Harry wasn’t happy.
Hermione was worried what he might do. The DA was broken up thanks to that little sneak Marietta Edgecombe and she thought it might be the last straw for her best friend.
Umbridge had been steadily removing all that Harry enjoyed at Hogwarts and now her efforts were complete. Dumbledore was gone to parts unknown and Hermione was of the opinion that he hadn’t been much help this year anyway, seeing as he had been ignoring poor Harry.
She didn’t know what she could do to make things better within the bounds of the ridiculous rules and regulations that Umbridge had set up.
So, with less reluctance than would be expected of the Gryffindor know-it-all, she decided to break a few rules.
More than a few really, but she didn’t feel so bad considering they were under Umbridge’s tenure at the moment and Hermione had nothing but contempt for the pink-clad monstrosity masquerading as a headmistress.
She borrowed Harry’s cloak and map for a few days, citing a need to spend a lot of time in the library without detection by Umbridge, Filch and the Inquisitorial Squad.
Harry asked no questions. All she had to do was mention the library and both he and Ron were totally unsuspicious about the fact that she wasn’t around much for a few days.
She snuck down to Hogsmeade to send an owl to Remus in order to avoid Umbridge’s mail opening policy. Just for good measure she also used a code she had spoken to Remus about over the summer - fairly simple but quite obscure.
She had thought about involving Ron but eventually decided against it. He wasn’t exactly subtle and her whole plan largely hinged on no one at Hogwarts being any the wiser as to what she’d done. Ron would want to go along or get involved and Hermione knew that the more people that knew of her plan, the less secure it would be.
Besides, it would be suspicious if all three of them disappeared together for a few hours. With Ron in the castle all she had to do was tell him she had a big project in the library and that she thought Harry was off somewhere brooding (“and I know we shouldn’t let him Ronald, but he’s rather upset about Cho so maybe we should just leave him alone for a little while”) and their best friend wouldn’t even question it, all the while giving them an alibi by truly believing he knew exactly where they’d both been.
She felt a bit bad about using Ron in that way but desperate times called for desperate measures and they really needed to get Harry out of his bad headspace before he did something monumentally stupid and possibly got himself expelled by Umbridge.
Now all she needed to work out was how to get Harry where she needed with minimum questions – she did not want a repeat of the shouting they had been subjected to when he arrived at Grimmauld Place last summer.
“Hermione, what in Merlin’s name are we doing?”
She hushed Harry violently as they heard footsteps, grasping onto his arms to make sure he stayed still. He often forgot that an Invisibility Cloak didn’t stop the person under it from making noise and she was constantly the one who had to remember the charms to stop the sounds of their footsteps, sniffles, coughs and other noises when they were under the cloak.
Cho and Marietta, whose forehead was thick with concealer, walked past them, thankfully without noticing anything out of the ordinary.
She watched Harry as he tried to look away from Cho aloofly even as his eyes couldn’t help but gaze at her forlornly.
Normally she’d try to be more sympathetic but there was no time for that today and so she dragged him away, using a whispered Silencio to stop his protests.
He looked worried as she led them outside and towards the Whomping Willow. He’d never forgiven the tree for what had happened to his Nimbus 2000 and to he and Ron while they were in Mr Weasley’s flying car.
They stopped before they got into whacking distance of the tree and Hermione levitated a fallen branch to the right spot to freeze the tree. It took her half a dozen attempts and she wished she’d been able to bring Crookshanks, who would have got it done much quicker. Unfortunately, her clever half-kneazle had some magical resistance to being silenced and she couldn’t risk bringing him and having him give them away (clever and loyal though he was, he was a cat did not always listen to her when she hushed him).
“Won’t Umbridge be watching for anything suspicious?” Harry asked as they made their way down through the tunnels of the Whomping Willow, “this mad tree freezing for a minute is pretty unusual after all.”
Hermione couldn’t help but grin, “oh I think our dear Headmistress and her Inquisitorial Squad are going to be a little busy for the next few hours.”
“Hermione,” Harry said slowly and with no small amount of fear, “what did you do?”
She shrugged. Over the last few years she’d gotten better about breaking the rules when a good reason arose and she’d also realised that she did have a rather vindictive side when provoked.
“I didn’t do anything Harry,” she plastered a faux-innocent look onto her face, “I merely made some comments to Colin about a hypothetical situation Umbridge might face. He told Ginny and she told Lee and Lee decided that it would be a perfect tribute to Fred and George. Then Peeves got in on it and it all snowballed from there.”
Harry grinned for the first time in days, “what –”
But she put a finger to her lips, “you have to seem surprised when you find out. Plausible deniability and all.”
Harry sighed happily, “have I ever told you that you’re a genius Hermione?”
She smiled back, “once or twice, but it’s always nice to hear it anyway.”
She led Harry through the familiar tunnels towards the room that they had confronted Sirius in almost two years previously.
“It’s a surprise,” was all that she would tell him when he questioned what they were doing.
Thankfully he didn’t seem too angry at the secrecy. She’d been a bit worried that he’d blow up at her for being mysterious (he’d had more than enough of that from Dumbledore) but it seemed that her admission that a large-scale prank had been put in place against Umbridge and the Inquisitorial Squad had cheered him up a little.
Hopefully her main plan would make him even happier.
When they reached the room, even dustier than it had been two years ago, she waved her wand to clear and fix two chairs and then sat down to wait, gesturing to Harry to do the same.
“Now what?” her best friend asked.
Hermione heard the distant sound of a pop signaling apparition and knew that their ticket away from the castle had arrived.
“Now we wait,” she told him, “and hope that I don’t get a severe lecture for this.”
Remus Lupin was unsurprised to see Hermione. After all it had been she who he had been planning to meet.
She had written to him begging him to come and personally retrieve a parcel she absolutely had to send to Sirius but didn’t trust to go by owl post because of Umbridge’s interference at Hogwarts.
He did not expect to see Harry. Nor did he ever think that Harry was the ‘parcel’ Hermione had been referring to.
“I wasn’t lying,” she insisted with an earnest look on her face, “I said that I needed to get something to Sirius that couldn’t be sent safely by post.”
“I didn’t think you meant a person Hermione.”
Remus sounded exasperated, surprised and a little amused all at the same time.
“And the emergency you wrote about?” he asked after a moment.
“It is an emergency,” she insisted, “emotional emergencies are just as important as physical ones, especially since the magical world doesn’t seem to have any concept of mental health and how to help in that area. Besides, if I didn’t get him away from Umbridge for a while soon then something explosive was bound to happen and now is not a good time for Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, to be expelled … not with Vol– Voldemort around.”
Remus growled in frustration, “you are so lucky Dumbledore is lying low away from Grimmuald Place. If he knew what you were doing … after what he did to keep Harry in school. I should send you both back up there immediately.”
“But you won’t,” Hermione said, her strong belief in what she was doing trumping her usual tendency to follow the instructions of sensible adults without complaint, “because you know I’m right. This will be good for Harry. I promise that I took precautions, Remus. Curfew isn’t for over seven hours so we have plenty of time. I’ve made sure the appropriate people are distracted and no one saw us leave, I’m sure of it.”
Harry looked at Hermione in awe and wondered when she’d suddenly become so fierce.
But, he realised, she had always been that way deep down, she just didn’t always show it.
Everyone said Hermione should have been in Ravenclaw but Harry knew the truth – she embodied all four of the House in some way but she was certainly a true Gryffindor.
They both looked at Remus, who only sighed, “don’t you dare ever give a hint to Molly that I condoned this. In fact don’t mention it to anyone or I’ll be getting a serious earful.”
He looked at them both, “I’ll warn you that side-along isn’t pleasant but try not to throw up on me if you can manage it. I’ll take Hermione now and then come back for Harry. It’s best that Harry has the cloak so if you hold still, Hermione, and I’ll use the Disillusionment Charm on you.”
Hermione felt the power of the spell trickle down her body like an egg had been cracked on her head and looked down at her arm, now the exact shade of the wall.
She, Harry and Ron together could no longer fit completely or comfortably under Harry’s cloak. This could be a very useful spell to help if the three of them needed to sneak out together (her younger self protested at the idea of plotting to sneak out but Hermione knew that with Harry as a friend it was inevitable).
She made a mental note to look up the spell when they returned. She’d heard of it before but never got around to learning it because it took a lot of practice to get it completely right with minimal shimmering and shadows, and trying to keep Harry alive was often a full time occupation for her.
But then she took Remus’ arm to experience apparition for the first time and the nausea temporarily drove all thoughts of learning a new spell out of her head.
“Is that you Moony?” they heard Sirius shout as they shut the door of 12 Grimmauld Place behind them.
They could hear footsteps coming down the stairs, “so what did Hermione want me to have that she can’t send by normal post? Did she transfigure that Umbridge woman into a toad because if that’s the case then she’s getting a whole library for her birthday?”
“Sirius,” Remus said with a slight warning in his voice.
“Oh don’t act like you wouldn’t find it hilarious Moony. That woman is the reason you can’t get a job. She’s a monster and if I got five minutes alone with her as Padfoot I’d rip her –”
His stuttered to a shocked halt as he reached the bottom of the stairs and realized who was with Remus.
Harry beamed at his godfather, “hi Padfoot.”
Sirius’ grin made him look ten years younger and both Hermione and Remus were delighted by the sight of Harry flinging himself bodily at his godfather to hug him. Harry, likely thanks to his upbringing with the Dursleys, rarely initiated a hug, so to see him doing so pleased Hermione greatly.
“Remus, you dog, keeping this surprise a secret from me,” Sirius said happily as he broke away from hugging Harry to throw an affectionate arm around his friend, “I never thought you’d do something Dumbledore would so heartily disapprove of.”
Remus shook his head, “don’t thank me Sirius, I was as clueless as you. I just thought I was picking up a parcel that they didn’t want to send through Umbridge’s screening process. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the parcel was Harry. Hermione here had planned it all out, even organised a distraction for Umbridge so that they wouldn’t be missed. After all that effort I couldn’t bear to send them back, though I’m sure Dumbledore will have a few words to say if he finds out.”
Sirius looked momentarily angry, but he held back whatever comment, or rather insult, he had been on the verge of making about Dumbledore, choosing instead to retain his good mood and hug Hermione in thanks for her arranging for Harry’s visit.
“Come on then,” he told them, “the house is still a bit of a tip but the kitchen is warm and clean. I’ll get you all drinks.”
“Come on Hermione,” Harry wheedled once they were all settled around the kitchen table with hot drinks, “you have to tell me what they did to distract Umbridge.”
“I told you Harry, you have to be completely oblivious and innocent to it all. No offense but you have the worst poker face at times.”
“You can tell me though,” Sirius cut in, eager to know what mischief had been created, “I can definitely keep a secret, can’t I Moony?”
Remus only raised an eyebrow, “were you not the one who spilled to the whole school that James and Lily were dating after they specifically told you to keep quiet about it?”
“That doesn’t count Moony,” Sirius protested, “that was news the school deserved to know. I’ve kept loads of other secrets.”
Remus was unimpressed, “name one.”
Sirius only pouted, especially when his attempt at an answer – “I never revealed the secret about being an animagus” – was met with a swift rebuttal – “you were constantly telling everyone that you were a dog, they just never took you literally.”
“You see,” Sirius protested to Harry, “this is the kind of treatment I have to put up with while you’re in school. Moony won’t let me be right about anything.”
Harry and Hermione only laughed at Sirius, prompting him into further humorous and dramatic declarations that clearly nobody appreciated him since they wouldn’t share any of the good stories with him.
“Just ignore him,” Remus suggested, “he’s clearly playing it up in the hopes that you’ll cave and tell him what he wants to know.”
“I would never do such a thing,” Sirius insisted, “for that would be suggesting that I believe you all fool enough to fall for such a trick. And of course I’m well aware of the fantastic intelligence possessed by you all. For shame, Moony, trying to misrepresent me in this –”
But he was unable to finish his sentence. Remus, with a laughing roll of his eyes, had cast Silencio on him.
Sirius remained Silenced for only a few minutes. Remus had added a little twist to the spell that made it difficult for anyone but himself, as the caster, to remove it, but after Sirius decided to respond to being unable to speak by attempting to show his opinions and meanings in ridiculously over the top gestures Remus eventually thought it better to just remove the spell.
He had, after all, years of experience of dealing with Sirius, and while he knew when to stay firm he also knew when it was best to just back down.
After a few minutes more of conversation Hermione, sensing that Harry wanted a little time alone to talk with Sirius, got up from her seat and gestured to her ex-professor, “come on Remus, I need your help in the library.”
She winked at Sirius, “I’ve got some human to animal transfiguration spells to look up, specifically toad-related.”
“You know,” Sirius said to his godson as Hermione and Remus wandered off discussing an obscure Transfiguration textbook, “that girl has hidden mischief depths.”
Harry laughed, “why do you think Fred and George have spent years trying to get her to help with their pranks.”
They both thought of what could happen if Hermione’s super brains were combined with the twins’ mischief and shuddered simultaneously.
“It’s been a complete mess really,” Harry told Sirius, “Cho keeps defending Marietta Edgecombe – the girl who betrayed the DA to Umbridge – and I know they’re friends but shouldn’t friends let you know when you’ve done something wrong? Cho’s acting like what Marietta did wasn’t important, as if it doesn’t matter that she got all of us in trouble and that Dumbledore had to leave.”
Sirius wasn’t exactly sure what to say. If he had been in Harry’s position back in school he was sure he would have ended up cursing whoever was in both Cho and Marietta’s positions. But, as Harry had found out recently, he hadn’t exactly been the best role model as a teenager … and in Cho’s position he would have wanted to support his best friend.
After all, hadn’t James and Remus forgiven him for his fifth year stunt with Snape and the Whomping Willow, despite how dangerous and stupid it had been, despite how it could have ruined Remus’ life? Not without a lot of shouting and cursing first, but they’d stuck by him in the end.
He was learning with Harry, trying to understand and walk the fine line between helping, supporting and guiding. It was a good job he had Remus around or he was sure everything about trying to be a pseudo-parent would be even more confusing to him than it already was.
“What the Edgecombe girl did was wrong. Understandable, perhaps, but clearly she didn’t think of the consequences of her actions beyond the fact that they would ensure she did not get into trouble. I heard about Hermione’s jinx on the parchment – an admirable bit of spell work, if more vicious than I expected of her.”
“Hermione doesn’t like betrayal,” Harry explained, “and it’s not a dangerous or painful spell, only cosmetic. Hermione said it would begin to fade when Marietta starts to experience remorse. The spots are still as clear as they were to begin with – I can’t really feel bad for her when she obviously doesn’t feel sorry at all. Does that make me a horrible person?”
“It makes you human, Harry,” his godfather told him, “and no one can blame you for that. What about Cho, then?”
“I don’t want to look at her and know she’s trying to explain away Marietta’s betrayal. But I keep wanting to catch a glimpse of her anyway,” he confessed, “I don’t really know how I feel about her.”
“That’s alright too Harry. Females are strange creatures and what we feel for them is even weirder. You’re only fifteen – no one expects you to understand it all.”
“I think Cho’s a bit messed up too. What happened to Cedric really hurt her. I remember Hermione trying to explain to Ron and me what she might be feeling – Ron didn’t think anyone could feel it all at the same time but she just told him he had the emotional range of a teaspoon.”
“Hermione is, as always, right. You’d be surprised at the depth of what you can feel, even as a fifteen year old, and how many conflicting emotions you can experience at once. Being a teenager is never easy, especially with what’s been happening at Hogwarts these past few years.”
“But let’s not waste this time talking about the perils of puberty,” Sirius said, “I’ve got some things to show you. I’ll just be a minute.”
He vanished out of the room and when he returned a couple of minutes later he had a large cardboard box in his hand.
“A large part of your parents’ house at Godric’s Hollow was destroyed when …” he trailed off with a pained look on his face and Harry knew he was talking about Halloween 1981, “everything of real monetary value is at Gringotts but there were some photographs and a few other things that Remus managed to rescue from the wreckage. It should have been me getting them but … well we know what happened there.”
He put the box on the table and pulled out more things than could comfortably fit inside it, leading Harry to guess that there was probably an extension charm of some sort on it. There were half a dozen photo albums; a stuffed bear; a delicate glass statue depicting a stag, doe and fawn standing together; a Gryffindor Quidditch jersey; an inert Snitch; a jewellery box; and a pile of books and papers.
“We were going to give it all to you earlier,” Sirius explained, “but we could never find the right time either over the summer or during the Christmas holidays.”
He didn’t need to explain further. Harry knew how busy both periods had been – with his underage magic trial during the summer and Mr Weasley’s injury over Christmas – and that there were always so many people in and out of Headquarters that there was never a quiet moment for something like this.
“It’s probably a good thing Remus couldn’t bear to look at all this and just stored it in his vault for all these years,” Sirius sighed, “if he’d given it more thought he’d probably have mangled all the photos of me in there.”
Harry noted that his godfather’s face was full of sorrow and the pain of remembrances of Azkaban.
“Can you tell me about it all?” he asked, trying to take Sirius’ mind off the memories of his time in prison.
Sirius smiled and even though there was still some sadness there he was enthusiastic as he explained each item to Harry.
“Well the photo albums are self-explanatory – there are some from Hogwarts and some from after graduation. We … Remus and I … we went through them to get rid of Wormtail – it doesn’t ruin the photos and since they move there shouldn’t be any glaring gaps.”
“The teddy,” he continued after Harry had flicked briefly through the photo albums and promised himself a good, long look at them later, “was apparently Lily’s when she was a baby, and it was about the only thing Remus could save from your room. The statue was me and Moony’s gift to your parents when you were born – it might be still at the moment but I’ll show you how to activate it and then all the figures move a little.”
“They’re wonderful,” said Harry with an awed smile on his face.
“The Quidditch jersey and Snitch were James’, as you might have guessed,” Sirius explained as Harry unfolded the jersey to see the name Potter stitched on the back, “and the jewellery box was your mum’s. All her really valuable things – the Potter heirlooms – are in your family’s vault but I know a lot of these pieces had sentimental value to her, even if they weren’t worth much in money terms.”
“Most of the books were destroyed in the explosion,” Sirius continued, “but these are the ones we managed to save,” he gestured to a small pile of books, “they didn’t have a big library at Godric’s Hollow but there are a lot still at Potter Manor.”
“Potter Manor?” Harry asked.
“Merlin, Dumbledore’s useless sometimes,” Sirius muttered angrily, “I thought you knew but of course he hasn’t told you. It’s the main residence of the Potter family. I never understood why James and Lily didn’t choose to live there but I believe they thought it might be an obvious target, whereas almost no one knew about the Godric’s Hollow house … though of course Wormtail was one of those few, the traitorous little rat. It’s been closed up ever since James’ parents died a few months after we graduated from Hogwarts. Once this damned war is over then Remus and I will take you to see it.”
Harry only nodded. He had a lot of questions about the house but now was not the time to ask them. He could feel anger towards Dumbledore simmering in his mind, though – he might be a great wizard dedicated to removing the threat of Voldemort but Harry was starting to think he was more fallible than he had once believed.
“The papers are from Hogwarts,” Sirius concluded, gesturing to the pile, “subject essays and notes on interesting pieces of magic. Most of them are Lily’s – James was never one to keep his schoolwork.”
Harry looked at them with some reverence. Twenty year old papers were probably not of much practical use to him but to have sheets with his parents’ handwriting (his mother, he noted after a quick glance at the papers, wrote her letter g the same way he did), their thoughts on magic … evidence of their existence – it was important to him, precious in a way the photographs and items and memories shared by Sirius, Remus and others were.
“Thank you,” he said with a catch in his voice and damp eyes, “this is … it’s brilliant, Sirius.”
“Glad you like it,” his godfather said, trying to keep his voice casual but unable to hide the emotion, “it’s not much, not when you should have had your parents for real.”
“It’s more than I ever hoped to have,” Harry told Sirius, “it means a lot.”
He leant up to hug his godfather, who held on to him tightly, as if he never wanted to let Harry go.
It felt like family.
“Do you know where Professor Dumbledore is?” Hermione asked Remus as they both looked through the extensive Black family library in search of something interesting.
“We don’t know for sure,” Remus admitted to her, “he came here for a few hours immediately after he left the school and explained the situation to us. But he left soon enough and we haven’t heard a word from him since. We know he must be safe but I suppose he has a lot of his own projects and plans to deal with.”
Hermione scowled, “he does too much. I’m sure he can’t be a good Headmaster when he has all of these other projects and positions taking up his time. He barely ever interacts with the students, Harry aside, and I don’t think he’d even know my name if I wasn’t one of Harry’s friends.”
“Dumbledore’s a great -”
“… wizard, I know Remus, and I’m not disputing that. But he’s been ignoring Harry all year and it isn’t helping when all Harry wants is to be told what’s going on. He is at the centre of this war after all.”
Remus knew Hermione had a point but he found it difficult to admit that there were faults in Dumbledore, who had been generous enough to allow a werewolf at his school. Dumbledore’s actions had given Remus his best friends and he would always be grateful for that.
“I’m sure Dumbledore will return soon,” he told Hermione.
She scowled, “I do hope so. If we’re stuck with Umbridge much longer then I’m sure Harry will lose his temper one day and we’ll have a repeat of the situation with his Aunt Marge.”
Remus, who had heard the story of Harry’s accidental magic in the summer before his third year, tried not to snort with laughter. He had no sympathy for Umbridge, not after the bigoted laws she had spearheaded, and while he knew that as a responsible adult he should discourage such an idea his Marauder side felt the strong desire to egg on anyone who would see Umbridge get her just desserts.
“And how are you doing, Hermione?” asked Remus, after the two of them had found a Transfiguration textbook that looked promising and Hermione had sat down to look through the chapter on amphibians.
She looked up, a little startled, “oh I’m fine, Remus, a little frustrated of course but really it’s Harry we should be worrying about.”
“You’re at Hogwarts too,” he reminded her.
“Yes, but Umbridge doesn’t have it in for me the same way she does for Harry. I’ve got no idea what she hates so much about him but it’s like she’s made it her personal mission to ruin his life.”
“Dolores Umbridge is a nasty piece of work,” Remus agreed, with rather more vehemence than his voice usually held.
Hermione patted his arm gently, “that werewolf legislation she drafted is a disgrace.”
“And yet it passed,” Remus said sarcastically with a bitter look on his face.
“What the Ministry of Magic needs,” Hermione said with a disgusted look that showed just what she thought of the current Ministry, “is a good kick up the –”
“Hermione!” Remus cut her off with his stern teacher voice.
She flushed, “sorry, got a bit angry. It’s just so ridiculous – muggle Britain can be bad but their government would be absolutely shocked over the way things work in the magical world – some of the statutes are positively archaic.”
Remus took in the tenseness in the way Hermione was holding herself, the shadows under her eyes that reminded him of the chaos of her third year (she had worked far too hard and he had been honestly surprised she hadn’t needed to be sedated and forced into bed rest) and the fury in her voice as she spoke of the Ministry.
She had clearly been doing too much again, and he was sure it must be exhausting with Umbridge now Headmistress at Hogwarts.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Hermione?” he asked softly.
She sighed and slumped down into an armchair, “I guess I didn’t arrange all this just for Harry. Of course I wanted him to get away from Hogwarts for a while, and see you and Sirius … but I wanted a break too. She doesn’t hate me like she seems to hate Harry, but Umbridge is still absolutely horrid – there are a number of Slytherins like Malfoy in an Inquisitorial Squad she created that’s got more power than the prefects and they take points for everything. Malfoy docked twenty points from Gryffindor two days ago because he said I was breathing too loudly and Umbridge was right next to us but she didn’t say a thing, the prejudiced toad.”
Remus growled and when Hermione jumped slightly he realised that he must have let a bit too much of Moony show in his anger.
“Sorry,” he said.
“It’s alright,” Hermione smiled weakly, “this situation has got everyone wound up. The atmosphere at Hogwarts is bizarre – it’s like no one can decide whether it’s best to put their heads down and try to go unnoticed, or turn the school into a scene of anarchy in an attempt to drive Umbridge away. It’s mayhem, really,” she sighed, “I’m sure we’re all going to fail our exams.”
“Hermione,” said Remus with the hint of a rueful smile, “I’m fairly sure you could sit most of your exams sleep deprived and without any further revision and still do well.”
Hermione’s expression – a mix of pleasure at the compliment and horror at the idea of having to do her exams immediately and on no sleep – made him laugh.
He was pleased to see that she relaxed then, and her smile was genuine. He wondered how long it had been since she, Harry, Ron and their friends had had cause to be truly cheerful.
Too long, he thought, far too long.
“Sirius,” Harry said, looking less cheerful now, “what’s going to happen if Umbridge stays Headmistress. It’s alright at the moment because no one takes her seriously, but she’s dangerous.”
He absent-mindedly traced the faint scars on the back of his hand, “I don’t want to be at a school where she’s in charge, and I don’t think it would be safe.”
“Harry, there has never been any hint of a link between Umbridge and the Death Eaters.”
“I know,” Harry half-shouted, “I know,” quieter this time, “but she’s a racist bigot and she doesn’t care about hurting people to get what she wants.”
He looked at the scars on his hand again. He hadn’t ever told Sirius about Umbridge’s Blood Quill. He and the others who had suffered hadn’t told the teachers because they knew they had no power against Umbridge and her ridiculous decrees. Harry hadn’t told Sirius because he feared that his godfather would storm up to the school to deal with Umbridge personally, regardless of the fact that he was a fugitive on the run.
But now that Harry was there in person, he really wanted to confide in Sirius. Hermione and Ron had been great about supporting him, Hermione and her bowl of Murtlap Essence especially, but it wasn’t a substitute for the parental comfort he had only recently begun to experience through Sirius but already greatly craved.
Sirius would get mad. He would probably want to turn into Padfoot and rip Umbridge’s head off. But Harry thought he would, in the end, stay with him in order to work out how to help Harry and the rest of Hogwarts with the problem Umbridge presented.
And Sirius deserved to know why Harry was so worried about the prospect of an extended period of time with Umbridge in charge.
Dumbledore had been distant and now all Harry had were questions. Harry couldn’t make the same mistake with Sirius – he was too important.
He looked over at his godfather, who had stayed unusually quiet for the few minutes Harry had taken to gather his thoughts.
“Sirius,” he said, trying to muster his Gryffindor bravery, “there’s something you should know about Umbridge.”
So Harry told Sirius the whole story. Sirius did curse and swear and set an ugly chair on fire and threaten to maim Umbridge. But in the end he (temporarily) reigned in his temper, hugged his godson and promised that they would find a way (“no murder, I promise, but no guarantee on the maiming”) to deal with the Umbridge situation.
And Harry, despite the threat of Voldemort, Umbridge’s reign of terror, and Dumbledore’s distant unhelpfulness, felt very much at peace for the first time in what felt like years.
Hermione and Remus joined Harry and Sirius for dinner, which was created through the combined effort of the latter two – Remus could burn water and Hermione’s talents lay more in baking (ironic, considering her parents were dentists).
It was a loud and lively meal as the four of them traded stories and jokes. Hermione could see Harry’s eyes sparkle as Sirius and Remus told them about James’ numerous attempts to impress Lily and her amusing reactions.
She knew that while her idea to bring Harry to Grimmauld Place would be considered reckless, it was definitely the right decision. Harry needed the familial bond he had with Sirius and Remus, and he needed adults to talk to that he could trust completely (Dumbledore was too distant this year, even to Harry, and Molly Weasley was motherly but often smothering).
Sirius needed it too. He hadn’t lost his teenage recklessness, his stint in Azkaban taking away the years he probably would have used to mature, at least a little. Harry was a good influence on him as he tried to be the godfather Harry deserved and thought more of his decisions through in order to ensure his godson’s safety.
At first she had been wary of Sirius’ clear approval of their DA plan, but she had soon realised that it was hypocritical of her to judge him for being enthusiastic about an idea she herself had come up with. Besides, with Voldemort’s return it was essential that they learn defence and since Umbridge was not only useless but actively stopping them from learning elsewhere, the DA had been the only viable option she could think of. Sirius was supporting Harry learning to defend himself and that made him a good guardian.
“So then,” Sirius told them as Remus, Harry and Hermione tried not to laugh, “Prongs told the fair Lily that he loved her all the time, even when she looked like something that had been dragged through a hedge backwards.”
“Lily,” Remus continued, “had been trying out a new hairstyle that day. It wasn’t really a good look for her but we weren’t stupid enough to tell her that. James on the other hand …”
“Merlin knows he did mean well,” Sirius told them, “he honestly loved Lily all day, every day no matter how tired or grumpy or angry she was. He just had an awful habit of putting his foot in his mouth when he was around her. James could charm almost everyone in the castle, but all his charisma seemed to abandon him around Lily most of the time. It was always amusingly pathetic but he never let it dampen his enthusiasm or his drive to make her admit that she did like him.”
Hermione nudged her best friend, “there you go Harry, you come by your woeful way with girls honestly, at least.”
She grinned at him to show her words were only in jest. Harry didn’t seem offended, only happy to discover something else he had in common with his father.
“What was she like, my mum?” asked Harry.
“She was terrible at Herbology,” Sirius told him, “a total black thumb – almost as bad with magical plants as Moony here is with Potions. But she had Alice – your friend Neville’s mum – to help her and that witch could work miracles in a greenhouse, so Lily got on alright in the end. She returned the favour by helping Alice in Charms. Flitwick loved Lily – all the professors did, really, but she was especially close to him. Slughorn – he was the Potions professor then – thought she was wonderful but Lily was always a bit wary of him – he could certainly spot talent but he didn’t care much for anyone else and Lily thought that way of doing things wasn’t for her even though her genius at Potions meant he did pay attention to her.”
“You’ve got her temper, I think,” Remus said ruefully, “James was pretty easy going most of the time – the only things that really tended to rile him up were Lily, dark magic, Snape and the war. Lily, though, she had a temper to match her hair at times.”
Harry scowled slightly, though he wasn’t truly mad, “I don’t have a –”
“Yes you do,” Hermione cut him off, thinking of his outburst when he had arrived at Grimmauld Place last summer, “but don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of good qualities to make up for us having to endure some shouting every now and then.”
“They were good at school, though, my mum and dad. Everyone is always telling me how bright and talented they were. But my grades are pretty much average.”
“You’re the best in our year at Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Hermione protested, “at least whenever we have a competent teacher. And I know that when you try you get at least Es in Transfiguration, Charms, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.”
Don’t worry, Harry,” Sirius told him, “sure Prongs was a Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts whizz, and Lily was a genius at Potions and Charms, but they had their difficulties in some subjects too. Everyone has weaknesses – even our little genius here –” he paused to grin at Hermione, “and your parents wouldn’t hold that against you. They’d be proud that you’ve achieved so much even though every one of your school years seems to end in some kind of dangerous disaster. I swear to Merlin I nearly had a heart attack when Minnie mentioned the Basilisk in your second year.”
“Yes,” Remus said ruefully, “I have a feeling she might have regretted telling you that after you spent two hours ranting about all of the trouble the Hogwarts staff had completely failed to stop Harry and his friends getting into … as if you and James didn’t make it your mission for most of our time at Hogwarts to be the biggest troublemakers there.”
“Yeah but that was normal trouble, Moony,” Sirius protested, “not life or death, Voldemort-shaped trouble.”
Remus raised an eyebrow, “I seem to recall one particular incident, admittedly after we had left school, when you loudly, proudly and in the hearing of at least half a dozen known Death Eaters, recited a … well we can’t really call it a poem can we? What was it? Oh yes, you said Moldymort is Voldemort and Voldemort is Moldymort, Voldemort sucks and he could be beaten by ducks, Gryffindor rules and Slytherin drools, and that is why Voldemort is Moldymort and Moldymort is Voldemort.”
Hermione looked as if she couldn’t decide whether to be amused or horrified. Remus barely managed to cover his sniggering, while Harry didn’t bother to try and just burst out laughing.
Sirius gave them a mock frown, “so it wasn’t my best work …”
“It was nearly midnight and you’d been drinking Firewhisky since noon … the day before.”
“It was all fine in the end.”
“I’m fairly sure,” Remus reminded him, “that you were at the top of almost every Death Eater’s list for the next six months, probably more for the terrible poetry that your attempts at insulting Voldemort.”
“I just wanted to say sorry,” Hermione told Sirius as they stood together while Harry and Remus spoke about the spells Harry had taught at the DA meetings.
“What for?” asked Sirius, “I promise I wasn’t really expecting you to have turned Umbridge into a toad … I was joking about that … mostly.”
He trailed off with a slight smile on his face and Hermione thought he was probably cheerfully imagining a series of events that resulted in Umbridge the toad.
“Not about that,” she said, twisting her hands together nervously, “it’s just that for so long I worried you were being too reckless, that Harry should be careful about your advice. But now I’m sneaking him out of school while Vol-Vol-Voldemort is out there even though I’ve always thought I was the sensible one. I guess … I think … what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry that for a while I thought you were just trying to recapture your youth and using Harry as a replacement his father when all you’ve been doing is trying to be the best godfather you can even after being stuck in Azkaban for over a decade. I get it now, how someone can do things that seem crazy or reckless to help the people they love, that sometimes the sensible decision isn’t always the best one.”
Sirius wasn’t smiling anymore. Instead he looked unusually grave, but not in an angry way. It was as if he was considering her words carefully.
“Thank you,” he said after a few moments of silence between them, “I know we haven’t always agreed on some of the things I’ve done but I am grateful for everything you do for Harry, and for how you helped save my life – really grateful for that, by the way, can’t remember if I ever said it.”
She smiled at his moment of levity and felt more reassured, less tense.
“You are a remarkable witch, Hermione, and even after this impressive stunt you are certainly still sensible. And I don’t hold what you thought about me against you – Moony tells me I’m pants at self-awareness but I know enough to realise that there may have been something in my behaviour that could worry you. But rest assured that though I miss James I’m very well aware that Harry is a different person, and that what I want most is to protect him.”
Hermione ducked her head in embarrassment but Sirius rolled his eyes and nudged her gently, “now cheer up,” he said, “we shouldn’t waste this time being grown-up when there are two very tempting targets right over there who are completely oblivious to the idea that you of all people are going to prank them.”
“Sirius,” she warned him, “what makes you think I’ll help you with a prank?”
He grinned and there was no trace of the wear Azkaban had wrought on his face, “it will make Harry laugh; it will make me happy; it will make Fred and George even more scared of you than they already are when they hear about it; and most of all … I think you’ll enjoy yourself.”
She raised an eyebrow but he would not be deterred, “when was the last time you laughed properly, Hermione?”
She frowned. To be honest she couldn’t remember.
“Exactly!” exclaimed Sirius triumphantly.
“Fine,” she muttered, “I’ll help you.”
The unholy look of glee on his face made Hermione think she would probably regret her agreement soon enough.
“I can’t believe we got pranked by Hermione!”
“And Sirius, Harry – you shouldn’t discount his influence in this.”
“Hermione Granger!” Harry said, eyes wide, “lover of rules, enemy of pranks – and now this.”
He waved his arms around as if to remind Remus of the chaos Hermione and Sirius’ prank had caused them.
"Do you think this will fade by the time we get back to Hogwarts?" asked Harry as he examined his hair - now flamingo pink - in the slightly tarnished mirror Remus had found.
"Under normal circumstances you would probably be stuck with it at least overnight," Remus told him as he contemplated his own magically dyed hair (electric blue) with a slight smile, "but as it might cause unwanted questions, especially with Umbridge in charge, either Sirius or Hermione will probably fix it before I take you back to school."
He sighed, but it was the good humoured sigh of a person who had been the victim (and instigator) of enough pranks that their reaction to something like this was only mildly exasperated amusement, "you're lucky, Harry - I don't have anywhere to be for the next few days so I highly doubt my hair will be reverting back any time soon, especially since we're got dinner tonight with Mad-Eye, Kingsley and Tonks, and Sirius will enjoy watching me squirm while Mad Eye lectures about constant vigilance even among friends."
Harry smiled at the mental image. He felt a little bad for Remus - especially since he was sure Sirius, Tonks and Kingsley would be laughing rather than asking Mad Eye Moody to stop lecturing - but it would probably be funny too.
“And what was it that made you sing?” asked Harry after they had both tried a number of methods to fix their hair and failed utterly at changing anything (Harry, in fact, had somehow made his own hair worse and now had streaks of sunshine yellow running through the pink).
“A variation on a limerick potion no one really uses anymore – we came up with it in seventh year. Or rather, as Potions and I have never got along, James and Sirius did, with some input from Lily – they told her it was a hypothetical project, though she really should have known better than to believe that. It causes the drinker to break into song – lasts about three minutes normally, just long enough for one song. We used it a lot at Hogwarts – for a month or so a day wouldn’t go by without a batch of Hufflepuffs singing about friendship, Gryffindors challenging each other to karaoke duels, Ravenclaws putting their study notes to music and Slytherins cursing their Housemates to step them breaking into any embarrassing musical numbers.”
“Do you have any choice in the song?”
Remus shrugged, “a little, it sort of plays on your particular thoughts at that moment or something important about you. So if you really liked Quidditch you might sing about that, or if you had just finished your exams it would probably be a song about how glad you were they were over.”
“And for a werewolf,” Harry said with a little grin, “it might be Hungry Like the Wolf.”
Remus smiled good-naturedly, “yes, Harry, but I’ll get my revenge on Sirius soon enough … I wonder how he might react if he lost all of his perfectly styled hair.”
When Hermione came in to tell Harry that they needed to get back to Hogwarts to avoid their absence being noted, she found him quite hysterical and with tears of laughter running down his face. Remus had an impish smirk on his face.
She decided it was best not to ask.
“You haven’t tried to contact me using the mirror yet,” Sirius said to Harry as they moved towards the front door.
Hermione recalled Harry tucking away a package from Sirius on the train at the start of the year. He had never mentioned what it was and she realised he had probably forgotten to open it.
She turned her head to see Sirius looking almost relieved. It took a moment for her to work out that he must have assumed that Harry had opened whatever it was that Sirius had given him but never used it. Sirius had never mentioned it – maybe he just thought Harry hadn’t wanted to contact him.
That was ridiculous of course – Harry adored Sirius. Males, she decided, were stupid about feelings.
She listened as Sirius explained to Harry about the mirror and how he had the twin. It didn’t surprise Hermione in the slightest to discover that Sirius and James Potter had created such items – it showed both their magical skills and their sense of mischief.
It would also mean a much safer way for Harry to contact Sirius. The disaster with Umbridge’s hand in the fire had shown them how careful they needed to be in their correspondence.
“Make sure you use the mirror from now on,” Sirius told Harry, his words mirroring Hermione’s thoughts, “with Umbridge in charge you can’t trust any communications by fireplace or post. Besides, you probably shouldn’t try calling the fire here, I don’t know how an incoming fire-call would be affected by the Fidelius Charm and anyway, you might have the misfortune of that blasted Kreacher answering and Merlin knows what rubbish he’d spew at you.”
Remus used the Disillusionment Charm on Hermione and pushed her out of the door before she could start an argument with Sirius over House Elf treatment. Harry hugged his godfather one last time before pulling on his Invisibility Cloak and following Hermione and Remus out.
He couldn’t stop smiling.
Epilogue – Four Years Later
When Harry heard the screaming his first thought was that there was a dark wizard loose in the Ministry or that one of the maximum security prisoners had escaped.
A wizard ran past him whimpering while a witch wearing Auror robes looked horrified, “it’s disgusting,” she told them as she fled with the crowd, “don’t look.”
Sirius, unable to resist discovering what had so traumatised the Ministry workers, a number of whom had faced down dark wizards and dangerous creatures, moved forward and Harry followed him.
They went against the flow of people streaming towards the doors and tried not to burst with curiosity when, on reaching the double doors to Courtroom One, they saw Fred, George, Ginny, Remus, Tonks, Kingsley and Bill holding each other up as they laughed madly.
They were so overcome by amusement that they were unable to speak and when Harry gave them a questioning look they only gestured towards the open doors.
Harry and Sirius entered with some trepidation and what a sight they saw.
A huge, luridly pink toad – the ugliest Harry had ever seen – squatted in the middle of the courtroom, making a high pitched noise that was more screeching that the normal noise expected from a toad and hopping indignantly around in a small magical containment area.
“Hey,” Harry said to his godfather as he remembered the main story on the front page of the Daily Prophet that morning, “wasn’t Umbridge’s trial supposed to be here today?”
He and Sirius looked at the hideous toad, then at each other and then at Hermione, who stood twirling her wand a few metres away with a triumphant expression on her face.
“So Sirius,” she said with a grin, “I believe you owe me a library.”