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Butterfly Effect

Chapter Text


Tell me would you kill to save a life?

Tell me would you kill to prove you're right?

Crash, crash, burn, let it all burn

This hurricane's chasing us all underground.

-Hurricane, 30 Seconds to Mars

Prologue: Would You Kill To Save A Life?

Date July 18th 1993

Dear Harry and Ron,

I doubt you will ever read this, but if I ever find a way to send this to you I want you to know what really happened to me. I'm sure by now word has reached you of what happened: that my family and I were killed while we were on our cruise to France when the ship sunk in the storm. Well, for the most part that is true. I don't think anyone else made it off that ship-other than myself that is, as I am currently alive writing this letter.

Dad made sure I got to the life boat, he went back to look for Mum, I never saw him again. The waves nearly took my boat down a number of times, but somehow it stayed upright until the storm passed. After that I was left drifting for what seemed like ages. The small supply of water I had ran out after the first week. You know that you can live for a month without food; seemed a rather fascinating fact when I first read it, in reality starvation is painful and not something I would wish on even Malfoy on one of his more nasty days.

The periodic rain showers helped with keeping me hydrated, but it also made the nights freezing and all the more miserable. At first I had nothing but water, but eventually food became easier to come by. My boat had started to grow algae along the bottom and began to attract fish. I ended up making a net out of the bottom half of my jeans; the fish wasn't too bad, but I think if I ever get home, I will never go near sushi again.

I might have been more fascinated by having my own personal little ecosystem right under my feet, had the fish not also attracted sharks-who were bent on eating me! I could feel them hitting the boat at times, trying to knock me out!

I was stuck there for about six weeks before I landed on this island. It doesn't appear to have any people on it but I haven't moved far from where my boat washed up yet, haven't quite gotten used to the ground not rocking under me.

If you had not noticed, I am currently writing this letter in a journal I brought with me from the ship. I hadn't been able to write before but now I have a bit of charred wood; which is even harder to write with than a quill. I made a fire here on the beach using some drift wood and a shoelace-the TV makes it look so much easier than it is in real life; Harry will explain the TV to you, Ron, I'm too tired to write it all out and to comfortably warm for the first night since I left home.

Tomorrow I will explore more of the island, maybe there is a port or a village around here, where I can get a ride home or call for help.

Still Alive,

Hermione Granger

Date July 25th 1993

Dear Harry and Ron,

It has been nearly a week since my last letter and a lot of things have happened. I suppose I should start at the beginning. I started out exploring the island and came across a rather scenic river, it was a rather perfect place for a swim. That was till the largest fish I have ever seen pulled a whole deer right in; right in front of me! I steered clear of the rivers after that and was on my way back to camp when I wandered into some sort of trap. One moment I was walking along a path looking for the shore and the next I was ten feet in the air hanging from a net. I don't know how many hours I was stuck there but it was nearly dark when someone finally found me.

He didn't speak, no matter how much I yelled or begged. He just drew his bow (Who even uses a bow in this day and age!) and shot the rope holding me in the air. I think the fall might have broken something because the combination of hitting the ground and pain in my arm caused me to pass out.

When I woke up next I was in a dark cave and the man who had shot me down was sitting by a fire stitching a hole in this worn old hooded poncho. He had splinted my arm while I was unconscious, but it still hurt painfully and by the looks of things I doubt he has any painkillers.

He said his name was Halt, no last name. I think he's German; he has a bit of an accent when he does decide to speak, but he doesn't seem to like talking. Most of what he says tends to be curses and German phrases (which I am guessing is also curses.)

I am still with Halt now even a week later. He won't let me leave the cave but he doesn't toss me back in when I wander to the entrance like he did when I first got here. Apparently this island used to be a prison before it was abandoned and was then taken over by some Russian military organization or maybe they are mercenaries (I'll have to try to find out more on that later). When the military moved in and took over the place. A few were hired into their group, the rest were round up to be used in some sort of experiments I think; Halt wasn't very clear on that. Apparently the military don't like outsiders knowing about them, which is why Halt won't let me out. He says I make too much noise ('like a bull in a china shop') and if they find me, I'll wish I had died in my boat.

Apparently they don't like him much either and I can't say I like him much myself. He rather reminds me of Professor Snape; everything I do seems to irritate him even if I'm doing exactly what he told me to! Of all the things to happen, I wind up stuck on an island with a Professor Snape wannabe who tosses me around like a kitten!

Though, while Halt can be a bit difficult, he has yet to throw me out to fend for myself with the soldiers (or assign me detention) so he can't be too bad, maybe he's just been alone so long he doesn't know how to be nice? I can't say the same for the Professor.

Hope you are doing well and ready to start the new school year. Be sure to keep up with your studies till I can get there to make sure you're getting your work done.

Still Alive

Hermione Granger

Date December 17th 1993

Dear Harry and Ron,

I need help! Please. (the remainder of the sentence has been made illegible by water marks)

I'm all alone, I can't do this. I don't want to be alone.

(The rest of the letter is smudged beyond legibility)

Date January 8th 1994

Dear Harry and Ron,

I'm still alive and I'm going to see you guys again. I don't know how and I don't know when, but I am getting off this island and I am going home. I can't give up now, not when I know you guys are out there waiting on me.

Still Alive

Hermione Granger

Date May 2nd 1997

Dear Harry and Ron,

I'm coming Home.

See you soon.

Hermione Granger – Survivor

Date November 26th 1997

Dear Harry and Ron,

This is not the way it was supposed to be. I thought I left the battle field behind me on that island only to find myself in another one. Everything that has kept me going these last three years is gone. People I thought where indestructible are dead. Friends I remember with smiling faces now carry the scars of war. This can't be the way things were supposed to be. It can't be!

I have a plan and if it works, then none of this would have happened; Ron, you wouldn't be hurt-not like that and Harry you wouldn't have...

It's not going to happen or I will die trying.

Hermione Granger

April 1993- Department of Mysteries

The veil fluttered on an unfelt wind in the quiet stillness of its chamber. Suddenly, a golden crackle of power shot across the veil, snapping the fabric to attention. Its surface became smooth as glass and no light seemed to penetrate the darkness within as voices began to filter through.

"Come on, it's ready!" came a female voice.



The sound of spells impacting on stone and flesh could be heard as the sounds of fighting and the enraged screams of 'traitor' echoed around the empty chamber.

"Come on, Sir, we need to go now! Expulso!"

"Go, Granger!"


"Sectumsempra!" The sounds of battle grew louder-as did the voices-like there was only the thin surface of the veil separating them from sight, "No one else can be allowed to get through or everything we have planned will be lost. Now stow that Gryffindor stubbornness and go!"


"GO," a male voice roared, "CONFRIGO!"

The glass surface of the veil shattered as a body burst through; the shards fracturing and faded from sight before they could hit the stone floor of the chamber. A ground shaking explosion of flames burst out of the veil behind the figure; who was saved from the flames and flying debris by a hastily conjured shield as they rolled across the ground into a defensive crouch.

The flames of the explosion died and the chamber was once again plunged into a deafening silence. The quiet was suddenly broken by an audible crack, as a large fissure appeared in the frame of the veil; more cracks began to spread from the first, as it fractured and began to fall to pieces.

As the last piece hit the ground with a clatter of finality the figure stood; revealing it to be a woman of about 18, her corkscrew curly hair framing her face as hard brown eyes stared at the broken veil.

"Thank you," she said softly as the sound of feet could be heard coming to the doorway of the chamber. Fading into the shadows, she made quick work of exiting the Ministry of Magic.

Hermione Granger had things to do.

Things to set right.

Chapter Text

No matter how many deaths that I die,

I will never forget.

No matter how many lives that I live,

I will never regret.

-Hurricane 30 Seconds to Mars

Chapter 1: I Will Never Regret

July 25th 1993-Island.

Hermione was seated just inside of the cave she had called home for the past five days, staring at the wild forest that covered most of the island she was currently stranded on. Having cleaned up what she could in the area and even made an attempt to mend some of the clothing she found lying around in an attempt to quell her growing boredom, she was quickly left with nothing to do but wait for her companion to wander back.

After her initial arrival she had not strayed far from the cave's entrance. At first it was because Halt had not allowed her; whenever she had made any move to leave, rather than call her back he would simply pick her up and toss her back in like a kitten. It seemed that now he was sure she had learned her lesson and wouldn't run off, because he had taken to leaving her alone for hours at a time.

"Why couldn't I be stranded on an island with a library?" she asked no one in particular, as she shifted to lean back on her good arm to look up at the cloudless sky above; her right arm was currently in a splint and resting in a scrap of cloth she had found and made into a makeshift sling. Finally as the hours ticked by, the bushy-haired brunette stood fed up with waiting around and dusted off her cut-off jeans. During the day it could be absolutely sweltering here, even in the shade, and she figured that there wouldn't be much harm in going just for a short walk under the trees.

"Halt won't be back for a while and he shouldn't mind if I just take a peak around," she said to herself, walking off into the trees, intending to only go a few yards away, but too soon found herself completely turned around. When she moved to return to the cave, she found it wasn't where she had thought it to be and that everything around her was unfamiliar. Only then did she truly begin to regret wandering off while Halt was gone; it was doubtful that he even knew she was missing, and it was even more unlikely that he would come looking for her.

She wandered aimlessly for what seemed like hours, the logical part of her mind figured that if she just headed in one direction she would find the shore and be able to get an idea of where she was, but the child part of her was beginning to jump at every strange shadow, as the sky began to darken. As her search for the ocean became more frantic, it didn't occur to her to watch where she was placing her feet, even after her run-in with the net trap that had broken her arm. Stepping along a faint game trail she had stumbled across, she felt her foot sink slightly in the damp leafy foliage that blanketed the forest floor, with an audible click. Something about the sensation and sound sent every nerve in her body on edge, as she froze. Looking down she was about to move her foot to see what she had stepped on, when a voice to her left spoke.

"I wouldn't move if I were you. That is, unless you want to end up a bunch of little pieces." Hermione looked over to see Halt leaning against a tree; arms folded across his chest, his ever present longbow gripped loosely in one hand. The dark brown poncho he wore was making it hard to pick him out from the shadows, had he not lowered the hood revealing his uneven short-cropped gray hair.

"Halt," Hermione gasped out nearly in tears, "thank Merlin. Please tell me you know how to turn this thing off." Halt watched her, his dark eyes calculating, as he cocked his head to the side.

"I'm afraid I don't, and attempting to learn how would more than likely result in us both being blown up," he replied coolly.

"Please, you have to help me!" the thirteen year old sobbed loudly, tears beginning to run down her face, as she tried to keep herself from shaking, "I don't want to die. Please, Halt." Halt turned his head to look into the trees, ignoring her now nearly hysteric crying.

"I might not, but one of them might be able to get you out of your current situation," he stated, nodding with his head where he had been looking before walking off and out of sight.

"Wait, don't leave me here. Please!" she cried out, but was unable to move to go after him. Her crying and shouts caught the attention of a group of four men. They were tall and far bigger in build than Halt and were dressed in identical uniforms of light brown. Spotting her, they were cautious in approaching, but when she made no move to leave or attack them their confidence seemed to grow. The front most soldier, the leader most likely going by the snake-tailed lion embroidered on the collar of his shirt, raised his gun and propped it against his shoulder in a relaxed position.

"Vell, Vell, Vell, vat do ve hawve 'ere?" the leader asked, his companions eyeing her up and down without shame, his eyes lingering far to long on her bare legs. "Vat brings a little thing like you all the vay out 'ere? Vhy don't you come over 'ere, I'm sure ve could find some vay to dry up those tears." The other three soldiers chuckled, as to their view the girl seemed too scared to move.

"I said, get over 'ere, girl." the leader growled, dropping all pretenses of kindness, dropping the gun from his shoulder and pointing it at her. Hermione could only shake her head in refusal. Seeing she wasn't going to do as she was told, the leader made a gesture at one of the other soldiers with his weapon. He was the youngest of the group and had short black hair that stood out amongst the brown hair of the rest of the group, he stepped forward at the command and raised the stalk of his gun to strike her. He froze, his green eyes going wide in shock, as a feathered shaft suddenly sprouted from his chest. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, as Hermione stared up at him, less than a foot away, his eyes went dull before her, as something dark leaked from the corner of his mouth and nose.

Warm liquid splattered on her cheek like tears and she blinked, everything seemed to move back into focus in that moment. The soldier dropped dead at her feet, as the others cried out in their native tongue, raising their weapons to the surrounding trees. In moments two more of the soldiers went down, one with a feathered shaft in his chest, the other by the reflexive gunfire from his dying comrade. The fourth tried to take cover behind a tree out of Hermione's sight, not that she was looking, as her gaze was still locked on the lifeless green eyes of the man at her feet. She never heard the strike of Halt's final arrow or the gurgling sound just out of sight; where the leader sat slumped against the tree, pinned there by an arrow through his throat.

Hermione shut her eyes, whimpering, as she tried to not be sick; the dark hair and eyes brought to mind another more familiar pair of green eyes. She could feel the warm sticky liquid of his blood on her face, dripping down and soaking the front of her shirt, painting it in crimson.

"Girl, open your eyes," came the cool calm voice of Halt. Opening her eyes, the witch found the gray-haired man crouched in front of her, maneuvering the dead man's body so that he lay right against her foot, pulling out his arrow and setting it aside. He looked back at her, kneeling he was now almost at eye level with her, as his gray-blue eyes locked with her brown ones.

"On three I want you to jump back as far as you can, okay?" he stated gruffly, Hermione swallowed once before nodding, unable to open her mouth to speak. "Okay… One...Two...Three!" In that moment he rolled the dead body over, just as Hermione moved her foot off the land mine.

After the initial shock wore off and her brain registered that she had not blown up, the girl promptly collapsed to her knees and threw up. Once she had stopped heaving, Halt came over and hauled her roughly to her feet by the shoulder.

"This isn't your local park, you can't just stroll around here like you own it. This is Hölle, and if you want to stay alive, you're going to have to learn how to survive in hell. If you can't do that, then I will end it for you now. Save yourself the suffering, because if they get a hold of you, they will do things that will make you wish they had killed you, and then when they are done, they may put you out of your misery." Hermione couldn't reply, as she stared off into the trees, her body numb, as she avoided looking at the bodies scattered before her; later she would look back and realize she had probably gone into shock.

"You see him? Look," he said, grabbing her face, and forced her to look down at the black haired man, lying on his belly on the mine she had just escaped from. "You should never avert your eyes from death, never forget the people you've killed, because no matter how much time passes, they will never forget the one who killed them," he said, releasing her chin and grabbing her arm and pulling her into the trees. He didn't speak for a long time, and Hermione's body seemed to be stumbling alongside him on auto-pilot. Soon enough they made it back to the cave, and he shoved her roughly on her makeshift bed of raggedy blankets.

"I won't always be there to pull you out of danger, so you better get smart or you won't last long," he said gruffly before leaving her alone in the cave, as she curled up in a ball, holding her knees tightly to her chest.

It wasn't until that evening, when she finally was able to process what had happened, how close she had been to dying; the look on the man's face, as his blood dripped over her skin, and the sick feeling of relief when she saw the dead man's weight had prevented the mine from going off and killing her. She didn't want to fight and she didn't want to be on this island, but she was and — more than anything — she didn't want to die.

It was with those thoughts in mind that she found a rag and water to clean the blood from her skin, her shirt was beyond saving now, so she changed into the smallest of shirts she could find in a bag of Halt's clothes. Feeling mildly better, she walked to the cave entrance where Halt was sitting, sharpening his knife in the late evening light.

"Halt," she said, her voice was raspy from being sick and crying.

"What?" he asked, voice laced with irritation at being bothered.

"I want you to teach me to fight." Halt paused in his work to check the blade with his thumb.

"Oh, really," he said in mild interest, before going back to sharpening his knife, "and why should I go through the trouble of training a scrawny thing like yourself? I bet, the most exercise you've done in your life is cracking open a book."

"Because I could help you," the witch defended herself.

He gave a mirthless laugh, looking up at the bushy-haired teen. "I don't need any help and especially not from a little girl like you."

Hermione was beginning to get angry, as she propped her good arm on her hip. "Because it's the decent thing to do."

"What gave you the impression I'm a decent man?" Halt asked, giving her a genuinely surprised look.

"You could have left me back there, but you came back." Halt snorted, before going back to his work.

"Well, I won't be doing that again, now will I?" Hermione gave a frustrated growl, before stomping her foot and shouting.

"Because I don't want to die here on this stupid island!" Halt did not react to her outburst, as he tested his knife again; finding its sharpness to his standards, he returned it to his sheath before standing; his tall muscled frame towering over her before giving her a smirk.

"Now, that is an answer I can work with." Looking up at him, her temper cooled, remembering how easily he had killed those men just hours before and his threat to kill her as well if she proved to be to much of a burden. She shifted uncomfortably.

"I don't want to kill, I just want to know how not to get myself into trouble." Halt shook his head at her statement.

"You want me to teach you to survive? Well, here is your first lesson; you want to stay alive on this island, then you're going to have to get over that fear of killing. So long as you refuse to kill, your enemies will always have the advantage, and they will always come back and stab you in the back the moment you show any hesitation or mercy." Hermione seemed unable to form an answer to that, and Halt waited for none, as he walked out into the small clearing in front of the cave, turning to face her and gesturing for her to follow. "But first things first, let see if you have what it takes to learn how to fight."

"What, now?" the witch asked, looking around at the darkening sky and her splinted arm.

"Yes, now. No time like the present," he stated irritatedly, beckoning at her again to join him in the clearing. "Come on."

"What now?" she asked, once she had come to stand a few feet in front of him.

"Defend yourself," he said, before swiping her feet out from under her, sending her crashing to the ground.

"But you haven't shown me anything," she yelled at him, climbing painfully to her feet.

"I find pain to be a great teacher and motivator," he said, once again swiping her feet out, but this time she jumped back out of the way in time to save her footing. She was so distracted by her accomplishment that she didn't see the fist, until it connected with her gut, sending her curling in on herself on the ground, the wind knocked out of her.

"Is that all you got in you, girl?" Halt scoffed, looking down at her, "how pathetic."

"I'm not done." Hermione felt her temper rising again, as she pulled herself to her feet, only to be sent to the ground again, this time with a bloody nose. Again she got up and again she went down; over and over and over till she couldn't push herself to her feet anymore.

"Well, I'll say you're a stubborn little thing, aren't you?" Halt stated, rolling her over onto her back with his boot. "We might make a fighter out of you yet." That was the last thing she heard, before slipping into unconsciousness.

April 26th 1993-Leaky Cauldron, London.

Hermione Granger Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron as soon as she was clear of the Ministry. As she entered the pub, she was forced to pause just inside the door. Nothing was like she had last seen it just a week ago, there was no sign of the Death Eater raid that had torn the place apart. The tables and chairs were not smashed to pieces, the floor wasn't covered in blood and other bodily fluids. The air didn't have the smell of urine and death seeped into every corner, instead there was the savory smell of cooking meat and potatoes. The shear contrast between her memory senses mixing with what she actually smelled and saw was enough to make her nearly sick there.

Fighting down the bile in her throat she approached Tom, the barkeeper, trying not to look directly at him till she had a chance to get her equilibrium back; she didn't trust her self-control at the moment. The last she had seen Tom, well, seen was a relative term, there hadn't been enough of a recognizable body to say whether or not it was truly the barkeeper that was all over the walls and floor; but she guessed it had been no other.

"How can I help you, Miss?" Tom asked coming over to greet her at the counter.

"I need a room for a week if you have the space," she said, risking a glance up at the wizard, remembering to tint her voice with the french accent she had been working on for her cover.

"That we do, will you be wanting dinner as well?" he asked, pulling out his ledger and handing her a quill to sign her name in.

"Non, just the room. I am feeling rather under the weather at the moment," she said, signing her name and pulling out the correct number of coins to pay for the room before taking the key that hopped off a hook behind the bar and slid itself across the counter. Making her way up the rickety stairs, she slipped a copy of the Daily Prophet off a passing table as she went. Locking the door to the room, she wandlessly warded it before allowing herself to relax.

Shrugging off her outer robe, she tossed it on a nearby chair before sitting down on the edge of her bed; unfolding the paper, she looked for the date. April 26th 1993.

Her situation finally hit her like a troll's club to the chest. She was back, she was really and truly back. No one was dead yet, she could still save them all. Something wet trailed down her face, dripping onto the paper. Reaching up a hand, she touched her tear-streaked cheek before chuckling.

"I must truly be a wreck if I'm crying now," she said, wiping the tears away, it wasn't often she cried. It was a rare occurrence that she was moved to tears, not after that December so long ago. Forcing the tears away, she told herself there was no need to grieve for her most recent loss; nobody had died yet and it was going to stay that way. Curling up on the bed, she wandlessly put out the lights; tomorrow she would begin to put her plan into action, but for tonight she would sleep. She wouldn't brave Diagon Alley till she was sure what was here and now and what wasn't. With that in mind she let herself drift off into a light sleep, the paper still clutched tightly in her hand.


Chapter Text

There is a fire inside of this heart,

And a riot about to explode into flames.

-Hurricane, 30 Seconds to Mars

Chapter 2: There Is A Fire Inside Of This Heart.

August 2nd 1993- Island.

"Come on, on your feet, girl," called the irritated voice of Halt.

Hermione groaned, blowing a stray lock of curly hair out of her face before climbing back to her feet and picking up the stick she was currently training with. Her right arm was out of its sling but was still in a splint; forcing her to use her non-dominant hand while Halt attempted to teach her to defend against a knife. Her grip and posture seemed better than any of the other hand-to-hand styles he had been drilling her in; her practice in Lockhart's dueling club last year was showing to be of some use. At least she didn't need him to tell her how to stand properly to balance her weight and he was even mildly appreciative of the fact that she seemed comfortable with the stick-knife in hand.

That how ever was where the similarities ended; after all fighting with a knife was very different than casting spells with a wand. The most obvious difference being that she could not stay at a distance from her opponent. Her malnourished and injured body was leaving her at a clear disadvantage against the far larger muggle man.

"Now again," Halt instructed before darting forward and in a few swift movements Hermione found herself back on the ground, stick ripped from her hand to clatter on the packed dirt a few feet away.

"I'm just no good at this," the witch complained getting to her feet again and walking over to retrieve her practice weapon. "You could at least go a little easier on me." she stated wincing as her sore muscles protested when it came time to stoop down and retrieve the piece of wood that she was beginning to loath.

"You won't get any better if I go easy on you," Halt snapped, folding his arms and tapping his own stick against his arm in agitation, "Your problem is that you are a little girl that lacks any strength or discipline."

"Well, thank you for pointing that out," Hermione muttered irritatedly, as she moved back into the practice area.

"You're not listening," Halt barked out, as he moved to pace around her, looking her up and down like a person might evaluate a horse before deciding if it was worth purchasing. "You are a girl and you're on the small side even for someone your age." he gestured at her body in one sweeping movement with his stick, continuing to circle her, jabbing the wood into her good arm to emphasis his next words. "You also lack any muscle; you may build up some later on but you will be going up against full grown men you will most likely always be smaller and lack the physical strength it takes to fight them on equal ground. You can not meet them head-on like you have been doing to me; they will simply overpower you." Returning to his original place he settled into a stance.

"Come, let's do this again." Hermione reflexively brought her stick up in a defensive position to block the attack she knew was coming. As before he closed the distance between them in a few short strides and brought his weapon down to lock with her's. Nearly buckling under the force, she tried to push him back with what little leverage she could without risking the use of her broken arm. As before Halt simply flicked his wrist and had his weapon under her own, with a twist he wrenched it out of her hand.

Hermione yelped in surprise as he grabbed a fist full of her hair, yanking her head back painfully, "See, dead again." he scoffed bringing his weapon to lay against her exposed throat in the obvious threat that it was. Hermione swallowed reflexively as the wood dug into the underside of her jaw.

"You're trying to hold me off with strength alone. A strength you do not have." He stepped back to his starting place once again and allowed the girl to retrieve her weapon again. "This time, do not try to hold me off, rather use my larger size and strength against me."

"How?" she asked once again, returning to her designated place.

"Let us start simple; by redirecting my attack to the side like this," he instructed, showing her how to hold the stick so that it could be quickly maneuvered to the side in one smooth movement as he shifted and pivoted slightly. Hermione copied the movements with ease of one who was used to cataloging new gestures, a task she had grown used to when it came to learning new wand movements.

Halt stoically watched her go through the motions without comment before beginning the exercise again. This time she didn't try to hold him off as she had before, instead she shifted her weight, pivoting her body slightly. When Halt attacked again, rather than letting him lock his weapon with her own and overpowering her, she shifted his angle of attack. Just a slight misdirection with her own weapon, so that it missed her without causing any undue strain on her body.

"There you go," Halt stated, moving back to the start position, "now again." They moved through the drill again and again gradually moving faster with each repetition. At a point he began continually to go on the offensive, attacking her without pause in between, giving her no time to recover.

"Do not stand there like a rock, or I'm going to overpower you again." he barked darting at her from a new angle and landing a bruising blow across her back. "Move your feet; you're lighter and faster than me, use that to your advantage."

Finally Halt called for a break, Hermione coming out with far fewer bruises and scrapes than she usually did after one of their training sessions. "Good, you are getting the hang of it. Soon we might even be able to move you up to a real weapon," Halt said with a smirk that made Hermione gulp nervously. That was a training session she was not looking forward to.

April 27th 1993-Leaky Cauldron, England.

Hermione woke before dawn the next morning. After a moment of staring at the unfamiliar ceiling of the room, the events of the day before washed over her. Sitting up, she placed the previous day's paper that had remained clutched in her hand on the nightstand. Heading to the chair where she had placed her outer robe the night before, she sifted through the pockets until she found one of the many shrunken trunks and placed it on the floor, returning it to its normal size with a wave of her hand.

Pulling out a clean set of clothes she headed for the shower. Taking the time to enjoy the hot spray of water over her skin, having gone years without such a simple luxury as an excess of hot bathing water had left her not willing to rush through such things when there was no need to. Turning off the taps she stepped out of the shower, toweling herself dry before wrapping it around her as she headed over to the sink where a large thick-framed mirror hung.

Wiping the steam from the mirror she was glad to see it wasn't enchanted to comment on her appearance; as it would have plenty of things to choose from. She had changed a lot from the bushy haired thirteen year old that was, at this time, running about Hogwarts with her friends enjoying not being petrified by a giant snake and preparing for a summer vacation that would change her life forever. Age had seen her grow. It would've been a surprice to Halt, had he lived to see her, that she had a height reaching about 5'10. Her body was almost overly thin- any baby fat she had possessed in her youth had been eaten away by starvation during her weeks lost at sea when the cruise ship her family had been taking to France had gone down in a storm. In its place, she had formed muscles from years of running and climbing over rough terrain.

Her bushy hair had become more manageable as she had matured; the once frizzy mass now hung in more manageable curls to her waist. Long exposure to harsh sunlight had lightened the color to a light brown and in some places more so than others, giving her a few natural highlights. Her skin had suffered from the sun exposure as well, leaving it darkened to a nearly brown tan and her face and shoulders were dusted with freckles. All these things might have made her look rather pretty in an exotic way had she not accumulated scars across most of her body, from the barely visible white lines scattered up and down her arms from knife training with Halt, to other more noticeable ones like the bullet wound in her right shoulder that had become infected, or the large jagged bite mark that ran from belly to hip on her left side. Each one was a time she had nearly died and came through sometimes only out of pure stubbornness.

Turning away from the mirror, she toweled her hair off before dressing, running a brush threw it and twisting the locks up into a bun at the back of her head. Going back to her room, she pulled on her outer robes and dug around in her trunk pulling out a beaded hand bag with an Undetectable Extension Charm placed on it. Closing the trunk, she shrunk it again before returning it to her pocket. She reached around in her bag, pulled out a pair of black rimmed glasses, and put them on before leaving the room.

"Good morning, Ms. DeVincent. Feeling better I hope," Tom said as Hermione came down the stairs. The room was mostly empty given the early hour.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Tom," she said, smiling at the man as she came to sit at one of the tables, "Oui, much better now, merci. The trip here was rather hard on me, I'm afraid. I don't handle broom trips well." Pulling out the newspaper from the day before she began skimming the contents, trying to get an idea of what was going on in the Wizarding World at the current time, while she waited for Tom to bring out breakfast.

Before attempting to come back in time, she had done everything she could to prepare, including coming up with a false identity and travel documents with the help of Bill Weasley. She even went as far as to give herself a crash course in French to manufacture a believable accent. So, as of right now, she was 22 year old Emma DeVincent of Piana, France. She was a young witch, who was looking to go into selling antiques, specifically antique tomes of all topics, and had recently moved to England and was in the market for a house outside of London.

"All the way from France, you said?" Tom asked conversationally as he served her food, the plate of toast and eggs floating after him as he poured her a cup of tea. "What brings you to London if you don't mind my asking?"

"I needed a fresh start,. My family didn't exactly agree with my career choice and I had heard London's Diagon Alley has quite a selection of rare and old antiques."

"Can't say I would know, but I'm sure one of the shops in the Alley has just what you're looking for. Just be sure to stay clear of Knockturn Alley, pretty thing like you don't need to be wandering down a shifty place like that."

"I will be sure not to, Merci."

After having breakfast, Hermione asked Tom to show her the Alley entrance being sure to act like the proper newcomer to London, and set about getting herself reestablished in the Wizarding World of 1993. Walking into the Alley, she seemed to handle her memories of the past and present better now that she had rested and built back up her Occlumency shields which had seemed to have been stripped away when she came through the Veil. She shoved the images of bloody bodies and broken buildings behind her walls and carried on like the happy tourist she was playing.

The shops where bustling with shoppers and shopkeepers. She browsed a bit in each shop but buying little. At Madam Malkin's she had a new set of robes made; her current set being the only ones she had and had been borrowed to begin with.

Her next stop was the main office of the Daily Prophet where she signed up to get the paper. In the coming months, one unknowingly innocent serial killer was going to escape Azkaban. Her best chance at keeping him alive this time was to find him before the Dementors did. Once Black was safe, she could worry about dealing with Peter.

In the past, she had only had Lupin's knowledge of the rat, as the last living light Marauder, and he had not been willing to share much by then. Neither Lupin nor any of the other Order members had found out about Peter's true involvement until that night when the Dark Lord rose again and by then it was far too late for Black and it was too late for Harry as well. The knowledge of Black's innocence and Pettigrew's betrayal had hit the werewolf hard and adding Harry's death had left him in such a depression that he stopped talking all together. By the end he had simply stopped leaving his house which made him easy pickings for the Death Eater raiding parties. Hermione hoped that Sirius Black would know more on the matter as he was already aware of the rat's dark affiliation.

The rest of her day was spent making small talk with some of the smaller stall owners as she browsed before returning to the Cauldron for dinner.

The next day Hermione woke before dawn as was her routine and left as soon as the shops were open. Heading for Gringott's she went about the main reason for coming to Diagon Alley: finding a house. She had brought quite a bit of money with her both from what she had inherited after her parents' deaths but also donations from Order members. It took most of the day but by the time she returned to the Leaky Cauldron, she had picked out a small house that fit her needs just right located in the small town of Hook Norton. The next day, she would be able to go look at it and if everything went smoothly, she would be moving in before the week was out.

The house in Hook Norton was small and sat squashed between a small general store and another house about the same size. Most of the town's residents tended to ignore it as the special anti-muggle charms kept them from wanting to approach the house so long as it was up for sale. It was two stories with three bedrooms, one bathroom and a basement with an Expansion charm on it making it nearly three times the size it should have been. The front yard was overgrown with weeds, save the small path leading to the door and the same could be said for what had probably been a small garden in the back yard. The house was in need of a good cleaning as the walls and few furnishings left there where covered in dust and grime, and almost every room was infested with Doxies. While troublesome to deal with, the Doxy infestation had been a mixed blessing. With her limited funds she had been able to get quite a discount on the house because no one had been willing to deal with the problem of exterminating the creatures.

All in all, it needed a lot of work but it was just what Hermione was looking for. It could be made livable and after adding a few more warding charms to the ones already on the house, it would make a great base for her to work out of.

On Friday, Hermione finally signed for the house and immediately began working on ridding the main room and kitchen of Doxies so that she could move in. By the following week, she had gotten most of the rooms cleared of pests and clean of dust and grime. She had been able to transfigure some of the old broken chairs and tables into beds for the upstairs rooms and bookshelves for the study on the ground floor. For the study, Hermione immediately began filling the shelves with the multitude of books she had collected for research purposes before leaving the past, covering all subjects, magical and muggle to dark and light. The third bedroom, across from the study, was turned into an infirmary, though she didn't expect to get much use out of it any time soon. Hermione stocked it anyway with the large supply of potions and muggle medical supplies.

By the end of May, she had made it through the basement. It had had a storage room that she placed the most powerful wards she knew and could cast wandlessly on. She stored two of the trunks there that had been brought with her-filled with her most valuable and dangerous possessions. Next to the storage room was a lab of some sort, for potions most likely, so she had gone about restocking it with the supplies from one of her trunks. Most of the ingredients were of the rarer variety collected from Snape's own potion stores and a trip to Diagon Alley had been needed to get some of the more basic ingredients and instruments that were not part of her Hogwarts supplies to get the lab ready for brewing.

The last area of the basement was the biggest and was across the hall from the potions lab. Hermione left this room empty and would eventually use it for a training room.

May was finally coming to an end and Hogwarts would soon be letting out for the summer. Hermione spent the last few days of the month shut in her study, planning out the next step in her plan. She would only have a short window to save her family from an untimely death and her younger self from spending the next three years on an island of nightmares.

Chapter Text

The secrets we sold were never known.

(Never sing a song for you.)

The love we had, the love we had, we had to let it go.

(Never giving in again, never giving in again.)

-Hurricane, 30 Seconds to Mars.

Chapter 3: The Love We Had, We Had To Let It Go.

Late August 1993-Island.

After nearly two and a half months following the end of her second year in the wizarding world, life had changed drastically for Hermione Granger. She had never been a big girl, but after going nearly six weeks adrift with very little food had caused her body to burn off any remaining baby fat. Nearly a month on the island now and she was finally beginning to gain back some of the lost weight. Some of this weight was in the form of muscle from the daily sparring she did with Halt for long hours of the day. If she got anything out of this unexpected detour to her summer vacation, it would be that she was far fitter than she had ever been and even possibly the majority of the members of Hogwarts' Quidditch teams.

After four weeks, she was finally able to remove the splints from her arm and Halt set about getting the appendage back into shape with different exercises. Sometimes they were normal like push-ups, other times they were odd like having her pick up a large rock or sometimes a bucket of water, and move it to one side of the camp only to pick it up again and move it back. Regardless of how strange she thought the exercises were or how irritated she became at the amusement Halt got out of watching her do them, they helped her begin to build up the strength in her arm. By the end of August, or what she guessed was August-she had lost track of time so it could have been September by then-Halt finally gave the okay for them to begin training with real knives rather than the wooden sticks she had been learning with. It was painful work; most nights would find her rubbing a herbal paste that Halt had showed her how to make, into the cuts running along her arms where she had not dodged fast enough. They were not serious injuries but were deep enough that they would most likely leave scars.

At night when she wasn't too exhausted, Hermione would spend her time staring at a feather she had taken from one of the birds they had had for dinner.

"Wingardium Leviosa!" she said moving her hand as if she was holding her wand, the feather remained where it was as it had with every other time she had tried the spell. She had been attempting to teach herself wandless magic but with only two years at Hogwarts, the witch hadn't even begun to read up on wandless magic so she was completely at a loss of how they were performed. But that wasn't stopping her from trying. Hermione was the brightest witch of her year, so she should be able to teach herself to cast spells without her wand. After all, all magical children exhibited a form of uncontrolled wandless and nonverbal magic in the form of accidental magic so there had to be someway to recreate a controlled form of the ability.

Halt had asked her what she was doing after the third night in a row she had spent practicing and after some internal debate of the pros and cons of breaking the statute of secrecy she told him. She doubted the Ministry could do much worse as she was already out of contact with both the civilized Muggle community along with the Wizarding World. To top it off, her precious vine wood wand was at the bottom of the sea. They were more than welcome to search for it if they were that bent on snapping it. So she gave him the basic speech that the Deputy Headmistress had given her parents. Much to her own surprise, he wasn't all that amazed to find out magic existed. When she mentioned this to him his answer shocked her.

"There is a man on this island. He hardly leaves the compound where the patrols come from and he has one of those magic sticks you speak of. He's one of their lead researchers. I don't know what he does to them but I've seen the bodies they feed to the giant catfish. They barely look human anymore and some, I swear, had tails or feathers. When they gathered up the prisoners, he was the one that determined if you were useful or not. Those that passed his examination joined the soldiers that act as guards for the compound. They are trained guard dogs, nothing more. Those that didn't pass were taken to the cells under the research building and they didn't come back out till they started dumping bodies in the river, gave the local giant catfish population a taste for human flesh. Periodically, they get a plane with more research subjects but none of them ever come out, save to be thrown in the river."

"That's horrible," Hermione breathed, horrified at the description, "you said a wizard is in charge of it, but I thought this is a muggle-erm, non-magical compound! How does the local Wizarding government not know about this? This is a clear breach of the Clause 73 of the Statute of Wizarding Secrecy!"

"I don't know if you noticed, girl, but out here, there aren't any laws-magical or otherwise. No one's going to swoop in and tell the bad guys they're being bad. They can do what they want to whoever they want whenever they want, and no one is going to stop them."

"Except you," Hermione said, looking over at the gray-haired man.

"Except me," Halt agreed but didn't seem too convinced of the statement, "and maybe you in time. You're getting the hang of the knife, so we might be able to put you to some use soon-as patrol bait if nothing else." Hermione huffed at the comment and tossed one of the nearby training sticks at him, missing by a good three feet. "Remind me when I finally take you out for some real action that you're a sucky shot."

June 1st, 1993-Home Base, Hook Norton.

(AN: In this section when older and younger Hermione meet I will be referring to older as her alias Emma and younger as Hermione to help keep things straight.)

June had finally come and unless Hermione acted, she had less than a week before her parents would be dead and her younger self sent adrift at sea. She gathered the papers from her desk, forms forged by one Bill Weasley. If signed, these would give guardianship of Hermione Jean Granger to Emma DeVincent-formerly of France-as well as an envelope containing false identities and passports for her mother, father and younger self, as well as a deed to a small house in Australia and an arrangement with a local magical resident to privately tutor her younger self once they had settled in. It had taken a great deal of letters and phone calls to sort out the house and tutor, the only things that could not have been dealt with in her time, but finally it was settled without draining her limited supply of money. Papers safely stashed in her beaded bag, Hermione went to bed. Tomorrow, she would meet her parents for the first time in nearly five years.

Dressed in a simple cream skirt and white blouse, her Emma look in place with her hair in a neat bun and glasses perched on her nose, Hermione made her way to her old home. Apparating to an alley between a small store and a laundry mat, she walked the quarter mile to her old street, her heels making a click-clack sound as she walked. Hermione had to pause when she finally made it to the sidewalk leading to her door-her dad's familiar car parked out front. Taking a deep breath, she walked up the sidewalk, up the steps to the door. She nearly turned and left when it came time to ring the doorbell. Shoving all her roiling emotions back behind her shields, Hermione pushed the button. Moments later, the door opened to reveal a bushy haired teen and Emma froze.

"Can I help you?" Hermione asked, a confused look crossing the teen's face at the sight of the well dressed woman on her doorstep, "Miss?" Emma shook her head before clearing her throat as she stared down at the innocent and hopeful face that was her younger self.

"Yes, my apologies, are your parents' home?" Emma asked with a smile, her lilting voice holding a distinctly French accent. "I work with the Scarlet Rose Travel agency, there has been some mix-up with your travel papers and I was sent to sort it out."

"Oh, yes, come on in. You can wait just in here while I get Mum and Dad." Hermione said leading the French woman to the living room off the entry way before scampering off further into the house to find her parents. Emma wandered about the room, looking at photos she had not seen in what seemed a lifetime. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a small hollow glass ball with a glowing cube inside that seemed to spin on its own in the center of the ball. Carefully placing it behind one of the larger photos, Hermione went and seated herself on the couch looking like the proper guest. A few moments later, Mr and Mrs Granger entered the room.

"Hello Mr Granger, Mrs Granger," she said politely as she stood to shake each of their hands in turn, her appearance as a travel agent tightly in place to keep her turmoiling emotions in check at the sight of her living, breathing parents. "My name is Emma DeVincent, and I'm with Scarlet Rose Travel agency. I believe there was a bit of a mix-up with your travel papers. You are planning on leaving for France on the 6th of this month, correct?"

"Yes, we are, please sit down." Mr Granger said, seating himself in a chair while his wife took the other, leaving Emma with the couch to herself. Hermione was nowhere to be seen, but sounds of dishes clattering from the direction of the kitchen said she was in there.

"You see here," she said unfolding a small stack of papers and passing them over for the Grangers' to look over. The moment they were both distracted reading the document, Emma cast a non-verbal Stupefy. With both parents out and no alarms raised, she stood and headed to the kitchen, one more Stunning Spell found Hermione unconscious on the floor of the kitchen, tea spilling from an overturned teacup on the counter to the tile floor. Kneeling, Emma dug through Hermione's pockets till she found what she was looking for, 10 ¾ inch vine wood with a dragon heart string core.

Picking up the wand Emma felt like she had gone years missing a limb without knowing she was missing it, only to find she finally had it back. Walking back to the living room, she paused to look over her parents, slumped unconscious in their respective chairs. Kneeling by her mother, Emma picked up her hand to clasp it in her own.

"I missed you, Mum." She said softly, picking up her father's hand and clutched at it as if he might disappear. "Dad, I'm so sorry." She let out a shuddering gasp as her tears threatened to spill over, so she clenched her eyes closed to staunch the flow. Bowing her head, Emma rested her forehead on the clasped hands in her grip. "I know I can't be with you again, it's better this way. I'm going to make things right, I promise you. You are going to live to see Hermione graduate like she was supposed to and you will be proud of her. She will go off and get married to some fella and have lots of grandkids that you're going to spoil rotten. She is going to be the daughter I can't be. I can't be there for you, not after this, but I can make sure you are safe and far away." She placed a kiss on each of their hands before she stood, staring at them for a long moment, committing everything she could of them to memory. "Goodbye."

With a deep breath she locked her emotions away once again and did a quick check to make sure her makeup had not smeared. She moved back to sit on the couch before casting the Rennervate and Confundus Charms. Once both Muggles were roused and thoroughly confused, Emma brought out the guardianship documents and convince them they had already agreed to sign the papers along with letters of resignation for both Grangers' for their dental practice. These she would send to their work place at a later date. The final line signed, she recast Stupefy on the both of them.

Then came the next phase of her plan and the most difficult, she had to wipe any memory of Hermione having ever gone to Hogwarts or meeting Harry and Ron while still leaving the memories of their daughter's magical inclination intact. She implanted a few suggestions that they had moved to Australia and lived in a little town for two years before moving to their current home only recently. According to them, they had been visited by a Deputy Headmistress of a school in Britain but had opted for a private local tutor as they had moved to Australia shortly before Hermione would have left for the first term. The Grangers' wished to move their practice to a larger community hence the recent move and hiring of a new tutor. Any discrepancies the mind would fill in on its own over the next few days, making the implanted memories mesh nearly flawlessly with the real.

She had modified memories before wandlessly, but usually those memories were resent and it was a clean wipe; not certain scattered moments that were years old. It took time but was made a lot easier now that she had her wand. Her parents finished Emma moved to the kitchen, now for the hardest task, she had to erase the farm more extensive events of two years at Hogwarts and her friends from Hermione's mind. It wasn't the best option but she needed to keep her younger self out of the picture and safe. If Hermione remembered her friends, even if she was convinced she needed to go into hiding, there was a chance she would contact someone and Emma's plans would be ruined. So even though it meant that Hermione would never remember meeting Harry or Ron or her time at the magical school in Scotland, at least she could grow up in a loving home with her parents.

Hard part done Emma pulled out one of her empty trunks with an expansion charm on it and began emptying the house's contents into the trunk, even going so far as to shrink Mr. Granger's car and packing it away. House emptied, Emma moved Hermione in to the living room with her parents. Laying them next to each other she retrieved the glass ball from the shelf. It was a special device the twins had come up with that blocked the use of magic from the Ministries censors, since the last thing she needed was Hermione getting expelled for underage magic when Emma was both of age and needed Hermione's name to remain on the Hogwarts student roster. Placing the ball in her beaded bag along with her shrunken trunk, she hauled out a tin camping plate before tapping it with her wand. Placing each of the three Granger's hands on it along with her own, she waited and moments later, the Portkey activated.

It was early the next morning before Hermione left her younger self and parents to sleep in their beds in their new house in Australia. She would check in on them to make sure they were handling the lapse in memory and the move okay. For now, all she could do was kick off her heels as she collapsed on her bed.

All the pressure that had been weighing on her the last month had finally lifted, leaving her exhausted and strangely giddy. She had done it; she had irrevocably changed history. This was proof that she could drastically change things. Emma had been worried at first when she had begun altering her younger self's memories but when it seemed to have no effect on her own memories, she felt better. Using the Veil as a Time Gate seemed to have put her in an alternate reality of some sort, so she didn't seem to have to worry about her choices effecting her memories or current being.

She slept peacefully that night, without fear of nightmares from that fateful boat trip that never happened.

Chapter Text

Do you really want me dead,

(You know I gotta leave I can't stay,)

Or alive to live a lie?

(You know I gotta go I can't stay...)

-Hurricane, 30 Seconds to Mars

Chapter 4: Do You Want Me Dead Or Alive To Live A Lie?

Mid-September 1993- The Island

After being lost at sea and stranded on an island for nearly three and a half months, it was unsurprising to find that Hermione's 14th birthday past without much remark or even knowledge as the days had begun to merge together. It was only after the fact that she noticed the date had past, when she got ahold of a newspaper from one of the soldier's Halt had shot. He had begun taking her with him when he went to scout the movements of the soldiers around the compound and killing any of the smaller patrols that dare to wandered too far into the forest. Hermione had yet to take part in any of the killings, but she did help Halt relieve the bodies of any useful items they might have been carrying.

It was while searching through one soldier's pockets that she found the newspaper. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't written in English and when she questioned Halt about it, he said it was Russian. She ended up stowing the paper away for later. Hermione didn't know any Russian, but figured it was something to occupy her mind with if nothing else. She found out later that evening that Halt could, in fact, read and speak some Russian. After some persistent prodding and pestering for two hours straight, she finally managed to convince him to read some of it to her. It was while he was reading about the unusual hot spell central Russia was going through, that Hermione found out it had been printed a week after her birthday, which wasn't much to go by but at least she had an idea now of how much time had passed since she had been stranded.

After that, she began collecting any papers she could find on the soldiers, whether they were newspapers, letters or personal little notes. If it had writing of any kind, the witch began gathering them like a brooding dragon with its treasure horde. With Halt's reluctant help, Hermione slowly began to learn how to read Russian. It wasn't the London Library, but at least she had something to put her mind to work while she was lying in her nest of raggedy blankets by the fire at night. Reading through the papers usually after she had made a few attempts at wandless magic, still getting no results.

A few weeks later, while scouting around for food with Halt, he had disappeared into the brush to go look for some form of meat. She was perched in a tree picking a roundish fruit that looked an awful lot like a pear. Hermione had been straddling a large branch as she picked, a half full bag sitting in front of her, when she heard the patrol approaching. Everything in her told her to duck down quickly before they saw her, but Halt had drilled the finer points of stealth into her before he would allow her to accompany him. The witch shifted slowly drawing her legs up until she was laying along the branch, the bag boxed in between her arms. Halt had taught her that quick jerky movements were a sure way to attract notice, but slow controlled ones could be passed off as a flickering shadow.

The patrol of seven passed by right under her tree. Hermione held her breath as she waited for them to leave, when the worst thing imaginable happened, one of the fruits rolled free of the bag and off the branch. She tried to make a grab for it but it was already gone, she could only wait and watch in pure terror as the fruit fell toward the passing patrol. Something seemed to uncurl inside her and lash out at her panicked call.

The pear froze.

The patrol passed by and out of sight, oblivious to the witch in the tree or the levitating fruit hanging ten feet off the ground. With an audible sigh, Hermione relaxed against the branch as she heard the fruit hit the ground with a thunk, the moment she released the spell.

That incident had taught her what her carelessness could lead too and had helped her in learning to progress in her wandless magic training. It took nearly another month but once she had figured out how to access her magic without a wand and channel it for spells, she made quick work of the first year curriculum and moved on through her second year work.

After getting used to watching her work spells on a regular basis, Halt became intrigued by her spellwork and what she could do with it. He would come up with all sorts of different uses for those she could do and became rather fond of her water proof flames. He had taken to gathering any glass bottles and jars he could scavenge so that she could put the water resistant flames in them, so he could chuck them into patrols and even a few of their jeeps near the compound just to watch the chaos they caused.

June 1993-Home Base, Hook Norton

June passed by quickly. When she wasn't Apparating to Australia to check on the Granger family, Hermione was working on boosting the wards on her house and the store room in the basement. Periodically, she would send letters to Ron to keep up the charade that she was currently on vacation in France. Receiving letters from him as well since he and the whole Weasley family were currently on vacation in Egypt; he had even sent her a news clipping of their family in front of the pyramids. Harry, on the other hand, she had heard little to nothing from, which was not all that surprising, given his relatives. She had heard from Ron that he might have made things harder on Harry when he had called the Boy-Who-Lived on the telephone and preceded to scream into his Uncle Vernon's ear. After that, it did not seem like a good idea to try to contact him by phone again or by owl given the muggles medieval view on magic. A week after she had received Ron's letter from Egypt, she got an unlikely visitor in the form of a familiar snowy owl perched on her study window sill.

"Hedwig, what are you doing here?" she asked, spotting the owl as she walked into her study. Setting her tea down on her desk as she passed, she walked over to the owl, cautiously reaching her hand out. There was a good chance that, while the owl might have known where she lived, she might not recognize her as Hermione. As she stroked a hand down the white feathers, the owl turned and nipped at her affectionately. "So you do recognize me. What brings you here? You're not delivering anything." Hedwig nipped at her sleeve before extending her leg expectantly.

"Oh, yes, it's Harry's birthday, isn't it? Clever girl," she praised the owl, moving to her desk and opening a drawer to pull out a wrapped parcel she had picked up in Diagon Alley for just this occasion, before quickly writing out a letter. Sealing the letter, Hermione took it and the package to Hedwig and tied it on her leg before giving her an owl treat from the bowl she kept for the owl that brought her morning paper. Gulping down the treat, the snowy owl hooted before she flew off back toward the Dursley residence.

Turning back to her desk she sat down with a cup of tea looking over her Hogwarts classes and supply list. She had been exchanging letters with the Deputy Headmistress to change her class list, namely dropping Divination. Her younger self had jumped at the chance to sign up for every class possible, but she had more important things to deal with this year. Electing to drop the class that would be of no use to her; Divination was simply a waste of time and an easy 'O' for those not born with the seers' gift and even then they really had no control over when and what they saw. She had thought about dropping Muggle Studies as well but then she would lose access to the item that she wanted. She was sure to keep classes that contradicted each other enough to warrant her asking the Deputy Headmistress for permission to get a Timeturner, even if she only kept it for the year it would prove invaluable and if she could keep it longer than that would be even better.

Unsealing her most recent letter from McGonagall she was glad to see that her Head of House had granted her permission to receive a Timeturner for the use of attending classes that had overlapping times. She would be able to pick it up before her first classes started on the 2nd of September.

July came with an uproar in the Wizarding community as it became known that Sirius Black had escaped Azkaban and was currently at large. Hermione stared at the Daily Prophet and the deranged looking black-haired man on the front and began to wonder if Black would be in any state of mind to help her when she found him. After twelve years under the influence of the Dementors, he was at the very least half mad.

Folding the paper, she tossed it on her desk before heading down to the basement. The time had finally come where she could begin trying to get in contact with Black. She had an idea where he might go first-so it looked like she would be staking out number four, Privet Drive for the unforeseeable future. Dressing in a pair of tan cargo pants, hiking boots and a black tank top, she strapped on the wand holster that had recently been bought to her forearm. On her belt was a sheath, containing a broad blade that had a smooth edge on one side and a serrated edge on the other and a perfectly weighted hilt so that it could be used as a throwing knife if needed. A second folded knife was pocketed before she left the house.

She didn't expect any trouble, but pure habit had her not leaving her house without at least one knife on hand. Heading back upstairs, she pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, pulled her hair into a loose pony tail, and threw the hood of her sweater up. It was late in the afternoon now and would not look out of place as the evenings had been chilly. Grabbing the glass ball that kept the Ministry from detecting those still being traced and put it in her pocket. If Hermione needed to use any magic, she didn't want Harry getting blamed like the incident with Dobby the House Elf.

Walking out the back of her house, out of sight of her neighbors, she Apparated to Little Whinging, Surrey. Walking the neighborhood in no set route, passing Privet Drive at irregular intervals. If she simply walked the block, it was more likely that people would notice her hanging about and get suspicious. Over the next three days she Apparated over to Privet Drive at different times and spend a few hours there before heading home and coming back a few hours later. Sometimes during the mornings, she was in sunglasses, a T-shirt and jogging pants; her hair glamoured a strawberry blond and her arms glamoured to look unblemished. In the evening when it was cooler, she put on her hooded sweater and cargo pants.

Every once in a while she would catch sight of the Dursley's entertaining a woman that looked like a female version of Harry's Uncle with a rather mean looking dog. Harry had never mentioned the Dursley's having a dog, so she guessed it was the woman's. Hermione had been jogging by one morning when she caught sight of the dog viciously snapping at Harry as he was taking the garbage to the curb. While Harry was busy with his back to the street putting the trash in the bin, she couldn't resist casting a nonverbal Stinging Hex at the dog striking it right in the rump and causing it to yelp as it turned on her. The dog growled and charged, just as the large set woman and Harry's Uncle came out. Hermione made a show of shouting in alarm all the while spouting several obscene Russian remarks directed toward Harry's relations. She dodged to the side out of the dog's path as Harry's Uncle rushed forward to grab it. The beast did not take being restrained well and did not hesitate to sink it's claws into his arm trying to chase after the one who had saw fit to strike him while enjoying his favorite toy.

"You keep that bloody beast on a leash or so help me I'm calling the Police," she shrieked switching back to English loud enough for all the neighbors to hear. Hermione then having said her piece turned and continued to jog off before they could get a word in. She didn't miss Harry crouched behind the trash bin, snickering while the woman and his Uncle were shouting in the yard at Hermione's display, slurring remarks about foreigners, all the while the dog continued to make a scene as it was still trying to get away from Mr Dursley, looking for all to see like it was truly rabid.

She didn't use her jogging disguise again the next day but seeing as the weather was rather cool she stuck to the hoodie and cargo pants. It was late in the afternoon while she was strolling along a street over from number four that she saw the most unusual sight: the dog-woman blown up like a balloon, floating away from Privet Drive.

"Oh, dear, that cannot be good," she remarked, breaking into a run toward Harry's house and arrived just in time to see Harry storming out of his house, school trunk in tow. She tailed him for a while before he came to sit on the curb across from a playground, looking miserable. She stayed hidden behind a large hedge wall, mixed feelings roiling inside her as she finally got a good look at her first friend in nearly five years. He was shorter than she remembered, most likely because she was in fact far taller than when they had last been in the same place.

Harry let out a sigh, scuffing a too large sneaker against the asphalt as he sat huddled in on himself under one of the few working street lights on the deserted road a few blocks from his relation's house. In that lighting, she could see how thin he was, his clothes already obviously too large, so much so, they practically hung off his short frame. His skin was sun darkened, much like her own, showing that he spent a lot of hours out in the summer sun. Harry had never talked much about his life before coming to Hogwarts or how his summers were. Even together, she and Ron had hardly ever heard anything from the Boy-Who-Lived over the summer.

After hearing the account of the Weasley's break-out the summer before second year, it didn't take long for Hermione to piece together that her friend was being mistreated at home. Even as a twelve year old, she could piece together the signs in Harry's reluctance to speak of his summers or why he never went home for the holidays. Seeing him now, she was sure of it without a doubt. Harry could not continue to live in that house. At the very least, his physical health was being affected by the treatment he received living there; what psychological damage had been done she could not say with any accuracy.

She wanted to go to him, to tell him he did not need to return to that house. There was plenty of room in her house and he would be safe there, but she stayed where she was. There was no way she could take him, not if she wanted to keep her secrets from slipping out. It would not be so bad if Harry knew, given he had time to take it all in but Dumbledore would surely start prying into her life and she could not take that risk.

So she waited in the shadows, standing guard and watching to see what he would do next. Across the street, something moved. Harry had seen it too, because he stood and drew his wand as a large black dog stepped out from behind a slide, causing Harry to gasp and fall back, hands flailing, as he fell only to summon the Knight Bus in the process. Hermione waited till the bus left with Harry before moving across the street. The dog was gone but could not have gone far.

She was unworried about Harry; he had mentioned when boarding that he wanted to go to the Leaky Cauldron and was more than likely going to get a room there. He would be safe there for at least a few hours. She needed to take care of Sirius first before he got too far. He was to key to many things she had planned for the coming year.

"Padfoot," she called out stepping onto the playground in a voice one would use when looking for a lost pet. "Come here, boy." There was no response but she could feel eyes on her so she moved to sit on one of the swings and waited.

"You're looking for Wormtail, aren't you, boy, that sneaky little rat. So am I, but you'll not find him here. Why don't you come home and we can look for him together," she said, hoping the Marauder would get the hint and come out willingly. She really didn't want to resort to violence as it would be a poor start to their relationship.

Silence followed before there was a shuffling sound as a large dog came out of a nearby bush. He was unhealthily thin and his shaggy fur was filthy and matted. Not moving, she let him approach her on his own. He sat down a few feet away and stared at her with a look of curiosity and suspicion.

"I don't work for the Ministry, if that is what you're thinking. I'm a friend of Harry's and I just want to see him safe, but as long as Wormtail is around, he won't be. You want Wormtail? I can get him for you. In exchange, I'll need information on him and anything you know about the war with Voldemort. Does that sound like a fair deal?" The dog sat there for a time before making a grumbling sound and nodding its head. "Good, then I hope you will have no problem if I Apparate us to my home." The dog barked in response, standing up and wagging his tail slowly in answer. Hermione nodded and stood, placing her hand on his head she Disapparated.

Arriving at her house, Hermione opened the back door to let the dog in before following.

"You'll be safe here, I've got about every ward I could think of on this place short of putting it under the Fidelius Charm. All I ask is that if you must leave, that you go as a dog. This is not a jail, but I suggest you keep your comings and goings to a minimum. You're a wanted criminal in the eyes of almost everyone," she said tugging her hood down and releasing her curls from their tie.

"Who are you? How do you know about my Animagus form?" Black rasped out, voice unused to speaking apart from screaming in his sleep, not an uncommon sound through the halls of the Wizarding prison. "Peter, you know about him, where he is?"

"For now, you can call me Emma," Hermione offered, walking cautiously through an open doorway on the left into the kitchen and flipping on the lights as she went. There was no telling how stable the man was, and she did not want to risk startling him as he scanned the small entry hall leading from her back door to her living room. "I know a lot of things about a lot of things. Most of which, I can not tell you about yet."

Black tensed but followed her into the kitchen, peering blinkingly around like Aurors would pop out of the cupboards at any moment.

"I know you did not kill those Muggles and that Peter Pettigrew faked his death before framing you. I know he betrayed the Potter's and I know more things he'll do if given the chance."

This brought Black's gaze sharply back on her from checking the room for an ambush. "I will be willing to share much of what I know with you, give you sanctuary here until his capture, and aid you in your quest for Peter. All I ask in return is that you swear an Unbreakable Vow of secrecy about any information I share with you and provide any information that you would be willing to give on the war with Voldemort. The things I know could prove deadly to a lot of people, including yourself and your godson. I can't risk it getting out, since I have those I have to protect as well."

Sirius Black looked her over for a long minute and beneath all the scruffy hair and grime, his blue-grey eyes were clear and focused. Hermione was comforted in that fact. He did not seem as deranged as the papers would leave one to believe. "Fair enough," Sirius said finally deciding to trust the curly haired stranger, at least for a bit. He wasn't going to agree to something as binding as an Unbreakable Vow without putting some serious thought into it and especially not to some random stranger that picked him up off the street.

"So what now?" He asked finally looking around till his eyes lingered on the fridge with a hopeful expression, looking more like a begging stray than his Animagus form.

"I don't know about you but I could use some dinner," she offered taking the hint. "Go get cleaned up, while I make us something to eat. Take a left then up the stairs on the left, its on the landing." Gesturing to a second door leading out of the kitchen to the right of the one they had entered, leading to the rest of the house.

Sirius nodded and exited the room. Hermione watched him go before turning to the sink and began filling a pan with water, leaving it to boil on the stove top. Exiting the same door, she headed to the stairs passing the landing from which running water could already be heard behind the door and continued up the stairs to the second floor. There was only two doors up here and she entered the right one having picked it for her own, they were the same size but she preferred the one with a window that looked out over the back yard rather than the front.

The room was bare, save a haphazardly made bed she had given up making seeing as she tended to tear off the blankets on the odd night her dreams took a darker turn. Beside the bed, was a side table and reading lamp, which was the only other furniture in the room apart from the small chest of drawers shoved in the open closet.

She shoved the barely filled drawers closed with her foot so a cardboard box could be reached from the top shelf. The box was dropped unceremoniously on top of the chest and opened. Pulling out a few picture frames that had been placed on top, she set these on her school trunk that was also taken from her family during the move. The rest of the box was a collection of her father's old clothes. Hermione selected a shirt and pair of trousers that looked like they might fit Black. There were two more sets which made up most of the contents of the box as well as a belt, a pair of shoes and an old leather jacket she recalled an uncle leaving at her house one Christmas and never coming back for.

It wasn't much but she could make a run to Diagon Alley if the store next door didn't have what they needed. It would be best if Sirius kept to Muggle clothing, seeing as the Ministry wouldn't immediately expect to see a pureblood wizard, even a disowned one, dressed like a proper Muggle--not the attempt most of the Wizarding World made that caused them to stick out as much as they would if they were wearing robes.

Tucking the shirt and trousers under one arm, she picked up the box and entered the room across the hall. This room was even more barren, only housing a bed frame with bare mattress and a closet holding one of her nearly empty expanded trunks. Digging around in the trunk, she found a set of fresh bed linens and a pillow transfigured from one of her mother's doilies. Exiting the room with the box on the trunk lid, Hermione left the linens on the bed for Sirius to deal with. She could transfigure all the components for a bed but was not well-versed in such spells as to make up a bed with magic and as for the Muggle way, she didn't even bother making her own bed most days and wasn't about to make his; she wasn't playing at being a maid.

Knocking on the bathroom door as she paused to inform the occupant of the clothes left outside, she headed back down stairs with a mental note that the convict's current rags were getting an Incendio first chance she got. Back in the kitchen, she added a few broth cubes to the water along with some barley and a few herbs. After twelve years of poor food and even worse living conditions, Sirius would have to watch what he ate for a while or he would run the risk of making himself even sicker. Once the simple soup was finish the pot was levitated on the table with a simple warming charm to keep it fresh.

Heading out of the kitchen, passing the stairs to the next doorway on the left, she entered her improvised infirmary. Mostly, it held a bed and rather than having a closet, one wall was lined with white cabinets sporting glass doors so that items could be found easily in a rush. The cabinets were filled with a number of medical items, both Muggle and magical. Digging around in one of the upper cabinets, Hermione found a box marked 'Dog Care' in rather spidery handwriting she recognized from scathing remarks on her potion essays.

She would have liked to thank the Potions Master for putting this together before she had left as there had been little time or spare resources for her to attempt any refresher course on potion making at the time. She could tell he had not liked the idea of making anything that might prove beneficial for Black, despite the fact that he had supplied her with all the needed potions to help a recovering prisoner of Azkaban. She doubted that he would appreciate it if she were to walk up to the Snape of this current time and thank him for stocking her with potions to get someone he obviously detested back into good health. He probably would have an aneurysm after giving her a decade worth of detention.

Taking the box back to the kitchen, she was just putting it in one of the cabinets when Sirius walked in looking much better now that he had cleaned up. He was still sporting a scruffy beard but his black hair was rid of tangles so that it hung loose well past his shoulders and skin nearly scrubbed red. She was happy to see that her father's clothes fit him well; they were about the same height, but the clothes hung off Sirius loosely, showing just how thin he was and leaving the blaring black tattoos marking him as an occupant of Azkaban visible where the shirt did not cover.

"Dinner is ready," she went about setting out bowls, spoons and cups along with bread and butter on the small table. "It isn't much but you'll need to start small and simple or you'll make yourself sick. Trust me, it doesn't end well," she grimaced at the memory. Halt had not warned her of that before offering her food for the first time, she scarfed it down without a second thought only for her body to reject it almost immediately, vomiting all over the floor before she could even make it through half her portion and leaving her feeling even more famished and weak. "This is for you, it's a nutrient potion. It will help you get back on your feet faster." Sirius took the offered bottle as he sat down at the small table, looking at it curiously.

"Why are you doing all of this?" he asked, staring at the curly haired woman across from him. She had already helped herself to the soup and was eating neatly but with one arm resting loosely; almost protectively around the bowl while eating with the other, like someone might take her food before she was done.

"That is best left for after dinner." She said not looking up from her food, as she helped herself to the bread. "Drink that before you eat." She added with an emphasizing point of her spoon. "And I still need your Vow." Sirius swallowed down the potion and set upon his own food with less grace than his host had. They were quiet for a few minutes absorbed in their meal before Sirius broke the silence with an act of rebellion. He had been locked up for twelve years suffering in his worst memories and when he managed to crawl out of said memories, it was to find he had no control over anything that happened around him. He wasn't about to step blindly into another situation where he was trapped in with no say on what he could and could not do.

"What if I refuse to make a Vow, what then?" Black barked out bitterly, "Will you toss me out for the Aurors or lock me up?"

"Neither," Hermione said pausing in her eating and putting her full attention on the man. "If you truly wish to not take the Vow, then I will tell you the bare minimum and I would still ask of you to tell me what you can about the war with Voldemort. You may continue staying here if that is what you wish but there are some ground rules though." She said earning a quizzical look from the Dog, "Of course as I said, don't go out unless it's in your dog form, at least until we get you some sort of disguise. Don't go all crazy-homicidal-escaped-prisoner on me and try to kill me in my sleep." She said sternly before giving him a small teasing smile. "Apart from that, there will be no barking from 10pm to 4am and you better be house broke. I got enough metaphorical crap to deal with I'm not dealing with yours as well." Sirius could not contain the small chuckle that escaped him nor did he want to, it had been so long since anything had happened that made him want to smile.

She continued going back to her meal after letting him have his moment, "Regardless of your help, I am going after Wormtail, if you would like the chance to clear your name then I suggest you work with me, because you won't get far without help. I guarantee you'll be dead within a year."

The rest of the meal continued in contemplative silence. Sirius had just mopped up the last of the soup out of the pot with the last piece of bread when the Witch stood. With a wave of her hand, the dishes went about removing themselves to the sink, where they began to wash themselves.

"You don't need to decide now, but I would ask that you not take too long, Peter will return to the country by the end of the month and we need to have a plan ready by then."

She said, walking to the kitchen doorway, "There is a spare bedroom upstairs on the left with some of my father's old clothes. You're welcome to both."

She left him there in the kitchen, heading down the hall and to the only door on the right. Seating herself behind the desk in her study, she picked up the last book she had been reading. Pen and notebook out for jotting down quick notes as she immersed herself in yet another book recovered from Dumbledore's office. She had taken them all when she and Snape had broken into the school-her to gather what she could from Dumbledore's office and him to salvage any potion and ingredients from his lab. It had been a hope that the headmaster might have left some clue or hint in his memories and books to point them in the right direction but so far she had found nothing prominent to go on.

It wasn't till the next morning after a peaceful night sleep, that he decided what he was going to do. When Sirius woke, he found a breakfast of eggs and fruit along with another potion already waiting for him at the table. After eating his fill, he began to look for his host. Heading back upstairs, he checked the room across from his. The door was slightly ajar and the bed empty, as the owner had gone and linens kicked on the floor to one side.

Taking the opportunity to snoop, Sirius poked around the room finding little of interest. There was little to personalize the room save a few picture frames stacked on a Hogwarts trunk. The photos were still, Muggle obviously, depicting a family of three at different settings. One at a beach, another a park, and a third a what must have been some kind of sporting event but the Wizard had no idea what. All of them depicted a man or a woman with a curly haired child who could only be a much younger Emma. In the park scene, she appeared to be two or so with arms wrapped around a large stuffed toy seated in her father's lap. The second she was older, maybe seven or eight. She and her mother had apparently buried her sleeping father in sand and where making silly faces at the camera. The last one looked as if she was ten or so; face painted the same color as the jersey she was wearing, her father sporting the same look while the pair seemed to be caught mid cheer at something out of view. Her mother was to one side looking at them both amused and exasperated.

Setting the pictures back on the trunk after an attempt to open it led to him finding it spell shut. It did however offer up and interesting bit of information in the form of a name plate on the trunk declaring it was the property of one 'H. J. Granger'.

Leaving the room, Sirius looked around the ground floor and found a room that looked prepped for someone intending to come in at some point severely injured. He left the infirmary room and checked another door and found it locked. There was an attempt at a wand-less Unlocking Charm but Sirius had admitted defeat after the third try; he simply was not skilled enough in magic without his wand.

There was also another staircase heading lower next to the one leading upstairs. He decided to check out the rest of the ground floor first before heading lower. Heading back toward the kitchen, Sirius found another short entry hall across from the kitchen that led to the front door and another door on the right leading to the living room he had glimpsed the night before. He could now see it was divided up into two sections- a dining room area that was made up by a single large wood table, pushed to one side out of the way near the doorway leading toward the backdoor and a boarded up fireplace across from it. On the other side was the actual living room area- a comfortable couch pushed against a wall under windows that looked out into the front yard. A coffee table sat in front of the couch, a single plush armchair to one side.

Finding nothing else of interest, Sirius backtracked to the stairway heading down and found himself in a hallway with two doors on the left and one on the right. The first door on the left turned out to be a small, well stocked but unused potions lab. The next door, found him gripping his hand as the wards shocked him the moment he got close to the handle. He left the door, curiosity peaked but not wanting to incur further injury.

Heading for the door on the right, he found himself in a spacious room. Next to the door was a counter with a sink and a small cabinet underneath, that looked to have a cooling charm on it as the glass front was fogged over. Next to that was a wall rack full of towels. Along the far wall was a multitude of targets set up and a hanging sand bag. In one corner was a pile of a few practice dummies that looked fairly new. Along the opposite wall hanging in brackets mounted on the wall, was an arsenal of Muggle weapons-most of which was made up of knives in different sizes. Further down the wall, set apart from the rest, was a massive unstrung long bow. Below that was a smaller unstrung bow that was curled in on itself in the shape of a C.

Movement caught Sirius's attention and there he saw her at one end of the room. Dressed in loose black pants and a tank top, her hair tied out of the way but still, curls managed to get loose and stick to her sweaty forehead. She was moving through some form of exercises, though to him it looked more like a slow dance. She moved gracefully, her body flowing from one move to the next. Her bare feet made no noise as they shifted position on the floor. He stood there transfixed for a few minutes watching her lean frame bend and stretch in an almost provocative manner, like some exotic dancer. Only then did he notice them-overlaying almost all of the visible portions of sun darkened skin was the pale visage of scars.

"Can I help you with something?" The voice of Emma sounded, causing Sirius to jump slightly and focus on her face, as she gave him a look that said she knew just how long he had been there gawking and was annoyed by the disruption.

"I-ah," The Dog started before silently cursing himself at his lack of coherent words. Clearing his throat he tried again, "I came to tell you that I agree to make the Unbreakable Vow," still watching her move but this time with more caution now that he was aware she knew he was there.

"Okay, we can do it as soon as I'm done here." she said turning her full focus back on her routine.

"Okay," he choked out as her top slid up some, showing off her scarred and toned belly as she moved into more difficult forms requiring a great deal of flexibility. Sirius could not help but wonder if she really could bend that way or if she was using some magic to help, his thoughts cut off sharply as something struck him right between the eyes.

"Son of a-" he yelled clutching at the bridge of his nose, eyes watering as Emma summoned the tennis ball back to her hand and tossed it in the bin it had come from.

"My face!" Sirius wailed in astonishment.

"Uh-huh," Emma agreed going to cool off her face in the sink.

"You hit me!" He accused.

"Yep," she agreed grabbing a towel to dry of and drape over her shoulders.

"You hit me in the face!" He snapped, lowering his hands gingerly, a red mark growing where the ball had struck.

"You were beginning to drool. It was getting more gross than flattering at this point." she said scathingly grabbing a water bottle out of the cool cabinet before exiting the room. "Come on, let's get this over with." Sirius scowled but followed all the same.

Heading back upstairs, the pair entered her study, Sirius taking the opportunity to look around while she dropped the towel on the desktop and pulled her wand out of a drawer. Facing Sirius she extended a hand and the pair gripped forearms, the Vow was made and sealed with magic before they sat down. Hermione behind her desk and Sirius opposite in a chair she had conjured just for him.

She told him her story- of who she was, that she had been ship wrecked at thirteen and did not make it back till she was seventeen. The explanation was short and lacking much, Sirius could tell there was a lot there that went unsaid but would not pry yet. Then came the hard part as she told him of the future that had been her reality; Voldemort's second rise to power, the Death Eater raids, the fall of Hogwarts and the sentient building's final rebellion. The school getting overrun by Acromantulas before it sealed itself for good.

"There were so many deaths, very few of the Order were left alive by the time I got there. I fought in a few skirmishes but it was a losing fight, as there were too few left to stand for the light and with our leader and Harry dead, there was nothing to hold it together. So I came up with a plan to change everything with the help of Professor Snape-" Sirius's barking, unbelieving laughter interrupted her.

"Snivellus," Sirius scoffed. He was having a hard time believing a great deal of what he was being told but she had to really be bullshitting him now. "You're saying Snivellus helped you? A Muggleborn fight back at Voldemort. The bastard is a Death Eater, for Merlin's sake!"

"He may have been at one time but he has been on the side of light for far longer than he was with the Dark Lord. He's far better at his job than you give him credit for. He was spying for the Order even back in the first war and even when he could have abandoned our side when it was obvious there was no winning for us. He still did what he could to warn us of raids." She lectured with a modicum of patience.

Sirius scoffed at the young woman, "Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater."

"I would not be so quick to sneer, Black." Hermione snapped her voice dropping dangerously low. "After all it was Snape, who pointed out that your death was a point that needed changing. It is thanks to him that I am even here to offer you any aid at all. Show some respect for those who died for me to have this opportunity." Sirius paled slightly at the response. He opened his mouth to make another remark, but thought better.

Seeing he wasn't going to provide any more character assessments, she got back to her tale. "Now where was I? Oh, yes, so with the help of Professor Snape, I was able to break into the Ministry and steal a Time-Turner. Combining that with the Veil kept in the Department of Mysteries, I was able to come back in time to hopefully stop it all from happening again." There was a long silence as Sirius took in all the information she had laid out for him.

"So what do we need to do first?"

"I've already taken care of my younger self, she is safe and out of harm's way. As far as what you can help with: first off don't get killed by Dementors." Sirius shuddered at the thought.

"I think I can do that."

Hermione nodded before continuing, "Second, I need you to tell me everything you can about Peter and what happened in the First War. There was only a handful of the original Order left alive by the time I arrived, so my knowledge is limited."

"I don't know how much help I'll be, but I will do what I can, for Harry and for Remus. If what you say is true, then the lives of my best friend and godson are on the line," Sirius said, a small spark of his old fire igniting in his eye.

"Well then, welcome on board, Mr. Black." Hermione said with a pleased smile.

Chapter Text

What if I just pulled myself together,

Would it matter at all?

What if I just try not to remember,

Would it matter at all?

All the chances that have passed me by,

Would it matter if I gave it one more try?

Would it matter at all?

-Would It Matter, Skillet.

Chapter 5: What If I Just Try Not To Remember?

November 1993-Island.

It was now into November and Hermione was just beginning to learn to use a bow. Halt wouldn't let her touch his, but after digging around in one of the many supply boxes he had stashed in the back of the cave, he came back with a curved object in a leather case that curled in on itself in the shape of a 'C'.

"Isn't a bow suppose to be, you know, not so curvy?" Hermione asked, gesturing at the object in Halt's hand as he slipped the bow out of the leather sleeve.

"Normally, no, but this is a reflex re-curve bow. It's smaller than the usual bow and more your size. It's more compact, so you can stow it in your pack when you're not using it," he said, pulling a string out of one of his jacket pockets. After showing her how to string it, the curly piece of wood looked more like a proper bow. He started with having her draw the weapon and then relaxing the string, making sure the tension and draw length where right for her size and strength. After cutting down some of his own arrows, he set about teaching her how to shoot and as she proved before with the training stick—she was a sucky shot.

"On für fickt willen!" Halt cursed as yet another of Hermione's arrows went wide from the tree that was her target and off into the bushes. "Well, go and get it," he barked, causing Hermione to sigh as she set her bow down on a nearby rock and slunk off in the direction the arrow had gone.

"Honestly, this shouldn't be that difficult. I can hit it with a Stunner at twice the distance," Hermione muttered to herself, kicking around the underbrush trying to see where the arrow had landed. She finally found it stuck deep in a tree on the edge of a steep hill. Walking over she attempted to pull it out without luck. Growling, she placed a knee against the trunk and pulled. The arrow tugged free suddenly, causing her to step back a few paces to keep from falling over, just as her feet hit the top of the hill the ground gave way and she was sent falling backwards.

"Girl, wake up!" Hermione groaned as she cracked her eyes open experimentally only to wince as her head began to throb painfully, it looked like she had fallen all the way to the bottom of the hill."Girl, you dead?"

"Yes," Hermione yelled back, bringing a hand to her head. It came away red; she must have hit it when she fell. Pushing herself up on her hands, Hermione attempted to get to her feet when a sharp pain lanced through her thigh. With a yell, she fell back to the ground, snapping the shaft of the arrowhead that was now buried in her thigh. Rolling onto her back, she clutched at her injured leg, momentarily blinded as the pain in her head got worse. Once the initial flare of pain had subsided, Hermione looked around. From this position, she could see the ridge where she had fallen from. It looked to be a good twenty feet at a near vertical incline. It didn't look like she would be getting back up that way with her leg in its current condition. At the top, she could see Halt's gray head peering over the edge.

"I can't walk, my leg," she called up at her companion. He didn't reply, only disappeared from view. She lay there for a few minutes until she felt like she could move without screaming or passing out. Sitting up slowly, the lump on her temple was making her vision swim dangerously. Finally in a seated position, Hermione got a good look at her leg. It wasn't as bad as she first thought. The arrowhead had embedded itself in her lower thigh, luckily missing bone or anything vital. She took off the large button-up shirt she had taken to wearing over her raggedy T-shirt, as the evenings were chilly now that the sweltering heat of summer had passed. Hermione pulled the folding knife out of the pocket and began cutting off strips from the hem so she could bind the wound until she could get back to the camp and get it taken care of properly. As she was tying off the last bandage, something falling caught her attention. Looking up, Hermione saw Halt had gotten some rope and was currently lowering himself down the hill.

"Thought you said you weren't going to be saving me again?" Hermione said, a slight tease in her tone as she watched. The two had been together for nearly half a year now and she had grown to think of the grumpy older man as her friend. Even with his gruff demeanor, she was sure he felt the same.

"What can I say? You've grown on me. Besides, you're close enough to the camp, and you'll just talk my ear off before I'm forced to come get you. So might as well save myself the headache," Halt explained as he lowered himself down the hill.

Hermione chuckled and was in the process of putting her jacket back on when she felt something similar to a wasp sting bite in her good leg. Yelping, she slapped her leg reflexively as the sting began throbbing painfully enough to match her injured leg. Bringing her hand away she found a large ant squashed against her skin. Looking around, she realized with dread that there were more of the insects crawling all around her, her movements having disturbed them. Hermione attempted to pull herself away from them using her arms but it only seem to agitate them more as they began crawling up her hands and skin.

"Halt, help!" She screamed loudly as more and more of the creatures bit into her exposed flesh racking her body with pain. Red welts began to appear where they had bitten. Dropping the rest of the way down, Halt ran over and hoisted her off the ground and began brushing of all the insects he could find, wincing at the few that bit into his hands.

"Bullet ants, nasty little bastards," he said setting Hermione down well away from the colony. She could only groan in response, her arms and legs riddled in red welts.

"You are in for a world of pain, girl. Nothing to do but wait for the venom to wear off on its own," Halt told her before picking her up again and taking her back to their camp.

Hermione woke the next evening, having spent most of the previous day suffering as the ant's venom sent waves of throbbing pain through her body on top of having to go through the ordeal of having Halt remove the arrowhead from her leg and then stitching the wound closed. The effects of the venom had finally worn off after half a day, leaving her only to suffer with her stiff and tender leg and the now cleaned and stitched split on her forehead.

The rest of the month was spent with Hermione being confined to the campsite while Halt went out scouting. In the evenings, he still insisted that she practice with her own bow. By the beginning of December, Hermione's leg had mostly healed and she was finally beginning to show some progress in her shooting. Hitting some part of the target six out of ten shots now.

So in mid-December, it seemed like any other day. Hermione found herself standing in the clearing by their cave with Halt watching her practice when they were suddenly interrupted by a shrill whistle off in the distance

"What was that?" Hermione asked looking off in the direction the sound had come from.

"Not sure," Halt said moving to collect his own bow from where it had been leaning against the cave entrance.

"We should check it out at least. It can't be good," he said before freezing as something in the bushes at the far end of the clearing moved. Halt nocked an arrow, but waited to draw it. Hermione followed suit as something stepped into the clearing.

It was dog shaped and almost as large as a small bear. It walked out of the bushes and sniffed about curiously. Its back legs were short in comparison for its size and were more akin to paws, as its front feet were longer and had a more finger like quality to them. It had no tail to speak of and was covered in a golden brown color fur, a crest of long brown fur running from its head and all the way down its spine. Its oddly proportioned legs giving it a hunched back, combined with its thick short neck and short muzzle, made it resemble a hyena.

"What is that?" Hermione asked watching the creature as it watched her back with far too intelligent yellow eyes. When she got no reply she looked over at her companion.


"I don't know, nothing I've ever heard of," Halt answered, drawing his bow back ready to fire. "Most likely it's something they cooked up in that lab. Whatever it is, it's not going to be alive much longer."

The creature whined, ears back in a submissive gesture, a back leg dragging on the ground uselessly before falling to the ground. Hermione watched it curiously. She had never seen or heard of anything like it and very much wanted to go and have a closer look at it but its next move made her blood run cold.

"Herrp mer," the voice was deep and distorted by snarls but the sound was clear enough; it could speak! It clawed at the ground helplessly and rolled on its side.

"Herrp, her-lp, helpr mee!"

It whined and Hermione found her arm relaxing on her weapon, the tip dropping from the helpless target and was taking a step forward unconsciously. The view was blocked by Halt's shoulder.

"Stay alert," he snapped, bow still trained on the creature. "You can't trust anything that comes out of that place." Nodding despite the fact he could not see it, Hermione moved out from behind him and drew her bow again.

The creature seemed to understand they were not going to come closer. With a huff, it stood un-bothered and glared at them. Pushing itself up on its hind legs, towering a good six feet in height and let out a howl that was silenced moments later by an arrow through its vocal cords. It teetered for a moment before falling to the ground, but it was already too late. Out of the surrounding bushes came a chattering chorus of yips that sounded close to that of laughter as three more of the large hyena-like creatures came out of the bushes. The lead was a champagne color with a white crest followed by a russet with a black crest and a sable color with matching crest. The three weaved together, bodies intertwining and parting as they investigated their fallen pack mate. In unison, the three locked on the two humans.



"-birte ard breed-"

"-hurnt thurm-"

The voices overlapped in a chorus of broken words laced with vicious growls and snarls.

"Aim for the chest between the front shoulders when it raises its head. It's a bigger target and you're bound to hit something vital if your aim is off, " Halt told her, drawing another arrow without looking away from the three creatures."Or just behind the front shoulder if you get a broadside shot."

Hermione nodded swallowing hard, her hand trembling slightly as she looked down the shaft at the russet colored creature, noting the spots running down its flank as she set her sight just behind its shoulder. She took a deep breath and held it as she prepared to release. They both were so focused on the creatures in front of them they never saw the attack coming.

Lightning quick, two more of the creatures flanked them from either side. Halt managed to loose his arrow into the sable's shoulder crippling it just in time to drop his bow and catch the head of the creature as it slammed him to the ground. It snapped at his face trying to get its teeth in him as he held it off by the sides of its face. Hermione was worse off. Not having Halt's reflexes, she had barely released her arrow which managed to hit the russet in the gut, before she was bowled to the ground. Fangs latched onto her side as the creature sank its teeth deep before picking her up, undisturbed by her screams, and tossed her to the side.

"Get out of here!" Halt screamed at her as his attacker dug its claws into his shoulder, trying to bring its face closer, "Get up, run!" he called out as the creature sunk its fangs in his opposite shoulder. Shaking its head viciously, it flipped itself around so that it was standing by his head rather than over the man before dragging him off out of sight into the bushes.

"Halt!" Hermione screamed but he was gone; she was on her own. She tried to get up but only managed one knee. Her hand clamped to her side. Blood was running through her fingers in small rivers to the packed dirt below her. To the left, the creature that had attacked her watched, lips pulled back in a twisted snarling smile. Her blood was dripping from long jagged teeth and soaking into its black muzzle.

"Mine," it practically purred, blood and drool running from its gaping maw. A snarl was directed toward the champagne creature that was slinking up behind her.

It walked casually toward her like a cat playing with a particularly pathetic mouse. Its yipping laughter made it seem as if it was mocking her as it approached. Hermione managed to move a few feet before collapsing. The bite had fractured her hip, making running away about as impossible as walking was. Fumbling at her belt as she lay there on her belly, Hermione tried to draw her knife. Pulling it free, she rolled over onto her back, ignoring the flare of pain down her side. She waited as the creature stalked closer, teeth parted and tongue lolling out as it ran its cold nose up her shin, sniffing deeply. Yellow eyes glinting in intellectual glee as its mouth opened wider, intending on picking her up by her side again. Hermione lunged upright, releasing her side so that she could drive her small knife into its eye with both hands.

The creature let out a feral scream as it reared up on its hind legs, pawing at the blade still embedded in its eye, trying to pry the instrument out with its finger like claws. It only managed to make it worse, driving the blade further in before it collapsed in a twitching heap, its nerves still spasming even after death.

Hermione gasped in pain, rolling back over on her belly and tried to crawl back to the cave. She did not make it far when the champagne creature pounced on her, driving its claws into her back. The last thing she knew was the pain of teeth locking around her calf as she was dragged into the woods, her head striking a passing tree and a high pitched whistle filling her ears before consciousness left her.

When Hermione woke next, all she could see at first was a bright whiteness. As her vision cleared, she saw she was in a white room with a bright overhead light. Blinking her eyes a few more times caused more of the room to come into focus. She was in a bare white-walled room, save for a rolling tray of what looked like medical tools and the bed she lay on. Attempting to sit up was met with resistance. Hermione looked down and found that she was held to the table by thick padded straps and was wearing nothing but her underclothes. In her arm was an IV dripping a clear solution and her injured side seemed to have been healed in a non-Muggle fashion as the teeth marks were pink with newly grown flesh and the pain in her back was dulled, telling her that her back had received the same healing treatment. She lay there in the bright white room for a while, drifting in and out of consciousness. The IV sedative made it hard for her to stay awake for longer than a few minutes at a time. It was when the bag was nearly empty and she was beginning to get some of her senses back that someone finally came in.

Cracking her eyes open at the sound of the door, she saw a middle-aged man walk in looking over the clipboard in his hand. He took no notice of her while she observed him. He was of average height and slightly stocky in build. His short brown hair was beginning to turn gray and he had a pair of brown square rimmed glasses perched on his nose. Behind one ear was an intricately carved wooden stick. Looking up from his note-taking, the wizard caught her stare and he smiled which was not comforting at all.

"Ah, you're awake, good," the man said. Pulling out a small flash light from the pocket of his white lab coat and forcibly opening her lids in turn, flashing it in her eyes before writing something down on his clipboard.

"Wha—" Hermione croaked out before licking her chapped lips. Her throat was parched and it was making it hard to talk.

"What's going on? Where am I? Where is Halt?" she asked in quick succession, struggling against the straps holding her before being reduced to a coughing heap. He merely chuckled in mild amusement at her attempts as he continued to write. He ignored her coughing fit in favor of prodding her newly healed hip and jotting down a side note, before he replied without even looking up.

"Your friend is currently paying the price for interfering with my research, but I wouldn't worry about him; he won't be a problem for much longer."

His tone brightened with expectation as he looked her over. "As for you, my dear, you are going to take part in my ground breaking research, I'm sure you got a good look at the end result."

"Those dog things?" Hermione asked her voice still hoarse and raw.

"Yes, quite magnificent, aren't they? " he seemed almost wistful at the thought. "I'm rather proud of them, took me years to get it just right, you know. I have created a whole new species of Therianthrope," he boasted pridefully, complete with an open arm gesture as if it could magnify the importance of his words. "While true that they are incapable of retaining their human forms, they are no longer restricted to certain phases of the moon. Possessing great strength, speed, and stamina making them quite lethal creatures. They are the perfect combination for a living weapon. Also unlike their cousins, they are trainable, highly intelligent, and adaptable. They planned and executed that ambush all on their own."

"They are related to werewolves?" she asked trying to get her muddled mind to take in and sort through the new information. This was obviously the wizard Halt had told her about.

"Yes, I'm sure you're finding this all hard to believe but werewolves, vampires, magic- it's all real. I would probably be in a lot of trouble if anyone found out I told a Muggle like yourself, but if all goes as planned, it won't matter."

His friendly, bordering on indifferent attitude, seemed to dissolve into the briefest look of pure insane malevolence. Just as quickly, the innocent, friendly mask was back in place.

"Of course... if it doesn't-" he shrugged nonchalantly, pulling his wand from behind his ear, "well it still won't matter." He ran a diagnostic charm over her, paying close attention to her newly healed hip. He then ran through a multitude of different charms. Hermione only recognized a word here or there but it was too much for her to take in. All the while, he continued to chatter in between spells and writing down the observed effects they had on her, like he was simply talking about work over a leisurely spot of afternoon tea.

"You see, while infecting someone with the werewolf virus is easy enough, the condition is simply too unstable to be of much use. The tricky part was getting a hold of a Primal Hyena, a nearly extinct species. Primals, in general, are a highly intelligent magical creature broken down into a few select animal sub-species. Most of my research has gone into locating the Hyena branch and it has taken years. They were hunted for sport and fur by wizards and muggles alike, the fools." The wizard stated with disgust.

"A Primal Hyena's true value is in its spirit. Primals are unique creatures who, with the proper ritual, can transfer their spirits to a human host. They allow a human body to possess all the instinctual and sensual advantages of the animal while not having their human mind completely overwhelmed, as the werewolf transformation does, if not treated regularly. On their own, they are unique enough- capable of mimicking human speech to lure travelers from safety and even formulating complex attacks that is amplified greatly by their matriarchal pack society."

"A perfect catalyst for regulating a werewolf's overwhelming instinct to do nothing but hunt and infect. The problem is that the Primal Hyenas, once transferred to a host, are still restricted to a human body and alone, the Lycanthropy virus is restricted by the phases of the moon." He continued his explanation without comment or prompting as he set down his clipboard and wand, in favor of a needle off the tray.

Cleaning her arm with an alcohol swab, he said, "Once I had both species, it simply came down to experimenting with the Masai Ritual to transfer the spirit into a new host and then infecting them with Lycanthropy. There were some complications, of course, but there always are with these things. Sometimes the host body could not handle the change or the hyena did not regulate the wolf properly. Finally, there was a breakthrough. The only down side with this breed of Therianthrope is, while the males have a higher survival rate, they are virally sterile. Only the females can pass the virus on, which is quite a good thing for a living weapon. It would be poorly planned if one was set loose in the field only to be allowed to multiply unchecked. I only have the one female at the moment, but that will change soon," he said smiling widely at her as he rubbed the swab on her arm. "I have been greatly interested to see if, despite the males bites being sterile, they are capable of producing young. They, after all, would be more ideal for training purposes than an infected adult."

"No, don't," she said attempting to struggle, but was held fast by the straps and her drugged body as he stuck the needle in her arm.

"No, don't fret, my dear, this will only hurt a moment," he said as he drew out three phials of her blood and placed them in a rack on the tray. "You are a perfect candidate for my research; young, resilient and female as an added bonus. Only about one out of every four of my candidates make it through the transformations and 95% of my candidates are male. I've never had a candidate so young as you, you have my highest hopes of surviving the transformation," he said returning his wand to behind his ear before tucking his clipboard under an arm and taking the phials of blood with him as he left.

Hermione lay there in the silence, growing more and more panicked as her fog-wrapped mind cleared. She tried to think of a plan. She had to get free first but then what? She needed to find Halt; he had to be some where in the compound if the dog things had brought them both back, if he wasn't already dead. She shivered at the thought before banishing it. Thinking like that was not helping. She would find Halt then, together, they could escape. It was not much of a plan but at least it was something.

The door opened again as another man came in, only staying long enough to replace her IV bag before leaving. Looking at her arm, she uttered a quickly muttered levitation spell and removed the needle from her arm. She couldn't risk being drugged up again, not if she wanted to escape.

After about twenty minutes of trying and failing, she was finally clear-headed enough to use her magic to undo the buckles of the straps holding her to the bed. Once free, she searched the room quickly looking for something to use as a weapon, but there was nothing other than a few menial items. She did find a pair of extra scrubs in a cabinet that had been out of her line of sight till now, she quickly pulled them on and rolled up to fit her small frame.

Clothed properly, Hermione peeked out of the door to find a long empty corridor. They were obviously not too worried about her escaping. Sneaking down the corridor, she found herself led to an open staircase that went down into a large, open room filled with all manner of cages and tanks of varying sizes. After checking that the coast was clear, she padded down the staircase, her bare feet silent as she walked on the cool metal steps. Passing through the room, she paused every once in a while to read the labels on the enclosures, finding a mixture of magical and non-magical animals; a goblin shark swimming laps in an aquarium, a blindfolded cockatrice perched on a roost inside a cage, a spider wasp in a terrarium, a bridled Kelpie pawing in the murky water of its tank.

Coming to one of the larger cages, she found it contained three typical looking spotted hyenas. Pausing to peer in at the mundane looking creatures, she noted that their eyes did hold a keen look of intelligence in them. They stood and began pacing agitatedly along the edge of the cage at her approach, one even pausing to give her a quizzical look.

She hurried passed the cage into an open space dominated by a row of metal tables pushed along one wall. Taking up three of the tables were the Brown, Russet and Black werewolf-hyena hybrid that had been killed in the attack on her and Halt. Passing these creatures, she found the Sabel were-breed sleeping in a lone cage, looking heavily sedated and bandaged. Passing yet another large cage, she saw the two beasts that had dragged her and Halt away from their camp. Next to them in a separate cage was an even larger were-breed that was a greyish-white. Hermione could only guess that this was the female that the wizard had spoken of. Continuing past this cage, she caught sight of a door that had a sign labeled 'Holding Cells' above it.

She made her way through the door and came to another staircase, moving down it cautiously. At the base of the stairs was a short hall lined by small iron barred cells. Peering into each, she found Halt in the second to last. He was restrained, held upright by heavily chained cuffs on his wrists leading to a metal ring in the ceiling. He was stripped to his pants and covered in a multitude of bite and claw marks, some looking fresher than the ones he had gotten at the camp. Opening the door with a quick unlocking charm, Hermione moved in. He was so still he didn't even seem to be breathing.

"Halt,"she whispered skirting her bare feet around the pool of blood that had gathered under his dangling feet. "Halt," she said again, tears leaking down her face.

"You should have run when you could, girl." Halt said groaning, head lolling to one side before letting out another pained groan, even as Hermione let out a sigh of relief.

"I couldn't just leave you here," she said attempting to get a better look at the cuffs around his wrists, touching his bare arm in the process.

"Leave me," he snarled out yanking his arm from her grip, causing his blood-slick feet to slip out from under him and putting all his weight on his mangled wrists.

"Halt!" Hermione cried out and with a quick unlocking spell, she had him free and was supporting his weight as she lowered him to the floor. Ripping strips of the hem of her scrubs shirt, she began binding his bleeding wrists before a large hand stopped her in her work.

"Leave it, girl, you've got a better chance of getting out of here without me."

"I'm not leaving without you," she said adamantly, her Gryffindor stubbornness showing through as she locked eyes with him. Finally Halt gave a resigned sigh.

"As you wish."

The two made their way out of the prison sector and back through the animal room. They exited out another door that Hermione had not seen before, but Halt seemed to know. It wasn't long before they came across their first guard. Halt was able to sneak up on the man and before he knew what hit him, Halt had him in a choke hold only moments before snapping his neck in one practiced twist. Snagging the guard's jacket and gun, he gave Hermione the knife that had been on his belt.

They wandered the halls, encountering two more guards before the pair finally found an exit. Slipping out of the building, they were met with the sound of a blaring alarm; someone had finally noticed the trail of dead bodies in their wake.

"This way," Halt said, dragging her around a building. He knew the layout of the compound well enough to navigate their way to the closest exit. Rounding a corner into an alley between two warehouses, the gate came into sight. The guards posted there were already beginning to lock down the exit. Shots and shouts came from behind them as Halt pulled her down behind some crates.

"Can you disarm some of them?" he asked checking his ammo.

"I think so."

"Good, disarm them, set them on fire, anything to keep them occupied. I need to get that gate open," he said gesturing to the gate house where the controls to open the gate were. "Keep them distracted until I get there, then I'll cover you. We'll need some of your magic-y mojo to get in."

"O-okay," she said her hands shaking as shots struck the crates at her back.

"We're going to get out of this," Halt said gripping her shoulder reassuringly, "now I need you to cover me, okay?"

Hermione nodded before taking a breath to steady her shaking nerves. Turning around to peek through a gap in the crates she began to cast disarming charms, Leg-Locker Curses, Jelly-Legs Jinxes, anything she could think of. Many found their weapons ripped from their hands while others fell to the ground as their legs were impaired; one particular man found himself bent double vomiting slugs violently.

"Alright, come on, girl!" Halt called from his spot behind a small set of stairs leading to the gate house. Taking a deep breath the witch ran out from behind the crates and across the open area between the warehouse and the gate house. She could hear shots being fired but she couldn't tell if they were from behind or in front of her. All she could focus on was getting to cover.

Halt met her at the bottom of the stairs and he shoved her up them where they could have some cover between the concrete railings.

"Unlock the door, we can't stop here," he said firing off a few rounds before ducking into cover beside her. Hermione took a moment to catch her breath before crawling up the stairs to the door. After a quick unlocking charm, she found herself pushed behind Halt as he opened the door and killed the two guards inside. The sound of metal grinding on metal followed shortly after, as he triggered the gate controls.

"Come on," he said pulling her to her feet and behind him as he fired off more shots at the regrouping guards. Running clear of the gate Halt shoved her toward the forest, "Keep running and don't stop."

"Wait, what? No, you have to come with me!" she cried out pulling up short when she realized he did not plan on following her.

"No, this is where I stop. I don't intend to live long enough to become one of their hounds," he said opening his jacket to show the newer larger bite mark on his shoulder overlaying the one he had gotten when they were captured. "It's too late for me but I can buy you some time at least."

"No," she pleaded shaking her head, "We can fix this, you have to come! I can't do this by myself."

"You're a clever girl, Hermione. Even you know your magic can not stop this. I can already feel it working under my skin and you got a better chance of getting off this island alive without me," his voice was softer than she had ever heard and he seemed to grow older before her eyes.

"Promise me one thing, girl. Don't let them take these things off the island. Blow this whole place to hell if you have to but don't let them get off."

"I promise," Hermione said closing the distance between them and hugging the man as if her life depended on it. Halt briefly returned the embrace before shoving her off.

"Go now and don't turn back, just keep running." Hermione took one step, then two and before she knew it she was running toward the trees. She didn't look back, not when she heard Halt screaming in pain or when she heard the gunshots stop. She kept running; the scent of blood and gunpowder in her nose and the sound of Halt's screams ringing in her ears long after he had gone silent.

August 1993-Home Base, Hook Norton.

Hermione woke with a start, a cold sweat coating her skin causing her over-sized t-shirt to dampen and cling. Her breathing was labored as if she had just run a marathon. Drawing in deep calming breaths, she tried to relax and get her heart to stopped trying to beat its way out of her chest. She sat up further and tossed the knife clenched in her hand, previously retrieved from under her pillow, on to her side table so she could card her hands through her damp curls and out of her face.

With a tired sigh, Hermione untangled the blankets from around her foot where she had kicked them in restless sleep. Standing to pick up the bundle of blankets from the end of the bed where half had fallen off, she tossed them back on the bed before pulling on a dressing gown and leaving the room. The sun was just rising and the house was still dark and silent. In the room opposite hers she could hear Sirius's light snores through the door.

Heading to the bathroom, she turned on the tap, and splashed cold water on her face trying to drive the dream from her thoughts, yet the grey fur and familiar eyes persisted in her mind. It wasn't often she dreamed since her Occlumency shields blocked out the worst of them, just as it shielded her thoughts from others. Still, there were nights when her worst memories would slip through in the form of vivid nightmares. Turning on the shower, she slipped into the warm spray, breathing in the fogging air and emptying her mind of thoughts and checking over the strength of her shields before going about getting herself cleaned up and ready to start another day.

Sirius found her later that morning in the kitchen making breakfast. In the days since Sirius had begun living with her, she had taken to checking in on Harry and making sure he was safe. A letter from him a few days later had filled in what had happened after she saw him leave on the Knight Bus. He had met with the Minister of Magic as soon as he arrived at the Inn and was instructed to remain at the Cauldron until school started. He was sure to have a number of people keeping an eye on him, both the Minister's and Dumbledore's. He would be safe enough and she had taken to keeping track of his doings with frequent letters posing questions on his trips into the Alley rather than risk one of his watchers getting suspicious of her tailing him everyday.

"We're going shopping today," Hermione said dishing out the omelet and hash browns she had made onto two plates, "I'm sure you're itching to get out of here."

"Sounds great, I'm starting to go a little stir crazy," Sirius said, digging into his food with new vigor at the prospect of going out. He had taken a few trips to explore the small town over the past few weeks as a dog but he had been feeling stifled lately due to being stuck either in animal form or inside the house.

They both finished their breakfast in relative silence before getting ready to leave. Hermione waited by the back door. The high garden walls made it a perfect Apparition point and since she was the only one keyed into her wards, only she could Apparate from or onto her property.

"Ready to go?" she called up the stairs. Her Emma-look was in place; glasses on and hair up in a bun with her wand stuck in it like a decorative hair accessory. She was wearing a pair of tight jeans and a tank top, a partly open button-up blouse over it with the sleeves rolled to her elbows, not bothering with a glamour for her scars today.

"Yeah, I'm ready." Sirius shouted back walking down the stairs. Slipping on the leather jacket she had given him, over a worn T-shirt coupled with an equally worn pair of jeans. "So what am I supposed to call you, anyway, is it Emma or can I keep calling you Hermione?"

"Emma's fine, I'd rather you not use my real name in public. No one can know who I am as it would cause all manner of problems," she said looking him over. With the regular meals and potions the man had filled out since she had found him. He was still thin but no longer looking like something that had been half starved then dragged through a ditch.

"Here, hold still a minute," she said pulling an elastic band from her wrist and began wrangling his wild mane of shoulder length black hair into a neat tail at the base of his neck. Circling back around him she placed her fingers on the exposed flesh just below his collar bone and moved upward over along the side of his neck, a muttered spell and the Azkaban tattoos faded slightly. The magic in them kept her from hiding the brand with magic fully, but now they stood out less until she could find something to cover them up with; adding 'stop at the makeup section' to her list of things to get today. Removing her hand from his neck, she moved to place them on either side of his face, finding having contact made casting wandless glamours much easier. Another spell and Sirius's signature, Black family blue-gray eyes, had turned a muddy ordinary brown.

"There, that is all I can do for now, but that should get you by unnoticed for a bit," she said releasing him.

"Why don't you just cast a full glamour on me and call it done?" he asked shifting uncomfortably, rubbing at the back of his neck, unused to having his hair tied back.

"Because, Mr Black, that is exactly what they will expect you to do. We are giving you a whole new look today, the Muggle way. It will be safer and then we won't have to worry about the glamour being removed if someone were to suspect you. You'll look exactly the same if anyone chose to remove all active spells," she said gathering up her beaded bag. "Now you need a name, I can't go around calling you Sirius Black. That just defeats the purpose of the disguise."

"What about Reginald or Percival?" Sirius offered.

"You're supposed to be blending in," she said bleakly, "you need something simple, common and preferably Muggle. How about Mark or Gary?" She nodded for a minute in thought. "Gary Watson fits."

"Not very flashy," the convict said sulking, "You sure I can't at least be a Rupert and why Watson?"

"It's not supposed to be flashy, Gary." Hermione said giving him a deadpan look. "Well Granger wouldn't work, seeing there already is a Granger. Watson was my mother's maiden name, a good old fashioned Muggle name with no connections to Black's or Wizard's other than me," She stated with a shrug before heading out the back door.

The pair Apparated near a shopping center in the middle of Muggle London. Hermione remembered going to it with her mother a few times when she was younger. Sirius could only stand there and stare at all the Muggles going about their business.

"What is this place," he asked transfixed by a large screen in one window display that was showing the sales in the store.

"This is the Muggle equivalent of Diagon Alley," she said with an open armed gesture, "we call it a mall."

Sirius peered around in wonder at all the non-magical merchandise dominating the window displays and billboards.

"Okay, first stop is the salon," she said looking at her shopping list before glancing around to get her bearings. Locating the proper direction, she linked arms with him before he could drift off too far. She very nearly had to drag him onto the escalator, only to have to drag him off it when he wouldn't let go of the railing. Luckily the electronic staircase helped her with that task, forcing him to let go or risk being drug to the floor and have his hands crushed.

"Come on, Gary," she said tugging him after her. "We can look around after we get what we need done."

"What is this place?" he whispered as they entered a shop with mirrors lining one wall and sinks along the other. Chairs were set up at intervals and were bolted to the floor. "Some kind of Muggle torture room?" he asked eyeing the chairs with suspicion.

"No, it's a place Muggles come to give themselves a new look. That's what we're here for. Just stay quiet and let me do all the talking," Hermione whispered back before going to the check-in desk where a younger woman had been sitting chewing on her pen cap with a name tag labeling her as 'Cynthia'.

The blond made no move to hide the fact she was giving Sirius a good look over from head to toe with a critiquing eye, as if trying to see past the ill fitting clothes and unkempt hair. She had pegged him as one of those recluses that avoided such establishments, given his ill maintained appearance and dubious looks around the shop. She had seen it time and time again; sons, brothers and husbands being dragged in by their family members in hopes of making them presentable for an upcoming date or social event.

Cynthia was broken away from her aesthetic musings when his brunette companion approached. The two chatted for a long minute, Hermione periodically gesturing toward Sirius who still lingered reluctantly in the doorway. After making clear what she wanted done, another more senior woman was called over. Bedelia paused at the desk to get the basics before advancing on Sirius.

"Emma, really I-Hey stop that I can take off my—No no no no! Emma, bad idea!" Sirius panicked at the woman's approach. She was quite an intimidating sight, stern faced and a head taller than him with an equally large frame. Sirius swore she must have some giant blood in her as he was forcibly removed from his jacket then hauled to one of the revolving chairs without much effort on her part. Bedelia's strong hands kept him in the chair, even as he kept taking every chance to rise from said chair.

"Relax, Gary they aren't going to do anything horrible to you." Hermione said not bothering to hide her amusement at his expense and he reluctantly slouched back in his seat, arms crossed petulantly in a blatant sulk.

Over the next two hours Sirius Black had come to one decision; Hermione had lied to him, this was a room of torture. He had been okay with the hair washing, but when the overbearing woman, Bedelia had brought out the scissors and begun hacking long chunks of his black locks off he could only look at Hermione in utter betrayal. Even when he was young he had always worn his hair long and could not remember a time when it had not been so. It had been pure torture watching his black locks fall to the floor in clumps.

Then had come the foreign object that attached to the wall with a long cord she called clippers and began to cut even more off. He had nearly lost it then and there and was even on the verge of bolting for the door when his mind drifted back to Azkaban and he stilled. He could grow his hair back out as long as he wanted when this was over but he could not go back to Azkaban, not again. So he sat there silently.

When they had finally finished meeting all of Hermione's requirements, having stood nearby the whole time watching while the woman had worked her own sort of magic, his chair was spun in place so that he could look in the large wall mounted mirror. The man that looked back at him was nothing like Sirius Black.

He had short stylishly cropped brown hair, showing off the slight natural curl he had always possessed but his previously long hair had made it too heavy to show off. His face was now clean shaven making him look a good ten years younger than he had when he'd entered the salon.

Sirius kept running his fingers through his hair, or lack thereof, as they exited the establishment trying to come to terms with his recent loss.

The next store the pair entered was for eye wear. After covertly removing his eye glamour, she went about getting him what the Muggles called 'contacts'. He found them quite fascinating as some were worn to help Muggle eyes like glasses, while others were worn simply to change the wearer's eye color. Hermione selected a set of brown ones for him, a similar color to what she had glamoured his eyes earlier as well as a dull green pair for herself. It took a while to coax the wizard into putting them on, but after he got over the fact he was going to have to touch his eye to get them on and off, he was able to master the art quite easily.

Hermione bought him a supply of the kind that he could wear for a month without removing for convenience and safety purposes. He was grateful for that since it meant he would not have to remove them very often, since she had insisted he wear them all the time just in case. Her own she got simply as a precaution to add an extra layer to her own disguise even if it wasn't one that would be maintained full time like Sirius's own.

To make up for all the discomfort she had put him through that day, Hermione took him to the local ice cream shop in the food court on the way to lunch before showing him the wonders of the electronic store.

The next series of stores to be visited were to get him a new wardrobe of Muggle clothes. While momentarily distracted looking through the various Muggle styles of clothing, Sirius didn't find it near as interesting as the electronics store and began to wander out of the men's department. Hermione was left searching alone for things that would fit him more properly than his current clothes and when it came time for him to try them on she was forced to search him out.

Ten minutes later found an exasperated and red faced Hermione dragging the dog out of the lingerie section by his ear where he had been quite vocally commenting on which articles he fancied on a woman the most. She kept him on a short leash after that, but even so she could still see some of the shop keepers casting sheepish glances at her and Sirius, making it clear most of them had heard at least some of his loud monologue.

Arms loaded with bags from various stores, the pair left the mall and slipped into a secluded alley to relieve themselves of their purchases into Hermione's extended purse before walking the half block to pick up some Chinese takeout. She slipped off momentarily, leaving Sirius to wait on their food and returned with a paper bag from the small bakery next door.

Back at Hook Norton, Sirius seemed to like the teriyaki chicken, something quite different from the usual British wizarding cuisine but had a hard time eating it with the provided chopsticks until Hermione took pity and got a fork out for him.

"What was the one food you missed most while you were incarcerated?" Hermione inquired before taking a bite out of an egg roll.

"Fish and chips." Sirius said with a satisfied sigh, "Golden, flaky crispy-mmm." He pushed his empty takeout carton away and leaned back in his seat contentedly.

"What about you, what did you miss eating most while you were on that island?" he asked curiously. She had told him very little of her time stranded on the island, only that she had been stranded after a ship wreck and managed to get picked up by chance by a group of college kids out for a cruise years later. There was more to it than that, he knew, but she had yet to enlighten him further on the details.

"What I missed most," she mused, taking out a paper bag she'd gotten earlier from the pile of takeout containers and pulling out a cookie, "was chocolate," she said, taking a bite out of the sugary treat and savoring the chunks of chocolate as they melted in her mouth before offering him the bag.

 As August finally began to come to an end, the date when she was to meet with her friends was fast approaching. It would be the first time in years-for her- that all three of them were going to meet up. When Sirius heard she would be meeting Harry and Pettigrew's owner in Diagon Alley, he insisted on coming as well. Hermione had said 'no' at first but, after days of having a large black dog follow her around whining like a kicked puppy, she finally agreed on the conditions that he remained out of sight and did not approach either Harry or Ron. Additionally, under no circumstance was he to attempt to go after Pettigrew.

The day before she was to leave for school, Sirius was up early and ready to go long before Harry and Ron would have even considered getting up on a school day, let alone on one of their last few days of summer break.

"Come on, we're going to be late," Sirius called up the stairs folding his arms over his chest, garbed in the new wizard robes provided by Hermione.

"We're not going to be late, so hold your horses."

"I don't have any horses." he stated, not amused.

"Never mind," Hermione snapped coming down the stairs in a pair of jeans and sweater, a full glamour on, making her appear to be 13 years old and her hair left loose and untamed about her head. "You look—" Sirius started before thinking better at the look she was giving him, daring him to finish the sentence.

"Let's regress you to when you where 13 then you can finish that sentence;" she threatened, fingering her wand looking him up and down critically. "I bet you were all awkward limbs."

"I was not," Sirius defended, before thinking better, eyeing her wand, "but that doesn't mean I would want to relive my teen years."

"Good answer, Mr Black." she said putting her wand away, flipping her wildly bushy hair over her shoulder as she strolled past to get her shoes.

"I was just going to say you grew up nice." A shoe was sent flying through the air, one of his, at the area his head had been. "It's a compliment, damn woman, do you always have to be so violent?" Sirius yelled from the kitchen doorway he had taken shelter in.

"Alright," she said ignoring him and continuing with what she had originally been going to say when she had come down, "so I will be staying at the Cauldron tonight and be leaving with the Weasley's tomorrow. You will be on your own for now. There is Muggle money in the canister in the kitchen, so buy what you need from the store next door. I'll meet you in Hogsmeade at the Shrieking Shack when the school visits. Don't come early since the Dementors know what your soul feels like and will know it is you as soon as you get close. The village should be clear of them, though, when the students are visiting. While we are in the Alley, be sure to pick up an owl, then if you need to contact me, you can. You know how to get back here without Apparition, right?"

"Yes, Mother," Sirius replied sarcastically, causing Hermione to shoot him a dirty look as she finished lacing up her sneakers.

"Come on," she said hauling her school trunk out the back door.

Seeing Harry and Ron again was a surreal experience, watching them chat with each other at Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlor. It was like reliving a dream you've had a million times, only to realize it wasn't a dream this time and they were really there. It took her a good ten minutes to work up the nerve to finally approach them and by then she was well past their assigned meeting time.

"Hermione," Ron called catching sight of her and waving her over, making it impossible for her to stall any longer. "Where have you been? We looked all around for you."

"I was-I." Her voice faltered. She had imagined this meeting in her head a thousand times and now here she was and her mind had simply gone blank.

"Something wrong, Hermione?" Harry asked a spoon of ice cream paused on its way to his mouth.

"No-no everything is perfect. Just perfect," her voice had tapered down into a whisper as she closed the last few feet between them and pulled them both into a fierce hug. "Ron, Harry, it's so good to see you."

"'Mione, we can't breath," Ron gasped out awkwardly.

"Oh, I just—sorry, it seems like ages since I have seen you guys. I just didn't realize until now how much I missed seeing you," she said, wiping at her face as tears threatened to fall.

"It's only been a couple of months, Hermione." Harry said giving her a one-armed hug, his quick reflexes having kept his spoon out of the way when she had pulled him into the hug.

"Yeah, no need to get all teary-eyed on us," Ron piped in.

"Sorry." She muttered before wrangling her emotions back under control. "So what do you two want to do. It's our last day before school starts after all."

"Well, I was going to have someone look at Scabbers, he hasn't been himself since we got back from Egypt." Ron said pulling the rat in question out of his pocket. Across the street, Hermione could see a familiar head of short cropped brown hair turn in their direction and stiffen.

"He does look a little ill, Ronald." Hermione said turning her attention back on Ron and his rat. Covertly she glanced back over at Sirius who locked eyes with her, her glare said all that was needed. He relaxed and went back to milling about the Alley. Now wasn't the time for rash decisions and she wasn't going to tolerate it from the convict.

"—take him to Magical Menagerie, they might be able to do something for him." Harry's voice brought her back to the conversation as the boys finished off the last of their ice cream.

The group then set off toward the magical pet shop. Inside, Hermione was browsing the selection of pets not really looking for anything, only to bear witness as a large orange creature launched itself for Scabbers, who was sitting on the counter being looked over by the shopkeeper. While Harry and Ron ran out of the store after the rat, Hermione looked around for the ginger beast that had set its sights on Scabbers. She found him lounging on top of a stack of empty cages, and he immediately hopped down at the sight of her, beginning to weave himself about her legs purring contentedly.

"Well, I'll be a nug's uncle, seems Crookshanks has taken a liking to you. Finicky, that one. Been here for years, he has," the owner said when he caught sight of the contented cat Hermione had picked up.

"You should get him, seems he doesn't like that rat as much as us," Sirius said coming around the corner of an aisle and leaning against the wall in a relaxed manner.

"What are you doing here?" Hermione hissed tugging him behind a shelf full of Kneazle treats and out of sight of the shopkeeper and front door.

"Getting an owl," he said innocently lifting the cage holding a tawny barn owl.

"You need to keep your distance, Harry and Ron might not notice you but Mr Weasley works for the Ministry and he's here specifically to make sure you don't get near Harry. We can't risk you being seen around him."

"Alright, alright, I'm leaving after this. But you should really look into getting that cat. Could be useful," he said before heading to the front of the shop to pay for his owl and leaving. Looking down at the cat in her arms, she let out a sigh.

"You better be worth it, and I want no dead things turning up on my pillow, you hear me," she said sternly taking the cat up to the counter. She left a short while later running into Harry and Ron on her way out. Much to Ron's dismay, she had her new cat sprawled across her shoulder like a living fur shawl.

"What are you doing with that beast?"

"Crookshanks isn't a beast, Ronald. My Mum and Dad said I could pick out a pet this year. Isn't he perfect?" she said stroking the feline's head as she lied through her teeth, the first of many that were sure to come. She only hoped when this was all over her friends could forgive her for the deception.

Hermione ignored any other complaints Ron might have had about her cat as they made their way back to the Cauldron. If Scabbers died from a cat induced heart attack, all the better, but she would have to make it clear to the cat that he couldn't eat him. She couldn't very well prove Sirius's innocence if her cat ate the proof.

Chapter Text

But I will not be drawn into the past again.

'Cause all of this is all that I can take,

And you could never understand the demons that I face.

So go ahead and bat your eyes and lie right to the world;

For with everything you are, you're just a little girl.

I never meant for you to feel this way,

The Decembers were never meant to be our graves.

It's not a question of who is wrong and what is right,

But time can not heal what you will never recognize.

-Just a Little Girl, Trading Yesterday

Chapter 6: I will not be drawn into the past again, Decembers were never meant to be our graves.

December 1993-Island.

The camp she had called home for the past six months was in ruins; most of the supplies that Halt had meticulously stored up, was gone. What had not been taken by whomever had trashed the camp after their capture had been thrown in a pile and burned.

Hermione limped through the remains, bare feet covered in cuts and dirt from her run through the forest. With a numb detachment, she picked through the remains to find anything she could salvage: a pocket knife, a few scattered matches and a pair of pants and shirt that had once been Halt's. Changing into the clothes, she tore the scrubs she had worn since escaping into pieces. A large strip was made into a belt to hold up the pants after rolling up the legs and shirtsleeves until the clothes fit somewhat. Taking the remaining fabric, she tied them around her bleeding feet in an attempt to lessen the damage being done to them as she walked.

She stuffed the knife and matches into her pocket and headed to a familiar part of the cave. Limping over to the barren corner where her bed had once lain, Hermione knelt and dug an arm into a fissure in the rock wall. She pulled out the thankfully undamaged journal containing the letter entries she had been writing to her friends since arriving on the island. Pocketing the book after making sure the one photo it contained was still safely inside, she headed back out.

Kicking around in the area she had been attacked in, she eventually came across her bow in the grass. It was a bit scraped up but still seemed functional. Unstringing the bow, she placed the string in her pocket for safe-keeping. After digging around in the remains of the fire, she found a charred coat sleeve to slip the bow in, tying it off at the ends with the remaining bits of scrubs to make an improvised bag that she slung onto her back.

Preparing to leave the clearing, her foot caught on something, tripping her roughly to the ground. Looking at her caught foot, Hermione found the remains of Halt's bow- the string had snapped and had become wrapped around her ankle. Carefully gathering up the broken weapon into her arms, she left, not knowing where she was going, just knowing that her makeshift home was no longer safe.

Night came soon after and with it came rain, lightning, and thunder shattering the night sky above. Hermione took refuge under a partly uprooted tree, huddled into the small den the roots and dirt formed. Even so, she was soaked to the bone, tears mixing with the rain dripping in from the roots that made up the roof. She tried to light a fire but could not even manage so much as a wisp of smoke from her magical waterproof flames. The night was long and cold and more lonely than she had ever recalled feeling. Hermione sat there shivering so hard, she looked to be having a mild seizure, arms locked around the remains of Halt's bow like a lifeline.

For the next week, it was the same routine. She would wake bone cold from dreams of being torn apart by sharp teeth and Halt's screams ringing in her ears. Once awake, she would gather her few possessions and start walking until she couldn't continue on anymore, picking up what was edible on the way. She would collapse in the next available hiding place before letting herself slip into unconsciousness. On the eighth day of being on her own, Hermione found herself tucked up in yet another hiding place flipping through her journal. She had not been in any mood to write in it, not since that first night when she tried to find some form of comfort in the act of writing to her friends. It had not worked, only cemented the fact that she was truly on her own now and that no one was going to come save her.

Turning to the back of the book she pulled out a folded picture of her and her friends. It was a Wizarding photo from their first year at Hogwarts. She and Ron had their arms around Harry as they all laughed at something Ron had said. She couldn't remember what had been so funny now, just that she had been happy to be there with her two first and best friends.

She smiled at the picture and the memory it held, rubbing her fingers over the images of Ron and Harry, causing them to laugh more as they tried to duck out of the way. Beside her a glowing silver mist began to form, shifting and shimmering as it attempted to take shape.

September 1st 1993-Leaky Cauldron, London

Hermione woke to the sound of a crash. In an instant she was crouched on her bed fully alert, knife in one hand, other hand outstretched with a nasty spell on her lips. Nothing moved until a large mass of orange fur leapt up on her bed, hissing and spitting at something on the floor. Cautiously crawling to the edge of the bed, she peered over; her trunk had been flipped over and the lid was partly open. Snagged on the trunk latch was a familiar belt.

"Great, it's loose," she grumbled scanning the floor for movement, cautiously leaning over the edge and looked under the bed nothing. Stepping off the bed, Hermione made her way to her upended trunk, picking up the belt she set the trunk back up. There was a snarl and a fluttering of pages as her Monster Book came skittering out from under the dresser. With a snap, the knife left her hand followed by a startled yelp.

"Now I thought we had this sorted out," she said walking over to the book that was still snarling where it sat pinned by its lower cover to the floor, "If you don't behave yourself, you're going to have a lot of holes in your cover," she said putting a foot on the book and pulling her knife out before tossing it on the bed so she could slip the belt back on the still snarling book, but it made no move to wiggle out of her grip.

"Should have just left you at home," she grumbled. The book had been an interesting edition to her collection of literature to say the least. It refused to stay on the bookshelf even if muzzled and when it did get loose, the thing would hide in wait for any opportunity to take a bite out of herself or Sirius. The dog seemed to have the most luck in running into the thing, at the most in-opportune times. At one point it had somehow managed to get into one of the higher kitchen cabinets and had launched itself out at the head of the first person to open the door. Sirius had gotten quite a scare at that point and on top of colorfully cursing whichever teacher had put the fuzzy book from hell on their list, he had also insisted she do something about it before one of them ended up with more than just a few paper cuts. Hence, she had begun making it clear to the tome that it did not want to get on her bad side or risk losing some unimportant bits.

"If anything, you could have kept Sirius from dying of boredom," she mused replacing the whimpering book in her trunk and locking the lid with a sigh. Knowing she wouldn't be able to get back to sleep, she decided to get ready for the day before heading down to an early breakfast.

Hermione sat flipping through a notebook. She had been keeping notes from the books in her study that she had managed to get through over the summer; most while interesting possessed nothing that could inform her on how Voldemort was keeping himself alive. All she had to go on was that it was somehow tied to the diary Harry had destroyed last year, and the ring that had led to Dumbledore's death. How they where connected, she could not tell but she planned on using her time at school to search the library for any more information. If Dumbledore had known he kept it to himself, there had been no mention of it in any of the memories he had left behind.

"Good morning, dear, you're up early."

"Good morning, Mrs. Weasley. I guess I'm just excited to be heading back to school," she said closing her notebook and slipping it in her inner jacket pocket.  The cover had been warded with a variant of the Notice-Me-Not Charm, making it seem like such an insignificant item that any who saw it would find their gaze drifting past it with little notice before its existence slipped their mind entirely. Mrs. Weasley went about getting breakfast set out for the rest of the Weasley clan and Harry, as they began to trickle down in groups of twos and threes. Harry, Ron and the twins being the last and had to eat quickly before they were rushing out the door to the ministry cars that were waiting for them.

"Sorry, Crooks, but you have to stay in there," Hermione said putting the cat's travel crate into the car, "I'll let you out on the train."

"You will not," Ron protested clutching at the lump in his pocket, "What about Scabbers, he's sick and he's not going to get better with that beast prowling around all the time."Hermione ignored the comment as she too climbed into the car, saying Crookshanks wouldn't bother the rat was a poor lie. Anyone could see the cat had it out for Scabbers in specific and she wasn't about to make claims of keeping the cat under control when she was in fact egging the feline on in his quest. Ron would thank her in the end when his pet's true nature was revealed- after the shock wore off of course.

"Don't you think it would have been better if you had left him at home; he is rather old, you know. His illness is probably just his age catching up with him. It had to happen at some point, Ron. Wouldn't it be better for him to live out his last days in the quiet of the Burrow?" Hermione said trying another tactic. If she could separate the two before they left for school, it would be a simple matter for Sirius to slip into the Burrow while the Weasley parents were out and snatch the rat up with no one the wiser.

"He would get some peace at school if you hadn't brought that cat with you," Ron countered back glaring at her.

"I'm not the only one with a cat, Ronald, Crooks is just the only one around right now." Hermione placated holding her hands up in a calming manner, had she been her younger self she might have started arguing with the boy, which could only have ended with her and Ron not being on speaking terms for a while, given they both had a stubborn streak a mile wide. Now she was older and had learned over the years that, with a little cunning, she could get the same result as weeks of bullheadedness would have gotten her a lot faster. She had not lost her stubborn streak but had learned to pick how she fought her fights. If she could keep her cover without acting like the immature child she appeared to be, she would.

"I'm sure as soon as others notice how poor his health is they will be after him as well, it's just how animals are; they prey on the sick and weak." Ron was quiet as he thought over what she had said, her calm response and not jumping immediately to her cat's defense had caught him off guard.

"Isn't it about time you let him go? He would be far more comfortable at the Burrow, I'm sure," she said giving him a comforting squeeze on the shoulder before relaxing back in her seat. The rest of the trip to the train station was quiet and when they arrived they split into smaller groups to go through the barrier. Hermione going through with Ginny and Mrs. Weasley. She had to pause for a minute and take in the sight of the beautiful engine, all polished and bright, waiting to take them to school. It was something she'd never thought she'd get the chance to do again after hearing the school had sealed itself after Dumbledore's death.

Hauling her trunk onto the train, she was followed by Ron who stopped in the door to talk with his father. He pulled the thinning rat out of his pocket and held it out for his father to take. The moment the rat left his hand, Mr. Weasley gave a shout and dropped the animal; his hand was bleeding where he had been bitten. Scabbers darted up the train steps and into the train with Ron chasing after him. Hermione silently cursed the whole search. By the time the rat had been located, the train had already left the station far behind.

Once Scabbers had been tucked safely into Ron's pocket, the trio began looking for a compartment only to realize that they had all filled during the search for the rat. Eventually after checking compartments all the way down the train, they found one that contained only a single occupant in the last coach. Hermione had to stop and squash down the growing feeling of sadness at the sight of Remus Lupin sleeping peacefully slouched against the window.

She had met the man only once following a full moon. She'd gone to his small house outside of London in hopes of gaining his help in her mission. She'd found him seated before a dim fire in a worn armchair, the arms and cushions riddled with claw marks. He appeared unkempt and thin, hair heavily streaked in grey and sallow skin broken by the occasional scratch. He made no attempt to wipe away the dried blood from a healing cut on his jaw nor did he acknowledge her uninvited entrance into his home.

Her attempts to explain herself and requests were met with silence as were any attempts to invoke a reaction out of him. In the end, she'd been briefly pointed toward a small book on top of a photo album that'd been left open at his feet. She took it and left, without a glance from the man's dim eyes. A week later, the Order had gotten the disturbing news that Lupin's house had been burned to the ground during a Death Eater raid. As far as anyone could tell, he didn't even make any attempt to fight back.

"Who do you suppose he is?" Ron asked sitting down next to the door with Harry next to him after stowing their luggage.

"Professor R. J. Lupin, our new Defense Professor," she said softly as she stowed her own trunk next to the werewolf's before releasing Crookshanks to sprawl out on the seat across from Ron.

"How do you— how does she know everything?" Ron sputtered out directing his question to Harry as he pointed at the witch as she sat down next to her cat. Harry could only shrug in reply.

"Honestly, Ronald, why are you making such a big deal out of it. It's printed on his luggage," she said pointing at the small battered case with the Professor's name printed on it, chipped and fading but still legible.

"What about what he teaches? That isn't written anywhere." The red-head proclaimed.

"What else could he be teaching- Lockhart's in St. Mungo's for the unforeseeable future," the witch pointed out.

"Oh," Ron mumbled before snapping his mouth shut with an audible click.

"You think he is really asleep?" Harry asked looking over the raggedy Professor.

"Looks like it," Ron said looking at his best mate curiously, "Why, what's on your mind?" Hermione, too, put her full attention on their spectacled friend.

"I need to tell you guys something important," he said pausing to check outside the door for eaves droppers, before sliding the compartment door closed.

"So, you're saying that Sirius Black has escaped from prison for the sole purpose of tracking you down and killing you?" Hermione asked, summing up all the information that Harry had gathered from his talk with Mr Weasley the night before and what he had gathered from his time in Diagon Alley. "That doesn't make sense, if Black was after you why did he wait 12 years to make a move to escape?" Hermione contradicted, attempting to plant some doubt in the two. Black was Harry's godfather and if all worked out Harry might have a chance of breaking away from the Dursley's. If she could just sow a little glimmer of suspicion that things were not as they seemed, it might make it a lot easier for Harry to trust his godfather when the truth came out.

"The man's mental, who knows?" Ron stated showing little interest in pursuing the mystery Hermione was dangling in front of him. "Maybe it took him that long to figure out a way to escape."

"It just doesn't seem right," she said dropping the subject for now, unsurprised Ron was taking the information from his father at face value.

Time passed quickly as the three moved on to lighter subjects, like what classes they were looking forward to this year and one's they were dreading. The boys found themselves in a debate on the upcoming Quidditch season. Before they knew it, the food trolley had come and gone as the boys debated and Hermione watched them with a fond smile in between pages of a novel she had brought to read on the trip. Soon the sky had begun to darken prematurely with the oncoming storm clouds and rain came down in sheets.

Hermione was just reading about Shasta and his talking horse Bree, as they fled with new resolve at a lion's pursuit when the train began to slow before stopping with a jerk.

"Are we there already?" Ron asked as Harry peered out of the train window.

"We can't be, it's too soon. Something must be wrong," Hermione replied tersely. Finely tuned instinct was telling her danger was near as she stood and opened the door a fraction so that she could poke her head out.

"Wait here," her words came out more of a cool order than she had intended, making her sound more like an adult taking charge than a student. She paused for a brief second to evaluate the situation, what would have been an expected reaction from her younger self? She would have searched out an adult who could tell her what was going on and would have been afraid, wouldn't she? Ron and Harry seemed uneasy, so she guessed a little fear would not be out of place. In an effort to cover her slip she dampened her tone with a hint of fear and unease before speaking again.

"I'm going to check with the drivers, they might know what's happening." Quickly she slipped out of the door before the two boys could protest. They'd be safe there with Lupin; he was sure to wake with the commotion and would undoubtedly recognize Harry as James' son. She almost immediately ran into Neville and Ginny on the way through the train and sent them toward the boys compartment, with brief word that she was going to find out what was going on.

Continuing on by herself, she only made it to the end of the deserted coach when the lights flickered and then went out. Closing her eyes she counted to ten, speeding up the adjustment to the darkness and palming her wand. Opening them again she could make out a shape in the darkness only visible because it was darker and did not shift like the other shadows.

A bone biting cold crept up her limbs and gripped at her chest painfully, the sound of rain outside the train grew louder as the drumming filled her ears. She let out a shuddering breath that misted in the air before her like a ghostly vapor as the phantom trails of icy rain rolled down her skin, the damp rot of leaves and soil filling her nose. For a moment she felt an almost crippling sense of loneliness that threatened to overwhelm her and for the briefest of moments she believed herself back under the roots of that great tree on the island, rain soaked and frozen and so very alone.

"Expecto Patronum!" Her voice was cold and controlled as a silvery otter shot out of her wand and launched itself at the approaching Dementor, sending it fleeing back the way it had come. Its work done, the otter drifted back toward the witch spinning a playful circle around her head before fading away, its glowing silver light leaving her in darkness once again.

Hermione let her eyes adjust to the complete darkness, mentally shaking herself to bring her mind away from thoughts of the past; they had no place in the here and now. Opening her eyes again, she moved to continue down the train when she heard the whisper of fabric behind her. Pivoting, she came face to face with Professor Lupin.

"Sorry, Sir," she apologized lowering her wand to the side so that it no longer was pointed at him. "You startled me."

"You should get back to your seat, it isn't safe to be wandering right now," he asserted, extinguishing the flame in his hand when the lights overhead flickered back on and the train began moving once again.

"Yes, Sir," she said ducking her head, stowing her wand as she skirted around the Professor and back down the corridor. The train was moving again and that was all they needed for now.

Entering the compartment at the end of the train, she found her friends to be in quite a distressing state. Harry looked very shaken as he stared at the piece of chocolate in his hand, Ron and Neville looked quiet and pale, while Ginny was curled in a corner of the furthest seat sobbing quietly into her hands.

"Are you guys alright?" she asked moving in and immediately going to sit by Ginny, putting an arm around her in an attempt at comfort. She was trembling and Hermione's gesture seemed to comfort the girl into not holding back her sobs or to upset her into a new round of tears; the brunette was not sure which. Either way, Hermione found herself with a crying 12 year old in her arms, sobbing into her shoulder and gasping garbled apologies in between breaths.

Unsure what to do in such a position, Hermione rubbed the girl's back awkwardly until her sobs subsided into hiccuping sniffles and Ginny retracted herself from Hermione's person. She tentatively took an offered handkerchief from Neville, who gave her a small encouraging smile. The youngest Weasley had more than likely been re-living her time under Voldemort's influence, a memory that she'd probably been trying to bury all summer. The wounds from that particular trauma had not even begun to heal only to be ripped open again so abruptly. Hermione, at least had had years to come to terms and learn to cope with her own experiences that the Dementors so generously brought up.

"We are fine now, Harry had some sort of fit—"

"—but I'm fine now," Harry cut in catching Hermione's worried look, "See, I have chocolate, it helps." He held up his untouched chocolate, as if it was the solution to everything, before taking a bite from it for good measure. Hermione wasn't buying it and told him so with a 'we'll talk about it later' look before turning her attention back on the sniffling Ginny.

"Did you see one of those things?" Neville inquired as he wrung at the silver candy wrapper in his hands.

"A Dementor, you mean? Yes," she said pausing for a moment, reproaching herself for not simply saying 'no' and be done with it. "The Professor took care of it before sending me back here," she amended, knowing that she couldn't very well tell them she already knew an above O.W.L. level spell to repel the creatures or that when she learned it, she hadn't even known its name or purpose. She only hoped that they did not question the Professor on what had happened in the corridor when he came back in a few minutes.

"We will be at Hogwarts in ten minutes," he said softly coming to sit back in his seat by the window across from Ginny and Hermione.

"Hermione, are you alright?" Ron asked suddenly, bringing the attention back on her.

"Yes, I'm fine, why?" She asked bewildered, she truly did feel fine. After breaking the Dementors influence she had felt normal, no lingering effects as far as she could tell.

"'Mione, your hand is shaking," Ron said softly looking at her hand that was not around Ginny. Hermione followed his gaze and sure enough her hand was visibly shaking from where it sat rested against her knee. She held it up for a closer inspection and as if on cue, now that she was aware of it she couldn't not notice the biting cold throughout her body like she had drunk a bottle of liquid nitrogen. She realized now, that she had been unconsciously shielding her mind from recognizing the effects of the Dementors but her body was still reacting to it regardless of if she was aware of it and now that she was aware, she could not suppress the bone rattling shudder that ran through her body.

"Here, eat," Lupin said breaking a large chunk of chocolate from what had most likely been a large bar. "It will help, eat." Hermione took the offered piece and ate it slowly, savoring the warm feeling it gave her as the bittersweet morsel melted over her tongue and her shivering subsided.

"Do you always go around with large quantities of chocolate in your pockets, Professor?" she asked with a mischievous smile on her lips-bordering on coy-as she took another bite from the candy.

"You never know when it might come in handy," was the evasive answer she got in reply as the Professor smiled back at her good naturedly, either misinterpreting her expression as gratitude or ignoring it. In a few minutes, the trembling in her hands had ceased completely and by then it was time to wrangle Crookshanks back in his crate as the train pulled into Hogsmeade station. The ride up to the castle was quiet, as they passed through the Dementor-guarded gate and entered the Hogwarts grounds.

Exiting the carriage Hermione paused to look over the pair of Thestrals that were harnessed to the front. It was obvious no one else in her group could see them and for that, she was glad. Even with all they'd been through, at least they still had their innocence of how truly dark the world could be. Heading into the castle, they were stopped by a face she could have done without seeing until the morning or never.

"Did you really faint Potte—eeek!" Malfoy said with glee as he shoved his way past Hermione, only to let out an undignified squeak as he was sent sliding down the wet stairs into a convenient puddle of gooey mud.

"Do watch your step, Malfoy," Hermione said in mock concern. "It's awful slippery out here," she advised ushering a laughing Harry and Ron into the entrance ahead of her.

"You filthy little Mudblood! How dare you!" Malfoy spat as he stood livid, mud and water dripping off his robe and platinum locks.

"The only thing filthy with mud here is you, Malfoy, if you stand around like that you'll catch a cold," Hermione said pausing in the doorway to look back over her shoulder at the pure-blood, not batting an eye at the term that used to bring her to tears. Malfoy moved to draw his wand.

"Is there a problem here?" came the voice of Professor Lupin who had gotten out of the carriage behind them.

"No, Professor," Hermione said innocently at the same time as Malfoy shouted.

"She pushed me down the stairs!"

"Now, Mr. Malfoy, no need to blow things out of proportion. I saw the whole thing, no need to blame Ms. Granger here for a simple case of slippery steps," Lupin said coaxing Malfoy up the stairs. Hermione took this as her chance to head in and went in to find Ron and Harry still laughing.

"That was brilliant, 'Mione," Ron breathed out between bouts of laughter, "Did you see his face right before he hit the mud? Priceless! Wish I had a camera."

"I've no idea what you're talking about, Ronald. He just tripped, rather conveniently," she said not admitting to anything as she waited for the two boys to get a hold of themselves so that they could head into the Great Hall.

"Mr. Potter, Ms. Granger, I want to see you both in my office," Professor McGonagall said catching their attention. "Move along, Mr. Weasley, your friends will join you at the feast shortly."

Leading the way to her office, McGonagall ushered the pair in where Madame Pomfrey was waiting. Harry barely had time to react before the medi-witch was checking his temperature and pulse. Despite his loud protests that there was nothing wrong, he was given a thorough examination before he was deemed to be in good health even after having recently suffered a severe reaction to the dementors. Harry was then asked to wait outside with Pomfrey, while McGonagall discussed a private matter with Hermione.

"Now, Ms. Granger, I want to make certain you are sure about the course load you have chosen for this year. It will be a lot of work, maybe too much for you to handle. Are you positive you wish to keep all your classes?" The stern Professor asked, hands folded on her desk and watching the brunette like a hawk.

"Yes, I am sure, Professor." She said confidently and without hesitation, she not only wanted it, she needed this item, "I know it will be a lot of work, but I can handle it."

"Alright, if you are sure. I suppose you will be wanting this," she said pulling out a small wooden jewelry box from a drawer and handing it to Hermione. Inside, nestled securely on a bed of black velvet was a small hourglass set in an intricately engraved metal ring, hung from a long finely crafted chain. "I'm trusting you to use this responsibly, Ms. Granger, there are not many people-let alone students-that are trusted with such objects. I trust you remember the rules that go along with it."

"Yes, Professor, I understand all the rules and regulations with it," Hermione said doing her best to keep the satisfied smile off her face till she was out of the office and the Time-Turner was securely around her neck, tucked out of sight under her robes.

"What are you so happy about?" Harry asked when she joined him outside the office and the pair headed back to the Great Hall.

"Oh, nothing, just got some good news about my schedule from Professor McGonagall," she said taking a seat on one side of Ron leaving Harry to take the seat on the other side. "Did we miss the sorting, Ron?" Ron nodded in answer before Dumbledore rose directing all the attention in the room to himself.

"I have a few announcements for all of you. First off as I am sure you have noticed that we will be hosting the Dementors of Azkaban this year—" Dumbledore continued on making it clear that the Dementors were not creatures to be trifled with or brushed off. The rest of the announcements were of lighter topics including two changes to the teaching roster this year. Professor Lupin, who as Hermione had predicted, would be taking over the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Professor Snape did not seem too happy about the placement, not that he ever seemed happy about the new DADA professor, but this time it seemed to offend him personally. And, none other than Hagrid, taking over the Care of Magical Creatures class.

"Well, that explains the book," Ron muttered all the while clapping enthusiastically for the bearded man.

Announcements done, the feast was served and everybody dug in. Between bite,s Hermione snuck glances up at the teachers table, picking out the familiar black head of the Potions Master easily. He was picking at his food, the look of loathing he'd been directing at Lupin was gone. In its place was his usual mask of indifference. His gaze suddenly shifted from his plate to the student tables, so Hermione let her gaze drift around the tables as if looking for something before returning to her place.

After refilling her plate, she risked glancing back up. The war had taken its toll on the spy. When she had last seen the man, he'd been thin, scarred, and completely run ragged from years of trying to uphold his cover as a Death Eater, as well as helping the Order wherever he could. He warned them of raids so they could prepare and fight back or run. In the more recent months, she'd seen a lot of him as he mended from an injury that'd very nearly killed him. In the weeks following his recovery, she'd gained him as a mentor of sorts and an ally later on, when she'd proposed this insane mission to stop the war before it even began. Maybe even a friend in the end.

She knew for a fact that she would not have been able to make it back here now without his help, his sacrifice. She wouldn't have been able to hone her magical abilities to anywhere near the extent they were now nor could she have made the Time Portal in the Ministry without him watching her back. It was going to be strange, going from someone that he might have seen as an equal back to the annoying know-it-all student he thought she was.

His reaction to her staring was quicker this time and she dropped her gaze back to her plate where it remained even after she could no longer feel eyes in her direction. When the dishes were cleared, the three made their way up to the teachers table to congratulate Hagrid. Hermione did not give into the temptation to look down the table to see if Snape was still there; she had pushed her luck enough for one night.

Entering her dorm room she shared with Lavender and Parvati, Hermione laid claim to the bed closest to the window. After unpacking the things she would need the next day, Hermione crawled into her bed with Crookshanks, after changing into her pajamas she began penning out a letter to Sirius.

Dear Gary,

Had an eventful day, met some of your old friends. They're quite unpleasant to be around. I can see why you didn't want to hang out with them any more. Almost talked Wormtail into staying home but he had other ideas. Moony is here as well, I hope he is as good at Defense as he claims. I hope to learn a lot from him. Do you think Moony would be interested in our little project, having more help might be beneficial but only if he can be trusted. Don't want him running off to your old friends first chance he gets.



Folding up the letter, she waited until she could hear her room mates' even-breathing before slipping out of her curtained bed. Pulling a black hoodie on over her pajamas and a pair of soft sole boots, she crept out of Gryffindor Tower and into the halls. Changing routes easily when she picked up the sounds of Filch patrolling, she arrived at the Owlery. Sending the letter off, she stood there looking out the window for a time. The rain was still coming down in cold sheets. When she began to lose feeling in her fingers, she made her way back to the dormitory. By the time she finally crawled into bed, it was well after two.

Chapter Text

It's hard to deal with the pain of losing you everywhere I go,

But I'm doin' it.

It's hard to force that smile, when I see our old friends and I'm alone.

Still harder, getting up, getting dressed, living with this regret.

–What Hurts The Most, Rascal Flatts

Chapter 7: Living With This Regret.

September 2nd, 1993 – Hogwarts

Hermione woke early, the sun having just begun to light the sky outside her window. She had grown used to waking with the sun, something that had become a necessity on the island once the were-bryds had been set loose. She had to learn to take advantage of all the daylight hours available because once night fell, the island was theirs and all she could do was take refuge in the tallest and sturdiest tree she could find and wait for dawn. After leaving the island, returning to England, her dreams had made sleep something she avoided whenever possible. It had taken months to be able to sleep without nightmares, something she greatly thanked Snape for. Now it was simply habit, the time her body naturally decided to wake.

After taking a relaxingly long shower she crept about the room quietly, gathering her things before either of her roommates had begun to stir in their beds. She still had an hour before breakfast would start, so Hermione decided to go for a walk on the grounds; the rain from the night before had stopped and she had been wanting to look for someplace to run while the weather was still nice. She would eventually need to find some place inside the castle to exercise once the snow started falling, but for now a good running route would do.

She was unable to sit still like she used to; too many years on edge if she wasn't moving had made her twitchy. Being still was dangerous; outside the protection of the Fidelius Charm it made you vulnerable to Death Eater raids, and even before that, sitting still was just a welcoming invitation for the were-bryds to try at getting their teeth in her again. She missed her private training room in her house; the wizarding school didn't provide any physically exerting activities outside Quidditch. So she was left to find her own form of exercise. Even now she had still never gotten over her fear of flying and wasn't about to try out for the team just for the chance at a little strenuous activity; she could find more enjoyable ways of burning off energy without death-gripping a broom fifty feet above the ground.

Wandering around the lake, she found a well-worn path that looked like it would do for a good place to run, just far enough away from the lake to be safe, unless the giant squid was in a very bad mood, and not running close enough to the school boundaries to be in danger of the dementors unless they left their assigned posts. Heading back toward the school, she caught sight of someone running along the path she had been scoping out on the opposite side of the lake. She couldn't make out who it was, only that he or she had dark brown or black hair; figuring she would find out who it was eventually, she was satisfied in the knowledge that she wasn't the only person in this school who had an interest in their physical condition apart from sitting on a broom.

Heading into the Great Hall for breakfast, she was just smothering her toast with marmalade and working on her second plate of eggs and bacon when Ron and Harry finally came in.

"Morning," she said as the two came to sit beside her, handing them their new schedules as she looked over her own. "Looks like we have new courses first off today. Are you guys looking forward to Divination? I know I can't wait to start on Arithmancy."

"I thought you were taking Muggle Studies?" Ron questioned, confused, sparing the paper the briefest of glances before shoving it in his bag none too gently and turning his attention to the more important task of filling his plate.

"I am," she confirmed, taking a sip from her cup of coffee, grimacing at the dark and bitter drink. Normally she liked it with a bit of sugar, unlike Sirius who, she found, tended to take his sugar with a bit of coffee, but between her first and second cups she had seen one of the twins messing with the sugar bowl nearest her and had not wanted to tempt fate, nor did she want to put in the extra effort to go find an untampered bowl. The pair had become quite keen on trying to prank her as she had managed to avoid them with only minimal effort, and it had seemed to have the same effect as outright challenging them to do their best to get one over on her.

"But they are at the same time, 'Mione," Ron stated, exasperated at the fact his brainy friend had missed something so obvious. "You can't go to two classes at once."

"Of course not," she agreed good naturedly, adding a dollop of honey into her mug in an attempt to find a safe sugar substitute, only to decide after a tentative sip that no, honey was not a trade off for sugar, before giving up on the drink as a lost cause. "That is why I had to talk to McGonagall last night; it is all sorted out."


"Look, we have Hagrid's class today," she said quickly, pointing out the class on Harry's paper in an attempt to divert the attention away from her oddly structured schedule. It worked as Ron became engrossed in a conversation with the scarred boy about tales of his brothers' experiences in the class and how Hagrid might have handled the situations. Most of the stories wound up with Hagrid either forgetting to give them homework or unintentionally setting something mean and toothy on the class, more often both.

Pulling out a pen she brought from home for taking down quick notes without the hassle of pulling out quill and ink, she started to write notes filling in extra study times on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when she didn't have any conflicting class times. She scribbled notes at the bottom for extracurricular library time in the evening without being late for curfew, which is to say she planned on spending a lot of time in the library at night, and with the aid of her Time-Turner planned on using it to keep her extra library time beneath her friends' attention. This would give her a thirty-hour day next to the twenty-four hours the other students would be having. Even if her friends noticed her extra library time, they would probably think she was simply obsessing over her school work.

As the Great Hall began to empty, Hermione gathered her things before leaving the boys to go to their first Divination class and headed off to her first lessons in Muggle Studies and Arithmancy. Muggle Studies turned out to be exactly what she thought a wizard-run Muggle Studies class would be. While mostly accurate, a lot of the things they learned about were not up to date with current Muggle technologies and culture. Arithmancy, on the other hand, turned out to be a class Hermione greatly enjoyed and excelled at.

When she met the boys later on in Transfiguration, she was surprised to find them and a number of others in an unusually somber mood. After they turned in their summer assignments, McGonagall started them in on learning about Animagi. When her own Animagus transformation was met with silence, she finally demanded to know what had the class in such a quiet state. It was only after the admission that they had come from Divination did it seem to make sense with the professor, though Hermione could not see what that had to do with anything.

Apparently, much to Hermione's irritation, the Divination professor had seen a Grimm in the leaves of Harry's tea cup and now he was foretold to be approaching his coming death.

"Rubbish," Hermione muttered, voice catching sharply in her throat. Since reuniting with her friends, she had found her mind being dragged into remembering a nameless man with green eyes and black hair. In the past, she had dreamed of the man many times; sometimes things played out as they had, other times it was she who struck the killing blow. Regardless of who killed him, she or Halt, the man's lifeless green eyes would always bore into hers with accusation — it was her fault he was dead.

In recent days the scenario had changed; now the accusing eyes had been replaced by a more familiar green-eyed boy, someone she could too easily imagine dead at her feet, his eyes tearing into her soul sharper than any knife at her inability to save him, just another person dear to her whom she had failed.

A prediction made in jest from the way McGonagall had explained it, the death omen was just the professor's way of greeting a new class, something she did every year apparently. It did not make the metallic taste in her mouth taste anything less than what it was, as her teeth bit through the inside of her cheek.

"A rather morbid way to greet a bunch of impressionable thirteen year olds," Hermione stated carefully. Gathering her things together and shoving them into her bag more roughly than she had intended when class was over, she said, "You don't really believe that just because she saw something, something that may or may not have even been in your cup, now you are going to die?"

Harry did not reply, and his silence continued as they made their way into the Great Hall for lunch. On the way, Hermione took the time to shove the accusing green eyes back behind her shields where they belonged.

"Cheer up, you heard McGonagall," Hermione said encouragingly as she refrained from wincing from her tender cheek as she ate. "It's just the professor's way of greeting the third years; you can't take anything she says seriously."

"Have you seen a black dog anywhere, Harry?" Ron asked, ignoring Hermione's attempts at making the death omen seem like a bad joke.

"Yeah, a big one, the night I blew up my aunt." Ron dropped his spoon in shock. Hermione had to stop herself from face-palming at Sirius's dog form coming back to bite her in the ass.

"Probably just a stray," Hermione said calmly, not giving in to her inner irritation as she dished herself some more stew before propping her Arithmancy book up on a juice jug so she could read while she ate. "Don't look too much into it."

Following lunch came their first Potions class, to the displeasure of most of Gryffindor House. Hermione was nervous about how to react to this timeline's Professor Snape. Unlike with her other professors, Hermione had spent over three months in close contact with the man preparing for this mission, fighting with him and along side him. She liked to think that by the end they had come to some sort of friendship, or that at least he had viewed her as almost an equal. Even if he did still call her a know-it-all, it had lost its bite after a time. Now she was back as his student and not his intellectual peer, and she wasn't sure if she could ever earn that place back, if he would even let her try. Taking her seat next to Neville, she set out her books and summer works on the table top. After they turned in their summer homework, Snape immediately passed out a quiz to test them on their knowledge of the potion covered in their summer assignment.

Hermione had to stop herself from snapping at the collective grumbling. It was for their own good; most had at most only glanced at the reading when they did their assignment and probably didn't remember much of what they had read. They would need to know the information covered in the quiz to properly brew the potion tomorrow; without the proper information, at best their brew would be completely useless, and at worst their cauldron would melt down and its fumes kill the whole class.

Finishing off the last question, she had time to look over her answers; she had decided over the summer when she was doing her summer work that if she ever wanted to work her way back up into the Potion Master's good graces, she was going to have to stop acting like the know-it-all child she had been at this age. Her first step was simple enough in theory but harder to put in practice; she would have to stop putting all the extra work into her assignments. This meant essays the exact length and no longer, no extra flourishes of information and no incessant hand-waving. She had applied this method to her other classes as well. She simply wouldn't have time to do all the extra work along with her new classes and extracurricular activities; even with a Time-Turner she would run herself ragged by Christmas. Looking over her test, she noted that there were other uses for rat spleen that she could have listed, but she decided to keep it to why it was used in the shrinking potion and set down her quill.

Defense Against the Dark Arts passed much the same, only with less grumbling from the student body as Professor Lupin quizzed them on what they knew so far, which was scattered and lacking from their previous two incompetent professors, one having been possessed by a Voldemort parasite and the other a plagiaristic chronic liar.

By the end of the day they were ready to head outside for some fresh air when it came time to head to their first Care of Magical Creatures class.

"Hermione, what happened to your book?" Ron asked as she pulled the snarling book out of her magically extended bag. There were a number of holes decorating the edges of its back cover.

"Oh, that — the book and I had a misunderstanding the first time I tried to read it, but it's alright now," she said, giving the book a look that made it stop snarling and start whining.

"You know, 'Mione, you can be scary sometimes, right?" Ron said, pulling out his own snarling book with a look of apprehension as he double-checked that the book was securely closed.

"So I've been told," Hermione said with an amused smile that made the book in her hand whine even louder.

"C'mon, gather 'round, got a real treat for yeh today, follow me," the large man called as he came out of his hut, before leading the class to a corral at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. After showing them how to properly open their book in a manner that didn't involve threatening with sharp pointy objects, Hagrid left to fetch the topic creature of their lesson.

"Merlin, this place has gone to the dogs. When my father hears about—"

"Do shut up, Malfoy. You're lowering the intelligence of the whole class," Hermione interjected, causing a number of Gryffindors to snicker, as she sat down on the low wall of the corral and began flipping through her book, looking for the creature they would be learning about today.

"What did you say to me, Granger?" Malfoy fumed, storming over to the Muggle-born, who couldn't be bothered to look up at his approach.

"I said," Hermione clarified, marking the correct page in her book before setting it aside and standing to look the pure-blood in the eye; he was a few inches taller than her glamoured self. "Stop your incessant whining about your father. Most kids grow out of that when they are six," she said, placing her hands on her hips.

"You shut your filthy mouth, Mudblood," Draco snarled, pulling his wand impulsively and pointing it at her.

"Hermione—" Ron warned, pulling his own wand.

"Leave her alone, Malfoy," Harry snarled, moving forward protectively.

"Stay out of this," Hermione said, gesturing at Harry and Ron to stay where they were. Not breaking eye contact with the blond boy who was beginning to look unsettled by the intensity of her stare, she said, "I can handle Malfoy."

"Look, the little Gryffindor doesn't need the Pot-head and Weasel," Pansy piped up. "You'll show her the difference between a Mudblood and a real wizard, won't you, Draco?"

"The Mudblood thinks she so tough," Millicent sneered, causing a round of laughter from the Slytherins that had gathered behind Draco, who seemed to get a new boost of confidence as he glared at the lone Gryffindor.

She scoffed over Draco's shoulder at the boy's little posse with an amused raise of the eyebrow. Malfoy's eyes kept glaring at her, only to keep glancing at her empty hands like he was waiting for her to draw her wand before attacking. Hermione could only shake her head in amusement at both herself and him; had she really been so intimidated by this boy and his little gang? With a final dismissal of the situation as Malfoy continued to be reluctant to make a move, she turned to go back to her book. "I don't need help with a little boy still hiding behind his father's coat tails."

"Why, you—" he spat the moment she broke contact with him, a spell leaving his wand a moment later, headed right at her. The next thing he knew, the Slytherin Prince had one arm pinned painfully behind his back and the other pointing his own wand at his throat.

"Still hiding? You can't even confront me without a gang of your admirers boosting your fragile ego," she said loud enough for the rest of the class to make out clearly, before dropping her voice to a whisper so quiet only he could hear. "Your actions are shameful and petty, stooping so low as to attack a Mudblood like myself in the back. I would have expected more from someone of the House of Malfoy," she said before taking a far colder tone, tightening her grip on his wrist behind his back, wrenching it up higher, causing the boy to whimper in pain. "I do not take kindly to attacks on my person. If you try something like that again, Malfoy," she twisted his wand wrist, forcing him to drop the wand, "I will break your arm, and I won't even have to draw my wand to do it." When she released him, the blond boy jerked away. She stooped to pick up his wand from the forest floor, inspecting it curiously.

"Don't you dare!" Malfoy shouted, cradling the arm she had held behind his back gingerly even as he kicked Crabbe in the back of the leg to get him moving. The larger boy stalked forward but then seemed confused as to what to do. Hermione turn the wand between both her hands; it would be easy for her to snap the delicate instrument. She took her time, drawing out the tension as the group of Slytherins seemed ready to start cursing her if she made a move to destroy the wand, even as Harry and Ron moved closer to her on either side, despite her telling them to stay out of it. The rest of her House were either watching with interest but not making any move to help out or making themselves scarce, in Neville's case as he tried to steer clear of the impending fight.

Putting her attention on the wand in her hands, Hermione got a good look at the wand that until now she had only gotten to see the end normally pointed at her. Her own wand spoke a great deal about herself, more than she would have liked to admit. Vine wood was an uncommon wand material that would seek out those with a drive to accomplish things far beyond and greater than the ordinary pursuits, even surprising those who know them the best. She had picked up the book on wand lore on a whim over the summer and had found the information on her wand quite enlightening; had it known her so well at eleven that it knew she would someday be driven to accomplish what most had thought impossible?

Slightly shorter than her own, Draco's wand was surprisingly smooth and without decorative carvings on it like hers. Contrary to its simple design, the plain-looking hawthorn wand appeared rather elegant in its simplicity. She briefly wondered if Draco was aware of the lore that came with a wand of hawthorn. A wood full of contradiction – light and dark, healing and death.

Surprisingly well fit, in her opinion. She only wished she knew what the core was; it might have given her more insight into Malfoy's own core. At the core of her own was a dragon heartstring; while not exclusive, as a rule dragon heartstrings tended to be powerful magical conduits and were quick to learn. They tended to bond very strongly to their original master, but that loyalty could be transferred just as strongly to a new wielder.

With a slow gesture so as not to be mistaken for an attack, she held it out, handle first in a gesture of peace, toward Draco. Not that she believed the hawthorn wand would listen to her, even if she tried to cast something. It felt almost lifeless beneath her fingers compared to the familiar warmth of her own wand; its loyalty wasn't so easily won.

"I'll remember this, Mudblood!" he spat, stalking forward past Crabbe and snatching back his wand before retreating back to his group where Pansy began fawning over his wrenched arm. Hermione went back to sitting on the wall with her book, not sparing the boy another glance.

"Bloody hell, Hermione, where did you learn to do that?" Ron said, pocketing his wand before sitting by her.

"Muggle defense lessons, Ronald. Dad insisted that I learn how to protect myself after he heard about the basilisk incident last year. Not sure why he thought it would help with a giant snake that could kill with a glance, but it does seem to have its uses," she mused, flipping through her book as it whined.

Just then Hagrid returned, thankfully drawing the attention away from Hermione, leading a small herd of what he announced to be Hippogriffs. After using Harry as an example on how to properly approach the beasts, Hagrid let the class try approaching their own.

Hermione stroked a hand through the golden plumage of her Hippogriff, watching keenly for signs that her hands were moving to an unwanted area. He seemed content to stare disinterestedly off into the distance until her fingers moved to rub under his belly. Golden feathers began to rise on the back of his neck in agitation as his yellow-hawk gaze turned on her.

"Right, belly rubs are a 'no'," she amended, moving her hands away from the unwanted area. The hippogriff let out a keening cry before regally holding his head high and making a display of adjusting his wings as if to say 'One as beautiful as I does not stoop to belly rubs.'

"Of course not, how stupid of me to think such a thing," Hermione amended, inclining her head at the golden beast in apology. He seemed to contemplate her for a moment before going back to staring off into the distance. Buckbeak, Harry's designated dapple grey hippogriff, was milling about unattended, nipping at tails and robe sleeves while Hagrid and Harry talked off to one side. Trotting by, Buckbeak gave a painful peck to Pheobus's heels, Hermione's haughty palomino, resulting in a kick from the injured party.

Pheobus flared his wings in a threat display as Buckbeak retreated back across the corral. Hermione flattened herself against his horse-ish half, behind the wing joint, relatively safe from being hit by the massive appendages that could easily knock her off her feet if not break a few bones.

"Easy," she soothed, running a hand from feathers to fur, "easy there, pretty boy." Pheobus gave a disgruntled grumble before rubbing at his beak with a taloned foreleg. Class passed without much further incident until Malfoy approached Hermione, still fuming from being embarrassed in front of the whole class and having spent most of the time sulking to one side of the corral. Rather than directing his anger at the Gryffindor, he had what must have been a moment of insanity, because he willingly walked up to Pheobus and began openly insulting the proud creature to his face.

"You're not dangerous at all, are you, ugly turkey." Even though she would have liked to see the pure-blood prat get what was coming to him, it wouldn't have ended well for Hagrid to have someone injured in his first class, especially Malfoy, who could make Hagrid's life very miserable. Running forward, she grabbed the blond by the collar of his robes; he had frozen in panic at the sight of the large beast rearing up on his hind legs, massive golden wings spread to their full extent. She managed to pull him out of the way just in time to keep the long talons from ripping him open shoulder to hip, but she was not fast enough to dodge herself, as a talon cut into her shoulder. Hagrid stepped in then and collared the Hippogriff before it could pursue Malfoy further, as it had every intent to, throwing its full weight against the collar in protest of the restraint.

"'Mione, are yeh alright?" Lumbering over after tethering the golden hippogriff a safe distance away, the large bearded man seemed near to tears as Hermione bunched up the sleeve of her robe to cover the wound.

"Yeah, I'm fine Hagrid. It's just a scratch," she said, waving the gamekeeper off. "If it's alright, I'll just go have Madam Pomfrey look at it."

"Ah, righ', if yeh sure," Hagrid nodded, tossing a ferret at Pheobus to distract him from pulling at the collar. "Why don't you take someone with yeh?"

"Alright," she agreed, slipping her un-muzzled Monster Book into her bag before tossing it at Draco. "Come on, Malfoy." She turned to Harry and Ron who had come over to check on her, Buckbeak nipping at Harry in a plea for attention. "You two better take good notes for me while I'm gone," she said, pointing sternly at the pair before heading off toward the castle, giving no time for them to protest. Malfoy seemed conflicted about whether to follow before a snarl from the bag in his arms spurred him into motion, gathering up his own things and following after the witch.

"Something on your mind, Malfoy?" Hermione inquired once they were out of sight from the rest of the class, as they walked up the hill toward the school. The Slytherin seemed oddly quiet for having a filthy Gryffindor-Mudblood insult him in front of his House, only to end up saving him at her own expense before ordering him around like a house-elf.

"Why did you do that, what's your game, Granger?" he demanded, watching her with open suspicion as if she was about to do something vile to him. He winced, rubbing at the shoulder she had wrenched behind his back, where his bag strap dug into the tender spot. Granger's bag was held tight in his arms, the lid held tightly closed, preventing the Monster Book from escaping and taking a bite out of him.

"There's no game, Malfoy," Hermione said, pulling her sleeve away to look at her injury. It wasn't too deep, from the look of it, a few stitches and she would be good to go, but knowing Madam Pomfrey, it could be healed in a matter of hours. That is to say nothing about the medi-witch's bedside manner; Pomfrey would probably be spending more time fussing over her than actually healing her.

"Then why did you do that? You hate me and I hate you," Malfoy said, though his voice seemed to waver and his pale complexion turned a shade of green as a fresh wave of blood began to seep from her wound. A crimson trail dripped down the front of her robe; the magical garment repelled the fluid to an extent, before she could replace the bunched fabric compression over it.

"Hate is such a strong word, don't you think," Hermione reasoned. "I find you childish, imbecilic, conceited and just an all-around prat." She paused for a moment to give him a sidelong glance; he was glaring at her indignantly but said nothing, looking like he might protest at her description. In contrast the green tint to his complexion said he might lose his lunch if he opened his mouth, as his eyes kept glancing at the red trail seeping from her fingers and down her robe. "That doesn't mean I hate you. Would I like to punch you in the nose on a regular basis — yes. Would I like to watch you be brutally mauled to death by an animal, even if you asked for it — no."

No, this boy did not deserve such a fate; not that she had any plans to try and befriend the boy when she saved him. She had other ulterior motives for saving the blond prat; while saving him from being slashed to ribbons by a magical horse-hybrid might have constituted a repayment of her debt, she had something far more involved in mind. Malfoy remained silent the rest of the trip up to the castle; when they had made it to the entrance hall, Hermione stopped abruptly and held her hand out expectantly toward the Slytherin.

"I can make it from here," she stated smugly.

"What?" Malfoy piped up, confused, still looking green enough to lose his lunch all over his expensive-looking shoes as he avoided looking anywhere near her arm.

"I said, I don't need a pack mule anymore. Now give me my bag." This seemed to bring him out of his daze as he ground his teeth in irritation, tossing her growling bag at her feet before storming off, muttering loudly about washing his hands, not knowing what kind of diseases the Mudblood might have rubbed off on him while he was handling her things.

Hermione could only give a long-suffering sigh as she slung the pack over her good shoulder before heading off toward the hospital wing. Though she would have rather liked to avoid going anywhere near the wing, there was no avoiding it when the boys and likely Hagrid would be by to check to see if she had shown up.

"Madam Pomfrey, are you here?" she called, peeking in the door, silently hoping the medi-witch was out and she could go off with a proper excuse to take care of it herself.

"Oh dear, what's happened now?" the medi-witch in question fussed, coming out of her office.

"Had a bit of a mishap with a Hippogriff, it's just a scratch, though," Hermione muttered, setting her bag down on the floor by one of the many empty beds, the flap flopping open and her book taking the conventional opening to escape out and under a cabinet filled with medical potions. Hermione could only groan in exasperation, "Not again."

"Well, let's have a look here," the medi-witch said, gesturing Hermione to sit on the bed, where she ran a basic diagnostic spell on the gash before having Hermione change into one of the pairs of hospital pajamas. The cut was long but not deep, but it seemed the scans kept coming back with a mixed result, and Hermione did her best to distract the woman from prying further. She was only partly successful, meaning that while the medi-witch did not cast any more complex diagnosis spells, Hermione would be staying the night, and if all looked well in the morning, she would be let out in time for breakfast.

Hermione was relieved that Pomfrey did not pursue the abnormality; she did not have a good explanation for why she had a large mass of scar tissue glamoured out of sight or why it had not been there at the end of last year. She only hoped the medi-witch wouldn't run any further detailed spells without her knowledge; there was no telling what damage they would pick up that she couldn't explain away.

"It shouldn't leave too bad of a scar, dearie, be healed in a day or two," Madam Pomfrey reasoned, dripping two drops of a fluorescent green potion into the wound that made Hermione's shoulder tingle pleasantly before wrapping it in bandages and leaving her to put her hideous pajama shirt on.

Plopping herself down on the bed, knowing she wouldn't be able to sneak out yet, Hermione busied herself with what homework she had for the day. She ran out of work all too quickly and was left wishing she had grabbed one of her extra books from her trunk before coming there. In a final effort to find something productive to do she attempted to lure out her Monster Book from under the cabinet.

She was interrupted from her hunt for the elusive book by her dinner arriving. Using a scrap from her pork chop dinner, she managed to coax the book out far enough to catch and restrain it back in her bag. She was just finishing off her dessert when the door opened, revealing Harry, Ron and a distressed-looking Hagrid.

"Hermione, are you alright? I thought you would be at dinner," Harry asked, concerned, coming to sit at her bedside.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Madam Pomfrey just wants to keep me here because some of her scans were coming back odd; it has nothing to do with my arm," she said, picking up her cup with her injured arm, showing she really was fine. "She just wanted to make sure it was healing, before letting me go. I should be able to leave for breakfast tomorrow."

"Yer sure yer awright, Mione?" Hagrid said, coming closer, wringing a massive handkerchief between his hands. Hermione smiled at him before standing from her bed and going to give the groundskeeper a hug.

"I'm fine, Professor, and I'm looking forward to your next class." Her words seemed to make the large man feel better because he smiled back and stayed for a time to keep her company along with the boys until they were ushered out by Madam Pomfrey. Hermione was about to settle in for the night when there was a tapping at the window by her bed. She opened the window, and a tawny owl swooped in and landed on her headboard. Taking the offered letter, she read it by the light of her wand since Madam Pomfrey had turned out the lights.

Dear Emma,

Hope my old friends won't be bothering you too much; I don't know what they were thinking, letting them around a bunch of kids! Sorry to hear Wormtail wouldn't stay home, I was looking forward to paying him a visit. I suppose it will just have to wait till the Hogsmeade trip.

Mooney is there teaching, good for him. Does he look well? His condition can take quite a toll on him at times. I don't know how he has been handling the last twelve years by himself or if he believes what they said I did, but if you could convince him, I'm sure he would be more than happy to help, and he could help you in ways I cannot.

How is Harry? Is he enjoying being back at school?



Folding up the letter, Hermione placed it in her charmed journal for safe-keeping. Taking the owl to the window, she sent it off to rest in the Owlery, seeing as she wasn't planning on writing back until she had some news on where Lupin stood in her plans.

The next morning found Hermione awake early as usual and nearly pacing at the door, waiting for the medi-witch to finally release her. She was finally released just before breakfast and was nearly bolting out the door, vowing that if she was injured again, she was not going back to the hospital wing; she couldn't stand being cooped up. Instead of heading to breakfast, she ducked into a secluded alcove, stuffing the sling Madam Pomfrey had insisted she wear for the day into her bag. Pulling out her Time-Turner, she gave it two turns and was back at six o'clock with time to test out her new jogging route. Hopefully it would be enough to burn off some of her excess energy, or she might not be able to sit through the double Potions class right after breakfast. Slipping up into her dorm, she left her school things there before changing into her running pants and tank top, slipping on a set of worn sneakers before heading down to the grounds, pulling her hair back into a pony-tail as she crept out of the common room. She was half way around the lake when she saw someone coming her way from the opposite direction.

"Oh, shit," she muttered, having forgotten about the other runner she had spotted the previous morning. Keeping her eyes forward as they drew nearer in an attempt to not draw his attention as they passed, she almost succeeded.

"Ms. Granger, what are you doing out here?" Snape's still sleep-groggy voice growled out. With a reluctant sigh Hermione slowed to a stop before turning to face the Potions Master. He looked different wearing the old sweats and sneakers and was not near as intimidating without his signature flowing black robes. It looked as if he had simply rolled out of bed before heading out; he didn't seem fully awake and his hair was in disarray. Even in the few months she had known him in the past, she had never seen Snape look quite so normal. There were a few times she had caught him sleeping hunched over a book at the table they had been researching at, but she had never seen him look so un-Professor-Snape-like while he was awake – well, mostly awake.

"Running, Sir," she replied as he stared with a narrowed gaze; on normal circumstances it would have looked intimidating, but with his current disheveled appearance it made him look like an unhappily awoken cat.

"From what I have heard, you are supposed to be in the care of Madam Pomfrey." He seemed to reluctantly force himself to be more alert, which was not helped by the erratic angles his usually limp hair was sticking up at. Hermione was sorely tempted to poke fun at the fact, something she would have done just a few months ago, but this was not the Snape of her time nor was she the Granger of his. "Sneaking out without permission to go traipsing around the grounds alone when there is a murderer about. Should I expect to find Potter and Weasley following along shortly?"

"No, Sir, I doubt anything would get those two up early, let alone something that involves physical exercise that did not involve a broom," she said, scoffing, in an attempt to cover her amusement, as she folded her arms over her chest. "Madam Pomfrey discharged me already."

"So you thought you would simply wander the grounds with no heed to the dangers of a student being out here alone," he sneered, eyeing the layers of bandages peeking from under her tank top strap.

"I did take precautions sir," she said, pulling her wand out of its holster on her arm before returning it.

"You think a third year would have a chance against a murderer like Black?" He scoffed at the idea.

"No, I don't think a third year would have a chance against Sirius Black," Hermione said tactfully, knowing she was going to have to pick her words carefully when speaking with the Potions Master; if anyone was going to catch on to her lies, it would be him. So she was careful to only speak in truths, even if they were half truths; she almost laughed at how Slytherin she was being. Snape gave a long-suffering sigh before raking his hand over his face and the stubble dusting his cheek.

"If you must insist on continuing with your physical exercises, the need of which seems to escape the rest of your school mates, then you will meet me outside the entrance hall at six-thirty sharp on weekdays. Now come along, Ms. Granger." Hermione hesitated in following the professor as he continued along the path. She hadn't expected the offer for her to accompany him, but he was right, had she been the average third year, she would be in a great deal of danger running around the grounds alone with dementors and murderers about. She knew he was simply doing his job as a Hogwarts professor, even if it meant that she would be intruding on his personal time. She was glad he hadn't simply banned her from coming out to run in the mornings; not that it would have stopped her, she would just have been more discreet about it.

"Sometime today, Ms. Granger." Hermione was pulled from her thoughts by the voice before jogging after the professor.

"Coming Sir," she called. This was turning out to be a strange morning.

Coming downstairs for breakfast after her post-run shower, Hermione was called over by her two friends, who had saved a seat between them at the long table. She had been able to remove the bandages to reveal a pink line of freshly healed skin running from the top of her right shoulder to just over her breast.

"Morning," she said, taking her seat and pouring herself some pumpkin juice.

"We were afraid Pomfrey wouldn't let you go. How are you feeling?" Harry asked, offering to dish her out some porridge. Hermione snatched the ladle from him.

"I'm not an invalid, Harry, I can get my own breakfast, and for the last time, I am fine," she snapped, filling her bowl before drizzling honey and fruit over it.

She made it halfway through breakfast before Madam Pomfrey was on her, insisting that Hermione either use the sling that had been given to her or the witch would confine her to the hospital wing. She was insistent on the dangers of overworking the muscles before they had time to mend. Reluctantly Hermione pulled the sling out of her bag, putting it back on as she left the Great Hall to their double Potions.

Taking her seat, Hermione found herself between Neville and Malfoy, a dangerous combination to be in between, when one was likely to sabotage her potion while the other was likely to sabotage his own potion. Slipping her arm out of her sling so she could write down the brewing instructions, she knew the moment before Neville knocked over his ink pot ruining half of his notes, that Snape was standing right behind them.

"Five points from Gryfindor for Mr. Longbottom's clumsiness and another five points for Ms. Granger's failure to follow instructions." He sneered, "I believe you were told by Madam Pomfrey to keep the sling on." Hermione bit her tongue to keep a snarky retort that would have earned an eye roll or even an amused smile from her Snape; this one she doubted would respond so mildly to her teasing.

Replacing her arm in the sling with a shrug, she shifted her quill to her left hand. He was most likely looking to dock points from her as a way to get back for ruining his morning. Without so much as a grumble she carried on with her notes, using her left hand with surprising ease. If having her wand arm broken, as well as being shot in the same shoulder had taught her anything, it was to not be too dependent on her dominant hand. Also, dodging is a good idea when projectiles of any kind are involved.

The lesson went on as they began brewing their Shrinking Solution. Then came the difficult part of preparing her ingredients without using her right hand. She wasn't about to let Snape get the better of her by docking more points because he was asking her to do things the hard way. She honestly didn't care about the points, but her pride wouldn't let her back down from a challenge to her ability to get a task done, handicap or no handicap.

Laying out her ingredients in neat piles, discretely snagging a few that Neville had grabbed too many of and would have most likely added on accident, she looked up at the Potions professor, who was circling the room and seemed to be waiting for her to ask for help. She locked eyes with him, black eyes narrowing as she raised her chin in smug challenge. Picking up her knife and slicing up her ingredients one by one, she wasn't the fastest nor the neatest, but but she got it done with the relative ease of one who had spent years learning the finer uses of knife and its use both as a culinary tool and as a weapon.

When it came to skinning her Shrivelfig, she had to be a little more creative in her task as it took a little more finesse and a lot more patience. In the end she could only sit back with a triumphant smirk when her potion turned the correct orange color. Even Neville had finished his potion, though it had a slightly more reddish hue to it; his own success seemed to surprise the soft spoken boy and was most likely due to her removal of the extra ingredients from his work space.

"The potions will need to stew, so clear up your things before turning in your samples," Snape instructed as he peered into Hermione's cauldron before stalking away looking like he had one too many lemon drops.

By the time they left the dungeons Hermione was grinning, which caused Ron and Harry to question if she had hit her head the day before, as they headed up to lunch. Following lunch Hermione had another of her contradictory classes, so after attending Charms with Harry and Ron she left as they headed to Defense to go to her Ancient Runes class before meeting back up with them in Defense.

Defense turned out to be a rather unique lesson compared to others they had been to. Professor Lupin took them to the teachers' lounge after a brief run-in with Peeves. There they would be learning about boggarts and have a practical lesson to learn the spell to counter them.

"I would like you all to think of what frightens you the most and a way to make it appear comical," Lupin instructed as the students lined up and the boggart was released from its cabinet. They started with Neville's Professor Snape, followed by Parvati's mummy and Seamus's banshee. Soon laughter was ringing through the room as each boggart was turned into something far more humorous. Through the class it went until it turned on Hermione. She stepped forward, sure of what she would see and intending on dispatching it before the dead body of one of her friends turned up in the class room. The boggart settled on a form and Hermione froze.

The expected body of Harry or Ron had not appeared as she had thought. Someone behind her screamed, but the large grey form only had eyes for her. Fur a steel grey and eyes once a grey-blue were now a more familiar cold gold.

"Your fault," it snarled, lips pulled back over menacing fangs as the werewolf hybrid took a slow step closer and then another. "Your fault."

"Halt..." The whisper slipped out before she could stop, another step closer. She had not been prepared to see that face again nor his accusations.

"It's. All. Your. FAULT!" he screamed in his old voice, the one she had grown used to on those first few months on the island, no trace of the growling wolf but full of his anger and judgment.

"Riddikulus!" The were-bryd changed and in its place was a puppy with oversized paws that was sent toppling head over tail, causing a round of laughter from the crowd around her before it moved on to its next victim. The lesson went on, but Hermione could only pay half a mind to it, wrapped up in her own thoughts. The class continued until Harry's turn came, only to have the professor jump in the way before the boggart could take shape, and he finished it off.

"Excellent," Lupin said, clapping his hands. "Well done. Now, for homework kindly read the lesson on boggarts and summarize it, due Monday. Class dismissed." The class was still happily chatting as they left, except for Hermione, who took her time gathering her bag, still lost in her thoughts after seeing her old friend, even if it was just the boggart taking his shape.

"Ms. Granger, might I have a word," Lupin said, coming over with the record player he had been using during class to help keep the mood of the class light. "In my office."

"Is there a problem, Sir?" she asked, following him out of the staff room.

"No, not at all, kindly get the door," he said as his hands were full. Hermione opened the classroom door for him and then his office door at the top of the back stairs. Setting his things down, he pulled out a chipped tea set.

"Would you like some tea?" he asked, tapping the tea pot with his wand and bringing it to a boil.

"Yes, please," Hermione said, looking around the room before back at the professor. "Sir, did you want to talk about something?"

"Yes," he replied, passing her a chipped cup before taking a sip of his own as he gathered his thoughts. "Your fear, do you know what it was?"

"Yes," Hermione acknowledged, "it was a werewolf of sorts. Why do you ask?"

"You said something, was it a name?" Hermione nodded after a contemplative pause. "Did you know who that was?" Hermione was quiet for a time, sipping her tea, debating on how much to tell him. If she wanted to gain his trust, she was going to have to be at least a bit honest; he was a werewolf himself and probably unsure of how to treat her fear.

"He was my friend, before he changed," she said, staring into the contents of her cup.

"But not after," Lupin questioned, shifting in his chair.

"No," she said softly rubbing at her injured shoulder absentmindedly. "No, he wasn't himself after." Halt's words had made her true fear plain enough to her.

'Your fault.'

Her fault for not being stronger when the were-bryds had attacked her and Halt.

Her fault for taking so long in carrying out his last wishes.

Her fault in taking so long to return home.

And above all else, it was going to be her fault when she failed to change things and she got a first hand look as the coming war destroyed everything she has left.

Lupin seemed saddened by her statement.

"Surely you saw him after he changed back—"

"He didn't change back!" Hermione spat out angrily, slamming her cup on the table, startling the professor. "He couldn't change back. He was different than other werewolves, and I couldn't–" She cut herself off; she couldn't, that was what it all boiled down to. She wasn't smart enough to help Ron. She wasn't there when Harry needed her most. She couldn't help Halt after he risked himself saving her, and when she had been faced with the same situation again, she had not been able to prevent Severus's end anymore than she could have Halt's.

"I'm sorry." They were silent as they finished their tea before Hermione excused herself to leave.

"Sir, I wasn't afraid of him, you know," she said, pausing in the door way, "I was afraid of failing others, like I failed him." Like I've failed so many times.

Chapter Text

So far from who I was, from who I love, from who I want to be.
So far from all our dreams, from all it means, from you here next to me.
So far from seeing home, I stand out here alone. Am I asking for too much?
So far from being free, if the past that's haunting me. The future I just can't touch.
And if you take my hand, please pull me from the dark, and show me hope again.
We'll run side-by-side, no secrets left to hide, sheltered from the pain.
–So Far, Olafur Arnalds

Chapter 8: So Far From Who I Was, From Who I Want To Be.

September 1993 – Hogwarts

The first weekend back at school found Hermione searching through the library for books that might give her a hint of what Voldemort had done to keep himself alive. Skimming ancient and dusty texts for information, for spells resulting in immortality, ways of cheating death and dark magic rituals, she had little to show for her efforts. She was going to have to pay a visit to the Restricted Section no doubt; if there were any such books in the library, that would be where they would be found.

The following Tuesday found the Care of Magical Creature class learning about the ever-so-dull organism known as a Flobberworm. The next few classes continued to focus on the uninteresting worm-like being that seemed to just lie there most of the class when not chewing its way slowly through a cabbage leaf. Hermione made the decision then and there to speak to the professor. Despite the fact that Hagrid had little sense of danger when it came to magical creatures, the class could unanimously agree that a little risk was worth it if they could avoid having to learn about such a boring creature for the rest of their classes that year.

Cornering Hagrid as the students began to wander off back toward the castle, Harry and Ron beside her, the witch made it clear that her injury had fully healed and they did not need to continue to drag out the lessons on Flobberworms on her account. Hagrid seemed reluctant, but after the trio listed off some of the creatures that they had been looking forward to learning about, he seemed to gain back some of his lost confidence.

They made the long walk back up to the castle, Hagrid's calls following them, that their next lesson would be something truly spectacular. The trio was already beginning to second guess the decision of getting Hagrid back into teaching a more diverse set of creatures.

The next week went by quickly, and when the following Monday came, Hermione found herself being ushered down to Hagrid's hut after dinner.

"What is up with you two?" she asked as the two boys walking behind her began whispering, only for them to stop anytime she looked back.

"Nothing," they said in unison, only cementing that they were indeed up to something. Coming to the half-giant's hut, she knocked on the door. There was some shuffling inside and barking from Fang before the door was opened and Hagrid blocked the door frame with his bulky form.

"Ah, 'Mione, Ron and 'Arry, come in, come in," he said, stepping aside so they could enter.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HERMIONE!" came the shouts of Harry, Ron and Hagrid.

"What?" she gasped, startled, as she looked around at the random assortment of decorations that had been scattered around the room, and the slightly lopsided cake. A merrily flickering candle perched atop it. "My birthday? I had forgotten," she admitted, truly shocked.

"Come on, 'Mione. Hurry up and blow out the candle; so we can have some cake already," Ron cheered, seating himself at the table next to said cake.

The next hour was a strange experience; she hadn't celebrated her birthday in such a fashion since she was eleven, the year before she got her Hogwarts letter. After that, her parents had started the tradition of taking her out on a special dinner before school started and sending her presents with her to open on the date, not having regular owl access in the Muggle world.

After her parents' death she had completely fallen out of the birthday tradition, barely noticing the passing date at all as the years went by. After her return to the wizarding world Molly had tried to resurrect the tradition, but it had simply pointed out how much she had lost, being surrounded by a family that wasn't hers. She had not expected to be spending her nineteenth birthday seated in Hagrid's hut, eating cake with her two best friends, the closest thing she had to family now.

Taking a seat at the table, she was almost overwhelmed to be presented with a collection of brightly wrapped packages.

"You didn't have to do all of this," she said softly, looking from the gifts to the cake and then to her friends seated around the large table.

"We wanted to," Harry said a little sheepishly. "We wanted to do something after what happened last year. We almost lost a friend, so Ron and I were talking about doing something special to show how much you mean to us."

"We knew your birthday was soon, so we decided to throw you a party with Hagrid's help," Ron added in.

Hermione covered her mouth and barely held back a choked sob, even as her eyes began to water with unshed tears. They had no idea how close they had come to truly losing her and she them, and it made her heart ache at the thought.

That void in her, born of losing those closest to her heart so long ago — for the first time in five years she felt that gaping wound begin to heal. She had lost this, this sense of family, but against all odds she had gained it back, and she wasn't going to let it slip away from her again.

"Aw, don' be upset, 'Mione," Hagrid said, placing a large hand on her shoulder, even as Harry and Ron shared uncertain looks at being presented with a teary girl.

"I'm just so happy," she sniffed, wiping at her moist eyes but not letting the tears fall as she smiled at everyone in the hut. "Thank you."

"Don't thank us yet — you haven't even opened your presents," Ron said awkwardly.

Finally giving into Ron's demands, Hermione blew out the candle on the cake before opening her gifts. There was a wand care kit from Harry, complete with a finely crafted wooden box to store everything in. Both a practical and a beautiful gift.

Ron had gotten her a children's storybook, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. In the first week of school they had gotten into a discussion of childhood stories after the boy had failed to understand a reference she had made. She had taken it upon herself to introduce the pureblood to some of the classics of Muggle fairy tales, including the works of the Brothers Grimm.

Hagrid, always one for clever little wood crafts, had made her a wooden otter charm.

"Why an otter?" she asked curiously, pulling out enough of the long chain from her collar to clasp the charm on without revealing the Time-Turner dangling from it.

"I dun know, honestly. Seemed ta just suit ya," Hagrid said sheepishly.

"Thank you, I love it," she said with a smile just for the large man before speaking to the whole group, "Thank you all so much," hugging each of them in turn. "Now, why don't we try out some of that cake," she declared, wiping the last bit of moisture from her eye.

It was the end of September when Hermione found herself up long before dawn, reading through one of the books she had sneaked out of the Restricted Section. While an interesting read, The Icons and Antiques of the Dark Arts didn't seem to hold the information she wanted, though one of the earlier chapters on rune-engraved objects had given her some ideas to try later.

Setting the book aside, she pulled out another, this one thin, unmarked and bound in red leather. Retrieving a bottle of water that was wedged in next to the bed frame, she propped the book open against her knees before taking a drink. A glance at the pages before her and she was rewarded with the liquid burning up her nose as she choked.

"Ow," she wheezed, rubbing at her running nose with a stray corner of a blanket and trying to stifle her coughing despite the Silencing Charm on her bed. Digging a Kleenex out of her night stand, she blew her nose on it before picking the book up for a closer, more cautious inspection. She flipped through a few pages, finding each was a more elaborate variation of the first.

"How is that even–" she trailed off as her eyes lingered on a particularly exotic rendition that did not look entirely physically possible, nose crinkling in distaste. "I mean really who would even try tha–Oh!" Her voice caught as another page was turned to reveal yet another set of moving illustrations. She clicked her tongue against her teeth, and her brown eyes followed the drawn figures with the same consuming interest of a cat readying itself to pounce on a point of shiny light just out of reach. The images faded from the page before resetting to repeat. "Okay, that is enough reading tonight," she said as an uncomfortable heat began to creep up her neck, and the book was shut with a snap.

The moon was close to the horizon now as she stowed the books away in an expanded bag kept in her trunk and extinguished her lights. The flames dying in their jars stuck to the bed posts. Pulling on a pair of dark pants and a worn hoodie over the shorts and tank top that served as her pajamas, she slipped out of her bed curtains before grabbing her shoes and sneaking out of the dormitory into the dark hall. Crookshanks followed to sit at her feet as she paused in the common room to pull on her shoes.

She ran a hand through her hair, straightening the bed-rumpled locks and pulling them into a loose messy bun, a few stray curls spilling loose about her face as she moved through the halls. Hands buried deep in the pockets of her sweater, fighting off the predawn chill, she slipped across the grounds to the Whomping Willow, cat following at her heels.

"Go for it, Crooks," she ordered, pausing just out of reach of the tree's thrashing limbs as her feline darted in and hit the knot. Over the summer Sirius had passed on many secrets of the school not privy to most students, including the secret passage that would lead to Mooney's childhood hideaway and the particular knot that would Stun the tree.

Slipping down into the roots, she looked around at the earthen tunnel, taking stock of the layout for future reference. With the bit of moonlight filtering in the entrance through the tangled roots, it seemed to angle off in the general direction of the village. She swiped cobwebs from her hair, remnants dangling from the passage roof, not nearly as thick as they might have been had Lupin not been through earlier and cleared the path.

Turning back, she patted the cat on the head as he sat, tail flicking just beyond the tangled roots.

"Thanks, Crookshanks. You can go back now. You're too recognizable to come." The cat meowed in reply before turning and heading back toward the castle, his bottle brush tail erect behind him.

Creeping further into the tunnel, Hermione was forced to light her wand to see where she was going. Removing all her glamours, she rolled her shoulders, trying to work out a kink forming as she stooped to accommodate the low ceiling. Digging in her pocket, she located a choker necklace and put it on. The accessory was charmed to distort her voice, not much, but enough to not be easily recognized by someone who was familiar with her. She pulled up the hood on her sweater to obscure her features, a simple charm attached to keep her face in shadow.

"Nox," she whispered as she approached a difference in the blackness of the wall that marked the end of the tunnel. Peering through the hole in the upper wall of the tunnel, Hermione could see into what appeared to be a cellar, given the abundance of grimy jars filled with unnamable substances and several dusty shelves lining the stone walls.

Stowing her wand away, Hermione hoisted herself through the two-foot gap between the roof of the tunnel and the floor of the cellar.

"All those years, you would think at some point they would think of making the transition easier," she muttered, brushing herself off as she stood from the grimy floor. Climbing the staircase to the main floor, she entered a living room that was just as grimy and disused as the cellar.

Passing several rooms, Hermione paused at the base of the staircase to hear claws scraping on the floor boards upstairs. She took the stairs cautiously, careful of any squeaky or weak floor boards; back and forth, back and forth the scratching sound continued undisturbed.

Pausing at the top of the stairs, she was met with a single door at the end of a short hall. Approaching quietly to peer through the crack in the partly open door, she was met with the sight of a large wolf pacing the room. He seemed to be overly interested in staring at the worn floorboards as he paced.

He let out a tired sigh. Walking over to the window, Mooney jumped up to place his front paws on the window frame, looking for something. An object clattered on the floor and the wolf hopped down to inspect it with an irritated huff, nosing it right side up so he could get a proper look before gingerly picking up the battered watch from the floor. He went back to the window with the care a mother might show with a newborn cub, sharp teeth careful not to damage the delicate device as it was placed back on the windowsill.

Sirius's Padfoot form was very obviously a shaggy black-furred dog. Despite being rather large in size, his gangly long legs and floppy ears made him look like the kind of animal you would see in a family home, playing fetch with small children.

Mooney was nothing like that: a creature designed with the sole purpose of running prey down from sheer endurance. His legs were shorter than Padfoot's, despite Lupin actually being taller than Sirius, but he was far more muscled than the Grim, with a long muzzle full of fangs perfectly designed for crushing and tearing, and covered in short sleek brown fur that stretched taut over rippling muscles.

The wolf suddenly hunched in on itself with a high pitched whine, muscles rippling like waves on choppy water as bones popped and cracked, shifting in an unnatural manner. It looked and sounded far more painful than the numerous transformations she had seen Sirius do. Whereas in the Animagus transformation, the user's magic was in harmony with the body during the change, a werewolf was different. Part of what made the werewolf virus such a curse was its inability to harmonize with the host's magic; without the wolfsbane potion in their system, a wizard or witch infected with the virus would have to deal with their body being forced through a magical change that worked against the host's own magic. As a result the host was racked with excruciating pain as the virus took full effect under the full moon; by the end of the change the host was overwhelmed, body and mind, by the wolf.

Muggles that were infected had the mixed blessing of a slightly more easy transition though without the access to certain potions, that is if they survived the initial transformation at all. While still painful, without much of a magical core to fight against the virus the change was less jarring. When the Wolfsbane potion had been introduced, it acted as a buffer to temper the virus before the full moon, allowing the host's mind to remain their own but still unable to suppress the virus completely.

All this information filtered through the back of her mind as she slipped into the room while Lupin was too distracted by the change to notice anything even if the house was on fire. She had read over Fowle's research notes, stumbled across them after the facility had been abandoned, probably understood them better on a biological level than even most proclaimed experts. Perching herself on the edge of the scarred dresser, Hermione took in the room; most of the furniture had been broken into pieces long ago. Other than her current seat, the bed seemed to be the only other piece not unusable.

Lupin spasmed on the floor, dry heaving as his ribcage flattened and widened, teeth blunting as his muzzle shrank and clawed fingers grasped at the wood of the floor. Glancing around for something to look at other than the writhing body, Hermione's eyes landed on a small pile of neatly folded fabric on the dresser next to her alongside a wand.

"Son of a–" Hermione cursed under her breath, closing her eyes and mentally swearing enough to make a sailor blush at her own stupidity. Unlike Animagi, when a werewolf changed back, they were in nothing but their skin. Too late to leave for him to get dressed before coming in — the change was already nearly at its finish, as was the distraction it provided. Professor Lupin lay on the floor, groaning miserably and completely naked. Hermione cast her eyes to the ceiling in an exasperated plea; first that book and now this, her day was just shaping up to be full of unresolved sexual situations.

Lupin lay there quietly, shifting slightly so that his head was resting on his bent arm instead of the hard floor. Hermione gave him a moment to get his equilibrium back and attempted to keep her mind from derailing into the gutter by staring at the back of Lupin's messy hair and counting to sixty.


Lupin's other hand moved and began carding through his hair in an almost self-soothing motion.


His fingers drifted down from his hair and began massaging his neck, Hermione's gaze following the movement of his fingers as they moved from the base of his skull down his spine as far as he could reach, trying to work out an obvious tender spot.


Leaving the ministrations of his fingers as they moved back up into his hair, Hermione found her counting interrupted as her eyes began following the contours of the man's broad back, momentarily distracted by the smattering of freckles dusting his shoulders, broken up by the scattering of scars, barely visible from age, that decorated his back and arms.

Her gaze began to drift lower; she shook herself and cleared her throat loudly. Lupin's head shot straight up, with an unintelligible sound that was a cross between a yelp and a growl before collapsing with a groan on the ground again. There were another few moments of silence before Lupin pushed himself off his stomach, head whipping around, looking for the threat in the room.

"Who are you?" he growled out, dilated amber eyes fixating on the dark-clothed figure occupying the area opposite him. His voice was still under the influence of the wolf as his words caught on the 'R's and drew them out into rumbling growls that trailed into the next syllable. Hermione felt an involuntary shiver run up her spine as an excited fear flooded her veins like adrenaline, and for a moment Hermione wasn't seeing the Defense Professor there before her, but a memory of a man turned beast.

When no answer was forthcoming, Lupin took the time to shift into a semi-seated position against the foot board of the bed, but even that small movement seemed taxing enough on the Professor to leave his arms shaking in exhaustion. Hermione blinked, mentally shaking herself from the daze she had slipped into, only to find Lupin eyeing her in a less hostile manner from his new position.

"Oh," she muttered, slipping into French to save herself when her mouth decided it needed to blurt out whatever was passing through her head, "Sweet Merlin, I'm never going to be able to go to Defense again," as the image was branded in her mind of her Professor, whom she saw several times a week, sporting a head of bed-rumpled hair that could even be classified as sexy, all the while being quite naked and leaning against the frame of the broken bed in what could easily be misinterpreted as a seductive manner.

Hermione did her best not to stare, not that he could tell where her gaze was lingering with the hood of her sweater up. She could definitely say with certainty that Moony's muscled form was not entirely the wolf's and briefly wondered why he insisted on hiding it under all those layers of threadbare robes. Her mind briefly went on a tangent of having Sirius introduce him to things such as jeans and T-shirts as she gave the man a cataloging once-over and then another, before she mentally slapped herself and forced her gaze to stay focused above his neck. She had come here because she had wanted to make sure the man wouldn't be in any condition to do anything but listen to her proposition, preferably without his wand in hand; not to sneak a peek at her professor starkers.

"Pardon." Lupin looked at her with equal measures of suspicion and confusion. He shifted himself to his feet enough to maneuver onto the end of the bed, wrapping the dusty comforter around his waist as dignified as he could with shaking hands and seemed to relax a little more now that he was on more even ground with his visitor.

"A friend of a friend, you might say," Hermione remarked evasively switching back to English, thankful the charmed choker was working, making her sound neither wholly female nor male and hiding any embarrassing inflection her voice might have betrayed. "And the enemy of another."

"What do you want?" he asked with a tense calm as his eyes scanned the area around her before fixing on the wand still where he had left it.

"Tell me, Mr. Lupin," she continued, and his eyes flicked back up to the shadowed outline of her face, "would you like to help prove Sirius Black's innocence?"

"What makes you think Black is innocent?"Lupin asked, anger expertly masked in his voice but betrayed by his hands fisting in the ruined comforter. "He murdered thirteen people, including a close friend of mine, and betrayed the Potter family to Lord Voldemort."

"I don't believe that, and I think neither do you," she said, pushing herself off the dresser and wandering to the window, giving him the option of listening to her or making a grab for his wand.

"I don't?" he asked, glancing at his wand but making no move to grab it just yet, before glancing back at the hooded figure.

"No, you don't," Hermione confirmed, picking up his watch for a closer inspection and appearing less of a threat. "If you had really believed without a doubt that he was guilty, you would have told the Ministry about his Animagus form when he was captured or when he escaped. It would have made looking for him much easier, don't you think?" she remarked matter-of-factly.

"How do you know that?" Lupin seemed taken off guard that someone knew the Marauder's secret.

"I have my ways, just like I knew where to find you tonight," she said, enjoying it a little as Lupin's face creased in a frustrated frown while she continued to play the role of the mysterious stranger, leaning against the window frame as if without a care and looking out the window as the sky began to lighten.

"If Black is innocent, then who killed those people? Who betrayed the Potters and killed Peter?"

"That you must see for yourself," Hermione said, looking at the professor, who seemed truly conflicted. Setting the watch back down, she turned to him with open empty hands to emphasize her next point. "I have no proof to show you, but if you wish to find proof for yourself, then I suggest you start by asking the youngest male Weasley about the health of his familiar. You might find something interesting, if you know where to look."

Walking back over to the dresser, she placed a plain wide-banded ring next to his clothes.

"If you find your proof, contact me, and we will meet here again come next full moon. Simply charm the ring to read what you have found, and I will get the message."

Lupin rubbed his face tiredly. "What if–" His voice cut off when he realized the figure was gone and the only sign that they had even been there was a plain silver band, glinting in the early morning light.

Meeting Snape for their usual morning run, Hermione was thankful the man she had known to be so keen on changes in those around him did not seem to notice if she was more distracted than usual this morning. They did not normally speak save a simple 'Good Morning, sir' from herself and some unintelligible noice that served as the Potions Master's version of an early morning greeting. Hermione had learned right away that Snape was not a morning person; at times she wondered if he was even aware that she was there at all.

Heading inside, Hermione took advantage of a long cold shower, trying to rid herself of the images of Lupin that morning. She was doing well until she realized, somewhere around the point of washing her hair, that she had double Defense lessons today. When Ginny questioned her after coming in to brush her teeth to find Hermione cursing up a storm in the only occupied shower stall, Hermione claimed she had gotten soap in her eyes.

Double Potions that morning was strange as Snape seemed to be in an oddly happy mood for being… well, Snape. Which was to say, he didn't torment the Gryffindors as much as usual, which could only mean something was up.

Sure enough, her suspicions proved right when entering their double Defence lesson that afternoon. Hermione had been dreading the class all morning, afraid she might end up blathering like an idiot or drooling like a moron. Instead, they were not met by a cheerful Lupin patiently waiting on them perched on the edge of his desk like normal — or the unclothed one that was equally as cheerful and perched on her desk, which her mind kept bringing up at inappropriate moments. Instead, they were met with a very smug-looking Professor Snape seated in Lupin's chair as if he belonged there. Hermione dropped her head against her table with a thud, startling Ron next to her.

"You alright, 'Mione?" he asked.

"I'm an idiot," she mumbled into the wood; of course Lupin would not be in class today; he wasn't in any condition to teach a class, last she saw him.

Last...She....Saw....Him. Hermione banged her head against the table again, stupid, she was acting like some stupid hormonal-crazed teenager. She was nineteen years old, for Merlin's sake, not some young teen who was a slave to her hormones. If she was that desperate for a shag she might just have to slip off and visit Sirius — he wasn't subtle in the least bit in his interest in her over the summer. No doubt the convict would be up for any attention after a twelve-year dry spell.

"Where is Harry?" she asked, picking her head off the desk and looking around for her other friend, a red splotchy mark beginning to form on her forehead.

"He was talking to Oliver about starting up Quidditch practice next week," Ron answered in a hissed whisper giving her a worried look. "I hope he gets here soon or Snape's going to have a field day. What's that bloody bat doing out of the dungeons anyway?"

"I think I heard something about Lupin not feeling well yesterday," Hermione supplied, very likely the only Gryffindor relieved that Lupin had taken a sick day. "So I guess Professor Snape is filling in for him." The door of the class closed loudly, drawing the whispering students' attention as Snape called the class to order.

"Now, Professor Lupin has not left a record of the topics you have covered so far –" The door burst open.

"Sorry, I'm late, Professor Lupin. I–" Harry sputtered to a stop, when he spotted Snape seated comfortably behind Lupin's desk.

"Ten points for your lateness, Potter, now sit down," Snape remarked with that special sneer he reserved just for Harry when he was caught doing something he shouldn't.

"Where is Professor Lupin?" Harry asked, glaring at the man in black as if he was at fault for doing something sinister, and he remained where he was in the doorway.

"He claims that he is to ill to teach today," Snape remarked scathingly. "I believe I told you to sit down."

"What's wrong with him?" Harry asked, still not moving. Hermione sighed and mentally willed Harry to just sit down and stop being stubborn; Lupin was fine and staying far away from her.

"Nothing life-threatening," Snape said, as if he wished it was. "Five more points from Gryffindor, and if I have to tell you again, it will be fifty." Harry scowled before reluctantly taking his seat.

"Sir?" Hermione said, raising her hand while her cheek was cradled in her opposite hand. She was ready for this day to be over; she had had quite an unusual day and didn't need any more surprises.

"What is it now, Ms. Granger.? Snape said, clearly not amused to be interrupted again.

"I thought you should know, we have just finished Boggarts and Red Caps and are about to start on Kappas," she supplied, trying to get class back on topic and hopefully over quicker.

"I did not ask for information on your past lessons, Ms. Granger. I was merely commenting on Professor Lupin's lack of organization." Hermione stared at him for a long moment in confusion at his biting dismissal, before tonguing her cheek with an extremely visible amount of impudent irritation. She was trying to help, the arrogant git, she seethed, slouching back in her seat.

"He's the best Defense teacher we've had," Dean Thomas stated, causing a number of his class mates to murmur in agreement.

"You are easily satisfied. Lupin is hardly challenging you. I would have expected first years to be dealing with Red Caps and Kappas."

Hermione could feel her temper rising. She had had far too little sleep, and her hormones had decided now was a good time to go haywire over the same professor she was trying to recruit into her inner group. Now Snape's blatant disregard of their previous incompetent teachers was rubbing her the wrong way; despite the fact everyone knew he wanted the position for himself, he had never spoken out about any of their previous teachers like he was against Lupin. Not even Lockhart had received anything less than civil remarks. Snape seemed to have the same unreasonable dislike of Lupin as he held for Harry.

"Maybe if our first-year teacher had not been a stuttering puppet for the Dark Lord and our second wasn't a self-absorbed fraud, then we wouldn't have to play catch-up in our third year," Hermione snapped out loudly, as she began flipping through her book, causing a hush to fall over the class.

"Ms. Granger, since you seem incapable of controlling your tongue, I will be seeing you tonight after dinner for detention, Snape shot back. "Now turn in your books to page three hundred ninety-four." There was a general shuffling of pages as books were opened.

"Now, which of you can tell me the difference between a werewolf and a true wolf?" The class was silent save for the turning of pages. When it seemed clear no one else was going to answer, Hermione raised her hand and was promptly ignored. "Well ,well, well, I never thought I'd meet a third-year class that didn't know a werewolf when they saw it." Hermione's eyes narrowed at Snape's crap; she had spent too long with him to not push back when he was being an ass. He had a problem with Lupin, fine, go take it out on Lupin. She wasn't going to sit back while he took out his issues on a bunch of third-years, just because he had a problem with Lupin. Or was it werewolves in general, given the lesson of the day? She didn't care for his reasoning either way.

"You know full well, we are weeks away from even beginning nocturnal creatures. Come back in a month or two, then someone might have an answer for you, Sir," Hermione said, her hand still raised, as she flipped to the instructed page.

"A week detention, Ms. Granger," Professor Snape sneered, before continuing to ignore her raised hand. "No one knows? Such a pity!"

"Would you like me to answer the question, Sir, since no one else here is as much of an insufferable know-it-all, as I am?" she sniped back, mimicking his condescending tone, causing a number of the students to gasp at her nerve.

"Hermione," Ron hissed elbowing her in the ribs causing her to lower her hand and glare at him.

"Silence, Granger, one more word out of you and I will see you out of this school by dinner," Snape barked, before adding, "a month detention." No one dared to make a sound the rest of the class. When they were finally dismissed to dinner, Hermione was stopped at the door.

"Ms. Granger, report to my office after dinner, six o'clock sharp."

Severus Snape sat at his desk, testing and grading the potions that had been brewed by the third-years that day. At exactly six o'clock there was a knock at his office door.

"Enter," he said, not looking up from the rejuvenation potion he was testing on dead leaves. His door opened and closed before a set of light, nearly soundless footsteps approached his desk and stopped a respectable distance away. He didn't acknowledge the Granger girl at once; he liked to see how long it took them to start fidgeting and crack under the silence. A minute past, then two, then five. By the time he had made it through the last of the Slytherin potions, ten minutes had passed, and not so much as a twitch from the girl. Setting his quill aside, he leaned back in his chair and looked over the third-year Gryffindor; she stared right back, looking bored. Most of his students, even seventh years, couldn't meet his eye without cowering away or simply not looking directly at him, his Slytherins being the exception, and even they had some sense of fear for the Potions Master.

There was no fear of him in Hermione Granger. Brown eyes flicked up from watching his hands work to stare him down, hands loosely at her sides as she waited almost with a resigned boredom. Something in the Gryffindor had changed over the summer.

Last year she had been an overly veracious know-it-all that seemed to be trying to excel in everything she did and making a show of herself as she did so. This year was different; she still got the top marks in her year, no question about it, but he would have to be blind not to see the change in her work. The extra work she had been known for doing by all of the Hogwarts teachers was absent. He had thought it a fluke after the first assignment, then possibly the girl's poor attempt at trying to butter him up by lessening his work load. It was only after overhearing Flitwick and Minerva gossiping in the staff room did it become clear that his was not the only class she was cutting back her work in.

There had also been a slightly less noticeable change in her conduct in the classroom as well. She had stopped raising her hand for every question in class, letting others answer or attempt an answer before raising her hand; even then if it was clear that he was not going to call on her, she would lower her hand without a fuss.

He had been surprised that afternoon in Defense by her persistence and the unusual amount of blatant disrespect she had shown. It had been out of character for the witch when Potter and Weasley had not been directly involved; even when they were, she had usually been more the mediator for Potter's disrespectful temper. The brat must have finally rubbed off on her by the look of things.

He was also sure, despite being denied in previous years when she had attempted to gain permission to help Longbottom, he was sure she was still helping the walking disaster in class, given that the boy had been turning in marginally better brews this term. Despite knowing this, he had yet to catch her in the act, and she had made no point of asking him for permission this year, which left him unable to bring up the subject and dock points when the potions klutz brewed a passable draft.

"Come with me, Ms. Granger," he said, finally breaking the long silence between them. "You will be sorting potion ingredients today," leading her into the potion classroom, where on one of the table tops sat a row of empty jars. Beside these was a large crate that gave off an offensively loud croaking sound.

"You will be processing these gangu toads. Dissect and distribute each of the useful parts before disposing of the rest. You do recall the uses of these particular species of toad, yes?" he asked, waiting for the girl to complain. This particular species had been selected due to its fluorescent-colored skin that was only usable if it was removed and placed in a preserving solution within minutes of the toad's death, meaning she was going to be working with live toads.

"Yes, Sir," came the surprisingly still resignedly bored reply instead of the whinging he had braced for. She set her bag and outer robes on one of the unoccupied work stations before rolling up her sleeves. Severus watched all this with equal measures of surprise and amusement at the false bravado the third year was displaying; they would see soon enough how much of this nonchalantness was an act.

He had seen it before; even some adults had a hard time breaking down their own animal ingredients, hence why most magical folk bought their potion ingredients prepackaged. Severus never did; he preferred to buy his ingredients raw or acquire them from the greenhouse when possible and break them down himself. Not only was it more cost effective on his yearly supplies budget, letting him acquire some of the rare ingredients needed for his NEWT classes that would otherwise be coming out of his own pockets or be otherwise unobtainable, but it also gave him peace of mind, knowing exactly where his supplies had come from and that they had been free of cross contamination that happened on occasion in shops.

It also provided an entertaining detention on occasion, watching the most arrogant of students reduced to a pale and sniveling mess when presented with a wiggling flobberworm they were expected to extract pus and other bits from. Granger pulled out a knife from the utensil cupboard, where all the extra knives, stirring rods and scales were kept for those few idiotic students who didn't come prepared for class. Checking the blade, she frowned, before opening a drawer and digging around in it.

Snape watched this curiously as she pulled out a whetstone and began sharpening the knife in a practiced manner, rather than looking for a sharper one. Pulling out a toad, she quickly and surgically slit its throat, then made another cut from belly to tail. A few more cuts around the leg joints and back of the head before she set the knife down and simply peeled the entire skin off in one piece, dropping it in a large tank of preserving solution, still glowing in its fluorescent blue-green color. Picking up her knife again, she made quick work of cutting up and sorting the usable parts before dumping the useless ones in a large bucket.

"You have done this before," Snape stated with bland disappointment, watching her move on to the next toad with the same efficiency.

"No, Sir," she said, tossing yet another skin into the tank before picking her knife up again.

"I find that hard to believe, Ms. Granger." The girl only shrugged a shoulder and carried on.

"Never done toads before. I've done fish, rabbits and several species of rodent. Same concept," she stated, not looking up from her work. Snape hummed under his breath in acknowledgment before leaving her there; he wasn't going to get the disgusted reaction he had been hoping for and didn't have to worry about her ruining his stock. He spent the next two hours grading papers to the sound of Granger's working, until he heard the sink running. Reluctantly he stood to go check to make sure the girl hadn't cut her hand open or something of that nature.

Entering the lab, he found all the jars he had laid out, neatly labeled in Granger's curvy hand writing on the now cleaned work table, the empty toad crate sitting to one side. Granger was over at the wash basin, washing her hands and knife. She was just returning the blade to its proper place, when she noticed him.

"Anything else, Sir?" Snape hadn't planned on this. He was sure the bookworm would have trouble doing the task he had set for her; that crate was all he had at present and was supposed to last her two or three days. He was going to have to rethink this punishment before Monday. On the upside he would end up with a lot of quality potion ingredients; it helped, having someone doing the work who actually knew what they were doing; he rarely used it as a form of punishment since usually he was forced to throw a lot of the ingredients out due to the students' not paying attention on how to properly remove the useful parts.

"Not at present. You are dismissed." As she gathered her things and headed for the door, he almost thought he saw her smiling like she had been the day he had made her brew her potion with one hand; like they had been playing some sort of game, and she had come out on top.

One evening while Hermione was headed to the library to look for more books to help with her research, she spotted Ginny sitting in a chair by the window, her Charms book open, but her attention captured by the rain hitting the window. Hermione was struck with realization that she had been ignoring the one student in Hogwarts that had interacted with the Dark Lord the most, even if it had only been a memory.

"Hey, Ginny," she said, coming to sit by the girl and drawing her attention away from the window.

"Hey, Hermione," Ginny greeted softly, dark shadows lingering under her eyes. The girl's need to isolate from her peers was a growing concern of the Weasley brothers, but they were unable to address it. Ginny would shut them down at any attempt at a conversation concerning any of the events of last year. Percy had been the least concerned of the boys and took Ginny's claims of being okay at face value, most likely believing it so as some form of way to rid himself of his own guilt after how he had treated her last year when she had tried to ask for help. Ron was at a loss on what to do, though he did try in his own way, attempting to coax his sister out of her solitude with things she enjoyed, like a round of Quidditch, but the distraction only lasted so long. The twins seemed to have the best results bringing their sister out of her shell, knowing just what things to say to bring out that rare laugh or smile, but nothing lasted long.

"How are you doing?" Hermione asked, and the redhead seemed to steel herself, having been asked the question far too often by her brothers and having grown agitated at the repetitiveness of it all.

"Fine," Ginny replied automatically in a tone meant to dismiss concern, looking down at her Charms book in a gesture that said she was too busy to talk. Hermione could see right through the act; she knew first hand what it was like to be bombarded by queries on events too painful and personal to discuss. Memories you just wanted to bury deep in the past but night after night would come back as vivid as the day they happened.

"You don't have to lie to me if you're not okay, you know. It is alright to not be fine all the time," Hermione said, pulling out her own text book. "It helps to talk sometimes."

"There is nothing to talk about," Ginny bit out, not liking where the conversation was going and seeming ready to run.

"I know you're still having nightmares."

"Who told you?" Ginny froze in accusation midway through closing her book.

"Because I know," Hermione said honestly. "I know what it's like to sit in a group of people who only want to help but couldn't even imagine what you have been through. To walk down familiar places and only remember the dark things that happened there. I know what it's like to be too scared to fall asleep because next time it might turn out not to be a dream."

"I don't want to talk about it," finally came the reply, as she stared vacantly down at her text book but not seeing it.

"Not yet you're not, but someday you are going to want to, and I wanted you to know you can come to me when you are ready. No matter the time or what you say, I won't be angry or ashamed or pity you," she said, resting a hand on the girl's shoulder as she stood. "Know that you're not alone, Ginny," Hermione said, giving a solid reassuring squeeze to the girl before she collected her own things and moved further into the library; now she would have to wait and let Ginny come to her.

Hermione had come back early from her second week of detention; she had made it a game to get done with whatever task Snape had given her within three hours. He seemed to have caught on now, after her fourth early dismissal, and had taken to finding more time-consuming tasks for her to do.

Opening the portrait hole, she was met with shouts of
"Shut the door—"
"Stop that cat—"

Before she could react, Scabbers took a flying leap out the portrait hole, followed closely by Crookshanks, with Ron and Harry clambering out after them.

"Hermione, catch your bloody cat," Ron accused angrily. "He's been stalking Scabbers all night."

"I told you to leave him at home, didn't I," Hermione shot back, as she had said on the ride to the train station, a number of cats had gotten involved into hunting Scabbers, with her own cat being the most persistent; Hermione had a feeling that Crookshanks was behind the other cats' involvement.

Running down the hall after the two animals, Hermione found the cat perched outside a crack at the base of a statue, his tail twitching back and forth.

"Come here, you silly cat," Hermione chided, picking the cat up and away from the hole, so Ron could get his rat out.

"What's going on here?"

Hermione internally groaned and resisted the urge to run in the other direction as Lupin came down the hall; she had been doing her best to avoid him since the Shrieking Shack incident. So far she had been doing well, if she kept her eyes on her book in class and steered clear of him afterward, which was made easy since she had detentions that lasted until late.

"It's Scabbers, Sir. Hermione's cat chased him out of the dormitory, and now he won't come out."

"Your pet?" Lupin questioned, crouching down next to Ron to peer into the hole.

"Yes, my rat, got him from Percy in first year," Ron answered. "He's been sick since we got back from Egypt this summer."

"Have you had a Healer look at him?" Lupin asked, a little too interested, as he looked between Ron and the hole.

"Yeah, they say it is just his age catching up with him."

"You said, you had had him for three years, that sounds a pretty normal lifespan for a rat," he said, reaching into the crack, his longer reach giving him an advantage over Ron's shorter arm.

"No, Sir, I've had him three years, yes, but he has been in the family for twelve."

This bit of information gave the Professor pause before he pulled the rat in question out of the crack. Looking Scabbers over, he froze when he saw the rat's front paws, as recollection struck him just before Ron pulled the rat from his hand and tucked it safely into his pocket.

"Thanks, Professor," Ron said, as he and Harry ran off back to the dorm and their exploding snap game.

"Are you okay, Sir?" Hermione asked, still cradling her cat in her arms.

"Hm," Lupin looked up at her, twisting a silver ring around his middle finger, lost in thought. "Yes, yes, I just have something on my mind. Good evening, Ms. Granger," he said before heading toward his office.

The next morning the silver locket she had hung on the chain with the Time-Turner grew warm against her skin during her morning run. When she finally headed back inside for her morning shower, she opened it to see one word written in it: 'Peter'. That was all she needed to know — he had figured it out. An owl was sent out to Sirius before breakfast; they had a change of plans for the first Hogsmeade trip of the year.

The early morning of Halloween found Hermione once again making her way through the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack. This time she waited until she was sure the professor had plenty of time to dress before entering; Lupin was sitting slouched forward on the end of the bed, elbows resting on his knees.

"I knew it," Lupin said, looking down at his hands, "I knew, deep down, Sirius could not have done the things they said he did. He wasn't a cold-blooded killer, he idolized James. Peter—" he growled out the name, his wolf still close to the surface. "Peter had always hung out with us but always in the background,;we took it all that he was just being shy, but even when we left school, he always seemed to just hang about on the outskirts of the group. I think that's why no one suspected he had faked his death. No one expected the innocent shy boy to actually be a spy for Voldemort. He and I were never really close, he was more of James' friend than anyone's, but I never dreamed he would betray us like this," Lupin gave a bitter laugh, "never thought he had the balls to do something like this. He was always the first to scarper the moment things began to get interesting."

"So, now that you know the truth, what will you do?" Hermione asked, folding her arms and perching herself on the edge of the dresser.

"I want to help. Whatever you need me to do, I'll do it if it means clearing Sirius's name and bringing Peter to justice," he said, standing quickly before gripping the bed post to keep himself upright.

"Good. Will you be fit enough to sidelong Apparate by nine o'clock?" she asked, getting right down to business. There were a lot of things to do today, and even with the Time-Turner it was going to be hectic.

"I should be able to," he said, standing a little straighter, only to end up dropping back down on the bed, "but where to?"

"Meet me outside the Shack at nine," she stated, pushing off the dresser and moving to leave. "
we will be going to meet Mr. Black. He is expecting you."

"Sirius – wait – you know where he is?" Lupin pleaded, lunging to his feet only to stagger slightly. "I can go now."

"I have some things to put in order first." She waved him off, to sit back down before he hurt himself. "I should also warn you, there is a lot of information about what Black and I are doing that I can't tell you, unless you take a vow of secrecy. If any information got out, it could get a lot of people killed, including Harry Potter. Black has taken this same vow. You may speak with him before you make a decision, if that would help."

"I'll do that, if you don't mind." Lupin said, and Hermione nodded before slipping away.

Leaving the werewolf to recover, Hermione went straight to breakfast. She and Snape did not meet on weekends, a chance to sleep in for the both of them if they took it. Hermione was usually still up early and going through one book or another that had been 'borrowed' from the Restricted Section.

After breakfast she and Ron left the Great Hall to wait with the rest of the students while Harry talked to McGonagall. After a short discussion, Harry turned to them with a miserable shrug and a wave. He had not been able to get the permission slip signed over the summer before the debacle with his Aunt Marge.

"We'll bring you back some stuff, don't worry, mate," Ron called as the students began to file down the path to the main gate toward the village. Hermione spent a few hours exploring with Ron. It was a quaint little village, and the pair browsed each of the shops on the main street. She eventually slipped away from him in Zonko's Joke Shop, claiming to go look in the local bookshop when it was growing close to lunchtime; it was sure to keep him busy for a while, and he wasn't likely to go looking for her there anytime soon.

Moving to a deserted alley, she slipped on the sweater, the one she had taken to wearing to meet Lupin. A couple turns on her Time-Turner and the removal of her glamors found Hermione strolling up the path to the Shrieking Shack before the students had even begun to arrive. Lupin was already waiting there, no surprise, given he just had to make the short trek from the house on the hill. She could tell he was still not feeling his best as he leaned heavily on the fence.

"Ready?" she asked, coming up beside him, causing the man to jump violently.

"Must you sneak up on me all the time?" he asked, hand over his heart. Hermione didn't answer, only held out her arm to him. He took it, and they Disapparated with a crack.

Arriving in the back garden of Hermione's house in Hook Norton, she was forced to wrap an arm around the professor's waist as his legs buckled. She just managed to right them both before a large black dog came bounding forward and knocked them both to the ground in an ungraceful heap.

Padfoot was happily barking, rolling all over Lupin with all the energy of a hyperactive puppy but none of the size. Lupin was in tears as he laughed and threw his arms around the neck of the Grim.

Once the pair had finished their greeting and everyone had been untangled, Hermione led the way into the house, letting Sirius in first so he could regain his human form. He threw his arms around Lupin in a proper greeting.

"Sirius," Remus said, pulling back and looking over his friend; he barely recognized him with the new look – blue-grey eyes and long black hair replaced with brown eyes and short brown hair. "That is you, isn't it? What happened to you?"

"Yeah it's me, Mooney. Come on, I'll tell you all about it," Sirius began excitedly as the pair headed off into the living room without a backwards glance. Hermione went to the kitchen, setting the kettle to boil before going to retrieve three mugs. She made the tea the Muggle way rather than simply magicking the water hot, giving the two friends some private time to talk before it was time to get down to business.

Resting her elbows on the counter, she looked around. There was a collection of silverware filling the sink, and a strange smell was coming from the overstuffed trash. Apparently cooking and cleaning weren't one of Sirius's strong suits, given the collection of tv dinners piled high in the garbage. Digging around in the back of a cabinet, she found a package of biscuits she had stashed there. Brushing some dust off the package, she set the snacks out on a plate just as the kettle began to whistle.

Sirius was just finishing his tale of his trip to the Muggle mall when Hermione reentered the room, juggling the tray of filled mugs and plate of snacks. Setting everything out on the coffee table, Hermione sat in the chair across from the pair.

"So, Mr. Lupin, have you made your decision?" she asked, picking up her cup and taking a moment to admire it before taking a sip; it was part of a mismatch set she had picked up at a thrift store. She had never actually seen the movie, but apparently it had become quite popular over the summer. It was a simple black mug with the white outline of a bipedal dinosaur above the words 'Clever Girl'. Lupin took the more elaborate red mug bearing a black and white dinosaur skeleton logo, under which was written in bold lettering 'Tea-Rex'. This left Sirius with a similar one, only with a goat outline instead of a dinosaur, which read 'Where's the Goat?'

"I need to know before we can start explaining anything," she added while Sirius helped himself to several of the biscuits with a look that said I knew you were holding out on me. As of yet she had not removed either the choker nor her hood. If Lupin did not agree to her terms, then he could not be allowed to find out who she was, and she would keep the disguise for any further interactions. "Will you take the vow?"

"Yes," Lupin said after a glance at his friend, who gave him a nod of encouragement. "Sirius says you could use my help, so I would like to help if I can, especially if it involves clearing Sirius's name."

Like she had done with Sirius, Hermione bound Lupin magically, so that he could tell nothing of what they were discussing to anyone without her permission. If he were to do so, it would be met with harsh repercussions. Spell done, Sirius clapped his hands enthusiastically and moved away from Lupin on the couch, so he had a better view of the pair.

"Okay, I'm good now. You can show him," he stated as if she had been waiting for his approval all along.

Hermione rolled her eyes, though it was not visible to her guests. Rubbing his hands together with glee, the Animagus looked from one to the other; if Hermione had made popcorn, she was sure, he would have been sitting there eating it. Instead he sat back with a stack of her favorite chocolate biscuits balancing on his knee and was eating them with exaggerated enjoyment.

"Oh, grow up, Black," Hermione complained as she refrained from tossing any nearby object at him, like she had taken to doing when he was being particularly annoying.

"Show me what?" Lupin asked, looking from Sirius to the stranger he still didn't know the name of.

"We already know each other and see each other several times a day," she admitted, trying to figure out a way to break this news to the man gently. Sirius had been easier since she had been pretty honest with him from the start. Lupin, on the other hand, had two months of knowing Hermione Granger the student, and now she was about to dump something entirely insane on him. "Hence the hood and altered voice. The dog is just getting way too much fun out of this," the witch added, setting her tea cup down on the coffee table.

"Who are you exactly?" he asked, now even more confused. He tried to work out who he knew that would fit with this person's general description.

"Actually, I think it might be best for me to explain some things first before I tell you," she decided. "I think it might lessen the shock a little."

"Aw, come on, that is not fair, I got to see you before you told me," Sirius whined, crossing his arms in a petulant pout.

"You weren't introduced to me as my younger self first, so you don't get special treatment," she shot back.

"Tell me what!" Lupin shouted, having finally had enough of all the double talk going on around him, as he looked from one to the other for answers. Hermione sighed and settled in for the coming explanation, giving the professor her full attention.

"This might be hard to believe, but I'm from an alternate future. The wizarding world was in a second war with Voldemort, and we were losing, badly. So, with some help, I found a way to come back. It was a one-time chance and I took it. I came back and took the place of my younger self, with the intention of heading off key moments that led to the war. Hopefully to stop the war from even starting." Hermione sat back in her chair and let the information sink in. Lupin was quiet for a long time; a couple times he opened his mouth to speak but closed it again, shaking his head. He glanced at Sirius as if to look for proof that they were having him on but got nothing other than a nod of acknowledgment and an amused smirk.

"You are from the future?" he asked, finally breaking the long silence.


"So you know what is going to happen," he asked in disbelief, spreading his arms wide in a broad gesture, "to us."

"More or less," she admitted. "I'm not a Seer or anything, but I do have a basic idea of the main events that led to the war. I wasn't involved in any of it until it was already a lost cause, and by that point all we could do was damage control," she shrugged, taking another drink of her tea.

"You know how completely insane you sound, right?" Lupin exclaimed, running his hands through his greying hair, making it stand up oddly.

"Insane it might sound, but what Emma says is true," Sirius said, leaning over the gap to pat his friend on the shoulder.

"Emma?" Lupin asked, testing the name and trying to place a face to it.

"Emma isn't my real name, it's just an alias I use when I am not glamoured to look like my younger self," Hermione stated, before Lupin could give himself a headache trying to place the name.

Letting out a sigh, she removed the choker and placing it on the coffee table. Standing, she tugged at the edge of her hoodie, pulling it up and over her head before discarding it on the back of the chair. Pushing her curly pony-tail back behind her shoulder, she plopped back down in her chair to face her teacher, bare scarred arms folded over her t-shirt clad chest as she waited for the inevitable reaction.

"Hello, Professor," she greeted, crossing an ankle of her opposite knee as she reclined back in her seat.

Lupin stared.

Then it hit him, and his mouth fell open in shock. Sirius began cackling madly at the other end of the couch, nearly choking on his stolen sweets.

"Where is a camera when you need it?" the dog wheezed between laughs. They were like that for a minute, then two, before Hermione shifted to waving a hand in front of Lupin's face. This seemed to break him out of his internal thoughts. Blinking, he shook his head.

"Ms. Granger," Lupin said in disbelief, looking at her from head to foot, trying to come to terms that the studious girl from his third year class was the same woman in front of him claiming to be from the future and harboring his best friend. Sirius, on the other hand, seemed to finally be getting a handle on his laughter, wiping tears from his eyes, but still chuckling.

"Yep," she said, popping the 'p', as she picked her tea back up and taking a drink. "Though, if we meet in public and I look like this, it's Emma, Hermione Granger's wizarding guardian, while her parents are out of the country," she stated, gesturing at herself in reference.

"Wait then," Lupin cut in as his brain finally began to process again and questions began to arise. "Where is the real Hermione ——I mean the one from this time."

"It is safer for her that I don't tell you any specifics, but she is with her parents far from here at a safe location."
Lupin nodded in understanding. Muggle-born families were forced into hiding in the first war; it would be expected she would want her family out of the way, should things go bad at the very least. He had not even begun to process the whole time-travel, from the future Bludger he had been hit with.

Lupin was quiet for a time, seeming to be sifting through all the information he had just gotten, and the other occupants gave him the quiet to do so. Suddenly attention was drawn back to him by a choking sound as his face turned white, then a shade of red that began creeping down his neck.

"Oh, Merlin," he said, a look of horror on his face, as he buried his flaming face in his hands, "It was you — last month in the Shack. I thought you were a guy." Hermione choked on her tea.

"Ah, I had really hoped you forgot about that," Hermione muttered, setting her cup down after she had managed to stop coughing, a faint blush creeping across her cheeks. "I honestly didn't mean to walk in on you like that, I didn't think anything of it after having him shifting around the house all the time." She gestured at Sirius, who seemed quite out of the loop. "By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late to leave. Between you and me I'm glad you skipped class that day, even if it meant I got a month of detention."

"Wait, what am I missing? What happened last month?" Sirius asked excitedly, as if his favorite soap opera had just come on, if Hermione had owned a TV, that is. He had taken to visiting the kindly old lady next door, where he could watch 'Passions' and eat cookies every afternoon.

"You don't need to know," Hermione stated, turning her nose up at the pleading dog.

"Aw, come on, you know I'll get it out of Remus eventually, so why not just tell me now. You know I won't let this go till I know." Hermione sighed before giving in. Sirius was bound to tease them both, but like he had said, he would get it out of one of them eventually; he was admirably persistent that way when it came to getting answers.

"Fine, but you won't be hearing it from me, and if I hear so much as a snicker," she threatened, "I'm kicking you where the sun don't shine." Sirius turned his full attention to Remus who was beginning to return to his normal pallor. Looking up from his hands to see Sirius eyeing him expectantly, his resolve crumbled, unable to deny anything, even an extremely awkward and embarrassing story, from his friend after so recently getting him back.

"She walked in on me when I was changing back." Sirius simply stared, not understanding what he had to be embarrassed about. "Werewolves' clothes don't change with them like you Animagi, remember?" Sirius was quiet for a moment then, it clicked and his eyes started shining with suppressed laughter.

"Ooooh," he drawled out, before turning to Hermione with a knowing grin. "See anything you like?"

"Sirius!" Lupin barked as he sputtered out mortified, "she–she's a student, sort of — you can't just say things like that!"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Hermione shot back at the dog, glancing at Remus who had taken refuge in his hands again before giving Sirius a very obvious once over and making a sound of disappointment.

"Hey," Sirius retorted at the obvious blow to his ego, before he gathered up her empty mug and stood to walk from the room, intending on seeing what there was to scrounge up in the fridge for lunch.

"So, what is it like, being back at school a second time through?" Lupin asked when they had all sat down to eat the simple sandwiches Hermione managed to put together with what little Sirius had in the house. "I guess I am understanding now how you got to be known as the brightest girl in your year."

"It's not really my second time through, just picking up where I left off, I guess. Everything you have heard about me was the genuine first and second year me," she admitted. "A little over a week after I got back from my second year, I was on a ship with my parents to France when we were hit by a storm. Or would have been, I guess ,since I stopped them before they could leave." She paused, pondering the proper way to address something in one's past that was no longer something that actually happened, shrugging she went on. "Ended up on an island until I was seventeen. So the only formal training I have had was up to the second year courses. I managed to pick up a few things over the years, but that is about it. I'm still getting used to using a wand again."

"You know how to do wandless magic?" Remus asked, genuinely intrigued.

"Oh yeah, non-verbal too," Sirius answered for her "You should see her. Makes it look like child's play. I can't even manage a simple levitation spell, even with the incantation."

"Had to learn, it took me a few months to get the hang of it, but like a friend of mine used to say, mortal danger is a good motivator." She set down her sandwich and pulled out her wand to show it off. "Lost it in the shipwreck. This is actually my younger self's wand. Olivander's wasn't exactly an option when I got back to London, and since I've come back it would have been suspicious if I had changed wands over the summer along with anything else that might be off."

"How are your friends taking this change? I am guessing they don't know your secret." Hermione shook her head in the negative, in answer to Remus, while her mouth was full of turkey and tomato sandwich.

"Have they begun to suspect anything, you were rather vague in your letters?" Sirius asked.

"I don't think so. Honestly, it has been hard, it is hard enough seeing them after all these years. Not to mention I never paid much attention to how I acted around Harry and Ron when I was younger. I'm sure my mannerisms have changed a lot, at the very least, but so far they don't seem suspicious, so I must be doing something right."

"Stranded on a deserted island, guess that's one way to avoid the attention of all those drooling teenage boys you would have surely attracted," Sirius said flippantly, but he didn't bother hiding the obvious interest on how she would answer the obvious dig for information. He still knew little of what had happened on the island; four years was a long time for nothing to happen and leave a lot of scars, from what he had glimpsed. Now seemed the right time to pry since she seemed in such a sharing mood.

Hermione snorted as if something in Sirius' statement had amused her. "You know full well I never said the island was deserted. Your fishing technique is horrendous, but honestly I'd would have preferred the drooling hormonal boys."

"The contrary being?" Sirius egged on.

"The men on that island were less looking for a date and more intending on capturing me to give to their boss to use as a lab rat, raping me or killing me; mostly all of the above, and I hate to think in what order," she stated with little emotion on the subject before taking a bite from her lunch. Sirius took the information rather well, having guessed as much from what little bits of information he had gathered, though he had hoped for something not quite so dark. Remus on the other hand was openly horrified by the revelation as he looked over her more critically.

"Is that how you got these?" he said angrily, catching one of her wrists and turning her arm to the scars that were visible. "Did those men do that to you?"

"No, those were from my friend," she snapped, tugging out of the contact and rubbing her arms a little self-consciously. When she had first gotten back from the island, she had been traumatized enough to recoil from the most innocent of touches, but Molly had persistently seen to it that she learn to build a tolerance for spontaneous hugs and the like. After a time it was only intended probing at her scars, that managed to invoke a negative response from her.

She didn't mind talking about them, or even the stares that often accompanied people finding out about them. She had grown used to it in her time; even by the standards of those fighting in the war, the extent that she was scarred was severe. Talking and staring she could deal with, but touching she was not used to. Even on the two occasions she had taken a man to bed in her time, she had not allow them to linger long, more interested in getting off and then on with their lives, rather than pay any attention to why their partner look to have been mauled by several angry animals and then some.

"Your friend cut you!" Lupin stated, more upset than she seemed to be at the idea.

"No, he was teaching me to fight with a knife," she defended Halt vehemently. "I just wasn't very good at it at the time."

Seeing he may have delved too deep into a sensitive topic, Sirius changed the discussion to direct the conversation more toward Remus and how he was enjoying being back at school as a teacher, no less. This eventually led into a discussion about Harry and what he was like, how he was doing in his classes and other such things. The two old friends seemed to become swept up in reminiscing about when Harry was born and what they had theorized about what he might excel in — Charms like Lily or Transfiguration like James — and other such little things.

Hermione simply sat back and watched the pair, wondering if her life would ever be normal. Here she was a time traveler sitting down to lunch with a werewolf and a convicted mass murderer. What would her mother have thought about all of this, she mused. Probably that she must have some sort of spell that attracted all the strange and handsome men to her side, not that she was complaining. Despite what she had implied to Black earlier, he was an attractive man now that he had recovered from his incarceration, and she was still adamant that she needed to have the dog talk the wolf into some clothing a little more form-fitting.

"So, are you guys any good at fighting without a wand?" she asked curiously, feeling like she needed to take advantage of the chance to flirt while she could, since Lupin was unlikely to appreciate any advances once her glamour was back in place, and Sirius would be stuck at home.

"I'm adequate at wandless but not with any of the more complex spells," Lupin admitted and looked to Sirius.

"No, seeing as at the moment I don't even have a wand," Sirius said glumly, holding up his empty hand, "and I'm rubbish at wandless magic."

"I remember this one guy I met," she began, a sly smile on her face as she stood and busied herself gathering up the plates. "We met at this little wizard pub near King's Cross, I can't remember the name now. Anyway, not the point. He was making a big deal about something or other, and I ended up punching him. We ended up in a grappling match on the floor after he lost his wand; I was surprised — he was pretty well-trained for a wizard. He had reach, I had flexibility," she said deliberately, leaving off there as she headed toward the kitchen.

"Who won?" Sirius ask the inevitable question, and she paused in the doorway.

"Don't know," she admitted, leaning against the door frame. "It ended in a draw when the barkeep threatened to throw us out, so we ended up having a tie-breaker in his room. He had reach, I had flexibility," she said, an almost innocently coy smile pulling at her lips with her next words, "We still never did find out who won."

"If you ever want some lessons," turning to leave the room fully, she called back, "you just let me know."

"Did she just—" Lupin started, not quite sure if he heard what he thought he had.

"—I think she did," Black finished as they both stared at the empty doorway.

After lunch saw a change in Hermione as she went into business mode. They had had their fun; now she needed to sort some things out for that evening, gathering in her office after conjuring another chair for Lupin.

"Now, to catch Lupin up on what has been going on so far in capturing Peter. I have been trying to get ahold of him since the start of term after getting him to remain at the Burrow failed. I have done what I can to try to catch him, but most of the time he is with Ron, and I can't sneak him out without Ron knowing. When he does manage to sneak away when no one is around, I have Crookshanks keeping track of him, making sure he doesn't leave the castle," she said, lacing her fingers together on her desk. "What I need is some way to track him when he is not with Ron, so I can get him alone. This is where you come in, Sirius."

"What can I do?" Sirius asked, ready to actually do something rather than wait on word from Hermione.

"Tonight is the Halloween feast, which means the whole dorm will be empty. I need you to sneak into the fifth-year boys' dorm and search through the Weasley twins' possessions until you find a particular bit of parchment. One that contains a map I hope you will recognize."

"A map, you mean the Weasley twins have our map?" Lupin asked, intrigued by the appearance of the thought to be lost childhood item.

"Yes, and I need it, but being a girl I can't get access to their dorm without someone in there to let me in, and you know your way around a prankster's trunk. They are bound to have some sort of security to keep their things from being messed with. Your being a Marauder, I would expect you to have some experience in avoiding such things."

"I'm a little rusty," Sirius stated, cracking his knuckles with a grin on his face, this was a challenge he would happily accept, "but I'm sure I can get it out without too much trouble."

"Good, then we have a plan."

Chapter Text

In the blink of an eye

I can see through your eyes

As I'm lying awake I'm still hearing the cries

And it hurts

Hurts me so bad

And I'm wondering why I still fight in this life

'Cause I've lost all my faith in this damn bitter strife

And it's sad

It's so damn sad

-Shot In The Dark, Within Temptation

Chapter 9: Lying Awake I'm Still Hearing The Cries.

October 31st 1993-Home Base, Hook Norton

After another hour the three finally had a plan; Sirius would accompany Lupin back to the Shrieking Shack, while Hermione went to go meet with Ron and return to the school. Once the feast started Lupin would keep a watch out from the teachers table and send word of any trouble through his charmed ring. Hermione would fake an illness and leave the feast early to meet Sirius at the One-Eyed Witch Statue with Harry's Invisibility Cloak. If all went to plan, they would head up to the empty tower, get the Map and be out before anyone knew what was going on.

Lupin and Hermione were waiting at the back door, while Sirius got ready to leave.

"Do you think you can get the cloak out of Harry's trunk without him noticing?"

"I can get it out, don't you worry," she said, as she pulled a chocolate bar out of her hoodie pocket, breaking a piece off to pop in her mouth before offering it to Lupin. The werewolf stared at it for a moment before patting down his jacket pockets.

"That's mine, isn't it?" Hermione smirked mischievously,

"Yes, it is, but the real question that's going to bug you later is, how long have I had it?" she said, as Lupin broke off a chunk before she replaced it back in her pocket.

"You make a habit of pick-pocketing people?" Lupin asked curiously.

"Only when they're being annoying usually. I've got quite a collection of Malfoy's trinkets from Potion class, never anything important like his wand or anything." she shrugged before admitting, "but I've got a weakness for chocolate."

Sirius joined them a minute later, and the three headed out to the back garden; Sirius had switched to his dog form before Hermione Apparated them back to Hogsmeade. Her hood up, Hermione headed back away from the Shrieking Shack leaving Sirius and Lupin to head inside. Slipping into an alley, Hermione replaced her glamours before removing the hoodie and putting back on the jacket she had worn when she had been with Ron earlier. Stuffing the hoodie in an enlarged pocket of her school bag so it would not get mixed up with the things she and Ron had picked up for Harry.

"Hey, Hermione, were have you been?" Ron asked from his seat at a table in the Three Broomsticks.

"Oh, I was just looking around, you know, the inn down the road was the headquarters of the 1612 Goblin Rebellion."

"No, but if you don't hurry you won't get to drink your Butterbeer before we have to head back."

"I'll drink mine when I get back," she said, sticking the bottles in her bag for her and Harry. "I'm not feeling well. I think I'm going to head back and give these things to Harry," she said, paying for her drink

"Alright, I'll catch up to you in a little bit," Ron said, ordering another drink. Hermione slipped out of the pub and headed back toward the school.

"Hey, Harry," Hermione said, knocking on the third-year boys dorm, she hadn't seen him in the common room below. The door opened to reveal Neville.

"Hey, Hermione, Harry isn't here."

"Oh, would you mind if I came in and left his stuff from Hogsmeade?"

"Yeah, sure," Neville said, letting the girl in.

"Thanks." Hermione left the room a few minutes later with the Invisibility Cloak tucked safely in her bag. Flipping open her locket, she ran a thumb over the inside, where a picture would normally be placed, the words 'Got It' appearing as she closed it. Now all that was left was to wait for the feast to begin, heading down to the common room, she waited till Ron and Harry came in just it was time to head down to the feast.

The Great Hall was decorated in streamers and candles with swarms of live bats flying around. Hermione was sorry she was going to miss out on dessert but managed to slip a number of sweets into her pocket before she got up to leave.

"Hey, war ya gon, 'Mione?" Ron asked, his mouth full of chicken, as he stuffed a fork full of mash potatoes in his mouth.

"I'm not feeling good, I think I'll just head up to the common room, it's a girl thing," she said, grimacing as she hugged herself. This had the desired effect, as both boys muttered their goodbyes and immediately turned all their attention back on the feast in front of them.

"Works every time," she muttered with a smirk. Glancing up at the teachers table, she saw Lupin give her a nod before turning to talk with Hagrid. Hermione slipped out of the Hall and made her way to the One-Eyed Witch Statue.

"Dissendium!" she said, tapping the statue with her wand, the hump opened, and a moment later Sirius's brown head poked out of the witch's hump.

"You know, this was a lot easier when I was a kid," he said, wriggling his shoulders through the small opening, before stopping with his lower half still in the statue and sheepishly looking up at Hermione. "What would you do if I said I was stuck?"

"Please tell me you're kidding." she groaned, covering her eyes with her hand and shaking her head. Sirius started chuckling, as he pulled himself the rest of the way out.

"I am, I just wanted to know if you'd save me if I was," he said, right before Hermione smacked the back of his head. "Ow, must you always be so violent, woman," he said, holding his head.

"Shut up, and let's go!" she said, pulling the Invisibility Cloak from her bag and tossing it at the Animagus. Sirius donned the cloak and disappeared from sight, as Hermione led the way back to Gryffindor Tower.

"Password?" the Fat Lady asked as Hermione approached.

"Fortuna Major." The portrait swung open. Hermione paused before entering, giving Sirius a chance to get in before the portrait closed behind her.

"Been a while since I've been here," Sirius said, pulling his hood off so only his head was visible, floating in midair.

"Then you should know where the boys dormitory is," Hermione said, heading toward the stairs. "We got to be quick, who knows when someone might show up."

They headed up the stairs, and Sirius opened the door to the fifth-year dorm. Hermione took up watch just inside the door. Handing the cloak to her, Sirius went and began looking through the trunks. Carefully picking his way through Fred's trunk, filled with a number of prototype prank items and a glass ball that if disturbed would have stained the snoopers hands green, had the Marauder not noticed the security precaution. He was just heading to George's trunk when Hermione's locket grew warm against her skin, flipping it open she read the words, 'Students in Coming'.

"Hurry up, we're going to have company any minute."

"Patience is a virtue, Ms. Granger," Sirius replied in a sing song voice, as picked through the trunk. Down in the room below Hermione could hear two male voices entering the common room.

"Right now it isn't," Hermione hissed, closing the door just as Sirius closed the trunk.

"Got it!" he said, trading the folded parchment for the Cloak. Putting the Cloak back on, he pulled the hood up. "Come on, quick," he said, opening the front of the Cloak, so she could step under it. Hermione slipped under just before the door opened, Kenneth Towler and Lee Jordan came in, laughing and talking. Using one hand to hold the fabric closed around them, Sirius other arm pulled her against him as he walked them backwards into a less traveled area of the room. The boys stayed for a few minutes to grab something from Jordan's trunk before leaving. Letting her head fall back against Sirius's chest, Hermione let out a sigh of relief.

"That was to close," she said.

"I don't know, I could have stood to be a little closer," Sirius chuckled in her ear.

"For a man named Sirius, you don't seem to take much serious, do you?" she said, stepping out of his grip. Unfolding the Map, she tapped it with her wand, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

"That's why I keep Remus around, he's serious enough for the both of us," he said, leaning over the Map, Hermione was holding. "Looks like they are heading back to the Great Hall. We should be safe to leave."

"Okay, one more thing," she said, leading the way out of the room and to the third-year dorm. "Open this door for me." Sirius did as asked, and Hermione pulled out a roll of Spello-tape. Taping down the door latch she closed the door, then pushed on it and the door swung open at her touch.

"Clever girl," Sirius said, as Hermione shut the door again.

"Only as long as no one uses the door before I get back," she said, heading back downstairs. After seeing Sirius to the secret passage, she agreed to meet him at midnight outside the Shack to Apparate him back to Hook Norton, until then he could lay low in Hogsmeade's bar as long as he was careful. Heading back to the common room while keeping track of movement in the dorms, she managed to return Harry's Cloak and remove the tape from the door before any of the rooms occupants returned. Heading to her own room, she waited till she was safely behind her curtains to contact Lupin. 'Mischief Managed'

As November crept by Hermione began looking around the least used sections of the library, when she stumbled onto the record section, where the old student records were kept. Skimming the books she found a few yearbooks picturing Tom Riddle when he was at school, but nothing useful other than his O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. scores listed with the rest of his graduating class.

The area wasn't a total loss, though, she did manage to get the address of Riddle's birthplace and residence while he was at school. It seemed like a good place to look for clues, Voldemort might have left some things behind that might be of some use. It looked like she would have something to keep her occupied over the summer; if she was going to learn what Voldemort had done to prolong his life, she was going to have to get to know who Tom Riddle was first.

The first Quidditch match of the season between Slytherin and Gryffindor was a nightmare. The weather decided to do its worst with the poring rain and high winds that were enough to yank the players off their brooms. By the time Oliver called a time-out, Gryffindor was one hundred and twenty points in the lead.

"We need to get the snitch or we're going to be out here all night," Wood said, as they huddled under an umbrella.

"Not much chance of that, I can't see a thing up there," Harry said, wiping his glasses on his robe,s only managing to smear the water on them more.

"I have an idea, Harry, give me your glasses," Hermione said, she had come down from the stands to see if there was anything she could do. Taking Harry's glasses, she cast Impervius on them.

"There, they will repel water now," she said, grinning triumphantly. "Now go kick Malfoy's smug ass."

"Brilliant," Oliver said, looking as though he could have kissed her. "Let's go for it, team!"

Then they were up in the air again, the lightening becoming more dangerous, and one Slytherin player even had his broom catch fire from a too close bolt of lightening. Hermione watched holding her breath, as Harry circled the field, then Malfoy was diving toward the Gryffindor goal posts with Harry right after him. She saw Harry reach one arm out, than the other, knocking Malfoy's arm out of the way, suddenly black cloaks were swarming the players; the Dementors had arrived, and her insides froze, and then Harry was falling.

Hermione was running before she knew what was happening, sliding to a stop next to her friend, kneeling down next to him not daring to move him in case of broken bones. She pulled off her glove and felt at his throat.

"Come on, Harry, don't do this to me." There was a pulse, slow, but not life-threatening. Dumbledore and McGonagall were the next to arrive.

"We need to get him to Poppy, Albus," McGonagall said. "Ms. Granger, you need to move back."

"You can't him move, he could have broken bones," Hermione said, not moving from where she was with the heartbeat under her fingers.

"Ms. Granger, you need to move, we will take it from here," Dumbledore said, as Madame Pomfrey arrived and immediately began checking Harry's condition. "Mr. Potter is in good hands."

Hermione wanted to shout at the man, she had left Harry in his hands before and he had died alone in a graveyard. She didn't trust him with Harry's life again, not when he had failed to protect him so many times, Harry was a child for Merlin's sake! No matter how brave or resourceful he was, he was poorly trained and naive to the conspiracies going on around him. Dumbledore treated him like he could fix everything that was going on with a push of guidance here or there and everything would be okay.

"Granger, you need to let them take Potter to the Hospital Wing," Lupin said, grabbing her arm and pulling her up and away from Harry.

"No, I can't leave him," Hermione said, pulling against his grip, forcing him to rap an arm around her, but even that was a loosing battle; if she didn't calm down, she was going to break out of his hold, even if it meant hurting him.

"We aren't going to let anything happen to him, I'll make sure of it," he said soothingly. "You need to calm down, he needs medical help, and he can't get that here. Madame Pomfrey will take good care of him. Just calm down." Finally Hermione seemed to shudder and went limp in his grip, as she let the professor guide her away from her friend, as he was Levitated back up to the school.

Lupin took her to his office and sat her down in a chair by the fire, helping her out of her outer robes, he conjured a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. Her whole body was shaking as she sat there, her mind numb as she stared at the fire.

"Hermione, I want you to drink this," Lupin said, coming to kneel by her chair. "It's okay, it's just hot chocolate. It will help warm you up." He held the cup out for her, but like the time on the train, her hands were shaking so much, she couldn't hold on to it.

"C-can-n't-t," she stuttered, her whole body shaking.

"Here, I'll do it," he said, tucking her hands back under the blanket before holding the cup up to her lips for her to drink. Finally, after nearly an hour and two cups of hot chocolate, Hermione had eventually stopped shaking.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Lupin asked, having moved to a seated position next to her chair on the floor, warming his hands by the fire.

"No," she replied.

"Okay," he acknowledged. "Do you want to go check on Harry, I'm sure he will be waking up soon."

Hermione nodded, standing up and putting the blanket on the chair, as she pulled her now dry robes back on. She moved toward the door when she felt the blanket wrapped back around her.

"Keep it," Lupin said, walking with her to the door.

"I'll be by to check on Harry in a little bit, you go ahead. I'm sure he has loads of guests by now." Hermione nodded and left without a word.

Harry woke shortly after Hermione arrived to sit with the rest of the Quidditch team and Ron.

"What happened?"

"You fell off your broom a good fifty feet."

"But the match? Did we win or are we doing a replay?" Hermione's hand struck out like a whip. Harry looked at her in stunned silence, his cheek turning red, where she had struck him.

"Hermione, wha—" Harry started, raising his hand to touch his cheek, where she had slapped him.

"Harry James Potter, you could have died. You realize that, right?" she said, her voice cold, and the boys around her flinched as if she had screamed at the top of her lungs. "You almost did die and you're worried about some fucking game!" She stood and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

"What was that about?" Harry asked, still holding his cheek, as he looked at Ron for clarification.

"She was really worried about you when you fell," Ron said, glancing at his brothers for confirmation, "I mean she was running for you before you even hit the ground. When Dumbledore and McGonagall got there, she wouldn't leave."

"Professor Lupin had to drag her off you, so they could bring you here," George said.

"Thought, she was even going to hit him there for a moment, we did," Fred added.

Hermione went up to her dorm; changing into some dry cloths she wrapped the blanket, Lupin had given her, up over her head before curling up in her bed, the curtains pulled shut. Crookshanks climbed in a few minutes later, his warmth and purring curled up against her back helping her drift off into a dreamless sleep. Only the next day did she realize that Lupin must have slipped a dreamless sleep potion in between her cups of hot chocolate.

The following Saturday afternoon found Hermione stopping by Lupin's office under the guise of getting help on her essay due Monday.

"Are you free for a bit, I figured now would be a good time to talk, I'm sure you have questions after my reaction at the Quidditch game," Hermione said, placing a detection charm that would alert her of anyone approaching the door. Since locking it would appear suspicious should anyone stop by to see the professor, last thing they needed was the rumor mill getting word of Lupin in a locked room with a young female student; it could turn into quite a scandal.

"Sirius told me a bit about you, and I can't deny that I am curious about you and why the Dementors effect you so much. Like Harry you seem overly sensitive to them," he said, setting out his tea set. "Hope you do not mind."

"Not at all, what did Sirius tell you?" Hermione said, shaking her head before removing her glamour, crossing her legs, as she smoothed out her uniform skirt.

"He said, you where stuck on an island," Lupin started, pausing for a moment before continuing like he wasn't sure if he should bring the subject up, "and that they were experimenting on werewolves."

"Yes, that is correct," she said, picking up the tea Lupin had poured her.

"Your friend was one of those experiments, wasn't he?"

"Yes," she said softly, before taking a sip from her cup.

"What happened?" he asked, picking up his own cup before thinking better of it. "Sorry, I don't mean to pry."

"It's fine. If I'm going to tell this, then I should start at the beginning, but first I think we'll need something a little stronger than tea," she said, pulling a bottle of Firewhiskey out of her bag.

"Ms. Granger, I don't think that is a good idea," Lupin said, as she cracked the seal and poured some into her tea and then his, before setting the bottle on the desk.

"Trust me, you'll thank me by the time I'm through," she said, leaning back in her chair and getting comfortable, this was going to be a long story.

"When I was 13, I went on a cruise with my parents after my second year, the boat was caught in a storm and went down. I was lost at sea for six weeks before I washed up on the shore of an island, that is where I met Halt. There was an organization, they called themselves Chimera; they were experimenting with a number of magical and non-magical creatures. The lead scientist was a man by the name of Aaron Fowl who also happened to be a wizard. Halt had managed to avoid being captured like the rest of the people that had been on the island before Chimera got there. He began trying to destroy the facility, when he saw what they were doing to the humans that were brought in."

"He was turning them into werewolves, this wizard?" Lupin asked, as Hermione drained her cup and refilled if from the bottle.

"Worse, they were crossbreeding werewolves with other creatures to make biological weapons. Dangerous creatures that could turn a battle field into a slaughter. The breed, Halt was infected with, was the only experiment that had been showing real results, though, but there were others, I saw the records they kept. Halt had been trying to get into their facility for years before I got there; it was warded, and he was a muggle, so all he could really do was hit the patrols that left the compound. When he found out I was a witch; I guess he thought I would have a better chance at destroying the place than he did, because after we were captured, he stayed behind to buy me time. I thought he had died then, I had hoped, anyway. He would have rather died than become their pet." Hermione stared down into her cup, lost in the memory.

"After his death I was depressed for a long time, but eventually I ended up getting my head on straight and did my best to figure out a way to get off the island. Nearly got on a supply plane once that brought in supplies and new test subjects, but I made a stupid mistake and got myself shot; it got infected and I nearly died from it. The Plane only came once every six months, so I had to find another way to pass the time, waiting for the next one; by then I had already been on that island a year. Six months later I had managed to get into the compound and blow it up, but the plane was told to leave early, and I missed it," she said, rubbing her shoulder at the memory of the old wound.

"Most of the creatures, they had stored there, died in the explosion, but eight of the werewolf hybrids escaped, including Halt. The researchers that didn't die in the explosion abandoned the place after that, but the bastard Fowl managed to get off. I have no doubt he continued his experiments elsewhere. I managed to kill of a few of the wolves, but the two females always were smart enough to stay away; the males' bites are sterile, so if they were going to expand their pack, they had to keep the females safe. They were smart and never fell for the same trap twice, I ended up spending the next year and a half living in the treetops, trying to outsmart creatures as smart as I am with all the advantage of wolf senses. When I would finally kill a few, those stupid researchers would send a team to try to capture some of them to take off the island. The only thing they managed to do was to give them a population boost before slinking back to their boats, if any happened to survived that long. Eventually I was able to kill them all, including Halt, and wound up picked up by some lost college students on spring break. Hitched a ride and eventually made it back to England only to find out, the whole place had gone to hell. Part of me wished I had stayed on that island, then I could have gone on, believing my friends were alive and happy," she said, staring down at her cup as Lupin refilled his cup, downing her's, she held it out to be refilled.

"Was it that bad?" Lupin asked shifting his cup in his hands.

"Worse than you can imagine," she said, staring at him, but her eyes were a million miles away, "Dumbledore was dead, Harry was dead, Ron was in a coma and likely not going to wake up. Sirius, Charlie, Hagrid, Ginny, all dead, and more before I even got there and that wasn't the end of it. I met you once, you know, back in my time," she said, blinking as she focused on Lupin again with the look of someone that had seen to much.

"What happened?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know.

"Nothing, you just were sitting in a chair, staring at the fire. I had come to talk to you about Peter, since you were the last person that was close to him, and I needed as much information as I could get, preparing to come back. I don't think you knew I was there. That was the last time anyone saw you."

"I see." And he did, she didn't have to say what happened for him to know he was dead in her world, Hermione topped off his cup, and he downed the contents. "Thanks."

"I told you, this wasn't going to be pleasant," she said, the two sat silently, nursing their drinks, when she left she left him the bottle, he looked like he would need it before the night was out.


Chapter Text

I never meant for you to feel this way

The Decembers were never meant to be our graves

It's not a question of who is wrong and what is right

But time can not heal what you will never recognize

'Cause all of this is all that I can take

And you could never understand the demons that I face

So go ahead and bat your eyes and lie right to the world

For with everything you are, you're just a little girl.

-Just a Little Girl, Trading Yesterday

Chapter 10:Decembers Where Never Meant To Be Our Graves.

December 1993-Hogwarts

December had finally come and with it excitement for the upcoming Hogsmeade trip and holiday break. The weather had turned colder and the snow had begun to fall. Finally Snape had declared that they would no longer be running until the holidays passed and the weather turned warmer, and Hermione had to agree. Many mornings would find her wandering the halls with the Marauder's Map in hopes of finding someplace she could work out, but most of the empty rooms were full of desks and other extra furniture or were simply to small to be of any use. One morning she found herself wandering the seventh floor corridor, she was about ready to head down to breakfast when she came upon a door that had definitely not been there the last two times she had passed that particular wall. Looking down at the Map, she had been using to avoid any other early risers, she found nothing — according to the Map the door in front of her did not exist. Tapping the parchment with her wand, she tucked it away before cautiously opening the door, inside was a room very much like her basement training room back at home.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Hermione said, quoting a line from her favorite childhood story as she examined the room. It wasn't exactly like her training room; it lacked the cooling cabinet, where she kept her water bottles, and the weapons rack on one wall had been replaced with wooden training weapons. There was a mixture of Muggle and magical training items, scattered about the room like someone had just left them out ready to use.

Hermione would have liked to have explored the room further, but she decided it could wait until the next morning. Leaving the room she wasn't all that surprised to see the door disappear from sight as soon as her hand left the knob.

Harry and Ron seemed unsure around her for a few days after the lost Quidditch match with Slytherin. Harry had been upset by the news of the loss and by the state of his broom, which had been broken beyond repair when it had flown into the temperamental Whomping Willow. While Hermione did offer her condolences about his broom, she refused to speak of the match other than an offhanded comment over breakfast that they still had a chance at the Cup. Harry and Ron refrained from any comments on the match while she was around, not wishing to invoke her wrath on the subject, as she had that night in the Hospital Wing.

As the years final Hogsmeade trip approached, Hermione busied herself with casting wards on all the hidden exits out of the school, she would be leaving for break and did not want to risk Peter sneaking away while she and Crookshanks were not around. The school would become his temporary prison for the time being. Unless he braved the Dementors at the gate. She had not placed the wards before incase the twins had decided to use one of the tunnels, she didn't want to risk injuring them or tipping them off that someone else knew about the secret exits, but seeing that they were not staying for break, she was comfortable with placing the wards now.

The trip to Hogsmeade was uneventful, and once again Hermione and Ron brought back treats for Harry since he was still unable to join with them. On the eve before she would be leaving on the train for London, she stopped by Lupin's office.

"Ah, Ms. Granger, what can I help you with?"

"I was wondering if you had plans over the holidays, Sirius has been bugging me lately about inviting you over for the holidays if you're free. I will be busy most of the break, and he could use the company," Hermione said, going straight to business.

"I hadn't had any plans," Lupin admitted, "I would enjoy spending a few days with Sirius."

That is how Lupin turned up at Hermione's home three days before Christmas.

"Finally someone other than myself he can sing that bloody song too," Hermione said, opening the door for the werewolf; somewhere further off in the house Sirius's off-key Christmas caroling could be heard. "I was just about to Spello-tape his mouth shut."

"Aw, he can't be that bad," Lupin said, shrugging out of his coat and scarf.

"It wouldn't be so bad if he would sing more than that one song. Of the other three songs he knows, he knows only half the words and the rest of it is just nonsense," she said, taking his things and hanging them up before leading him to the infirmary, where she had made up a spare bed.

"You can stay here, help yourself to anything in the kitchen. I suggest, staying away from the Christmas Cookies. Sirius made them and I'm not entirely sure they are meant for human consumption."

"I thought you were going to be away."

"No, not yet, anyway, I have a very time-sensitive matter to attend to, and I don't quite have everything ready yet. I hope to be leaving tomorrow, the next day at the latest."

"Might I ask, what your working on?" Lupin asked, following her out of the room, as she headed to her study.

"It's nothing, a personal matter I wanted to take care of," Hermione hedged before slipping into her study and shutting the door.

"I see," Lupin said, staring at the door for a moment before a clatter in the kitchen drew his attention back to Sirius.

For the rest of the day and much of the next Hermione did not come out of her study save the rare restroom breaks or to retrieve items from her warded store room downstairs. If it wasn't for the meals, the pair left at her door, it was unlikely that she would have even come out to eat during that time. Sirius and Lupin spent their free time getting ready for the upcoming holiday, doing some decorating with the few decor items Sirius managed to get a hold of and doing some last-minute shopping. They had just finished eating dinner on Lupin's second evening there, when there was the sound of something smashing against the wall and Hermione's voice shouting in Russian. The two men took one look at each other and headed for the study door. Cautiously opening the door revealed the room to be in chaos; papers were scattered everywhere, along with a number of books, to one side was a table scattered with bits of colored wire, tape and a number of identically constructed box-shaped contraptions with colored wires connecting different parts of it to a panel on the front of each box. Hermione sat in her desk chair hunched over a hand-drawn map and rubbing her temples with her hands, a number of items were scattered on the floor, as she had obviously thrown a number of things off her desk.

"Are you alright?" Sirius asked, as he stepped into the room cautiously.

"Yes, I'm fine," she said tiredly, as she looked up at them.

"Hermione, why don't you tell us what you're working on, maybe we could help," Lupin suggested, taking in Hermione's uncharacteristically haggard features, it looked as if she had not slept since he had gotten there.

"My friend is still on the Island." she said finally, when it was clear they would not leave without an answer.

"You want to go and get him?" Lupin said more than asked, he had seen how much guilt she held over what had happened to her friend.

"Yes, but it isn't as simply as that. I know him, even if he had the option to get off, he won't leave until that facility is destroyed, and that is if I can even get him to believe me that I'm not working for them," she said, looking down at the map that had a number of notes written out around the only cluster of buildings on the map. "I want to destroy the facility, but it simply is to big of a job for me to handle, even if I can get Halt to trust me and through the Muggle-repelling wards. There is just to much of a chance of the wolves getting loose again or that bastard Fowl getting away again, while the charges are being set."

"What can we do to help?" Sirius asked without a seconds thought.

"This isn't your problem, don't bother yourselves with it," Hermione said, but was cut off by Sirius sharp reply.

"Bull, you're helping me prove my innocence and catch a murderer. The least I could do is help you save your friend." The Dog wasn't backing down, and then Lupin joined in.

"If what you told me is true, that man is doing vile things to innocent people and inflicting on them something I wouldn't wish on anyone and then making it worse. I would do what I can to see him stopped."

"You don't understand what you're asking, what you are going to have to do if you come with me," Hermione said with a sigh.

"We're coming with you all the same, now, what do you need us to do?" Sirius stated, plopping down in a chair and making it obvious that he didn't plan on moving.

"You'll regret this." It wasn't a threat, merely a resigned statement she made, as Lupin took the other seat. "If I can convince Halt to help us, then this is what needs to be done..."

It was early the next morning when the three arrived by the way of an illegally-made Portkey on a beach on the edge of a dense forest; the sky was overcast and looked like it might rain.

"Where are we?" Lupin asked, looking around the dreary beach.

"This was, where I washed up," she said, not hesitating, as she headed toward the tree line.

Both men had dressed in dark colored clothes per Hermione's request; long-sleeved black shirts under dark green jackets and pants with sturdy hiking boots. Hermione was in the same, except her black shirt had no sleeve and a high turtle neck type collar. Sirius, since he had no wand and only little skill with wandless magic, had been given one of the few hand guns, Hermione kept. She avoided using them, as they had the tendency to malfunction in areas with a high concentration of magic like the Ministry and Diagon Alley, but it would undoubtedly be necessary for what they were doing. She had given the wizard the basic briefing on gun safety, as it was all they had time for before allowing him to have it after he refused to stay behind because he did not have a wand.

Hermione was carrying the only other hand gun she owned in a holster under her jacket along with her double knife sheath at her hip and another knife in each boot, her wand was strapped in easy reach to the inside of her forearm.

"Come, follow me, be sure to step where I do. There are all manner of booby traps set up around here, and we can't alert anyone we are here," she said, before leading them into the forest along a path only she seemed to be able to see. Finally, they came to a small clearing on the back side of a ridge that looked over a small bay. The clearing was near a small cave that led deeper into the cliff face.

"Hold your hands up and follow me, and for Merlin's sake, don't make any sudden moves," Hermione said, raising her hands above her head; they were lucky so far, as no one had sprouted any arrows yet, and she was positive their target had been following them at least half of their journey to the cave.

"Halt!" She called out, coming to a stop in the middle of the clearing. "I know you're out there, Halt, we haven't come to attack you, we've come to help. Der Feind meines Feindes ist mein Freund."

"Are you sure he is even here?" Sirius asked, looking around

"He's here, he's been following us almost since we entered the forest." This information seemed to unsettle the Dog, as he glanced at the surrounding trees, looking for their stalker.

The three stood there silently for a long minute before there was any response.

"'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Tell me, 'Friend', why should I trust you?" Halt said coolly, stepping into the clearing, an arrow knocked to his longbow in hand, but he only held it at his side; attempting to lure them in a false sense of security. She knew the man's reflexes were keen enough to draw aim and release before she could even draw any of her weapons.

"You shouldn't," she said bluntly, lowering her hands slowly to her sides, "but from what I hear, we have the same goal. It would be wise for us to work together."

"Who says I need help?"

"I have friends who know things. I'm sure you realize that no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to be able to get into the compound. Something else just seems so important that you have to turn back." She took Halt's silence as confirmation. "That's because the compound is warded to keep people like you from approaching on your own. My companions and I are immune, you might say, to the compulsions that wards trigger. We can get in."

"If you can get in then why do you need me?" Behind her she could hear Sirius and Lupin shifting uncomfortably.

"Other than myself, you are the only one here who knows how to properly rig explosives." Hermione slowly slipped off the backpack, she had on. Setting it on the ground, she opened the top flap so he could see the contents, the bag was filled with her premade explosives. "You want to destroy the place, I've got the means and way in."

"What's the catch?" Halt eyed her suspiciously.

"The catch is that you give me time to infiltrate the compound, so I can take care of some unfinished business, before you blow the place, and that you accompany us when we leave. After that you may go where you want," she said, skimming the truth, they didn't have time for the 'magic is real'-speech,; the Wolves could be released to come after Halt at any time, and once they were out, it would be a hard fight to take them all down. They needed to get this done while they were still caged.

"What sort of unfinished business?"

"I promised my friend, I would not let any of the things they made in there live, I'm not taking any chances, so I would like to take care of them beforehand, as a precaution." Halt was quiet from a minute before he unclipped his arrow and returned it to his quiver.

"Alright, girl. I'll help you."

"Thank you."

Introductions were quick, as the four of them prepared to head toward the compound. Before moving out Halt had demanded to know the plan, and Hermione obliged without argument. The plan was simple; Lupin and Hermione would sneak in ahead of the group and break into the compound, she would dispatch the test subjects and they would leave. Sirius would be staying with Halt as back up, since he wasn't going to be using magic to fight, he could help Halt through the wards and stand watch while Halt set the charges. Hermione would signal Sirius once they were clear, and Halt would blow the compound. If all went well, they would meet back at the clearing afterward.

"Remember, don't turn into Padfoot unless you absolutely have no other choice. Last thing we need is you startling Halt in the middle of a fight and him shooting you in reflex. You would be dead before you could say 'Whoops'."

"Alright, I get it, stick to my gun," he said, waving said weapon around in emphasis. Hermione grabbed it from his hand, checking the safety she put it back in his holster.

"Try not to shoot one of us, or yourself. Anyone else is free game." Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the silver ring, she had gotten from Lupin, and gave it to Sirius. She would be able to send messages to him with it from her locket. "Take this, I'll be in touch."

"Okay," he said, slipping the ring on before turning to head over to Halt who was impatiently waiting to leave, as he slung the pack of explosives on his back.

"Sirius, one more thing," she said, causing him to stop and look back at her. "Show no mercy, there is no place for it here. You see someone that isn't one of us, don't hesitate, you kill them. No Stunners, no Disarming; you kill them or they will kill you. If you don't, one moment of hesitation and your dead. Call them Death Eaters if you must, but don't think for one moment, just because they are Muggles, they can't kill you faster than a Killing Curse. You both better be here when we get back." This seemed to sober him up, and the Animagus nodded before heading over to Halt. Taking a deep breath Hermione turned toward the forest and started walking, Lupin falling into step beside her.

"Problem?" she asked, as Lupin continued to follow her in silence, she could tell he had something on his mind.

"Are you alright?" Ever since their arrival he had noticed a change in Hermione. This wasn't the Hermione, he had gotten to know on their private talks in his office, the strong, independent young woman that was fiercely protective of her friends all the while dealing with a traumatic past and still pushing through, despite it all. Nor was it the bright school girl he saw during her school hours who absorbed information like a sponge and mastered things beyond her years. No, this was a different side of Hermione, one he had only seen shadows of in the aftermath of her experiences with the Dementors. There was no spark of her usual fire; her hopes, her passion, even her temper, it was all gone. There was nothing left but a cold detached resolve. The eyes of a killer.

"Fine, why do you ask?" she asked without a blink.

"You seem different since we arrived here." He was cautious, he didn't know this new Hermione at all. The one that had been crafted and honed on this very island.

"Old habits die hard, they say," she said without humor.

"Surely you can't mean to kill everyone here?" He needed her to do something, this was wrong. He knew she planned this from the beginning, but now she didn't even seem to care. At the house, when they were planning, she seemed to truly regret that a lot of people were going to die in the explosion. Now she didn't even seem bothered by the idea in the slightest.

"No." This gave him pause, maybe some part of her old self was still in there. "I don't plan on chasing down every last one of them; just Fowl, anyone who gets in my way and any one stupid enough not to run while they have the chance." Lupin got a chill down his spine, what ever was going to happen, he had a feeling he wasn't going to like it.

By the time they made it to the compound the rain clouds that had been gathering had finally let loose their load, and if it were not for the Repelling charm on their jackets, they would have been soaked through. Casting Disillusionment Charms on themselves the pair made their way to the compound wall, with the downpour the patrols would be the only ones out. Outside the open gate there was a guard standing watch; Lupin had thought they would simply slip by the unsuspecting man until he caught a glimpse of Hermione's disillusioned self behind the guard, a moment before his eyes widened in terror, as the only sound out of his mouth was muffled by a hand, right before his exposed throat was slit open by an invisible weapon, and the front of his uniform was painted red before he was dropped to the ground. Hermione didn't even pause, as she stepped over the body and headed inside the compound, following her in Lupin hoped most of the guards would stay out of their path, or he feared there would be a trail of red in their wake.

Turning, Hermione headed up a set of stone steps before unlocking the gatehouse door. No sooner had the door opened then Hermione's knife had materialized in one guard's head, as the charm wore off. The second guard fired his gun in a panic, not seeing anyone enter the room through the open door, until he felt something go around his throat right before his neck was broken.

"Was that really needed?" Lupin ask, as Hermione pulled out a set of keys from one of the men before discarding them and moving to the other who seemed to have the keys she was looking for.

"Yes," she said, slipping the key into a slot on the gate control panel and turning it, causing a number of switches to light up, flipping a few of the switches to open the other two gates into the compound. It would make Halt and Sirius's point of entrance harder to pinpoint for the guards and would spread the security out thinner. Gates open she pulled out her wand and hit the control console with a low Blasting hex, the controls unusable now, and making it impossible for the gates to close, as all the controls had been run through there.

"The lab is this way," she said, leading him out of the gatehouse and toward the largest of the buildings, a few guards passed by, heading to check on what was going on at the gates, but Hermione let them pass by unhindered. Approaching the side door she pulled out a key card, she had taken off one of the guards, trying to unlock the door magically would only lead to it locking down when the electronic lock malfunctioned. "Come on," she said, holding the door open for the werewolf before slipping in behind him.

Hermione led them through the winding halls of the science lab, most of the occupants seemed to have left, hearing the commotion at the gates. Passing through one of the larger rooms gave Lupin pause, as there were a number of large glass tanks full of semi-human parts; hands with webbed fingers, feet with only half of the appendage turned into a paw, and worse of all was the two full size tank with whole bodies inside. One was a man; he was completely hairless and his legs had been half fused together from thigh to mid shin until splitting apart again in two serpent-like tails. His lower body was covered in a layer of scales that spread up in clumpy patches on his face and torso, he had no nose only a pair of slits where they should be, and his arms were two shriveled claw-like appendages. His back seemed broken and twisted at awkward angle, and his lower jaw hung open as if it were broken and was filled with serrated teeth.

In the other tank was a woman; her arms covered in a wing-like membrane that attached itself to her sides and disappeared under the feathers that covered most of her body, one of her feet was in the form of a bird's talon while the other still appeared human. Her long hair was a mixture of blues and greens that matched the shade of her feathers.

"This is—" Lupin breathed, not knowing even how to describe what he was seeing.

"Vile, grotesque, abominable? Fowl would call them something even more repulsive," Hermione said, pausing beside Lupin to look at the tanks. "He would call this 'progress'."

Lupin could only stare and shake his head.

"We need to go." When he made no move to follow her, Hermione put a hand on his shoulder and shook him. "Come on, we have things to do. There is nothing we can do for them."

"This needs to stop."

"It will, that's why we are here," she said, releasing his shoulder, "Now come."

They made it to the 'Animal Room', as Hermione had dubbed it, shortly after leaving the science lab and casting off their Disillusionment Charms. It looked much the same as the first time she had seen it save there were no Wolf corpses on the table. Instead they were very much alive and inside their cage; between the Hyena cage and the one that held the lone white female.

"So, these are them," Lupin asked, pulling his wand out to point it at the snarling Russet who had its nose pushed between the bars of the cage, drool dripping down from its open mouth. "They're bigger than I thought they would be. Even Sirius's Grimm isn't this big."

"You saw my Boggart."

"I thought you were exaggerating," Lupin said, staring at the small-bear-sized animals.

"Hello, again." Hermione said, locking eyes with the Black that was passing the length of the cage. Turning to Lupin, she said, "Kill them and burn the bodies, I don't want a bit of them left."

Lupin nodded and began casting carefully aimed Slashing Hexes, a quick and relatively painless death. Hermione drew her gun and walked over to the female Wolf, who was ripping at the cage bars with her teeth. She paused and growled when Hermione raised the gun level with her head.

"Goodbye, bitch," she said before pulling the trigger, lowering the gun she pulled out her wand before casting an Incendio on the corpse. Moving to the other cages, she began firing Blasting hexes at the enclosure, setting them loose rather than let them die in the coming explosion. The ones, she couldn't simply turn loose, she gave a quick and painless death, like the goblin shark. One of the last to be released was a Thestral, it was missing half of one of its ears and seemed reluctant to leave its cage. As it walked out it paused to look at Hermione before bobbing its head and with a snort trotted out of the room. At last there was only the three Hyenas left.

"Are you going to turn them loose?" Lupin asked, holding his sleeve over his nose, the smell of burning meat and fur was beginning to get very strong now.

"There is to much chance of someone using them to recreate Fowl's work," she said, raising the gun, but Lupin pushed her hand toward the ground.

"Let them go." This time it wasn't a question. For a moment their eyes locked and neither seemed willing to budge before Hermione finally relinquished.

"If someone gets a hold of them—"

"Then I will take responsibility for it," Lupin finished, as he released her hand before breaking open the cage. The three hyenas bolted for the opening as soon as it was open and were out the door before Lupin could even lower his arm.

"What is the meaning of this!" came a voice Hermione had not thought she would hear again.

"Fowl, good, you saved me the trouble of looking for you." Hermione said, turning to the metal staircase that led to the door to the medical ward of the lab.

"Do I know you?" the wizard asked, coming down the stairs, wand raised, as he alternated pointing it from Hermione to Lupin. "Are you with the Ministry?"

"No," she said before sending a nonverbal Incendio right at him without warning, Fowl cast a shield just in time, but he was still sent flying back from the force of the impact on his shield.

"Hermione, are you sure we have to kill him, we could turn him over to the Ministry, with what he has done he would never get out of Azkaban."

"Lupin, can you honestly tell me that if we didn't need Peter alive to prove Sirius's innocence that you wouldn't hesitate to skin the rat slowly?"

"That's… no—"

"The only thing I need from Fowl is him dead," She said, stalking forward, holstering her gun Hermione used her wand to throw spell after spell at the wizard who blocked as much of her oncoming fire with his shields, as he wasn't much of a duelist. Eventually his shield began to falter under Hermione's barrage of fire and Blasting spells until he was sent crashing into one of the autopsy tables, as his wand went flying from his hand.

"Please, I'll do what ever you want, just don't kill me," Fowl begged, his lab coat scorched and glasses broken on the floor.

"You and your twisted experiments turned a friend of mine into a monster," Hermione said, coming to stand in front of him, "I was forced to kill him. You're even more of a monster than he was, he was just doing what you made him for, why should I treat you any different."


"Sectumsempra!" she snarled, slashing her wand out as a gash was ripped across the Wizard's chest as the spell hit. Lupin had a good idea of who had taught her that spell, as he had only seen one other person use it. Fowl screamed, as he was hit with the spell again, and then again, until Lupin grabbed her wrist and forced her to pause.

"Stop, Hermione, he's dead," the werewolf said firmly, pulling her close and pinning her wand arm between their bodies to keep her from breaking loose, he only hoped that she wouldn't hex him instead. "He's dead, we're done here," he said more softly, her head was down and he couldn't see her face, but something seemed to have changed. For a moment she seemed to stiffen before relaxing slightly, he said nothing when he felt something cold drip onto his hand where he held onto her wrist. They just stood there in silence before Hermione seemed to collect herself and took a deep, shuddering breath, as she stepped back Lupin released her as she attempted to discretely wipe at her cheeks.

"We should go, I'll let Sirius know we're heading out," she said, pulling the chain out of her collar, containing her Time-Turner and locket, before sending her message to Sirius. She was back to as she had been before, despite the tear stains on her cheeks her eyes and voice were cold and clipped, but Lupin could see now that this cold acted for what it was; it was her armor. What she put on to keep the Hermione he had seen joking with her friends safe, and he had just seen that armor crack.

Leaving the compound was a lot less eventful than when they had entered, and the rain seemed to have stopped. After sending Sirius a message that they were clear the pair headed back to the clearing in silence. Half way there they were met with a series of explosions that rocked the ground under them.

They made it to the clearing shortly after that and were soon joined by Halt and Sirius who both seemed uninjured.

"Ready?" Hermione asked, the first time she had spoken since leaving the compound.

"Yeah, so how are we getting off this god forsaken island?" Halt asked, shouldering the pack of the few belongings he planned on taking with him.

"I can take you to King's Cross station in London from there you should be able to get a train to where ever you want to go," she said, holding out her arm for him to take. "All you need to do is hold on to my arm."

"Why don't you let someone else do it," Lupin said, pushing her offered arm down, "I don't think it would be a good idea for you to Side-Along-Apparate anyone right now."

"I'll take him, just give me that Portkey from earlier. What do you say to getting a few pints at this little pub I know by the station before you leave. I'm paying," Sirius said, offering his arm to the gray-haired man.

"I don't see how holding hands or on to a—is that a spam can? How is a empty spam can going to get us out of here?" Halt asked sceptically.

"Trust me, and I'll explain it over drinks. When was the last time, you said, you had been to a bar?" Sirius said, as Halt reached out a hand for the can, seconds after he touched it the two men disappeared.

"Come on, lets go. We've spent enough time here," Lupin said, Hermione nodded before the pair Disapparated from the clearing. If she ever saw that place again outside her dreams, it would be to soon.

Arriving across the street from Hermione's home, Lupin followed her across the deserted road and into the house. Immediately heading into her study, Hermione kicked off her boots and shrugged out of her jacket and gun holster, dropping them both on her desk before pulling a bottle of Firewhiskey out of her desk drawer and a glass. Filling hers she drained the cup before refilling it and sitting down in her chair to sip at her glass. Lupin came in a short while later, having changed into more comfortable slacks and a button-up shirt.

"Why don't you try getting some sleep? You haven't had a decent night sleep since I've been here, and I doubt you have since leaving school."

"I don't want to sleep. Going back there had brought up some things I would rather have left buried." she said quietly grabbing for the bottle again, "I just want to sit here and drink until I pass out."

Lupin sighed before taking the bottle from her, making her unable to refill her cup.

"Come on, off to bed with you," he said, pulling her up by the arm and leading her upstairs.

"I don't want to sleep," she said again more softly, her voice had lost the cold edge it had had on the Island and she looked drained, both emotionally and physically.

"Why don't you want to go to sleep?" he asked, guiding her up the stairs.

"I don't want to dream," she confessed, "I don't want to have to remember that place, just for a night, I want to forget it ever existed."

"Drinking yourself into a coma isn't going to help you any."

"It's worth a shot," she said, as Lupin released her arm as they approached her door.

"Get some sleep." Hermione paused at her door, but didn't go in, for a moment she stood there before turning around and walking back toward the Werewolf. She came to a stop only few inches away, and Lupin watched her with curiosity until she closed the distance and kissed him. He seemed stunned by her sudden assault before he found himself returning the kiss, his hands lasing themselves in her long curls, as they spilled loose from her tie. It was only once he felt her hands against the bare skin of his stomach, as she slipped them up under his shirt, that his brain did kick back in and he realized who exactly he was kissing.

"We should not be doing this," he breathed, breaking the kiss and grabbing her hands before they could move further up his shirt.

"I don't want to be alone tonight," she said, kissing along his jaw before resting her forehead against his neck. "I'm asking you to stay," she said, lifting her head to look him in the eye. He stared back at her entensly, his gold shining in the dim light of the hall.

"Are you sure?" he asked, his voice a husky growl, the full moon only a day away. Her answer came as she moved to kiss him again, and this time he didn't hesitate as he released her hands. In one move he picked her up so that she could wrap her legs around his waist, arms went around his neck as he carried her into the bedroom.

Hermione woke from a light doze in the night to a slight stirring beside her, lifting her head she saw Remus sitting on the side of the bed, elbows propped on his knees and face in his hands.

"I should not have done that."

"Do you regret it?" Hermione asked, propping herself up on her elbows, so she could get a look at his face.

"Yes—No! I don't know," Remus said, dragging his hands through his hair and looking over at her before adverting his eyes back to his sheet draped lap.

"Then, what's the problem?" she asked, slipping out of bed before pulling on his discarded button-up shirt and walking around the bed to sit beside him.

"I'm your Professor and nearly old enough to be your father," he said, staring at his clenched hands on his lap, the muscles in his jaw flexing, as she settled next to him.

"You're a kind man who made me feel safe and gave me comfort for a night, when I needed it," she said, grabbing his chin in her hand and fixing him to look at her, his eyes had a nearly dark gold sheen, as they caught the light of the nearly full moon. "What is there to regret about that?"

"I—" he started before she placed a finger on his lips, silencing him.

"And as for you being my Professor; I'm not some naïve school girl you're taking advantage of. I doubt you could take advantage of me, even if you tried." This caused Remus to chuckle, after what he had seen her do, he doubted he could make her do anything she didn't want.

"Probably not."

"So quit worrying about it, and enjoy the time while we have it," she said, releasing his face and moving to straddle his lap. Remus seemed to have relinquished whatever control he had been holding onto and immediately buried his hands in her hair, as he pulled her into a kiss.

When Hermione awoke, it was to the sun streaking in through the window and the smell of coffee. She was currently using Remus's arm as a pillow, while his other arm was draped over her hip.

"Mornin'." came a smug voice from the doorway. Glancing toward the door, Hermione groaned and pulled the blanket up over her head in hopes, the figure in the doorway would take the hint and go away. Why had they not shut the door the night before? Her movement woke a groggy Remus who groaned and threw an arm over his eyes in an attempt to block out the bright sunlight.

"Seems, someone's started Christmas early," Sirius said nonchalantly, as he leaned against the doorway, sipping his coffee.

"Make him go away, he's your friend," Hermione grumbled, not uncovering her head.

"He's your house guest that means, he's your responsibility," Remus countered, pulling a pillow over his own head.

"If you two don't get up, I might resort to my old methods of Christmas morning wake-up calls." This threat caused Remus to sit straight up.

"Sirius Regulus Black, if you even try jumping on this bed like a four year old, I'm going to hex you, then return your presents and hex you again!" Remus said, tossing the pillow aside and glared at his friend.

"You don't want to know what I'll do," Hermione commented, not coming out from her warm cocoon.

"Alright, Sirius, you've had your fun, now go away," Lupin said, crossing his arms and glaring at the Dog.

"Is there more of that coffee made?" came Hermione's voice from the lump in the blanket.

"Whole pot," Sirius said, ignoring Lupin's glare. With a resigned sigh Hermione sat up and slipped out of the bed; she still had on Remus's shirt that was nearly knee-length on her and was buttoned up at an angle, as she had missed a few buttons, when she had done it up.

"Let's get this over with," Hermione said, walking out of her bedroom. She paused in the doorway to give Sirius a dirty look before stealing his coffee and draining the entire thing.

"To much sugar," she said, handing it back to him before smacking the back of his head on the way out of the room and heading toward the bathroom.

"Why does she always hit me in the head?" Sirius asked, as Remus wandered the room getting dressed, minus his shirt

"It's only the back," Hermione called back, as she headed down the landing.

"And that makes it better?"

"Of course. A slap in the face would be humiliating. Back of the head's just a wake-up call. Your welcome," she called, closing the bathroom door.

"So," Sirius said, raising his eyebrow suggestively, as Remus moved to leave the room. "Spill."

Lupin's reply to this was simply to ignore the Dog, as he walked out of the room and headed downstairs.

"You can't tell me nothing happened," Sirius whined, following him down the stairs.

"Nothing happened." Lupin said straight faced, as headed into his room and shut the door on Sirius while he got properly dressed.

"The state of your back says otherwise," Sirius hollered through the door before heading back to the kitchen to get himself some more coffee.

After breakfast the three had gathered in the living room at Sirius's request where they opened presents; along with her usual Weasley sweater and the quill and book she had gotten from Ron and Harry, Hermione had also gotten a book on Animagi Transformation along with the potion to reveal a witch's or wizard's animal form from Remus and a large rectangle present from Sirius that turned out to be a five pound bar of her favorite chocolate.

That evening found her lounging on her couch reading the book, Lupin had given her, while the two men were out. It was the night of the full moon, and Hermione had insisted that Sirius accompanied him for the night.

Chapter Text

This is me for forever

One of the lost one

The one without a name

Without an honest heart as compass.

Walk the dark path

Sleep with angels

Call the past for help

Touch me with your love

And reveal to me my true name.

-Nemo, Nightwish

Chapter 11: The One Without A Name

December 1993/January-1994-Home Base, Hook Norton

"—and then stir three times counter-clockwise." Sirius read, his mouth half-full of sandwich, as he sat part-way down the table from where Hermione was brewing in her potions lab, the book he was reading from propped up in front of his plate. "Now it just needs to sit off the heat for ten minutes, until it turns from cobalt blue to a more swamp water green." With a wave of her wand Hermione had extinguished the flames under her cauldron and began gathering up the ingredients, replacing them on the shelves lining one wall of her lab. "You know, this reminds me of back when we brewed this potion. Lily was talking to Slughorn about joining his Slug Club when James and I snuck into his store room for ingredients. Remus ended up doing most of the brewing in the Shrieking Shack, he always had more of a knack for potions out of the four of us."

"Sounds like something Harry, Ron and I did second year," Hermione said, chuckling turning to look over her shoulder at the Dog. "We were brewing the Polyjuice Potion in a haunted girl's toilet, with ingredients from Professor Snape's stores."

"Brewing in a girl's loo and stealing from Snape in second year, oh, James would be proud of that boy," Sirius said with a chuckle, shaking his head. "What were you brewing that for, isn't it a rather advanced potion?"

"We were trying to find out who had opened the Chamber of Secrets and who was behind the attacks on Muggleborns. Harry was sure it was Malfoy at the time, so I came up with the plan to get into the Slytherin's Dormitory and interrogate him, and the plan worked without to much of a hitch. Harry and Ron got in and figured out that Malfoy had nothing to do with it."

"Breaking into other House Dorms, impressive," Sirius said with a whistle. "Where were you in all of this, the boys didn't leave you out of it, did they?"

"No, I did the brewing, and when it came time to take the potion, we all took it, but there was a complication with my potion. The final ingredient for the Polyjuice Potion is a part of someone, you are turning into, so I got some hairs off the robe of the Slytherin girl, I would be impersonating; the only problem was that the hairs I got were not hers, but cat hair." This caused Sirius to begin laughing heartily.

"You turned yourself into a cat."

"No, the potion was only meant for human transformation, I turned myself into a human with cat features," she said irritably, "I was stuck in the Hospital Wing for a few days; they managed to change me back easy enough, but I kept coughing up hairballs." Hermione shuddered at the memory. "Be happy, you're a dog."

"So, where did you get all of this stuff, some of these ingredients are not something you can buy at your run-of-the-mill potion supply store?" Sirius asked picking up a bottle of Netch Jelly, swirling the sludgy blue liquid around in the phial, until Hermione took it and put it on the shelf. "Did you raid Snape's supplies while you were in detention? Sneak them out under your robes, maybe?" Hermione came to sit across from Sirius at the lab table, grabbing the book Sirius had been reading from.

"Yes and no," she said, brushing some lettuce from the pages before closing it. "Some of my supplies are stolen from some of the shops in Diagon Alley, but there wasn't much left after the looters went through. The majority of my supplies came from Professor Snape's potion stores, but they were not stolen; he got them when we broke into the school to get supplies for my trip back; he emptied his stores while I was getting things from Dumbledore's office and the library's Restricted Section. I didn't get to browse, I had to grab whatever seemed relevant at the time; the school was surrounded by Acromantulas and the protection wards were in effect, so there wasn't a lot of time."

"I still can't get my head around a 'helpful' Snape," Sirius said, shaking his head and pushing his plate to the side.

"I'm sure Harry and Ron would say the same thing about Malfoy."

"What, you don't think the same of your childhood enemy?"

"No," she said, shaking her head, as she ran her fingers over the cover of her book, "Malfoy was the very opposite of everything I am. He's a Slytherin, I am a Gryfindor. He is a pure-blood, I am a Muggle-Born. By rights, I should hate him for all the things he has said and done to me, but I don't. Seeing him again after all these years; I don't see the bane of my school years, all I see is a boy who acts exactly like he was raised to and doesn't know any better." Sirius was silent while Hermione spoke, watching her as she put the book down and moved to collect a cup and ladle. "I wonder, if you found yourself back in your younger days, what you would see of Professor Snape that you missed, when you were a child, or what you would see of yourself, for that matter. From what I have seen, things we see as a child are not always what they appeared to be, we are just to naive at the time to see it, and not just with our enemies but our friends and idols as well."

"He would still be an evil git," Sirius muttered, but not with the venom of his earlier remarks when they disgust the Potions Master. Filling the cup with the now murky green potion, Hermione held it up for inspection.

"I hope this tastes a lot better than it looks," she said, giving the potion an experimental sniff, "or smells."

"I'm afraid not," Sirius said without sympathy. "Best down it in one go."

"You're sure I need this to learn to become an Animagus?" Sirius nodded.

"The first step is to unlock your animal form, that is what the potion is for. It will help bring your animal to the surface of your consciousness. Then you can begin to learn to bring it fully out and put it on like a new coat."

"Will it tell me what I am?" she asked curiously; she was dying to know what her animal was. Maybe an otter like her patronus, or a dog like Sirius; she only hoped it wasn't anything with wings, it would be a shame to turn into a bird that was afraid to fly.

"Not specifically, some part of your consciousness may already know. I've heard, some people had dreams of being in their Animagus forms when they where children and could tell exactly what they were after taking the potion, some people are just more in tune with their subconscious than others."

"Did you know?"

"Not really, I had a vague idea I was some sort of dog, but I didn't find out I was a Grim until I finally changed."

"Well, here goes nothing," she said, raising the glass to her lips and chugging it down before her taste buds could register what she was drinking. "Urg, that tastes like the back end of a Hippogriff." Dropping the glass onto the table with a thud, she covered her mouth in hopes of preventing any of the fowl liquid from making a reappearance.

"You feel any different?" Sirius asked, standing and coming around the table, just as Hermione was hit with a wave of dizziness and was forced to hold onto the table top to keep her knees from buckling. Behind her Occlumency shields she could feel something, like another presence. It wasn't something new or foreign, more like a part of herself had broken off and made its presence more prominent. As the dizziness passed, Hermione let go of the table and collected her glass to rinse in the sink before filling it with water and attempting to rinse the taste out of her mouth before speaking.

"Yeah, I can feel it, that other part, you were talking about, but I still can't tell what I am." Sirius nodded in understanding, as he levitated the cauldron, they had been brewing in, and placed it beside the sink, without his wand; he had been taking to learning how to do more magic without a wand; while he was nowhere near as adept at it as Hermione, he was beginning to make progress.

"It will take some time and practice, but you will get it; took us months before we could transform for the first time. I'm sure you will have it down in no time once you put your mind to it." With a quick spell Hermione set her potions equipment to cleaning itself before replacing it all back in their proper places. "Why don't we head up for some dinner, Moony will probably be up and about soon, and I'm hungry."

"You just finished eating," Hermione said, heading out of the lab and toward the stairs. "Yeah, and I'm still hungry, so let's get some dinner." Hermione could only shake her head at that.

Walking into the living room with a plate of food, Hermione found Remus where he had been since Sirius had half drug him in the door shortly after sunrise, sprawled out on her couch. Currently he was laying with one arm over his eyes, while the other was draped over a sleeping Crookshanks who had wedged his furry ginger body as best he could between Lupin's side and the back of the couch. The man was almost to tall to stretch out on the couch, as one of his feet was propped on the opposite arm rest while his other had fallen off the side of the couch along with the blanket, she had draped over him earlier in the day.

"Remus," she said softly, setting the plate on the coffee table and gently shaking his shoulder, "dinner is ready if you're up to eating." Lupin groaned before sitting up stiffly. She returned to the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with two cups of tea, Sirius had gone out for a walk after finishing dinner. They had decided to go a head and eat and let Remus sleep some more before waking him. The Werewolf was picking at his food, eating slowly, before taking the cup Hermione had brought him.

The pair sat in comfortable silence for a time; they had yet to speak any more on what had happened between them Christmas Eve. Both having agreed that it was a one night thing; Remus made it clear he would pursue no type of relationship with her as long as he was still a teacher at Hogwarts, and Hermione had replied that she was not looking for a romantic relationship at this time.

"So, Harry mentioned, you were going to start teaching him how to cast the Patronus Charm," Hermione said finally, breaking the silence, as she tucked her bare feet up under her to keep them warm.

"Yes, after the holidays. It seemed best since he has such trouble with Dementors," he said, setting his empty plate on the table before settling back with his tea. "You're more than welcome to join us if you want, I know you don't react well to them as well."

"No need," she said, balancing her cup on her knee with one had and pulling out her wand to cast the Patronus Charm. A silver mist poured from the tip of her wand, twisting and turning, as it took the form of an otter; corkscrewing and flipping playfully in the air, as it wove its way around their heads before dipping down under the coffee table and vanishing in a trailing mist of silver.

"Very good," Remus said, chuckling, as he applauded her spell work. "Very good."

Putting her wand away, Hermione twisted her cup in her hands in thought.

"Something on your mind?"

"Did Harry tell you what he hears before he faints?" she asked, looking down into her cup.

"Not much, but I recall him mentioning someone screaming."

"He told me, he heard talking; two men and a woman, but mostly he just hears the woman screaming." This caused Remus to nod sadly in acknowledgment.

"Yes, I believe it was the last moments of his parents. Lily's scream still haunts him, even if he has no conscious memory of her death." Hermione's only reply to that was a nod, as she took a sip from her cup, seeming lost in her thoughts before Remus pulled her back with a question. "What is it you hear?"

"I don't, I don't hear anything. It's—" she started before taking a calming breath and setting her cup on the table. "After Halt was turned, I thought he was dead. I went back to our camp; there wasn't much left, I took what I could and just started walking. That first night was the worst. I spent the night under the roots of a tree, it was raining." She wrapped her arms around her, as if fighting off a chill. "When the Dementors are near, I can feel the rain, the chill seeping into my bones and deeper. The smell of wet leaves and dirt. When they are near, I'm fourteen again, alone and back under that tree." Setting his cup down, Remus pulled her into a hug.

"You're not alone," he said, turning his head to kiss her hair. "You have so many wonderful friends; Harry, the Weasleys, Sirius — and me. You don't have to be alone anymore."

They sat like that for a long time before Hermione's soft reply broke the silence.

"I know."

The week that followed between Christmas and New Year was spent with Hermione working on her Animagus Transformation, which was slow-going; all she had managed to do was only get an idea of what her form might be. When she tried to get a better sense of the presence that had become more prominent in her mind, she would get a feeling similar to that when she had been turned partly into a cat by the Polyjuice Potion. This led her to the conclusion that her form must be some form of feline like McGonagall. Sirius and Remus made sure she didn't spend all her break inside working on her transformation, the three went out regularly to London. One afternoon found her and Remus exploring the London Museum; while another evening found her and Sirius seeing how many bars they could paint red in one night. They stumbled in at three in the morning; Remus found them holed up in the bathroom, Sirius passed out on the floor next to the toilet while Hermione was curled up in the tub. Hermione vowed off going drinking with the Dog ever again.

New Year's Eve found the three gathered together in Hermione's house

"You know, Hermione, now that you're working on your illegal Animagus form, you are going to need a nickname," Sirius said, pulling a large bowl down from a top shelf and bringing it over to Hermione who was cooking popcorn on the stove top.

"A nickname?" she asked, raising an eyebrow, as she dumped her pan into the bowl.

"Yeah, like I'm Padfoot and Remus is Moony, you need one," he said, popping some of the popcorn into his mouth while Hermione put the pan in the sink before collecting three bottles of beer from the fridge. "You could be the first female Marauder."

"Oh, no, not happening," she said, following Sirius out of the kitchen and into the living room. "You can give me a nickname if you must, but I am not joining your little group of overgrown pranksters."

"You hear that, Mooney, she's to good for the likes of us," he whined, as he put the popcorn on the coffee table along with the drinks Hermione had brought.

"Of course she is," Remus said, grinning, as he dropped down on the couch. "A fine young lady like herself can't be associating herself with a couple of old hounds like us." Hermione playfully swatted at his leg as she walked by, heading toward the TV, Sirius had come home with the day before and had spent most of the previous day tinkering with it, till he had managed to get it functioning without blowing up and powering itself on the lingering magic in the air since her home had no electrical outlets. Sifting through the plastic bag of movies, they had rented for this occasion, she held up two.

"You want a Muggle version of witches and comedy, or classic sci-fi action?" she said, holding up a tape in each hand, 'Hockus Pockus' and 'Aliens'.

"Action," Sirius said after sharing a glance with Remus who just shrugged, having never actually sat down to watch a movie before.

"So, what sort of name were you thinking?" she asked, taking the tape out of the case and slipping it in the VCR, Sirius had gotten and tinkered with as well.

"Something that suits you," Remus said, twisting the cap off his beer before relaxing back onto the couch.

"How about Curly, oh, or Ghost, oh, or Zena." Hermione could only raise a disbelieving eyebrow. "What?"

"Sirius, you really need to lay off the unsupervised TV watching," Hermione said, shaking her head, as she got up off the floor, where she had been sitting and going through the movies.

"Oh, what about Karma."

"Here is some karma for you." she said, smacking the back of his head, as she passed to sit down on the couch next to Remus, digging her note book out from under a cushion, pulling out the pen she kept stuck in the binding, writing 'HERMIONE' at the top and began jotting down a quick list of different words that could be made with the letters, looking for ideas.

'Menhir, Heroine, Homer, Minor, Noir, Mire-'

"What about Nemo?" she said, writing it at the bottom of her list before tapping it with her pen. "It was the name of a character in a book, my father used to read to me, when I was young."

"Nemo," Lupin said, rubbing his chin, as he pondered the word. "That's Latin for 'Nobody', isn't it?"

"Yeah," Hermione said, nodding, as she tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "Seems fitting for someone with so many identities and yet none of them are truly me. I can't truly be Hermione in this time, she is a fourteen year old student, after all, and Emma is a french antiques dealer. I truly am 'Nobody' here."

"Of course you're somebody here," Sirius said, coming to sit on her opposite side so she was sandwiched between him and Remus before pulling her into a half hug, propping his feet on the coffee table, as he grabbed up the remote. " You're our Nemo. You might be Harry and Ron's Hermione and to everyone else you might be Emma, but to us you'll be our Nemo, and you won't have to hide who you are around us; even if you scare the shit out of me on a regular basis. Now, shut up and pass the popcorn."

"Jerk," she said with a smile, shifting, so her back was leaning against Remus's chest and her feet were propped on Sirius's outstretched legs; the bowl of popcorn balanced on her lap. Remus passed her a beer before dimming the lights, as Sirius hit 'play' on the remote and the opening credits of the movie began to run.

Too soon Hermione found herself boarding the train at King's Cross with her cat and trunk in tow. The glamour of her fourteen year old self feeling restricting after being free from it for the last two weeks: even though it did not physically change her, it still seemed stifling, as she had to watch everything she did or said, it could get rather tedious at times.

Walking down the hall she came to an almost empty compartment at the end of the train, since most of the students had gone home this year, most of the cars were rather packed. The compartment contained none other than Draco Malfoy, minus his two goons. Sliding open the door, startling the teen as she entered, who was lounging with his feet stretched out on the seat, seeming to enjoy the space while everyone else was crammed into the other compartments.

"Pleasant holiday, Malfoy?" she asked conversationally, as she set down her cat crate on the opposite seat and hoisted her trunk up into the luggage rack.

"What do you think you are doing, Granger?" Malfoy sneered, brushing a number of sweet wrappers off his lap, as he moved his legs off the seat.

"It's called making small talk," Hermione replied, sitting down in the seat opposite him and letting Crookshanks out of his crate to sprawl on the seat beside her, his tail curled around him, as he eyed the Slytherin through half-closed eyes.

"Get out!" Draco ordered, pointing at the door.

"No," she replied simply, folding her arms over her chest.

"What did you say?" he hissed venomously.

"N. O. These letters, when put together, spell the word commonly known as 'no'."

"I know how to spell it." Malfoy snapped in frustration.

"Well, when you asked I assumed, you had not understood what I was saying and merely wished to clarify," she replied with a shrug, pulling a book of crossword puzzles she had picked up on the way to the train station out from her jacket pocket. "Now we can either be civil to one another for one train ride or you can continue being a prat which would end bad for you. Because I am not moving and am fully capable of kicking you out if you can't play nice." Pulling a pen out of her pocket before removing her jacket, she tossed it on the seat beside her, leaving her distinctly Muggle T-shirt in full view.

Draco sat there, silently glaring at her for a time, before finally giving up and resuming his earlier reclined position, as the train pulled away from the station, and went back to sampling the box of chocolates, his mother had sent him, while reading a Quidditch magazine.

"So, why are you not sitting with your Slytherin buddies?" Hermione said finally, breaking the silence between them.

"I could ask the same of you, Granger," he retorted back, not looking up from reading an article about expectations for the upcoming Quidditch Cup."

"Harry and Ron stayed at school, and I don't feel much like spending a whole ride coupe up with a bunch of Weasleys. I'm sure Ginny would be good company, but Fred and George have been trying to get the drop on me all year. They seem rather frustrated that I haven't fallen for any of their pranks, and I would just assume not set myself up for them to try. And Percy —well, is just being Percy, which isn't an improvement." This rambling explanation seemed to put the pure-blood off. Ever since the incident in their first Care of Magical Creatures class he had been content to ignore her, and she had let him, even with the fact that they shared a lab table in Potions, he had managed the class without interacting with her more than necessary. Now, here she was, chatting away like he was one of her friends, it was strange, to say the least.

"So, why were you sitting here by yourself?" she asked again, not looking up from her book, as she scribbled down answers.

"I saw enough of Parkinson over the break, I would rather not be stuck in a compartment with her, so I sent Crabbe and Goyle to keep her occupied. They are not much for conversation anyway," Draco said with a shrug, not really sure why he was even telling her all this. Hermione nodded at this information, but did not comment on it. They sat in quiet for a time until Hermione looked up, feeling eyes on her, to see Draco staring at her with a perplexed look on his face.


"Your shirt — is it common for Muggles to have writing on them like that?"

"Hmm, oh, yes, if there is a popular quote from a book or movie or even just a common phrase, people use. They print them on shirts, and then people buy them if they like what it says or are a fan of where the quote came from."

"And yours, does it come from some place or is it just a 'common phrase'?"

"It's from a movie; about a girl who wishes her brother away to the Goblin King and then is forced to run a dangerous Labyrinth to get him back. It's a quote from the Goblin King himself," she said, pointing at her shirt. "'You asked the child be taken, I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time, I turned the world upside down and I have done it all for you.' The girl beat him and took her brother back home with her."

"What's a Movie?"

"What's this, a pure-blood curious about Muggle things, what would your father say?" she said in mock horror before laughing.

"Forget it." Malfoy snapped, opening his magazine and holding it up to hide his reddening face.

"Don't worry, I won't tell him if you don't," she said, dropping the taunting tone to a more civil one. "A movie tells a story like a book that can be either educational or made up for entertainment purposes. Instead of reading it like a book, you watch it like a play, only you watch it in a theater with a large screen or at home on a much smaller screen. The theater or TV screens are a lot like the moving picture frames at Hogwarts only you can watch on of these stories play out, instead of some old dead guy someone painted a long time ago, and one screen can show many different stories."

Draco did not come out from behind his magazine, until the snack lady came by; Draco bought a number of treats, some of which he stashed away in his trunk, Hermione didn't buy anything.

"What, your Muggle parents not give you any money for snacks?" he asked snidely, as he opened up a Chocolate Frog.

"Okay, one, my parents are tooth healers, so they have a general dislike of sweet foods like that. Since it can literally rot the teeth out of your mouth if you don't take proper care of them. Two, I don't need anything off the cart, because I have all I need right here," she said, pulling an enormous chocolate bar out of her bag; she had placed a cooling charm on it to keep it from turning into a gooey mess if her bag got to warm. Malfoy's eyes grew envious at the now slightly less than five pound bar, as she had been eating on it throughout her break.

The rest of the trip was spent with the two talking in intervals, usually with Malfoy making some scathing comment about her or her parents and Hermione not rising to his bait but finding a way to integrate some form of accurate Muggle knowledge to the pure-blood. She had been surprised by his earlier question of her Muggle shirt and on the concept of movies that she figured the train trip would be a good way to introduce the pure-blood into current Muggle culture, in hopes that she got him to at least contemplate that the way he had been raised to view Muggles was not entirely accurate. Since his pride would not allow him to be driven from the compartment, she had him in quite a situation where he could do nothing but sit and attempt to ignore her talking.

Finally night fell, and the train arrived at the station with both the Slytherins and Gryffindors exiting the train without a second glance at each other, intact and without bloodshed. Surely something for the history books, Hermione thought, as she got into one of the Thestral-drawn carriages.

"Hermione!" came the sound of the two voices of her friends, as she entered the front doors of the castle.

"Harry, Ron, how was your holiday?" she asked, as the two boys ran up to greet her from the direction of the Quidditch field, all bundled up in their winter gear.

"It was bloody brilliant, look what Harry got!" Ron said, kicking the snow off his boots and slapping Harry on the back. Harry was grinning ear to ear and his cheeks red from the cold; a long object cradled protectively in his arms. "Go on, Harry, show her."

Harry stepped forward, holding the object in his arms out proudly for her to see. It was a magnificently gleaming broomstick, a Firebolt.

"Wow, Harry, where did you get it?" Hermione said, smiling at the boy who was practically bursting with joy at showing off his new broom.

"It was a Christmas gift. I'm not sure from who, there was no note," Harry replied, not too bothered by the fact that he was getting a very expensive broom from someone who didn't even bother taking credit for it. Had she not known about Sirius's true allegiance and that he had sent the broom, she might have found it all rather suspicious.

"The teachers haven't said anything about it, have they?"

"No, why would they?" Harry asked, perplexed by the question.

"Nothing, just that they might think it's odd that whoever sent that didn't send a card. Did you check it to make sure it wasn't cursed or anything?"

"We figured it was from Dumbledore, remember, how he send Harry the Cloak, or maybe Lupin." Hermione nodded at their theories.

"Maybe, but since it wasn't signed I suggest we keep the fact it was not labeled to ourselves, less the teachers think it was from someone who was trying to kill Harry."

"Good idea, 'Mione,"Ron said, as the three of them headed up to the common room. "It would stink if McGonagall or one of the other teachers confiscated it."

"Yeah, but I would like to try some spells on it to check for tampering, just in case." Her reply caused Ron to groan.

"What are you going on about? We have been flying on it everyday since Christmas, and it hasn't had any trouble."

"Just as a precaution," Hermione replied, as they climbed in the common room, "I promise I won't do anything to mess it up, and we won't have to involve the teachers."

Later that evening, after sending Sirius a letter on Harry's reaction to his new broom, found Hermione slipping through the school, removing the wards she had placed on the hidden passages. Once clear, she placed new wards that would block only fully achieved Animagi. They would keep Peter from passing through, and until she completed her first full transformation they would not need to be taken down.

In the days following the start of the new term Hermione had been trying to get a hold of Scabbers, but Ron seemed to have become even more protective of the rodent since her return, now that Crookshanks was back on the prowl. If he was not in his pocket, Ron would stash the rat in his dorm. If it was not to much of a risk of being discovered, she might have enlisted Sirius's help again in snatching the rat out while no one was in.

Their first classes of the new year was refreshing; Care of Magical Creatures was surprisingly comfortable, even though they where outside with ankle-deep snow. Hagrid had them learning about salamanders, so that afternoon found them gathered around a large bonfire where the flame-loving lizards were happily crawling around in flames, while the students sketched them in between feeding sticks to the flames.

Defence Against the Dark Arts had been slightly awkward at first, as Lupin kept calling her Hermione before catching himself and correcting the error. The other students did not seem to notice his slips, as they were to busy learning about the theory of a Blasting hex that was historically used to blast through the outer walls of castles that were under siege, but was now a daily used by miners. A number of students had asked if they were going to learn to cast the spell; Lupin had said they would eventually get a demonstration, but not inside the school and not till after the weather cleared. They would not be learning how to cast it themselves until a later year, but the theory was taught in third since it was part of learning a much simpler version of the spell.

Hermione had to hide a smile behind her book, as Lupin refused to call on her after his third slip-up, and he sent her a stern glare that was ruined by the slight upturned twitch of his lips. Class ended shortly after that and by their next Defence class things seemed to have settled back into the way they where before, as Hermione and the werewolf settled back into their roles as teacher and student.

Late one snowy evening found Hermione curled up in an overstuffed chair in the corner of the common room, a book propped on her lap, as she looked out the window, watching the snow come down in large flakes. It was late and she was the only one currently occupying the common room, when a shuffling came from the stairs leading to the dorms. Turning her attention away from the falling snow, Hermione caught sight of a familiar head of red hair, standing at the base of the stairs.

"Hey, Gin," she said, closing her book and tucking it in the side of her chair. Ginny walked over, her slippered feet scuffing against the rugs, covering the stone floor of the common room.

"Hey," the youngest Weasley muttered, as she came to sit on the floor in front of the fire, kept burning by the diligent work of the house-elves. Hermione stood and followed her to sit, leaning against the couch. Ginny shifted, pulling her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs. "Have you ever been scared to close your eyes?"

"Yes," Hermione said softly, relaxing back against the couch and staring into the flames.

"How did you get over it?" Ginny asked, looking over at Hermione, dark bags gathering under her eyes.

"Two things," Hermione rolled her head to look over at the red-headed girl, "but I think what helped the most was when I finally told someone about what was bothering me." Ginny glanced over at her before pulling her knees up tighter to her chest and staring back at the crackling fire.

"Do you hate me?" Her voice was quiet, but Hermione heard it clear enough and sat up straight to get a better look at the girl.

"Gin, why would you ask that?"

"You should hate me," Ginny said sniffing, rubbing her face into the flannel fabric of her pajama knees. "If it hadn't been for me, then you wouldn't have almost died."

"Ginny," Hermione said gently, moving to kneel in front of the girl, "Gin, look at me." Reluctantly the girl raised her head to show the tears gathering in her eyes. "I don't blame you for what happened, no one does. The only one to blame here is Riddle. He wrote those messages. He opened the Chamber. He set the Basilisk loose, and he was the one who attacked me and the others."

"But I—" Hermione cut her off and grabbed the girl by the shoulders.

"You were a victim as much as I was," she said, giving her a gentle squeeze. "And if anyone tells you different, they have me and Harry and six older brothers that could make their life a living hell." This she said, giving her a small smile. "That is not something I would wish on anyone; considering one of your brothers has easy access to large, fire-breathing, ill-tempered reptiles and another is proficient at removing and placing nasty curses. Two who do terrible things to their friends in the name of practical jokes, I would hate to see what they could come up with if someone said something bad about their favorite little sister. That is if they lasted that long after Harry, Ron and I were done with them."

"Thanks, Hermione." Ginny gave a small laugh before wiping at her moist eyes with the back of her hand.

"That's what friends are for," Hermione said, laughing with her before giving her a sideways hug and settling back against the couch. The two sat there laughing before their mirth ebbed away into silence.

"Hermione," Ginny started tentatively before continuing, "what was the other thing you said helped?"

"Hmm, ah, I read up on some mind magic to help, it's called Occlumency. Very similar to the Muggle meditation. It is usually used to shield your mind from Legilimens, but it also is a good way to block out unwanted memories that might turn up as nightmares, but it doesn't work all the time," she pointed out, making sure the girl understood that it wasn't a simple cure for her nightmares, and she would still have to to deal with them in her own way. "It is a good way to defend against intrusions into your mind. Which might help if your still worried about being possessed. Would it make you feel better to have some way to defend yourself?"

"Could you teach me?" Ginny asked, her eyes filled with a hopeful light.

"Yes, but not tonight; and if you don't mind, could you not tell Harry or Ron about it!? They already think I spend to much time studying things outside the regular class curriculum."

"Ye-ah." Ginny nodded before covering a yawn with her hand. Hermione stood, offering a hand up.

"Come on, do you think you can sleep now?" Ginny shrugged before taking the hand and pulling herself up.

"I could try." Walking back over to her chair, Hermione grabbed her book and the blanket, she had been wrapped up in earlier.

"Would you like to sleep in my room?" she asked, folding the blanket over her arm.

"Could I?" Ginny asked hopefully.

"Sure," she said, leading the way up the stairs to her room.

"You can have the bed," she whispered, as not to wake her roommates.

"But—" Ginny whispered back in protest.

"Trust me, I can sleep anywhere," she said, pulling her wand out of her pocket and conjuring a stack of extra blankets and a pillow.

"If you're sure." Tossing the blankets on the floor beside the bed, Hermione handed the pillow to Ginny before grabbing her own off the bed, discreetly grabbing the knife she kept under it as she did so.

"I like my pillow," she said as explanation before arranging her blankets into a bed. Ginny settled herself in Hermione's bed and was joined by Crookshanks who curled himself up next to the girl.

"He is always a good snuggle buddy and doesn't snore," Hermione said, laying down on her pallet, causing Ginny to giggle.

"Good night, Hermione."

"Good night, Ginny."

Sitting down to dinner Thursday evening Hermione found Harry eating quickly with an enthusiasm that she thought only Ron had toward food.

"Slow down, Harry, what's the rush?" she asked, as she carefully filled her plate considering her precarious situation of being seated between two hungry boys while there was a number of edible dishes around.

"I'm meeting Lupin for my first lesson on fighting Dementors," Harry whispered excitedly, so as not to be overheard, as he refilled his plate. "I don't want to be late."

"You have plenty of time, but you won't if you choke on your dinner and we have to take you to the Hospital Wing. I think it's safe to say that it would not be good for your health to try to beat Ron's record for putting away the most food in the shortest time."

"Ehy," Ron said indignantly; mouth full of chicken and a drumstick in each hand.

"He was conditioned for that from years of competing with his brothers over the dinner table. You'll just make yourself sick. Look, Lupin isn't even finished with his dinner yet," she stated, pointing up at the head table with her fork.

"I'm just excited, it's all. It will be great not having to worry about the Dementors anymore," he said, going back to eating his dinner, but this time at a less choking hazard pace. He left right after dinner, leaving Hermione and Ron to finish their desserts, Hermione chatting away with Ginny about arranging lessons of their own. She was still having nightmares, it seemed, but not as often as before.

Later that evening Hermione and Ron waited up for Harry to get back and tell them about his first lesson. She was not surprised to hear that he had not made any progress with the charm that evening and would continue to have lessons on Tuesday and Thursday evening.

"What, you suppose, is wrong with him?" Ron asked, as the trio settled down on one of the couches near the fire.

"With whom?" Harry asked, looking over an old newspaper for the latest news on the upcoming Quidditch Cup.

"Lupin, I mean, he's great and all, but he is sick all the time," Ron asked, leaning over Hermione toward Harry, trying to get a look at the paper.

"Does it matter?" Hermione asked, slipping off the couch to sit on the floor, so Ron and Harry could sit next to each other while she worked on her Charms essay, "I mean, Harry, you said, Lupin was getting treatment from Professor Snape and I'm sure Madame Pomfrey is taking care of any other needs he has."

"I guess not, just wonder if there is something we could do to help him," Ron said, shrugging.

"It's a nice thought, Ronald," she said, reaching up to pat his knee next to her head before going back to her writing.

"It's odd, don't you think," Harry said, flipping through the paper. "There was such a big deal about Black escaping, but there hasn't been any news of him since the break-out. I mean, it's been over half a year, and no one has seen a glimpse of him."

"Yeah. Dad said, he was coming after you, didn't he, but surely if he was anywhere near Hogwarts someone would have seen him by now."

"Maybe he left the country?" Harry suggested, shrugging.

"Or maybe your dad and the Ministry were wrong about, why he broke out."

"What do you mean, by that he was convicted of murder and then imprisoned, what is there to get wrong about that?"

"Actually, I did some reading a while back, and a lot of people back during the first war were convicted without a trial. So it's maybe that he was convicted without a trial," she said, finishing off her last line and pulling out her ruler to check the length.

"Why were you reading about trials during the war with You-Know-Who?" Ron asked, sure after knowing the girl for three years that he should just stop asking why she read the things she did, she always found the oddest and most boring things fascinating. "And what do you mean by 'first war'?" Harry asked, folding his paper and passing it to Ron.

"First war, did I say that?" Hermione asked, covering for her slip, of course referring to the war as the first would imply that there was more than one, which had not happened yet. "Must have had Goblin Wars on the mind. Speaking of which, have you finished your essays for Professor Binns?" This got a groan from both boys, and Hermione sighed in relief, as the boys left to collect their needed texts.

The next evening found Hermione making her way through the halls to Lupin's office. Once they were settled with drinks and seated in a pair of comfy chairs beside the fire, Lupin began questioning her on her Animagus Transformation.

"It's slow, but I think I'm making some progress. I've managed to change my hand into a paw a few times and even cover most of my body in fur, but I still can't seem to take that next step to finish the transformation."

"You'll get the hang of it," Lupin said, taking a drink from his cup. "At this rate you'll have it down by the time we go to see Sirius next Hogsmeade visit."

"How goes your own extra lesson?" she inquired teasingly.

"I would have thought Harry would have told you all about it?" Lupin said, Levitating a plate of cookies over to himself before offering it to the witch.

"Oh, he did," she assured, taking a cookie. "He seemed kind of bummed that he couldn't get the spell right away. I think he was under the impression that he would be able to master the spell easily and impress you. He's become quite fond of you."

This brought a fond smile to the werewolf's face. "He is quite a bright lad, reminds me so much of his father."

"It's good for him to have an responsible adult figure, looking out for him. Merlin knows that he doesn't have enough good role models to look up to."

This peeked his interest, he had not been able to get much information on Harry's life out of school. "I take it, there are not many responsible adults in his life."

"Well, there are the Weasleys' who I think are the closest thing to a real family Harry has ever been a part of. They do their best to make him feel a part of the Weasley herd, but there are so many of them, it's easy for someone to get overlooked. Hagrid's a good friend, but he's gotten us in more dangerous situations than most students see in all their school years, not that he was trying to. First, there was the dragon—"

"A dragon?!" Lupin sputtered in disbelief.

"Just a little one, but yeah, a dragon. We were there when he hatched it and then ended up helping him get rid of it before anyone noticed the fact he had an illegal fire-breathing reptile in his hut."

"Oh, dear."

"Then revealing Flamel's involvement in a very unique item and telling how to get past Fluffy to both us and Voldemort."

"Fluffy, is that a dog?" he questioned, not recognizing the name.

"A fully grown Cerberus that was locked in the school." This caused Lupin to raise his eyebrows in alarm. "That was just in our first year, then second year he sent Harry and Ron wandering off into the Forest into a nest of Acromantulas. The man is as sweet as they come, but has no sense of danger at all. I suppose he forgets not everyone is built as sturdy as he is. Dumbledore looks after him a bit, but after the ways things played out before, I don't think I can ever really trust him like I used to, at least not with Harry."

Lupin nodded, though he did not see why she held such distrust for the Headmaster. "What about his relatives?"

"Well, his aunt and uncle are definitely out of the responsible adult list, they are cruel. I saw them over the summer, his uncle's sister was visiting and set her dog on him a few times. Harry won't talk much about his life with the Dursley's, but I heard him mention a number of times that his cousin has beaten him up and that he didn't get a lot of food when he was younger."

"They starved him?" Lupin's tone dropped to a more serious tone at this news, sitting up straighter and setting his cup on a nearby table.

"I don't know," she said honestly, searching through her memories from over six years and a lifetime ago. "Since starting school they have been a lot better about feeding him and even gave him Dudley's second bedroom, or so he said. They did not allow him to send or receive any mail over the summer, and from what I remember the summer before second year all his mail was intercepted by a house-elf, so I've really not heard much from him while away from school, and he doesn't want to talk about it much while at school."

"I see." Lupin's face took on a darker expression, the more they spoke. "If he got his cousin's other bedroom, where was he before?" Hermione was hesitant about answering. Harry had told her some things, things she promised not to tell anybody, but then decided it was for the best. Dumbledore obviously knew of Harry's previous living arrangements before school, her own letter had been specific down to her very room, she was sure Harry's was as well. If Dumbledore wasn't going to do anything to help the living conditions of someone so important to the future of the Wizarding World, she was going to do something about it; not only for the future of the Wizarding World, but more importantly for her best friend.

"I wasn't sure at first, and I don't think he has even told Ron, but I confronted him about it in second year. Before starting school he was confined to the cupboard under the stairs. When he was allowed out, he was treated as nothing more than their personal house-elf. He cooked for them, cleaned for them, apologized for scraps he got from their table and thanked them for the rags he was given to wear. Even his glasses are from a recycle bin, close enough to help him see, but not made for him."

"They didn't," Lupin growled, standing to is feet in anger and beginning to pace the length of his office agitatedly. "I can not believe Dumbledore would place him in such a home. He assured me Harry was going to a good home when he took him."

"As far as I can tell, the Headmaster has done little to help in Harry's home life," Hermione said sadly. "Surprisingly, the one who has made the most difference in his home life, was a certain Half-Giant that will remain nameless. Gave Harry his first birthday cake along with giving his cousin a nice pig tail," she said, smiling to herself at the memory of Harry's tale of Hagrid's epic entrance into his life.

"He can't be allowed to go back there," Lupin said with a tone of finality, as he came to drop back down into his seat. "If I could take him I would, but there is no way the Ministry would allow someone with my condition to take custody of him, even if he wasn't the Boy-Who-Lived."

"I know you would, and Emma can't become his guardian like she did with myself. The transfer of guardianship of some Muggle-born child to a witch doesn't cause much stir, but trying to get custody of the Harry Potter. That is an entirely different matter. Which makes proving Sirius's innocence all the more important. As Harry's godfather Sirius can legally gain custody of Harry, and since he would be a wizard, taking him from a Muggle home, I think the transfer would be approved quickly enough."

"You've really got everything worked out before the issue even comes up, don't you?" the Werewolf said, chuckling, shaking his head at the girl's preparedness.

"No, not everything," she said with a chuckle, tossing her curly locks behind her shoulder, "but I won't deny the betterment of the life of my best friend is up there near the top of my list of things I'm planning on meddling in this year. I sure hope Sirius is up for the task; he is going to have to be the parent and not a crazy fun uncle who eggs him on to whatever crazy thing he gets in his head to do. Brave he might be, but the boy doesn't always think things through."

"I'm sure he'll do fine, and if he needs some help he's got us around; after all, you're already Harry's voice of reason while he is at school, from what I can tell," he said, returning her smile with one of his own. "What would he do if you were not around to keep him out of trouble?!."

"He'd be dead," she replied bluntly, her smile falling away, as her thoughts turned to the past.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that," Lupin said, catching on to her dark thoughts.

"No, I know you didn't," she said, shaking her head and reaching over to pat his arm. "I think I'll take my leave now, it's late."

"Of course, and I think I need to write Sirius on Harry's current living conditions so he can start preparing," Lupin said, rising and walking her to the door, "If he agrees, which he will, it would be best for him to get all his affairs in order as quickly as possible so he can apply for custody. If we can get Peter sorted out quick enough, Harry might not even have to go back at all for the summer."

"So it's all on me to get Peter, no pressure," she said jokingly. "Good night, Remus."

"Good night, Hermione."

As January moved into February the harsh weather continued. Even so Oliver Wood had the team out as often as they could, sometimes five or six times a week, until McGonigall got involved. Despite her wanting her House team to be at their best, she was forced to speak up when it began to effect the class work of a number of team members.

Two days before the Quidditch match the mission to capture Peter finally took a turn for the worst, when Ron discovered blood on his sheets and Crookshank's hair on his bed. Hermione had taken to sending Crooks into the boys dorm, when Ron was out, trying to drive the Rat out into the open, where she could get at him. Ron was upset, to say the least; he seemed torn between being furious at Hermione and her cat for the death of his rat and heartbroken over the loss of his pet.

Hermione let him shout at her without a word, till his anger sputtered and died before he slunk off up to his room with bloody sheets in hand to morn his rat.

"He didn't mean it, Hermione, he's just upset." Harry was torn between going after his distraught friend and making sure Hermione was alright.

Hermione gave him a reassuring smile, "I'm fine, Harry, go see that Ron doesn't do anything stupid." Harry nodded and ran up the stairs toward the dorm.

As soon as he was out of sight, Hermione pulled out the Map discretely and began searching floor to floor, a cold weight settling in her stomach the longer she went without seeing the marker with Peter's name. She went through it again just to be sure. She had managed to drive the Rat from his safe haven, but now he was missing.


Chapter Text

A warning to the prophet,
The liar, the honest,
This is war.

To the leader, the pariah,
The victor, the messiah,
This is war.

It's the moment of truth, and the moment to lie,
The moment to live and the moment to die,
The moment to fight, the moment to fight.

To fight, to fight, to fight!

-This Is War, 30 Seconds to Mars

Chapter 12: It's The Moment Of Truth, And The Moment To Lie.

March 1994-Hogwarts

Hermione was so distracted by the disappearance of Peter that she nearly skipped going to the Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw game. It was only due to Ron's insistence that they needed to go and support Harry that she finally relinquished and went to the game if only to keep up appearances and to keep an eye on her trouble-prone friend. He always managed to take the game of Quidditch and make it just a bit more life-threatening, even if it was by no doing of his own.

Finally the snow had begun to melt away and was followed by days of gloomy rain until the weather finally broke and they were greeted with the first warm days of spring. On these days the students would pour out of the school during their free time and drink in the warm rays; lounging in the grass or walking the grounds. One day Hermione and her friends even found themselves lounging beside the lake; Harry and Ron playing chess on a portable board and Hermione lying on her stomach, scribbling notes in a notebook. Ron might have commented on her, working on some project or studying for the upcoming finals, had he taken notice of the book. But he didn't, as Hermione's charm held true, her work in the notebook was not given more than a passing glance.

That evening at dinner an owl dropped a folded piece of parchment in her lap. Picking it up curiously; apart from Sirius and the Daily Prophet she didn't get any mail, and this did not look like something Sirius would send. Unfolding the note, she read the short message.

'Ms. Granger,

If you still wish to continue your morning exercises, present yourself at the castle entrance at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Do not be late.

Prof S. Snape'

And so the next morning found Hermione resuming her morning running routine with the Potions Master, who it seemed even after the past few months was still a grumpy bear in the morning.

The final Hogsmeade trip of the year arrived, and Hermione spent much of the day shopping with Ron and Ginny. She slipped off on her own, as the day grew late, and used her Time-Turner to meet up with Lupin at the Shrieking Shack early that morning just after breakfast, before the students had even begun arriving in the small town.

"You know, some day you are going to have to tell me how you keep your friends from noticing you going missing every Hogsmeade visit," Remus said, as they walked into the back door of her house. "My friends got suspicious of my disappearances when dealing with my furry problem rather quickly."

"I would have thought McGonagall would have told you, being a professor and all," she said surprised. "It is how I have been getting to my classes all year. Honestly, you never wondered how I was getting to all my classes, when I take a number of them that take place at the same time?" she said, pulling a chain out of the collar of her sweater, revealing the charmed locket and Time-Turner.

"I should have known," Remus said, shaking his head in astonishment. "How else could you keep up with your school work, look for Peter and whatever that little side project of yours is, I always see you researching on. Are you ever going to let us in on what you are up to?"

Hermione shook her head and tucked her necklace back into her shirt. "It is nothing you need to worry about as of yet; just know it is about Voldemort, but really, I have yet to find out much more than I already knew."

Remus gave her a calculating look, but did not press the issue, as they entered the living room to find Sirius waiting for them.

"Finally," he said, popping up from one of the chairs. "Are you ready to go?"

"Go where?" Hermione asked.

"To finish your transformation; you said in your last letter, you nearly had it complete."

"Yeah," she said looking between the Dog and the Wolf. "But I just figured, I would work on it downstairs," she said with a shrug.

"No, no, no, if we're going to do this, then we are going to do this right," Sirius said, leading the way out of the front door, waving at the neighbour lady who was working in her flowerbed as they passed."

"Right way?"Hermione asked, as she followed him through the town.

"Once you finish the transformation, you're going to want to put it through its paces, to really get a feel for it. You're not going to be able to do that in your training room, you will need a large natural environment."

"I suppose your right," she assented reluctantly, as the three walked down the sidewalk, "but where are we going?" Sirius only grinned in answer.

It turned out, Sirius was leading them to a park that was bordered by a rather large forest. Hikers tended to frequent the trails during the summer, but if one went in far enough, even the oddest hiker would not notice any strange occurrences, like people turning into animals.

The three settled in a clearing well off of the hiking trails, and Hermione took a deep breath in the cool spring air.

"Alright, I think I'm ready now," she said, closing her eyes and focusing on the other presence in her mind. Remus and Sirius watched her, eager to see what she would be; ignoring their stares, she pulled the presence forward to the forefront of her mind and allowed it to slip over her like a second skin. Faintly, she was aware of her body changing shape, but it was not near as jarring as the werewolf transformation she had seen Remus go through; with breaking bones and spasming muscles. This was fluid like pouring a cylinder glass of water into a square container, she simply flowed from one shape to the next.

"I think I might be jealous," Sirius said with an impressed whistle. Hermione blinked her eyes open and looked around the clearing, she was considerably closer to the ground that she had been a moment before. Her mouth felt weird; running her tongue over her teeth she found her mouth full of large, sharp fangs and made a note to be careful, not to bite her tongue off on accident. Looking around, the colors of the trees and grass and even the clothes of her companions seemed sharper and more defined. Sniffing, she was surprised to find that she didn't notice to much of a difference in the scents around her, though it was a bit keener even if just by a bit.

Looking down at her hands, she was met with paws of grayish-brown in color. Lifting one for inspection, she flexed her fingers experimentally and was greeted with a set of sharp claws that slipped into sight before disappearing, as she relaxed her paw. Dipping her head down between her front legs, she saw her back feet were also paws, and between them she could see a long, thick tail, flicking back and forth. Her belly, she noticed, was a lighter brown color compared to the gray-brown of the rest of her body. Experimentally she attempted walking around; which proved to be slightly disorienting, as she attempted to get the hang of walking on all fours, while she kept tripping on her tail. Eventually, she figured out how to hold her tail up, so it did not drag or get under her foot, and pretty soon she was trotting gracefully around the clearing.

Turning to face Sirius and Remus, she attempted to speak to them, to convey that she wanted to see what she looked like, but what came out of her mouth was not words, but a deep guttural chuffing sound that was followed by a higher pitched yowl.

"Let me guess… you want a ball of string?" Sirius asked chuckling. Hermione hissed, she could feel her lips pulling back in a snarl of irritation.

"Alright, no need to have a hissy fit," the Dog said, conjuring a large mirror for her to look into. A large, scarred Mountain Lion looked back at her.

Turning in the mirror to get a better look at herself she noticed, her gray-brown coat was marked visibly with each of her scars, and her fur had a slight wave to it, possibly a manifestation of her wild curls in this form. Her eyes were surprisingly a very similar brown to her normal eye color, only with a slight hint of gold in them now.

Her ears were black with a white spot on them and white around her mouth outlined in black, it was the only color to break up her plain brown coat. After she had finished looking herself over, she began wandering the clearing, getting used to her new senses and body.

A slight shift in the scents was the only warning she got right before she was assaulted by a bouncing barking black dog. The two Animagi bounced around the clearing, chasing each other and wrestling in the grass. At one point Remus could not help but laugh, as Sirius barked around the base of a tree, Hermione perched in one of the high branches, hissing, as the hair of her back and tail stuck up on end.

Remus had seated himself on the grass, as he watched the two play, before the cougar headed over to sit in front of him, lifting a paw in the animal version of a shake, and he took the paw in his hands and patted it, his hand was small compared to her massive paw.

"I believe congratulations are in order," he said, releasing her paw. Hermione bumped her cool nose against his head, right before some latent feline instinct took over and Remus found himself pinned under a 100 pound purring cat, as his hair was given a mandatory cat bath. Sirius watched, making a chuffing sound, that was akin to laughter coming from his canine voice box, that was until Hermione turned on him, and after chasing him down gave him a similar grooming treatment. The Dog whined the whole time, turning his large gray-blue eyes on Remus, he received no aid from the Werewolf who was trying to get his hair back in some order or at least to not stick up at odd angles.

Too soon it was time for teacher and student to return to the school, lest they be missed. So, after saying goodbye and a promise to find Peter, the pair left the clearing with the audible crack of Apparition.

With May came the Quidditch Finals, and Hermione was happy to see them through, not just because they had won the Quidditch Cup again, but now she didn't have to watch with barely controlled nerves as Harry flew around at even faster speed than on his old broom. She still had not gotten over his fall in his first game of the year and was happy when the Quidditch season had come to a close.

Following the end of the Quidditch season came the much dreaded Final Exams of the year, and Hermione was beginning to get worn down. Along with her own studying, she was also making sure Ron and Harry were as well. If left on their own, they would most likely wait till the last minute and fail a number of their classes. On top of studying for the Finals, she was also spending as much time as she could spare on searching the library for any information on Voldemort or the Dark Arts, when she wasn't out searching the grounds for the illusive rat.

Finals passed in a blur of papers and wand waving; the exam Hermione most enjoyed was Lupin's obstacle course, and other than coming out a little shaken after facing a Boggart she passed with flying colors.

With Final Exams finally through, Hermione found herself wandering the halls one morning, when the boys had gone off to play a friendly game of Quidditch after being stuck in studying for Exams the past few weeks. The search for Peter had gone cold, she had scoured the Map for the Rat and even combed every room she could get access to in hopes maybe he had found a way to hide from the enchanted parchment, but to no success. She was sure he had not passed through the secret passages, all her wards were intact and still functioning. Sirius and Remus had assured her that Peter was to much of a coward to have tried his luck, passing the Dementors out of the schools gates or into the Forest, but Hermione wasn't so sure. A coward he might be, but when push comes to shove the Rat could have done something insanely brave as pass the Dementors; after all, Sirius escaped prison in just that manner.

Passing the Room of Requirement, she paused when she noticed the door appearing before her. It was strange, she didn't recall focusing on anything specific to draw the room into existence. Gripping the handle, she opened the door cautiously and peered into the dimly lit room. Stacks upon stacks of broken and discarded items filled the seemingly endless room. Closing the door behind her, she walked into the stacks; off in the distance she could hear a record-player skipping. Passing a mountain of mismatched chairs, she noticed something out of place, crouching down she picked up a piece of bread crust. The Room of Requirement was a wondrous thing, but there was one thing that she knew it could not provide. Just like you could not create food with magic, the Room too could not. Which would mean that someone would have had to brought it inside, and recently, if the freshness of the food was anything to go by.

"Of course," she said in dawning realization, as she scanned the area for any other signs of inhabitants. She was greeted by a few more stashes of half eaten food and the tell-tale leavings of a rat. Either Hogwarts had suddenly gotten a pest problem or she had stumbled upon Peter's hiding spot, in the one place the Map could not track.

Backtracking to the door, she sent a message to Remus; to drop what he was doing and meet her in the 6th floor corridor. Watching his progress on the Map, she slipped out the door when he turned into the hall.

"What is it? What's wrong?!" he panted, out of breath from jogging up five flights of stairs, then down two more after the stairs realigned, his mind immediately thinking the worst when he got the urgent message to meet.

"I found him," she said, a grin splitting her face.

"What, where?" the Werewolf asked, eyes darting around for the Rat.

"In here," she said, pointing to the open door, showing him the large junk filled room.

"I don't remember this room on the Map."

"That's because it wasn't on your Map," she stated, handing him the Map, depicting the pair of them on the parchment, standing in front of a blank wall before her dot disappeared, as she stepped into the room. "Peter must have found it in the years after the Marauders left Hogwarts, or he simply didn't tell anyone. Either way, he knew it wasn't on the Map and so would be safe."

"Wow," Remus said, poking his head in after her. "How do you know about this place?"

"I'll tell you later," she said, smirking and putting a hand on his chest, preventing him from coming in and pushing him lightly back out. "I need you to stay here and hold on to the Map for me, while I search the room. Make sure he doesn't slip out behind me once I head deeper in."

"Are you sure you don't want me to come in and help?" he asked, obviously wanting to get his hands on the Rat himself.

"No, I need you keeping watch on the door," she said, shaking her head. "If I can't find him, then I may be forced to take more drastic measures to flush him out. In that case, he would have no choice but to head right for you."

"Alright, but be careful. I doubt he is much of a threat after all these years, not that he was much of one to begin with, but don't underestimate him."

"I will," she said, drawing her wand and stepping back into the stacks of lost items. Weaving through the stacks, it became clear that there were simply to many small places for her to even hope to find the rat if she kept wandering. Replacing her wand in its holster, she decided to try a different tactic. Closing her eyes, she pulled on the mind set of her Animagus, bringing it to the forefront of her mind was far easier now than it had been her first time, as she felt the fluid shift from human to animal. Padded feet moved through the stacks in silence, as the Cougar stalked by, ears in constant movement, as she listened for the slightest sound of movement that was not her own. It would have been nice to have Padfoot there, his nose was far keener than her own and would have had no trouble sniffing out places the rat had been. But Nemo had her own talents; her body was made for silent stalking, as she listened for her prey.

Scritch scratch

Nemo stilled and lowered herself to her belly, nothing moving save for her ears, as she tried to locate the source of the sound.

Scritch scritch scratch

There was movement on the top of a half buried desk that was sticking out of a pile of furniture 12 feet above her head. Her tail twitched, as she slunk around the pile to a more suitable angle, ever cautious of the oblivious rodent above her. Lowering herself back down, she shifted her shoulders, ready to pounce. In a split second her strong legs had her sprinting at the stack and launched her straight up onto the desk and it's occupant.

Remus stood in the door way of the Room of Requirement, as he kept watch for signs of Hermione or Peter. So far everything was quiet, almost to quiet. Glancing down at the Map, he saw a group of seventh-year students heading to the corridor, so rather than looking suspicious, loitering outside a usually nonexistent door, he ducked in and closed the door before they could spot him. He had just leaned his back against the door, when there was a loud crash in the distance, followed by a high-pitched yowl and the panicked screams of a distinctly male voice.

Before thinking his actions through Lupin had stuffed the Map in his robe pocket and drawn his wand before sprinting off into the stacks toward the commotion. Following the sound of screams and falling furniture, Remus rounded a lopsided moldy bookcase to see an odd sight. A short, balding man with a rat-like face was screaming hysterically, as he hastily climbed up a pile of furniture, periodically tossing a chair or other random bit down behind him, as he fled. Lower down, a large scarred brown wild cat bounded up the pile behind him, tail lashing agitatedly, as she hissed and snarled before her clawed paw snagged on his leg. Peter suddenly found himself falling down in a jumble of limbs and broken chair parts. Hitting the ground with a thump, the man groaned but pushed himself up on his hands and knees before shifting back into rat form, trying to slip away into one of the small gaps in the piles around him before his pursuer could catch up.

"Stupefy!" Remus cast, coming out of the shadow of the bookcase, as the Rat toppled over unconscious, his momentum sending him skidding head first into a large damaged gong with a crack that split it near in half. Nemo leaped gracefully down from the pile before leveling a glance at Remus, her ears back as she hissed.

Remus held his hands up in a placating manner. "I know you said, wait by the door, but look, it all turned out alright. We got him," he said, picking up the still thankfully breathing rat and transfiguring one of the fallen half broken chairs into a box with a lock and air holes. Placing Peter in the box, he cast a charm to keep him from transforming and as a precaution a Silencing Charm before locking the box to keep him from overhearing anything he aught naught know.

"There," he said, holding the box up in triumph. He couldn't stop the grin from splitting across his face, James's and Lily's betrayer had finally been caught, and they finally had the proof of Sirius's innocence. "Am I forgiven?" he asked, still smiling brightly despite the obviously irritated large predator in front of him. Nemo huffed before shaking herself from head to tail before wrapping herself around his legs, purring like an overgrown house cat, nearly toppling Remus in the process. The Werewolf could only laugh, as he caught his balance, as Hermione released her hold on her animal form, pushing it back to the back of her mind and becoming the woman once again. She noted her transformation had stripped away all her glamours, which she stocked away for later analysis, right before strong arms wrapped around her and spun her in the air.

"We did it, we actually did it. I can't wait to tell Sirius, he is going to be over the moon," Remus declared joyously, as he spun Hermione again who was now catching his infectious laughter. Setting her back on her feet, she was pulled into a full bone crushing hug, which she returned.

"Thank you so much, you have no idea what this means to me, and I don't think I will ever be able to truly repay you for what you have done for Sirius and I," he said, kissing her forehead. Hermione hugged him back before stepping away.

"You don't need to thank me. Besides, there is still a lot to do; he need to be brought before Dumbledore and the Ministry," she said, as Remus unashamedly wiped the tears from his face, smile never leaving his lips. "This is, where you take over, you're going to have to be the one to take him to Dumbledore, the sooner the better. Less of a chance for him to escape," she said, picking up the box containing Peter and placed it in his hands. Remus tightened his hold on the box, as the pair headed back to the exit.

"Do you think Peter will be able to identify you as an Animagus?" he asked, as they walked.

Hermione thought a moment before shaking her head. "No, I don't think he knew we were in here before I pounced on him or he would not have been out in the open like that. I doubt he knows Hermione Granger was even involved, I have been very discreet apart from Crookshanks, which can be dismissed as typical cat behavior since others were involved." Remus nodded at this. "Good, if they found out about you, I doubt they would let you stay at school and Harry needs all the looking after he can get," he teased, bumping his shoulder into hers.

Hermione glared and pushed him back. "Do I look like a babysitter to you?" she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, still having not replaced her glamours.

Remus chuckled at her reaction and shook his head. "You look like a true friend who looks after those close to her heart," he said before adding off offhandedly, "even if she does have a violent streak that would send most men running scared."

"You have been spending to much time with Sirius," she said grumbling, wandlessly recasting her glamours, as they reached the door.

Going their separate ways, Hermione headed to the Quidditch pitch to see how the boys were doing, while Lupin took his evidence to Dumbledore. Both the Headmaster and Defense professor were noticeably absent from lunch. Hermione tried to pay attention to her friends's conversations, but her mind kept drifting to what could be happening in the Headmaster's office. She had heard nothing from her enchanted locket, which could prove to be both good or bad; either things were going smoothly or so bad that Lupin didn't have a chance to contact her.

"Right, 'Mione!"

"Hmm, yeah, what?" she asked, looking at Ron who threw his hands up in the air in surrender before slouching back in his seat in defeat, causing Ginny and Harry to laugh.

"What did I miss?" she asked, tugging on the chain of her necklace, as she leaned against the couch in front of Ginny who had been braiding her curls.

"Nothing important," Ginny supplied, giggling, as Ron made a disgruntled sound.

"It's been a quiet year, don't you think?" Harry said, resetting the chess board he and Ron had been playing with on the floor beside Hermione. "Other than a few Dementor incidents at the beginning of the year nothing crazy has happened. No two-faced teachers being possessed by Dark Lords and no giant snake trying to kill students." Ginny paused in her braiding until Hermione patted her knee reassuringly, the girl was still sensitive about mentions of the incident in her first year, but she was slowly healing.

Ron groaned, "Awe, don't say that, Harry. You're going to jinx us for sure."

"There, what do you think," Ginny said, tying off Hermione's hair and holding up a mirror for her to inspect the younger girl's work. It was a french braid, but rather than going straight down the back of her head it was braided at an angle, so the end draped stylishly over one shoulder.

"Looks great, thanks, Gin," she said, standing and moving to sit beside the girl. "You're pretty good at that."

"I went through a hair styling phase, when I was 7. Bill let me do his as long as I gave him a heads up whenever Fred and George did something to his food, when he wasn't looking."

This caused Hermione to laugh. "You used to braid Bill's hair, I hope you got pictures. Did you do Ron's too?"

"No, he was to much of a baby, would start crying anytime I came near him with a hairbrush."

"If I had let you do my hair, I would be bald now, you used to tear chunks out of my scalp," Ron stated, covering his head protectively.

"Baby," Ginny said, sticking her tongue out.

They were still teasing Ron, when they headed down to the Great Hall for dinner. With no classes Hermione had decided to wear her comfy jeans that Sirius would comment on when ever she wore them around the house and an off-the-shoulder shirt that was kept modest by the tank top she wore under it; showing off her newest scar from her incident with the Hippogriff. Despite her use of glamours to hide her other scars, Hermione was actually rather fond of each of them, unlike Remus who had been disgusted at himself at first, when she had seen his own collection of scars. Each was a time she had been injured and still come out alive and kicking; they were the proof of her will to live, and would she have the choice, she would not hide them, so she took advantage of the ones she didn't have to conceal.

Sitting down to dinner between Ron and Ginny, Hermione could feel a number of eyes following her. Over the year she had been slowly been shifting her glamour, letting a little more of her curvy figure and height show through, through not much compared to the beginning of the year, still it seems her altered appearance seemed to be drawing the attention of the male population, now that it was warm enough she wasn't restricted to multiple layers and bulky sweaters.

Luckily for her all close male friends seemed just as oblivious that she was, in fact, a girl as they usually were. She was thankful that none of her friends seemed to have an interest in girls in that manner, yet. She wasn't looking forward to the day she was going to have to explain, why she wasn't dating any of her school mates. Hermione was many things and willing to dirty her hands in many ways, but she was not going to even considering dating any of her school mates, when she was already several years older than even the seventh-years. If she was honest with herself and her history with men, she was more interested in older men than the overly hormonal teenage boys she was surrounded by. She might be a cougar in animal form, but that didn't mean she wanted to try at becoming the human variety as well.

Feeling a particular set of eyes boring into her, she glanced toward the silver and green table to lock eyes with a pair of silver-gray ones. Catching his gaze, she discretely saluted him with her spoon in-between bites of jello as a way of acknowledgment; they weren't on friendly enough terms for her to wave, nor were they on bad enough terms to warrant her digging into her stash of rude gestures in which to fling his way. Malfoy flushed an angry red before turning back to his meal. Hermione shrugged him off, as McGonagall came over to the group.

"Mr. Weasley, Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger, the Headmaster would like to see you as soon as you are done with dinner."

This caught Harry's attention. "Did he say why?"

"The Headmaster will explain," McGonagall said curtly before strolling off.

"I said it, Harry," Ron said accusingly, " you jinxed us. We have gone all year without getting called to Dumbledore's office, and you go and jinx us."

"Sixlets," Harry said, clearing the path for the three to ascend the staircase to the Headmaster's office. Approaching the door it was opened before they even reached the top.

"Ah, good, you are here, now we can begin. Come in. Come in," Dumbledore said from his place behind his desk. A flick of his hand and the door closed again.

"Dad, what are you doing here?" Ron said at the sight of Mr. Weasley. Lupin stood just inside the door ,while Snape had tucked himself in a corner of the crowded room, where he could see everything. There was also two other men from the Ministry as well; Minister Fudge and a man Hermione recognized as Kingsley Shacklebolt, an Auror.

"Now that you are here, we would like your confirmation on a few facts before the Minister leaves, after which I will explain events in full," Dumbledore stated, steepling his fingers on his desk. The Minister and the Auror had already taken the available chairs, which left Mr. Weasley and the three students to stand behind the chairs. On Dumbledore's desk was a sealed wooden box, it was this box that Dumbledore opened and and pulled out its contents for all to see.

"Scabbers, you're alive," Ron blurted out, bolting forward to grab for his long-lost rat before being pulled up short by his father's firm grip on his shoulder. Ron looked up at his dad in confusion; the man had a grave look on his face, as he stared at the rat.

"Arthur, as official conformation, is this, in fact, the rat that has been in your family for 12 years. Was once owned by your son Percy, until three years ago, when he was given to your youngest son Ronald." Dumbledore said, gesturing at Ron with one hand, as he held the stunned form of Scabbers in the other.

"Yes," Arthur replied, clasping a hand on either of Ron's shoulders comfortingly.

"Note the missing toe on the front paw," he said, holding up the paw in question for all to see. "Was this missing when you acquired him or something that happened while in your family's care?"

"He came to the family like that, Headmaster."

"Well, that seems to be all in order," the Minister said, grabbing the paper, his charmed quill had been transcribing what was said. "If you would sign your name here, Arthur, and you too, young Mr. Weasley."

Ron did as he was told after a nod from his father before asking, "What's going on?" Dumbledore had replaced the rat in the box and sealed it, before the Auror took the box, while the Minister gathered his papers. "What are they doing to Scabbers?" the boy asked desperately.

"Now that that is settled, the Dementors will return to Azkaban with Mr. Pettegrew. We will let you know what the final verdict on Mr. Black's case will be, now that new evidence has come to light, Dumbledore. Good evening," the Minister said, putting on his hat, as he left with Kingsley and the imprisoned Scabbers.

"The Dementors," Harry said uneasy. "What do they need them for?"

Ron was near to tears by now, as his father prevented him from going after his beloved pet. "Scabbers, what are they going to do to him? Where are they taking him?"

"I'm sorry for dropping all of that on you, my boy, I'm sure you are terribly confused. Come sit here, have a lemon drop," he said, offering his candy bowl; Harry and Ron took one, but Hermione quietly declined.

"What's going on, Professor?" Harry asked, looking from Dumbledore to Lupin, as he sat in a chair next to Ron who had been coaxed into sitting by his father before the man conjured another chair for himself now that there was more room and sat down. Looking over her shoulder, Hermione noted that Snape was still in his corner, though, by the looks of it, they had not noticed him in the crowd. She gave him a half wave and received a single raised eyebrow in reply.

"To begin with, what do you know of Sirius Black?"

"He's a murderer," Ron said at the same time Harry spoke up.

"He broke out of Azkaban to come after me."

"Ah, that may have been true before today, but with the new evidence that has come to light, it would seem both those statements are, in fact, false." This caused Harry and Ron to look at each other in confusion. Hermione leaned forward, folded her arms and rested them on the back of Harry's chair, glancing at Remus who was still leaning against the wall by the door, twisting the silver band on his finger.

"You see, when the Potters went into hiding, it was believed that they trusted the location of their home to one man, Sirius Black. So, when the Potters were killed, it was believed that Black betrayed them, when in fact the holder of their secret was changed at the last minute, unknown to even me, to another man. This man betrayed the Potters, murdered 12 people and then faked his own death, leaving behind only a finger before blaming all of the deaths on Black and then slipping away unnoticed."

"I guess I could believe that Black was framed," Harry said after some thought, "I mean he has been out for almost a year and hasn't made one attempt at attacking me — but what does all of this have to do with Scabbers?"

"Yeah, Scabbers' hasn't done nothing anything wrong. He has been a good rat," Ron defended.

"You see, the man who framed Black, a man by the name of Peter Pettigrew, was, in fact, an unregistered Animagus. Only today did it become known that Peter could turn into a Rat."

"You mean Scabbers is actually this Pettigrew?" Hermione asked, feeling her locket growing warm.

"Impossible," Ron blurted out.

"It might seem so, but Ms. Granger is correct. I saw the transformation myself." Hermione tuned out the rest of the conversation, as it seemed Ron was going to need more convincing before the revelation that his rat really wasn't a normal rat. Pulling out her locket, she glanced inside, curious to know what Remus needed to say that he couldn't in public or wait till later.

Did you have to wear those pants?

She suppressed a smile before peeking over at the Werewolf, who seemed entirely focused on what the Headmaster was saying, save for the subtle upward twitch of the corner of his mouth.

Yes, they are comfy, she sent back defiantly, before focusing back in on the conversation.

"I think it would be best for you three to head back to your dorm, I am sure you would like to talk amongst yourselves on this matter. Harry, would you come by after breakfast tomorrow, I have another matter, I would like to speak with you about." At this dismissal the three students made their way out of the office, leaving the three professors to speak in private.

"Remus, I am curious, how did you come by the knowledge that Peter had faked his death?"

Remus shifted awkwardly, feeling a bit like he was back in his student days.

"I didn't know at first until it was suggested I take a closer look at Mr. Weasley's rat. After talking with the boy it all seemed to fit into place. I knew Peter had been an Animagus in school, Sirius knew this as well, and I hadn't said anything out of respect for Peter's memory. I didn't think anyone would believe someone like me," Remus stated bitterly before continuing, "so I decided to capture him myself and hopefully clear Sirius's name."

Dumbledore nodded his head, as his twinkling blue eyes raked over the Werewolf, Remus schooled his face into a practiced face of innocence, there was a reason he was known as the least trouble making Marauder; he was well practiced in playing the innocent bystander when had been more than a little involved in a particular prank.

"I see, if that is all, I need to speak to Severus in private."

"Of course," Remus said, moving to leave before he was stopped.

"Ah, I almost forgot, one more thing, Remus." Remus paused in the half-open door before shutting it, but left his hand on the handle. "Who told you to look into Mr. Weasley's rat?" Years of practice was all that kept the Marauder from giving himself away.

"I can't say for sure, Albus," he said cautiously, he knew Hermione's vow would prevent him from revealing to much, but Dumbledore had always been good at riddling out mysteries, it would not due for the Headmaster to start digging where he aught not meddle in. "He showed up one night after my transformation. He told me to look into the rat and left. I never saw his face or even heard his real voice."

"I see, did he give you a name? Who he worked for, anything?"

"No," Remus said before giving one bit of information Hermione had suggested he should drop in case it came in use in the future. "Wait, he did say one thing, he told me to call him 'Nemo'."

Dumbledore nodded before wandlessly opening the door. "Thank you, that will be all, Remus."

Once the Werewolf was gone, Dumbledore turned to the only occupant in the room.

"It would seem we have a new ally. Thoughts on this turn of events, Severus?" he asked, peering over his half-moon glasses.

"A 'possible' ally at most, we know nothing of this character or what his plans are. It would be prudent not to jump to conclusions, Headmaster," Snape stated, moving out of his corner and moving to stand in front of the Headmaster's desk. "Even the name 'Nemo', it's Latin for 'nobody', so really we know nothing of this person, and he has managed to snoop around without alerting us or the Ministry and to find out information that was previously only known by three people; Black, Pettegrew and the Dark Lord himself. Seeing how, not even you knew of the change in Secret Keeper. While it is highly likely that whoever this is learned the information through Black, it is also just as likely they learned it from the Dark Lord or one of his followers."

"Severus, you always think the worst of a situation," Dumbledore said, shaking his head. "As much as I would like to disagree, I must say you may be correct. Until we speak with Sirius it would be best to proceed with caution. I suppose the next thing to do would be to let Sirius know it is safe to come out of hiding; if he has been in contact with this Nemo character, he may be able to shed some light on how we might arrange a meeting."

Snape was on his patrol rounds after his conversation with the Headmaster. It was quiet, and he had not been fortunate enough to come across any students stupid enough to wander the halls. Nearing the seventh floor corridor he saw movement in the shadows, lighting his wand revealed Professor Trelawney, wandering the corridor in her night dress. This, surprisingly, was not a rare occurrence, as the Divination professor had a habit of waking in the night to wander the halls for a time before returning to her quarters. He had found it best to ignore her if she did not seek him out, or she would follow him around on his patrol before he was forced to slip away into a room or hidden passage, when she was distracted by a painting or torch that held some clue to what the house-elves were serving for dessert the next evening, or who was most likely to fall into the lake in the coming days.

Dousing his wand, he moved to slip past her before she noticed him, when a boney hand like iron clamped on his arm. He turned to scowl at the woman, when the clouds shifted clear of the moon, and he could see the glazed and far-off look in her eyes.

'The Dark Lord gains strength and will rise far stronger than ever before.

The servants of the Dark Lord are many, when one is removed another will take his place.

The One Without A Name will rise from the shadows of time alone and fall.

Only with the help of the Most Trusted and the One Fallen From Time can the Chosen One achieve his destiny.'

The woman seemed to shudder and come back into focus as she blinked around owlishly at the dark hall. Releasing his arm, where her fingers had been digging into his Mark, she wandered off in a daze, leaving the Potions Master behind. His breaths were coming in ragged gasps, as he tried to block the memories of the last time he had heard a prophecy from that woman's lips and what it had cost him, spinning he stormed down the hall in a flurry of robes, as he headed straight toward the Headmaster's office.

After breakfast Saturday Harry headed up to Dumbledore's office alone and was gone till it was nearly lunch, when he pulled Ron and Hermione aside and told them of Black's relation to him. As his godfather, Sirius could apply for custody of Harry, but Dumbledore told him, not to get his hopes up. Sirius, after all, was on the run for a year and most likely in no condition to take him in at this time. Even if he collected on what little of inheritance he might have come into after being disowned by the Blacks, it was unlikely physically he would be deemed a proper guardian. In short, Dumbledore had pressed that it would be in Harry's best interest to stay with his aunt and uncle.

Hermione snorted at that; Dumbledore was trying to keep Harry where he was so that he would look to Dumbledore for guidance. Harry would be far harder to control and to manipulate as his pawn if he was kept in an unstable and abusive environment. Even if he still acted like a reckless teenager at times, Sirius would still be a far better guardian than any of Harry's blood relatives, and between her, Sirius and Remus they could make any house as safe as Harry's current blood-warded residence, even more so given the danger his relatives pose to his mental and physical health. Dumbledore was sure in for a surprise.

The trial for Peter would be held Thursday, and Sirius had reached out to the Ministry as soon as the news was announced and insisted he would testify against the rodent, even volunteering for his memories of the events to be viewed by the court.

Come Friday the school was abuzz with the current front page of the Daily Prophet.


Hermione stared at the headline smiling, she had already received a letter from Sirius on the trial along with his descriptions of Dumbledore's reaction to his current good state of health and mind. Sirius also mentioned that he — while his family had not left him much money —they did leave him a house, that along with a sizable amount of galleons, the Potters had willed him, knowing he had no money inheritance of his own; if they died, he would be in charge of raising Harry, and so they had left him a sizable amount to help the both of them. While his house would need some work getting it in a decent living environment, Sirius said, he already picked up all the paperwork he would need to apply for custody of Harry.

He hoped with Remus's help he could get his house up to code before going to meet Harry. He had wanted to meet him as soon as possible, but Hermione convinced him to wait till he was actually ready to have a child in his house before showing up and promising Harry to take him away, even if it meant Harry would have to spend a few weeks with the Dursleys'. It would also give Dumbledore a chance to let his guard down before Sirius slipped in with the custody papers, less likely the Headmaster could meddle and find some loop hole to keep Harry out of Sirius's care.

Hermione boarded the train at the end of term on that happy note. She was going to miss having the Dog around her house, but he would be busy with his own affairs this summer along with Remus who informed her he would not be returning to teaching the next year to help Sirius, but he would not be opposed to coming back another year.

Waving at her friends, as she headed out of King's Cross station, she slipped into an alley and Apparated home, she had a busy summer ahead of her. It was time to get to the bottom of the mystery that was Tom Riddle.



Chapter Text

You fascinated me, cloaked in shadows and secrecy

The beauty of a broken angel

I ventured carefully, afraid of what you thought I'd be

But pretty soon I was entangled.

You take me by the hand, I question who I am.

Teach me how to fight, I'll show you how to win

You're my mortal flaw, And I'm your fatal sin

Let me feel the sting, the pain, the burn, under my skin

Put me to the test, I'll prove that I'm strong

Won't let myself believe, that what we feel is wrong

I finally see what you knew was inside me all along

That behind this soft exterior

Lies a warrior

-Warrior, Beth Crowely

Chapter 13: You're My Mortal Flaw And I'm Your Fatal Sin.

June 1997-London, England

Squinting at the sunlight, as she exited the airport, Hermione looked around at the bustling London traffic. Finally, after four years gone she was home. Hailing a cab, she stowed the old worn metal trunk that held the few possessions she owned. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head against the cool glass of the window, trying to block out the near deafening sounds of talking people and honking cars.

"Yer sure ya want to get out here? Not a good place to be nowa days with all dem attacks happening," the cabbie said, peering out of the window at the nearly deserted street.

"I can take care of myself," Hermione said, paying the man with what little money she had. Turning out her pockets, she guessed she had enough to get a hot meal, maybe. Retrieving her trunk from the boot, she stepped out onto the sidewalk, as the cab pulled away, leaving her in front of the Leaky Cauldron.

It looked a bit more run-down than last she saw it. Entering, she found it nearly deserted apart from a shady looking man with an eye patch and a tall dark-haired young man who was talking to the barkeeper in hushed tones. Approaching the bar, still lugging her trunk; more of a metal footlocker than anything like her school trunk had been. The barkeeper broke off from the young man and came over to her.

"What can I do for ya?" he asked, eyeing her up and down suspiciously.

"I'd like some food, but I need to get into the Alley — can you open the gate? Unless you take Muggle money," she said, dropping a couple of crumpled bills and a handful of change on the counter. Tom frowned before pushing the money back at her.

"Go to Gringotts an' exchange it, then come back and we'll see about getting ya some food," he said, limping around the bar and out the back. Hermione followed him out into the enclosed courtyard, and he tapped a series of bricks with his wand. The bricks began to shift and move till the entrance to Diagon Alley was visible.

"I'll come back and open it in half an hour; if you want back through then be here by then." the old man said gruffly, as he limped back toward the inn.

"I can handle that, Old Tom. I need to go to Gringotts anyway," the rather hansom dark-haired man said, who Tom had been talking to at the bar, as he followed them out.

"Do what you want," Tom replied with a dismissive wave of his hand, as he entered the building.

The man turned to look at her shyly with a small smile. "I hope you don't mind the company."

"Not at all," she said, walking into the Alley, her companion following, as the arch began to close.

"Where's your wand, isn't it dangerous to be wandering around without it?" he asked, scanning the street. There were not many people out in the Alley, definitely nothing like any of the other times she had come, when the street and shops were packed with shoppers.

"Lost it a few years back," Hermione answered in a clipped tone, not sure why this stranger was so interested in chatting with her.

"Are you— could you possibly be Hermione Granger?" the man asked hesitantly, as he kept glancing over at her like he had seen a ghost. Hermione looked over at him and really looked at him for the first time; his black hair was cut short, and he was very tall with broad shoulders and a kind looking face.

"Who's asking?" she asked, eyeing him suspiciously; something about his face seemed familiar, but she couldn't place him.

"Oh, Merlin, it really is you," he breathed out in shock, his eyes going wide, and he stopped walking to face her fully. "We all thought you were dead. McGonagall told us so in third year. Where have you bee— Never mind that; you need to get out of here. It's not safe for anyone to be out right now, but even more so for a Muggle-born like you. You have to go," the man said, grabbing her arm and attempting to pull her off in a side alley.

A jerk and she was out of his grip in an instant and backing away from him, her hand on the knife at her belt. "I'm not going anywhere! Who are you?" The man looked around to make sure no one was paying much attention to them before lowering his voice slightly.

"I shouldn't be surprised that you don't recognize me, I mean we weren't as close as you were with Harry and Ron," he said, his ears turning a shade of red, as he spoke. Watching him wring his hands together in what must have been a nervous habit, something clicked into place in the back of her memory.

"Neville, Neville Longbottom," she said, causing the young man to smile sheepishly at her. "Wow, you got tall."

"You remember."

"Of course I do; you were the first friend I met on the train ride in first year; remember, I helped you look for Trevor." Neville nodded, his smile becoming broader at the memory. "Where did we end up finding him?"

"Which time? You lost him… what, twice when we were on the train and then again as soon as we got off; I think he was in the food trolly once and fell into Pansy Parkinson's hair another time," she said, trying to think back to her first time riding the Hogwarts Express." Her answer seemed to please him even more, like he was finally beginning to believe she was who she said she was, "Do you know where Harry and Ron are? I assumed they must be staying at the Burrow, but I never got the address. I suppose Harry could be with his relatives, I had thought of going there first, but—" Her words trailed off at the paling look of horror on Neville's face.

"Y-you don't know? You haven't heard—" he stammered out in shock.

"I just got back to England an hour ago. I haven't exactly had time to catch up on what has been going on in current events," she said, cutting him off. Something cold and heavy settled in her gut, something was very wrong here. She had noticed the atmosphere of fear laying over the Alley, as people bustled about not stopping to chat with their neighbours, as they moved to do their tasks and to leave as quickly as they could.

"But its been all over the news for over a year!" Neville said dumbfounded.

"Pretend, I've been living under a rock, what is going on?" she snapped, dread beginning to fill her the longer her questions went unanswered. "Where are Harry and Ron?!"

"I—" Neville swallowed hard before looking around, they were beginning to attract some attention of the scattered shoppers. "Not here, it's not safe. Let's get your money exchanged and back to the Cauldron. I'll have to go talk to someone before I can take you to the Weasleys."

Hermione could only nod; her body was beginning to feel numb, as they made their way to the bank where Neville made a withdraw and Hermione exchanged her Muggle money for the wizard variant. They had made it back to the Cauldron, when Neville moved to leave, as Hermione caught his arm in a strong grip.

"Why won't you tell me anything?"

"You should prepare yourself," he said softly a moment before he moved away, as Hermione let her hand fall, and he Disapparated with a crack outside the door of the pub. She hadn't bought any food with her exchanged money; she had lost her appetite, as she sat there and waited, and waited. An hour passed and then another before the door opened and Neville walked in with a stern-faced gray-haired woman.

"Professor McGonagall," Hermione said, sheathing the small knife up her sleeve she had been using to carve on the table much to Tom's displeasure.

"Oh my goodness," the older witch said, clasping a hand over her heart at the sight of her. "When Mr. Longbottom said he had run into you I had hoped, but I would have never thought I would see you again." The woman seemed to collect herself before turning her stern look on Hermione and asked, "What extra class had you signed up for at the end of your second year at Hogwarts?"

"What does that have to do—"

"Answer the question, Ms. Granger, if you are who you say you are. As far as anyone knows Hermione Granger died four years ago, so forgive me for being more than a little suspicious."

"If I answer, will you tell me what is going on?" McGonagall nodded gravely. "That's a trick question because I didn't sign up for one class, I signed up for all of them."

"Oh, thank Merlin," the Professor breathed out in relief, pulling her into a brief hug. Hermione stiffened at the sudden physical contact and pulled away as soon as she could. "It really is you, my dear."

"See, I told you it was her," Neville said, smiling.

"Well, come along then, we can't talk here, who know who's listening in." McGonagall said, ushering Hermione outside. "Have you ever Apparated before?" she asked, to which Hermione shook her head 'no'. "Well, then grab my arm."

Hermione stumbled onto a sandy beach and would have most likely lost her dinner had she eaten anything.

"It will pass in a moment, you will get used to the feeling, eventually," the Professor said before holding a slip of paper in front of her. "Read this, don't say it, just read what it says."

Taking the paper as the dizziness passed, Hermione read the slip of paper. 'Shell Cottage, Outskirts of Tinworth, Cornwall, England.' Looking up from the paper and around the beach, she was standing on, she saw a house sitting on a hill overlooking the beach where before there had been none.

"What is this place?" Hermione asked, as she and Neville followed their old professor up the winding stone path to the cottage. "Shell Cottage, the current residence of the Weasley family."

"What about the Burrow?" she asked, having heard tales from Ron and the twins of the Weasley's childhood home.

"Burned to the ground, sad to say," McGonagall said, knocking on the door, as Neville and Hermione followed her up the porch. The door opened to reveal Molly Weasley standing there, wiping her hands on a dish towel and a stained apron tied about her waist.

"Oh, hello, Minerva, what brings you here?" she said, stepping aside so the three could enter the small house.

"This is Ms. Hermione Granger, she went to school with Ronald for his first and second year. She has come to see him," McGonagall said, entering the house.

"Oh, you're—" Molly said before breaking off, "Ron has spoken a lot about you."

"I'm sorry to drop all of this on you, but would it be alright if Ms. Granger stayed with you and your family. She has only resently returned to England today and is not up-to-date on events since her disappearance. Mr. Longbottom and I have some matters to attend to and can not stay" the former professor said quickly.

"Of course she can," Molly said, smiling kindly at the girl who shifted slightly at the attention, as she set her trunk down. "You know my sons, Fred and George, yes? They are around here too, somewhere," she said, looking around like the pair may pop up at anytime.

"Thank you, Molly. Good to see you, Ms. Granger," McGonagall said, heading to the door.

Neville followed. "Goodbye, Hermione," he said, shutting the door behind him.

"Come now, dear, why don't we get you something to eat, then we can go see Ron," Molly said, leading the way to the kitchen, where Fred and George seemed to have slipped in and begun eating while their mother was out. Apart from greeting the twins, Hermione was quiet as she ate. Fred and George attempted to question her on her whereabouts in the last four years, but were shushed by their mother.

"I'm sure Arthur and Bill will be happy to see you when they get back, out on Order business. It's not often we get guests out here." Hermione just nodded. The meal was over quick enough and soon Hermione found herself led into a living room and up a flight of stairs, to a room at the end of the hall.

Entering the room a bed came into view, there lying with a worn quilt tucked in around his body was Ron. Like Neville he was no longer the young boy she had known, but a young man, he didn't seem to be as tall as Neville, but far broader in build. The skin on his arms and face seemed pale and sickly from months of being confined to bed. His cheeks were covered in a red fuzz and his hair had grown out to nearly jaw length. His eyes were not visible under the layers of bandages covering them.

"He looks like he's sleeping," Molly said, seating herself in the chair near the head of the bed, brushing a lock of hair out of his face.

"How long has he been like this?" Hermione asked, finally entering the room fully and tentatively brushing a hand over Ron's, his skin was warm to the touch, and she gave it a gentle squeeze before pulling her hand back.

"Almost three months now."

"What happened?"

"Bellatrix Lestrange," Molly said, her voice laced with loathing, as she held onto her youngest son's hand. "The school was attacked by Death Eaters, You-Know-Who led the attack himself. Ron and some of the older students had tried to keep the younger students safe till the Order could get there. She tortured him, Poppy hasn't been able to identify all the spells that were used, so treating him has been difficult. He has yet to regain consciousness."

"What about Harry, have you seen him?" Molly was quiet, she kissed Ron's knuckles before placing them back down on the quilt. Rising from the chair, she led the way out of the room and into the kitchen.

Molly began clearing off a number of plates that had been left out from dinner before sitting at the table in a chair across from Hermione. "I'm sorry, there is no real easy way to say this, Hermione. Harry's— He's dead, a little over two years ago now," she said, softly attempting to lay a hand on Hermione's, but the young woman jerked her hand away.

"No!" she shouted, standing so fast her chair upended, she shook her head in denial, as she backed away from the table. "He-he can't be dead. I-He—" Mrs. Weasley could only watch her with silent pity, as the young woman turned her back on the older witch. Planting her hands on the kitchen counter, her breaths came out in shallow gasps, as she shut her eyes, trying to keep the tears from spilling over. She couldn't believe it, not after all of this time. Seeing Ron had been bad enough, the boy who had come to her defence against Malfoy despite their rocky start, but Harry had been different, they were closer than she had been with Ron. Maybe it had been because they were both new to the whole idea of magic and having raised in the Muggle world for most of their lives. Ron had been her friend, but Harry had been like a brother, the thought of him being dead — she punched a fist down on the stone counter top. She felt her knuckles begin to sting and burn as the skin split, she punched it again. The pain in her hand dulled the far greater pain in her chest, as she turned to face the Weasley matriarch.

"Who?" she said, her voice laced with a cold fury; she could feel the tears threatening to fall, but they did not. She was not going to cry here, not in front of witnesses, she wasn't going to let them see her weak. No one would.

"Voldemort," Molly whispered with a moment of reluctance, coming to stand before the girl, as she clenched her bleeding fist at her side. The older woman reached out to comfort the girl, the loss of her daughter resurfacing, but Hermione shied from the contact.

"I'm tired," she said stiffly, stepping out of reach. "Is there some place I can rest?"

Molly nodded before leading her upstairs, across the hall from Ron's was revealed to be the room Fred, George and Bill were sharing. "You can have this room; it's not much, but at least you'll have some privacy," she said, opening a door next to Ron's. It was small, barely big enough for the cot and her small trunk. "If you need anything, Arthur and I have a room downstairs." Hermione didn't answer, just shut the door behind her. She had barely settled herself on the floor beside the bed before the hot trail of tears began to slip down her cheeks. She sat there in silence, apart from the pained quiet gasps of her breathing, as she let the tears come.

Thunder rolled outside, and George paused on his way to bed, his brother right behind him.

"What?" Fred asked before being shushed, as George held a finger to his lips. There was the sound of a pained cry inbetween the rolls of thunder.

"That's Hermione, isn't it?" Fred said, moving closer to the door.

"Think we should check on her?" George asked

"Mother said to leave her be," Fred replied, the pair shared a glance before nodding in unison, and George opened the door to Hermione's room. The door opened with some difficulty, as something slid across the floor. Peering in, they found her metal footlocker had been shoved against the door as some form of barricade. Rather than sleeping on the still made bed, Hermione was curled up on her side on the floor of the room. She was still dressed in her clothes, she had arrived in, having not even taken off her worn boots, the jacket she had been wearing over her tanktop was cradled in the crook of her arm and being used as a pillow. She wimpered in her sleep, as her nails bit into the wood of the floor, as if clawing at something invisable, the wind whipped the rain noisily against the window outside.

"Should we wake her?" George asked, pushing the trunk out of the way, so they could get into the room.

"Probably for the best," Fred said, squeezing into the small room and crouching beside her; he had just placed a hand on her shoulder, intending on shaking her awake, when her eyes snapped open. A knee connected with his gut, just as a silent spell threw his brother backwards, falling over the trunk and into the open doorway with a yell. George climbed to his feet to find Hermione lying on her back, Fred on his back on top of her; her arm locked around his neck. Fred let out a choked gasp, as he tried to pry the arm off his throat, which only caused her to tighten her grip.

"Let him go!" George yelled, jumping back over the trunk and grabbing for Hermione's arm. She kicked him in the shin, dropping the twin to his knee. "Hermione, let him go, you're choking him!" The sound of her name seemed to draw her out of her dream, blinking she realized what she was doing and released Fred like he was on fire.

"I'm sorry," she whispered as she panted, scooting away from the twins till her back was against the wall under the window and half tucked herself against the bed. just then Molly and Arthur came running into the room, wands drawn. Hermione looked completely mortified at what she had done, as George held on to Fred who was gasping and coughing. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to."

"What happened?" Arthur demanded, looking from the destraught witch to his sons, as Molly kneeled in her dressing gown to check on Fred.

"I'm sorry, I— Oh Merlin. I was dreaming, I didn't mean to hurt him. I'm so sorry," she said, buring her head in her knees and wrapping her arms around herself. "I shouldn't have come back."

"I-it's fine," Fred coughed, massaging his throat before, "it was an accident; I shouldn't have tried to wake you up like that."

Hermione shook her head, looking up at the Weasleys. "Not an accident," she said, tightening her hold on her knees and looking down at them, "a reflex." The storm raged on outside.

Hermione did not join the rest of the house until lunch time; they were just finishing lunch,when she entered the kitchen to find the majority of the Weasley clan present. The room went quiet at her appearance, and she sat down at one of the empty seats. Molly placed a plate that had been set aside in front of her, but Hermione did not touch it.

"What happened while I was gone?" she asked, looking from face to face.

Arthur sighed before gesturing for the rest of the family to leave them. "I suppose it all started with the death of Sirius Black," he began, folding his hands on the table top. "You probably don't know about him; Black was a serial killer that escaped Azkaban shortly before Ron and Harry went back to school for their third year. He broke into the school a number of times, after Harry. He was apprehended by the Dementors near the end of the year and executed. We thought that was the end of it. Then came the Death Eater raid on the Quidditch Cup, the first appearance of You-Know-Who's followers in years. We should have known something was up." Hermione who had begun picking at her food, set her fork down and pushed the plate aside.

"In his fourth year Harry ended up participating in The Triwizard Tournament, an event he should not have been even able to enter. It was all part of You-Know-Who's plan. He had sent one of his followers into the school, disguised as a professor, to enter Harry in the Tournament and assure that he survived to the end. He nearly didn't; the first task alone nearly winded up with him dead and left him with some lasting scars that even magic couldn't fully heal. By the end the Death Eater who was in charge of seeing that Harry won, killed all of the other contestants, when it was clear Harry could not win, and transported him away from Hogwarts." Arthur sighed and rubbed his head with his hand. "It wasn't till hours later that the maze that served as the final task was searched and the bodies found. Then the dead body of Alistair Moody was discovered, discarded in his office, the imposter long gone. It wasn't till dawn that Dumbledore's spy brought back the news of You-Know-Who's return. They found Harry's body in a cemetery near Little Hangleton the next morning."

"Things only went downhill from there, You-Know-Who began to infiltrate the Ministry, and despite Dumbledore's claims the Minister was content to believe that the threat of You-Know-Who was non-existent. The Ministry sent an agent to keep an eye on things at the school, to make sure everything was up to the Ministry standards, they said. Mostly it was to get Dumbledore out of the school, and in the end they succeeded. The Minister was very pleased at having gotten the better of Dumbledore. The fool turned up dead a week later and was replaced by a new Minister to serve as You-Know-Who's puppet in pulling the Ministry's strings. The school was unofficially headed by the Ministry, and the woman, Dolores Umbridge, was put in as Headmistress of the school. Things were bad, and then the Death Eaters attacked the school, in the name of purging undesirables from the school — the Ministry said. One of the students got word to the Order, just before it happened; and they were able to get most of the students out. Then You-Know-Who joined the fight; Dumbledore activated the school's defences; even driven from the school, it still recognized him as Headmaster. He didn't make it out of the fight. With its defences active and no Headmaster to direct it, the building drove out both the Order and the Death Eaters before sealing itself. The grounds have since then become a breeding ground for the Acromantulas that used to reside in the Forest. That was three months ago."

The two sat in silence for a time, as Hermione digested the information, then she started to laugh, without humor. She laughed until her eyes stung and the shaking of her shoulders became tremors from a suppressed sob, and she burried her face in her hands. Gradually she quieted.

"So you're saying, everything I have been trying to get back to, everything that has kept me moving and sane, is gone." Arthur had no reply to that.

The next evening the house was in an uproar; Hermione entered the cottage from having gone for a run after lunch. There were so many people in the house, the constant chatter and noice from so many people living in close quarters was enough to put every nerve in her body on edge. She realized now that maybe she had been alone for too long. She tried to reconnect with the twins, but after her attack on them things had become awkward. The other Weasleys she had not known well before her disappearance, and so she was begining to get to know them for the first time. Mrs. Weasley seemed bent on bringing her into the family; checking if she needed anything, trying to talk to her about, where she had been and… the touching. Oh, the touching. The woman took every oppertunity to place a comforting hand on her shoulder or hug her; she guessed it was the woman's maternal instinct, trying to offer her comfort and make her feel welcome, she had seen the same actions being performed on her sons. The older woman didn't realize, the actions were only causing Hermione to seclude herself from them further.

She hadn't known a kind touch, such as a comforting hug, in nearly four years and not socialized much since Halt's capture. She was unused to such gestures of kindness and unable to cope with the cluttering of noices from the family's daily routines about the house, so Hermione would find herself going for long walks or confining herself to Ron's room, when Molly wasn't there.

She was surprised to see the house in such an active state when she arrived and a number of non-red-headed people in the kitchen.

"What is going on?" she asked, loitering in the kitchen doorway. There was a black wizard speaking animatedly with Mr. Weasley and McGonagall; Mrs. Weasley seemed to have retreated to one of the upstairs rooms, most likely with Ron.

Apparently the man was named Kingsley and was a former Auror before he was forced into hiding, Bill filled her in. What was left of The Order of the Phoenix, the group that had reformed to fight Voldemort's forces was still trying to fight in any way possible against the Dark Lord. Meaning, they would try to head off attacks on Muggle-born families and try to undermine the Death Eater's influences any way they could.

They had recently gotten a tip of an upcoming raid on a Muggle-born family and were mobilizing what people could be spared to head off the raid and get the family out and to a Safe house.

"I want to go," Hermione said, breaking away from her talk with Bill and toward McGonagalland the ex-auror.

"That is out of the question, Ms Granger, you don't know how to Apparate nor do you possess a wand. I can't permit you going; you will only be a liability." the professor said, brushing passed her as she, the ex-auror and four male Weasleys headed toward the door, the twins having just returned from saying farewell to their mother who had refused to come downstairs and see them off.

"I might not have a wand, but I can hold my own in a fight. I could buy you time to get the family out if nothing else," the young witch said, storming after the group and planting herself in front of the older witch.

McGonagall stared at the girl, her brown eyes burning with a cold resolve. "Very well, Ms. Granger," she said finally with a sigh and offered the younger witch her arm, as they continued on following the men who had passed them to the point past the wards, where they could Apparate.

"Is this necessary?" Hermione asked, as she sat in the kitchen at Shell Cottage that had been made into a temporary infirmary. The mission had gone less than smooth, the Order had gotten to the home of the family just in time to see the Death Eaters arrive. The fight was quick, as the family was whisked away while the Order ran interference. Spells had been flying in all directions, as Hermione had darted through the fray, dodging attacks. As she had expected, the Death Eaters were not used to fighting an opponent who was more than proficient at fighting with his bare hands. Her first attacker had been cocky, he barely had time to register her before she smashed the heel of her palm into his nose hard enough to break bone. He dropped like a stone, blood leaking from his eyes and what was left of his nose.

When the battle was over, she walked the ruined remains of the house that had once belonged to the Muggle-born family. Picking up a napkin off the broken remains of the kitchen table, she walked out to find the twins, Arthur and McGonagall there. Cleaning the blood off her knife she slipped it back in her belt, cleaning the gore from her hands as best she could she tossed the rag aside.

McGonagall watched the practiced action with an air of caution and a slight look of pity, as Hermione joined them, the bright bookish teen she had known had changed a great deal it seemed in the years since her disappearance. Now she stood in the doorway of the kitchen of Shell Cottage, watching Pomfrey tend to the wounds from the latest skirmish. The medi-witch was invaluable, moving from one Safe house to another, treating the wounded Order members who could not go to a hospital or risk being found by the Death Eaters.

Bill had gotten a few scratches and a large knot on the back of his head, Fred had gotten a gash in his leg and was currently upstairs in his bed, consoling his distraught mother. Now it was Hermione's turn, and she seemed reluctant to recieve any treatment. She had gotten kicked by a Slicing Hex in the side and kept batting the medi-witch's hands away, whenever she moved to inspect it.

"I don't need any treatment, it's just a scratch, I can take care of it," she said, attempting to move off from where she was sitting on the kitchen table.

"This will only take a moment if you would just sit still. Let me just check for any other injuries, and I can heal that scratch up in an instant," Pomfrey said, waving her wand from head to foot; red sparks crackling from her wand tip almost the whole time, save when it went over the fresh cut, then the sparks turned in an orangey yellow. "Oh, dear," she said, her brow furrowing in confusion before casting the same spell with the same result. Hermione shifted uncomfortably before Pomfrey gave her a stern look. Moving to the door, she began to close it on McGonagall who gave her a questioning look.

"This may take a while," she said softly, closing the door to give them some privacy. It was two hours later, when Hermione exited the kitchen, limping slightly as she passed through the living room intending to head up the stairs to her room. She paused, when she caught sight of the group, gathered in the room. McGonagall was still there, along with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and a figure she hadn't thought she would see again.

"This is a surprise, back from the dead, Ms. Granger," came a snide remark from a black robed man sitting in one of the patched armchairs like he didn't stick out like a snake among lions.

"Obviously," Hermione drawled out, ignoring the pain in her ribs every time she took a breath. Brown eyes locked with black ones, and she felt the oddest sensation that — as a jumble of memories passed through her mind at the aggravation of her old wounds — she wasn't the only one seeing them.

A fall and the snap of bone. Claws in her back and teeth in her side. A male form on top of her, hand at her throat, knife drawing shallow cuts across her ribs. An explosion and sharp hot pain lancing across her back and legs—

"How are you feeling, dear? Did Poppy patch you up?" Mrs Weasley asked Hermione who blinked and let her eyes focus on the other woman as she came over. Hermione backed off from the hand heading for her shoulder with a defensive jerk.

The room was silent, as Molly dropped her hand, as Hermione shifted slightly. Snape watched the exchange with disinterest, though his eyes followed the young witch, as she excused herself. She seemed to be trying to mask the slight limp in her step, as she left the room and headed up the stairs.

Molly retook her seat on the couch, her husband putting an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to his side.

"Has she said anything of where she has been these last four years?" McGonagall asked, looking off toward the stairs.

Arthur shook his head. "Nothing, but wherever she was, it was most likely unpleasant."

"She has terrible nightmares," Molly said softly. "We can hear her at night. Fred tried to wake her once, and she nearly choked him to death."

"That poor child," Pomfrey said, entering the room and sitting in the remaining chair, accepting the tea that was offered to her.

"What is it, Poppy? You were in there a while — did she say anything?" Arthur asked, concern and curiosity written on his face.

"No, she said nothing, but what I found spoke volumes."

"What did you find, Poppy?" McGonagall asked.

"What didn't I find?" she said, shaking her head as if to clear it. "The majority of Ms. Granger's body is covered in scars. There are a number of burns covering her abdomen, a number of large wounds that look as if she were mauled by an animal and at least 12 fractures and breaks that did not heal properly."

"Has she said, what caused them?"

Poppy shook her head. "The girl looks as if she was tortured, most of which I could do nothing to help. They are all very old, a year at least, most even older. The best I could do was to reset the bones that didn't heal properly; it wasn't pleasant, the breaking and resetting, but she didn't cry once."

The meeting seemed to be at an end, so Snape chose that time to leave. It wouldn't due to be gone to long, especially since the Dark Lord was sure to be angered at the latest Muggle-born family to slip through his grip.

The days passed by quickly, and Hermione began to find ways to pass the time. Getting caught up on what she had missed over the years was proving quite the distraction, she had managed to collect a number of the school texts on classes, she had missed, and begun to hone her spellwork in a way, she had not been able to on the island, which had consisted of first and second year work mixed with a few techniques, she had simply stumbled upon. Mornings would find her out on the beach, training her body, while the evenings were dedicated to honing her mind and magic in a way, it hadn't been challenged in years, as she sat by Ron's bedside, reading aloud the text books from years she had missed. Deep down she hoped maybe her reading would rouse him from his sleep; if only to tell her to stop with the school work, when they were not in school.

One morning, after having come in for breakfast, she had found herself talking to Bill who had been the only one other than Molly who was up so early.

"Is Professor Snape in the Order?" she asked, having not seen the man since the evening after the raid on the Muggle-born house, though McGonagall had been by a number of times, as had Neville and Kingsley.

"Sort of," Bill said, chewing on a piece of bacon. "He was Dumbledore's spy, or so McGonagallsays. I don't trust the man, but he gives us a heads-up on raids; so I suppose he has his uses." He shrugged before filling his plate again.

After nearly a month back Hermione was finally feeling herself begin to adjust to life with the Weasleys, though she still disliked Molly's constant mothering, she was beginning to tolerate it. There had been two more Death Eater raids, they had interfered with, since her first and the Muggle-born was beginning to get the hang of fighting magic-wielders and even test out some of the new spells, she had begun learning. The Shield Charms were a particularly useful addition to her arsenal, though she had yet to cast one that would hold under attack.

After finishing the few books that were scattered throughout the cottage, Hermione began looking for more. Digging through Ron's old school trunk, Molly had given her permission to look through it; she hadn't had the heart to go through his things after the attack. Ignoring the random scattering of Quidditch memorabilia and clothing that had been tossed in haphazardly, she found the books that looked like they had been passed through many hands before finding a place stuck on the bottom of the trunk. Pulling the books out and stacking them to the side, a wooden box in one corner of the trunk caught her attention. Picking up the box, she sat back on her heels, a creek in the doorway drew her attention to the entrance of the room.

"Find everything you need?" Molly said, coming into the room.

"Yes," Hermione said, sticking the box back in the trunk and pulling out the last of the books. Molly came over and picked up the box, running a hand over the lid.

"Ron said he kept his most valuable possessions in here," she said, looking over at Hermione, who was stacking the books in a neat pile for her to carry to her room. Molly set the box on the stack, as Hermione picked them up to leave. "Would you look after it? I think Ron would want one of his friends to keep it safe, at least until he wakes up."

"Thank you," Hermione said, glancing at the trunk, and wandlessly it closed and locked itself. "I'll look after it," she said, heading back to her room; setting her books down on the still unused bed, she picked up the box before sitting down on the floor below the windowsill. Opening the box, she found a collection of photos; one was a resent photo of him with a group of others his age, she recognized Neville and a red-headed girl who could only be Ginny. There were a few other photos from school, including one of him at what must have been thirteen or fourteen with a boy his age who had glasses and unruly black hair. He was wearing a set of Quidditch robes and holding a fluttering golden ball in one hand, his other thrown over Ron's shoulder. Hermione smiled at the sight of Harry and Ron looking so happy. There were a few more photos of them, along with a copy of the same one she had of the three of them together. Setting the photos aside, she looked to see what else was in the box; there was a folded stack of parchment that when unfolded proved to be blank. Setting this aside to investigate later, she didn't think Ron would think a bundle of extra parchment was important, unless his view of academic work had changed over the years. Looking on the bottom, there was a handful of chess pieces, and there was something fabric. Pulling it out revealed that, unlike the robes in his trunk, Ron had folded the shimmering smooth fabric with great care. Shaking it out revealed Harry's Invisibility Cloak.

Hermione sat there for a while, the Cloak draped over her lap, as she ran a hand over the smooth fabric, while she looked through the photos again. A knock at her door drew her away from her reminiscing, she draped the cloak over the box and the scattered photos before the door could open.

"Mum wanted me to tell you dinner is almost ready," Bill said, poking his head in the room.

"Okay, I will be down in a minute," she said before Bill left to head back downstairs. Picking the Cloak back up, she folded it up neatly before replacing it and the other items in the box. Moving over to her own trunk she twisted the combination lock on it till it opened and placed it safely inside, under the unstrung longbow and recurve bow that were wrapped in a canvas tarp. Closing the trunk, she locked it before heading downstairs for dinner.

July 1997-Shell Cottage

Hermione sat up panting, sweat drenching her body, as she stifled a yell with her hand. Her dreams were getting worse since she had come back. On the island she had been so wrapped up in remaining undiscovered and silent, when she slept, she would wake before her dreams could get to bad. Now she couldn't suppress them anymore. Now she could not go a night without waking in a panic, and once she was up she was in no rush to fall back to sleep. Conjuring a flame, she placed it in the jar she kept on the bedside table, lighting the small room enough for her to see. The moon was only a sliver in the sky and provided little light through her window.

Pulling out a text on third-year Charms, she flipped to the page she had marked before going to sleep. She read for a time before a pounding on the downstairs door caught her attention. Grabbing her knife sheath, she strapped her belt on, while blowing out the flame in the jar. Slipping out the door, she moved soundlessly downstairs to hear Arthur talking with McGonagall.

"—Voldemort found out—"

"Looks like Greyback's work."

"Is he breathing?"

"Call Poppy—" Hermione rounded the kitchen doorway just in time to see a silver tabby disappear through the kitchen wall.

"Do you have any Blood-Replenishing Potions, we need them all." McGonagall said, Transfiguring a stack of cloths. Grabbing one of the rags, she held it to the chest of the man sprawled unmoving on the kitchen table, red seeped into the cloth, soaking the fabric in seconds. Arthur was digging through cabinets, pulling out potions bottles.

"We don't have much, but it will have to do," Arthur said, popping the lid off one of the bottles and dumping it down the man's throat.

"Severus, can you hear me, you need to stay awake. Poppy is on her way," McGonagall said, grabbing another cloth to replace the red-stained one on his chest.

"Do you have any yarrow?" Hermione asked, coming to stand across from the older witch, grabbing one of the rags and applying pressure to one of the long gashes ripped down his chest, "we need to stop the bleeding."

"I think so," Arthur said after dumping another bottle of the Blood-Replenisher down Snape's throat, the man groaned, his eyes barely open and unfocussed. Leaving, Arthur Weasley came back with a large jar half full of the plant a short time later.

"Do you know any healing magic?" Hermione asked, looking at the two adults.

"Nothing that will help at the moment, werewolf wounds are cursed. The best we can do is stabilize him until Poppy gets here," Minerva said gravely. Lifting her cloth, Hermione looked over the wound quickly before replacing it. "Keep pressure on this for me," she said to Arthur before moving around the table to peek at the larger gashes before letting McGonagall replace the cloth. The girl then turned and ran upstairs, taking two at a time before returning with a canvas sack. Dumping the contents out on the table by Snape's head, she laid them out on one of the clean rags, lighting a flame in a shallow glass bowl before wandlessly Levitating a needle back and fourth through the flame.

"What's going on—" Molly gasped, coming into the room, drawn by the noise.

"Get me the strongest alcohol you have around here," Hermione said, threading the needle before pushing McGonagall out of the way.

"What are you doing, Ms. Granger?" McGonagall cried.

"I thought I would try to stop the bleeding, since non of you seem to be doing anything about it," she said blandly, "Now, will someone get me something alcoholic!?"

Finally, a bottle of whiskey was provided by Molly. "Hold him down!" she said, forgoing the many buttons on his torn shirt, and simply pulled her knife and split it up the front. Moving the fabric out of the way, she moved the cloths that were keeping the blood from simply flowing out of him right before pouring a portion of the liquid in the open gashes. Snape yelled in pain and thrashed, it took all four of them to keep him on the table; for his thin frame he was stronger than he looked. Once the wound had been cleaned out and the thrashing had subsided, Hermione set to work stitching the wounds closed. As she finished with each wound, she packed the wound with the yarrow she had Arthur crush for her. Her work was quick and efficient, as she stitched the torn flesh together, and was nearly done when Pomfrey finally arrived.

"I'm sorry I was late, I was in the middle of—" She trailed off, watching the young witch work before jumping right in, her wand checking over the wounds.

"I got most of the bleeding to stop, and as far as I could tell no major arteries were hit, but I can't tell if there is any internal damage," Hermione said, tying off the last stitch and packing the wound with crushed yarrow to slow the blood flow that was seeping through the stitches.

"That was very resourceful of you, Ms. Granger. There seem to be some other internal injuries, but you have taken care of the most serious, I can handle the rest," Pomfrey said, looking over the wounds before glancing up at McGonagall. "Greyback again?" she asked.

"So it would seem," Minerva said, "Severus was nearly unconscious, when I found him; he didn't say much other than that You-Know-Who had found him no longer useful to keep around. We won't know till he regains consciousness."

"Will he become a werewolf?" Arthur asked.

"I don't know, it depends if Greyback was in wolf form or not. Answers on that will have to wait until he wakes as well." Poppy said, cleaning the blood from Snape's body before conjuring bandages that wrapped themselves around his chest.

"He wasn't attacked by a wolf," Hermione said from the sink, where she had been washing the blood from her hands and instruments before returning them to her bag. "There were five distinct claw marks, and the spacing was far to wide to be a paw," she stated before heading back up to her room, hoping maybe after all the excitement she might be able to get an hour or two of sleep before the sun rose.

Snape was to remain at Shell Cottage until he had mended enough to take care of himself, currently he was confined to bed per Pomfrey's orders. With the limited space they ended up having to add another bed to Ron's room for the spy, seeing as it was the only room big enough to hold another bed; Molly was not happy about this, but in the end she gave in. Snape had no opinion on the subject mostly due to the fact that he had remained unconscious for the whole of the argument before he was Levitated upstairs.

When he did, finally, he found himself in a room he didn't recognized, feeling like a dragon had danced on his chest. He tried to sit up, but the pain was to much, and he dropped back on his pillow with a pained hiss, escaping between his clenched teeth. Looking around he noticed the phial, sitting beside his bed; reaching for it he noted he was bare from the waist up except for the bandages encircling his chest. Pulling the seal from the bottle, he sniffed it cautiously before downing the familiar Pain Relief Potion.

Feeling his body begin to go pleasantly numb, he again tried to sit up, this time succeeding in propping himself up on his pillow. Scanning the room he saw he shared the room with the youngest Weasley and the young Ms. Granger who was so recently back from the dead. Granger was seated on the chair next to Weasley's bed, book open on her lap and head on the side of the bed cradled on her elbow. He couldn't see her face, but from her posture, he guessed she was asleep.

The arm, her head was resting on, moved in her sleep, as she clutched at her hair as her body twitched.

"Nyet," she groaned out in pain right before the book on her lap fell with a thud on the floor, her head jerked up awake. Catching sight of him very much awake, Hermione straightened in her chair. "I didn't mean to wake you," she said softly, pushing a curl out of her face, as she bent to pick up the fallen book and set it on the nightstand beside the bed.

"You didn't," Snape replied, wincing, as his wound pulled. "I didn't expect to wake up."

"I doubt you would have, had I not been around," she said, locking eyes with the Potions Master, visions of himself lying bleeding on a table lept out to him before he broke the contact. Hermione continued speaking, "For a bunch of fully trained magic-users they are rather lacking in the first aid department, Pomfrey excluded of course. But really, you would think they would know the use of yarrow outside potions," she stated offhanded, as she stood and moved toward the door. "I should get Pomfrey, she probably wants to have a look at you, and I know McGonagall wants to ask you some questions," she said, walking toward the door.

"You should look into some mental defences," Snape said, rubbing his temple, letting his head fall back into his pillow. "Your mind practically screams what you're thinking to anyone with even the most mediocre of Legilimency skill." Hermione stiffened at this, pausing in the doorway. "I don't suppose there is a book on the subject I could find lying around," she said icely, she didn't like being weak. She had never had to worry about her mental defences or lack thereof before, the idea that her mind was unguarded made her more than a little uneasy.

"Doubtfully," Snape said tiredly, the potion was making him drowsy, "but I could teach you, if only to save myself the headache while I'm here."

"I'll go get Pomfrey," she said rather than to reply, Snape only scoffed and closed his eyes, falling into a light sleep.

"You seem to be healing up nicely, Severus," Pomfrey said, removing the bandages from his injury; it had been nearly two weeks, and the wounds had begun to close up nicely with Pomfrey's careful supervision, "I think it is about time we remove those stitches, don't you think, Ms. Granger? You are after all more familiar with them than I."

Hermione set the book she had been reading aside and walked over to the bed to get a look at the healing wounds. There were five in all; but the longest and deepest ran down the middle of the cluster from his left collar bone down across his pale stomach to just above his right hip bone that was peeking out from his loose hospital bottoms.

They look healed enough to remove," she said, seating herself on the edge of the bed. "I can take them out now if you like. Unless Madam Pomfrey would like to." She looked over at the medi-witch.

"No, you go right ahead, dear," the older witch said, moving over to check up on Ron's condition. Hermione gave a sigh before leaving the room and coming back with her sack of tools.

"Have you been practicing those exercises I showed you?" Snape asked, sitting up, where he was far more comfortable, as the young woman would not have to lean over him, while she removed the stitches.

"Yes," Hermione replied, not glancing up, as she cut and removed each of the stitches, her fingers working nimble, as they moved over his chest. "I've been sleeping better," she admitted after Pomfrey had bustled out of the room. Glancing up at him, he was watching, his dark eyes partly obscured by his long hair that looked cleaner than she remember it being when she was at school.

"Just because you're tending to my injuries, Ms. Granger, does not give you the right to feel me up," Snape said crossly, his signature feature, the disproving professor look, in place.

"If you should be so lucky," Hermione snorted dryly; she had been running her fingers over the area of flesh, she had been removing stitches from. "I've never worked with stitches on someone else before, I thought you might find it unpleasant if I left one in."

The two were quiet after that, Hermione focusing on her work, while Snape watched her like a hawk.

Hermione jogged over the rocky ground, jumping down a steep hill and onto the beach, she turned back toward the cottage. The sun had risen some time ago, but the overcast clouds kept it out of sight; even so the weather was still warm, and the breeze off the sea was refreshing. She was just about to round the last bend to the house, when she saw a figure wading in the shallows of the surf. His shoes and usual dark jacket were on the dry sand, leaving him in a simple white button-up shirt and dark pants that clung to his legs, where the water lapped at his shins. Hermione slowed till she came to his discarded clothing and sat down, taking off her own boots, she dug her feet into the sand.

Snape walked in the surf for a time before turning and coming back toward his things. With a flick of his wrist his wand was in his hand, and a hex was blowing a cloud of sand up into the air where Hermione had been sitting.

"You know I might have found that rather rude, but I should have expected it, when you agreed to help me with magic dueling skills that you weren't going to teach it like Lockhart," Hermione said, rising to her feet from where she had rolled, dusting the sand of her pants, bowing to him in the fashion she had been taught in Dueling Club.

"That idiot couldn't teach a fish to swim, let alone a bunch of children to duel," he said, walking in a wide circle, Hermione following him step for step, as they circled one another. He fired another hex, and again she dodged out of the way, throwing a Stinging Hex his way. Snape through up a Protego and the hex hit it with as much effect as a fly against a brick wall.

"Your spells lack the power they would have with a wand, you're going to have to throw more of your own power into it if you want any chance of breaking through my shields," he said, releasing his shield and letting it fall. "How are your own shields?" he commented. "Diffindo!" he cast along with two more non-verbal spells. Hermione attempted to dodge like she had done the others, but threw up a hasty shield that was easily shattered by a Jelly-Legs Jinx that sent her stumbling to the ground.

"Using a spell without the incantation is useful, but you would find it far more useful if you used them particularly with spells you have yet mastered." Hermione cursed venomously, as she stumbled to her feet before falling back in the sand.

"Take this thing off me!" she snarled, falling over again; Snape watched her with amusement.

"Make a shield that doesn't shatter on first impact and I will," he said, folding his arms, wand dangling from his fingertips.

"Stupefy!" she cast, sitting on the ground, the spell glanced off Snape's non-verbal shield with as much effect as her last.


"Protego!" Hermione's shield flickered under the impact before falling.

"Again," Snape said, circling her on the ground. "Diffindo!"

"Protego!" This time her shield held against the impact and fell, as she released the spell.

"Good," he said, releasing the jinx on her legs and moving to collect his jacket and shoes. "Now all you need it to do, is make that hold for something more dangerous that a low-grade spell." Hermione took the opportunity to catch his ankle with her own, knocking his feet out from under him before standing on her now steady legs and going to fetch her boots.

"And you need to mind your footing," she said, holding her shoes by the laces while flipping her hair over her shoulder and heading back to the cottage, leaving Snape to pick himself up off the sandy beach.

February 1998-Ministry of Magic, London, England

After months of planning they were finally here; Hermione felt Snape shift behind her, as they waited for the hallway to clear before slipping out of the Time Room on their way to the Death Chamber on the ninth floor of the Ministry building. The Cloak that had once covered her and her friends while they had done all manner of rule-breaking at school was now hiding the pair, as they moved through the Ministry. So far, they had been lucky in getting their hands on a Time-Turner, but their luck could only hold for so long.

They made it to the Chamber quickly enough and without much incident, save when they had nearly been run over by a frazzled looking Ministry worker, carrying a monstrous stack of file folders that caused the worker to teeter from side to side as she walked to keep them from falling over. Snape wrapped an arm around Hermione's waist and pulled her into a doorway to keep the woman from bumping into them as she passed. Time seemed to slow, as the woman paused in front of their hiding spot to speak to someone in the office across from them. Hermione shifted, wanting to slip by the woman, but the arm around her waist held her still, as Snape backed them further into the doorway as the woman began digging through the folders in her arms all the while attempting to keep the stack from falling.

Something soft brushed her cheek, causing Hermione to look up over her shoulder; Snape's hair had fallen forward and was tickling her cheek, as he leaned down to talk in her ear.

"Patience, if we rush, then someone is bound to notice us," he whispered, his breath warm against her neck and ear.

"The same could be said if we stay here much longer," Hermione whispered back, finding herself oddly comfortable with the close proximity given the number of times she had shied away from Molly's comforting embraces.

Soon enough the woman finally found the folder she was looking for and was on her way to deliver more, leaving Snape and Hermione clear to make their way to the Death Chamber.

Entering the room, Snape tossed the Cloak to the floor, warding the door; if all went as planned, they would not be leaving back the way they had come. Pulling a book and the Time-Turnerout of the duffel bag she had brought, Hermione tossed them to Snape who caught them easily, as he moved toward the Veil in long strides. As Snape began carving runes into the arch of the gateway with his wand, Hermione pulled out a number of her home-made explosives; they had been made to function around magic, but she only hoped the timer, she was currently installing, would still work.

When he had finished carving the last rune, Hermione placed a charge on either side of the arch. If their crazy plan actually worked, then they would have to make sure no one followed them through.

Suddenly there was a banging on the Chamber door, followed by a number of shouting voices.

"Finish this, I'll hold them off," Snape said, tossing the Time-Turner and the book to Hermione, as he headed to place himself between her and the door. Quickly Hermione opened the book to the marked page and began reciting the incantation, even as the shouting and banging became more intense, until the door was blown clean off its hinges. With a flick of his wand Snape had sent the forwardmost rushing in Death Eaters flying back into their allies, as they all tried to come through the door at once.

Hermione continued in her spellwork, unable to help, as three Death Eaters entered the room fully and engaged Snape, even as others were picking themselves off the floor, where they had been thrown.

"Aren't you supposed to be dead?" came the voice of Antonin Dolohov who was at the front of the group.

"It would seem, Mr. Greyback is loosing his touch," Snape sneered back casually, right before throwing a non-verbal hex at a rat-faced woman who was trying to slip by him, the hex hit her in the chest and sent her flying back into a nearby column, where she fell in a crumpled heap.

"You must be barking mad to come here, it's not often the Dark Lord gets to sentence you to death twice," Dolohov said, throwing a sickly yellow-colored curse toward Hermione who was still reciting the incantation. Snape smoothly stepped in and cast a Protego, blocking the curse before sending out three of his own in quick succession. Dolohov laughed, dodging the attack even as one of his crew went down with a sickening crunch.

"What is your little girlfriend doing there," Dolohov called from behind, while he was using a column for cover.

"I think you should worry more about what I'm doing," Snape said, blasting the base of the column out, throwing the man back with a shower of stone debris before the spy turned on another Death Eater, as more entered the room.

The Veil fluttered on an unfelt wind, undisturbed amidst the fighting around it. Finishing the last of the lengthy incantation, Hermione tossed the Time-Turner into the fabric of the Veil. Suddenly a golden crackle of power shot across the Veil, snapping the fabric to attention; its surface became smooth as glass, no light seemed to penetrate the darkness within.

"Come on, it's ready!" Hermione called, as the Veil seemed to still, turning she threw a spell into the fray, "Confringo!"

"Reducto!" Snape yelled, backing up from his position, as more Death Eaters began to pour into the room at the sound of fighting.

"Traitor!" someone yelled, right before Hermione brought one of the few remaining columns down on top of him. Moving together, the pair stood back to back, firing spells in all directions and moving closer to the gateway still crackling with golden energy.

"Come on, Sir, we need to go now! Expulso!" Hermione yelled over the chaos.

"Go, Granger!" Snape yelled back. "Sectumsempra!" Thorfinn Rowle was sent sliding to the floor, nearly cut in two.

"Protego Duo!" Hermione gasped, throwing up a shield as they were backed nearly into the archway, giving them a moment to breath."Sir—?"

"No one else can be allowed to get through, or everything we have planned will be lost," Snape said, throwing up a shield of his own to buy them move time, as Hermione's was already beginning to falter under the constant barrage of attacks. "Now stow that Gryffindor stubbornness and go!" he said, resting one hand on her shoulder, while his wand hand cupped her cheek in a tender gesture, as he lowered his voice. "I failed in my promise, and this is the price I must pay. I wish you luck in what I could not achieve. Goodbye, Hermione."

"Sev—" She barely got a syllable out before his grip tightened on her, an instant before the shield fell and she was shoved backward into the solid surface of the Veil.

"GO," Snape yelled, as he watched her disappear through the archway, as it shattered like fine glass. "CONFRINGO!" he roared, the spell slammed into the explosives on the archway, and the room was filled with a fiery explosion.

June 1994, Hook Norton.

Hermione rolled over in her bed, it was late, but she was finding it hard to sleep. Standing, she moved to her bedroom window and opened it, the warm summer breeze felt good, as it tussled her curls, as she looked out over the quiet street. She had been back in this time for a year now, nearly two years, since she had left the solitude of the island. Curling up on the window seat, she took the time to remember those she had left behind and not for the first time wondered what promise Snape had failed to keep.


Chapter Text

Let it all out, let it all out.

You don't have to think your heart is made of steel

Come away now from your own doubt

Like a flower of hope that is growing in a field, you will heal.

Although the road has changed you and the world has often failed you

You've got to carry on and show them you are strong

You've got to bury what is past and gone

Some days will be worst than others, but you gotta find another way

Through pain and fear, or rain and tears

We will hold onto the light

We'll chase the dawn that waits for us beyond the darkest sky

Keep following that distant star, never walk away from who you are

Never forget that the promise of tomorrow lies in your heart.

-Let It Out, Fukuhara Miho(English Dub)

Chapter 14: Keep Following That Distant Star

June 1994-Home Base, Hook Norton

"Hello Hedwig," Hermione said, as the owl landed on her kitchen window while she was making herself a cup of coffee, before she left to meet Remus and Sirius for breakfast at his house. Taking the letter from the snowy owl, Hermione read it quickly before sending the owl off with a quick note, saying she and Ron would handle everything, and a package of sandwiches she quickly put together. Leaving her house, she Apparated to Grimmauld Place and knocked on the door. She was greeted by Remus before being ushered into the kitchen.

"Got a letter from Harry today," she said tossing the letter on the table and seating herself. Sirius picked up the letter and read it over, a scowl crossing his face before he passed it to Remus who was watching his changing expression without a word.

"We need to get him out of there before they starve him," Remus said, shaking his head and tossing the letter on the table in disgust, having snatched the paper from Sirius before his tightening grip could crumble it.

"You sent him something already, I'm guessing," Sirius said, as he attacked his fried eggs with his fork, leaving them a mess on his plate.

"Of course," she replied with a glance that said he was an idiot for even asking. Sirius could only sigh, looking down at his ruined eggs before grabbing a piece of toast and spooning it onto the bread with a piece of bacon, making it into a sandwich. "So, how goes the cleaning?"

"We have most of the rooms done. Just a few upstairs left and to set up a room for Harry," Sirius said, mouth half-full of egg sandwich. "Do you think he would like a Quidditch style room or maybe something more like his room at school? What about food, does he like—"

"Sirius," Hermione chuckled, cutting him off. " Why don't you just ask him what he likes, get to know him. You're close enough to being done; why don't you take him out shopping or something? Maybe take him for a descent meal."

Sirius's eyes brightened at the thought. "I'll do that. Maybe take him for a day in Diagon Alley."

Dear Harry,

I'm not sure what you have been told about me, but I have been told a lot about you. I was good friends with your mum and dad; we knew each other since our school days. I was wanting to come by and see you, get to know you if that is alright.

Hoping you're well

Sirius Black.

Harry read over the letter and then reread it again, just to be sure it really was there. Hedwig hooted and fluffed her feathers agitatedly, eyeing the tawny barn owl that was currently perched on Harry's bed post, eating a piece of bacon from the breakfast plate Hermione had sent alongside the tin of pies Ron had his mother make.

Downstairs he could hear the Dursleys beginning to stir, soon they would be calling him down for what passed for breakfast in the Dursley's household now-a-days. Quickly he grabbed a pen from a chipped jar on his small desk and wrote out a reply on the back of Sirius's letter. Rolling it, he tied it to the barn owl's leg before taking him back to the window and sending him off. Reluctantly leaving his desk he got dressed, his aunt wanted him to scrub out the bins today once the trash had been collected. He wasn't looking forward to that, but the letter from the man, Dumbledore had claimed to be his godfather, was enough to make the work a little more bearable.

The next morning after breakfast Harry still had the letter from Sirius on his mind, wondering if the man was as mad as the papers made him seem, or if he was more like Lupin, seeing as he and Black had both been at school around the same time as his parents. He wondered if Lupin had known Black at school as was disappointed that he had not thought to ask the man before school had ended. Black was his godfather and Lupin was a friend of his parents, so surely they should have had met at least a few times, while his parents were alive.

Vernon had left for work, while Petunia was working in the kitchen. So he was taking some time to himself, sitting under the open living room window, listening to the TV that Dudley had placed himself in front of after breakfast had ended. He was supposed to be weeding the flowerbed, but was taking advantage to look through one of the books he had smuggled out of his trunk before it had been locked in the cupboard under the stairs. Even though he had said he had school work to get done over the summer, Uncle Vernon had only turned a dangerous shade of purple before shoving his school things into the cupboard and locking it with a number of padlocks.

"Good read?" a male voice said gently. Harry jumped violently, snapping his Transfiguration book closed, as his eyes jerked up to the man who had managed to sneak up on him. He had black hair that barely brushed the nape of his neck that stuck up in a roguishly handsome style that matched his equally handsome face, as he stared down at Harry with warm blue-grey eyes, a mischievous smirk playing across his lips.

"Um, if you're looking for Uncle Vernon, he's already left for work, but Aunt Petunia is still inside," Harry muttered, as he stood, doing his best to hide his book from view, as he edged toward the front door.

"I'm not here to see your aunt or uncle, I'm here to see you, Harry." Harry stopped at that and looked over the man who was dressed in a pair of nice dark jeans and a black button-up shirt with the few top buttons undone.

"Sirius, I mean… are you Sirius Black?" he asked, venturing a guess.

"That's me," Sirius said casually, looping his thumbs through his belt loops, as he looked Harry over. "Wow, you really do look like him; your father, James, I mean. Except your eyes, you have—"

"—my mother's eyes. Yeah, I get that a lot," Harry said with a shy smile, shifting from foot to foot. The pair stood in silence; Sirius seeming lost for words and Harry unsure how to proceed.

"I—um, well. Sorry for just popping in like this, I got your note and figured why not," Sirius finally said, when it was clear Harry wasn't going to start talking. "Probably should have sent word ahead, now that I think about it, but I figured if you were not busy you might want to go out with me. Maybe go do some shopping in Diagon Alley or something fun?"

"I'd love too!" Harry blurted out, a smile pulling at his face before it fell, "but I don't think Aunt Petunia will let me; I've got to finish the weeding before Uncle Vernon gets home." He glumly gestured at the flowerbeds.

"She will if I give her an option she can't refuse," Sirius said so smoothly Harry missed the dark note to his statement. Harry still had a resigned look as he led the way into the house, knowing from past experience how his aunt was going to react, when she found out one of his parents friends wanted to take him out. Leading Black inside, the pair passed the living room, where Dudley's large form was taking up the majority of the couch, as he watched the telly.

"Who is that, boy?" Petunia said crossly, looking from Harry to Sirius as they entered the kitchen. "Whatever you're selling, we're not interested," she said, leveling a superior glare on her horse-ish face at Sirius.

"I'm not selling anything, Ma'am," Sirius said with false politeness. "I'm an old friend of Harry's parents, and I've come to take him out for the day."

Petunia visibly paled before her shrill voice shrieked out,"You're one of them! Get out—" What ever else she had been going to say was cut off, as the sound ceased to come from her open mouth.

"Run along upstairs, Harry, and change into something clean, I would like to speak with your aunt in private," Sirius said, gesturing to Harry's ill-fitting, grass-stained and torn clothing. Harry nodded, sparing a glance at his aunt, before he bolted up the stairs, taking two at a time. Waiting until he heard Harry's door shut loudly before turning back to Petunia; who was clutching at her throat and babbling inaudibly. A wave of his hand and Petunia had found herself stuck to one of the kitchen chairs, as Sirius took the chair opposite her. Her eyes grew wide and panicked, as he pulled out his new wand.

"Now listen here, Mrs. Dursley, and listen well." Sirius said, dropping all pretenses of politeness, "I have heard a great deal about your treatment of my godson, while I have been in prison for murder these last twelve years, and I must say I am not too pleased at what I have heard." Discreetly checking his trouser pocket for the glass device Hermione had lent him, as he continued on running his fingers over the wood of his wand in a menacing manner. "I will be keeping close tabs on Harry from now on, and you will treat him decently so long as he is under your roof. He will not be doing anymore of your housework and your whale of a son will leave him alone, that is if he can even peel himself off that sofa. You will make this all clear to your husband as well, because I will be back and often; and if I hear even one remark concerning your family's treatment of Harry, I will do far worse than that measly pig's tail Hagrid gave your son. Agreed?" Petunia could only nod her head violently in reply, as it was the only thing not stuck to the chair.

"Fantastic," Sirius said, clapping his hands, his voice back to its usual friendly tone, as he heard Harry coming down the stairs. "Well, I'm glad we had this little chat. We'll have to do it again sometime." He stood to go meet Harry in the hall, slipping his wand up his sleeve, as he released the spells on the woman. He met Harry at the base of the stairs in his least threadbare clothes; his shirt and jeans were almost three sizes to big, but at least they didn't have any tares or stains.

"All ready?"

"Yes, but what about—"

"Just finished talking it over with your aunt, we're all set to leave," Sirius said, happily clapping a hand on Harry's shoulder and leading him from the house.

The day started out with Sirius taking him shopping for some Muggle clothes that actually fit him and had not had a previous owner. Harry insisted that he didn't need to buy him things, that he had his own money. It was then Sirius brought up his status as godfather and proclaimed, what sort of godfather would he be if he let his godson pay for things on their shopping trip. He had twelve years of Christmas' and birthdays to make up for, after all.

After Harry changed into a set of his new clothes, including a new pair of trainers, his old clothes had been tossed in the nearest garbage bin. The pair headed off to Diagon Alley, where they spent a great deal of time in the Quality Quidditch Supplies store and the local joke shop. They had lunch at the Cauldron before taking a walk through the market stalls, all the while Sirius talked of his first time in the Alley and how he met James and Remus. Even telling a little of Peter, though he did not go into detail. Harry shared some of his own experiences in the Alley and of his two best friends.

Sirius could not help but become caught up in Harry's tale of his first Halloween at Hogwarts and the Troll that had been let in. How he and Ron had gone to warn Hermione after she had locked herself in the girl's bathroom, crying over something Ron had said about her, and how they had saved her from the Troll, only for her to take the blame for them when the teachers had arrived. The two had stopped for ice cream in the end before Sirius picked up a number of food items for Harry to take home with him before it was finally time to return to Number 4 Privet Drive.

Entering the house found a very cross Vernon Dursley waiting for them, with a very threatening shotgun in hand.

"Up to your room, boy!" the man bellowed, leveling the gun at Sirius, causing Harry to shrink back behind Sirius. Vernon had done the same thing to Hagrid, when they had met, and it hadn't ended well for his uncle.

Sirius turned and put a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder before nodding toward the stairs, "Go on, I'll come up before I leave."

"You most certainly will not, now get out of my house. Your kind are not welcome here," Vernon bellowed, drawing the attention of his wife and son who came to the living room doorway.

"You have made that perfectly clear, considering your treatment of my godson," Sirius said coldly. Petunia was clutching Dudley to herself as best she could with his rotund size. Harry scampered up the stairs and disappeared into his room.

"How dare you come to my home and threaten my family!"

"I can assure you, it was no threat. It was a promise," Sirius stated dryly, drawing his wand from his sleeve. "Am I supposed to be intimidated by that?" Vernon's face turned a deep shade of purple; his trigger finger twitched at the same moment that Sirius flicked out his wand. The room was oddly silent of the expected gunfire, as Vernon stared down at the large tuna fish in his hand. The fish wiggled slightly, making the sound of a car revving right before it opened and closed its mouth spewing out an assortment of vehicle horn tones until Vernon dropped it, and it proceeded to go off like an ear splitting car alarm. Sirius could only snicker, as the man tried to stomp on the flopping fish only for it to make a beeping sound before going off in a different alarm tone, doing no damage to the fish itself.

"I believe some of my godson's things are in the cupboard over there, yes? We wouldn't want him falling behind in his summer studies, now would we?" Sirius stated, stepping around the man and fish. Rather than unlocking the locks on the cupboard door, a flick of his wand blasted the whole door off before he Levitated the school trunk out. Peeking inside for anymore of Harry's things, he noticed a number of crudely-made child drawings on one wall under the large boxy letters of 'Harry's Room', written in a child's uneven scrawl, a small well-worn and stained mattress on the floor of the cupboard. Straightening up, his jaw clenched, Sirius turned and with a flick of his wand the car-toned tuna had exploded into a cloud of green smoke, smelling of rotten fish.

"Listen well, Dursleys, all of you," he growled out, his teeth taking on a more canine appearance, as he snarled at the vile people before him. "From now on Harry no longer exists for you. You will not speak to him, you will not so much as look at him. If I find out, you have so much as breathed in his direction, I will come back here and show you exactly, why it is not in anyone's best interest to cross someone of the family of Black."

"I don't care who you are—" Vernon shouted in between gags from the rotten smell, but Sirius cut him of.

"You should, I have been in prison for twelve years for murder. My family has a great dislike ofyour kind." He spat out the words like a curse before deciding to stretch the truth a bit for good measure. "I even have a cousin who tortured two people into madness for the fun of it, she would love to pay you a visit. Do you really want to test someone with that kind of record and family connections?" He was sure his point had been made at Vernon seemed to physically have to stop himself from bellowing his displeasure at the turn of events. Petunia only stood there in silence, holding her son protectively, and he was sure from the smell of the boy he had wet himself in fright.

Turning, he stalked up the stairs with the school trunk floating behind him. Taking a deep breath he calmed himself enough not to turn around and murder the three Muggles behind him before approaching Harry's door. He had to calm himself down again at the sight of the cat flap and number of locks on his door, much like the cupboard downstairs. Taking a deep breath, he adopted a friendly expression before knocking on the door, Harry opened it a moment later.

"Brought your school things," he said, smiling down at his godson, floating the trunk into the sparsely furnished room.

"Thanks," Harry said, glancing behind Sirius to see if Vernon would come charging up the stairs behind him.

"They should not be bothering you anymore." Harry found that hard to believe that the man he had just met that morning had somehow managed to convince the Dursleys to leave him alone. After all, he wouldn't be around all the time, and then he would be left to the mercy of his uncle and cousin or simply left locked in his room to starve. They may even put the bars back on, and he would not be able to get the food packages from Hermione and Ron anymore.

"Just in case," Sirius said kindly, seeming to catch onto Harry's reluctance to trust his words. "Would you mind if I put a few spells on you room?"

"Go right ahead," Harry said, wondering what he was going to do.

Sirius turned to the door, and with a look of disgust, hidden from Harry by his turned back, he removed the locks from the outside of the door. Discarding them he removed the cat flap at the base of the door, making it whole once again.

"Close your eyes for a moment, Harry, this can be a bit disorienting at first, leave them closed until I tell you okay." Harry nodded and did as he was told. Sirius began casting the complicated spell of the Fidelius Charm over Harry's room, making himself the secret keeper. Sirius stated the location before allowing Harry to open his eyes.

"There, now no one but us will even know this bedroom even exists. You won't have to worry about being locked in or anyone barging in on you. You can come and go as you like and the Dursleys shouldn't bother you for now."

"Wow," Harry said, looking like he was about to start crying or break into a huge grin, but couldn't decide which to do. He ended up darting forward much to Sirius's surprise and hugged the man. "Thank you so much for everything," Harry mumbled before pulling back and wiping at his cheek, embarrassed by the wetness there. He was to old to be crying like a baby.

"That's what I'm here for, kid," Sirius said, ruffling Harry's hair before he pulled the shrunken bags of the days purchases from his pocket, returning them to their original size and set them on Harry's bed. "I have one more thing for you," he said, pulling the glass ball from his pocket and held it up.

"I borrowed this from a friend, and I will need to return it eventually, but for now I'm leaving it here for you. It keeps the Ministry from picking up any spells cast by or around you within range. When you need to leave the room, I want you to take your wand with you, and don't be afraid to hex those people if they bother you. If you need to leave the house, take it with you, its effects won't extend very far outside the house," he said, setting the ball on Harry's desk. "My house-elf, Kreacher, will be bringing you meals, so you won't need to dine with them either. He's rude and I'm sure he won't be very nice to talk to, just ignore him if he speaks; I always do. He doesn't like me and is most likely more than a little mad." With everything settled and Sirius satisfied with Harry's safety, the Dog finally took his leave of Privet Drive and returned home to relay the events of the day to Remus and Hermione.

Everyday for the next week Sirius visited Harry just after breakfast and whisked him off for a day out. One day they went flying at a local Quidditch pitch, another he took him to Grimmauld Place, with the surprise of having lunch with Lupin. It was at that time that Sirius brought up the topic of Harry coming to live with him. Harry had readily jumped at the opportunity to leave his relatives.

So the following Saturday found the Dursleys signing the custody papers for Harry over to Sirius before he, Harry and Remus all took a trip to the Ministry for the final approval. The paperwork went through quickly and before long found them returning to Grimmauld Place. It was at that time that miles away, in the office of a certain Headmaster, a number of magical monitors, keeping watch on the Blood Wards on Privet Drive, had ceased functioning.

Harry was soon running about the upstairs, looking for a room, when Sirius had said he could choose any he liked. An hour later found the teen settling into the attic room, when asked why he chose it he replied that he liked the open feel the room had with its high windows. It reminded him of his room in Gryffindor Tower.

The three settled in rather well, as the two bachelors got used to living with a young teen. Things were uneventful until the full moon approached, and Remus was reluctant to reveal the nature of his condition to Harry, but Sirius began pushing that he didn't want to lie to Harry about it. Finally, after a letter from Hermione, reassuring them both that Harry would be open to the idea of one of his house mates having a furry monthly problem. Being Muggle-raised he wasn't likely to have much idea of the prejudice toward werewolves nor have much qualms with them himself.

When they finally did sit him down and explain Remus's condition he had been shocked at first, but had seemed to get over it quickly before asking a few questions, including if he could tell his friends. Remus, while overjoyed at Harry's readily acceptance, seemed to balk again at the thought of letting anyone else know. While Hermione already knew, Ron was a different matter; he was a pure-blood and — while not raised to the Malfoys's extent of blood prejudice — he was bound to have some of the Wizarding idea of werewolves being of lesser standing. Reluctantly he finally consented to letting Harry's school friends know, so long as it stayed between the three of them.

So, just after the second week in June came to pass; one of the most enjoyable summers Harry ever recalled having, excluding his short stay at the Burrow last year.

Flicking her wand, a paper labeled 'Myrtle Warren-Murdered June 13, 1943' stuck itself up on the wall. Shuffling through some of her other notes she had taken while digging through the school records. Tom Marvolo Riddle had been born to Tom Riddle and Merope Gaunt. Riddle Sr did not seem to be in the picture, as Voldemort had resided at an orphanage since his mother's death. He had attended Hogwarts from 1938 to 1945 and had received a Medal for Magical Merit in his last year. Flicking her wand again, three more pages stuck themselves to the wall in chronological order.

The first went after the note concerning Myrtle and read '1956 Voldemort comes to school seeking Defence position. Denied. Cursed position?' The next paper read; '1980 Snape delivers half the Prophecy to Voldemort.' Snape had told her of the Prophecy concerning Harry with great reluctance before she left; the subject seemed to bother him, but she never had the opportunity to ask him why.

The last page was a clipping from a newspaper, dated October 31, 1981, showing a destroyed house in Godric's Hollow and the headline 'You-Know-Who Defeated?'.

There was a ten year gap between when Riddle had left school and when he had shown up at the school again. Whatever he had done to preserve his life had to have been done during that time. Flicking her wand again, two papers rose from her desk to float in front of her. One was labeled 'Riddle's Diary', underneath that title was listed 'Previously in possession of Lucius Malfoy, transfered to Ginny Weasley. Held a younger embodiment of Riddle inside until it was destroyed by Basilisk fang by Harry Potter.'

The second paper was labeled 'Gaunt Family Ring' at the top. Underneath read; 'Location: Gaunt Family Home (Address Unknown, Ministry Records?) Dangers: Cursed to cause death to any who wear it (possible to remove before curse is triggered?) Other Defenses: Unknown. Dumbledore believed destroying was necessary to destroying Voldemort. Possibly other such items?'

Looking over the information she had gathered in the past and since being back, she sighed. It wasn't much to go on, but at least she had some idea where to go, she decided. First, she would go to the orphanage, Riddle had grown up in, and try to figure out if anyone there knew where he had gone for those ten years. If that didn't work, then she would go to the Department of Records at the Ministry and see if she could track down the Gaunt Family home.

Sitting down at one of the library tables, Hermione flipped open the folder belonging to one 'T. M. Riddle'. The orphanage had been a bust, the building wasn't even standing anymore. She had managed to track down one of the old workers and from her found out the old records had been transferred to the local library that also served as storage for the towns official documents.

Most of the information was nothing of interest to her; his birthday, height and weight at his yearly physical, and other such information. Flipping through the papers she found something more interesting; a number of reports where Riddle had been in some altercation or instance, where he had been reprimanded. There was a number of reports concerning him possessing a number of items that were not his; apparently Riddle had been quite the little thief as a child. Along with the stolen items was a few more serious reports; one of him having hung a boy's pet rabbit from the rafters and another that was surprisingly without much detail. It stated on a group trip the children had taken; Riddle and two others had wandered off into a cave and only stated that when the three had been found the two other orphans had been unable to speak. The reason was simply listed as 'Trauma'.

Checking that she was unobserved, Hermione used magic to quickly copy the records; these she stuffed in her satchel before returning the file to the librarian before heading to the Newspaper Archive section of the library. The Newspapers provided even less information on Riddle; a small obituary for Merope Gaunt-Riddle that had little information on the woman other than her name and age along with a faded Muggle picture of her with her new-born baby shortly before her death. There had been a scattering instances of snakes turning up where they did not belong and even a few where people had been attacked, but there was no mention of Riddle being involved. Not that the Muggles would have known to even look to see if the snakes were acting on someone's order and not just winding up in places they should not be on their own.

Hermione copied these too before gathering all her things and leaving. She had hoped to find something of use there, but it looked as if her sources had run dry in the little town. Hopefully, she would have better luck at the Ministry.

Her Emma-look in place and a visitor ID pinned to her blouse, Hermione made her way to the Hall of Records. Under the claim of looking for more on her family history she began to look for any record of the Gaunt family and where their family home was located. She was there for nearly three hours, when she finally came across something of interest. An Auror report of the arrest of Morfin Gaunt who was said to have murdered three Muggles of the surname 'Riddle' before being arrested at his family home. Copying the record after writing down the address in her ever present notebook she stayed for another hour looking for any more records on the Gaunts for around the time Riddle had been born, but found little relevant information.

The Gaunt family house, Hermione found, was nothing more than a shack. One that was in bad need of repair if looks were anything to go by. Entering the house cautiously, she scanned each room for signs of the Ring or inhabitants. She found no one there, despite the place's disheveled appearance the protection wards held. She finally found sign of the Ring's hiding place by the small serpent carved in the back of the fireplace, nearly unrecognizable by the layers of soot and moss growing there. Pointing her wand at the back of the fireplace she muttered a spell, the outline of an archway behind the snake was made visible, but did not open. Trying a few other spells, even resorting to blasting the wall down, the back of the fireplace remained unmoving and undamaged. Sitting on the floor before the hearth she sat there, staring at the carved coiled serpent in the back of the fireplace. Digging through her memory of ways, Riddle could have sealed the wall, her mind was drawn to how Harry had opened the Chamber of Secrets. Unsure if it would work she muttered a rarely used translation spell; it used to be used to translate spoken languages in the early 1700's but had fallen into disuse due to its tendency to mistranslate and to inadvertently begin translating the wrong language should it be improperly cast. In cases of the spell backfiring the caster could sometimes find themselves speaking and understanding an animal language for a short time, in theory she should be able to cast the spell to translate into Parseltongue. Casting the spell, she pointed her wand at her throat.

"Open!" Her voice came out in an unnatural hiss that felt all together wrong, flowing over her tongue. The serpent in the fireplace shifted, its coils beginning to move, as it raised its head and blinked at her.

"What is life's greatest illusion?" it hissed out, tongue flicking in and out of its mouth, as it waited for her answer. Hermione thought over Riddle's riddle before hissing out her reply.

"Innocence." The Snake flicked its tongue out one more time before nodding its head and slithering up until, its whole body was stretched out, outlining the upper part of the arched opening. There, where the Snake had been, was a hole in the wall, and inside was a shelf with a ring perched on it.

Picking up a rusted pair of fire tongs she picked the ring up off the shelf, not daring to even touch the item, knowing the danger it posed. The Snake's eyes flashing once before slithering back into its former place, coiled and still at the back of the fireplace. Pulling out a small bag from her pocket, she dropped the ring into it before placing it in her pocket. She would wait till she was in the safety of her home before she went about destroying it.

Sirius answered the door to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, to find Hermione in the doorway; the collar of her coat turned up against the rain and the hood of her sweater underneath pulled up over her curly hair, as she stood outside his door.


Hermione clamped a hand over his mouth before peering into the hall behind him; placing a finger to her lips as she released him, she asked softly, "Is Harry still up?"

Sirius shook his head, and Hermione removed her hand. "No, he went to bed an hour ago."

"Don't use that name, while I'm here; if there is one thing I know about Harry, it's that he is notorious for sneaking out of bed and snooping," she said softly, entering the house and shrugging out of her coat and handing it to Sirius who hung it up for her in the closet. "Do you have some place to talk in private? I need to speak to Remus and you about something important."

"Yeah, head to the kitchen, I think Remus is still there," Sirius said, closing the front door and heading upstairs, "I'll join you in a minute." Hermione nodded before heading into the kitchen, passing a chunk of wall that looked like it had been cut out and then a newer section of wall had been made to replace it. In the kitchen she found Remus seated at the table; he stood when he saw her in the doorway.

"Hermio—" A gesture of silence from the witch who pointed at the ceiling quieted the Werewolf for a moment before he continued, "It's good to see you. What are you doing here so late? Here, sit, you must be cold." he said, offering her a seat at the table nearest the fireplace, as she lowered her hood and let her wild curls spill free.

"I'm sorry for barging in on you guys so late. It was the only time I figured I could catch you both without Harry wandering in."

"It's fine, you're welcome in my home anytime, you know that," Sirius said, entering the room and closing the door before casting Muffliato and coming to sit beside Hermione at the table; Remus seating himself across from them. "Kreacher!" He called out, causing an old and irritable house-elf to appear.

"Kreacher, bring us tea for three and some of those biscuits from earlier!" Kreacher grumbled an acknowledgment, glaring at Hermione, all the while muttering foully before disappearing. "Sorry about him, he doesn't much like me and has pretty much taken to locking himself in the backroom with the portrait of my mother," he said as way of explanation for the elf's rude behavior.

Digging in her pocket Hermione pulled out a small bag. "I have come across something rather dangerous, and I wanted to see if either of you recognize it," she said, dumping the bag's contents on the table top. A gold ring with a black stone set in it fell out.

"What is it?" Sirius asked, reaching for the ring to pick it up, but Hermione grabbed his wrist before he could.

"Don't touch it, it is cursed. It will bring death to anyone who tries to wear it, I'm not sure what effect touching it will have, but I wouldn't risk it."

Remus pulled out his wand and Levitated the ring so that he could get a better look at it. Casting a couple non-verbal spells as he tried to identify the origin and nature of the spells on the ring, "Such dark magic, where did you get this?" he asked, glancing over at Hermione as Kreacherreturned with the tea and snacks. Levitating the items on to the table, where they clattered roughly, caused Sirius to glare at the elf briefly; Kreacher was looking at the ring with a mixture of fear and sadness before he disappeared again with a crack before anyone could pay him any mind.

"The home of Voldemort's maternal family," she said bluntly, taking a cup of tea from Sirius and causing Lupin to falter in his spell, the ring clattered loudly on the table top. "According to Dumbledore, or better his memory of finding the ring, it is somehow tied to how Voldemort has managed to linger in this plane even without a body. He was adamant that this and any other items like it must be destroyed. He even managed to do so, even after he was cursed by it."

"Dumbledore put it on?" Sirius asked gravely. "Is that how he died?"

"In part," Hermione said. "He was cursed, but with his own quick thinking and Snape's help he was able to contain the curse, but for only a short time and it weakened him greatly. Then came the attack on the school; it would have been a hard fight, had he been at his best, and Dumbledore was far from his best when he came face to face with Voldemort."

"If Dumbledore destroyed it before, then why haven't you done it now? "

"I've tried, but everything I do has no effect," Hermione said, her shoulders slumping dejectedly.

"Well, how did Dumbledore destroy it? Maybe we could try the same thing." Lupin said with a reassuring smile, as he reached over and patted her arm.

"He used the Sword of Gryffindor; not only is it a goblin-made sword, but also has been soaked in Basilisk venom, they don't just leave those kinds of things lying around," she said, resting her head on the tabletop. "It would help if I knew what exactly this thing is; I don't even know what sort of magic has been placed on it other than the curse, and I can't even begin to figure out other ways of destroying it without first knowing what it is."

"What were you wanting us to do? I'm guessing you came here with some sort of agenda," Sirius said, bumping his shoulder with hers in a gesture of camaraderie.

"You've done some work in dealing with Dark Magic, right, Remus, that's why Dumbledore hired you last year? Do you know some sort of ward or something I can use to contain this thing till I can find a way to destroy it? Maybe something in the Black's library?"

"What sort of ward, it's not a danger, is it, other than if you were to put it on?"

Hermione sat up, rubbing at her eyes tiredly. "In second year another item of Voldemort's belongings came into the possession of Ginny Weasley. Over time it was able to feed on her and nearly resurrected a younger version of Voldemort itself, had it not been destroyed by Harry with a Basilisk fang. I don't know if this can do the same thing, but I am not taking any chances, it needs to be sealed until I can find a way to destroy it." This new bit of information caused both men to look at the ring with even more caution before Remus stood from the table, his tea in hand.

"Let me see what I can come up with. I'll be in the library if you need me." He came around the table and placed a kiss on her head, as he headed out the door.

"How is Harry adjusting?" she asked, sipping at her tea as she half heartily nibbled on a biscuit, the ring safely back in the bag and back in her pocket.

"Well enough, I think Remus and I are having a harder time adjusting than he is. He's got so much energy, I can't recall being quite so energetic at his age." This caused Hermione to snicker into her tea.

"Getting tired in your old age?" she said, causing Sirius to give an indignant snort.


Standing, she gathered her tea, "I think I'll go help Remus in the library."

"If you decide, you need a break, you're welcome to any of the guest rooms."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said, heading to the door.

"By guest room I mean mine or Remus's, should you pull him out of the library." Hermione showed him what she thought of that idea, as she flipped him off on her way out the door. Sirius laughed.

"Morning," Harry said, sitting down at the table across from Sirius who was reading the Daily Prophet.

"Good morning, Harry," Sirius replied, folding the paper, as Harry helped himself to some breakfast.

"Where's Remus, he is usually up by now?" Harry asked, spooning egg on his toast before folding it in half to make a sandwich.

"Think he fell asleep reading in the library again, I'll go wake him before you eat all the food," Sirius said with a wink, tussling Harry's hair before leaving the room.

Entering the library, he could only smirk at the sight. Remus was stretched out fast asleep on the couch; a stack of books piled on the floor beside him, an open book held in his hand at his side. Hermione was there as well; partly laying on his chest, an open book under her head, another stack had once been at the other end of the couch, but had long since been kicked off as the pair shifted in their sleep.

Sirius got a mischievous gleam in his eye and slipped out of the room only to return with a camera. After snapping a couple of photos he finally decided to wake the pair.

"You know, if this is what pulling an all-nighter studying was like at Hogwarts, I might have been more interested in my academic work," he said loudly, causing Hermione to jerk awake and Remus to nearly jump out of his skin a moment before he fell off the couch, as the camera flashed.

"Sirius!" Remus growled, standing up, rubbing his back where he had fallen on the book pile.

"Harry is up and asking about you," he said innocently to Remus before looking at Hermione who was running a hand through her sleep rumpled hair and yawning, "I thought I'd let you know in case you wanted to slip out before he leaves the kitchen. No luck yet, I'm guessing."

Hermione shook her head, gathering a few books up that had spilled off the couch. "No, we were up going through these books practically all night, I don't even remember falling asleep," she mumbled tiredly. "You mind if I take some of these home with me to look through?" she asked, holding up the fairly large stack of books they had yet to go through.

"Not at all, go right ahead," he said, still smiling cheekily at the pair, as Remus straightened his rumpled shirt and vest while Hermione shrunk the books and stuck them in a pocket.

"I'll show you out," Remus said, heading to the door.

"Thanks for the books, Sirius," Hermione said, following him, but paused before leaving the room. "Oh, and you better hope I don't find any of those pictures around, or I'm going to murder you in your sleep," she said, pulling up the hood of her sweater, as Sirius hid the camera behind his back before holding his empty hands out for her to see.

Heading back to the kitchen he saw Harry peeking around the doorway, watching, as Remus led the hooded woman to the front door and hugged her goodbye before showing her out.

"Who is that?"

"A friend, she helped me out a lot when I was on the run. Came by looking for some help, Remus was helping her look in the library."

"Is she like his girlfriend or something?"

"Or something," Sirius said, pulling Harry back into the kitchen. "Though I do believe, our dear Remus is quite taken with her."

"So why doesn't he tell her?"

"It's complicated."

"Is it...his furry problem?" Harry asked in a lowered voice.

"No, no, she knows about that. Doesn't have a problem with it."

"Then what's the problem, doesn't she like him back?"

"I suppose, but I honestly don't know to what extent, no, I think the problem is she is completely oblivious that he likes her."

"Good morning, Harry," Remus said, coming into the kitchen and Sirius busied himself adding an unnatural amount of sugar in his coffee. Harry greeted Remus before looking back at Sirius expectantly only for the man to wink conspiratorially at him.

Hermione's desk was barely distinguishable under the scattering of papers she had collected in her search through Riddle's past. The cursed ring was safely locked away in a curse box Remus had helped her fashion, they were not well-known items, but the Ministry had a whole room in the Department of Mysteries that made use of them to keep the more dangerous items sealed when not being studied. Now she was sorting through the information she had. Riddle had made two uniquely Dark items; both of which seemed to have some connection to how he had survived these past 13 years. If he had made these items to prolong his life, it was likely he had made a set number of them. Three, four, seven and ten were the most significant numbers he could have chosen. Three and four were the most likely she guessed, being the numbers for fortune and stability. Seven while being the number of perfection was also the most powerful magically, ten was the number of completion. The latter two seemed unlikely due to the number of items he would have had to make and then find suitable protection for. She truly hoped she only had to locate one or two more before she would be able to remove his ties to this plane; if she could destroy them, it might even destroy him in his current state.

She had two more places to look if Riddle had made three such items; with his childhood residence gone and Hogwarts inaccessible to him, since he was refused the Defence position, the only place she could find that might be of some significance to him was his father's home and the cave he had visited as a child.

She figured she had enough time remaining for the summer to locate the addresses of both places and maybe check out one before she would need to focus on preparing for the upcoming Quidditch Cup. A letter had arrived from Ron, inviting her to attend the Cup at the end of July. Another two letters had come from Harry and Sirius, informing her that they would be going with the Weasleys as well. She was getting dragged along, regardless of her feelings or lack thereof toward the game; Sirius's words. She had sent her thanks and excitement at going to Ron and Harry before sending a more lengthy letter to Sirius that if things followed the same path they had in her time, the Cup would most likely be a high risk target for a Death Eater raid.

She couldn't say for sure now that she had drastically changed things with Peter's execution. All she could really be sure of this year was that Voldemort would be trying to get Harry in to the upcoming Tournament so that he would be weakened by the Trials, but alive and in perfect position to be taken at the set time to be used in a ritual of resurrection. She hoped her meddling had set back the Dark Lord's plans, but it was highly likely that the ritual he was planning was heavily reliant on a particular set of circumstances, weather it is date, moon phase or season, or all three. Though she didn't know the details of the ritual she had read up on a number of other similar rituals when going through Dumbledore's books. It was likely it had to be performed on or around the time of the Third Task of the Tournament. This was both a bad or good thing; it would give her time to search the remaining locations and find the third or fourth item and destroy them, but if she could not find a way to destroy them then she would have to keep an extra close eye on Harry, as it was likely Riddle would try to take him when the time comes to perform the ritual.

Trying to get her pile of papers into a more manageable mess, a number of books were knocked off her desk. Moving, she gathered them and the scattering of paper that had fallen with them. Setting them back on the desk, she spotted an old worn paper that she didn't recognize. Grabbing it, she skimmed over the content; it was a list of Dumbledore's books in his own hand, it must have been knocked loose from one of the books. Reading over it, she noticed a book Dumbledore had circled, Secrets of the Darkest Arts by Owle Bullock. Standing she scanned her shelves, but could not find the book. She even attempted to Summon it and was left with nothing. She decided that it was time to pay a visit to Diagon Alley, there must have been a reason the book was missing and that he had pointed out the book in his collection. She would have to do some digging around when she went to meet Harry and Sirius for their Hogwarts shopping trip that had been planned later in the week.

Arriving early that Friday, Hermione began looking through all the shops that might have the book she was looking for in Diagon Alley, until it was time to meet up with Harry. She was waiting at the Ice-Cream Parlour, when they showed up. Meeting up with Harry was an entertaining experience, as he seemed to be doing his best to tell her of all the great things he had done since moving in with his godfather in an attempt to show Hermione that Sirius was a good parent and wanted her to like him. She could only smile and tell him that Sirius seemed like a great guardian, unable to tell him that she had been friends with his guardian for far longer than he had even known about the man.

"I've looked through all the shops in Diagon and still haven't found the book I'm looking for," she said to Sirius in a moment of privacy, while Harry had rushed over to check out the newest display in the front window of the Quidditch Supplies store.

"Why don't you check out some of the shops in Knockturn Alley, it's a rather seedy place, but if it's something dark, you're bound to find it there or someone who knows where to acquire it." Sirius said, gesturing in the direction of the entrance to the other Alley.

"I might just do that, I'm having no luck here," she replied with a shrug, as Harry rushed back to inform them on what new items had been advertised. The day passed quickly and soon found Hermione pulling up the hood of her robes and heading into Knockturn Alley, after Harry and Sirius had taken their leave.

Borgin and Burkes was a dimly lit store with a number of items of questionable legality scattered over the display counters. Hermione was looking over a withered hand on one counter labeled 'Hand of Glory', when Mr. Borgin sidled over to her.

"Anything, I can help you with, my dear?" he asked, shuffling behind one of the display counters.

"I'm looking for a book," Hermione said, bending down to look into a case full of old and dusty tomes, when a large volume bound in faded black leather caught her eye. "May I see that one?" she asked, pointing at the book. Borgin gave her a calculating look before unlocking the case and retrieving the book, setting it on the counter. Brushing some of the dust off, Hermione got a good look at the cover, Secrets of the Darkest Arts. She couldn't believe her luck at finding the book and in such good condition.

"How much for this?" she asked, beginning to flip through the book, only to have Mr. Borgin snap the cover closed on her before returning it to its case.

"It's not for sale, I doubt you could afford it anyway, even if it was." he said, locking the case back up securely. "How about a rather potent love potion? I have one here guaranteed to have the boy of your dreams falling for you in no time," he said, bustling over to a collection of potions lining a shelf baring the sign, 'Poisons and Pleasure.'

"Not interested," she said, scowling before turning to leave. If he wouldn't sell her the book, then she would have to come back later after closing and take it, she needed to know what was in that book. Storming out the door, she had just turned onto the street, when she collided with another body so hard she was sent stumbling backward and her hood fell off.

"Watch, where you're walking," she snapped, intending to storm past, when a cane stuck out into her path and blocked her way.

"You should show more respect for your betters, girl," a smooth, cultured voice stated. Hermione's eyes followed the path of the cane up to its owner and the cold silver-gray eyes, watching her.

"Lucius Malfoy," she said, not bothering to hide her lingering irritation, "my respect is for those who earn it and no one else."

"So, this is the Muggle-born, my son has written of. The one who has managed to surpass all of her year mates in all subjects three years straight," the head of the Malfoy family said, looking her up and down with a look of disappointment on his aristocratic face. "I must say, from what I've heard I was expecting more. I suppose being Muggle-born I should have expected as much, such a plain girl and you lack any of the natural skills of a true witch. Your skills in academics are unparalleled, or so I hear; your parents must be so… proud." He said the last part as if it left a foul taste in his mouth.

"You are finished spouting off your pure-blood propaganda for the day? Good, I have things I need to get done." Hermione snapped, giving him a bland look.

"Ah, Draco said, you were quite the blunt little Gryffindor. What, might I ask, is a young Gryffindor like yourself doing in a place like this?"

"I could ask the same of you, and I'm sure you would have the same answer as I, only in what I'm sure would be a more eloquent manner; none of your business. Now, if you would excuse me," she said, stepping around him and heading out of the Alley and back toward Diagon. She didn't see the elder Malfoy watching her retreat with calculating eyes before entering the shop, she had recently vacated, and after speaking with the owner for a time leave with a brown paper wrapped parcel.

Hermione could not believe it, she had been so close to getting the book. She had returned to the store after Borgin had locked up for the night and had broken in with much ease only to find the book gone. Searching through the log book the owner kept behind the counter gave light to the situation. Hermione could only curse herself for allowing her irritation at the shop keeper to cloud her actions and allow her to act to rashly toward the head of the Malfoy family. He was sure to have become at least somewhat interested in her reason for being in the Alley and her interest in a rare and very Dark text, it seemed only fitting he would use his influence to take the book just to prove how different their standings were in the Wizarding World. Now not only was she sure Malfoy's interest had been drawn to her not only for being Harry's friend, but also for her alleged interest in Dark magic. She was going to have to be on guard if she saw the man again, and around Draco, as she now knew he was reporting anything of interest back to his father.

Chapter Text

Follow Sweet Children

I'll Show Thee the Way, Through All the Pain and The Sorrow

Weep Not Poor Children

For Life is This way, Murdering Beauty and Passion

Hush Now Dear Children

It Must Be This Way, To Weary Of Life and Deceptions

Rest Now My Children

For Soon We'll Away, Into the Calm and the Quiet

-Come Little Children, Book of Shadow

Chapter 15: I'll Show Thee The Way, Through All The Pain And The Sorrow.

August 1994-Home Base, Hook Norton

Digging through her collection of papers, Hermione finally found the address to the Riddle family home, written amidst the arrest report of Riddle's uncle. Looking around, she was also able to find the general location of the cave where Riddle had visited as a child. She would only have time to visit one this summer; she would have to leave for the Burrow tomorrow and could not Apparate to a place she had never been before. She didn't have time to go searching out the cave, but the Riddle home seemed close enough to the Gaunt home; she could Apparate there and then walk the rest of the way.

If there was no trouble, she could have a look around and be out with plenty of time to meet Arthur Weasley at the Cauldron before heading to the Burrow for lunch. She had let Ginny talk her into coming out a few days earlier, begging that her brothers were driving her crazy and she was in need of some girl company.

She packed up her school things, making sure anything of a sensitive nature that wasn't going with her was locked safely in her store room downstairs. She would not be back here for a while, she would be staying at the Burrow for the remainder of the summer following the Quidditch World Cup.

This year McGonagall had not approved her for a Time-Turner despite her attempts at getting one. The Professor had sent a letter, requesting she changed classes so that they would no longer conflict with each other. When she asked why she was not being allowed one again, her Head of House simply replied that the Ministry was not allowing any Time-Turners to be signed out for use at the school due to circumstances that would be explained come the start of term.

This could only mean the Ministry was stepping up their security for the upcoming Triwizard Tournament. She would have liked to have the advantage of a Time-Turner again this year, but then again, nothing in her life ever seemed to go as planned, and so she was forced to drop her Muggle Studies class, at least for this year. There was always next year, after all, she might be able to pick that class up again if she kept up with that years work, even if she didn't take the class. She had requested that the text books for that class be included in her school list so she could read up on the lessons so she might take the Final Exam at the end of the year, even if she wasn't in the class this year. She would rather keep up the extra work and possibly have the chance at the Time-Turner than have the opportunity to get one, but not be to take up the class again because she was a year behind and not eligible for the fifth year class.

Clearing the papers from her desk into a leather folder, she set it aside to take it downstairs. She didn't bother taking down her timeline that was spreading across one wall; now more intricate with a number of paper clippings and pictures branching off the main timeline, all connected together with different colored strings. Collecting the books, she had scattered about the room, she went about returning them to the shelves, where they belonged before taking the folder and a small number of rarer books down to her store room.

The room was small, not much more than an enlarged closet, barely wide enough for her to stand in without one of her shoulders touching the walls on either side. The right wall was smooth and bare, the left had a large shelf below a number of shallower shelves, extending up to the ceiling. These were partly filled with the few rare items, she had collected, and it was here she placed the books she had brought down. Resting on the large shelf was a large Pensieve and the bottled memories of Albus Dumbledore that she had collected from his office after his death. Kneeling down to open one of the two trunks stored under the shelf, she placed the folder containing her research inside and locked it.

Leaving the room, she activated the protection wards on the door, she could not take any chances now that she had caught the attention of Lucius Malfoy. She knew little of his part in the coming war other than he was a part of Voldemort's inner circle. She was sure that the elder Malfoy was not simply a blind supporter of Voldemort; a man with his kind of influence was sure to have more than one agenda. He was a supporter of Voldemort, this was common knowledge; even if most people chose to delude themselves into believing his Imperius story. What made her so unnerved by the man's attention was his hidden motive, his end game; driving out the Muggle-borns seemed to simple, and influence over the Ministry seemed unlikely, as the man had a number of high ranking officials in his pocket. He was an unknown variable in her plans and she didn't like that one bit.

His son on the other hand, she had a better understanding of where he stood in her plans. He was more inclined to help her even if he didn't realize it; his actions while discreet had shown he was not altogether supportive of his father's ideas. She had not realized it at first, but after years of seclusion she had had plenty of time to ponder over the events of her school years. She had never told anyone how she had come by the information on the Basilisk in her second year, and no one had seemed interested in questioning the fact that the young witch, who took great care of her school things, especially her books, would rip a page out of one. She had never mentioned her displeasure at meeting Malfoy in the corridor to the library, where he had shoved the books from her hands in passing, spilling them about the corridor as he laughed with his two goons. It was only when she had bent to pick them up that she had found the crumbled paper in their midst and realized what was terrorizing the school. She had briefly recalled a time, in the bookstore the summer before her second year, seeing the boy ripping a page out of a book, while his father antagonized Mr. Weasley, and recalled how irritated she had found the action, when he could have simply had his father buy the book. It was only during her isolation that she had been able to link the two events together. He had known more than he had let on, when Harry and Ron had questioned him in the Slytherin Common Room.

If it had not been for his intervention, she might not have found the information on the Basilisk in time. The school would have surely been shut down, and she would more than likely have been dead, had she not known to keep an eye out for the creature without looking directly at it. She doubted he had been doing it to help her, more than likely he had been more concerned that the school would be shut down rather than simply be purged of Muggle-borns. Regardless, she owed him and was going to find a way to repay him.

She had hoped that she might be able to convince him not to follow in his father's footsteps; but it was to early to tell. She hoped that her efforts last year had left some impression on him, that things regarding Muggles and wizards was not as black and white, as he had been led to believe. After all, she doubted that any of the Death Eaters, those in his inner circle, knew that the Dark Lord they practically worshiped was in fact only a half-blood. She could only hope for the future of the youngest Malfoy; after all Sirius had come from a similar pure-blood family and turned out descent enough, maybe Draco was more like his cousin than he would like to admit.

The Riddle home turned out to be much larger than the Gaunt family home had been. The house and grounds still seemed to be in good order if only somewhat rundown from not being occupied for years. Searching the grounds and outer buildings turned up nothing more than a few items that had been left behind after the Riddle family had been murdered. Unlocking the door to the house she was met with no resistance and began searching the bare rooms for anything that could hint at any place Riddle Jr could have hidden something.

She searched each room thoroughly and found no trace that Voldemort had left anything or had even been there. Given that the family had been Muggle and his dislike of them, she found it highly unlikely that he had ever even been to the house. Her search only strengthened that theory, as she found no sign that magic had ever been cast in the building, though that may have been due to the Ministry's clean-up after the arrest of Morfin Gaunt. Making her way upstairs she was searching through the study; checking under the scattered pieces of furniture and peering into the fireplace, in hopes he might have hidden another item in the same manner as he had the ring. A creek from the stairs drew her attention to the partly open door. Slowly moving away from the fireplace and slipping behind the door to the hall, she peered through the gap between door and wall to see an elderly man shuffling up the stairs. He looked to be the groundskeeper, judging by his attire and the cluttered key ring in his hand. The man paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath before peering around the landing and calling out.

"Ello' who's there? If that's you, Jefferson boys, I'll be having a word with your pa. Tan your hides good this time I will if you don' get out oh 'ere quick fast," he grumbled out, peering into one of the bedrooms before heading toward the study. A quick non-verbal Stupefy rendered the man unconscious before he could fully enter the room.

Hermione caught him under the arms before he could hit the floor and moved him into one of the dust-covered, sheet draped armchairs, occupying the room. With any luck he would think he had simply sat down to rest after the climb and drifted off. Disappointed Hermione headed downstairs; if there had ever been anything here before, it had either been found or been moved long ago. She had not been able to locate even a hint of magic in the house; let alone a heavily protected item like the ring had been.

Leaving the man to wake on his own, she headed out of the house. Walking a safe distance down the road, she stopped in a secluded spot and pulled out her shrunken school trunk from her pocket. Returning it to its usual size, she cast her slightly altered glamours on herself, giving her the appearance of having gone through a bit of a growth spurt over the summer break. Her jeans and tee-shirt would do; so she wouldn't have to change before Apparating to the Leaky Cauldron.

Entering the establishment, she had barely taken a seat at one of the tables, when Arthur Weasley had entered from the Diagon Alley entrance.

"Hello, Hermione, are you sure this is alright with your parents?" he said, flicking his wand and causing her trunk to levitate before she could move to pick it up. "We could have had the Ministry connect your fireplace to the Floo Network for a few hours, and you wouldn't have had to come all the way out here."

"It's fine with them, they have been out of the country recently anyway, so I have been staying with a family friend who was going to be running errands in Diagon Alley, so she dropped me off," she said, deciding it was time to begin to make use of her relocation of guardianship. It was, after all, why she had come up with the plan to begin with; her friends and their parents would become suspicious if her parents, who had been as involved as they could in her new life in the Wizarding World, then suddenly stopped showing up completely. She had informed Ron, Harry and even Ginny that her parents had been busy moving their surgery and that was, why she had not come to meet them over the summer, when she had been neck deep in her research, and why she had been alone, when she had gone school shopping with Harry and Sirius. "We don't actually have a fireplace in our house anyway," she replied, knowing Mr. Weasley would latch on to the information, as the pair headed to the fireplace to Floo to the Burrow.

"No fireplace, really? That is fascinating, but that would make sense, seeing as Muggles use cars and buses to travel and those wonderful telephones to contact each other. Fascinating things, those telephones, tried one out last year, it was marvelous. Here you go, on ahead with you, I'll bring your things through," he said, offering the bowl of Floo powder to her, as she stepped into the fireplace.

Arriving at the Burrow in a flurry of green flames and ash, Hermione was greeted by Molly who wrapped her in a welcoming hug.

"Good to see you again, deary," Molly said before passing her off to be greeted by Ron and Ginny. Arthur arrived shortly after with her things, and she was ushered up the stairs to Ginny's room.

"How have you been?" she asked, stuffing her trunk in one of the few spaces big enough for it in the small room she would be sharing with Ginny before throwing herself down on the small bed that had been placed there for her.

"A lot better, thanks to you," Ginny said, seating herself on her own bed.

"Still having the dreams?" Ginny shook her head.

"Not as often now," she said, smiling, before her mother called them down for lunch.

"Good," Hermione said, following her out of the room.

At lunch she was introduced to Charlie and Bill who had come home to attend the World Cup with the rest of the family. Charlie she had never met, he had died before she had gotten back to London, but Bill she remembered. Bill had helped her forge all the document she had needed for her family's relocation and her own custody transfer and false identity, it was strange seeing him so happy and cheerful. The Bill she remembered had been quiet and somewhat withdrawn, as the death of his sister had hit him and his mother particularly hard. Lunch was a happy occasion, as the whole of the Weasley family was together, and Hermione could not hide her happiness at witnessing that fact.

"You really came up with all of these?" Hermione asked, looking over the twin's list of products they had printed out on order forms for their Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes.

"I have a business proposition," she said, resolutely seated in the room they were sharing with Ron who had run downstairs to make a grab at some snacks for them, while his mother was out. The twins shared a look before seating themselves on the bed across from her, folding their arms in unison like they were sitting down at a table for a business meeting.

"We're listening," Fred stated, Hermione crossed one leg over the other and gave the two a long look.

"I've got quite a bit of money saved up, and I have been looking for a good way to spend it, I would like to make a contribution to your work, what ever you have saved up, I will triple it," she said, a serious look on her face.

"You would do that?" Fred said, mouth agape at her statement.

"You?" George added just as shocked, "but aren't you the one who is all 'breaking the rules is up there worse than the prospect of getting killed'."

"Yes, well, I might have been a little gung-ho about following the rules to the 'T', but — being Harry's friend — you can understand, sometimes the rules need a little bending," she admitted, causing the two boys to grin knowingly, "but I do have a few conditions."

"There are always conditions," George mockingly whispered to Fred who put on a look of a wounded man.

"Can't you just be doing this out of the kindness of your heart?" he said with a pleading look, holding a hand over his heart.

Hermione could only smirk as she crossed her hands over her chest. "Then there would be nothing in it for me."

"Knows, what she's doing, she does," Fred whispered to his brother, as the two shared a look.

George nodded, "Alright, what sort of conditions?"

"First," she said, holding up a finger, "my involvement remains completely anonymous."

"Of course," Fred said knowingly, "wouldn't want to ruin that goody two-shoes image of yours."

"I'm serious, you tell no one; not Ron, not Harry or anyone else. I might have asked this in writing, but that could lead back to me, so I'm trusting a verbal agreement will do," she said, and the twins agreed, before holding up another finger, "Second, no more trying to test your products on me, I get full immunity from all your pranks." The pair seemed reluctant to loose one of their most challenging targets, so she decided to compromise.

"In return, I could test out some of your products on others, but I reserve the right to refuse certain targets should they come up."

"Done," the pair said, jumping at the offer to get another person on board to help with their testing.

A third finger went up. "Third, I want first look at any new products, you come up with, before they are released." They paused again, before nodding.

She raised a fourth finger. "Finally, fourth, I get 80% discount on purchases and no questions asked about my uses of them."

"10%," Fred stated.

"60," Hermione countered.

"25," George offered.


"45," the pair said together and Hermione added.

"—And no questions?"

The twins extended their hands to her. "45% discount and no questions asked."

"Good to be in business," Hermione said, shaking each of their hands in turn, just then Ron came in with a plate of pies.

"What's going on?" he mumbled, looking at the three.

"Nothing, just promising no more pranks to Hermione here," Fred said, a grin pulling across his face.

"What about me? Can I get out of your jokes?"

"You, dear brother, never!"

"It's beautiful, Ginny," Hermione said, as Ginny showed off the dress robes, and she did indeed look lovely in the pale green and pink dress with its flowing layered skirt.

"You like it? Mum made it for me," Ginny said, holding the dress up to herself on its hanger and twirling around to show of the skirts.

"Yes, really, she has a talent. You're lucky, my mum was never much of a crafty person," Hermione said, recalling her mother's attempts at making her Halloween costume, when she had been eight. They had ended up making a last-minute run to the store to get a Red Riding Hood costume, after the one her mum had made nearly fell apart, when she put it on.

"What's your dress robes look like?" Ginny asked, staring at herself in the mirror before returning the dress to her closet.

"Eh," Hermione said uneasily.

Ginny gave her a calculating look, before asking, "You do have a dress, don't you?"

"I was going to pick one, when I went shopping with Harry for school things," she said slightly embarrassed, "I sorta got caught up looking for a book and forgot."

"Don't worry, I can ask mum, and we can go get one. We could make it a girl's day," Ginny said excitedly and dashed out of the room to ask her mother before Hermione could realize what she was being dragged into.

Hermione groaned as yet another dress was shoved at her to try on. She had never been much of a clothes shopper, and years of wearing what was available had left her for an eye for what was more practical than what was fashionable. She found it awkward, trying on gown after gown, and wondered why she even bothered on the dress, when she hadn't even been planning on attending. She was going to use the time while everyone was engaged with the festivities to slip out of the school and check out the cave since there would be no home trip back during Christmas break this year.

"Well, if this isn't the Weaslette. Shopping for dress robes, I didn't know your family could afford such luxury," Malfoy said, catching sight of Ginny milling through the racks of dress robes that had been set out due to the number of students buying them this year. "I have mine already, made to fit, of course, not something so common as off the rack," the Malfoy stated smugly.

"What do you want, Malfoy?"

"Nothing, just passing the time, and you're a good distraction," he stated, shrugging, causing Ginny to flush an angry red before draping the dresses in her arms over a stall door and heading off deeper into the shop, Draco laughed as she bustled away. Her mother had left to some errands since they were bound to be a while before they would be ready to leave.

"Mr. Malfoy, if you are quite done," Snape said, straightening his white button-up shirt, as he came out of one of the back rooms used for final fittings and adjustments on garments with his jacket over one arm. "I believe our business here is finished."

"Gin, what do you think of this one? Where did she—" Hermione's voice trailed off, as she came out of the dressing room behind the pair. "Oh joy, what are you doing here, Malfoy, come all the way here to mingle with us common folk, well isn't this a treat." Draco turned to retort back only for the words to die in his throat, Snape too turned to see what had the boy gaping like a fish.

Granger stood there, looking mildly amused, arms folded over her chest in a manner that said she was irritated but was lessened by the fact she was garbed in a formal dress. Her hair was thrown up in a messy haphazard bun, strands were sticking out as if to defy being restrained; still, it did not managed to diminish the elegant look of the dress on her. It was a dark green silk that was gathered and draped over one shoulder in a toga-like fashion, leaving her other shoulder bare and the scar there plain to see, as it trailed down over her shoulder and disappeared into the bodice of the dress. There the fabric was stretched over her chest tight enough to show off her chest and figure, but loose enough to form stylish ruffles before the remainder of the fabric fell to her feet in a waterfall of green, broken only by the mid-thigh slit exposing one of her long tanned legs as she walked out of the dressing room barefoot.

"Good afternoon, Professor," she said, turning her attention away from the youngest Malfoy who seemed only able to open and close his mouth, but unable to form any words.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Granger," Snape said curtly, as he slipped on his jacket. "Shopping for your formal robes, I see."

"Yes, Ginny insisted," she replied, looking with dread at the growing number of dresses Ginny had hung over her door to try on. Her look of dread at the prospect of spending much of her day trying on a number of dresses to find one that she most likely would only wear for the one occasion seemed to cause the Potions Master great amusement.

"I was under the impression a girl your age would be jumping at the opportunity to spend money on frivolous clothes."

"I could think of a number of things I'd rather be buying or wearing for that matter. The dresses are nice and all, but the heels are completely horrendous."

"Best of luck with your endeavor," he said knowing by the look of the number of dresses the young Weasley was approaching with, the Granger girl would not be escaping her fate any time soon. "Come along, Mr. Malfoy," he said, exiting the shop, his words pulling a flustered Draco along with him.

It was another hour before Hermione exited the shop, having finally found a dress that suited her tastes and had been given Ginny's and Mrs. Weasley's stamp of approval before heading to look for shoes and a few accessories to match.

The day before the World Cup was to take place found Hermione, Ron and Ginny entering the kitchen to meet a grinning Harry who had just arrived with Sirius and Remus.

"Wow, look at you, Harry, what happened to your glasses?" Hermione said, as he exchanged friendly embraces with her and Ron. Glancing at Ginny who had remained in the doorway revealed the girl had frozen and was turning a bright shade of crimson.

"Sirius's birthday present to me, he got me started on some potions to correct my vision," Harry said, shifting self-consciously as he talked, "I didn't even know they had things for that. He says they should be finished by next year if I keep taking the potions regularly, so until then he got me Muggle contacts in the meantime. It's great but I'm still getting used to not having to keep pushing my glasses up." Indeed, Harry was sporting a new look. Not only was he looking far healthier than he ever had after a summer break, but he had traded in his glasses. His black hair was still unruly and longer than it had been at the end of school and nearly covered his scar completely; his bright green eyes stood out more noticeably now that they were no longer blocked by bulky lenses and frames.

"Don't let Mr. Weasley hear you say that, he will be wanting you to show him how they work and everything," Hermione said, causing Harry to look around to make sure Arthur wasn't around, luckily he still seemed to be outside talking with Sirius and Remus.

Dinner was moved outside, as the usual dining area was not large enough to accommodate the number of people present. The meal was delicious, as was all of Molly's cooking, and as the group scattered to do their own things afterward she informed Sirius and Remus they needed to talk, before she headed inside to help with the clean-up from dinner.

Afterward she headed outside, she was watching Crookshanks prowl the garden hunting gnomes, when the Marauders approached her.

"What's going to happen that has you so worried?" Sirius asked, coming to lean against the garden fence beside her.

"I can't be sure," she said, leaning on the fence, looking out over the grass field that served as a Quidditch pitch for the Weasley family. "If things go as they did before then, after the Cup is won the Death Eaters will attack those that stick around to celebrate afterwards."

"You're sure of this?" Remus asked, rubbing his chin in thought, "I mean, wouldn't the Cup be something they would avoid hitting, I mean, they are not as strong without You-know-Who, wouldn't they pick a place with less security?" Hermione fished in her jacket and grabbed her journal, pulling a clipping out from between the note-filled pages and held it out to the pair. Remus took the yellowed, aged newspaper clipping, there on the page was a picture of the Dark Mark in the sky above a number of charred and burned tents. 'Terror at the World Cup' boldly written across the headline of the paper dated the day after tomorrow.

"Proof enough for you?" she asked, as Remus sat down on the fence, handing the paper to Sirius.

"It looks so old, and it hasn't even been printed yet," Sirius said, reading over the partial article below the picture.

"It's over five years old," she said as explanation.

"I know you said you were from a different time, but this—" Remus said, shaking his head, looking slightly pale.

"What did you think — I was some kind of loony with rather accurate information on both of you? Thanks for the vote of confidence." she said dryly.

"No… no, I didn't think that. I guess it just never sunk in till now. I mean, you know things no one should know, but this…" he said, gesturing at the paper in Sirius's hand, "just made it feel a lot more real." The moment was interrupted by Sirius who was reading the article on the opposite side of the page and had begun chuckling in a manner that could only mean he was up to something.

"How come you didn't say you knew the winner of the Cup, we could have been placing bets all this time," he said, waving the paper only for Hermione to snatch it from him and stuff it back in her journal that was returned to her jacket pocket.

"You see, that's the exact reason I don't tell you," she said, smacking the back of his head. "The point I was trying to make is that you two need to convince Mr. Weasley to leave the Cup right after it ends. We could send an anonymous tip that there might be an attack, but there is only so much they can do, but we might be able to get all the kids out of there before the shit hits the fan."

"We will talk to him," Remus said, running a hand over his face tiredly. "Sirius, you will be going to the Portkey with them, right?" Sirius nodded in acknowledgement.

"Yeah, Arthur could use some help keeping track of everyone till you lot decide to show up," the Dog said, elbowing Remus in the ribs. Only Sirius, Arthur, Hermione and the children to young to have taken their Apparation test would be leaving early to catch the Portkey to the Cup tomorrow. The rest of the group would be arriving later through Apparation.

"I'd rather be Apparating too," Hermione said before bidding Remus goodnight who was heading back to Grimmauld Place and heading inside with Sirius.

Harry tossed and turned in his sleep, mumbling into his pillow in hissing phrases, as his fingers dug into his hair above his scar; Hermione entered the room to wake the boys and caught sight of him.

"Harry, wake up Harry," she said, gently shaking his shoulder. Harry jerked awake, panting, as he blinked around the room.

"What—the man." he said, trailing off as he realized where he was.

"You were dreaming," she said, moving to wake Fred and George. "Come on, wake up, your mum's got breakfast ready," she said, moving over to Ron who was still sound asleep and snoring.

"Wake up, Ronald," she said, shaking him, only for him to roll over, pulling the blankets up over his head and continuing snoring. Hermione glared at him before glancing at the twins who were watching her with interest. Walking out of the room, she returned with a mop a moment later, unscrewing the end and setting the handle aside, she returned to Ron's bedside.

"Last chance, Ron, get up." There was no movement from the boy. Sighing irritatingly, she raised her voice, "LOOK AT THAT HUGE SPIDER!" before moving the mop head up the lump of his body and dropping it on his blanket covered head. Ron let out an almost girlish shriek and jumped straight up in the air, flinging sheets and pillow off him, as he all but climbed onto the headboard of his bed.

Looking around in a panic for the spider, he was met with laughter, as George and Fred lost it, laughing so hard Fred fell off the top bunk of their bed and landed on George who was doubled over seated at the edge of the lower bed. Harry even found himself laughing though he tried to hide it, Hermione stood there, arms folded, watching him with a satisfied smirk.

"Oh, good, you're awake, your mum wanted me to tell you breakfast is ready," before strolling off out of the room, confident he would not be going back to sleep.

"Bloody hell, Hermione," Ron shouted, chucking a pillow at the now empty doorway.

Breakfast was spent in a rush, as everyone ate their fill as quickly as they could so they could leave. Ron still found time in between bites to send glares Hermione's way as she ate across from him. The twins had been more than happy to reenact the whole scene for Sirius, when they came down for breakfast.

They left afterwards and began the long cold trek to Stoutshead Hill that was the closest Portkey to the Burrow. The early morning air was chilly and the hill slippery in morning dew as they began their climb. By the time they reached the top the group was panting and Sirius was clutching a stitch in his side, Hermione could only roll her eyes at the lot of them, it hadn't even been that steep of a hill and they were already panting. She had let herself lag behind as Ginny kept slipping and tripping on the climb up and would have more than likely fallen all the way down had Hermione not walked behind her to steady her when her balance was off.

"Arthur, hello," a man called who approached them with an old boot in one hand and his other raised in greeting; an older teen walking beside him.

"Amos, good to see you, ah, I see you have found it," Arthur said, gesturing to the boot. "Children, this is Amos Diggory, he works at the Ministry and his son Cedric, I am sure you know." They did indeed know him, the Hufflepuffs seeker, Harry had nearly lost the snitch from them in their last game in third year.

"Was your trip long?" Amos asked conversationally, as they waited on the Portkey.

"No, we live down that way a little ways, so not too long."

"Lucky, Ced and I were up at two to get here," the man said, looking around at the group. "Tell me, Arthur, are all these yours?"

"Oh goodness, no, just the red-headed ones," he said, introducing Fred, George, Ron and Ginny.

"This one is with me," Sirius said, finally having caught his breath, coming over to rest a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Sirius Black, pleasure to meet you, and this here is Harry Potter." Hermione stuck to the back of the group, hands in her jean pockets, when she was suddenly tugged forward by Sirius before Amos could begin to make any comments about Harry or about Sirius himself. "And this is Hermione Granger, a friend of Harry and Ron," he said, as he pulled Hermione up as a distraction.

"Er, hi," Hermione said, mentally grinding her teeth, "I'm so glad to be going to the World Cup, I'm a Muggle-born, you see, so my parents don't understand how much of a big deal this all is. I'm hoping Ireland wins." Amos didn't seem to know how to react as Hermione went into lecture mode almost automatically and began babbling about the last time the Cup had been held in Britain, all the while she had taken a measured step back so that the thick heel of her hiking boot was square on top of the toe of Sirius shoe. Before she could really get going Arthur cut off her brain to mouth babble to inform them they had less than a minute before the Portkey would activate.

Arriving at the landing point, they met a wizard by the name of Basil who directed them and the Diggory family to their respective camp sites. Heading down the path, Sirius had a notable limp as he walked; when questioned by Harry he only replied that he had stubbed his toe when they had landed.

The camp ground they were located at turned out to be run by a Muggle who seemed to need almost constant Obliviation as the wizard campers poured in. With a little help from Sirius to sort out the Muggle money, who added a few bills of his own to the stack of paper, that was turned over to the Muggle before they headed off to find their spot.

Due to their staying at the Muggle camp ground, magic use was kept limited and so came the time for them to set up, Mr. Weasley was more than enthusiastic to pitch the tent the Muggle way. Hermione stood there and watched, as Sirius and Arthur attempted to pitch the tent, and began to wonder if their incompetence at the task was a wizard thing or simply a guy thing. Picking up the case, the tent had come in, she turned it upside down, the instructions fell out at her feet.

"You want some help?" she asked, watching the men, as Sirius had a growing lump on his head where one of the polls had come back and smacked him in the face, and Arthur had somehow managed to end up with the canvas of the tent on top of him.

"Yes," Sirius said, holding his head where the lump was beginning to turn purple.

"Maybe a bit of help would be welcome," Arthur said, as he excavated himself with Ron's aid. Glancing at the paper, she passed it to Ginny.

"You want to get that one?" She gestured at one tent before the two went about setting them up properly.

"Marvelous." Arthur beamed, watching the tents take shape.

"They teach you that on your little island vacation?" Sirius asked, watching her hammer the last stake in on her tent before gathering up her tools.

"To read, no my dad did," she said, shoving the instruction sheet in his hands. "You might want to get some ice for that."

The tents finally set, Sirius, Harry, Ron and Hermione were nominated to get water while the other four got wood for the fire. The trip to the tap was quite the scene as they passed magic folk from all over the world and even saw a sock wearing house-elf go riding by on a llama.

Arriving back at camp found Arthur attempting to light a fire and only managing to burn his fingers in the process. Taking her pot of water into the tent she came back out with a drawstring bag from her pack.

"Here, let me try," she said, kneeling down beside him, pulling out the large chunks of wood that had been haphazardly thrown in the fire pit. Pulling a small knife from her boot, she shaved off some fine strips of wood from a larger chunk. Gathering the few sticks that had been picked up, she broke these into smaller pieces and set them aside. Arthur watched in wrapped fascination, as she piled the kindling in the pit and pulled a cylinder object from her small bag. Striking her knife against the flint she soon had the small wood shavings smoking and a lick of flame beginning to form as she added the broken twigs bit by bit as she blew on it. Soon there was a happily blazing fire in the pit, as Hermione slipped the knife back in her boot and returned the flint to her bag and moved to return it to her pack that she had still yet to unpack; she had convinced Ginny to wait on hers as well, as there was time for it later.

"That I did learn on my vacation." she said, passing Sirius to duck into the tent she would be sharing with Ginny.

Soon lunch was cooking; the rest of their group began to show up, first Bill and Charlie, followed by Remus, and finally Percy. They had just finished lunch when Ludo Bagman stopped by for tea and a chat, as he was going around taking bets. The twins had jumped at the opportunity to place a bet, but before they could, Hermione said if they were going to start betting away all their money then she was going to take her savings and take it elsewhere rather than risk it all in one bet. The two reluctantly agreed and let the conversation end, as Arthur inquired about a missing Ministry member, Bertha Jorkins. Soon Ludo left them; they were left watching the many Ministry workers moving up and down the line of camp sites.

A sales man came by at one point, and Ron bought a Shamrock hat and a figurine of Victor Krum that walked across his palm. Hermione picked out a green scarf and a set of Omnioculars. Catching Ron eyeing her pair longingly, Harry whispered something to Sirius before paying for their own things. Sirius had gotten hats for him and Harry along with two pair of the Omnioculars. Handing Harry his hat and both pair, the teen went over to Ron and handed one to him.

"Wow, thanks, Harry," he said excitedly.

"Don't thank me now, you're not getting a Christmas present this year," he said grinning. Hermione was fiddling with her own Omnioculars, figuring out how they worked, pausing and replaying the people that walked by the camp site, when Remus came over with programs for all of them.

"I think I'm really going to like these." she said to him, taking a program.

"Having fun, I see." he said, watching her continue to fiddle with the device before glancing around caughtiously like the Death Eaters might pop out at any time.

"No one is trying to kill me yet, so why not," she stated softly, shrugging. "I can worry about the life threatening stuff when it comes up, there's nothing to be done now, so why not enjoy the game."

"We are going to talk to Arthur right after the game, I just hope he will listen."

"His children are here, he wouldn't risk their safety."

Leaving her pack in the tent, Hermione grabbed her handbag before the group left to head to their box, stuffing her hooded sweater inside, as she exited the tent.

"I'm guessing that's a Muggle shirt, isn't it?" Sirius asked, looking over her plain Muggle outfit of worn hiking boots, loose jeans and a green T-shirt that read 'Kiss Me I'm Pretending to be Irish.' in bold white letters, her scarf draped loosely around her neck with its pulsing green and silver stripes.

"It was the only thing I had irish-y," she said with a shrug, as they headed up to the stadium.

"What did I say: prime seats," Arthur said, as they entered the Minister's box where Ludo would be doing the announcements for the duration of the game. Some of the seats had already been filled, forcing the group to split up somewhat. Bill and Charlie sat with Ginny, Arthur sat with the twins and Percy. Harry, Ron and Remus sat at one end of the front row, while Hermione and Sirius sat in the row behind them so they could still talk to each other over the seats. Sirius had taken the end seat so Hermione could sit behind Harry and Ron, leaning forward between their seats she pointed out something in the brochure about the teams mascots before the game. Over the next half hour the box began to slowly fill till there was only a few seats left.

"Ah, there you are, Lucius," came the voice of Minister Fudge, bringing Hermione back from her people watching, as she scanned the crowd with her Omnioculars, reclined back in her seat with her feet propped on the backs of Harry and Ron's seats, how didn't mind, seeing as they were leaning forward looking over the railing.

Introducing his son and wife to the Minister, he greeted each of the Malfoy's before moving on to introduce the Bulgarian Minister and Arthur.

"Good lord, Arthur, What did you sell to get such seats? Surely not your house, I dare say it wouldn't fetch enough for one ticket," Lucius said softly, looking the eldest Weasley up and down, as Draco entered a glaring contest with Harry who had turned in his seat with Ron.

Breaking contact with Arthur, Lucius led his family down the isle to the remaining seats. Dropping her Omnioculars from her eyes, she glanced over just in time to see Lucius Malfoy seat himself next to her, followed by Draco and then his wife.

"Ms. Granger," Lucius said, eyeing her up and down, but refrained from saying more, not while the Minister was nearby; he had appearances to keep up, after all.

"Mr. Malfoy," she replied before returning to look at the crowd through her Omnioculars.

"Long time no see, Lucius," Sirius said to the man before leaning forward so he could see past Lucius and Draco to Narcissa. "Hello, cousin," he said chipperly, only to start grinning as she looked as if she had smelled something nasty. "Aw, don't be like that, Cissy, and this must be your son. Draco, right, not seen you since you were a baby. I'm your mum's cousin, so I guess that makes us second cousins."

"Ignore him, dear," Narcissa said, wrapping an arm around her son's shoulder.

"Party pooper," Sirius mumbled, causing Hermione to snort out a laugh.

Soon Bagman stood and started the games beginning with the showing of each teams mascots. Then the balls were released and the game began.

The game had gone on for over an hour, when Hermione excused herself to the restroom. Slipping out of her seat, she headed out of the box and down the hall where the mass of yelling crowd wasn't so loud. Finding one of the small windows that opened to the outside of the stadium, she leaned her head against the glass in an attempt to lessen the headache growing in her temple. She had gotten over her uneasiness of crowds after she had gotten back from the island, but the constant tension of the man seated beside her and the deafening roar of the crowd was beginning to get to her. She almost wished the game would end early so she could leave or at least work off the tension.

"What brings you out here, all alone?" came the soft and cool voice of Lucius Malfoy, who had come up the hall behind her.

"I'm not much of a Quidditch fan," she said, turning to face him, back to the wall beside the window.

"I find that fact oddly unsurprising given your… upbringing," he said, leaning his weight casually on his cane.

Rubbing her temple, she sighed. "What do you want?"

"So blunt, what makes you think I want something?" he asked, dusting an invisible spot of dust off his vest front.

"You're here with me, instead off with your family," she said, lowering her hand from her temple and folding her arms over her chest.

"Perhaps I was simply out to stretch my legs," he said, pulling a watch from his pocket and glanced at it.

"Then don't let me hold you up," she said, gesturing down the hall opposite the way back to the box. "Carry on with your walk, I'm sure finding me was the last thing on your mind." Moving away from the window, she headed back toward the box, when Lucius stepped in her path.

"What are you up to, I should wonder?" His voice was cool and smooth, like a dagger right before it slipped smoothly between your ribs. In a fluid practiced gesture he unsheathed his wand from his cane. "Tell me, little Mudblood, what interest do you have in the Dark Arts."

"None," she said, ignoring the wand tip pressing into the underside of her throat, forcing her to tilt her head up, as she looked at him. "Now, would you remove your wand, I'm sure you are only trying to get a good look at the local Muggle-born, but I'm afraid to say, I have some nasty habits that come up when I'm feeling threatened, and I wouldn't want to do something that might cause a misunderstanding."

"I'm sure I have nothing to worry about," Lucius said in a condescending way, as he stepped forward, forcing her to step back by the pressure on her neck. "Now tell me, why were you so interested in that book at Borgin and Burkes?"

"You really don't want to push me, Malfoy," she said, bringing a hand up to grip at his wrist, holding the wand at her neck.

"I think you should be the one worrying about me, little Mudblood," he said, as she increased the pressure on his wrist. Suddenly a voice called from down the hall.

"Hermione, is that you?" Hermione pushed his wrist down and away, when Lucius turned his head to look where the voice had come from, releasing him and stepping out from behind the wand. Sirius came around a corner and was met by Hermione who brushed past him, he paused to look at Malfoy before following after her.

"What was that about?" he asked, catching up to her before they could re-enter the box.

"Later," she said, stepping in and retaking her seat.

Malfoy Sr arrived a few minutes later, flexing the wrist she had grabbed, trying to get the feeling to return, as the pressure point she had hit had caused his wand hand to go numb. Not acknowledging him, as he retook his seat, they all sat and watched, as Krum caught the Snitch ending the game. Ireland had won.

The group was soon caught up in the crowd, pouring from the stadium to the camp sites, and soon enough the group had made it back to the camp. Most of the Weasleys were celebrating in the boy's tent, when Hermione slipped into her and Ginny's tent. Pulling her sweater from her beaded bag, she loosened the drawstrings so it opened more and stuffed her much larger pack inside before tying it closed and slipping it on over her shoulder. Pulling her hooded sweater on over the bag, she slipped out of the tent and pulled her wand. Outside she could see Remus pacing the edge of the camp, his wand out but down, as he scanned the festivities around them. Catching his eye, she nodded before he ducked his head in the tent and said something that was drowned out by the joyous shouts inside. A moment later Arthur and Sirius came out and moved over to a more quiet spot to talk in private, as Hermione crouched by the fire as she kept watch for any sign of the coming attack.

"What has you both looking so glum, Ireland's just won the World Cup," Arthur asked, looking from one man to the other.

"We need to leave, now, Arthur. We have it on good authority that there is going to be a Death Eater raid tonight."

"That can't be, there hasn't been a raid in years and certainly not on an event this size. Where are you getting this information from?"

"A friend, they sent word that there was going to be an attack," Remus said seriously.

Arthur seemed skeptical at the vague statement. "How do you know this person can be trusted, a Death Eater raid is not something to be joked about."

"I would trust them with my life," Sirius said fervently, "I'm taking Harry out of here. You should come with us." Arthur seemed to hesitate, trying to sort through the information.

"Do you really want to take the chance that we are right with your family?" Remus asked, glancing over at the lively tent were Arthur's children were currently celebrating.

"How are you planning on leaving, there are no Portkeys scheduled to leave until tomorrow?" Arthur asked, taking off his glasses and wiping at his face tiredly.

"There is a safe place to Apparate from just outside the camp ground in the trees, all those who can Apparate can Side-Along-Apparate with a younger one. It's not the best modus of transportation for the kids, but at least we can get them home safe." Arthur sighed, nodding, before heading to the tent and calling the group to order and telling them to gather their things.

There was quite a bit of grumbling, but in the end bags were gathered and everyone filed out of the tents, the tents themselves were left up and would be gathered tomorrow if they were still standing. Everyone was assigned an Apparation buddy before they left, the adult was in charge of making sure their younger partner made it to the Apparation spot. Arthur was with Ginny, Bill and Charlie were taking Fred and George, Percy was with Ron much to the younger boy's displeasure. Sirius would be taking Harry, while Remus would be accompanying Hermione.

Setting out, the pairs moved through the festivities as the celebrating was beginning to pour out of the camps and into the streets. Arthur walked with his arm around Ginny who was beginning to look like she might fall asleep on her feet, Ron and Harry were looking just as tired after the early wake up they had had that morning. They had just reached the edge of the camp ground, when the screaming started.

Hermione stopped at the edge of the camp ground before turning back, Remus paused with her.

"Make sure they get out of here, I'm going to see if I can help." she said, pulling up the hood of her sweater.

"What if they ask where you are, we're supposed to stay together?" he asked, watching the rest of their group rush off into the trees, as more campers began heading the same way.

"Then don't let them see you, just make sure no one falls behind. I'll catch up with you," she said, running off back into the camp ground.

"Be careful," he said, turning to follow the group.

Dodging through the panicked crowds and burning tents, she caught sight of four floating figures above a crowd of laughing masked figures as they marched through the place. Slipping her wand into her holster on her arm and closing her eyes, Hermione wandlessly cast an altered Lumos spell she had come up with when dealing with patrols in low light when on the island. A blast of bright light went off in the midst of the Death Eater party with the force of a flash bomb, blinding those who happened to have their eyes open at the time. The group scattered and stumbled in their sudden blindness.

As the group dispersed, the spells holding up the Muggle family they had been tormenting faltered. A wandless Cushioning Charm softened the drop of the two adults, as they landed roughly on the ground. The older child she caught in the same manner, when the spell holding her up faltered, the younger was in the process of being spun like a top, causing the small child to go flying off as if shot from a marry-go-round. The Muggle woman screamed in terror as she watched; slowing the child's flight Hermione managed to get under her before she could hit the ground. The force of the girl hitting her was enough to send her backwards off her feet.

The sobbing child still in her arms she sat up, the Muggle family stumbled over still in their nightwear. Hermione passed the child off to her distraught mother and told them to run to the woods. The family had barely time to move away from her when a Bludgeoning Spell slammed into her back sending her to the ground, rolling with the hit she rolled onto her knees and fired her own spell catching him in the legs and toppling him to the ground.

Stiffly climbing to her feet, she ran over to the Death Eater as his spells glanced off her shield. Grabbing his wand hand by the wrist, she twisted till it gave a sickening crack before grabbing him by the back of the hood and slamming his face into the ground, shattering the mask covering his face; it wasn't anyone she recognized. Pulling his hood off, she left him for the Ministry to find, before heading back toward the woods. The Death Eaters were still about, but had scattered and had become disorganized after she had freed the Muggles from them.

Entering the relative shelter of the woods, she headed toward the place she was supposed to meet Remus, when a spell was sent her way from a cluster of trees, dodging she fired a Stunner back, not knowing if it was a Ministry person or Death Eater. Ducking behind a tree, a dark robed Death Eater came out with a wand raised toward her hiding spot.

Slipping soundlessly from her spot in the cover of the night shadows, she slipped up behind him. Slipping up beside him before he could react, grabbing his wand arm, she pulled him toward her slamming his masked face right into her waiting elbow. He stumbled back stunned, as she pulled his wand from his loose fingers. Glancing down at the wand in her hand, she turned and slammed her fist to hit where her elbow had recently occupied. The Death Eater dropped like a rock, fair blond hair peeking out of the broken portions of the mask.

Dropping the wand, she headed to meet Remus feeling extremely satisfied, leaving Lucius Malfoy to be found by the Ministry or regain consciousness. Either way, she was sure she had broken his nose and he would more than likely have a nice collection of bruises to show by the next morning. Not that they would last long with a few quick Healing spells, but punching him had made her feel a whole lot better.

"Everything okay?" Remus asked apprehensive, as he watched her enter the clearing.

"They've scattered for now, but they are still—" Her words trailed off, as a flash of green illuminated the sky above.

"We should go." Hermione could only nod as the Apparated back to the Burrow under the light of the Dark Mark glowing in the night sky.

*Hermione's Green Dress

Chapter Text

Just because everything is changing

Doesn't mean it's never been this way before.

All you can do is try to know who your friends are

as you head off to the war.

Pick a star on the dark horizon and follow the light,

you'll come back when it's over,

no need to say goodbye.

-The Call, Regina Spektor.

Chapter 16: Know Who Your Friends Are

July 1994-The Burrow

With a crack two figures arrived on the lane leading up to the front door of the Burrow. Arthur and Sirius had been waiting on the front step for the stragglers of their group. Pulling her hood off, she tucked her hands in the pockets of her sweater.

"What took you so long?" Arthur asked looking from one to the other, "I thought you were right behind us."

"We were, but then we got held up—erm…" Lupin trailed off, glancing at Hermione for help.

"I fell," she said, looking down embarrassingly at the grass and dirt smeared on her clothes.

"Well, come on inside. Molly is fixing hot chocolate for everyone," Arthur said, leading the way to the kitchen. "After a cup of hot chocolate to settle the nerves everyone is headed off to bed," he said, patting Hermione on the back kindly, as they headed inside, Hermione had to hide a wince at the contact.

"Hermione, there you are," Ron said, revealed, as she walked into the kitchen where the younger group was currently nursing cups of hot drinks. Ginny and Harry were seated on either side of the red-headed boy and perked up at his words, as they had been staring into their cups wrapped up in their own thoughts. Harry was rubbing at his head, but stopped in favor of sending a tired smile her way. George was asleep with his head cradled on his folded arms and Fred propped up against his shoulder. Charlie, Bill and Percy were nowhere to be seen.

"Oh dear, are you alright?" Molly asked, bustling over to look at Hermione's rumpled appearance before coaxing her to the table. " Come sit, I'll fix you a cup." Hermione paused, not letting herself to be led to the table.

"Actually, I'd like to get cleaned up, if you don't mind," she said, slipping out of the woman's grip and heading out of the kitchen.

"Okay, deary, I'll set a cup aside, you can drink it once you're freshened up," Molly said, shaking Fred and George awake from their seats at the table; both had dozed off now and Fred had begun drooling on George's shoulder.

Heading upstairs, intending on getting a shower, she was stopped by Sirius at the base.

"You okay?" he asked, having caught the wince she had tried to hide, when Arthur had led her inside.

"Fine, just some scrapes and bruises, nothing serious," she said, moving to head up the stairs.

"What's wrong with your hands?" Sirius asked, eyeing her suspiciously, as she had yet to remove them from her pockets since approaching the house. Hermione sighed and pulled them out; her left had a few scrapes, her right on the other hand was bleeding. There were fragments of a white material lodged in the skin around her knuckles, and the knuckles themselves were split in a number of places.

"What did you hit?" he asked, taking her hand in his and inspecting the white pieces.

"Lucius Malfoy," she said, pulling her hand back and flexing her fingers, wincing slightly at the new flare of pain. "Normally I would have found a less painful way to render a man unconscious, but given who it was the pain is completely worth it."

"He must have done something to really piss you off."

"He seemed under the impression he could intimidate me and I'd tell him whatever he wanted to know. I warned the prick that he didn't want to try that method with me."

"I'm sure you did," Sirius chuckled.

Slipping into the bathroom, she stripped out of her sweater and took off her bag, turning on the shower before beginning to clean up her hand. Pulling the mask slivers that had lodged in her skin when it had broken under her fist, she washed the blood off before gingerly pealing the rest of her clothes off. A glance in the mirror revealed a rather large bruise was just beginning to blossom across her upper back where the Bludgeoning Hex had hit her. Taking care of the few other scrapes and cuts she had gotten, she stepped into the warm stream of water. After getting clean and treating her split knuckles with a paste she had gotten from her bag, she headed to bed in Ginny's room. There she found Ginny fast asleep and a still warm cup of hot chocolate next to her bed. Placing the empty cup back on the table, when she was done, she climbed in under her blankets gingerly, she was sure she would be feeling the night's activities for a while.

The next morning the papers were ablaze with the headline 'Terror at the World Cup!'. Glancing over the paper that was being passed around the breakfast table, she noted that the paper was nearly identical to the one she had in her journal, save there were a few differences as she read over it. They had picked up the Death Eater that had attacked her in the back, he had been found unconscious by the Aurors that had come to help. Lucius Malfoy seemed to have done an interview with the articles writer, Rita Skeeter. He claimed to have been physically assaulted by at least three of the masked men, 'barely made it out with his life'. Or so he claimed. Apparently he was placing the blame of the attack more on the incompetence of those who had set up the Cup and had been in charge of seeing to the safety of those who attended rather than those who had done the attacking.

Looking over at Harry, who seemed to be lost in thought as he stared at the picture of the Dark Mark hovering ominously over the tents in the picture.

"What's wrong Harry?" she asked, breaking him out of his thoughts.

"Nothing," he said, turning his focus back to his food. She didn't buy it for a moment; she had always been able to tell, when he was lying to her. She waited till after breakfast before dragging him and Ron out into the garden, so they could talk in private.

"Spill, what's wrong?" she asked, leveling her usual scolding look that he better just come clean because she was going to get the answers from him anyway.

"I didn't tell anyone," he started out before shifting uncomfortably, "but the night before we left for the Cup I had a dream, and my scar was hurting."

"He couldn't have been here, could he?" Ron hissed. "There was no way HE could have gotten past our wards without mum and dad knowing."

"No, I don't think he was here, but he was in my dream. He was talking with someone, a man, about killing someone." The 'Me' went unspoken, but they all knew who Voldemort wanted dead the most.

"Did you see the man, what he looked like?" Hermione asked, guessing this was the man that was going to try to slip Harry's name in the Goblet once they got to school.

"I can't recall much now," he admitted, "but I remember he showed Voldemort his arm and it had that mark, the one from the newspaper, on it."

"The Dark Mark," Hermione said, nodding, as she sifted through the information. "All his closest supporters are branded with his Mark. It had some sort of magic in it that connects them together, it's how he calls them," she said, recalling a talk she had with a certain man bearing the Mark. She had gotten a good look at it in the weeks he had been bedridden after being attacked by Greyback.

"So this man is someone who managed to get out of being rounded up and sent to Azkaban when the rest were collected," she muttered to herself before looking over at a confused Harry and Ron. "If you saw him again, do you think you would recognize him? Could you describe him at all?" she asked, Harry shrugged.

"I don't know, maybe. He was kneeling or maybe sitting, so I'm not sure how tall he was, but he was thin and had brown maybe black hair, I really can't recall."

"You should probably tell Sirius about this," she said, stocking the vague description away.

"It's just a dream, I really don't want to bother him," Harry said irritably.

"He'd want to know, mate. I mean, what if it means something, he would know wouldn't he? Or maybe he knows who the man might be," Ron said, patting Harry on the shoulder; Hermione smiled thankfully at the red-head. Harry always thought she was a worrier, if Ron agreed with her on this, he was more likely to do what she suggested first.

"I guess I could tell him," Harry muttered, not liking going to the man who had done so much for him in the past couple of months and worrying him over a dream that would probably turn out to be nothing.

Soon enough the group found themselves headed off once again toward school on the brightly polished Hogwarts Express. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny had found themselves crowded in a compartment talking about the World Cup. Ron and Harry insisted on describing everything to Neville, who hadn't been able to go. Ron even dug around in his trunk to find his Omnioculars to show Neville the clip he had gotten of Krum's game ending Snitch catch.

Hermione had tuned the group out, as she began flipping through one of her new school books, as Ron began to tell Neville once again how great of a player Krum was for the third time. It was at that time that Malfoy made his usual beginning of the year 'Seek out the Golden Trio and torment them' visit.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry asked, scowling at the blond teen.

"I thought I'd come by to see if Weasley here is going to enter as I'm sure Potter won't be able to resist the chance to show off," Malfoy stated.

"What are you going on about?" Harry asked, sharing a confused glance with Ron before looking at Hermione who was ignoring the lot of them in favor of her book. Seeing the two confused looks the Gryffindors in the compartment were sharing, save Hermione, who's face was obscured by her large tome, Malfoy could only begin grinning in glee.

"You mean, your dad works at the Ministry and you don't know! My dad told me ages ago," he said laughing, causing Ron to turn in an angry shade of red and Harry to begin scowling.

"What are you going on about, Malfoy?" Harry asked, his temper rising.

"Why should I be the one to spoil the surprise?" Draco stated smugly before something caught his eye. "What is that, Weasley?" he asked, reaching for a discolored lacy sleeve that was hanging out of the trunk Ron had left partly open from when he had gone digging for his Omnioculars. Before Ron could react Draco grabbed the sleeve and pulled it out in full view.

"Look at this!" Draco cackled, holding up his prize. "I must say, Weasley, you have quite the fashion sense... for someone from the 1890's"

There was the sudden sound of something heavy hitting flesh and a yelp that caused the two groups to turn and look at Crabbe who was holding his hand and backing warily away from Hermione who was glaring at him brandishing her large book with both hands. On the seat beside her was a package of half eaten chocolate frogs that Crabbe had been steadily edging toward. Addressing Draco, but still glaring threateningly at Crabbe should he try to snag her snack again.

"Are you criticizing everyone's formal wear? I would love to hear your opinion of mine." she said, turning her amused brown gaze toward Draco whose cheeks began to tint red. Unable to form a reply, as she sat there, smirking at him, Draco balled up Ron's dress robes and tossed them at the red-head.

"How's your father, I hear he was attacked by three armed men. That must have been terrible, do tell him I hope his nose is doing better," she said in false concern, as Draco and his goons made to leave. Hermione only tsked at his lack of reply, as the compartment door slammed behind them before opening another chocolate frog. Grabbing it before it could hop away she shoved the whole thing in her mouth and opened her book again. Glancing up, she saw her friends staring at her.

"What?" she mumbled around the hunk of chocolate. "It got him to leave didn't it."

"How did you do that?" Ron asked enviously.

"I'm a girl, I can do many things to influence boys into doing what I want." she said, slinking back down behind her book for the rest of the train ride.

It was pouring rain by the time the train reached the Hogsmeade Station, and Hermione tucked her cat up under her robes to keep him dry from the worst of the rain. As they entered the Entrance Hall she turned him loose to find his own way up to the common room before moving with the rest of her friends into the Great Hall. The feast was extravagant as usual and everyone tucked in hungerly after the first-years had been Sorted. Colin Creevey's brother had joined them at Gryffindor and was completely overjoyed at having fallen in the Great Lake on the trip over and been pushed back in the boat by the Giant Squid.

At the end the plates and dishes of remaining food vanished, as Dumbledore stood to greet the students into a new school year. Hermione wrinkled her nose in distaste at the Headmaster's reference to them having been sufficiently fed and watered like they were a bunch of pets he was in charge of taking care of while their owners were away.

His following greeting, the Headmaster began reminding them all that the Forbidden Forest was unsurprisingly still forbidden and that the Inter-House Quidditch games were canceled for the year. Ron and Harry were in shock for a moment before they joined in the outrage shouts of the assorted House teams. Dumbledore raised his hand in a gesture of silence, and the students quieted before he proceeded to explain the reason for the cancellation, only to be interrupted by the doors of the Great Hall to open with a resounding bang.

In walked none other than the ex-Auror Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody. Hermione watched him, as he greeted Dumbledore and took his place at the teachers table. If her information was still accurate, this man was, in fact, an impostor, and a good one at that, given that he fooled Dumbledore and a number of people that knew the real Moody for years. She hadn't been able to identify which Death Eater had infiltrated Hogwarts during the Tournament, only that he had taken Moody's place, and when he was through, he had killed the real Moody.

Dumbledore finally broke the news of the Triwizard Tournament which garnered a lot of excited chatter from the collective student body only to have the hopes of some of the younger students dashed when it was announced that there would be an age restriction in place keeping anyone under age from entering. The twins were outraged at this turn of events, as they had hoped to enter themselves. Dumbledore dismissed them to bed, leaving many of the students still chatting excitedly, as they dispersed to their designated dormitory. Hermione was forced to usher Harry, Ron and the twins out of the Hall before they were the last ones left, as they were still talking about how unfair their situation was. Hermione could only shake her head, she had had enough life-threatening situations for one lifetime, she had no desire to throw herself into another for fame and money; Harry seemed to share her opinion when Ron asked him if he wanted to enter if he had the chance.

The first week of classes was uneventful, as everyone got used to their new class schedules. The morning after the feast was clear of the previous night's rain and found her waking early and heading downstairs, dressed in her running clothes.

"Good morning, Sir," she said, as she met Snape heading out the door, he seemed surprised to see her at first, but then seemed to settle back into his usual half awake self that he was this early in the morning.

"Good morning, Ms Granger," he muttered, yawning before heading off at a jog on their usual route around the lake.

Following breakfast in Care of Magical Creatures, that morning Hagrid had them learning about a new creature. He had invented something called a Blast-Ended Skrewts and Hermione had a startling sense of foreboding, as she was reminded of another man who had messed with the blending of magical species. Watching the students leave class with minor burns and stings, she could only hope the Skrewts didn't turn out near as dangerous as Fowl's were-brids.

Friday came quickly, and Hermione was on her way from lunch, having grabbed foods that were easy to fit in her pockets, and headed toward the library, she was having to squeeze in research time anywhere she could now that she didn't have the leisure of the Time-Turner to free up time for her to search the library for information on the ring she had stored back in her house and the spells laid on it. She was almost to the library when she came across a number of familiar raised voices around the corner in one of the small courtyards, Hermione slowed and peeked around the corner to see Malfoy red-faced and angry scowling at Harry and Ron who were chuckling as they turned to walk away from the teen and his two goons. What ever her friends had said must have really pissed him off, because despite her having taught him a lesson last year about attacking someone in the back the youngest Malfoy seemed to have not been paying very close attention, as one instant he was firing a spell at Harry's back and the next the blond boy had been replaced by a rather adorable white ferret.

Hermione had to hold back a laugh at the ferret's startled expression as Moody, or rather the Death Eater playing Moody, stepped into sight to check if Harry was alright.

Moody had just turned back to point his wand at the Ferret-Malfoy to find much to everyone's surprise that the transfigured boy was missing, as a ginger bottle brush tail slipped around the corner. Moody and Malfoy's two henchmen gave chase, but were no match for the agile Crookshanks, as he darted down to the Great Hall and was lost among the legs of the lunch crowd as they headed for the Great Hall.

"Clever boy, Crooks," Hermione said, picking up the hyperventilating ferret, as she patted her cat on the head. She had met up with her cat on one of the deserted tower stair wells, as she sat on the step beside a window looking out over the Lake. "Breath, Malfoy, before you pass out," she said, setting the ferret on her lap and rubbing his back. After a couple of minutes his breathing seemed to calm and he turned around to snap at her hand with sharp teeth. Hermione pulled her hand back only to pick him up with her other hand, preventing him from bolting or trying to bite her again.

"Hey," she said, flicking him in the nose, "I'm trying to help you — or should I have just turned you back over to crazy Moody? I'm sure he would have loads of fun at your expense, and before long the whole school will have seen Malfoy the Wonder Ferret." Malfoy stilled before giving a heavy sigh and going limp in her grip.

"Good," she said, setting the ferret on her shoulder. "Hold on." Standing, she gathered her bag and headed down the stairs with Draco on her shoulder and Crookshanks on her heels. Pulling an apple from a pocket in her bag and began eating it as she walked, down the tower stair and into the lower regions of the castle, knocking at the closed door to the Potions Master's office.

"Enter," came the curt reply. Hermione opened the door to find Snape busy working through the pile of summer work he had been bombarded with at the start of term. Briefly glancing up at her Snape went back to his grading. "What do you want, Granger?"

"To return something of yours," she said in an overly happy tone, this caused him to pause in his work and look up at her fully with a questioning gaze. Pulling the ferret off her shoulder, she plopped him right in the middle of the scattered papers Snape had been so diligently working on.

"What is this?" he said, eyeing the creature that looked back at him with pitiful pleading eyes.

"Draco Malfoy," Hermione said simply, smiling smugly; Snape scowled in confusion, he didn't recall the young Malfoy having a ferret or any of his Slytherins for that matter owning such a pet.

"The ferret is Malfoy's?" Hermione shook her head, as the ferret stood on its hind legs, chittering and flailing, its little paws gesturing madly before its movements became less coordinated, as it realized nothing it said was being understood and preceded to bang its head against a rather large paper weight in frustration. Snape watched all this with mild curiosity before looking up at Granger for an explanation.

"The ferret IS Malfoy," she corrected. Malfoy hopped up and down, making a racket, pointing at Hermione spastically.

"Malfoy?" Snape questioned, turning his gaze fully on the ferret who snapped to attention with his full focus on the Potions Master. "Is that you?" The ferret nodded its head vigorously in confirmation.

"I better not find out you had anything to do with this," Snape said, turning his gaze back on the amused Gryffindor.

Hermione held up her hands innocently, "You want fingers to point, ask Professor Moody, he's the one who did the spell." Snape seemed to ponder over this information before snapping out a dismissal, sending her off to do whatever it was she did when outside class.

As the weeks progressed Hermione began to seriously question why this impostor Moody was not setting off any alarm bells. The man was first and foremost not teacher material, he had not only transfigured a student into an animal; but since then he had begun teaching his students about the uses and casting of the Unforgivables. Added with the lingering smell of Polyjuice Potion that lingered around, the man would have been a dead give away. She would never forget the smell and taste of that potion after her failed attempted use of it.

Had she not known beforehand that he was not who he seemed to be, she might have though it a good idea to teach the students the true dangers of the Unforgivables and not just have them read it from a book. The problem was that every time he cast those spells in the classroom every nerve in her body went on edge, the thought that with just a slight change in angle he could easily miss his intended target and kill one of the students before anyone could even realize what happened.

The impostor seemed to pick up on her feelings of unease, the time came in his lesson were he began to place each student under the Imperius Curse and made them do things they normally would never have done. He seemed to take pleasure, when he called her forward for the first time and she seemed to hesitate, reluctant to raise from her seat. She didn't like the idea of anyone in her head, least of all, controlling her body.

He cast the spell despite her refusal to stand from her seat, her Occlumency shields seemed non-existent, as the spell took effect, and her mind had gone into a state of tranquil calm, as if nothing mattered and all her worries simply slipped away. Suddenly she had the strong desire to get up from her seat and get on her desk to dance a happy jig.

She stood from her seat. Chair scraping loudly against the floor, as she pushed it back and put her hands on the top of it, ready to lift herself up on its smooth surface.


Something inside her screamed, and her muscles locked up on their own accord. The urge to get on the desk became even greater, and her arms began to shake, as her mind willed them to help pull her onto the desk and her body refused to budge against the foreign prompting.

She was so confused — she knew what she wanted to do, what she needed to do, and yet every fiber of her being was telling her not to do it, not to listen to her head. Her head was wrong. The feeling of wrongness got stronger, as she raised a leg to get up on the desk, as the urge to get on became even stronger. Finally something snapped and instead of placing her knee on the desk to climb on, her foot lashed out and kicked over the desk, something seemed to release her and her mind was finally clear. Hermione kicked the desk again for good measure, just to make sure her limbs were hers to use once again. She really didn't like this man, she decided, glaring at him and sitting back down on her chair, her desk remained in its tipped over state; he could pick it up she thought vehemently.

Only one other person had been able to throw off the effects of the curse, she was glad to find that Harry could throw it off as well. At least she didn't have to worry about the Impostor Moody simply having him wander off during a Hogsmeade visit.

After the Imperius class Hermione decided something had to be done with the man, it was getting close to the time, when the other schools would be arriving and the choosing of the Champions. She had to find some proof that he wasn't the real Moody. Her best bet, she decided, was to find out where he was hiding the real Moody and take him to Dumbledore.

This would mean that she would need to sneak into his private chambers, and for that she was going to need help. Pulling George and Fred aside she commissioned their particular brand of distraction.

"I need you to cause some sort of distraction after dinner, anything to delay the teachers from leaving," she said, pulling them aside into a secluded alcove behind one of the large wall tapestries after lunch. "Think, you could do that?" The two looked at each other then her before smiling, mirrored conspiratorially grins.

"Up to no good, are we?" George asked with a knowing smirk.

"I solemnly swear it," she said with a mischievous wink, both boys stared at her dumbfounded.

"You?!" Fred blurted out at the familiar words that had been uttered countless times, as he and his brother had made use of the Marauder's Map.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," she said smugly. "Now, will you help?"

"Should we even bother asking what you are up too?" George asked, getting over the fact that their brother's rule abiding friend had managed to not only dodge their pranks for a year, but managed to sneak their prized Map right out from under their noses.

"No," she said simply, "like I said, sometimes the rules need a little bending, and now is one of those times."

Fred nodded before pondering over their current products and those that were still in the testing phase.

"We could test out the Portable Swamp, and the Fanged Frisbee could always use some tweaking," he supplied.

"What about the Blizzard In A Bottle, we haven't tried that one out yet."

"You think it's ready?"

"Ready enough for testing, we already fixed the issue with the temperature dropping to far. No one should freeze to death, probably."

"I don't care what you do just keep them occupied for as long as you can," Hermione said, as the two began debating the pros and cons of plunging the Entrance Hall into a sudden untested snow storm. "Just don't go freezing anyone to death," she added slipping out of the alcove after making sure the coast was clear.

She slipped away just after dinner that evening, changing out of her robes and into a pair of dark pants and a soft black leather jacket she had picked out to replace her sweater she had used last year. It was charmed with the spell that prevented anyone from clearly making out her face, when the hood was up. Leaving her things in the alcove she made her way to the room located above the Defence teacher's private quarters, her footsteps were quiet as she left her sneakers with her school things and was thankful the weather was still warm, meaning the stone floors were not freezing yet. Entering the Muggle Studies classroom that was located above the room that she wanted to enter, she pulled out the Map from one of the many pockets in her jacket and opened it to the Great Hall. There at the teachers table was the label 'Barty Crouch Jr'. At first she had though Crouch, the Ministry worker, had slipped in to visit the school, but then realized this must be the impostor, she would have to look him up, when she was done with this. To think that Crouch's son was a Death Eater made her question the man's own loyalty, as families tend to join together, though there were some exceptions. When she saw a mass of named dots rush to the Entrance Hall, she knew the twins had started their distraction.

Stuffing the Map in her pocket, she opened the class room window and hoisted herself out. The door to his private quarters was heavily warded, trying to break through was sure to take time and possible alert him to meddling, but being on the third floor it was unlikely he would protect his windows as heavily. The stone was cold and rough under her hands and feet but the worn stone had many good holds as she slipped down the wall. Had her friends saw her they might have questioned how she could be so good at climbing at such a height, but put her on a broom a few feet up and she was a terrified mess. It wasn't height that scared her so much, but the prospect of having nothing solid and steady under her. Her foot slipped on a slick portion of brick, but she managed to catch herself till she could find solid footing again and continue that last few feet to her targeted window ledge.

Settling on the window ledge she pulled the Map out briefly to check on Moody's position and found his and a number of the other teacher's dots running about the Entrance Hall, while the students crowded around the doorway.

Checking the window, she found a spell, triggered to go off should it be broken in any way, and magically unlocking it had no effect. Crouching on the sill, she pulled out a small folding knife from a pocket and slipped it in between the window frame and the window. Some shifting and relocating soon found the knife pushing the latch of the window up and it swinging open on soundless hinges.

Slipping into the room, she began going through his things, looking for signs of where he was hiding Moody, according to the Map he was in the room with her. She looked everywhere, in the armor, under the bed, in the bathroom. Then she came to a large trunk and found it sealed tight, judging by the Map he must be in the trunk, as his dot was right next to her. She tried unlocking it magically, breaking the lock and even picking the lock the Muggle way. It wasn't a skill she was great at, but given the time she could get most locks open, inserting the fine pick in the lock on ended with them melting once inside. Crouch Jr had put quite a lot of heavy protections on it, she didn't think she could get it open without blasting it apart and that might harm the real Moody.

Deciding to look for some other means of exposing Barty, she began digging through his things, when she came across a number of bottles in a cupboard. A sniff reveled it to be his Polyjuice Potion supply. She contemplated spitting in it to make the potion ineffective, but then realized that would only end up turning Crouch into her. Taking the next best way, she went over to the tank holding a rather nasty looking water creature and took some water from the tank to dilute the bottles of potion. With any luck he would not notice his potions weren't working and would continue to take it until he turned back to his normal self.

Finishing, she slipped back out of the window, closing it behind her and began the climb back up to the Muggle Studies classroom. She rejoined the rest of the school after changing back into her school things and found the Entrance Hall turned half into a swamp and half into a snow covered land, a number of students had braved the icy floor and slid right into the swamp water and come out covered in mud and slime. The teachers were still trying to melt the worst of the ice as the snow came down in scattered patches, and there were patches where the snow and ice did not form at all, an obvious defect in the product. A nod to the twins as she joined her year mates in heading up to their dorm, let them know she had been successful in her snooping.

Finally the day of their guest schools's arrival came and classes were let out early to let the students be free to greet their guests. Snape was rather cross about the whole affair as it was cutting into his lesson time in teaching about antidotes; he had gone so far as to threaten the class that they better pay attention, as he might just poison the class to see who was paying attention.

The students bustled out of class and headed to the Entrance Hall that was now free of snow and swamp, but still had a lingering odor of rancid water. The arrival of the two schools was quite a sight with the Beauxbatons's flying horse drawn carriage and Durmstrang's ship with the skeletal look of a resurrected wreck from the Lake.

They were ushered off to the Great Hall where they would wait for the other schools to disembark from their transports and be formally greeted by the Headmaster, as the Heads of both guest schools had come ahead to greet Dumbledore before going back to collect their charges.

"I can't wait for the choosing, I hear Cedric is entering," said an excited Ernie Macmillan, as he walked with some other Hufflepuffs in front of their group, as they headed to the Great Hall.

"Cedric?" Ron asked in confusion.

"You know Cedric Diggory, he rode the Portkey with us to the Cup," Harry answered.

"You really think he is Champion material?" Ron said, wrinkling his nose in distaste. "I mean, he is fair enough at Quidditch, but really, the judge wouldn't choose him."

"Why not? " Hermione asked curiously. "He's smart, athletic and a Prefect. All good qualities to look for."

Ron scoffed at this. "You're just saying that because he's handsome." This caused Hermione to break into laughter, the boys gave her an odd look."

"I'll admit he is handsome, but that isn't the reason I think he would be a good Champion," she said, getting her laughter under control, but was still snickering. "Honestly, Ron, what made you think I would choose him for his looks?"

"What about Lockhart, you were swooning over him for a year, and he had the brain of a troll," Ron pointed out smugly.

"Oh, come on, I was 13 and he was a celebrity," Hermione said in her defence. "I would like to think that I've matured since then, honestly, Diggory isn't really my type, anyway."

"What's your type?" Hermione had to pause and think about this, what was her type? She had never actually done any dating in her time. Her previous relationships had been purely physical and nothing lasting more than a night. If she was honest her relationship with Remus was the closest thing to a romantic relationship she had ever had, and apart from that Christmas Eve they had spent together they had kept their relationship strictly on friendly terms. She liked the man well enough, and he was always someone she could talk intellectually about magical subjects, though he was a bit lacking in the Muggle ones, they were still able to sit comfortably for hours and discuss a subject. She had to admit that despite that she found their conversations enjoyable and that she found him physically attractive; she felt there was just something missing. Being with Remus was like curling up warm and safe in front of a fire in winter; comforting and safe and missing the wild sense of danger that got her blood pumping in expectation, like lighting in a spring storm. Despite being a werewolf she found him almost to tame for her taste for danger.

"Someone who can keep up with me in an intellectual conversation and preferably older," she said finally, not wanting or willing to divulge more.

"How does Diggory not fit into your type, he's smart like you said and two years older than you." Hermione mentally winced at this, Ron couldn't realize that Diggory was in fact three years her junior.

"He just doesn't," she said simply with a shrug, as they entered the Great Hall. Taking their seats they watched as each of the guest schools chosen entered. First was the Beauxbatons girls who entered in a flurry of skirts alongside their large Headmistress. Hermione could only sit there and shake her head, as Ron was beginning to drool, as he leaned dangerously out of his seat to get a better look at the passing french girls. Judging by the number of boys doing the same thing, at least, one or more had to be part-Veela. Even Harry was looking at them longingly, as they moved to sit with the Ravenclaws.

Next came the Durmstrang boys, the fur garbed men seemed to have a similar reaction as the Veela from both the female and male population, as none other than Victor Krum led the group in with his Headmaster. Ron was nearly acting very much the part of a rabid fan, as he watched his idol stroll by only a few feet away. Harry was excited as well, but not to the near obsessive point that Ron had reached, which was slightly dampened, as the Durmstrang boys moved to sit with the Slytherins. Draco seemed very smug, as Krum sat down beside him.

At the head table a chair was enlarged so that Madame Maxime could take a seat as Headmaster Karkaroff sat down beside Snape. The two men seemed to recognize each other before Karkaroff turned to begin talking with Dumbledore. A short time later they were also joined by Ludo Bagman and Mr. Crouch.

Hermione watched as Crouch Jr, still looking like Moody, glared daggers at his father who had entered. So he and his father were not on friendly terms, she guessed. She hoped that her sabotage to his potion would take effect soon, but that entirely depended on how much he had on his person when she had ruined the batch in his room. She thought it would be quite a show should he change back in the middle of dinner.

It was after dinner that Dumbledore brought out a large case that was revealed to be holding the Goblet of Fire, the object that would choose the Champions for the Tournament. The Goblet was to be left out for those of age to enter, and the following night the Champions would be chosen. Dinner finished and the students dispersed as they scattered back to their dormitories, ship or carriage respectfully.

Hermione slipped out of her bed as soon as Lavender and Parvati had drifted off. Having left on her dark pants when she had gone to bed, she pulled her dark leather jacket on and grabbed her boots before heading downstairs. Pausing on the stairs to pull her boots on, she was just entering the common room. Pulling out her Map she saw that Crouch Jr was patrolling the first floor and was close to the Great Hall. She would have to hurry if she was going to make it there before he had a chance to do any tampering with the Goblet. Passing through the Portrait hole she leapt out onto something that gave a yelp. Looking down, she realized she had jumped down onto a sleeping Neville who stood blinking up at her.

"Hermione. What are you—" His voice was cut off, as she hoisted him from the ground and locked her arm around his neck and tightened till his words were silenced.

"Shh, Neville, you're dreaming," she said, softly increasing the pressure till the boy passed out before throwing him over a shoulder, carrying him into the common room and depositing him on the nearest couch. Hopeful he would forget even seeing her by the next morning as she exited the common room at a run. She needed to keep Crouch Jr from placing Harry's name in the Goblet long enough for his disguise to falter. That was her only thought, as she moved through the castle. Glancing at the Map, as she was forced to duck into an alcove, as Filtch passed by on his nightly patrol, revealed that Crouch Jr had made it into the Great Hall. Slipping out of her hiding spot once Filtch was past, she ran to the moving staircases. Leaping on the railing, she vaulted over not bothering to wait for them to realign, as she landed on the said case below before leaping on another that was moving to the floor she wanted. Slipping into a secret passage that would take her right outside the Great Hall, she made it to the entrance just in time to see Crouch Jr slip out of the doorway, pausing to take a sip from his hip flask before heading up the main staircase to continue his patrol.

"Dammit," she cursed quietly, slipping out of the passage and into the Great Hall. The Goblet stood there innocently on its stand, its flames the only light in the room, as the night sky of the ceiling was overcast. Stepping over the Age Line encircling the item, Dumbledore had placed it to keep the younger students from placing their names in despite him stating that they were not allowed.

Pulling her wand she cast Manifesto Accessa. The flames flared as the Hogwarts crest appeared above a list of names written in glowing ember letters in the handwriting of each student, Harry's was not among them. Another flair and the list and crest was replaced with the shorter list of Beauxbatons students and their crest. The flames flared again and instead of taking on the Durmstrang crest another appeared with the name of Harry Potter in a handwriting not his own before the flames returned to normal. The Durmstrang students appeared to be waiting to enter till tomorrow. Harry seemed to have been entered under the American school of magic, Salem Academy, judging by the crest.

"Dammit," she hissed, beginning to pace back and forth in front of the Goblet, her hand gripping at her hair before rubbing them down her face in frustration. She hadn't been fast enough to prevent Harry from being entered. With a resigned sight, she stashed her wand and turned to face the Goblet. There was only one option left, as she reached into one of her many jacket pockets.

It was Halloween night and the whole school was a buzz with excitement as the Hogwarts students and their guests gathered after the feast for the naming of the Champions. Hermione sat, picking at her pudding nerves eating away at her appetite, as she hoped her plan worked, if Harry's name came out of the Goblet, she didn't know what she would do. Probably convince Sirius to take him out of school till the Tournament was over. She could barely handle watching him fly around at breakneck speeds with demented bludgers being hit at him, she didn't think she would be able to sit by and watch him be put through the challenges the Tournament entailed.

At one end of the table Fred and George were looking far younger than they had that morning, when they had attempted an Ageing Potion to get past the Age Line. It failed spectacularly, as despite her warnings the two stepped over the Line and were immediately ejected from the circle before being sent to the Hospital Wing, sporting some very fine long beards.

The dishes cleared themselves, as Dumbledore clapped his hands to get everyone's attention.

"Now the Goblet is almost ready to choose our Champions. Now please, if you are chosen, make your way to the front and into the chamber there," he said, indicating the door off the staff table. "There you will receive your first instructions."

At that moment the Goblet flared and the flames turned blue, and a slip of charred paper was spat out. Dumbledore snatched it from the air.

"The Durmstrang Champion is Victor Krum." There was a roar of applause from the Durmstrang students, as the Quidditch star stood and headed to the front. Once he was out of the room the Goblet spit out another paper. This one for Fleur Delacour for Beauxbatons. She stood and strolled confidently up the aisle, as her school mate applauded her, her silver hair swishing stylishly behind her, as a number of the male population stared. Another paper was chosen and Cedric Diggory was sent strolling up to the front with the collective cheers of the Hogwarts students, even Ron and Harry reluctantly clapped along, as they had been hopingAngelina would be chosen.

"Good, good, now that we have our three Champions it is up to the rest of you to support them, as they take on the challenges to come—" The Headmaster trailed off in distraction, as the Goblet threw out another paper. Dumbledore caught it, a curious look crossing his face before he flipped the slip of paper over and read aloud.

"Hermione Granger."

Hermione sat there in wide-eyed shock, as everyone turned to stare at her. Inside she was breathing a sigh of relief, there had only been a 50/50 chance that she would be chosen, but it was better than having Harry alone in the drawing. She couldn't have been sure the Goblet would choose her, but she had hoped it would recognize her as the better choice.

"Hermione, move," Harry whispered to her, as Dumbledore called her name again, a light push from Ron finally forced her to forget her worries for a time and follow the same route the other three Champions had taken, she glanced over the teachers as she passed: McGonagall looked disproving and Hagrid looked worried, as she passed. Karkaroff looked angry, as did Madame Maxime. Snape was watching Dumbledore who was staring at the back of the paper slip, his eyes glanced briefly at her before looking back at the Headmaster who had tucked the paper in his pocket. Crouch Jr, Hermione noted, looked positively furious, as he took a long drink from his hip flask. He licked his lips in almost a serpent-like fashion before he composed himself, although his one good eye still glared, as his magical one followed her progress into the other chamber.

"Granger, what are you doing here, do they want us to come back in?" Cedric asked, seeing her walk in and bringing the other two Champions attentions to her. Hermione just shook her head, as the door opened and the three school heads along with McGonagall and Snape walked in with Bagman and Mr. Crouch.

"It would seem this year we will be having four Champions," Bagman said excitedly, patting Hermione on the shoulder. Fleur and Victor were outraged at this turn of events, as they turned to their Heads for clarification.

"Madame Maxime, zey are saying zat zis little girl is to compete wiz uz." Fleur complained loudly, Hermione glared at her.

'Little, my ass. Say that to my face, you pampered poodle,' she thought venomously.

"Dumbledore, how could you let this happen, I thought your Age Line would keep the younger students from entering, unless you are admitting younger ones. In that case we would have brought a wider selection of our own," Karkaroff said, watching Dumbledore coldly, all the while a smile gracing his face.

"It would be rash to go pointing fingers until all the facts are clear, don't you think, Igor?" Snape said coolly, causing Karkaroff to glare at him.

"Thank you, Severus," Dumbledore said before turning to Hermione. "Did you put your name in the Goblet, Ms. Granger?"

"I had no desire to enter this Tournament at all, Sir," she said honestly, looking from the Headmaster to her Head of House.

"Do you know anyone who would want to put your name in, maybe one of the older students?" Hermione shook her head at Dumbledore's questioning gaze.

"No, Sir," she said. "I'm not really close with any of the students old enough to enter." This seemed to satisfy him with her answer for now. Bagman took over explaining how the First Task was meant to test their daring and courage in facing the unknown before he and Mr. Crouch left. The other two Heads left as well along with Cedric who was dismissed to bed. Hermione moved to leave as well.

"One moment, Ms. Granger." Hermione turned to face the three remaining people in the room.


"Does the name Nemo mean anything to you? Anyone you know?" Dumbledore asked, his blue eyes boring into hers, she could feel his mind brushing against her shields.

"No, Sir, I don't know anyone by that name," she said, projecting an air of confusion in her mind, if he tried to delve deeper, she would block him out completely. He seemed content with her answer and withdrew. McGonagall looked confused by the question while Snape seemed to have caught onto what Dumbledore was getting at.

"Very well, off to bed with you," he said, dismissed her, Hermione slipped quickly out of the room.

"What is going on, Albus?" McGonagall asked before Dumbledore pulled a paper from his pocket. And held it out for her to take.

"What is this?" she asked, waving the paper that read 'Hermione Granger - Salem Academy'.

"The other side," Dumbledore said, gesturing for her to flip it.

'There is an imposter in your midst set on putting Potter up for slaughter. If you're reading this, he failed. I'll be in contact. -N'

"Potter… what does this mean?"

"It means, someone intended to enter Potter in the Tournament, and this Nemo character entered Granger instead," Snape said, pondering over the imposter part.

"Nemo?" McGonagall asked, not familiar with the name.

"He helped Sirius Black and Remus Lupin capture Pettigrew last year. Both men were adamant that they know nothing of who he is," Dumbledore informed her.

"Doubtful, those two have always been good at avoiding the truth," Snape said haughtily, then something dawned on him. "Albus, do you think it wise to send Granger off alone? If Nemo did foil this impostor's plans, wouldn't that make her a target?!"

"Crucio!" the voice echoed off of the empty halls, as the students had long been ushered off to bed. A pained scream followed the exclamation. Hermione would have cursed herself for not realizing she was being followed, had her mind not been consumed by the pain that lit every nerve in her body on fire. It was like the time she had fallen in the fire ant nest all over again. The spell let up, and she gasped out for breath.

"Who put your name in?" Crouch Jr snarled, his peg leg had been discarded, as his own leg had grown back. He had drained down the last of his potion, only to find it had no effect, and tossed the flask violently aside, as his gray hair began to turn black and his face slimmed.

"Fuck off," she spat out, blood and saliva trailing from her mouth, as she had bitten her tongue while under the torture curse.

"Crucio!" Hermione clenched her teeth to keep from screaming, as her whole body burned with white hot pain. Her vision went spotted, as the curse was released, only to have it cast again; by shear force of will she pulled her wand from its holster and blindly threw a number of non-verbal spells out until her vision went black and her body went limp.

Barty cursed as he picked himself up after having been thrown back by one of the girl's spell and slammed into the wall. Picking himself up he saw the girl begin to stir, moving toward her he was brought up short by the hurried sound of footsteps. Cursing, he turned and ran off, he wouldn't be able to stay here any longer with his cover blown, and there was no need to watch over the Potter boy with the plan having failed.

The Headmaster and two Heads of House came into the corridor to find it empty save Granger who was bracing herself against the wall, as she stood, wiping blood from her mouth. She was still seeing spots in her vision and waving a hand in the general direction the man had gone, her other hand firmly gripping the wall to keep herself from falling over. McGonagall rushed over and caught her by the arm, when she began to teeter dangerously.

"Who did this to you, my dear," Dumbledore asked kindly, as McGonagall stabilized her. Snape looked her over and could tell right away what curse she had been put under. He was honestly surprised to find her on her feet already, rather than looking terrified at the ordeal she had been through she looked, for lack of a better word… pissed, as she tried to wriggle out of McGonagall's grasp, only to stumble on shaky legs.

'Moody's not Moody," she mumbled out, and Dumbledore looked at Snape who nodded.

"See Ms, Granger to the Hospital Wing, Minerva," he said before heading off down the corridor with a speed unusual to see in a man of his age, and he and Snape went to track down the culprit.

"Come along, Ms. Granger, let's get you to Pomfrey. She will make you feel better."

By the next morning it was all over the school. That Professor Moody had been, in fact, a Dark wizard; the real Moody had been found and sent off to recover in St. Mungo's. Hermione Granger had been attacked by the impostor and was recovering in the Hospital Wing. The Dark wizard was still nameless and had managed to escape the school.

Ron and Harry had been called from bed early that morning by McGonagall. They had been very cross, when Hermione had not come to talk to them that evening; but at the news that she was in the Hospital Wing they had rushed off to check on her.

They entered to a scowling Hermione who was sitting cross legged on her bed.

"Professor, can you please tell Pomfrey, I can go?! I'm perfectly fine," she begged, as her friends rushed over to check on her.


"Hermione! Are you alright?" Harry asked. Hermione told them the minimum of what had happened, not wanting them to freak out to find out that she had been tortured by a Death Eater right in the school.

"I'll see what I can arrange, Ms. Granger. You're very lucky to not be more seriously injured."

"At least have her unstick me from this bed, I'm getting a cramp," she said, attempting to throw herself off the bed only for her rear to remain stuck firmly to the mattress. The boys laughed at this, as Harry had been in the Hospital a number of times and Pomfrey had never had to resort to sticking him to the bed to keep him there.

Eventually she was released, but not before Hagrid had come and seen her, and she had gotten a concerned letter from Sirius and Remus after hearing from Harry that she had been chosen for the Tournament and been attacked.

Late that evening Hermione put on her leather jacket and dark pants before removing her glamours and fastening her voice-altering choker on her throat. Moving through the halls, she followed a dot on the Map as it moved about the second floor. Moving to one of the windows that opened to the front lawn, she leaned against the frame and waited.

"Who's there?" a voice said, as a wand was lit and someone approached her.

"I told the Headmaster, I would be in touch," she said, as she looked away from the window to eye Snape's wand leveled at her.


"Yes, that is one name I go by. It seems you lot failed at catching Barty Crouch Jr even with my tip," she stated bluntly and Snape bristled.

"Crouch Jr is dead, he died in Azkaban years ago."

"According to whom?" she questioned, folding her arms over her chest.

"His father."

"And a father would never lie to protect his son," she stated snidely, "I am sure without a doubt the one who entered this school in the guise of Alastor Moody was Barty Crouch Jr. He intended to enter Potter into the Tournament to weaken him so that at the end of the year he might be perfect for abducting to preform a ritual of resurrection that requires him."

"Resurrection of what?" Snape asked, but he already knew, the darkening of his Mark was proof enough.

"Him." Nemo clarified.

"Why involve the Granger girl, why not put in one of the older students."

"She can take care of herself. I would not have chosen to put her name in otherwise, nor would the Goblet have chosen her if she was not up for the challenge. Though, any assistance you have to offer would not be easily turned aside, should you chose to offer your services," she said, causing Snape to scoff. "Keep an eye on Potter, I do not doubt that they will try again to take him before the Tournament is over. Now I must take my leave."

"Not so fast, I'm sure the Headmaster would love to question you on where you get all this information."

"I'm sure he would," she said chuckling right before she dodged the Stunner he sent her way; she caught him off guard by grabbing his wrist, tripping him over her outstretched foot. She was gone before he could regain his balance, jumping out the window. Hitting the ground with a roll, she was on her feet and running toward the cover of the trees. Doubling back she slipped under the Whomping Willow before leaving the Shack and entering the school though the Honeyduke's entrance. She was just heading up to her dorm to the sight of Snape, pacing in front of Dumbledore's desk, which the Headmaster was behind.

Chapter Text

If this should end in fire

then we should all burn together

watch the flames climb high into the night

Now I see fire

blood in the breeze

And I hope that you remember me.

-I See Fire, Celtic Woman

Chapter 17:If This Should End In Fire, I Hope That You Remember Me

November 1994-Malfoy Manor

Lucius Malfoy sat in his study, looking over the latest edition of the Daily Prophet; an article written by Rita Skeeter graced the front page along with a photo of the four TriwizardChampions. Taking a sip from his glass, the ice clinking loudly in the silence of his study as he sipped at the amber alcohol. Skeeter always had a habit of embellishing and outright fabricating her stories, but they were always a good read when one was not the one involved in the topic.

Setting the paper aside, he picked up his latest letter from Draco; something that was sure to have more accurate information on his current interest. Breaking the seal, he unrolled the parchment, revealing his son's familiar scrawl.

Dear Father,

How are you and Mother doing? I am well, tell Mother she doesn't need to worry about me and the Ferret incident. Professor Snape put me right and Madam Pomfrey gave me a clean bill of health, you know how ill it makes her when she worries.

I'm sorry for not writing sooner, things have been a bit crazy here. I'm sure you have already heard the latest news on Granger becoming one of the Champions — that is so unfair! Rumors around the school say that she somehow got pulled into some plot and ended up messing up some Dark wizard's plans. She was attacked and sent to the Hospital Wing the same night. Apparently Professor Moody was actually not him, at all. Do you know anything about this?

The Trio are as annoying as ever, and Granger is still being annoyingly hard to read. I mean I met her on the train and she was completely infuriating; even picking fun at your attack with her friends. She even went as far as to ask me to ask you how your nose was! Then, the next I see her she's saving me from permanent humiliation at the hands of Moody and her friends. I simply can't figure out what her game is.

Sincerely Your Son,


P.S. Could you send me some more of those Manic Marbles, mine keep disappearing from my pockets. I think my robe eats them.

Lucius rolled up the letter and set it aside, leaning back in his plush chair to sip at his drink leisurely. The Granger girl was proving quite the interesting little Muggle-born; she seemed to have a habit of tormenting his son one minute only to help him out a scrape the next, truly a curious anomaly. Setting his glass aside, he steepled his hands; index fingers tapping together as he thought. He was beginning to get the feeling the girl was hiding quite a bit; the fact that she had incapacitated his wand hand with merely a touch at the World Cup had made him suspicious. With this letter he was sure she was up to something; the paper had not gone into detail about his attack, and apart from his wife and healer no one had seen the extent of the injuries he had sustained. Apart from his attacker, that is. If she had been the one to attack him, then it was also as likely she was the one who freed the Muggles and attacked Fredrics.

To have that kind of skill at 15 made her dangerous, but for now he would wait and watch. She seemed to have a desire to keep his son out of trouble, which made her a valuable asset, and should her usefulness end he would deal with her and this time he wouldn't be caught off guard, he thought with a smirk pulling at his lips.

'Hermione Granger, 15 years old, Muggle-born by birth, top of her year at Hogwarts and Fourth Triwizard Champion. We are expecting to see a lot from this bright young witch, who unlike many of her peers managed to enter and be chosen for the Tournament despite the age restrictions that were in place. When asked why she joined the Tournament, Hermione replied with no lack of confidence, a superior air about her as she gazed disinterestedly out the window, "The other students are so insufferably boring with their simple little minds. I just wanted to challenge myself, after all, for someone with my intellect and skill these tasks are going to be a cinch." '

"This woman really is a horrible writer, there wasn't even a window. We were in a broom cupboard, for Merlin's sake," Hermione said, rolling a marble back and forth between her hands on the table, as she read aloud to her gathered friends. The marble made a wild turn and made a break for it, but Hermione's hand caught it before it could escape, and she returned it to the pouch with the rest and tucked it in her pocket.

"I don't know, Hermione, you can be a bit of a know-it-all at times, you know?" Ron said right before Hermione whacked him in the head with the rolled up newspaper. "Right, right, sounds nothing like you." Ron corrected, shielding his head. Hermione glared at him before continuing on reading.

'The word is, according to Colin Creevey, a close friend of Hermione's. Hermione is rarely seen without the infamous Harry Potter close at her side. Is it love, or is she only looking to get in on the Boy-Who-Lived's spotlight?'

"Really, what a load of rubbish," she said, catching Harry's eye. "You don't think I'm trying to steal your light, Harry, do you?"

"Steal it, you can have it if it's all the same," Harry said laughing.

"What about me being in love with you, tell me, Harry, do you think I'm trying to seduce you?" she said, lowering her voice to a purr and batting her lashes at him. Ron choked on his pumpkin juice and Harry began sputtering; Hermione could only laugh, the two were so innocent and easy to tease.

"I'm joking, Harry, relax," she said, patting Ron on the back till he stopped coughing.

"I... ah good, because I like you, Hermione, really, it's just—" Harry said, flailing his hands in an attempt to articulate where his voice could not.

"I know, Harry, the feeling is mutual. Besides, don't think I've missed you googoo eyes at Chang," she said, gesturing at the Asian girl at the Ravenclaw table, causing Harry to blush madly.

"Don't ever bloody do that again, it's downright freaky," Ron said, gasping, as he got his coughing under control. Hermione could only roll her eyes and share a glance with Ginny who could only shake her head at her idiot brother.

The three gave a friendly wave at Lupin and Black who were seated at the teachers table. Dumbledore had convinced Lupin to come back another year after Moody was sent to St. Mungo's. The Werewolf was happy to agree and eager to help Hermione in anyway he could with the coming tasks. Black had asked to come along, not wanting to be left behind, and Dumbledore agreed to hire him part time to fill in when Remus was unavailable; so he usually helped out during their practical lessons, as the pair could demonstrate the proper casting and shielding of spells simultaneously and stuck around for at least one meal a day before returning to his home.

Snape's seat, Hermione noted, was vacant as it was every time Sirius came for a meal, and she wondered why he was avoiding interaction with Black. She knew they did not like each other, but in the past Snape had still put aside their differences to make the potions to get Sirius back into good health. She decides to ask Remus about it later, as he was less likely to give her a one sided story.

Hermione had brushed off their offers of help at first, reasoning that Harry was going to need someone to keep an eye on him while she was preparing for the task. Without her around to keep him out of trouble who knew what trouble he would attract. Finally, she conceded that if she came across something she couldn't handle she would come to them for help.

Harry was more than happy to spend his free time visiting the Defence professors, as Hagrid's Hut had become quite dangerous with his Blast-Ended Skrewts around; that is when the Half-Giant wasn't off trying to court the lovely Madame Maxime.

"What do you think the First Task is going to be?"

"They said something to test our bravery and courage in facing the unknown, so we are not supposed to know till we face the task," she said, shrugging, she didn't know much about what the tasks entailed, but that that first involved a dragon, the second had something to do with the Lake and the third a maze. To think she was going to have to face a real fire breathing dragon was daunting, only a fool would find facing such a creature would be simple no matter the preparations.

She had checked out a number of books to see what they could offer to help her. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to do with the dragon; was she just supposed to survive in an arena with it for a time, subdue it, take something from it. So she decided to look for something versatile. The books mainly stated the sizes and coloring of the different species and that it would take a number of wizards and a lot of Stunners to render it manageable. Stunners might work to buy her time, but really, she was going to have to find a better way of dealing with it.

Snape was in a fowl mood in the week following the drawing of the Champions; not only had he not managed to realize there was a Death Eater sitting at his very table for a month, but the said Death Eater had managed to slip out of the school before they could catch him.

Then had been the visit from Nemo, he had not expected him to be able to slip into the school so easily and without detection. The fact that he had escaped without even drawing his wand was another matter that irked the Potions Master greatly. He had thought he had been keeping his skills in top form, but apparently he had grown rusty in this time of semi-peace. That would have to be rectified immediately.

To add more onto his growing temper not only had Dumbledore hired the Werewolf back, but Black as well. To think most mornings he would have to share his table with the man who had tried to kill him and the instrument that had been meant to do the deed. Most days found him dining in his private rooms when Black was present for a meal, under the excuse of the amount of work he had to get through and the extra brewing that needed to be done to replenish the Hospital Wing.

It was not even two months in and the year wasn't looking too promising.

"Oh, this is not going to end well," Hermione muttered, as the flames, erupting from the cages, were close to singeing the hair off her arms and eyebrows.

Being told one was to face a dragon and the only real life reference one has is a baby seen back in first year, is not nearly enough warning for someone before they come face to face with a fully grown, very fiery and very angry dragon. They were huge and they were ferocious. Their handlers tried to calm them all the while they rattled their cages and burned anything within range.

"Dragons, that's the First Task?" Sirius asked, paling as the two professors and three students met up in Remus's private rooms for a much needed calming tea after the sight they had just seen.

Hermione held her cup to her mouth, but did not drink, as her eyes became unfocused as she mentally went through everything she knew about the four species that had been brought, her fingers drumming on her cup as she ticked off advantages and attributes each had.

"Hermione, you okay?"

"Hmm," she mumbled, blinking and looking at the group around her, four concerned pairs of eyes stared back. "Yes, I was just thinking."

"How are you supposed to fight a dragon, Charlie said it took four fully trained wizards just to cage the smallest one," Ron raved, pacing the room, his tea set aside for the moment.

"Ron, your pacing isn't helping matters," Remus said, coaxing the teen to a seat.

"What are the options?" Harry asked, taking a biscuit from the forgotten plate.

"Stinging hexes mostly, but they have to be precise and the only vulnerable portion of them are the eyes and inside of the mouth." Remus said, frowning and rubbing his chin in thought.

"Here's an idea, Charlie said they are really territorial, especially the brooding females. So we just find something big and threatening and let them fight each other," Ron suggested.

"Where are we going to find something big enough to fight a dragon, honestly, mate, that's the worst idea ever. What if they both think Hermione is more interesting, then she will have two big crazy creatures to deal with."

"What about Fluffy, maybe Hagrid would let us borrow him?" Ron suggested in an attempt to save his idea.

"And do what, put him to sleep with a harp and watch the dragon eat him?" Suddenly Hermione sat straight up, her eyes shining with an idea. Setting her tea down, she headed for the door, but not before wrapping Ron in a hug and kissing him on the head.

"Brilliant, you're brilliant, Ronald!" she said excitedly.

"Wait, what was brilliant?" Sirius called out the door.

"What do you fight fire with?" she hollered back, and at receiving no reply continued, "Fire!" The group shared a look of confusion.

"What is she going to do, light the dragon on fire?" a red-faced Ron asked. Harry could only shrug in reply.

After her epiphany Hermione began secluding herself in the Room of Requirement, and despite Sirius and Remus's prying and Harry and Ron's pestering, when they managed to corner her in class, she did not reveal more of her plan to handle her dragon.

She did however take the time to inform Cedric of the task, as Karkaroff and Maxime had gone to see the dragons as well and were sure to have told their Champions. Cedric seemed to be grateful at the offer of information even though they were competing against each other.

Soon enough the day of the task came, and Hermione and her friends had headed down to the arena together before they were forced to part ways, as they headed to the stands and she to the Champions tent.

"Hey, Granger," came the snarky voice of Draco, as he sauntered over to her.

"Why, Malfoy, surely you haven't come to wish me luck?" she questioned mockingly, as Draco approached.

"My father and I have a bet going on, I don't think you'll last 10 minutes in there. My father, though, he has high hopes, he thinks you'll last 20," he said, pointing a thumb up at one of the prime seats, where his father was seated.

"20, is that all?" she said, placing a hand over her heart in hurt. "Well, here I was thinking I would have to drag the task out or risk the audience finding it boring."

"See you later, Mudblood," he scoffed out, heading back to the stands.

"Hope, you got good seats, Wonder Ferret." she called back before ducking into the tent.

Soon enough Bagman and Crouch showed up for the drawing of the dragons to determine the order and which dragon they would be facing. Fleur Delacour had the Welsh Green, Viktor Krum the Chinese Fireball and Cedric Diggory the Swedish Short-Snout. This left Hermione to go last with the most vicious dragon of all, the Hungarian Horntail.

As confident as she had been this morning for her friends, she would have to be a fool to not be more than a little frightened at the prospect of facing an angry fire breathing beast. She sat on her cot cross-legged, as she calmed herself by emptying her mind, her little Horntail crawling about her lap.

Rita Skeeter had slipped into the tent once and stirred up the inhabitance with her Quick-Quotes Quill and flashing camera, but was soon escorted out. Through out this Hermione remained undisturbed on her cot, eyes closed. One by one the Champions were called out at the sound of the cannon until she was the last who had yet to retrieve her egg.

The cannon sounded for a fourth time, and Hermione unfolded herself from her cot and walked to the entrance, a quick stretch to loosen her limb and she was walking out into the arena. She was greeted with the cheers of the crowd, off to one side she could hear Fred and George calling for bets on her and her friends calling her name.

The Horntail suddenly let out a deafening roar as it whipped its tail at her; Hermione rolled out of the way and behind a rock right before a jet of flame engulfed the area she had been standing in a moment before. The crowd was in a frenzy, as the dragon curled itself protectively over her nest.

Closing her eyes Hermione took a deep breath, exhaling slowly she felt herself slip into a familiar calm as adrenaline coursed through her system. Tightening her grip on her wand she stood and ran from cover, ducking another stream of flames. Running at one of the large ridged rocks lining the arena she fired a Stinging Hex at the Horntail, hitting her in the eye, causing the beast to throw its head back, screeching, as it pawed at its face.

In the stands she could hear her friends cheering her on, as the dragon lost track of her. Taking the brief opportunity, she sent two Blasting hexes at the base of one of the large rock spears, causing a large chunk of the rock to break off and fall to the floor.

"Engorgio!" she yelled, striking the rock, as she dodged under the spiked tail that was swung at her; the spell struck the rock and it doubled in size, now nearly half as large as the dragon she was fighting. "Engorgio!" she cast again, hitting the same rock again, and it grew even more. Crouching down behind the enlarged rock, another burst of flame struck it, melting it in places. As the flames died Hermione stepped out of her hiding, a smile pulling at her lips.

"Lets see how you deal with someone your own size, girl. Draconifors!" she shouted, slashing her wand at the enlarged rock. A fiery red light hit it, and the crowd gave a collective gasp.

"Well, I am glad to see someone has taken my lessons and put them to good use," McGonagall said breathlessly, as Ms. Granger executed the perfect example of the Draconifors Spell she taught her students in their third year.

There beside Hermione was a large metallic colored dragon with dark eyes. The Ukrainian Ironbelly roared out a challenge to the still larger Horntail before it settled back into a more docile pose, as it waited for instruction. A silver trail of magic connected the transfigured dragon to Hermione's wand wrist. The Horntail hissed threateningly, as she coiled herself over her nest, tail lashing agitatedly, sending bits of rock flying wherever it struck.

"Impetus!" Hermione ordered and flicked her wand toward the Horntail, the Ironbelly roared, his wings unfurling to their full length, as he shot a blast of flames at the she-dragon, the wind from his wings blowing her curls loose from their braid, as he took to the air. The flames glanced on the Horntail's scaly hide, as she threw herself into the air after him, only to be brought up short by the collar restraining her to the arena floor; with a mighty jerk the chain snapped, and the crowd began screaming.

The two reptiles collided in a fury of fire and talon, as their claws slashed and jaws snapped, as they tried to get the upper hand of the other. Hermione climbed up on one of the rock spires to get a better view, as the two broke apart and began circling the sky above the arena. Her Ironbelly would not be able to travel, the bond of magic tethering them together was already stretched thin, if he went much further the spell would falter and he would return to useless stone.

The two slammed together again with a resounding metallic screech as armored scales grated against each other. The she-dragon hissed and attempted to lock her jaws onto his neck, the Ironbelly shot a jet of flames, hitting his opponent in the face, but doing little damage. He was after all only a transfigured dragon, an imitation of the real thing. The Ironbelly let out what could only be called a cross between a scream and a howl as the Horntail struck back with her own fire; blinding one of his eyes as his scales melted under the heat much like the rock had before. The Horntail was relentless, as she began tearing chunks of scales and flesh from his back with her powerful jaws, while her talons raked down his wings, as he thrashed and bucked in the air trying to free himself.

The pair came crashing back down on the arena floor; the Horntail flapped her wings, landing back on the plateau where her nest was, hissing, as the dust began to clear. The Ironbelly pulled himself to his feet, his wings were a mangled mess, and an attempt to fly only sent him crashing to the ground. The Horntail advanced on him, the Ironbelly snarled, as he turned to face her with his good eye, as she slammed her tail into his side, sending him crashing into the arena wall. A taloned claw pinned him to the ground by his neck, as she snapped her head back like a serpent ready to strike, mouth open, as her inner fire built up for a final attack.

"Draconifors! Draconifors impetus!" Hermione called, casting the spell on two smaller rocks that had broken off in the fight. These new dragons were barely bigger than the Winged Horses of Beauxbatons, but were still as effective, as the brown scaled Norwegian Ridgeback shot forward and latched its claws into the Horntail's hind leg, while the copper-colored Peruvian Vipertooth attached itself to the tender underside of her neck. The Horntail howled in fury and pain as the Vipertooth clawed its way up her neck to bite a chunk out of her eye ridge before being thrown off backwards only to reattach itself to the back of her long neck, claws digging in for leverage. The Horntail craned her head back, furiously snapping at the small creatures attached to her, it wasn't much, but it was enough for the Ironbelly to slam his head into her exposed neck, throwing her back and got his feet back under him.

The two smaller dragons scattered before reattaching themselves to the Horntail's back, clawing and biting where they could, as the Horntail spun and snapped, as she tried to rid herself of the pests, her tail and wings flailing about her, just as the Ironbelly threw himself at her, his jaws locking on the back of her head, and slammed her into the wall of the arena. Her head still in his grip he spun them around and slammed her into a large rock formation. The rock broke apart under the inpact and buried the Horntail in the rubble. Releasing her, the Ironbelly drew back, snarling, as he watched for movement, the two smaller dragons circling the air above the rubble. The Horntail shifted and stirred under the rock, but did not get up.

The Ironbelly limped its way back to coil its body around the rock, Hermione was now kneeling on, sweat coating her face and her breaths coming out in shallow pants. The spell tying her to the dragons was draining on her magic, as she held onto the spell. It was the drawback of using the spell in this manner and why it wasn't usually used when fighting dragons. The amount of magic required to subdue a full dragon was so much that she was finding it hard to even stand while fighting, as she was funneling her magic into her spells, one wrong move on the Horntail's part and she didn't think she would have had the energy to dodge. Wiping her face with the back of her hand she stood slowly, as to not broadcast how much her legs were shaking. The Ironbelly beside her roared his victory to the sky, as the two smaller dragons flew around them.

"Mora!" she said to the Vipertooth, the dragon gave a trill before settling itself on the rock beside her. Glancing at the Ironbelly, she flicked her wand at him, breaking the link of magic binding her to the dragon, and the battle worn beast crumbled away back into the now broken stone it had once been. The Ridgeback met the same fate before she turned to the last of her transfigured beasts. Feeling her strength return, as she was not being drained by multiple spells, Hermione straightened herself before glancing at the remaining dragon beside her.

"Aucupo!" she said, flicking her wand to the Horntail's nest. The Vipertooth snorted and flew off to the nest, landing, it began nudging the Golden Egg resting there around, before picking it up in its claws and flying it back to Hermione. She caught it, as the Egg was dropped into her waiting hands, and with a flick of her wand the dragon fell to the arena floor, stone once again.

A silence greeted her as the crowd looked on, many of them open mouthed before erupting into a cheering mass, as Hermione held the Egg up in triumph. They were still cheering, as she slipped off the rock and made her way out of the arena and back to the Champion's tent.

Chapter Text

Dance me into the night

Underneath the moon shining so bright

Let the dark waltz begin

Oh let me wheel, let me spin

Let it take me again

Turning me into the Light.

-Dark Waltz, Hayley Westenra

Chapter 18: Let The Dark Waltz Begin.

December 1994

The comon room was in a frenzy, when Hermione was finally released from the Champion's tent after managing to avoid the worst of the medi-witch's fussing, as she was the one with the least number of injuries. She had managed to get out of the arena with only a few scrapes from flying rocks knocked loose in the fight.

"Well done, Ms. Granger," McGonagall stated proudly, as she came to greet her, a beaming smile showing on her usually stern face, as she went inside the tent to congratulate Cedric, who had also gotten his Egg, but had broken a few ribs when his dragon had hit him with its tail.

"Fight fire with fire, indeed." Sirius laughed, coming over with Remus, Harry and Ron.

"I can't believe you did that, Hermione, that was mental," Ron said, practically bouncing, as he wrapped her in a hug before passing her off to Harry.

"Great job, Hermione," Harry said, taking the large Golden Egg from her, as they headed to the castle.

"Thanks," she said, relieved from not having to carry the heavy Egg; she was exhausted from the drain on her magic the spells had had.

"Where did you learn to do that?" Ron asked, a grin plastered on his face.

"McGonagall's class last year, remember; you turned your matchbox part-way and it bit you before lighting itself on fire and you started screaming, 'Get it off! Get it off!'"

"Oh, yeah," he said, rubbing his rear in memory of the incident, as they parted ways with the two professors and headed up to the common room which was already filled with their celebrating housemates.

"That was brilliant, Hermione!" Fred said, as he and George took it upon themself to hoist her up and parade her around the crowded common room.

"Not just brilliant, Bloody Wicked Brilliant!" George added.

"Put me down, you two," she scolded and the two obeyed by placing her in one of the comfy chairs, which she was thankful for, as she didn't think she could walk much more. She dearly wanted to head up to her room for a nap, but the party-goers insisted she should open her Egg for the next clue.

So she did, and they were met with the most ear-splitting screech she had ever heard. This was going to be harder to figure out than she had thought.

A few days later, after the initial excitement of the First Task had worn off, found Hermione coming to Lupin's office on one of the evenings that Sirius had left to his house for the night. It was time she found out exactly what was going on between Snape, Sirius and Remus.

"I was wondering, when this was going to come up," Remus said with a resigned sigh, and so he told her. He told her of how the Marauders used to target Snape specifically for their pranks when they were younger and how as they had grown older their 'pranks' had grown more violent.

"James and Sirius would force soap down his throat, publicly strip him, Petrify him and send him down the stairs or kick him black and blue. Peter would idolize anything James did, whether it was catching his Snitch or dumping a bucket of Hippogriff manure on Snape's head, as far as Peter was concerned anything James did was worthy of avid praise." Remus looked deeply ashamed, "I was afraid. Before James and Sirius I had never had friends, I'll admit I was a coward. I could have spoken up against them, I knew at some point someone was going to finally cross that fine line, and I did nothing but sit there and pretend it wasn't happening because I was to scared of being alone to be a decent person." He tiredly raked his hands through his short brown hair.

"Lily spoke up for him, though, she was brave and bright and would stand up to James at wand point if needed. They had been friends, I think, she and Snape, when they were young until he called her a Mudblood. She stopped coming to his rescue after that. Then someone finally crossed the line."

"Sirius," Hermione said, finally getting a picture of why Snape targeted Harry so much, as many had said he looked much like his father. Though, this year he seemed to ignore Harry now, rather than pick at him in class, though he would still take any chance to take points from him; maybe because of his lack of glasses. He looked a lot less like the pictures of his father without them.

"Yes," Remus said continuing on, "he let slip of how to get into the Shack and when I would be there. He neglected to mention what he would find."

Hermione's eyes widened in horrified realization. "Sirius set him up to meet Moony." Remus nodded and Hermione recalled the fury Snape had directed at her when she had offhandedly made a comment about how someone would have to have mental issues to willingly walk up to a transformed werewolf.

"James found out about it and pulled Snape out before Moony could hurt him, but not before he saw me. Snape went to Dumbledore, wanting to expose me and Black's plan, but Dumbledore forced him to keep my secret, Sirius was given detention and Snape was told, if he ever spoke of the incident or my condition he would be expelled."

"Sirius tried to murder Snape, using you, and he was the one with the most sever punishment in the end." Remus could only nod. Hermione gritted her teeth in anger. "Dumbledore is going to have a lot to answer for, when I finally have a talk with him. His claims at wanting to keep his students safe are proving to be nothing but empty words." She was up and pacing agitated, her hands moving in angry gestures, as she move to emphasize her words. "He is sure to have known about the fighting going on; if the pranks were so public. On top of the sheer neglect he showed toward Snape and his situation. He has done the same to Harry; let him walk into situations that could have gotten him killed, then neglected to offer aid when he truly needed it. Even deliberately leaving him to be abused at the hands of his relatives."

She was shocked; she had thought Harry's situation had been an isolated incident. Now to find out that it wasn't and that this wasn't just some old man's mistake getting caught up in his old age. It was a deliberate choice to do nothing — for that is what Snape's true punishment had been, doing nothing after a deliberate attempt on his life. What was that suppose to say to a kid — that his life wasn't even worth acknowledging?

"How many other children have suffered from his negligence?" she seethed, her fists clenched in anger.

"Remus, did I leave my—" asked Sirius, walking out of the fireplace. "Oh, hello, Hermione— OW, not the face!" he yelled, as a book connected with his head, followed by a number of other items within arm's reach from the place Hermione had been pacing, before Lupin could jump in the way blocking her target.

"Bad time, Sirius, leave. Now!" Remus ordered, pushing Sirius back into the fireplace.

"What did I do?"

"Just leave, I'll call you later, don't come back till she's had time to cool off." Sirius retreated back through the Floo. Hermione turned and stalked out of the office.

"Were are you going?"

"For a walk, pray I don't meet Dumbledore, or we may be looking for a new Headmaster by morning."

It took a few days, but eventually Hermione's anger had boiled down enough for Sirius to brave the school again. Remus had informed him later that night what he and Hermione had been discussing, and so after their next Defence lesson he asked her to stay after class so they could talk.

"I know you're probably still really angry with me," he started out, sitting across from her in Lupin's usual chair, as the Werewolf had left them alone to talk.

"I'm disappointed," she stated bluntly, "I didn't think you were one to resort to homicide."

"Loosing your best friend and thirteen years in prison with Dementors can change a person. I was arrogant, vindictive and angry when I was younger. My family hated me and my choices to the point of disowning me. I was bitter over that fact for a long time, it doesn't justify what I did to Sniv-Snape or any of the other kids, I targeted," Sirius said, propping his elbows on his knees and rubbing his face in his hands. "I was trying to pass off my anger at my family by hurting those around me, Snape was just a favorite among many, because James hated the fact Lily would rather hang out with her snake friend than pay attention to him."

"That doesn't justify what you did," she said, glaring at him.

"No, I know it doesn't," Sirius said, nodding his head, and dropped his hands and looked at her.

"Everyone has things in their past they regret doing, but there is nothing to be done to change it," she said finally, after a long silence, "I suppose all I can ask is, what do you plan to do now?"

"I suppose I could at least be civil to the git." This caused Hermione to scowl at him

"He is a git, don't think just because he came out at the butt of our pranks doesn't mean he didn't give as good as he got. There is to much between us for us to simply sweep under the rug and forget about it," Sirius said defensively in response to her look. "But I can at least be civil while we are both working here together, but I doubt he will."

"I suppose that will have to do. You might tell Harry some of this," Sirius launched into protest, but she cut him off. "Snape has been tormenting Harry since day one for things YOU and your friends did. The least you could do is let him know why Snape hates him so much." Reluctantly Sirius agreed after grumbling for a minute.

Soon the snow began to fall in earnest, as winter took hold over the grounds.

"Oomf," Hermione breathed out a fog of mist, as she was met with a rather nice view of the overcast sky. "Stupid ice," she muttered, as she sat in the snow that was beginning to drift over the path she had been jogging with Snape. The Potions Master passed her by with nothing more than a glance, as he swept by, looking warm all dressed in his thick winter cloak, and headed toward the school.

"You know, usually when someone falls it is customary to help them back up," she remarked, pulling herself to her feet and dusting the snow off her clothes before it could melt through.

"You took on a fully grown dragon on your own just a few weeks ago, and you're saying you need aid after a simple slip. I wasn't aware you were so frail," he commented dryly, causing her to scowl at his back.

"It's just the polite thing to do," she mumbled before getting an idea, a grin slipping across her features. Snape was a few yards from the castle steps, when something cold and wet connected with the back of his head. Black eyes turned to face her, and she burst out in a fit of chuckles at his shocked expression. She tried to stifle her laughter, but it still slipped out as she spoke.

"I'm sorry, but your expression," she said before breaking into laughter. Snape's features darkened, as he shook the snow from his hair and leveled a glare at her.

"I think it's time we ceased running for the year," he said coldly, and Hermione sobered up, quickly thinking maybe she had crossed that invisible line of tolerance he had for her in the morning; she moved to apologize for the snowball right when a large mound of snow was dumped on her head. She let out a shrill yelp and cursed, as the snow went down the collar of her cloak, causing her to jump around in an attempt to dislodge the snow, as it slid further down her back.

She missed Snape's smirk, as he turned and headed into the castle, leaving the cursing girl behind him.

"Hey, Granger." Hermione suppressed a groan, as Cormac settled himself next to her at one of the long tables in the Great Hall where the students could spread out and work on homework before dinner, deliberately brushing his leg against hers, as he seated himself.

"Go away," she said, shifting over and planting her bag between them to keep him at bay, only for him to lean over it to place an arm over her shoulder casually.

"You know, you're so cute when you play hard to get." He chuckled, grinning like an idiot, a handsome idiot, but an idiot first and foremost. The sixth-year Hufflepuff had become her constant shadow since the upcoming Yule Ball had been announced. He seemed to be under the impression that because he had asked her to go with him, he now had full claim over her despite the fact she had flat out refused him and dumped a jug of pumpkin juice on his head for good measure. Something seemed to have gotten lost in translation, because here he was yet again. Hermione's quill broke under her grip, ruining the paper she had been working on, as Cormac's hand moved from her shoulder and down her back toward her rear.

"Don't worry, you can have one of mine," he said nonchalantly, as she was crumbling the parchment and broken quill up in a ball.

"McLaggen," she said, turning to face him, a hand moving on his knee that he kept bumping into hers.

"Yes, love," he said with a look that she assumed was supposed to be seductive or suggestive, but just made him look like he had indigestion.

"If you don't keep your hand off my ass, I'm going to break it off and beat you to death with it," she said, starting out in a sweet tone before gradually becoming more threatening. Emphasizing her point by using her grip on his leg to tip him off the bench, gathering her things she walked off, stepping on him as she went to find someplace Cormac free to work.

"I think for your own sake you should set your sights on a different girl," Lupin said, he had been assigned Study Hall duty today. McLaggen stood, brushing himself off.

"She's just to shy to admit her feelings, but I think she's finally warming up to me." Turning, he jogged off after Hermione.

"That poor diluted boy doesn't know what he's getting himself into; she's warming up to something, but I don't think it's you," the Werewolf said, shaking his head.

Hermione was hurrying down the hall, trying to loose her persistent suitor, when she bumped into someone while looking behind her.

"Watch where you are going, Granger," Snape snapped at her.

"Sorry, Sir," she said, still looking behind her distracted.

"Granger, wait for me!" McLaggen called from a corridor over. Suddenly Hermione was darting around behind Snape, using his larger form as a wall.

"I'm not here!" she hissed, and Snape looked over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow that said 'I want no part of this teenage tragedy.' Suddenly Cormac was coming down the hall, at the sight of Snape he hurried along and avoided looking at the professor, as he passed, and turned down another hall where he began calling Hermione's name again.

"Is he gone?" she asked, and Snape scowled.

"Yes, now unhand me," he said, tugging the back of his robe from her grip; she had reflexively grabbed it to keep him from moving and exposing her. "In future, I suggest you find other ways of avoiding your boyfriend."

"He is not my boyfriend," she said, huffing, as she readjusted her bag.

"You might want to tell him that," he said snidely.

"I have, I've done everything but toss him off the Astronomy Tower. McLaggin seems to think 'No' means 'Yes' and 'I'm going to beat you to death with your own arm' means 'I'm shy, take me I'm yours'," she said, making a face of disgust about the boy's persistent hardheadedness. Snape raised an eyebrow at the escalate in violence from the Gryffindor.

"Sorry to bother you, Professor," she said, heading back the way she came and up to the lesson for fourth-years McGonagall was having in ten minutes.

"...the Yule Ball is first and foremost a dance." There was a collective round of excited chatter from the girls of the room, as the boys gave a collective grown of displeasure.

"Silence," McGonagall called to her House, and they reluctantly quieted. "The House of Godric Gryffindor has commanded the respect of the Wizarding world for nearly 10 centuries. I will not have you, in the course of a single evening, besmirching that name by behaving like a babbling bumbling band of baboons," she said sternly before calling Ron over to preform an example of the basic steps they would be learning, much to the boy's embarrassment.

At the command to pair up the two groups seemed reluctant to mingle; the girls stood up ready enough, but the boys needed some prodding. Neville surprisingly was the first to rise and approach the girls.

"May I have this dance?" Hermione said, coming up to him; his courage seemed to sputter out, as he was faced with first pick of the girls. He seemed relieved at her request and bowed politely and she curtsied back.

"I should warn you, I've not danced before," Neville confessed, as they moved into the start position.

"Then I shan't scold you for trodding on my toes," she said, as the lesson progressed, and soon they were moving semi-gracefully, stumbling, whenever Neville missed a step and Hermione tripped on him.

"You're a lot better at this than me," Neville said embarrassed.

"I've had more practice, used to dance with my dad a lot when I was little," she said with a sad smile at the memory, "I haven't danced with him in years, but I guess it's like riding a bike, once you learn you never forget." The lesson ended soon enough, and McGonagall called her aside.

"Well done, you will do us proud at the Ball."

"Pardon," Hermione asked confused, she had not planned on attending the Ball. It wasn't a required function and third-years and below could not even attend without a date from a higher year. She planned on using the time as a distraction to slip away from the school, without raising suspicions.

"Why, you and the other three Champions will be opening the Yule Ball with the first dance."

"Oh," was all she could reply. Things could never just go her way for once, could they?

Heading to dinner, more than a little put out that her plans had been messed up yet again thanks to this stupid Tournament, not paying attention to the students around her till a voice brought her up short.

"Graunge!" She looked around to see Viktor Krum moving purposely through the crowd.

"Krum, something I can do for you?" she asked, looking at the large build young man.

"Yah, I vanted to tawk to you." Curious she stepped to the side of the Hall where they were not obstructing the dinner traffic.

"What took you so long, 'Mione?" Ron asked when she finally joined them for dinner.

"Krum wanted to talk to me." she said, filling her plate before pulling a paper from her robe pocket. "This is for you."

"What is it?" Ron asked, taking the paper before his eyes widened. "You Got Me Krum's Autograph!" he shrieked, his voice cracking as it went up three octaves. "You are the best Hermione!" he said, bounding from his seat to go show Fred and George. Harry shook his head at his friends antics, before turning back to his own food and Hermione.

"What did Krum want from you?" he asked, tossing a strip of chicken to Dracarys, the model Horntail Hermione had gotten from the First Task. He wasn't very friendly, but he seemed to like Harry well enough, so long as he shared some of his dinner.

"Nothing much," she said with a shrug.


"It will be fun, you haven't seen how great I am on a broom," Cormac said, "you'll love it."


"So, when should I pick you up for the Ball?" he said, casually throwing his arm over her shoulder.

"I already have a date."

"Yes, with me," he said chuckling, before pulling her closer and trying to kiss her. The little Horntail shot out of her bag and latched itself on McLaggen's hand. The boy bolted back and yelled in pain before the dragon released him and glided back to Hermione's shoulder.

"No, not with you," she said, leaving the boy holding his injured hand, "Good boy, Dracarys!" She headed down to potions in a chipper mood after that.

"Hey, Malfoy," she said, catching sight of the blond boy ahead of her, she jogged to catch up. "I got a favor to ask."

He scoffed, "Why should I do anything for you, Mudblood?"

"Maybe because I saved your life from a pissed off Hippogriff, or maybe because I saved your reputation from the whole school knowing about your secret life as a ferret. Take your pick," she said offhandedly, as they headed into the classroom and took their seats with Neville. Draco scowled; he just knew whatever it was he wasn't going to like it.

Snape loathed Study Hall duty, especially now that the students were all abuzz with looking for partners for the upcoming Yule Ball. Weasley and Potter seemed particularly persistent in discussing their lack of dates despite his 'nudges' to get back to work, sickening, really.

Something scuttled across his boot as he attempted to ignore one of the Weasley twins propositioning one of the Gryffindor Quidditch team members. Looking down found Granger's little Horntail, Dracarys, fumbling over his boot, as it scuttled under a table clutching a piece of paper. It reappeared a moment later, crawling up Draco's back and throwing itself on his Charms textbook.

Peering over a book, he had brought to occupy himself while supervising the Hall, Snape watched the little dragon spit out the paper in favor of attacking the boy's quill. Draco looked up to see Granger sitting with her back to him along with her two friends, he opened the note. After a minute of scowling at the paper he tugged his quill away from Dracarys, causing the dragon to tumble off the table, and wrote a short reply.

The Horntail reappeared from under the table, holding the note, Snape put his foot on its tail, causing it to squawk indignantly and release the paper. Taking the note, he opened it up.

'Will you do it?' Granger's neat writing stated across the top.

'Yes,' Malfoy had replied in his more slanted scrawl. Dropping the paper, he continued walking down the table isles, leaving the dragon to collect his message and return to Granger. The two were up to something, he was interested to see just what she had convinced the Malfoy boy to do. He had noticed since the ferret incident the two actually seemed less hostile to each other, sure they still bickered when their paths crossed, but it almost seemed to have lost the venom it had had in previous years.

"Hey, Hermione, you're a girl?" Weasley whispered loudly.

"You don't say? I quite missed that little fact for the past tw-fifteen years of my life," she replied, dryly patting Dracarys on her shoulder.

"Come on. It's one thing for a bloke to show up alone. For a girl it's just sad."

"Well, then I guess you best get about finding someone who doesn't have a date," she said clippedly. "Oh, and just so you know, you should learn some tact, Ronald. For that little comment I'm not helping you get a date, you're on your own," she said, standing and handing her notebook to him; the student were required to keep record of the assignments they worked on and completed during the class to get credit for being there. He snatched it swiftly from her hand as she spun and left the Hall. He swore, as she left, Dracarys turned and eyed him with suspicious narrowed eyes.

"Did she finally give in to McLaggen?" Potter asked.

"Doubt it, she hates the bloke, no, I think she's just telling everyone that, so he will take a hint and leave her alone," Weasley said knowingly, right before Snape 'nudged' them into focusing on their work again.

"I am so glad I spent those awkward teenage years away from all this," Hermione said to Sirius softly, as she stopped by after class. "Harry and Ron are in a right panic about the whole date-ball thing."

"You're going, aren't you?" he asked, moving the desks back into place from where they had been moved against the wall for the last lesson.

"Unfortunately," she said, sitting on top of her usual desk, "I have to attend, Champion and all."

"What would be so important you would blow off the Yule Ball? They don't just have those every year," he asked, coming to sit on a desk opposite her.

"That ring, the one I found over the summer," she said softly after casting a muffling charm for good measure. "I have a hunch there are other items like it, and I need to check out a location where one might be at, I didn't have time over the summer to check all the places I had located for possible hiding spots."

"You think there are more like that?" he whispered despite the muffling charm.

"Yes, I figure three or four in total; I have one and Harry destroyed one in second year."

"What are they? What's the point of protecting trinkets so heavily?"

"I don't know," she admitted before slipping off the desk. "Might see, if you could talk to Harry and Ron, give them some tips on wooing the ladies. Ron came in yesterday near catatonic after asking Fleur out. It was rather sad, really," she said, giggling at the memory.

"Need a little advice from the master, do they?" he said, smugly rumpling his hair.

"Merlin, I've unleashed a monster," she scoffed, rolling her eyes at him.

Ron and Harry did finally manage to get dates before the Ball; Harry had finally got enough courage after his rejection by Cho Chang and asked Parvati, while Ron had moved on from his rejection by Fleur and asked out Lavender Brown.

"Honestly, are you a wizard, or aren't you?" Hermione scolded, as Ron fretted over his hideous dress robes. Pulling out her wand she removed the lace from the collar and cuffs, then altered the worn velvet to look more like a males robe rather than a dress. The outer robes she turned black and made the under shirt a deep maroon.

"You're a life saver," Ron said, turning in the mirror to get a good look at his clothes.

"Now, go on, your dates are probably waiting," she said, shooing them off before heading to her own room to get ready.

"Aren't you coming?" Harry asked, eyeing Hermione in her oversized sweater and sweatpants.

"I'll meet you in there, go on," she said, shooing them off.

The Great Hall was gorgeous all decorated to look like an ice palace from a fairy tale. The doors to the Hall opened and in came the Champions; Fleur looking stunning in her silver dress with Roger Davies. Then came Cedric and on his arm the Ravenclaw, Cho Chang, then Victor along side a Beauxbatons girl. At the back of the group came Hermione, and much to the boys shock she looked stunning in a deep purple nearly black gown*.

Glittering crystals decorated the one strap of her dress, as it draped over her right shoulder, more were stitched around her left side, glittering in the candle light. The skirts fell in loose flowing layers from the nearly skin-tight bodice, lightening to a dark magenta near the bottom on the right side, a slit riding dangerously high on her left revealed her long tanned and toned leg. Black open heels with more of the crystals decorating the straps were on her feet. Her hair was done up simply with more crystals, scattered in the brunette locks among her silky curls, as some of her locks were left loose to fall about her shoulders looking less frizzy and wild than it normally did.

She waved at the pair as she passed; if the boys were not in shock of her appearance, they were now at the sight of who's arm she was on. The Champion's moved into place on the dance floor for the opening dance of the Yule Ball. Taking the offered hand they moved into the start position with his hand at her waist and hers on his shoulder.

"You do know how to dance, right?" he said softly, as the band quieted in preparation for the next song.

"It's a little late to be asking that, isn't it, Wonder Ferret?" she whispered back, as the music started up and the Champions began to dance. "The answer is yes, and McGonagall's been giving refresher courses," she said smirking, as she followed his skilled lead from one step to the next.

"Well, at least I know you won't be trodding on my toes, I suppose that that's one thing to be happy about," Draco said, picking up and twirling her as the dance dictated, not breaking stride as they talked. "Three years of dance lessons and Pansy still can't stay off my shoes when I'm obligated to dance with her at father's summer gala."

"That sounds painful," she said giggling.

"Very," he said dryly, as Dumbledore led McGonagall onto the floor, signifying that the rest of the dancers could join in.

Hermione had headed to her room after Ron and Harry had left and had Ginny do up her hair before leaving her to get dressed. She had left Crookshanks and Dracarys curled up on her bed together. When she had finally headed downstairs, she had almost expected Malfoy to have stood her up, but there he had been. Waiting irritably, arms folded and fingers tapping impatiently. His blond hair had been combed back nicely, as he stood there in his tailor made dress robes of black velvet.

"You're late," he stated, attempting to use his frustration to hide his blush.

"Fashionably so," she said, taking his offered arm, as they joined the procession of Champions as they lined up to head in.

"Dress looks nice," he muttered, as the doors opened.

"You don't look to shabby yourself," she said smiling, as they headed into the Great Hall.

The Ball turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than she thought it would. After the opening dance dinner was served and the Champions were seated at the head table, before the Weird Sisters came in to play and the dancing really began. Malfoy, despite his scathing remarks, was entertaining as they chatted over dinner and the festivities.

She was almost sad when it came time to take her leave. Malfoy had escorted her out of the Hall, when she had claimed to be heading for bed, before returning to his friends who were gathered around the refreshments table.

Slipping of her heels, she headed for the staircase when she was brought up by her name being called.

"Hermione, what were you thinking!" Ron said crossly, coming to the base of the stairs. "You're fraternizing with the enemy, how could you agree to go with him? Why did he ask you to go?!"

"What are you so cross about, it's not like I'm with someone from Durmstrang?" She was not ready to deal with this from the boy. "It's not like we are dating and I asked him to go."

"What am I—He's a Malfoy, Hermione, A Malfoy!" he stated, like he was talking to a very young, very stupid child. "He's in Slytherin, for Merlin's sake."

"Yes, he is," she said bluntly, "and he was a perfect gentleman the whole time, which is more than I can say for you. Besides, Durmstrang has a similar reputation that Slytherin does, but that didn't stop you from drooling over Krum and his autograph."

"He's using you, Hermione. Can't you see that?" Ron said angerly. "I don't know what he is up to, but he's up to something." Hermione made a disgruntled sound and headed back up the stairs.

"Where are you going?" Ron shouted.

"To bed," she stated.

"But what about—"

"Good night, Ronald!" she called, turning into another hall.

Slipping out of her dorm room, Map in hand, Hermione mad her way to the One-Eyed Witch Statue. She has changed out of her dress in favor of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, her hair pulled back in a hasty pony-tail. Slipping into the secret passage, she stuffed the Map in a bag she had dropped down there earlier in the evening. Pulling her leather jacket out of the bag, she put it on and headed down the passage, leaving slinging the bag on her back.

Exiting Honeydukes Sweetshop she ducked into an alley and Apparated to a small town on the coast. It was the closest place to the cave that she knew of. It was dark and overcast, as she hiked along the coastline. It was well past midnight when the path she had been following forked into two paths; the right turned more inland while the left fell away to a shear drop into the roiling ocean below. Lighting her wand proved fruitless in locating the cave below, it was clear she was going to have to climb down since the path had been completely destroyed. It was a good sign that she was in the right place; had the water simply eroded it, the path would not have been so cleanly cut away from the rock face. It would have been uneven and she would have been able to pick out places where it had once been.

"Expecto Patronum!" she said, and her glowing silver otter spun forth. With a flick of her wand the critter glided over the edge and began moving along the wall face. It finally stopped and stood still a good twenty or thirty yards from where the path had ended and just above where the waves were crashing against the rock wall.

Moving off the path to above where her otter indicated, she took a rope out of her pack; tying one end of the rope to herself, she looped it around a bolder, sticking out of the ground away from the edge. Tossing the extra rope down, she pulled on a set of gloves before making sure her bag was secure on her back. Her otter came up, as she began to lower herself down the rock wall, the glow of her Patronus lighting her decent, as its little sleek body twisted and turned around her.

Undoing the rope, as her feet settled on the entrance of a decent-sized cave the ocean spray was running off her jacket in torrents, as the Repelling charm didn't allow the water to soak into her clothes.

Entering the cave, her otter suddenly hit an invisible wall and went out, leaving her in darkness till she could conjure a wandless Lumos. There was definitely something here, she could feel the anti-Apparition wards in place. Moving forward into the cave cautiously, she was met with a dead end.

Casting her light over the back of the cave, revealed runes etched into the rock. Squinting, she read over them after a bit of puzzling, trying to recall lessons from her Ancient Runes class. It was another riddle.

'While you live we can not part,

I must live lifelong inside you,

inside your beating heart.'

"Blood," she said aloud, the wall remained the same. She tried again, this time using the language charm to translate her answer to Parseltongue, still the wall remained unmoving.

"The answer is blood, I know it is, but—" Then it dawned on her. "Oh, that's sick," she said, pulling off her left glove and taking out her folding knife from her jacket and flipping it open. Drawing the blade across her palm, placing her bleeding hand on the runes, they flashed and then melted away, forming a doorway.

Taking a sealed package of bandages out of her bag, she ripped it open with her teeth before hastily wrapping her hand. Slipping her glove back on, she pulled the pack back on, as she entered the next chamber.

"Lumos Maxima!" she cast, sending a light up to hover near the ceiling of the now cavernous cave. She could make out a lake now and at its center a small island. Walking to the edge of the lake, she found a single small boat with no oars, sitting invitingly at the edge. It seemed safe enough, but she was still cautious, as she stepped in. Once she was seated the boat took off of its own accord across the lake, and she dearly hoped it would not dump her out in the middle of its journey, seeing as once she was on her way she realized there were hundreds maybe thousands of sleeping Inferi just under the water surface.

The journey was slow, but she was able to let out a sigh of relief, as the little boat bumped against the stony shore. Jumping out she walked up the slight slope to the large basin sitting on the pedestal at the top. The basin seemed to be filled with a green liquid, and at its bottom looked to be a item.

"Found you," she said, trying to reach into the basin, only for her hand to hit an invisible wall before it could breach the surface of the liquid. Taking out her pocket knife, she poked at the liquid and it passed through; sticking the blade in further, she found she could snag the chain of some sort of necklace and pull it to the surface. It stopped, the chain unable to break the surface. So the basin would have to be emptied, she summarized, and the method was provided, as she spotted the goblet sitting beside the dish.

"Maybe I should have brought Sirius with me," she mused, not liking the fact she was going to have to drink some strange potion with no idea what it did. "Or maybe not." She took up the goblet and filled it from the basin; tipping it out on the ground the green solution simply stopped at the rim of the cup, as if it had an invisible lid.

With a reluctant sigh she tipped the contents of the cup in her mouth and was preparing to swallow it, when something occurred to her and she spit it out on the ground, gagging at the taste and feeling her old wounds begin to flare like they were starting to reopen.

"What is this fowl stuff?" she muttered, clutching at her shoulder where she had been shot, as it began to throb, she hadn't even swallowed the potion and it was still effecting her; she didn't want to know what would happen if she had to drink the whole thing.

She repeated the method, and the level of the potion slowly began to lower. Finally, panting as she gripped at the rim of the basin, she scooped out the item. Pulling it from the goblet revealed it to be a locket. She stuffed it in her pocket and moved to head back to the boat, when something occurred to her. Fishing in her pack, she pulled out a glass phial, what ever spells that had been protecting the locket in the basin seemed to have left after its removal, as she dipped the phial in the little pool that remained at the bottom; stoppering the bottle, she stuck it in her pack. Shuffling, she made her way to the boat, her whole body hurt and her mouth was as dry as a desert.

Settling herself in the boat, she pulled out a bottle of water from her bag and drank it greedily, as the boat pulled away from the island and headed back to the shore. The sky was just beginning to lighten, as she exited the cave and began the slow climb up the cliff and out of the anti-Apparition wards.

Exiting the One-Eyed Witch passage Hermione was shaking as she shed her jacket, she dropped it down into the passage with her pack to be collected later; it was far later than she had intended to return and couldn't risk getting caught so out of sorts with such sensitive items. Sealing the passage, she headed down the hall, stumbling she fell against the wall.

Using the wall as a guide, she made her way toward Gryffindor Tower. It was early morning, but after that late party the halls were still empty. Sweat was making her shirt stick to her skin, as she shivered, her fever was spiking dangerously high, and her whole body hurt.

"What are you doing, Granger?" Snape said, coming around the corner to see her stumbling along the hall wall, as she walked. She turned toward him, but didn't seem able to focus. At first he thought she was drunk, as it was not unheard of for students to sneak in liqueur from Hogsmeade if they could get their hands on it. He quickly dismissed this theory, her pale complexion and the visibly shaking made it clear she was very ill.

"Granger, you should be in the Hospital Wing," he said, going up to her, she shook her head.

" 'm fin," she mumbled, pushing off the wall and trying to walk on her own. Her legs buckled and it was only Snape's quick reflexes that kept her head from connecting with the stone floor. One arm under her back he looped his other arm under her legs, hoisting her up in his arms. She was heavier than her small frame looked, he realized, grunting as he shifted till she was more balanced before changing direction and going to the Hospital Wing.

"I'm sorry," she muttered, her eyes closed and face half buried in his shoulder.

"So long as you don't throw up on me," he stated, "there is nothing to apologize for."

"Not that," she mumbled, shaking her head, her curls sticking to her sweat-drenched forehead. "I'm sorry, before when I brought up the werewolves and after what Greyback did. I didn't know." This revelation brought him up short, as he stood there in the hall, glaring furiously at her.

"What did Black say?" he asked, knowing Black would have been the one to go blabbing about his school days to students.

"Ow, not the face," she said with a half shrug, to which Snape raised an unbelieving eyebrow in question. "I hit him. I do that a lot; mostly with shoes, and cups, and books. Big Books—Boom, no more Bad Dog. Doggy's just dumb, dumb dog. Dumbly is stupid old stupid-head. I need a bigger book, to much beard," she muttered unintelligibly, as she drifted off to a fitful sleep, her fever was beginning to make even him sweat despite all his layers and hers.

She was a lot sicker than he had first thought, most likely not even aware of what she had been saying. Which made sense since most of what came out of her mouth was nonsense.

Hermione woke the next morning in the Hospital Wing, feeling like she had been run over by the Beauxbatons carriage and with no memory of how she had gotten there.

"Oh, good, you're finally awake," Madam Pomfrey said, relieved when she saw Hermione awake. "You've had a lot of people worried about you," she scolded, coming over and pouring her a glass of water.

"What happened?" she asked, taking the offered glass of water and drinking it down slowly.

"Professor Snape found you wandering the halls in quite a state, brought you here with a high fever that was resistant to fever reducer. We only just got it brought down early this morning. What have you been doing to get in such a state?" she asked, taking Hermione's hand and looking it over, a faint pink line still visible where she had cut it.

"I don't remember," she half lied, she didn't remember much after leaving the cave, it's a wonder she didn't Splintch herself getting back to Hogsmeade. "I remember the dance and getting ready for bed, then nothing," she said, resting back against her pillow.

After checking that her fever had gone down, Harry and Ron had been allowed in for a short visit where Ron seemed to have gotten over his anger that she had taken Malfoy to the Ball, at least for now. She was thankful she wasn't having to deal with him still raving about Malfoy, but from Harry's expression he had been hearing a lot of what Ron thought about it.

After Harry and Ron had left, Remus and Sirius had come by. After a quick word Sirius left and came back a short while later with the Locket he had gotten from her jacket in the tunnel to tell her he had stashed her things in Lupin's rooms where she didn't have to worry about the twins stumbling over them.

Getting a good look at the Locket for the first time, it was large and had a number of small green stones set in the shape of an 'S' on the front. It was strangely normal, she couldn't sense any magic on it like the Ring had possessed. Opening it, a paper fell out on her lap. Picking up the paper, she passed the Locket to Sirius; the Dog stared at it with great interest like he was trying to recall something.

'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.


"It's a fake," Hermione said tiredly, passing the note to Remus. "After all that, it's a stupid fake."

"What is a Horcrux?" Remus asked, reading over the note, Hermione shrugged as Remus passed the note to Sirius.

"Must be what these items are, I've not found anything by that name," Hermione said. Sirius took the note and glanced at it before he nearly dropped it in shock.

"Regulus!" he whispered, examining the note more closely, "it has to be, but that's impossible."

"Your brother?" Remus asked, looking over the note again.

Sirius nodded. "RAB, Regulus Arcturus Black. And this," he said, shaking the Locket, "I'm sure, I've seen this some place, I just can't remember where." This peaked Hermione's interest.

"Before your imprisonment or since you've been out?"

"Since I've been out."

"So he didn't destroy it before he died," she said softly, she had a good idea how he had died, recalling the defences of the cave. Sirius had to sit down on one of the empty beds, note still in hand.

"I thought he just got scared and was killed trying to leave, but I never thought he had the guts to defy Voldemort himself. That's why they killed him."

"I doubt it," Hermione said, drawing Sirius's attention to her, "if he had been killed for taking the real Locket, he would have been tortured into giving up its location. We have concluded he had not destroyed it, and you have seen it recently. Which can mean one thing, that he died getting the Locket. That's why his followers are not looking for it, Voldemort doesn't know it's missing and why his body was never found."

"If Regulus died getting it, then why did you not find it there," Remus asked, as Sirius seemed to need a moment to take in the information.

"He must have had an accomplice, someone who took the Locket with them."

Madame Pomfrey bustled over just then, and Remus canceled the muffling charm, they would have to continue this discussion at another time. Sirius looked like he needed some time to sift through this new revelation.

It was another couple of days before Hermione was released from the Hospital Wing, but after she had woken she slipped out that evening. Remus had brought by her things after dinner; and still a little weak, she donned her disguise and went to track down the patrolling Potions Master.

"I have something for you," she said, catching the man's attention, he spun around leveling his wand at her.

"Stupify!" he cast, and she threw up a wandless shield.

"Can we please get past the you-trying-to-take-me-to-Dumbledore-portion of this interaction, I have something important to discuss." Snape cautiously lowered his wand.


She set the vial of potion on the ground and rolled it to him. "Do you recognize this?" she asked; Snape picked up the vile and examined it before pulling the cork and sniffing it.

"Yes, it is a solution meant to cause unbearable pain and brings up the drinkers worst memories," he said, recalling the potion.

"Did you brew this potion for Him?"

A pause. "Yes."

"How many times?"

Another pause, "Twice."

"Did you brew it for anyone else?"

"No." he growled out; he was getting tired of this line of questioning. "What is this about?"

It was Nemo's turn to pause. "He has made a number of items that he has deemed important enough to warrant placing strong enchantments to protect them. That potion," she pointed at the phial in his hand, "was one of many protections on one such item. The destruction of these items are paramount to destroying him for good." Snape looked at the potion again before making a connection.

"You used this on Granger."

Nemo pause for a long moment. "Yes." Not a lie. "The defences to this item proved to be difficult alone, I needed another body." Snape seemed to become rigid at this for some reason, but Nemo continued on, "Don't bother looking through her memories, I Obliviated her afterwards. No use traumatizing the girl with things she doesn't need to remember."

Her escape was far less smooth than last time, as she was forced to run down the hall and loose him on the moving staircases before returning to the Hospital Wing. She was still recovering from the effects of the potion.

'It would seem that the Golden Girl of Gryffindor has a dark secret and a taste for those who have dabbled in the darkness. Through sources that wish to remain anonymous it has been revealed that Hermione Granger, Triwizard Champion and close friend of Harry Potter, has been spending a great deal of personal time with those who have less than light affiliations. It has been confirmed that most mornings Hermione Granger has been slipping out of school alone with none other than her bachelor professor who has been known to dabble in the Dark Arts when he was younger. What do these two get up to when they are off alone before the rest of the school is? How long has this secret rendezvous been going on? Sources say months if not years.

Not only has Hermione Granger been slipping away with her professor, but she also has managed to wriggle her way into the arms of one Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius Malfoy, who also has been accused of dabbling in the Dark Arts (see page 6 for more); none of the reports have been confirmed of course, as is Malfoy quite a name among Wizarding pure-blood circles and still has a high reputation in the Ministry. One would wonder, though, has young Draco followed in his father's alledged footsteps?

How is close friend Harry Potter taking this news?-'

Hermione looked up from the paper, being shoved in her face by a fuming Ron.

"You can't honestly believe all this is true, Ron," she said, dropping her half-eaten toast on her plate. It was Saturday, and the students were still filtering in for a late breakfast.

"You went to the Ball with Malfoy, that's true enough, and he and his father are both up to their eye-balls in the Dark Arts," Ron said critically.

"What about the thing with Snape, you haven't really been sneaking off with him every morning?" Harry asked, looking betrayed.

"Honestly, you two, don't you trust me at all?"

"That's not a 'no'."

"Yes, alright," she relented, shaking the paper in her hand. "but it isn't how it sounds."

"Then how is it exactly, why did you keep it a secret."

"It's Not A Secret!" she yelled at the two, throwing her arms up in exasperation, catching the attention of many students who were not already staring at her and holding their own copies of the Prophet. "If you got up at a decent time instead of right before breakfast, you would have noticed. I go running every morning when the weather is nice, Snape does too, so we meet up to do a lap around the Lake before breakfast. We're not even running anymore with the weather is so bad and won't start back up until the snow thaws."

"How long have you been doing this?" Harry asked, looking hurt that she had spent most mornings in the company of the one teacher that was out to make his life miserable.

"Since the beginning of third year," she answered to both boys's shock.

"You've been meeting with Snape every morning for over a year, and you didn't tell anyone!"

"I don't need your permission, Ronald!" she snapped, standing up from her seat, so she could step over the bench, Ron followed her movements. "If I want to go running with Snape in the mornings, then, by Merlin, I will! Some stupid article or your opinions be damned, I enjoy it!"

"What about Malfoy, is he your little running buddy as well?" Ron snapped out hotly, his face beginning to turn red in anger. By now the whole Hall was watching the scene unfold before them with a morbid fascination of watching a car crash.

"No, he's not."

"So what, you're just like hanging out with the git?"


"Hermione, they're in Slytherin, they are evil!"

"They are people, Ronald, like you and me! You cut them, they don't bleed green and silver, it's red. Just like yours, just like the Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs, the Durmstrangs and Beauxbatons'," she said, shaking her head disappointed at him. "You know, I thought Malfoy was the one with the biggest issue with class distinctions, but at least most of the time we can chat civilly, and he and I are complete opposites in all stations of class."

"They are evil, why can't you see that? There's not a Dark wizard that hasn't been sorted into Slytherin."

"You need to wake up and realize this," she said gesturing at all the tables, "this means nothing! What House you're in doesn't determine who you are. Do you think just because you're in Gryffindor that makes you automatically a good person?" she shouted, shoving him hard in the chest for emphasis, "Well, wake up, because it doesn't. Every House has produced people who could be labeled 'Dark' or 'Evil'. You want proof — look at Peter Pettigrew, he was in the House of the Brave, and he was a coward, traitor and murderer. That wasn't a fluke or messed up sorting, that is life. You can't just slap a label on someone and think that defines them for the rest of their lives, you are who you choose to be."

"Well, if that is, how you feel — why don't you just go hang out with your little snake friends!" Ron shouted, hands shaking in anger, as he glared at her, red-faced.

"One of these days, Ron Weasley," she said with an eary calm, as she watched him, her own fists balled tightly, "you're going to realize that there are more important things going on, than holding on to some stupid House rivalry. For your sake I hope that day is soon," she said picking up her things and heading for the door. The Hall was in absolute silence.

"Hermione, wait!" Harry called, following her to the door, as he stood torn between his two friends.

"Harry," she said, pausing, but not turning back. "Stay with Ron," she said before walking out the door.e door.

*Hermione's Yule Ball Dress

Chapter Text

You might be drifting, can't find the shore

So hopeless, and all alone

The waves are crashing, all around you

Just when you've lost the will to live, you see the sun.

-Drifting, Plumb

Chapter 19: The Waves Are Crashing, All Around You.

January 1995-Hogwarts

Severus Snape was ready to murder a certain reporter in the most painful way he could think of. He had not even been aware of his involvement in Rita Skeeter's latest article until Minerva McGonagall had ferociously pounced on him like the terrifying she-lion she was. For a moment he thought he was back in his school days when he had gotten caught hexing one of her precious cubs.

"Severus Snape!" she scolded storming up to him as he entered the teachers' lounge in that voice she saved for her most disobedient students that made them want to cower and beg forgiveness before her full wrath could be released.

"Minerva," he said caughtiously looking at the other teachers present; Lupin and Black were in one corner and looked to be going over class schedules for the Wolf's next sick leave, but had cast it aside in favor of whispering over a copy of the Daily Prophet. Flitwick and Sprout were sending him looks of disapproval over their own copies of the paper.

He quickly took in and analyzed the reactions of his coworkers and came to the conclusion he had missed something big, something big that involved him. Quickly he tried to think of something he had done to warrant such a reaction from his coworkers. They were still on winter break so classes were not in session, meaning his interactions with the students were limited and he couldn't recall doing anything to any of the staff; well, other than trading some less than pleasent words with Black at breakfast earlier in the week but that surely didn't warrant such a reaction from the Transfiguration teacher.

"You should be ashamed of yourself, such conduct and with an underage student, no less!" Her voice raised in fury causing her Scottish accent to become more pronounced as she continued to rage at him. Outside he was the picture of calm as he stood there and took the verbal attack from the woman, inside however his confusion over the situation had just racked up another three notches.

'Conduct? Student? What in the blazes is she on about?' he thought furiously trying to think of something he had done to a student recently. Surely she couldn't mean him threatening to melt Lee Jordan from the inside out if he didn't stop keeping a running commentary of his progress in whatever work he had in class. The boy had become quite intolerable, under the excuse that he needed to keep his announcer skills in top form if he wanted to keep the position for next years Quidditch season. So he had taken up doing a running commentary of his progress in his class and those around him much to his friends, the Weasley Twins, amusement.

He mentally shook his head, that couldn't have been it. It was weeks ago and he hadn't actually done anything to the boy, though he had been sorely tempted. No, something else must be behind the woman's rage.

"Well, what do you have to say for yourself?" McGonagall asked, her rant having simmered down to a low boil, though her wand hand was twitching like she wanted to turn him into a toad and use him to restock his own potion ingredients.

"I have no idea what you are talking about?" he said finally, as the longer he was quiet the more she seemed to want to hex him.

"You don't—!" She sputtered as her anger ignited again thinking he was playing dumb before she was cut off by a voice behind him in the doorway to the lounge.

"I believe, my dear Minerva, that Severus here isn't quite up to date on current news." Dumbledore said coming into the lounge and seating himself in one of the overly stuffed chairs and pulled out two newspapers; the first a copy of the Daily Prophet that he handed to Snape, the second a copy of the Quibbler that he proceeded to open and read.

Taking the paper cautiously, eyes not leaving the Transfiguration professor who seemed to have checked her rage but he was still the focus of a glare that sent a shiver up his spine. Sometimes he wondered who was more terrifying; the Dark Lord or the woman before him.

Dropping his gaze to the paper in his hands he was met with a picture of himself and one of Ms. Hermione Granger dressed for the Yule Ball and on the arm of Draco Malfoy. As he proceeded to read down the article, his own anger began to rise at the writer's nerve to slander him in such a light. There had been enough truth for her to not be called out as an outright liar, but she had omitted a few key-facts. She let the readers draw their own conclusion, namely what he and Granger were up to in the morning.

"You can't tell me, you all actually believe this trash," he sneered crumbling the paper in his fist as he shook it at the lot of them.

"I don't believe it for a second," Black stated tipping his chair back on its back legs, feet on the edge of the paper covered coffee table he and Lupin had been using. "Had it been any other girl I might have—" he said leaving out the jab that the only way Snape could get any action was coursing young school girls because no decent woman would have him, "but I've met Hermione out of school over the summer. She's not one to be bullied or seduced into doing anything she doesn't want to, and I'm sure we can all agree she wouldn't risk being expelled by doing anything uncouth with a teacher." Lupin sent a sharp look at Black, most likely to stop him before he started up another argument with Snape, Black only waved him off with a conspiratory smirk.

"I'm glad you have such faith in my morals and professionalism, Black," Snape said scornfully before turning back to the rest of the room, "If it puts you at ease I will say Ms. Granger and I are not secretly sneaking off to some forbidden rendezvous and I have never laid a finger on her. She expressed some interest at the beginning of last year of wanting to keep in shape, seeing as I run every morning I insisted she accompanied me if she wished to run about the grounds for her own protection. With Dementors and," he glanced over at Black, "convicts about it seemed the safest situation for her to accompany me. It became routine and the schedule simply carried on to this year."

"Running," McGonagall squawked a little off balance after she had just ranted at him about appropriate conduct with a student. Clearing her throat, quite embarrassed at her outburst, she continued on in her normal clipped tone, "Oh, I see. Yes, well, my apologies for making assumptions without speaking with you first."

Snape sighed, this was not going to be a pleasant day, if the students and their parents were under the same impression as the staff that had known him for 13 years then his life was about to take an interesting turn.

He had been right, but not only for himself. The scene Granger and Weasley had made at breakfast was enough to get those who didn't believe everything they read in the Prophet talking.

The real reason for their morning meetings had been revealed as she had practically shouted it at her friends and half the Hall, causing a lot of the more scandalous rumors to die off; though there were still some of the more outrageous ones circulating about the school. No, what had most of the school talking now was the girl's denouncement of the separate houses. She seemed to have completely thrown off the traditional House feuds and made her feelings on the stereotypes placed on each house quite clear.

For the rest of the break Hermione had avoided Gryffindor Tower in favor of the library were she could immerse herself in texts on water creatures to try to riddle out the screeching clue of the Egg. Harry had tried to get her to come join him for meals but she would brush him off under excuses that she was busy, but really she had wanted to avoid running into Ron. He had yet to even attempt trying to talk to her since their fight in the Great Hall and she wasn't sure how to heal the fracture in their friendship. It wasn't something she could grit her teeth and stitch closed and hope it healed right, Ron was going to have to realize the ways of the world for himself, it wasn't something she could force on him. So she threw herself into her research on the next task and hoped he would learn from her example. She doubted he would, Ron was as stubborn as they come and once he set his mind to something it was hard to change his views.

"If you've come to apologize on your brother's behalf, don't waste your breath. Ronald dug his own hole, he can man up and climb out of it on his own as well," she said when she caught sight of Ginny loitering between two bookcases.

"He's just being an idiot," Ginny said approaching the book-laden table, "I'm sure he will come around when he's had time to cool off."

Hermione scoffed, "And realizes, he just lost his note-copying privileges."

"That too." Ginny giggled coming to sit at one of the chairs at the table that wasn't stacked high in books. "What are you working on?"

"Next task," she said closing her book on Kelpies and grabbing another on Dobhar-chú, a shy sort of otter hound that lived in lakes. The outer part of the Egg had held no clue to her dilemma which left her to figure out what the ear-splitting sound had to do with the lake. Which led her to researching any creatures that inhabited lakes in hopes of figuring out what she was supposed to do.

"Any luck?" Ginny asked flipping through the nearest book on Kappas that had been put in the growing stack of unuseful books. Hermione shook her head adding the Dobhar-chú to the small list of things that could be in the lake but did not produce a sound like the Egg had, as either a normal sound or defense mechanism as it was a good way to keep threats away.

"No," she said setting the book on a small stack she was keeping for further research and grabbing the next book on Kraken that was immediately discarded as it was a sea creature in favor of one on Grindylows. "All I've managed is it is a lake creature with a voice that could make your ears bleed."

"That's it?" the red-head asked pulling out an essay she was finishing up as classes would be starting back up in a couple of days.

"Pretty much," Hermione commented adding Grindylows to her list. The two worked in silence for a time till Ginny had finished with her homework.

"What's he like?" Ginny finally asked flipping through one of the books trying to help Hermione sort through them all.

"Who?" Hermione asked turning a page.

"Malfoy," she paused before continuing, "and Snape."

"Malfoy's entertaining," she said with a small smile. "He acts all better-than-thou and when you throw a hitch in his little act you can get a look at what's under that Malfoy pure-blood prejudice."

"Which is what?" Ginny asked intrigued edging her chair closer as they gossiped.

"A biting sense of humor and an awkwardness that's kinda cute," she said in a mock whisper, "and he has a secret curiosity about Muggles that he will never admit." Ginny's eyes widened in surprise.

"You don't actually like him?" she questioned not realizing till now that the blonde prat could be labeled cute, Hermione snorted and shook her head.

"No, he's just an—" she paused to think of what he was, they weren't really friends and neither of them would admit it if they were. She finally gave up and shrugged, "semi-hospitable enemy?"

"Are you asking or telling me?" Ginny asked skeptically.

"I don't know, he's fun to banter with and we actually talked quite a bit at the dance," she said not having a better answer for her odd relationship with the Slytherin boy.

"What about Snape?" Ginny said finally deciding to take pity on her friend, "I mean, he's not nasty all the time, right?"

"No," she said softly remembering the last time they had run together and the snowball incident that had occurred afterwards, "He's not so uptight outside class. Especially in the mornings, he's not much of a morning person and usually isn't even fully awake when we part ways after our run. You should see him, he looks like a different person without the billowing black robes and half asleep."

"Without his robes?" Ginny squeaked and Hermione smacked a hand to her face at her poor choice in words given current rumors.

"With clothes on, just not the usual teaching ones," she corrected quickly before shaking her head, "Honestly!"

"So he hasn't been picking on you or anything," Ginny paused, "else."

Hermione groaned and buried her head in her folded arms on the pile of books in front of her, "For the last time, Snape has never made any advances on my person nor taken advantage of me in any sense of the term."

"Sorry," Ginny said patting the older girl on the shoulder, "but I just wanted to make sure you were okay, I won't bring it up again. I'm sure you are ready for all of this to blow over."

"Yeah, you can say that again," she muttered settling back to continue her research.

Classes started up a few days later and the rumors seemed to have died down some since the students found themselves with other things to occupy their time apart from the current teacher student scandal.

"What's the favorite rumor in Slytherin House?" Hermione asked as she unpacked her potion supplies at her shared table with Neville and Draco.

"Why do you care?" Draco asked bitingly. Hermione shrugged as she moved her bottle of ink out of reach of Neville before he bumped it.

"Well, the Hufflepuffs seem to think you and I are secretly betrothed." Draco's face scrunched up in a look of utter disgust at the thought.

"Not if you were the last girl left on earth." Hermione stuck her tongue at him.

"The Ravenclaws on the other hand think I've been getting good grades in Potions because I've been sleeping with Snape." Neville knocked his bag off the table at this statement.

"You what?" He squeaked out in horror at the thought.

"Neville," Hermione scolded, "It's not true."

"Why would you say that?" Draco whined, "Obliviate me now, so I can forget I ever heard that," he groaned unable to imagine his godfather with anyone in any intimate way.

"So what do the Slytherins think? I'm sure you guys have some pretty degrading rumors concerning me," she said curious as the House of Snakes as a whole had been quiet on the current topic of gossip when usually they would be at the head to torment a Gryffindor who was slandered in the paper. Draco had done so to Ron earlier in the year after all.

"We don't talk about it much," Draco said glancing at Snape who had come over to their table, ignoring the whispering pair in favor of glaring down at Neville. Criticizing the boy's clumsiness and docking points as he hurried to stuff his things back in his bag only to bump into one of the other students chairs.

"Why?" she asked, from past experiences the Snakes seemed to be the most prominent in rumor spreading. Draco glanced up at Snape again as if in question or maybe to ask permission, the Potion Master simply glanced over the pair before heading up to the front of the class; a swish of his wand and the instructions of their next Potion had begun writing itself on the board.

Hermione watched the two with interest, as they seemed to communicate without words. What ever Draco had wanted to say, Snape seemed to have given permission to share.

"The first rule of Slytherin House," Draco said quietly, so not even Neville could hear, should he try to listen in, "Protect the House, because no one else will."

"Oh," she said realizing it made a lot of sense. Unlike the other Houses, Slytherin never seemed to have the in-fighting rivalries, the others did. She had just met a perfect example of some of the discrimination in the other Houses over break. Ginny had introduced her to a lonely Ravenclaw girl named Luna Lovegood, who had been shunned by a good portion of her House and teased by the rest to the point they had started stealing her things and leaving them about the castle for the odd girl to find.

The Slytherins could not afford those types of discrimination among House members as they were already shunned by the other Houses as a whole. They couldn't afford to be divided among themselves.

"Any attempt at criticizing you will lead to attacking either myself or Snape," Draco said focusing on the simmering base of his Potion as he prepared ingredients, "Most have just decided to ignore the whole incident all together."

"Wish my House was like that," she said with a tired sigh and Draco looked at her in shock at the statement, "I can hardly go into the Common Room without hearing some rumor more elaborate than the last, despite how many times I've told them the truth."

"You're a strange one, Granger," Draco said scoffing, shaking his head.

"You have no idea, Malfoy," she said with a wink before turning her full focus on her cauldron.

"Not skipping another meal, are we?" George asked coming into Hermione's self-proclaimed nitch in the library.

"Hmm," she mumbled chewing on the end of her pen, she had given up on the quill and ink after the third time of knocking over the bottle as she moved books about.

"Stop with the studying," Fred finally said snatching the book from her hands and putting her focus on him instead.

"Hey!" She said snatching for the book but Fred simply tossed it over his shoulder and into George's waiting hands. Hermione scowled at them. "You two are not being very helpful."

"That's what we were going for," George said placing the book at the far end of the table and out of reach.

"What is that?" Fred asked pointing at a large bucket in one corner, there were bits of charred paper and scorch marks along the inside.

"Oh, that," she said eyeing the bucket with distaste, "Apparently a lot of people had strong opinions of what that vile woman wrote. So strong, in fact, they decided to share."

The twins grimaced at this, knowing instantly what she was talking about. They had seen first-hand what kind of opinions Rita's readers had.

"Hope they're not as bad as what Snape's been getting."

"Nothing's worse than a Howler from Mum."

Hermione choked on her own spit at this. "Your Mum sent him a Howler?" She had seen the one the woman had sent Ron when he had stolen his dad's flying car. She couldn't imagine what the woman would have said given the light Rita had painted their relationship in.

"Oh, dear," she said looking at her own charred letters, she had gotten a couple of Howlers but most of those had been about Malfoy; a lot of people seemed under the impression she was trying to get in good books with the Malfoy's and climb the social ladder in an attempt to rise from her Muggleborn status.

'She must think, he's some sort of pedophile or something,' she thought with growing horror at what the Weasley Matron was sure to have unleashed on the man, who had done nothing but make sure she had a safe place to run in the mornings.

"What did it say?" she asked, not sure she wanted to know.

The two shared a look before Fred answered, "We didn't hear much, Dumbledore cast a Silencing Charm on the teachers table before it could really get going."

"It did say something along the line of 'you foul vile little cockroach,' and 'how dare you take advantage of such a sweet and innocent little girl'," George continued.

"Did someone send her a letter explaining things?" she asked realizing she probably should have done just that when the article came out.

"Yeah, I think Lupin did," Fred said tapping the charred pail with the toe of his shoe. "Black was to busy laughing at first, then she said something that made even him pale. Wish we could have heard that part."

Suddenly George tossed the book he had been flipping through on to the table, "Enough about Snape."

Fred concurred, "Yeah, even if half the school thinks you're sleeping with him—"

"—and the other half thinks you're trying to slither into Malfoy's."

"Hey!" Hermione said offended, she wasn't about to shack up with just anyone; at least not since she had come back to the past.

"We're kidding, now come on," George placated before grabbing her by the arm, his brother taking the other and the two hauled her from the library.

"Were are we going?" she finally asked when they turned down a hall and came to a portrait of a bowl of fruits.

"You mean you've had that map for a year and never payed a visit to the kitchen?" Fred asked mockingly tickling the pear in the bowl and the portrait swung open reveiling the school's house-elves bustling about the kitchen cleaning up from dinner.

"Shame, what have you been up to," George asked but got no reply as they were set upon by the Elves who were all eager to serve them.

Hermione, Snape and Malfoy were not the only ones targeted by Skeeter. Hagrid too found himself being slandered across the newspaper to the point he stopped attending classes and Dumbledore was forced to call in a substitute.

She was on her way back from a Hogsmeade trip with Ginny, when she had parted ways with the girl to head to the Giant's hut. Maybe she could talk him out of his isolation given her own time as Rita's topic of interest.

Wrapped in her warm winter cloak she knocked on the large wooden door of the hut, Dracarys wrapped snugly around her neck like a heated scarf. After some barking from Fang and muffled voices the door opened to reveal Dumbledore.

"Ms. Granger, good to see you," he said kindly opening the door for her to enter.

"Sorry, if I'm interrupting, Sir, I came to talk to Hagrid—Professor Hagrid, that is," she said stepping inside to the sight of a teary-faced Hagrid sitting with Harry and Ron.

"Not at all, my dear, we were just trying to talk our mutual friend here into returning to work. Without success, I might add," the Headmaster said shutting the door and retaking his seat in front of a large Half-Giant-sized cup of tea.

"Hey, Hermione," Harry greeted her awkwardly with a smile.

"Hi, Harry," she said returning his smile before looking at Ron, "Hey, Ron," she said softly but had dropped her smile as the boy scowled down at his own cup of tea.

"Hey," came his forced reply.

"Hello, Hagrid," she said coming to stand by the Half-Giant after taking off her winter cloak and hanging it over the back of one of the large chairs.

"'Lo," he replied, his voice rough and hoarse.

"More tea, I think," Dumbledore suggested topping off all their cups and passing a cup to Hermione and the plate of cakes he had provided.

"Hey, what are you letting some stupid cow's article get you so down," Hermione said resting her hand on one of his large massive arms. "I can't speak for others," she said glancing at Ron, "but I don't care if your mum was a Giantess, a Centaur or the crazy cat lady who lives down my street. You are not your mother or her kin, you are Hagrid and my friend."

"That is what I have been saying," Dumbledore said sipping out of his large mug of tea like it was a delicate tea cup. "I've shown you the letters of people who remember you from their school days, who say the same."

"Not everyone feels that way," Hagrid croaked, tears leaking into his beard, "You're not a Half-Giant."

"No I am not a Half-Giant. I am a Muggleborn Gryffindor who happens to be on civil speaking terms with some Slytherins and that seems to be just as bad as far as the general public believe," she snapped hands on her hips, "you think just because the public thinks I'm a a social climber trying to make up for my dirty blood I should hole up in my room and forget about my classes or the Tournament." Her words seemed to spark something in the half-human.

"Don't you dare think it, 'Mione. You're to bright a witch to be cooped up, and yer gonna show them all when you win that Tournament," he said fiercely grabbing her hands in his far larger ones.

"Only on one condition," she said after a measured moment, as if she needed to think over his words.

"What do ya need?" he asked wiping at his tear-streaked face trying to dry it.

"Come back to class," she said patting his one hand that was still holding hers, "Please, we miss you."

"Aw right, for you lot," he said casting his gaze over the three students in the room.

"Splendid," Dumbledore said as he set his mug on the table and rising from his seat, "I will be taking my leave now and, Hagrid, I expect you at breakfast 8:30 Monday." Patting Fang the Headmaster exited the hut followed by the sound of a clatter.

"Dracarys!" Hermione scolded as the little Horntail had scampered across the table and perched itself on the brim of the Headmaster's cup. The dragon teetered on the edge a moment before falling into the cup with a startled squeak. His head popped out a moment later licking greedily at his lips as he swam about the half filled cup as if it were a pool.

"Sorry, Hagrid," she said plucking the dragon out and wiping him off with a napkin.

"Don't worry, you know how I love dragons. Even if he isn't a real one," he said with a still teary smile, "Sit down, have a cake," he said trying to take up the mantel of host now that the Headmaster had gone.

"No, it's alright, I just came to check on you and I need to be going. There is not much longer till the next task and I have a lot to do," she said sticking the little dragon safely in her pocket before pulling her winter cloak back on. "I'm sure Harry and Ron have loads to talk to you about, anyway."

"A'right, if yet sure," Hagrid said a little dejectedly.

"See you in class," she said heading to the door, "Bye, Harry. Ron." She slipped out into the cold January afternoon.

The Second Task was fast approaching as they entered into February, by the end of the month she would have to face the coming Task, whether she was ready or not. Hermione sat in the library ready to start pulling her own hair out staring at the sheets of parchments that held all the information she had gathered, still stumped on the Egg.

"What about a Siren?" Ginny suggested. She and her new friend, Luna, had come by to help.

"No, they are only found in seas and oceans," Hermione said shaking her head. Luna sat cross-legged on a chair with the Egg on her lap, humming a tune as she flipped through a random book. "Plus their voices are pretty enough to lure sailors to their doom, that thing is more likely to drive them away."

"I wonder, if it sounds so painful because it hurts to be out of the water for so long." Luna said still flipping through the pages.

"What?" Hermione asked confused; it was an large false egg not a living thing, it shouldn't have much preference in what environment it was in. Then again, it was magic and magic always did have a strange sense of logic.

"Like the Grifflow that used to live in the pond by my house," Ginny looked at Hermione in question as if to ask what a Grifflow was, Hermione could only shrug in reply. "It used to carry on and be quite mean when it wandered too far from the pond, but once it found its way back it was quite pleasant and would make the flowers around the pond grow quite nicely."

"You think putting it in water would make a difference?" Hermione asked curiously.

"You said you thought it was a lake creature, why wouldn't it like getting wet?" Luna asked setting the book aside so she could run her fingers over the surface of the Egg, humming her tune as she drew random shapes on its surface.

"That's actually not a bad idea," Hermione acknowledged, before picking up another book, "I might just try that out later, but for now I would like to look through a few more of these first."

The next morning found Hermione exiting the Room of Requirement after her morning workout and reentering the room to see the training room she had used minutes before had been replaced with a spacious bathroom.

Stripping out of her workout clothes she tucked them in her bag and pulled out a set of her school robes that she draped over a conveniently placed marble bench before pulling the Egg out of her bag. She walked over the warm tiled floor to the shower head, set in one wall, setting the Egg on the floor she turned on the shower and stepped into the warm water as it soothed her aching muscles.

Steam from the small swimming pool-sized tub curled in wisps about the room. Scrubbing away the sweat from her body under the steady stream of water Hermione enjoyed the private time to let her glamour fade and be herself for a time. Rinsing her hair she pulled it back in a bun out of her way as she kneeled, moving the Egg under the spray and opening it. The Egg shrieked.

Snapping it closed she sighed, picked it up and turned the shower off. She headed to the convenient rack of towels, when the tub caught her attention. Approaching the tub she sat down on the edge, her feet in the steaming water.

"I wonder—" she muttered dunking the Egg into the water and with a deep breath opened it. The room was silent save the sloshing of water, slowly slipping into the water she moved deeper into the tub till she could stand with water at her shoulders. The Egg still open in her hands, she took a deep breath and dunked her head under.

The Egg was singing.

'Come seek us where our voices sound.

We can not sing above the ground.

And while you're searching, ponder this:

We've that what you'll sorely miss,

An hour long you'll have to look,

And to recover what we took,

Bit past an hour - the prospect's black,

Too late, it's gone, it won't come back.'

Hermione broke the surface of the water and jumped out of the tub. The voice still in her ears she grabbed a towel and quickly dried her hands off before digging in her bag and pulling out a paper and one of her pens. Writing down the clue she cast Impervious on it to make it water proof, before heading back to the tub to mull over the clue.

Setting the paper on the edge she stepped into the tub to close and retrieve the Egg. Once the Egg was securely on the rim of the tub, where it wouldn't roll away, she relaxed against the side and picked up the paper and read over the clue.

'Come seek us where our voices sound.' The lake, that she already knew.

'We can not sing above the ground.' A lake creature that could form human words only underwater. Hermione reclined her head back against the stone lip of the tub going through the list of lake creatures she had compiled. Merpeople were said to have beautiful voices but only under water, that had to be it.

'And while you're searching, ponder this: We've that what you'll sorely miss,' So the Merpeople would be holding something she would miss if lost.

'An hour long you'll have to look and to recover what we took; bit past an hour - the prospect's black, too late, it's gone, it won't come back.' Simple enough, this Task would have a time limit and exceeding the limit would result in loss of the taken possession.

Surviving an hour underwater, not so simple.

A chime began going off in her bag and Hermione reluctantly climbed out of the tub. Drying off she wrapped her towel around her and gathered up her Egg and clue. Fishing around her bag she pulled out a pocket watch, flipping it open the hand labeled her name read 'Hurry up or you'll be late!' Closing the watch she stuck it back in her bag and got dressed.

The watch had been a gift from Sirius for Christmas. It had a large hand with her name on it that kept track of time for her along the outer edge. There were two other hands as well; one green and one red that were currently pointed at 'Hogwarts'. Also on the smaller dial was the labeled 'Unknown', 'Mortal Danger', 'Burrow', 'Grimmauld Place' and two pictures. Both the paw print and howling wolf were lit up. Meaning Harry or Ron, most likely both, were in the presence of the two professors.

She had thanked Sirius enthusiastically for the most likely expensive item. It would make her life a lot easier keeping an eye on her two friends when she wasn't around. Especially with how tense things were sure to get with the final task of the Tournament.

Quickly running a brush through her hair she replaced her glamour and stuffed the Egg in her bag along with the clue. Tying her hair back into a low tail she picked up her bag and headed down to breakfast to tell Ginny and Luna what she had found out.

"Siriu-uh Professor Black," she corrected as some stragglers from their last class were still in the room. Lowering her voice she continued, "I need you to get something from my house once you leave. I need it as soon as possible."

"Sure, what do you need?" he asked pulling her aside with a wave at Lupin to continue what he was doing as he flipped through essays at his desk. Leading the way to Lupin's office, he shut the door.

"I need a book from my office, left of the desk probably on one of the upper shelves." She said digging through her pockets and pulling out the paper she had written down the title of the book.

"I can't read this," he stated holding up the paper toward her. 'Зелий Руководство поВыжившие Экстрим' She pushed it back toward him.

"It's not for you to read, just find the book title that matches that," she said rolling her eyes, "I need it as soon as you can. It's for the next Task and I'm running out of time."

"Alright, alright, I'll pick it up tonight," he said tucking the paper in his robe pocket.

"Thanks," she said heading out the door.

That evening found Sirius entering Hermione's house in Hook Norton. The wards still recognized him from his time living there as he entered without trouble. Entering her office he had to stop for a moment and turn on the lights before he was met with a strange sight, that had not been there last time he had been in her office.

Papers where struck up all over one wall, bits of colored string connecting everything together. Going to the far left side to get a closer look he saw a Muggle newspaper clipping of a woman and baby. Following the black string he began to notice, all the papers the black string connected to were all about Voldemort. Continuing on he saw a blue string branching off with an article of his arrest after James and Lily had been murdered, followed by one of his escape. The paper at the end of the short blue string was an article stating, he had been apprehended after breaking into Hogwarts and given the Kiss.

'First off don't get killed by Dementors.' Hermione had said that to him when she had first told him her story. Sirius let out a deep breath and closed his eyes before looking further along the black line and the article he had seen about the Quidditch Cup.

A green line broke off with a number of articles written by Rita Skeeter about Harry, who had apparently been entered into the Tournament. The green line ended abruptly with a photo of a number of wizards milling about a graveyard, as the photographer seemed to focus on the sheet-draped form at the feet of a tombstone in the form of a Grim Reaper.

Sirius felt his heart freeze in his chest at the barely visible mop of unruly hair peaking out from under the sheet. He brushed a hand over the picture. Hermione's words coming back to him. 'I fought in a few skirmishes but it was a losing fight, there were too few left to stand for the light and with our leader and Harry dead; there was nothing to hold it together.'

Remus had been right, hearing about what had happened in Hermione's time—what could very likely see come to pass was entirely different than being faced with the proof he could see and touch for himself. Dropping his hand from the photo of Harry he turned away from the wall, he didn't want to see anymore.

Finding the book only took a few minutes and he soon found himself turning the lights off and leaving the room and its wall behind.

Hermione flipped through the book Sirius had brought her, 'Potions Guide to Surviving the Extreme'. She had come a long way from her lessons, learning to read Russian from Halt and the scraps of newspaper on the Island.

"Ah-ha," she said finding the potion she was looking for, "The potion of water breathing." Skimming over the uses she found that it would do what she needed, allow her lungs to draw out oxygen from the water and then exhale the water without drowning. The only problem was, that the potion would only last 20 minutes, she was going to have at least three doses total to get her through the hour.

To top it off, this was an extremely complex potion, far above anything she had tried before and the brewing would take a fortnight; she would have one chance to get it done right, because there would not be enough time for a second attempt. The Second Task was in eighteen days. She was going to need a proper place to brew and Myrtle's bathroom just wasn't going to cut it this time.

"This is not going to work," she muttered before raising her hand to knock on the door, she had spent the last five minutes standing in front of, debating if it was even worth even coming all the way down to the dungeons. There was no way he was going to let her use the lab space after what he had to deal with for the last month for simply allowing her to run with him.

"Enter!" Hermione entered the office to find Snape seated at his desk working through a stack of papers. He glanced up at her entrance before turning his focus back on his papers. "What do you want, Granger?"

"I have a special project, a rather time-sensitive potion; I have all the ingredients and I was wondering if I might be able to come in and use the classroom lab to work on it after class," she said shifting her bag on her shoulder.

Snape was silent as he finished off writing corrections on his current paper before setting his quill aside. Elbows propped on the desk he laced his fingers together, chin resting on his folded hands as he eyed her critically.

"What sort of 'special project' would this be?" he questioned, curious to what the little Gryffindor was up to.

"Potion of Waterbreathing," she replied, the flap of her satchel moved and she clamped a hand over it to keep it closed.

"Ah," he said a smirk pulling at the corner of his lips as he leaned back in his chair. "A time-sensitive project, indeed."

"I am not asking for help with my Task, so not breaking any rules," she stated folding her arms over her chest in a huff at the look, he was giving her, "I just need a proper place to brew or I'll be forced to do it in one of the deserted bathrooms; which isn't ideal for brewing and dealing with a moping ghost."

"Of course you aren't," he said smugly before picking his quill back up and continuing his work, "You may use the lab from 7 to 9 o'clock in the evening, if your potion needs other arrangements then something can be arranged at a later time. Any supplies you must proving yourself, I am not your personal ingredients shop."

"Yes, sir," she said a released smile pulling at her lips even as she clamped her hands back on the lid of her bag, holding it closed as something wiggled inside. "Thank you, Sir."

"Was there something else?" he asked after a moment, when she made no move to leave.

"Ah, yes, I'd also like to apologize for all the trouble I caused you in the last month, I didn't mean for that to happen and I understand if you would rather prefer if I choose a different time to run when the weather clears," She said eyes drifting down to her shoes.

"You did nothing wrong," he finally set his current paper in the stack of his graded papers and drew another ungraded one in front of him. His quill scratched loudly against the parchment as he worked, "If you wish to continue your exercises at a different time, that is your decision."

Hermione looked up at this, "You mean, you wouldn't mind if I kept running with you?" she said a little shocked that he didn't take the opportunity he had been given to get rid of her intrusion into his mornings. Snape glanced up with a scowl, as if to say he wasn't about to repeat himself. "I'd like to keep to the same time if you really don't mind."

"Very well, now if you are quite done, then leave, I have better things to occupy my time with," he said waving her off.

"Yes, that was all, thank you again, Sir," she said grinning before turning to the door.

"Granger," his voice stopped her in the doorway, she turned to face him, curiosity written across her face.

"Leave the dragon in your dorm, when you come to work on your potion," he said pointing one long finger at her bag where the little Horntail was half hanging out, having managed to get his head and one wing free.

"Yes, Sir." she said trying to pry the dragon loose and stuff him back in the bag. Dracarys managed a glare toward the Potions Master, his tongue flicking out in a serpent fashion before he had been shoved back in the bag. "What has gotten into you?" she muttered holding her bag in her arms to keep it closed, as she exited the room.

Hermione looked around the Potions Master's private lab. It was dark and not just because it was a windowless dungeon room, but even the cabinets and work tops where made from a selection of dark wood and stone. The only light in the room came from a lit burner under a bubbling cauldron and a number of glass fixtures set into the walls at regular intervals filled with a heatless white flame. The walls were lined with shelves of the same dark wood as the cabinets and packed with row upon row of labeled bottles all laid out in an orderly fashion.

Despite being in the dungeons with the smell of brewing potions and warm white light from the flames on the wall, the room had an almost cozy feel to it. It was just as she remembered from her time spent brewing potions during her detention last year.

"You may use the work area over there." Snape said lighting more of the heatless white lights to up the room more. Hermione moved to unload her cauldron and ingredients on the indicated table. Her things laid out, she opened her Potions book to reread the instruction before she started. She could not afford to miss anything because she rushed to get started.

She was peeling and slicing a soggy looking root plant, when Snape walked over to check on her work, much like he did in class. Catching sight of the book she was using he moved closer and lifted one side so he could glimpse the cover before returning it to its usual position.

"Where did you get this book?" He hadn't been able to read the title but he recognized the cover, it wasn't a common book but most copies were magically translated ones and here full of mistranslations that could prove hazardous when brewing. This was an original in translated copy.

"I have a guardian, who deals in old and rare books, she sent it," she said adding the personally sliced root into the cauldron before checking the book for the next step.

"You read Russian?" he questioned watching her skim the words with her finger as she read.

"And French, some Latin too."

"You are living with a guardian, I wasn't aware your parents had died."

"They didn't, they just moved out of country, but I still wanted to finish my schooling here," she said moving to grab a jar of fluorescent fish eggs, "So when a friend they met while we were in France the summer before last said they were moving here, they came up with the plan to transfer my guardianship to her so I could stay here."

Snape seemed to ponder something for a while before he asked, "Who is your guardian?"

"Emma De Vincent, why, do you know her?" Hermione asked in false curiosity, she was beginning to get the feeling Snape was digging for information on 'Nemo'.

"No," he said before strolling back to his own work table. The news of Granger's guardian were news he had not known, not that that was odd, he did not delve into students not in his House's home lives. He still found the news interesting, Granger's attitude toward her school work and physical exercise had changed over the summer before her third year. Now he could place the possible cause of the change on her change in guardianship.

That was not what had caught his attention, though, there was a slim possibility that Granger's guardian was somehow connected to 'Nemo'. The girl had said she did not know the man but he obviously knew her, her guardian could be the variable that linked them together. He would have to look into the matter at a later time.

"What are those?" Hermione asked as she scaled the thin and delicate Histcarp fish. Scraping the scales into a pile she slid them onto the flat side of her blade, tipping them into her simmering blue potion. Stirring them in till they were evenly incorporated. Dusting her hands off she walked over to the long bench Snape was brewing at.

It had been a little over a week since she had started work on her potion and it was coming together nicely. There on the long work table were three small cauldrons simmering along on the long work benches, two seemed to be complete with a lid resting on top of each while Snape was finishing off the third.

"You tell me," he said curtly stepping back from the potion he had just finished. Hermione approached and peered into the first cauldron.

"Polyjuice Potion," she said immediately catching a whiff of the familiar mud like potion. Snape made a sound of affirmation and she moved on to the next. Lifting the lid revealed a clear odorless liquid.

"Is this Veritaserum?" she asked glancing up at him, Snape nodded.

"I had requested the Headmaster to use it to find out more about the person who entered you in the Tournament. Unfortunately, usage of it on a student is prohibited." Hermione opened her mouth to retort at that insinuation, "Don't try to deny it, I already know Black and Lupin are hiding things about him, even if Dumbledore is taking their word at face value. I also know that you have had contact with him, even if you do not recall it or want to admit to it." Hermione closed her mouth with a click and stared down at the potion. She got to sudden urge to take a sip and spill everything, just to see who he would react to the replies he got.

"You give that to me, you might not like what you find out," she said softly squashing the urge. She couldn't do that to him, if she failed and Voldemort was resurrected at the end of the school year he was going to have to take up the mantle of spy again.

He had told her himself that when working with Dumbledore the best way to avoid Voldemort from finding out Order secrets was not to tell him more than necessary. That way even under truth serum he could not divulge anything of importance. If the time came and he needed to know something important, she would use Nemo to do so, it was safest for both of them that way.

"What is this one, I don't recognize it?" she asked lifting the lid of the last cauldron.

"Amortentia, a powerful love potion," Snape said stepping closer and replacing the lid on the Veritaserum.

"It doesn't actually make you fall in love with someone, right?" she asked staring into the potion.

"A strong infatuation, magic can do many things but manufacturing real love is not one of them."

"It smells lovely," she mused inhaling the scent.

"It smell different to each person depending on what they find most attractive."

"Mmm I smell bittersweet chocolate and old leather from a well worn book or chair and," she paused and tried to decipher the last mix of smells, "sandalwood mixed with something else," she said unable to place the last smell that seemed to fit well with the sandalwood, she swore it was something she smelled recently but couldn't place where.

Snape moved to replace the lid on the cauldron but not before catching a whiff of the potion himself, it was always the same. It smelled of Lily, of sunshine and the flowers from the field behind her house they had played in as children and it smelled of cedar. Pausing in replacing the lid he caught something new; like rain charged with electricity as if just before a violent storm. The lid clattered loudly on the cauldron as he chose to ignore the new smell.

"If you are done with your potion work today then get your area cleaned up," he said moving to one of his storage shelves and pulling out a few ingredients the sixth years would need in brewing their antidote for Amortentia.

"Ron's not coming is he?" Hermione said looking over at Harry, Neville, Ginny, Fred and George as they had piled into the seats closest to the lake shore.

"I'm sure he's just running late." Harry said encouragingly.

"Yeah." She said tugging her sweater off and shivering as the cold February air hit her skin. The tank top and shorts wasn't near enough to keep her body heat in and she was soon shivering as she tugged off her shoes and socks, piling them all on the lake shore.

She knew Ron was still mad at her; she could feel his glare anytime she spoke to Malfoy in Potions but she hadn't thought he would blow off coming to the Task all together. Checking her watch it read 'On Time' Before placing it in her bag.

She had finished her potion right on time and had even enough to do a test run before the Task, a good thing too because she realized a flaw in her plan. The potion hat to be taken in three separate doses to last an hour, the first dose was easy enough but then she had been met with the problem of drinking a potion while under water without letting it mix with the water and render it useless.

She had to have Sirius make another run to her house but had managed to find a solution. Digging in a small bag she pulled out her folding knife that she stuck in her pocket. Then pulled out her wand holster and strapped it on her arm. Finally came her potions; the first was in a glass phial that would be drunk right before entering the water, the second and third were in plastic syringes that went into her pocket as well.

"Champions," Bagman called out with his magically enhanced voice, "you have one hour to recover what was stolen from you. The Second Task will begin on my whistle."

The whistle blew and Hermione popped the top on the phial and downed the potion. Tossing the container on her bag she entered the Lake. The water was freezing as she went in up to her knees, then waist before diving under. Taking a deep breath the potion seemed to be working fine and she began swimming deeper into the lake.

She caught a glimpse of Fleur among the long green weeds that grew along the steadily sloping lake bottom. Something suddenly gripped her leg with a sharp bite and Hermione stuck out with her other foot and smashing the heel of her other foot into the creatures head.

The Grindylow bared its teeth and disappeared into the weeds. To one side she could see the weeds thrashing violently. Curiosity getting the better of her she went to look, there was Fleur covered in the Grindylows as they bit at her arms and legs.

Despite not liking the girl Hermione pulled out her wand and cast a stunning spell on the creatures. She had used the same one during Lockhart's pixie incident in second year. The creatures froze and the blond girl tugged out of their grip, when she turned to see who had cast the spell she was met with green weeds drifting in the current.

Hermione pause further in the weeds an pulled out one of the syringes from her pocket, exhaling all the water from her mouth and pulled the cap off the instrument. She had removed the needle from the end before filling it and stuck the end in her mouth pushing down the plunger.

Swallowing the liquid she stuck the empty item back in her pocket and swam on further into the lake. Soon the singing of the Merfolk could be heard drifting up from further down. She entered the village to the sight of Krum struggling to free his Yule Ball date from the thick weed connecting her to a large statue.

Hermione was brought up short at the sight of Ron's red haired form bobbing with a blond girl that could only be a relative of Fleur. Pulling her knife she sliced through the weed freeing her friend. Grabbing Ron by the arm she started to haul him upwards and caught sight of Fleur entering the village as Krum was still working on freeing his hostage.

Pausing to take another dose of the potion as they passed through the green field of weeds again. Up ahead she could see Cedric with Cho Chang swimming for the surface. Her body had long gone numb from the frigid water, all the same she still felt a cold shiver run up her spine as shadows began to move in the grass.

Swimming fast she saw Cedric break the surface and was closeing the gap when something grabbed both of her legs. Looking down she saw two Grindylows attached to her legs but that isn't what made her heart freeze. A large creature emerged from the weeds below; it's body was scaled and long with a mouth of sharp teeth and a flat beaver like tail.

'Afanc,' her mind supplied as the Grindylows gave another painful bite to her calf. Using all her strength she shoved Ron toward the surface and pulled out her wand and knife. She blasted the two off her legs but another her attached itself to her wand arm. Her struggle with the small creatures seemed to have caught the Afanc's attention and it began swimming closer. Sticking her knife in the creature on her arm she pried it off and pushed it in the direction of the Afanc, it snapped up the Grindylow greedily and moved toward Hermione. Swatting away more of the small creatures as they swarmed her and slowed her down she cast the immobilizing spell again and hoped the Afanc would be more interested in the easy meal than chasing her as she swam up to the surface.

The crowd cheered as she broke the surface and rushed to get on land, Ron was already bundled in blankets when she pulled herself onto shore. The pair stared at each other shivering as Pomfrey piled blankets on Hermione.

"Hi Ron." She said curly hair plaster to her head.

"Hi Hermione." Ron said teeth chattering before he gave a small smile, "lovely day for a swim." they stared at each other for a tense moment before bursting into laughter that was abruptly silenced by a round of sneezes. A lovely day indeed.

Chapter Text

Mysterious, that's what I call You

I'm Curious about You

I'm scared and not sure that You are safe

But your eyes seem to say that your are good.

This is not a dream that I'm living

This is just a world of Your own

You took me from all that I know

Shown me how it feels to hope.

With you with me, facing tomorrow

Together I can learn to fly

Feels like I'm living in the lion's mouth

but the lion angel

-Lion, Rebecca St James

Chapter 20: Living In The Lion's Mouth

April 1995-Hogwarts

Ron and Hermione where once again talking after the Second Task rescue. Their friendship was still strained but Ron seemed content to simply turn a blind eye to her friendship with Malfoy and Hermione was content to let the matter rest.

As February turned into March and then April; the weather began to warm and the cold snow became warm spring rains.

With no clue for the next Task she was left to focus on looking into other subjects; like finding out more on the Ring and Diary. One Evening while she had been up late sneaking into the restricted section, she spotted something curious on the Map. She had left it propped up in her work space as she looked through books. 'Rita Skeeter's label could be seen leaving the grounds. Picking up the Map to get a better look she watched as the woman's marker disappeared out of range of the Map's magic.

It was suspicious seeing as she was sure Dumbledore had banned the woman from the grounds. She was going to have to keep an eye out for how the woman was slipping in. It took another three weeks but eventually she spotted the Reporter on the Map again when checking the item after her last class of the day. She arrived to dinner late that evening but with a satisfied look on her face. Eating quickly she gathered her things to leave before she was stopped by Ginny.

"Hey, Hermione what's the rush?" She asked as the older girl grabbed her bag, half a roll shoved in her mouth.

"I need to talk to someone then check out something in the library, don't wait up." She said heading out the door of the Great Hall. She was still chewing on the remains of her roll and licking the melted butter from her fingers when she approached the door she wanted. Raising her hand to knock she paused at the sound of raised voices. She was contemplating coming back later when the door was thrown open roughly by Snape. Karkaroff and Snape turned and looked at the girl, one hand raised to knock the other with two fingers in her mouth as she cleaned them of butter, cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk. Karkaroff violently tugged down his sleeve and stormed out of the room, pushing past Hermione who had to restrain herself from kicking the man in the back of the knee for the action. Wiping her hands on her robe and swallowing her mouthful she looked back at Snape.

"Is this a bad time, I can come back."

Snape let out a sigh before gesturing her in. "What do you want now Granger?" He asked seeming uncharacteristically tired as he grabbed a nearly empty glass from his desk and drained it. She had a good guess that it wasn't pumpkin juice.

"I found something and thought you might want it." She said digging in her bag and pulling out a small jar. Holding it out for him to take. Snape walked over to her, empty glass dangling from his fingers as he took the jar with his other hand. Holding it up for closer in inspection, a common looking beetle scurried about the bottom.

"Don't tell me this is Malfoy again." He said looking over the Gryffindor. She shook her head as a rather unsettling grin pulled across her face.

"Rita Skeeter." She said flicking the glass side of the jar causing the beetle to run to the other side. This caught the Potion Master's attention as he took a closer look at the beetle and noted that the insect had markings on its body that looked a lot like Skeeter's unique glasses.

"Interesting," He said tilting the jar causing the bug to roll on its back and seemed tempted to shake the jar violently. "The Headmaster will be glad his security breach has been solved, an unregistered Animagus." He glanced over at the girl again remembering she was there.

"Thank you for bringing this to me Ms Granger, I will handle this for now."

"I caught her spying on me and was going to take her to Dumbledore or McGonagall but thought you might want to deal with her yourself."

"Very perceptive." He commented before setting the jar on his desk. "If that is all then you should be heading off, I'm sure you have homework to get done." Heading to the door she muttered a quiet goodnight before she was brought up short. "Granger, don't mention this to anyone if you haven't already. Until the Headmaster had dealt with it."

A few days later the papers where still quiet of Skeeter's illegal form or that she had been sneaking into the school after she had been banned. Though it seemed that she was still writing, after a few days she was publishing another article through bare of any mention of her or Snape. It would only mean something had been done to keep Rita in line.

Like the year before, one spring morning found Hermione receiving a note informing her that Snape would expect her to meet him at the usual spot for their morning run. When she walked up to him he seemed to brace himself for a barrage of questions. Obviously expecting her to demand answers on what had happened with Skeeter.

"Good morning Sir." She said stretching out her limbs before moving along their usual route. She paused and looked back as if to ask if he was coming, he seemed to realize she wasn't going to demand answers and moved to follow her and like that they were back to their normal routine.

The Final Task was approaching and the taller Hagrid's hedges grew the more Hermione's nerves began to fray. She had begun to obsessively check her watch when Harry was not in sight just to make sure he had not been snatched away even though she knew full well that it would chime should anything concerning him or Ron's location changed.

Things were made worse when Harry went to Sirius one afternoon with news that he had another dream of Voldemort. One where he was extremely pleased with the progress of some task he had set to his follower, the man he had seen over the summer. Sirius had said the man was Barty Crouch Jr the same man who had infiltrated Hogwarts at the beginning of the year as Mad-Eye Moody.

"How do you know all this? Does Dumbledore know what my dream means?" Harry asked as he sat in a conjured chair in Lupin's private chambers were Lupin was sitting tiredly in one chair, still recovering from one of his transformations.

"Yes Dumbledore know's about Crouch Jr and his aligns to You-Know-Who." Sirius said glancing at Lupin before continuing. "Harry there are some things you need to know, things concerning you. Dumbledore doesn't want you to know, but you need to be prepared."

"What is going?" Harry asked getting worried now.

"Our 'Friend', the one you saw over the Summer." Sirius said cautiously.

"The woman?" Harry asked recalling the woman who Remus had showed out of the house.

"Yes, but Harry you must not tell anyone about her. Dumbledore only knows her by name and we have led him to believe she is a man. You must not mention anything about her to him or anyone, do you understand?" Sirius said sternly, he wouldn't have told him that much but Harry needed to know some things and 'Nemo' was tied up in all of it.

"I understand." Harry said, feeling privileged seeing as Sirius was sharing information that not even Dumbledore knew.

"Her name is Nemo and she has been doing her best to protect you all year." Harry was confused by this so Sirius continued, "Your name was supposed to be the one to come out of the Goblet, not Hermione's. Nemo had tried to stop Crouch Jr from placing your name in, that was his mission here the one You-Know-Who set him to over the summer that you saw in your dream. Nemo entered Hermione instead in hopes that she might be chosen instead and keep you out of the Tournament."

"You mean Hermione was attacked because that woman put her name in to protect me!" Harry said angerly remembering how Hermione had been sent to the Hospital Wing with out much detail on what had happened other than she had been attacked. "Hermione shouldn't be risking her life in that Tournament just to protect me! She doesn't even want to be in it, she told me so before it happened."

"Harry, Harry calm down. Hermione can take care of herself that is why Nemo put her name in instead of one of the other students. There are much bigger things at play than you know." Remus said soothingly as Harry had begun to shout as the guilt of the situation hit him over Hermione situation and injuries. Harry calmed but only slightly.

"Nemo wanted to keep you out of the Tournament because You-Know-Who planned on using it to weaken you and then during the Third Task abduct you to use in a ritual to restore his power before killing you." Sirius said bringing Harry's attention back on him, he wasn't going to sugar-coat the news. Harry had to know the danger he was in was real, he couldn't allow that picture he had seen on Hermione's wall to come to pass. "She kept you out but You-Know-Who will definitely be tryingagain to take you before the last Task is over. Your dream only make it more clear that he had a plan in place. You need to be prepared."

"What am I supposed to do?" Harry asked, this wasn't his first death threat by the Dark Lord but the look in Sirius's eye was beginning to scare him.

"Nothing yet and hopefully you will not have too." Remus said pulling himself shakily to his feet and moving to Harry's seat and kneeling down beside the chair were he was more steady. "Dumbledore knows of the threat and he will be adding more security to the Task, Sirius and I will be with you the whole time. Nemo seems to think the ritual has a set time frame. If we can keep him from you till it is over, then the danger should pass."

"We are not trying to scare you, Harry." Sirius said seeing he may have been a little to blunt with the teen, leaving his chair and pulling Harry into a hug. "but if something does happen I want you to keep fighting no matter what, you hear me. Help will come, you just need to keep fighting."

"I will." Harry whispered.

"Hermione you need to eat your going to need all your energy." Ginny said as Hermione pushed her plate away, Ron moved to snag a piece of sausage but Ginny beat him to it and swatted his hand away. It was the morning of May twenty-fourth and Hermione's agitation was reaching a high point as the Third task was only hours away. They had their last exam of the year that morning before they would be free for the rest of the day.

"Come on, Mione. It's just nerves, I was the same way with my first Quidditch match. You've faced a dragon, this maze is going to be easy for you." Harry said pushing a bowl of jello toward her. "Try this at least."

Hermione accepted the bowl, he had no idea he was the cause of her nerves. She was going o be stuck in a maze were everything was going to be trying crush and eat her, while he was outside and despite his talents in defense class he was not nearly as ready as he needed to be for what was coming. She was going to have to trust Sirius and Lupin to look after him but even having known the men for two years she hated relinquishing the task to them. This was why she had come back and she couldn't even help.

"Ms Granger the Champion's will be meeting in the chamber off the Hall after breakfast."

"But Professor, I thought my Guardian wasn't available to come." She said knowing full well that she couldn't be two places at once and had sent an owl saying she was traveling for business and could not attend, her mail from home had been forwarded to her at Hogwarts along with her newspaper. There simply was no way to play Emma and Hermione at once; she had played with the idea of asking Sirius to take a Polyjuice Potion to change into her, he had the most free time after all but had discarded it. Sirius needed to stay himself and near Harry for the Task and when she suggested it he seemed eager to find out what it was like walking in her skin.

"What afraid I will pull off you better than you do?" Sirius had said when she had proposed the idea but dismissed it while they were coming up with ideas of how to handle the Final Task.

"I would be relying on the fact they don't know a thing about me therefore would not notice how unalike we are." She said with dead-panned expression. Sirius retaliated by strolling around the room in a rather feminine fashion, swishing his hips as he walked one hand propped on them before striking a model pose and moving as if swishing long hair over his shoulder as his own was barely brushing his shoulders.

"Look at me I'm Emma; I like books, knives and scaring the crap out of men since I was knee-high." He was met with Hermione's sneaker to his face. "Remus help me I'm wounded and need healing." His voice was still pitched high as he pretended to be Emma, throwing himself on the couch Remus was sitting on. His head hanging off the side of the couch as he draped himself dramatically over Remus's lap.

Remus, used to Sirius's more dramatic quirks, did not even bat an eye as he got a lap full of grown man. Merely readjusting himself so that his tea was out of range of being knocked over by Sirius's flailing arms. Hermione through her other shoe at him.

It was with that memory in mind that she made her way to the side chamber half expecting Sirius to have stolen some of her hair to mess with her but she was pleasantly surprised to see Molly Weasley, Bill and a woman she did not recognize.

"Surprise," Molly said coming to give her a hug.

"Mrs Weasley what are you doing here?" She asked returning the hug.

"Remus wrote us saying your parents and guardian could not make it so I wrote McGonagall and asked if we could come in their stead."

"Wow, thanks." she said not having thought she could call in another family to come. Her attention drifted to the woman holding on to Bill's arm; she wasn't overly pretty with short black hair and a heart shaped face. She was rather common and definitely did not have near the stunning looks of Fluer who was eyeing Bill over her mother's shoulder.

"Charlie and dad wanted to come as well but couldn't get time off. I hope you don't mind I brought my girlfriend. She was really excited when she heard mom and I were coming to see the last Task of the Tournament."

"Hello." The woman said still attached to Bill's arm, her voice was almost unbearably high in pitch it sounded forced and Hermione had to wonder if she was doing it on purpose just to grate on the nerves of those around her.

"Hermione this is Jessica Bradbury my girlfriend." Bill introduced, "Jess this is Hermione Granger, she's a friend of my youngest brother and the youngest Triwizard Champion. Charlie said her fight with the dragon was something for the history books."

"Wow you must be really talented to be chosen to compete in such a dangerous tournament." Jessica said a smile crossing her face but something in her eyes made Hermione not like the woman.

"Well come along dear why don't you give us a tour and tell us how you have been." The four spent much of the remainder of the day touring the school and even Molly was beginning to notice how much the girl was checking the pocket watch she carried.

"Don't worry everything is going to be fine." the older woman said when it was time for Hermione to leave and head down to the maze, she gave her a hug. "We will be in the stands cheering you on the whole time."

The Third Task was finally begun, Cedric had entered and Hermione was waiting for her turn to enter. Krum would be following her and then Fleur. Glancing at the crowd she saw the attending Weasley's, Sirius, Remus and Bill's girlfriend all cheering for her as the cannon sounded and she was given the signal to enter the maze. Stepping in the path behind her became blocked as the hedge moved to cover the entrance.

Casting her Patronus she moved deeper into the made, the light from her otter was not as bright as a Lumos but it was constant and allowed her to keep the light even when using her wand for other spells and was a good way of scouting ahead for any dangers.

"Oh come on Hagrid why could you not take-up crossing cute creatures like bunnies or kittens." Hermione wined as she dodged the scorpion like tail of a massive Skrewt Hagrid had managed to grow to over ten-feet long. She had run into a few spells blocking her path that she had to counter in order to pass through but this was the first of what was sure to be a number of creatures she would encountered. Rolling under the creatures legs she ran down the path and turned down a few more corridors till she was sure it had lost interest. Fluer and Krum had long since joined her and Cedric in the maze but she had yet to see more than a passing glance of them.

Suddenly something large and grey beast burst out of a hedge and Hermione's flight reflex kicked in and she ran throwing hexs over her shoulder but none seemed to effect the beast behind her. It passed into the hedge wall like a stone in water, ripples in the leaves the only sign of its passing. She slowed and turned in a circle watching the walls like it was an ocean with shark just waiting under the surface. The corridor was silent save for her breathing as she waited for something to move.

A hulking form burst out of the hedge above her and she rolled out of the way as the Were-brid slammed into the ground, claws scrapping trenches in the dirt as it slid. It spun, it's on her yellow eyes glaring as it laughed it's yipping laughter. It was a Boggart, she realized feeling stupid for not realizing it sooner; of course there would not be any of those creatures here and Halt least of all. Halt was far from the Island and Fowl was dead.

"Ridiculous," She cast and the Were-brid turned into a puppy that was sent rolling into a hedge as it tripped over it's over sized paws. Laughing at it as she checked her watch before casting the Point-Me spell to check her direction and headed toward the center of the maze. Turning down half a dozen more of the identical corridors before a large feline creature stepped out of the hedge wall and began pacing the width of the path.

"You are are still far from your goal but closer still you will be if you get past me." the Sphinx purred out her tail flicking back an forth behind her.

"Stand aside." Hermione said, the creature did not seem to be hostile but blocked her path all the same.

"I can not." she said seating herself before the Witch. "Answer my riddle then you may past, fail and I eat you bones and all."

"Lovely," Hermione said with a sigh. "Alright what is your riddle."

'Who makes it, has no need of it.
Who buys it, has no use for it.
Who uses it can neither see nor feel it.

What is it?'

"Something made and bought but used by only those who can not see or feel." she muttered pondering the riddle before looking up at the feline. "A coffin."

The sphinx was quiet for a long moment before she stood and stepped aside. She had turned on another long corridor that looked identical to the one she had just been on the hedges around her were towering and silent, the grass under her feet muffled the sound of her footsteps as she moved. She felt something watching her but could see nothing in the light of her otter as it circled her when her watch gave an shriek causing Hermione's heart to nearly stop as she fumbled to pull it out.

The small green hand had moved to 'Mortal Danger' before jumping to 'Unknown', it jumped between the two points as if it could not decide were to be. Hermione cursed at the sight when something caught her attention reflected in the open lid of the watch. A pair of red eye glowing in the grassy turf behind her, it was a Scrunt. A wolf-like creature with venomous fangs and claw and fur the consistency of grass. It could make its body lay nearly completely flat allowing it to disguise itself as a lump in the grass. the only sure way to spot it while it was hidden was that its glowing red eyes show up in reflective surfaces.

Holding her wand to the sky she sent of red spark, Dumbledore had said if they wanted to leave at any time or could no longer continue they could send up the sparks and one of the patrolling teacher's could come and pick them up. She needed to get out, Harry was in danger. The Scrunt growled as Hermione turned to face it, the corridor appeared empty. She turned her back to it again and held up the watch and saw the two eyes looking back at her, with a deep breath she spun sending an Incendio at the place she thought the creature to be. It howled and leapt out of hiding as the flames scorched its flank; snarling it stood to its full height, it was nearly as tall as a Were-brid and charged her.

She dodged and fired another Incendio sending it flying back into one of the hedges its tail and flank on fire as it ran off. Moving to grab her watch were it had fallen on the ground she felt a sting in her leg. Coaxing her otter closer she saw the Scrunt had caught her in the thigh with one of its claws, it wasn't deep but the venom in its claws could be dangerous if not fatal if it is not properly treated. Ripping a piece off her under shirt she tied off the wound and pulled her robes back down over it hiding the bandage.

She was stashing the watch away when a figure approached on a broom, holding her leg as it had begun to burn she made her way to the figure.

"Done already Granger," Snape said, he had been the closest teacher; half their group had been divided between brooms and patrolling the ends of the maze. At the sight of the red sparks he had come to retrieve whatever Champion had called for aid, he was surprised to see Granger was the first to retire from the Tournament. "Are you injured?" he asked watching her hold her leg, the ground around them was scorched and burned lit by the otter Patronus floating around them; it twisted around his head before sliding down the broom shaft as he dismounted.

"Just a cut, it was a Scrunt and-." Her watch gave another shrill alarm, she pulled it out and looked at it. Harry's arrow was steady on 'Mortal Danger'. "Harry's in trouble!" she said the shaking in her voice betraying her fear.

"Isn't he always, come on then if you want out of here." he said remounting his broom, she seemed well enough to fly so he would not have to take the time of levitating her out. Hermione hesitated in climbing on the broom, she glanced at the watch and put it back in her pocket.

"The things I do for you, Harry," she darkly muttered before climbing on and her otter disappearing suddenly, Snape heard her and scoffed.

"If you rather walk out on your own you are more than welcome." He said bitingly misinterpreting her hesitation, only for her to practically attach herself to his person the moment they left the ground. "Kindly loosen your grip, Granger." He snapped as the arms wrapped around him tightened even more.

"With the utmost respect Sir, No!" Her muffled voice came from were she had buried her face in his back. He was going to demand she release him when he realized he could feel her shaking slightly through her grip and something seemed to click into place. He had never in all the times Potter and his friends had gone flying seen her do more than sit in the stands.

"You're not afraid of flying are you?" He asked turning in his seat to get a better look at her.

"Eyes on the road-sky-front! Look were you're going dammit!" She shrieked even though nothing in their flight path over the maze had changed with his altered attention.

"I asked you a question, Ms Granger." He said not turning back to the front as she pulled her face from his robe and glared at him in panic

"No." she denied even though her voice was pitched considerably higher than usual. Snape raised a brow at her as if to say 'Oh really?' right before allowing the broom to do a slight sudden drop in altitude. Hermione squeaked tightening her arms around him and even going so far as to throwing her uninjured leg around him as well. To any outside observer it would look as if Snape was riding a broom with a Hermione shaped tick attached to his back as she was more being held on by her grip on the Potions Master than actually sitting on the broom.

"Yes, yes alright." She said reburying her face in his back. "Just don't do that again, please."

"Let me be able to breath freely again and I will." He gasped out grabbing her ankle with one hand and unwrapping it from his waist. Hermione reluctantly loosened her grip but only slightly. She mumbled something that sounded awfully like, 'Stupid Ass' but he could not be sure so let her be. They landed soon after and Hermione practically jumped off the broom. Running to the crowd were she had last seen her friends she saw the adults of the group where talking off to one side of the stands. Completely bypassing her school friends and limping up to the adults.

"Hermione dear are you-"

"I need to go to the Hospital Wing," She said cutting the woman off and looking from Remus to Sirius pointedly.

"I'll take her." Remus said quickly taking her arm and leading her off toward the castle before anyone could say more. Behind them they could heard Molly saying that Pomfrey was by the announcer stand, but her calls were ignored.

"How?" Was all she asked as they changed course to the Whomping Willow.

"Jessica, one minute she was showing Harry an item as he sat beside me waiting for news from the maze and the next they was gone. It had to have been a Portkey. I was so stupid to simply trust her but we were right there and Bill said he had been dating her for months. I even asked some questions to see if she had been acting strange recently but Bill had said no, either she was working for You-Know-Who all along or whoever has been controlling her has been doing so from the beginning."

"You remember the plan?" She asked, Lupin nodded as he prodded the knot on the tree to still it.

"Don't worry we will cover everything on this end. Sirius will keep everyone focused away from you and bring Dumbledore to the meeting place when you get back. You just worry about getting Harry back here." He said as they slipped in the tunnel and into the shack were Hermione pulled off her Champion robes and pulled on her leather jacket and voice altering necklace. "Are you sure I can not come with you?"

"No." She said slipping out of one of the lower windows were the boards had been loosened. "I don't know what condition I will be when I getting back but I will probably need you here to get be back up to the castle." She slipped out of the Shack and Apparated away with a crack.

Arriving at the Riddle home Hermione stumbled as she landed before throwing herself on all fours in her Animagus form, she would move faster in it. The Cemetery Harry had been taken to and killed in her time had been near the Riddle home, she had heard about it while she had been digging up information about Riddle. Even now as she ran she could hear raised voices and flashing lights of spells.

"Harry Potter, you face me when I kill you! I want to see the light leave your eyes when you die." Nemo snarled even as she moved to run faster, the cut on her leg bleeding freely in this form as she pushed herself to ignore the pain. Slowing just enough to take stock of the situation she saw a pale figure blasting chunks off a large tomb stone, she could make out a figure huddled behind it. Around the pale figure of Voldemort was his inner circle of Death Eaters all of whom had their masks removed. Crabbe and Goyle's fathers were there as was Lucius Malfoy and a number of Wizards she did not recognize, but there was one there that she did. Barty Jr was there as well, stripped down to his trousers the discarded clothes of Jessica in a heap to one side. His chest was decorated in Azkaban tattoos and the Dark Mark stood out against the flesh of his inner left arm. His right arm was bleeding freely as it looked as if he had skinned the inside of his own arm judging by the knife in his hand.

Barty Jr was grinning like a mad man as he he watch Voldemort taunt Harry into fighting him. Nemo snarled drawing the attention of the Death Eaters as the mountain lion ran at them, with a roar she jumped on a tombstone and onto Barty Crouch Jr. Before he could react she had sunk her teeth into his throat, her knife-like fangs sliced through flesh and muscle, crushing his windpipe and severing the artery there. Spells were thrown her way but Nemo jumped away, releasing Barty Jr a to bleed out her muzzle and neck covered in his blood as she snarled at the one who had been closest to hitting her. Lucius backed off slightly as she hissed at him; her ears flat to her skull as lips pulled back from sharp white fangs, fresh blood dripped off her face

"Stop, stop." Voldemort called in his soft spoken voice that demanded obedience from all. "What have we here? Do go on and show yourself, I do not bite." He laughed at his own words as he nudged Barty Jr in the face with one bare foot, tsking at the mess she had made of his neck. "Though it appears you do, such a waist I had high hopes for that one. Oh well."

Nemo snarled at him moving slowly till she was between him and where she had last seen Harry before shifting back into human form. she was quire the intimidating sight in her dark pant and leather hooded jacket, blood coating her mouth and neck as did her ripped pant leg and the bandage on it

"Ah there you are, and who might you be?" Hermione ignored him and called over her shoulder, her voice indistinguishable as male or female.

"Harry are you there," there was a pause were she thought she may have been to late before Harry's voice replied from behind the grim reaper tombstone.

"Yeah." Hermione let out a sigh of relief, before focusing on the threat before her. Her element of surprise was gone now and she was out numbered.

"I am sorry I don't have time to talk your Lordship; but you know how it is, place to go people to save." She said in a mock bravado, her leg was burning now and things were beginning to loose focus as the venom spread. "Bombarda!" She cast as the ground before her and a number of tombstones around her blasting stone, dust and dirt flying up in a cloud as she darted behind the stone Harry was hiding.

"Follow me!" she hissed out grabbing his arm and dragging him after her curses were sent out randomly from the dust cloud, Harry tripped a few time holding one of his arms close to his chest as if shielding it. Finding a more sheltered place was the dust began to clear she pulled out a device from her jacket. Setting the Omniocular to record she zoomed in on Voldemort as he screamed at one of the Death Eaters she did not recognize. The others were still shadow forms in the dust, she would have liked to get a look at some of the others but they were running out of time. Stuffing the device back in her jacket she fired another spell to cause another dust cloud before turning to face Harry. "We are leaving." tightening her grip on him she Disapparated with a crack.

"You are sure about this Sirius?" Dumbledore asked as the group of three walked out of the school grounds. when Harry had been confirmed missing after Dumbledore had ordered a search of the ground around the maze and he had finally listened to Sirius that they would find him in Hogsmeade. Snape had come along as well, Granger's worry that Potter was in trouble had proven true. Now they needed to locate Potter before he got himself into more trouble or worse. The three arrived outside the Shrieking Shack but the area was barren of Harry or anyone else for that matter.

"There is know one here Black, your just wasting our time." Snape said making an open arm sweep at the path outside the Shack.

"He will be here." Sirius snapped back. They were kept from breaking out into a full argument by a loud crack. Two figures appeared at the end of the path, the shorter one stumbled forward clutching their arm to their chest while the taller one stumbled and fell to one knee.

"Sirius," Harry gasped stumbling into the man's arms. "He's back. Voldemort's back."

"Shh it's okay Harry," Sirius soothed taking off his jacket and draping it around the boy's shoulders before pulling him back into a hug. "You're safe now."

The other figure stood on shaky legs, blood coating what was visible of the lower part of their face, and front of their jacket. Slipping their wand up their sleeve out of sight.

"Nemo I presume." Dumbledore asked, when he got no answer from the figure he turned to Snape who nodded. Nemo pulled something out of their jacket pocket and tossed it at Dumbledore's feet. Dumbledore picked it up and turned the Omniocular over in his hands. "What is this?"

"You will need proof that he is back." Nemo said turning to leave, "That should be enough proof."

"Thank you," Sirius said looking at her over Harry's shoulder giving her a pointed look. "I'm going to take him up to Madame Pomfrey." The I will see you there was unspoken but implied as he turned and headed up to the school. Nemo simply turned away, shifting into her scared lion form she looked over the four before running off into the forest. She had not wanted to show this part of her abilities but Harry was sure to tell them and she could move easier on four than two with her leg injured.

Moving through the forest and back to the loose board in the first floor window at the back of the Shack, she shifted back and climbed through. Remus rushed over as she slipped in falling to the floor covered in blood.

"Hermione are you alright?" He asked pulling her hood off to get a to get a look at her face.

"I need to get back." she said pushing him back and trying to stand but her leg would not hold her any longer and she fell. Pulling at the make shift bandage on her leg she pulled the blood crusted cloth off. The cut in her leg was inflamed and streaks of black and green were spreading out from the wound, if she did not get an antidote for the venom soon things were not going to end well.

"Here let me." Remus said casting a cleaning charm on her to get all the blood of and helped her out of her jacket, redressing her in the Champion's robes. Hermione recast her glamours with some difficulty before Remus picked her up and took her back to the school. He was sure to get an earful for not bringing her in sooner but Harry was safe and alive, he had seen so from the window of the shack.

Chapter Text

Dreaming of the day when you wake up and find,

that what you're looking for has been here the whole time.

If you could see, that I'm the one who understands you.

Been here all along.

So, why can't you see you belong with me.

-You Belong With Me, Taylor Swift

Chapter 21: Dreaming Of The Day When You Wake Up And Find, What You're Looking For Has Been Here The Whole Time.

May 24th 1995-Hogwarts

Snape poured himself another drink, after the day's events he needed it. The morning had started out pleasant enough, with no classes to teach and no papers to grade the morning was quiet. He had not met Granger for their morning run, as she was going to be preparing for her Final Exam in History of Magic and meeting up with her guardian. He had been looking forward to getting a look at her new guardian, the one he suspected was in close connection to the illusive Nemo.

He had been confused when he spotted Minerva leading the Champion's families to a chamber off the Great Hall; among the group was the Weasley matriarch, her eldest son and a woman he didn't recognize, on the male Weasley's arm. His first impression of Emma De Vincent was that she was a very unimpressive specimen of the female gender.

"Why are the Weasleys here?" he questioned Minerva as she left the chamber to return to the Great Hall to inform the Champions where they were expected to meet.

"Mrs Weasley heard from Mr. Lupin that Ms. Granger's parents were out of the country," the stern-faced witch said pausing in the door of the Great Hall to scan the breakfast crowd. "Her local guardian could not make it as well due to work travels; when Molly heard this, she asked, if she and her family could come and support Ms. Granger in her parent's stead. Now, if you will excuse me, Severus, I am rather busy at the moment." the witch hurried off toward the Bulgarian Champion, as Severus made his way up to the teachers table.

Once he was contentedly seated with his third cup of coffee for the day, his first two having been enjoyed in the comfort of his private rooms, he glanced around the room. His gaze automatically went to the green and silver table, checking over the serpents under his care. Most seemed to be chatting excitedly over the upcoming Task, Draco, he noted was in deep conversation with the Nott boy.

Picking up his fork gruffly in response to a burning itch that had been creeping up his left forearm. As the days passed it was becoming harder and harder to ignore, he did not have to look at it to know it was darker now than it had been a week ago. He was half way through his breakfast, when he finally gave in and discretely scratched at the Dark Mark under the cover of the table. Glancing over at the red and gold table he saw the Weasley girl smacking her brother with a warning look before Potter passed a bowl of something green toward the curly-haired girl. Granger picked at the food until Minerva came to speak with her, before abandoning the food altogether to leave the Hall.

The rest of the day passed in a blur of activity as Exams ended and finally everyone was heading out to the Quidditch pitch; now a rather extravagant and dangerous maze. Severus found himself along with Hooch and Vector, hovering over the maze as the Champions entered. Things were quiet until he was nearly knocked from his broom by a sudden flare of pain, burning up his inner left arm; pulling up his sleeve revealed the Dark Mark red and inflamed from his scratching and looking nearly as fresh as the day he got it. Something had happened, he needed to get to Dumbledore right away, but he could not simply abandon his post without raising suspicions. His excuse arrived in the form of a shower of red sparks a short distance away. He waved Vector off when she approached, in a gesture that he would check this one out. If he was lucky, he could escort whoever needed aid out and speak to Dumbledore without drawing unneeded attention.

Landing, he found a rumpled Granger standing in an empty corridor of the maze, sections of the hedge wall and grass path was charred and smoking from what looked like an Incendio.

"Done already, Granger?" he said, slightly surprised; he had not expected her to have been the first person to retire from the Tournament. His eyes followed a glowing otter, as it drifted toward him, it floated by, rolling, as if on an invisible river. Drifting up around his head, it playfully swatted at his hair with one paw before diving with a flip of its tail, sliding on its back down the length of his broom. Looking back to the Gryffindor, he noticed that she was favoring her left leg, when she caught his staring, she released her grip on her leg and busied herself with stowing her wand in her arm holster. "Are you injured?"

"Just a cut," she said dismissively, her voice lowering as she continued, "it was a Scrunt and—" Whatever she had been going to say was cut off by a shrill sound and the girl's hand dove for her pocket, as she pulled out a pocket watch he recognize seein her check regularly during their runs in the morning.

"Harry's in trouble," she said, fear lasing into her words, as she looked down into the watch-face.

"Isn't he always," Severus scoffed at the statement before gesturing the girl over as he remounted his broom, she seemed well enough to fly and he needed to get to Dumbledore. "Come on, then, if you want out of here." Granger moved toward him, but hesitated, looking from the watch to himself and back at the watch, she seemed to visibly steel herself before returning the watch to the pocket of her robe.

"The things I do for you, Harry," he heard her mutter darkly, as she climbed on the broom behind him.

"If you would rather walk out on your own you are more than welcome," he snapped out bitingly, he knew he was no ones first option of riding partner, but he had not expected such remarks from the girl who had seemed so relieved when he had not banned her from running with him in the morning. She gave no reply, only settled herself behind him on the broom and he kicked off without any further delay. He had had not expected her next reaction, as her hands that had just been gripping the loose folds of the back of his robes suddenly wrapped around his waist. He could feel her face buried in-between his shoulders, as she held on to him.

"Kindly loosen your grip, Granger," he snapped out, her grip on him was tight, and it was beginning to restrict his ability to breath freely. His words only seemed to cause her to tighten her grip further.

"With the utmost respect, Sir, No!" her muffled voice came from where she had buried her face in his back. He opened his mouth to demand she release him, when he realized he could feel her body shaking slightly through her grip on him. Something seemed to click into place, as he took in her reaction. Thinking back now, anytime he had seen Potter and his group of friends out flying on the grounds, he had never seen her do more than sit in the stands if she showed up at all. It had never occurred to him that the girl clever enough to get past his logic puzzle at age eleven, and brave enough to battle a full-grown brooding she-dragon into submission was scared of something as commonplace as flying on a broom.

"You're not afraid of flying, are you?" he asked curiously, turning in his seat to get a better look at her, but due to her attachment to his back he couldn't see much more than her hair and robes blowing in the wind, as they flew over the tops of the hedges. Her shrieks and cursing for him to keep his attention fixed ahead were enough to confirm his suspicions but she had yet to answer him and that simply would not do.

"I asked you a question, Ms Granger," he said, getting more than a little amusement out of her outright denial up until he caused the broom to do a measured drop and she practically attached herself to him. She finally admitted her fear and he began to feel slightly guilty, when she begged him not to do anymore sudden drops again.

"Let me be able to breath freely again and I will," he gasped out grabbing the ankle of the leg she had thrown over his lap with one hand and unwrapped it from himself. Granger reluctantly loosened her grip but only slightly and they continued on steadily toward the edge of the maze. Through his back he could feel the vibrations of her talking but could only make out a few words of her mumbling. 'Stupid Ass' being the most clear of what was sure to be a long list of insults. He let her be and they soon landed on the grassy lawn before the maze and the stands.

Granger practically flew from the broom, as if it were on fire and darted toward Molly, Bill, Lupin and Black who were all talking to one side. He noted that she was limping slightly, recalling she had said something about a cut, but put it out of his mind as unimportant at the moment. He had more pressing matters to attend to, as he went to seek out the Headmaster at the announcers stand.

"Headmaster," he said coming up beside the older wizard.

"Ah Severus, what news from the maze?"

"Granger called to be pulled out." Dumbledore nodded in acknowledgement before making the announcement to the crowd that they were down to three Champions.

"Where is she, is she injured?" Pomfrey asked, having been standing nearby and looked around for the girl.

"She's headed up to the school with Remus," a red-faced Molly said coming over with a distraught looking Bill and Black.

"Why on earth is she heading there?" Poppy asked confused.

"Looking for you I expect," Molly stated irritably, "I told her, you were here, but she was gone so fast I don't think she heard me."

"Well, I better get up there."

"It might be best if you wait here, Poppy, for the other Champions. If she is well enough to go running off she can't be too injured, and Remus has been in your care enough times to have picked up some healing knowledge to look after things till you get there. If anything serious comes up, he will send word, when he realizes you are not there if he needs help."

"Headmaster, there is a problem—" Snape cut in before Dumbledore could ramble more, he had to be warned about his Mark.

"—Harry is missing!" Black hissed at the same time.

"Potter's gone?" Severus questioned remembering Granger's statement that Potter was in danger, when she had checked that enchanted watch of hers. She had thrown the Tournament because she knew Potter was in danger. She must have gone to tell Lupin about it, but why she had not simply stopped and talked to Black or Dumbledore, he did not know, and he had no time to ponder over what the girl was doing. Sensing this was not a conversation for the public to overhear, Dumbledore moved the group to a secluded spot near the base of the announcer stand.

"She wouldn't have done this," Bill spoke up, his face creased with worry. "She must be under the Imperius or something."

"Who are you going on about, Weasley?"

"My girlfriend, Jess, she was with Harry one minute and gone the next. It must have been a Portkey, but I swear she wouldn't have done this. She must be being controlled or something."

"If Harry is missing, then finding him is our first priority," Dumbledore said gravely, despite their increased security Harry had still managed to be abducted.

"There is more, Headmaster," Snape cut in, unbuttoning his sleeve, the others of the group were aware of his status as former Death Eater and so he went ahead with rolling up his sleeve. The Dark Mark was bold and dark against the pale skin of his arm. "He's back."

Molly and Bill visibly flinched away from him at the sight of the mark.

"He'll be in Hogsmeade," Black muttered like a prayer, eyes glued to the mark "He'll be in Hogsmeade."

"Who will?" Dumbledore questioned, as Snape rolled his sleeve back down.

"Harry," Black said. The crowd suddenly went up in a cheer, as one of the Champions appeared on the lawn before the maze, Triwizard Cup in hand and holding it aloft. The crowd went wild, Cedric Diggory had won the Tournament.

"You're sure he is there."

"If he is alive, he will be there," Sirius said adamantly, "If not—he promised—he'll—he'll be there." The man trailed off and Dumbledore nodded in understanding and jumped into action; the winner was officially announced and the teachers were sent to collect the other Champions from the maze. The crowd was pouring out of the stands to celebrate, as the other Champions arrived. The Headmaster sent Poppy, Molly, and Bill up to the school to wait as he, Sirius and Severus went to Hogsmeade to find Harry. If he wasn't there, he would send a Patronus and Minerva would start assembling a search party to look while Molly contacted Arthur and the Ministry for aid.

"You are sure about this, Sirius?" Dumbledore asked, as the group of three walked out of the school grounds. Sirius had been silent the whole walk down from the school and at the Headmaster's question he only nodded his head, as he scanned the streets for any sign of his godson.

"There is no one here, Black, you're just wasting our time," Snape said making an open-arm sweep at the path outside the Shrieking Shack, as they had passed through the whole village without a sign of the boy.

"He will be here," Sirius snapped back, Severus was prevented from commenting further by the loud crack of Apparation not far from them. Snape pulled his wand on reflex, as two figures appeared at the end of the path, the shorter one stumbled forward clutching their arm to their chest, while the taller one stumbled and fell to one knee.

"Sirius," Harry gasped stumbling over to Sirius as soon as the man came into sight, the man ran forward and wrapped him into a hug. Harry was crying into Sirius chest as he gasped out the words they most feared. "He's back. Voldemort's back."

"Shh, it's okay, Harry," Sirius soothed taking off his jacket and draping it around the boy's shoulders before pulling him back into a hug. "You're safe now," he said rubbing circles on his back.

Snape turned his gaze from the tender moment between his childhood enemy and the boy he had sworn to protect to focus onto the familiar kneeling figure of Nemo. He stood on shaky legs, blood coating what was visible of the lower part of his face and jacket front. His dark pants were torn, blood stained the dark fabric and the once white bandage tied around the open wound.

"Nemo I presume?" Dumbledore asked, Nemo made no reply and Dumbledore looked to Snape for an answer. Snape nodded, his wand trained on the man as he watched Nemo pull something out of his jacket pocket and tossing it at Dumbledore's feet. Snape's eyes never left him, even as Dumbledore stooped to pick up the item and turned it over in his hands.

"What is this?" the Headmaster questioned curiously, this was his first time meeting the illusive man known as Nemo.

"You will need proof that he is back," Nemo said turning to leave, heavily favoring his injured leg. He made a vague gesture at the item with his hand "That should be enough proof."

"Thank you," Sirius said his voice full of relief, as he nodded toward Nemo in a gesture of familiarity. "I'm going to take him up to Madam Pomfrey." He turned without further delay and guided Harry up to the school. Nemo moved to leave as well, Snape's wand still following his movements.

"Let him be, Severus," Dumbledore said softly tucking his proof into the pocket of his robes.

"Headmaster?" Snape said tightening his grip on his wand.

"For now, let him be. There will be other opportunities, I am sure," Dumbledore said, that blasted twinkle in his eye. Snape gritted his teeth and reluctantly lowered his wand and watched as Nemo shifted forms. A moment later a scarred and bloody mountain lion limped off into the brush, but not before golden-brown eyes turned back to lock eyes with him. He held the cat's gaze for a moment before the lion gave a tired huff and disappeared into the brushes. As he watched it go, Snape could have sworn he had seen those eyes before.

Now he sat in the comfort of his private rooms, nursing his second glass of Firewhiskey, mulling over the days events. He knew it would not be long before he was called before the Dark Lord to defend his lack of attendance at his resurrection. For now, he was trying to place those familiar eyes, he was sure he had never seen Nemo's eyes under that obviously charmed hood. They were familiar, yet the person behind them seemed a stranger.

He took another sip from his glass that wasn't nearly as full as he would have liked. Black's familiar response to Nemo only proved the Dog was still in contact with the Lion, as had his knowledge of where to meet when Potter was taken. Now it made more sense why Granger's guardian had not shown up, she must have been aiding Nemo in keeping watch in case Potter was taken. On that thought he wondered, if Granger had sent some message to her guardian when she had found out Potter was missing—was she in on the conspiracy as well? Who better to keep track of Potter than someone who spends most of the time everyday with him.

He was going to have to look more into Granger and her guardian, something told him if he wanted to find out more about Nemo they were going to be the ones to give him the answers. He had thought about questioning Granger right away, but Poppy had banned all visitors from her when she had finally turned up in the Hospital Wing half-conscious and apparently poisoned from one of the Maze creatures.

His mind briefly brought up the image of Granger favoring one of her legs, coincidentally the same leg Nemo had been bleeding freely from when the Lion had limped off into the woods, but he immediately slammed the door on that train of thought closed. Setting his empty glass aside he guessed that he might have had to much to drink, if his mind was muddled enough to come up with ideas that were completely and utterly improbable.

Hermione awoke to find herself staring up at the dark ceiling of the Hospital Wing. Blinking blearily she tried to remember how she had gotten there. She remembered the maze, and the terrifying flight over the hedges. Then the rest came back in a flood; leaving the school, killing Barty Jr and fleeing the grave yard with Harry. Things began to get fuzzy after that; she recalled returning to Hogsmeade, but then nothing. How did she make it back up to the school?

"I would have thought you would have been more responsible." Pomfrey's scolding voice drifted from the closed curtains around her bed where light flickered just beyond. Hermione wondered idly why no one had cast a Silencing Spell on her curtain but pushed the thought away as she rolled on her side and buried her face in the pillow. Her leg was stiff but pleasantly numb as she shifted positions; she just wanted to sleep for a little while longer, it felt like days since she had a good sleep.

"If I had known her injuries where so severe don't you think I would have sent word. She got tired on the way up to the castle and wanted to sit for a moment, I offered to carry her the rest of the way but she refused. I didn't want to force her and she seemed well enough." Remus defended himself to the cross Medi-witch, his voice lased with just enough believable regret and concern. "We were talking and everything was fine until she passed out, I brought her up right away after that. If I had thought she was hiding the extent of her wounds I would have stunned her and brought her up immediately." Poppy gave a resigned sigh after Remus's heartfelt speech.

"She's lucky much longer and I don't think I could have reversed the spread of the poison. She must have been running a lot in that dreadful maze to have spread the toxin so quickly, poor dear." Hermione tuned the rest out as she drifted back to sleep.

When she woke again the light beyond the curtain had been replaced by a more natural light, sitting up she looked around. The curtain dividers that blocked her view of the room were still there but the one to her left was gone so that her bed shared the space with another. Harry lay sleeping peacefully in the other bed, the space between them taken up by two chairs. Sirius was asleep in the one closest to Harry, head resting on folded arms near the foot of the bed. Remus occupied the other and was slumped down in his own chair, legs outstretched before him as he read a dog-eared book. Glancing up at her movement he shut the book and straightened up in his chair.

"Good morning, how are you feeling?"

"Like I just face that dragon again," she said still feeling tired despite having slept all night. "Can I get something to drink?" she asked looking around for anything that might sate her thirst.

"I'll check with Pomfrey, she will want to know you are awake anyway." He said moving toward the divider separating them from the rest of the room.

"I'm sorry for causing you so much trouble, I heard her yelling at you last night." She blurted out as she leaned back into her pillows tiredly.

"Don't apologize, I'd take the blame to cover for you again if needed," Remus said pausing, "You kept Harry safe, that's what matters most. I can deal with any amount of scolding Poppy has for me. You just rest, you deserve that at the very least." He left then and came back a few minutes later with Pomfrey who handed her a glass of water and a red potion. Drinking down the potion first, it was meant to clear out any lingering toxins in her blood, before she sipped at the water. Pomfrey had cautioned her to drink it slowly, the potion had a common side effect of causing nausea. Levitating the divider back to give them some privacy, Poppy pulled the blanket off to have a look at her leg. It was then Hermione realized she was garbed in only the hideous Hospital pajama shirt and her nickers. Pulling the bandage off her thigh, Pomfrey checked it over, prodding and pulling at it with her wand and fingers to make sure all of infection that had set in from the venom was gone. Satisfied with the cleanliness of the wound, she coated the cut in a salve before applying a clean bandage and pulled the blankets back into place.

"Get some rest," the Medi-witch ordered sternly, "I'll check you over again in a few hours, if it looks like the venom has cleared from your system then I might allow you a short visit with your friends. Merlin knows they have been here constantly checking to see if you and Mr. Potter are up for visitors. You should take better care of yourself." she tsked gathering up the empty potion bottle and her supplies on a tray that was soon levitating behind her as she moved about. "You could have done yourself some serious harm had you not been brought in when you had. Let this be a lesson to you, come see me before you pass out and don't you even think about leaving that bed for the next couple days."

"But I—" Hermione started but was cut off immediately.

"I will stick you there by force, Ms. Granger, if I must." Pomfrey stated without room for debate, "You need rest and you're going to get it wither you want too or not."

"Alright, I'll stay in bed." Hermione relinquished, she was to tired to argue with the witch and didn't want to be stuck to the bed again. "Can I at least go to the bathroom?"

"Only with help, I'll not have you putting any pressure on that leg until it has been closed." Pomfrey said summoning a robe and helping the girl to put it on. Once decently covered, she was allowed to slip out of bed and with Poppy's aid made her way to the loo.

"I can do the rest myself," Hermione insisted releasing the older witch's arm and grabbing onto the door frame for support.

"Stay off that leg." Pomfrey warned but let the girl have her privacy. Hermione shut the door and using the available bathroom fixtures for support moved to the toilet to relieve herself, not wanting to invoke Pomfrey's wrath and wind up stuck to the bed with a bedpan. Hopping over to the sink to wash her hands, she noticed something peeking out the collar of her robe, propping her hip against the sink for balance she pulled open the robe to reveal her half-clad body and pulling at the collar of her pajama shirt. Catching sight of the scar in the mirror there she quickly unbuttoned her shirt and looked at the scars decorating her torso. The thin one on her shoulder from the Hippogriff last year next to a more star-shaped one where she had been shot. Raising a hand she ran a hand over the thin white lines that ran across her belly and ribs, she quickly dropped her hand not wanting to think of how they had gotten there as her gaze drifted down to the scattered burn scars along her calves. The largest of them all was the large bite mark on her side, trailing down her lower belly, over her hip and disappearing into the waistband of her nickers. There was a similar slightly small bite on one of her legs and she was sure if she took the shirt off she would see the claw marks running down her back. Looking over all her very visible scars she came to one conclusion.

"Crap." she muttered doing up her shirt, she had been so out of it the night before to realize she had not cast her full glamor. Thankfully she had managed enough to make herself look fifteen at least or she would have been in a real bind. There was a knock at the door as she finished up the last button.

"Are you alright in there?" Pomfrey questioned from the other side.

"Yes, just a moment." Hermione called back trying to hide her slight panic hastily tying her robe closed and casting her full glamor; internally she was cursing her carelessness, how could she not have noticed the scars on her legs when Pomfrey had checked her leg? Taking a steadying breath she hopped back to the door and opened it to see a very cross Medi-witch. Hermione pulled the collar of her robe tighter, even knowing her scars were no longer visible. Pomfrey's eyes seemed to soften knowingly.

"Come on, back to bed Ms. Granger." she ordered sternly. When she finally made it back to her bed she sat down on the edge before resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing at her face. The whole trip across the room had been more taxing than she would have liked. Pomfrey was about to leave the area when Hermione's voice stopped her.

"Are you going to tell anyone?" She asked as she reached for her half-drunk glass of water from the nightstand.

"It is not my policy to go around spreading the medical history of those in my care. I find I get better results if I handle the issues myself." Pomfrey said kindly.

"So you won't tell the Headmaster or McGonagall?" Hermione asked, catching the woman's implication; so she had noticed Dumbledore's lack of attention toward those students in abusive situations.

"Not unless there is a reason too, but I will be contacting your parents for more information on your medical history. Normally I would simply contact St Mungo's but being muggleborn I assume you see a muggle healer for your regular medical needs."

"Yes," Hermione lied.

"I will need to ask you some questions though and I would like you to answer them honestly but that can wait until you are feeling better."

"If it's all the same to you I'd rather get it over with now." Hermione said pulling herself onto the bed so that her feet were stretched out in front of her, leaning against her pillow.

"If your sure," Pomfrey said summoning a few sheets of paper on a clipboard from her office along with a quill and pot of ink. Pulling up a chair and casting silencing charms on the privacy barriers she sat down. Flipping through the papers for reference, she looked up at the Gryffindor.

"I'm going to need a record of how you were injured and things will go smoother if you would answer truthfully. Now, if my records are correct you were seen by a Medi-witch after your second year to reset the two breaks in you right arm and a number of fractures in your left resulting from a car wreck when you were younger." Hermione nodded.

"Okay how old were you when you were injured?" Hermione was quiet for a moment doing some quick math in her head.

"Ten," she said finally. Pomfrey wrote a few more notes on her clipboard.

"You also seem to have had three broken ribs, four fractured ribs along with some minor fractures in your hands."

"Most are probably from the car wreck," Hermione shrugging, "fell out of a tree. That's how I broke my arm once, some of those fractures could have been from them. You would have to ask my parents."

Pomfrey wrote another longer note on her paper before continuing, "Can you tell me what caused your scars?" she asked, quill poised over her clipboard.

"Which ones, you'll have to be more specific." Hermione said resting her head back against the headboard.

Pomfrey consulted the papers and tapped something with the quill, "the burns on your legs."

"From the car crash," she said before tapping the gunshot scar, hoping the witch wasn't to familiar with the look the muggle weapon scar made, "and these." she said holding up her arms and gesturing to her ribs in reference to the cut scars on her arms and torso. Her best excuse was to blame as much on a non-existent car wreck as she could, a nasty wreck involving lots of flying metal was sure to leave a lot of unusual scarring. Pomfrey gave her another long look before writing another note down and tapping the next item on her list.

"I have the injury I treated you for in third year, the Hippogriff cut. What about the two animal bites and the claw marks on your back?"

"My neighbor had a really mean dog." Hermione stated blandly, Pomfrey eyed her disbelievingly, "A really big mean dog, I'm talking mastiff size maybe bigger. He seemed bigger when he tried to eat me, that's why I never asked for a puppy for Christmas." Pomfrey didn't seem to believe her at all.

"I told you this would go a lot smoother if you would just be honest with me."

Hermione sat up straighter and looked at the Medi-witch with a serious expression. "Why does it matter?" she asked bluntly.

"I need to know these things if you are going to insist on getting yourself into trouble each year and it's in your best interest that I know."

"Look I had a healer look over them already and everything is as good as it is going to get, you know about them now; knowing how I got them isn't going to change anything." she said shifting to pull her blankets out from under her as she took her robe off and slipped under the blankets. "I'm feeling tired I'd like to sleep for a bit."

Taking the obvious dismissal; Pomfrey stood and sent her quill and ink back to her desk, tucking the clipboard under her arm. "Was anything you told me true?" she asked, not expecting a reply and when she got none she moved to leave.

"Why is Harry here?" Hermione asked before she could leave.

Pomfrey paused for a long moment before she replied, "Mr. Potter was injured last night," she said hesitantly to reveal much on what had happened with Potter but quickly continued seeing Hermione's concerned look toward the divider. "Nothing severe I assure you, so don't go sneaking off to check on him. Mr Potter is quite healthy, he simply had a trying night and needs some rest much like yourself." She said stepping back into the main part of the Hospital Wing. Reluctantly Hermione settled back into her pillows after placing her empty glass on the side table next to her wand and another object. Picking up the watch she opened it; Harry and Ron's hands were safely at 'Hogwarts', the paw print and howling wolf pictures lit up brightly. Her own hand was pointing steadily at 'Time For Bed'.

"Alright already," she muttered, even her watch was against her it seemed. Closing the watch she tucked the hand holding it under her pillow and curled up on her side. Briefly as she began to doze off, she noted that her knife wasn't under her pillow then recalled it was probably in her jacket in the Shack. Her last thoughts before drifting off to sleep were that she was going to have to ask Remus to get her things from the shack for her.

When she woke again it was late evening and the divider between her and Harry's beds had been moved so that she could see Harry. Sirius was still sitting in a chair next to him while he ate what must have been an early dinner. From her spot she could see Harry sitting on his bed, pushing his food around on his plate. Next to the bed she could see part of a chair and a pair of legs, judging by the voice Sirius was still there with Harry.

"You know, no matter how much you push that around it's not going to magically appear in your stomach unless you put it there."

"I'm not really hungry," Harry said pushing the tray with his plate away.

"Will you tell me what's bothering you?"

"I can't get that image out of my head." Harry said looking off where Hermione could not see.

"What?" Sirius asked leaning forward in his chair.

"The woman, she killed him." Hermione rolled on her back to look at the ceiling as she listened to Harry talk, "she killed the man that took me, the one who pretended to be Jessica."

"Barty," Sirius's voice sounded in confirmation.

"I tried to fight, like you told me too, but I wasn't strong enough. He took my blood and Voldemort came back, it's all my fault." Harry said, his voice barely audible. "Voldemort was going to kill me and I couldn't do anything but hide like a coward. She came like you said and she killed him, like an animal. There was blood everywhere, I know he was a Death Eater but she didn't have to kill him."

"Your kindhearted, Harry, even to those who do not deserve it. You're a lot like your mother in that aspect." Sirius said with a sad chuckle. "Don't feel bad for the death of Bartimus Jr. he along with my cousin and her husband tortured your friend Longbottom's parents into insanity. He deserved whatever she did to him." There was the sound of chair legs scraping on the stone floor before Sirius continued. "You were not a cowered, Harry, the complete opposite in fact. You have done something not many people can claim to have done, you faced Voldemort and his inner-circle and lived to tell the tale."

"I should have been able to do something, I—"

"Harry, your fourteen years old and not fully trained." Sirius cut in sharply, "Despite what you and a great deal of the wizarding community might think, you are not some super soldier that can face a dark lord before your voice has stopped cracking." Harry said something in reply but it was to low for Hermione to hear, the two talked some more on lighter subjects but Hermione had tuned them out.

Staring up at the ceiling she was beginning to wonder, when the time came to tell Harry the truth. Would he fear her? She recalled the first time she had seen Halt kill someone in front of her, had she not been in shock at the time she might have been more afraid of him than what she had been. Would Harry be able to accept the person she had become in her time? She had not even thought twice about killing Barty Jr, other than the brief satisfaction that she had gotten back at the man who had tortured her in the school halls when her cover prevented her from defending herself. The sound of horror in Harry's voice at what she had done to the man had made her remember that her friend had never seen death up close before and she had just ripped the wool from his eyes herself. Destroying that portion of innocence she had hoped he could have held on to a little while longer.

Too soon Pomfrey came back in to check on her and finally closed the cut on her leg. Her dinner came shortly after and she was able to visit with Harry when Molly, Bill, Ron and Ginny came to see them. Their friends stayed until the Medi-witch shooed them out and Harry left with them after finally being released, he had been sent to meet with the Headmaster before he was to join up in the tower with the Weasleys.

Hermione was to stay another night and be released the following evening. She soon grew bored lying in bed and gave in to checking out the number of gifts that had been delivered to her bedside table while she slept. Most were chocolates and cards from her house mates and other students who wished her a quick recovery and the best wishes after coming in last in the final task. Grabbing for a chocolate frog from the small pile of candy she noticed a small simply wrapped box; picking up the box she shook it experimentally, something rattled inside. Curious, she pulled off the top, inside was something brown. Pulling it out she found a small leather tube with a strap on it, it was an accessory for post owls to hold messages. She found it odd that someone would get an owl accessory for her when she didn't own an owl.

Turning the box over looking for a name tag, a folded note fell out. Picking it up she unfolded the note.

'A reward for your failure to win the Tournament, I won quite a sum from Nott. This should keep the scorch marks on any future Dragon Post to a minimum.—Wonder Ferret'

Hermione could only laugh at this, unsurprised Draco had bet against her winning the tournament but found it amusing that he had addressed himself by her private nickname for him.

She was able to try the message holder on her little Horntail that evening and found it fit quite nicely on his leg. Dracarys seemed quite pleased with his new position as Post Dragon, puffing his chest haughtily at Hedwig when she passed when Harry brought her down with his things to head to the train. The night before had been full of celebrating at the end of the year feast as the students of Hogwarts were still rejoicing over their victory in the Tournament, the next morning had been more somber as the visiting schools prepared to depart and the Hogwarts students prepared to head down to the train after saying goodbye to friends both old and new.

"Sirius," She said softly slipping something into his hand in passing. "For Harry, he's going to need all the help he can get." She slipped off before he could say anything joining the crowd heading toward the train with Harry and Ron. Sirius waved at the three, watching them board the train as it prepared to pull away from the station. He would be heading back to London, after a meeting with Dumbledore, to pick up Harry at King's Cross. Once the train was out of sight he finally looked down to see what Hermione had given him, it was the glass ball that prevented the trace from picking up any magic nearby. It looked like this summer was not going to be idle for anyone, Harry was going to need all the training he could get if he was going to survive the coming war.

Sirius walked into the Headmaster's office, pocketing the glass ball into his robe as he made his way past the Gargoyles and up the stairs. The door was wandlessly opened at his approach and he stepped inside. Dumbledore was off to one side pulling a silvery strand from his temple with the tip of his wand and dropping it into a small phial.

"Be with you in a moment, Sirius," he said, sealing the container and placing it on a shelf with several other identical bottles before closing the door on the cabinet. Sirius had made himself at home in the chair across from Dumbledore's empty chair and was leaning back with a handful of sherbet lemons. He made himself comfortable in the chair, popping one of the candies in his mouth. Dumbledore moved over to sit behind his desk with a tired sigh; removing his half-moon spectacles, he pulled a cloth from his robe and began cleaning them.

"I'm sure you can guess why I asked you here."

"I can fancy a guess," Sirius said popping another candy into his mouth before shifting to cross an ankle over his opposite knee, "the Order."

"Yes," the older man said after giving his glasses one final wipe and putting them back on, the cloth disappeared back in his robe of its own accord. "I need you and Remus to go and contact a few of the old group who have yet to return my owls."

"Is that all? Sure, who do you want me to get in touch with? I haven't had much contact with old members since I got out, but I think Remus still has some connections."

"Emmeline Vance and Sturgis Podmore." Dumbledore said, checking the small pile of letters on his desk. Sirius nodded in acknowledgment, as he stuffed the two remaining candies in his mouth.

"There is something else, isn't there?" the Dog said knowingly, as he slouched down more comfortable in his chair and rested his hand on his belly. "You wouldn't have called me up here just for that."

"Too true, my dear boy," Dumbledore said, dropping his most recent letter on his desk and peering at Sirius over the top of his half-moon glasses. "I would like to request the use of your house as the new Headquarters of the Order." Sirius was quiet, he had not been expecting that. He almost said yes immediately before he stopped himself, he had more than himself to worry about now. As Headquarters Grimmauld Place would more than likely be active at all hours on any given day, and people would be coming and going regularly. After Harry's kidnapping at the Final Task he was reluctant to allow just anyone around him, the thought that someone could simply walk in and snatch him in the guise of a new Order member was terrifying.

"I'm not sure that would be the safest thing for Harry, Headquarters would be a busy and crowded place."

"I assure you, if you are worried about young Mr. Potter's safety, I would also like to request to add any additional warding to your home as well as a careful screening to all members who would be allowed inside. I will be placing it under the Fidelius Charm and none would be allowed to enter without my express permission."

"Your permission," Sirius said slightly outraged. "It is my home, surely I should have a say on who is allowed in or not!" Dumbledore raised a placating hand to silence the man.

"I am sure you will be awfully busy looking after Harry, I assumed you would not have the time to do the screening yourself. The secret keeper would need to be someone who can spare the time to focus on the Order, I am sure that you would be too busy looking after your godson to be able to spare the time. As the head of the Order it is my job look after the Orders affairs and it would be much simpler to have myself as Secret Keeper." Sirius still seemed reluctant to give the man the power to control who was allowed to come to his house, his mind immediately drifting to Hermione; if Dumbledore was Secret Keeper, she would no longer be able to come to his home. Not only that, but with the number of people that were sure to be filtering through, he was sure be someone to notice her dropping by.

"Could I have some time to think on it?" he asked, hesitantly shifting in his seat.

Dumbledore seemed surprised by the request, he had expected Sirius to jump at the opportunity to be at the heart of the Orders work. "Of course, but I would ask that you not take too long; we have a great many things to get done, and a Headquarters is needed for many of these things to get done I need to whether to look into other arrangements." Sirius nodded before taking his leave of the Headmaster and Hogwarts.

It was three days later before Sirius finally Owled the Headmaster his reply. He had talked it over with Remus and Hermione separately, as one of them had to keep an eye on Harry, he was still shaken up by the whole ordeal of the Final Task.

Dumbledore arrived that evening to place the Fidelius Charm on the house, and Hermione found herself sitting at home suddenly unable to recall where Harry was currently living.

They had talked for a while the night before, if making Sirius's house into the Headquarters was the best plan. Sirius had been surprised, when she had actually been supportive of the idea. As headquarters, all of the information would be right at their hands from all the Order, and she had wanted to keep tabs on what they were up to, and with access to the head of the Order they could get information straight from the sources.

"If Dumbledore casts the charm, you will no longer be able to come and go, and I doubt Dumbledore is going to allow owls to come and go freely," Sirius said, pacing back and forth in her living room. Remus was back at the house, keeping an eye on Harry and Flooing a few of his contacts, trying to figure out were Emmeline Vance had moved.

"It shouldn't be that hard to convince Dumbledore to allow Hermione to visit over the summer, after all with most the older Weaselys in the Order, Ron is sure to be by at some point," Hermione said dismissively, "and if I need anything I can still contact you by the ring. It won't need an address so should not have any trouble getting messages." She gestured at the ring on Sirius's hand that she had charmed like the one she had given Remus, so that she could contact them quickly if needed.

"Besides, I can't wait to see how Dumbledore reacts, when he realizes he just gave Nemo full access to Headquarters of the Order." Sirius snorted in amusement at that statement and quickly agreed to her assessment of the situation.

The room was dead silent, as the inner circle of Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters kneeled. The room was dark and had little furnishing; it was only a temporary meeting place after all, it would serve its purpose tonight and come dawn it would be vacant once again. The Ministry nor the Muggles that passed by at all hours would find no evidence that the darkest wizard of their time and his closest followers had ever been there.

The air was tense as the Dark Lord himself walked about the kneeling circle, his wand tapping casually against his cheek as he pondered over the current dilemma before him. In the center of the circle kneeled his spy, or traitor? That was the current question Voldemort was setting about answering that very night.

Nagini slipped into the circle, Avery flinched away, as her scaled side brushed against his hand. Her mouth parted and she exhaled; a hissing reprimand at the slight to her as her scaled head drew level with his own, he stilled even as her tongue flicked out against his bare cheek. Content he had been properly chastised for his rudeness, she slithered forward a moment before her head snapped around in a faux strike toward the Death Eater opposite Avery. Malfoy remained properly motionless even with her bared venomous fangs a breath away from puncturing his skin, she flicked her tongue at him; this one was better mannered.

Done with her evaluation she moved fully into the circle, her long body trailing behind, following her Lord as he moved to stand before Severus. As her master stopped, she continued on slipping forward and circling around the kneeling man. She all but wrapped herself around him, her tongue flicking beside his ear as she tasted him. This one would be most filling if her Lord found him no longer useful, and she was so very hungry for more than the squeaking vermin that lived in the dark places.

"You have done well, Severus," Voldemort said finally, his voice cutting through the deliberately drawn-out tension. "I will forgive your absence. You will continue in your role and keep me informed of the doings of Dumbledore and his little band of wannabe Aurors he calls an Order."

"Thank you, my Lord." Severus inclined his head in submission to the man's will, Nagini draped herself over the spy's shoulder and grazed her open mouth of fangs over the vulnerable flesh of his throat as he spoke, "You are too benevolent—"

"Silence," Voldemort hissed, his words slurring together in a collection of snake-like syllables. Nagini arched her head back agitatedly, hissing loudly having been denied her meal, before moving back to her position at her Lord's side. "Now tell me, what do you know of the one who came to Potter's rescue? One of Dumbledore's?"

"No, my Lord, to my knowledge Dumbledore knows little about him," Snape said, knowing even though Nagini had been called off, a snake's fang was still at his throat. "He calls himself 'Nemo', and he has made contact only a few times over the last year. He seems to have no allegiance to Dumbledore, but has taken to looking after Potter. He was the one who provided the evidence to free Sirius Black of his murder charges as well, Dumbledore thinks he harbored Black while he was on the run. He was the one who ousted Crouch from his position at Hogwarts and foiled your attempt at entering Potter in the Tournament at the beginning of the school year. Dumbledore has tasked me with finding out any information about him."

Voldemort was quiet in contemplation, a pale hand stroking the head of his familiar. Severus did not remove his eyes from the floor before him, as he waited for the Dark Lord to speak, many green recruits had made the mistake of meeting the man's eye, when their loyalty had yet to be fully established, or reestablished, in his own case.

"I find myself curious, Severus," Voldemort said, beginning to pace around his follower's kneeling form again, rolling his wand in his fingers. "Why did Dumbledore think you were the best person to find this 'Nemo'? If you say he was harboring Black, then wouldn't he be the one Dumbledore should be asking, not you?" He paused directly behind Severus, waiting for an answer.

"Black claims to not know anything, and Dumbledore refuses to press for more information from him," Severus said calmly, even with the Dark Lord at his back. "Nemo has seeked out me on two occasions, Dumbledore seems to think that because of that I was the best person to gather information on him." Voldemort was silent for a long tense moment before he started walking again.

"Very well, Severus, rise and return to your place," he said dismissively, and Snape stood as bid and returned to his place among the inner circle. The meeting was adjourned after that, with the Dark Lord's departure to some unknown Safe house.

More than a few of the departing Death Eaters left disappointed, having been hoping to see the spy finally fall from his special place in Voldemort's most favored. Snape had been able to get away with many things playing spy, including a full pardon from the Ministry at Dumbledore's request; and now here he was accepted back into the Dark Lord's good graces with little more than a slap on the wrist; when many of those present had gotten more of a reprimand after answering his call immediately.

"Come to the Manor, you look as if you could use a drink," Lucius said, walking with Snape out of the abandoned building and down the quiet London street; with a crack the two Apparated away.

The pair did not speak again until they were contentedly seated in Lucius's study, a decanter of hundred-year-old scotch on the table between them as they each indulged in their own glasses of the amber liquor.

"Smoke," Lucius offered, pulling a box from a side table, "just got these in last week," he said, opening the box of high-grade cigars.

"I'll pass, I'm trying to quit," Severus said, digging in the pocket of his shirt, pulling out a crumpled nearly empty pack of cigarettes. Lucius scoffed, as Severus pulled a lighter and cigarette out of the pack before sticking the pack back in his pocket.

"Thought you were trying to quit," he said, watching the dark haired man light up.

"Trying to, didn't say I had," Severus said exhaling a cloud of smoke, as he slipped the lighter back in his pocket. Lucius wrinkled his nose in distaste at the smell.

"I can't believe you can smoke those cheap things."

"Not all of us can afford the imported crap you call decent smokes," Snape shot back snarkily, taking a drink from his glass, "but I will say you have good taste in drinks."

"I'm so glad to have your glowing approval of my drink selection," Lucius replied sarcastically, setting the box back on the table.

"So what did you want to talk about?" Severus asked, eyeing Lucius suspiciously. When Lucius gave him a innocent look, he elaborated, "You haven't asked me over without an ulterior motive in over six years. The last time you asked me over, if I recall correctly, you invited me over for one of your social parties and set one Mrs. Hammond on me, just so you could get her away from her husband so you could talk him into giving you half the shares of his company." Lucius started laughing.

"You're not still sore over that, are you? Really, Severus, some things you just need to let go of."

"Mrs. Hammond needed to let go of a number of things as well," Severus said into his glass, as he shifted in his seat.

"She's eighty years old and half-blind, other than the fact that she's got her pushover of a husband completely whipped, she's harmless." Lucius chuckled, refilling Severus's glass, then his own.

"Harmless she may be, but the woman has more wandering hands than the giant squid," Snape said, taking a long drag from his cigarette. "Now again, what do you want, Lucius?" he asked again, exhaling through his nose. Lucius was quiet, swirling the liquid in his glass.

"I wanted to ask your personal opinion of a student of yours who has been spending time with my son."

"Who?" Severus asked, flicking ash into a conveniently placed ashtray.

"The Muggleborn," Lucius said, resting an ankle on his opposite knee, "Hermione Granger." Severus was quiet, swirling the amber liquid in his glass before draining half of it.

"What about her?" he said, setting the glass on the side table. "She's a typical Gryffindor; brash, stubborn and annoying."

"Nothing out of place? You haven't caught her looking into things not typical for one of Dumbledore's favorite students?"

"What are you getting at, Lucius?" Snape asked, irritatingly stubbing out the remains of his cigarette in the ashtray. "What are you looking for?"

"Last summer," Lucius started calculatingly, "I met Ms. Granger in Knockturn Alley. It seemed she was looking for a book."

Snape snorted at this statement, "I find that highly believable, the girl always has her nose in a book, when she is not getting Potter or your son out of trouble."

"And in trouble, it would seem," the Malfoy remarked crossly. "You would not believe the trouble it has given me with that article. A number of select family's had to be reminded where the Malfoy's loyalties lie."

"What did you tell them?" Severus asked curiously.

"That Draco was taking advantage of an opportunity to slip his way into Potter's circle in hopes of gaining an advantage for our side," Lucius said coolly. "She's not as golden as the rumors seem to lead one to believe. She might even turn out as a valuable asset for our Lord."

"You are not honestly implying what I think you are."

"I'm not implying anything; but if I were, might I add the book she had been looking into was of an extremely dark nature," Lucius said smoothly, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair; Severus eyed the man calculatingly. "I am merely bringing to your attentions an interesting fact about the Mudblood." A muscle in Severus's jaw twitched, when he involuntarily gritted his teeth at the term; grabbing his glass, he drained the rest of it.

"Your input has been noted, and I will be sure to inform you if Granger expresses that she would be interested in switching sides. I'm sure the Dark Lord would love to hear he had a Muggleborn interested in spying on Potter for him." His voice was laced with sarcasm, as he set his glass down and stood to leave. "Thanks for the drink, but I should be going. My other master probably thinks I was killed or am currently being tortured most maliciously."

"You have done well, Severus." Snape had to stop himself from grimacing at the words he had heard from another master just hours before; he now found himself seated in the Headmaster's office, having briefed him on the meeting for his successful reinstatement into the Death Eaters.

He had not been able to shake the conversation he had with Lucius earlier that evening. Before today, it would not even have dawned on him that the girl could be studying the Dark Arts. He didn't want to believe it; but now that he had time to analyze the information. If what Lucius had said was true, then it may be something too. After all, why had she been in Knockturn Alley of all places? Could it have something to do with her guardian? With Nemo?

"Is there something else you have on your mind?" Dumbledore's voice cut through his thoughts.

"Nothing of prominent note," Severus said, shaking the thoughts from his head, "just a theory I have been working on."

"On what, might I ask?" Dumbledore asked, a quizzical look in his blue eyes.

"Nemo," came the reply, and Dumbledore nodded understandingly.

"Anything I might help with?"

"What do you know about Hermione Granger's guardian, a woman named Emma De Vincent?" This seemed to puzzle the headmaster.

"I wasn't aware she was living with a guardian. Last I recall mentioned, Minerva had a rather nice chat with the girl's parents when she delivered her first year letter." Standing, he moved to an end table that was tilting slightly on uneven legs.

"Gryffindor; Granger, Hermione," he said, tapping his wand on the table top. With a pop, a folder appeared on the table, and Dumbledore picked it up before bringing it back to his desk. "You're right," Dumbledore said, pulling out a sheet and glancing it over; it was an emergency contact parchment spelled to keep itself up to date with all the students's contact information. There on the paper was listed the name 'Emma De Vincent' along with what must be her home address. Setting the paper down, Dumbledore glanced over his desk at his spy.

"You think this woman is connected to Nemo?" Severus nodded, rubbing at his temple tiredly, he was ready for this day to end.

"I am not sure," he said with a sigh, "I have noticed some things, but no real proof. Like I said, nothing prominent to note, just a hunch."

"You will let me know when you have something solid, yes?"

"Yes," Snape said standing, he had no wish to stay any longer. Besides, he had the information he had been lacking, a glance at the Headmaster's desk gave him the address he needed. It was time to get some real information on Ms. De Vincent.

He had not known what he was expecting to find when he made his way to the Muggle town of Hook Norton to check out Granger's summer residence. He was unimpressed by the small two story house squashed between a small general store and another house. Severus stood, hands in the pockets of his slacks, he had forgone the wizard robes in favor of simple Muggle clothing.

He had not seen much, Granger's bowlegged cat had come wandering around from the neighbor's yard before wandering back into the De Vincent's property and around back out of sight. He had seen movement in one of the lower windows, but had yet to see anyone come or go from the house. At one point he had thought he saw Granger in the front window, but could not tell from his place in a small bus shelter across the street.

He had hoped to see De Vincent, or if luck was in his favor, a man fitting Nemo's body type coming or going, but so far nothing. Suddenly someone came out the door, who looked like Granger. He watched her leave, walking down the street, disappearing around the corner. From the looks of things the house was empty, De Vincent could have left through Apparition or Floo, so not seeing her leave was unsurprising.

Spotting an older woman seated on her porch next door, Severus made a spontaneous decision. Stepping out his cigarette, he walked over to the woman.

"Hello." Her hair that had once been brown was more grey and pulled back in a tight bun, one wrinkled hand was petting the white cat perched contentedly on her lap. "Can I do something for you, young man?"

"Hello ma'am, I was wondering if you could help me with something?"

"Do call me Margret, Margret Burns. What can I help you with?" she asked kindly.

"I am looking for an old acquaintance, Ms. Margret, he said he was staying around here, but I can't seem to find him. I thought he was staying next door, but I think I might have my directions wrong. I was going to check with your neighbor, but she doesn't appear to be home right now."

"Oh, Emma, yes, she's out a lot. Half the time I don't even see her leave." She gestured to her left, toward De Vincent's house. "I don't know her well, strange as that may be, considering we live next to each other. What was your friend's name, maybe I know him, I've lived on this street for years?"

"I only knew him by the nickname he had at school, I doubt he would be using it now, and I can't recall what his full name was. How long have you been neighbors?" Severus said curiously, any information he could get out of the woman would be helpful, all he needed to do was get her talking.

"Let me think, she moved in the summer before last. She was living with a man then."

"A man, boyfriend? Did he have a name, he might be the friend I am looking for?" he asked, maybe he was finally getting somewhere.

"Gary Watson, charming fellow. Emma isn't home much through the year, but he lived there till last summer. He would always come over and keep me company in the afternoon, you know it's been so lonely here since my Frank died," she said whistfully, as her cat hopped off her lap and waddled into the partly open door of her house.

"Could you tell me what he looked like, Gary."

"What's to say, average height, about your age. Brown hair, brown eyes—oh wait, that's not right. He stopped by last year a few times, he had black hair about like yourself and eyes a lovely shade of blue. Don't know why he thought he looked better with brown. Could he be your friend?"

"No, but I know who you are talking about. He is an old school—acquaintance," Snape said with a barely concealed grimace, "but not the one I was looking for. Were there any other men you have seen?"

"Well, there was one other I saw a few times coming and going." This caught Snape's attention. "Short light brown hair, little taller than Gary. Sorry I didn't get his name," she said apologetically.

"Did he have faint scars around here?" Snape asked, not bothering getting his hopes up this time, as he gestured at a particular place on his face, the woman nodded in affirmation,

"Yes, that's him. Not your friend I am guessing.," she said knowingly.

"No, no one else you have seen around?" he asked, as a last effort to find out anything new.

"No, I'm sorry," she said apologetically. Just then a small form came flying over and landed on the porch railing, Dracarys gave a little trill before hopping on to the side table beside Margret's chair.

"Well, hello, pretty bird," she said, stroking the dragon's head and offering him a biscuit.

"That eh—bird is yours?" Severus asked, eyeing the dragon critically; it had a metal band on its leg with some kind of rune etched on it, from the looks of it a Muggle restricted glamour, considering he was still seeing a dragon sitting there and not a bird.

"Oh no, he just comes to visit, he's Emma sister's, I think."

"Sister?" Severus asked; surely she could not be talking about Granger, the dragon eyed him suspiciously before taking flight again and flying off out of sight.

"Yes, Heather or something like that," she said, tapping her cheek as she thought. "Well, I assume it is her sister, they look so similar, but too close in age to be her daughter. Younger girl, fourteen—fifteen maybe. She's only around during the summer, away at school I expect."

"I see, thank you," Severus said, deciding he had all the information he was going to get from the woman.

"Sorry I could not be of more help, deary," she said kindly.

"One more thing," he said, pausing, another thought creeping into his mind. "I was wondering—Heather, when did she move in with her sister?"

"Oh, about the same time Emma moved here, I think, I really can't recall. My mind's not what it used to be."

"Thank you," Severus said before walking off the porch; it wasn't much, but now he knew for sure. De Vincent was the one harboring Black while he was on the run, and if Granger had been here the summer before last, she knew Black. He had come here hoping for answers, now he had more questions than before. It was clear De Vincent must be meeting Nemo someplace else, or he came in out of sight of her nosy neighbor. One thing for sure, he was going to be keeping a closer eye on Granger, she seemed to be his only solid link between all of this.

Chapter Text

Hope and Pray that you'll never need me,

But rest assured I will not let you down.

I'll walk beside you but you may not see me,

The strongest among you may not wear a crown.

-Citizen Soldier, 3 Doors Down

Chapter 22: I'll Walk Beside You But You May Not See Me.

June 1995

Things had been slow for Hermione for her first two weeks back from school. In the few days following her return home, she had been keeping in touch with Sirius, as he debated where to set up the Order headquarters and how Harry was handling events since the last task; Sirius reported the day before that he was meeting with Dumbledore to set up headquarters, and his mail stopped coming. He reported that Harry had woken him several times since he had been home with nightmares. Sirius's letters claimed from what Harry had told him, he kept reliving Voldemort's resurrection.

This only made Hermione feel worse; she was sure she shared a role in his nightmares, even if Harry did not mention it to Sirius, or Sirius was being to polite to tell her so. She knew what she was and what she was capable of and it only made her feel worse, knowing, if Harry or Ron found out what she had done in her life time, they would find her as bad if not worse than how they viewed the Slytherins.

Pulling out the fake locket from a drawer, she studied it; she had not been able to handle the ring much as the curse on it was still active, but she hoped that the locket would help her figure out, why Riddle had chosen the items he had. His diary had been a personal object, something from his school years. The ring and locket did not seem like something that he had had from his childhood, having grown up in an orphanage. The locket looked antique, she assumed; if this one was made to look exactly like the original, it must have been a real antique.

The other day she had taken it into a small shop of a Muggle man,who ran a market stall part time, selling trinkets and such, but also crafted some simpler jewelry. He had studied the locket and informed her despite its rather simple style the materials, it was made from, were rather high quality. The stall owner had not been able to identify the dark metal that made up the main faces of the locket, but he did say that the silver-white metal decorating the edges and inner panels, where pictures were meant to sit, was rhodium and the small stones on the front were green jadeite, set in the shape of an 'S'.

Regardless, the item must be of some importance to Riddle and she needed to find out what. With the diary, ring and locket that made three. She had guessed before that he had either made three, four, seven or ten of the items; she hoped that the number was three, but figured she should be sure before she moved her plans ahead. She wanted to keep her identity and search for the items a secret until either she had all the items destroyed, or there was no other choice. Once she had all the items destroyed, then she would not need to remain in the shadows.

She could not be too hasty; she was sure now that she had openly interfered with his plans, she had just hit close to the top of Voldemort's to-kill-list. She would rather take the extra time to make sure she had all the items rather than reveal herself and find out she had missed one, or worse yet, seven. She would continue to try and locate the real locket and find out why it and the ring were chosen to be Horcruxes.

Which brought up, what was a Horcrux? She had checked through what she could of the library, but even in her frequent trips to the Restricted Section she had been unable to find out anything about the term. She feared that was going to be the result no matter how much time she scoured the library. She was sure now that was what Dumbledore had been trying to point out in the book list; that the book he had marked, the one that she had lost to Lucius Malfoy, held the information she desperately needed. She had made a few more trips to Knockturn Alley in hopes of finding another copy, but she guessed that she was as likely to find another as she was to find another person at Hogwarts who was as fluent in Parseltongue as Harry was.

A tapping at her window drew Hermione from her thoughts, she slipped the chain of the locket over her head and stood to open her office window. A large eagle-owl flew in and landed on the back of one of the chairs that were stacked high in books. She was surprised by the owl, it wasn't her usual Prophet owl, and she had stopped getting letters from her friends since Sirius had let Dumbledore set up his house as headquarters. She had gotten a few short messages from Sirius and Remus's charmed rings, but nothing very informative other than that Dumbledore was restricting owls leaving and going to the house.

Pulling her hair out from under the chain so that it sat more comfortably on her neck, she walked over and took the letters from the eagle-owl. Just then Dracarys flew in and settled himself on the back of Hermione's chair, as she sat down to read the letters. The Horntail hissed and exhaled a stream of smoke at the post-owl who promptly ignored the reptile in favor of preening its wing feathers.

"Hush you," she said, patting the dragon's side from his perch beside her head, as she read over the letters in turn. He was rather touchy about any owl that came to deliver her mail; with her unable to send letters to her friends, the vain little dragon was feeling rather unhappy to not be able to flaunt his new status as post-dragon.

The first was addressed to Hermione from Sirius on behalf of Harry, inviting her to stay the summer at his place. It was a rather general invitation; he must have been worried his mail was being monitored, or Dumbledore had told him to not tell her much until she was there; as far as anyone knew Hermione was unaware of the existence of the Order. A little note at the bottom informed her that Dumbledore was the one who would mail the letter from Hogwarts, given the no mail service from his home.

The second letter was surprisingly from Dumbledore to Emma. Hermione checked it over thoroughly for any tampering or monitoring charms before opening it cautiously. It was a request to meet her, at her convenience. Dumbledore informed her that the British Wizarding World was on the brink of a very dangerous time and that he would like to meet with her to discuss the situation, given that he had been informed that she had only recently moved into the country in the last few years. He also informed her that her ward, Hermione, was entangled in the growing threat due to a number of her friends having family involved. He implored that they needed to meet as soon as she was free, for Hermione's safety as well as her own.

Hermione scoffed at that; he would not have bothered with informing her guardian or even her parents about the situation, had she still been living with them, unless he had something to gain from it. He was digging for information on Nemo, just like Snape. She had not known the Potions Master had made the connection to Emma, had she not heard from her nosy neighbor about a man stopping by, looking for a school friend of his. She was comforted in the fact that he seemed to still think that Nemo was a man and seemed to not have much else to go on, but things were getting too close for comfort. She had had a feeling earlier in the week, a gnawing feeling at the back of her mind, that she was being watched; her neighbor confirmed her suspicions, but she never actually saw him hanging about. Since then she had been extra cautious to keep her blinds closed and to be vigilant when leaving her house; she had not had that feeling return, so either he was getting sneakier or had not come by again.

It seemed that having Dumbledore meet Emma was going to be the best way to eliminate any suspicions connecting Hermione to Emma that there might be and to try to keep anyone else from digging into her life. Besides, she had been through all of her books, she could use the time to look through any books Sirius had. She recalled reading books at his place, and that he had a lot of them, but due to Harry she had not been able to look through many there, even if she could not recall, where she had been reading or even any details of the room. Maybe she could find some information that she was lacking there.

So she quickly wrote out a reply to Sirius, saying that she would love to come over for the summer. In her letter to Dumbledore she informed him that she would be traveling for work, given that Hermione would be staying with a friend for the summer, but she would let him know as soon as her schedule cleared up. She wanted to find out what had been going on from Sirius in person before going to meet Dumbledore, and would have to see how easy it would be to slip out of headquarters before she could set up any kind of date to meet.

Two days later found Remus stopping by her house to deliver a note from Dumbledore and escort her to Grimmauld Place.

"Sorry, you're earlier than I thought you would be. I'll just be a moment," she said, taking yet another stack of books down to her storage room, as she tried to tidy up her office before she left.

"Don't worry, we're not on any time schedule," Remus said with a smile. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Ah, yeah," Hermione said, wandlessly adding another two books to the tall stack, teetering in her arms. "Could you just stack up those papers on my desk and stick them in a drawer any place?" She nodded her head toward the papers, scattered on her desk in haphazard piles, before maneuvering herself and her stack of books out the door and toward the stairs.

Remus watched after her for a moment with a fond smile on his lips, as he waited to see if her attempt to navigate the stairs was going to end with her in a pile of books at the bottom; when no crash came after a minute he deemed that she had made it down the stairs safely before turning to her desk and stacking the scattered papers into more orderly piles. Checking through the drawers, he found one that was the least full and set the papers in there, looking around to make sure he had gotten all the papers he noticed a small picture frame on one corner of the desk that he had not seen before. Picking it up, he looked over the worn and faded photograph. Under the protective glass the picture was revealed to be very worn; there was a tear along one side and a crease running down the middle like it had been folded in half for a long period of time. On closer inspection he could see traces of something brownish-red staining the edge and a slight warping to it, like it had become wet and then dried slowly. It was a photo he had seen before, although less worn, on Harry's bedside table. It was a photo of Harry, Hermione and Ron, taken at the end of their first year.

"You know," came Hermione's voice; Remus jumped, nearly dropping the frame in his hand, having not noticed her come back into the office. Hermione came over and took the frame from his hand and looked at it, continuing, "for the longest time, it was that picture that kept me going. Knowing, even though my parents were gone, I still had a family waiting for me." She gave a rye smile before returning it to its place on the corner of her desk. "To say I was mistaken, was an understatement; Voldemort made sure even that was taken from me."

"Hermione―" Remus started but cut himself off, instead he raised a hand to cup her cheek, his thumb rubbing comfortingly against her skin. Hermione could see something in his eyes, and she dropped her gaze from his, unable to meet his eye. She knew what it was, she had seen it in couples she had passed on the street, even though she had refused to see it in the man before her; not believing anyone could harbor such feeling ms for her, not her.

"Remus, I―" she started, but was cut off.

"I know, Hermione," he said with a sad smile, before tilting her head so that he could place a kiss on her forehead. "I know, you don't feel the same way I do. I just want you to know; you have a family here with us, even if it is not the way I had hoped, we are still your family."

"Thank you," she said, raising a hand to place over his much larger one on her cheek and gave it a gentle squeeze. "You're to kind, you know that?"

"What is bothering you?" he asked, searching her face that looked troubled; she was reluctant to say more. "You can tell me, you know." She sighed and backed up so that she could sit on the edge of her desk, wringing her hands on her lap, as she looked down at them.

"I'm scared, I guess," she finally said with a humorless chuckle. "We saved Harry and we're finding the Horcruxes. Despite Voldemort coming back, I actually am finding myself hoping. Hoping that things might turn out differently this time, that we can win."

"You didn't think so before?"

"I thought anything would be better than what happened in my time, but things have changed; more than I ever thought they would. That hope scares me, I've let myself hope before and had it crushed. I can't do that again," she said, lacing her fingers together to keep her from continuing to ring them, "and some things have come up recently, that have forced me to think about what will happen when I stop hiding who I really am."

She picked up the frame resting beside her, looking sadly at the picture again as she spoke softly. "What Harry and Ron will think of me when they find out that I have been lying to them for years? What about the things I have done? Ron and I are already on shaky ground from my friendship with Draco, and Harry is scared of me after what I did in the graveyard. When the time comes, I don't want to keep lying to them, but what they will think of me when they find out the things I have done." She paused and took a shaky breath, before setting the frame back on her desk. "I've lost count of how many peoples blood is on my hands."

"Hey, don't talk like that," he said soothingly, "I am sure once they find out all you have done for them, they will understand. I'm the monster here, after all, remember?" he said, dropping his hand from her face in order to rub melancholicly at a faint self-inflicted scar running down his cheek. He wasn't expecting the blow to the head when it came, and he was left gobsmacked as he looked back at Hermione.

"Wha―" he breathed out, wide-eyed, as he gingerly touched the back of his head.

"You are not a monster!" she said rather viciously, pointing a finger at him, nearly poking him in the nose, as she glared sternly at him. "Werewolves are not monsters; without their human consciousness they are wild animals, doing exactly what wild animals do. I spent years being hunted by them, I should know. You would never hurt someone if you had the choice, would you?"

"No, never, but―"

"But nothing, Remus Lupin," she said, jabbing her finger hard into his chest with each word. "You are not accountable for what you do when you are not in control, not to mention that you go out of your way to take precautions to make sure you are not a danger when you aren't in control. Fenrir Greyback is a monster, not because he is a werewolf, but because he chooses to attack people. Voldemort is a monster for reasons I doubt I need to explain. You take pity on flea-bitten kittens you find in the gutter, for Merlin's sake. Not even half the decent people I know would take a second glance at a stray, let alone clean them up and find them a new home." Remus seemed lost for words at her sudden and vicious outburst. "You're not a monster, let me hear you say it."

"I―ah―I'm―ah…" Remus was floundering at her sudden change in mood.

"Don't make me start treating you like Sirius until some sense gets knocked into your head," she threatened.

"I'm not a monster," he mumbled softly.

"I can't hear you," she said, folding her arms over her chest.

"I'm not a monster." A little louder this time, but he looked away from her.

"I still can't hear you." Remus gave an exacerbated sigh at her persistence.

"Hermione, really, is this necessary?"

"Yes, I can't have you going around, spouting of stupid things like an idiot. That's what we have Sirius for," she said, loosing the harsh tone in her voice for a moment, before having the hard tone return along with her glare. "Now say it again."

"I'm not a monster," he repeated again, this time louder.

"What? That doesn't sound like you really believe it."

"I'm not a monster!" Remus uncharacteristicly shouted. Hermione smiled, as he let out a huffing breath, finally having managed to knock him out of his usual underlying tone of self-hatred he got into, whenever he talked about his condition, and into a more irritated state that caused him to momentarily forget himself. He flushed in embarrassment at his outburst.

"Now I'm starting to believe you, and you should too." she said, before patting his cheek. "Who says, you can't teach an old wolf new tricks?" Remus let out a resigned sigh; she really was quite an unusual woman in her methods.

Letting go of Remus's arm, Hermione looked around, they had just Apparated in an out-of-the-way across from a cluster of densely squashed houses. Hermione rolled her shoulders in discomfort, it was always a less pleasant experience when one was Side-Along-Apparating compared to when one Apparated theirself. Dracarys gave an unhappy squawk from his place draped around Hermione's neck, he seemed to not like Apparating as well. Crookshanks gave a yowl from the crate in Remus's hand. Setting the cat crate on the ground. Remus dug around in his trouser pockets, pulling out a crumpled empty chocolate wrapper and a few knuts. Growing slightly panicked he turned his pockets inside out before rifling through his jacket pockets, still not finding what he was looking for.

"Don't tell me I dropped it," he said, going through his pockets again with the same results.

"What are you looking for?" Hermione asked, not bothering to hide the mischievous tone in her voice, and Remus looked up at her suspiciously. Hermione was innocently leaning against the alley wall, chewing on the remains of a piece of chocolate, as she read over a scrap of paper.

"The address," Remus said with a resigned sigh, "that you already have. Will you stop doing that?" Hermione smirked at his reprimanding tone and offered him the paper back after reading it over.

"Sometimes I just can't help myself," she said slightly apologetic. "Come on, I'm sure everyone is waiting." She pulled a shrunken trunk from her pocket and returned it to its normal size with a flick of her fingers, Remus picked Crookshanks back up as he followed Hermione out of the alley and across the street to the now visible House of Black. Remus knocked on the door and waited, behind the door was quiet before a sudden clamor and raised voices erupted and then a male voice cut across the rest and things went quiet again. The door was opened by Sirius, looking flustered.

"Ah, good, finally," he said, looking quite relieved, "Remus, can you help me with Molly? She's in quite a state."

"What have they done now?" Remus asked with a rye smile, as he walked into the entrance hall and loosed the half-cat from his crate; Crookshanks gladly leapt off to explore the new environment.

"There was just a little incident at lunch, involving a cherry bomb and a slime that makes what ever skin it touched fluorescent." He held up an arm and rolled up his sleeve to reveal a patch of skin, glowing a lovely shade of indigo. "The colors appear to vary from person to person."

"I will see what I can do," the werewolf said, heading off toward the kitchen, "no promises, though."

"I quite like it," Sirius said with a roguish smile, admiring the glowing patch of brightly discolored skin of his arm before rolling his sleeve back down. "I would like to know if it will were of wear off though. The Weasley twins have quite the talent for the finer arts of mischief and mayhem. They should go into business."

"Don't tell Molly, but they're trying to," Hermione confided, "they simply lack the funds and free time to set it up properly, but they've been making due with mail order requests since last summer."

"Is that so…" Sirius said rather thoughtfully before shaking his head and gesturing her further into the hall, "Where are my manners? Come on in, I hope you don't mind, you will be rooming with Ginny. Since the Weasleys arrived, we have had to double up some of the rooms to accommodate everyone."

"That's fine with me, I'm used to rooming with teenage girls and I find Ginny to be far more tolerable than my school dorm mates," Hermione replied with a look of distaste; Pavarti wasn't too bad on her own, but you throw Brown into the mix and the two became quite intolerable. Lavender was a gossip and would always criticize Hermione when she refused any offered makeup or accessories to pretty herself up for the sake of the attention of the male population. She had actually walked into the room one time early in the previous year to hear them discussing whether she might be gay or not, given her lack of attention to any of the boys in their year and her hostile refusal of Cormic, who in Lavender's books was quite a catch, considering he was from a higher year.

"So for your official tour," Sirius continued with a conspiratorial wink, "second landing is your room, Molly and Arthur are on the first, the twins on the third and Ron is with Harry in his room at the top. My room is on the hall off the third floor landing, as is Remus's. Library and back bedroom are down that way," he continued, gesturing down a branching hall as he lead her down the main hall that branched off to the living room, dining room and kitchen. "I would stay clear of the back room