a flirtatious move, as Sirius's attention was drawn immediately to the delicate line that exposed her cleavage. Walburga actually smirked at the manoeuvre, interpreting it as Hermione manipulating her son.

Kreacher's gaze, however, were drawn to the locket hanging around Hermione's neck.

"H-how . . ." he mumbled and then dropped the ladle in his hands, spilling soup on the floor. "Oh! Mistress! Kreacher is a bad Kreacher and will go and punish himself immediately!" he wailed, cleaning up the floor and then casting one long, terrified look at Hermione's locket—an exact replica of the Horcrux he had stashed away—and vanished.

"I see Kreacher's doing well," Sirius commented blandly.

"If you plan to be reinstated," Walburga said, ignoring his words, "you must dress accordingly. None of this ridiculous Muggle nonsense."

"I will not," he replied. "Nor will I deny my blood-traitor friends or my Muggle-borns friends. I will not stop drinking in Muggle bars or riding a Muggle motorbike. I'm agreeing to marry a pureblood witch, that alone will be enough of a sacrifice."

Kreacher returned, eyes narrowed suspiciously at Hermione and the locket she wore as he served the rest of the meal, of which neither Sirius nor Hermione took a single bite, just in case. Narcissa and Walburga spoke more of society and things that the elder witch had missed since her seclusion, and occasionally Sirius would throw out a comment or two, reminding his mother that nothing had changed between them. Hermione, every so often, would say something in French, generally listing off instructions on how to brew Polyjuice Potion, or reciting Gamp's Laws. When Walburga and Sirius got into a heated argument where he'd implied that he'd "sullied" himself with a vampire, Hermione asked if Walburga knew of any good French pureblood poetry. When the older witch said that she'd love to hear some, Hermione beamed brightly.

"A la volonté du peuple, et à la santé du progrès, remplis ton cœur d'un vin rebelle. Et à demain, ami fidèle!
Nous voulons faire la lumière malgré le masque de la nuit. Pour illuminer notre terre, et changer la vie," she said, saying the words eloquently, keeping eye contact with the elder witch and not offering a translation in English.

"Beautiful," Walburga said when Hermione was finished and the Muggle-born witch did her best not to grin smugly.

"Come, come," Walburga said and stood from the table. "I would like young Hermione here to see the family tapestry. Especially if she has seen fit to ruin her own family by attaching herself to the worst of ours," she added, throwing a nasty look in Sirius's direction.

Sirius threw two fingers behind her back and Hermione swatted him. "Will you know it off? We're almost out of here!" she said in a harsh whisper.

He took a deep breath and looked at her. "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to be back here?"

She frowned. "Yes," she said, remembering an older Sirius Black, trapped in this utter hell hole.

He looked down and exhaled, whispering, "I promise I'll try harder," before holding his arm out for her and the two quickly caught up with Narcissa and Walburga in the familiar old drawing room.

The tapestry was just as she remembered it, though cleaner than she recalled. Burn marks littered the once flawless stitching, and Hermione caught Narcissa looking at the black smudge where Andromeda Tonks should be. "C'est magnifique," Hermione said softly. "What a lovely way to record family 'istory."

Walburga grinned. "Oh, my dear girl, it's not just that. Blood Magic is woven into the very foundations of this tapestry and has for generations. When every member of our House comes of age, they take a blood oath to uphold the family legacy, the standards and traditions, and in doing so, they obey the Head of the House."

Horrified, Hermione tried to school her features as she turned and looked at Sirius. "In short, it's an heirloom Imperius Curse," he said nastily.

Walburga chuckled. "Yes, I suppose you would think that. Sirius, of course, did not reach maturity before being removed from this great thing of magical beauty. And, alas, we've yet to figure out just how to keep the witches in line once they marry," she added, casting a suspicious glance to Narcissa who rolled her eyes.

"Aunt Walburga, I do not need the family tapestry to keep to the standards of the House of Black. My father taught me well," she insisted.

Walburga scoffed. "Cygnus? A man who needed to be reminded of his own oath time and time again? Our family is lucky that I did not follow my beloved Orion and Regulus in death. Else your father would inherit the tapestry and the burden that comes with it."

Hermione swallowed hard as she watched the two witches, her grip on Sirius's arm tightened. A blood oath, an object basically resigning all attached to being forced into compliance by the Head of the House. A magical role that evidently did not skip over the witches. Suddenly Sirius's promise of letting Narcissa have the tapestry if Walburga reinstated him made much more sense.

"And . . . where would Sirius and I be?" Hermione asked, looking over the tapestry.

Walburga laughed. "Oh, my girl, you'll not be on this tapestry. Nor will the filthy stain of dishonour," she said, looking at Sirius. "Tell me . . . did you really believe I'd let a Mudbloods name attach its filthy self to my House?"

Chapter Text

February 13th, 1983

Playing smartarse was something easy for Sirius, but it had taken a lot for him to play non-violent around his mother, reigning in that infamous Black temper that may or may not be related to a mental instability depending on who you spoke to. The very moment Walburga had levelled her gaze at Hermione and said "Mudblood", Sirius's leash on his rage snapped and he snarled stepping forward defensively, "You knew? How?"

Walburga sneered, a maniacal glint in her eye with absolutely none of the poise and reservations that Narcissa had, despite being of the same blood, Hogwarts House, and upbringing. "The press, of course," she said, very nearly cackling.

Narcissa's blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully, appearing much more composed than both of her Gryffindor companions as well as her hostess. "You told me you'd stopped reading the Daily Prophet. That it was nonsense."

"I did," Walburga said, looking as though she were trying very hard to find a middle ground between a smug grin and an angry scowl. "However, I was previously in contact with a woman who was most eager to write the story of our House and how far it fell in the wake of Regulus's tragic death and Sirius's dishonour. A woman, who, until recently, hasn't been returning my letters. Thankfully it appears that Azkaban has provided comforts to some prisoners. I believe even Lucius writes to you, Narcissa?"

Sirius furrowed his brow. "But who—"

Hermione gasped, "Rita Skeeter," and her hand instinctively felt for her wand that had been strapped to her waist and Disillusioned.

"She is not a fan of yours, little Mudblood," Walburga said, fixing her glare on Hermione. "And you . . ." She turned her focus on Sirius, shaking with rage and disgust, "you bring this filth into the House of my fathers. Pretend that you would marry her?"

Sirius grinned darkly, eyes flashing. "Who said I was pretending?"

Walburga snapped at the declaration, "She is a Mudblood!"

Sirius leant in close, towering over the woman as he viciously growled, "And a fantastic shag."

Narcissa rolled her eyes. "Sirius, honestly."

Stepping forward and raging up at her disowned son, Walburga struck him across the mouth, knocking him to the ground with the unexpected blow as continued to scream, resembling her portrait so very much, even as spittle fell from her mouth. "You dishonour this House and your blood by even speaking such lies! Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks the whole lot of them! And this one," she said, pointing at Hermione, "Blood-related to that filthy werewolf pet of yours!"

Sirius spat blood on the ground and then stood up, eyes practically turned black with rage as he stared down his mother. "Fucked him too," he whispered with a dark grin and Walburga tore herself away from him, terrified of being infected. She made loud gagging noises among the screeching and Hermione actually winced at the high pitch.

Kreacher, alerted to the noise, stepped into the room, worrying his hands together in front of him. "Would Mistress like Kreacher to throw the scum into the streets?" he asked.

Too angry to think clearly, Walburga took her anger out on the elf, kicking it back through the doorway. Hermione took a step forward only to be stopped by Narcissa's hand on her shoulder. Kreacher let out a whimper of pain and then could be heard mumbling, "Thank you, Mistress," repeatedly before vanishing.

Just as Kreacher disappeared from sight, Dobby nervously looked in from around the corner, out of Walburga's sight. Neither Sirius or Narcissa caught a glimpse of him, too focused on the angry with in front of them, but Hermione made eye contact with the little elf. He swallowed hard, looking between her and Walburga Black and Hermione slowly shook her head, indicating that Dobby should not interfere. Understanding, Dobby nodded, ears flapping a bit with the motion, and he held up his hand, revealing the locket that they'd come for. Hermione's heart raced and she couldn't help but smile, letting out a great sigh of relief when Dobby Disapparated out of Grimmauld Place, taking the Horcrux with him as planned.

In the meantime, Walburga had spun back on Sirius, wand in hand. "You were never fit to lead this family, this great and Noble House! Oh . . . if only Regulus had survived . . . he would have—"

"He would have reinstated Sirius," Hermione blurted out and drew the attention of all three Blacks in the room, every one of them looking more confused than the last. "He loved his brother. And he hated Voldemort."

"You . . . you dare to—"

Sirius baulked. "What the bloody hell are you—"

"Regulus Black betrayed Voldemort. He found a way to destroy the Dark Lord and he wanted him dead. Regulus Black died a hero!" Hermione said with great determination, ignoring the way that Walburga's face first paled and then turned red. "And do you know why? Do you know Regulus's great cause?"

"You filthy little—"

"An elf! The very one that you just kicked! Voldemort injured Regulus's elf and he turned on him, just like that!"

Narcissa whispered, "Is that true?"


"Liar!" Walburga screamed. Her tone was one of grief and mourning, but the ugly, uncontrollable anger in her expression prevented anyone from sympathising. "I would rather watch my Ancient and Noble House burn to the ground than see it besmirched by a Mudblood's lies! Or perhaps I'll just burn you," she said, eyes suddenly wide with delight as her wand aimed. "Internum Flamare!"

Taught by battle worn professors at Hogwarts and raised in war herself, Hermione was quick to hold up her wand, a deflection spell on her lips. But when she saw the all too familiar sight of purple fire aimed in her direction, she panicked and cried out a weak, "Protego!"

Narcissa and Sirius were much more firm in their casting.



The purple fire that a silenced Antonin Dolohov once sent her way, leaving her scarred for life, bounced off of her shield with the help of Sirius and Narcissa, returning to its creator. Shocked and unprepared, for the counter, the curse hit Walburga right in the chest and the witch screamed out in agony as her body erupted in flames. Unlike Fiendfyre, that seemed to enjoy playing with its food, this cursed fire engulfed the Black matriarch completely within seconds, heat and smoke drowning out her cries.

When the flames burned out, there was nothing left but ashes.

Hermione brought a hand to her mouth and stifled a scream before turning and retching in the corner. "Oh my gods! Sirius! We have to—"

"Don't panic," Narcissa calmly ordered. "It was self-defence."

Hermione turned back, gaping at the blond. "This . . . she's . . . did you plan this?!"

"Of course not, but I can't help but see the silver lining," Narcissa said. "Walburga is dead, you've acquired your treasure, and I . . . I have acquired mine." She then turned and ran her fingers over the tapestry on the wall, smiling softly as the magic tingled beneath her touch.

Sirius stared at his cousin. "You wanted the tapestry. All along."

"My father is Head of the House now. I'll have him reinstate you, Sirius."

He scoffed. "Don't bother."

She turned to face him, a softness in her expression. "If it will help your transition, you won't be the only blood-traitor."

His eyes widened. "This is . . . this is about Andromeda?"

She nodded. "Father and mother didn't want to disown her. They wholeheartedly did not approve of her choice in spouse, but . . . to be cut from our lives? Never. Your parents insisted and father was bound by the tapestry and mother was bound by her vows to him. But now . . ."

"You're going to reinstate Andromeda," Hermione said, shocked, forcefully not looking in the direction of the pile of ashes that used to be Sirius's mother.

Narcissa tilted her chin up, her gaze one of fearsome determination. "I will not lose both of my sisters to monsters. One, I can save."

"But we . . . we killed her," Hermione said, looking down at her hands as though she could see the blood on them. She could admit that she'd done some fairly terrible things in her life. Trapping Rita Skeeter for weeks, cursing Marietta Edgecombe, leaving Dolores Umbridge to the fate of centaurs. All deserving, but Hermione knew that she'd gone a bit overboard.

But this?

Sirius shook his head. "You did nothing. We turned her own curse against her."

"I've seen that curse before," she said, choking back a sob as her hand subconsciously touched her ribcage. "It . . . I was . . ."

Narcissa reached out and put a hand on Sirius's shoulder. "Take her home, Sirius. I will call the Aurors. Let's do so before Kreacher comes running in and starts screaming."

Chapter Text

February 13th, 1983

Sirius took Hermione home and led her into the bathroom where he helped her out of the uncomfortable dress Narcissa had assisted her into, turning around and offering her privacy as she slipped into comfortable Muggle clothes, Scourgifying her softly to take away the smell of smoke. Once he had her tucked into bed, he went in search of her cat and found the tiny kitten snuggled between several books on a shelf.

"A kitten for a kitten," Sirius said as he placed Crookshanks in Hermione's arms, smiling at the way that the half-kneazle instinctively knew its witch needed comfort.

Hermione found herself embarrassed over how she'd panicked. She'd fought Death Eaters, faced a mountain troll and a three-headed dog. She'd gone willingly to war and seen horrors within it. But there was something particularly horrible about sitting to dinner with a woman who wanted you dead, then tried to kill you, and watching as she burned alive like witches of old. There was something about seeing that purple flame come right at her . . . and now knowing what it was supposed to have done.

"Where's Dobby?" she asked, wanting to jump right back to being useful.

"I sent him to Dumbledore with the locket."

Hermione nodded, feeling relieved that they hadn't gone through it for nothing. It was easier than she thought, but the outcome . . . was nothing like what she had expected. "We killed her. She's . . . Sirius, your mother—"

"Not my mother," he said quickly, his tone suggestion that there was no room for argument on the matter. "And she did try to kill you first."

"I never . . . Gods, I can smell it," she said, exhaling as though she could rid herself of the smell and the memory. "And it would've . . . I would have died. I would have burned alive. I was only sixteen." She turned and looked up at Sirius, brown eyes wide. "Who . . . who does that?"

He frowned, suddenly understanding the real reason for her panic. "You were hit with that curse?"

She nodded, angrily wiping away tears from her face. "Dolohov. I . . . I silenced him. So it didn't . . . it was the same night that you . . ." She paused and looked up at him and then clenched her eyes shut, trying to forget that her life was different now. That her past was a timeline she'd erased and she was the only one that needed to suffer its memories no matter how much she'd revealed. Sirius was alive and right in front of her. Antonin Dolohov was in Azkaban and she would make damn sure that Voldemort never returned to break him out.

"And yet, here we stand," Sirius said with a small smile and put an arm around her. "She attacked you, Hermione. If she'd somehow deflected that curse and tried again, I would have killed her myself," he insisted.

"She was . . . your family."

He shook his head. "You're my family. James and Remus and Harry . . . Allie and Frank, little Neville. Hell, even Emmeline in a very inappropriate way," he said with a small laugh. "Narcissa is family. And she'll apparently get her sister back," he added as an amused afterthought. "Family takes care of each other."

She nodded thinking of Harry and Ron.

After several minutes of silence, Sirius cleared his throat. "Hermione . . . my brother?"

She tilted her head and looked up at him, seeing a vulnerability in his eyes. "It was true. He tricked Voldemort," she told him. "That's how I knew Kreacher had the locket. Regulus ordered him to destroy it but he didn't know how. Regulus swapped the real Horcrux with a fake one."

Sirius reached out and fingered the locket around her neck. "This? Where did you get this?"

She sat up and pulled the chain from around her neck, thrilled to have it off of her. It wasn't the real Horcrux, but the memory of the weight that came from the genuine artefact was heavy. Placing the locket in his hands, she clicked open the fastener revealing the note within.

To the Dark Lord,

I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.
I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.
I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more.


"Dumbledore. He went . . . he and Moody went to where the fake Horcrux was placed. We needed something similar enough without having to transfigure it because we didn't know if Kreacher could be fooled. We needed him to see it around my neck and worry that his copy had gone missing. That's how Dobby was able to find it. He followed Kreacher inside the house. Once Kreature had checked on the locket to make sure it had been stolen, Dobby waited for him to leave and then he took it."

"What . . . how did Regulus die? They never found a body."

She bit her bottom lip remembering seeing Kingsley the day before and hearing him complain about not being able to go on a mission alongside Moody. "I'm so sorry, Sirius. But . . . they might. A team of Aurors are there today. Where it all happened. He was . . . it was Inferi."

Whatever Sirius had previously thought had happened to his brother, it wasn't that. Horror was easily read in his eyes and he stood up, pacing around her bedroom for several minutes in complete silence, his hands shaking like he wanted to hit something. "I need to go," he finally blurted out. "I'm going to Floo Kingsley for you. You . . . you shouldn't be alone."

Before she had a chance to tell him that neither should he, Sirius was out the door.

Hermione decided that she fit very nicely in Kingsley's arms.

He'd shown up at her flat and, upon finding her in bed, went to the kitchen to fix tea for them both. He didn't ask what happened or try to get her to talk, instead just held her and eventually took her empty mug away, setting it on the bedside table.

"You need a telly in here," he said. "What happened to the one you bought?"

"Gave it to Arthur," she said.

Kingsley nodded. "When I was still in training, I was put on assignment with an older Auror, told to shadow him for a day. We ran across an Apothecary selling illegal wares. One had a history with Azkaban and didn't want to go back. He fought hard. Too hard."

"What happened?"

"Entrail-Expelling Curse," he said. "That's . . . as horrifying as it is to find someone who fell to an Avada . . . at least it's clean."

She nodded her head in agreement.

"He accidentally hit one of his own men with a Slicing Hex, and the bloke didn't take to kindly to friendly fire."

Hermione closed her eyes. "Walburga Black wasn't the first dead body I've seen."

He kissed the top of her head. "Didn't think so."

"Cedric Diggory," she whispered. "Voldemort had him killed. No reason. Harry brought his body back to his father, right in the middle of . . . everyone saw. That was when it really began—our war." Hermione leant against him and sighed when he tightened his arm around her. "There was a Death Eater . . . Hogwarts was attacked and . . . well, friendly fire, I suppose. And then . . ." she paused. "One of our professors was killed," she said and left out the fact that it had been Dumbledore.

"It wasn't your fault," he told her.

She nodded. "I know. I just . . . I don't know how you do it, Kings. I can't handle blood," she said, thinking of Harry dying in her arms. "And now fire is just . . ." She closed her eyes and exhaled. "I need to contact Dumbledore."

He frowned and pulled away from her. "What's up?"

"We need another way to destroy the Horcruxes. Fiendfyre is . . . I can't guarantee that I'd be able to control it." She thought of herself, summoning the Fiendfyre to destroy the locket, and imagined the great flame dragon turning on her, and panicking, unable to stop it from devouring her and anyone close by. Walburga's screams echoed in her head.

"We need to open the Chamber of Secrets."

Chapter Text

April 2nd, 1983

Because of new Ministry protocols and business at Hogwarts, both Moody and Dumbledore were unavailable for immediate Order meetings for two months following the death of Walburga Black and the successful finding of the locket Horcrux. Dumbledore locked the rotten artefact away and nothing more was said, other than the fact that Hermione insisted she not be required to cast Fiendfyre again.

Unfortunately, despite both Dumbledore and Moody trying, not even the cursed flame would destroy the locket. "I think we have to open it," Hermione suggested and then sighed as she realised that—after hours of unsuccessful attempts—Parseltongue would be required.

During the Easter holidays, the Order—or at least those privy to the Horcrux hunt—gathered together in the Hog's Head for a meeting. Mary sat beside Remus, holding his hand as he watched Sirius tell everyone the great tale of Walburga's defeat as though she were some great dragon that was slain. By the look on James's face, both Marauders were worried their friend would eventually snap.

Hermione sat beside Emmeline, rolling her eyes every time Sirius referred to her as his devoted fiance, purposely looking at Kingsley every time he did so, as though he expected the man to attack in defence of his lady love. Kingsley, however, found the whole thing rather amusing and would throw a wink in Hermione's direction every few minutes, particularly when Sirius's story got a little too flirtatious.

"Is he doing that to bother you or to bother me?" Emmeline whispered when Sirius got to the part where he defiantly told his mother that he would marry a Muggle-born and she might even be pregnant with his child—the story got bigger and more sordid each time it was told. "Because if he thinks I'm going to get jealous, he's going to be a bit shocked to find out that I'm seeing someone."

Hermione looked at her friend and smiled sadly. "Oh, Em. Let him down easy."

"Easy," Emmeline chuckled. "I tell the git twice a week that he's an idiot."

Dumbledore cleared his throat when Sirius reached the part where he had admitted to his mother that he'd had sex with a werewolf. Remus threw a grateful expression to the old wizard and then glared at Sirius, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him down into the seat between him and James. "Speaking of the Black family," Dumbledore said while standing, "I understand that Cygnus has reinstated his eldest daughter? Andromeda?"

Hermione smiled. "And rightly so. She and her husband are good people."

"What about Malfoy?" Moody asked suspiciously.

Hermione let out a nervous sigh. "Narcissa is . . . I trust her," she admitted, slightly shocked by her own words. "She wants a better world and her family is important, blood status doesn't mean a thing to her. Also, she knows a lot. She's not stupid and she knows that we're after things of value. The diary, the locket . . . she's been involved both times. Eventually . . ."

"She could put the pieces together," Dumbledore acknowledged aloud, nodding his head thoughtfully. "Are you suggesting making her a member of the Order?"

"Not without an Oath of Secrecy," Sirius blurted out before anyone else had a chance to speak. "Unbreakable Vow even. I like my cousin—these days—but she's the kind of snake who'll bite you without you knowing it and you'll just drop dead days later."

"Could she still be of value?" Dumbledore asked, looking to Moody, Kingsley, and Frank who were looking over a large board with various pins holding up Daily Prophet articles, copies of notations in books on Horcruxes and the Hogwarts Founders, as well as a map that tracked the sightings of known Death Eaters.

Kingsley looked at the map and then back to Dumbledore. "Bellatrix Lestrange is still on the run. She was thought to have been . . . well . . . very close with He-Who—er—Voldemort."

Sirius grimaced. "Ew."

Remus blinked curiously. "Wasn't she married to the elder Lestrange brother?"


James nodded. "Yeah and that bloke was a Death Eater as well. Happily served his pathetic Dark Lord. Doubt he'd deny him anything, not even his own—"


Emmeline sighed in irritation. "You . . . are such a grownup," she said and stared incredulously at Sirius. "How—"

Kingsley took the chance to interrupt before Emmeline and Sirius got into it. "Do you really think that Bellatrix and Voldemort—"

"Bloody stop!" Sirius shouted and then covered his ears like a child.

Remus rolled his eyes and James shook his head. Kingsley actually laughed and Hermione sighed, staring reproachfully at her boyfriend. "Don't encourage him."

"Can we move on?!" Moody snapped irritably.

Kingsley cleared his throat and tried to look apologetic, but amusement was still twinkling in his dark eyes. "Sorry, sir. If Bellatrix Lestrange was considered as valued a . . . follower of Voldemort's, then it's likely she might know where another Horcrux is. The only other option would be Thoros Nott who went to school with Voldemort. The bastard left the diary with Lucius Malfoy, after all, so it's not a stretch of the imagination to think one of his other followers might have, or at least know, the location of another. And right now, it's, unfortunately, our only lead other than assuming it could be Helga Hufflepuff's cup or something that belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw or Godric Gryffindor."

"Have you had a chance to examine the Sword of Gryffindor, sir?" Hermione asked, looking at Dumbledore.

He smiled. "Yes, my dear, and you can all be rest assured, the sword of Godric Gryffindor is not attached to Tom Riddle in any way."

"It's also not an effective weapon against Horcruxes either," she said with a sigh of frustration and looked up, catching a smile from Kingsley which was just infectious as ever, brightening her dark mood. "At least not now. I think . . . we need to get into the Chamber of Secrets."

Moody scoffed and folded his arms across his chest. "And how do you plan on doing just that?"

"If you can work out a way to kill the basilisk, I'll figure out how to get inside the Chamber," she said and turned her gaze on James who slowly raised an eyebrow at her.

Hermione met Emmeline outside once she'd said goodbye to Allie and Frank, leaving Kingsley discussing something work related with Moody. Catching up with her friend, she smiled. "Hey Em, I've been meaning to ask you . . ." She paused and looked at the cigarette between Emmeline's lips. "You're awful and Sirius is a terrible influence," she said and Emmeline just chuckled. "Do you know of anything that Voldemort would have used that belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw?"

Emmeline inhaled and blew smoke out after a moment, flicking the ashes off of the cigarette and then biting the inside of her lip in contemplation. "We don't put much value in possessions you know. No swords like you Gryffindors. There's only one thing I can honestly think of but . . . well . . . it's rather mental to even suggest it."


Emmeline shrugged. "Because the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw has been missing for . . . well, forever. It's practically a campfire story that we all were told as first years. 'Go and search for the lost diadem, whoever finds it, is the wisest of Ravenclaw Tower', things like that. The only reason we even know that it truly existed is because the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw is wearing it." She said and then a small chuckle escaped her. "The only person who even . . . er . . . well . . ."


"There was a girl who was a few years ahead of me at Hogwarts," Emmeline said, rolling her eyes. "She'd claimed that she once found the diadem."

Hermione's eyes widened. "What? Who is she?"

Flicking the rest of her cigarette away and then using her wand to vanish it from the ground, Emmeline shook her head. "She couldn't have actually found it, Hermione."

"Why not?"

"Because she's—"

"Ladies," James said, approaching them with his hands in his pockets, Ministry robes hanging off of him casually, "what are we gossiping about this evening?"

Emmeline scoffed. "Please, Potter, you know that you boys are worse than any group of witches. I'd wager ten Galleons right now that Sirius isn't over there questioning Kingsley about his relationship with our Hermione here," she said, pointing back to the entrance of the pub where Sirius had his arm draped over Kingsley's shoulders, whispering conspiratorially.

James smirked. "You . . . would win that bet," he said, nodding. "Did I interrupt anything important?"

"Nothing that can't be finished later," Emmeline insisted and then gave Hermione a quick hug. "I'll see about my contact, Hermione, and if you actually want to meet her, I'll set something up."

"Thanks, Em." Hermione smiled and watched as her friend Disapparated away. Turning to face James, she smiled and reached up, adjusting the collar of his robe and then ruffling his hair. "Such a mess," she muttered affectionately and he laughed at her, running his fingers back through his hair as though he could fix it.

"So, how are things going with Kingsley?" he asked as they began to slowly walk back to the Hog's Head. Hermione ducked her face and James cranked his neck to look at her. "Is that . . . a blush? Miss Granger! Is that a maiden's blush on your cheek?" he teased.

"Shut it, you," she said and then shoved him playfully. "Kingsley and I are taking things slow. But they're . . . things are good. I like him."

He smiled. "Good. You deserve a break from twats like Sirius and Remus."

She laughed, throwing her head back. "Oh, just Sirius and Remus?"

"Of course," James insisted, grinning innocently. "I don't know how I put up with them myself."

"And you Mister Potter? Sirius told me you went out with that awful with who works in your department." She watched carefully as his mischievous expression turned sour and he let out a groan.

"Merlin, don't remind me."

She shook her head. "Why did you go?"

James sighed. "Honestly? To get her to stop bothering me," he admitted. "And . . . well . . . I guess to see if I was ready."

"Are you?"

He frowned. "Not sure, if I'm being honest. It's . . . I don't know how to interact with witches outside of Hogwarts. Remember, my previous success with women literally began with me pulling pigtails," he said and then reached out, tugging on a lock of Hermione's hair.

She smiled brightly and then rolled her eyes. "You're a romantic," she said sarcastically. "I'm no better. Any boy or . . . man for that matter that I've ever shown interest in, I've just sat around and waited for. Even the ones who approach me, I don't often know how to behave with them. I spent my youth taking care of my friends, who were boys, that I often end up mothering all the men in my life."

"A sacrifice on your part that is much appreciated," he said, hand to his heart. "You don't mother us, Hermione. You can take care of your friends and family without being seen as this sexless matronly figure."

She stopped walking and raised her eyebrows. "Sexless?" she said and watched as James winced, embarrassed. "So, I'm not sexless? What exactly does that make me?"

"What? I just meant . . . umm . . ." He nervously bit the inside of his cheek and reached up, messing up his hair out of habit. "Umm . . . have I mentioned that I'm not good with the talking thing to women?" he asked and they both laughed loudly, drawing the attention of Kingsley and Sirius.

James waved and Sirius threw up a rude gesture whilst grinning, earning a loud laugh from Kingsley. "How's Sirius doing?" she quietly asked. "Really."

"Rough," James answered immediately. "He's . . . he's Sirius."

Hermione sighed. "Drowning his pain in firewhisky."

"Some people don't know any other way."

"Would you mind if I bought Harry something?" she asked, changing the subject as she saw Sirius and Kingsley shake hands, saying goodbye to one another which was their cue to do the same.

"Depends. Is it flammable, breakable, does it make noise at ungodly hours?" James asked with a grin.

"It's actually . . . a pet."

A smile crossed his face, remembering stories that she'd told him about her Harry and his love for his first familiar. "Is it that owl you were talking about? Hedwig?"

Hermione frowned. "Not . . . exactly."

Chapter Text

April 24th, 1983

Harry stared, wide-eyed into the glass terrarium at the orange and white snake. "For me?" he asked with a happy grin, nervously, which meant that James had given him a stern talk about responsibility before Hermione had arrived.

She smiled at the boy and stared down at the tiny serpent. It was as opposite from large and green as she could find, and she'd actually ordered it out of country just to be sure. Small, something that would never grow larger than a few feet, and non-venomous for obvious reasons. The only thing the little creature had in common with Nagini was its species.

"Just for you. Do you like her?" she asked.

Without prompting, Harry reached his small hand into the cage, not to grab or touch, but to hover just above the snake's head. The small animal looked up and flicked her tongue out against Harry's palm, immediately giving Hermione heart palpitations until the snake rubbed her head against his hand and then moved back down, curling herself beneath a rock.

"She's cool," Harry said with a bright smile. "What's her name?"

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief and looked up at James who had one hand on the back of his neck, squeezing tight in anticipation, the veins in his forearms bulging. "Why don't you ask her, mate?"

Hermione thought that had she been told to do such a thing at Harry's age, she would have looked up incredulously at her parent and might have even rolled her eyes. But Harry didn't even blink at his father.

"What's your name?" he whispered into the cage, in English, Hermione noted with some curiosity and disappointment. Anytime she'd ever heard Harry speak Parseltongue, it was hissing nonsense to her ears, even when he didn't know that he was doing it.

Hermione bit her lower lip and watched the snake flick its tongue out another time. "What did she say?" she whispered.

Harry giggled. "You're silly, Mi. Snakes can't talk."

Minutes later, James set a Locking Charm on the top of the cage and told Harry not to even attempt to open it without an adult present. He walked out of the room and found Hermione leaning over the kitchen sink, a cold, wet flannel in her hand being pressed to her throat. "I'll be fine," she assured him.

He nodded and approached her, taking the cloth from her hands and pushing her hair to the side to place it on her neck. He smiled when she let out an exhale of relief. "You certain it'll work?" he asked, rubbing a comforting hand over her shoulder.

She nodded. "Parseltongue is the only way to open the Chamber," she said. "I mean . . . we could just try to break through the bathroom floor and hope for the best but if there are any security measures put in place . . . whoever goes down there will be in serious danger. Those of us who were petrified were oddly lucky, all things considering."

James looked down, letting go of the flannel and allowing Hermione to finish calming down on her own. "And . . . and you're sure that Harry is . . ."

She frowned and set down the cloth, turning the sink off. She faced James and put her hands on his shoulders. "Hey," she said, insisting that he look at her. "It's not a bad thing. He saved a lot of lives with that gift. That being said, we shouldn't let others know—"

"No, I get it," he said in understanding. "I just don't want him to feel like he's . . . different."

She smiled sweetly and reached out, pulling him close for a hug that they both clearly needed. "You're such a good dad, James."

He let out a heavy sigh. "Hell, I'm trying. It's hard . . . being alone in this," he said and Hermione pulled away looking mildly hurt. He winced. "You know what I mean," he added and rubbed his thumb over his wedding band.

She gave him a sad smile, catching the nervous tick. "How goes the plan to fix the being alone thing?"

James rolled his eyes and walked around the counter, collapsing in the nearest chair which was angled just so that he could see inside the bedroom where Harry was avidly watching the snake inside the cage. "Oh, do you mean Allie and Molly's James Potter auction house?" he asked sarcastically. "Those two have set me up with five different women this month alone. It's . . . it's bloody awful is what it is."

Hermione reached into the cooling cabinet and pulled out two butterbeers, handing one over to him before sitting down. "Are you sure you're ready to start dating?"

He shrugged and twisted the top off, handing her the open bottle before stealing hers from her hand and doing the same. "I'm sure that I'm tired of sitting in the flat drinking butterbeer while Sirius whinges about his mother, brother, Emmeline, and Rosmerta when he's drunk enough," he said. "Some of the witches are nice enough. There's just no . . . spark, you know?"

Hermione thought of her most recent date with Kingsley. He'd taken her to a little village outside Wiltshire where they found the most perfect place to stargaze and ended up snogging late into the early morning. There was affection and attraction and certainly heat . . . but . . . something was missing and Hermione had been waiting months for it to appear. "I know," she said, trying to appear nonchalant as she took a long sip of her butterbeer and then stood up. "Well, don't rush anything. I've got to go and meet Emmeline. She's taking me to meet someone who might have an idea about the Ravenclaw Horcrux."

"Really? Who?" James asked, very interested.

"Pandora . . . something?"

"Pandora?" he asked as a slow grin crossed his face. "Oh, bloody hell . . . what I wouldn't give to go with you."

Hermione paled, eyes wide. "What? Why?"

Chapter Text

April 24th, 1983

"You've got to be joking."

Hermione stared ahead at the oddly-shaped house and the woman in front of her who was a spitting image of . . . well . . . her daughter.

The witch approached, wearing a pale yellow sundress and a necklace with a turnip handing on the end as though it were a fancy bauble. Her long, dirty blond hair was braided in some parts and left loose in others and she wore mismatched earrings. She looked the very definition of non-conformist and reminded Hermione of photographs of her parents and their friends from the 1960's during a trip to the States where they travelled around in a caravan.

"It's so lovely to see you, Emmeline," Pandora said, reaching out and pulling Emmeline in close for a tight hug, rubbing her arms as though they'd previously been intimate. The uncomfortable look on Emmeline's face said that they had most certainly not. "Have you been eating a lot of carrots lately?" Pandora asked, a concerned look on her face as she pulled away to touch Emmeline's forehead. "Your aura is a bit blue."

Emmie raised an incredulous brow. "Not orange?"

Pandora laughed. "You're silly," she said and then turned her attention. "And you must be Hermione." She reached out a hand, and Hermione blinked, staring at it, palm up. Not knowing if she should shake the woman's hand, Hermione reached out and grasped it and then cringed when pandora closed Hermione's hand within both of hers, smiled and nodded, mumbling "Yes" repeatedly. "Hermione."

"Oh, umm . . . yes," Hermione said, clearly her throat and tossing an angry look to Emmeline who suddenly appeared very amused. "Did Emmeline mention why we were stopping by?"

"Oh, Emmeline and I haven't spoken in years," Pandora said. "Do you prefer to be named after the Shakespearian character or the Spartan princess?"

Hermione blinked. "I umm . . . I don't think that really matters."

"Of course it does."

"Are you Pandora of mythos then?" Hermione said, a bit more irritable than she'd intended.

"That or perhaps a feminine version of Pan, god of shepherds and flocks," Pandora said, not picking up on Hermione's brief lapse in temperament. "He was quite erotic," she said with a happy smile and Hermione tried to pull her hand away, but Pandora held it tighter. "Lover of nymphs. That's where we get the word nymphomania. Did you know he taught shepherds how to masturbate?"

"I . . . what?!" Hermione snapped and finally yanked out of Pandora's grip.

Emmeline actually giggled. "Told you so."

"So I am either an overly sexualised god—though . . . who can really define 'overly'?" Pandora said thoughtfully. "—or I am a curious girl who unleashes evil upon the world."

"And hope," Hermione pointed out.

Pandora grinned. "I agree. And I think you are both Hermiones, as well as your own. This meeting really should have taken place during an eclipse," she added before turning around and walking back toward the house. "Come inside, please."

Hermione spun and glared at Emmeline. "Are you kidding me? A Lovegood?!" she whispered angrily.

Emmeline shrugged. "She was a Maestro when I knew her. I take it you're familiar with the family?"

"A bit."

The followed Pandora into the cluttered house and Hermione's attention was drawn instantly to the bright purple well . . . the only description would be a topless cage . . . where a tiny Luna sat, sucking on an orange rind; the tiniest acorns Hermione had ever seen were braided into her already long hair.

"Your daughter is very beautiful, Pandora," Emmeline said.

Pandora smiled. "Yes. People say how proud I must be. Really, it's just appearances, isn't it? And it's not as though she worked very hard to be so pretty." She tapped her wand on the cage-like playpen and the bars shifted from purple vines to pink bubbles, still containing the toddler who giggled and reached out, touching the bubbles that changed to blue and then green. "Xeno, Luna's going to cry very soon," Pandora said to her husband as he walked into the room. "Can you take her upstairs?"

Xenophilius, who looked much less odd as the last time Hermione had seen him at Bill and Fleur's wedding, smiled at his wife adoringly. "Of course, love," he said and then made a grand bow toward Emmeline and Hermione. "Ladies."

"Oh, forgive me. This is my husband, Xenophilius," Pandora said just as one of the bubbles popped in Luna's pen and the tiny blonde let out a sniffle and then a cry. "Xeno, this is Emmeline Vance, and you've already met Hermione."

Hermione blinked, eyes wide. "He has?"

Pandora leant forward and whispered. "He doesn't know that yet."

Shocked by the implication, Hermione cleared her throat and looked to Xenophilius, who had given Luna a shiny trinket to distract her. "Mister Lovegood," Hermione greeted the man and then the thing in Luna's hands drew her attention. "That umm . . . that symbol . . ." she said, gesturing to the small triangle attached to what appeared to be a chain around the man's neck.

Pandora took a step to the side and blocked Hermione's path. "Not yet. There will be time enough for that," she said. "You've come about the diadem today."

Xenophilius smiled and left the room, carrying Luna with him. Hermione stared after the man before returning her focus to the blond witch. "You know where it is?"

Pandora nodded. "Where and what. I know Helena's secrets. She's a lovely woman; very sad."


"Ravenclaw, yes. Rowena's daughter. She doesn't have very good taste in men. She told me once that she'd never trust another. First the Baron and then a Lord. He wasn't a Lord yet when she met him, however," she said and then smiled, batting her large blue eyes. "Titles are silly things, aren't they?"

Hermione's mouth had fallen open in the middle of Pandora's . . . explanation? Few words made sense, but one stuck out. Lord. "Voldemort," she whispered. "Helena Ravenclaw met Lord Voldemort. But wait . . . how is she still alive?"

"Who said she was?"

Emmeline gasped. "The Grey Lady is Helena Ravenclaw?!"

Hermione sat down, shocked. "He found it when he was a student," she said.

Pandora nodded. "Found, took, defiled, and later returned," she acknowledged. "Though not given back to her. Hidden away. You might say I found it by accident, if you believed in such things."

Hermione looked up pointedly. "You don't."

The blonde smiled. "I like you," she said and then continued, "I never took it out of the room."

"What room? At Hogwarts?" Emmeline asked.

Pandora said down and poured tea for her visitors, neither Emmeline or Hermione watched when dandelion stems began floating in their cups. "It should still be there. All you have to do is need it and know which wall to ask."

"Oh my gods," Hermione said, swallowing hard. "I know where it is."

Chapter Text

May 21st, 1983

She had to wait for a Hogsmeade weekend to go to Hogwarts and search for the diadem without worry of being followed by curious students. After the hell that she, Harry, and Ron had gone through with the locket, and the effect that the diary had on Ginny, Hermione wasn't about to let any innocent bystander come across a potential Horcrux. Potential, of course, had been a pointless word considering Pandora Lovegood had all but confirmed that Voldemort had turned the artefact into a housing unit for a chunk of his soul.

Pacing back and forth in front of the familiar wall, Hermione thought of the place she needed to go. When the door appeared in front of her, she heaved a sigh and let her mind drift to Harry.

"Where've you—? Why are you soaking—? Is that blood?"

"I need your book," Harry panted, ignoring Hermione and giving a pleading look to Ron. "Your Potions book. Quick . . . give it to me . . ."

"But what about the Half-Blood—"

"I'll explain later!"

And he had explained.

Draco Malfoy, a bathroom, a reckless curse and a near murder. Hermione had been horrified at what Harry had done at the time to a fellow student—possible Death Eater or not—and now she couldn't help but think of tiny Draco, who loved stuffed dragons and was afraid of the Floo, covered in blood from a Sectumsempra Curse. She shivered at the visual that her mind was creating and she stepped into the Room of Hidden Things.

"I don't believe this," Hermione snapped at Harry. "You're actually defending—"

"I'm not defending what I did!" he quickly interrupted. "I wish I hadn't done it, and not just because I've got about a dozen detentions. You know I wouldn't've used a spell like that, not even on Malfoy, but you can't blame the Prince, he hadn't written 'try this out, it's really good'—he was just making notes for himself, wasn't he, not for anyone else. . . ."

"Are you telling me," she said, gaping at him incredulously, "that you're going to go back—?"

"And get the book? Yeah, I am."

He hadn't, of course, gone back to get the book, and Hermione made a mental note to tell Professor McGonagall about the potentially misplaced Advanced Potions text with a deadly curse scribbled on the pages among Merlin knew what else. It wasn't the book, however, that Hermione was looking for now. Stepping over piles of garbage, old Quidditch gear, hats, jewels, cloaks, and cages filled with the skeletons of animals long dead, she set her sight on the cabinet in the corner.

"You are not what I was looking for," she whispered to the Vanishing Cabinet. "But . . . just in case . . . Deletrius," she whispered with her wand held out toward the large piece, watching with a sigh of relief as it disintegrated, leaving nothing behind but falling dust.

"I stuck it in a dingy cupboard past that damn Vanishing Cabinet," Harry had told her when the subject of Snape had come up on the Horcrux hunt. Ron had been gone three days and they were desperate to talk about anything but their missing friend. "I hid it behind a cage and an old wig."

"A wig?" Hermione asked with a chuckle.

Harry laughed and ran a hand through his hair, embarrassed. "Yeah. I even put this funny looking tiara on the wig. Like . . . I dunno . . . it would distract from the book."

They had laughed for an hour, giggling every few minutes or so when they remembered, and the silly story had gotten them through the night without crying or shivering in fear. At the time, a funny looking tiara seemed a lot more amusing than the Horcrux they were forced to wear.

Hermione was not amused now by the irony.

"There you are," she whispered, gaze locked on the diadem, "you son of a bitch."

"Marvellous," Dumbledore said to himself as he observed the Horcrux up close. Hermione had brought it straight to his office, running through the halls and wishing that she had the ability to Apparate within Hogwarts. She did not want to touch the Horcrux, and the faster it was out of her hands, the better. "And you say that you believe an actual Seer led you to the Horcrux?"

She shrugged. "Better than the one you hired to teach Divination," she said bitterly.

Dumbledore smiled. "You don't like Professor Trelawney?"

"She . . . and I didn't exactly see eye to third eye," she quipped sarcastically. "Yes, I believe Pandora is an actual Seer. She knew things that . . . things she shouldn't."

"Most Seers do. Do you believe she can predict the future?"

Hermione's lips formed a tight line. "I don't put faith in prophecies," she said through clenched teeth as she remembered the avalanche of crystal balls crashing down around her in the Department of Mysteries.

"And yet, you fought very bravely to discover the truth about one such prophecy."

"I fought for Harry," she clarified.

Her tone was a bit more defensive now that she saw her former best friend as the adorable child of James, who loved snakes and Quidditch and didn't even know why he had a scar on his forehead. Hermione found herself swallowing down bitterly at the strange protective instincts that were building up inside of her. She'd always had issues with Harry being thought of as a weapon, but had deferred to Dumbledore in her previous life when it came to Harry. Now that things had changed . . . she was more than ever determined to give Harry the normal childhood he deserved.

Dumbledore nodded and placed the Horcrux in a hidden trunk that was warded with magic so strong, Hermione felt nauseous being near it. "So you don't believe that only he can defeat the Dark Lord?" he asked her.

"I believe that if Voldemort figures out a way to return and even looks at Harry, I'll kill him myself," she said, her voice taking on a very dangerous edge. Sirius's temper was rubbing off on her. "Then we'll see what the prophecy says about who defeats the Dark Lord."

Locking the box away and flicking his wand, Dumbledore Disillusioned the container and reasserted his wards before turning back to his desk and taking a seat. "You are not a witch I would like to cross, Miss Granger. The diadem of Ravenclaw and Slytherin's locket will remain safe until we are able to open the Chamber. Was there anything else?"

She thought briefly of Xenophilius Lovegood and the necklace he'd been wearing. "When you . . . sir . . . can we talk about your . . . death?"

He didn't even flinch at the question, looking as calm as he had been when she'd told him of his murder in her timeline; he actually smiled at her. "If you're here to warn me again about Severus Snape, I can assure you—"

"I'm not," she said, interrupting him. "I don't think . . . he's not a threat. Not here. But . . . when you died, you left things to Harry, Ron, and me in your will. I was wondering . . ." She leant forward and took a quill from its stand on his desk, scratching out a set of shapes on the edge of a blank piece of parchment. "Sir, what does this symbol mean?"

Dumbledore stared at the symbol. He didn't react to Horcruxes or mention of his death and he didn't so much as bat an eye when people said Voldemort's name. But his eyes widened just slightly enough for Hermione to notice when he looked down at her drawing. "I . . . I'm not entirely certain. Would you give me time to look into it?" he asked.


"Of course." Hermione slowly nodded and then stood from her chair, moving quickly to the door.

"Miss Granger?" Dumbledore called after her. "What exactly was it that I bequeathed to you in my will?"

She watched his reactions again for a very long time, noting that his fingers were clasped tightly around his wand, not defensively, but possessively. When she made eye contact with him again, he appeared to relax and gave her a small but clearly forced smile. She sighed and then looked down, muttering, "A storybook," before leaving.

Chapter Text

July 31st, 1983

"I don't like her," Mary said staring across the yard at the witch in Healer's robes who'd shown up twenty minutes late to Harry's birthday party, offering apologies and a kiss to James, who smiled politely and returned the brief affection.

Miriam Strout was a young Healer, newly placed in the Janus Thickey Ward at St. Mungo's and she'd met James in passing when he'd taken one of the ten-year-olds in his youth Quidditch league to the hospital when the boy had been hit in the head by a Bludger. Miriam had been working an extra shift, filling in for a Healer from another department and she'd smiled at James long enough that he'd taken a chance and asked her for coffee when she got off work. The pair had been casually dating for over a month now and Miriam, though very kind, had an approval rate of about fifty percent amongst James's friends; the witches, in particular, were not fans.

"She's an idiot," Emmeline agreed, bringing her butterbeer to her lips and taking a sip, watching as, near where Miriam and James stood, holding hands, Sirius was placing some sort of charm on Narcissa's glass of wine. A dangerous sport if there ever was one.

Allie shrugged, reapplying sun cream to her arms. "I think she's nice."

Hermione, who had tried to remain objective about James's new girlfriend, watched with interest as Miriam wished Harry a happy birthday, moving in for a hug only to be dodged by the three-year-old. Hermione was unable to stifle her small chuckle at the precocious boy. "James says that Harry hates her."

Emmeline smirked, turning her attention back to her friends just as Narcissa Malfoy screamed when her wine somehow turned her skin purple. "Harry's a bright boy."

"He's also three," Hermione said with a laugh. "Last week he hated eggs. The week before that it was the colour orange. She's loads better than the people you've been setting him up with," she said accusingly, raising her sunglasses to pointedly look at Allie.

"I set him up with the Keeper for the Holyhead Harpies. He loves Quidditch," Allie defended.

Hermione laughed. "Miriam is training to be a Healer, though. Don't you think that's a little more . . . settled than someone who is constantly travelling? James and Harry need consistency. Someone who'll actually be around."

Mary and Allie shared a look and then rolled their eyes, shaking their heads while Hermione looked on, oblivious to their silent conversation.

"What he needs is a good shag," Emmeline pointed out.

Allie sighed. "Don't we all?" she asked. "Moody's got Frank and I working nearly opposite shifts. We finally had today off together and he still got called in for a few hours. I haven't been properly fucked in Merlin knows when."

Emmeline nodded her head in agreement, her short-lived relationship with a man from the Improper Use of Magic Office had fizzled out before it even started.

Hermione kept silent, doing her best to hide the colour in her cheeks. Despite dating for almost six months, she and Kingsley were still taking things a bit slow, something she was shocked to find out that he was perfectly amenable to.

Mary, the only witch present with a sated grin on her face, let out a happy sigh. "I'm good."

Allie and Emmeline threw the tops to their butterbeers at her.

"Why does Harry hate Miriam?" Allie curiously asked, watching as the birthday boy ran across the yard, followed by Ron and a freshly transformed Padfoot, playfully barking at their heels.

Hermione smirked, watching with delight as Padfoot tackled Harry, licking cake frosting from the boy's face. "She's afraid of snakes. He wanted her to hold Pretzel," she said, still chuckling at the name that Harry had given his small pet—whom he still hadn't reported communication with, "and the second she saw the snake she started screaming. Harry freaked out and dropped Pretzel, who slithered away and was lost for an hour. From what Remus told me, Miriam apologised and tried to explain why she was afraid of snakes, but Harry took it as a personal offence."

Miriam rolled her eyes. "He's three. Does he even know how to hold a grudge?"

Hermione scoffed and raised her eyebrows, removing her sunglasses to stare incredulously at her friend. "Harry Potter? Yeah . . . yeah he does," she said, remembering months when the boy wouldn't speak to her, all over a stupid broom that technically had been given to him by an escaped felon.

There was loud laughter coming from the house and all the girls watched as Narcissa allowed her older sister to charm her skin back to its normal, flawless ivory. "I like Andromeda and her husband," Allie said. "He's as Hufflepuff as you can get, and she's surprisingly sweet for a Slytherin."

"Surprisingly sane for a Black," Emmeline added.

Mary smiled, her own attention drawn to her boyfriend who was walking quickly away from the pond, being followed by a slightly bothersome pre-teen witch. "Her daughter is the cutest little thing in the world. She tripped over a garden gnome and Remus caught her before she hit her head on the fence," she said with a chuckle and winced when the girl in question lost her footing and stumbled on the ground, only to jump right back up and dust the grass stains from her knees. "She's been following him around for an hour now. Hero worship."

"That's adorable," Allie said with a small chuckle, sharing a look with Hermione who narrowed her gaze, reminding her friend to be silent about the fact that she'd accidentally blurted out that Remus had been married to a woman years younger than him. Allie had begged and prodded long enough, hungry for details, until Hermione gave in, swearing her to secrecy. Tonks showing up with Andromeda and Ted earlier had sent Allie into hysterical giggles and Hermione had to lie and say that one of the boys must have slipped her a Laughing Potion as a prank.

Remus approached the women, eyes wide. "Dora, would you like to sit with the other witches for a bit?" he asked, throwing a pleading expression to his friends who merely smiled up at him innocently.

"Hi!" little Tonks said, waving at the women before returning her attention to Remus. "No, I'm okay. How long have you been friends with my cousin? It's probably a really long time. Like in Hogwarts right?"

Remus sighed, clearly exhausted. He looked down at Hermione, Emmeline, Allie, and Mary, eyes begging for their assistance but each of the witches just sat back and watched in amusement as the little girl peppered him with questions. "Umm . . . right. Sirius and I met—"

"I'm going to Hogwarts next year," Tonks said, interrupting him. The expression on Remus's face said that this was a reoccurring theme. "Mum says I have to stay calm though because otherwise, I'll freak people out because my hair does this," she said and her hair changed from blond to black and then to red in the space of several seconds, "and people might look at me strangely or call me names. But I don't care about that. Do people call you names? Why do you have scars on your face?" she asked, not giving him a chance to answer one question before the next was falling out of her mouth. Tonks let out a loud gasp. "Did you fight a bear?! Did you win? Was it a big bear?!"

Remus blinked at her, confused and trying to piece together how the girl had jumped from one thought to the next. "What? . . . I . . . no, I didn't fight a bear."

"Are you afraid to fight a bear?" she asked almost accusingly. "I could fight a bear," she said smugly. "Probably. Maybe. Probably. You should get all of your bear fighting done before you get too old," she said and Emmeline choked on her drink as she tried to stop herself from laughing. "You've got grey hair. How old are you? Like really old? I can make my hair grey, watch!" And then she did just that.

Remus bristled and Allie threw her head back, laughing loudly.

"Nymphadora!" Andromeda called from across the yard where she stood beside Molly, the two older witches chatting and passing Ginny back and forth between the two while looking over the garden. "Leave that poor man alone!"

Tonks let out a heavy sigh and waved defeatedly at Remus before sulking and dragging herself back to her mother.

Remus turned and gaped at Hermione who was holding back an enormous amount of laughter at his expense. "What the hell was that?" he asked, gobsmacked. "I'm not old," he added bitterly under his breath. "Little shit," he said with a pout.

Hermione immediately joined Allie and Emmeline in laughter, though she couldn't help but remember an older Tonks yelling at Remus in the middle of the Hospital Wing while he was the one who insisted he was too old.

Mary stood up and kissed his pouting lips. "Oh, you big baby," she said, touching the bits of grey at his temples. "You're not old. You're distinguished."

"Is that a fancy way of saying that his hip could give out at any moment?" Allie asked with a mischievous grin.

Mary just smirked at her friend and waggled her eyebrows. "Oh, his hips are in perfect condition. They hold up my thighs just fine."

Remus blushed and the witches laughed again, Hermione yelling, "Too much information!" just before the werewolf threw his girlfriend over his shoulder and swatted her on the arse for the trouble, taking her back toward the Burrow, following the scent of Molly's steak and kidney pie.

Chapter Text

July 31st, 1983

"Is it time to collect our women then?" Kingsley asked, watching as Remus carried Mary off. He slipped in behind Hermione on the grass and wrapped his arms around her. "Afternoon, love." She smiled and settled against his chest, offering him a sip of her butterbeer which he took with a kiss to her cheek in thanks. "Allie, Frank asked me to see if you could run back home before he gets off work. He wants to play Quidditch with Potter and Black but can't remember where he left his Keeper gloves."

Allie rolled her eyes. "That man would lose his head if it weren't attached to his shoulders," she said with a chuckle and then stood up. She looked around, holding a hand over her eyes to block out the sunlight.

"If you're looking for Neville, he's up in the treehouse with Draco, Fred, and George," Hermione told her and Allie nodded once before Disapparating.

Emmeline pulled herself to her feet and stretched, dusting off the bits of grass that had stuck to her trousers. "Well, I'm not sticking around to watch the pair of you snog," she said and flippantly waved at Hermione and Kingsley. "I'm going to go dig around in Arthur's shed and see if there's anything I can tinker with."

When they were finally alone, Kingsley trailed a path of kisses up the back of her neck, lingering just behind her ear. "How are you, beautiful?" he whispered, earning a relaxed sigh from the witch.

"I'm good," she replied, lightly running her fingers over his leg at her side. "It's a nice day out, Harry's having a good birthday, nothing horrible has happened so far."

"I could think of several truly ghastly things I could do to you to change that," he teased and then chuckled deeply, his chest rumbling against her back.

Hermione rolled her eyes but laughed. "You're rotten."

"I know." He pulled away and then pushed her hair to the side, kissing her cheek and then reaching for her face, using the tips of his fingers to tilt her head to the side so that he could kiss her properly. When she smiled against him, Kingsley pulled back and grinned. "So listen, I made reservations at that fancy French place you like. You and me, next Friday, romantic candles and horribly overpriced wine, celebrating our anniver—"

"Friday?" Hermione said, interrupting him. "Kings, I can't go out Friday. Not unless it's early in the afternoon. It's the full moon. You know that's when I've got Harry."

He frowned, looking more embarrassed than hurt and he sighed and rubbing a hand over the top of his head in consternation. "Oh, right. Umm . . . couldn't Allie or . . ." but he stopped and looked at her hurt expression, remembering his promise months earlier to understand where her priorities stood. "No, you're right. I should have checked the calendar before . . . I'm sure I can get a reservation the following week."

She smiled sweetly and placed her hands on his cheeks. "You're wonderful, do you know that?"

He nodded. "I do. I'm positively the most wonderful man in the world."

She kissed him again in gratitude and then smiled when they parted, turning to lean her head against his chest. "Any word on the Chamber?" she quietly asked.

"Moody tried to crack it open and . . . I don't know exactly what happened but apparently, he left Hogwarts soaking wet and Moaning Myrtle laughed him out of the castle," he said with a small chuckle, quieter than normal as though he'd already been scolded for laughing about it. "Sounds like it's all up to you, sweetheart."

She frowned and let out a heavy exhale. "I was worried about that. My current plan isn't working out so well," she said, opening her eyes when she heard an approaching toddler, chanting her name.

"Mi! Mi!" Harry said, running toward her excitedly, falling to his knees beside her. "King! Mi! Quidditch!"

"Happy birthday, mate!" Kingsley grinned and ruffled Harry's hair.

Harry smiled. "Thanks. Mi, Dad says Quidditch."

Hermione pursed her lips. "Quidditch for him or for you?"

"Him and me."

Kingsley looked over toward the orchard in the distance, his chin resting on Hermione's head. "I think the adults are putting together a little game," he said, catching sight of Sirius and Remus carrying brooms as they passed by the pond, followed closely behind by Charlie and a little girl with purple hair.

Hermione reached out and snatched Harry, pulling him into her arms and wrapping him up tight, smiling as he giggled. "You're not playing Quidditch, Harry. I think you're allowed to fly on your training broom, though. Just . . . stay out in the open and don't go around the trees," she pleaded with the boy, affectionately playing with the strands of his hair that stuck up in the back, tickling her nose. "Or . . . you could not fly at all?" she asked with a teasing tone. "Swear of brooms forever and stay on the ground with me so I won't be lonely?"

"No! No!" Harry giggled, fighting against her. "Quidditch!"

"Awful boy," she said, feigning sadness as she released him. She stuck out her bottom lip and purposely made it quiver but Harry just laughed at her. "Make sure to let Ron have a turn if he wants," she told him. "Draco's broom is too fast for him and Neville's is still broken."

Without acknowledging her request, Harry turned and ran back down the hill, tripping once but catching himself in the process, much better than Tonks had done earlier. Hermione sighed loudly and threw her head back against Kingsley's chest, looking up into his handsome face. "Are you going to abandon me for a broom as well?"

He laughed. "You don't want to watch me play? Isn't that what girlfriends do?"

She scoffed. "I bring books to Quidditch games to distract myself from the paralysing fear that my friends will fall to their deaths."

She did, however, go to watch the little game the boys had put together. Hardly regulation, the teams were split into five instead of seven, removing Beaters from the equation since Molly insisted that Bludgers were too dangerous to have near children, and since Charlie had somehow convinced the adults to let him play Seeker, it would be a Bludgerless day indeed.

The red team, named by Charlie, consisted of James, Remus, and Emmeline as Chasers, Kingsley as their Keeper, and Charlie as Seeker. Sirius led the other team with Allie and Frank beside him as fellow Chasers, and Ted Tonks as their Keeper. Sirius had started to beg Arthur to join in when Narcissa glared at her cousin and promptly asked him what he thought he was doing, asking someone who hadn't been Championship Seeker for Slytherin to play the position.

"Yeah, but that's Slytherin Quidditch," Sirius had told her. "That doesn't count."

Properly enraged and wanting to prove a point, Narcissa reminded Hermione of her son, wounded pride and something to prove. Draco cheered his mother on from the sides and then immediately got into a fight with Ron over the game. Harry and Neville were already bored, unable to play themselves, and had taken Harry's training broom a ways off to play by themselves.

"You don't like Quidditch?" Miriam asked as she took the spot on the grass beside Hermione.

Hermione smiled at her and closed her book, leaving her thumb between the pages so she didn't lose her spot. "I've been forced to accept it from years of pestering," she said with a laugh. "Besides, this isn't even a real game. This is an excuse for James and Sirius to show off."

Looking up at the sky, James was doing just that, an attempt to prove that he hadn't lost his skills over the years. She had to admit, he was an amazing flier, but not even James could keep up with Narcissa, who had long since abandoned her position as Seeker in order to fly loops around Sirius, nearly knocking him from his broom several times. Hermione suspected that the blond witch had actually caught the Snitch minutes into the game, but refused to admit such in order to prolong torturing her cousin.

"I'm not much a fan myself," Miriam said. "My little brother almost died in a game. He shouldn't have been playing anyways; he's a terrible flier. But I should thank him and Quidditch. If not for his accident, I might not have gone into Healing."

Hermione smiled. "It's wonderful to find your calling so young," she said. "And around this group, we could use a Healer." Both witches laughed and Hermione returned to her book as the game continued.

Every few minutes, Hermione would glance up at the sky and roll her eyes as James dove dramatically beneath Allie and Frank who tried to head him off, and Kingsley shouted loudest of all when James scored against Ted Tonks, who was occasionally distracted by his daughter shouting obscenities up at her father anytime he missed a catch.

"I'm going to head back inside," Miriam told Hermione. "Would you like to join me?"

She shook her head. "No, thanks. It's one thing to distract myself with a book, but the boys won't let me hear the end of it if I just leave," she said with a laugh and watched as Miriam made her way back to the house.

It wasn't more than two minutes later that Hermione felt a strange tingling around her wrist. She frowned, stretching her hand and rubbing at the spot that started to burn when she realised the reason for it. Her Unbreakable Vow. "Harry!" she screamed and threw her book to the side, standing up and scanning the area for him. On instinct, she ran toward the empty field where she'd last seen Harry and Neville playing, and that was when she heard crying.

Her screaming had alerted the Quidditch players, most notably James and Sirius who flew above her as she closed in on Harry, crying on the ground and holding his leg while Miriam tried to calm him. "It's okay, it's okay," she said and reached out to see what had happened.

Hermione, as though Miriam wasn't even there, stepped in front of the Healer and pulled Harry into her arms. "Are you okay? Let me see." His trousers were torn and blood was staining the fabric from the deep cut beneath on his shin. "It's just a cut," she said, letting out a breath of relief as Harry sobbed into her shoulder. "Did you fall from your broom?" she quietly asked and he nodded and continued to cry.

James and Sirius landed and the former rushed toward his son. "What happened?"

"It's just a cut," Hermione assured him. "Nothing a little dittany can't fix."

He breathed out a short exhale and ran a hand through his hair, clearly still too quick to panic when it came to his son, much like the witch currently holding him.

Miriam cleared her throat. "If you'll let me take a look—"

"No!" Harry screamed and jerked his uninjured leg away from the Healer, further burying his face in Hermione's hair.

"I've got it," Hermione told the witch, a bit more snappishly than she'd intended.

Miriam blinked, caught off guard by the tone and then she turned to look at James. "But I'm actually a Heal—"

"It's okay, Harry," James said. kneeling beside his son and the Muggle-born and completely ignoring his girlfriend, unaware that he was doing so. "Hermione's got you." Harry refused to let go of Hermione, so when James put an arm around the boy, he ended up hugging the witch as well. Neither adult looked out of place or uncomfortable, but Miriam certainly did.

"I . . ." she began to say but then looked up as the others gathered around. "Harry umm . . . just fell. Nothing serious," she told them, making eye contact with Kingsley who observed James and Hermione and then turned and smiled sadly at Miriam, sharing with her a moment of understanding and commiseration as though they'd both suddenly come to the same conclusion.

Chapter Text

September 10th, 1983
Sirius Black's Flat

Remus's father died the day before the first full moon that followed Harry's third birthday.

In the wake of his grief, Moony had broken through the security wards surrounding Lupin Cottage and destroyed his childhood home. Despite having taken the Wolfsbane Potion, and being herded by a massive Grim, and an even larger—and just as worried— stag, the werewolf wrecked the place. He tore furniture to pieces and shattered his right shoulder when he'd run full speed at the brick wall, taking out half of the chimney in the process and damaging the structure of the house.

Remus had woken up in St. Mungo's two days later, his shoulder regrown, in physical and emotional agony at having lost both of his parents at such a young age.

"We're all orphans now," Sirius had said and the three men held onto one another like lost boys in the woods, desperately searching for the way home.

Remus moved onto Sirius's couch and slept there every night that he actually came home, offering a constant stream of apologies, gratitude, and a promise that he'd be out soon. Mary had arrived at Hermione's flat one evening in a panic when he hadn't shown up for an arranged get together two weeks after the funeral, and they'd eventually found him inside an old Muggle pub outside of Yorkshire, a place his father used to frequent.

"Take these," Hermione said, handing out charmed Galleons to her friends, very much like the ones that she'd created for Dumbledore's Army in another life; the only difference being that these coins were blue because with both James and Sirius inherently wealthy, the chance of actually losing a charmed coin was high. "If there's ever trouble, you can send a message through."

They'd yet to use the coins for more than the occasional message to see who wanted to meet for a pint, if anyone was available to babysit the kids for one reason or another, and once when Crookshanks had gone missing, only to end up in Harry's bed, having snuck along for a Floo ride one evening.

"Allie's good to watch Harry and she says she'll take all the kids to the Burrow tomorrow for breakfast so we can have a few hours to sleep it off," Sirius said with a grin, tossing his blue coin up in the air and then catching it again. "She says Frank's not allowed out, though."

"Considering the last time he came out with us he almost got arrested, that's probably a good thing," James said as he reached down to re-lace his trainers. "What about the other girls?"

"Mary just started at St. Mungo's," Remus replied. "They've got her working the late shifts. And Em and Hermione are on a date."

Sirius looked up, eyebrow raised with sudden interest.

"Not with each other," Remus said, rolling his eyes. "Em's got some new bloke and Hermione's out with Kings. Celebrating some anniversary."

James frowned irritably. "Who celebrates seven months?"

Both Remus and Sirius refused to comment that James had done just that when Lily had finally given in and agreed to an exclusive relationship. "Technically they're celebrating six months," Remus pointed out. "They were supposed to go to dinner last month but their date fell on a full moon and Hermione had already promised to watch Harry for us."

James looked up, brows furrowed. "Well . . . yeah, friends come first, right?" he asked. "Hermione wouldn't let me just abandon you, and Kingsley should know how important Harry is to her." His tone was defensive and both of his friends picked up on his attitude immediately.

"He does know that," Remus said. "That's why they rescheduled, mate."

Sirius smirked. "You got a problem with Kingsley?"

James glanced up at his friend in confusion. "What? Of course not . . . I was just . . . are you two ready, or not?" he snapped and then stood up, sliding his wand into a holster against his arm that was then Disillusioned. "You sure you're good for a Muggle pub?" he asked Sirius.

"You don't trust me, Prongsie? That hurts."

Remus scoffed. "You get mouthy when you drink."

"You get pissy when you're sober," Sirius quipped. "And you're just upset because you're playing wingman to two handsome bachelors who will likely be leaving the pub to have their knobs sucked by pretty birds while you pine over your dutiful girlfriend in Healer's robes. Does she ever wear them when you—"

"Finish the sentence," Remus said, his temperament calm, but eyes threatening.

James laughed. "We all need a night out. No one's looking for women tonight," he said and then paused to correct, "No one but Sirius is looking for women tonight."

Hermione Granger's Flat

Her anniversary dinner with Kingsley had been postponed for the full moon, Lyall Lupin's funeral, and two birthday parties at the Burrow. When September rolled around, Kingsley had been on a mission but promised a night in with her favourite takeaway curry the very moment that he returned and Kingsley was a man who kept his word.

Leftovers had been casually pushed to the side of the living room where Crookshanks was joyfully feasting, while Kingsley had long since carried Hermione off to her bedroom, his dragonhide boots and Auror robes littered down the hallway along with her blouse and bra.

In addition to the drama of Lyall Lupin's passing, Hermione had been working long hours to cover Remus's shifts in order to let her friend grieve however he needed. She worried, of course, that the boys had all regressed a bit into their adolescent ways considering both James and Sirius had decided that eighty percent of Remus's mourning period should take place at the bottom of a pint glass. She was frustrated in not knowing how to care for any of them, something unusual for the witch who thrived off of micromanaging things and others.

Sirius was a wreck of epic proportions, but so far hadn't exactly broken any laws or destroyed his liver beyond repair. Remus had Mary to keep an eye on him most of the time, and despite being emotionally compromised, he was often still able to rein in Sirius and James's more outlandish ideas. James, on the other hand, was tough. After breaking up with Miriam and thankfully not falling back into a dark pit of despair, he'd instead reappropriated his youth, and pub hopping seemed to be a favourite pastime. Thankfully, Harry wasn't at all neglected and James hadn't exactly turned his new hobby into a patterned behaviour.

Still . . . Hermione worried.

And worrying made her stress and stressing made her tense and Kingsley was more than happy to work out her tension, with ample success.

"Oh gods," she moaned, wishing that Kingsley had hair that she could grasp onto as his mouth did unspeakable things to the rest of her body. Large hands pressed gently against her thighs and hips and roamed up to fondle her breasts with adequate pressure. Everything felt wonderful physically and mentally when she was with Kingsley. On paper, he was perfection. But there was something missing and she couldn't bring herself to figure out what . . . nor could she admit such a thing to the man.

"Mmm . . ." He kissed her belly and made his way up to her mouth. "I think I'd like to kiss you all night."

She smirked against his lips. "I hate to ruin your plans, Kings," she said. "But I have to open the shop tomorrow."

He sighed and rested his forehead between her breasts. "I thought Remus liked opening early?"

"He does," she said, running her fingers over the back of his neck. "But I'm still working some of his hours and Sirius and James took him out again tonight. The last thing I want is my customers to be greeted by a surly werewolf with a hangover."

Kingsley chuckled against her skin and rolled to the side, pulling her forward and into his arms. "Fair point," he said and kissed her forehead. "I will be determined to complete my plan another night then." He flicked his wand at the lights, extinguishing them. "Goodnight . . . love."

Hermione swallowed at the declaration but pretended not to hear it. "Goodnight."

September 11th, 1983

Dawn came much too fast.

Kingsley relaxed in her bed, resting from his mission and enjoying what little time off the Ministry afforded him. Hermione, meanwhile, dressed for work, slipping her trousers on and moving down the hallway in search of the bra she'd lost somewhere between the living room and bedroom when the blue coin in her pocket burned hot.

Reaching for it, she glanced down and her eyes widened.

"How about a bite before you leave for work?" Kingsley said, coming up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.

Hermione manoeuvred her way out of his grip, not seeing the disappointed look on his face. "Change of plans. I have to go to Sirius's flat."

Kingsley raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"

"Allie didn't say. Just that the boys are in trouble and that she could use my help."

"Right," Kingsley nodded in understanding. "Harry comes first."

Hermione shook her head as she quickly slipped on her blouse after finding her bra, Accioing her shoes as she rushed to finish dressing. "Harry's going to the Burrow for the day with the other kids," she said. "Allie meant Sirius, Remus, and—"

"James," Kingsley finished and nodded his head. "Gotcha." He picked up her robes and helped her into them, stopping to kiss her forehead. "Go and take care of your friends, Hermione. It's what you do best," he said with a proud but slightly sad smile.

"You're the greatest," she said quickly, pecking his cheek once before vanishing into the Floo.

Kingsley sighed. "If only that were true."

Chapter Text

September 11th, 1983
Sirius Black's Flat

The moment Hermione stepped through the Floo into Sirius's flat, she could tell that something was wrong. Instead of Sirius and James nursing hangovers with pancakes and Pain Potions, she saw Remus with his head hanging in the kitchen sink while cold water ran over the back of his neck as he groaned. Allie stood to his side, a towel in her hand.

"What happened?"

Wincing, Remus stood up, one eye closed, water dripping down his face that looked a particularly horrid shade of puce. "Not so loud," he pleaded.

Hermione sighed irritably. If Remus was this bad, there was no telling what Sirius and James looked like. "Haven't you taken any Sober Up? Pain Potions?" she asked, walking into the kitchen and digging around in the cabinets to find something to help her friend.

"They didn't work. I think . . . I think we were slipped something at the pub," he said and then cringed when Hermione loudly gasped and spun around, eyes wide with horror. "We were just drinking beer, I swear it, Hermione."

"Are you serious? Amortentia? Poison?"

He shook his head. "We went to a Muggle pub."

Suddenly she was reminded of her time in Muggle primary school during which visitors from local law enforcement came to hold anti-drug rallies as a part of their outreach program to the youth, an effort to stop drug use in the teenagers of Britain while they were still young. She'd gone home with pamphlets that her parents put on the top of the refrigerator and forgot about until she'd come home at the end of fourth year with a letter from Viktor waiting for her. She'd ended up getting the sex talk in addition to a few suggestions from her mother, like to always keep an eye on your drinking glass when out with friends and never take anything anyone gives you. At the time, she'd been more concerned with the rise of Voldemort than being drugged by someone, but then Ron had gone and eaten Love Potioned chocolates proving that Muggles and wizards—or in that case, witches—weren't so very different after all.

She turned and looked at Allie, a fierce anger in her eyes.

"Out of Auror jurisdiction," Allie replied immediately, sensing Hermione's vengeful ire. "From what I was able to get out of the Big Bad Hangover here," she said, gesturing to Remus who leant back over the sink, "the place was crowded. It sounds like one of those Muggle drugs. I don't know all the names of them but we've had a few problems in the past year or so. Mostly wizards getting attacked by Muggles who are high on something, but other times it's magical folk playing with Muggle things that they shouldn't."

"We weren't willing, I swear it," Remus said. "Not even Sirius."

Frowning, Hermione walked up behind him, reaching for his hand where she applied pressure to certain points to help ease his nausea and pain. "Do you have your memory?"

He slowly nodded. "Most of it, yeah. Just . . . felt like we danced with a few bottles of firewhisky and then went several rounds with a hippogriff after calling its mother a chimaera."

Allie snorted. "I sent a message to Mary. She'll come pick up this sorry boy when her shift's over."

Remus smiled softly. "Lovely lady, that one."

Hermione ran her fingers through Remus's hair affectionately and then sighed, turning back to Allie. "Where're Sirius and James?"

Allie gestured to the bedroom. "James is in the bathroom. I came by to grab Harry a change of clothes because Molly's got some sort of craft planned for the kids and she says that too many Scourgifies on fabric will ruin it. I expected hangovers, but what I found was Remus lying on the kitchen floor and James locked in the bathroom."

Hermione sighed and nodded her head. "I'll take care of him. Where's Sirius?"

Allie shrugged and looked at Remus for help but he was back to staring at the sink. "No idea. I'm on my way to work, so I'll put the word out and have some Aurors check in with the Muggle police to see if he was picked up somewhere."

"Last I saw him, he Disapparated out the back of the pub and said he had business to take care of," Remus offered.

Hermione let out an exhale, feeling relieved that there hadn't been a fight of some sort. Sirius wasn't exactly an angry drunk unless he was properly provoked. She could only hope that whatever business he needed to take care of was something legal. "Then you and James came home?"

Remus suddenly looked incredibly uncomfortable. "Not . . . exactly."

Hermione frowned. "What do you mean?"

He slowly stood up straight and bit the side of his cheek, looking at Allie once before bringing his gaze back to Hermione. "Y'see . . . James . . . left a bit earlier than we did."

Brows furrowed in confusion, Hermione shook her head until a lightbulb went off and her eyes widened in understanding. "Oh," she said. "Not alone, I take it?" she asked, wishing that she'd taken a moment to have breakfast with Kingsley like he'd suggested, as she was suddenly feeling a bit ill. Stress does that, she reasoned with herself.

Remus shook his head. "No. Not alone."

Nodding and trying to push down the strange flare of irritation inside of her, she patted Remus on the arm and directed him out of the kitchen. "Go rest on the sofa, Remus." Once he was situated, Hermione turned her attention back to Allie and ran a hand through her bushy curls in frustration.

Allie gave her a sympathetic smile. "I've got to get to work. You going to be okay?"

"I'm fine," Hermione replied. "It won't be the first time I helped the boys nurse hangovers."

Allie winced. "I actually meant . . ." she began but then stopped and sighed. "Are you certain?"

Hermione looked up, confused. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Allie sighed and made her way toward the fireplace. "It's nothing. Thank you, Hermione."

Inside the bathroom, James sat in the tub, soaking wet and cold, knocking his head against the wall as his guilty conscience replayed the events from the night before over and over again.

The pub had been packed with Muggles, something that made Sirius excited and Remus particularly nervous. Between the loud music and the crowded space, James had known that the werewolf would be uncomfortable. So they'd made their way to the far corner of the pub after ordering drinks, secluding themselves as best they could to ease Remus's worries.

Three—or was it four?—pints in and things had started getting . . . blurry. There had been a party on the opposite side of the pub where local Muggles from a nearby University were celebrating their first week back to school. Sirius had already made friends with some of them, who had asked if he and his mates were interested in partying, which Sirius had replied, "Always," and asked what they meant. The girl he'd been speaking two had giggled, called Sirius "sweet" and then offered to buy their next round of drinks.

James had politely thanked her when she brought over the tall glasses, two of her friends in tow. Remus blurted out that he had a girlfriend within seconds when a leggy blonde snuggled up against his side. Sirius was delighted with the attention that the short brunette was lavishing upon him.

James, however, was distracted by the third friend.

"Hey there, handsome," she said and ran a hand through her long, red hair.

Something in his chest ached, but the pain faded the faster he drank and soon, the dull pain was replaced by a burning desire for something he'd been craving for far too long. He wasn't certain what happened between "What's your name?" and "Do you want to get out of here?" but he'd barely heard Sirius's plea for him to stay and that whatever he was about to do might be a bad idea.

Sober James would later recall that if Sirius Black thought something was ill-advised, it was likely something he wouldn't want to do.

The walk—or maybe drive?—to a flat a few blocks away and James found himself in an unfamiliar bedroom, kissing a girl he couldn't remember the name of. She giggled in a pitch that was too high and her hands were too quick as they began tugging at his belt. But gods . . . she was a woman and he was weak and she was willing. More than willing, excited even, as she pulled at his trousers and sank to her knees without him even needing to ask or suggest or awkwardly gesture with his fingers crossed in hope.

The walls blurred and there was a moment where he'd actually forgotten where he was until a wet warmth wrapped itself around his cock and his fingers automatically pushed their way through the girl's hair. His head fell back and he tried to focus, tried to remember who he was with, what her name was, but he struggled to place anything. His index finger twirled a long lock of her hair around and around, a strange smile coming to his face when he imagined that the curl he created was brown and springy.

Oddly happy, James looked down to see the straight red hair gripped in his hand.

He blinked rapidly as his heart rate spiked and his hands began to shake.

"This isn't . . . this isn't real . . .is it?" he asked.

The girl laughed, his cock still in her mouth, and then mumbled as she pulled away from him, "I know . . . I bought the stuff from a bloke in my Biology class. He said it would be good but I didn't think it would—" and then she looked up and James flinched.

Blue eyes.

"Oh gods . . ." he muttered quickly and jumped away from her as quickly as possible. Confused, she stood up as he stumbled back. She might have asked him if he was okay, if it was too much, but James's ears were ringing and he was fighting the urge to vomit. "I'm so sorry!" he shouted before running out the door, slamming it closed and taking a quick glance down either side of the hallway before Disapparating on the spot.

Once back inside Sirius's empty flat, he emptied his stomach into the toilet and when his head was still spinning in a decidedly not alcoholic way that he was used to, James somehow was able to summon the bezoar he knew Sirius kept on hand ever since Elora Zabini threatened to poison him at the end of seventh year when he'd turned her down for a one night stand during one of the times when he and Marlene were on a break.

The bezoar tasted horrible, but the memories were worse as he sobered up all too quickly, jumping in the shower and scrubbing his skin raw and sobbing until his chest ached and the water ran cold. Sometime, hours later, he could hear Remus return, followed by Allie shouting, asking where everyone was and what had happened.

"Go away," he'd said to the closed door when she knocked on it, choking out a sob as he remembered everything all over again.

When, a time later, there was another knock on the door, he threw a shoe at it.

"James, open the door."

He looked up at the sound of Hermione's voice and winced. "Go away." He stood up and reached for his pants and trousers, throwing them on and studiously avoiding his own reflection in the mirror. He reached for his shirt and then groaned when he saw that he'd apparently not aimed well when he'd vomited the night before.

"James Potter, I have been magically unlocking doors since I was eleven. If you think I'm going to be stopped by anything short of—"

James sighed and opened the door. "Hi."

Hermione blinked, eyes wide as she stared at his bare chest and rumpled look. "Hi," she said."I heard you boys had a rough night."

He looked away from her, stepping to the side and into the bedroom, searching for a t-shirt. "I don't want to . . . I didn't mean to. I wouldn't have . . ."

Hermione folded her arms across her chest. "Your romantic life is none of my—"

"She looked like Lily," he said, unable to stop himself from blurting it out. There had always been something about Hermione that got the truth out of him. Her expressive and often worried eyes, the way she seemed to understand without judging—too much—and how she was one of very few people that let him feel whatever it was he was feeling without trying to instantly make it go away, or ignore it, or fix it. As though she didn't think he needed fixing.

He looked up and saw the worry in her eyes. "I couldn't go through with it. It made me sick. I had to . . . I ran," he said, throwing an old Pink Floyd t-shirt of Sirius's over his head before collapsing on his mattress and running his fingers through his hair. When he felt the mattress dip down beside him, he sighed. "I'm so tired, Hermione. I'm tired of being alone and . . . and this dating bullshit and going to the pubs with Sirius and . . . it's all rubbish. I feel like I'm faking it all. I don't know what to do."

"How's your head?" she asked, reaching out and running her fingers through his hair in a way that shouldn't have been as comforting as it was. James leant into the touch, worried that he'd get sick all over again like the night before. But he didn't.

"All right, I s'pose."

"Good. Get up. We're going out."

She stopped touching his hair and James felt bitterly bereft. "I'm really not in the mood for—"

Hermione spun around, worry gone from her eyes, replaced with anger. "I don't give a damn what you're in the mood for, James! You're tired of faking your life? Then stop! Start living it! We're going to Gringotts so you can get some money, and then we're going to find you a place of your own. Somewhere nice and comfortable where you can raise Harry. A home."

Not one to just let himself be yelled at like a child, James glared up at her. "This is—"

"This is Sirius's bachelor pad," she said, snapping at him. "For Merlin's sake, James, you share a bedroom with your best mate and your son, and you sleep in a bunk bed! Once we're done finding some options for you, we're going to help Remus pack his things because he's going to move off of the couch and in here. Sirius needs someone who will help curb his behaviour, not contribute to it, and Remus needs to have stability without going back to the cottage his father died in. You're going to stop pretending and just start living and start fighting!"

He scoffed. "Fighting for what?"

"For your son, for—"

"Everything I do is for Harry!" he yelled at her.

"Not everything," she said, staring back at the bathroom where she'd found him, broken, "and if you'd let me finish . . . you need to fight for yourself. You're putting Harry first in your life Monday through Friday and then you sacrifice everything to pal around with your friends because it's what they want and what you think might be best for them. Start doing what's best for you. Fight for what you want!"

He thought back to what he could remember of the night before. Of the girl and her hair, twisting it in his fingers and searching for a texture that didn't exist in that moment, not with her. "What if . . . what if I can't?" he asked, unable to make eye contact with her. "What if what I want isn't . . . what if I can't have it?"

Hermione sighed and knelt down in front of him so they were face to face. Seeing her there, on her knees, had him cringing and looking away, horrified by the images his mind was attempting to conjure. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about Lily," she said.

James blinked and looked up at her in momentary confusion before he sighed and scrubbed his hands down his face, embarrassed. "That's not what—"

"You don't have to forget her. But . . . James, you deserve happiness," she said and reached out, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and hugging him tight as she'd done a thousand times between the moment that she'd appeared in his life and now. "You're my friend and I just want you to be safe, and healthy, and happy."

He breathed in the scent of her, hugging her back with one arm while the hand of the other twirled a lock of her curly, brown hair in between his fingers. There it is, he thought as elation and disappointment filled him at once. That's what I was looking for.

Happiness. She wanted him to fight for happiness. But how could he when she was . . . and Kingsley didn't deserve . . .

"Okay . . . I'll try."

Chapter Text

September 11th, 1983

James had wanted to try Muggle houses first, an attempt to keep Harry connected to the part of his heritage that he couldn't offer him on his own. Hermione was more than happy to show him old neighbourhoods where she'd grown up as a child, having moved twice before she'd gotten her Hogwarts letter. He offered to go along to see her old house, the one she last remembered, but she'd quickly declined. "Old life," she muttered and then escorted him to the realtor's office.

The first lady they met with was overly conservative. After discovering that James had a child and was not married to Hermione, a woman who seemed a bit too close for someone not related to him, she'd spent an hour showing them cheap houses while making comments under her breath about living in sin and the shames of the rising generation.

The second agent was a bit older, and to stave off any more ridiculous comments and waste their time, Hermione transfigured her hair tie into a ring and slipped it on her left hand before looping her arm through James's.

"Such a lovely couple," the woman said. "How did you meet?"

Hermione laughed and James grinned. "Oh, she just fell out of the sky one day," he said, chuckling when Hermione rolled her eyes at him. "She helped my best mate out of a sticky situation and I haven't been able to get rid of her since."

"Charming," Hermione said sarcastically and reached a hand up to push his black hair out of his eyes.

"Are we looking for a family home?"

"Er . . . yes," James said, caught off guard by the way Hermione's grip tightened on his arm. "I've . . . we've a son. He's three."

"Oh, how wonderful!" the woman—Marigold—said and then led them into a three bedroom townhouse in Notting Hill. Near a local park, and nestled in a small, private location with only two other houses nearby, the three-story home was perfect.

"The cupboards have all been redone recently, and the paint was finished just last week," Marigold said as she gestured to the moss green walls. Cream and gold curtains covered the windows that overlooked the whole street, and the master bedroom led out to one of two roof terraces. "Perfect for a garden, wouldn't you say?"

"Not the kinds of things I'd plant," James muttered quietly, chuckling as he thought of what devil's snare would do to this place. "I'd have to put up some security wa—gates," he said, clearing his throat. "Make sure Harry doesn't go flying off the roof."

Marigold giggled. "Children are such scamps at that age, aren't they?"

Hermione stifled her laughter by burying her face against James's shoulder.

"Is three big enough?" Marigold asked as they descended the stairs to have a look at the kitchen. When both James and Hermione looked up, caught off guard by the question, the woman smiled sweetly. "Any plans on expanding your family?"

As amused as James and Hermione had been to play pretend in order to avoid uncomfortable situations, both paled at Marigold's question and Hermione let go of James's arm. "No, no," she said. "One's . . . quite enough." She slipped past the woman and began testing the light switches and faucets while James ran a hand through his hair in discomfort.

"Sorry," he muttered. "Umm . . . it's been an odd day."

Marigold just smiled. "I completely understand. So . . . what do you think?"

James sighed as he looked around. It wasn't a thing like the old cottage in Godric's Hollow. "I'll take it."

Hermione looked up. "Are you sure you don't want to look around some more?"

He shook his head. "What can I say . . . when you know you want something . . . you have to go for it, right?"

Blinking, she swallowed hard and looked away from him, turning her attention back to the southern facing windows, double-checking the locks.

After dealing with the papers with Marigold who said she would send word when everything was finalised, Hermione and James met Mary and Remus outside of the Leaky and walked to a nearby Thai place that Hermione said was positively addicting.

She sent a message to Kingsley to join them and he replied back that there was something he needed to pick up on the way, only to show up at the door with Sirius in tow, looking a bit more dishevelled than normal.

"What the bloody hell happened to you?" James asked, gaping up at his best friend who sat down and immediately began digging into the food as though he hadn't eaten in weeks.

"Can't recall too much, but I think I got married," Sirius said. "I remember going to a late night jeweller and then being woken up by Muggle Aurors arresting me."

Remus and Hermione yelled at the same time.

"You got married?!"

"You were arrested?!"

"Well," Sirius said, licking curry off his fingers, "I was naked at the time. And in the viewing window of a department store."

Kingsley scooted in next to Hermione but didn't miss the way that James suddenly turned his body away from her, looking disappointed as he focused his attention on his friends instead of the witch. "I bought a house," he said, speaking specifically to Sirius. "It's time Harry and I got our own place."

Sirius frowned. "This isn't about last night, is it? What happened?"

James shook his head. "I'd rather not get into it. It's just . . . it's time."

"Remus will be moving in with you, Sirius," Hermione said with a smile.

"He will?"

"I will?" Remus asked, staring at Hermione.

Mary beamed at the werewolf. "I think it will be good for you. Goodness knows you'll get lonely on your own, and I've just got the new job at the hospital . . . I'd prefer you not be alone. Sirius can keep you occupied."

"And you can keep Sirius out of trouble," Hermione pointed out with a smirk, dodging when Sirius threw a pea at her. "How is the new job, Mary?"

Mary laughed. "It's grand. I have three bosses, two of which are amazing and love the fact that I have Muggle connections because it means they have a second opinion on how to convert certain Muggle medications into Wizarding equivalents. The third . . . well . . . he's an old sort and has issues working with a woman," she said, rolling her eyes. "He asked me if I was serious about my job since I could run off and get married and start popping out babies at any moment, abandoning the rest of them to projects I'm likely to start."

Remus choked on his drink and Mary patted him on the back. "Calm down, I told him to bugger off."

"You told your boss to bugger off?" Sirius asked sceptically.

Mary blushed. "I may have said something more along the lines of, 'no, sir, I'm very dedicated, sir, thank you, sir.'" she said quietly, and everyone laughed.

"I'd forgotten how terribly conservative this time period is," Hermione whispered. "It hasn't changed too much with some people in the future, but Muggles are still quite a bit more . . . close minded. Just today while looking for a house for James and Harry, I had to pretend to be married to James just to avoid rude realtors. The first woman we met was absolutely horrid!"

Kingsley blinked and looked back and forth between James and Hermione who were both laughing. "Is that why you've got a ring on?" he asked curiously.

Hermione looked down. "Oh, I'd forgotten," she said and took it off, slipping it into her pocket before the spell wore off and it became a hair tie again.

Sirius smirked. "Like Prongs would get you something that plain and boring."

"Careful there, Kings," Mary teased. "James might run off and elope with your witch."

Everyone except James and Kingsley laughed, though the latter did offer a strange smile to the other, patting Hermione's hand and kissing her temple as she tutted her friends.

"Are you all right, Kings?" Hermione asked as they took the long way back to her flat. He'd been quiet since lunch; contemplative. "Is there something going on with work? I appreciate you going in to deal with Sirius's predicament."

He smiled down at her. "I consider Sirius a friend. He's one to get into trouble, that's for certain. But it sounds like those boys weren't looking for it last night."

Hermione bristled. "I still can't believe that they were drugged. How awful! Allie was telling me that there has been quite a few incidents and the Aurors have been looking into—"

"This isn't working."

She stopped mid-step and turned around to look up at him. "What? What's not . . . oh . . . wait . . . why?"

Kingsley licked his lips and then cupped her face in his hands. "I'm in love with you." Hermione gasped and her eyes went wide at the declaration. Kingsley sighed and kissed her forehead. "That's why. Because you don't love me. Not only that, you look right terrified over what I just told you."

"I . . . I . . . was caught off guard, is all," she stammered. "We've only been together—"

"Sweetheart, I know you're younger than me by a few years," he said, interrupting her. "And . . . it's not fair to either of us to waste any time trying to force something that's not there." He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I've got a dangerous job and . . . I'd like to have someone there when I get home. Someone who puts me on the same level of priority as I do her. Don't get angry," he said when she opened her mouth, shaped already like she was ready to argue. "I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this. Harry comes first, and I still get that. But . . . Harry's not your only priority."

She furrowed her brows. "I don't . . . Kingsley, it's not what you think. We were just pretending and—"

"You don't have to argue everything, Hermione," he said softly. "You don't have to be perfect and always fight . . . just . . . I'm letting you off the hook here. No drama, no arguments, no heartbreak. At least . . . well, a lot less than what it would be if I got any closer, knowing all the while that your heart isn't in it."

She began fidgeting with her hands, looking nervous and out of place as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth. "I don't know how to do this."

He sighed. "Gods, you're beautiful when you do that," he said and touched her chin. "I desperately wish that it was me you were supposed to fall in love with."

She blinked and tears gathered in her eyes, her thumb rubbing her the small mark left behind by the ring that had been on her hand all afternoon.

Chapter Text

September 24th, 1983

Not knowing how to process the aftermath of being dumped, Hermione kept the secret of her break up for nearly a fortnight. Despite Kingsley's reassurances that neither of them had done anything wrong, they just weren't meant to be—a near word for word replica of the speech she'd given to Angus Savage—Hermione couldn't help but feel like she'd failed at something. She didn't handle failure very well and needed to hold onto the secret in order to process everything that had happened between her and Kingsley.

He'd implied—no, he'd practically come right out with it and told her—that he thought she was in love with . . . but no, that was ridiculous, and he was reading into . . . Hermione nervously gnawed on a quill as she looked over that morning's orders at the bookshop.

"Get out," Remus told her. "I don't know what's on your mind, but that's the third quill you've broken in just as many hours. You're going to get ink poisoning or end up swallowing a feather and choking to death."

She looked up at him, broken out of her daze, and pulled the quill from her mouth. Wiping her lips on the back of her hand, she sighed when black ink spread across her skin. "Lovely," she said bitterly and rushed off to the mirror only to find her mouth had been stained black.

"Something you want to talk about?" Remus asked, yawning and stretching his arms overhead while Hermione gently Scourgified her mouth. Only a few days removed from the latest full moon and he still looked like he was happier than ever. He still even tried to not grimace every time he drank the Wolfsbane Potion, pretending that it didn't taste as horrible as everyone knew it did.

Hermione smiled at her friend but shook her head. She hadn't wanted to bother him with her problems. She hadn't wanted to bother anyone.

Remus was joyfully happy with Mary, and the man had a way of taking on his friend's problems, trying to hold the weight of them on their behalf. Mary was too similar, and Hermione feared that the pair of them would overwhelm her with their empathy if she told them about her breakup before figuring it out for herself. She had thought about going to Allie, but not only did the woman work in the same department as Kingsley, she'd been with Frank since Hogwarts and had zero experience with ending relationships herself. Emmeline, on the other hand, had ample experience, but she often channelled her post-breakup energy into anger and bitterness, something that Hermione had no reason to do since Kingsley had said that he loved her, but knew that she couldn't love him and wanted them both to be free to move on. They'd agreed to remain friends, for Merlin's sake.

That left only two friends—because she sure as hell wasn't going to talk to Molly about anything related to her relationship, otherwise she might end up accidentally agreeing to go out on a date with Arthur's brother, Bilius.

Sirius would try to distract her from her discomfort—because she wasn't exactly in pain over the end of her relationship—and he would flirt or try to hand her a bottle of firewhisky and suggest they go and cause trouble somewhere. Thankfully, he'd been too distracted with his own adventures to notice that she'd been preoccupied. The mysterious ring on his finger and potential bride out in the world after his brief run in with Muggle drugs had Sirius on a mission to locate the very possible new Lady Black.

"I think I'm going to go and visit Harry," Hermione said, lying to Remus. "My brain is a bit cluttered and playing with him always helps."

The werewolf smiled kindly at her. "James said they would be home today. Nothing planned. You should stop by Fortescue's and pick up a treat for the two of you. Oh, and maybe something for James," he added none too subtly. "His favourite flavour is—"

"Double caramel," she said, finishing his sentence as she walked out the door.

"Celeste Jorkins," James said as he stuck a spoon in the small ice cream carton, digging out an entire chunk of caramel. "Third year."

Hermione smiled at him.

She'd shown up with treats, and Harry had snatched his ice cream from her only to dart back into the bedroom where he said he was having a very important meeting. Peeking in, she saw him surrounded by an assortment of stuffed animals, a paper aeroplane, something built out of Legos, and Pretzel in his cage.

Abandoned by the child, Hermione handed James a carton of ice cream and directed him to the living room, where she plopped down on the floor, leant her back against the sofa and said, "All right, Potter, let's talk bad relationships."

"Is this what witches do?" he'd asked. "And is something going on with you and Kingsley?"

"Hell if I know," she answered with a heavy sigh. "I was never good at having girlfriends, not until I came here. And there is no me and Kingsley."

An hour later, James had left to go get refills on ice cream, returning to the exact same spot on the floor where Hermione was determined to unburden herself. She was smiling now, though, and that was enough for him. He frankly couldn't care what they talked about.

"And what, pray tell, did Miss Jorkins do?" she asked, catching a bit of strawberry ice cream off of her spoon before it dripped onto her hand.

James laughed. "Said that she wouldn't go to Hogsmeade with me because she didn't like my hair."

Hermione giggled. "That's awful," she said remembering the many comments that peers from her own time at Hogwarts would make about her own locks.

She smiled at James feeling the weight practically fall off of her shoulders. Be it about relationships, death, war, or a trip to the grocers, James was always easy to talk to. He came with no judgement, little advice, just an ear to listen and a grin that somehow made the silver lining of any situation shine. He also caved to her constant need to take care of him—unlike Remus—while not taking advantage of her generosity—like Sirius.

He nodded. "To be fair, she was a sixth year and I don't think she was too keen on going on a date with a thirteen-year-old. Your turn. I've told you about my horrid teenage experiences, and Sirius and Remus are always more than happy to recount the many adventures of James Potter makes an arse of himself in front of Lily Evans."

Hermione grinned at the fact that he no longer cringed when talking about her. There was a longing there, still in his hazel eyes, but it was laced with more nostalgia than pain these days. "Viktor Krum."

James smirked and his eyes brightened. "The Quidditch player?" he asked.

She nodded. "He took me to the Yule Ball, and held my hand and kissed me and . . . and then invited me home with him to Bulgaria."

Choking on a mouthful of ice cream, James stared at her as he struggled to swallow. "Home? A pureblood, yeah? Do you know what that means?"

Hermione chuckled. "I do now. You purebloods have weird traditions. Going to meet his parents would have meant that we were one step toward an official engagement. That's insane. I was fifteen for Merlin's sake."

"Did you let him down easy?"

She sighed. "I tried to stay friends. We wrote letters back and forth for over a year."

"Cruel," James teased.

"Then there was Ron."

"Oh, the little tyke who cried last week when his stuffed dragon fell in the pond?"

"Hush you," she said and put her hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter. It felt good to laugh, though, even if it was at her expense. Hermione giggled and fell over, wiping tears from her eyes. "Oh, my life is a joke," she said, still smiling. "The boy I thought I loved when I was younger is barely out of nappies."

"If you're still into older men, I imagine Viktor Krum is . . . what? Five? Maybe six?" James asked and threw his head back laughing when Hermione snorted.

"That's shockingly still not my most embarrassing romantic confession," she said. "I used to have this horrid habit of falling hopelessly enamoured over professors." She looked up and James was cringing. "None of them were very old," she said. "Nothing like Professor Flitwick, or Merlin help me, Dumbledore."

"Praise Circe for that," James noted with a grin, raising his carton of ice cream in toast.

"Lockhart, however, was quite handsome," she said with a soft laugh. "He was an absolute tosser in the end. So self-involved and . . . actually, he was a criminal. He might still be at Hogwarts in this time. I should send Dumbledore a letter." She leant over, to grab her beaded bag.

"What about the others?" James asked.

"What others?" Hermione replied, digging through her bag for a piece of parchment and a quill.

"You said that you fell hopelessly enamoured with professors. Plural."

Hermione's eyes widened, and she turned to stare at James as though she'd just been caught with her hand in the biscuit tin. Her cheeks turned bright pink, and her lips parted as she tried to think up a lie, and fast.

"Holy shit," James whispered as a grin overtook his face.

Hermione pursed her lips. "Don't you dare."

"Holy shit!"

"James Potter, don't you even say—"

"You had a crush on Professor Moony!" he shouted and then stood up. "Oh, I have to . . . I have to tell someone. Oh, this it too good! He's going to just die. Tiny Hermione fancied Remus. Did you want to marry him and give birth to his cubs? Be Madam Moony?!"

Hermione stood. "Don't you dare say a thing! I was thirteen and he was . . . he was very smart and had just saved us all from a dementor."

James practically giggled. "Did you draw hearts around his name? Please tell me you drew hearts around his name. Does he look smart in Professor's robes? Very fit for a man of his age?"

Hermione tried to be enraged but she couldn't help but laugh, which made her threats virtually useless. "I swear, if you say a word—"

"Are you going to steal him away from Mary? Should I go and warn her?" he asked and then took a step toward the Floo.

"No!" Hermione said, and in a moment of insanity, jumped on his back to try and stop him. James just laughed and carried her toward the fireplace, ignoring when she dug her hands into his hair and pulled like she would the reins of a horse. They both laughed through her objections, and when he leant down to grab a pinch of Floo Powder, the pair collapsed on the ground.

Hermione reached out, wrestling with him and grabbing his hand with hers just as he tossed the powder in the grate the flames turned bright green. "Should I call Remus or Mary first?" James asked while laughing, even as Hermione tried climbing up his back, pressing his face down against the ground to stop him from doing any such thing.

He spun, wrapping an arm around her waist and grinning as she squeaked when he pulled her off of him and spun, effectively pinning her to the floor in his place. "Ah, now . . . now what're you going to do?" he asked, panting, his teasing grin fading into something more sincere. "Now that I've got you . . . got you right where I . . ."

Hermione swallowed hard as the green flames died behind her, staring up into James's eyes. Her heart raced and a warmth rushed to her cheeks when he reached forward and pushed the hair that had fallen in her face. "Where . . . right where you what?" she boldly asked as anxiety induced adrenaline pumped through her veins.

James drew his gaze to her lips and whispered, "Right where I want you."

Chapter Text

September 24th, 1983

Their kiss was slow, hesitant, and Hermione couldn't tell which of them were trembling when their lips finally made contact.

At first, they barely brushed against one another, breathing in each exhale the other gave. James's gaze locked on her, nervously searching, and she got lost in the hazel of his eyes that looked like grey from a distance, but up close was layer upon layer of various colours. A circle of chalky grey outlined a deep pool of soft blue that reminded her of the sky overlooking the Black Lake during winter, just before the first snowfall. At the very centre was honey-brown, like her own, seeping out into the blue waters in small lines, like a bursting star. Somewhere beyond the colours, she thought she saw genuine affection, and Hermione had to close her eyes at the sight of it, terrified beyond explanation.

Sensing her anxiety, James brushed a thumb against her cheek and pressed his lips closer, harder, and moved them against her mouth. Her lips were soft but slightly chapped in one corner, the place he knew she constantly worried between her teeth when she was stressed or anxious or just thinking really hard about something. He placed a soft kiss on that corner of her mouth before pulling away and gazing down at her.

"Please look at me, Hermione," he whispered.

She shook her head, terrified that if she opened her eyes he wouldn't really be there. That somehow she'd be back in her old life, the one of hell and war and death. She'd smell blood and taste tears and the agony of fear that was copper and ash in her mouth.

It wasn't possible. It wasn't possible that after all this time in this era, she'd built a life for herself, immersed herself with the people of this time, made friends, created a family of sorts . . . it wasn't possible that she'd missed this. How had she missed this? Kingsley had known; he had actually broken up with her because of it. He'd seen something between her and James and knew . . . knew something she'd barely suspected. And gods, it was frightening to admit.

This wasn't any man.

This wasn't Angus who had openly flirted from the moment they'd met. This wasn't Kingsley who was very nearly perfect except for the fact that she didn't love him. This wasn't Sirius who would be bold and brash, or Remus who had blushed and apologised when he'd kissed her the once. This man above her, touching her cheek and pleading for her to open her eyes wasn't Viktor Krum, asking her to the ball. He wasn't Cormac McLaggen trying to grope at her backside beneath the mistletoe.

He wasn't Ron, who she thought she had loved once . . . so very long ago.

And he wasn't Harry, no matter how many people said they looked so much alike.

Please let this be real, she silently pleaded and then opened her eyes looking up into his hazel depths and smiling at the complete and utter lack of green behind black fringe that had fallen forward. She reached up and touched his hair, and he turned and pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist.

"I . . . I don't know what to say," she quietly admitted, her cheeks turning pinks.

He smiled against her skin. "You could at least tell me that I kiss better than your childhood fantasies of snogging Professor Lupin."

Her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth in shock. James took eager advantage, grinning as he leant down and covered her lips with his own again, delving his tongue into her mouth when she whimpered against him.

His arousal took place much faster than he'd anticipated, and James adjusted his position above her so that she wouldn't feel it. Scaring her off now was certainly not in his plans.

Not that he had actual plans.

James Potter rarely thought in the moment. Certainly, he was known for obsessing before and after the fact, but he was well aware that in the heat of the moment, there was a genuine disconnection in his brain that stopped him from thinking clearly and objectively. When Hermione threaded her fingers through his hair, for instance, all he could think about was how he wanted her to never let go and how she tasted like strawberries and her skin was soft and her body pliable.

He should have felt ashamed that he'd forgotten his son was in the next room.

James's hands ghosted over her hips as he turned them onto their sides and Hermione instinctively let her thigh rest against his leg, knee bent and hitched as though she were preparing to climb him. As if her movements were an invitation, his hands rested against the fabric of her trousers and slid down over the curve of her arse, pulling her closer. As good as it felt, him touching her, her accelerated heart rate was a trigger that had her opening her eyes and pushing against his chest until their lips broke apart.

"This is . . ." she panted against his mouth, "this could be very bad."

"No," he objected. "Very good."

Hermione groaned, closing her eyes again and pressing her forehead against his. "It's not just us," she whispered. "We have to think clearly . . . we have to . . . gods you taste so good." And then her hands were on the sides of his face, fingernails lightly scratching the stubble there, her lips crushed once more against his.

He moaned and buried his fingers in her mass of hair and suddenly she was pulling away again. "Damnit," he muttered, shifting once again and silently cursing Muggle jeans.

"This is wrong."


"I . . . I don't know," she admitted, biting the corner of her lip. "It's just . . . you're James Potter."

He smirked. "Thanks for the lesson, I'd almost forgot."

She scowled at him. "We can't do this . . . Harry is my—"

"Your what?" James interrupted, his eyes softened and his smirk gone. He sighed and kissed the line of her jaw and laced his fingers through hers.

"Harry's my . . . my . . ." she muttered with a frown and then looked up at him. "You're my friend."

Because Harry—her Harry—the Harry that she'd met on the Hogwarts Express when she was eleven, who had been Sorted into Gryffindor with her, helped save her from a mountain troll . . . was gone. There was no Boy Who Lived, no Chosen One, only a little boy in the next room playing with his toys. And the man . . . the man in front of her was . . . "I don't know what to do. This wasn't a part of the plan."

"You always have a plan," he said affectionately. "We could make a new plan?"

She blinked rapidly, worried that she was doing the wrong thing—even though it felt more right than anything had for a very, very long time—worried that despite altering the timeline since arriving in 1981, this would be one step too far. That she could never take this back. That if she screwed this up, she'd lose everything. "I'm worried. I don't know where to start."

James licked his lips. "Can I make a suggestion to help ease your worries?" When she nodded, eyes pleading for help, he leant in and kissed her again. Slowly but with adequate pressure that had her melting against him. When he pulled away, he whispered, "What does it feel like when I do that?"

She let out a sigh of relief. "Like coming home. You?"

He smiled. "Like everything . . . is washed clean and new."

She grinned and kissed him again, laughing as his fringe tickled her forehead. "We need . . ." she tried to say in between kisses. "We need to figure out what this is . . . what we're . . . what we're doing."

"Later," James insisted and moved his lips to her neck.

"Wait . . . what's that?"

"What's what?" he mumbled against her skin.

"James, be quiet," she hushed him, holding still. "Is that . . . it sounds like static."

He raised a brow. "Like on clothing? You can hear that?"

"No, like in a Muggle telephone. It's . . . oh god."

Suddenly alert at the look of concern on her face, James automatically sat up and instinctively rushed to the bedroom, pushing open the door to check on Harry only to find his son still sitting on the floor, playing with his toys and his—

"Ssshayii . . . nsaa hyassh."

Hermione placed a hand on James's shoulder and he tensed immediately as they both looked down at Harry, openly conversing with his small snake in Parseltongue.

Chapter Text

December 25th, 1983

"Can I just point out that I still think it's super fucked up to be spending Christmas like this?"

"Shut up, Sirius."

The Order gathered together in Dumbledore's office, every last one of them on the edge of their seat.

Months earlier, when Hermione and James had walked in on Harry speaking Parseltongue to Pretzel, Hermione switched from potential girlfriend to hardened soldier of war in the blink of an eye. She'd knelt down in front of Harry with a soft smile. "Is Pretzel finally talking to you?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah. She couldn't before 'cause she was just a baby."

Hermione let out a shaky exhale, not bothering to ask exactly where Pretzel learned to speak if not from Harry which made the Parseltongue issue raise more questions than it answered. Shutting off the overly inquisitive part of her mind that wanted to research, Hermione focused. "Does she like her home here?"

"Yep," Harry said, and then the little snake started hissing again as it curled into a ball. Harry listened then turned his attention back to Hermione. "She says you're sad."

Hermione swallowed hard. "I'm . . . I'm not. Just tired," she lied. "Harr, can you ask Pretzel something important for me? Can you ask her how a snake would say the word 'open'?"

James and Hermione put whatever it was between them on the backburner, both knowing that destroying Horcruxes and preventing Voldemort's return was the most important thing—keeping Harry safe was the most important thing—and they couldn't handle any distractions. At least, that was Hermione's reasoning, but James went right along with her, nodding his head miserably as he struggled with the implications that the Order might need Harry for more than just translations from a distance.

"That's a stupid reason," Sirius told James when Hermione had vanished off to report to Dumbledore. "If you fancy the girl, and she finds herself with a specky git fetish, then just be with the witch!"

James shrugged. "It's . . . maybe she's right. It's too soon or . . . this isn't like with Miriam or the other witches that Allie and Molly set me up with. This is . . . this is Hermione. It's complicated."

"That's a stupid reason," Allie told Hermione later that week. "The two of you are perfect for one another!"

Hermione sighed, scrubbing her hands down her face, dark circles beneath her eyes. There was a plethora of research papers and books on everything from basilisks to the Chamber of Secrets to letters from Dumbledore explaining Hogwarts' security wards set out on her table. "I can't be thinking about that right now, Allie."

"We've all seen this coming. The two of you are finally waking up, and now you're putting everything on hold? Hermione . . . what could possibly be more—"

"More important?" Hermione snapped. "I don't know. The permanent destruction of a crazy genocidal maniac, his cursed objects that like to fight back and can only be killed by two known things, oh, and there's a giant fucking snake in the basement of Hogwarts that can kill you with its eyes!"

Allie stared at her friend, eyes wide in shock. "Whoa."

Hermione panted, anxiety finally having overloaded her.

"Someone needs a good shag to work off all of that stress," Emmeline said from Hermione's sofa, a copy of Witch Weekly draped over her lap. She looked up and smirked at her now seething friend. "Hey, Allie, don't we know a good bloke who'd be up for something like that?"

Hermione and James sat beside one another in Dumbledore's office on Christmas Day, Harry between them being held back by his father; the boy was particularly interested in all the noisy knick knacks on the desk in front of him. They wanted to kill the basilisk as soon as possible, but there was too much that could go wrong. For the first time in years, Hogwarts was completely closed for the Christmas hols. Any student that had planned to stay behind was helped to make other arrangements. The Order couldn't risk having anyone else potentially exposed to the creature should their plan not work.

"Lemon drop?" Dumbledore offered, and both Hermione and James reached for a piece. Their fingers touched each other in the bowl, and both immediately withdrew.

"Sorry umm . . ."

"No, it's fine . . . you go—"

"No, I insist, you—"

"Really, it's . . . it's fine, I—"

"It's sodding candy!" Sirius snapped. "Fucking Circe . . . I'm not in the mood to deal with the pair of you today."

Remus patted Sirius on the shoulder while McGonagall stared at him reproachfully. "He umm . . . he got some bad news this morning. He thought he was married there for a while, and it turns out—"

"Rejected again," Sirius said, looking down at the ring still on his finger. "Who knew that drunkenly proposing to Rosmerta would end in heartbreak." James and Remus quietly snorted while the women in the room rolled their eyes.

After months of trying to track down the potential Lady Black that Sirius may or may not have actually married, he'd all but given up until that morning when he'd walked into the Three Broomsticks and Rosmerta saw the ring. "Oh, not this again." When questioned,she described, in great detail, the night that Sirius had shown up at the inn, pissed out of his mind, to proclaim his undying love to her—begging her to marry him with an actual ring in hand. She'd tried to send him up to bed to sleep it off but, misunderstanding, Sirius said he would go and get her a bigger ring, only to get lost in Muggle London and end up naked in a department store window with no recollection of how he'd gotten there.

"Can we skip the small talk and sweets, Albus?" Minerva asked irritably.

"Of course," Dumbledore said with a smile. "You are all here to help cast protective wards, should the creature attempt an escape. Though, according to Miss Granger, that is very unlikely. We do not intend to wake the beast, merely gain access to the Chamber in order to destroy it."

"Right then," Moody said. "I'll be the one going down into the Chamber."

"Aww . . ." Sirius whined.

Moody growled at the noise, reaching into his pocket and withdrawing an eye patch, slipping it over his head, blocking his one good eye; the magical one beside it spun rapidly until Moody reached up and stopped it with his fingers. "If this thing can kill with just a look, we're hoping that magical sight won't be affected. As much fun as it would be to take the beast down with a sword like was apparently done before, we're being smart about this."

Hagrid walked through the door, perfectly timed, with a large bag slung over his shoulder. "Careful with 'em yeah? They're a bit upset, they are. Don't much like being toted about as such. Then again, can't exactly jus' herd 'em all down there, I s'pose." He handed the large bag over to Moody, and everyone looked up when the quiet sound of clucking grew louder.

"Roosters," Hermione said with a small smile of understanding. "Brilliant."

"Roosters?" James asked, raising a brow.

"Aye," Moody said. "According to Hagrid here, a rooster's crow is deadly to a basilisk. I'm taking the lot down into the chamber with me and setting them loose."

There was a giggle from the corner of the room. Moody turned to glare his magical eye at Sirius. "Something the matter, Black?"

Sirius shook his head, clearing his throat. "No, sir, I'm fine, sir. Brilliant plan, brilliant. Lovely cock sack."

James, Remus, and, shockingly, Allie burst into laughter.

Moody snarled. "For that, you get to wait in here."

Sirius pouted. "I never get to do anything fun."

"Potter and Granger, you as well," Moody said. "Just in case things go south and we need a translator." He looked at Harry who was busy trying to dismantle one of Dumbledore's gadgets, completely oblivious to the serious nature of why they were all there. "Longbottoms, come with me to guard the entrance to the Chamber. No one goes in or out except me, got it?"

Alice and Frank nodded.

"Remus, we were hoping we could get your assistance in strengthening the wards around certain areas of the castle, just in case," Dumbledore said with a smile, and Remus nodded his head in agreement. "Everyone else will be placed at certain points around the castle and the grounds. A warning system, if you will, for Hogsmeade, should the creature escape."

It was less dramatic than Hermione had thought it would be. Moody was gone for less than an hour, the only trouble coming from Moaning Myrtle who recognised him from his last failed attempt to open the Chamber. Once past the taunting ghost, the Auror slipped into the Chamber of Secrets, set loose the roosters, and waited. A loud hiss was followed by a roar and then a quaking thud; Slytherin's monster was dead—again.

Moody tossed several, still wet, fangs on Dumbledore's desk, and James instinctively pulled Harry close to his chest. "I don't want him in here for this. I don't want him anywhere near those things," he said, speaking of the Horcruxes and not the basilisk fangs. "I'll run him to the Burrow, and I'll be back."

Hermione nodded. "Take your time."

The second he was gone, the door magically closed behind him, and Hermione reached for a fang. "Let's get this over with." Another hand shot out from her left, snatching up a fang as well. She turned and saw a determined looking Sirius, all humour gone from his face.

"For Regulus," he whispered.

Dumbledore placed the locket and the diadem on his desk in front of the pair, and Hermione swallowed as she stepped close, her mouth hovering as close to the locket as possible before whispering a strangled hissing noise that she'd practised repeatedly after Harry had taught her. The contents of the locket began to rattle and vibrate on the desk until the golden doors containing Voldemort's broken soul burst open. Behind the windows was a blinking eye, and Hermione gasped at the sight, jumping back, startled.

Sirius took this as his moment and rushed forward, basilisk fang in hand. He raised it over the locket with a determined, vengeful grin and aimed. Before he could make contact, however, a voice hissed from within.

"I have seen your heart, and it is mine, Sirius Black. Hated by your parents, a smudge on their otherwise impeccable family tree. Ignored and abused while the brother you claimed to have loved was praised and adored. You secretly hated him."

"Wasn't exactly a secret," Sirius snarled.

"Don't talk with it, Black!" Moody snapped.

Before Sirius could raise the fang again, a grotesque, distorted bubble emerged from the locket. A head of black hair, followed by a skinny chest and waist, then legs. A boy stood, hovering above the Horcrux, staring down at Sirius.

Shocked by the sight, Hermione reached for the locket to pull it toward her only to have it burn hot against her fingers. The Riddle version of what she assumed was Regulus Black shook his head at Sirius, who had suddenly paled.

"You left me to die. Left me alone in that house with no one to protect me. I wasn't brave like you. I tried . . . and I failed and you let me die. I drowned, screaming, begging for my big brother, but you weren't there."

"Sirius!" Hermione yelled. "Stab it!"

"I . . ." he said, trembling. "I ca—"

"Then stab the diadem!"

Snapping out of it, Sirius followed her instructions, ignoring Riddle-Regulus, and turning the fang on the diadem which only fought back by growing hot, like the locket had before. Sirius sank the fang into the metal and watched, horrified, as a black ooze bled out of it. Riddle-Regulus shouted, his face twisted in ugly rage, distracted enough to allow Hermione to step close, her fang raised above the locket.

Just before she was able to get close enough, the Riddle-Regulus spun on her. "You!" Long black hair shortened, and Hermione was looking up into the face of Harry Potter. Her Harry Potter.

"No," she whispered, recognising his clothes, his pale face, and the blood seeping out of his neck and thigh. "No, no, no . . ."

"Where's my body, Hermione? You just left it there. I died, and you left me. I gave you my magic. Ron would have saved me. If it hadn't been for you . . . It was all about you. You're why he and I fought. Because he loved you, and he thought I was in the way. That's what it all came down to. You tore us apart, and you're why he left. Ron wouldn't have left my body to be found by—"

There was a long, drawn-out scream, drowning out the sound of shouting and fists pounding on the door behind her, as Hermione plunged the basilisk fang into the locket. Then it was dead, just like that. The battered-looking locket and blackened diadem sat on Dumbledore's desk like old relics, while Hermione's hands shook above them.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and spun defensively, only to see Sirius. She dropped the basilisk fang immediately and jumped into his arms, wrapping hers tightly around his neck as she sobbed into his shoulder.

"They lied," he whispered.

"I know. Just . . . seeing—"

"I know."

The door to the office opened, and both James and Remus stood there, wide-eyed and flustered. Having heard screams upon returning to Hogwarts, James had tried break down the door, which had been magically locked at the time to prevent others from being exposed to the Horcruxes.

"What happened?" James demanded.

Hermione released Sirius and ran straight to James, clinging to him with all that she had. Shocked, he ran his hand down her hair, kissing the top of her head as she cried against his chest. He made eye contact with Sirius, who looked pale and sick.

Sirius shook his head. "You don't want to know, mate."

"I want to go home," Hermione mumbled.

James nodded. "Okay, I'll take you back to your flat."

She shook her head. "No. Yours."

Chapter Text

December 25th, 1983

"What did you see?" James asked, refilling Hermione's glass of firewhisky.

They'd arrived at James's home, the three bedroom townhouse that Hermione had helped him choose. He and Harry had moved in a month earlier, and already Harry's toys and clothes were thrown around the place, mixed with James's papers from work, and a pile of laundry in the corner of the living room that he'd meant to tackle earlier.

James sent a message to Allie, asking her to go to the Burrow to see if she could arrange for Harry to stay the night either there or at Longbottom Keep. Hermione needs me was his last message before he put the blue coin down on the counter and grabbed a bottle of firewhisky and two glasses. He found Hermione in the living room, sitting in front of the fire.

She was silent for the first hour as they drank. He'd sat down at her side but slowly moved behind her, letting her head lean back and rest against his chest. When she finally admitted that the Horcrux had given her a vision of sorts, James was intrigued.

"Harry," she replied when he asked what she'd seen. "It was a lie; I know it was a lie, but . . . all I've had are memories, and after so long, I've tried to forget them. Forget what he looked like when . . . It's been two years. Two years ago for me. Christmas Eve. He died on Christmas Eve. That's not . . ." She brought her glass to her lips, drinking down the rest of it.

"I used to love Halloween," James muttered, glancing down to his own empty glass and the severely dented bottle of firewhisky. "Now it's tainted."

"I don't want to hate Christmas anymore."

"Harry's alive. He's not your Harry, but he . . . he is," he said, rubbing her shoulders and pressing his forehead against her wild curls. "I don't want to think about it anymore."

She swallowed hard. "I want to forget."

He inhaled deeply. "You smell good, Hermione."

She dropped her glass and leant back against him, tilting her head to the side and moaning softly when his lips pressed against her neck. "James," she whispered, letting the alcohol work on her brain and her body, letting her forget why she'd wanted to drink in the first place. She pressed her hands against his muscled thighs as they wrapped around her, rubbing circles against the fabric of his jeans. She bit her bottom lip particularly hard when his tongue ran up the length of her neck and his lips ghosted over the shell of her ear. The warmth in her stomach caused by the firewhisky drifted lower and lower until she was unconsciously moving her hips, desperate for friction.

His hands gripped her waist, adjusting her to him. She could suddenly feel his hard length against her back. The breath was stolen from her lungs as her mind wandered, feeling him and wondering what it would feel like to . . . "Touch me," she pleaded.

James didn't hesitate; his hands moved from her waist to her ribs and then swiftly up to cup her breasts. He groaned against her ear, thrusting against her back, rubbing himself harder against her when her cloth-covered nipples turned into hardened peaks at his touch. "Turn around."

When she did, suddenly kneeling between his legs, James ripped his t-shirt over his head, his arm getting stuck halfway through. Unable to see her, he could still hear her giggles which only increased when he finally escaped the shirt, his hair sticking up in various directions. "You think that's funny?" he asked with a crooked grin and grabbed her by the hips, pulling until she fell forward into his arms, bracing her hands against his now bare chest.

The giggles died on her lips.

"I . . ." she began, fear evident in her eyes.

He frowned. "I won't hurt you."

She shook her head. "I know that, it's just . . . I'm not . . ."

"Not what? Not experienced? That's okay. Are you not ready? I . . ."

"I'm not Lily," she blurted out.

James blinked rapidly, shocked by the admission, and he focused on the depths of her brown eyes. Brown. Not green. He twirled his fingers in her curly brown hair, letting the texture soothe him. "I'm not Harry."

Her brows furrowed and a momentarily disgusted expression crossed her face. "That's different," she insisted. "I've told you before, Harry and I were never—"

But then he was kissing her. Kissing away her objections and her insecurities and lighting a fire deep down inside of her in ways that no boy or man before ever had. Some had warmed her heart, and others stoked a heat between her legs, but none had been able to do both at the same time and with such intensity. James's tongue in her mouth was ravaging, exploring, and tasting with enthusiasm while his hands did the same, unbuttoning her blouse with speed—though not exactly precision.

"Fuckin' . . . buttons . . . stupid . . ." James muttered against her mouth. She laughed, bringing her fingers to assist him, stopping when his hands moved to her arse, cupping her and pulling her against him, forcing her legs apart to straddle his waist.

The hard length pressing against her thigh was highly distracting. Her eyelids felt heavy, and her lips parted. "I . . ."

"Need to be naked?" he suggested, nodding before she had a chance to answer. "I very much agree." He tried again for her buttons again but struggled to even see them in the darkness, the room only lit by the fire at Hermione's back. "I'm gonna rip the damned thing," he said desperately.

Hermione threw her head back and laughed, reaching for the hem of her blouse. She pulled it up and over her head, losing a few buttons in the process—all worth it, she noted, for the look on his face: hungry and wanting and full of aching awe.

"Beautiful," he whispered, placing a kiss against her sternum, reaching around to fumble with the hooks of her bra. "I am . . . way too drunk for this."

Hermione sat up straight. "What if . . . Wait . . . We should stop."

"No," James whined, falling backward, his back colliding with the ground. "Ow! Fuck!"

"Are you okay?!"

"No . . ." he groaned. "I'm pretty sure there's a Lego stuck in my kidney right now."

Hermione put her hands over her mouth to stop herself from laughing.

"Bloody kid," he murmured, reaching behind him to find the long, plastic toy. He launched it across the room and let out a sigh as he ran his hands through his hair. "I have Sober Up Potion in the bathroom."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Let's go!"

It took three tries to get up the stairs. The first time, they were derailed when Hermione tripped and nearly sent the both of them tumbling down. The second time, the allure of Hermione's backside was too much for him to take, and James figured that stripping her of her jeans before they made it upstairs would just save time. In the end, the sight of her arse wrapped in light pink cotton had him forgetting all about the Sober Up Potion. Hermione was on her back, awkwardly sprawled against the stairs while James eagerly threw her legs over his shoulders, kissing her thighs while his fingers pressed beyond the fabric and rubbed against her wet centre.

Hermione moaned when he slid a finger inside of her, crooking it just slightly enough that the pressure distracted her when he pushed aside her knickers, giving her clit an assertive kiss. She let out an unexpected scream, pushing her fingers through his ridiculous hair, gripping tight. "No, no . . . Yes! No . . . we're . . . James, we're d-drunk."

"You're drunk," he accused, resuming his ministrations.

"We're . . . We are drunk."

"Drunk on you. Fuck, you taste good."

Hermione whimpered and cried out, refusing to release her grip on his hair no matter how much her brain was telling her that a Sober Up Potion would work well in their favour just about then. When a burning wave of heat crashed over her body, her thighs tensed, wrapping around his head. Her hips bucked while she shook and undulated against him, eventually jerking and accidentally knocking her knee—and his head—into the wall.

James laughed against her thigh when she finally released him, breathing heavy and groaning about the discomfort of stair sex. "Sober Up?" he asked, wiping the back of his hand against his mouth.

She nodded, unable to form words.

"Selfish," he teased as he crawled up the steps past her toward the loo, room spinning a bit. She waved him on, still shaking in the aftermath of her climax.

The Sober Up Potion did the trick. It tasted bitter, but Hermione found that James still tasted sweet without the encouragement of alcohol. In a movement of childish athletic showmanship, James threw her over his shoulder and carried her to the unmade bed, his pyjamas from the night before still hanging off of the footboard. He wasted little time in peeling the soaked cotton from her thighs, throwing her knickers into the pile of dirty clothes on the floor and feeling a strange sense of victory over the idea of her laundry mingling with his.

She divested herself of her bra while he unbuckled his jeans and pushed them down his hips, kicking the denim to the floor swiftly. He slid in between her thighs, stroking his fingers over the outside of one as it hitched up against him.

James kissed Hermione softly as he positioned himself at her entrance, still sensitive from his thorough exploration earlier. The tip of his cock nudged her, parted her lips, and teased. There was no pausing to double check that she was fine with this. No gentle stroking of her insecurities, causing her to think too hard and doubt herself and him. He waited only for one word from her: a breathy "Yes" before he filled her in one long, smooth stroke.

"Don't stop," she moaned, and he didn't.

His movements were slow at first but grew in speed and depth, driving into her at a pace that barely sped past her heartbeat but was synced up perfectly with her panting breath. Every grunt or groan or mumbled word of how "good and tight and wet" that fell from his lips had her pulsing again, the hint of something more building inside, something glorious.

When she came again, James stopped his thrusting entirely and pressed his chest against her, wrapping her in his strong arms. Her body fluttered around his cock in delicious ways, and he moaned at the feel of her gripping him, milking him. He held his hips still, instead, focusing on kissing her jaw while she came down from her high.

Thankful that he'd brought her to climax again, James waited for her to let out a sigh of relief before he moved once more. He relished the keening sound that passed her lips as his body pushed against her sensitive nerves like a piece of iron dragging through dying embers, lighting them up with a few moments of unbearable heat once more before they calmed. Unable to hold back any longer, he erratically thrust four more times before spilling himself inside of her, kissing her hard and thanking Merlin that she'd fallen into his life.

Exhausted and panting, James pulled out of her with a hiss. He rolled onto his back, desperate to catch his breath. When Hermione fidgeted beside him, he reached out, grabbing her hand. "Don't go."

She curled into his side, resting her head on his sweaty chest, her own damp curls sticking to her neck. "I won't."

Chapter Text

December 26th, 1983

Hermione fell asleep in James's arms feeling more at bliss than she had ever felt in her entire life. Kissing him, being with him, was like coming home. That's what she had told him. That's how she felt. Unfortunately, her dreams were a swift reminder of what home actually was for her. At least, her original home.

Flashes of people from her past appeared in her mind, each one with a comment or two about the man currently resting beside her, his naked body pressed to her back and his hand still cupping a breast.

"My dad? Hermione . . . I know you've been stressed out here but . . . my dad?!" Harry asked, horrified as he tried desperately to not look at the bed. Ron, likewise, looked pale as he grimaced, trying not to stare.

Ginny, however, was grinning from ear to ear. "You had sex with James fucking Potter?! Tell me everything! Was he amazing? I bet he was amazing. Like father like son after all," she said and waggled her eyebrows and Hermione tried to hide beneath the blanket. "Does he do this thing . . . Okay so Harry's not that great at it, but there's this thing he does when—"

"Stop!" both Harry and Ron yelled at the same time.

One by one, everyone she'd known in her past life appeared in her dream to offer commentary. The most colourful, of course, came from a much older Molly Weasley who tutted loudly in disapproval and asked when she planned on marrying the man. Fred and George were beside themselves with joy, asking if her new "in" with a Marauder would grant them access to insider pranks.

Her parents looked at her, confused, and Hermione waited for them to berate her, lecture her on everything she'd done wrong and whether or not she had used protection, but they said nothing. It was then that Hermione realised they didn't know who she was.

She woke up with tears in her eyes and an old panicked feeling in her chest. She reached for her wand which James had apparently placed on the bedside table while she was sleeping. With a few waves of the vinewood, Hermione locked the door, letting the old familiar feeling of magical security wash over her like a comforting blanket. When it wasn't enough to completely take the edge off, she turned and snuggled as close to James as humanly possible without waking him. After subtly wiping her eyes, she let her gaze move over his sleeping form and smiled softly at the hair that hung in his face, a curl at the ends because he'd let it grow so long. The stubble on his cheeks and chin was rough, but the sparse hair on his chest soft and smooth. There was a small scar over his collarbone that looked like it had come from a Slicing Hex, likely from his Hogwarts days or during his time with the Order. She nuzzled her nose against the mark and kissed his skin, breathing in the comforting scent of him before falling back asleep.

When James opened his eyes, he reached out and felt the still warm sheets next to him. They were, however, empty. He sat up and reached for his glasses, blinking a few times at the sight of the half-naked witch shuffling to get what little clothes she had in this room back on her person as she stepped closer to the door.

"Doesn't the walk of shame need an audience?" Hermione shrieked at his voice slicing through the silence, jumping half a foot in the air and grasping at her chest. James let out a loud laugh, and his smile only widened when she scowled at him. "Sneaking out? Really?"

She bit her bottom lip. "I didn't know if . . . It's still complicated, and we didn't plan this."

"We were sober," he pointed out. Hermione stared at him incredulously, so he corrected, "We were sober by the end of it."

When she continued to worry her lip between her teeth, James sighed and stepped out of bed. Her eyes widened at the sight of his nudity in daylight, and she blushed and turned her gaze upward. He chuckled at her awkwardness but ignored it all the same as he approached her, taking her face in his hands, and kissing her thoroughly.

She let out a soft sigh, the tips of her fingers dancing across the lines of his abdomen, brushing against the hair that led down to his . . . "You are making this really, very—"

"Hard?" he offered with a suggestive grin. "If you think I'm bad, you ought to see what you're doing."

Unable to resist temptation, Hermione let her hand drift south until it wrapped around his morning erection, earning an earthy groan from him as his eyes rolled in pleasure. Bolder because of his reaction, Hermione squeezed and pulled, running the pad of her thumb over the tip. Without warning, James had her pressed against the wall, tugging and pulling at the clothing that she'd been able to reacquire in her attempted escape.

Her body reacted on its own, very much disconnected from her brain. Fingers dug their way through his hair and her legs wrapped around his naked waist as he cupped her arse and held her tight between him and the bedroom wall. She kissed him hard, searching, as though she could only find oxygen from inside of him and she was desperate for a long, deep breath of air. It was lack of air, however, that had her breaking away from him, gasping.

"So . . ." She panted. "Not just a one-time thing?"

James shook his head. "I don't . . . I haven't done this with just anyone, Hermione."

"What are we?"

"I . . . I've got a three-year-old kid . . . boyfriend seems a little . . ."


"But . . . it's what I want to be."

She swallowed hard and nodded her head quickly. "Okay," she muttered and then kissed him again as quickly as possible to end the conversation before her brain had a chance to come up with a list of reasons why it was all a very, very bad idea.

The second time he pushed inside of her, Hermione tightened around him almost painfully, both still sensitive and aching from the night before but no less willing to be separated. Pleasurable chills sent bumps all over her skin even though she was burning hot, sweat dripping between her breasts that bounced every time he thrust upward.

It was fast and hard and frantic.

James came first, mouthing the crook of her neck as he groaned his release, moving his hand between their bodies to play with her until she sang. It was loud and messy and they were both laughing with ecstasy and happiness by the end of it.

Her legs wobbled when he put her back on the ground and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Breakfast?" he asked with a smile. "We could grab some muffins from that place you like and then go and pick up Harry from the Burrow?"

She nodded, unable to wipe the joyful grin from her face as she flicked her wand at the door to dismantle her early morning Locking Charm. The fact that it wouldn't come down, however, was a sure way to kill her happy grin. "What the . . . James?"

He furrowed a brow and tried the door. "I didn't lock it, I swear."

"I know, I did, but it won't . . . This isn't just my magic."

He went in search of his wand, coming back to see that Hermione was already trying to open it herself using a variety of spells he'd never even heard of. When none of them worked, he growled. "Sirius."

Hermione's eyes went wide. "Sirius Black!"

"Moooorning," came a voice from the other side of the door.

She gasped loudly and covered her mouth.

"Yep," said Sirius. "Heard ev-er-y-thing. Well done, mate!"

"Sirius open the fucking door!" James snapped angrily.

"To be fair, the malfunctioning Locking Charm was a bit of an . . . accident . . . ish. We meant no harm."

"We?" Hermione squeaked.

James pressed his forehead against the door and sighed. "Moony."

"Prongs," came a second voice. "Don't be mad. Please. We were all worried about Hermione after everything that happened yesterday. We went to check on her, but she wasn't at her flat, so we came here. When you weren't downstairs or in Harry's room . . . Well, Sirius was first up the stairs, and I didn't want him to just burst in so . . ."

Hermione sighed and pressed her forehead against the door. "You put up a Locking Charm on the outside," she said. "I was half awake when I put mine up, and if Remus threw his from a distance, they're likely tangled. It'll be like trying to untangle knitting yarn with a knot in the centre."

"You knit?" James asked with an amused smirk.

Hermione looked up at him remembering long nights at Hogwarts spent putting together poorly made and—admittedly—hideous house-elf hats, socks, and scarves. "I umm . . . not really."

James smiled at her. "You're sexy when you blush, y'know."

Remus cleared his throat. "We can still hear you. Oh, and for the record, I went downstairs during the umm . . . you know . . . the—"

"The crazy loud shagging!" Sirius yelled.

"I'm sending a message to Allie. Maybe she can arrest Sirius, and we can dismantle the Locking Charms in peace," Hermione whispered conspiratorially to James and ran to look for her coin, only to find it missing. "Oh no, it's downstairs in my jeans. Why did you undress me on the staircase?" she hissed at him, slapping his arm.

"Looking for this?" Sirius asked, sliding the coin under the door. "It won't do you much good. The only person you could call at this point would be Molly, and you'd probably have to listen to an hour-long lecture on premarital sex."

"I'm calling Allie," Hermione said, snatching up the coin.

"Hi, Hermione!"

James looked up, finally as horrified as Hermione had appeared. "Allie?"

The witch chuckled on the other side of the door. "Yep. Emmie and Mary as well. We were worried is all. Wanted to make sure Hermione . . . got home safe," she said with a small laugh. "Obviously, that never happened, but good for you! The pair of you have been dancing around each other for months."

"Oh, longer than that, I'd say," Mary chimed in.

Emmeline scoffed. "From the way they were screaming, I'd say at least a year."

"Thank Merlin the sexual tension is finally gone," Sirius said. "It is gone, right?"

"Obviously!" James yelled.

"Are you a couple now?" Mary asked happily.

"Yes," Hermione replied with a mortified groan.

"Did you tell her that you luuuuuuurve her?" Sirius asked.

James could actually visualise his friend grinning darkly against the door. "Stand back," he told Hermione and stretched his neck. "This is taking too long."

Five minutes later, the absurdity of the situation had washed away Hermione's embarrassment. When Prongs finally did break down the door, he had wooden bits of it stuck in his antlers that an embarrassed Remus was trying to help him out of, while Sirius grinned at a safe distance at the end of the hall. Allie and Mary stepped into the bedroom to find Hermione laughing hysterically, wrapped in a white sheet from the bed, her mass of curls untamed and spread out over her bare shoulders.

"You lot are terrible people," Hermione said as Mary handed over her clothes. "But with good intentions."

"Happy?" Allie asked with a smirk.

Hermione looked up at the stag in the doorway, head bowed forward with Remus tugging at the chunk of door, putting his foot on the wall for leverage as he pulled, shouting, "Just shift back and it'll fall off!"

Sirius laughed from behind them. "He can't shift mate, he's starkers under all that fur!"

Hermione shook her head and rolled her eyes, turning her gaze back up to Allie. "So happy."

Chapter Text

December 5th, 1985

The first year was the worst.

A new relationship was not easy to build when the rest of the world was watching. For the most part, the Wizarding world ignored Harry and James, only ever remembering them from time to time near the anniversary of Voldemort's destruction and Lily's death. Lily Potter, after all, was the hero.

Hermione and James settled into something nice and comfortable with an ease that had Harry happy, barely noticing how Hermione's hand slipped into his father's, or the way that James would kiss her cheek when they sat on the sofa together to watch Harry build new Lego creations only to destroy them later by throwing Exploding Snap cards at the constructions. As far as Harry was concerned, Hermione had always been a large part of his life; the fact that she slept over several nights a week at their house only meant that he occasionally got eggs for breakfast in the morning instead of porridge or pancakes, because eggs were the only breakfast food that Hermione knew how to cook.

The trouble came when a young writer began researching the Potters.

There had been an incident in Wales where a Voldemort sympathiser had kidnapped a Muggle-born witch and tortured her for a period of sixteen days. Unaffiliated with Death Eaters—or so Lucius had informed the Order—the man was a crazed, obsessed fan of the fallen Dark Lord, and died when he faced off against Aurors during their mission to rescue the girl; she hadn't survived her assault. In an attempt to remind the world what Muggle-borns were capable of, The Lily Potter Story was set to be published, due in stores for the third anniversary of Voldemort's destruction.

As much as they wanted to hide, the Potters were in the public eye once again, and Hermione was suddenly with them, refusing to leave in the face of the press. Despite the articles—and eventual published book—saying little about Hermione, putting all the focus instead on Lily's sacrifice for her family and the work that James had done with charitable foundations in her name, as well as his job working with the Department of Magical Games and Sports, rumours spread and gossip rags took over, labelling Hermione a harlot after the "Potter money and fame," eager to replace Lily.

A few magazines speculated over Hermione and James's relationship, wondering when, exactly, the pair had met, implying that James had been unfaithful to his wife. Reporters from those magazines usually ended up retracting their articles within the week. Alastor Moody looked the other way when reports were filed against Hermione for using disfiguring curses.

The second year passed much easier. As their search for Horcruxes began to stretch into periods with little to no information, Hermione devoted herself to her new family, moving her things into James's house and setting up a permanent residence, returning Allie's old flat in the same pristine condition to which she'd been given it. The bookshop continued to do well, and Remus and Hermione had even taken on several employees, including a recently graduated Gilderoy Lockhart who was determined to one day be a writer himself. To celebrate his new job, Hermione offered him a glass of laced firewhisky and watched carefully while Allie Obliviated the young man, removing all knowledge of Memory Charms from his mind.

"He has the potential to be a good person," Hermione said. "But some people just shouldn't be trusted with certain knowledge," she sadly admitted, offering a quickly sobering Gilderoy a handshake and a "Welcome to Lupin and Howell's".

Grateful for Gilderoy, Hermione was able to stay home most mornings, reserving her time at the shop for busy days and weekends. That weekend, in particular, she'd decided to stay home and host a sleepover for the children.

James went to work early, waking her up by leaving a trail of kisses down her body until his head rested against her hipbone. He dragged his teeth and laved his tongue against her until her sleepy eyes opened just in time to clench shut again as she fisted the sheets at her sides. He muttered something about having already fed the children and then left the house with one last kiss, tasting of her, something she knew he did on purpose just to carry that arrogant memory around in his head all day.

Hermione flicked her wand to clean up the scattered mess of toys and clothes as she made her way toward the kitchen, sighing as she saw Harry's brand new dragon, broken, at the foot of the stairs. After picking up after the boys, Hermione set the broken toy on the kitchen counter, leaving it for James to mend later. She smiled at the owl sitting on a perch near the window, accepting the morning mail and offering it a piece of bacon from the leftover breakfast that James made the boys.

It was the usual letters. A few from the press requesting interviews for one thing or another, one from Mary hoping to schedule a meeting later that week to talk about her latest potions research, another from Emmeline complaining about her vacation that she'd been forced to take for her own mental stability when, after her grandmother died, she threw herself into her work and didn't resurface from the Ministry archives for two weeks. There was a small letter in the form of a scribbled note from Allie and Frank, thanking Hermione and James for looking after Neville, and asking if they would be willing to watch Charlotte, their five-month-old daughter, the following Friday because "If I don't get out of this house, I'm going to go positively mental!"

Sitting down with a cup of coffee in hand, Hermione browsed the Daily Prophet, always looking for potential Death Eater sightings or something that might jump out at her and scream Horcrux—something that, perhaps, everyone else had overlooked. The thundering sound of children coming down the stairs caused her to set her cup aside, casting a quick Statis Charm to keep the temperature, while she flicked her wand at the cupboards, locking and charming them with protective spells.

"Mi!" Harry yelled. "Mi, tell Draco that he has to let me play with his dragon since he broke mine!"

She looked down at the wild-haired boy with a determined expression on his face. A year prior, there would have been tears shed over his broken toy. It wasn't the tears, however, that she was worried about; it was the accidental magic that Harry had been displaying for months. "Calm down," she said, reaching out and putting a hand on his shoulder.

"No," he whined. "When you say calm down, you always take their side."

She smiled and pulled him in close, wrapping him in her arms. He struggled, looking up while his friends snickered from the doorway. Hermione kissed the top of his head. "I am always on your side, Harry Potter, and don't you ever doubt that. But you know the last time you got upset, you shattered the windows and scared Crookshanks off for a week."

He sighed. "I know."

Hermione looked up. "Draco, did you break Harry's dragon?"

"No!" Draco said angrily. "It's not my fault. I was flying it, and Ron tried grabbing it and snapped its wing."

"Your turn was over!" Ron argued.

"Stop," Hermione said quietly but firmly, and all four boys, a still soft-spoken Neville included, frowned but obeyed. "Draco, would you please share your dragon with Harry until his can be fixed?"

The blond boy seemed to contemplate the question for a moment before looking up with a grin. "I will for a biscuit."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "You'll do it because it's the right thing to do," she said and almost caught him scoffing at her, an attitude developed, she was certain, thanks to Sirius's influence. "And because you're a sweet and loving little boy, who wants to make me so very happy?" Her small smile turned slightly mischievous as she spoke, watching as Draco's eyes widened and his expression was overtaken by a horrified grimace.

"I am not sweet! C'mon, Harry, let's go play before she starts kissing all of us."

Harry darted out of her arms while Hermione made kissing noises at Draco, causing him to run back up the stairs as quickly as possible, followed behind by the others. She chuckled under her breath and released the charms on the room, reaching once more for her coffee.


"Ahh!" Hermione jumped, catching herself from spilling her coffee. She sighed irritably, looking up at Narcissa who stood in the doorway. "When did you get here? I didn't hear the Floo. Coffee?"

"Tea, if you have it," Narcissa said and walked in, taking a seat at the table. "I stepped in when the hippogriff herd made their way down the stairs. How the pair of you manage in such a little house, I'll never know." She smiled, reaching out for the small cup as it was extended to her, watching as Hermione poured. "I wonder, do you ever see Draco as the boy you once knew? I imagine threatening to kiss him might be a bit awkward."

Hermione laughed. "I've not thought about the boys like that in years, Cissa. I imagine if the Draco I once knew had any idea I acted this way with him as a child, he would have jumped in the Black Lake and begged the giant squid to swallow him whole. Why're you here? I thought Sirius was going to bring Draco back to the manor later this afternoon."

Narcissa nodded. "He is, and I imagine it would be easy enough to pass along the information to my cousin, but I find I trust you with it more."

Blinking, Hermione picked up on Narcissa's tone and flicked her wand at the door, casting a one-way Silencing Charm. "Order news? Have you been contacted by—"

"No," Narcissa said sharply. "And considering not only my public stance against blood supremacy, but my reconciliation with Andromeda, I doubt Bellatrix will make contact, as I've said before. This is about Nott. When the Wizengamot denied Lucius early release—"

"You knew that would happen. It was all for show to try to drive the hidden Death Eaters out of—"

"Of course I am aware," Narcissa replied. "Thoros Nott, however, seems to have fallen for the ruse. When word reached him about Lucius's denial, he sought me out, just as planned."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Sought you out?"

Narcissa nodded. "I imagine it's as bad as what you're thinking. Some men are quite handsome for their age, but Thoros Nott is a number of years older than my own father, and even if I did have any intention of straying from my marital vows, I would not do such with his ilk. Thankfully, he's lonely enough to overlook the obvious."

"If he's so lonely, he shouldn't have murdered his wife," Hermione spat.

Narcissa gave her a quelling look. "That was never proven. Besides, this gives me the chance to invite myself to Nott Manor and . . . get the grand tour, shall we say."

Gasping in understanding, Hermione leant closer. "Do you think Helga Hufflepuff's cup was left with Nott?"

"Either with Nott or Bella, but unfortunately, your Aurors have not been able to get a word out of either Rodolphus or Rabastan. Without reason for a raid on the property, this seemed an easy in. Besides, it's been some time since I've seen the old place, and I've yet to offer proper condolences on Calla's passing." Narcissa sipped at her tea, her calm exterior and cold mask hiding away what Hermione believed might be actual concern about meeting with Nott.


"Tonight," Narcissa replied. "I thought best not to let him think too much on the idea."

Hermione nodded. "I'll send word to Dumbledore."

Standing, Narcissa pushed her chair back beneath the table. "It would be greatly appreciated if you would ask Sirius to look after Draco for the night, unless you and James would be able to again."

"Of course," Hermione said and then stood to follow Narcissa to the fireplace. "Please be careful, Narcissa. He's—"

"A Death Eater?" Narcissa asked, the corner of her mouth upturned. "I'm quite familiar with them."

Sighing, Hermione pulled the blonde into an awkward and unreciprocated hug. "Just be careful."

Chapter Text

December 5th, 1985

"You know," James said as he looked over the broken pieces of Harry's dragon, "sometimes I think that you leave all the broken toys for me to fix because it's the manliest thing that you can find that you aren't willing to do yourself. You open jars with a flick of your wand, you're not afraid of spiders, and you're right scarier than I could ever dream of being." He leant over to kiss her quickly on the lips before returning to the task at hand.

Hermione smiled sweetly at him, leaning her elbow on the kitchen table and watching as James fumbled with the superglue. "You're the one who insists on doing it the Muggle way."

"I like doing things the Muggle way," he smirked up at her and waggled his eyebrows.

She let out a loud laugh and shoved his shoulder before standing up and carrying their empty dinner plates to the sink, flicking her wand and setting a Self-Cleaning Charm that Molly had taught her. "Dare I ask what the Wizarding way is of what you're implying?"

Without looking up at her, James said, "Well, for one, there's a lot more wands." When Hermione rolled her eyes and made a noise he knew to be her trying not to laugh because it only encouraged him, James grinned and stuck the broken dragon's tail in his mouth while he held the snapped wing in place, hoping the superglue worked quickly. "And," he mumbled, toy still between his teeth, "you're only allowed to moan in Latin. It's very sophisticated, see. You Muggle-borns wouldn't know what to do with it."

She smirked, stepping up behind him and putting her hands on his shoulders. "Of course not, savage creatures, we Muggle-borns."

"Primal," James said, slowly pulling his right hand away from the wing and pulling the tail from his mouth. "If the scratch marks on my back are any indication, you're definitely not ready yet for me to magically fuck you."

Hermione pinched his side hard, and James nearly dropped the dragon when he flinched, trying to move away from her as he laughed. "The boys are just upstairs, you prat! I already have to worry about what Sirius says in front of them."

"Speaking of them," James said, glueing the tail in place, "I didn't want to ask during dinner just in case something had happened and it might upset the boys, but wasn't Draco supposed to go home today? I thought Sirius was picking him up."

Hermione frowned and sat back down beside him, reaching into his robes and pulling out his wand since both of his hands were holding the toy. She set it down on the table and watched as James slowly shifted the dragon into his left hand, picking up the wand with his right and casting a Stability Charm to hold it still until the glue dried.

"What happened?"

"Narcissa had dinner with Thoros Nott tonight."

Hazel eyes wide, James glanced to the stairs, searching for little eavesdropping ears. "Does anyone else know? Frank told me how they found his wife. Nott said that she fell down the stairs, the fucking liar."

"Language," Hermione softly scolded, but without her usual narrowed gaze. "Narcissa said he reached out to her, asked me to look after Draco for the night, and then implied that she didn't need help in handling Death Eaters."

Exhaling sharply, James ran a hand through his hair and instinctively reached out afterward, pulling Hermione onto his lap and pressing his face into the crook of her neck. "If any witch can handle herself against a Death Eater, it would be her, I suppose. Y'know . . . other than you," he mumbled, his tone not one that sounded like praise to her ears.

It had been about a year into their relationship when they sat down and confessed everything. Every mark, every scar, and every battle that hadn't left behind visible evidence. She told him everything from mountain trolls to basilisks, Department of Mysteries to the Astronomy Tower, and the failed attempt to escape Godric's Hollow. He told her about the few battles he'd been in during the first war. How a Death Eater named Wilkes had almost severed his arm in a duel, and how he and Sirius had wrecked Sirius's motorbike when some Death Eaters decided to give chase in the middle of Muggle London. A bottle of elf-wine later, and the two felt remarkably closer, but it had left both with a fear that lingered on the surface, ever worried that the other was ready to rush into battle whenever Death Eaters or Horcruxes became the topic of conversation.

"She thinks he might have the cup," Hermione whispered. "It would make sense. None of the other Death Eaters from Riddle's time at Hogwarts were available. Most had either died or were in Azkaban for other crimes. Nott could have it."

"And if he doesn't?"

"Bellatrix," she replied. "That or it's hidden somewhere else. Like the ring."

James sighed. "Has Dumbledore said anything about—"

"No," she said. "He still has your cloak?"

He nodded. "Said it could come in useful while he's out looking. Last I heard, which was weeks ago, he was looking around for some house-elf. Said that she might have useful information. It really would have been much easier if Harry had told you where Dumbledore found the ring."

She smiled and kissed his forehead. "Don't blame Harry. He wasn't good about being very open when I grew up with him. Something he's not even slightly shy about now, for the record."

Groaning, James looked up at her and winced. "Dare I ask?"

She pursed her lips. "He sneaked one of Sirius's magazines the last time he was over at the flat. I caught him showing it to Ron, Draco, and Neville." Unable to stop himself, James laughed. Hermione tried to wiggle out of his grip. "You're wretched! Do you know how awkward that was? I had to pretend I didn't see anything and make a bunch of noise coming up the stairs so they'd panic and hide it away. He's got it under his mattress now."

Still chuckling, James kissed her collarbone and pulled her arms around his neck. "They're only five, love."

"I know that," she snapped back with a small glare that didn't have any heat behind it. "It's all curiosities now, but mark my words, if Molly Weasley finds out that the boys got this stuff at our house, I'm throwing you to the wolves."

He grinned. "I'm used to running with wolves." After a stern look, James sighed and nodded his head. "I'll talk to Harry. I promise."

"Thank you. I'd very much like to not catch my former schoolmates digging around in my knickers drawer because of anything they read in one of those torrid rags."

Slipping a hand up her leg and letting the knee-length skirt bunch around his wrist, James smiled. "Your knickers are only for my eyes, love." The tips of his fingers toyed with the edge of lace and he drew her into a deep kiss, his smile turning into a full grin against her mouth when she adjusted herself, straddling him and rocking her pelvis against his already hardening length.

The whooshing sound of the Floo in the other room had both of them groaning in frustration. Hermione jumped from James's lap, adjusting her skirt before walking into the living room. Her mouth fell open at the sight of Narcissa standing there, looking cool and collected as ever despite several things being out of place. The top of her robes were slightly wrinkled, something the witch never would have abided, and her slender hand was clutched possessively around the small hand of a young boy with dark hair.

"Cissa?" Hermione whispered. "What—?"

"A spot of tea, if you'd be so kind, Hermione. James, how are you this evening?" Narcissa asked, the picture perfect smile on her face as though nothing were amiss.

James stared at the woman with an arched brow, his wand in hand. The boy with her took a look at the defensive way James stood and very briefly flinched. Catching the movement, James tucked his wand into his sleeve and then knelt down on one knee in front of the boy. "Hey there, mate," he said with a crooked grin. "What's your name?"

When he didn't answer, Narcissa reached a hand out and affectionately touched his hair. "This is Theodore. He'll be coming home to the manor."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Tea, yes. Regular for you, and . . . perhaps my special purple tea for Theo?"

Theo looked up then, his brows furrowed. "Only my mum called me that," he whispered.

Narcissa only smiled sweetly and chucked Theo's chin with her pale knuckle. "Such a good name, it is," she said. "I think some purple tea would do just the trick."

Hermione nodded and made her way quickly into the kitchen, not questioning the Slytherin in the other room who had agreed to slip the boy Dreamless Sleep. Hermione poured a few drops from the purple phial into the small teacup and brought that and another out to the living room where James was sitting down in his large chair while Narcissa took the sofa, patting the seat beside her for Theo to join.

"Such a gracious hostess as always, Hermione," Narcissa said and then gave a nod to Theodore to drink up his tea. It was less than two minutes before the small boy leant to one side and fell fast asleep.

"What happened?" James immediately asked.

Narcissa finished her cup and then set it down on the table in front of her. "Helga Hufflepuff's cup is not in the possession of Thoros Nott. We briefly spoke of the fallen Dark Lord," she said, ignoring the way that both James and Hermione bristled at the moniker. "I mentioned the few items left in Lucius's possession, remarking on how they were the only treasures I held dear during this time of my life where I'm forced to pretend to sympathise with Muggle-borns and those the Dark Lord fought to subdue. Thoros was quite irritated, saying that nothing was left in his possession, and he was bitter than Lucius had been seen as more trustworthy than himself."

"No cup then," Hermione acknowledged. "Where does he come in?" she asked, gesturing to the sleeping child on her sofa.

Narcissa adjusted her robes. "Mr Nott had some other opinions about things that my Lucius was undeserving of. And then he took a very unfortunate trip down the stairs. Nott Manor is quite a dangerous building. Very old and not well maintained. His wife died similarly, I believe."

James groaned and leant forward, scrubbing his hands down his face. "Should I owl Dumbledore?"

Hermione shook her head. "Call Allie. She was one of the Aurors who tried to put Nott in Azkaban for Calla's death. Narcissa, if they ask you what happened—"

"Did you know that skilled Occlumens have the ability to fight off the promptings of Veritaserum?" Narcissa asked. "I read that recently in . . . oh, some old book I found in our library. Quite a dull read other than that one particular passage."

Hermione nodded in understanding. "We'd always assumed that it was Bellatrix who taught Draco," she said quietly, remembering the night of Slughorn's Christmas party during her sixth year. When Harry and caught Snape and Draco speaking in the shadows. "But it was you."

Narcissa raised an innocent brow. "It makes sense. I would naturally provide my children with any means to protect themselves."

"Children?" James asked, raising a brow.

The blonde smiled and turned, looking at the sleeping boy. She reached out and affectionately touched his cheek. "Do you think it would earn more sympathy from the Wizengamot to leave his name Nott or to change it to Malfoy?"

Chapter Text

December 5th, 1985

While James left the room to send word to Allie on behalf of Narcissa, Hermione moved to his chair and sighed, running her hands through her hair as she stared at the blonde and the sleeping boy beside her. "This didn't originally happen."

"I imagined as much," Narcissa said. "Do you know anything about him that I should be aware of?"

Hermione shook her head. "He was one of few Slytherins that didn't call me a Mudblood?" she offered. "Draco made some joke in Potions once and Nott, er, Theo laughed. He could see thestrals. I remember that because not many could . . . at that point. What's Lucius going to say about this?"

Narcissa smiled. "He has a delightful habit of giving me whatever I want," she said sweetly, stroking her fingers through the sleeping boy's hair. "And even if he had issues with it, he won't be released from Azkaban until the boys are off to Hogwarts, as Dumbledore so kindly arranged." The bite in her words was felt more than heard.

Hermione offered a slightly sympathetic smile. While she had no lost love for Lucius Malfoy, she considered Narcissa a friend. Her need for justice barely outweighed her concern for the Malfoys. As a young woman fresh out of war, Hermione had been too pleased to see Lucius carted off to Azkaban with the rest of the Death Eaters, and knowing that he was receiving what other prisoners would consider special treatment had grated on her nerves. But now, in the strange piece of domestic bliss with James and Harry, Hermione couldn't help but grieve for Narcissa's loss. Death Eater or not, Lucius Malfoy loved his family.

"Speaking of Dumbledore," Narcissa said, softly clearing her throat to change the subject. "Do you know of any reason why he would visit Azkaban? Outside of his role as Chief Warlock, that is."

Hermione raised a brow. "Outside of . . . Why?"

"No reason. Thoros apparently had friends within the prison, both behind bars and not. Evidently, Albus Dumbledore came to visit an older inmate. The man had long since lost his mind to dementors, or so I was told, which made it all the more interesting that Dumbledore spent a great deal of time with him."

Swallowed down her sudden anxiety, Hermione tried to school her expression. "Who?"

James carried down a half-sleeping Draco who was protesting about the need to be carried as his head lolled back and forth before finally colliding with James's shoulder, a toy dragon fixed firmly in his tiny grip. "Do you need help getting them through?"

Narcissa smiled and nodded once. "That would be much appreciated, thank you." Leaning down, she lifted Theo into her arms and gave Hermione a look before kissing her cheek and stepping toward the fireplace.

"Malfoy Manor," James said, throwing powder into the grate and letting Narcissa lead the way. He stopped to smile at Hermione. "I'll be right back."

She nodded. "I'm going to head up to bed."

Once on the other side, James set Draco down on the closest sofa and watched with a nostalgic smile as a small house-elf appeared to take over, tending to the young Master of the house. Narcissa politely thanked him again for his assistance, and James turned, stepping back through the Floo.

He followed his usual nighttime routine, double checking the security wards on the house, leaving only the one window slightly ajar for the morning owl that delivered the paper. He placed a Sickle near the owl perch in the kitchen next to a bowl of treats, just in case they decided to have a lie in.

Walking up the stairs, his fingers traced over photographs on the wall, a compulsive habit now. The one from his and Lily's wedding was still up. He'd offered to take it down for Hermione's sake, and she had responded by fixing the photograph to the wall with a Permanent Sticking Charm. That had been the day that he knew that he loved her and the way she truly understood him. For his birthday that same year, she made a small shadow box frame that hung beside the wedding photo. Inside was the first picture of him, Lily, and Harry as a family, as well as both wedding rings.

The further up the stairs he moved, the more Hermione appeared in photographs. One taken by Molly at Harry's fifth birthday showed James kissing Hermione while Harry tried to fly his new dragon toy into the distracted couple. Though the photograph made no sound, Harry's lips could easily be read attempting to command the dragon to spew fire at the snogging lovebirds.

Stepping inside Harry's room, James smiled at the sight of his son tucked in with the sheets and blankets smoothed out around his little body, indicating that Hermione had come to say goodnight while he'd gone to Malfoy Manor. He leant down, kissing Harry on the forehead before quietly closing the door and setting a charm that would alert him if there were any problems during the night. Nightmares had been something that Hermione continually worried herself over, despite the fact that Harry—more than often—slept soundly.

He found Hermione in the bathtub, steam rising up and surrounded her body. Her hair was pinned up and her eyes were closed as she breathed in the calming scents of whatever oils she had put in the water. Scented oils, like Potions, had never been his speciality, and Hermione fixed her bath with the same precision she used when brewing.

James threw a towel on the ground behind the clawfoot tub and knelt, reaching his hands into the water to rub at her tense shoulders. He leant down and kissed at her neck, letting his hands move down over her collarbone to massage her breasts. She let out a sigh of relief and he smiled, glad that he could relax her a bit and distract her from whatever was running around in her mind.

He quickly undressed and then silently tapped her on the shoulder, letting her know to scoot forward so he could slip in behind her. The water was scalding hot, just how she liked it, which was a bit too much for him, but he never said anything as he held in a hiss behind his teeth when he lowered himself into the tub.

Hermione turned around and ran her hands up his chest until they wrapped around his neck and tangled in his hair. He pulled her tightly against him, kissing her soft and deep, laving his tongue against hers in slow motions that mimicked other things the small muscle was brilliant at doing. She reached her hand between their bodies, running her fingers over his half-hard cock until it stiffened under her touch, at which point she lined herself up and rocked her hips until he was inside of her.

Their lovemaking was quiet, save for the heavy breathing and the splashing water against the sides of the bathtub. Hermione kept him firm and deep within her, circling her hips to cause the necessary friction that they both needed without breaking their connection.

They fought for their mutual climax and shivered together in the water as they came down from the high. She rested her head against his chest as he pulled out of her, letting her body slip down so he could hold her in his arms.

"You ruin all my baths," she said with a happy sigh.

James kissed the top of her head. "It's not my fault you look so pretty all wet and naked."

"All I ever want in life is a relaxing bath without some ridiculous man pawing at me."

He picked up her hand, threading their fingers together, kissing the webbing between her thumb and index finger. "I'll remind you, love, I'm not the one that pawed you," he said, gesturing to the permanent black pawprint on her hand.

Hermione scoffed and splashed him. "Don't tease," she said sleepily. "Need I remind you that I've seen a similar one of these on your arse." When he chuckled, lips pressed against her hairline, she asked, "Are you ever going to tell me how that got there?"

He shook his head. "Never."

"I could be persuasive," she said in a breathy voice.

James laughed. "Not for all the blowjobs in the world."

Their laughter gave way to sighs and then silence as they relaxed in one another's arms. Eventually, James brushed the hair from her face so that he could see her open eyes and concerned expression. "What's wrong, love?"

"I have a bad feeling."

Furrowing his own brows, James sat up. "Like what?"

"Like I'm missing something important," she said in frustration. "And . . . I think it has to do with Dumbledore. Narcissa said . . . Do you know why Dumbledore would have gone to Azkaban to speak with a prisoner? Not Lucius Malfoy or anyone that . . ." She sighed and sat up, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Frowning, James reached for her again. "Hey, whatever Dumbledore's . . . I'm sure he knows what he's doing, and he'll tell the Order if we need to know."

She looked up at him, frowning. One of very few arguments the couple had was about Dumbledore. While James trusted the man implicitly, even after everything that had happened, Hermione had her doubts. She'd eventually pulled out her copy of Dumbledore's biography, written by Rita Skeeter in the timeline that had long since been erased. Most of it was lies, Hermione was certain, but there had to be some truth to some of it. Dumbledore's family, for instance. She'd always wondered why Aberforth was less than cordial with his elder brother, and Rita's story about Grindelwald and a dead sister created a plausible reason.

"Who did Dumbledore visit in Azkaban?" James finally asked.

Hermione swallowed down the rising panic.

"Morfin Gaunt."

Chapter Text

December 23rd, 1985

"It's not weird," Hermione insisted for the third time. "I'm happy that you're happy." She set down the tray of freshly baked biscuits—Mary's recipe since Hermione had almost turned the children off of sweets forever when she'd tried her own—and reached out, hugging Emmeline. "I think you and Kingsley are well matched, and I've said so for the last two months, so stop bringing it up."

Emmeline sighed and nodded, hugging Hermione tight. "He's taking me to meet his mother this weekend."

Hermione pulled away and widened her eyes. "Wow. I never got to meet her. He must really like you," she said with a grin.

"Are you talking about Kings in here?" Sirius asked, narrowing his eyes. "Does he have a bigger cock than me?"

Emmeline laughed and looked back at him. "He's inches taller and has a good two stone on you, Sirius."

"So, what you're saying . . . is that he's compensating."

Hermione laughed and turned her back to the pair to pull the biscuits off the tray.

"Hermione, does Kingsley have a bigger cock than me?" Sirius asked, a look on his face and a tone of voice that said this was a very important question to him.

She shook her head, refusing to placate him. "No comment. Besides, I've never seen you naked—No! That was not an invitation!" she shouted when she watched him reach for his buckle.

James walked into the kitchen, kissing Hermione in greeting. "Tree's all done, love. Why're we yelling at Sirius today?"

"He's trying to take his trousers off in the kitchen," she said. "Deal with that, will you?"

"Prongs has seen me naked!" Sirius shouted. "You and Hermione go in another room and make comparisons and tell me if Kingsley's got a bigger cock than me."

The room fell quiet as James tried to figure out what conversation he'd walked into. "Mate, if I take Hermione into another room, it won't be yours or Kingsley's cock that will be—"

"Children!" Hermione snapped, turning James around to face the doorway where Harry and Neville stood. "What do you need, boys?" she asked, pinching both Sirius and James when they quietly snickered.

"Are the biscuits ready?" Harry asked excitedly.

Neville looked back over his shoulder. "My mum and dad are leaving soon."

Hermione leant down and kissed the top of Harry's head as she dusted her hands off on the crisp apron around her waist. "Almost done," she said before taking the apron off and throwing it at Sirius, who promptly tied it around his waist, covering his black jeans. Hermione walked into the living room to see Allie shifting baby Charlotte into Mary's arms while Remus looked on nervously.

"Have fun at your Auror Christmas party," Hermione said, reaching out and offering a hug to Frank and then Allie. "Don't worry about the kids."

"Never do," Allie said with a smile, kissing Hermione's cheek. "Thank you guys, again."

Frank, Allie, and Emmeline all vanished through the Floo, leaving Hermione and Mary to supervise the children and Marauders. Sighing, Hermione put her hands on her hips and turned, hoping to commiserate with the only other witch, to find Mary and Remus snogging on the couch and Charlotte sitting happily in her pram, sucking on her fist.

"Really?" she said, raising an incredulous eyebrow. "Guys, come on, it's Christmas."

Without breaking away from Remus's mouth, Mary pointed her index finger above her head, where a floating mistletoe hovered.

Doing her best to ignore the couple on her sofa, Hermione reached into the nearby pram and pulled Charlotte into her arms. "Come on, you're too young to witness this perversion," she said with a laugh when she could hear Remus growling in objection, the noise muffled by Mary's lips.

Back in the kitchen, Sirius had a giggling Neville under his arm, hovering him over the table where he was decorating biscuits. James held Harry on the other side, with less broken biscuits in their mouths. Both boys had sticky frosting covering their hands, almost up to their elbows, and Harry had some plastered just beneath his chin, likely out of convincing James that it was perfectly acceptable to lick the spoons. Out of habit, Hermione walked to the table and reached a hand out to wipe frosting from Harry's mouth. He grimaced at being cleaned but never broke his concentration on drawing a large "H" on the massively misshaped biscuit in front of him.

"Moony and Mary making Harry a cousin in the other room?" Sirius asked.

James snorted, and Hermione turned to slap Sirius on the shoulder. He laughed, set Neville down on the chair before dusting his hands on the apron that covered his jeans, and then reached out for the baby. "Come here, precious," he said with a doofy grin, and Hermione handed over Charlotte, amused at how the often the crazed-looking man turned soft in the presence of babies.

Harry crawled out of James's arms; seeing that Neville no longer had an adult to assist him, he wasn't about to be considered any less of a big boy than his friend. Setting Harry down in his own chair, James pushed back and patted his thigh while grinning up at Hermione.

She sat down and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her forehead against his, and stifled a yawn. James pushed some of her hair from her face and smiled. "You sure you still want to go to the Burrow tomorrow?"

"We have to!" Harry shouted. "Bill and Charlie are coming back from Hogwarts for Christmas and they're going to tell us all about it."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I don't want Bill telling you anything about his time at Hogwarts. Molly tells me about the letters she gets from Professor McGonagall."

"Was Bill bad?" Neville asked.

"If he's lucky, he's very bad," Sirius commented. When Hermione shot him a look, he held Charlotte closer to him. "Can't hurt me. I've got a baby," he said, and both Harry and Neville laughed.

James smirked. "He's not bad," he told the boys. "He just got into a little trouble for kissing a girl."

Immediately, both Neville and Harry blanched, eyes wide and cheeks red. Sirius and James laughed, and the latter ruffled Harry's hair. "You won't always feel that way."

"Girls are stupid," Harry mumbled. When Hermione cleared her throat, he sighed dramatically. "Little girls are stupid."

She lifted a brow in amusement and asked, "What about Ginny?"

He looked up at Hermione, scrunching his nose in distaste before muttering, "Ginny's not a girl," and then returning his attention to decorating his biscuit with precision. "I meant other girls. Gross girls. Kissing girls."

Hermione couldn't help but shake her head, quietly chuckling as she remembered a flustered Harry Potter asking her for advice on where he should take Cho Chang on a date to Hogsmeade. How he'd stumbled into the common room after his first kiss with her, and how very different that experience had clearly been from when he'd dated Ginny at the end of their sixth year. Not a girl indeed, Hermione thought and let out a soft snort of amusement.

When James looked at her with a questioning expression, she smiled and shook her head. "Nothing," she whispered. "Just thinking about . . . things," she said with a wistful look on her face and he nodded in understanding, leaning forward to kiss her.

At the same time, both Harry and Neville yelled, "Ew!" which prompted Sirius to break out into laughter.

Rolling her eyes, Hermione leant forward. "Are you boys done? Why don't you go in the other room and bring some to Remus and Mary?"

"C'mon," Sirius said, adjusting Charlotte in his arms while he helped Harry and Neville gather up the treats in their small hands. "Let's leave these two lovebirds alone so they can snog in private." He grinned when Neville and Harry both grimaced again, yelling their objections.

As if to prove a point, James began peppering Hermione's face and neck with chaste kisses.

Following Sirius out the door, Neville turned to Harry and said, "Your parents are so weird," prompting Hermione to freeze in place, eyes wide when Harry, instead of correcting his friend, said, "I know."

Chapter Text

December 29th, 1985

James helped Hermione out of her cloak, having Disapparated from the Burrow after dropping off Harry. When he took a step back, noticing Hermione's severe expression of concern, he frowned. "What's wrong?"

Biting her lower lip, she shook her head. "I don't know, exactly. I've got a weird feeling about this meeting." She watched as Dumbledore, hands tucked into the sleeves of his robes, gave nods of greeting to those walking through the door. "Does Dumbledore look all right to to you?"

James glanced up at the old wizard, trying to look for something that he figured Hermione had spotted. Not initially seeing anything, he furrowed his brows in concern. "I don't know. Same as usual, I s'pose. Do you know something?"

She sighed, thinking of her sixth year and Harry's growing concern for their headmaster. "Maybe." She turned and kissed James before walking over to take her seat. James attempted to shake Dumbledore's hand in greeting. Dumbledore, instead, patted James on the back and smiled at him, his eyes twinkling.

Returning to Hermione's side, James's lips were in a tight line. "You're right. Something's wrong."

"Where do we stand with Malfoy?" Mad-Eye asked when everyone had arrived and taken their seats. Aberforth, as usual, was behind the bar and muttering about the loss of business every time the Order decided to meet there since he had to close up for privacy sake.

"Narcissa swears that Nott couldn't have had any articles from Voldemort," Hermione told Moody. "He seemed too upset about Lucius being given something personal from their 'Dark Lord.' She almost suffered because of it."

"Convenient that she didn't," Moody quipped with a sneer. "That leaves us back at square one with the cup."

Dumbledore offered the old Auror a gentle smile. "Now, now, Alastor. We've come too far to be so downhearted, have we not? One small step back will not stop us from moving forward. As it so happens, we have much to celebrate. I have news of my own to report. The ring that Miss Granger informed us about has been discovered and destroyed."

There was a collective gasp around the room. Hermione's eyes widened. "You found it? Where?"

"In an old home previously occupied by the Gaunt family."

Sirius sat up straight. "Gaunts?" When everyone turned to look at him, he cleared his throat. "My parents weren't fans. The Gaunts held a grudge against the Blacks for years. They squandered away their own fortune and blamed a lot of the other pureblood families. Called us all thieves. Walburga always said that a Gaunt was just a human equivalent of a niffler. They hoarded their heirlooms and would rather starve than part with them. But they're all dead."

Dumbledore smiled. "Now, yes. One, however, was recently in Azkaban."

"Morfin," Hermione whispered. "Voldemort's uncle. The ring . . . Sir, was there—?"

"Destroyed and locked away with the other remnants of Tom Riddle's soul, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said, interrupting her. When Hermione opened her mouth to speak again, her focus locked on Dumbledore's hands still beneath his robes, the older wizard continued to talk over her. "Many thanks given to you for being able to provide us with so much information. We will do our very best to work at retrieving the cup of Helga Hufflepuff. Alastor, I assume that all efforts are being used to locate Bellatrix Lestrange?"

Moody scoffed, offended. "Of course. All trails of the witch dried up years ago. Ministry isn't doing much help with the cutbacks. Losing a lot of staff, and what few Aurors I have are being reassigned. Security's gone to hell. Could use a little luck on our hands, if you ask me."

"Luck?" Dumbledore chuckled. "Oh, as it so happens, I have some." He reached into his robes with one hand—unmarred, Hermione noticed—and retrieved a small phial on the end of a golden chain. "Horace was quite proud that he'd been able to brew a bit of Felix Felicis this year whilst teaching his Advanced Potions students."

Remus's eyes widened. "Is that . . . truly Felix Felicis?"

"It is, indeed. Just a few drops are left."

"What was it used for?" James asked suspiciously.

Sirius smirked. "Did you get lucky, Professor?"

"I'm not taking that stuff," Moody snapped, taking a step away from Dumbledore as though he were preparing for the older wizard to attack and force feed him the few drops of liquid luck. "Slughorn is a crackpot, and everyone knows it. I don't take any potions that I don't brew myself."

Allie scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You don't eat any food that you don't make yourself, you old coot. Professor, did it work?"

Dumbledore hesitated for a moment and then nodded his head. "It did. One very good, almost perfect day."

The almost, Hermione figured, was the most important thing to note.

"What will a few drops get you?" James asked.

"Oh, at least one hour, I suppose."

Sirius eagerly leant forward. "What does it do?"

"It directs you," Hermione said, remembering her own experience with the potion as well as what Harry, Ron, and Ginny had told her of theirs. Harry had been moved, prompted by the potion, to follow what seemed to be illogical steps toward his goal. Likewise, Ron and Ginny told her they felt the same as she did when fighting Death Eaters who had infiltrated Hogwarts. Like the liquid luck told them where to go and how to move to avoid curses being thrown at them. "It's like a voice inside your head, leading you to opportunities for the best outcome of a situation."

"Quite right, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said with an interested smile. "The best outcome."

"Do you have to have something specific in mind?" Sirius questioned. "Like defeating Voldemort? Hunting down Horcruxes and the like? If we drank it, could we—?"

"Drink too much and it'll poison you," Moody interrupted. "Not to mention, it's rarely brewed to perfection, and the side effects could be—"

"What about those drops?" Sirius asked, pointing at the phial. "Professor Dumbledore's already had the rest, so it's not poisoned. I could . . . I mean . . ."

"By all means, Mister Black," Dumbledore said, pulling the chain from around his neck with one hand and holding it out.

Sirius hesitated at first, as though he were waiting for a trap to spring, but then he reached out and took the chain, pulling the phial into his hands. Everyone watched in perfect silence as Sirius examined the potion, watching as the few drops of liquid moved from one side to the other, like a fine wine, leaving behind a fading colour against the glass. Uncorking the phial, Sirius tilted his head back and allowed the drops to fall onto his tongue. He swallowed, put the cork back in the phial, handed it back to Dumbledore empty, and waited.

"Well?" James nervously asked. "What do you feel?"

Looking fidgety and anxious, Sirius stood and then blinked as though he were surprised that his legs had moved at all. "I . . . I . . . it's weird," he said, his grey eyes twitching as his gaze flickered back and forth between Dumbledore and his friends. His right hand, Hermione noticed, hovered near his pocket before dipping inside and gripping the handle of his wand. "I feel like I should . . . like I need to—Expelliarmus!" Dumbledore's wand flew into Sirius's hands. "Ah! I'm sorry!" he screamed, rushing to return the wand to the older wizard. "I didn't . . . I don't know why—"

Dumbledore laughed, loudly, a sound that many had never heard before. "No apology necessary," he insisted before stowing his wand back within his robes. "Perhaps luck needed you to have a boost of self-confidence," he suggested with an amused tone. "Though, why disarming an old man like myself would do such a thing, I'm not sure."

Some chuckled, but most, like Hermione, stared suspiciously at the scene.

"What else do you feel?" Remus asked. "Anything about the Horcruxes?"

Sirius concentrated and then frowned bitterly. "No, it's gone."

"Perhaps we will have to make our own luck in that department," Dumbledore offered.

Sirius nodded and then stared at the door, his hands fidgeting once again. "I think . . . I need to go. Are we done here?" When no one replied, he said, "Good," and rushed for the door of the bar.

"Where's he off to?" Frank asked curiously.

"Three Broomsticks," Remus and James replied at the same time with a laugh.

The meeting over, Hermione stood and took her cloak from James as he tried to help her into it. She shook her head and leant forward to kiss him. "I'll meet you back at home, all right?"

Anxious, he frowned, running his hands up and down her arms. "Is everything all right?"

"Don't worry about me."

He scoffed and pushed his fingers through his hair in frustration before kissing her once more. "I love you," he told her before following Allie and Frank out the door.

Hermione turned to watch as Dumbledore said goodbye to Moody, glancing up to watch as Aberforth disappeared upstairs, leaving her alone with her former headmaster. "Professor? Can I have a word?" she asked, her gaze landing on his concealed arm.

As though Dumbledore knew what she was going to ask, he pulled back the sleeve of his robe, revealing his hand, blackened all the way up to his elbow. Her eyes widened in horror as understanding hit her. "I knew it . . . your hand. The ring was cursed, wasn't it?" she asked, heart pounding in her chest. "Was it the stone? The Resurrection Stone?"

Dumbledore's smile and twinkle faded as he sat down, looking utterly exhausted and no longer feigning health and cheer. He let out a heavy sigh, his weight resting against the chair beneath him. "Will you forgive an old man his shortcomings, Hermione? I have many weaknesses, but I've tried to do what I could for the greater—"

"Is it all true, then?" she asked, cutting him off. "Grindelwald?" The name was whispered, not reverently but in horror. Dumbledore looked up at her, surprise and sadness written in the lines of his face. He slowly nodded his head. Seeing the strange grief in his gaze, Hermione decided not to question him more about his past. "The Felix Felicis?"

He looked down at his hand. "I paid Horace a hefty sum for the potion," he admitted, "hoping that perhaps it would lead me to someone who could prolong my . . . decline. It worked . . . to an extent."

Staring at the hand, she recalled a conversation she had once had with her Harry.

"His hand was like that when I saw him over the summer. I thought he'd have cured it by now, though . . . or Madam Pomfrey would've done."

"It looks as if it's died," she had replied, with a nauseated expression. "But there are some injuries you can't cure . . . old curses . . . and there are poisons without antidotes."

Suddenly filled with understanding of things that hadn't made sense for years, Hermione gasped. "You're dying."

"I am."

"Oh my . . ." She fell into a nearby chair and put her head in her hands as she remembered that night. The Death Eaters attacking, Bill being mauled by Greyback, everyone gathering in the Hospital Wing and Harry walking in announcing that Dumbledore was dead and that Professor Snape had— "Snape," she said, looking back up at the man. "It all makes sense now. Harry told me that the night you died, you told Draco that you knew he'd been sent to kill you. That he'd been trying all year and you knew about everything he did. You didn't try to stop him because you knew that you were already dying."

Thoughtfully, Dumbledore nodded. "I can assure you, Miss Granger, I know little about myself from your time, but I don't believe any version of me would have allowed a young boy to harm his soul by taking my life."

"What about a Death Eater?" she accused. "You . . . you asked Snape to kill you." She stood, horrified as she stepped away from Dumbledore. She shook her head, remembering Harry's story of what happened on the Astronomy Tower, of years and years she spent defending Severus Snape on the basis of Dumbledore's unwavering trust of the man. Who evidently, hadn't been the traitorous murderer that she'd been led to believe. "He wasn't . . ."

"That sounds very likely," Dumbledore agreed. "It is . . . there are many things in my life that I am not proud of, Miss Granger. I am glad, however, that you have been able to prevent me from doing many more things that I would regret. Many more lives I might have ruined."

Disgusted, she half expected the man to ask her to kill him should the need arise. When he remained silent for a long time, her disgust and anger turned to pity. "Is there nothing that can save you?"

He smiled at her. "We cannot hide from Death forever. He will find us all."

"Death isn't a person."

"Is he not?" Dumbledore asked with a brow raised in amusement. "I wonder, when I die this time, will you still have need of children's stories?"

Chapter Text

December 29th, 1985

"Why?" James asked, a horrified expression on his face that had been there since Hermione had told him about Dumbledore, the ring, the Resurrection Stone, and the curse. Remus sat on the floor in their flat with Mary running her fingers through his hair, a look of utter devastation on his face.

"Because men are greedy," Emmeline said. When the men turned to glare at her, she sighed. "I meant people in general. Look, he didn't have to put the ring on, did he? When we got the locket, did anyone here think it might be a good idea to wear it? No, of course not. Because Hermione told us what Horcruxes do. Don't write in the bloody diary, don't put on the bloody locket, maybe let's not prance about with the bloody diadem on our heads, yeah? So let's not wear the ring. It's not complicated."

Allie scoffed. "Hallows, though? I'd say that's complicated."

"Rubbish," Emmeline said, rolling her eyes. "Dumbledore fell for an old myth, and look what's happened!"

"What if it's not a myth?" James asked, emotion still stuck in his throat. He would be lying if he hadn't been stuck on the idea of a stone that could bring people back from the dead. He'd read The Three Brothers since he was a child himself; he had read it to Harry as well. The fact that he owned an invisibility cloak had never once made him stop and wonder whether or not the story had been real. To think now that his cloak was the Cloak?

"It could be real," Hermione said. "When Dumbledore died in my time, he gave me his copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. He put this symbol in the corner of pages—specific pages," she said and drew the triangle, line, and circle on a paper, setting it down on the table in front of her friends. "I spoke with Pandora's husband a few months ago when I stopped in to visit, and he explained that there are people all around the world that believe in the Hallows. They search for them. Dumbledore was one." She looked down, wishing that she had gone to Dumbledore after speaking with Xenophilius. Maybe he would have included her in on his plans. Maybe she could have stopped him. Then again, maybe Emmeline was right and Dumbledore's greed for the Hallows had blinded him.

"Does he have them all? James said that he's still got the Cloak." Remus asked. "If he does, then . . . wouldn't that make him Master of Death?"

She shook her head. "I don't think it works that way. Or he didn't have them all on him when he was cursed. That's not the point. He is cursed, he's going to die, and much sooner than when he did in my—"

James stood up and walked out of the room, storming up the stairs and slamming the bedroom door behind him.

Hermione sighed.

"Don't mind him, Hermione," Remus quietly spoke. "He just . . . it's Dumbledore."

She nodded. "I know. Harry was . . . I know," she said, remembering how devastated Harry had been over Dumbledore's death, and how disgusted he was when he heard about Rita's scandalous book about their fallen headmaster. Unfortunately, it seemed that, for the first time ever, Rita's writing wasn't all bold faced lies.

"Is there nothing that can be done?" Frank asked. "He can't just . . . die."

Shaking her head, Hermione sighed again. "When he was cursed before, he had Snape do something to stop it from spreading. This time, he doesn't have a secret Death Eater up his sleeve to help him with Dark Magic. That's why he bought the Felix Felicis. He was hoping that it would lead him to someone who could stop it. But he's only delayed the inevitable, and not very well."

Remus looked up curiously. "Why save two drops? And why give them to Sirius? Dumbledore had to know that they wouldn't do much in the Horcrux search. So what was the point of that whole . . . display?"

Hermione shrugged. "I don't know yet. I have a theory, but it's too far fetched to even . . . I'm not going to speculate out loud just yet. It doesn't matter right now. What matters is, well, the final Horcrux."

Mary kissed Remus's head and wrapped her arms around him. "Is there anything we can do to help Dumbledore? He's got no family aside from Aberforth, right? And they're not exactly on the best of terms."

"I'll ask Minerva," Emmeline said. "And I'll look into maybe trying to help him. He says there's nothing that can be done, but I've got an Unspeakable who owes me a favour."

Everyone left, and Hermione made her way up the stairs, slowly opening the bedroom door to find James sitting on the edge of the bed, face in his hands. She slipped in behind him, placing her hands on his shoulders and rubbing gently. "If I had known . . . I mean, I knew something had happened, but I never guessed that it was the ring. Dumbledore kept it all a secret, even from Harry."

"And this Gaunt bloke?" James asked. "The one that Dumbledore talked to in Azkaban."

Her lips pursed. "Dumbledore pulled his memories. That's how he found out where the old Gaunt shack was and where the ring might be. He discovered for certain that Voldemort had taken it when he framed his uncle for the deaths of his Muggle family. Apparently, Dumbledore spent the last few weeks trying to get Morfin's sentence overturned in the Wizengamot, but he had a previous record with using magic against Muggles. Since he's been in for so long . . . they were hesitant."


"Morfin died two days ago."

James sighed. "I guess you only get one chance to break someone out of Azkaban, and Dumbledore used it on Sirius."

Hermione remained silent, allowing James his grief without tainting it with her own thoughts and memories. She figured that Dumbledore had done something similar with Morfin Gaunt in her own timeline, trying to free the man once he'd discovered his innocence. That meant that her headmaster had reached out to a stranger, a man with a history of blood prejudice and violence, but he hadn't done a thing to save Sirius. Only at Hermione's insistence that Sirius Black was innocent of any murder, had Dumbledore agreed to get involved this time around.

The more she learnt, the more Hermione was realising that Albus Dumbledore was more man than myth, and that the beacon of hope for the Order had, perhaps, always been Harry and not their leader of Light.

"I'm tired of people dying," James said, leaning his head back against her. "Do you really think the Resurrection Stone is real?"

She nodded. "Not at first. The moment I figured out why Dumbledore had given me that book . . . I thought he'd been mad, and it was all absolutely nonsense. But then after thinking about it all these years, I just . . . I think . . . I think it might be true. Or at least partially. But Dumbledore's keeping those secrets close to his chest for now. Who wouldn't covet the Hallows?" She hesitated before speaking again. "Would you . . .?" she began and then paused, looking down at the floor as she tightened her grip around his shoulders.

James reached up and tugged on one of her curls. "I love you."

"I know."

"Do you remember the first time I told you?"

She smiled. "At the Burrow. 'Good chance the Cannons got this year, don't you all think? Work's been a bit rushed lately. Hermione, I'm in love with you, and someone please pass the pudding,"' she said, mimicking his voice before laughing quietly against his shoulder.

He pulled one of her hands to his mouth and kissed it. "I do appreciate good pudding. I love you."

"I love you," she echoed.

"Would I like to see Lily again? Of course. Just as I imagine you'd like to see all those you left behind in your time. But I don't regret my life, Hermione. If I could bring Lily back, I absolutely would. But I wouldn't want to lose you either, and, frankly, she was and you are just a bit too possessive to share me," he said with a small laugh. He turned around, pulling her arms off of him so that he could wrap his around her and tug her into his lap. "I love my life with you. I wouldn't change it."

She kissed him, pouring all of her pent up emotions into it. Her frustration and anger over Dumbledore, her anxiety over the Hallows, her fear of the last Horcrux, and the little bit of self-doubt that she had when she wondered if James would ever give her up for the chance to have Lily back. It wasn't possible, of course—even the silly story said as much—but the thought was enough to put a stone of concern in her gut.

She let herself drink the love from his lips, letting it soothe all her worries. "I need you."

"You have me," he whispered against her skin before pulling her legs over, letting her straddle his waist.

The creak of a door interrupted them, and both turned to see Harry standing in the doorway, his eyes wet and his face pale. "I don't feel good."

"What's wrong, mate?" James asked as Hermione slipped off of his lap in record time, rushing to Harry's side and pushing back his black hair to feel his forehead.

"My head hurts, Mi," Harry said, sniffling when she wrapped him in a gentle hug and pulled him against her chest.

She turned, staring at James with obvious panic, even as she tried to disguise it in her voice. "You've got a headache?" she asked, forcefully blocking out the mass of memories of an older Harry Potter collapsing in agony as his connection to Voldemort gave him visions and pain.

Chapter Text

January 24th, 1986

"I don't like them," Harry said with a pout, pushing the bridge of his new glasses up his nose for the third time in as many minutes.

His headaches, thank Merlin, had been due to genetically poor eyesight. Hermione, fresh off of a panic attack spurred by her worries over Harry's potential connection to Voldemort, had slapped James in the arm repeatedly for being the reason that the boy needed glasses in the first place. James, kind man that he was, didn't even flinch.

The glasses, however, refused to stay on his face. Or rather, Harry refused to keep them there. Hermione had found the pair cracked, broken, smashed, and once even melted, but repaired them every time and put them back on.

"If you keep breaking them, I will keep repairing them. If you keep losing them, I will keep finding them. And if you try to feed them to your snake again, I will fix them to your face with a Permanent Sticking Charm," she told him as they stepped into the Ministry of Magic, Harry's hand in hers as per their strict rule of going out in public. "I think they make you look quite smart, Harry. Your dad has glasses, and he's very handsome."

Harry cringed, dragging his feet behind him as they made their way through the Atrium, few people pausing to look when they recognised the son of Lily Potter. "I don't want to be handsome. And Draco says that me and Dad look silly with glasses."

Scoffing, Hermione muttered, "Draco has his father's nose, he has no right to talk about what looks silly." When Harry giggled, she turned and looked down at him. "Don't repeat that."

He grinned. "What will you give me?"

She sighed. "Draco's a terrible influence on you," she said, but reached into the pocket of her robes and pulled out a small caramel, handing it over to the boy who was far too excited about how well that had worked. She might have argued with him had she not been desperate to get into the lift and away from the crowds.

"Mi, when can I have a brother?"

Her footsteps stopped abruptly, and she turned to look down at Harry. "What? Why would you . . .? I . . . What?"

Harry shrugged, moving the sweet in his mouth from one cheek to the other as he spoke. "Draco's got a brother now. And Neville's got a sister. And Ron and Ginny have loads of brothers."

"I umm . . . I don't . . . You've got lots of cousins. Neville and . . . I'm sure Remus and Mary will . . ."

"Sirius says he and Rosie are gonna get married," Harry said. "Will they give me cousins?"

Hermione rolled her eyes remembering the morning after the last Order meeting. After two drops of Felix Felicis, Sirius had shown up at Hermione's breakfast table the following morning with a stupid grin on his face, having finally—with the help of Felix—convinced Rosmerta to go on a date with him.

Shockingly, without continued Liquid Luck, Rosmerta agreed to continue seeing Sirius—exclusively even.

"Sirus will . . . Oh look, the lift's open," Hermione said, pulling Harry along and hoping to end the conversation there.

James seethed from behind his desk, staring down at the petition in front of him. It was only signed by fifty people so far, but he knew that she'd come back and show him after every new ten signatures that the petition was growing. The pink-painted bint on the other side of his desk grinned at him smugly. He'd never before thought about hitting or hexing a woman, but this one was riding that line very dangerously.

"I don't care if you live to be two hundred, Dolores, I will continue to fight this nasty bit of bullshit you've created until my final breath!" He picked up the petition, crumbled it into a ball, and threw it at her face, relishing the gasp of shock that came from her. "You have no evidence to support it, and you're full of shit if you think that people are going to stand by and let you just walk through the Wizengamot like you own the bloody place, casting around prejudice like it's contagious! Our world has changed, in case you haven't been paying attention the last five years."

Umbridge scoffed, waving him off as though he were a pest bothering her in her office instead of the other way around. "It has not changed so much in that people will ignore the fact that the Ministry is allowing monsters to mingle with their children in the name of a silly little game."

Had she not just referred to werewolves as monsters, James still would have been irritated by her insults against Quidditch. Silly little game indeed. "If I hear again that you've harassed that family and their child again—"

"Their pet, you mean?"

He reached for his wand just as his door opened, dropping it at the sight of Hermione and Harry standing there. Harry looked shocked to see his father in such a state, but James couldn't help but feel relieved when Hermione's expression turned furiously dark at the sight of the older witch.

"James? Are you not ready for lunch?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at Dolores Umbridge. "Or have you lost your appetite?"

James clenched his teeth, finding himself unable to speak without shouting. When his witch had sat him down to tell him about her time at Hogwarts, he'd begged her to go into more detail when she'd reached her fifth year. He'd been forced to deal with Dolores Umbridge previously at work and had poorly assumed that Hermione's insights from another timeline would give him some sort of advantage. In the end, all he knew was that she was worse than he'd ever imagined, and he fought the urge to curse the woman in the halls over the fact that her future self from a different world had forced his son to self-mutilate.

Dolores turned to face Hermione and Harry, though she barely acknowledged the witch. "Oh, this must be your . . . family. How charming."

Harry looked up at her, still sucking on the caramel in his mouth, and muttered, "You've got a funny looking face."

James and Hermione both held back laughter, but each looked immensely proud. Dolores glanced at them both, clearly expecting them to reprimand the boy. When they remained silent, she frowned and looked down at Harry. "That's not very kind. Do you not teach your children manners, Potter?" she hissed, glancing over her shoulder at James, who growled in reply.

"We've raised him not to tell lies," Hermione said primly.

Umbridge ignored her, turning to smile down at Harry, reaching a hand out in greeting. "Hello, young man. You must be Ha—"

Hermione pulled Harry's arm, pushing the boy behind her, and stepped forward until she was nose to nose with the older witch. "If you touch my child, I will personally drag you by that hideous bow on your head down to the Department of Mysteries, and toss you through the veil myself."

Dolores squared her shoulders to show no fear, only contempt. "You're the Muggle-born," she said, letting the word spew from her mouth like a curse. "The one related to the werewolf. It's obvious. You can tell a lot about a person by their blood and who they associate with. Disgustingly violent, the lot of them. Are you infected as well?" Scowling, she brought a pink handkerchief up to cover her mouth as though breathing the same air as Hermione would contaminate her.

"If I were, you'd think being disrespectful to me and my family would be a mistake on your part," Hermione said, forcing a primal growl through her teeth that had Umbridge's eyes widening.

Harry peeked from behind Hermione's robes. "You shouldn't say mean things about people. 'Specially not my uncle Remus, and Mi," he said, his eyes narrowed.

Dolores returned the glare. "That sounded almost like a threat. Do you think your uncle and this . . . woman," she said, glancing at Hermione, "will do me harm then?"

"No," Harry replied. "But my aunt Cissa will turn you into a big, ugly bone, and I'll feed you to my Padfoot."

James couldn't stop himself from laughing. Dolores, furious at being insulted and threatened by a child, stormed from the office, retrieving her ridiculous petition from the floor on her way out. Hermione shut the door and sighed, her hands shaking with rage.

"You've got better self-control than I have," James said, stepping around the desk to kiss her.

"Not really," Hermione said, holding up her hand to show him that she's nearly cut her fingernails through the skin of her palm. "If there is one person in this world that I would dabble in Dark magic to harm . . . it's her. What was she doing here?"

James sighed, walking over and uncasing a small Snitch that he kept on his desk. It was caught from a Harpies practice game a year earlier, taken out of rotation because it was faulty and too slow. Tossing it in the air, he smiled when Harry's attention was immediately drawn to the speck of gold that fluttered around the room. "There's a boy in one of the Quidditch leagues who was attacked by one of Greyback's pack last year," James said, sitting on the edge of his desk and reaching out to pull Hermione into his arms. "Remus has been helping him."

"Sebastian?" she asked, raising her brows. "Remus told me about him. He's a sweet boy."

James nodded. "He is. And we've been using Quidditch to help keep him active and build up his endurance to help him get through the moons with minimal physical damage. Most werewolves have a short lifespan because of the transformations. The Wolfsbane Potion helps some, but it's still rough. That ugly toad," he said, glaring at his closed office door, "has been trying to put a ban on werewolves interacting with others. She tried to push a law a while back that would prevent any werewolf from even entering Wizarding towns and populaces. When that failed, she decided to think smaller and she's using the children to do it. Creating panic amongst witches and wizards by telling them that their children are in danger because I've loosed a werewolf in the Quidditch leagues. What's more, she's been harassing Sebastian and his family."

Hermione scowled. "Awful woman."

James kissed her cheek and then looked down when Harry tapped a small clenched fist against his arm, the Snitch in hand. James grinned proudly and took the golden ball, sticking it beneath the glass case he kept on his desk. "How's your head, Harry?" he asked, ruffling his son's hair.

Hermione pursed her lips. "He tried to feed his glasses to Pretzel."

Trying not to laugh knowing that it would only encourage the boy, James merely smiled and then hopped off his desk, kneeling on the ground and pulling his son into a tight hug. "And what did Pretzel think of that?"

Harry laughed. "She said she'd prefer a mouse."

James smirked and kissed the top of Harry's head. "I've got a few things left here to do, love," he told Hermione. "Can we meet at the Leaky for lunch in maybe an hour?"

She nodded. "Sure. I've got some tasks at the shop. I can have Gilderoy watch Harry."

"Nooo . . . I hate him," Harry said, stomping his foot in protest. "He smells funny. And he never stops talking about his ugly robes."

Laughing quietly, James leant down and adjusted Harry's glasses. "Well, you keep that to yourself. I love you both."

Hermione smiled and kissed him. "Love you," she said before taking Harry's hand and leaving the office.

Back in the lift, Hermione pressed the number to take them to the Atrium again so that they could use the Floo to head to Diagon Alley and wait for James at Lupin and Howell's. Harry, on the other hand, had different plans. "Can we get ice cream instead of going to the bookshop?"

"Maybe. If you keep your glasses on and don't complain about them the whole way, I'll consider it." Harry beamed up at her excitedly and then adjusted his glasses once more. The lift lurched to a stop and then shook for a moment before descending once again. "I really wish they'd get these things fixed."

When they finally stopped and the doors opened, Hermione sighed and hit the button to close them once again. When the doors looked like they tried to close only to fling back open once again, she sighed. "Let's get another one, Harry."

Harry followed her out of the lift and glanced around the shadows of the dark corridor. "Where are we?"

Hermione looked around. "Level nine. And we should not be here," she said, trying not to think of the last time she'd ventured down toward the Department of Mysteries.

"Ow. Mi, my head hurts," Harry said, scratching at his forehead as he gazed into the dark depths.

"That's why we got you the glasses, Harry," she said as she hit the button repeatedly, waiting for the second lift to open. "So that . . ." Her eyes widened when he let out a painful hiss and clutched at his forehead, rubbing his scar. "Harry?" she knelt down in front of him, pushing back the black fringe as her heart began to race.

"Mi, it hurts!" he cried, gripping her robes.

Hermione clutched her wand and hit the button to the lift again before moving toward the other one. Before she had a chance to step inside, Harry held tightly with one arm, the doors slammed shut. She spun around, wand held out defensively toward the darkness in front of them where torches should have been lit. A voice reached her through the darkness; a voice she hadn't heard in many years; the voice of one of very few people that struck genuine fear in the formidable Muggle-born.

"Itty . . . bitty . . . baby . . . Potter."

Chapter Text

January 24th, 1986

Bellatrix Lestrange stared at Hermione with dark, heavy-lidded eyes.

Most of her face was hidden by the shadows of the hood from her cloak. Hermione had seen similar cloaks being worn by Unspeakables—the few times that she'd seen one, that is. She didn't have to ask how no one had noticed Bellatrix inside the Ministry of Magic; people avoided Unspeakables as though catching a glimpse of them was taboo. Bellatrix could have walked right in without a problem, and she clearly had done just that.

Hermione ushered Harry behind her, pushing him inside of the abandoned lift. She mentally went over a list of defensive spells, silently cursing herself for not spending the past few years training for something like this. Images of Alice and Frank, older and broken in St. Mungo's from her own time flashed through her mind alongside the sight of Harry, grief-stricken over the death of Sirius. Bellatrix was a powerful and deadly opponent after over a decade in Azkaban. This time, there was no telling what she was capable of.

Hermione sucked in a breath as Bellatrix stepped closer. Briefly looking away from the crazed Death Eater, she tried to find another escape only to figure that this had all been planned. They'd been led there, and the only way out was the same way they came in. Unfortunately, that was through a broken lift, likely charmed by Bellatrix who was giggling as she advanced forward.

The witch, Hermione noted, should have appeared younger and healthier in this timeline. Years younger than when she'd met her here in the Department of Mysteries at the end of her fifth year, not to mention the lack of half a life spent in Azkaban, having dementors suck away her soul piece by piece. Except, Bellatrix didn't look young or healthy. In fact, her face was gaunt and her eyes empty and twitching. Pale as death, her lips were cracked and bleeding, and dark black lines flowed out from her mouth against alabaster skin.

Her bone structure was jarring. Black angles and lines that painted the picture of Narcissa and Andromeda's sister, or what she once had been. It made something ache inside of Hermione, desperately wishing that her Slytherin friends were there to help her.

"Liar, liar, liar," Bellatrix cooed. "All little liars."

"Mi," Harry whimpered from behind Hermione, clutching at her robes.

Hermione levelled her wand at Bellatrix. "Stay where you are!"

Bellatrix looked at the wand as though it were something she'd never seen before. Her eyes twitching, she looked like a wild animal as stepped closer still, letting Hermione's vinewood touch right between her eyes. Fear paralysed Hermione. She was no longer used to fighting in a war, and she had always had backup when it came to facing Death Eaters. Alone, with Harry behind her, Hermione felt the cold sting of petrifying fear overwhelm her.

Bellatrix sniffed deeply, like a beast who'd come upon a strange object. "Not a pretty flower this time," she said with a grin. "There'll be no lies. No pretty Mudblood to hide behind." Her focus drifted to Harry. "I know what you did," she said in a singsong voice.

"Diffindo!" Hermione yelled on instinct, and a blast of light came out of her wand, slashing Bellatrix across the face. The other witch screamed and looked away as blood trickled into her vision. Hermione used the chance to run for it, grabbing Harry in her arms and bolting down the long corridor. She didn't know where to go as she closed in on the large door that led toward the familiar rooms that had all but been destroyed the last time she'd been there.

Bellatrix's laugh echoed behind her. "Like sheep to slaughter!"

Hermione pushed her way through the door, cursing the fact that there were no Unspeakables inside. The room briefly spun, and she made toward the first door she could see, shutting herself and Harry behind it. Gasping at the sight of the familiar room and the large archway at the bottom of the stairs, Hermione thought about turning back, but she could hear Bellatrix chanting from the other side of the door.

Setting Harry down, she knelt before him. "I need you to hide. I'm going to Disillusion you, and you're going to hide at the other end of this room. Do you understand me?"

Shaking, tears in his eyes, he nodded. "Who is that woman?"

"A very, very bad witch," Hermione replied. "You hide from her, Harry. Do you hear me? You hide from her, and you don't go anywhere near that thing," she said, pointing to the veil. "Under no circumstances, do you understand?"

He nodded, and Hermione kissed his forehead at the same time as she tapped her wand on the top of his head, making him invisible to even her eyes. "I love you. Go, now."

She jumped up just as the door burst open, and her eyes widened further when she noticed that Bellatrix's hood had fallen back, revealing the rest of her face and head. The fear that had paralysed Hermione earlier suddenly made sense now. The black lines that moved outward from Bellatrix's mouth reached all the way back to her ears and down her throat like poisonous vines. More than that, her long, black hair was bunched to one side, tangled in a dirty, knotted mess. The matted hair made sense when she turned, revealing that the back left side of her face was twisted and warped, the skin stretched where another, horrifying face sat on the side of her head.

"Oh God," Hermione said with a terrified gasp, knowing exactly what and who she was looking at. She shakily raised her wand, knowing that this was no duel. "A-Avada Kedavra!" she yelled the curse for the first time, a feeling of sickness pitting in her stomach at the sound of the words. A bolt of dull green light flew from her wand, hitting the wall behind Bellatrix. The older witch laughed and laughed. Hermione, not knowing if she had the fortitude to murder someone, thought of something just short of, and shouted, "Sectumsempra!"

The curse hit Bellatrix in the shoulder, missing her face—and Voldemort's—by mere inches. The Death Eater hissed in pain and looked to her bleeding wound, but then she glared up at Hermione as though she were a bothersome pest.

"How are you alive?" Hermione asked, trying to stall the woman.

Bellatrix laughed, touching the blood on her shoulder and then licking her lips. "An Albanian farmer liked to breed unicorns. Tasty little treats, they are."

"She's distracting you," the hideous face hissed. "Find the boy!"

"Boy, boy . . . find the boy, yes, my Lord, of course, my Lord," Bella cooed. "I am your most loyal, most loyal . . . most loved—"


Hermione flicked her wand at the witch, sending a series of hexes and curses. Stunners were brushed off, and the physically harmful spells hit the witch, though she acted as though they were nothing. Unicorn blood; it had to have done something to keep her from feeling pain or at least feeling it properly.

Keeping an eye on Bellatrix and the veil, Hermione wondered if she could trick the witch to get closer to it. There was a part of her that was justified in the thought of kicking the Death Eater through it, considering what she had done to Sirius in the previous timeline. But Bellatrix was moving higher, not lower, as she advanced on Hermione, black wand raised like a conductor's baton, and smiling as though she were creating the most beautiful music with her curses. "Blood of the enemy . . . blood of the enemy . . ." Bellatrix muttered under her breath like a song. "Harry Potter! Come out, come out! If you don't, I'll kill your Mudblood!"

Somewhere in the room, Harry screamed, "No!" but his voice echoed, making his exact location difficult to pinpoint.

"No, Harry!" Hermione yelled, and her eyes widened when Bellatrix turned away from her in search of the boy. "Where's the cup, Bella?"

Bellatrix slowly turned, cocking her head to the side as she looked Hermione over. "What. Did. You. Say?"

Hermione grinned defiantly. "I said, where is Hufflepuff's Cup?"

Bellatrix snarled, and Hermione could hear Voldemort gasp before uttering, "Find out what she knows! Don't let her leave alive!"

In a panic, and kicking herself for not thinking of it earlier, Hermione threw up her strongest shield and then transfigured the steps she was standing on into a blockade. It was only a distraction, she knew, but she needed time. She closed her eyes and thought of James, of his smile upon first waking and the silly way that his hair fell in his eyes. "Expecto Patronum!"

The little, loyal otter appeared in front of her and batted its beady eyes.

"James, get the Order! Bellatrix and Voldemo—"

James stretched his arms above his head and yawned. His stomach growled, more than a little eager to get away from the office and down to meet Hermione and Harry for lunch. He checked the rest of his schedule and smiled. With a flick of his wand, he rearranged the few things he had left to do that day, deciding that he'd surprise his family by going home early. He'd been wanting to take Harry to a park near their house, having promised to build snowmen for a few weeks but the weather hadn't been cooperating. However, that morning they'd all woken to fresh snow—a world wiped clean with a blanket of white.

Standing, he locked up most of the important things that he didn't trust to leave around his office, put on his robes, and casually waved to his secretary, and older witch named Linda who spent more time reading vampire romance novels than doing her actual job, but she didn't pinch his arse, which James found to be quite the upgrade from the previous secretary.

Just as he stepped toward the lift, a silvery spectral otter appeared in front of him. "I know, I'm on my way," he said with a chuckle, fully expecting the otter to tell him that he was late, and if he didn't show up soon, she and Harry would sneak off and get ice cream without him.

However, when the otter did open its mouth, James frowned at the panicked voice that came out of it.

"James, get the Order! Bellatrix and Voldemo—" There was a loud crash in the background followed by Hermione screaming.

"No, no, no!" James yelled, pleading for the otter to keep speaking. "Where are you?"

Hermione's voice spoke again, softer, weaker. "Death . . . Room. Department of Myster—" she began to say, but her words were cut off, and the otter vanished.

He sprinted to the lift, pressing the button rapidly before casting his own Patronus several times and sending it in various directions. One to Hogwarts, to Dumbledore. One upstairs to the Aurors, to Frank, Alice, and Moody. And others sent to Sirius, Remus, Mary, and Narcissa. He kept it brief. "Hermione's been attacked. Bellatrix and Voldemort. Department of Mysteries! Death Room!"

The picture of what might have happened to his son and girlfriend became much clearer when, as he stepped into the lift, it began moving up instead of down. His eyes widened in understanding and he slammed his hand against the buttons again, as though by force, he could make them work properly. All they ended up doing was bringing the lift to a standstill.

James took a deep breath, looked down at the floor, and aimed his wand near his feet. "Bad idea, bad idea," he mumbled before shouting, "Reducto!"

The splintered wood and rubble from the demolished stairs covered half of Hermione's body. Whatever curse Bellatrix had flung at her to destroy the blockade had knocked Hermione forward, cracking her forehead on the step. Her vision blurry, she turned, grateful to see the Patronus otter vanish through the wall, before Bellatrix was suddenly on top of her, screaming like a harpy.

"What do you know? You filthy little Mudblood!"

Hermione gripped her wand tightly, just as tightly as Bellatrix was grabbing at her hair, and shoved the tip of it up under the Death Eater's ribs. She could have been stabbing her with it with such a force, and Bellatrix would not have noticed.

"I know you have it," Hermione said through clenched teeth. "And you won't live long enough to use it to bring him back!" She dug the wand in and opened her mouth to scream, "Avada—" but her spell was cut off when Bellatrix's wand pressed against her sternum.


The whole world vanished in the pain.

Using a charm to slow his descent, James still hit the ground hard, twisting his ankle, though he didn't stop to pay it any attention. He'd never been in the Department of Mysteries before and didn't know exactly where to go. Luckily, just as he exited the ruins of the lift, Moody, Frank, and Alice appeared in front of him.

"How?" James asked.

"Auror privilege," Moody said before turning down the long corridor. "Death Room, you say? It's at the end. Behind a large door, the room will spin. None of the damned things are labelled. We'll have to check all of them. Potter, stay here and—"

"Not on your life!" James said and then ran, limping down the hallway, following Alice and Frank through the large door.

It didn't take long to find the Death Room, as they could hear Hermione screaming from behind the door. "Not again, not again," he said as tears pricked at his eyes, while Frank blasted the door off it's hinges.

When they entered the room, it wasn't Hermione who was screaming any longer, but Bellatrix Lestrange.

The Death Eater stood, hollering in agony and gripping her right shoulder with her left hand. Her shoulder was bloody, some sort of curse had struck her just below the joint, but James's eyes were drawn to the rest. Her arm was gone, though the pile of ash at her feet indicated its whereabouts.

Frank and Alice began to throw spells at the witch as James rushed to Hermione's side, throwing up the strongest shield that he could think of and hoping that his friends could keep the Dark witch distracted. "Hermione? Hermione, love, open your eyes. Please open your eyes."

Unconscious, her body twitched and seized in the aftermath of what was clearly a Cruciatus. "Harry!" James called out as he stroked his fingers through Hermione's hair, looking around for his son.


James spun at the sound of Harry's voice but didn't see anything. "Harry?"

"I'm here," Harry said.

James felt a small hand on his arm. "You brilliant witch," he muttered, pulling Harry into his arms.

"Is she all right?" Alice asked, dropping to Hermione's side, causing James to look up. "Bellatrix Portkeyed away. Hermione's head is bleeding," she said and then waved her wand over the witch. "That Stasis Charm will get her to St. Mungo's. Harry?"

James tapped his son's head, cancelling the Disillusionment.

"I didn't mean to!" Harry yelled. "I don't know what I did! But she was hurting Mi, and I know I'm not supposed to use magic, so I just grabbed her and—"

"That's okay," James said, kissing Harry's head. "We're not mad. We need to go with Hermione to hospital."

"I've got her," Alice said. "Moody! Charm me up a St. Mungo's!" The older Auror pulled a sweet wrapper from his pocket, touched his wand to it, and handed it out to Alice. She touched her hand to Hermione's shoulder before looking up at James, offering him a sympathetic smile before the Portkey vanished both witches.

"Come on," Frank said, helping James to his feet. "We'll head over right behind them."

"What the hell happened in here?" Moody demanded, fuming. "How did a Death Eater slip into the Ministry? How did no one catch her?"

"And what happened to her arm?" Frank asked.

"I didn't mean to," Harry whispered into James's shoulder. "But she was hurting Mi."

Chapter Text

January 24th, 1986

Sirius and Remus rushed into St. Mungo's, frantically searching the hospital until their attention landed on James sitting beside Harry in a waiting room down the corridor on the Spell Damage floor. Sirius ran to Harry, lifting him up into his arms and squeezing him tight.

Remus embraced James. "I'm sorry we're late. How is she?"

James sighed and gestured weakly to the door. "Fine, so far as I know," he muttered. "Healer came in a short while ago and said that they're trying a few potions to get her body to calm down. She hit her head, so she was likely concussed while she was being Cru—"

"Fucking cunt!" Sirius snapped, and Harry jumped a bit in his arms. "Sorry mate," he whispered his immediate remorse, sighing with relief when the boy wrapped his small arms back around Sirius's neck. "I'll deal with Bellatrix myself, I swear it, Prongs."

James shook his head. "No, this is . . . we'll all deal with this," he said, sitting back down and putting his head in his hands.

"I want my mum," Harry said.

Remus's eyes widened in shock, and Sirius followed suit. "When did that start happening?"

James looked up and sighed. "When we first got here, some random witch said that only family was able to go in. Harry put two and two together, and now he keeps trying to trick the Healers. I was too . . . too everything to bother correcting him."

Remus frowned and put a hand on James's shoulder. "Don't," he suggested. Looking up, he smiled at Harry from over Sirius's shoulder. "How about you and me go track down some hot chocolate and biscuits in this place?"

Harry slowly nodded and reached out for Remus, shifting out of Sirius's grip. "Can we bring some for Mi?"

"Of course, mate," Remus said with a small smile before giving Sirius a look and then walking out the door.

Sirius sighed, ran a hand through his hair, and sat down beside James. He didn't say a word but leant over, putting an arm around his best friend and pulled until James relaxed and buried his head against Sirius's chest, great wracking sobs finally escaping him. Sirius frowned, able to tell that James had kept himself together as long as possible for Harry's sake, but the man needed to let it go.

"I can't do it again," James cried. "I won't survive it."

"I know, mate, I know," Sirius said, pressing his forehead to the top of James's hair and letting out a sigh of relief that he'd been holding since he and Remus had burst into the Department of Mysteries just in time to watch everyone else vanish.

They'd lingered behind at Moody's request, and the old Auror filled them in on what had happened. Sirius had screamed and cursed and aimed his wand at the strange arch in the corner of the room, blasting the stones apart in a rage and watching as the odd veil collapsed in on itself. Moody sighed, stared at the broken bit of magic, and then muttered something about blaming that on Bellatrix when he had to fill in the Unspeakables on how a Death Eater had slipped into their department.

Remus and Sirius waited for the rest of the Order to show up, and Mary had been the first to arrive, insisting that she would head straight to St. Mungo's, to see if there was anything she could do to help. Sirius figured that since she wasn't in the waiting room, it was likely that she was with the other potioneers currently brewing things to help Hermione. Alice returned shortly after handing Hermione over to Healers to finish her job, running into Kingsley and Emmeline on the way. "The hospital is going to be packed," she told them, glancing at Remus and Sirius anyway. Emmeline offered to stick around and help, mostly to keep Kingsley from running off, desperate to check on their friends. The witches shooed both Sirius and Remus out of the Ministry and begged them to give James, Hermione, and Harry their love until they were able to join them.

James's eyes burned, and he wiped his face on the sleeve of his robes, gasping for breath. "They were both there, Pads. Bellatrix was . . . Harry did something to her. I'm not sure what."

Sirius nodded. "Moody mentioned as much. Told Dumbledore who looked like he knew something. Said it could be about whatever Lily did to protect him. There'll be a meeting about it, I'm guessing," he said angrily. "Don't you worry, though. Moony and I will take care of whatever needs taking care of except for Hermione and the kid. You take care of them. You don't leave their sides, you hear?"

James nodded. "I don't think I could. I'm shaking right now because they won't let me in to see her. And I know he's with Moony, but . . ." he said, looking up at the door that Remus and Harry stepped through. His chest tighten painfully as panic ebbed and flowed back and forth inside of him. He let out a heavy sigh and leant forward in his chair, feeling decades older than he was. "I can't stop thinking about what might have happened."

Sirius, seeing his chance to possibly distract his best friend from his misery, sighed, chuckled, and then cleared his throat. "Umm, yeah, so when your Patronus showed up? Rosie and I were calling it quits."

James raised his brow at his friend. "Sorry, mate."

Sirius waved him off. "It's nothing. I was lucky it lasted as long as it did. We both knew it wasn't a long-term thing," he said and then ran his hands through his hair again. "You remember that bird I was seeing on and off before Rosie took pity on my sorry arse?"

James sat up. "Vane, right? The one with the kid?"

Sirius nodded. "Miranda. The mother not the kid. Her name is Romy, er, something."

"You getting back with her then?"

"Fuck no," Sirius said. "Dirty little witch was just looking for someone to put a ring on her finger. Narcissa reinstating me and all. Black fortune looked mighty appealing."

Confused, James began to worry for his friend. "So why're you bringing her up?"

Sirius winced. "Because she's pregnant."

James stared at his friend for half a minute in complete silence, feeling waves of concern and sympathy wash over him until finally, he broke and fell forward, unable to stop himself from laughing. Sirius rolled his eyes and then sighed in relief and said, "Yeah, I thought you'd react that way. Thanks for the sympathy, tosser."

Someone from the door cleared their voice, and James stopped laughing immediately, looking up at the Healer standing there. "Mr Potter? She's awake and stable. You can come and see her."

James stood and then stopped mid step, turning to look back at his friend.

"Go," Sirius said. "I'll wait here for Moony and Harry. I'll bring him in when they get back."

Nodding, James hugged Sirius and then turned, rushing out the door and past the Healer, making his way swiftly to Hermione's room. He knew which one it was because he'd paced in the hallway long enough, begging someone to give him information as they filed in and out of it before he and Harry were finally directed to the waiting room.

She looked peaceful other than her brow, which furrowed even in her sleep. James stepped quickly to the side of her bed and fell to his knees there, taking her hand, and pulling it to his lips. He didn't kiss her, but just held her there, skin to skin, and breathed in the comforting scent of her that was almost completely covered by the smell of potions.

She slowly opened her eyes and sighed at the sight of him. "Where's Harry?" she asked, her voice raw from screaming under the Cruciatus Curse.

James kissed the tips of her fingers over and over, stopping only to say, "Moony's got him."

She exhaled shakily and nodded to herself. "He's okay?" When James nodded, she began to cry. "I didn't even have . . . I don't know why I didn't just kill her at first sight. I tried to run, I tried to fight her off, but I should have—"

"Why didn't I kill Voldemort when I had the chance? And I had multiple chances. You're not a killer," James whispered. "Even if you tried, you . . . Merlin, Hermione, you scared me. Please don't . . . I can't do it. I mean, when I lost Lily, I thought I wouldn't ever . . ."

She touched his cheek gently. "I love you."

He leant into her hand, blinking away tears that were making his red eyes that much worse. He turned, kissed her palm, and whispered, "Marry me."

Hermione tried to sit up but winced at the feel of her body, too heavy from exhaustion and numbing potions. "Did you just—?"

"Marry me," he said again, this time louder and while staring into her eyes. "Marry me because I love you, and I should have asked you a long time ago. But I thought that you wouldn't . . . I thought it was something we could wait for."

She frowned. "James, if you're doing this because you're just scared that I could have—"

"Of course I am. But that doesn't mean I'm not genuine, or that it's a bad idea. It doesn't mean that I don't love you with everything I have, because I do. You and Harry are my everything."

"See, pal," Sirius said, carrying Harry into the room, followed behind by Remus. "She's right there, and she's just fine."

"Mum!" Harry screamed, kicking himself free of Sirius's grip, before rushing over and climbing on the bed. Hermione's eyes widened at the declaration, but she opened her arms to the boy regardless, taking a breath when James tried to help Harry gently hug onto the witch.

She exhaled loudly, burying her nose in Harry's messy hair. She kissed his head, rubbing her hand down his back as he cried against her shoulder. "It's okay," she soothed him, "I'm here. I'm just fine. You were so brave."

Remus stepped forward, putting a hand on James's shoulder since the man looked like he needed support. "We're so glad you're okay, Hermione," he said. "You gave us quite a scare."

"I knew you'd be fine," Sirius muttered, but his expression betrayed him.

She smiled at her friends and then kissed Harry again when he finally stopped crying. She looked at James, who had recaptured one of her hands, bringing it back to his mouth and pressed his lips against her palm. "Yes."

Remus raised a brow. "Yes?"

"Yes, what?" Sirius asked.

James grinned at her. "I love you."

Chapter Text

April 16th, 1986

Dumbledore leaned on a large staff that Arthur had built for him considering his strength was quickly fading. James and Hermione told him that they were fine with finding someone else or even allowing him to sit during the ceremony, but their former headmaster insisted on doing things properly. "I'll marry the two of you, and I'll do it right. I deserve to do something right before I leave this world, and nothing would make me happier than to bind the pair of you together."

She wore a simple white dress, not wanting to make a fuss, though she insisted that James wear dress robes, but only because he looked so very smart in them. Harry stood by his father, scratching at his uncomfortable robes and occasionally pushing his fingers through his hair, displeased with whatever it was that Molly had put in it in an effort to get the strands to sit flat.

Sirius and Remus stood behind James, both grinning madly at their friends, chuckling quietly when James stumbled over his vows. Sirius offered a "You'd think he'd be better at this since he's done it before," and Hermione smirked when James groaned and finally reached into his pocket to retrieve the things he'd written but not memorised.

Alice and Emmeline stood behind Hermione, both snickering when they caught Remus dabbing at his eyes. Alice retrieved a tissue for the man who tried to not be dramatic at needing it. Hermione's vows were eloquent and well-spoken, rehearsed and memorised down to each individual pause.

Both spoke of love, devotion, healing, and second chances.

And neither remembered a word moments later—too excited to think—when Dumbledore pronounced them bonded for life, and the magic settled over them just as James leant in and kissed her.

Everyone in the marquee outside the Burrow applauded. Kingsley whistled loudly, Mary and Molly cried tears of joy, and Frank did his best to wrangle the children, who were much too eager to sneak off and look for the food. Narcissa sighed as she sat beside Andromeda, whinging over the fact that Hermione hadn't allowed her to take her shopping in France for a decent dress.

When the applause finally died down, Harry breathed a sigh of relief and then shouted, "Can we have cake now?"

April 25th, 1986

It was a close call when James and Sirius joined Remus for the full moon. Miranda Vane was two weeks away from giving birth to Sirius's child, and he was certain that he could be there for the full moon. So when Mary fire called Hermione in the middle of the night saying that Miranda had been brought into St. Mungo's, both witches had no idea what to do. Going to the Lupin cottage where the boys waited out the night was too dangerous, of course, so Hermione had sent a Patronus instead and pulled a sleepy Harry into her arms before Flooing to the hospital.

"Is she all right?" Hermione asked Mary upon arrival.

Mary rolled her eyes. "She's a nightmare and even worse when she's in pain," she blurted out and then gasped, covering her mouth. "Sorry, that was awful of me. I'm on the end of a long double shift, and I'm worried about Remus. I hate when they make me work on the full moon. Not that I could help anyway." Hermione frowned at the bags under Mary's eyes. "I saw Miranda get brought in, and she was screaming her head off. I felt bad at first, seeing her in pain and all, but then she started complaining that she deserved a bigger room, and didn't they know she was carrying the next Black heir?"

Hermione snorted.

While Bellatrix Lestrange had seemed to vanish from the face of the earth in the aftermath of the Department of Mysteries fiasco, another evil witch had merged herself into their lives. Miranda Vane, a divorcee with expensive tastes had shown up to dinner at their house one night, pregnant belly on display. Sirius had invited her, platonically, and had made it very clear that not only was he not looking to settle down, she definitely didn't want to spend the rest of her life with him, whether she knew it or not. Miranda, however, cooed and flirted and hung on his arm, playing the pregnancy card anytime anyone looked at her sideways.

When Sirius was thirsty, Miranda had jumped at the chance to get him a butterbeer, but Hermione stepped in her way, intercepting anything the witch offered him. "Like daughter like mother," she had mumbled under her breath before warning Sirius not to drink or eat anything that Miranda gave him.

Thankfully, Miranda eventually grew bored with Sirius, especially when the smell of cigarettes became a trigger for late pregnancy morning sickness. Despite promising to quit when his child was born, Sirius smoked a pack a day just to keep Miranda from trying to sneak her hands down his pants. Instead, he held her hair and did his best not to gag when she vomited over the smell of him.

Emmeline hired an amazing solicitor to draw up custody papers, and, after a hefty sum from the Black inheritance, Sirius was looking forward to being a full-time dad. Miranda, a witch more interested in socialising than parenting, hadn't fought him on a single thing and even asked if he could give the solicitor's number to her ex-husband, hoping that a similar situation could be worked out with her older daughter. At hearing that, Hermione very nearly offered to adopt Romilda herself. Edward Vane—Miranda's ex-husband—however, already had an older daughter from his first wife and was more than happy to follow Sirius's example to obtain full custody of his and Miranda's child.

Hermione followed Mary down the long corridor to the Maternity Ward where she could see Edward in the waiting room, Romilda flipping through a book on his lap. His older daughter, Emma, was reading a copy of Witch Weekly and tearing out pictures of famous witches and their familiars, sticking them in a small book she kept with her that looked like a homemade diary.

"I didn't think you'd be here, Eddie," Hermione said as she set Harry down on a nearby sofa, smiling as he stayed sleeping.

Edward chuckled. "When Miranda couldn't get a hold of Sirius, she showed up in my fireplace, screaming. I'm here because Romy wanted to see the new baby. That, and I was afraid Miranda might show up at my house and deliver on my rug."

"Is the baby going to be my brother or sister since Romy's my sister?" Emma asked innocently.

Hermione smiled at the curious child. "Well, you won't be blood siblings," she said. "But that doesn't make much of a difference. You can love someone enough that magic makes you family."

Emma beamed up at her excitedly. Edward smiled in relief, mouthing a silent thank you to Hermione.

"I'd like to stay, but . . . I don't want to stay." Mary whimpered in exhaustion.

Hermione laughed and hugged her friend. "Go and get some sleep. You'll need it when Remus transforms back and needs help getting to bed."

After Mary left, Hermione watched the window that showed the doors to the lift, waiting to see if Sirius got her Patronus. "He'll be here," she said out loud. "He wouldn't miss the birth of his child."

Edward watched as Hermione ran her fingers through Harry's hair while he slept, a habit she'd picked up over the years and something that she did with James as well. "Do you plan on having more children, Mrs Potter?"

Hermione looked up, still not used to being addressed as such. She'd spent her whole life as Hermione Granger and had only recently gotten used to most people from this time calling her Hermione Howell. Now she was a Potter, and the name still shocked her—though it also brought a smile to her face. "Oh, I think Harry's enough of a handful. And please, call me Hermione. We're apparently all family now."

He nodded. "No girls?"

Hermione watched with interest as Romilda stood up, walked over to her older sister, and yanked on her pigtail before running back to hide behind her father. Emma cried and threw a torn magazine at Romilda. Hermione looked up at Edward and lifted an incredulous brow. "I think I'm fine," she said, trying not to laugh when he sighed in frustration as the girls started a fight with one another across his lap.


Hermione stood up and rushed to the door of the waiting room, looking out to spot James stumbling out of the lift with a grin on his face, dragging a pale and terrified Sirius behind him. Both men had leaves in their hair and dirt on their faces. "Did you come straight from the woods?"

"Is it here?" Sirius asked, swallowing anxiously. "Am I uh . . . a thing yet?"

"A father?" Hermione asked. Sirius looked like he was ready to vomit. "Do you need a Calming Draught?"

"Healer came in about forty minutes ago," Edward said, an expression of great sympathy on his face for Sirius. "Said it should be another hour or so."

Sirius nodded. "I'm going to go up to the roof and have one last cigarette. And then maybe jump."

James rolled his eyes, patted Sirius on the back, and then stepped into the waiting room, kissing Hermione hello. She scrunched up her nose. "You smell like an animal," she teased. "He's not really going to jump, is he?"

Shaking his head, James moved down sit down on the sofa beside Harry, who was creating a lovely puddle of drool on the cushion. "He's being dramatic. I was the same way when Harry was born. One minute I was excited and couldn't wait, and the next I was terrified as hell. Of course, that was because Lily kept threatening to hex me through every contraction," he said with a grin. "Remus had to take her wand away because he thought she'd actually do it."

Hermione chuckled. "How was Remus?"

"Tired. The usual. Says he's looking forward to seeing the baby but that Sirius shouldn't bring it by until he's fully rested. His ears are sensitive, and babies crying pretty much guarantees a nasty headache for him."

Two hours later, Sirius's exchanged a pack of cigarettes for a tiny infant in a pink blanket and walked into the waiting room—now also filled with Longbottoms, Tonkses, and Malfoys, both Andromeda and Narcissa having shown up with children in tow. Sirius looked as though jumping from the roof was the last thing on earth he'd ever think about.

The baby had a head of black hair, but her skin was darker than Sirius's, matching the olive tone that Miranda and Romilda had.

"Sirius she's beautiful," Alice said.

"She looks wrinkly," Harry observed. "Did she stay too long in the bath?"

"Don't be stupid," Draco muttered. "She's too little for a bath, and babies can't swim."

"Charlotte takes baths, and she's still little," Neville pointed out, looking up at his little sister in Frank's arms.

Romilda and Emma hovered close, and Sirius knelt down to give the girls a better look. "What did Mummy name her?" Romilda asked.

"Your mummy said I could name her." Sirius shared a look of commiseration with Edward. "Her name is Ariel Lily Black." He passed the baby to James, who smiled down at his goddaughter.

"Not sticking to the Black family traditions then? Naming your child after the stars?" Frank asked with a grin.

Sirius smirked proudly. "Hell no."

Hermione shook her head. "You're going to be disappointed to know that Ariel is the name of one of Uranus's moons."

Crestfallen, Sirius sneered and growled, "Well, fuck," under his breath.

Narcissa swatted him on the back of the head. "You're a parent now, mind your language."

Draco looked up at his mother and smiled. "You're a parent and I heard you say shit last Wednesday when you tripped over my broom in the hallway."

She turned her eyes on her son. "You told me that was Theo's broom."

Draco swallowed nervously, and Theo turned and glared at his brother. "Was that my new broom? You said a house-elf probably took it!"

Harry and Neville, instantly pulled into the conversation, both grinning. "You got a new broom?" Harry asked excitedly.

"Sorry, Pads," James said with a quiet laugh as Ariel yawned, sticking her tiny fist in her mouth. "Your daughter is apparently not enough to keep the attention of young boys."

Sirius nodded and pulled Ariel back into his arms. "Good. Let's keep it that way."

Chapter Text

April 30th, 1986

The week following Ariel's birth had Sirius fire calling James and Hermione at all hours of the night, begging their help with his crying daughter. Eventually, James grabbed a pillow and went over to Sirius's flat to help his friend, allowing Hermione some uninterrupted rest.

She slept soundly at first, dreaming of her extended family and a future wherein Voldemort was a distant memory. She would go with James to King's Cross Station to drop Harry off for Hogwarts, watching as he, Neville, Ron, Draco, and Theo would get on the train together, the most mismatched group of brothers ever. Lavender and Emma would tag along, and they'd all remain friends regardless of what House they were Sorted into. Later on, Luna, Ginny, Romilda, and even Charlotte and Ariel would join them at the magical school.

Hermione dreamed of long holidays with her friends while the children were away during the year and of expanding the bookshop to Hogsmeade with Remus and Mary, who would be blissfully happy, maybe even married. Sirius would never settle down, of course, but his heart was already won by his daughter. Hermione dreamed that Frank and Alice would rise through the ranks at the Ministry, and Alice would eventually take over for cranky old Mad-Eye, who could retire in peace. Frank and Kingsley would train up the rising generation of young Aurors, little Tonks among them.

Hermione dreamed of family picnics at the Burrow surrounded by Weasleys, large Quidditch matches where she sat on the ground and watched as James and Harry teamed up against Frank and Neville, separating Draco and Theo because the boys would be almost as bad as Fred and George when it came to plotting during games. She dreamed that, as the years went on, those same Quidditch games would be taken over by Ginny and Ariel, and that the boys would be the ones begging to be chosen for a team.

She dreamed of camping trips that didn't include Horcruxes, Quidditch World Cups that didn't end with Death Eaters, and a world in which her friends survived to live their lives without fear.

She dreamed of growing old with James and watching Harry grow up happy.

Harry's safety and happiness were her greatest priorities.

Which was why, when his terrified screaming woke her from her happy dreams, Hermione ran from her bedroom like a dragon was blowing fire at her heels. She burst into his room to find the boy sitting up in bed, clutching at his forehead and sobbing.

"What is it?" she asked, pulling him into her arms and kissing his head while he rocked against her. "What happened?"

"Nightmare . . . it won't stop . . . I'm awake and it won't . . ."

"There's something I haven't told you," Harry had told her and Ron after the Death Eaters had attacked at the Quidditch World Cup in 1994. "On Saturday morning, I woke up with my scar hurting again." He'd told them about his nightmare, about what they later would realise was a connection to Voldemort, and she'd known—known!—that something was terribly wrong.

"It was only a dream," Ron said. "Just a nightmare."

"Yeah, but was it, though?" Harry said, turning to look out of the window at the brightening sky. "It's weird, isn't it? My scar hurts, and three days later the Death Eaters are on the march, and Voldemort's sign's up in the sky again."

"I'm here," Hermione told the little boy, crying in her arms. "You're safe, Harry. I will always protect you." When his tears stopped falling, she tried to stop a few of her own from sliding down her cheeks as she fought for the courage to ask, "Harry? What . . . what did you see in your nightmare?"

"I'm getting sick of my scar hurting, and I'm getting bored walking down that corridor every night." Harry had told her during fifth year, rubbing his forehead angrily. "I just wish the door would open, I'm sick of standing staring at it—"

"That's not funny," Hermione said sharply. "Dumbledore doesn't want you to have dreams about that corridor at all, or he wouldn't have asked Snape to teach you Occlumency. You're just going to have to work a bit harder in your lessons."

She had tried and tried to tell him. Tell him to work harder at Occlumency, to keep the connection to the Dark Lord out.

"You can't tell me you've stopped having funny dreams, because Ron told me last night you were muttering in your sleep again. . . ."

"You've never been there, Harry," she'd said when he told her about seeing Sirius in the Department of Mysteries being tortured by Voldemort. "You've dreamed about the place, that's all."

"They're not normal dreams!" Harry had shouted in her face.

"But Harry — what if your dream was — was just that, a dream?"

"You don't get it!" Harry shouted at her. "I'm not having nightmares, I'm not just dreaming! What d'you think all the Occlumency was for, why d'you think Dumbledore wanted me prevented from seeing these things? Because they're REAL, Hermione!"

And he had been right.

But what did it mean now?

"What did you see, love?" she whispered again.

"I dreamed about . . . about a big cemetery," he said softly. "There was big stones and scary statues. Not like the ones where Mum is. And . . . that scary lady," he said, the name he'd assigned Bellatrix. "She was there and talking to someone who . . ." he started to say and Hermione held him tighter. "She said it's almost done."

"But it was supposed to have stopped! Your scar — it wasn't supposed to do this anymore! You mustn't let that connection open up again — Dumbledore wanted you to close your mind! Harry, he's taking over the Ministry and the newspapers and half the Wizarding world! Don't let him inside your head too!"

"Don't let the scary things win, Harry," Hermione whispered to the boy. "It was just a nightmare. You've nothing to be afraid of. I'm here."

May 1st, 1986

A day later and the Order gathered at the Hog's Head.

James and Hermione both looked sick and pale and terrified as everyone talked over them, trying to decide what to do. Bellatrix was in Little Hangleton, plotting to resurrect her Dark Lord almost ten years before Wormtail had done so in her timeline. Hestia Jones and Alastor Moody talked about potentially using Harry's connection to Voldemort to find out exactly what Bellatrix was planning, but James and Hermione wouldn't stand for it.

Not only was it too dangerous, but unnecessary considering Hermione knew exactly what would happen, should Bellatrix get a hold of Harry.

Remus and James looked emotionally broken, but Sirius looked enraged. While the rest of the Order plotted out an attack on Little Hangleton, the three Marauders were thinking about their former fourth.

After Harry had fallen back asleep two nights before, Hermione had sent a Patronus to James, who Floo'd back immediately to hear what had happened. The pair had stayed up through the sunrise and were about to begin their day when Alice appeared in the fireplace, bringing them word that Azkaban had been attacked.

"The Lestrange brothers almost escaped," she'd told them. "Bellatrix tried to break them out but the extra security put in place prevented them from leaving. Still . . ."

"Still what?" James had asked.

"Pettigrew . . . he's dead."

James had paled at the news, looking torn over whether or not to celebrate or cry over the death of a once beloved friend turned traitor. Hermione kept a hand on him at all times while Alice relayed the events.

Bellatrix, somehow, was able to subdue the guards with a Sleeping Spell long enough to break through the wards in an attempt to free her husband and his brother. However, while it was magically easy to get into Azkaban, it was damn near impossible for prisoners to escape—alive. Rodolphus and Rabastan were still in prison, in the infirmary being treated for near fatal magical burns from trying to push through the security wards that had been set in place once Hermione had detailed what she'd known of both Sirius's and Barty Crouch Jr's escapes from her previous time.

Despite not being able to properly free the Lestrange brothers, Bella had found Pettigrew and somehow convinced him to make an attempt to free himself. Dementors tracked them down at the end of a long corridor in the prison. There were no eyewitnesses to what had happened or how Pettigrew died, but the guards and Aurors suspected that the Dementors had Kissed him long before he bled to death.

"Bled to death?" James asked, looking up. "I don't understand."

Alice frowned. "He . . . he was missing a . . . a hand."

Hermione gasped and fell to her knees, violent images of Cedric Diggory's body and memories of Harry retelling what had happened in Little Hangleton. "Flesh of the servant, willingly sacrificed," she whispered. "He . . . I'm guessing that Bellatrix was trying to free another Death Eater, first the Lestrange brothers and then Pettigrew. She only has the one arm thanks to what happened in the Department of Mysteries. She . . . she needed another servant to give a part of themselves to bring him back. She tricked Pettigrew. Probably promised him freedom and safety from Dementors in exchange for . . ."

"What about the . . . the Horcrux?" Hestia Jones asked curiously.

James groaned and scrubbed his hands down his face, and Hermione sighed and rubbed his shoulder. "It's in the old Riddle house," she said. "On a mantle beneath a large family portrait that's been destroyed. Displayed like a trophy."

Hestia frowned. "That's not . . . you'd think she'd be smarter than to just have it out in the open like that."

"She doesn't know we know where they are," Hermione said. "And she's not entirely in her right mind. I'm not sure if it's the unicorn blood or . . . or being around a Horcrux for all these years, maybe a combination of it all . . . but she's not in her right mind. Not thinking clearly."

The news about the cup had come from a late afternoon moment when Harry, after another headache, asked why James's Quidditch Cups from Hogwarts didn't have a lion on them since Gryffindor had won. Confused, James explained that the Quidditch Cup, like the Hogwarts House Cup, was made before the winners were announced. Harry then explained that he'd seen a cup in his dreams with a badger on it.

Enough questions and the place was narrowed down, especially after Harry mentioned the family portrait that had been destroyed. "Voldemort murdered the Riddle family. He and . . . and Pettigrew," she said, casting a brief glance at the Marauders who all winced uncomfortably, "stayed in that house during the time before his resurrection . . . last time. It makes sense that he and Bellatrix would be there now."

"So we split up," Kingsley said, taking over the meeting while Moody looked on with approval. "Half of us go to scout the cemetery, and the others go to the house. There will likely be problematic wards surrounding both so we need to do this properly. The house team is me, Emmeline, Mary, Remus, and Hestia. Cemetery will be Moody, Longbottoms, Potters, and Black."

"No," James insisted. "Sirius stays behind altogether. Hermione too."

Sirius turned and levelled his gaze at James. "Excuse me?"

Hermione faced her husband and scowled. "I am not staying behind."

Sighing, James faced his wife first. "I can't lose you. You stay behind and protect Harry."

She shook her head. "I go with you and there's not a damn thing you can do to stop me!" she snapped. "I am not going to stay behind and wait on pins and needles, worried about my family. I've been fighting this war since I was fifteen, James. I will see it finished."


"No! What's more . . . if they're staying at the old Riddle house, the groundskeeper is likely dead. Which means Voldemort may or may not have an additional Horcrux. Aside from Moody and Dumbledore, I'm the most experienced at handling them."

Remus looked up. "Should you go with us to the house then?"

She shook her head. "He won't keep them side by side, that would be . . . it might be the snake," she said, trying to hide the shudder that ran through her body. "I don't know how long snakes live, especially of that size but . . . I'm the only one that knows what it looks like and . . . I'm going!"

"What about me?" Sirius growled. "You really think I'm going to—"

James faced his best friend. "You will because you owe me. You've got a little girl who needs you and doesn't have another proper parent. You're Harry's godfather and you'll do it . . . you'll do it right this time. You'll stay with the kids."

Sirius, angry and emotional, looked away from James and ran his hand through his hair in frustration but eventually nodded in acceptance. James's sigh of relief was visible as his shoulders slumped forward. He'd clearly not slept in days.

"Tomorrow then," Moody said, moving to stand. "Tomorrow we end this for good."

Chapter Text

May 2nd, 1986

The children were all taken to Andromeda's house. Not only was it the least suspected place, considering even Malfoy Manor would be a suspected safe house for Harry, but Dumbledore and Minerva spent a great deal of effort to put a Fidelius on the home. Sirius was made Secret-Keeper, and the man had fought the tears that threatened to fall when he accepted the position and said nothing further as he was placed behind the security wards of the home with the Tonks family, Narcissa, and the children.

"I wish I could be at your side," Sirius said as he pulled James into a tight hug. "Destroy that bitch."

Andromeda and Narcissa both looked down at Sirius's request and Hermione turned to offer them a sympathetic frown. "I'm . . . she's your sister and—"

"Not our sister," Narcissa interrupted. "Our sister died long ago. Replaced by that . . . demon walking around in the shell that used to be her body. You protect your family, Hermione. Whatever it takes," she said and then reached out, pulling both Theo and Draco close to her.

James knelt down in front of Harry. He wasn't sure why he was expecting his son to beg him not to go, to plead for him to stay, but something tugged painfully in his chest when Harry looked up at him with those bright green eyes and said, "Let me come with you."

Hermione stifled a sob and pulled Harry into her arms, hugging him tightly. James cleared his throat and ruffled Harry's hair. "Can't come with us, mate. You've got to stay here and take care of everyone. You've got to keep Draco and Theo from fighting and make sure that none of the kids make a mess of Andromeda's house. And keep an eye on Padfoot, yeah?"

Reluctantly, Harry nodded and didn't even squirm when Hermione kissed his cheeks. "We love you so much," she told him.

"Dad," Harry said, chasing after James and Hermione as they moved toward the door. Both turned around and looked down at the boy. Harry toed the floor nervously and then whispered, "She knows you're coming."

Harry had been right.

James and Hermione met up with the Order, and at Dumbledore's final parting words of luck, they vanished. Hand in hand, the couple Apparated into a dark and overgrown graveyard. Hermione turned and looked around, trying to get a visual on their surroundings. There was the black outline of a small church nearby, visible beyond a large yew tree. In the distance, she could see the silhouette of an old house and she silently hoped that the other team arrived safely and would be able to handle the Horcrux on their own.

Magic and a thick fog suddenly swirled around them, obscuring their vision, and both stood with their wands gripped tightly in hand, prepared for anything. They heard the sounds of the rest of their team Apparating in, but everyone remained silent and observing. Hermione searched the surroundings for Bellatrix, but instead only found a large marble tombstone with the name Tom Riddle engraved into it, the dirt beneath had long since been unearthed. A massive stone cauldron sat at the foot of the grave, already rolling with whatever Dark potion was inside of it. Hermione's breathing increased. "Homenum Revelio!"

Before her spell could take effect, she heard a high, cold voice shriek, "Kill them all!" followed by an immediate "Avada Kedavra!"

"No!" Hermione heard Alice scream and panic flooded her at the thought that Frank had been the one taken down. When Frank yelled moments later, followed by a series of flashing lights from his casting, Hermione looked to James and whispered, "Moody."

James growled and narrowed his eyes into the fog, following the visual of light that Frank's spells created.

While her husband and their friends began chasing down Bellatrix, Hermione worked to destroy the cauldron. "Reducto!" she shouted but her spell bounced off of something, a protective ward, and shot back at her. She screamed and ducked just in time, rolling on the grass as the spell hit a large statue, cracking it in half and sending the top portion colliding to the ground, missing her head by inches.

"She's Disillusioned!" Alice yelled. "Look out!"

The fog rolled around Hermione and she fought to see, casting several spells to clear the air that did nothing. "She's creating the fog as well!" she shouted. "Look for shapes in the mist!" The fog, Hermione figured, was to hide what was likely Voldemort's temporary body, possibly somewhere near the cauldron. She stood up and moved closer, searching for a bundle of black robes as Harry had once described Voldemort being kept in by Peter Pettigrew.

"Avada Kedavra!" Bellatrix shouted again.

There was a loud cracking sound followed by a heavy thump and Frank yelled in agony. Hermione could hear scuffling and she held her breath in terror until James's voice spoke up. "She's alive," he said. "It didn't hit her. She knocked her head trying to dodge it. Can't see a bloody thing!"

Hermione crawled closer to the cauldron, reaching out as she moved. Her hand came in contact with something, the ward most likely, she thought, and a flaring pain rushed through her skin as though she'd been burned. She cried out loudly, withdrawing her hand to observe the damage.


"I'm fine!" she shouted, cursing herself for distracting her husband.

"Stupefy!" Frank yelled, and Bellatrix cackled when the spell clearly missed her. "Where is she!?"

James suddenly shouted out in pain and Hermione forced herself to stand, looking for him. "James!"

"She . . . I'm all right. She just—"

"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken!" Bellatrix chanted. "You will resurrect your foe!"

Hermione's eyes widened in horror. She turned back toward the direction of the cauldron and gasped when she heard a loud splash. "No! James, she's done it!"

The fog fell as Bellatrix laughed and laughed and Hermione could see the witch standing on the other side of the large stone cauldron, looking mad and victorious. She had one arm, the other destroyed in the Department of Mysteries, and the side of her head which had previously housed Voldemort was scarred beyond recognition. Narcissa and Andromeda were right, this creature was just a shell. Black eyes found Hermione across the way and Bellatrix grinned maniacally and raised her wand. "You," she said through clenched teeth. "I wasn't finished. Cru—"

"Avada Kedavra!" Hermione yelled, shocked with how very much she'd meant it. A green bolt of light struck Bellatrix in the chest and the witch looked momentarily shocked before her body fell backward and crumpled to the ground. Hermione stumbled and retched at the feel of the Unforgivable, which left a bitter and metallic taste on her tongue.

She jumped defensively when she felt arms wrap around her, but the familiar sight and smell of James had her falling into his grip. "I . . . I killed her."

"I know, I know."

"What do we do about that?" Frank asked, approaching the cauldron.

"Don't touch it!" Hermione yelled. "It has defensive security wards all around it. It'll fight back if we try to destroy it!"

Frank looked up at her, panic written on his face as blood trickled down from his forehead where he'd been hit with some sort of hex that split his skin just above the hairline. "What do we do then?"

Hermione looked at James, not knowing how to stop Voldemort's ascension from the cauldron, as Harry had once described. James did not mirror the worry that both Frank and Hermione were displaying. He lifted and aimed his wand from a hand that was bleeding from where Bellatrix had stabbed him, and narrowing his gaze at the cauldron. "Then we don't attack it," he said simply before casting "Immobulus Maximus!"

The liquid stopped boiling, the fire stopped flickering, and the sparks and steam that had been emitting from the cauldron froze in midair, like a still frame from a Muggle photograph. Hermione looked on in wide-eyed horror as, in the centre of the frozen cauldron, was a single pale hand, reaching up out of the surface.

"That . . ." Frank began, "was bloody brilliant, mate."

James let out an exhale, almost laughing in shock at the fact that it had worked. "It's . . . we need to . . . we should contact Dumbledore," he said and then cast his Patronus. The large stag appeared in front of them all, nodding its large head. "Professor, Bellatrix is dead and Riddle is frozen. We don't know how to get rid of him. They . . . they killed Moody and Alice has been injured."

The Patronus darted away, vanishing swiftly into the distance.

James kept his eye on the cauldron, wand held steady. Frank rushed off to help Alice. Hermione, however, glanced up toward the Riddle house and bit her lower lip. "I hope the others are okay," she said before turning back and looking at the frozen cauldron. "Keep your wand trained on it. I'm going to try and take down the wards so we can destroy it all."

James nodded, glaring into the centre of the potion and the pale hand, frozen there.

Hermione looked at him, noticing that his hand had begun to shake. She reached out, touching his arm gently. "James."

"That thing murdered Lily," he said angrily, tears pricking at his eyes. "He tried to kill Harry."

"And you've stopped him," she whispered. "You stopped the rise of the Darkest wizard that ever existed . . . with a Freezing Charm, you brilliant, brilliant man."

He let out a slow breath and forced himself to smile at her praise. His tense shoulders briefly relaxed until a loud crack was heard and he tensed once again.

"It's okay," Hermione told him. "It's Dumbledore."

The elderly wizard hobbled forward, putting nearly all his weight on the staff that accompanied him. His face was pale and his eyes nearly translucent, and the cursed hand was black all the way up to his shoulder, the slight hint of shadowing could be seen beneath the collar of his robes. He stepped toward the cauldron and peered inside, his gaze full of pity and regret. He reached into his robes, removing his wand which he waved over the cauldron. Freezing Charm still in place, Dumbledore dismantled the wards piece by piece. When he was satisfied, he walked back toward Hermione and James, who had been rejoined by Frank and Alice, gripping her head painfully.

"Any word on the others?"

Frank shook his head. "No, sir, not yet."

Dumbledore glanced up toward the Riddle house and then back to the couples standing before him. "Mr and Mrs Longbottom, you have fought admirably. Would you be so kind as to return Alastor's body to the Ministry, and then alert Minister Bagnold of what has happened here tonight? Make sure you see to your injuries as well."

Frank nodded, and Alice reached out, squeezing Hermione's hand and smiling before following after her husband. When they were gone, Dumbledore smiled at James, who still had his wand levelled at the cauldron. "It's okay, my boy," he said. "You've done so well."

"What do we do?" Hermione asked. "That charm won't last forever."

Dumbledore turned once more and raised his wand. "It will not need to, Mrs Potter," he said, and silently cast a Reducto at the cauldron.

The explosion was large and loud, and both James and Hermione ducked, arms wrapped around one another to shield themselves from debris. Dumbledore, however, flicked his wand, containing the blast. Hermione looked up and watched as larger bits of broken cauldron exploded into smaller bits within the protective bubble that Dumbledore had created. She winced, expecting to see a body, but felt relief wash over her when, in the end, there was nothing left of Tom Riddle but ash.

"It's over," James exclaimed. "It's really over."

Hermione swallowed hard and met Dumbledore's sad gaze. "James . . . there's something—"

Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!

"It's finished!" Kingsley shouted excitedly, carrying the broken and destroyed Horcrux in hand. "Where are Moody and the Longbottoms?"

James let go of his wife and reached out, pulling Remus into a hug while Hermione did the same with Emmeline and Mary. "Bellatrix got Mad-Eye," he said. "Frank and Alice took his body back to London. But . . . Voldemort's gone. Dumbledore finished it."

"What about Bellatrix?" Hestia asked, looking around the cemetery warily.

"I killed her," Hermione whispered.

Mary frowned and Emmeline sighed and hugged her friend tighter. "You saved your family," she said. "You did good, Hermione."

Remus pulled away from James. "Where's the body?" he asked.

"There is no body," James answered. "Dumbledore kind of blew Voldemort to bits and—"

"Bellatrix's body!" Remus snapped.

Hermione's eyes widened and she looked where the witch had dropped, seeing her still there, unmoving. "She's there. Remus, I saw her die. I killed her."

The werewolf swallowed nervously and stepped closer to the dead witch. "Yeah well, when we were up at the Riddle house, we found a body. That groundskeeper you'd mentioned. A body but no snake."

"Are you saying—" James began.

"I'm saying," Remus growled, "that I can hear nine heartbeats. There should only be eight."

Suddenly, Bellatrix moved, stood, wand in hand and a look of fiery rage in her eyes. She screamed loudly, wand aimed at the group. All at once, four people screamed "Protego!" forcing up shields to block them from whatever curse the Death Eater turned Horcrux might have unleashed.

Stepping out of the protective bubble, Dumbledore quietly lifted his wand and frowned as he whispered, "Fiendfyre."

"Mum! Dad!"

Harry flew into James and Hermione's arms and squeezed them as though he'd never let them go. Hermione kissed his forehead and his cheeks and James buried his nose in the boy's hair, breathing in the scent of him to wash away the putrid smell of burning flesh.

Sirius's sigh of relief could be heard from across the room as he fell against Remus and James, who was barely able to part from his son. Hermione lifted the boy into her arms and held onto him, looking over his shoulder as the other approached. Neville looked positively terrified. "Your parents are okay," she said immediately and watched as the poor boy slumped forward in relief. "They're at the Ministry finishing up some work."

Narcissa and Andromeda approached, gripping one another's hands tightly while Draco and Theo looked on in curiosity. Hermione frowned. "She . . . she's gone," she said and watched as a look of torn relief crossed both Black sisters' faces.

"Was anyone—" Narcissa began.

"Moody . . . and . . . and Dumbledore."

Sirius broke away from his friends and stared at Hermione. "Dumbledore?"

James nodded. "He . . . he finished it all. He just wasn't strong enough. The magic . . . it took everything out of him."

"It's over then?" Andromeda asked. "V-Voldemort? He's truly and forever gone?"

Hermione hugged Harry close to her and closed her eyes, remembering the look that Dumbledore had given her before all hell broke loose again, and the crazed expression on Bellatrix's face when she'd risen from the dead, a living Horcrux.

Hermione pressed her lips against Harry's forehead, feeling the lightning-shaped scar tissue . . .

And said nothing.

Chapter Text

May 15th, 1986

Moody and Dumbledore's funerals were a day apart. Frank and Alice had insisted that their mentor have his own day, knowing full well that the rest of Wizarding Britain would forget the ornery old coot in the wake of Dumbledore's death. The turnout for one was much smaller than the other, but James and Hermione attended both. While Moody's funeral was a grand retelling of stories about the man, Dumbledore's funeral was a near exact replica of the one she'd already been to in her own time.

She'd held James's hand, however, instead of Ron's, and Harry clung to her instead of Ginny.

All the Weasley children that were not currently attending Hogwarts were forbidden from attending the funeral. Too young and too many of them for Molly and Arthur to corral without distracting from the sombreness of the whole affair. Not that Hagrid's loud sobbing did much to help.

The Board of Governors moved Minerva into the Headmistress position almost immediately, and Dumbledore's office doors opened up to her like an old friend. When the current Defence Against the Dark Arts professor quit in the middle of the month, just before exams, Minerva reached out to the remaining members of the Order to help. Reporters had swarmed the school, each dying for a piece of the Albus Dumbledore story, and Minerva had to send away three applicants for the Transfiguration position because she couldn't trust that they were authentic. James took a short leave from the Ministry to help with Minerva's class, which unfortunately for him only meant dealing with exam conduction. Remus, on the other hand, was gently pushed into taking over the last month of the Defence position thanks to Hermione's prompting, and the young witch watched her friend take to the job like a duck to water.

Needing something to do since the bookstore was in one of their low traffic months, Hermione offered to help Minerva clean up Dumbledore's office, leaving Gilderoy in charge of the day to day tasks at Lupin and Howells.

"I didn't know you could see his tomb from here," she commented quietly, looking out the nearest window.

Minerva nodded. "I don't focus on it too much."

"Has his portrait woken yet?"

Both witches turned and looked at the portrait of Dumbledore, hanging up there beside the rest of the previous Headmasters of Hogwarts. The wizard appeared to be sleeping, though Hermione was aware that many portraits feigned sleep in order to avoid speaking with the living. Knowing Dumbledore, he'd likely pretend in order to eavesdrop on conversations.

"I don't pay it much attention either. I assume that if I need his input, he'll snap awake and chatter my ear off," she said, the slightest hint of a nostalgic smile appearing in the corner of her mouth. "I've already received five applications for my old post and, as usual, very few candidates for the Defence position."

Hermione looked up. "Who?"

"Our current Muggle Studies professor, young Quirrell, wants the job."

Hermione scoffed. "Have him take over for Binns if he wants a change of career so badly. He's unqualified to teach Defence. Even in my time, though I highly doubt he's any form of evil this time around."

"Stuttering mess, unfortunately," Minerva replied. "You could take the position easily."

"Muggle Studies or History of Magic?" Hermione questioned and then when Minerva pinned her with a look, she shook her head, and argued, "I've not even sat my N.E.W.T.s. I'm hardly qualified to teach."

Minerva raised an incredulous brow. "N.E.W.T.s can be taken. You are, however, the only living person in Britain capable of casting Fiendfyre without being associated as a Dark witch or wizard."

"Give it to Remus," Hermione quickly advised. "Permanently. He'll be . . . he'll be perfect."

Raising a brow, Minerva nodded and made a note on a parchment. "And Transfigurations? Should I expect your husband to want to stick around?"

Chuckling, Hermione closed up a small box of Dumbledore's trinkets that she'd been tasked with organising. She looked up at Minerva and smiled. "Do you really want James influencing the next generation?"

"Your husband is a brave man," Minerva said. "And one that I am proud to have seen in the House of Gryffindor."

Nodding, Hermione agreed. "Yes, but do you trust him around adolescents and magic?"

Hermione sat in a small chair in Harry's room, watching the boy sleep, tossing and turning in his small bed every few minutes. She sighed and reached over, running her fingers gently through his hair and along his forehead, waiting for him to settle.

"That dream I had about your dad and the snake, though —"

"Harry, you've had these dreams before. You had flashes of what Voldemort was up to last year."

"This was different. I was inside that snake. It was like I was the snake."


She jumped, startled out of her own memories at the sound of her name, and turned to see James hovering in the doorway. He frowned at her, walking forward and pushing the hair from her face to look into her tired eyes. "I'm fine," she lied.

James sighed and turned, looking at Harry who was cringing in his sleep. "Nightmares again?"

Tears pricked at her eyes and she shook her head. "I think . . . I think it might be much, much worse."

May 31st, 1986

Just as in her previous timeline, Dumbledore's will took longer than normal to be distributed but, in the end, all of his belongings were handed out accordingly. The majority had been given over to Hogwarts for the benefit of future generations, while the rest—mostly money—had been given to Aberforth. Though no one could say for certain, there was a rumour that the man had spent every last bit of it on a goat farm south of Hogsmeade, which he later lost in a game of cards.

A representative of the Ministry came by James and Hermione's house, dropping off a large trunk with a note that said it belonged to the Potters, the Longbottoms, Remus, Sirius, Mary, and Emmeline. Everyone gathered together for a meal before sending Harry and Neville upstairs to play, insisting that the boys do not come back down without being called for. Charlotte squirmed in her mother's arms until Frank took her, lifting Ariel from Sirius as well and placing both little girls down for a nap before returning to the group.

"Why us?" Mary asked. "I mean . . . we've all got the Order in common, but Hestia's not here and neither is—"

"It's not the Order that we've got in common," Hermione pointed out, having a feeling that she knew exactly what was inside of the trunk. "If it's . . . if it's what I think it is . . . this is about Harry."

Everyone except for James turned and looked at her with confused expressions. Hermione reached out and took her husband's hand, squeezing it lightly. "Open it."

Remus reached forward and attempted to flick open the padlock. "There's not a key but . . . I think it has a password."

"Alohomora," Alice said quickly. Nothing happened.

"Fizzing Whizbees?" Sirius suggested with a small smirk.

Hermione closed her eyes and exhaled before whispering, "Arianna."

There was a loud click and the top of the trunk flew backward, revealing the contents within.

"'The Last Will and Testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore'," Frank read when he pulled out the paper that sat on top of the contents in the trunk. "'To Mary Elizabeth Macdonald, I leave a copy of instructions, gifted to me by Horace Slughorn, on the proper brewing of Felix Felicis, in the hope that your career in Potions will be filled with luck.'"

Mary reached out in awe, taking the bit of paper in hand and examining the slanted handwriting. "Mother of Merlin . . . these are so detailed. I . . . I don't know what to say."

"'To Frank Edgar Longbottom and Alice Camelia Longbottom, for your ever loyalty to the Order, to Hogwarts, to the House of Godric Gryffindor, and therefore to me, I leave . . .' Wow," Frank said in awe, "'I leave my beloved familiar Fawkes, in your care, should he decide to make himself comfortable at Longbottom Keep'."

"A pet that the kids can't accidentally kill," Alice muttered with a grateful smile. "That's actually brilliant."

"'To Emmeline Judith Vance, I leave my copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, in the hope that she will find it entertaining and instructive.'"

Emmeline took the book as Remus held it out to her, a curious look on her face. "Well, it'll need to be transcribed," she said, looking over the runes. "That'll be fun." She looked up, catching the worried expression on Hermione's face. "What? What is it? What do you know?"

Hermione reached out, taking the book from Emmeline, flipping it open to a specific page. She let out a heavy sigh upon seeing the familiar mark of the Hallows.

"Holy shit," Emmeline mumbled. "This looks just like the one that—" she stopped mid-sentence and flipped through the pages. "Hermione, my copy has more runes written here than yours, if I remember correctly," she said. "Raidho, isa, jera, dagaz . . . this is . . . these look like incredibly complicated instructions . . . maybe a spell even?"

"'To Remus John Lupin, I give to you a cloak of great value, loaned to me for the benefit of all, in the hopes that you will have no need of it, and enjoy a life in the open. I hope you will forgive me for hiding you away for so many years'."

James and Sirius stared at the silvery cloth in Remus's hands with confusion. "I don't understand," James finally said. "Why did he . . . that's my cloak."

Remus looked flabbergasted. "I don't want . . . I mean, it's not mine," he insisted and tried handing it to James.

Closing her eyes, Hermione whispered, "'There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely road at midnight. . . The brothers came upon a river that they could not get across. However, these brothers were skilled in magic, and they waved their wands and made a bridge over the water. They were halfway across it when their path was blocked by a hooded figure. And Death spoke to them. He was angry that he had been cheated out of three new victims, for travellers usually drowned in the river. Death pretended to congratulate the three brothers, and said that each had earned a prize for their cleverness.'"

James turned, staring at his wife with wide eyes. His breathing increased and he turned and looked at Remus, clutching the cloak in his hands.

"'Death asked the third brother what he would like,'" she continued, looking up at Remus with a sad smile. "'He was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth without being followed. And Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of Invisibility.'"

Everyone stared at Hermione, taking note of the way that she wiped at her eyes, reciting the story almost word for word by memory of the years that she had spent reading it aloud to Harry, and to herself after translating it from her own copy.

"That can't . . ." Emmeline began to say but stopped and glanced down at the book in her hands. "Keep reading, Frank."

Frank swallowed hard and then looked down at the will, his eyes growing wide as he silently read the next bequeathal before saying it aloud. "Umm . . . 'To Sirius Orion Black—"

Hermione interrupted him, her eyes trained on Sirius. "'The first brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence. So Death fashioned a wand from a branch of an elder tree, and gave it to the oldest brother.'"

Sirius stared at Hermione and then turned and looked at Frank, eyes wide and waiting with an expression of fear on his face.

Clearing his throat, Frank continued, "'To Sirius Orion Black, I leave you a simple wand. My wand, which I won in a duel against one who would have subdued us all, and you, thereafter, once won it from me. I leave it to you to show that an object's origins do not direct its actions or motives. And that something that may have come from the Blackest of nights, can be a powerful source of Light'."

Sirius glared at the familiar wand that Remus held out to him after pulling it from the trunk. "Are you taking the piss?"

"Take the wand, Sirius."

"That's Dumbledore's wand!"

"Take it, Padfoot!"

Sirius shivered once before he reached out, taking the wand. The second that his hand touched the wood, he cringed and made a whining noise in the back of his throat.

"What is it?" James eagerly asked.

Sirius shook his head. "It's . . . it's mine. It's mine. I might as well have picked it up at Ollivander's. Shit, shit, shit. Do you really think that it's the actual—"

"'Then the second brother, who was . . .' once . . . 'an arrogant man'," Hermione squeezed James's hand lightly, "'decided that he wanted to humiliate Death, and asked for the power to recall others from—"

"I don't want it," James said and stood up, glaring down at the trunk. "Damn him!" he snapped angrily. "What is Dumbledore playing at?!"

Frank nervously looked down at the letter and then reached into the trunk, withdrawing a small, square box. He said nothing as he stood, setting the letter aside and handing the box out toward James, who shook his head.

"He's making a point that Hermione already figured out," Emmeline said quietly. "He wanted us to know exactly what he was doing. That's why he gave James's cloak to Remus and not . . . he wanted to show that you are the Three Brothers."

James, still angry, reached out and snatched the small box from Frank. As the Auror looked back down at Dumbledore's letter, James shook his head. "I don't care why he gave it to me," he said and then opened the box to reveal the stone within. "'Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that it would have the power to bring back the dead'," James finished and then turned and looked at Hermione after shutting the box.

She knelt near the trunk, looking at the rectangular box left inside for her. It was long, almost as though it was meant to hold a wand, but thicker. She held her breath as she moved to open it.

"So if Sirius, Remus, and James are the Three Brothers, what does that make the rest of us?" Mary asked.

"Luck," Emmeline said, gesturing to Mary. "Life," she pointed at Alice and Frank, "and Wisdom," she suggested, looking down at the book. "So Hermione . . . what does that make you?"

Hermione frowned as she withdrew the basilisk fang from the box.


Chapter Text

July 31st, 1986

The children played at Malfoy Manor, where Narcissa offered to host Harry's sixth birthday. Most were more than happy to attend, though Molly took a bit of convincing and then spent half the party complaining that none of the staff Narcissa had hired to cater the event would allow her to help out.

The younger boys gathered in a circle around Bill and Charlie, who talked in detail about their time at Hogwarts, while the little girls did the same with Tonks. Eventually, Ginny stood up and made her way to the boys' circle, telling Harry to shove over and make room so she could hear about Quidditch.

While the children smiled and laughed and enjoyed the day, the adults sequestered themselves in a private room, Silencing Charm in place, and argued.

"Why are we even discussing this?!" Sirius yelled across the room, his grey eyes narrowed at Remus.

"Because Emmeline is already finished with the translations and rune calculations—"

"Not to mention the arithmancy bit that Dumbledore scribbled in the back of the book," Emmeline chimed in.

"—and Mary started brewing the Felix Felicis last month! It only takes six months to complete and we should be preparing," Remus argued.

Sirius growled. "No one's made a damn decision about what we're going to do. You're all just preparing for a worst case scenario!"

"He's got a piece of Voldemort in his head, Padfoot! This is a worst case scenario! You weren't there! You didn't see Bellatrix," Remus said, stepping forward only to be stopped by Mary's outreached hand. "She wasn't a person anymore. She was infected! Dumbledore left us the Hallows and everything else as instructions and we need to follow them. I trust Dumbledore."

"Well, I don't!"

Alice and Frank stepped in, each blocking one Marauder from the other in an effort to calm them down. Alice took Sirius, pulling him into a tight hug. "We're all just looking out for Harry, Sirius, you know that. We're discussing it, that's all."

Sirius shook his head against her. "You can't . . . you're talking about killing him. I won't let you do it."

"He's not your child," Alice said sadly and then everyone turned and looked at James and Hermione, who remained silent and anxious, dark circles beneath their eyes as they tried to tune out the arguments of their friends. They'd already had enough of their own to last a lifetime over the issue.

"Guys . . ." Emmeline whispered and then gestured to the door where all the children were standing outside of the locked room, peering in through the windows and staring at the adults, contemplative and worried expressions on their faces.

James sighed and stood up, pulling down the Silencing Charm and casting a warning glare at both Sirius and Remus before flinging the door open. "Hey, mate, you ready for cake?" he asked Harry with a grin on his face.

Harry frowned. "Why is everyone fighting?"

"No one's fighting," Sirius said from over Allie's shoulder.

"It looked like you and Remus were fighting," Neville pointed out.

"Is this about my aunt?" Draco asked curiously. "Mum said she died."

Sirius cringed and looked away and Hermione stood and made her way to James's side. "No one is fighting. Everything is . . . everything is fine. We're just having adult conversations."

"What's a Hallow?" Fred asked and all the adults in the room turned and stared at him with wide eyes. "What?" He raised a brow and slightly ducked behind George. "We learned how to read lips when we were five."

"Silencing Charms won't hold us back," George said with a grin.

"Indeed they won't," Fred added.

"What's wrong with Harry?" Ginny innocently asked.

Ron glared at her. "Nothing's wrong with Harry, stupid."

"Something is!" she shot back. "They're fighting about him!"

"Dad?" Harry looked up at James with pleading eyes. "What's going on?"

James shut his eyes and took in slow, deep breaths. Hermione squeezed his hand and then knelt down in front of the boy. "We were just . . . there's a procedure of sorts that we're talking about that might be able to take away your nightmares," she told him. "But it's . . . it's very dangerous."

His bright green eyes widened. "You can get rid of them?" he asked excitedly. "I don't . . . you mean I won't have the scary dreams anymore and . . . not that I'm afraid," he added quickly, his focus trained on the girls. Emma, Romilda, Luna, and Tonks all smiled at him, but Ginny couldn't help but laugh, earning a scowl from the boy.

James took Harry's hand. "Everyone else out. Potter family meeting."

Sirius and Remus looked slightly put out and both sulked as they were ushered out of the room by Allie and Mary. Emmeline closed the door behind them all, and Frank could be heard shouting, "Let's set up some Exploding Snap cards!" which was followed by a ruckus of cheers from the children.

Harry sat down on a nearby chair and looked up at his parents. "How dangerous?"

"Very," Hermione said. "It's something that's never been done before. So we can't test it."

James frowned. "Harry, how bad are the nightmares?"

The boy looked down, almost as though he were ashamed. "It's not . . . the nightmares are awful but I could, I could live with them. I just . . ." he tried to say and then hesitated.

Hermione pushed the hair back from his forehead. "Does it hurt?" she asked.

He nodded. "When I'm angry," he whispered.

August 19th, 1986

Hermione rolled over in bed when she felt the movement beside her. She blinked her eyes open and frowned at the sight of James's back to her. She pulled herself into a sitting position, kissing between his shoulder blades and feeling him tense at her touch. She didn't need to look, she didn't need to ask what he was doing. She knew. "Have you—"

"No," James answered quickly, looking down at the small Stone in his hand. Every night for months he'd wake up, terrified that Harry would scream in the middle of the night. He'd sit in the silence and wait, and if nothing happened, he would reach into his bedside table and remove the Stone from the box, hold it in his hand and stare at it.

Hermione kissed his shoulder and he relaxed a bit. "I think you should."

He nodded. "I just . . . it's not so bad and he's so little . . ."

"Ginny was eleven. It was only the diary, but she lost days to it. Days where she couldn't remember anything. A small bit of that monster's soul corrupted an eleven-year-old girl. He told Harry that he intended to kill her. To use the life that he was already possessing, in order to try and come back. He doesn't need Death Eaters to resurrect himself. He'll destroy Harry from the inside out."

She remembered watching Ginny the following year. How the girl would pretend to be happy and fine, as though her first year at Hogwarts had never happened. Sometimes, though, she would look at Hermione with guilt in her eyes, the same way she looked at the other students who'd been petrified, and Hermione had known. It wasn't just Bellatrix and the way that she'd let herself be carved out to serve as a vessel for Voldemort. Hermione knew better than anyone what Horcruxes were capable of. She'd destroyed most of them, she'd worn that damn locket for months until it tore Ron away from her and Harry, leaving them empty and cold without their friend. She'd heard from Harry's own lips how Voldemort had possessed him in the Department of Mysteries, and it had taken everything inside of him to push the darkness out.

But now . . .

"He's the only one left," she whispered. "I don't know what that means."

James nodded and then turned, kissing her forehead. "I love you. Get some sleep."

"You should sleep too," she insisted. "Full moon's tonight."

Prongs watched from a short distance as Padfoot and Moony tumbled through the brush, play fighting away all their pent up energy. Mary was busy checking on the Felix Felicis, and Sirius had dropped off Ariel to stay the night with Hermione and Harry, leaving the Marauders alone for the moon as usual. Once the large dog and the werewolf had tired themselves out, falling asleep in a pile of leaves and fur, Prongs slowly walked back to the edge of the woods where the protective wards had been put up. Grabbing his bag from the hollowed out trunk of a nearby tree that he left behind a case of butterbeer and the usual Pain Potions, he Disapparated away.

Appearing in the middle of the small village, James was grateful that it was late enough that everyone was tucked into their beds, fast asleep and unaware of the wizard lurking outside. He flicked his wand in several directions, casting variations of Muggle Repelling Charms and Notice-Me-Nots as he made his way to the centre of town, his eyes unable to glance up at the statue that shifted with magic in front of him.

He pulled the small box out of the bag that he then dropped on the ground at his feet. Removing the stone, James exhaled before turning it three times in his hand.

"I was wondering when you were going to say hello."

He clenched his eyes shut tightly as the tears painfully forced their way, stinging. When he opened them again and turned around, his breath caught in his chest and he choked out her name on the end of a sob, "Lily."

"Don't be afraid," she said, reaching out and almost touching him. "Everything is going to be okay."

He shook his head. "Lily, I'm so so—"

"Don't you dare apologise to me, James Potter," the redheaded vision said, her voice soft and stern all at once. "I have no regrets. None. And you . . . you have done so well. I am so proud of both of my boys."

And she smiled.

And his heart hurt.

"I don't know what to do," he admitted.

"Yes, you do," she whispered. "And I agree with your decision."

Chapter Text

December 25th, 1986

They had to wait for the Felix Felicis to finish.

Almost as if it were meant to be, within the hour of Mary saying that the Liquid Luck had completed and was tested and worked, Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix arrived. He perched on a nearby windowsill, singing a tune that left everyone in the room with a bubble of courage rising up from within their chest.

James, after using the Resurrection Stone to speak with Lily, went home determined to save his son. Hermione went to work alongside Remus and Emmeline, making sure to perfect the runes and arithmancy left behind by Dumbledore, while Mary worked out the potion. James did his best to keep his nerves in check, and also keep Sirius from sabotaging their efforts. It took the Sirius the longest to come around, and it wasn't until he saw Harry briefly blackout during a temper tantrum over a broken broomstick, that he realised his godson was no ordinary boy.

At Christmas, when the Potter's house was packed with people—adults casting Stasis Charms on food, Silencing Charms on sleeping babies, and Mending Charms on broken toys—Sirius took Harry aside and put a Chestnut wand in his wand. "Expelliarmus. Repeat it for me."

Harry raised an eyebrow at his godfather and stared down at the wand in his hand excitedly. "Expelliarmus."

Sirius nodded. "And you flick it like so. Now . . ." He stood, gripping the Elder Wand loosely in his hand as he stepped back away from Harry. "Aim it at me, and say the charm."

Harry swallowed nervously but did as he was told. Raising his hand up, wand firm in his grip, said, "Expelliarmus."



"Flick it the other direction and softer."


"Keep your eyes open, Harry."


"Mean it!"


The Elder Wand flew out of Sirius's grip, landing in Harry's free hand. The boy's eyes widened dramatically and he let out a loud laugh of pure joy.

Sirius smiled and walked over, hugging him tightly. "Attaboy, Harry. How did it feel?"

"Awesome! I did magic! With a wand!"

Sirius nodded. "And that's the only magic you'll be doing with a wand until you're off to Hogwarts, y'hear?"

Harry pouted and held out both wands to Sirius. "I know, I know."

Sirius took the wands, noting with a strange sense of trepidation, that the Elder Wand no longer felt like it belonged to him. Closing his eyes, he exhaled and patted Harry on the back. "Go downstairs and snatch up the biscuits before Moony eats them all, yeah?"

Harry left the room, and Sirius looked up, catching sight of James in the doorway. "It went to him," he said. "Everything's ready."

James nodded and then swallowed before whispering, "I'm not."

December 31st, 1986

With Harry fast asleep, unable to make it to midnight, Hermione locked the bedroom door behind her as she slipped into the room to find James waiting for her in their bed. She opened her mouth to speak but was cut off when he stood and crossed the space in two long strides, scooping her up into his arms and crushing his mouth against hers.

He placed her back on the ground and they frantically tore at one another's clothes, Hermione could literally hear the sound of ripping cloth when James pulled at her blouse, throwing it to the floor. She dug her fingers into his hair and tugged him back to her, kissing him so hard that it hurt. His hands gripped her hips hard, as though he meant to leave behind his fingerprints, mark her forever . . . keep her forever.

Redirected to the bed, James slipped between her thighs and didn't break the kiss as he pushed himself inside of her. She moaned into his mouth and he focused on her pleasure, kissing her, rubbing her, touching her, and loving every inch of her; doing his best to block out the way that she cried when he kissed the inside of her wrist.

He chanted "Don't leave me" in time with his movements and Hermione was whispering his name, stroking her fingers gently through his hair, the perfect soothing contrast to his hard, rough thrusting. Her ankles locked behind his back, pulling him close as she tightened around him, and James rocked against her, desperate to move as he came, eyes closed tight and mouth open in awe with his cheek pressed between her breasts.

"What do you think is going to happen, Hermione?" he asked, a long time later, when their sweat had dried, leaving them cold in one another's arms.

She kissed the top of his head and raked her fingers through his hair. "I don't know. All I know is . . . I'm here until the end. To see it finished once and for all. Good or bad, I'll do what I have to so that Harry makes it through this . . . alive and . . . and free of that monster. Even if—"

"It kills you?"

Hermione looked up at the ceiling of their bedroom and sniffled. "I didn't know. I didn't know that making that Vow would . . . I didn't know I could have this life with you. But . . . James, I—"

He sat up and kissed the tears from her cheeks. "You still would have made it, I know," he said lovingly, looking down at her with admiration and wondering how he had been so lucky to not fall in love once, but twice, with strong women willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of his son. "It was . . . what kind of person just shows up out of nowhere when I have no reason to trust anyone and makes an Unbreakable Vow to keep my son safe? Hermione, you restored my faith in people the day you walked into my hospital room. You became my best friend when I thought I had so little and . . . and I don't regret a moment of my life with you. Not one moment."

"I love you," she cried. "You and Harry are—"

"Harry lives," James said, kissing her.

She nodded. "No matter what. He's what's important."

Pressing his forehead against hers, James sighed. "You both live. I need you both."

January 1st, 1987

"It's beautiful," Hermione said, looking out over the snow-covered trees in the orchards behind the Burrow.

They wanted to create a magical circle, Emmeline's plans required it, in fact. Somewhere untainted by Dark magic. Somewhere clean and whole and full of love and earth. The Burrow was everyone's first thought. Molly and Arthur agreed, despite not knowing exactly what the small group were planning. The older children were all home for Christmas holidays still, and Molly was more than happy to keep watch over Neville, Charlotte, and little Ariel. While they didn't know the details, the Weasleys suspected something serious was going on, and Molly hugged both Harry and Hermione tightly before helping to button up their winter cloaks before going outside.

"Why can't we go with?" Ron asked, looking at Harry's scared expression. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," James said, ruffling Ron's red hair.

"Something's wrong. I . . . I wanna go with Harry," the boy said with a bit more determination. Neville stood behind him, looking up at his parents with suspicious eyes, looking as though he were ready to say something in agreement with Ron.

"I'm fine," Harry insisted. "Just . . . I gotta do something with my folks. Will you . . . will you set up a game of chess for me?" he asked. "For when I get back?"

Ron scrunched up his nose. "You're rubbish at chess."

Harry laughed. "Maybe you can teach me then."

They reached the small enclosure of trees and Alice cast a large Warming Charm, melting the snow until the soft grass beneath revealed itself, as bright green as Harry's eyes. Emmeline moved around the circle, casting charms and setting down stones with protective runes etched into them, double-checking her notes with a compass in hand to measure the exact points according to her arithmancy calculations. Frank whistled and smiled as Fawkes flew down, perching himself on a low hanging branch of a nearby tree, chirping happily in Harry's direction.

"It'll be okay," Allie said, pulling Hermione into a hug and rubbing her back when the younger witch started to quietly cry. "You're a Gryffindor and your little boy is a bit scared, so suck it up for him," she encouraged and then pulled back to wipe Hermione's tears away. "For all that it's worth, there's not a damn thing I wouldn't do for my children. If Neville were in Harry's place . . . and . . ." she briefly choked on her words, the emotion too close to the surface, "and we both know that there was a very high chance of Neville being exactly in Harry's place at one point . . . but if this were my son, I would be doing the same exact thing, Hermione."

Hermione nodded her head quickly and took in a deep breath. "Allie . . . if it all goes bad, James—"

"I will not let that man out of my sight, I swear to Merlin."

On the other side of the circle, Harry stood at James's side, the man refusing to let go of the boy's hand. Sirius fought to keep the emotions off of his face and so Remus had to tug him away, directing the man over to Hermione. He wrapped up the witch in a hug. "This is not goodbye," he insisted. "And . . . and I release you from your Vow," he said through a cracking voice.

She gave him a watery smile. "You know it doesn't work like that," she whispered. "But thank you."

He let go and Remus took his place, pulling Hermione into his arms. "I'll look after them, I promise."

She kissed his cheek and then walked over, kissing James as though no one else was there. "I love you," she said and then knelt down on the ground and looked at Harry. "I love you."

Harry smiled nervously and then looked up at his father, who was pale in the face. "It's going to be okay," he told James.

"Right," Mary said, withdrawing three phials from her robes as carefully as possible. "Felix Felicis for all of us. And a few that are just for Harry." She smiled down at the little boy, holding up the colourful glass phials filled with the potions. She showed him the first. "See this one? This one is going to make you very sleepy. That way, you won't feel anything when we take your nightmares away. You'll just have happy dreams," she said with a sweet smile as Harry looked over the Draught of Living Death.

Hermione cleared her throat. "And the sopophorous beans were crushed, not cut, right?" she nervously asked.

Mary nodded up at her friend. "Yes, Hermione."

"Twelve, not thirteen like the recipe usually calls for?"

"Yes, Hermione."

"And you added one clockwise stir to the—"

"Hermione!" Mary snapped, hoping to pull Hermione out of her rambling. "It's perfect."

Hermione nodded. "Sorry . . . sorry."

Mary turned back to Harry, holding up the last potion. "And this one," she said, gesturing to the Wiggenweld Potion, "is what we'll use to wake you up when it's all done. Then it's a quick scan of the wand and you'll be off playing chess with Ron in no time!"

Remus stepped forward, draping the Invisibility Cloak over Harry's shoulders. Sirius knelt down, pressing the Elder Wand into the boy's hand before kissing his forehead. Harry turned and looked at James and the man sighed, stepping up and pressing something small into Harry's free hand. He spun it three times and Harry stared down at the Stone quizzically for a moment before looking up at his father. His green eyes widened and he gasped a breath, looking over James's shoulder.

James saw the look and turned around, but saw nothing there. He looked back down at Harry. "Everything all right, mate?"

Harry paused, mouth open as he gaped at the space behind James, and slowly he nodded his head, a crooked smile covering his mouth.

"Bottoms up," Mary said and passed around the bottle of Felix Felicis, giving it first to Harry and then passing it to Hermione, James, and so on. Once the final drops were swallowed, everyone stood in the circle and stared at one another.

"What's supposed to happen?" Frank asked, not noticing how he had already begun walking, holding an arm out for the phoenix to fly down onto. His eyes widened when Fawkes perched there, chirping in Frank's face.

"We're supposed to be directed," Hermione said, feeling as though she needed to dig inside of her bag, knowing exactly why. It was where she had stored the basilisk fang. She looked up to see James setting Harry down on the grass, making sure the Wand and Stone were both tight in his hand. He tucked the Cloak around Harry's shoulders as though it were a blanket to keep him warm.

Mary knelt down and smiled at Harry, holding out the Draught of Living death. Harry took the phial and paused before bringing it to his lips, looking back over James's shoulder with a smile before turning his gaze on Hermione and his father. "It's going to be okay," he said and then swallowed down the potion.

Harry's body fell over immediately as the draught took effect, and Hermione did her best not to reveal the fact that the Vow around her wrist was burning. James looked at her and she schooled her expression, looking determined and calm instead of terrified. "Right . . . Fawkes?" she asked, looking up.

Frank nodded. "He's ready."

She turned and looked at Mary. "And we've got the Wiggenweld?"

Mary nodded. "That and about fifty other potions at my disposal."

James looked up at Alice and Emmeline. "And if it goes bad?"

Alice held up a hand. "Emergency Portkey to St. Mungo's."

Emmeline held up a hand. "Emergency Portkey to the Department of Mysteries where I've got an Unspeakable waiting for us. Just in case."

James turned to see Remus and Sirius hovering behind him. "And you—"

"Are by your side," Remus said.

"Like always," Sirius added with an anxious smile and put a hand on James's shoulder.

Turning to look at Hermione as she situated Harry in her arms, basilisk fang in hand, he held his breath for a moment before reaching out and touching her cheek. "Harry lives," he whispered.

She nodded, tears in her eyes. "Harry lives."

With one hand holding her wand, she whispered, "Diffindo," and placed the smallest of cuts at the very top of Harry's scar, opening up the skin. Slowly breathing as the Vow burned hot, Hermione hovered the fang above the cut and then exhaled as she pressed down, allowing the smallest amount of venom to drip out. The very second that it did, her wrist felt as though it were on fire and she dropped her wand and the fang, grasping one hand with the other and hissing in pain.

James looked back and forth between his son and wife in a panic and screamed, "Hermione!" just as her eyes closed and she fell backward into darkness.

Chapter Text

January 1st, 1987

The silence was overwhelming. The silence and the . . . nothingness.

Hermione rested her head on her arms, which were folded in front of her, random brown curls spread out against whatever it was that she was leaning against. It, too, felt like nothing. Slowly, sound entered, something wispy, fluttering. A hummingbird—no, not alive . . . something . . . nostalgic and comforting and . . . pages.

Hermione blinked twice and let her vision come into focus. The bright, cloudy vapour that surrounded her slowly formed itself into shapes which then became objects. Long and tall and spreading out as far as her eyes could see. The objects took on details soon thereafter, the vapour shaping itself into old wood, shelves, tables, chairs, and a plethora of books.

She sat up and looked around, shocked to find herself in the Hogwarts library. Looking down, she blinked a few times at the sight of her naked body. But it wasn't her nakedness that she found surprising, but the complete and utter lack of scars. The deep purple gash—Dolohov's legacy—was missing from the side of her body, where it normally ran upward, bisecting her rib cage and breastbone. What had made that go away? Had it even really been there?

And then she remembered. The Burrow, orchards, Horcrux, Vow, James . . .


Standing up, Hermione looked to the side where a set of robes hung off of a bronze hook on the end of a bookshelf. She slipped the clothes on quickly and scanned the area, searching frantically for the boy, a part of her hoping that she wouldn't find him because that would mean that maybe, just maybe, he made it through the ordeal alive.

Clearly, she hadn't.

"Mine was the Great Hall," someone said nearby.

Hermione spun defensively and her brown eyes widened at the sight in front of her. The sight of a very familiar pair of eyes, and a shocking amount of deep, red hair. The face of a woman she looked at every day in the photographs that lined the walls of her home.

"Lily Potter," she whispered.

Lily smiled sweetly at her. "Hermione Potter."

"Where's Harry?"

Lily's smile widened. "I hope you woke up okay. I know it can be disorienting. I panicked when I first woke up, in the Great Hall when a part of me knew that I was supposed to be in Godric's Hollow. Harry's fine," Lily said when she noticed Hermione's fingers begin to tense. "He and I had a good long talk." At Hermione's raised brow, Lily clarified. "Time is . . . different here. But I promise you, Harry is fine. He's likely waking up as we speak."

Hermione let out a sharp exhale and tears sprung to her eyes. "It worked?"

Lily nodded excitedly and embraced the other witch like an old friend. "It worked, it was brilliant. Perfect. Thank you, Hermione, thank you."

Crying into Lily's shoulder, Hermione gasped for breath and words. "W-why?"

Pulling away, Lily wiped at Hermione's face. "Because you . . . you saved him. You saved them! You saved James from Voldemort and then you took that Vow to save Harry. Hermione, you died for my son. And . . . and you brought him to me. At least for a moment. And that moment will last me long enough."

"I would have saved you," Hermione said.

Lily nodded. "I know. But I don't regret that you didn't. I was able to protect my little boy, die for something worthwhile, and you not saving me allowed so many other lives to go on . . . you've saved so many."

"I tried."

Lily took her hand and squeezed it. "Thank you."

Catching her breath, Hermione looked around, her eyes searching. "What's going to happen?" she asked. "What will . . . oh gods . . . James."

For the first time since meeting the woman, Lily Potter frowned. "Hermione, you can't stay here," she said softly. "You're going back. James . . . we both know it would destroy him to lose someone again. He's too young and he's barely had a chance to live his life. You put him back together, and I will be forever grateful for that. I worried for a very long time. But I knew, I knew when I saw the way you looked at him."

"You can . . . you can see us?"

Lily smirked. "Don't worry. I reserve my viewings for Harry. But I checked on James from time to time. And Sirius and Remus. And everyone else. It gets boring sometimes."

"How do I . . . how did I survive? I mean, why am I going back? I died."

Lily nodded. "Yes, and Harry, perfect son that he is," she said, a little smugly with pride written in her bright green eyes, "chose to die with you. He's smart and he knew what was going on, at least on some level. He sacrificed his life for yours, while you sacrificed yours for him. That's some incredibly powerful magic. You must have really loved your best friend."

Hermione looked down. "Harry was . . . Harry is . . ."

"It's okay," Lily said softly. "His heart is big enough for the both of us."

"But you sacrificed yourself for him . . . how come you—"

"Didn't come back? Well, Harry is special. He's apparently Master of Death," she said jokingly, though both witches knew it to be true. "That reminds me, please take away that Wand before he accidentally sets something on fire. And get rid of that awful Stone. It won't do anyone any amount of good. He can keep the Cloak. It is a family heirloom, after all."

Hermione smiled and then looked around. "How do I get home?"

Lily turned and revealed the doors to the library. "You walk through."

Stepping forward, Hermione found herself clinging to Lily's hand, as though she could bring the woman with her. She stopped and let go, knowing she couldn't. "What's on the other side?" she asked.

"Life," Lily replied. "And everything."

She was lying face up on the ground again. The smell of the orchards behind the Burrow filled her nostrils. She could feel the wet grass beneath her arms, her hair slightly damp from lying on it. Her wrist was sore from the broken Unbreakable Vow, but she could already feel that the magic was gone from it. She tried to move it but found her hand clasped tightly by another.

Hermione opened her eyes and took in the sight of Sirius hovering over her, squeezing her hand while Mary waved a wand over her body. Both of their attentions, however, were briefly focused to the left, where James was cradling Harry in his arms, hugging him tight and whispering, "Thank god," over and over again.

She moved and Sirius turned, staring down at her. "Oh, thank Merlin!" he screamed and pulled her up into his arms at an awkward angle. "I swear to Circe, I thought that stupid bloody Vow killed you!"

"It . . . did," Hermione choked out the words, nearly unable to breathe.


Sirius was soon pushed aside and she nearly lost her balance, what with being held up and all by the overly excited Animagus. She moved to catch her fall when two large arms wrapped around her and she found herself staring up into James's beautiful hazel eyes. "I missed you," she whispered softly with a dazed smile on her face.

He laughed, tears already streaming down his cheeks as he kissed her.

He tasted like salt and life.

"How long?" she asked when he finally broke away from her, gasping for breath.

"Too long . . . almost three minutes."

She smiled and touched his cheek with the palm of her hand. "I'm safe. We're safe," she said and then looked around James's arm to see Harry sitting there with a grin on his face.

"Hey, Mi," he said excitedly. "It doesn't hurt anymore." He pulled back the black fringe in front of his forehead, revealing the lightning bolt scar that looked much less pronounced than she'd ever seen it before.

"It's gone?" she asked, turning to look at James. She'd known, of course, that the Horcrux was gone, but already her vision of meeting Lily Potter was fading from her, as though it were a dream. James smiled and nodded, and relief flooded the both of them as they collapsed into one another's arms.

Mary stood up after checking Hermione's vitals. "Nothing some Wiggenweld, Pepper-Up, and a little phoenix tears can't cure," she said with a bright smile.

"So the Vow's broken," Remus said, examining Hermione's wrist. "I guess your job's done," he added with a teasing smirk.

She grinned. "Hardly. I still have to get him through Hogwarts. Voldemort or not, the Quidditch injuries alone are enough to give me heart palpitations."

Harry gasped and stood up. "Dad! Can we play Quidditch?!"

James sighed and laughed. "Mate, I think . . . maybe something a little more relaxing. Didn't you tell Ron you'd play chess with him?"

"Yeah, but Quidditch is so much better!"

"Go on," Hermione said. "But bundle up before you even think about getting on that broom. And no higher than the tops of the trees! And the bigger kids have to go with you!"

Harry's smile nearly reached his ears as he turned on his heel and rushed back down the hill, sliding on the snow halfway down, regaining his footing before darting off again.

All the adults let out a collective sigh. "That's it then," Emmeline said. "No more Voldemort, no more Horcruxes."

"No more war," Frank said, putting his arm around Allie with a smile.

Sirius grinned. "No more fighting."

"No more Hermione revealing something life altering about her past and our future," Remus said with a laugh and everyone joined in.

James's smile turned into a mischievous grin.

Hermione stared at him in confusion before her eyes widened in horror. "Don't. You. Dare."

There was a devious twinkle in his eyes before he opened his mouth, "Hey Moony . . . guess who our little Hermione used to fancy back when she was just a little witch?"

Pressing her heels into the ground beneath her, Hermione pushed hard, launching herself and James backward and out of the circle, landing on the fresh snow marked only by Harry's footprints. The couple tumbled down the hill, Hermione's hair picking up small snowballs in her curls along the way, flinging them into James's face as he laughed.

"Prats," they could hear Emmeline call them from the top of the hill just as they crashed into a pile of soft snow at the bottom.

James pinned her beneath him and chuckled as he pulled wet curls from her face, brushing away the clumps of snow that were now stuck in her collar. She shivered but then threw her head back and laughed at the sight of his hair, sticking up in every direction that it was not supposed to be.

He smiled and ran a thumb over the pink in her cheeks. "Got you," he whispered.

She grinned up at him. "Right where you want me."

Chapter Text

August 7th, 1991

Harry Potter's earliest, most solid memory, was of Hermione waking him up when he was very young. She'd stayed the night at what used to be just his and his dad's home, and woke up early to make him eggs, and then read him stories all morning while he played with Crookshanks and Pretzel. She would kiss his forehead, quietly whisper in his ear that it was time to get up, and then, when he pretended to still be sleeping, she would tickle him until he laughed himself fully awake.

Harry missed that Hermione sometimes.

"Harry Potter, I have been calling you downstairs for the last forty minutes. If you don't get out of that bed right now, we're going to be late!"

Harry groaned into his pillow. "Muuuum!"

"Don't mum me!" Hermione snapped, stepping into the room and tugging his blankets off of him, giving him a good swat on the arse. When Harry yelped in shock, rolling over and glaring up at her in indignation, she giggled down at the boy. "C'mon," she said and ran her hand affectionately through his messy hair. As though he could fix it, Harry mussed his fingers back through it the other way. "Draco and Theo are nervous enough and you know they'd feel better if they had a friend with them."

Sighing, Harry nodded. "Can we go to Diagon Alley after?" he asked. "We didn't get to last week, and I'm afraid that someone else might have bought her."

She reached out, adjusting his glasses with a tender smile. "What did I promise you that you could have before you go to Hogwarts?"

Harry smiled. "An owl."

"And which owl?"

His smile widened. "Hedwig."

She beamed down at him. "And do I ever break my promises to you, Harry?"

"Never," he said and then jumped up, nearly tripping as he grabbed a pair of trousers that were hanging out of a half-opened dresser drawer.

Hermione sighed. "Those better be clean."

"What if he doesn't like me?" Theo whispered to Harry nervously as they stood in the Atrium of the Ministry, toeing the marble floor beneath them. "What if . . . what if he makes Mum send me back?"

"There's nowhere to go back to," Draco said, looking flustered, but less emotional than Theo as he stared into the distance, occasionally looking up at his mother who was tapping her finely made heel impatiently. "And it won't matter what he says, we're going to Hogwarts in a few weeks. If he says you can't stay, then I'll refuse to come home as well. We'll live in the dungeons."

"Or the tower," Harry chimed in.

Draco scoffed. "Not on your life, Potter."

Hermione looked down the length of the corridor and watched as Frank and Allie stepped out of the D.M.L.E., a freshly showered but exhausted looking Lucius Malfoy standing between them, hands free, but very clearly had recently been cuffed since he was rubbing the soreness out of them.

Narcissa sucked in a deep breath and stood absolutely still.

Harry grinned up at his aunt and then looked at Hermione who shared a smile with him before touching Narcissa's shoulders. "Let me guess," she said teasingly. "Malfoys don't run?"

Tears sprung to Narcissa's eyes and she picked up the hem of her robes. "Sod that," she said and then sprinted down the corridor, much to Draco and Theo's surprise, the click of her heels rang hard against the marble.

Lucius shortened the distance between them just as his wife flung herself into his arms.

September 1st, 1991

Autumn seemed to arrive early that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple. Harry was more excited than he'd ever been as he pushed his trolley down the pavement and toward the wall separating Platforms Nine and Ten. An owl cage sat on the top of his trunk carrying Hedwig, who had been a late birthday gift from Hagrid. James took Hermione's hand as they followed Harry through onto the Platform, both smiling at the way he grinned at the sight of the train.

"Woah," he said in awe.

"Harry!" Neville shouted from across the way.

As Harry ran to catch up with Neville, he passed the Malfoys on his way, tossing a grin to Draco and Theo, who were both cringing as Narcissa peppered their faces with kisses while Lucius looked on, decidedly uncomfortable in the large crowd.

"Thank Merlin you're here," Sirius said as he approached James and Hermione, a black-haired little witch hanging from his hand like a ragdoll, sobbing hysterically. "She's been screaming all bloody morning."

Hermione laughed and pulled Ariel up into her arms and the little girl hiccoughed. "I - want - to - go - to - Hogwarts - it's - not - fair."

She could see over Sirius's shoulder, Edward, who was dropping off Emma for the first time as well, was having similar troubles with Romilda, who was on the ground, kicking her feet against a nearby bench. "Oh sweetie," Hermione said, kissing Ariel's wet cheek. "It's just a few more years. And with the boys all gone this year, you and Charlotte can finally play by yourselves."

Allie and Frank approached after helping the boys load their trunks onto the train, just as Molly ushered her group through the wall, Percy ahead of the pack and wearing his shiny prefect badge, followed by Fred and George, and eventually Ron and a pouting Ginny. "All the girls are upset today," Allie remarked with a laugh. "I remember being thrilled when my brother went to Hogwarts ahead of me. I took over his room and turned it into a dollhouse."

Neville's eyes widened and he turned and glared at Charlotte, who snorted and rolled her eyes at her older brother.

"Right then," James said, pulling Ariel into his arms. "So when we write you all owls tonight, should we just send them straight to Gryffindor Tower?"

Hermione and Allie rolled their eyes.

"I'll be proud no matter where Neville ends up," Frank said, ruffling his son's hair.

Harry laughed. "It's not as if it's a surprise. Mum told me years ago that we all end up in—mphf!"

Hermione clamped a hand over Harry's mouth and then laughed as the others smirked at her. She leant down and whispered in his ear, "Anything I've told you about the future has been changed with everything else. So keep that our little secret, okay?" Harry groaned under her hand and nodded. "And don't pick on any of your friends if they end up anywhere other than Gryffindor?" He nodded again. "And you know that we'll love you even if you let the Sorting Hat put you somewhere else, right?" Harry let out a dramatic sigh through his nose and gave a final nod.

The train whistle blew once and Hermione's heart jumped within her chest, overcome with the strange feeling like she should be getting on the train with him. "Please write to us," she pleaded.

"And stay safe," James added.

"Study hard."

"And don't get into trouble," James added with a wink, knowing full well that Harry had packed the Invisibility Cloak in his trunk.

"And have fun!" Sirius insisted.

Hermione wiped a tear from her eye and leant down, kissing Harry's cheek. "And give Remus and Mary our love."

Harry winced and looked around to make sure no one heard her. "Mum . . . they're professors! I can't give professors love!"

"Hedwig's here!" Hermione shouted from the kitchen, running up the stairs and nearly stumbling into James's small home office. She waved the letter in his face teasingly and then pulled it away just in time for him to miss snatching it out of her hands. "Too slow," she said with a grin. "I thought you played Quidditch?"

James stood. "I did. I was a Chaser," he said, devious glint in his eyes. "What do you think I'm gonna do now?"

She squealed and darted out of the office, making her way upstairs only to be caught in his grasp just as she entered the bedroom. James lifted her against his side, holding her in one arm off of the ground while she laughed. He stole the letter from her hands and cleared his throat.

"Dear Mum and Dad," he read aloud and then laughed triumphantly. "I got into Gryffindor! The Sorting Hat said that I had many options and that both of my mothers could have ended up in Ravenclaw as well. But I asked it to put me in Gryffindor because you were all Gryffindors and I was dying to see the tower! Ron and I have already made a bunch of friends. Emma and Neville's weird cousin ended up in Gryffindor too. Draco went to Slytherin like everyone knew, but Theo ended up in Ravenclaw. Can you believe it? I remembered what you said, Mum, about being nice even if my friends ended up in other Houses. And I'm going to do my best but I'm a little sad that Neville ended up in Hufflepuff. But it's okay, because their common room is by the kitchens! Uncle Remus and Aunt Mary said to say hello, and they're expecting to see you both for lunch in Hogsmeade next week. Love, Harry."

James sighed happily and tossed the letter on his bedside table before tossing his wife onto the bed.

July 20th, 1994

"You can't get mad at me," James said, standing in Lupin and Howells in front of his wife who was staring at him with wide brown eyes that had the faintest lines in the corners, likely more from stress than age. She had a stack of orders she'd just completed, which usually put her in a good mood. Harry's fourteenth birthday was just over a week, and he'd waited until Hermione was over the preparations stages for the party so she would be the least stressed when he had to tell her his news. "Promise you won't get mad at me."

Hermione raised a brow. "I can never get mad at you when you wear your Ministry robes," she said with a smirk.

He laughed nervously, which was never a good sign. "So you know how I'm the Head of the Department of Magical Sports and Games?"

She stared at him incredulously. "I recall the promotion two years ago, yes."

Clearing his throat, James laughed again. "So . . . and keep in mind that I had no control over whether or not it would happen . . . I've been meeting the last six months or so with the people from the Department of International Magical Cooperation and—"

"You didn't?!" she shrieked.

"Calm down," he said, holding his hands up and mentally wondering why he hadn't pulled a wand into one of them before telling her. "I knew you'd get upset but I'm completely in charge no matter what that idiot Ludo Bagman says, and I've double-checked the damn Cup myself like . . . twenty times—"

"Check it again!"

December 13th, 1994

Harry did not, in fact, end up as a Champion for Hogwarts in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Hermione had actually accompanied James, much to Harry's utter embarrassment, to Hogwarts for the drawing of the names just to make certain. When Viktor—who got a brief glare from James before Hermione smacked him in the arm—was followed shortly by Fleur and then Cedric, Hermione squeezed James's hand tight enough to hurt as she stared at the Cup. When Minerva dismissed everyone to their rooms and the Cup was left standing there, doing nothing, Hermione almost fainted with relief.

The greatest shock of the visit, however, was being introduced to the Headmaster of Durmstrang, Severus Snape. James and Snape shook hands while glaring at one another as though nothing had changed through the years, and the former Death Eater sneered at Hermione upon greeting, clearly remembering that she'd once knocked him unconscious in the back alley behind the Leaky Cauldron.

"Harry's asked Emma to the Yule Ball," Mary confessed when she met up with Hermione and Allie at the Three Broomsticks during a free period. She'd taken over for Slughorn when the man finally retired, and both she and Remus had finally married a year earlier at Christmas.

"That rotten little . . ." Hermione pouted. "I got a letter from him just last night and he didn't say a word."

Allie laughed. "He's more likely to tell James about girls than you."

Sighing, Hermione sipped her butterbeer, remembering a time when Harry Potter had, in fact, went to her for advice about girls, though he'd shown absolutely zero interest in either Ginny or Cho Chang in this timeline. She looked up at Allie. "What about Neville? Has he asked Ginny yet?"

Allie raised a brow and Mary choked on her drink. "Ginny?" The two witches shared a look before turning and smiling at Hermione. "Oh, sweetie . . . no, Neville's not going with Ginny."

Hermione furrowed her brow in confusion. "But he . . . I don't . . . well then who is he going with?"

December 29th, 1994

Hermione pouted as she stared at the photographs in her hand. "Oh, look how handsome Harry is in his robes," she said with a slight sniffle as Molly handed her more photographs, the next ones of Ron dancing with Pansy Parkinson, an arrangement made by Harry and Draco when Ron waited too long to ask anyone and panicked at the last minute.

"They grow up too fast," Molly said, dabbing at her eyes. "I don't know what he's complaining about," she added. "Ron looks very smart in those robes."

Hermione said nothing.

"Are you done crying?" James asked as he, Sirius, and Arthur joined the witches in the kitchen, snagging a biscuit of two when Molly held the plate out to them. "Oh, look at that," he said with a grin, pulling a photograph. "You'll have to get a copy of this one made for Allie and Frank," he said, looking at Neville awkwardly shift on the dance floor next to his date.

Hermione nodded. "Another for Narcissa and Lucius, too," she said and watched as, in the photograph, Theo reached out and laced his fingers through Neville's.

Sirius smirked. "Speaking of Narcissa. Have you any photographs of Draco in there?"

Molly flipped through the stack. "Why yes, here's one just—Oh!"

Hermione's eyes widened. "What? What is it?"

James snickered. "He wrote to Sirius asking his advice on how to ask a girl to the dance. He mistakenly assumed that Sirius spoke french."

Reaching for the photograph, Hermione scoffed. "He asked a little French witch from Beauxbatons?"

"No," James said. "He asked a little British girl from Beauxbatons."

Staring down at the photograph, Hermione nearly choked at the sight of Draco Malfoy, dancing with a young Hermione Granger.

"Sirius!" she screamed and turned, just in time to watch a large, black dog, bolt out the door.

June 24th, 1995

Hermione sat in the stands, one hand clutching Harry's tightly as he sat beside her, staring up at her with sad eyes. "It's going to be fine, Mum. I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere," he reassured her as she stared down into the large hedge that had taken up the whole pitch. He didn't even complain when he felt her cast a Shielding Charm every few minutes.

James sat a few rows down, needing to work alongside the others who had helped put together the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Both he, Harry, and Remus had kept Hermione aware of everything happening within the tournament, and she was unsurprised to hear that Viktor had come out ahead in the dragon challenge, but was unable to rescue his best friend Anton in time from the mermaids and had lost points there, giving Cedric a little advantage when he'd arrived to the surface of the Black Lake first with Cho.

Red sparks flew up in the air once and then again, and Hermione held her breath until the Portkeyed Cup reappeared in the middle of the clearing with a triumphant Fleur Delacour standing with a grin on her face, Tri-Wizard Champion.

March 30th, 1997

"I don't care that she's dating Ron," Hermione insisted when Sirius and James teased her. "And be quiet. The poor girl might hear you and she's got enough to worry about with that horrible necklace she's making Ron wear," she added with a small laugh. "I just can't stand her mother. The woman is practically planning their wedding. I don't care if she is married to Allie's brother, I will not help that witch plan a wedding between two sixteen-year-olds."

"Seventeen," James corrected with a laugh and kissed her cheek, stealing a sandwich off of the tray that she was helping put together for Easter dinner.

When he reached to steal another, she slapped his hand and smirked. "That's it, now you're in charge."

James smirked and stuck half of the sandwich in his mouth. "Fine," he mumbled through his bite. "I put together a bloody amazing sandwich platter."

She rolled her eyes and turned, smiling brightly as Emmeline walked into the kitchen looking miserable at nearly nine months pregnant. "Oh, look at you."

"Call me fat and see what happens," Emmie said, stopping to glare at Sirius. "That goes for you as well."

Hermione helped her friend into a chair while Sirius knelt down and rubbed the witch's foot. "Oh, sweetheart, I would never call you fat. You look gloriously beautiful. Are you sure that's not my kid in there?"

Emmeline rolled her eyes. "Pretty damn since I haven't shagged you since school, prat. You looking for another kid?"

There was a loud yell from the other room and Lavender screamed, "Won-Won! Make those rotten little snakes leave me alone!"

Charlotte and Ariel rushed into the kitchen, green and silver scarfs around their necks. When all the adults looked at them, the girls smiled innocently and Ariel batted her large grey eyes at her father. "There was a bug in her hair," she said. "I was just trying to pull it out. I can't help that her hair got caught in my fist, now can I?"

Hermione pursed her lips while Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose. "Girls, leave Lavender alone. Charlotte, she's your cousin for Merlin's sake."

Charlotte scoffed. "She called Ariel's sister a slag."

"Emma?!" Hermione gasped in shock, horrified more considering that the little Ravenclaw and Harry had been dating since the Yule Ball years earlier.

Ariel laughed. "No, Romilda."

"Oh," Hermione said and then, when Emmeline elbowed her in the ribs, she widened her eyes. "Oh! Yes, that's terrible, awful . . . but . . . no violence," she added.

The girls left and Emmeline sighed, putting her feet up in Sirius's lap. "Rub them until Kingsley gets here," she ordered and Sirius did so, but then sniffed them from time to time and made gagging noises that both witches ignored.

"So did you hear that Minister Bagnold is retiring," Emmeline said with a smile.

Hermione raised a brow. "I did not. Where was it announced?"

"It hasn't been. I know because I have insider information."

James turned around from the kitchen counter, licking mustard from his fingers. "What insider information? You went on leave from the Ministry a month ago. I haven't heard anything."

Emmeline grinned. "Well, it just so happens, I know the person that Minister Bagnold is supporting in the next election," she said smugly.

August 1st, 1997

"It's weird," Remus said, Hermione's hand held gently with his as the two swayed on the dance floor. "She's thirteen years younger than me."

Hermione laughed. "I swear it, Remus. And you were the one who wanted to know."

He peered over Hermione's shoulder at Nymphadora, who was giggling as Charlie Weasley attempted to dance with her, nearly knocking over the wedding cake in the process, which briefly caused Fleur to show more of her veela side than she'd intended, shrieking in fright as the cake wobbled. Fred and George flicked their wands, stabilising it and, when Bill distracted his wife with a kiss, the twins turned the cake bright magenta.

"Hands where I can see them, Lupin," James said as he danced with Mary, moving up beside their spouses. "She's got the world's greatest arse, but only I can touch it."

Mary laughed and both Hermione and Remus rolled their eyes. "Do you think they're going to run off with one another?" Mary asked James, gasping loudly.

James shook his head. "You can never tell with these two. Did you know that she used to write his name all over her school books?"

Hermione scoffed. "As though I'd write in a book," she muttered.

December 24th, 1997

It was Harry's idea.

They'd gone to Godric's Hollow many times over the years to visit his mother's grave and to pay respect. Once they even attended one of the Halloween celebrations, but only to get the press off of their backs, considering they'd started following Harry around Hogsmeade the closer it got to the anniversary of Voldemort's original defeat.

"If they want to celebrate Voldemort's defeat, tell them to go to Little Hangleton," Harry would bitterly say. "Or the back of the Burrow. That's where the last bit of the bastard died."

"Language," Hermione would softly remind him, and both he and James would smile fondly at the fact that she had lost the bite to the reproach years ago.

Godric's Hollow looked different in winter, Harry noted, as they approached the cemetery, Hermione's hand held tightly within his own. He could feel the tension rolling off of her and she was shivering despite the fact that his father had cast a Warming Charm on the lot of them as they Apparated into the small village.

"I don't want her to be afraid anymore," Harry had told James in confidence earlier that year. "I want to go back. I want her to see that nothing's going to happen. But it has to be Christmas. Otherwise, she might always wonder 'what if?'."

They stopped in to see Bathilda Bagshot and the old woman pinched Harry's cheeks and offered him biscuits which Hermione politely declined on his behalf, never having been able to learn to trust the woman, all these years later after finding her withered corpse long ago. Despite logic, Hermione always made a point to stare at the older witch, as if searching for a sign of Nagini. From Bathilda's house, they walked to the old Potter Cottage, still a memorial of what had once been there; what had taken place there.

It didn't frighten or sadden Harry to see it, but he took notice of the way that his father swallowed hard as they stepped inside and approached what used to be the stairs.

He'd heard the story his entire life. Of how Peter Pettigrew betrayed his parents, gave away their secret to Voldemort. About how Voldemort burst through the door and his father stood bravely, wandless even, as his mother took him and ran upstairs. Plenty of books detailed the final moments of the famous Muggle-born hero, Lily Potter, and how she died in sacrifice for her son, taking He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named down with her.

But Harry knew that the story went on further.

About how another Muggle-born, broken hearted over the death of her best friend, Apparated through time with the last of his Death Magic, and saved his father's life. How she'd made an Unbreakable Vow to his godfather to protect, and spent years learning Fiendfyre, running a bookshop, making eggs, and buying pet snakes, all while falling in love.

"I don't want you to be afraid anymore, Hermione," he said.

She turned and gaped at him, eyes wide. Harry knew that he never called her that anymore, but he was making a point. She'd long since gotten over her fear of flying after his father insisted on nightly romantic broom rides. Facing her fears seemed to be the trick, or at least Harry hoped so.

"I love you, Hermione," he said and frowned when she tensed.

James put a hand on her shoulder and stepped close, kissing the top of her head. After a few deep breaths and a few stray tears, she whispered, "I love you, Harry."

"It's okay, Mum," he promised her, smiling brightly. "Everything is okay."

They waited. And waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened and an hour or so passed. Hermione looked him over, turning his head this way and that, checking for signs of injuries or failing health. Harry grinned at her. "See? You saved me," he told her.

Hermione reached out and wrapped her arms around him tightly, hugging him close. "You saved me, too."

She released the boy and reached out for James, taking both his and Harry's hands in her own. "Let's go home," she whispered with a smile, feeling the fear evaporate away like early morning fog.


"Happy Christmas, love," James said with a smile.


"Happy Christmas, boys,"


And Harry lived.


The End