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September 9th, 2011
The Eclector

He is back at the Temple. He knows this is a dream, yet he can't help but feel the first tingle of unease, of fear. He shudders - it is cold and his vision is strangely blurry. Hesitantly he walks forward, out of the quarters building he still remembers so vividly. Instead of arriving into the hallways, he finds himself outside. He doesn't question it - the ragged walls of the dusty fighting theatre is where he has spent his more horrid times.

His Father waits for him. He, too, was hard to focus on. The Other is more clear to him, standing next to Father. "You are next", the Other says. He feels himself nodding and walks forward once more. His opponent is a man he doesn't know. The man is a towering one, fat and red-faced. His mouth moves, the only thing next to his moustache that he can see - the man is screaming, he realises, and yet he hears no sound.

He knows that the man is not very dangerous. Slow and ill-tempered, the man seems like an easy target. But the tendrils of fear tighten around him, chocking him. His heart beats faster and he can't move when the man comes close enough to hit him. He falls down and feels Fathers disappointed look. Hands are holding him down when he tries to look up. They are pulling and shoving and gripping hard until he is caged into a tiny, dark room.

A woman waits there for him, but he can only see her red hair. But she is light and softness and safety, so much it hurts. He reaches out to touch her, but when he does, it is Azalel sitting in front of him. "Please", his brother begs. "Please let me win, just this one time, Harry?" Azalel cries and begs, and then he starts to fall apart into green light, screaming now with an older voice.

"Traitor! You broke me! Murderer!"

Harry wakes up, shaking and drenched in cold sweat. His breathing is erratic as are his heart beats - he still hears the echo of his brothers' screams, can still feel the fear and anger and pain. The dark corners of the small room he shares with Kraglin are staring at him in accusation. It is not the first time he had woken up from a night terror, but it is the first time in a long while that he had dreamt of his brother and the red-haired lady and it unsettles him deeply. With Kraglin gone for the week, he suddenly feels unsafe, helpless. Vulnerable. With a repressed sob, the young teenager jumps out of his cot and makes for the door.

It doesn't happen too often that Kraglin is away when he wakes up like this. It has taken some time for him to find the right kind of help - the first few times he had been overly anxious and jumpy afterwards, feeling sick and fearful for days. Now he knows where to go, the way to the captains quarters easy to find even in the dimmed light of the corridors. He doesn't hesitate to enter the big room, filled with a sweaty, unclean smell which hasn't bothered Harry for a long time now. The whole ship smells like sweat and oil and too many men who don't like to shower. His naked feet, cold from the metal corridors, touch clothes, trash and a taser on his way to the bed. There Yondu lies, flat on his belly, snoring into a pillow and still dressed in his leather trousers. Above him on a board nailed to the wall are a handful of small trinkets and baubles Harry knows well. He had made them and loves to see them here.

Eager to feel safe again, the teen climbs the bed, uncaring that his moves disturb the sleep of the captain, and wriggles himself as close to Yondu as he can. The man's body heat is higher than Harrys, and up close he smells worse than from a distance, but the boy doesn't mind and puts his cold feet right against the shins of his captain, who wakes up with a grunt.

"Are ye fuckin' kidding me..." He doesn't sound too angry, so Harry ignores the man completely and simply clings closer, leeching off the warmth like a parasite. Yondu seems to think so - he is grumbling about brats and prices for mages and his privacy. It fails to impress Harry, not with the Centaurian throwing an arm around him and shifting into a more comfortable position.

It doesn't take long to fall asleep again. This time, without nightmares.

Chapter Text

May 5th, 2009
Orbital Research Station, Planet Diatera

"All right, boy, remember. Lem are not very keen on talking with no mouth and all, so don't freak out when you hear a voice in your head. Bloody annoying, if you ask me. Most Lem do that. Only knew one who had some manners in him, so don't get your hopes up. That one's called Arrgon, and he is a sorcerer. Not quite the same as you, but both are way over my head, so there should be some parallels."

He keeps a hand on Harry's shoulder as he manoeuvres the boy through the crowd. Diatera is a large planet and mainly covered by forests, but a couple of races had built a buzzing, city-like space station in it's orbit to accommodate not only the many, many scientists, researchers and scholars that are constantly trying to find new and exciting ways to make use of the exotic plants down below, but also the scientists families, merchants, security, mechanics, cooks and numerous other workers and their families that had decided to live there.

There is money to make, after all, and the flies will always be attracted to the shit, as a wise man had said.

The Lem had sent their own researchers to the station. Yondu remembers Krugarr - and isn't that a name that hurts in all the wrong places, he thinks bitterly - talking about how excited his folk has been and that a cousin of his has settled down here. It has been tricky to get the Lem to agree meeting Harry. The Lem are a curious sort and very unique - most Lem children are trained in the so-called 'mystic arts', and a lot pursue a further education to claim the title of Sorcerer. Others are content with the basic knowledge and direct their thirst for knowledge towards other fields of science. No other race has embraced Eldritch Magic as efficient as the Lem, but like any other sorcerer out in the Universe, the Lem too are reluctant to teach others. Yondu knows that the only reason that Arrgon even considers it is that Krugarr has never revoked their friendship, despite his exile.

Of all his previous friends and family, Krugarr is the only one that has tried to understand him. And Yondu still tries desperately to not see it as pity.

~~~

June 17th, 2009
Planet Diatera

More than a month has passed since Yondu has introduced Harry to Arrgon. The Lem had been nothing but accommodating and had immediately started with the theory. Like Yondu told him the Lem communicates mostly through telepathy, but the young mage has already gotten used to it. Doesn't make it less weird, though.

Today they are planetside instead of Arrgons own quarters. It is the first time that they will move from the complicated theory of Eldritch Magic to the practical application. Yondu is there, too, eager to see if his hard earned money has paid off. Harry does not worry about it, though. He still remembers clearly what Yondu has said to him a couple of months ago, how Harry does not have to be useful to the Captain yet. That he has a choice. Everything Yondu does right now he is doing for Harry, and not for himself, and the boy trusts him enough to just enjoy the ride.

Arrgon has chosen a large clearing for the practical training close to his usual research grounds. The trees are massive - wide enough that dozens of people could surround the trunk, and high enough to touch the clouds. The wood has some kind of special property, as have the other smaller plants. Harry eyes the 'saplings' surrounding one of the behemoths, that are roughly as big as a normal tree. The bark is coloured purple and incredibly smooth, the leaves are grey and green. They look nice enough, but not enough for him to be overly interested in them. Yondu looks like he agrees with Harry and simply leans against a sapling which fully supports his weight.

"I'm ready, runt. Let's see what you can do."

Harry grins brightly and looks eagerly towards Arrgon, who bows his head. ::Remember, the key to successfully draw the needed energy towards you is visualisation. We have practised this with the meditation exercise, but you do have to concentrate.::

Breathing in and out, Harry sucks in his lower lip, raising his hands. Yondu and Kraglin had decided that it would be the best to not tell Arrgon (or anyone else outside of their clan, really) of his status as a mage, so Arrgon wouldn't know about how similar this was to his own power. Concentration, visualisation, intent. He does not reach for his own power, however, when he does it now. He can feel it in his belly, calm and comforting, and tries to blend it out. He is sure that it is better to first get a grasp of sorcery before trying to use his own magic - he does want control, after all, and sorcery is easier to command.

His hands are held in the shown way in front of him as he tries to focus on what he wants. Like any other spell a sorcerer can do, the one he tries first requires the caster to gather the energies needed before drawing the spell out with their hands. Unlike many other spells, this one works with any amount of energy he manages to gather, and, depending on the amount, changes its pattern accordingly, so that the sorcerer can 'measure' how much energy they can cast. For this exercise, Arrgon had told Harry to only draw in the minimum needed. Already the young mage can feel the small amount of foreign power swirl against his hands and prepares to mould the magic into the spell. He can hear Arrgon gasp, but before he can figure out why he can feel something very, very wrong. The tips of his fingers start to prickle and then his own magic surges forward, up his arms and into his hands. Eyes wide open, Harry can only gape when it collides with the gathered Eldritch Magic, forcing the foreign energy away from the caster. A loud BOOOM follows when the suddenly free energy is thrown from Harry's hands against one of the saplings, narrowly missing Yondu on its way there.

The shocked silence that follows is interrupted by the snapping and creaking sounds of said sapling and a final crash. Grey and green leaves flutter through the air and Harry still has his hands in the air, gawking like an idiot.

::That is an interesting reaction. Not one I have seen yet. Try it again, I want to take a closer look.::

Harry gulps, but at least Arrgon doesn't sound angry. Yondu, however, does look a bit pale. Throwing him an apologetic smile, Harry turns around so that he faces neither of the men, before he repeats the process with the same result. This time he has managed to hit one of the behemoth trees, which are quite a bit more sturdy than their saplings.

"So, what's wrong, huh? I reckon this is not what he's supposed to do?"

Yondu sounds alarmed even though this time the explosion has missed him completely. Arrgon only hums and snakes closer to Harry, taking his hands into his own.

::I am not completely sure. He drew the energy towards him just fine, but it looked like it tried to flee from his hands. The moment young Harry tries to form the spell it gains enough leeway and launches off. Without the moulding process, however, it is only that: raw energy without form nor function.:: The Lem hums again, touching and prodding Harry's hands before dropping them with curiosity. ::Try it again, but this time hold it just before molding the spell.::

Yondu makes a choked noise, but Harry complies. He already feels quite annoyed (he knew, after all, the reason why it doesn't work), but he reckons that maybe he could force his own magic down long enough to do the spell properly. So he again draws in the foreign magic and holds it tightly in his hands, causing the air around them to ripple and flicker as it would do over a source of heat. Arrgon leans forward, his large, dark eyes focussed on Harrys hand before flinching backwards. ::Not so much!::, he warns. Harry, who had tried his hardest to push back his own surging magic, opens his eyes that he had closed in concentration. The rippling is stronger now - obviously, he has neglected his control over how much power he calls towards him.

Looking around, he points his hands towards the already damaged behemoth tree. With a mixture of glee and anticipation, he lets go of his own magic, which again jealously pushes against the invader which jumps off his hands, blindly following the direction Harry has pointed them at. A deafening boom and the even louder sounds of splintering wood follows and the three watch with ringing ears and horrified (and, in Harry's case, jubilant) faces at the huge crater in the massive trunk. Then, Harry whoops.

~~~

June 17th, 2009
Orbital Research Station, Planet Diatera

::I think it is better not to teach him anymore. I am very sorry, as he was a really promising student, but the Mystic Arts are fickle at best and clearly disagree with him.:: The Lem does look apologetic enough, but Yondus sharp eyes catch the signs of extreme relief when the Centaurian nods his agreement. Arrgon hurries away as he has already bid his farewell to Harry, who is watching one of the parked ships through a fortified window. Luckily, the boy is not as crestfallen as Yondu has thought. He had explained to the Captain what had happened and had been very understanding that classes will not continue. Already the mage is more concerned about the elegant elite class S-ship.

Oh, well. Back to self-study for the boy, then.

Chapter Text

February 21st, 2002
Little Whinging, Surrey, England

There were a lot of things that defined Severus Snape, but one of the more important aspects, one that he never shied away from showing other people, was how deeply his convictions ran. Those who knew him better than the average person where rare these days, but these people also knew that the Potions Master formed his convictions using his cold, rational logic and keen mind. All but one.

He had always been steadfast in his belief that nothing good could ever come out of James Potters seed and that not even a mother like Lily could overcome that burden. Harry Potter was his fathers' son and was bound to be just as vain and arrogant and spoiled as him. So he had done his best to put the boy out of his mind, and for four blessed years, he had done just that. He knew he had a vow to uphold, one given when he had been at his lowest point, but the boy was surely safe enough with his relatives. Either way, it was as good an excuse as any other not to bother with the existence of another Potter that would soon enough ruin seven more years of his life.

And then the Headmasters Patronus had come for him, reminding him of his vow, a solid six years too early.

That night had done a lot to utterly shaken his convictions regarding Harry Potter. The utter lack of concern of Petunia Dursley and her vile husband as well as the glee of their fat offspring that his cousin must be in trouble. Still, it had not been enough to destroy their foundations - a deep well of carefully cultivated hatred towards James Potter, nurtured by seven years of humiliation and pain, swiftly followed by the fact that not only had the man ruined his friendship with Lily, but also had the audacity to fool her so much that she married the man. It was easy to mend the cracks and fractures of his beliefs when given such incentive, and he was more than eager to find more realistic excuses for the Dursleys blatant disregard of the brats safety. Surely the boy had already shown his fathers arrogance and his penchant for rule breaking. Together with the Dursleys open dislike for the late visit as well as the understandable disbelief regarding the kidnapping, it was quite the natural reaction for the little family that had to put up with the burden of a Potter.

It was nothing more than a hasty patchwork, designed to hold back his own, miserable childhood memories and growing, painful guilt, but it would hopefully do for the time being.

Number 4, Privet Drive was just as distasteful as the first time Severus had had the misfortune of looking at it, but alas, he had work to do. Dumbledore needed more information about the boy and he had sent both Minerva and him back to the Dursleys, this time at a more reasonable hour. It was a late Thursday afternoon and, according to Severus' information, both adults should be at home. Severus had voiced his concerns about Minervas participation in this errand - she had been less than pleased with the Dursleys' reaction when confronted with the fact that Petunia's nephew was missing -, but he had swiftly shut up when he had seen the look on her face. He was, after all, a Slytherin and knew perfectly well when to retreat. Thus, both of them were standing in front of the cookie-cut house, one seething, one in strict denial.

After a couple of moments of eying the property (Severus was reasonable sure that Minerva was looking for any remains of the wards that had once stood here, just as he did) they moved towards the door. He smoothly glided in front of the Deputy Headmistress, one brow raised at her clenched hands and her thin-pressed lips, and pressed the bell before she could complain. The last thing he needed was watching Minerva clawing at Petunia, regardless of how amusing that would have been. He did, however, straightened up to his formidable hight, ready to tower over the Muggles when the door opened.

"You again!" Petunias long face visibly paled and her murky brown eyes narrowed. Two high, angry-red spots coloured her sharp cheekbones and an ugly sneer took over after a brief moment of something that looked astonishingly like fear.

"Astute as always, Petunia. We are here for a little talk. Are you going to invite us in, or do you rather have this conversation on your front porch?" He kept his voice in the same low pitch he used on his more wayward students right after they had proven to be utterly stupid again and had to suppress a smirk when he saw her eyes flicker across the street and the windows of her neighbours. She was still concerned about outward appearances, dreading what the other Muggles would think of her with two strangers at her door. It didn't matter that both professors were dressed in impeccable, albeit a bit outdated, Muggle clothing. She knew what they were, and she hated the very thought of it just like she did when she had been just another northern girl from Cocksworth. Jealous and full of spi- he hastily shoved these thoughts away. He would not question her behaviour towards a magical child. He would not.

"Hurry up then!", the Muggle hisses, opening the door just wide enough to allow both him and Minerva entry before closing it behind their backs.

"Pet? Who was that? Not some salesman again?" The booming voice of her husband easily drowned out the sounds of the television. Someone laughed, the high voice of a young child. Petunia glared at them and Severus knew that Minerva easily matched the heat of those eyes.

"It's them again. Vernon dear, can you bring Dudders to his room?" Her voice cut sharp. It didn't surprise Severus when, instead of complaining, the adipose man shuffled to his feet. The sounds of the television set cut off and soon after, the massive form of Vernon Dursley came out of the living room, a boy in his arm that looked like he wanted to reach his father's size as soon as possible. Dursley glared at him, then at Minerva, but one look from Petunia sent him up the stairs. "We will talk in the kitchen", the woman said before she turned around and walked through an open doorway. Behind him, he heard Minerva snort.

"Delightful as always", he murmured, quickly making his way towards the kitchen.

"I always said they were the worst kind", was the low answer and he silently agreed. Petunia hadn't changed at all since childhood.

The kitchen itself was like the rest of the house. Clean to the point of obsession, with very little personal trinkets beside some photos of the blonde son and some atrocious pictures the child had likely drawn himself. Petunia had not taken a seat and did not offer one for her guests. It did not keep Severus from offering Minerva a chair, however, waiting until the elder woman sat down rather stiffly. Petunia pursed her lips, looking like something dirty had climbed up that chair. It was an ugly expression and thus very fitting.

"Well. What do you want? Not that there's much to talk about, now that the boy's gone." Heavy steps came down the stairs and soon enough, Dursley was back, his face a shade of puce that Severus had not yet seen on a human being. He sneered at the muggle, feeling Minerva shifting beside him.

"We would very much like to know what had happened that night. Why Harry was out of the house so late, as an example. It was not a time for such a small child to be outside still." Her voice is the coldness and the bite of arctic winter, smooth and slippery like ice. She clearly had no fondness left for the muggles in front of them, but Severus was still hoping, praying, that Albus had not done a big mistake years ago. That Potter had been spoiled and rotten, the little princeling of Number 4, just like his father had been...

"He knew when he was expected to be back, the little freak, and it was his problem if he ignored that, not ours." Petunia lifted her chin in a haughty manner. Behind her, Dursley was nodding furiously.

"He's your kind, not ours! Either way, we don't miss him, and if you happen to find him, don't even think about bringing his filth back into this house. We are proper people!", he barked. And something fell loose inside the Potions Master, something that matched the hiss his colleague let out. His long, potion-stained fingers curled together into fists. This was too much, hit too close to home.

"He is her son, Petunia. Her son", he heard himself say, his whole body trembling. The muggles didn't notice this, and the woman barked out a peal of shrill laughter.

"Ohh! Still holding that torch, Severus?" She leaned forward, hands braced on the expensive wood of the kitchen table, her long neck used to the fullest as she craned her head towards him. She had seen the weak spot and it was in her nature to strike at it. "Maybe you will want to keep the freak boy then! No one asked us if we even wanted to take him in, so don't you dare talk about Lily! She was just as much of a freak as the boy, and I have not forgotten whose fault that was!"

And just like that, all of it came crashing down on Severus, like a carefully designed house of cards comes crashing down with the blow of the wind. Later, much later, he would be very thankful for Minerva's presence, which held him back from throwing himself at the people in front of him with his fists alone. It reminded him of his wand, his potions, his subtlety, which he knew he would need in the following hours.

Especially when they finally found the cupboard.

Chapter Text

September 1st, 2014
Great Hall, Hogwarts

“One last thing, then,” Dumbledore continued after his words had calmed the students down. “Since Professor Nobella has left us due to a surprising, yet very welcome inheritance which she decided to enjoy in warmer climates, I want you to welcome our newest addition to our staff: Andromeda Tonks was willing to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this year.”

He started to clap, which the students followed. Neville wasn’t one of them - he was searching for a new face on the long table, finally spotting the woman at the far end. Long dark hair was falling open onto the woman’s shoulders. At first, he couldn’t make out her face, but then she turned her head and Neville couldn’t breathe.

He knew that face, knew it almost as intimately as he knew his own. The slim shape, the high cheekbones and the grey, heavy-lidded eyes made his palms sweat and chilled his blood.

Objectively, he knew that she couldn’t be the owner of this face. That woman was in Azkaban, a mere shadow of what she’d looked like eleven years ago. No, Bellatrix Lestrange had long since lost her beauty, her cheeks hollowed out, her skin pale and waxen, her eyes sunken in like a skull.

Objectively, he knew that it wasn’t her. And yet she looked like Bellatrix could’ve looked like had she never been caught and thrown into the merciless care of the Dementors.

The clapping stopped, but his ears still rung when he followed his friends back to the Gryffindor tower.

~~~

September 4th, 2014
DADA Classroom, Hogwarts

“Hey Neville, everything alright?”

Neville winced. It was hard to not stare at Professor Tonks, but he managed to turn away and meet Ron’s concerned eyes. For a moment he thought about telling the redhead the truth, to tell him how much her face resembled that of a Death Eater. But then he would’ve to explain, and even though Ron was one of his best friends he still didn’t want to do that. Not because he was ashamed - he would never be ashamed of his parents, no matter what Gran thought. No, he simply feared his pity.

Feared anyone’s pity, really. Which probably was the very reason why he never told them about his parents.

Oh, he perfectly knew that some were in the know. It wasn’t a secret, after all - there had been numerous newspaper articles about the attack, all of which his Gran had kept. People like Hermione would’ve found out ages ago, and he was beyond thankful that she never, ever mentioned it. Draco, too, because how could he not? He was Bellatrix’ nephew, after all, something Neville would never hold against the Slytherin, not after their third year and Neville’s vile accusations.

His decision made, he faked a smile and shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he said and felt warm affection when Ron, obviously not believing him, still let the matter drop.

The smile froze on his face when Professor Tonks walked past their desk, checking on the student’s progress, and didn’t make a return for the rest of the class.

~~~

November 2nd, 2014
Hogwarts Grounds, Hogwarts

He can’t help it, he really can’t. He knew that she wasn’t Bellatrix - Professor Tonks was kind to a fault, if somewhat stern with her students when it came to her subject. The teenagers liked her a lot, and Neville couldn’t fault them for that. He’d have liked her as well, he was sure of it, but…

But her face was still the same. And he felt guilty for it, but he couldn’t help but be suspicious, what with Ginny having been forced into the Tournament.

So he watched her, wary and guilty in equal measures. He was never the first to enter the classroom, nor the last to leave, feeling safe in the crowd of his mates. When he met her in the corridors, he made sure that they were never alone together.

They never talked, like some students started after the first few weeks. Hermione was one of them, fascinated by the smart and kind woman. Neville knew better than to warn her off, though - it would only lead to awkward talks of the kind he’d avoided for years.

The problem was that Neville wasn’t very subtle. Draco had tried to teach him after the endless pining last year - everyone they’d been close to had already guessed at the two ending up dating as it was. And while Professor Tonks wasn’t close to Neville, she was smart and observant.

So, of course, she caught him staring, more than once, really. He’d been able to walk away before, joining other students or ducking away into one of the many hidden passageways, but this time he wasn’t as lucky, not as careful.

“Mr Longbottom,” Professor Tonks said, her grey eyes piercing and curious and a bit annoyed as well. “Is something the matter?”

Neville swallowed. It was just so easy so imagine those same eyes with a cruel, crazed glint in it. The same, pretty face pulled into a grimace, or a snarl, or a peal of wicked laughter…

“Professor Tonks,” he greeted belatedly, his heart pounding loudly in his chest. His whole body felt tense and his palms sweaty. “It’s - nothing, really, I’m sorry.”

A brow went up. Neville wasn’t only not subtle, he wasn’t a very good liar as well. It was obvious that Professor Tonks didn’t believe him.

“I’m sure you are,” she said, musing as she looked him over. “For getting caught, I reckon?” She smiled and it suited her. A demented grin would as well, and it was hard to stay, to not run away or hex her.

But then her face smoothed out and she looked at him with serious eyes. “Mr Longbottom,” she repeated, one hand on her hip, the other hanging loose beside her. “I think it’s time we have a talk. I didn’t want to mention it, but I noticed your…” Here she hesitated, an uncomfortable frown on her brow. “Attention.”

Neville drew a sharp breath, eyes widening. His mouth opened up in protest, but he stopped himself when Professor Tonk’s face relaxed into a broad smile just as a hand touched Neville’s arm.

The Gryffindor felt some of the tension leave his body when Draco leaned in. It was a bit worrisome, of course - he knew that Draco had no love for his maternal aunt, so it was only logical that the Slytherin wouldn’t very much like this look-a-like. But he was glad as well, to have someone with him.

What he didn’t expect, however, was Draco’s bright smile towards Professor Tonks, nor the warmth in her eyes.

Or the greeting.

“Aunt Andromeda,” Draco said and Neville hoped the other boy won’t notice his momentarily weak knees. “Please don’t harass my boyfriend.”

“Your… boyfriend?” Professor Tonks looked between the two, at the way Draco had draped himself practically over Neville’s shoulder. Neville felt his face getting hot all over. “Oh.

“‘Oh’ what?” Draco cocked his head, and it suddenly struck Neville that they’d the same eyes. All the time he knew that Professor Tonks looked like Bellatrix Lestrange, he’d never thought about how much Draco and she looked alike. “Oh, I never introduced you? I’d have thought that Mother already told you all about it.”

The Slytherin gave her a sly smile. Neville felt like he was choking on air.

“She didn’t.” Professor Tonks looked thoughtful now, eyeing Neville for a moment. “But it might explain… no matter, now. Mr Longbottom, it was delightful. Draco, please bring him for our next breakfast, would you? I’d love to hear more.”

And with a terrifying smile, the woman turned away, leaving Neville and Draco behind.

Draco hummed, watching her go before leaning his cheek on Neville’s shoulder. “Come, walk with me.”

It wasn’t a question. Neville knew Draco too good to still think so. For a moment he entertained the thought of leaving as well, but he knew that Draco had gleaned enough from this short encounter to just let it go.

And Draco wasn’t the only one with questions after that bomb the blonde had dropped on him. Aunt Andromeda, he’d said.

They ended up walking not that long at all. Draco ducked under a tapestry hanging in a corridor close by. The set of stairs led them to a hidden alcove overlooking the grounds, a hidden nook with benches and pillows that they often used to spend some time in private.

Neville hesitated for a moment, contemplating an escape from his boyfriend, but Draco’s hand was on his shoulder and one soft push from the Slytherin was enough to make Neville take a seat. He was a Gryffindor, after all. He had to be brave, and he didn’t want to start lying to Draco now.

“She’s her sister, isn’t she?” The words tumbled out of his mouth the moment Draco moved beside him. It took some effort to lift his own head enough to meet Draco’s eyes and wondered about the fact that there was no lingering resentment for the grey in them.

“She is,” Draco answered, and his face softened, his mouth curling up into a smile. There was no pity whatsoever, not in his eyes nor in his voice, and Neville had the strong urge to kiss his boyfriend for that. “But she’s as far from Lestrange as possible. I actually never met her before I turned fourteen - Father certainly never allowed it. Tonks isn’t a wizard’s name.”

“She’s nice,” Neville said, and he didn’t lie. Professor Tonks was easily one of the most liked teachers in Hogwarts, no matter that she only started two months ago. Like Professor Lupin, she had a way with her students.

“She is. Sirius contacted her as soon as he was free, and Mother followed when Father started to become problematic.” Draco leaned his head back against the cool window panes, his gaze steady and without any weight. “I know you, Neville. I’m many things, but not blind - it’s her face, isn’t it? You looked like a deer in front of a wolf, facing her right now.”

With a sigh Neville nodded - there was no use denying that. Even before he’d asked Draco out, the boy knew him far too well. “I don’t want to dislike her, but I can’t help it. Every time I see her, my brain just... “ Goes to places he didn’t want to see. Years spent staring at wanted posters, old and crumbling under small fingertips. Years of visiting parents who couldn’t remember his face or his name or simple words, still scarred from the torture they’d to endure.

Warm hands cupped his face, bringing him out of his dark thoughts. Neville swallowed and leaned in, until their foreheads touched. Draco’s scent was warm and familiar.

“I can’t promise that it’ll help,” the Slytherin said slowly, caressing Neville’s skin with his thumbs. “But it’s not a bad idea, joining her for breakfast. It’ll give you some time to see her, not Bellatrix Lestrange. Take your time, Neville. You are strong enough for all that. Besides, it’s a distraction you don’t need this year, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Neville answered with a sight. NEWTS were looming, and with it the prospect of graduating. He should worry about that. Merlin, he should worry about poor Ginny. For a moment he let himself cling to Draco before lifting his face and pressing a short, firm kiss on the other’s lips. “I’ll try.”

Chapter Text

June 25th, 2015
King’s Cross, London

Hermione scowled down at her phone. Ginny wasn’t answering hers, but the fact that Blaise and Luna were also missing from their compartment was enough to comfort her to keep her in her compartment instead of searching for Ginny again.

With a sigh, she went through her older messages. The last one from Miss C made her frown, but before she could wonder about the ominous ‘See you later’ any longer, Ron placed his head on her shoulder.

“We’re almost there,” he said, sneaking an arm around her waist and giving her shoulder a soft kiss. It caused a smile to linger on Hermione’s lips, drawing her away from her worry.

“It’s weird, isn’t it? Not going back. At least most of us - I heard Professor Sprout is vying for you, Neville.”

“She is,” Draco said smugly where he was sprawled on the seat across from Ron, head firmly on Neville’s lap. The Gryffindor had a bemused look on his face, as if uncomfortable by the topic, and ducked his head. “And no small wonder. You have a way with plants, Nev.”

“I’m still thinking about it. I might want to take an apprenticeship elsewhere and go back later or…” He shrugged, facing the window now. London was coming into sight.

“It’s not a bad idea, to get a few new experiences under your belt,” Hermione said soothingly, leaning a bit against Ron herself. “I’m still not sure what to do with myself, of course. I have some offers I want to go through, but I think I’ll want to at least stay in the UK. And Ron’s going in with his brothers, managing MagiTech with Justin. I ought to stay close to help.”

“I already told her that we can manage as long as the others do their apprenticeships,” Ron explained with a long-suffering sigh, ignoring the huff from his girlfriend. “But I won’t complain.” He ended with an endearing grin which earned him a peck on the cheek. “Especially since Ginny thinks she can get scouted next year.”

“Does she, now?” Draco had one eyebrow raised, grimacing when the train started to slow down, causing it to slightly rock. “I thought she wanted to keep to MagiTech as well?”

Ron watched on in confusion. “Huh. I thought you knew, what with your mum introducing her to all those Harpies back in summer. She wouldn’t shut up about it at home.”

“Wait, what?”

Hermione laughed outright when Draco made to sit up just as they curved into London proper. Only Neville’s strong arm around his shoulders saved the Slytherin from falling spectacularly to the ground. Two reddened spots bloomed on Draco’s pale cheeks as he sorted out his slightly wrinkled clothing.

“Let’s better get up then,” she said before Draco could start questioning Ron about his mother, and grabbed her backpack and wand. After a deft whack on each of their trunks, the four wrestled their now feather-light luggage out of the compartment and towards the doors, waiting for the train to fully stop at the platform.

“Look, there she is… hey, hey Gin! Ginny!” Ron started waving, not caring about almost whacking a gaggle of fourth years with his long arm.

Rolling her eyes, Hermione pulled his hand down again. “Honestly, Ron, you’ll see her in a minute.”

It took them a bit more than a minute to leave the train after it came to a full stop, having to wade through the sea of younger and oftentimes smaller students. Neville and Draco were fast in spotting both Narcissa and Sirius, both standing tall and close to the barrier.

“Hey, look where you walk next time!” Ron hollered at a tiny second year who used his small frame to weasel past the redhead. “Do you see anyone?”

“I think your parents are over there.” She nodded in the direction where she had seen the very distinct red of the Weasley clan, grabbing her own trunk tight. Then she paused and gave him another quick kiss on the cheek, ignoring Ron’s confused look. “Go ahead, I’m going to search for my parents.”

“Meet me outside?” Ron nodded towards the barrier and Hermione replied with a smile and a nod before leaving her boyfriend to wade towards his family.

It took her a good while to find her own parents. Despite being Muggles, and thus not dressing in flashy robes, they’d huddled together with other Muggle parents and family. Seven years weren’t enough for sensible people to really get used to the hub-hub that was the school’s platform, with all the casual magic and screeching animals and vibrant colours.

“Mum! Dad!” she called over, the platform slowly emptying out with people apparating away or rushing through the barrier.

It was then that she spied simple grey robes and blonde hair pulled into a messy bun. Her mother’s smile was a tad confused, while her dad looked overwhelmed and flustered. Hermione slowed down, staring at the smaller woman who turned around with a sharp smile, lips painted bright red.

“Hermione, dear,” Unspeakable Celestine Makepeace said and twirled the cigarette in her left hand. The smoke curling around her lips had a purple tinge to it and smelled faintly like lavender under the heavy odor of tobacco. “How lovely, I waited for ages. Your parents were nice enough to keep me company.”

“But… I mean, how good to see you, Miss C, but I don’t… whatever are you doing here?.” Hermione finally reached the small group, giving both of her parents a hurried hug before turning back to Miss C.

“I’m wounded,” the woman said dryly. “Don’t you read your messages? I’m sure I told you I would come by.”

“You said ‘See you soon’,” Hermione replied with a frown which made Miss C laugh.

“Close enough, dear. Anyway, I was just talking to your lovely parents a bit about my work. Not much, I’m not very fond of my tongue swelling up, but I thought it might soothe them.”

“It really didn’t, Miss,” Mr Granger said warily, sneaking an arm around Hermione’s shoulders, who was staring at Miss C in growing dismay.

“Miss C,” she began, but was interrupted by the wave of a finely manicured hand.

“No,” Miss C said, her tone final.

It made Hermione bristle. “Excuse me…”

“No, I won’t.” This time, Miss C snapped the words in her all-business voice, one hand dipping into one of those wonderful Unspeakable’s pockets. Parchment sheets rustled and she held a small stack of neatly cut sheets out to Hermione. “You’re brilliant, and I won’t have you waste away. Read this, sign it and come to work Monday, 8 am sharp.”

With a shaking hand, Hermione took the contract into her free hand. When she saw how her father made to protest, her mother worrying away behind him, she took a deep breathe despite the lump in her throat. A desperate, giddy feeling was pooling in her stomach, but she stomped it down, resolve rising like steel walls around her.

Because Miss C offered her an apprenticeship. She offered it to her.

“I’ll look through it,” she promises, clamping down on the excited giggle that threatened to escape. “And see if I’m interested.”

That got her a scowl and a finger pointed at her. “Do that. Your brain is something precious, and I saw it first.” Her scowl turned into a sweet smile when she nodded towards Hermione’s parents. “Mrs and Mr Granger, it was a pleasure.”

And with that and a small crack of her apparition, the Unspeakable was gone.

“Well,” Hermione said with as much dignity as she could muster. “We should hurry. Ron is waiting for us.”

Chapter Text

June 11th, 2015
The Compound

When Bruce walked towards his lab, he hadn’t quite expected to see someone there. Well, maybe Tony, but he knew for a fact that the engineer was busy in his own space. Not that Bruce minded - he was confident in his welcome in the billionaire’s workshops. But Bruce had other experiments running.

The quiet was also nice, after spending days with both Tony and Rocket.

Cradling his mug of tea in his hands, a folder with papers and a notebook clamped under his armpit, the physicist was somewhat bemused when he spotted the tiny creature directly in front of the doors to his lab.

“Shouldn’t you be with one of your friends?” he asked Groot mildly, causing the living plant to look up and… yeah. Even Bruce Banner couldn’t help but smile at those big eyes and that even bigger smile.

Groot cooed his own greeting, tiny arms held up almost immediately. Out of all the aliens that the Compound now housed, the tiny guy was the most comfortable with the situation. Even Rocket, ever as confident when tinkering and bickering, had a tense air around him in too big a company. Bruce wasn’t blind yet, and nerves were easy to spot for him.

When Groot started to impatiently jump up and down, Bruce rearranged his belongings until he could reach down with his right hand, palm up as an invitation. “You’re getting us both in trouble here,” he said and watched the toes and fingers of Groot grow soft and strong roots to get a better hold on his hand. “How about you come with me until someone finds you, hm?”

“I am Groot!” the tiny thing cooed with his high-pitched voice, climbing up Bruce’s sleeve until he could ride his shoulder.

Settling down with him was easy. Groot was easily distracted away from the more delicate experiments and tools, and it didn’t take long anyway for Bruce to check on the collected data and to adjust his variables here and there. Before Groot could grow bored he was already finished and able to give the tiny guy his full attention.

“Here,” he said and gave Groot a beaker, eyes set on the way the fingers curled around the smooth glass. It was way too big for Groot to hold in comfort, the surface a bit slippery as well, which caused him to grow out his fingers yet again. “I wonder how you do that. It’s obviously living matter, not dead tissue, but to grow it out so fast, without reducing your overall mass... “

It couldn’t be helped, really. Despite him being an Avenger, despite the Hulk and all its trappings, Bruce was and will ever be a scientist - a man of curiosity, someone who was always keen to get things. He was scribbling down notes before he knew it, glasses riding low on his nose while Groot played with this or that, seemingly enjoying the close attention.

~~~

Gamora knocked on the door, already opening it. Normally she would wait for an answer, but she was too worried right now - Peter had lost Groot, too occupied to stalk Captain Rogers yet again.

“Excuse me, Doctor Banner, but Friday told me I could find… Groot…”

She stopped, both in speech and in motion, when she got a good look into the clean laboratory space. Neither the gleaming equipment nor the written-on whiteboards had caught her attention, however - it was the man himself she stared at. Doctor Banner was wincing slightly, having turned around with a start, and she spotted a soft blush on his cheeks.

It matched the dainty white flowers in his dark locks quite well.

“Ah, I’m… well,” Banner stuttered, his fingers clenching slightly around the Petri dish he had been fiddling with. A few of the flowers had been ripped apart, some petals arranged on the desk, others mixed into a fine, greyish substance. Groot was sitting next to a microscope, producing yet more flowers with a flourish, some sprouted from his head to match the Doctor.

Gamora took her time to take the scene in, clamping down on the urge to smile. Instead, she levelled a stare at Groot who gave her an innocent look in return. “What did I told you about running away, Groot?”

“I am Groot!” he exclaimed and held up a small bundle of flowers.

“He was very well behaved,” Banner said hastily, the blush growing deeper in colour. “And we’re… ah, trying to see how it works, him growing plant cells.”

“I see,” Gamora said. It was hard to keep her serious face. “He seems to be in good hands, then. Dinner is ready in an hour, I was told, please make sure to bring Groot with you.”

Taking pity with his panicked face, she finally turned around and closed the door behind her. The snort that escaped her was hopefully too quiet for Banner or Groot to hear.

~~~

Chapter Text

September 1st, 2008
Great Hall, Hogwarts

They always looked so terribly young. Young, and small, and vulnerable.

Albus watched the crowd of new First Years. Some were afraid, others inquisitive. He saw curiosity, anxiety, even plain impatience and hunger. No student was exactly the same as any other, and yet... as a group, it was the same picture every year.

Student after student walked towards the Sorting Hat, and sorted they got. With every name called, his four Head of Houses leaned forward, some more subtle than the others. They’d take notice of the new faces, try and see what the Hat had seen in them to put them into their care.

Sometimes, Albus would try and make it out before the children were called. Sometimes he watched them carefully, examining their displayed emotions, their excited whispers. Sometimes he found more, though - a strong family resemblance.

Draco Malfoy, he thought with a touch of bitterness, really looked a great deal like his father. It didn’t surprise Albus when the boy went to Slytherin. With a pang of guilt he shook his head - he shouldn’t judge, but in the end, he too was only a man. One with many regrets.

He didn’t allow himself to wonder which House young Harry would’ve been sorted into, however. Like most things about him, even his hope had been old and wary long before this particular Sorting had come about. And like many things in his life, this hope was left unfulfilled.

Was it really that surprising then that he’d given up his hope for other things as well?

~~~

October 3rd, 2009
Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts

When the door closed behind the three tiny Second Years, Albus’ bright smile turned into a thoughtful, yet no less happy one. This… well, this wasn’t what he’d expected. During the last year, he’d tried not to pay too much attention to that year, after all - had allowed himself to at least try and forget about young Harry Potter, lost to them and hidden who knows where. But in doing so, he’d overlooked other things, it seemed.

Only that this time, the surprise was very pleasant, indeed.

“A Hufflepuff, a Gryffindor and a Slytherin…,” he said softly to himself, his smile stretching out again before tapping his wand against a sheet of parchment. The silent spell cut the sheet into four even pieces, and with another little wiggle words formed on them in the Headmaster’s usual flourish.

How very curious. Especially since neither of his Head of Houses had mentioned unusual friendships between the Houses.

~~~

November 6th, 2010
Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts

It wasn’t at all surprising that the tenseness of the year, no matter how early it still was, would worm its way into the student’s heads. Even from up high Albus had no difficulties to spot the harsh lines of Neville Longbottom’s still scrawny shoulders.

Nor did he miss the matching set on young Mister Malfoy.

He couldn’t help but worry a bit - a whole year of paying close attention to the doings of that year, and Albus still had his difficulties to not see the parents behind the son’s face. Neville looked a great deal like his mother - the same soft roundness of his face, a slight upturn of the nose and freckles on his hands when he spent too much time in the sun. She’d been a gentle woman, he remembered. Gentle, but headstrong.

Draco, on the other hand, was a living miniature of his father. His mother’s influences were subtle, seen in the tilt of his chin and the gait of his steps. Except for the eyes - Draco’s eyes were Black eyes, as grey and expressive as ever.

He couldn’t see them from this hight, though. Could only guess what those two boys were talking about. It wasn’t difficult - not when the biggest news was about a man connected to them both. Connected to a great many people, Albus included.

The argument outside the castle was short and tense. And then it was over, with young Draco turning away. Albus sighed, but before he could rub his face with a wary hand, Neville’s whole body… relaxed.

And then the Gryffindor followed the Slytherin back into the castle.

~~~

April 15th, 2012
Headmaster’s Office

“Madam Malfoy,” Albus greeted the woman entering his office. “And Severus. Please, take a seat.”

He couldn’t say that he was surprised to see both of them here. Not after he’d spent the last couple of years watching closely over young Draco and the other children from that year. And with every day that passed, Albus had finally seen more than Lucius in the boy.

Although watching the elegant woman taking a seat like she was ready to go to war, he had to admit that he’d overlooked all the influence Narcissa had left in her son.

“I’m here because of Draco, and his future education within Hogwarts,” she said, grey eyes sharp and dangerous, Severus’ presence right next to her. A family friend indeed, but more on the wife’s side as it seemed.

Albus nodded, not bothering with his usual array of disarming smiles. Respect was stirring for this woman, and he couldn’t find it in him to dislike that fact. Couldn’t help but wonder how many more masks he’d misinterpreted during his long, long life.

“Very well,” he said solemnly, steepling his fingers in front of his face. “I think I am able to help you with that, Madam.”

The pleased smile on Severus’ lips was almost as nice as watching Narcissa’s eyebrows raising in surprise.

~~~

November 11th, 2012
Teacher’s Lounge, Hogwarts

“All I’m saying is that they spend a lot of time up there, even more than last year! The fact that neither of us is sure where a whole year of students are disappearing to is a bit worrying, don’t you think?”

Judging by the intense stare Aurora was giving him, Albus had no doubt who the witch wanted to answer the pointed question. He pondered a bit about that before choosing to cheerfully ignore it, tinkering with his tea instead.

Minerva, who was stirring her own cup, gave a soft snort. “Whatever they do and wherever they go, as long as their schoolwork doesn’t suffer I’m not inclined to hinder them. It’s the most peaceful year I’ve seen in decades. Even those not participating, like Mister Nott or Miss McDougal, are not prone to any House related drama. We should see to keep this going, I would say.”

“I’m not too worried about it, either. A good portion of my Hufflepuffs are in it, too. Most of our new Prefects as well.” Pomona gave Aurora a bright smile, but when Albus looked over, his Astronomy teacher didn’t look very understanding.

“It’s unheard of,” she said with a sniff before shaking her head. “Especially since it’s their OWL year. They definitely spend less time in the Library.”

“Not due to them not studying,” Filius noted, barely looking up from his news papers. “Irma told me that they simply come and grab the books they need.”

“And their grades aren’t suffering,” Minerva added with a smug little smile. “I dare say that the year’s average is quite impressive, even.”

“But isn’t it suspicious? They could be planning who knows what! I for sure can see why Aurora is worried,” Septima said, but not quite as accusing as her fellow Professor. “It’s also very exclusive, the whole thing. No older students, and I believe only a couple of younger ones. It sets a bad standard.”

Albus opened his mouth, ready to finally take a stand in this, but he got beaten to it. Closing his book with an audible snap, Severus stared at them in irritation. “Hogwash,” the man said sharply, dark eyes narrowed. “They set a better standard for the younger students than we’d seen in the last two decades, if not more. I for one am perfectly fine with the situation, as are the other Heads.”

There was a surprised, oddly hushed silence following his words until a soft snort broke it. Remus, Albus’ newest addition to the staff, wasn’t very good at hiding his smile. “Well said, Severus,” he said and turned back to his essays.

Albus couldn’t help but admire the way Remus ignored Severus’ angry glares.

Well said, indeed. Taking a slow sip from his tea, Albus sat back contently. He was still worried about a lot of things, but that never really changed. For now, however, the Headmaster enjoyed the simple fact that he, too, trusted his students to make the right decisions all by themselves.

Chapter Text

May 7th, 2013
Grounds, Hogwarts

Ron didn’t know when he started to… well. See her, maybe. It was hard to put in words, to say when exactly one of his best friends turned into a Girl without him noticing at first. Only that she did, and that Ron had eventually noticed.

Whatever caused the change, he was aware of her in a way he had never been before. The way she smelled when she leaned over his desk to help with a problem; the softness of her skin when they brushed past each other in the hallways. And her excitement… She’d always been one to get carried away with her ideas but there was something different about watching her in action these days. Something glowing that he couldn’t look away from despite the bushy hair, or the prominent teeth.

The problem was that she was still one of his best friends. How was a bloke supposed to ask one’s best friend out? It would be awkward enough with any other girl their age, what with this being a boarding school - they all knew each other for years now. Merlin, Ron's spend the entire first year teasing Hermione for being too bright and too fast. And entirely too rude as well.

How was he supposed to go from teasing her to asking her out without the whole thing blowing up in his face? Or his heart exploding from sheer anxiousness, like it was threatening to do while they walked side by side, the other students that walked towards the Care of Magical Creatures class chatting loudly some paces in front of them.

He chanced a glance to the girl in question. Hermione was amiably walking next to him, the wind tugging at her robes and her hair. The weather was really good, a hint of summer after a relatively chilly northern spring. Normally Ron wouldn’t take such big notice of the weather, but nowadays good weather meant Hermione wearing her robes open…

The need to do something about all of this, to find the courage he supposedly had as a Gryffindor and just ask her out, fought against the many insecurities he felt so keenly these days. Ron squirmed a bit, not able to look away from Hermione who was still talking about the nearing exams. When she looked his way, his mouth went dry and his face grew hot as he struggled to put his thoughts into words.

“Hermio-”

Eyes growing large (a nice shade of hazel, bright and intelligent and just so very pretty) and with a choked sound, Hermione grabbed Ron’s robes and pulled the boy towards her. For one moment, Ron simply froze. He’d entertained some thoughts of this kind, but having Hermione doing this, in front of everyone?

And then Hermione threw them both out of the way of a galloping Abs. What Ron had ignored as loud chatter finally translated into alarmed shouts as he tried to curl around the girl before they hit the grassy ground.

For a few moments, they stayed right there, limbs tangled together and Hermione’s shoulder and book bag painfully digging into Ron’s chest. Brown, curly hair was shoved into his face.

It was kind of great, but then she shoved away from him, face still a bit pale and eyes still a bit too large in a way that made him wary.

“Ronald Weasley!” she snapped. The soft tremor in her voice didn’t go unnoticed. “Honestly, don’t you have eyes in that airhead of yours? You could’ve been hurt!”

He didn’t bother to answer right away, not with Hermione starting to fuss while he was still lying on the grass. He was keenly aware of their surroundings (Hagrid running after the escaped Bicorn, the other students closing in), but… it was kind of okay. Kind of nice, to be honest, to see that Hermione cared a lot about him.

“You were there, weren’t you?” he eventually said and grinned when she cuffed his head, huffing in growing annoyance.

Really kind of nice.

~~~

May 19th, 2013
Hogsmeade

It’d been Neville’s idea to take her to Hogsmeade after Ron had approached the other Gryffindor to talk about his problems. It felt right, despite his nerves, to tell Neville about his crush - the boy was, without a doubt, Hermione’s very best friend after all. Had always been, even back in first year when most Gryffindor boys had teased or ignored the bookish know-it-all.

“Ask her to go to the village,” Neville had said with a shrug. “It’s not too unusual, lots of students milling around, but with enough space to ask her out somewhere private.”

So here he was, walking the streets of the quaint little wizarding village, watching Hermione’s hands. They were expressive when she talked, almost as if the girl tried to fit more information in her speech than words alone could manage. Her nails were neat and tidy, unpainted unlike many other girls in school. He knew that she washed them often because she was likely to spill some ink on them. He also knew that the callus on her right middle finger was more pronounced than his, holding quills and pens more often and for longer times.

He didn’t know why all these facts were making his heart pound and his guts feel wiggly, but most things she did or said were doing that to him.

“Hey, Hermione?” he finally got out, probably cutting her off as well judging by the slightly annoyed look on her face. “Sorry, I just wanted to ask you if… well, would it be possible to…”

Her eyebrows wandered up a bit before pulling together in confusion. Then she let out a soft huff. “What’s it, Ron? You need any help with something?”

Merlin, but he really loved her if the thought of her helping him with homework made his skin feel tight and hot. “N-no,” he said, tumbling over the word like an idiot. “It’s about…”

“Oi, Ron! Hermione!”

Ginny’s loud voice made Ron wince. He didn’t want his little sister to know about his plans, thank you very much. Blushing furiously, he turned around and saw Ginny hopping closer, hand in hand with Luna Lovegood who was watching them all with her too-wide eyes.

“Hey, Ginny, Luna,” Hermione greeted both, but she kept looking at Ron in confusion and Ron couldn’t bring himself to even look at her right now, not while the embarrassment still burned the tips of his ears. “Enjoying Hogsmeade?”

“Lots,” Ginny replied with a grin before making a grab for Hermione’s hand. “Sorry, brother, but I’m stealing her. Susan and Pansy are waiting at the Broomsticks, we’re having a Girl Day, so shoo off.”

“Excuse me?” Ron sputtered, feeling annoyed and overwhelmed all at once. “You can’t just… Ginny, let her go!”

“Sorry, Ron!” Hermione called, half dragged by the two younger girls. She was laughing about their antics, much to Ron’s dismay. “Let’s go another time, yes?”

“Bollocks,” he murmured. And he almost got it today, as well.

~~~

June 7th, 2013
Hogwarts

After being interrupted by his own little sister, Ron didn’t have the nerve to try again for the next few weeks - every time an opportunity came up to speak to Hermione alone, he felt watched, as if someone was just waiting to make a move so they could interrupt him again.

The whole experience wasn’t good for him. His temper grew shorter and shorter to the point where he was bickering about the smallest things - most of all with Hermione. This close to the OWLs, she was running mostly on willpower and panic alone, hair frazzled and eyes wide and a permanent frown set on her face as she lashed out and worried herself close to tears in rapid alternation.

Even Neville thought it a better idea for Ron to just wait until the exams were over before bothering with Hermione again.

But he wanted to. Not bothering her, obviously, but telling her. The need to do so sat like a heavy lump in his chest, growing larger every time he saw her doing one of the many things he grew to adore - the way she furiously took notes; the way she rolled her eyes in fond exasperation when he didn’t get a concept she deemed as easy to understand; the way her eyes brightened when he finally got it.

The way she could focus entirely on something, anything really.

Like now, already sitting on her place at the start of Potions, fully engrossed into her textbook. She’d pulled her hair into a bun in an attempt to get it out of her way, but a few wayward strands had gotten out of the hold. He watched her shoving them away, biting her lower lip in irritation.

He was next to her before he noticed, ignoring the way other students glanced at him still standing. Swallowing, Ron cleared his throat. He had to ask her, had to tell her, because his chest felt like it would burst if he waited even a moment longer, and…

“Mister Weasley.”

The cutting voice of Professor Snape pulled Ron right out of his thoughts and back into reality. Mortified, the Gryffindor gaped at the scowling teacher who stood entirely too close for his liking, glaring down his long nose.

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” Ron blurted out. He hadn’t noticed the bell. Or Snape arriving at the classroom, for that matter.

Someone gave a startled snort and he was sure he heard one of his mates trying to swallow an incredulous laugh. Snape, on the other hand, wasn’t very much amused.

“Five points from Gryffindor for your language, Mister Weasley,” the man hissed and managed to catch even Hermione’s attention. “Now sit down, before I lose hope for the very few remaining brain cells even an imbecile like you must have to function on a base level.”

Ron almost dropped into his seat next to Hermione and felt every stare on his skin. He didn’t dare look at Hermione, eyes still rapt on Professor Snape as the man turned around to face the whole class, already barking orders for today’s potion.

At least the girl seemed to be miffed by Snape’s choice of words.

“You’ve plenty of brain cells, Ron, don’t listen to him,” she whispered at one point when Ron, still feeling beyond mortified, almost threw the wrong ingredients into his potion. She pulled his hand away, siddling closer, and Merlin but that didn’t help his dignity at all.

Still felt good, though.

~~~

July 5th, 2013
The Burrow

“Hey, Ginny? Can I use your phone? I want to give Hermione a call.”

Hermione had bought it for Ginny, all set up, the moment they all got home for summer. And Ginny, ever since having received it per owl, had used it as much as possible even if that meant a lot of walking. The Burrow didn’t have electricity, after all, which meant visiting Ottery St. Catchpole to recharge it.

“Don’t take too long, yes? If you do, you’re going to charge it next,” she warned him, but it was in good humour and with the mobile phone ready in her hand.

Her curious eyes followed him as he went out and to the nearby orchard. Taking a deep breath, he made sure that none of his family was close by before selecting Hermione’s number. Her little profile picture made him smile a bit - Ginny had taken it right after the last OWL exam, and the older girl looked terribly frazzled.

“Hey Ginny,” Hermione greeted after a couple seconds. She sounded well-rested. Good, that was good.

“‘S Ron,” he answered, sitting down at his favourite apple tree. “I wanted to try it out myself. Can you hear me?”

“Oh! Yes, I can hear you! Just talk like I was there, that’s more than enough. Is everything alright, then?”

“Yeah,” Ron said, feeling a smile tug on his lips. He leaned back, one hand on his chest where the heavy lump sat. “Everything’s alright. Say, you have time next weekend? Draco told me that there’s this special exhibition at the… uhm, London Science Museum? They made flyers and all.”

A dopey grin curved his lips. He was actually doing it. After all this time, he was finally going to be able to ask her without chickening out or being interrupted. He could barely hear her response through the blood rushing in his ears.

“Oh, I heard about it! Yes, I’d love to go! Are there any plans? Is it only us three? I could ask Anthony, I think he might be interested…”

“No, no,” Ron said hastily, sitting up in his haste. “It’s, uhm. It’s just us two. If, if that’s alright?”

Shit, shit, shit. Ron bit his lips frantically running his sweat-soaked palms down the front of his jeans while he tried to remember how to breathe - there was just so much worry and anxiety thrumming through his body. And then…

“Oh? Sure, why not. It’ll be fun at least, and a nice treat after the OWLs. When do you want to meet up?”

It felt like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders and Ron felt his grin spread wider until his cheeks ached. “Next Saturday? We can meet up at the Leaky Cauldron, or at your place.”

“Perfect. Thanks, Ron, you’re a really good friend!”

And there was the lump again. Ron slumped visibly, swallowing a frustrated groan. “Sure, Hermione. It’s nothing, really. See you next week then?”

“See you. And greet your family from me.”

She hung up, leaving Ron feeling rather defeated. Friends. Friends. The girl could punch you in the gut without even trying.

“Oh, Ron,” someone said with barely hidden laughter in their voice. Ron jumped to his feet, already swinging around, and came face to face with Ginny.

“Fuck,” he said, making Ginny snicker even more. “Fuck, Gin, I swear if you tell anyone..!”

“Gosh, Ron, don’t be daft,” she said, snatching her phone from his hands. When did she even got here, spying on him? How much did she heard? “It’s not like you’re hiding it all that well. It’s all over your face when you look at Hermione. I figured it out since Hogsmeade. So, you finally managed to ask her out, so why the long face?”

“I… what?” he sputtered, feeling his face growing hot.

“Your face, silly. It’s all… miserable.” Ginny frowned a bit, and part of her amusement bled out of her eyes to be replaced with serious intent. “She didn’t say no, I heard you fixing a date.”

Ron stared at his little sister for long seconds before deflating. At this point he felt like he needed all the help he could get. “She said it was nice to do stuff with a friend,” he said, his voice dropping in defeat.

”Oh, Ron,”,” Ginny repeated, this time with much more feeling. “Come, let’s see what we can do about this.”

~~~

July 13th, 2013
London, England

It was not going as planned, but it wasn’t terrible. That had to count for something. Besides, Hermione was clearly enjoying herself, dragging Ron through the exhibition with barely constrained glee.

Sure, she still thought this was an outing as friends. But Ginny had actually encouraged Ron to go with the flow and use the opportunity to tell her about his feelings. Honesty, she said, goes a long way, and Ron was tired of fucking this up, of waiting any longer. He was a Gryffindor, after all. It shouldn’t even be that hard.

“Look, Ron!” Hermione said and pointed at another piece of space engineering she was all excited about. Most of what the museum offered went right above his head, but it was all kinds of fascinating what Muggles are sending into space nowadays.

With a smile Ron watched Hermione rushing forward, his own pace more sedate this time. A minute to sort his words was just what he needed. How does one go and present their feelings to someone else?

Maybe he should start with a compliment. Telling her what he liked about her ought to be good. The list was a long one, though, and he wasn’t sure how much he should dump on her. Her smile, maybe? Or her smartness?

His thoughts ground to a halt when he saw that Hermione wasn’t alone. Standing next to her in front of a model of a probe was a young man. He looked a couple years older than Ron and Hermione, with dark hair, blue eyes, a bit of stubble on his chin and something metallic stuck in his nose. A ring, Ron noticed, startled.

“...pretty far, all things considered, and they’re bound to only advance even further. There are two more probes scheduled in the next three months.”

“Well,” Hermione answered, and she sounded happy and interested, her hands moving animatedly, eyes glowing. “It’s only natural, isn’t it? They’re mapping out as much as they can, and they use the best sensors they can get, to detect movement and energy output and whatnot…”

The lump in his chest sunk to his stomach, where it grew teeth and claws and growled. It was hard not to snarl at the other boy as he closed the distance. Especially when said stranger leaned forward a bit.

“Hey, Hermione,” Ron said, eyes fixed on the guy. “Who’s that?”

Hermione turned around and Merlin, how she beamed. “Oh, that’s Mercer,” she said. “Mercer, this is Ron, a friend of mine.”

Ron gritted his teeth as he shook Mercer’s outstretched hand. He didn’t seem to notice Ron’s scowl, though, and simply smiled, showing off his dimples. Because of course he had dimples to go along with everything else. As if Ron needed another reason to dislike him on sight.

“Nice to meet you, mate. Sorry if I’m interrupting something here?” Mercer looked between the two with a pretty obvious question in his eyes. Except he didn’t sound sorry. Not to Ron, anyway.

“Oh, don’t worry, you’re not disturbing anything,” Hermione said and Ron wanted to groan and maybe shake her a bit. Because Mercer was disturbing them. Him. Mostly him.

It was the way Mercer’s eyes got all calculating. And his casual smile, dimply and handsome. Mostly it was the way he looked at Hermione, with pleasant interest in his eyes. “So, you’re single, then? You wanna go out sometime?”

And Ron snapped.

“Are you kidding me, dude?” He said loudly, taking a step forward. Mercer was older, but Ron had shot up quite a bit in the last year. Almost a man, his Dad had said, building up some muscles as well during Quidditch training. “Like, what the hell, man? Stop flirting with her when I’m about to ask her out!”

He had gotten louder with each word, barking the last sentence into Mercer’s surprised face. The other guy swiftly held up his hands in a placating gesture while backing up, obviously not in the mood for a fight with a stranger.

He wasn’t the only one witnessing Ron’s outburst, however.

“Ronald Weasley!” Hermione shouted and had no problem to step right into Ron’s face, positioning herself between the two boys. “What is wrong with you? He was joking, for heaven’s sake!”

He was not, Ron wanted to say. He wasn’t, he was serious, didn’t you see? But of course she didn’t. Hermione, for all her brilliance, wasn’t the most observant when it came to people’s intentions. But Ron knew why a guy might be interested in Hermione. He’d said it himself, didn’t he?

Said it.

Right in front of her.

Hermione’s eyes widened the same second Ron’s brain came to a stuttering, mortified halt. Because he’d said, loudly, right into Mercer’s face, that he wanted to date Hermione. “I’m sorry,” Ron blurted out, taking a couple steps away because this was not what he’d intended. Not at all, because of course he’d fuck it up again.

“Ron?” Hermione said and she looked so uncertain and confused and not at all happy and elated. “Did you just…”

Think, his brain shouted. Think, Merlin, come on!

“I did,” his mouth said before he quite managed to sort through his words.

“He did, yeah,” Mercer added, eyes wide as he stared at both of them. And then: “This is wild.”

“Oh my God,” Hermione said, hands flying up to cover her mouth but not high enough to hide the blush creeping up her cheeks. “Oh my God, I’m so stupid, I was so stupid on the phone, wasn’t I, because… oh, Ron!”

She was so very clever - even know she put all the pieces together, all those curious little things that had happened in the last few months, things she hadn’t noticed back then but could now probably call upon to examine again. And with every second that passed, Hermione’s blush grew stronger and stronger until it matched Ron’s own and they both were staring at each other like the impossible awkward teenagers they were.

They’d have probably kept on staring for who knows how long were it not for Mercer, who obviously took pity on the younger teens. He whistled softly, his hands jammed in the pockets of his jeans, the confusion gone and replaced with an easy smile. “Go on, ask her properly before I do it again,” he teased, grin growing wider.

“What!” Hermione exclaimed. Ron hastily turned back to her.

“Doyouwanttogooutwithme,” he blurted out and he lacked all the calm and coolness of Mercer, let alone dignity, but who cared about that stuff anyway. Ron didn’t - he only cared about Hermione’s heated face and her bright eyes and the giddy smile half hidden by her fingers.

”Yes,” she breathed and they beamed at each other, Hermione laughing into her hands.

“Congratulations,” Mercer said, and there were the dimples again. “That was pretty cute. I’m actually pretty open about these things, so my offer still stands - for both of you.”

Hermione burst out into even more laughter, while Ron couldn’t quite make out whether the guy was serious or not. After a moment he came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter. “Just… fuck off, would you?” he told him and thankfully, Mercer did.

Chapter Text

May 26th, 2011
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts

“I can do this. Yeah, I can do this. I did the trial. I even managed to talk to Cissy. I can do this.”

Sirius’ voice rang hollow in the dusty drawing-room of Grimmauld Place. Somewhere in the background, he could hear the slouching steps and dark mutterings of Kreacher and the noises of other, more obscure house pests fluttering and crawling about.

The whole place was a filthy mess, but it was also the only place he had right now. Not that he’d stay here for long - soon he’d have access to the Black vault as well as the sizable compensation money from the Ministry. Still, after spending only a couple of nights here Sirius felt like burning it all down and scrubbing his skin raw.

Maybe after the meeting. He still needed the fireplace to go to Hogwarts.

The massive grandfather’s clock started to chime the full hour, causing Sirius to startle.

“Fuck,” he murmured, but he didn’t waste more time. With two long strides he was in front of the fire, throwing floo powder into the hearth. “Hogwarts, Headmaster’s Office,” he shouted and stepped into the green flames.

~~~

“Ah, Sirius. Please come in.”

“Dumbledore.” It wasn’t an enthusiastic greeting Sirius gave the old Headmaster. An old hurt ached in his chest as he studied Albus. The man looked older now. Wary even.

Good, he thought, feeling bitter and unapologetic towards his former mentor. Towards a lot of people, really - and wasn’t it laughable, that he was more ready to accept Narcissa’s welcome than the many apologies that had been thrown his way after the trial?

Sirius sat down, uninvited, eager to be done with this visit. Albus, at least, didn’t comment on it but started preparing tea for them both.

A bit of milk, no sugar. His gut clenched at the sight, because Albus fucking Dumbledore remembered how Sirius liked his cuppa.

“I want to make this short,” he started, without looking up from the cup of tea. His hand shook only a little bit when he started heaping sugar into the hot beverage.

“Then allow me to first congratulate you.”

His spoon almost flew out of his hands as Sirius went rigid, finally staring into Albus blue, sad eyes. “Don’t,” he hissed, but the old man shook his head. “For what, even? Wasn’t that hard, was it, now that I actually got a trial.”

Mocking words, full of venom. Twelve years in Azkaban can do that to you. The Ministry had told him to go and see a Healer for it - for his shaking hands and his mood swings and his nightmares.

The year outside, spent as a dog and mostly well-fed and in company, had helped, but no amount of ear scritches could make up for Azkaban, really.

“I know. For what it’s worth, I am sorry, Sirius. Would there be the means…” Albus stopped and sighed, setting down his own cup. “There are a great many things in my life I regret. Not looking further into your case, believing Bartemius - it might very well be one of the things I regret the most, and for that I can only try to atone for.”

This was a mess, wasn’t it. And it didn’t help that Sirius was sick and tired from all the apologies. If they truly felt so sorry, why hadn’t they asked more questions? All of this - it was too late. Too little.

Coughing to get rid of the lump in his throat, Sirius looked away and through the window. The kids might very well be at the lake right now - he wanted to see them again. Life as a dog was so much less complicated. “‘s good,” he manages to get out before swallowing. “It’s not like you were the only one. Most all of the Order jumped at it, after all. You and Moody, even Remus…”

“I fear that this, too, has been my fault,” Albus said. How was it that with every word the old man managed to tear Sirius apart?

“No,” he snapped, feeling cornered and uncomfortable, his skin too tight and clammy on his body. “You didn’t tell him not to dig, you didn’t tell him to… to not even be there at my trial, to just keep away after being wrong for twelve years…”

“He likely doesn’t know. He left Britain shortly after your incarceration, Sirius. I… After he came back from France, a few days after Bartemius skipped your trial, I told him that you were found guilty. Not a week later he was gone and we haven’t heard from him since. He was heartbroken, Sirius.”

Something was stuck in his throat and Sirius couldn’t breathe. Worst of all, he felt almost… guilty. Taking a shaking breath, he tried to distract him with the still hot tea, but even his burnt tongue couldn’t stem his rampaging thoughts.

He’d regretted the secrecy between him and James and Lily too often for count. Almost every night he’d wished to go back, to tell someone, anyone about the switch with Peter. But never had he regretted it as badly as now. Wasn’t it him, after all, who’d been too suspicious of Remus, back then?

He’d talked James into keeping it secret from anyone not involved. Albus, Minerva, Remus - especially Remus, who’d been his friend. Remus, who’d been send to the continent more often than not, to spy on the Werewolves under Voldemort’s thumb.

Remus, who Sirius’d believed to be the traitor.

“Where’s Harry?” he choked out. With Remus gone (and Peter and James and Lily and most all of his friends, either dead or too far away), he had to at least see him, the son of his murdered friends. “Where’s my godson?”

He looked up and felt cold inside when he saw Albus’ tired, solemn face. A hand grabbed his heart and clenched it tight when the old man stood up and walked towards one of his shelves, staring at the silvery, fragile looking things on it.

Most stood still, silent and foreboding. One spinned around, slow but steady, puffing bright smoke into the air.

“Allbus,” Sirius said again, voice filled with dread and denial. ”Where’s Harry?”

“Gone,” Albus said, and the world spun around Sirius, so much so that the man had to brace himself on the sturdy Headmaster’s table.

“No,” he heard himself say, his voice so rough and desperate that for a moment Sirius couldn’t recognize it.

Silence followed - or something close to it. His heart was beating too frantically in his chest, filling his ears with a nauseating rush. His eyes searched out Albus, who stood with his back towards Sirius, face hidden, shoulders hunched.

He wanted to run away. Wanted to scream and hurt something. Wanted to take this old man and cut him to bloody ribbons. He didn’t want to know, to ask, to talk about this.

But he had to. For James, if not for himself.

”How?”

Finally, Albus turned around and took a step to the side, exposing the moving, puffing thing on the shelf. Sirius found himself unable to take his eyes away from it, but he couldn’t say why.

“He got kidnapped. Not by magic - he was safe against that, as safe as anyone can be. Whoever took him from his relative’s house, they used Muggle means. The only thing we know for sure is that he’s alive.”

Old, wrinkled fingers touched the moving thing. It didn’t change it’s rotation or speed. It didn’t change at all, and for that alone it was all Sirius could lean on, that little, silvery machine spinning around and puffing like a beating heart.

Again he choked up (felt the small bundle in his arms, the toddler crying for his dead parents, warm and alive in his arms before he gave Harry to Hagrid, and he’d been so stupid, he should’ve stayed, why did he ever gone to chase Peter), and almost immediatelly he flinched away from the hurt. Instead he reached for anger, well-known and comforting and safe like an old friend, pulling it around himself like a heated cloak.

It was so much easier to be angry than being heartbroken.

“You lost him,” he said, satisfied that his voice no longer shook with shock, but with vicious anger. “The one thing that James and Lily left behind, Albus. Their son, my godson, and you lost him.”

Albus didn’t deny it. He didn’t comment on Sirius nasty tone, nor on the way the man jumped up. He said nothing, only watching, his old, blue eyes looking terribly bleak that even now, cloaked in anger, Sirius couldn’t bear to look at them.

The shaking got worse, his throat all but blocked, his heart pounding in a want to escape. With a wordless snarl, he threw himself at the fire, only just managing to grab some floo powder, calling out that hated place.

The moment he was back in Grimmauld Place, he crashed down onto the floor, welcoming the sharp pain to his knees. Blunt fingernails scratched against the wooden floor, then against the skin of his arms and shoulders. Soon his fingers felt sticky and warm, but it still wasn’t enough to quieten his anguished noises.

~~~

Albus watched the flames turn from green to orange and red before going back to his desk. Something needed to be done - sooner rather than later, really.

“Where are you, Remus?” he murmured, staring out of his window and onto the green grounds of the school.

Making a decision - too late, but better than never, right? - he grabbed a fresh sheet of parchment.

Dear Alastor...